Wed, May 13
KLM flight 662 to Amsterdam – 747
Thursday, May 14
Arrive Amsterdam at about 8am, very tired, with a 4 hour layover to look forward to. Richard finds a place to take a nap, the rest of us shop and sit.
KLM 1615 to Istanbul – through another security check to get to the gate. Briefly delayed getting off the plane while they do a health check by asking us if we are sick. People in the rows on either side of the one young lady who admits to not feeling well are kept on the plane, the rest of us are free to go. Turns out someone who came from Amsterdam that day was the first case of swine flu in Turkey.
Load up luggage in one bus and us in another then drive in circles near our hotel, passing the same part of Theodosian wall and the same restaurant with red table umbrellas at least 5 times as the bus driver attempted to find the Holiday Inn, which was hidden in plain sight on the street we were driving on.
Dinner in a restaurant not too far away (how little we knew then about how far away dinner could be!) The food was great, our first introduction to Ayran (yogurt drink) which takes some getting used to. Also our first introduction the “the menu”: appetizers, soup, salad, grilled meats and rice, sweet dessert, Turkish tea. Almost every meal was a variation on this theme.
Following dinner, the bus took us to the Ortakoy neighborhood and cafes along the Bosphorus, rabbits picking lottery tickets, and the Ortakoy mosque.
Holiday Inn rooms pleasant if a bit small, excellent breakfast, lousy internet service.
Friday, May 15
Beautiful morning. Small bus (turns out they were all small buses) to Topkapi Palace, with the famous Fountain of Ahmet III in front of it. Just as we were through the gates and walking toward the palace, Cemil got a phone call and suddenly we were dashing to St. George’s church where we were meant to meet with the Patriarch of Constantinople. Or not, as it turns out. He wasn’t there, and wasn’t going to be there on the day were originally going to see him, either. But the building was ornate and beautiful, and our young deacon guide did his best to make us welcome while struggling to keep up with us and read his notes at the same time. Greek chanting in the background from a baptism on the balcony. So we toured and used the facilities and got back on the bus to return to Topkapi Palace, where we finished our tour among the throngs of other tourists, including school kids in matching shirts and Japanese with umbrellas against the sun. We went through all 4 couryards and saw a collection of very early items from Arabic Muslim history that had been assembled by the Ottoman sultans. The last courtyard overlooked the Bosphorus which was spectacular and explained why the sultans chose this site.
Lunch upstairs in a nearby restaurant with a view of the Blue Mosque, although perhaps not the one we originally intended to go to. Afternoon at the Hagia Sofia (Aya Sofya) – staggeringly large and beautiful. Then the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii), shoes in bag, head cover on. Long walk in the direction of the Archeologic Museum, but do not go there (closed at 4pm), rather took an even longer walk in the park below the museum, headed for a tea shop that never materialized. Lovely park. George’s fan club is following him around, a crowd of young women want their pictures taken with him.
Bus back to the Ortakoy neighborhood where the Orthodox Synagogue seems to be hidden among the restaurants. No photos. The doors are heavy reinforced metal, with inner doors and security guards attesting to the feeling of insecurity for Jews in Istanbul. Only those of us with US passports were allowed in (Sait and Cemil were excluded, Nur Can had stayed at the hotel to rest.) Inside was an open garden and the synagogue itself. There were a few older men (some spoke a bit of Spanish) and one young women there – ultimately, there were 10 men plus our group, just barely enough for the service to proceed. The women were sent upstairs to the balcony. The service went on approximately forever with the rabbi and the cantor trading back and forth and even Steve had occasional trouble following the service. Up in the balcony, there was no hope of following it, and a few short naps happened. It seemed that the service was longer than usual, including the Song of Songs in its entirety, apparently for our benefit. After a song in Spanish, we finished at about 9:30 and retired to a restaurant on the waterfront near the Golden Horn bridge for a fish dinner (??where was this dinner??).
Saturday, May 16
Archeology Museum – HUGE! Fabulous museum. No way to do it all.
Zaman newspaper for lunch served in the cafeteria, with (surprise!) soup, salad, grilled meat and rice, sweets and tea, then a tour and meeting with a couple of staffers. Interesting to hear their views on current events in Turkey. We gave them various gifts, including (surprise!) Texas lapel pins, and they gave us gigantic books, ideal for carrying all over Turkey in our suitcases, or not.
Back on the bus to dash to a dock on the Golden Horn for a boat ride. Under the bridge to the Bosphorus, and past any number of landmarks, including the Ortakoy neighborhood and its mosque, again. Sunny, breezy and pleasant. In an astonishing demonstration of sea legs, the captain managed to both pilot the boat and prepare and serve tea, spilling nothing. On our return, Richard buys a fresh fish sandwich that is then used to demonstrate how just one sandwich can feed a whole busload of people. (“no thanks, I just couldn’t eat another bite…”) Jim and Steve are so lost in conversation that they wander off and have to be retrieved before we can go on to the Writers and Journalists Foundation, where many of us struggle with postprandial sleepiness during the video presentation and subsequent conversation. More tea and sweets, and another exchange of gifts, this time including Turkish coffee cup sets for us. We then walk from Taksim Square and the flower stands down Istiklal street with at least 100,000 of our closest friends – some visit an ?orthodox church [what was the name of this church?], others just wander, and we lose Steve for the second time in one day. The rest of us have supper at a buffet restaurant; dinner is packed to carry out for Steve and Cemil, who is out looking for Steve.
Sunday, May 17
We are all in the lobby at 6am, ready to fly to Antalya. Remarkable amount of traffic for 6am on a Sunday. Breakfast in Antalya at a restaurant near the airport – very large breakfast buffet – puts Denny’s totally to shame. We visit Aspendos with our rather clueless guide – remarkably well preserved amphitheater, complete with gladiator for photographs. Swung by the aquaduct, where old ladies gave us oranges and sold us small trinkets to ward off the evil eye. From there to the Garden of Religions in Belek. Steve talks to the group in the synagogue, Jim talks to the group in the church, and Sait talks to the group (with the help of his Blackberry for background information) in the mosque. On to Perge, abandoned since the 7th century, but once pretty spectacular. A late lunch at the Taurus school (the Taurus mountains are always in the background here) – where the menu was – surprise! – soup, salad, rice and meat, sweets, and tea. A brief tour of the school and discussion of Gulen schools. Family dinners – charming children, very welcoming families, and a familiar menu. A long drive to what was undoubtedly a lovely resort hotel (name??) – we arrived at 10pm and checked out again at 3:30am to head back to Istanbul.
Monday, May 18
Very early flight (5am) to Istanbul to (not) see the Patriarch of Constantinople. Instead, we had a nice breakfast at a beautiful restaurant – honey in honeycomb for our bread! - and then went to the Church of St. Saviour in Chora, a Byzantine church with stunning and well-preserved mosaics and frescoes. Back to the Ortakoy area on the Bosphorus for some chill-out time and then off to the airport once again. On a 45 minute flight to Ankara on Turkish Airlines, they managed to serve an entire meal. Change planes to Urfa (now called Sanliurfa – “glorious Urfa” -, and in antiquity called Edessa) and directly from airport to a restaurant (name = _____) for a traditional dinner (the itinerary calls this a “traditional sila night”) including music with Kurdish drumming and singing by someone who turns out to be famous – featured in the newspaper in Istanbul on our last day in Turkey. Four local couples from the Gulen movement were at dinner with their photogenic children. We sat on cushions on the floor and some were brave enough to dance. This time the menu was the same but with “Urfa kabop” – you roll the meat, baked eggplant, and vegetables in very thin bread and eat it like fajitas in a taco. Lots of fun. Late to the Rabis Hotel (Steve said this was the hotel of his people, but they misspelled it.) Not a lot of English spoken in Sanliurfa – wake up calls were a challenge.
Tuesday May 19
Up a little later, we all needed some sleep! Nice balcony on the breakfast room, but already quite hot by 8am or so. Over 100 yesterday in Urfa. May 19 is a holiday – National Youth and Sports Day, commemorating something about Ataturk(??) - all the sights were mobbed. We started at Job’s cave (the cave of Eyyub) which only a few people actually saw. George’s fan club was in full flower. We escaped from there to the local museum which was quiet, pretty, and interesting, including Neolithic statues from 9000 BCE. Amazing. From there to a traditional copper bazaar and shop – a few people tried their hands with the hammer and punch to make a pattern on the copper, the rest of us just bought things. We wandered through the neighboring bazaar and had tea in the courtyard of a building from the time of Suleiman the Magnificent. Lunch was at a Gulen high school, and we were presented with copper plates, each with our names (mostly correctly spelled!) and then had a tour of the school. After lunch, we visited the fish in the Pool of Abraham and experimented with local dress, then wandered to Abraham’s cave (separate doors for men and women.) We spent a bit too long having tea and ice cream, followed by a dash to the airport. The holiday parades prevented access to our hotel and our luggage – we made our flight, but our luggage did not. Cemil [to whom we owe everlasting appreciation!] took the overnight bus along with all of our luggage! Getting out of the airport at Ankara is very quick with no luggage. Sack suppers of gyro sandwiches from a local restaurant. The Aktif Metropolitan Hotel was quite nice (complete with glass elevators), except it had no bar. Lots of washing of underwear in the sink in anticipation of yet another day in the same clothing.
Wednesday, May 20
The Anatolian Civilization Museum lives up to its reputation as an outstanding museum. Good shopping outside, too. Lunch at the same restaurant from which our sack suppers came, private dining room with an MP, Mr. Mehmet Sahin, along with some other local hosts from Gulen. Mr. Sahin invited us to visit Parliament – sitting in the balcony/gallery, Ric N noted that the complete disregard for the call to order was no different from the Texas Legislature. About 50 of 450 MPs are women. Flight to Izmir (bumpy) and directly to dinner at a restaurant with local families, held in a very large outdoor tent. Familiar menu, very friendly hosts. Izmir Comfort Hotel (for 2 nights)
Thursday, May 21
A little later start, breakfast on the 9th floor, elevator only goes to 8. Bus to Ephesus (modern city is Seljuk) during which Bob unveils the question cards for the first time, leading to many interesting discussions. When we arrive, we start at the top of the hill (?Bulbul?) with the house of the Virgin Mary – beautiful site, flowers everywhere. Then down the hill to Ephesus, with the best guide of the trip, Zafar. Ephesus is gigantic and amazingly well preserved. Our tag-along photographer did well with sales. Lunch at an outdoor restaurant down the smallest road the bus could possibly manage. Familiar menu, running late, as usual, so we gulped our tea. After lunch, the museum in Izmir with the statues of Artemis/Diana/Cybele (the earth mother), and then the basilica of St. John, where his body is actually, probably, buried. Back to Izmir in time for a Turkish bath (hamam). Not everyone partakes, but those who do come out with less skin (they scrubbed it off) and relaxed from the massage, except for Tarek, who was bent and stretched until he protested. Family dinners in modest homes on tiny back streets – at one home, twin 10 year old boys demonstrate Turkish dancing.
Friday May 22
Load up everything and drive to Sardis, capital of the Lydian empire. Much quieter than other sites, with the ruins of a very impressive synagogue. The swimming pool would have been inviting with water in it. Across the road, a large temple of Artemis, with monster columns. Beautiful surroundings, vineyards of table grapes all around. A very long drive back to Izmir for lunch at the seaside, same menu, seaside or not, then back to the airport to return to Istanbul. Last family dinner – this night in less modest homes. This time the bus driver managed to find the Holiday Inn on the first try.
Saturday, May 23
Leisurely morning, bus to the Grand Bazaar at about 10. Everyone found their own way back to the hotel after variable amounts of shopping and further touring. Back on the bus to go to dinner at a palace built for Egyptians in exile(?) – the bus driver had a little trouble finding it (OK, more than a little) including a long stop on the freeway with traffic flying by while he discussed the issue of whether or not to exit. The dinner site was gorgeous, complete with wedding. The driver managed to get us back to the hotel by 11pm with only a few small detours. Wake up call for 3am, to be in lobby at 3:30 for the return flights home.
Sunday May 24
Early wake up! It takes 12 minutes to get to the airport at 3:30am on Sunday. Fairly quick turnaround in Amsterdam, and back to Houston a few minutes early. What a trip.
Tight quarters on the bus
Cats almost everywhere