“Toto, I’ve a feeling we are not in Kansas any more!” – Dorothy, The Wizard for Oz 1939
Day One Hundred and Seven October 2nd
On a warm fall morning, with sun shining and the light glittering off the sea, it is near impossible to pull our selves away from Ravello. It is almost as if the gods ordered up perfection just to make the memories and impressions that much stronger. The yellow lemons dripping off trees, grape vines snaking around trellises, fresh vegetables exploding out of every nook and cranny.
Our week has ended and its time to move on. Motivating is a struggle but we do manage to get the bags packed and the kids fed. Breakfast is different today. Most of the others that have been with us this week have moved on and new people are in their place. It sort of feels like we are the last to leave a party: suddenly coming to and noticing that the others have all gone.
The two couples from Boston are still here and luckily we do find them to say goodbye. Vince is choked up about leaving them and keeps making gifts out of paper towels, trying to prolong the departure.
By ten we are all packed into Antonio’s van and headed for Naples. The drive seems to affect everyone today. I am not sure if it is the let down after such a great week, the twists and turns of the mountain roads, the anticipation of another travel day, saying goodbye to Denise, or transitioning into the next phase of the trip but by the time we climb off the coast everyone is feeling a bit car sick. We are all quiet en route.
On the other side of the mountain, back down in the shadow of Vesuvius, things are looking up again. Our first stop is the train station in Naples. It appears we have been staying on “the other side of the tracks” so to speak. The drive in is startling and the experience a heavy dose of reality.
The first thing you notice is the trash. It is everywhere, stacked high and wide. Then it starts to register that people are living amongst the piles, tucked into little pockets of space, apparently just trying to survive. It’s a far cry from Ravello. Many of the buildings look like they are abandoned until someone steps out the front door and toss's another bag of garbage into the street. It appears to be extreme poverty by European standards, by any standards, certainly some of the worse we have seen so far.
The station is in a small clearing right smack in the middle of it all with trains coming and going, oblivious to the surroundings. If you don’t wander too far on either side the place actually looks rather inviting. We say our goodbyes and then leave Denise on a platform waiting of the train to Rome. There is a heavy police presence so she’ll be fine. We need to motor to get to our next stop: SpanAir to Istanbul via Barcelona.
Yes, that’s right, via Barcelona, an hour and a half flight backwards before a three-hour flight forward. That’s what you get when you need four cheap seats out of Naples.
The travel is easy and it feels good to be back in the air. This is our first flight since landing in London way back on June 20th. From here on out the big jumps will be air travel coupled with car rentals in country to get around and see the sights.
The Barcelona airport is very impressive. It’s big, bright, clean and empty on a Saturday evening. They have a red carpet club partner we use as a home base for our two-hour lay over and plenty of food and shopping. Vince and I play cars while Adele and Teri pick up “reading material” (magazines) and wander around.
As we race our cars and banter back and forth I ask Vince about his new comment, “next time we go round the world,” as it has become a common point of discussion as of late. He explains in classic four-year-old logic that since Adele is going round the world when she is eight that next time we will go is when he is eight. Makes perfect sense to me. Adele will be twelve in four years so I am not so sure we will be able to pull here away. Plus we have the World Cup in Brazil that year, but it is something to think about.
Barcelona feels very Spanish. The people are dark and ethnic. It’s festive and comfortably casual. It makes us realize we should have stopped by Spain, I think we would have really enjoyed the experience.
At 6:45p we board the flight to Istanbul and say goodbye to Europe. Sure, some may consider Turkey part of Europe, but for me it is the gateway to and part of the Middle East. I have visions of getting off the plane to a crowded, smoke filled airport filled with dark swarthy people drinking tea. It is out of the comfort zone and part of the unknown and I can’t wait!
Much to my surprise the place is empty when we land. I mean really empty as in we are the only flight at the baggage claim and we get our visa and clear customs in less than half and hour. With the late hour we had our hotel bus pick us up so we do not have to deal with a cab. It’s a good call. The airport we land in, there are two here, is way out of town and it takes almost an hour drive to get to the Blue Hotel. The hour drive would have freaked us out in a cab.
As we drive along the lights seem to go on forever. The further we drive the more it looks the same, kind of like Queens or Brooklyn late at night, with lots of low rise buildings and blaring street lights. It is definitely lit up.
When we leave the highway and start into the older part of town more and more people are out and about. Soon they are everywhere: walking, talking, smoking and strolling. Usually arm in arm and in groups. Cars are going in all directions with absolutely no respect for lanes, lights or horns. It is basically a free for all.
When we finally pull up to the Blue Hotel, tucked in below the Blue Mosque, I am totally turned around and have lost all sense of direction. The man at the front desk gives us a warm greeting and helps steer us upstairs.
The elevators are tiny and you need to pull the door open and closed by hand. There is music rising from the street below and you can feel the beat of the city when you open the windows. It is cool and crisp and sounds exactly like you would expect it to.
We settle into room number 45 and drift off to sleep. I give you the number in case you every come to this neck of the woods. You should request it. Why you ask?
Day One Hundred and Eight October 3rd
Because the view is unbelievable! We wake up not really knowing what to expect. Coming in under a cover of darkness leaves much to the imagination and this morning it is surpassed by reality. When we open the curtains we are staring at the minarets of the Blue Mosque a glow in the early morning sunlight.
It’s about five in the morning when I first peak around the curtain. I am up because the speakerphones are blearing the first call to prayer of the day. We will soon learn that this is the first call and that it happens five times per day in all of the mosques in all the lands. It is a foreign sound, a voice, with an offbeat cadence, sort of singing. It is part of the fabric of daily life.
We pull ourselves out of bed around 9a and head down for the buffet breakfast filled with excitement and expectation. Today is our first day with our guide, Yavuz, who comes highly recommended from a friend of mine back home. We have never had a guide before and do not really know what to expect so when we find him waiting in the lobby, an hour ahead of schedule we are confused. Turns out he is always leaves home early to be sure he will be where he needs to be on time. We like him already.
Breakfast is filled with tourists. I thing Adele is right when she observes that they are “probably from a bus tour.” They are all women from either the States or England and very, very focused on shopping. The Grand Bazaar comes up often in their conversation. We eat quickly and clear out as soon as possible.
Yavuz is waiting in the lobby. He may be one of the nicest people we have met thus far on our trip. He is warm, friendly, incredible helpful, interested in our travels and the kids and so full of information that he amazes us all. And we have not even left the lobby!
When we do get up and go we wander right next door to the Blue Mosque. This is our first mosque, never having been in one before, and it is beautiful and majestic. Yavuz stops at several points along the way to explain what we are looking at and why things are the way things are. Adele hangs on every word. For instance there are places to sit and wash so the person immediately behind you can smell clean feet. There are no statues or pictures, just words and patterns, that way people will not falsely worship the statue instead of the God. This mosque is unique with six minarets apparently due to some miscommunication between the ruler and builder.
The place was finished in 1616 and is called the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles that cover the interior. When we take off our shoes and walk into the main chamber it stops us in our tracks. It is like nothing I have experienced before and it has the same kind of feeling as walking into the Vatican. Both significant houses of worship both so much larger than life.
Candelabras hang down from the dome and hover just above us: the wires holding them crisscross above like spider webs. Until recently they held small candles, now little electric lights allowing for easy reading of the Koran. There is a pulpit but the leaders climb only half way up, the top is reserved for Muhammad. Script is everywhere. And then there are the tiles.
It is a sea of blue. Some of the patterns repeat, others standalone, collectively they create a tapestry. Yavuz points out that they are filled with meaning, telling stories through symbols and patterns. It’s truly remarkable.
After some time we manage to pull away and wander over to the Hippodrome, an old chariot racetrack from the third century AD. Today it is a nice walking park with several obelisks carved by the Egyptians around1500 BC and brought here by the Romans. In its heyday the stadium on this site could hold 100,000 people.
The kids eat ears of corn hot off the grill as we walk the park. For a few minutes we are out of the fray. Istanbul is very crowded with tourists. It may be more crowded than Rome if that’s possible. People are everywhere, being lead around by someone holding a stick and waving a flag. They travel in big packs, walk three and four abreast and seem generally ignorant of those around them. We can’t relate and try to avoid them. Luckily Yavuz knows the ins and out so for the most part we can keep our distance.
Heard on the street: “Mister, mister USA, come here, we cheat you less than the other ones!” Said with a big smile, a wink and a nod.
The next stop is really unique and one of the coolest things yet. The Basilica Cistern was part of the main water system of the ancient city and is between 1500-2000 years old. When we wander down into the darkness Vince immediately starts asking of his headlamp. “For sploring, dad, for sploring!” How great it would be to see this through the eyes of a four year old. Or an eight year old. Adele is “kind of scared” and hovers behind Teri, inching along in the darkness, not quite sure what to make of it all.
There are hundreds of columns holding up the ceiling and wooden walkways standing just about the waterline. As we walk it feels like we are actually on the water. It sits perfectly still just beneath our feet and shimmers in the light. Everything about the place is dramatic.
At some point they need more columns to reinforce the roof so they grabbed anything lying around, including two enormous carved heads of Medusa that now sit sideways and upside down as supporting stones. How crazy is that?
Istanbul has grown from three million people to almost twenty million in the last thirty years. Think about that for a minute. It took NYC two hundred years to reach half that number: LA only has eight or nine in greater metro. It is had to understand that kind of growth and its impact.
They come in from the isolated regions of Turkey fleeing one war or another. Many come seeking a better life and more money, some a more open and less oppressive environment. Still many more bring with them a serious, fundamental religious perspective, less tolerance and more aggression. Yavuz seems worried.
Lunch is a place named the Pudding Shop, famous apparently as one of the cafes in the opening scenes of Midnight Express. In the 70s is was a tried and true local place where visitors and locals would post communications and connect. Today it is owned by the same family that owns our hotels and is right smack in the middle of the tourist route.
Luckily for us Yavuz knows the owner. Actually I believe Yavuz knows everyone in the neck of the woods. People go out of their way to say hello to him as we walk. Turns out he has been guiding here for twenty-seven years. We are in good hands. The guy in charge clears us a table upfront and takes us all to the front counter where we look and point at dishes. He notes everything and disappears in to the back room only to reappear with plates of all the things we pointed to. No menus here: just point and shoot. The food is excellent: a lot of veggies, olives, oils, bread, beans, and tea. Very strong local shai tea. We spend a wonderful hour getting to know Yavuz and resting our weary bones.
At around 2p we are back on our feet and heading towards our next stop, Aya Sofya, one of the oldest churches in town dating back to 400 AD. The dome is impressive and is one of the largest freestanding domes in the world. It reminds us of the Pantheon. Can Adele get a better third grade education? One day we at the Pantheon, the next in Aya Sogya.
Today the site is a museum and is no longer a house of worship: instead it pays tribute to an ever-changing landscape that is Istanbul. It is not only the architecture and the history but also the religious and cultural climates.
Istanbul is one of the most fascinating places I have been to. It is influenced by Asia, Europe and the Middle East. There are major ruins from every period in history. Really, really old stuff sits beneath stuff from the Ottoman, Roman, Greek, and who know what other empires. Religions smash up here and run into each other without holding back. It is very much alive.
We find the city’s sense of constant movement and its ever changing nature amplified in the Spice Market. As we wander through, so thankful for Yavuz, you can feel the pulse and rhythm. Pretty much anything and everything is for sale here. There are big piles of spices and teas, shoes, leather goods, clothing, jewelry, birds, leeches, all sorts of animals, and more people than you can imagine. The stroller makes navigation difficult!
At one point as we wander down a narrow side street Yavuz pulls us inside a small doorway and we head up an ancient flight of marble steps. One flight up we open onto the courtyard of Rustem Pasha Mosque, known for one of the finest collection of ceramic tiles in all of Istanbul. Again it is stunning and beautiful.
The people of Turkey seem to say the same thing of our children. Since we got here strangers have been touching Adele and Vince at every turn. It is a natural response and done with out malice or bad intent though it takes some getting used to for all of us. People here will cross the street to reach out and touch the kids blond hair. If I were any shorter I am convinced they would do the same to me!
So it comes as no surprise to find Vince bouncing on a policeman’s knee when we step out of the mosque. Vince is laughing and joking with the guy and Yavuz, telling them all about The Backyardagins, perfectly comfortable and so excited to have “new friends”. What surprised me is that we don’t need to think twice. The interest in and admiration of kids is so genuine that it takes you back some. As we leave and the policeman gives Vin a big kiss on the cheek, Yavus smiles and points out that it is always good to have a friend on the force here in Istanbul. I hope we never find out why.
On the way back from a very long and exciting day we make one more stop at Sirkeci, the railway station for the orient express. It sits just up from the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market having feed both the goods and wears of Asia for so many years. In the end we all exhausted.
As we wander home I notice that drinking tea on the steps in Istanbul is like sipping 40s on the stoop in Brooklyn. People are just hanging out, almost always in small groups, passing time, enjoying each other’s company. It has that distinctly urban feel about it. It makes you want to be a part of it.
Back at the hotel we Skype back to the States, get some room service and settle in. Both kids have trouble going down, which means we don’t get any down time, which means everyone is cranky and out of sorts. On top of that, just to add a little more edge to the situation, we have a 4.4 earthquake that rocks our fifth floor room.
I would be concerned but the music from the market below provides a steady under current and the Blue Mosque is calling for prayers again. From what I can tell the loud speakers are calling out to Allah to protect us all.
What a day…
Day One Hundred and Nine October 4th
The loud speakers repeat their call at 5a and jolt us out of a deep sleep. It is too early to start another day so we roll back over until 9a. Actually, as it turns out we forgot the time change so its really 10a and Yavuz is meeting us at 10:30a. We try and bang out a quick breakfast but is tough to motivate and we end up being about half hour late for our start.
This morning we decide to go to the Topkapi Palace with the rest of Istanbul. There are so many people on line to get through security we almost give up. Yavuz tells us in all his years he has never seen it this bad. Apparently four or five cruise ships are in town and they all seem to be on the same agenda. Poor party planning in my book.
When we finally get in the place is really impressive. We see the royal jewels with an 86-caret diamond; tile covered rooms, beautiful gardens, the imperial gate, courtyards and the like. The line for the harem is way too long so we skip it, probably best with the kids.
Yavus tells how they would raise all the male heirs secluded together in one of the areas until the time came and one was picked to b the next sultan. Then on the evening of the decision all the rest would be killed to stave off any disagreements with the chosen one. Adele’s eyes are very, very wide as she absorbs it all. She is growing up fast on this trip taking in both the good and the bad.
As we walk towards our next destination:
Adele: “Why is it so strange?”
Adele: “The market!”
Dad: “What market?”
Adele: “The Grand Bizarre”
Grand is not big enough for this place. They should call it Mega or Uber. I think Yavuz said it has five thousand stalls. No kidding, five thousand. All selling stuff that you could easily convince yourself you really need. Like my new scarf. That’s right a scarf, everyone wears scarves here in Istanbul, it will look great back home. I feel like Lawrence of Arabia. Actually, it’s a practical purchase since the weather is colder than we expected. Certainly as practical as Adele’s belly dancing outfit which we buy with full accouterments: belly dancing started here you know.
We have lunch at a restaurant in the middle of the mayhem. The food is mediocre but the setting is cool and it feels good to sit down and take a breather. Our senses have been assaulted since we got off the plane. Everything is new and different. Even things that seem the same are not.
Our lunch conversation is telling in just how far we are from home. When we ask Yavus for travel recommendations he actually suggests we go to Iraq. To the area just over the Turkish border. This is how far from home we are. We have become travelers and travelers are not bound by borders.
Crazier still is that it dos not seem that insane to me. After all we are in Turkey, thinking of going to Damascus because we hear it is still off the tourist routes, what is a little side trip to Kurdish Iraq?
I feel this moment demonstrates some kind of fundamental shift, of what I am not sure. I am not afraid but know that perhaps I should be, not elated but know elation is a possibility, definitely not lost, but I have know idea where I am, not that I want know or really need to.
We get into a discussion about the wealth in the Middle East and Yavuz tells the story of guiding a contingent of oil money and how they spend to excess. They order things by the dozen and leave a trail of people paying their bills and shipping their stuff home. It sounds unbelievable.
Juxtapose that with meeting a guy that Yavuz knows who restores antique teapots and bowls. The only way he can get them clean is to dip them in some kind of acid, which he has done repeatedly for years now. His shop is packed to the brim with stuff and he stands amongst it all covered in soot. When I ask what he charges for several unique bowls Yavuz that buys I am told that since the guy believes the acid is killing him he doesn’t really charge much to friends. He just wants to see his work go to someone that appreciates it. It makes your head spin.
Shopping for rugs is an experience here. We don’t mean to shop for rugs it just kind of happens. We stopped by Punto Carpets to see a women hand looming and two hours later we have it narrowed down to three we really like. How does this happen? One minute the kids are at the loom then next we are trying to figure out how to wire money. It is fun but we really need to leave, any longer and we would be sitting on Adele’s 520 Plan.
Vince is a natural born salesman. He spends the entire visit laying out carpets, directing the guys that work there and trying to up sell other customers. At one point the host offers him a job. No doubt, at some point down the road he may come back and accept it.
When we get back to the Blue Hotel, Melissa, Yavuz’s fifteen-year-old daughter is waiting to watch the kids so Teri and I can have a night on the town. How nice it is to have someone we can trust. The kids immediately take to her and we are long forgotten in a matter of minutes. While we get ready, they take a walk to the get something to eat. As it turn out a friend of Yavuz’s gives Adele a chain for her horn, one that we have been looking for all day at the market. She is beside herself.
Our restaurant is on the other side of town and Yavuz decides to wait to drive Melissa home, so he volunteers to take us over via train. It is great fun. We train over and then walk a new neighborhood filled with people out for the evening. This is a younger hipper Istanbul. With streets filled with teahouses and bars, outside tables packed with people hanging out and having fun. Everyone wear dark colors and sits in groups of friends or family. It is vibrant and buzzing.
Our restaurant is on top of a hotel and it has an unbelievable view of the city. We sit at the bar for a bit, Teri sipping a $26 martini, until a table opens. Catch that one? $26 for a martini. The meal was good, not great, but the time alone was priceless.
When we get back at 10p everyone is still awake and it is back to the grind of the day to day. Vince will not go down until he climbs into bed with Teri and I end up on the sofa with feet hanging over the side.
No worries though, the Blue Mosque calls everyone to prayer.
Day One Hundred and Ten October 5th
Unfortunately all that prayer does not take care of the bugs in the breakfast cereal. When Vince puts his spoon in to a moving bowl it kills all of the momentum. We wrap up the meal shortly there after.
Teri is dealing with Bank of America AGAIN to try and get her cash card working. These calls take forever so the kids and I head out with Yavuz to explore some crafts shops. They are in a rehabbed building just around the corner and feature local artisans demonstrating their skills. We are the only ones there.
A nice guy comes out to talk to us and notices Vince’s CallMeCuff. I have the kids wearing them to test the adhesive before we take them to market and this one has my Skype number. He points and with a big smile asks:
Guy: “For the accounts?”
Me: “My phone number, to call me.”
Guy: “Yes, for the accounts, the numbers.”
Me: “Not accounts, for phone, in case he gets lost.”
Guy: “Not for lost, for the accounts, so you wire the money to return.”
It gives me chills when I realize what he is saying. We are not in Kansas anymore.
Teri finishes up with BoA and joins us as we head to the Islam Museum just off the Hippodrome. It houses an incredible collection of carpets one that you should not miss. After that we walk for a bit before getting into Yavuz’s car for a driving tour of the old wall and a stop at Kariyre Camii.
This is a small church somewhere in Istanbul, I have no idea where. It is famous for the mosaics that line most of the interior. The detail is incredible. The artist used the smallest pieces of stone. Having been to the shop in Rome we can appreciate just home much work goes into each fresco. It is the quality that is so striking: these have lasted for over a thousand years so far.
We cross the bridge for lunch over in Asia. This is a new part of the city, with wider streets and more of an Asian influence. As we walk the streets we fall upon a market with all kinds of sights, smells and sounds. They sell sardines from big tubs, goat heads, pig’s feet, and olives in every color, fresh vegetables, pashmire scarves, pants and cell phones. Again its exciting and stimulating just to walk around. There is much hustle and bustle.
Our meal is the best yet, maybe one of the best on the trip. We end up in a small innocent looking restaurant that serves out of this world organic food. All of it from regional recipes handed down by generations. We eat all kinds of things and enjoy every bit of it.
Our search for an Apple firewire may have ended on the fifth floor of a high-rise building dedicated solely to electronics. We need one to transfer the information from our old one to the new and this is our last hope for a while. Hopefully this will work and the computer saga will finally come to an end.
Our last stop for the day is a mountain top view of all of Istanbul over in Uskudar. It is a fitting way to wrap up our time here, proving that we have seen so much and barely scratched the surface. The city goes on forever. We stay for a while and enjoy the views until we all agree that it is time to ferry back across the Bosphorus at call it a day.
We ask Yavuz how things are going in Turkey. His response surprises us though he has hinted at it over the past few days. The fundamentalist movement is gaining strength to the point that he is concerned. In the last twenty days or so, post a recent election, the country has taken a noticeable turn. In his eyes not for the better and you can feel his tension when he discusses it. As fathers of daughters and husbands of wives, we share empathy. This neck for the woods is not known for respecting women’s rights. It is hard to think that a city of such stature can change on a dime. Unfortunately in this neck of the woods it can and has happened for thousands of years.
Today is our last day of guiding and we must part ways with Yavuz. I can’t express how much he did for us and how thankful we are too him. He made Istanbul come alive and is a large part of why we love it so.
Day One Hundred and Eleven October 6th
I will miss the loudspeakers of the Blue Mosque. They are one of the best wake up calls I know of: so foreign and different, reminding you that you are in a foreign land yet still under the watch full eyes of God. Today we manage to get up, pack and taxi to the airport by 8:30a that in and of itself is a miracle.
We are in a different airport this time flying Turkish Air domestic to Cappadocia. Luckily we are there early enough to have breakfast and coffee pre-flight. Teri strikes up a conversation with some folks on the jet way as we board the plane and it turns out they are the parents of our neighbors two doors down. It is such a small world.
It takes a while to cram everyone onto the bus that takes us to the plane. We wait forever while folks push their way in to the already crowded cars. Teri and I fight off the crush to save some airspace for Adele and Vince. When we are all accounted for the driver makes and announcement, closes the doors and pulls away. Then he stops and parks about twenty yards away, the doors open and everyone starts to scramble out to get on the plane. I kid you not: I could throw a stone farther than we drove on the bus. Why we didn’t walk is beyond me.
The flight is full of tourists. It could be one of the old shuttle flights between LAG and Logan. It seems most people are from the east coast with a few Canadians thrown in here and there. It is disappointing in a way: I half expected chickens and goats.
We land in middle of nowhere. The land is arid and dry with low lying hills and few trees. It is sunny with little shade. After gathering the bags we find a guy form Avis standing outside with our name on a sign. It does feel good to know you are in the right place. The single runway and tiny airport gives little comfort.
Driving is easy since there are no people on the road. We see a few cars when we pass through towns but for the most part it is deserted. In the first town we come to I venture in to a small market to get directions. You do need a healthy dose of courage for adventures like this. Luckily the fascination with our kids continues and the six or seven rough looking men all smile and laugh as they hover around the car window. The Turks maybe the nicest people we have meet along the way.
Armed with Coke lights, chips and waters for less than a third of what we paid in Istanbul we are back on the road and headed in the right direction. Cappadocia is known for houses built into rock towers that were left by centuries of erosion from the elements. The early Christians used them to hide out in the hills avoid persecution. Today they are still used as houses and increasingly as high-end hotels.
We are staying at the Museum Hotel, perched on a hilltop with one of the best views of the valley below. Our room is incredible. The kids have their own cave, one used for storage and wine making in the old days. Teri and I are in the main room, big enough for a bedroom suite, living room and work area. These cave people know how to live it up!
Once settled we turn to town and find The Orient, an organic restaurant recommended by the owner of our hotel. The food is excellent with big salads, lots of olives, tomatoes, bread and cheese. The kids’ even try Turkish pasta, a ravioli dish with a yogurt based sauces.
As usual Vince refuses to eat, Adele tries to convince him to:
Adele: “you need to eat to grow”
Vince: “yes but I don’t want to grow I am already four”
Adele: “not four, grow bigger”
Vince: “you mean if you don’t eat you will not be nine?”
Istanbul wore us out so we head back home to play with the puppy at the hotel, search for turtles in the garden, catch the sunset on the veranda, and watch the lights flicker on across the valley. We need to adjust and calibrate to the Turkish countryside. We are farther east, closer to the borders with Iraq, Iran and Syria. It all takes some getting used to.
Everyone is too tired to attempt the restaurant so we order room service and try to wind down. As usual the excitement has Adele and Vince wound up so it takes a few hours to get them to bed. Teri and I work on travel logistics, pay bills and journal. By 11p the kids are tucked into their cave and all is well.
Update on the family travel service business: Yavuz proved how valuable local knowledge and “boots on the ground” experience is when exploring a new place, especially with children. He was so impactful to all of us but especially Adele and Vince: teaching them on a level they can relate to and lending a credible voice from someone other than the parents. His travel partner helped us with all of our arrangements for Turkey setting us up with in-market flights and hotels. A new twist on the family travel idea we are working on is to couple a local guide service and a local travel agent to offer a service dedicated to families with kids.
Day One Hundred and Twelve October 7th
We sleep late in the cool, calm, quiet of the cave. Breakfast is OK but not great in terms of price value. We are getting by on bread and honey, tomatoes, cucumbers and olives. Plus, we have developed a taste for Turkish and Apple tea.
As I glance at the IHT for the first time in ages I see that the travel alerts are cranked up and Europe appears to be on the warning list. Good think Turkey is considered by some to be Middle East, we pay in Lira not Euros. I do get the headlines from my Google home page but I have no interest in going any deeper, I have no need to know.
For some reason I read the article on the terror alerts as far down as the part where they arrested some guy, some place, some time in Italy for suspected terrorist activity. The guy turns out to plotting to blow things up, the somewhere turns out to be the train station in Naples and the sometime turns out to be within an hour of when we dropped of Denise. So now I know but am I any better for off for it? Timing is everything here and I trust ours will carry us through unscathed.
The caves are in an area similar to Mesa Verde or Bandelier NP. The doors dot the stone columns and lead into a vast underground network of pathways and tunnels.
We have fun wandering in and out of churches, houses, communal kitchens, a gravesite, and various other caves, all hidden in the mountainside. It is an odd place out in the middle of nowhere.
We see our first camel. He is all dressed up and ready to get his picture taken for 10TL. This sparks a long conversation about the seven hump wump and the merits of a one or two humper. We all decide that a two humper is the way to go, especially if you want go fast, that is unless we are all going, and then we definitely need a seven hump wump.
As we drive we find a turn out for a short hike in the hills. We are pretty much all alone wandering about in this surreal landscape. Then a nice guide appears with a couple from Canada and asks if we “know the snoop dog.” Snoop Dogg as in the rapper? “Snoop dog, snoop the dog!” The man is pointing, jumping up and down and waving his hands towards a rock. Snoop Dogg, as in yo, yo, mofo? “No, no, SnoopYdog, SnoopYdog!” And sure enough, there is the head of Snoopy if you look at the rocks just the right way. He pats me on the back beaming from eye to eye when I finally get it.
Then he looks around and leans in to let me in on a little secret, “Napoleon’s hat!” He nods in another rock’s direction. I look around to see if someone is filming us since the scene is so absurd. Sure enough there it is right there in front of me. When I point them out to the kids they ask, “Who is Snoopy?” and “what hat?” Then when I point out Tyrone from the Backyardagins the fun really begins!
Lunch/dinner is a 4p start at the Center Restaurant in town. It is in a little room heated with a wood stove and we are the only ones there. It is quick and easy and delicious. The food here is really top notch.
By 6p we are back at the hotel, by 8p we are in our caves trying to sleep, by 10p Vince is out with Teri in our cave and Adele and I are on the sultan sitting benches trying to sleep, by 11p we give up trying to get everyone to go down for the night, by midnight they finally do.
Day One Hundred and Thirteen October 8th
It’s raining when we wake. The desert takes on a strange vibe in the rain, almost as if it is a necessary evil. You get the feeling that this must be a tough place to hang your hat in the cold of winter.
We pack, take care of a few logistics and check out around noon. We are off today to see an underground city before we fly over to Izmir. The drive is dreary in the rain. Everything is brown and wet. The hillsides are pretty but they look uninviting and harsh in the mist. It feels like we are in a foreign land.
After we wind off the highway down and little road to nowhere we end up following hand made signs to the entrance to the underground city. At one point we double check to make sure it is really listed as a sight to see on the map.
When we pull up a kid comes out and tells us where to park. His mother comes out of a hut and points to a door with “Underground City” painted in white letters above. We walk into total darkness.
She follows, children in tow, and finds a light switch. A narrow passageway lies in front of us with a small bare bulb lighting the way. We take a deep breath and send out Vincent the Brave. He sprints down the tunnel. Adele starts to whimper.
It turns out to be a few rooms and passages underground. It is fascinating that people live this way. It has clearly been used for centuries and will probably be use for many more. Next time someone suggests we think less of our enemies for hiding in caves, politely suggest that they do not underestimate the situation. You must be extremely tough to live this kind of existence and the people here have been doing so for thousands of years.
On the way back to the airport we grab an excellent lunch at a place called Ziggy’s in Urgup. It was listed in a magazine article Teri has been carrying around all this time. See, it pays to save all those pull outs, this one is an excellent find.
The drive takes longer than expected and we get to the airport with only forty-five minutes to spare. I drop Teri and the kids off to clear luggage and drive two doors down to find the Avis counter. Then I do something that would never happen in the States, I pull up and leave the car curbside right in front of the terminal. No one seems to care.
The guy that dropped the car off in the other airport is at this one as well and he greets me with a big smile. I try and get him to help rent a car in Izmir but I cannot really remember the name of Izmir and may say something different plus the language barrier is tough. I have no idea what awaits us on the other end of the flight.
Check in is difficult. For some reason we are having trouble clearing the flight. At one point three or four people are looking at our tickets trying to figure something out. It takes well over forty-five minutes. The flight is delayed so we are OK on this side but now the connection in Istanbul is going to be tight.
At last they clear us and our bags are sent off to try and make it on board before the doors close. It is a mad scramble to get to the gate only to be delayed again and forced to wait another half hour. It is one of those days.
When we do finally land in Izmir it is past 8p and everyone is wiped out. Our rental car reservation never arrived but the guys at Avis do hook us up with a car for the next two days. It costs a bit more: that comes with the territory, but at the end of the day we are mobile.
Our hotel, the Gullu Konaklari is in the town of Sirince. We drive in darkness and arrive past 9p. We are at the end of a single lane cobble stone street, 8K up a mountainside, in the middle of nowhere again. Our room is just big enough for our bed, Adele’s roll away and Vince’s crib. We stack our luggage in the bathroom. Oh, did I mention it is freezing?
Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore.