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.

15 comments:

Willa Blair said...

What a terrific trip report. It's too bad politics got in the way of part of your visit, but at least you were safe and able to leave when you were ready. And you came home with some fabulous memories and pictures! Thanks for sharing.

Patricia Rosemoor said...

Having the riots happen when they did put an edge to the end of our trip, but we were safe staying in the Ritz Carlton. Who knew after-dinner entertainment would be to actually see it happen outside the restaurant windows. I regret not being able to see the Bosphorus or spice market or Asian side of Istanbul. But I regret more what is happening to people we really came to like in the ten days before a political war broke out. I have to say that the same thing happened here in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic convention to people who were peacefully protesting Viet Nam. My late husband was gassed in Lincoln Park and all he was doing was sitting in the grass singing. Ironically, I was in Europe at the time. We can only hope the riots are settled equitably. I simply fear not. At least I have good memories of Sultanmet (Istanbul), Cappadocia and Bodrum to think about.

Loni Lynne said...

So glad you are back safe! What a wonderful experience--the good things--and I love all the tid-bits about the people! So much to talk about for years to come!

Rebecca York said...

Yes, Patricia, I feel really bad for the people. I hope the political unrest doesn't screw them up too much.

Joya said...

Wow, exciting and scary at the same time. So glad you're back safely, and thanks for sharing the magnificent pictures. No wonder your books are so realistic--you've experienced this sort of danger yourself!

Emelle Gamble said...

The photos and blog is wonderful, Ruth. Thanks so much for sharing. I have good friends from Turkey, and they are, as you, worried that this is only the start of troubles, not the end. In your next life, you could be a travel writer. This was facinating!

Nancy Baggett said...

Wow, the pics and your descriptions are fantastic. We, in fact, were planning to visit Istanbul this very week, but canceled as it doesn't seem safe. Now I'm even sorrier about all the unrest. Glad you made it back okay.

ckcrouch said...

Thanks for sharing your trip with us. I'm glad nothing happened to you except for the tear gas seeping into your room. Such a shame these governments won't work with their people instead of beating them into submission or trying tather.

Chassie said...

Sounds like an interesting trip. Glad you were able to enjoy so much of it. It's one thing to see events on the news and quite another to witness it firsthand. Gives one an appreciation for what others are going through. Still, your friends are relieved you're back. Great trip report and photos!

Toby Devens said...

Rebecca, that was a wonderfully written post. Turkey is a magnificent country with a rich history, fascinating sites and sights, and warm, friendly people. I'm glad I was able to visit a number of times in calmer circumstances and I hope this political crisis resolves well. The Turkish people deserve the nation envisioned by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, one firmly grounded in the modern age.

Barb Han said...

What an amazing visit and piece of history you were witness too. I have always wanted to visit Turkey, I've heard such wonderful things about it. With young children still at home, I won't be able to make the trip anytime soon. Maybe when the timing is good for me, I'll be fortunate enough to get to go. Thanks for sharing!

Barb Han said...

That should say, "witness to." :-)

Shanon Grey said...

I don't see me traveling anytime soon, so I enjoy those places vicariously--through you. Thanks for posting the wonderful pictures and the commentary. Great location research, just in case.

Rebecca York said...

Yes, I consider this trip great research. I might not use Turkey, specifically, though. I'm more likely to make up a location that's similar.

Nancy Weeks said...

What a great experience. I loved the photos. I can't imagine I'll get to Turkey, so it was great reading about your experience. I can almost see the scene from your next book of some wonderful alpha male protecting his heroine while making his way through the riots. Thanks so much for sharing.