I had no idea that I would be visiting the place where the idea of the Anti-Christ was born or the book of Revelation was composed, but there I was clowning around in the baptismal pool of the church that was built on the grave of St. John, apostle of Christ and author of Revelations.
It was an impressive ruin. If it were still standing it would still be the 7th largest Christian church in the world, but it’s not standing. It’s crumbling. Amazingly as we walked through, I saw something blue on the ground and reached down to see what it was and realized I was walking over an unprotected fresco that no one had bothered to uncover. It wasn’t a recognizable scene, but I spent the next few minutes uncovering it so that others might notice it and maybe someone would even put some sort of barrier around it.
Christian tradition says John lived to an old age and to have died a natural death at Ephesus about A. D. 100. He was the last survivor of the apostolic group. The Gospel was probably written later than the three Synoptic Gospels, about A. D. 85-90.
Apparently after Christ was crucified, John and Jesus’s mom came along and settled in this area. John preached and wrote. John was the best writer of the ancient world. Just look at the way he uses words. Here are some of my favorite bits attributed to him:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John answered them, “I baptize in water, but among you stands one whom you don’t know
Jesus, having found a young donkey, sat on it
I will write upon him my new name.
Revelation, 3. 12
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death.
Revelation, 6. 8
Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.
Revelation, 13. 18
And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
Revelation, 17. 5
And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.
Revelation, 18. 21
For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.
Revelation, 22. 15
Good stuff. The Basilica was built by the Emperor Justinian in the 4th century AD on the spot where John was said to have been buried. Not far away in the hills is the house of the Virgin Mary. We didn’t make it there this time, nor did we make it to the cave of the seven sleepers which is supposed to be a place where seven young men fell asleep for a few centuries and woke preaching about God.
John was the first science fiction writer. It was he who put those crazy ideas about Jesus being the son of God into all those crazy Christian heads and he also provided the creepy lyrics for that great Iron Maiden song, The Number of the Beast.
This was a wonderful day from back on our first international trip together in 2010. This post is a bit of a mess with all the pictures, but it captures the day very well.
One of the things I had been most looking forward to in Turkey was taking a boat up the Bosporus Strait to the Black Sea. There is something about both those names which strikes those chords in me that still believe in magic and set out to see the world expecting to find the adventures of Marco Polo, Jim Bridger, Sir Richard Francis Burton, Ibn Buttata, and other great explorers. I know…the world is a very different place than it was during the times of those heavyweight explorers but still, the chance to see new places that I’ve spent my life reading about and imagining is really why I travel.
And so, the chance to cruise along the mighty Bosporus and to see the dangerous waters of the Black Sea was something that I wasn’t going to miss.
Our friend Alp took Hanane and I for a lovely walk through Kadikoy. We loved the Rose Garden and something that we found throughout Turkey and enjoyed hugely were the exercise stations.
Not only are they free and sturdy, but they are also fun. Since we wanted to catch the ferry up the Bosporus, we didn’t have time to take a swim at the Marmara Sea Beach or eat an ice cream, but thanks to Alp, we know that Kadikoy is much more than just where the people who work live as so many of the guidebooks say.
From the beach we took a bus to a ferry boat at Kadikoy, the boat to Eminonu, and managed to get our tickets for the Bosporus cruise on the public ferry just as the boat was literally shoving off. If we had missed it, we wouldn’t have gotten to take the cruise.The only bad part was that most of the comfortable seats were already taken because we had arrived a bit late.
By the way, public transport in Istanbul is 1.5 lira whether it is bus, tram, or ferry. The longer ferries cost a bit more, this one was 25 lira each for the round trip and very much worth it. The trip up the Bosporus was about 2 hours.
We left from Eminonu Pier where we had amazing water views of the Galata Tower which was built in 1348 and rises above the Beygolu portion of the city like a magic castle. On the left side was Europe and on the right side was Asia. Wow. On the way to Besikatas we passed the magnificent Dolmabahche Palace which dates from the 19th century.
The snow white palace stretches 600 meters down the shore of the Bosporus…impressive? Yes..
A bit further on, we had wonderful views of the Ortakoy Mosque which was built by Sultn Abdulmecid in 1854.
Not all that old, but certainly very pretty and in a great location.
We then we passed under both bridges which are the connecting points between Europe and Asia. We passed several more palaces and pavilions (The Beylerbeyi Palace, the Goksu Pavilion)
Along the shore there were gorgeous old Ottoman era wooden houses which are called yali – meaning coast.
We made a brief port call at Kanlica where the stewards brought fresh yogurt aboard for 2 lira each. It was delicious even if overpriced a bit. Then further on we stopped at Sariyer and RumeKavagi and then a final stop at the Black Sea fishing village of AnadoluKavagi where we had lunch..
If you go to Anadolukavagi be warned that the restaurant touts there are as pushy as those in Fes. Go past them. Walk up straight from the ferry dock. When you come to the 2nd cross street look left and you will find a tiny, non-descript place run by a very nice family.
Hanane and I shared a massive lunch of delicious mackeral filets, fresh hamsi, calamari, breaded mussels, fresh bread, sand a delcious salad for just 16 lira and that included water and sodas. It was one of the best meals we had in Turkey. Absolutely delicious . Of course, we did work up an appetite before we went there because we climbed up to the Yorus Castle (which is only about 1000 years old or so but in a worse state than many far older things in Turkey) for amazing views of the Black Sea.
After lunch we strolled around stealing the occasional piece of fruit from fig and plum trees. We met three nice local girls who asked to take their pictures with us. It reminded me of Japanese tourists in Waikiki randomly asking if I would be in their pictures with them.
Finally we caught the ferry back to Eminonu, the ferry back to Kadikoy, the bus back to Alp and Seraps, and Hanane made chicken and vegetable tagine and amazed Serap with her culinary skills.
An incredibly nice day. The only sad part was that when we went to bed, we knew that we would be leaving our new friends and Istanbul the next day.
Even though we followed the good advice to go to Ephesus (called Efes in Turkey) late in the day to avoid the busloads of tourists from cruise ships, we still found it to have a population that may well have been in excess of what it held when it wasn’t a ruin.
Lots of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese tourists were there. We were surprised to see two young Turkish girls go up to a Korean group and ask to have their picture with them “Can we have a picture with you? My friend is a big fan of Koreans.” Really, that’s what they said…in English. Then they all posed together for about fifty photos.
We had brought a lunch with us. We picked up a huge sandwich and some fries for 5 lira from a Libyan guy in Selcuk and then caught the minibus out to the site for 4 lira each. The entrance fee was 20 lira per person (2010) which you would think would include seeing all the ruins, but they want an additional 15 lira each to see the terrace houses which are well preserved and have some great mosaics, I know this because I looked at pictures of them on the internet after we chose not to pay the extra 30 lira.
While Efes is magnificent and I don’t regret seeing it, I have to say that because of the crowds and the high fee, it isn’t something that I would consider a must see, in particular if you have spent time in other well preserved classical cities (such as Volubulis in Morocco) .
People have been living cities in this area for about 8000 years. At about 1050 BC, it was a port city for the Greeks called Apasas. In about 300 BC, one of Alexander the Great’s generals changed it to Ephesus. For the Roman’s it was the capital city of the state of Asia. It was founded as a city dedicated to the Goddess Artemis who represented hunting and the moon.
The Romans called her Diana. Ephesus stopped being a port city when the sea receded about 600 AD. The city was also controlled by the Persians during its long history.
Within the city there were an amazing number of statues that I am surprised have not been looted. Hanane said she thought they were all fakes. I didn’t want to believe her. Her reasoning was that things couldn’t be that old – my emotional response was that of course they could be.
The gorgeous Library of Celcius makes the perfect photo opportunity, for everyone, and no one got a solo shot while we were there. In fact, we saw some guys who were intentionally photo bombing people’s shots at the last second. At one point the library contained 12,000 scrolls. The Goddesses of goodness, thought, knowledge, and wisdom ( Arete, Ennoia, Episteme, and Sophia) grace the exterior.
A short way up we found the Roman men’s toilets near the Roman brothel. The toilets were of an ingenious design with a hole on top to go in and a hole on the bottom to wash in. Apparently there were brushes that sat in a trough of running water that ran around the toilets. No divider walls. I can’t say what the whores were like.
The Great Theater was indeed great and we were amazed to eat our lunch at the top and hear the whispers of Chinese tourists on the stage floor. It was built to hold 24,000 people and is the greatest theatre of the ancient world. Personally, I think it deserves a better name.
The Gate of Hercules was also quite nice to admire too as were the many statues. As we wandered around and looked at the statues, I began to think that maybe Hanane was right and that many of the statues at Ephesus are indeed fake. It just seems strange that conquerors and ancient souvenir hunters would leave such beautiful treasures out in the open. On thinking about it, I think they are fake too.
The most surprising thing about Olympos is the huge volume of choice when it comes to places to stay. Since Thailand, I haven’t seen this many bungalows, backpackers, or pancake stands – perhaps the hardest part of coming to Olympos is picking where to stay.
Since we wanted to come here for four days, we opted to split our time between two of the most famous tree house resorts. The first, Bayram’s tree houses, I should point out that this is the off season, so it was pretty calm and quiet, but even so there were some serious drinking sessions around the nightly campfire.
After two very fun days there, we moved up the road to Kadir’s Treehouses. While there are tree houses and bungalows here – it would be more appropriate to call it Kadir’s fully integrated backpacker tree house resort and bungalow complex and village – but that might be too much of a mouthful. We had plenty of opportunity to meet with Kadir himself and to explore the property –
Kadir came here 25 years ago when there was nothing in Olympos but farmhouses and shepherd camps. He left a career in economics in Ankara behind to tune in, turn on and drop out – well after the hippies of the 60’s but well before the hippies of the now. His parents and friends told him he was crazy but he bought a piece of land next to a stream in Olympos, built a tree house, and carried what he needed from up the mountain or bought it from the nearby farms.
At this point, a few backpackers started coming to see the ruins at Olympos and a couple of them asked if they could rent his tree house for the night. Then it happened again. And again. So he built a second tree house – but more backpackers came. So he built more. And within a couple of years he had tree houses, bungalows, and even a couple of bars to satisfy the thirst of the the backpackers.
The nearby farms saw his success and they copied the model. Now, while I didn’t hear anyone say this overtly, there seems to be some bad blood between the farmers and Kadir these days – on the one hand, Kadir is the stranger in a valley filled with family – and on the other, people stole his business model and then – according to one source – when his property caught on fire while he was away – just let it burn and didn’t notify anyone until it was too late. Kadir says that when he arrived his tree houses, bungalows, bars, and even the trees were completely gone. I’m assuming that no one was here when it happened since Kadir said that nothing was saved.
So Kadir built again. Today, his sprawling complex still has a few tree houses – including one built on a huge 750 year old cedar stump that Kadir bought from the government and then trucked down here! It’s his log-o now.
During peak times, Kadir hosts as many as 350 backpackers! His complex has a nightclub (The Bull Bar), a Pizza House, The Hanger Bar, an activity center, a volleyball court, a huge fire pit, and the downstairs restaurant/bar where dinner and breakfast are served which feels like it could have been imported directly from Alaska. This is even including the bartender Simon who wears a red plaid lumberjack shirt and even though his English is very good always replies “Thank you very much!” even when it doesn’t fit. (As in Alaska – the odds are good but the goods are odd)
Kadir is usually playing backgammon, snapping photos on his Galaxy Note, or wandering around. The bungalows and treehouses are colorfully painted and built in a haphazard, Tom Sawyer treehouse way which includes half bent rusty nails and railings that feel as if they might break under your hand. If there is a downside to Kadir’s – it is that the size and numbers create a sort of junkyard feel to parts of the complex with disused furniture being piled in unused corners and piles of broken plumbing or wood scraps tumbled around devil may care – but then, that adds to the overall feel of the place. Sanford and Son meets Tom Sawyer. Kadir’s is about a 20 minute walk from the beach but the stream and mountain views make that a pleasant journey.
We stayed in a deluxe bungalow facing a gorgeous rock face and the beautiful clear water stream. It was big, clean, had AC and heat, hot water and was comfortable. We found the included breakfast and dinner to be tasty and filling. All of this for about 25 Euro per night, is a steal and one of the best deals going in Turkey, if you ask me. If you want to go even cheaper – you can rough it in the treehouses or sleep in the dorms, but honestly – the lack of comfort and privacy wouldn’t be worth it for me. Still, the backpackers we spoke with who were doing that, loved it.
What’s next for Kadir? He told me he has found a new location where no one goes yet and this time he is going to open an eco-resort. It will be his fourth property – he now has a family resort, Kadir’s Garden, Kadir’s treehouses and then Kadir’s Eco-Resort – the moral of the story? Sometimes it pays to drop out and go live in a treehouse!
One of the highlights of visiting Olympos is a trip to see the fantastic Chimera fire on the mountain. These fires have been burning for tens of thousands of years and even when you douse them, they quickly reignite. It’s not a huge surprise to find that numerous tales and legends have grown from these – but by far, it is the Greek story of the Chimera and Pegasus which is the most well known. Rather than retelling again (it’s in the video above) – here it is from the most prevalent source on the internet:
Homer’s brief description in the Iliad is the earliest surviving literary reference: “a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle, and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire”.
Hesiod’s Theogony follows the Homeric description: he makes the Chimera the issue of Echidna: “She was the mother of Chimaera who breathed raging fire, a creature fearful, great, swift-footed and strong, who had three heads, one of a grim-eyed lion; in her hinderpart, a dragon; and in her middle, a goat, breathing forth a fearful blast of blazing fire. Her did Pegasus and noble Bellerophon slay”
Sighting the Chimera was an omen of storms, shipwrecks, and natural disasters (particularly volcanoes).
The Chimera finally was defeated by Bellerophon, with the help of Pegasus, at the command of King Iobates of Lycia. Since Pegasus could fly, Bellerophon shot the Chimera from the air, safe from her heads and breath.
It’s said that the people were so happy at the defeat of the beast that they held a special games to celebrate and lit the torch commemorating the games from the flames…yes, the Olympic flame comes from here.
While most of the treehouse resorts will organize trips to see the Chimera – since we had a car (and a baby) we opted to drive ourselves. The winding road took about 45 minutes from Olympos and then the hike of 5 km or so was another 45 minutes – be sure to bring a flashlight and to wear shoes with good grips since the trail can be treacherous – especially in the dark which is the best time to experience the magic of this amazing spot.
Camel Wrestling. Sounds dangerous. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I saw it on Couchsurfing as a group activity for those near Izmir in the town of Selcuk, Turkey.
While it is a little hard to understand the excitement that one feels in the crowd, it is motivated by the thing that Turks love and get the most excited about. Money. It’s the bets that make the sport worth while and if you aren’t betting, chances are that you aren’t really enjoying things to the fullest. Still, it is important to understand what is happening if you are going to be a spectator. I was going to write an article about the intricacies of this amazing sport, but it turns out that someone has already done that:
Burak H. Sansal over at 2Camels.com writes: While the Spanish have bullfights, and the Italians cockfights, and the English go hunting with hounds, the Turks have camel wrestling. Camel wrestling is now mostly restricted to the Aegean region though it was once more widespread in Anatolia. In the winter you will see elaborately saddled camels being paraded through the villages with the owner extolling just how his camel is going to make mince-meat of anyone rash enough to challenge his beast. The camels are all fully grown bulls specially fed to increase their bulk further, and the sight of them wrestling one another would seem to promise some spectacular action.
In reality it doesn’t happen and camel wrestling is more akin to comedy than to blood- sport. Bull camels normally wrestle and butt one another in a knock- out contest for precedence in a herd, and more importantly, precedence in mating. In the arena two bulls are led out and then a young cow is paraded around to get them excited. It’s very easy to know when a bull is excited as streams of viscous milky saliva issue from his mouth and nostrils. Mostly the two bulls will half-heartedly butt each other and lean on the other until one of them gives in and runs away. This is the really exciting bit as the bull will often charge off towards the crowd, with the conquering bull in pursuit, and the spectators must scramble hurriedly out of the way.
And that’s about the size of it, but the real interesting part is in the crowds. Horns, drums, and the smoke of a thousand cooking fires as the spectators, mostly men, barbecue camel, sheep, and chicken – drink raka and beer – and place huge wagers on which camels will win. While I wasn’t exactly sure how the events themselves work, watching the camel spit fly was entertaining (from a distance) and weaving through the elbows only crowd to see the various fires, tables, and sweet spots that were set up was exotic as hell.
The strange thing for me was just how much camel meat was actually consumed at this event which was in a way, honoring camels. And yeah, in case you are wondering, I got a camel sausage sandwich and it was delicious! Spicy, not as hairy as sheep sausage and was the perfect thing to watch the camels wrestle by. That and some raka.
To be honest, two hours of the camel wrestling was enough for me. I took a lot of exotic camel pictures, but since I wasn’t getting drunk or betting on the camels, or having a barbecue with friends – it was actually pretty boring once the medieval festival aspect of it wore off.
It really was like being in a time long long ago with the drums, the smoke, the sounds of the camels grunting and fighting, and the sound of the nasal ne floating on the sausage smoke breeze.
I’ve had a fascination with Sufism since I first learned of it. Interestingly, I was reading the poems of Rumi, way before I ever knew what a Sufi was.
I thought they were beautiful and ephemeral and spoke to what I felt was true. At the time, I was deep into Taoism and the Tao te Ching and I was amazed that this Persian poet had captured the essence of the Tao so well.
Later, through my brother, I met a profoundly interesting man, Sharif Baba. Sherif Baba is a Turkish whirling dervish. He was living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and having zickers in the basement of a tea house called Silk Roads. He liked my brother and the three of us connected well in conversation both at the tea house and in the house where Sherif Baba was staying. I would say that in the short time I knew him, I picked up some of the most interesting pieces of spiritual wisdom that I have come across. Probably the most interesting thing was that God needs to be taken with a sense of humor. As Sharif Baba said “All the buses lead to the same bus station.”
It was at this time I discovered that my favorite poet was the founder of the most important sufic order. I began reading a lot and fell in love with Sufi parables and realized that while this was definitely Islam, it was all inclusive Islam. I asked Sharif Baba why whirling was important and he told me something like this
“The dervish whirls so that the true form of the world can be seen. When we whirl all the individual pieces we think are separate blend together and we begin to sense the totality that is God.”
Needless to say, my mind was blown as I immediately saw the truth in his statement. Like the Hindu story of the blind men who are arguing over what an elephant looks like based upon which part they touched, humans argue over what God looks like based on which part they’ve touched or been told that others touched. It was around this time that I truly became a Muslim, one who submits to the will of God. The reason was simple, I recognized that there is no choice in the matter.
As I have said before, being a Muslim shouldn’t be about the pillars, not about the Quran, not about fasting, not about anything except that understanding, that submission, that recognition. Don’t confuse the forms with the reality.
So, needless to say, I was excited to see dervishes whirling in Turkey. It is only in the west that we call them Whirling Dervishes, they call themselves the Mevlevi Order and they were founded by Mevlana Rumi in the 13th century. Yes, that’s the same Rumi. The basic tenets of the order are tolerance, forgiveness, and enlightenment and while I’m still failing pretty hard on all those counts, I recognize that my life would be better if I had stronger versions of all three.
Essentially, the zicker (rkir) is a religious ritual which is a prayer to Allah (aka God and many other names). The basic idea is to let go of ties to the forms and to merge with the totality of the divine. Music and dance are an integral part of this.
The Mevlavis played a huge role in Turkish culture in music, art, calligraphy, dance, poetry, and religious thought.
We went to a refurbished Hammam and we sat in an audience. There were clear signs not to take pictures since it was truly meant to be a religious experience. There were also signs not to applaud and not to speak during the music and dance. It seems that I was one of the only ones who read them though. Pity.
The dervish pictures in this post are from internet sources.
For the most part the audience was respectful but we had three Russian Israeli’s (Israilis who spoke Russian) next to us who spoke in loud voices, cracked jokes, and took pictures during the entire thing.
It was an incredibly moving performance even with the distraction. It brought tears to both of our eyes. The whirling of the dervishes was mesmerizing and the music was trance like and completely divine. Most of the crowd stopped applauding and talking and looked as moved as we felt. Not those three next to us though.
When we left, we were surprised to see that they were staying for a second performance.
In Central Anatolia lies a land that looks like it comes from The Lord of the Rings- Cappadocia. Even the name has the ring of a fairy tale Kingdom.
“I, Sir Vago of the Kingdom of Cappadocia, do ride forth to seek out new lands and great fortunes.” – or something like that, though Cappadocia was never a kingdom of its own and in fact was a place of troglodyte refuge for Christian outcasts and societal misfits.
The landscape of massive stone chimneys (wistfully called fairy chimneys) and dream like rock formations are the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. From the 4th to the 11th Century a community of Christian refugees carved an unbelievable number of churches from the stones. Houses were also carved and the traditional livelihood was agriculture until the 1980’s when a tourist boom started.
A new friend we met in Goreme, Cemil, has lived there since that time and he remembers when there were only three hotels in Goreme. Now there are hundreds and when we arrived, they were almost all full. No need to tell you what the number one industry is now. Many people come to Goreme just so they can enjoy Cappadocia Balloon Tours. There is nothing quite like floating over the fairy chimneys as the sun comes up.
Goreme is a magical place and filled with charm. An interesting fact is that in Goreme, it used to be that if a man didn’t own a pigeon house, he wouldn’t be able to get married. These days there must not be many marriages, though more likely is that that particular tradition was tossed aside with agriculture when tourism became so lucrative.
Virtually everything in Goreme is directed at tourists from the hot air balloons to the travel companies, tour companies, restaurants, and tourist shops. Unlike other tourism hot spots though, the prices seem reasonable and the people don’t seem so hungry for the hunt.
It’s one of the things that really makes me sick about tourist places is that the people who work in tourism tend to forget that the clients or customers are real people, instead they become prey. It’s the same for criminals, people become prey and they are something to be hunted. I went through it myself as a tout and as a stock broker, if people simply become a means to an ends, life becomes much less magical and satisfying. While we did encounter quite a few people who were on the hunt in Goreme, it was less than r Fez and the hunt itself was less in your face than either place as well.
We had a very nice breakfast with our friend Cemil at the Blue Moon Hotel before heading out to the Goreme Open Air Museum. this is an astounding place, though no more so than Goreme itself. The big draw at the Open Air Museum are the rock cut Byzantine churches and the painting and frescoes they contain. Admission was 15 lira each.
Flash photos weren’t allowed and several guides told us not to take photos at all which was a bit extreme(they say the flash destroys the color of the old paintings). And in fact, everyone was doing it.
The rock cut churches had interesting pews and tables carved in them, graves which had been robbed or excavated in the floors, and of course the paintings. This was a monastic community and then became a pilgrimage site for Christians in the 17th Century.
Hanane was not overly impressed with the paintings, in particular the Red Ochre made very little impression on her. “I could get up there and paint the same thing right now. They’re fake.” By this point, we were laughing each time she called something fake but I still think she was partly serious. Once again we opted to skip the extra fee, this time 8 lira each to see the frescoes in the Karanlik Kilise. I feel no regrets over that. I really hate to pay an entrance fee only to be faced with another entrance fee.
We exited feeling that we had both seen enough churches. While we didn’t have the time this visit to go to the underground cities, it was a nice thing to whet our appetite with the rural charms and comedic tourist hunting that takes place there. As examples of how the hunt is conducted in Goreme you can look at the names of the Pensions. Flintstones Pension, Bedrock Cave Hostel, Ufuk Pension, Shoestring Cave Pension and more. We were recommended to try the Peri Cave Hotel, though as I wrote previously, we were very fortunate to be staying in the Moonlight Cave Suites.
We strolled through the Rose Valley and then went back to Goreme village where we had a bad dinner, at Cappadocia Pide Salonu. Not recommended. Awful.
From there we hiked up to the highest point in Goreme and watched the sun go down and the lights of the fairy chimneys flicker on in Goreme. A bottle of wine would have made it perfect.
From there it was back to our cave to enjoy the hot tub, king size bed, and overall luxury of the Moonlight Cave Suites. Warning – don’t scroll down or you will see more of me than you want to.
Istanbul may not be the first place you think of to take a family vacation, but the city that bridges two continents is an extraordinary place to take a family vacation. While there may not be an Istanbul Disneyland (yet!), the city abounds with activities that are worthy of inclusion in any magic kingdom.
The Istanbul Aquarium is filled with more than fish. Educational multi-media displays, 4-D films, hands on exhibits, and then there are the tons of fish, tunnels, old boats, and everything a kid of any age could want. (http://www.istanbulakvaryum.com/en-US/)
Koch Transport Museum
The Rahmi M. Koch Transport Museum has collections of just about everything you can imagine from dolls to bicycles, baby carriages, motorbikes, classic cars, boats, boat houses, locomotives, engines, toys, and even a submarine. Plenty of hands on exhibits and you can even schedule a boat ride and a submarine tour. (http://www.rmk-museum.org.tr/english/index.html)
Go to Sultanahmet in Istanbul and you will pass brightly dressed guys who offer Turkish ice cream, called Dondurma. The price is a bit high but this is an especially delicious treat on a hot day. Of course, the real treat is the way they serve it. Expect to be tricked, but in a good way. Laughter can’t be contained around these guys.
Cruise Up the Bosporus
Could there be a better family excursion than a trip up the waterway that divides two continents? You can make stops in Europe and Asia and visit the Marmara Sea and the Black Sea before coming home. Plenty of treats along the way like the special yogurt of Kamlica and the delicious hamsi (Black Sea Sardines) at the Anadolu Kavagi village at the top of the Bosporus just before the Black Sea.
Turkish Dance Extravaganza
This family friendly dance show has something for everyone. Belly dancers, Black Sea folk dance, and even a little bit of Sufi sacred music. This show is more kid friendly than the Whirling Dervish specific show but both are great.
Our time in Turkey was some of the best that we had anywhere. We will always look fondly back on adventures like this one.
Adventures in foreign countries can be complex or they can be simple. One of the reasons I loved living in Manisa was because of the Manisa Tennis and Hiking Club. They made hiking adventures simple.
I met up with the club at the usual location in Tarzan square on a Sunday morning. As usual, everyone there was healthy, happy, and ready to get hiking and eating. Part of the fun of this club (and probably all Turkish clubs) is how much emphasis is put on the food. The packs were loaded and this wasn’t just going to be a normal outing in the snow. This was going to be a good old fashioned snow hike/sausage roast over an open fire in the mountains.
The club had arranged a bus to take us to the highest point in the mountains between Izmir and Manisa. It was going to take us higher but since there was quite a bit of snow and ice, the road was closed down. The driver let us out at the bottom and we began carefully working our way up the mountain road. More than one hiker slipped and fell but no one was seriously hurt.
Along the way we stopped to drink tea and have breakfast. The location was pretty but not very good for those of us who hadn’t brought something to sit on! It was a cool ass place! Ha ha.
Further on we came to a small village where the snow had trapped the inhabitants in. They didn’t seem to mind a bit. One problem did seem to be sewage leaking from somewhere though as the smell of urine was incredibly strong throughout the village. I’m not sure why, but I watched where I stepped.
We hiked up into the hills further through virgin snow and past woolly cattle who didn’t seem to mind the snow drifting in the least. They ran in a small herd. I don’t know why, but there aren’t all that many cows in Turkey which makes beef incredibly expensive. In fact, all meat is expensive in Turkey in comparison with North Africa or North America or Europe. I haven’t really figured out why.
Finally reaching what seemed to be a peak of sorts, we started to gather wood for our weenie roast. Once again, the choice of spots wasn’t the greatest for those of us without pads to sit on, but since my Turkish is minimal I went with it, even though a more comfortable spot was not very far away with places for people to sit.
After a few misguided efforts to start a fire with large or wet wood, finally wiser heads prevailed and we managed to do things the proper way with small dry tinder, small dry twigs, and plenty of room for the fire to breathe. After that, it was sausage time.
Turks love sausages. Obviously not pork, mostly sheep or some of the more expensive ones are cow meat. We roasted, we ate, we drank tea, and then we covered up the fire with snow and set off back down the mountain.
Down the hill, through the village, down the road, and with only one injury that caused some tears, we made it back to the waiting van. On the way we passed plenty of Turks who had come up from either Manisa or Izmir playing in the snow. Snowmen, plenty of picnicking, and as I smiled at two senior citizen couples enjoying the snow, one old man nailed me with a snowball! I wasn’t the only one laughing. His wife looked scared at first that I would be mad, but how could I be!
Earlier this year, before her 1st birthday, my daughter had the opportunity to visit the real home of Santa Claus. No, we didn’t go to the North Pole. Nor did we go to Lapland. We didn’t visit with the elves or travel through the snow.
We were in Demre, Turkey. If you don’t believe me, you can read a little about the history of Santa on Wikipedia or you can just read on and trust me with the facts.
If anyone ever tells my daughter that Santa is a made up person, I can show her pictures of us visiting where he really lived. He was a real person. A person named Nicholas.
If you are one of those people who says Santa Claus isn’t real – you’re right because he’s long dead, but he was real. He was a real person, so if you are one of those people who say Santa Clause is a fictional or imaginary character – you are wrong.
Santa Clause was born in the town of Patara, Turkey on the Mediterranean Coast. If you visit today you will find (much to the surprise of many) Santa shops, Christmas shops, and everything Santa you can imagine in this mostly Muslim town. At the time he was born, Turkey wasn’t yet a country and so despite being Anatolian, he was Greek. A Byzantine Christian to be precise. For those who don’t know, Istanbul was the capital of Byzantium and called Constantinople in those days.
His parents left him as a wealthy orphan and he used his inheritance to help the poor who weren’t as fortunate as he. In particular, he was generous with children and traveled the known world distributing gifts and help to the needy.
In 325 A.D. He became the Bishop of Myra (Now Demre, Turkey) and was a part of the Council of Nicea who cobbled together the Holy Bible from a vast assortment of documents. He died December 6, 343 A.D. In fact, in many parts of Europe, December 6 is a day to give gifts and exchange presents.
Here’s a story you won’t see in Christmas cartoons…one of the most famous stories of St. Nick’s generosity was when he gave three orphaned girls dowries so they would be able to marry and wouldn’t have to become prostitutes! It was this gift that some say led to the giving of presents on Christmas today!
In the 10th century – Myra was attacked by Italian sailors who carried away all the relics of St. Nicholas to Bari where they still sit today. He is the patron saint of archers, sailors, and children to pawnbrokers.
After his death, he was attributed with miracles aplenty. He brought boys murdered by a butcher back to life, he kept a ship from sinking with his prayers, and he levitated one sailor from the water to save his life. Hmmm…I believe he can fly!
Clement C. Moore, an American professor of divinity, was the one who turned Saint Nicholas into Santa with his 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” The poem provided the inspiration for the first portrait of Santa Claus, drawn by newspaper cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1870.
After he died, he was made a saint and a tomb was built for him in Demre. The Church of St Nicholas was built over that tomb in the 6th Century. It is a ruin now, but still a very beautiful piece of Anatolian Byzantine architecture. Many of the mosaics and frescoes have survived. There is a tomb there, but the bones are in Bari.
St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Russian Orthodoxy, so it’s not surprising that on peak days (around December 6th) you can find up to 60 buses per day of tourists – mostly from Russia. The government of Turkey issued a Santa Claus stamp in 1955 and have heavily promoted ‘Noel Baba’ as a tourist draw. It’s a pretty good one if you ask me.
4. Don’t Read
To me, reading is an essential part of travel. As far as I’m concerned, if you are one of those people who ‘doesn’t like to read’ than you are one of those people who should stay home and not travel.
Don’t read anything about the country of place you are going to. That way you won’t understand the culture, the traditions, the history, the climate, or anything else. You will be able to have a completely one dimensional experience. If you should read, for example, about how it is rude to point the bottoms of your feet at someone in Thailand, then you’ll miss out on the ass kicking that results when the kick-boxer tells you to stop pointing your feet at him and you continue to do it. You wouldn’t want to miss that.
Or if you read, you might feel compelled to go fifteen kilometers out of your way on the way between Seattle, Washingon and Vancouver, British Columbia and visit the remote and gorgeous Scenic Hot Springs. Wouldn’t that suck?
Don’t read on your trip. Don’t discover that Mark Twain stayed in the same hotel you are visiting in Honolulu (The Moana Surfrider) or that the lovely looking picnic spot in Cebu, Philippines is where Lapu Lapu ate a famous explorer. Who needs to know details like that?
Don’t read when you are stuck at the airport. It’s much better to just sit and get angry at the workers or eat overpriced food. Don’t read at the beach because it’s much better to sit there wondering what to do now that you are done swimming.
Yes, if you don’t want to enjoy world travel, it is essential that you not read.
5) Don’t talk to anyone unless you have to
If you want to have horrible and meaningless travels, don’t talk to anyone unless you have to. Don’t talk to the man next to you on the airplane or bus, he might be a Chinese businessman who would invite you to visit his home and stay with his family.
Don’t talk to the guy who works at the hotel unless you need towels or directions. If he thinks “Hey, this is a nice person” he might actually tell you someplace that he doesn’t recommend to every other rude tourist. You might end up going to a tiny temple in Penang, Malaysia instead of going to the big one that has eighteen tourist buses outside it.
Don’t talk to people in the street. They might try to sell you something. They might want to practice English with you. They might want to share a bit of their culture or learn something about yours. Wow, wouldn’t it be a bummer if that Indonesian guy learned that the USA is not just like Bay Watch and Jerry Springer? Don’t talk to him.
If you want to NOT enjoy your travels, do not talk unless you need something.
6) Don’t learn any of the local language
Finally, if you want to be absolutely certain that you don’t enjoy your world travel, pretend your a British Colonist and refuse to speak the local language.
Don’t say Tarima Kasih in Indonesia, don’t ask where to get the gonggongcheecha in China, don’t say Yvet in Turkey, don’t show the grocer in Barcelona you can understand the uno, dos, tres, don’t speak French in Paris (I found Parisians to be very gracious about my bad French), don’t say shukran in Morocco, kapcun kap in Thailand, daijobu in Japan, bollacks in England, dude in California, wienerschnitzel in Germany, or Mahalo in Hawaii.
Speaking the language encourages people to learn about you, to teach about their culture, to make friends, to have relationships, to even fall in love. There is nothing miserable about any of that. So if you want to Not enjoy the world of travel…don’t speak the local language.
Got more tips about how to NOT enjoy world travel, why not leave a comment below or send your tips to me using the contact form.
I wrote this back in 2012 – still smarting from my wife being unable to get a visa to France in time to our first family trip abroad – my wife was not an American yet at that point and the visa restrictions were far more onerous than we later found traveling with our infant daughter to be. We traveled to four continents and quite a few countries with our daughter as an infant, so this advice is travel tested!
Having a newborn baby can completely change any life – probably more so if you travel a lot than if you don’t.
But then again, a life disrupted is a life disrupted – no matter how joyful the disruption itself may be.
To be completely honest, my wife’s nationality (Moroccan) gets more in the way of our traveling as a family than the fact that our daughter needs to be cared for. Our daughter has a U.S. Passport and is free to travel just about anywhere without a visa, the wife- yeah- look at what happened with going to Paris – a month wasn’t enough time to schedule even a visa appointment!
Here are ten tips to make things easier, more fun, and less of a headache. Long distance travel with kids can become a nuisance and if the child is newly born, it can be dangerous. Most people will avoid traveling along with a newborn infant. Yet, sometimes, it may become necessary or just be desirable. There is no reason to worry about traveling with an infant child.
1) Infants less than 4 weeks should not travel by air. Their delicate systems have not yet become capable of adjusting to the air pressure. It is also not advised (or allowed) for late term pregnancies to travel by aircraft. After 4 weeks, all systems are go.
2)Book in advance and make certain you ask about baggage allowance. While trains and buses often let children travel free and with no notice, you must notify aircraft and often buy an infant ticket. Also, infants are often not allowed a baggage allowance which is idiotic considering you need to bring the nappie bag, clothes, and baby things.
3) You are better off sitting in the front of the aircraft or bus. Find a seat that offers extra legroom. Just trust me on this.
4) Baby travel documents. Just because she or he is a baby doesn’t mean that the governments of the world don’t want to see identity papers, visa’s, and passports. Get all the baby’s paperwork in order ASAP.
5) Contact the airline you are flying with and ask about changing facilities, if you are allowed to bring a pram/stroller, and other services/options available for those travelling with kids.
6) Pack more diapers, baby wipes, bibs, and what-not into your bag than you think you will need. Ever get stuck in the airport longer than you expected? Ever done it with a screaming baby and no clean diapers? Yeah, be prepared.
7) Dress yourself and the baby in layers and dark clothing. Expect to be spit up or spoiled on. Taking off a layer is easier than changing…
8) Breastfeeding during takeoff or landing helps the infant cope with the pressure changes. A bottle with formula also works.
9) Bring extra bottles, extra formula, and by all means get a pacifier (bobo) – even if your infant strictly breast feeds, you will be glad to have the formula when your wife needs to take a nap (assuming like me, you are a man and don’t lactate)
10) Finally, like me, you may find that this one nulls and voids all the above hard won knowledge – make sure your wife has the visa before you book the tickets because if she doesn’t – you can be sure the baby will be staying at home with Mama while you travel without your family – which by the way, isn’t so different from how things used to be, but it sucks to lose those tickets so travel insurance is a great idea.
Overall, just enjoy the time with your baby and happy travels.
I know that a lot of people don’t travel because of the worries associated with it. Travel can be stressful and the media doesn’t help much by telling us about every travel disaster, terrorist event, or travel nightmare. The truth is that it doesn’t matter if you are heading to Pompano Beach, Houston, or Tahiti because the dangers are all about the same. Of course, if you are heading somewhere and really worried about it, you can always invest in some travel insurance.
Whether you are planning an extended stay or visiting tropical island beach hotels, the following tips will take some of the worry out of your vacations, cruises, or outdoor adventures.
International travel has always appealed to students because students are those most likely to enjoy obstacles and dangers. Being out of your familiar environment is something that can cause confusion and misunderstandings so the first tip for worry warts is about paperwork.
Worry Free Travel Tip #1 : Have your papers!
I’m not talking about your New York Times here, I’m talking about documentation. I was once asked about my birth certificate when I was getting a car hire in London. So, this is about more than just your passport. Your passport is important too. Make sure it is still valid well before you leave. Make sure it still has blank pages which can be stamped. Ensure that you have the proper visas or can get the visa upon arrival.
Here are the list of documents I recommend you travel with:
* Passport – walid with blank pages
* Country Visa
* Copy of Birth Certificate
* Student ID
* Driver’s License
* Credit Cards
* Copy #1 of all the above in your luggage
* Copy #2 of all the above hidden in a coat or pants pocket or inside a different bag
* 10 passport sized photos
Two copies? Yes. You don’t want to worry right? Having copies makes a huge difference if you lose something or if you run into problems. The photos will come in handy if you have to do anything relating to consulates or embassies. In regards to photocopies of your credit cards, I recommend you blank out some of the numbers on your copies and just remember which number is blanked out like ’23’.
Worry Free Travel Tip #2 : Money without Stress
If money makes you crazy with worry, here is what you can do. Change a little bit of money before you leave your home country for the local currency. You’ll get the worst rate at home most likely, so I wouldn’t change a huge amount. I would say about $200 or the equivalent is enough. This is just in case you can’t find an ATM when you get there. In addition, put $100 in USD, Euro, or Pounds in a couple different spots for emergencies, these are safe currencies that you can use just about anywhere in the world.
Don’t count on your ATM working or a currency exchange being open and available when you arrive. Sometimes they aren’t.This can be especially true when you fly into airports serviced by cheap flights. Now you don’t have to worry about it. Make sure you know your PIN numbers by heart. There’s little that’s worse than having your card shut down because you used the wrong pin. It’s a good idea to have someone who you trust have your pin #s and copies of your information too.
In terms of exchange, ATMs often offer the most competitive rates. My recommendation is to forget about traveler’s checks. You lose on both ends with them and often you can’t use them in restaurants, cheap hotels, or guest houses.
Worry Free Travel Tip #3 : Dealing with Taxi Drivers
It’s true that in many cities, taxi drivers are just waiting to rip you off. This isn’t just true in third world countries but also in cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Orlando too.
Use the internet before you leave home to see how much a trip from the airport should cost. Often driver’s won’t use the meter for set trips and you need to know what the cost should be. Look out for ‘special discounts’ and make sure you have local currency because they usually won’t accept foreign cash, credit cards, or traveler’s checks and if they do, they usually will gouge you on the rate. If they offer to take you around on your first day for a small tour, take their card or number and feign interest since if they think you are going to be coming back, it is unlikely that they will try to gouge you. Know where you are going to stay or pretend you know, taking taxi recommendations for hotels is usually a way for them to make a few bucks at your expense.
Worry Free Travel Tip #4 : World Travel with Kids
If you are going to bring your children bring their birth certificates. If you are traveling in some Arab countries, single women traveling with children need written permission from the children’s father and there are other odd regulations that you should know about before embarking upon your journey. Airlines often have special promotions for kids that are worth finding out about.
Worry Free Travel Tip #5 : Lost Bags
There are a million travel nightmare stories about lost bags. If you pack everything you need in your checked bag you are asking for it. Have a change of clothes, your trip information, and essentials like glasses or medications in your carry on.
Most airlines will provide you with a small amount of money if they misplace your bags and most bags are found within 24 hours. Make sure that you have information about your rental cars, vacation packages, and hotel rooms with you and don’t trust that your checked bag will make it. It usually does, but why create an extra chance for yourself to worry?
For summer travel remember that you can’t carry big containers of sunscreen in your carry on. If you must bring it with you, buy a small bottle that conforms to airline regulations.
Worry Free Travel Tip #6 : Your Emergency Paper or Travel Book
While it would be nice to be able to memorize all the essential information about your vacations, this usually isn’t very practical. This is especially true for extended travel.
Create a piece of paper or small notebook with information about your hotel rooms, rental car, airline confirmation numbers, and any addresses or phone numbers you may need such as those of local institutes you plan to visit.
I call this my travel book and it is essential that it fits in your pocket. It’s also a good idea to have emergency phone numbers, consulate information, and maybe even your passwords or pin numbers inside. The way to do this is to write something that contains your passwords, looks natural, and doesn’t scream out password. Don’t write: “UBC Pin = 6767” or “Citibank Password = HungryMonkey 101” instead write something like
“6767 South Vegas Street, New York, NY” or “Places to eat in Florida – The Hungry Monkey on Route 101”, you’ll know what the pin or password is but it’s very unlikely any thieves would be able to figure it out.
It’s important to include the contact information for your banks and credit cards and the number to call if they get lost or stolen. Keep this piece of paper or travel book on you at all times.
Now, stop worrying and start enjoying your travels.
In honor of Halloween, I present to you the only legendary monster story I was able to unearth in Turkey – the monster of Lake Van
You would think a country with as much history as Turkey would be chock (cok) full of legendary beasts and monsters. After all the Greeks and Romans were here and they had tons of monsters, the country is filled with tombs and ruins, so you would expect some ghosts, and the landscape is eerie in places like Kula or Cappadoccia. However, in asking my students about monsters, ghosts, and ghouls – I usually get the answer “We don’t have them in Turkey.” Which just strikes me as pretty weird.
One of my advanced students told me that people don’t like to talk about the supernatural and that may be the cause. This is quite different from Morocco where stories such as Aisha Kondeisha, a ghost Djinn that kills soldiers and lures men from their families are used to scare children.
The only story, thus far that I’ve been able to pry out of my close-mouthed students is that there is apparently some sort of sea monster that lives in Lake Van, a mineral water lake in the far East of Turkey.
Situated at 1719 meters above sea level it receives a few short streams but has no outlet. That is why its waters are unusually rich in sodium carbonate and other salts extracted by evaporation and used as detergents. Swimming in these brackish, “soda” waters, where the only surviving fish is the herring, may result as an original experience, indeed.
Due to the annual inflow, higher than evaporation, the lake level continues to rise: several peninsulas have become islands during the 19th and 20th centuries. In the 1986-1995 time period a dramatic 2.16 m rise in water level occurred.
There is little left from the original dense wood along its shores. The only remains of ancient woods are in a very small region on the southwestern shore. The intensive pasture of huge Kurdish herds and deforestation for firewood erased even the memory.
So, that is Lake Van, but what about the monster?
I found this story on CNN about the creature.
Sightings of the Lake Van monster were first reported about two years ago, but further evidence was offered on Tuesday: bad quality amateur pictures of something long and dark moving in the middle of the lake.
After each sighting, professional camera crews have rented boats to try to capture the alleged beast clearly on film, but were unsuccessful each time.
The subject became an obsession for 26-year-old Unal Kozak, a Van University teaching assistant who has been talking to eyewitnesses since the first sightings.
Stationing himself at spots where most of the sightings were reported, Kozak says he saw and filmed the so-called monster on three occasions. Kozak also wrote a book on the creature, including drawings of the monster based on the descriptions of some 1,000 witnesses.
He says the creature is about 15 meters (49.5 feet) long. Public opinion is divided over whether the Lake Van monster is a clever hoax to attract visitors to a region that could use some tourist revenue.
The city of Van is in an underdeveloped area of eastern Turkey that for years has lost out to holiday resorts in the west of the country.
The pictures have been sent to Cambridge University for examination, and Jacques Cousteau, the world-famous marine biologist, is expected to visit and examine the lake.
Finally, here is the video footage of the monster.
I have to say, I’m fairly disappointed not to find any kind of legends of tiny people like the Menehune of Hawaii, of creatures like Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest, like the Pine Tar Creature of New Jersey, or the many ghosts and demons that haunt the UK or surround Lake Toba in Indonesia. I’ll keep searching, but it seems that either Turks won’t talk about their monsters or they are just too practical a people to have such stories.
In any event, I can see why Halloween has a 0% zero impact on Turkey. Most of my students have never even heard of it. However, if you are looking for monsters on your holiday to Turkey, head to Lake Van.