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2006 Summer in Turkey

by Trudy (1/6/2009)

From Ankara to Malatya

This is my travel diary of my 37-day trip through Middle- and East-Turkey in May and June 2006. Because of the privacy I have changed some names.




Thursday May 18th 2006: Rotterdam – Amsterdam – Istanbul – Ankara

            The body search by Turkish Airlines at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is still done by hand, no frills, no high-tech stuff. The hands of the female member of security are going smoothly and professionally over my body. My trouser-legs are lifted up a bit. Apparently, my walking boots look innocent, I am able to keep them on. The Turkish passenger behind me is less lucky; he wears a kind of high Dr. Martin shoes and has to take them off. I am used to the structure and rules in The Netherlands but Istanbul Atatürk Airport is shocking. The international arrival hall looks business like and professional, things like visa and customs are quickly done. I give my passport and a ten Euro note to the custom officer and without looking at my picture or personal details; he stamps the visa in it. Wow, that’s easy!

            When I smoke a cigarette outside – though everyone smokes everywhere in Turkey, they are strict here at the airport – I am not allowed to enter again. First again a security check. Not the first time today, the alarm bells ring. They are set very sharp but at a second entrance, I can just walk through. Then I go to the departure hall for domestic flights. What a chaos! Everywhere you can see there are rows of people; it seems they have neither end nor a beginning. Finally, I am at the correct gate. Again waiting with coffee and some cigarettes and with the second delay today, I await my leave to Ankara Esenboga. When I arrive there, the luggage of international passengers like me is delivered in another hall, about 400 meters away. When I have my backpack after half an hour, I take the shuttle bus of Havas (which I only just catch because of that luggage stuff) that will bring me in 40 minutes to the bus terminal in the city. I ask some fellow passengers how to get to my hotel. Better said, I use the name of a nearby hotel. Not everyone needs to know where I will spend the night. One of the passengers, Hakan, offers me a lift to my hotel in the taxi he takes because he is going in the same direction. I do not need to pay, his company will do that.

            The room in Otel Mithat is simple, with a minimum of services, almost Spartan. In the lobby, I write – with many people looking at me – the first part of this diary. Talking about being looked at: According to the writer of a travel guide, I need to learn to be very arrogant, like the women of Istanbul. Not automatically smiling because of politeness which I am used to in my own country, not looking people (read: men!) in the eyes. Many Turkish men think that is an invitation to something more according to this writer.


Friday May 19th 2006: Ankara

            When I arrive at the Ethnographic Museum at 08.45, it is still closed. Staff is late. Inside there is an exhibition of the municipal cleansing department of Ankara over the years. The next stop is at the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations, which is chosen as the most beautiful museum of Europe in 1997. It is certainly beautiful, but personally I like carpets, clothing, and jewellery more than the coins, amphora’s and tombs that are displayed here. Old Ankara you can experience best in Hisar, the citadel area. Narrow and winding streets going up and down do show many small shops in antique and other things.

            Turkey is a nationalistic country, I already knew that. Today, at the Youth and Sports Day as a remembrance of Atatürk’s day of birth the amount of flags is extra obvious. Almost every building has one, most of the times accompanied with a very large picture of Turkey’s most famous politician. The sportive part of this day I do not see, the youthful part I do: everywhere groups of school kids, in every museum, busses are coming and going every minute.

            Next to the citadel exit there is an exciting looking path. I go down there some meters until it gets too excited for me. The first reason I go back is that next to the path there is a canyon deep down and this path changes into something that is not a path anymore. Second reason is that there are groups of youngsters sitting in the shadow over there; they have just a bit more interest in me than I like. Back in the Citadel I visit the Alaettin Camii. Quite sober and not so special I think. The caretaker is impressed of the automatism I get my scarf out of my purse, he nods approving and sticks up his thumb. He gives me a very long explanation about what to see. A part of his Turkish explanation about tespih (rosary) and the carvings I understand. At the rest I look interested but I do not get a word of it.

            The Koç museum is an industrial museum. The name reminds me of ship motors, compressors and stuff like that. There are a few of those things to see but the rest of the exhibition does not seem to fit to this name, I guess. The collection exists from tin toys, miniature trains, ship models, medical supply’s (amongst a dentist chair and the chair of a gynaecologist!), telephones, old computers, pharmacy equipment, jars and a collection of things that belonged to Atatürk. There is even a box with dental sticks from him.

            At 12.53, there is a lot of noise: from at least five minarets, the sound of calling for prayer by a muezzin is heard. Those calls are not exactly synchronic so I wonder if believers really understand all of it. Well, something different then church bells at 10.00 am on Sunday morning… From the terrace I am sitting on, I can see most people continue what they are doing. Just a few shopkeepers close their shop and go to the mosque to fulfil their religious duty.

            Though a bit clouded, it is still hot and I do not want to walk four kilometres to the tourist office to get some information. I take a taxi; it is a holiday, isn’t it? Unhappily for me I get a driver whose car does only work hill down (without motor) for the first couple of hundred meters and who does not know where the tourist office is. He drops me off at the wrong subway station. I still have to walk for fifteen minutes.

            Gençlik Parki is not what it was or should be according to my information. The pond in the park is empty, boats and water bicycles are on the edge of the pool. Several buildings look like they have been bombed. Combine this all with a lot of trash in the grass next to the path: not really an invitation to make a long walk. You can visit the Luna park in Gençlik Parki for 0,25 lira entrance fee. Every attraction has to be paid for extra. In addition, this part is not at its best anymore. Though a lot of Turkish people have a holiday today and it is crowded, many attractions are closed, empty or still unpacked. Some of the attractions do look old fashioned to me. The visitors of the wild water attraction even get an apron (blue for men, red for women) so they will not get wet. The Luna Park Café offers tea in old samovars which is a very nice new experience.

            Talking about the subway: metro pool Ankara (4 million people) is smaller than my hometown Rotterdam (620.000 people). Here are only two crossing lines with just one station to change directions and 22 stations; Rotterdam has 48 stations and two changing places.

            Because the afternoon is at its end, I do not want to go visit anything else. Tomorrow I like to visit the Atatürk Mausoleum with park, some mosques, the farm annex zoo of Atatürk and maybe a shopping area. At that farm – they say it is an oasis of peace in this hectic city – one can taste homemade products.

            The advice to wear sunglasses so I can look freely and Turkish men cannot see my eyes is not so good. My sunglasses have different optical glasses then my normal glasses and I notice I have problems with seeing depth. That is not very nice walking, a few times I make mistakes. I visit three optical shops to buy cover sunglasses but no luck; they do not sell those here in Turkey. So even more looking over, aside and through people. I can do that very well; with the Istanbul arrogance (as that writer said), I do not have problems…


Saturday May 20th: Ankara

            The Kocatepe Camii is said to be the biggest of Ankara and second biggest of Turkey. The biggest mosque is in Adana. Even the Blue Mosque in Istanbul ranks number 3, though I think it looks bigger and I find it much more beautiful than this one here. My favourite mosque still is Mehmet Paþa Sokullu in Istanbul. This one here in Ankara is too new, it lacks character. When I have just put on my shoes again and put away my headscarf in my bag, the caretaker is coming towards me. He asks if I saw the first floor. Putting my scarf on and taking my shoes off again is not necessary, he waves. So, with shoes on and without scarf I walk behind him upstairs over the carpets to the women’s floor. Strange, it does not feel okay. That feeling appears to be correct because when the caretaker shows me some things, and offers to show me an Islamic prayer so I just have to copy it, he is standing very close to me, touching my arms and shoulders. Apparently, he has other goals then I have. The prayer I can say no to with the words I am Christian and about him touching me, I say he must not do that. I almost said ‘ayýp, ayýp’ (shame on you). Below the mosque, there is an immense department store annex supermarket. Pity they do not sell postcards of this mosque.

            Atatürk’s mausoleum is big, very big. Lots of marble, statues, soldiers along never ending lanes (including the boots stamping and presenting their rifles). I visit the mausoleum, I can get in quick but I get send out just as quick. Then I know why: a kind of official looking group of about 100 men – very hidden in their costumes – enters the mausoleum. Followed by many television cameras. Why and who they are, I do not know. Waiting time for the museum next to the mausoleum is two hours in the burning sun, so no thanks.

            I like to buy post cards of this place but I cannot find the souvenir shop, it is tucked away in a corner I find out later. I ask one of the many soldiers. He does not speak English but a colleague does. This soldier explains the way to the shop quite clear and even escorts me for a couple of meters until someone of higher rank stops him and he is sent back to his post. The Atatürk Park seems to be nice as well; including a farm where you can taste homemade products. Where I went wrong I do not know but I cannot find it. I can find the pick nick area, filled with hundreds of families using their barbecues and I see the zoo. Standing on the road, I see three lions in a small cage, poor animals, no shadow to see.

            Next to the Haji Bayram Mosque, there is the mausoleum of this man. A very tiny room that smells quite sweet because of the usage of a lot of incense. This mosque is to be said beautiful, for men. Women cannot go in. For the first time in my life I think ‘what an idiot religion that Islam is´. Angry it makes me! A separate entrance and floor for women, okay. But a completely closed floor where you cannot see the inside of the mosque? Ridiculous. Then saying women are equal, yeah, well not in this fundamentalist mosque. Nobody (of course) who speaks English and can answer my questions. My sadness I ‘drink away’ with two ayran in a nearby Dönerli. Very present here: many shops selling headscarves, tespih, Qur’an, dua-books and a lot of other (non) religious stuff. At first sight also a lot of kitsch. And again, no pictures for sale, so what this mosque looks like will be a secret to me.

            At the Sengul Hammam I get a scrub and a soap massage. Very nice. The masseuse – like many Turkish masseuses quite fat – points at my belly and asks ‘Bebe?’ I tell her I do not have children. Ah, she shakes her head, she feels sorry for me. Pointing at her own belly, she raises three fingers, three children she has. She calls me twice çok güzel. If you ever wondered how a fried egg on a gourmet plate is feeling, go to the hot stone in this hammam. My flesh is just not sizzling…. Dozing off is not possible, this stone is really too hot. I sweat and sweat and sweat and after half an hour I rinse well and get dressed again. In the company of other visitors, I smoke a cigarette. With some translation and my dictionary a small conversation is possible.


Central TurkeY: Göreme, Sivas AnD Malatya


Sunday May 21st: Ankara – Göreme (295 kilometres)

            Early in the morning I am awake to take the bus to Göreme. Yes, my itinerary has changed. I hear such good stories that I decided not to go to the north but to the southeast. The first company at the otogar I ask has just one bus a day, at 3 pm. Too late for me. The next company bus leaves at 9 am. The travel will take four hours until Göreme. After five hours I am in Nevsehir and have to go on, this bus just stop. Finally, at 3 pm I am in Emre Cave House, my pension for the next three nights. In Göreme there are a lot of backpackers like me. In Emre Cave House we have a barbecue: Skya and Karen from Canada, Will and Allison from the US, two Slovenian girls, three Turkish men (Bayram, Ali and Adem) and me. After the barbecue, we go together to Flintstone Cave Bar, nice. Adem thinks I am nice and tries the things he does with hundreds of female tourists per year…. Unfortunately for him I am not going along with his wishes…


Monday May 22nd: Göreme

            Göreme Open Air Museum is beautiful, the tuff cones were used in earlier times as houses, churches and stables. Many churches have parts of frescos, though most of these are peeled off during time. The ‘Dark Church’ is an exception to this. A few years ago the fresco’s here are restored. To keep and protect them and to minimize the number of visitors they ask for this church an extra admission fee, half of the fee for the complete museum itself. This way only really interested people will go in. A bit apart from the museum complex there is the ‘Hidden Church’, a cone church you really have to look for, walking over narrow paths. At Hikmet’s lokanta I eat delicious gözleme and write more than forty post cards.

            Walking back to the village at Atatürk Carpet shop Umit and Ayle say hello to me in Dutch. Umit has lived for two years in Holland, Ayle lives in Rotterdam close to my house. She now studies psychology at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. She is having a holiday break now. They invite me for pide, nice. At the same time, they try to sell me a carpet but when I say clearly I do not want that, they stop.

            Goreme’s ‘mountain’ you can climb from the village by using steep roads and after fifteen minutes I am up, almost no breath in my lungs. I enjoy the marvellous views over the valley with all the rocks, chimneys and cones.

            The show we visit tonight with eight people (the same like yesterday except for the Slovenian girls, they already left by bus) is beautiful. First a dervish dance, than several traditional dances. At one of these dances, the public is asked to come outside, walking in polonaise. I do not go with them, although I am asked more than one time. I do not like this kind of fun, it is so fake.

            The highlight of this show is the belly dancer. A beautiful, slim girl with a tiny belly that she knows very well how to shake and move. Scarcely dressed but that is normal at this type of performance. At the end of her show she asks two men from the public to join her: a Japanese man whom very well and without embarrassment dances and ‘our’ Will. He is shyer and moves a bit clumsy with bare upper body. We all have to laugh about it. Allison, his travel mate, confirms his suspicion: the pictures she takes will be shown to everyone and he will probably be teased with this dance for the rest of his life. Between dances a delicious meal of different mezes and spiced beef on rice. I drink my first raký; it tastes like liquorice-water. At 11 pm, the show is over and we are asked to leave. Together we go to Pasha’s bar where we sit, drink (me orange juice, the raký is a problem to my stomach – the others alcohol, lots of alcohol) and dance. Adem is persisting, so am I: no Adem!


Tuesday May 23rd: Göreme

            That one glass of raký still affects my stomach, I am feeling nauseous. My upper legs hurt from walking all day in the hills and the dancing, all my muscles are cramped. Effect of this is that I feel exhausted and absolutely have not any interest in doing things by myself. It is good because Will, Allison, Ahmed and Caroline are making a tour with Süleyman and I can come along. Ahmed is a Turkish man who lives for 32 years in Holland now and his girlfriend Caroline is from France. They speak Dutch with each other but both have quite some accent. At 10.45 the four-wheel drive leaves, I can sit in the back – I can stretch my legs in the cushions.

            The tour we take is the Soðanli tour. First a ‘kale’, a castle - Uçhisar Kale existing from those typical Cappadocian cones and then the underground city of Kaymakli. Very impressing, five floors under the surface with carved spaces that in earlier times had different functions: living room, bedroom, kitchen or storage room. Almost going on all fours through the narrow tunnels – at most 1.20 meter high – we continue. We continue the tour with fairy chimneys and three-headed cones. The tuff cones are from a past millions of years ago, made by volcano eruptions. We also see some churches with parts of frescos, most of them neglected. Pity that the Turkish people and their government do not take better care, the historical value of these places is worth quite some work and money. Süleyman is a fantastic guide, he does not stop telling. Again and again he takes us to places where we make gorgeous pictures. The wine tasting and the pottery we skip. The tour that should last until 17.30 finally ends at 19.00 hours.

            We are having dinner together again, only Ali is not with us, he still has to work. Skya leaves for Antalya while Karen stays one night longer to be with ‘her’ Bayram. Allison, Adem and I are having a drink and then we go back to the pension again. I try to talk with Adem but he is totally obsessed with a kick box match on television.


Wednesday May 24th: Göreme – Sivas (305 kilometres)

            Today I go to Sivas but Karen, Allison and Will ask me to take a later bus so we can spend the morning together. We are talking for a while on a shadowed terrace when Bayram and Adem are coming to sit with us. The men start immediately playing tavla and speak almost only Turkish, which irritates the four of us. We hear them say our names and I hear also the word ‘Hollanda’ plus a Turkish foul word. That talk is not so positive, for sure. I am fed up with this behaviour that I get my backpack from the pension and go to the bus station – those guys can go to blazes! The other three keep me company and when the bus arrives we say goodbye. All four of us found it nice that we met. We exchange email addresses to share the pictures and Allison invites me to stay at her apartment in New York.

            The bus is 40 minutes late, but that is only Anatolian time... During the trip we get of course a drink and several times cologne on our hands – a Turkish tradition. Some after seven o’clock I am in Sivas. The service bus brings me from the otogar to hotel Çakir. Room inspection is as quick as checking in. In the elevator the reception clerk asks about my boyfriend. Sigh…… In the city centre, I eat a traditional Sivas meal Sebseli Sivas Kebab at Büyük Merkez Lokantasi. A kebab with baked aubergine, peppers and tomatoes. Nice, but not for a second try.


Thursday May 25th: Sivas – Divriði – Sivas (352 kilometres)

            Two houses aside of the hotel is the kahvalti salonu – the breakfast area. I am the only woman. The present men – all having a thick moustache – look a bit awkward. Apparently women are not regular users of this kahvalti salonu.

            The first part of the travel to Divriði I am sitting alone, next to the driver. A solo woman will not be placed next to an unknown man, in this Islamic country. Halfway another woman is sitting next to me; too many men have joined us. After three hours I am in Divriði. That small village is located in a valley at 176 kilometres from Sivas. To get there we have to pass two mountain passes from 1750 and 1970 meters height. The number of hairpin roads and steep slopes are uncountable. Nevertheless, I feel safe in busses in Turkey though some drivers really are a bit aggressive in traffic.

            When eating lunch I feel ashamed. Döner with rice, ayran and çay. The bill is 2,5 lira. What kind of tip do you give? The amount is so extremely low!

            The mosque is closed and opens at 4 pm, half an hour before salaat. The former psychiatric hospital next to it is open. I find it not so nice, quite empty. The exaggerate comments from the Lonely Planet – reason to come here – I do not get. The building is number 358 on the Unesco World Heritage List, so is mentioned on an English plaque full of mistakes. The mosque has been built in 1228 by a sheik with more money than common sense. Obviously, money was no problem at that time. At this mosque, the first picture of me wearing a headscarf is made. Not bad, I think. Just waiting for the comments from my family and friends…

            The caretaker invites me for a cup of çay and at the same time – in one breath – to stay with him and his family. That way I can experience Alevietic family life. This invitation I get because of my question whether this mosque is an Alevietic of a Sunni mosque because Divriði is mostly Alevietic. The mosque turns out to be a mix. The invitation for the çay I accept, the other one not. I have to wait two hours before the mosque opens and three hours before my bus back to Sivas leaves. It is very hot and I see an internet café. Looking for shadow, reading mail and chatting with friends, it is.

            At four o’clock I am at the mosque. A young man wearing a white shirt and trousers introduces himself as ‘Benjamin, the imam’. Do I know what that is? He is going to get the key but has to climb a ladder over the walls of the complex to do so. To see at the way he is doing this, I realise it is not his first time. The imam too asks about my husband. ‘He is in Erzurum’, I lie. His eyes are almost popping out his head. I can see him think ‘which man let his wife travel alone?’ And if we have children? ‘No’, I sigh dramatically, ‘but Inshallah…’ That answer is good, he nods. Also this mosque is empty, I have really seen ones that are more beautiful. A waste of time to come here? No, I have seen a special building and had a quiet day.

            Dinner I have at Nihat Lokanta in the aile salonu – the family space – you know for sure you will not get unwanted attention. As cold as it was in the evenings in Göreme, as nice it is here. The warmth that went away there soon sticks much longer here.

            The English that is spoken in a big city like Sivas makes me think about the rest of Turkey: not much to expect I guess. Only in touristy places like Göreme people speak very well English.


Friday May 26th: Sivas

            Except for some buildings with Islamic background, Sivas is not so interesting for a tourist. The Gök Medresse could have been beautiful if it had not been so neglected. Partly the blue tiles are visible, but mostly visible is the going down. The Ulu Camii is beautiful though ornaments are small, this mosque has a very low ceiling and many pillars to carry the roof. Çifte Minare Medresse is also a ruin though, I can see the gate is exceptionally beautiful with fine carved ornaments. On the court yard of the Bürüciye Medresse is now a çay bahçesi and a small bazaar. A lot of shops with the usual bling-bling but also very nice silver jewellery.

            My plan to surprise my Japanese friends Masa, Masa & Keizo / Ai-san with lokum is a failure. In a specialty shop I manage to explain (with some difficulties) that I want three boxes. I want in each box two sorts of lokum separately packed. I tell the storekeeper I want to send it to Japan. At that moment, a man grabs one of the boxes and walks away with it. Another customer who speaks French tells me he is going to the post office to ask about postal regulations. The post office is about 500 meters away and after fifteen minutes the man is back. Turkish PTT will not allow it. A parcel to Japan will take a month and fresh lokum will not be fresh anymore. Taking the packages with me is no option, I am travelling around for almost a month. The owner of the shop thinks it is no problem and starts repacking the boxes. I apologize for this trouble but they laugh: sorun deðil. I hope to find a shop with pre-packed lokum and a date on it, maybe then it is okay by the Turkish PTT. A problem is that almost every parcel has to be opened in Turkey, they are very much afraid that there are antique smuggled in parcels.

            Back in the bazaar I look again at the silver jewellery. A beautiful necklace with fitting earrings I like but their price is too high. The silver price is going down with half a lira per gram, but I think it is still too expensive. A bit bargaining later and I have them for the price I like to pay.


Saturday May 27th: Sivas – Malatya (235 kilometres)

            It does not matter how luxurious the busses are or how many times there is a break, travelling for hours is still boring. I constantly fall asleep. During my complete travel through Turkey I was not nauseous, not even for a moment while I used to get carsick after only half an hour when I was a child. Today the day in Sivas starts with drizzle but it changes rapidly in heavy rainfalls. In Malatya it is dry. The staff of hotel Yeni Sinan is young but that does not mean they speak English. I ask them where I can buy a bus ticket for tomorrow. Within seconds there are five people next to me at the desk of whom nobody understands my question. A difficult one, I think. Finally, we can solve the problem. They call, I have to wait with çay, and the ticket will be brought to me. After half an hour someone says I have to follow him, I have to get the ticket at a travel agency.

            Café Nostalji is a cool place with mellow music, they say. I want to find that out myself. In my hand a map of Malatya, I look for this place. I see quite some streets but I cannot find it and at an internet café I ask where it is. Two students of 25, Zafer and Irfan, take me to the café. We drink çay and talk a lot. Zafer speaks a bit English, Irfan does not at all. My dictionary is a joy to them. They keep looking into it. The Dutch word ‘afschuwelijk’ (horrible) he thinks is very fun, though I do not understand why. The pages about seducing someone (and my dictionary has many sentences about that…) make them blush a bit. They propose to have dinner at Mangal Vadisi, a modern, hip place with delicious kebab. If I like to drink a beer in a pub is the next question. Of course, I will come along. In the pub two other friends are joining us. One does not speak English as well and Arvin, the forth, speaks it quite good, he has to translate a lot. Irfan and Arvin change places so that Arvin is sitting next to me. Irfan says ‘no’ in a way I have never seen before: he moves his head backwards to his neck. I have to ask what it means before I get it. Live music is hard so talking is difficult. We have fun and when the pub closes at midnight, they ask me to come with them for another drink at their place. I do not accept, going home with four men I hardly know, is I think not wise nor safe. We say goodbye at the entrance of my hotel.


Next >>
From Malatya to Adana

1. From Ankara to Malatya
2. From Malatya to Adana
3. From Adana to Elazig
4. From Elazig to Erzurum
5. From Erzurum to Dogubayazit (and surroundings)
6. From Dogubayazit back home

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