|Home > Journal > Thursday, 18th November, 1999 - News from Antalya in Mediterranean Turkey|
My overwhelming impression of Turkey is of a country where the people are immensely friendly and generous. I feel this every day and it has certainly added to my happiness here. People give me food for absolutely no reason whatsoever (a sure way to win MY heart as you all know!!). I suppose it is simply that I am obviously a foreigner, I am alone, and they want to make sure I have a good experience and would do this for anyone. Anyway, the generosity has not just materialised as feeding and watering (home-made meatballs passed my way in buses on several occasions; apples shoved into my bag in a village where they are the primary source of income; pomegranate picked from laden trees among ancient ruins by a museum guardian; the discovery that raw chestnuts are edible and in fact quite tasty, albeit hard work; offerings to try Turkish specialities by waiters whom I am paying absolutely no attention to; and endless glasses of tea (I've just been brought a herbal one right now, filled with fresh camomile, I suppose because I've been in here for a while checking e-mails). When language has allowed it, people have given up time and commitments to show me their towns, and prevented me from paying for things because I am a 'guest'.
The highlight of the month has to be time spent with some Turkish students (Ataturk University) in the northeastern freezing cold city of Erzurum. I met 4 of them (Selvihan, who spoke excellent English and tirelessly interpreted for days, Ayegül, Moharrem and Yener) on the minibus going from Trabzon on the Black Sea coast up to Sumela, an abandoned monastery built into the rock of the mountainside behind the city. Sumela was itself one of the best 'sights' I've visited - combining history with man-made and incredible natural beauty. When we returned to Trabzon that afternoon the students introduced me to 'hamisi balik', a Black Sea speciality: anchovies, served fresh and lightly fried, accompanied by raw onion (which I have unbelievably developed a taste for - good thing I'm spending a lot of time alone and not breathing on anyone!!), followed by my first sahlep - a hot sweet and thick milky semolina drink topped with cinnamon - great when it's cold. The following day, my 4 hour bus trip to Erzurum was one of the most startlingly beautiful journeys I have ever made: from the coast up into rugged snow-capped mountains and from there out onto high step-like plains as the sun sank golden behind the horizon. I was met by Selvihan and another friend, Ibrahim, and we walked to Moharrem and Yener's flat in the centre of the city (girls are only allowed to live on campus), where they prepared a feast for me. I stayed there for three nights. On Monday Selvihan, Ibrahim (an Erzurum local), and another student Metin showed me Erzurum's impressive Seljuk religious buildings and fortifications in the freezing cold - there was ice on the ground! Luckily lunch was 'Adana' kebab - very spicy. Selviahn skipped classes again the following day to accompany me eastwards with Yener to some hot springs (belched out of a large metal horse's mouth in the women's baths) and a fortress at Hasankale. I left Erzurum on Wednesday morning having made real friends.
This experience propelled me to try and learn more Turkish - so I invested in a bigger dictionary and a 'teach yourself Turkish quick' grammar book, with tape - shame no Walkman!! These have certainly helped - I constructed a short letter in Turkish last week that is probably riddled with errors, but a proud achievement all the same! My conversation is still largely nods and grunts, however, and I have fun out of time to learn much more this visitů
What else has been making me happy? Being alone is definitely one thing. I've explored modern cities and clambered round ancient ones both above and below the ground. I've spent the last week getting saturated by Greek, Roman and other ruins along the Aegean and Mediterranean coast, and can fairly say that I'm ruined out, but at times on these days I have been euphoric. The sites are impressive, but I am not an academic or intellectual tourist, and they mean little to me. Today I was at Termessos, a city that belonged to some ancient people or other that like Sumela is also high up in a mountain. Heading for the necropolis, I strode straight past some tumbledown tombs, and it was only when I got to the peak above the whole settlement and was looking down into the mist that I realised that the tombs of course were the necropolis. So much for two years studying ancient Greek. What has enhanced this sightseeing is the getting to and from and between these places, in ever more rustic forms of transport, and the interactions with people along the way. I see few other tourists and avoid them like I'm some weird introvert when spotted on the horizon - sometimes there are organised tours milling around these places, but sometimes there is no one else there at all. I slept for an hour alone in the theatre at Ephesus the other morning while being warmed by the sun.
It has not all been highlights, of course. Last Thursday I was stunned by sights of tent 'plantations' that filled any and every 'spare' piece of land by the roadside in the town of Yalova on the south side of the Sea of Marmora, an outcome of the tragedy in the summer. I felt shocked and a bit sick. That was the day before the most recent earthquake in Bolu, which I learnt about from the TV in the restaurant where I was eating my dinner on Friday night.
On a far more trivial and personal note, travelling alone at times is stressful - largely because of language difficulties I think. Finding where precisely to get a local bus to a place nearby can be tough. Getting verbally attacked by the fiercely competitive national bus companies' sales people when arriving in a bus station all luggaged-up is also hard work, especially being ill-equipped to respond. The other day (Friday night in fact) in true Flynn malco fashion I managed to fall down and out of a big coach on my way into it!!! It was 1 in the morning, I was tired, and my foot just did not quite make it to the top step before I lost my balance and went backwards! Luckily all I did was rip the knee of my jeans and get a slight graze, and everyone rushed to assist me, but I still shed a couple of tears of shock and anxiety once I'd managed to successfully board the vehicle on the second attempt, and find my seatů Sometimes also I have to try and gauge whether accepting probable simple friendliness could lead to me taking unnecessary personal risks, and err on the cautious side. But on that front Turkey has turned out to be far less (not at all) threatening for me as a female than I expected.
I've not been to Van, or to Batman - the two vaguely comical place names that jump out from the Turkey map. They are both in the more remote and possibly dangerous far southeast of the country. I am not sure that Batman has much to offer the casual tourist, anyway, but I'd like to make t to Van next time I am in Turkey. In the next few days, my last few in Tureky, I am going to Konya, a home of whirling dervishes and historical Turk city; Urfa, an ancient place where Abraham lived for a while; and Antakya (Antioch) before entering Syria and racing to Jordan to meet Alexa. Syria will have to wait till the second week of December, as Turkey has been too engrossing to leave any sooner.
Bowels still great, Sarah T.
That's it for now; I'm hungry. Believe it or not that was favourite
moments only! Next report will probably be just before Christmas. Happy
|The tiles on this page are from a fresco inside the Church of Holy Wisdom in Trabzon, on Turkey's Black Sea coast. |Click here to view the original photo||