kitgordon: the atlantic near st just (Default)
kitgordon ([personal profile] kitgordon) wrote2012-09-27 04:18 pm

the wonders of Turkey

From September 9-24, the charming spouse and I were in Turkey. Our first week was part of the Dunnett Siege of Constantinople (if you don't know the work of amazing historical novelist Dorothy Dunnett, see A group of 114 people from all over the world came together to celebrate Dunnett's work while exploring the wonders of Istanbul. And explore we did: we saw all the major sites and some not quite so major (Yedikule: Fortress of the Seven Towers). A minor disappointment at Topkapi Palace was that the room in which the crucial chess game occurs in the Lymond series was closed for renovation, but we certainly got a feeling for the site overall and could easily imagine that room. Besides, it's a great excuse to return! We were divided into six groups to facilitate our visits; each group had a group captain from among the participants (I served in that role for the "Archie" group--all six were named for characters in the series) and a guide. Our guide, Selim Puler, was absolutely amazing: very experienced, knowledgeable, and full of wonderful stories. Late afternoon talks by Elizabeth Holden (on the Crusades), Kelly DePonte (on John Grant and the fall of Constantinople), Jan Fergus (on quests and comedy in Pawn in Frankincense), and Ray Gannon (a non-reader who can delight us all with his tales of long-suffering Dunnett quests with wife Denise), plus a fabulous video created by the always amazing Simon Hedges (hereafter known as Simon the Magnificent) enhanced the gathering immeasurably. It was a wonderful opportunity to connect with old friends and meet new ones. The accommodations were great, as were all the meals (though often more food than I could eat, even with all the walking about). We fell in love with the city and its people.

After the Siege, we stayed in Turkey for another week or so; we traveled to Gallipoli, Troy, Pergamon, and Ephesus--all amazing places. I was profoundly moved by my visit to Gallipoli; I've always had an interest in the first world war (one of the more stupid wars, in my opinion). I learned that six U.S. men died in the battle, though this is not widely known. But I was there for all those who died: Australians, New Zealanders, UK men, and Turks. The monument with a quote from Ataturk brought me to tears, as did wandering among the graves. Pergamon was a revelation ( beautiful Roman remains, including a theatre space. Troy was fascinating (I remember receiving a holiday book when I was in my early teens about Heinrich Schliemann's discoveries, and I've always loved the Iliad and the Odyssey, so being on the site--of yet another stupid war--was amazing). But Pergamon was just a teaser for Ephesus, which was astonishing ( We were part of a tour group for Gallipoli, Troy, and Pergamon, and then were dropped off in Selcuk, the small town (22,000) near Ephesus, where we spent two nights. The site itself is huge and we spent most of a morning wandering about. It has a library (yes!), and a huge, huge theatre--absolutely glorious and with great acoustics (another visitor took the stage with the "Friends, Romans, countryman speech from Julius Caesar" and it was very clear). A second part of the site is the on-going excavation of a series of "terrace house" (indoor plumbing--the Romans knew what they were about): splendid mosaics, frescoes, etc.).The small museum in Selcuk has a wonderful collection of material from the site that had to be removed for safety/environmental reasons: many of the sculptures that were part of the site are now housed there. We had a lovely hotel in Selcuk on a hill looking over the town: comfortable and beautiful. Since the town is small, tourists don't typically stay there if they are part of a regular tour (not enough accommodations), so we enjoyed connecting with people in the downtown area where they had an array of shops selling carpets (of course) and other wonderful items. We did make some purchases here, even though we had planned to wait until our return to Istanbul: it felt good to support people in this smaller environment.

We returned to Istanbul via overnight bus (and Turkey has an absolutely phenomenal bus system), and spent our final four days in the city. We returned to a few places we had previously visited--Bob wanted to consult with an iman at the Blue Mosque about including Islamic holidays in his perpetual calendar, which he did, only to learn that the holidays are standardized in some countries (Turkey) and not in others (Saudi Arabia); so he'll have to make a decision about what to do. We also visited the Asian side of the city, with the hope of seeing the Florence Nightingale museum, but that didn't work out (it was tricky to find, and we kept running into "keep out" signs at a military base in the vicinity). We went to Dolmabahce Palace (çe_Palace) and then Taksim Square on the other side of the Golden Horn. Taksim Square is near the University of Istanbul, and from there you can walk down to the Galata Tower and beyond to the water via a pedestrian street filled with shops, restaurants, and people: every city needs something like this. Minneapolis should close the Nicollet Mall to traffic from downtown all the way to where it runs into the (ugh) K-Mart on Lake Street and create this sort of pedestrian haven. On our final day, we took a cruise on the Bosporus all the way to the entrance to the Black Sea. The cruise was 1.5 hours, then we had about 3 hours in the small town of Anadolu Kavagi, where many fish restaurants sought our business; we, of course, decided to hike up to the Roman/Genoese castle high above the town (and this was supposed to be our lazy day!), which led to a stunning view both north to the Black Sea and south back to Istanbul proper. We stayed at a wonderful hotel these last four days, run by a delightful Turkish man who lived for 25 years in Los Angeles; he and his staff were great). And then Monday morning arrive and it was time for the long flight home.

I will always remember the wonderful people and places of this glorious country, and I hope to return in the future to see even more of it.

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