Published: February 3rd 2007January 6th 2007
This cat lives in one of the underground cities. Does this make her a cavecat?
I spent two weeks over Christmas and New Year's in Turkey. The news leading up to my visit involved their entry into the European Union. The sense I got from BBC/CNN was that Turkey wasn't meeting some of the requirements and so an invitation had not been issued. The people I spoke with over the two weeks said that they didn't see a benefit in joining. They also don't necessarily see themselves as European--more of a combination of Asia and Europe. They thought that there were two real reasons that an invitation hadn't been issued: Turkey has a huge population--around 70 million--about the same as Germany. They thought that this may give them more power than the EU is comfortable with. Secondly, they think the real reason is that Turkey is, of course a Muslim nation. In some ways they are as advanced as many other EU countries, but in smaller villages not much has changed. I had to wait in a bus station in Kayseri. Wooden benches surrounded a wood burning stove. The people--mostly older--looked like they were from central casting.
Loud speakers are everywhere. Five times a day the faithful are summoned to pray at
This unusual landscape was created my volcanoes 10-2 million years ago.
one of the 70,000 mosques in Turkey. Prayers are said at 4:00 am., 11:30, 2:00, 4:30, 6:30 and 9:30. About 25% pray five times everyday. About 40% go to the Mosque on Fridays. The rest just aren't very religious. Turkey is considered a moderate Muslim nation. People are left to decide on their level of devotion, for example, alcohol, prayer, head scarf and so on. 90% are Muslim, 10% are Christian, 4% are Jewish. In Istanbul you can see a Mosque next door to a Synagogue. They have been side by side for hundreds of years.
Cappadocia has over 200 underground cities. Some date back to 4 B.C., but most are from the Byzantine era--fifth to tenth century A.D. They started when locals dug out rooms to hide in. The rooms started extended so that more and more rooms were added along with tunnels to join the rooms. This eventually led to entire self-contained cities being formed along with dwelling rooms, storage, stables, churches, wineries, millstones and even graves. During foreign invasions, the town's population could scramble into these underground communities. The underground city in the pictures was in Kaymakli. There are one hundred tunnels and the locals still
use them to reach underground stables, cellars and food stores. In the tunnels that I travelled through, I had to bend almost double and couldn't extend my arms much past my elbows. Definitely not the place for the very tall, the very wide or the very claustrophobic. Cappadocia is also known for fairy chimneys. Amazing landscape.
I can't say enough about Turkish Airlines. Spacious seating and, get this, a hot meal served on a two-hour flight and a sandwich or salad served on a 45-minute flight.
Other facts about Turkey. Turkey is said to be 1400 years old. Turkey was the first Muslim nation to have a woman in Parliament--923 A.D. Since 1923 women could instigate a divorce--the first Muslim country for this as well. Holland's tulip are originally from Turkey. Military service is compulsory for fifteen months, but if you have a university degree your service is for six months as a private or one year as an officer.
People have been very kind. In small villages the store owners invited me to sit by the stove to get warm. Others would invite me in for "tea drink." I drank lots of tea in two weeks.
In Izmir I was trying to find a travel agency that would arrange a city tour for me. I finally asked a police officer. He spoke very good English. He asked the other officers if they knew where I could find a travel agency. The five of them got into a heated exchange until one finally called the station on his cell phone. He said, "I take you." I thought he was going to escort me a couple of blocks, but he opened the door of the police van and we all piled in. They dropped me off at the agency and wished me a pleasant stay.
I took the subway from the airport to downtown Istanbul. When I left the subway and asked for directions for the tram, four teenage boys offered to show me the way. I thought the subway ticket I had was good for the tram as well. I lugged my bags up one flight of steps and down another. When we got to the turnstile, one of the boys asked the conductor where I could buy a ticket. He pointed up the stairs that I had just come down. One of the boys held
up his metro pass and looked hopeful. The conductor shrugged and literally turned his back. The boy triggered the turnstile with his pass and I got through the turnstile. The conductor didn't bat an eye.
The best story happened on New Year's Eve. I met an American on a tour that morning. He said that he had wandered into a nice little clothing store and met the owners. They hit it off and went for a drink. They asked him what his plans were for New Year's Eve and he said he hadn't thought about it. They said, "Why don't you come to our party at our tennis club. My husband is the president." I said that I planned to go to the city square for the countddown I had heard about. About 8:30 on New Year's Eve I got a phone call from the American and he said that he had called these people and said he had met another traveller who also didn't have plans and they said, "well, bring her along!" Luckily I had packed some silk pants and a nice tee shirt. This party was amazing. The tennis club itself was lavish. We had a
Unisar Castle was originally used as Byzantine burial tombs.
five-course dinner, live entertainment and then dancing until 2:30 in the morning. I was treated so well--such warm friendly people.
Bye for now,
There are more photos below