A Travellerspoint blog

Turkey

Bergama

We arrived here, at the Odyssey Guesthouse in Bergama, in a downpour which continued for most of the day. We did laundry, and more or less hung out, reading the copy of the Odyssey that was in every room. We did make a brief foray to see the old Roman Basilica nearby,and stopped in a carpet and gift shop and chatted with the owner, a handicapped man of about 60, whose English was quite good. He told us about his children in North Carolina, and said how lucky we were to be born in America. Quite true, despite the crazy politics of our country today. He was quick to add that Turkey is much better off now than it was just a few years ago, something which echoed Martine's comments in Istanbul.


Back Streets of Bergama near Guesthouse
P1040789.jpg


Today however, is truely glorious, with blue skies and bright sun. We hiked up the back way to the old acropolis, clamoring over stone walls and ascending herd paths up the steep green hills. By going this way we managed to avoid the tour groups until we got to the very top, and by then most of them were going in the opposite direction.



P1040775.jpg






The ruins, often overlooked by many on their way to Ephesus, are impressive. It was one of my favorite sites in this country of ruins. Many Corinthian and Ionian columns still standing tall, glistened white in the sun. Some of the original details of the temple friezes are still present.




large_P1040767.jpg





There is an enormous 10,000 seat amphitheater carved into the hillside, a homage to Zeus, but apparently the site of political speeches.






large_P1040755.jpg




P1040746.jpg


The ancient city, which dates to 400-500 BC, was successively occupied by Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and then Turks. Home to over 200,000 people in its heyday, it was known as Pergamum.







P1040762.jpgP1040750.jpg





P1040759.jpg






On the way down, we skirted the teleferique and climbed back over the stone walls to the narrow alleys of upper Bergama.







View of the City with Basilica
large_P1040722.jpg






We then walked to the other set of ruins on the opposite side of town, known as the Asklepieion. It dates to about 300BC, but which was at its height in 100 AD, as a vast medical center. It also had complete mental institution with a dream interpretation center, and hot and cold herbal treatments, for those with psychological ailments. Freud had nothing on the Greeks. Though somewhat less impressive than the stadium on the hill, there was a smaller amphitheater of 2-3000, perhaps where Galen and others performed surgeries. Death was officially forbidden to enter, but it seems as though gravely ill patients, those who were clearly dying and/or pregnant, were not allowed in the first place. I guess the doctors felt they had to stack the deck in their favor.

P1040778.jpgP1040779.jpg






large_P1040777.jpg





P1040776.jpg





Back at the Odyssey Guesthouse terrace, I gaze out at the crumbling brick walls of the Basilica (100 AD), old tile roofs in the foreground, and green hills beyond. I can make out some of the older ruins dotting the hills leading up to the acropolis on my left.




P1040786.jpg


This is a very friendly town. All of the kids we meet are eager to practice their English, and people go out of their way to show you where things are if you need help. While bigger than Ayvalik, it feels more relaxed because it is not a resort.

In a little while, we will have tea or coffee with Alex, who we met in a locanta yesterday. Though Turkish, he lived in Astoria, Queens for many years and has recently returned to his country for a different job, and to help take care of his family. When we arrived at the cafe, he was already there with another Turkish friend who spoke no English. He said he brought his friend because he didn't know the city very well, having just moved here less than two months ago. This friend called yet another friend who had a car, and we proceeded out of town, first to an outdoor place that was not really open, and then to another restaurant in a small indoor mall. They ordered for us, a large mezze plate, pizza, a bulgar dish, salad, and mixed kabobs for all, even though we tried to tell them we weren't hungry, as we were expecting only a light snack. The friend with a car, Osman, teaches comparative religion in the local high school, where it is compulsory. He spent several years living in Syria, where he attended university and worked as a journalist.

And so we began asking questions, translated by Alex, about Syria, Iran, and the Middle East in general. Osman felt that Turkey used to get along well with its neighbors, but no longer, in part because of the situation with Israel and the United States. He said he thought that Iran will gradually liberalize, but is unsure what will happen with Assad. About Israel and Palestine, he seemed to agree that Israel should give up the settlements and the occupied territories, and that there needed to be a two state solution.

What was striking to us, is that Alex did not feel free to express his opinions to his friends because, as he later put it, he is Turkish, and yet he is not Turkish. He is Muslim, and yet he is not. A man caught between two cultures, he nevertheless insisted on paying for everyone. When we asked about his family, that is when we found out that his father recently died unexpectedly during routine back surgery, and Alex, as the oldest son felt responsible. He initially came to the US in his early 20's, after getting a very good job with Alitalia, the Italian airline. He said he had many problems because he was so young, and the office politics were complicated. It was apparently a high pressure job, but after therapy, (how typically New York), he decided that he had to leave, and ended up going to Bolivia to study Spanish in 2006. It was almost the total opposite life from what he had been living before. As it turns out, he was also married to a psychologist, though now he is divorced. We didn't get the whole story of what happend after Bolivia, but now that he is back in Turkey, he feels it is his responsibility to take care of all the problems in his family, something he didn't feel living in the United States. We exchanged emails and offered each other a standing invitation to come and visit. A most interesting man, and a fascinating evening talking politics with people whose views we would never get to hear.

A reminder once again of why I travel. It is because of chance encounters like this one, unrepeatable and unique to the moment.

Posted by jonshapiro 14:47 Archived in Turkey Tagged people tourist_sites buildings_postcards Comments (3)

Ayvalik, Turkey

We arrived last night after an easy crossing despite warnings about high seas. The whole trip took about nine hours with the bus to Balikisir and then Ayvalik. After a lukewarm reception at nine in the evening, we moved from Taksiyaris Guest House to a newly renovated place around the corner which we seem to have to ourselves. Ayvalik is a cute, if somewhat disheveled old town of stone houses and tile roofs, many of which are in various states of disrepair, though a number of them are slowly being renovated by Istanbulis. They are buying up old places for a summer seaside getaway. By car you could probably make it in about four hours.



P1040716.jpgP1040711.jpg






The seaside promenade is a nice place to stroll,




large_P1040708.jpg





while the narrow cobblestone streets run up a steep hill to a wooded grassy area with goats and chickens roaming freely.




P1040718.jpg







7AE116B02219AC68176D1BA16133C59C.jpg





There is a small expat community here, mostly Brits, and we gave Ahmed's, wife, Kathleen, a call. He apparently had already spoken to her, and she seemed quite happy to hear from us. We had lunch, and then she took us to her house. It was quite a large place, about 130 years old, and she is still working on parts of it. We shared travel stories with her, and she told us about her time teaching English in China in the 90's, quite different than our experience. She also told us a fair bit about her relationship with Ahmed, who it turns out, is Bipolar. The meds he takes only control it partially. Perhaps that is why he has had so many different jobs. Kathleen spends part of the summer in England since Ayvalik gets too hot for her, but she worries about leaving Ahmed alone. It seemed to us that her relationship with him is quite rocky, understandable, given his mental health problems. She is encouraging him to spend time with his family in Pakistan, which is where his doctor is.

It was enjoyable to spend the better part of an afternoon with a fellow English speaker, but it was hard for us to understand exactly why she settled in Ayvalik. It seems a lonely existence in a town with marginal infrastructure, and a small number of foreigners. Now, she says, it is impossible for foreigners to buy property as a law was passed preventing them from doing so. She is concerned as to how this will affect property values, as a good deal of her money is tied up in the house.

Posted by jonshapiro 12:43 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Istanbul

We arrived yesterday after an easy flight from Basel, and the bad weather seems to have followed us. We are staying in Sultanamet, the old city, which is full of tourists from all over the world, and feels very cosmopolitan, a bit like New York, but with tiny alleys and winding streets that help keep the traffic down. Many of the city's most famous sites are within easy walking distance. We have already been to the Hagia Sofia, which more than lived up to billing.





P1040586.jpgP1040590.jpg






large_P1040577.jpg






P1040588.jpgP1040587.jpg





As did the Blue Mosque.





P1040616.jpgP1040611.jpg







large_P1040704.jpg






large_P1040619.jpg





Tulips, which are native to Turkey, not Holland, are blooming everywhere, and the streets are full of kebap and crepe vendors, both cheap and good, though the restaurants in this area are somewhat pricey. We spent part of the afternoon sitting in one of the ubiquitous tea houses, or rather just outside of one, in a kerosene heated area covered with clear plastic which more or less kept us dry. We preferred that to sitting inside, because of the smoke from so many people toking up on nargileh, filled with sweet Turkish tobacco. We sat next to, and then chatted with a young Turkish couple, after we overheard the woman giving her boyfriend an English lesson. They were a delight to talk to, like many of the Turks we have met thus far, quite out going and jokey. For example, earlier we were buying some Turkish pastry, and the owner was joking with another foreigner that his sweets were better than Viagra for increasing energy and sex. I can see why. It was, just possibly, the best piece of pastry I have ever had, filo dough, pistachios, and honey. Nanette and I battled it out to see who would get the last bite.

After apple tea, we were off to the Grand Bazaar. Hectic, but it was more pleasant than in Marrakesh because no traffic is allowed within the crowded shopping district. Although there are touts in Istanbul, especially in the touristy sections, they are less pushy than in the big cities of Morocco.

We have been to the archeological museum, which was a little like the Egyptian section of the Met, but on a much larger scale. It was hard to take it all in, though we spent several hours there, with Greek, Roman, Trojan and Hittite objects, some more than 5000 years old. One particularly impressive sarcophagus, named Alexander and dating from 500BC, had very intricate battle and hunting scenes carved on its marble exterior. The piece de la resistance,as it were.



Detail from Alexander Sarcophgus
large_P1040629.jpg







Park Scenes in Sultanamet Near the Museum
P1040626.jpgP1040652.jpg








Just now, I am sitting in the breakfast room of our rather funky Tulip Guesthouse, gazing over the Bosphorus toward the Asian side of the city. The sun is out, and the tankers moving through the straights at a steady clip reflect the light of the late afternoon sun, as do the buildings on the opposite shore. There are hills, and even low mountains in the distance. Closer in, a section of the old wall of the city is visible, and a white lighthouse, long and thin, like the minarets of the mosques, sits adjacent to the straight. The jumble of buildings immediately in front, comes towards me from all angles and colors. There is the mustard yellow of the Metropolis Hostel, with its black spiral staircase running up to the roof deck, and the salmon, brown, and light grey of the pointy stucco building to the left. Seagulls careen and squawk over its ramshackle metal roof.





P1040635.jpgP1040700.jpg






As a double exclamation point, two bright red tankers steam up toward the Sea of Marmara.





large_P1040642.jpg


Our amiable and chatty host, Martine, who is often to be found in this room, is a Kurd from northeast Anatolia. He grew up on a sheep farm, and then was the first in his family to get educated. He now manages three hostels in town, including Tulip. We have also met his younger brother, a college student, of whom he is fiercely protective. His relationship with his parents, on the other hand, seems rather distant. He has a Turkish girlfriend, who is getting a Phd in economics. She wants to be a professor, but although he has not yet told her, he wants her to stay at home and have babies.

He indicates things have changed for the better under Erdogen's rule, though there is still a lot of prejudice against Kurds. This is exacerbated by the separatist PKK, whose members periodically commit terrorist acts. He has nothing good to say about Ataturk, whom he says, murdered thousands of Kurds.
We have spent a number of pleasant hours talking to him, as he has traveled widely and is knowledgable about history, though he is obviously quite traditional in certain ways.

We have spent the past few days exploring the city and enjoying the people, including a visit to Istanbul Modern, a relatively new museum, which reflects the thriving art scene here. We also took the ferry to Uskudar, on the Asian side, from the Eminonu pier, a 20 minute ride across the Bosphorus. From there, we walked to a hillside park, full of tulips and pansies of all colors. At the top, there was a teahouse and restaurant with expansive views of one of the bridges across the straight, and the buildings on both shores.




large_P1040670.jpg





After a nice respite with time to admire the view, we continued back down to the waterfront until we came to a non-touristy neighborhood, with small cafes, several ice cream shops, and a quite wonderful art gallery.





large_P1040685.jpg





We also noticed an old synagogue, though it was boarded up and unused for many years. Stopping for ice cream, we talked to Fatima and Fozimet, two sisters of indeterminate age, who spoke fluent English. Their father had owned a barge and delivered water to other ships. For many years they had both worked in the family business, but eventually, after he died, they sold the barge and opened the shop. Both are avid tennis players, and hope to visit New York in order to go to the Open to see the tennis championships.

We returned on the same ferry, and dined in a rather upscale place in the old city, not far from our hostel. The restaurant was located over a series of subterranean rooms, built by the Roman emperor, Justinian, about 300 AD. We were shown an entrance in the back, and spent a few minutes exploring after dinner. Many parts of Sultanamet are built on even older walls and ruins.

The sense of history here is almost breathtaking in its scope. Greek, Roman, European, Ottoman, Arabic, and even Asian influences and objects can be found, and of course the city, at different periods of time, has been home to both Christians and Moslems, even some Jews.

Yesterday, we took a long walk along a different stretch of waterfront to another ferry dock, where we picked up our tickets for the ferry that crosses the Sea of Marmara. We will later make our way to the small Aegean town of Ayvalik. On the way back it started raining hard again, and we got soaked, but we made it to a crowded teahouse near the Grand Bazaar. There, we ran into Ahmed, who we had briefly met at our guest guest house. A most interesting man in his 60's, originally from Peshawar Pakistan, he spent ten years teaching physics in various colleges around Boston. He has also lived in many places in the Middle East, including, Sudan, Saudia Arabia, Oman, always teaching physics in English. He said he never got a permanent position in the states because there were issues with his green card, although he now has a US passport. After spending two years in Oman, separated from his wife and son who stayed in the US, she divorced him,despite the fact that he was supporting them. He ended up in Crete where he met his present girlfriend, and they now own a house in, you guessed it, Ayvalik. He encouraged us to look her up when we arrived. He was on his way to Boston to visit friends, and then see his son in New York. He told us all of this, while explaining some of the finer points of quantum mechanics in a way that we could actually understand it.

Today started out dark and dreary, but we took the tram and the new underground funicular to the top of Beyo─člu, in a now fashionable part of town. We did not ascend the Galata Tower, built in the late 15th century, but continued back down a wide shopping street near the old funicular tracks. Blissfully, there was no vehicular traffic amidst the Turkish eateries, and many US clothing stores. We then walked across the bridge to Eminonu, which by now was full of its daily quota of fishermen casting off into into the wicked currents of the straight. The bridge is a multistoried affair, one level of which has many fish restaurants and sandwich shops, some of which are quite a bargain. They all compete for your business as you stroll past. The trick seems to be not to make up your mind too quickly so you can see who offers the best price.


Eminonu Bridge with Galata Tower in Background
large_P1040656.jpg







Another Beautiful Mosque near Bridge
large_P1040648.jpg


The high point of the day was a two hour cruise up the Bosphorus, past Uskudar, and three major bridges, weaving in between the tankers. The sun came
out for a while, and we could see both shorelines lined with impressive houses, old and new. Some were renovated, others dilapidated, and old cemeteries clung to the steeply wooded hills behind them. Castles were also to be seen here and there. Like so many things in this ancient city, it was a hodgepodge of of styles and character.





large_P1040658.jpg




I am once again back in the breakfast room with a view. The brick red Arcadia Hellas, steams toward the Black Sea. I hope tomorrow will prove a fair day because we make our crossing of the Sea of Marmara, and we are both prone to seasickness.





Yours Truly, with The Founder of Modern Turkey
P1040653.jpg

Posted by jonshapiro 09:16 Archived in Turkey Tagged bridges buildings people cities_postcards Comments (2)

(Entries 6 - 8 of 8) Previous « Page 1 [2]