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Published: July 14th 2008
Into the arrivals gate she stepped, looking a bit confused perhaps, but with a big smile on her face. Welcome to Turkey, mom! We hopped a Havaş shuttle to Taksim and her adventures began. After lunch on İstiklal Caddesi, we headed to İstinye to take it easy for the rest of the day... until the party, that is.
Lütfiye kept me up into the wee hours the night before, rolling grape leaves and cleaning the apartment - which was already spotless enough, in my opinion. Mountains of food were prepared and good friends came in from as far as İzmit to welcome my mother on her very first day. Exhausting, overwhelming, and splendid!
My mother weathered her first full day in the country like a champ. After a large Turkish breakfast, we hopped a bus from İstinye back to Taksim. On the way, I pointed out the large Carrefour grocery store where we haul our food up the hill back to the apartment. Moments later, and ambulance wizzed by in the other direction. We turned at the Bosphorus and a second flew by, along with a fire engine. "I wonder what happened?" I said, and then we went back
My mother's first full day in Turkey. Jet lag didn't seem to slow her down one bit.
to admiring the view across the water to the Asian side.
We walked slowly down İstiklal, pausing for a moment at the Galata Tower, before continuing on to the Golden Horn. By this time we were quite ready for lunch, which we enjoyed at a restaurant on the Galata Bridge. The view was, of course, spectacular.
Next, we visited the gorgeous Yeni Camii, followed by a stroll through the Spice Bazaar and the smaller, but equally stunning, Rüstempaşa Camii. My mom went into a postcard-buying frenzy here. Through the crowds and up the hill we went until we found ourselves in the Grand Bazaar. We quickly cruised onward though, not in the mood for shopping and pushy touts.
Our sight-seeing for the day finished at the always awe-inspiring Sultanahmet Camii. My mother was thoroughly impressed and satisfied that the first three mosques that she had ever entered also happen to be arguably some of the finest ones in the world.
We returned in the evening to learn some very sad news from Sercan. The US Consulate, across the street from the Carrefour in İstinye (a half a kilometer or so down the road from the apartment),
Making our approach to Akdamar Kilisesi (church) on Akdamar Adası (island).
had been attacked that morning, around 11:00 AM, which is about when we had boarded the bus, very nearby. Three guards and three attackers were killed in the brief, awful skirmish. The emergency vehicles that we saw must have been rushing to the scene. It was the first such attack in İstanbul since 2002.
We rose at a painfully early hour the next morning in order to get to the Sabiha Gökçen Airport deep on the Asian outskirts of İstanbul. By lunchtime, we touched down in Van, a crowded, uninspiring city deep in Turkey's southeast. We checked into the no-frills Otel Aslan (Lion Hotel), and grabbed a cheap lunch. Welcome to Kurdistan, mom!
I must admit that after many positive reviews, I found Van to be rather blehhhhh. The city is certainly pleasant enough, though it's not exactly the type of place that romantic songs are written about; the "Paris of Southeast Anatolia" it is not. The roads were busy, and the buildings were designed to be functional, nothing more. Still, it was my mother's first experience in such a place and for that reason, it redeemed itself a bit.
After a brief stop in a very
rollin' grape leaves
Lütfiye is probably giving me noise here for making them too big...
welcoming, helpful and air-conditioned tourist information office, we headed off to Akdamar Adası (island). On the island we found the charming 10th-century Akdamar Kilisesi (church), with typical fading Orthodox frescoes decorating its interior. The exterior of the church bears a wealth of carved biblical scenes (David and Goliath, Adam and Eve, etc.) in such good condition that I'm skeptical as to whether or not I should believe the guard's assurances that they are "orijinal."
We hitched a ride back into town with some friendly Kurdish men who have been living in Norway for twenty-five years and a Norwegian man who is the brother-in-law of one of them. There was a confusing blur of languages filling up the car.
We left the next morning after a fantastic breakfast, heading north along the Iranian border by minibus. We stopped along the way at the Muradiye waterfall, the finest one I've yet seen in Turkey. We stopped again for a flat tire, which was quickly repaired. Off in the distance we saw Iranian mountains.
Our most annoying stops were at military checkpoints, a frustrating part of travel in Turkey's eastern regions. We were able to pass each one with minimal
Ready for adventures!!!
hassles. After the first one my mother mentioned that she had just seen a machine gun in real life for the very first time. They're quite ugly.
By late afternoon we showed up at Doğubeyazıt, a place that my mother still cannot correctly remember the name of. Fair enough. We made our way to the İshak Paşa Sarayı (Palace), built between the years 1685-1784. The guidebook states that its "architecture is a superb amalgam of Seljuk, Ottoman, Georgian, Persian and Armenian styles." Whatever it is, it's quite interesting-looking and is set in a breathtaking location 6km outside of the city on the side of a mountain.
The view from the palace, overlooking the city in the valley below, is shaped by a wide ring of mountains. On the right side of this view is Ağrı Dağı (Mt. Ararat), soaring above to 5137m. This is where Noah's Ark is said to have landed. Had the sky not been so hazy, we would have been able to see it from there. We did however catch a glimpse of it later from the hotel balcony.
Three Germans trekking Ağrı Dağı were kidnapped a week or so ago, so there was
İshak Paşa Sarayı
The sky was unfortunately not clear enough for me to capture that guidebook-style image of the dramatic surroundings.
a heavy military and press presence in Doğubeyazıt. Motives for this horrible event seem as unclear as those for the embassy attack. Both are very sad blemishes for this normally safe country. Thankfully, neither seemed to disturb my mother very much, though she is typically very good at worrying.
Some castles and other sites tempted us to return to Van for a few more days, but we opted instead to move west. Tatvan was our next stop, on the other side of Lake Van, Turkey's largest lake. The small city proved to be nearly as charming as Doğubeyazıt. We fell asleep to sounds from a lively wedding down the road.
The next day was my mom's birthday! Instead of a cake, we celebrated with a crater. Nemrut Dağı (not to be confused with Nemrut Dağı, the identically-named place, with the heads, near Malatya) is inaccessible during half of the year because of snow. In July, it's quite nice.
We paused at a small village on the way up and chatted with some smiling young Kurdish women who had the unenviable task of cleaning wool in filthy water, under the hot sun. This was my mother's first exposure
Hazy skies obscured the views in Doğubeyazıt. Still, Ağrı Dağı (Mt. Ararat) managed to show its towering self a few times during our visit.
a rural developing world setting like this and I think it made quite an impact on her. The women seemed entertained by our visit and surprised that I could speak to them (a little bit) in Turkish.
The crater's circumference is something like forty-seven kilometers. Within this area are five lakes, plenty of space for trekking and camping, and at least one little tea shack run by a two-hundred-year-old man. Here, a spontaneous Kurdish lesson took place - that is to say a lesson in the Tatvan brand of Kurdish, as the language is quite varied from place to place.
We stopped to see a steam cave and an "ice" cave, both of which were actually just over sized holes in the ground. They did however produce very hot air and very frigid air, respectively. We picnicked next to the largest lake (7km x 2km, 150m deep) and I had a refreshing swim in its clear water.
Then it was back to Tatvan to pack up. By last night we had made our way to Hasankeyf.
This is my third time in amazing Hasankeyf. The Arab/Kurdish city's days are numbered with the coming of the İlisu
This friendly village is on the side of Nemrut Dağı.
Dam about 60km downstream (the Syrians and Iraqis, who depend on the Tigris River, aren't too happy about it either). Hasankeyf possesses an incredible collection of ancient picturesque treasures, many of them pre-Ottoman. The town's thousands of years of history are scattered over a spectacular landscape of rocky cliffs and valleys, with goats running around everywhere you look. Nobody seems to be quite sure when exactly the dam will be built, but there doesn't seem to be much hope left of saving the place, despite determined efforts to do so. It is heartbreaking. Even pop icon Tarkan has joined the fight.
My mother has fallen in love with the place as much as I have. Despite today's oppressive heat (about 112 Fahrenheit) we took two long walks, exploring the castle and a few valleys. We're downing 2L bottles of water as if they were shotglasses. We paused in a cave restaurant (Hasankeyf has hundreds of caves, reminiscent of Kapadokya) for lunch and relaxed there for a few hours, chatting with three Slovene students and avoiding the worst of the oven-like afternoon heat.
In the evening we ventured out again with Roger and Janet, a thoroughly entertaining Aussie couple,
It is a strange feeling swimming in a huge lake at the top of a mountain.
both utterly smitten with traveling India. They are the type of people that exciting stories just ooze out of: "last year we took Roger's ninety-one-year-old mother to Vietnam for three weeks..."
Tomorrow we will bid a sad farewell to this charming place as we aim our sunburned selves for destinations further west. Time is flying by...
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