Saturday, October 16, 2010

Istanbul Districts

Istanbul is a big city. It is a thriving market city. It is not the friend of the big box retailer. Hurray!

We arrived into Istanbul around 1 PM by bus. It was raining pretty well but the temperature was fine at around 20 C. The fellow that rented us the place for the week said there were two corner stores at the end of the street and a bakery at the bottom of the street. I decided to take the family for a walk to explore the hood and the bakery seemed like the place to start. We went down the steep busy single lane hill in the pouring rain. Things started to get interesting almost immediately, so straight past the bakery to the bottom of the hill. This neighborhood reminded me of Hastings Street in Vancouver, actually most of Istanbul looks like 1950s Vancouver. Business is booming.

This is obviously the restaurant kitchen supply district. We walked further and found the mannequin supply district shops, 13 in total all with their own specialty, ethnic, chrome, mirrored, animals, children, realistic, anatomically correct mannequins, you name it, and they had it. Next to that was the tire district then the auto parts district. This was a fun walk in my book. By now Holly had had enough of my featured walk.

The next day was Holly turn and we toured churches, mosques and museums. On the way to these areas we passed through the LED lighting district and I wanted to purchase 5 meters of LED lights. Holly’s eyes started rolling. Seconds before this I didn’t know LED light came this way or that this product existed, then I’m looking to make a purchase. I love this city. We found the districts for electrical, tools, plumbing / toilets, ladders, packing supplies and tape, hookah pipes, back gammon boards, fishing supplies, remote controls, electronics, cell phones, shoes, books, you get the idea. Every shop has its specialty and each shop has their expert and apprentices. The shops are all side by side and compete directly with each other and all are small in size.

The streets are steep and narrow and jammed with traffic. Most deliveries to the shops are by small trucks that are parked down the street and goods are hand trucked to the shops front door. It is an amazingly chaotic system that is visually entertaining.

It makes you wonder about how shops come to be next to each other when you see a row of stores like: mannequin shop, tire shop, steel manufacturing and ladies lingerie, all side by side. Throw in a cigarette stand and a waiter trying to pull you into his café and you are in Istanbul.

Why haven’t I mentioned carpets yet? Because they are ubiquitous. People stand near the popular tourist haunts and strike up conversations with you starting with “can I help you find something? Where are you from? They are nice enough but it just eats your touring time as their sole purpose is to direct you to their carpet shop. You are never more than 20 meters from a carpet store. After three weeks in Turkey I find myself actually starting to need a carpet. Wondering how I will ship it / them home.

Today we went to the grand bizarre. It was spectacular. Getting through the tourist junk was irritating but everything else we incredible. We visited master goldsmiths and silversmiths making elaborate clocks and tea sets and jewelry. We visited a gold scrap dealer that melted recovered gold down and resold it. Julia held about 3 ounces of freshly poured gold, cooled of course. The guy told her to run as soon as he put it into her hands. She didn’t get the joke until I told her later that she was holding $4000. Rhys bought a new computer mouse from the electronics district, Holly bought a back gammon board, I bought a outdoor Ottoman water faucet and we headed home. Tomorrow is our last day in Istanbul and Turkey. I will be back to Istanbul for sure. I barely scratched the surface.

I don’t know if I will be able to shop at Home Depot or Costco anymore. I have never been able to stomach Wal-Mart regardless of my new experience.

Christmas Bazaar (Buh- zar)

The grand bazaar song (please sing as loudly as possible, the tune of “jinglebells”.)
Warning this song jumps from the tourists mind to the shop keepers mind.

Walking in my shoes,
To the Grand Bazaar,
Following Ri-ick Ste-eves Guide.
To find my way around,
Rhys got a new mouse
I got some new tights,
Dad got some new junky stuff
And it all worked out just fine.

Oh! Back- gamin, puffy pants,
the carpets never-end!
Tou-er-ists, we want your money, and my brother owns a carpet shop! Oh!
Jewelry shops, Shiny lamps ,
Pushy shop keep-ers!
I don’t care where your from, now, how rich are you?

1 minute ago,
I didn’t have that lamp
Now I do ,woo-hoo,
Dosen’t really make a difference.
My hog isn’t that high
So start going down in price,
I don’t know to ba-argin
So I can’t save a dime!

Oh! A smokers street, a gamblers dream,
you can pay the bill.
I-can’t-see, there’s people in front ‘a me, I lost you a-gein! Oh!
Bright co-lour’s, knock-off bags
Genuine fake watch-es!
I don’t care where your staying, now, how rich are you?

I’ll add pictures later! Thanks!

My Phobia

Yesterday, we visited Agia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. We went to a park and looked at a fountain while mom read us the day's tour we would take. First we went into Agia Sofia. The place used to be a Christian church, and they made it into a mosque because nobody came. In a mosque you're not allowed to paint people so they covered up all the paintings that had people in them, instead of destroying them. It shows a level of respect, because they're not valuable to the Muslims, but the Muslims knew they were valuable to someone else. Isn't that just, amazing? And now that it's a museum, they've uncovered the mosaics/paintings the Muslims preserved so the mosaics' value was applied. Anyway, thats just the first room we went into, heh. The next room was long, with about 5 doors along the right wall. The middle door was the biggest, and was reserved for only the sultan (emperor) to go through. We went through that one. Wow, they say that inside there you could easily fit the Notre Dame in France, or the Statue of Liberty in Egypt (just kidding, New York) if it wasn't holding it's torch. Have i mentioned that i hate high ceilings? I hate high ceilings. There was this one airport back home, and it had an uber high ceiling, with things hanging down from it. (shudders) ughuhuh! And a church in York with a super uber high ceiling, that was gross too. And now, Agia Sofia, higher than Notre Dame, (I've seen pictures) and all the other scaredoms. Yikes. I'm not deathly scared of high ceilings, but i am bothered by it enough to remember which ones bugged me.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Goreme Green Tour

We went on a great tour our last day in Goreme. We started at an underground city called Derinkuyu. Turks believe the Hittites were the first people to use the underground dwelling. They built two floors. They were ingenious with the things they did to keep it livable but horribly, I’m sure it was by trial and error. They used air shafts to keep the air fresh and linseed oil to burn in lamps because linseed oil does not produce smoke or poison toxins when burned. In the last century the place was used to store grains and wine.

Around 1960, just by accident the locals discovered there was a tunnel leading to another floor. The Germans arrived to excavate and found not one more floor but SIX, making a total of 8 floors in all! There was also a 9 km tunnel connecting the city to another city. Further excavations have located as many as 35 underground cities around the Cappadocia area. Derinkuyu is the largest.

We were able to go all the way to the bottom floor. It was a narrow, steep passage where you had to crouch while walking for much of the way. Periodically a room would be carved out to the right and at one point there were grooves in the wall where a stone could be rolled to block the passage.

It is theorized that many different societies used this city for various purposes. The Christians dug the many layers and used it to escape persecution or attack. It was awesome crawling around through these tunnels that would open into larger spaces and thinking about the people who used it to live.

For years it was believed that people would live underground for long periods of up to 6 months. Now it is believed that people spent much less time down in the caves; maybe only a week or two at a time. There are no toilets or showers which creates an interesting problem for sewage disposal. There are different theories about this. One is that they brought buckets and hauled it back out to the top when they left. Another is that they only used the top level for toileting as that is where they kept their animals. This seems unlikely to me because living on the eighth level and having to come up to the first level every time you had to go would be irritating. Another theory is that they used the excrement for fertilizer somehow. None of these seem really satisfying to me but it was all they offered.

There were large spaces for meeting, a church area, kitchen, graveyard, and punishment spot. They only cooked food in the kitchen at night so their enemies wouldn’t see the smoke. It seems weird to me they had a graveyard if they only stayed there for a week or two. It was also odd they had a punishment spot. I mean, they used this place to escape their enemies and they are busy punishing each other?? The punishment area was a rock to hang someone from. Maybe if they caught an invader, they’d hang him.

There were no real sleeping quarters for most of the people. They estimate 1000 – 2000 people could live underground at a time. People would just sleep wherever they could. As it was all cold rock, that must not have been comfy. Imagine having a bad back in that place! The VIP’s of course had separate living spaces. They even had a way to communicate between floors so if something was happening they could yell up or down to each other. That way everyone could escape quickly.

It was a really amazing experience for all of us except Julia who decided underground cities were not her thing.

Next we went to a canyon called “Ihlara Valley”. We went for a 2km hike along a beautiful river through the canyon. Doesn’t it look like Wile E. Coyote has been here? Rhys actually started to hum the music after we saw this rock. We had lunch at a restaurant on the river and it was the best lunch we had had on a tour yet. They served a lentil soup to start, then a salad with bread. The main course was a choice of meatballs (excellent), chicken shish kebob (excellent) or chicken casserole (excellent). Cats wandered freely around, and if you were foolish enough to sit at a low table the cats would crane their necks onto the table towards your meal. Because it was a tourist restaurant, all the people came at the same time every day and the cats were well trained.

After lunch we went to the Selime monastery built into the weird conical cliff formations. AFter looking at all the interesting cave homes in the cliffs, it was lots of fun crawling through them and looking at the amazing views out over the valley. The picture of Rhys and Julia above is at the missionary school. Again, notice the lack of safety devices. I keep saying Cappadocia is like another planet and I am not alone. The setting for Star Wars: Phantom Menace was near the monastery. If you saw the movie, you might recognize this picture.

We then stopped at the Pigeon Valley and Onyx demonstration centre. The only good thing about the Onyx centre was they gave Julia a piece of onyx they had polished for demo. Pigeon Valley was also underwhelming as the guide didn’t know the story of the pigeon civilization. I recounted the tale I had read in a guide and I am quite sure the entire bus was much more entertained by my version than by the guide. You see, the pigeons were here before the people. They apparently build a huge civilization with houses, streets, businesses and so on. I can’t quite remember why they left; sounded like they had it all.

The tour was expensive but we saw lots of things we wouldn’t otherwise have seen. I’m really glad we did something awesome our last day in Goreme. This is a place you definitely have to see at least once in your life.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today we discovered there are indeed turkeys in Turkey. We now wonder why that is not on any menu. We spent today hiking around Goreme but walk-a-thons seem to be our thing now. The day began with Rhys being violently ill. He had some sort of food poisoning and spent several miserable morning hours. We hung out with him for the first half of the day hoping he’d feel better but in the end he decided to spend the day in bed.

Tom, Julia and I decided to head out for Love Valley. This place gets its name from the interesting rock formations. I’ll let the pictures tell you the rest. We followed Tom’s secret route for about half an hour before he admitted he didn’t know where it would end and we should turn around and head back to the bus. We got lots of interesting pictures of Uchisar, the city we needed to get to, while we trekked, but it was fairly obvious we weren’t going to get there from here once we saw the steep cliffs down to a valley between us and Uchisar. Attacking cities in this place must have been a nightmare several hundred years ago.

We took the bus to Uchisar in the end and then climbed up the castle steps to a glorious view of the surrounding countryside. The castle was carved out of one of the larger fairy chimneys. The whole place is a departure from reality. On our way down we found turkeys and while we were still marveling over how this was so symbolic on Thanksgiving, Julia slipped and hurt her tailbone. She was a trooper however, and put in another 6km to hike the valley.

Love Valley was another bizarre experience. The trail went through tunnels of rock, tunnels of trees and brush, and narrow rock formations. Above towered weird pinnacles carved by erosion. Apparently it is all volcanic and the pinnacles are the hardest part of the to speak. It is all a bit strange. Tomorrow we’ll take a tour and maybe they’ll explain it a bit more.

We had our Thankgiving dinner at a traditional Turkish restaurant. It is a 475 year old building and we sat in the stables and storage area. The atmosphere was great. It even smelled old. We had to make reservations yesterday because the traditional dish they are famous for takes five hours to make. It is a stew type of dish made in a clay pot. The meat is chopped very fine because the pot is shaped like a vase with a narrow opening at the top. Foil is put overtop and the whole thing is put in the fire for five hours. To serve it, the waiter brought a hammer to our table and broke the top of the pot off and dumped the contents onto the dish. It was fabulous. We inhaled the food like ravenous wolves. Even Rhys said when the food arrived he forgot he was sick he was so focused on eating. After the meal we reclined on the Turkish cushions. It is surprisingly uncomfortable to sit at a low table but the atmosphere, music and food made up for it. It was a wonderful meal and probably one of the best we’ve had in Turkey so far.

Even with all of that, it didn’t really feel like Thanksgiving though as we missed all of our family and the yummy traditional meals we share with you. We’re thinking of you all! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, October 10, 2010


This is our second day in Goreme. The first day the temperature dropped from 28 to 5 degrees with wind and rain. Some guests reported snow on their hikes through the valleys. It was bitter. We were all hung over from our overnight bus trip. At best, we’d had about 2 hours of sleep at a time. They kept turning the lights back on and at times turned on music as well. Strange. At any rate, we passed the first day in a haze of shivering misery. When we finally got into our cave house, we all huddled into our beds and slept until late afternoon. We ventured out to find food but barely managed to stay out to eat before scurrying back to our cozy cave.

Today dawned bright and clear. The clouds had all been pushed back to the horizon and the air was crisp and fresh. I got out about 8am and could still see my breath but my attitude had shifted with the rain. I climbed up to a pinnacle and watched the balloons drifting over this amazing place. I ate my breakfast on the deck with three other Canadian ladies. We swapped stories and generally enjoyed the beautiful sunshine together.

When Tom and the kids finally surfaced from the cave, we headed out to the open air museum. We rented audio guides and crawled through some seriously weird monasteries. They had been built into the fairy chimneys with tunnels connecting them underneath. I don’t know what it is about weird locations but early Christians were a bizarre lot. The audio guide was disappointing in that it described in detail the frescoes and which apostle, saint or important figure was which but it didn’t tell us much else about the houses, lifestyles, building techniques and so on.

We did glean that the monks carved tables out of the rock (picture on right) and dug holes in the floor to stomp grapes (picture on left). We also just admired the views of this unique landscape.

This evening after dinner we all headed to the Elis Hamam for our Turkish bath experience. We wore our bathing suits and went in together, although if I had known not everyone would be wearing a suit, I would have opted to take Julia into the female only side. As it was, most of the men were modest enough to keep their towels on. Women all wore bathing suits. We entered into the sauna first. Julia announced she was hot and didn’t want to come in. With some encouragement she decided to join us. Rhys won the sweat contest with beads covering his body. I won the “who can stay in longest” contest. It really only brings my body temperature up to where everyone else’s is normally. I think I may be part lizard.

After the sauna, we sat in a marble room and a washer came to each of us to douse us in warm water and scrub us down with loofah pads. We then lay on a heated marble table in the centre of the room for our soaping. They had these weird cheesecloth type bags that they’d lift out of a bucket and whoosh through the air to fill. They’d hold the top of the bag closed and then press it down on your body creating masses of soap bubbles. What a different way to create bubbles. Rhys and Tom had men soapers and Julia and I had women soapers. The soaper smoothed the bubbles all over the front of us several times, massaging as they went. Then we flipped (the heated marble was truly lovely) and they soaped the back with a more vigorous massage. Tom had lots of slapping and cracking going on but he swears he feels better. After soaping, we returned to the marble seats on the outside of the room and once again were doused with warm water.

At this point I was starting to feel veeerrrrryyyy relaxed. I followed my soaper into another room with a large pool of cool water. We all dipped into the water and stayed for quite a while since we weren’t sure what to do next. When it was apparent no one was going to come to get us, we gingerly climbed out and asked one of the soapers what to do. He told us to go back to the sauna then back to the pool and then to shower off and leave. At least, we THINK that’s what he said as the Turkish accent is a bit hard to follow at times. “No problem” was definitely part of his soliloquy.

After the second sauna and shower, we left and another person greeted us at the door to dry and wrap us in a big towel. Then they wrapped another towel around our head. We went out to a communal room to lie on loungers and sip apple tea. When we tired of that, we went to the change room to get dressed. Both Julia and I agreed it was bed time as soon as we began to change.