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Exploring Turkey part 5: From Safranbolu to Kutahya

by Trudy (2/16/2010)

Exploring Turkey part 5: From Safranbolu to Kutahya

 

Safranbolu
Arriving at Kastamonu otogar, I go directly to the stand of bus company Metro, so far one I am very satisfied with. Five men are waiting for customers and in quick Turkish, they answer my questions. With gestures I tell them that if they speak slowly I might be able to understand them. ‘Yavaþ, slowly?’, one of the men asks. ‘Yes, slowly please,’ I answer, ‘Turkish is difficult for me.’ They all laugh about that remark. The sales clerk asks for my name, it has to be printed on my ticket. I tell him what it is and he looks confused, how do you spell that? I try to spell my name in the way I heard before, using names of Turkish cities: Van, Afyon, Nevþehir etcetera. Two letters later I am stuck, I have no idea how to say that. The i I spell as Izmir and they correct me: ‘Ismail you mean?’. My bus will not leave for another forty-five minutes and I ask where I can drink a coffee. ‘Come with me,’ Suat, a driver from competitive bus company Özlem, says, ‘I will show you.’ He offers me coffee and waves aside the waiter with the bill, pointing at the logo of the bus company on his shirt. This gesture makes clear my coffee is on the house. Suat is nice but very curious. According to his gestures he wants to know everything. A minute later he walks away. Back to his job I suppose but no, he is back some time later handing me a packet of cigarettes of the brand I smoke. ‘Why do you give me this?’, I ask, ‘you do not even smoke yourself!’ Suat smiles and only says ‘a present.’ Just before my bus leaves he accompanies me to the right bus stand, he takes care of my luggage and says ‘I have to go again.’ 
The dolmus from Karabük to Safranbolu is doing the tourist route. First twenty minutes uphill, then twenty minutes downhill again, we arrive at the point of departure again. From there we go to the historical part of town. This town has three different parts that are quite far from each other. The old centre, Çarþý is about two kilometres from the new city centre, Kýranköy but travel between the two is easy by ongoing dolmus. The third part, Baðlar, is north of the new city centre and not interesting for tourists. My hotel is called ‘Hotel Hatice Haným’ or ‘Hotel Madam Hatice’ and located in one of the old houses the city is famous for. I have to take off my shoes or cover them with blue plastic covers like surgeons wear. At each entrance door there are two baskets, one with new covers and one with used ones. The hotel owners do not want the carpets and wooden floors to be damaged, hence these precautions. 
In Safranbolu I look for old Ottoman houses. The city is cultural heritage on a UNESCO list so I expect something special. It turns out that ‘old’ sometimes also means ramshackle. Paint is peeled off, throughout the wrecked plaster I can clearly see the canes, and doorposts are tumbled down. Old does not always mean beautiful in my view and is not worth a picture every time. However, I do see some jewels of restored houses. Sometimes they are now used as a government building and taking pictures of them is not allowed. When I want to take a picture of such a beautiful house, a soldier immediately comes towards me. He points at my camera and shakes his head. ‘Jandarma’, he says. What are they afraid of? Espionage? The fact is I only like to take a picture because I love the architectural beauty and that I am willing to show the picture is not important. It is not allowed, end of discussion. Most of the restored houses are now used as hotel, pension or restaurant. The karvanserai from 1645, Cinci Han, is now a luxury five star hotel that asks an entrance fee to non-guests in order to make same extra money. 
Safranbolu is a real competitor of Istanbul, according to the huge number of tourist shops. I count hundreds, all packed from floor to ceiling with refrigerator magnets, replicas of the old houses shaped as sugar bowls, jewellery boxes, ashtrays, embroidered towels and other souvenirs in plenty, every size, every colour and every price you can imagine. Everything authentic Turkish? No, ‘made in China’ is the biggest brand. I see quite a lot of Japanese texts, even some of the menus are translated in Kanji. In the new city centre I see why: a small friendship memorial consisting of a ‘Safranbolu’ house and a typical Japanese house shows the bond between Safranbolu and a Japanese city. The second thing that one cannot overlook is the many shops with sweets, helva, lokum and other stuff. I almost feel I have walked into the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel and I am standing right in front of the witch. 
The Kazdaðlý Oðulu Camii looks a little fake to me. In several little domes in the ceiling they have tried to give them more perspective with paint but it does not look real. To be honest it looks very unnatural and a bit amateurish to me. The Izzet Paþa Camii is more of the type I like. Soft colours, carved marble and tiny paintings of flowers along all edges of the windows and the ceiling. That type of mosque I like to see more often. 
Afyon
The regular service buses are also used as a kind of postal service. Arriving at the place parcels and letters should be, the driver opens a window and gives the post to the receiver. Parcels are often just put next to the roadside. Somewhere between Eskipazar and Gerede are about three hundred sandwiches waiting to be picked up. Suddenly the bus drives into a large parking place. Guided by the female conductor a little girl of about seven years old runs to the toilets. Many passengers follow them while some others use this unexpected stop to smoke a cigarette. A little further away, I hear the noises of someone throwing up. A sixteen years old boy is carsick. The smell of his sickness is not nice. 
Asti bus station in Ankara is chaotic, a madhouse, a labyrinth. Yelling ticket sales clerks, sellers of simit, sandwiches, candy and dürüm, little kids screaming for their mothers (Annnnneeeeeeee!!!): the noise is deafening. I walk purposefully in the direction of the stand I am looking for and no salesperson is addressing me. A trick I should use more often. ‘Where can I find the toilets?’, I ask the man at the information desk. Wordlessly he points to the ends, left and right, of this immense hall. I can leave my luggage in his office for a while, using a squat toilet with fifteen kilos on your back is not very comfortable. On both sides, there are only four ladies toilets so the queue is quite long. Over fifteen minutes later, I pick up my luggage again. He tells me where my bus to Afyon will leave and I go to the bus stands. It looks to me as if there are thousands of people outside, the noise they make is deafening. Passengers waiting for their bus, people waving goodbye and people waiting for others to arrive. With some effort, I manage to get back in and I walk to a stall where second hand books are sold. The sentence ‘Do you have English books?’ is not too difficult in Turkish. One salesperson gestures I have to wait a while, he will get some for me. A few minutes later, he comes back with five books in his hand. Two are in French, two are in Dutch and one is English. It is funny to see that a book in a foreign language is automatically classified as English.
Afyon is famous for its marble and already kilometres before arriving I see little factories on both sides of the road with large amounts of marble. They will be processed into tiles, statues and gravestones. The first thing I see when I arrive in Afyon is the kale on the high hill. The surroundings of Afyon are quite flat and this hill rises prominently. One can visit the castle but the entrance road goes up over about seven hundred steps. Sorry, I am too lazy to do that, I think that is about six hundred steps too much. A picture is very nice too. 
At the Gedikahmet Paþa Camii I see an enormous amount of shoes. Through the open doors I can see the mosque is filled up to the last centimetre. Outside, sitting a wall, a woman is waiting. ‘My name is Greet and I am waiting for my husband Kees, he is inside’, she says. ‘We are from Rotterdam and where are you from?’ Greet and Kees have been travelling with a camper through Turkey for the past two months. A little while later Kees leaves the mosque and when he hears I am also from The Netherlands he immediately starts complaining. ‘Turkey is expensive and there are not enough tourist attractions’, he says, ‘and we do not meet other tourists, only near the beach areas.’ These two people are moaning about everything, nothing is ok, I hope I am not an exponent of the Dutch complaint culture. ‘Everything is far, petrol is expensive, we cannot drive on forever?,’ Kees continues. ‘You don’t have hotel costs because of your camper?’, I ask. ‘That is right, but it is still an expensive country’, he says. Before he retired Kees worked as a teacher, well I am happy he was not my colleague. If you do not want to spend money then stay home on your own balcony! The mosque is forbidden ground for me today, when all the male visitors have left the building the doors are closed. 
Back in my hotel Ramazan, the maitre d’ comes to me. He speaks very good German. He tells me he has travelled a lot and he says he has no visa problems because he has what he calls ´a high function in gastronomy´. ‘Tonight there is a real Turkish wedding here in the hotel, have you ever seen that?’ he asks. When I tell him no, he stands up and tells me to come with him. We go to the second floor where in the Duðun hall about two hundred people are waiting at decorated tables. They all look at me, it seems, the tourist in jeans with a camera around her neck. Bride and groom have not arrived but if I would like to see them, this can be arranged. Ramazan walks in front of me to a nearby hotel room and knocks on the door. The groom opens the door and behind him I see his newly wed bride standing in a beautiful white dress with a lot of lace. Ramazan explains that I am a guest of the hotel and that I would like to look. The couple smile, nod and we shake hands. I congratulate them on their wedding. I feel a little ill at ease when these unknown people invite me to the party later on. First dinner and then I will see. 
Dinner in my hotel is delicious but as usual too much. Ramazan personally takes away my plate, moaning I have not eaten enough. Then he winks at me, showing he is only joking. At nine o’clock there are hardly any other guests left and Ramazan joins me at my table, now he has some time to talk. ‘Some time’ turns out to be till way past midnight. I have to try the local specialty: Kaymaklý Ekmek Kadayýf. Then Ali, the assistant hotel manager, and Adil, the general manager, join us. Neither of them speaks English or German so Ramazan has to translate everything. Suddenly I get a huge plate of fresh fruit in front of me, a present from Adil. ‘If it is too much, you just say so, then room service will bring it to your room,’ says Ramazan. Ali and Adil leave after a while. Ramazan tells me about his work in Turkish tourism, the five star resorts he worked at some years ago. With a smile he tells about the behaviour of tourist workers and female tourists. ‘Yes, I have had my share of fooling around with tourists,’ he suddenly confesses while his face is reddening. ‘But,’ he continues quickly, ‘that was years ago, I am a married man of thirty now and I have three children.’ I do not say a word, I only raise an eyebrow. ‘You must know that some tourists only come to have sex, they love Turkish men so much,’ Ramazan adds. I still do not answer, not knowing how to react to this last piece of information!
In Akþehir, at about two hours by bus from Afyon, I visit the grave of Nasreddin Hoca. This half-mythological teacher, judge and imam from the sixth century is immensely popular in Turkey. There are many funny stories about him and all Turks have heard of him. In this town there are several statues of Nasreddin Hoca amongst them one where he is sitting backwards on his donkey. The legend is that Nasreddin said he is not sitting wrongly but that his donkey is walking into the wrong direction. The second famous statue is one of a large cooking pot, the pot that according to Nasreddin could give birth to a baby pot but also could die. Next to his tomb there is a man at a table filled with papers. These are ‘certificates proving you have been at the centre of earth’. ‘If you do not believe that’, is printed on the papers, ‘you have to measure it yourself’. 
In Akþehir a shoe polisher is stalking me, constantly following me and calling at me ‘abla, abla, older sister’. He is even waiting for me when I am having lunch. My efforts to make it clear to him I do not want my shoes polished and that I am not his abla are useless. Close to the bus stand back to Afyon I see a çayevi where men are playing Okey with dedication. ‘Can I take a picture?,’ I ask while gesturing ‘comb your hair’. A picture is ok and I have to laugh when one of the men takes off his hat, combs his hair and looks at me with a broad grin on his face ‘Am I looking terrific or not?’. They offer me tea and also here the shoe polisher follows me. He sits opposite me, staring at me as if he wants to hypnotise me. One of the men sees him staring, points to his forehead and says ‘az deli, a little crazy.’
On the way back to Afyon I get off the bus in Sultandaðý, where they have a karvanserai in the centre of the village. Tens of construction workers are busy with restoring the building. Large piles of concrete, cement and dark wooden boards lay in front of and inside the building, ready to be used. As far as I can see it will be gorgeous. The arches of the former guest rooms and animal caves are almost all renewed, in some spots they restored little ornaments and the walls have been plastered. It has to be completed at the end of 2007, so I am half a year early.
The hammam in the hotel is gorgeous, loads of soft-grey marble and Kütahya tiles on the walls. Six alcoves each with two water basins. Plenty of privacy. While dressed in a peshtemal (and a bikini) I lay on my belly on the centred hot stone. The masseur takes a few pictures of me. I am sure they will cause surprise when I show them at home. After a scrub with a kese my skin is smooth as a baby again. In the resting area I drink tea. ‘Do you have hammams in your country too?’, Kaan, the masseur, asks. As good as it goes I explain we have saunas and large thermal complexes. Of course I want a massage but that turns out to be less nice. My scrubbed skin reacts a lot to the massage oil with eucalyptus. Within minutes my skin is red and I feel like I am on fire. As soon as I can I go to my room, to take a shower and rinse off this massage oil. I do not want to dry my hair and go out so I order a meal through room service. The menemen, scrambled eggs with tomatoes and green pepper, tastes delicious. 
Zafer Müse – the victory museum – shows hundreds of pictures of the battle field in 1922 and the victory over the Greeks. Afyon was the first city where Atatürk then stayed. Besides pictures there are many other memorabilia of which I find two pieces of rusted barbed wire the most intriguing. 
Looking at the region map the man from the tourist information gave me, I make plans for today. Suddenly I recognise a picture of Aslankaya, the village where Ramazan was born and which he showed me in a book. It looks appealing and after an hours ride in a dolmus I arrive in Ihsanye, thirty five kilometres north of Afyon. Ihsanye is a sleepy looking village with only three thousand inhabitants. Behind the mosque I see a pide lokanta. Inside the lokanta it is scorching hot and the only two tables outside are occupied. While I am thinking what to do two men at one of the tables gesture to me and tell me I can sit at their table. Why not? Even before I sit down they already pour me a Fanta and give me a piece of their own pide. The pide I order comes a little later but even tasting delicious, after three pieces I have had enough. The waiter looks at me with a reproachful look on his face. ‘It was great but it is just too much for me,’ I answer. I want to pay but despite my protesting again ‘Afiyet olsun, bizden’. Or, on the house.
There is no bus to Aslankaya so I make a deal with a taxi driver. The surroundings of Ihsaniye are green, the low hills covered with flowers and wheat. It looks a little deserted, I do not see many houses but the atmosphere is not as grim as at some eastern places. Our first stop is at Üçlerkayasý, which can be translated as ‘Three-rock-village’. The driver points out to me the ancient cattle stables, each for four cows. In Döðer I can see the karvanserai in the distance. The entrance doors are locked but that is no problem. While I drink a cup of tea, the taxi driver arranges that someone gets the keys for us. Buying a ticket is not necessary. The driver laughs about my question, of course it is free to visit. The beautiful building has been restored in 2006. The stone arches, the high dome-like ceilings, the iron-work chandeliers decorated with flowers, the granite stairs towards the former hotel rooms, the authentic fire places in these rooms, everything restored in detail. There are two separate parts, each with their own entrance. One was used for people, the other for their cattle. The driver shows me the places guardians were staying to avoid theft. The third stop is the one I come for: Aslankaya, a rock amidst the rather empty landscape with two lions standing on their hind legs while their forelegs are resting on the shoulders of a girl carved in it. On top of this rock there is a frieze, showing two lions attacking a calf. Above that the faint painting of a snake is visible. The rock is severely damaged. ‘A bomb’, says the taxi driver, ‘terrorists did that. If I were the judge I would sentence them to death.’ He puts his index finger to his head as if he is firing a gun. 
Opposite this rock there is a large field with flowers. When I look better, I see only white poppies and poppy heads. I have read that in this area poppies are grown for medicinal use. A nearby factory makes morphine for medical use out of them. Everything should be guarded strictly, it stated. Still I cannot see any guardian or police car on this kilometres long field. ‘Come’, the taxi driver says and we walk into the field of poppies. He takes one and cuts it open. ‘The seeds you can eat’, he says and suits the action to his words. I know these seeds are eatable but I do not like them very much so I politely reject his invitation to taste. He thinks I am afraid and says: ‘It is not morphine.’ He plucks a second one, cuts into it with his knife and squeezes it. He points at the juice that is now visible: ‘Thát is morphine, not the seeds.’ ‘What about heroin?’, I ask. ‘No!!’, he shakes his head, ‘certainly not.’ He puts his wrists together as if he is cuffed and says ‘Polis!’ Our last stop is at Memeçkaya, old historical houses cut out of rocks. With some fantasy, I can compare them to the rock houses in Cappadocia. 
In Ihsaniye I drink coffee in the company of my taxi driver and a colleague of his. At the table in front of us I see a brochure of the Genç party. At the same time a recording van is driving by. The colleague tears the brochure into small pieces with a look of disgust on his face. ‘Not good’, he says, ‘I am in favour of the Saadet part.’ This time it is my face showing dislike. As far as I know this Saadet party is a little too Islamic for my taste, it reminds me of a fundamental Christian party in my own country, also not my favourite. Both men burst out into laughter. They make a gesture that looks like imposing moustaches and long beards. ‘No, I was kidding’, the colleague says, ‘AK party is my favourite, the largest party here in Ihsaniye, like elsewhere in Turkey.’ ‘Yes,’ adds my taxi driver, ‘with AK we will enter the EU and then I can travel without visa trouble to the Netherlands, Norway, Germany and the UK.’ They are the first Turkish people I hear saying positive things about the EU. ‘Do you need a visa for Turkey?’, they ask. ‘No’, I reply, ‘just pay ten Euro and then I hear ‘hoþ geldin’. Both men grin about this remark.
Afyon is not known for is gastronomy, the best restaurant in town according to my travel book is located in a large department store. In my hotel, there is a dinner buffet tonight: soup, meze, meat, chicken, salads, dessert and fresh fruit. During dinner, Ramazan walks by to ask if the food is ok. He bends towards me and says ‘Your perfume makes me crazy.’ Then he goes on, his face blank. What must I think of such a remark? A little later he is back. He called a hotel in Bursa for me, as I asked him before. I would prefer to book a hotel room with double beds that is cheaper than two single rooms. ‘Unfortunately for you, the hotel principally objects because you are not married and because your friend is Turkish,’ he tells me, ‘if your friend would have been Dutch, there was no objection.’ The fact that I do not have a relationship with Kerem does not matter. In addition, Ramazan thinks I have, just a friend? Hmm, he does not believe that. It seems a little hypocritical to me, but ok, when in Rome do as the Romans do. I text the message to Kerem who answers a little mockingly ‘Then we should marry and right after Bursa divorce again.’
Again tonight, there is a wedding in the hotel. Ramazan shows me the hall for parties and he introduces me to the bride’s mother. It is women’s evening tonight. Except for two musicians, a photographer and the waiters there are no men around. They give me a prominent place, immediately next to the dance floor so I see everything from nearby. Occasionally someone who knows English comes up to me, making sure I do not feel lonely. Also this bride wears a gorgeous white dress. She is dancing in the middle of the dance floor, on her face a slightly absent-minded look. After about one hour she leaves the room and returns another hour later, this time dressed in a coral red dress, leaving one shoulder bare, a gold coloured headdress and a red ribbon over her shoulder. Guests attach golden coins and money to that ribbon as their gifts. An elderly woman strews one-lira notes on the floor. All guests are given a glittering little cloth, a small bag with henna and two women give henna on the hand of all guests who like to receive it. The bride already has henna on her right hand, a golden coin in her palm and a red glove to assure her dress will not get dirty. Also my hand has henna on it and according to other guests at my table it will stick there for about a week. Many women are dancing and several times they invite me to join them. The music however is traditional Turkish and dancing as gracefully as these women do, I cannot. My hips are way to stiff for that. I tell them I would rather look and take pictures. They nod to me, which is fine too.
Kütahya
There is an enormous vase shaped fountain on the central square of Kütahya. Very recognizable for the porcelain the city is so famous for. This fountain is illuminated at night in several colours. The vase will glow red, yellow, blue, green or purple. All the streets next to the square have shops, small ones and large ones, with many kinds of porcelain articles. I fear they will not survive my trip back to the Netherlands and therefore I decide not to buy a couple of very nice plates. 
Inside the 14th-century Ulu Camii I see a marble fountain, an abdesthane, to wash yourself before prayer. It is the first time I see such a fountain on the inside of a mosque. Most of the time it is outside, often in a small separate building. Directly next to this mosque there is the Archaeological Museum. As far as I can see nothing special, besides the regular collection of coins, shards and spearheads there is only one showpiece: a Roman sarcophagus with bathing Amazons, dug up in nearby Azanoi.
The highlight of my visit to Kütahya is of course the Çini Museum, a museum full of porcelain items and tiles. The displayed items are in all colours though blue is the main colour. There are art objects and utensils, modern and visibly ages old. There are showpieces with a religious, a political or daily life character. Next to the portrait of a girl with a traditional scarf, I see a plate with the face of Virgin Mary and right next to that a portrait of Atatürk. The museum also has some items made by master-ceramist Haci Hafiz Mehmet Emin Efendi, whose name is connected to the Haydarpaþa train station in Istanbul. Though Iznik, being the other city of porcelain, in fact is the competitor, there are some typical Iznik-pieces displayed. Not really my taste, I find it too coloured and decorated. 
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Also this time many thanks to LIR for her corrections. All remaining errors are only me to blame.

Safranbolu

Arriving at Kastamonu otogar, I go directly to the stand of bus company Metro, so far one I am very satisfied with. Five men are waiting for customers and in quick Turkish, they answer my questions. With gestures I tell them that if they speak slowly I might be able to understand them. ‘Yavaþ, slowly?’, one of the men asks. ‘Yes, slowly please,’ I answer, ‘Turkish is difficult for me.’ They all laugh about that remark. The sales clerk asks for my name, it has to be printed on my ticket. I tell him what it is and he looks confused, how do you spell that? I try to spell my name in the way I heard before, using names of Turkish cities: Van, Afyon, Nevþehir etcetera. Two letters later I am stuck, I have no idea how to say that. The i I spell as Izmir and they correct me: ‘Ismail you mean?’. My bus will not leave for another forty-five minutes and I ask where I can drink a coffee. ‘Come with me,’ Suat, a driver from competitive bus company Özlem, says, ‘I will show you.’ He offers me coffee and waves aside the waiter with the bill, pointing at the logo of the bus company on his shirt. This gesture makes clear my coffee is on the house. Suat is nice but very curious. According to his gestures he wants to know everything. A minute later he walks away. Back to his job I suppose but no, he is back some time later handing me a packet of cigarettes of the brand I smoke. ‘Why do you give me this?’, I ask, ‘you do not even smoke yourself!’ Suat smiles and only says ‘a present.’ Just before my bus leaves he accompanies me to the right bus stand, he takes care of my luggage and says ‘I have to go again.’ 


The dolmus from Karabük to Safranbolu is doing the tourist route. First twenty minutes uphill, then twenty minutes downhill again, we arrive at the point of departure again. From there we go to the historical part of town. This town has three different parts that are quite far from each other. The old centre, Çarþý is about two kilometres from the new city centre, Kýranköy but travel between the two is easy by ongoing dolmus. The third part, Baðlar, is north of the new city centre and not interesting for tourists. My hotel is called ‘Hotel Hatice Haným’ or ‘Hotel Madam Hatice’ and located in one of the old houses the city is famous for. I have to take off my shoes or cover them with blue plastic covers like surgeons wear. At each entrance door there are two baskets, one with new covers and one with used ones. The hotel owners do not want the carpets and wooden floors to be damaged, hence these precautions. 


In Safranbolu I look for old Ottoman houses. The city is cultural heritage on a UNESCO list so I expect something special. It turns out that ‘old’ sometimes also means ramshackle. Paint is peeled off, throughout the wrecked plaster I can clearly see the canes, and doorposts are tumbled down. Old does not always mean beautiful in my view and is not worth a picture every time. However, I do see some jewels of restored houses. Sometimes they are now used as a government building and taking pictures of them is not allowed. When I want to take a picture of such a beautiful house, a soldier immediately comes towards me. He points at my camera and shakes his head. ‘Jandarma’, he says. What are they afraid of? Espionage? The fact is I only like to take a picture because I love the architectural beauty and that I am willing to show the picture is not important. It is not allowed, end of discussion. Most of the restored houses are now used as hotel, pension or restaurant. The karvanserai from 1645, Cinci Han, is now a luxury five star hotel that asks an entrance fee to non-guests in order to make same extra money. 


Safranbolu is a real competitor of Istanbul, according to the huge number of tourist shops. I count hundreds, all packed from floor to ceiling with refrigerator magnets, replicas of the old houses shaped as sugar bowls, jewellery boxes, ashtrays, embroidered towels and other souvenirs in plenty, every size, every colour and every price you can imagine. Everything authentic Turkish? No, ‘made in China’ is the biggest brand. I see quite a lot of Japanese texts, even some of the menus are translated in Kanji. In the new city centre I see why: a small friendship memorial consisting of a ‘Safranbolu’ house and a typical Japanese house shows the bond between Safranbolu and a Japanese city. The second thing that one cannot overlook is the many shops with sweets, helva, lokum and other stuff. I almost feel I have walked into the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel and I am standing right in front of the witch. 


The Kazdaðlý Oðulu Camii looks a little fake to me. In several little domes in the ceiling they have tried to give them more perspective with paint but it does not look real. To be honest it looks very unnatural and a bit amateurish to me. The Izzet Paþa Camii is more of the type I like. Soft colours, carved marble and tiny paintings of flowers along all edges of the windows and the ceiling. That type of mosque I like to see more often. 


Afyon

The regular service buses are also used as a kind of postal service. Arriving at the place parcels and letters should be, the driver opens a window and gives the post to the receiver. Parcels are often just put next to the roadside. Somewhere between Eskipazar and Gerede are about three hundred sandwiches waiting to be picked up. Suddenly the bus drives into a large parking place. Guided by the female conductor a little girl of about seven years old runs to the toilets. Many passengers follow them while some others use this unexpected stop to smoke a cigarette. A little further away, I hear the noises of someone throwing up. A sixteen years old boy is carsick. The smell of his sickness is not nice. 


Asti bus station in Ankara is chaotic, a madhouse, a labyrinth. Yelling ticket sales clerks, sellers of simit, sandwiches, candy and dürüm, little kids screaming for their mothers (Annnnneeeeeeee!!!): the noise is deafening. I walk purposefully in the direction of the stand I am looking for and no salesperson is addressing me. A trick I should use more often. ‘Where can I find the toilets?’, I ask the man at the information desk. Wordlessly he points to the ends, left and right, of this immense hall. I can leave my luggage in his office for a while, using a squat toilet with fifteen kilos on your back is not very comfortable. On both sides, there are only four ladies toilets so the queue is quite long. Over fifteen minutes later, I pick up my luggage again. He tells me where my bus to Afyon will leave and I go to the bus stands. It looks to me as if there are thousands of people outside, the noise they make is deafening. Passengers waiting for their bus, people waving goodbye and people waiting for others to arrive. With some effort, I manage to get back in and I walk to a stall where second hand books are sold. The sentence ‘Do you have English books?’ is not too difficult in Turkish. One salesperson gestures I have to wait a while, he will get some for me. A few minutes later, he comes back with five books in his hand. Two are in French, two are in Dutch and one is English. It is funny to see that a book in a foreign language is automatically classified as English.


Afyon is famous for its marble and already kilometres before arriving I see little factories on both sides of the road with large amounts of marble. They will be processed into tiles, statues and gravestones. The first thing I see when I arrive in Afyon is the kale on the high hill. The surroundings of Afyon are quite flat and this hill rises prominently. One can visit the castle but the entrance road goes up over about seven hundred steps. Sorry, I am too lazy to do that, I think that is about six hundred steps too much. A picture is very nice too. 


At the Gedikahmet Paþa Camii I see an enormous amount of shoes. Through the open doors I can see the mosque is filled up to the last centimetre. Outside, sitting a wall, a woman is waiting. ‘My name is Greet and I am waiting for my husband Kees, he is inside’, she says. ‘We are from Rotterdam and where are you from?’ Greet and Kees have been travelling with a camper through Turkey for the past two months. A little while later Kees leaves the mosque and when he hears I am also from The Netherlands he immediately starts complaining. ‘Turkey is expensive and there are not enough tourist attractions’, he says, ‘and we do not meet other tourists, only near the beach areas.’ These two people are moaning about everything, nothing is ok, I hope I am not an exponent of the Dutch complaint culture. ‘Everything is far, petrol is expensive, we cannot drive on forever?,’ Kees continues. ‘You don’t have hotel costs because of your camper?’, I ask. ‘That is right, but it is still an expensive country’, he says. Before he retired Kees worked as a teacher, well I am happy he was not my colleague. If you do not want to spend money then stay home on your own balcony! The mosque is forbidden ground for me today, when all the male visitors have left the building the doors are closed. 


Back in my hotel Ramazan, the maitre d’ comes to me. He speaks very good German. He tells me he has travelled a lot and he says he has no visa problems because he has what he calls ´a high function in gastronomy´. ‘Tonight there is a real Turkish wedding here in the hotel, have you ever seen that?’ he asks. When I tell him no, he stands up and tells me to come with him. We go to the second floor where in the Duðun hall about two hundred people are waiting at decorated tables. They all look at me, it seems, the tourist in jeans with a camera around her neck. Bride and groom have not arrived but if I would like to see them, this can be arranged. Ramazan walks in front of me to a nearby hotel room and knocks on the door. The groom opens the door and behind him I see his newly wed bride standing in a beautiful white dress with a lot of lace. Ramazan explains that I am a guest of the hotel and that I would like to look. The couple smile, nod and we shake hands. I congratulate them on their wedding. I feel a little ill at ease when these unknown people invite me to the party later on. First dinner and then I will see. 


Dinner in my hotel is delicious but as usual too much. Ramazan personally takes away my plate, moaning I have not eaten enough. Then he winks at me, showing he is only joking. At nine o’clock there are hardly any other guests left and Ramazan joins me at my table, now he has some time to talk. ‘Some time’ turns out to be till way past midnight. I have to try the local specialty: Kaymaklý Ekmek Kadayýf. Then Ali, the assistant hotel manager, and Adil, the general manager, join us. Neither of them speaks English or German so Ramazan has to translate everything. Suddenly I get a huge plate of fresh fruit in front of me, a present from Adil. ‘If it is too much, you just say so, then room service will bring it to your room,’ says Ramazan. Ali and Adil leave after a while. Ramazan tells me about his work in Turkish tourism, the five star resorts he worked at some years ago. With a smile he tells about the behaviour of tourist workers and female tourists. ‘Yes, I have had my share of fooling around with tourists,’ he suddenly confesses while his face is reddening. ‘But,’ he continues quickly, ‘that was years ago, I am a married man of thirty now and I have three children.’ I do not say a word, I only raise an eyebrow. ‘You must know that some tourists only come to have sex, they love Turkish men so much,’ Ramazan adds. I still do not answer, not knowing how to react to this last piece of information!


In Akþehir, at about two hours by bus from Afyon, I visit the grave of Nasreddin Hoca. This half-mythological teacher, judge and imam from the sixth century is immensely popular in Turkey. There are many funny stories about him and all Turks have heard of him. In this town there are several statues of Nasreddin Hoca amongst them one where he is sitting backwards on his donkey. The legend is that Nasreddin said he is not sitting wrongly but that his donkey is walking into the wrong direction. The second famous statue is one of a large cooking pot, the pot that according to Nasreddin could give birth to a baby pot but also could die. Next to his tomb there is a man at a table filled with papers. These are ‘certificates proving you have been at the centre of earth’. ‘If you do not believe that’, is printed on the papers, ‘you have to measure it yourself’. 


In Akþehir a shoe polisher is stalking me, constantly following me and calling at me ‘abla, abla, older sister’. He is even waiting for me when I am having lunch. My efforts to make it clear to him I do not want my shoes polished and that I am not his abla are useless. Close to the bus stand back to Afyon I see a çayevi where men are playing Okey with dedication. ‘Can I take a picture?,’ I ask while gesturing ‘comb your hair’. A picture is ok and I have to laugh when one of the men takes off his hat, combs his hair and looks at me with a broad grin on his face ‘Am I looking terrific or not?’. They offer me tea and also here the shoe polisher follows me. He sits opposite me, staring at me as if he wants to hypnotise me. One of the men sees him staring, points to his forehead and says ‘az deli, a little crazy.’


On the way back to Afyon I get off the bus in Sultandaðý, where they have a karvanserai in the centre of the village. Tens of construction workers are busy with restoring the building. Large piles of concrete, cement and dark wooden boards lay in front of and inside the building, ready to be used. As far as I can see it will be gorgeous. The arches of the former guest rooms and animal caves are almost all renewed, in some spots they restored little ornaments and the walls have been plastered. It has to be completed at the end of 2007, so I am half a year early.


The hammam in the hotel is gorgeous, loads of soft-grey marble and Kütahya tiles on the walls. Six alcoves each with two water basins. Plenty of privacy. While dressed in a peshtemal (and a bikini) I lay on my belly on the centred hot stone. The masseur takes a few pictures of me. I am sure they will cause surprise when I show them at home. After a scrub with a kese my skin is smooth as a baby again. In the resting area I drink tea. ‘Do you have hammams in your country too?’, Kaan, the masseur, asks. As good as it goes I explain we have saunas and large thermal complexes. Of course I want a massage but that turns out to be less nice. My scrubbed skin reacts a lot to the massage oil with eucalyptus. Within minutes my skin is red and I feel like I am on fire. As soon as I can I go to my room, to take a shower and rinse off this massage oil. I do not want to dry my hair and go out so I order a meal through room service. The menemen, scrambled eggs with tomatoes and green pepper, tastes delicious. 


Zafer Müse – the victory museum – shows hundreds of pictures of the battle field in 1922 and the victory over the Greeks. Afyon was the first city where Atatürk then stayed. Besides pictures there are many other memorabilia of which I find two pieces of rusted barbed wire the most intriguing. 


Looking at the region map the man from the tourist information gave me, I make plans for today. Suddenly I recognise a picture of Aslankaya, the village where Ramazan was born and which he showed me in a book. It looks appealing and after an hours ride in a dolmus I arrive in Ihsanye, thirty five kilometres north of Afyon. Ihsanye is a sleepy looking village with only three thousand inhabitants. Behind the mosque I see a pide lokanta. Inside the lokanta it is scorching hot and the only two tables outside are occupied. While I am thinking what to do two men at one of the tables gesture to me and tell me I can sit at their table. Why not? Even before I sit down they already pour me a Fanta and give me a piece of their own pide. The pide I order comes a little later but even tasting delicious, after three pieces I have had enough. The waiter looks at me with a reproachful look on his face. ‘It was great but it is just too much for me,’ I answer. I want to pay but despite my protesting again ‘Afiyet olsun, bizden’. Or, on the house.


There is no bus to Aslankaya so I make a deal with a taxi driver. The surroundings of Ihsaniye are green, the low hills covered with flowers and wheat. It looks a little deserted, I do not see many houses but the atmosphere is not as grim as at some eastern places. Our first stop is at Üçlerkayasý, which can be translated as ‘Three-rock-village’. The driver points out to me the ancient cattle stables, each for four cows. In Döðer I can see the karvanserai in the distance. The entrance doors are locked but that is no problem. While I drink a cup of tea, the taxi driver arranges that someone gets the keys for us. Buying a ticket is not necessary. The driver laughs about my question, of course it is free to visit. The beautiful building has been restored in 2006. The stone arches, the high dome-like ceilings, the iron-work chandeliers decorated with flowers, the granite stairs towards the former hotel rooms, the authentic fire places in these rooms, everything restored in detail. There are two separate parts, each with their own entrance. One was used for people, the other for their cattle. The driver shows me the places guardians were staying to avoid theft. The third stop is the one I come for: Aslankaya, a rock amidst the rather empty landscape with two lions standing on their hind legs while their forelegs are resting on the shoulders of a girl carved in it. On top of this rock there is a frieze, showing two lions attacking a calf. Above that the faint painting of a snake is visible. The rock is severely damaged. ‘A bomb’, says the taxi driver, ‘terrorists did that. If I were the judge I would sentence them to death.’ He puts his index finger to his head as if he is firing a gun. 


Opposite this rock there is a large field with flowers. When I look better, I see only white poppies and poppy heads. I have read that in this area poppies are grown for medicinal use. A nearby factory makes morphine for medical use out of them. Everything should be guarded strictly, it stated. Still I cannot see any guardian or police car on this kilometres long field. ‘Come’, the taxi driver says and we walk into the field of poppies. He takes one and cuts it open. ‘The seeds you can eat’, he says and suits the action to his words. I know these seeds are eatable but I do not like them very much so I politely reject his invitation to taste. He thinks I am afraid and says: ‘It is not morphine.’ He plucks a second one, cuts into it with his knife and squeezes it. He points at the juice that is now visible: ‘Thát is morphine, not the seeds.’ ‘What about heroin?’, I ask. ‘No!!’, he shakes his head, ‘certainly not.’ He puts his wrists together as if he is cuffed and says ‘Polis!’ Our last stop is at Memeçkaya, old historical houses cut out of rocks. With some fantasy, I can compare them to the rock houses in Cappadocia. 


In Ihsaniye I drink coffee in the company of my taxi driver and a colleague of his. At the table in front of us I see a brochure of the Genç party. At the same time a recording van is driving by. The colleague tears the brochure into small pieces with a look of disgust on his face. ‘Not good’, he says, ‘I am in favour of the Saadet part.’ This time it is my face showing dislike. As far as I know this Saadet party is a little too Islamic for my taste, it reminds me of a fundamental Christian party in my own country, also not my favourite. Both men burst out into laughter. They make a gesture that looks like imposing moustaches and long beards. ‘No, I was kidding’, the colleague says, ‘AK party is my favourite, the largest party here in Ihsaniye, like elsewhere in Turkey.’ ‘Yes,’ adds my taxi driver, ‘with AK we will enter the EU and then I can travel without visa trouble to the Netherlands, Norway, Germany and the UK.’ They are the first Turkish people I hear saying positive things about the EU. ‘Do you need a visa for Turkey?’, they ask. ‘No’, I reply, ‘just pay ten Euro and then I hear ‘hoþ geldin’. Both men grin about this remark.


Afyon is not known for is gastronomy, the best restaurant in town according to my travel book is located in a large department store. In my hotel, there is a dinner buffet tonight: soup, meze, meat, chicken, salads, dessert and fresh fruit. During dinner, Ramazan walks by to ask if the food is ok. He bends towards me and says ‘Your perfume makes me crazy.’ Then he goes on, his face blank. What must I think of such a remark? A little later he is back. He called a hotel in Bursa for me, as I asked him before. I would prefer to book a hotel room with double beds that is cheaper than two single rooms. ‘Unfortunately for you, the hotel principally objects because you are not married and because your friend is Turkish,’ he tells me, ‘if your friend would have been Dutch, there was no objection.’ The fact that I do not have a relationship with Kerem does not matter. In addition, Ramazan thinks I have, just a friend? Hmm, he does not believe that. It seems a little hypocritical to me, but ok, when in Rome do as the Romans do. I text the message to Kerem who answers a little mockingly ‘Then we should marry and right after Bursa divorce again.’


Again tonight, there is a wedding in the hotel. Ramazan shows me the hall for parties and he introduces me to the bride’s mother. It is women’s evening tonight. Except for two musicians, a photographer and the waiters there are no men around. They give me a prominent place, immediately next to the dance floor so I see everything from nearby. Occasionally someone who knows English comes up to me, making sure I do not feel lonely. Also this bride wears a gorgeous white dress. She is dancing in the middle of the dance floor, on her face a slightly absent-minded look. After about one hour she leaves the room and returns another hour later, this time dressed in a coral red dress, leaving one shoulder bare, a gold coloured headdress and a red ribbon over her shoulder. Guests attach golden coins and money to that ribbon as their gifts. An elderly woman strews one-lira notes on the floor. All guests are given a glittering little cloth, a small bag with henna and two women give henna on the hand of all guests who like to receive it. The bride already has henna on her right hand, a golden coin in her palm and a red glove to assure her dress will not get dirty. Also my hand has henna on it and according to other guests at my table it will stick there for about a week. Many women are dancing and several times they invite me to join them. The music however is traditional Turkish and dancing as gracefully as these women do, I cannot. My hips are way to stiff for that. I tell them I would rather look and take pictures. They nod to me, which is fine too.


Kütahya

There is an enormous vase shaped fountain on the central square of Kütahya. Very recognizable for the porcelain the city is so famous for. This fountain is illuminated at night in several colours. The vase will glow red, yellow, blue, green or purple. All the streets next to the square have shops, small ones and large ones, with many kinds of porcelain articles. I fear they will not survive my trip back to the Netherlands and therefore I decide not to buy a couple of very nice plates. 


Inside the 14th-century Ulu Camii I see a marble fountain, an abdesthane, to wash yourself before prayer. It is the first time I see such a fountain on the inside of a mosque. Most of the time it is outside, often in a small separate building. Directly next to this mosque there is the Archaeological Museum. As far as I can see nothing special, besides the regular collection of coins, shards and spearheads there is only one showpiece: a Roman sarcophagus with bathing Amazons, dug up in nearby Azanoi.


The highlight of my visit to Kütahya is of course the Çini Museum, a museum full of porcelain items and tiles. The displayed items are in all colours though blue is the main colour. There are art objects and utensils, modern and visibly ages old. There are showpieces with a religious, a political or daily life character. Next to the portrait of a girl with a traditional scarf, I see a plate with the face of Virgin Mary and right next to that a portrait of Atatürk. The museum also has some items made by master-ceramist Haci Hafiz Mehmet Emin Efendi, whose name is connected to the Haydarpaþa train station in Istanbul. Though Iznik, being the other city of porcelain, in fact is the competitor, there are some typical Iznik-pieces displayed. Not really my taste, I find it too coloured and decorated. 


**********

Also this time many thanks to LIR for her corrections. All remaining errors are only me to blame.





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