Monday, June 17, 2013

Turkey and More

As you may know, I’m married to Mr. Travel.  He loves exploring the U.S. and the world.  And I've heard him brag recently that we’ve visited the sites of five of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  I say “the sites,” because most of them—like the Colossus of Rhodes—have fallen to dust. (Or scrap merchants, in the case of the Colossus.)  We saw the Great Pyramid of Giza on August 12, 2001.  I remember the date because we had been in Nairobi the day before, after a safari in Kenya and Tanzania.  If we’d been traveling a month later, we would have been grounded and unable to return to the U.S. until the 9/11 flight ban was lifted.

My husband’s latest delight was visiting the site of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. (Another ancient wonder.)  You can no longer see it, but its parts live on as building blocks in the castle at Bodrum, Turkey.

Our visit to Turkey began peacefully enough, with walking tours of the famous sites in Sultanahmet, the old-city part of Istanbul.  We marveled at Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, Topkapi, the Mosaic Museum, the Grand Bazaar.  And my favorite was the old Basilica Cistern near the Hagia Sophia. You go down into a watery cavern, supported by columns stolen from various Roman and Greek temples.  To even out the height, one sports a giant head of Medusa at the base.

My writer friend, Patricia Rosemoor, joined us near the end of this Istanbul visit. Then we all flew to Cappadocia, a region of weird rock formations, many hollowed out as living quarters, and even an underground city—going back to the time of the Hittites.  We stayed in a cave hotel and took a balloon ride over the unique landscape. Bodrum was next, where we all climbed around the castle, admired the gardens, the statues and the view of the harbor. One highlight was the “Museum of Underwater Archaeology,” where recovered shipwrecks and the goods they carried were displayed, some from the 25th century BC.  (That date is not a typo!)

We’d planned our trip to Istanbul to take in the antiquities first, then later returned to stay at a hotel on the Bosphorus, where we could visit the Asian side of the city. But when we came back to Istanbul from Bodrum, we ran smack into the protests.  Our hotel was close to the park that the protesters want preserved. From our eighth-floor window, and also from the windows in the dining rooms, we watched police hurl tear gas and try to clear the area with water cannons.  And at 2:00 a.m. one day, tear gas seeped into our room, stinging my eyes. The violence wasn’t all on the part of the police, however. We watched protesters remove paving stones and billboards to make barricades, which we had to walk past to leave the hotel.

People have asked me, “Were you scared?” No, but the riots trapped us inside the hotel for a day. Finally we did get out for a visit to the Spice Market and took a Bosphorus cruise—being careful to get back before the evening rioting started again.

I know I’ve been a witness to history in the making.  Actually, what I saw on our return trip to Istanbul saddened me.  There’s so much to see and do in Turkey. Although we only scratched the surface, we enjoyed many unique experiences you won’t see anywhere else. We loved the ancient sites, the shopping, and a glimpse into another way of life. The people were warm and friendly.  One highlight of our trip was a home visit to a family in Cappadocia, where the mom and daughter-in-law fixed us a delicious meal, and one of the school-age boys brought us a newly-hatched chick to admire.  Another great interaction was with the man in charge of the breakfast room in our first hotel in Istanbul.  I’d bought cat food for a stray mom cat and her kittens, then found out he was sneaking them cheese.

As I traveled around, I saw a lot of people whose jobs are dependent on the tourist industry. People working for Turkish Airlines, in hotels, restaurants, bazaars, at the attractions and in the Bodrum marina. And there were scores of tourists—from the U.S. and Europe.  But I think the government’s repressive reaction to the protesters has seriously cut that source of income. I know people who have already canceled trips to Turkey. And every time I read about the unrest, I pray that the people and the authorities can come up with a peaceful resolution—quickly.  But I honestly don’t see it happening.

Maybe some year you’ll get to see the fantastic sights I saw in Turkey. But I don’t think it’s going to be soon.