Thursday, November 23, 2006

Return of Sandra

We made it to Istanbul, as I mentioned before, only a few hours ahead of Sandra who, once again, came to visit. She obviously has things figured out and knows where the fun is at.
Istanbul is a massive city with nobody sure quite where it begins and ends so estimates of its size range from 12 to 20 million people. Either way, it is massive. It is also incredibly old, having once been Constantinople, the capital of so many past empires. It is also the only city in the world sitting on 2 continents. It stradles the bosphorus, a narrow waterway linking the Black sea to the Med. I thought the North Shore was bad with only 2 bridges but can you imagine that there are only 2 bridges across the bosphorus too? That has got to suck. They have an amazingly busy ferry system though, so people get around well enough I suppose.
We spent quite a bit of time just hanging out in Istanbul in the beginning but also walked around to see stuff. The entry fees to the sites are all very high, with no student discouts at all and unfortunately there are just too many things to see and pay for. There are still quite a few tourists but the main harassment season is long gone and even walking around in the markets hasn't been too bad. I was expecting worse. The architectural style of the mosques is really something else. Beautiful, huge things. The best, like the Aya Sophia, are converted from old churches over 1000 years old. That is just one example and perhaps the best illustration of what Turkey is like. It has been the bridge between East and West and so many great and ancient civilizations that every style and idea seems to have passed through and found itself being incorporated somewhere into the culture. The markets are also crazy. The Grand Bazaar is huge and the Spice market is also pretty crazy. I finally tried my first Turkish Delight. I thought it would be a lot sweeter actually but it is pretty good. Too bad I couldn't help but think of "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe". Bre and Sandra are actually addicted to Helva, some sesame sweet thingy that I don't think is Turkish but can be found in the area.
Turkey is mainly muslim, but it is so lax about it in some ways that you just have to laugh. It seems like everyone we talk to drinks and does not worship, and yet many women wear the headscarf. Life here seems quite modern though, with new buses and trains and roads that put most of eastern europe to shame. They have more of the fast food chains and American brands of products than we have seen anywhere else on this trip I think too.
Life is still tough and wages are low. Honestly, I don't know how they can afford to have so many cars on the roads or take the buses to get anywhere. The gas is over $2/litre and they make much less than we do. The intercity buses are expensive luxury things that serve tea, pop, biscuits and show movies. The trains are nice but hardly go anywhere. Speaking of tea, after all the Balkan countries constantly offering us "Turkish" coffee it was a bit of a surprise to find the Turks drinking more tea than coffee. Black tea with lots of sugar. Turkey has also been the 2nd worst country for smoking so far of the trip I think. China is by far the worst. People here are chain smokers and it is made worse by the fact that it is now cold so everyone is inside doing it. At least buses and trains are smoke-free. By cold I mean 16C today in Istanbul but freezing or near freezing at night depending on where we are.
From Istanbul we went by train to Kayseri, a town of about 1 million people, way inland and the closest rail stop to Cappadocia. We had a host there that was a very interesting guy and we actually spent longer there than we had intended. Kayseri was once an important town during the Seljuk period so has a different style to see but again there are only so many mosques and markets you can see. The coolest thing was that our host was Kurdish, so I was able to get a little rundown on the politics and attitudes on that. You'll have to ask later, though I still can't say much. The general consensus is that things are getting better.
From Kayseri we took a bus out west 60 km to Goreme. It is a little backpacker town in the middle of the strange rock formations that make Cappadocia so famous. It's like Hampi meets the Badlands. Very chilled and cheap by Turkey standards. There are tons of hikes in the area to see all the rock formations. Many of them have homes carved into them dating back to the early days of Christianity. There are more than a few still in use and even most of the town is still built into the rocks. Our room in the hostel was a "cave" as well. Very cool, no, actually it was below zero at night so we were cold. Not many people there but we met a few others. We met a couple guys from Lynn Valley, one of whom works as a chef at the old Savoury in the cove. What are the odds? It would have been sweet to have stayed longer and or visited in the summer so we could go on longer hikes but I guess I'll just have to go back one day. For the record, staying in the hostel in Goreme was the first time we paid for accomodation since Montenegro about 5 weeks ago and first time in a hostel since mid Sept. Not bad at all.
From there we made a quick stop in Ankara for a day's look before coming back to Istanbul today. Ankara is a pretty modern and unexciting city that most people recommend skipping. I might have to do the same. We have had some great local food lately as our hosts have been very skilled cooks. The craziest thing in Ankara was the size of the bus station. 3 levels with 140 bays. It's unreal how busy it is.
Sandra and Bre are leaving tomorrow to go back to Vancouver. Bre will join mom and Savannah and will hopefully be back again travelling in Feb with the rest. I will continue travelling on my own around Turkey for another 2 weeks before going home on Dec 9th for a 3 week visit.
Ammon

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