05.10.2010 - 15.10.2010 17 °C
That's the way people greet each other in the Islamic world. Today I arrived in Istanbul, the bridge between east and west. Istanbul is a beautiful lively city with lots of history. It is in fact the only city in the world that has been the capital of three different world empires; East Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, and Ottoman Empire. Therefore the city is often nicknamed: 'The cradle of civilizations'. Religion has played an important role in Istanbul's history. During the 4th crusade the Christians conquered the city, while in 1453 Sultan Mehmet 2 defeated the Christians and brought the Islam back to the city. These religious changes are well represented by the Aya Sophia, one of Istanbul's greatest buildings. It was originally build as a church and later converted into a mosque. In the beginning of the 20th century Ataturk made Turkey a secular state (just one of his many reforms), meaning that state and religion were strictly separated. This is still the case in modern Turkey and Ataturk is still seen as the father of all Turks (His image is never far away, whether you are in Istanbul or any other Turkish city).
Arriving in the Islamic world obviously means the bargaining game has begun. I call it a game, because I think it is the best way to survive the day. Some people get annoyed by the pushing sellers, others get ripped off, I just play the game. So after checking in, I decided to head straight to the grand bazaar, to get the game started. On my way there I passed the beautiful Blue Mosque and Aya Sophia. I decided to take a small break to enjoy the splendor of these majestic buildings. Relaxing on a bench, enjoying the view and the sun, i got disturbed by a rhythmic though slightly annoying sound; Cay!Cay!Cay!Cay!Cay! Cay? Cay!Cay!Cay!Cay!Cay! The sound was getting louder. Cay!Cay!Cay! ... Cay!Cay!Cay! Seriously, easily a 100 C/pm (Cay per minute). Cay!Cay!Cay! The sound suddenly stopped and my eyes crossed the eyes of a Turkish kid: "Cay my friend?" Without really thinking I answered: "Yes, I'll have a tea" and before the blink of an eye I was holding a tea and he was holding my 2 Lira (1 Euro). Not really a bargain, so I thought at least let him take a photo, so i asked: "My friend, you take picture please?!" And so it happened.
On to the Bazaar.. I didn't take a perfume with me from home, so that is what I wanted to buy. I know, they are fake, but they are also cheap and it is still better then nothing. I was looking for a perfume which was not packaged in a glass bottle, which would make the search a bit more difficult.
However, I didn't really look on the map to find the bazaar, I just wandered around a bit. Actually I ended up walking through the narrow streets of Istanbul without arriving at the bazaar. I did find a nice park, the Bosporus, the Galata bridge with it's fisherman (Geert Mak wrote a book about this called 'de Brug') and plenty of Mosques and other nice buildings. In the meanwhile I tried all kinds of food from the small street stalls: doner kebab, chicken kebab, Yarim (Lamb meat with red pepper and tomato cut in very small pieces flavored with herbs on a Turkish bread, really good!), Fresh pomegranate juice, grilled corn, and an apple skinned and cut in a funny and convenient way.. (I really like fruit, but I like it even more when I don't have to skin/peel/cut it myself. Anyone with me here?) I tried lots of things and I loved it. And even better, I didn't have any digestive problems yet!
In the early evening I started to feel my feet, so I decided to call it a day. On my way back to the hostel I, obviously, walked by one of the entrances of the bazaar.. tomorrow!
I woke up just in time for (included) breakfast. That was a decent sleep after two nights in the train, and after a good shower I was ready to go. just before I wanted to leave I met a Dutch guy called Henk. I told him about my plan to go to the bazaar and visit Istanbul on the other side of the bridge. Sounds like a plan! So we decided to spend the day together. While walking, I soon discovered that Henk is not only a very nice guy, but also a history teacher. So during the day I learned more about the history of Istanbul. In fact, all the historical information about Istanbul on this page, I more or less 'stole' from Henk.
The game part 1
At the bazaar we quickly found a guy who wanted to sell me perfume. After some running to get the one I wanted, the negotiations could start. Surprisingly we could not really agree on the price.. He obviously didn't want to lower his price any further, so instead he decided to add an extra product to the deal. And I accepted it... Stupid!
Clearly I made some crucial mistakes here. First of all, I bought the product from the first seller we ran into. Never do that! Always try several sellers before you buy, just to get a better idea of the real price. Second, I bought more then I actually wanted. Why would you do that? You didn't want those other products in the first place, so why buy them?
The result was that I walked away with two perfumes, one of them even in a glass bottle.. I totally lost this match! My excuse? Well, it has been a while since I played the game (2005).
After crossing the Galata bridge, visiting the 'European' part of Istanbul and eating a snack/dinner, we decided to go back to the hostel area: Sultanahmet. The sun went down already a while ago and the area has quite some bars. We decided to end the day with a few beers and a Shisha (waterpipe).
The game part 2
The next morning after checking out, I went with Henk to the Blue Mosque. We wanted to go in, but when I saw the queue, I changed my mind. As I had been there before, I decided to skip it. I actually had another mission..
I headed to the bazaar again, this time to get rid of the perfume in the glass bottle. No way that I was going to take that thing with me in my backpack, I was sure it would break and make things only worse.
I didn't expect to get much for it, actually anything would do. Though at first I was not very successful, they were really not interested in the perfume as trade: "Only Lira!"
However I had no success in terms of result, it did add a whole new dimension to the game! I enjoyed it, but I had to change my strategy. I decided to make 'friends' first and introduce the problem at a later stage. I met a nice guy selling Turkish delight. I am not so much into sweets, but still it would be nice to try some. We had a nice chat, he explained the difference in quality (and price) and we had a laugh about some 'strange' customers. I told him I would come back later, we shook hands and he obviously didn't believe I would come back. But about an hour later I did come back. We shook hands again and I told him I had a strange proposal. I showed him the perfume and he explained he couldn't trade it as his shop didn't sell perfume. I tried to convince him, but he didn't want to trade. I gave up and walked away. At that point he suddenly said: "But you can give it to me as a present!" I laughed, was a bit surprised, but actually, why not? For sure I was not going to take it back to the hostel. So I gave it to him as a present. He smiled, thanked me and said: "okay, now I want to give you a present!" and he handed me the box with Turkish delight we've bee talking about all the time.. :s
I was quite happy I succeeded to 'trade' the perfume, though I couldn't say I won this match. I would call it a draw.
I wandered around a bit more and in the end had to hurry a bit as I had a bus to catch. In the hostel I said bye to Henk, as he had to wait at least another day for his Iranian visa and wanted to go to Ankara afterward. I decided to skip Ankara and head straight to Cappadocia. Though I was quite sure I would meet him again, somewhere in Turkey or Iran. But for now I was alone again, taking the night bus to Cappadocia.
After a decent bus ride I arrived in Goreme..uhh...that's what I thought. Actually the bus terminated in Nevsehir, about 15 km from Goreme. After some hassle with tour operators, trying to sell overpriced all-in packages that included all important Cappadocia sights, I found the free transfer to Goreme. I quickly found a cheap accommodations and basically stayed in all day: It was cold and rainy Not the kind of weather I expected in the middle of Turkey.
As I was in the hostel all day, I talked a bit with Shaun, an American guy who works in the hostel. He is already a year in Cappadocia, so he knows his way around. I fact, he knew a Turkish guy who speaks English and gives private tours in an underground city near his village. You should know that in the Cappadocia area there are several underground cities, but only one of them is frequently visited by tourists. Not because it is the most beautiful one, just because that one is best accessible and has all the tourist facilities (like stairs). Downside of that underground city is that it is often crowded and there is a high entrance fee.
So I was quite happy when Shaun told me he was going to this other underground city the next day and invited me to join him. There would be no entrance fee, I would only have to pay for the public transport to get there and a small tip for the guide. Nice!
That night I was sleeping alone in the dorm room, 50 square meter for myself for only 6,50 euro..
That morning I woke up when a new guest arrived. I blinked my eyes a few times and saw who just entered the room: Henk!
That was a sooner reunion then expected!
Henk joined us to the underground city and in the dolmus (mini bus) we met two Canadian couples that decided to join us as well. The weather was still quite bad today, so it was good that we were going underground. We met our Turkish guide Ihsan, who seemed to be a funny guy. The underground city was quite impressive, especially when you realize it has been build about 4500 years ago. The city was also quite challenging to go through, as it was not adapted for tourist visits. We had to crawl through narrow tunnels and climb through 5 meter high shafts, using only shallow holes in the wall.
We all had a flashlight and the guide had a decent torch. Once in a while he suddenly disappeared... iiiieeeee!!! He showed us how the booby traps worked (only using his hands instead of knives or burning oil). As we were not in Europe, safety helmets were not included in the tour..
When we went out the underground city it was snowing! :s While waiting for the dolmus we played some pool and drank some cay. Shaun opened his bag, took out some Turkish bread...and more; cheese, salami, eggs, tomatoes, cucumber, red onions, green peppers, spring onion, parsley and a knife to cut it all. We all had a really good sandwich!
They didn't want us to pay for it, not for the tea offered by the guide, not for the lunch offered by Shaun. We had a really nice afternoon and we decided to have a drink later that evening. Obviously we offered Shaun a beer.
Back in the hostel Shaun told us he was going for a hike the next day, whether we wanted to join? Of course we'll join!
This morning the sun woke us up.. delightful! This was going to be a beautiful day for a hike. When we left it appeared that another local guide would join us: Spot.
As Shaun knows his way around we didn't stick to the hiking paths. we really went "off the beaten track" as the Lonely Planet likes to call it. We found hidden and abandoned cave churches and houses, hiked through narrow passages, and climbed over challenging obstacles.
In the meanwhile we enjoyed nature's treat as we passed apple trees, grape plants and cherry tomato plants. After about two hours hiking it was time for a break. Shaun brought some meat, bread and veggies (like yesterday + eggplant and garlic). We collected some wood and started a fire.
The veggies were cut into a salad, the eggplant put in the fire and added to the salad later, and the meat, tomato and onion got skewed and grilled.
It was delicious!
After the lunch break we continued our hike via the designated paths. After passing by some beautiful sight and enjoying the sunset, we went back to the hostel.
Cappadocia is a beautiful area. It is interesting for history buffs and for outdoor addicts. One can find remains of fascinating cultures, open air museums, rock cut castles, etc. And it is all surrounded by a bizarre landscape!
After today's six hour hike we were all quite exhausted, so we called it an early night.
The next day we had to be fit again, as we were going to rent mountain bikes to enlarge our action radius.
Bggghhh! Bggghhhh! What was that sound? Bggggghhh! With a big question mark in my head I tried to open my eyes. After two failed attempts, the third time I succeeded. Bgggghhh! Bggghhhh! I was now able to confirm it was not Henk snoring. But what the hell was it?! Suddenly I realized. I took my camera and ran outside (we slept in a cabin on the roof terrace). Hot air Balloons!
After taking some pictures I realized it was six o'clock in the morning.. I ran (twice as fast) back to bed.
When we got up later that morning, Henk and I checked out, left our luggage and started our mountain bike adventure. Leaving the village we had to go uphill and soon it got steeper. Challenging, especially for two Dutchies who think every average bridge is already quite a climb.
And it got steeper! Approaching the top, my legs exploded! The slope must have been 20% percent or more. At that moment it was hard to remember why we decided to go mountain biking. Was this really our own choice? This hard labor, this suffering. Another climb like this I wouldn't survive! Well, I had time to think about it walking up the last part of the mountain.. luckily, Henk is no top athlete either, so we walked up together.
I was way overdressed (in terms of warmth), so at the top i stuffed my bag with clothes. we continued downhill, what a relieve! in fact we had about 4 km downhill ahead and we easily reached 50 km/h. It was a bit chilly in fact, brr! Though we are both not real daredevils, so we used our breaks quite a lot. We continued on-road the next hours, passing some sights. The road went up and down, but never as steep as the first part.
On our way back we went off-road, via the hiking/mountain bike paths. Challenging and fun, but requiring concentration because of all the obstacles. As we continued it became more and more a hiking path; to steep or to narrow to bicycle. Parts we even had to carry the bikes while climbing some rocks. I felt as if my legs were lead filled, they were red like tomatoes (and not because of sunburn). when we reached the hilltop we saw the sun disappear behind the horizon. Luckily, we also saw the main road. Half an hour later we were racing downhill into the valley where the village is. With tears in the eyes we reached Goreme. Tears, not because we were sad to be back (au contraire), just because of the wind in the eyes. After a full day mountain biking we were confident enough to go downhill full speed!
After a shower and a meal we took the night bus to katha.
Katha is not quite a 'must see' town. In fact, it is known as some what of a rip-off town. The reason of going there is it's proximity to Mount Nemrut. Mount Nemrut is famous for it's statues on the top, and it is promoted as one of turkeys highlights. Well, the images of the statues may be found everywhere, it is harder to find a bus to actually reach the summit. The only way to get there is by taking an overpriced tour. Really not my cup of cay, but we had no choice. Most tours were leaving in the afternoon, and as it was still early in the morning it seemed we had to wait a while. However, fortunately, we came across a guy who had a tour leaving in 5 minutes. There were still some spots available.. Well, that makes bargaining easier! Obviously he wanted to fill up his van. So after agreeing on a much more social price and our promise not to tell the other passengers, we were ready to go.
At the top of mount nemrut we were a bit disappointed, really not that impressive! I tried several camera perspectives to make it look more spectacular then it really is..
The tour included some other sights, which were, if possible, even less interesting. I know, it is not very respectful to say, but it is the way I experienced it.
Back in Katha we decided to leave directly and headed to Sanliurfa. On our way there, we had our first technical breakdown: Flat tire! Luckily, we just passed a garage and if we were participating in a formula 1 race, employees ran to our bus. Ten minutes later we were back on track.
Sanliurfa is less touristy then the places I've been so far, and you notice the difference. In Istanbul everyone says he is your friend ("hello my friend!"), in Sanliurfa everyone really is your friend! we experienced some genuine friendliness here. There are not so many foreigners, so people are really interested. They want to start a conversation (even though often their English is really poor), not to sell you something, just out of curiosity. Just one example: It was high time to do some laundry, so we went looking for a laundry service. Walking around did not result in finding one, we asked several people, but they didn't really understand (we did find shops selling washing machines :s), or they just didn't know any. It was hopeless. When we just decided to give up, a restaurant waiter came to us asking whether we needed any help. We asked for the laundry service, he asked around, tried to explain us and in the end decided to walk us there (even though the restaurant was quite busy). Later we ate at the restaurant he worked, he offered us a salad and some cay, we had some nice chats and he helped us with some other stuff. A really nice guy, which we just met in the street. Our budget normally doesn't allow big tips, but this time we made an exception.
Sanliurfa is a nice city to have a walk, but actually the main sights are all around Abraham's cave (the cave where he is supposed to be born and spent the first years of his life). Abraham is seen as the first monotheist, and as such is an important person for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Enough reason to visit the cave. Though there is not much to see in the cave, I can now rightfully say; I might not yet know where Abraham get's it's mustard, I do know where he was born :p (does this make any sense in English? Probably not).
By leaving Cappadocia we actually arrived in the Kurdish part of Turkey. In Sanliurfa, people already told us they did not speak Turkish, but Kurdish. The next day we traveled to Mardin, a nice small town to spend a few hours (at least that is what we did). We continued to Dyarbakir, the heartland of the PKK (Kurdish liberation party). We wouldn't stay there, but while waiting for the bus we already noticed the deep hearted wish for an independent Kurdistan. One guy we spoke told us that he was proud to be a Kurd and let us hear Kurdish music. We asked if he thought there would ever be an independent Kurdistan. He answered that he is old and does not have much hope his people will be liberated...
The next morning we arrived in Dogubayazit, where we spent a few hours before heading to the Iranian border.
Marco Polo's book starts with a Prologue that tells the story of the travels of his father and uncle. That trip starts at 1250 and marco is not yet born at that time. The Polo brothers were traders from Venice and departed to Constantinople (Istanbul). Because of several circumstances, after years of loosing their selves on the world map, they ended up in the far east at the Great Chan (ruler over basically whole Asia). He was very pleased to meet them as he never saw any westerners before. Curious about western habits he sent the brothers back to Europe to come back with more knowledge from Europe. Back in Europe Niccolo met his son Marco, who was 15 years old at that time. A few years later Marco and his father and uncle headed east again. The start of a famous journey. In 1298 the stories of this journey were written down. In the book things are written down that were notable according to Marco.
While traveling I am reading this book and I will quote passages if they are interesting for some reason. Though the book I have is in Dutch, so from now on stories under the header "Marco Polo" will be in Dutch...
Over Turkije zijn twee passages geschreven die me wel aardig lijken om hier te vermelden.
Over groot-Armenie (deels huidige Turkije)
"In het noorden grenst het aan Georgie, en aan deze grens bevindt zich een bron waaruit zoveel olie opwelt dat er honderden schepen tegelijk mee kunnen worden volgeladen. Deze olie is niet geschikt voor consumptie, maar wel om te branden."
Marco zag dat er olie aanwezig was in het midden-oosten. Nu weten we dat de bron die hij zag niet de enige was. Onderweg in Turkije heb ik dan ook verschillende 'ja-knikkers' (zoals sommige mensen ze noemen) gezien, die gebruikt worden om olie op te pompen.
"Ik moet ook vertellen dat in dit Groot-Armenie de Ark van Noach staat op een hoge berg aan de zuidoostelijke grens met het koninkrijk Mawsil."
De berg die Marco hier beschrijft is 'Mount Ararat' in noordoost Turkije. Vanuit Dogubayazit, waar ik was voordat ik Iran in zou gaan, is deze berg duidelijk zichtbaar. Helaas was het die dag vrij bewolkt en kon ik de Arc niet zien (en de bergtop ook niet).
"If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home."