24 Oct

Magic Carpet Ride

We’re led to the shop by the owner of the hotel we’re staying at. He’s offered us a ride to the ruins outside of town and we can just wait here until the shuttle arrives. Uh-oh, we think.

Van Cats Inside, Yilmaz (Marco to his friends…of which I now count myself as one) welcomes us warmly, offers us a seat and quickly motions to his nephew to get us some apple tea. We chit-chat about how long we’ve been in Turkey, where have we visited and what else we must see before we leave. He tells us he is Kurdish, from the Lake Van region in Eastern Turkey (where we, sadly, did not get to) and introduces us to his three ‘Van’ cats, characterized by their white, white fur and different colored eyes (one is blue and the other yellow). They are striking and we get carried away playing with them.

Not long after we arrive, a Norwegian woman enters having also been offered a ride out of town. Tea is brought for her also and we settle into an easy conversation. She is well traveled, as is Marco (he travels to North America in the winter season to sell his carpets) and we talk mainly about travel and how easy it has been in Turkey.

The shuttle soon arrives and Marco bids us farewell giving each of us a nice guidebook to the ruins asking only that we return the book in the afternoon. Uh-oh, we think.

We enjoyed a nice day at the ruins, walked back to town and headed to Marco’s shop to return the guidebook. Although he was seemingly busy with a customer (carpets strewn everywhere), he greeted us as old friends and again we sat and drank tea while we listened to him discussing carpets and materials and weaving techniques with Michael from America.

Turns out Michael wasn’t in the market for a carpet…he had already purchased his limit at another store in Istanbul. Marco knew this the whole time…their conversation was not about Michael buying a carpet but a conversation about carpets in general…Marco just likes to talk, and a conversation about carpets is just up his alley. Soon, Michaels wife came and whisked him away but, before he left he stood up and said “Well, I am certain that I bought my carpets from the wrong place. I should have got them from here”. Uh-oh, we think.

Once Michael leaves Marco, Jason and I start talking about carpets and kilims and the differences between them (carpets have pile, kilims do not), and about the stock that Marco keeps (primarily nomadic designs from eastern Turkey). He tells us the carpet shop is a family business, run alongside the fabric shop across the road  and the knick knack shop up the road (and, it turns out, the hotel we’re staying at). We learn that he he left eastern Turkey for Istanbul but moved to Selcuk a while ago and prefers its small town community feel (Selcuk really is a nice town…the friendliest we have visited here in Turkey).

We ask if he could show us some kilims. Uh-oh, you’re thinking.

He asks if we’re interested in buying and what our budget might be. We tell him we might be interested but that we are woeful backpackers with a teeny tiny budget and an inability to take anything with us. He understands and explains that it is his job to help people a piece of Turkey to take home. We tell him our teeny tiny number…he manages to keep a straight face and does not snort at the teeny tinyess of it.

He calls out to his partner and, together, they pull out kilim after kilim unfolding them and laying them out one after another. Do we like this one…no, the color is too purple. How about this one….no, the pattern is too ‘chunky’. Here’s another…yes, that one is nice. And over here…no, too big/too small/too long. I know you’ll like this one…yes, you’re right it’s very nice. Until the floor is covered…and they’re all beautiful.

Jason and Debbie in the Carpet Shop Just then I heard a voice outside that I recognized. Briar, Debbie, Angela and Ella…who were all on the gulet cruise with us…were returning to the shop so that Angela could have one more look at the four kilims she was choosing among for herself. They had originally come to the shop on the recommendation from some friends from home who had purchased carpets from Marco the previous year on their trip to Turkey. It was the first time we have run into travelers that we’d met previously and we spent some time catching up and oohing and ahhing over Angela’s selections.

In no time there was tea in my hands again and the conversation had turned from carpets and kilims to travel and adventures to life in Turkey and Canada and all things in between. Two hours had easily passed as we all sat, like old friends, drinking tea, chatting and playing with the cats.

Once the girls left we got back to business and, now that Marco knew our style, he easily found 3 or 4 kilims that fit. How much, we asked. Triple our teeny tiny budget. Uh-oh, we think.

I explained that, although they were beautiful, there was no possible way we could stretch our teeny tiny budget to that level. Could he please show us some pieces that are closer to our teeny tiny budget? He does, and we find one that matches both our style and our budget. It is not as beautiful as the bigger, more expensive one but it is nice.

I ask again about the price for the larger one. Are you sure that is your lowest price? Could the price not possibly be closer to our teeny tiny budget? He moves a teeny tiny bit closer but explains that he paid more than that for the piece and could not possibly go any lower.

I understand and ask that he save the smaller kilim in back while we go for dinner and decide if it is the one for us. He asks if he should also save the larger one…no, I say. it is not a possibility and I do not want to get my hopes up.

At dinner, Jason and I discussed the small kilim (which is well within our teeny tiny budget) and the larger one also. What would we pay at home for a nice piece like this? Wouldn’t it be something we would treasure forever? Could we afford it? In the end we decided to try for the larger kilim. We adjusted our budget and talked about bargaining strategy. In the end, if it didn’t work out, we would take the smaller carpet and be perfectly happy with it (and the story of how we got it).

We return to the shop after dinner and are, once again, welcomed warmly. The small kilim is brought out and we talk about how it really is a nice piece. I ask if I could just see the other piece one more time. Marco finds it, lays it out and I remark again on how beautiful it is and how wonderful it would be to take it home.

I make the first move and soon Marco and I are waltzing through the steps of the bargaining process. It’s a dance Soldthat he is well practiced at and I feel I am graduating from the sock hop to the prom in one fell swoop. He is kind and generous as he leads me around the dance floor, allowing me to step on his toes once or twice and encouraging me when I’ve done well. When the music stopped and we had sashayed our way to the finish, we shook hands as we agreed on a price.

Did we, in the end, get a screaming deal on a kilim? No, but we did get a great piece of craftsmanship and a great experience at a great shop, for a good price. Marco and his shop (Eastern Anatolia Nomadic Art Gallery) can be found in Selcuk, near Ephesis, on the western coast of Turkey. I strongly recommend paying him a visit…tell him I said hello.

14 Oct

ScooterBoy and ScooterGirl Ride Again!

Scooter Boy and Scooter Girl Riding down the road with the sun on our backs, a map in our pocket and the wind in our faces…can’t be beat!!

ScooterBoy and ScooterGirl first came on the scene in 2004 when we visited the Greek Islands. There was no more perfect joy than scoot-scoot-scootering up and down whichever island we found ourselves on. We were easily able to explore far-flung beaches and tavernas and still be back early enough to enjoy the local sunset.

Cappadocia, in Turkey, proved to be a perfect place for ScooterBoy and ScooterGirl to once again take to the open road. Renting a scooter proved to be super easy…hand over your money and something valuable to ensure your return and there you have it. Buddy didn’t even ask if we had a license…never mind ask to see it! He gave us a map of the area…and we were off. Our goal was Derinkuyu, the underground city about 30km outside of Goreme where we were staying.

After a few minutes of re-acquainting ourselves with ScooterBoy and ScooterGirl and remembering the intricacies of scooter riding (lean together, don’t touch the muffler, front brake on the right…) we were on our way.

We headed out, maxing out the poor scooter on the highway, past rolling hills and melon fields, fairy chimneys and rocky cliffs.

We arrived to the current village of Derinkuyu and headed down into the labyrinthine underground city. Originally build in the 7th century BC, it was expanded in the 5th – 10th centuries AD…a seriously long time ago! This city is the largest of the many that dot the Cappadocia region, burrowing 11 stories into the earth.

Derinkuyu Underground City It got cooler and cooler as we slowly descended into the city. The stairway was narrow and low-slung, the rocks making up the stairs had divots in them where thousands of feet had pounded them over millennia. Partway down, in a crevice in the wall, stood a massive disk shaped stone once used to close off the passage in the event of invading forces…it was huge and would have taken many men to close off the thoroughfare – the thought of it being closed, and being contained down there, made me feel a little claustrophobic.

Derinkuyu Underground City-4 Suddenly, the walls opened up, and  we were in a huge, multi-roomed space. There were rooms for cooking and living, rooms for storage, and rooms for animal husbandry – all the rooms a city would need to conduct daily business. It was absolutely amazing to, not only think of the work involved in excavating such a space, but to imagine living down there with 9999 other people…this city reported held 10,000 people for months at a time!

The stairway continued down and down and down…we visited 8 floors all together…there was even a church carved into the bottom layer!  A ventilation shaft stitched all the floors together…looking up (and down) it elicited more claustrophobic feelings as I realized how far down we were.

The bright sun and enveloping heat greeted us at the surface again…I can’t imagine what it must have been like to emerge after having spent months down there.

Back on the scooter we went, with the plan to stay off the highway and scoot-scoot-scooter through the country-side toward home. We passed more rolling hills, more melon fields, more fairy chimneys, more valleys, more villages and more scooter-people…all passing us with a beep and a friendly wave.

Off Road Scootering-2 It looked like the last little bit to home was going to have to be highway again…until we spotted the dirt track that looked like it headed in the right direction…and off-road scoot-scoot-scootering was born. We passed fairy chimneys (very up close now) and bewildered hikers who Backgammonmust have wondered what the heck we were doing…until we got as far as we could go on a scooter and had to turn back to a more sedate, scooter friendly path. It was fun though, and a great way to spend the day.

ScooterBoy and ScooterGirl finished the day back in Goreme at our favorite local watering  hole, enjoying beer, backgammon and the sunset on the low slung lounge seating…what a great return! We hope to do it again soon.

30 Sep

Flexibility Takes Us To Northern Turkey

Sinop Peninsula We’re sitting high on a hill on the Sinop peninsula that juts out into the Black Sea. It’s midday and the call to prayer floats up from the town below. I’m getting used to hearing it now but it still sounds ancient and haunting…even more so as I gaze out over the hillsides and villages in the distance imagining this occurring five times a day for centuries.

We hadn’t planned on coming to Northern Turkey and the Black Sea coast but circumstances saw us with some time to kill and so…why not.

Luc, Nicole, Jason, Gillian and Lisa We landed in Istanbul a week ago with only one day to spend before heading to Ankara to secure our India visas at the embassy there. A stroke of luck saw our time here overlapping with friends from home. Lisa and her family are also out traveling the world. It was amazing to catch up with them amid the hustle and bustle of Istanbul. Talking about home and travel under the ancient Galata Tower while sipping raki was surreal. The kids were excited to tell us about their adventures and eager to show us the Istanbul they had discovered in their week here. It was a great afternoon/evening and comforting to see faces from home.

The next day we took a comfortable bus to Ankara, the capital city of Turkey. It’s not a tourist destination by any means but the Indian Embassy is located there and we have need for an Indian visa. Our first attempt confirms that we do not yet have all the pieces we need and so we spend the afternoon arranging for flights into, and out of, India. It seems strange to have to purchase flights into and out of a country that we are not yet allowed into and yet there is no other way. We will just hope that it all turns out as it should.

A further issue unfolds when the man behind the gate tells us the visa will be ready in 10 days. Ten days? We had thought it would take four and, as even that was a long time to spend in Ankara so we had planned on heading to our eastern most point for that time. But 10 days was even too much for that. And so, with flexibility and spontaneity being our guide, we pulled out the map and thought that the northern coast might be a good place to cool our heels.

As we move north, through Kastamonu and Boyabat, the culture becomes more conservative. We had seen plenty of women in headscarves, and an abundance of men in the cafes, salons and restaurants in Ankara, but in these places it was even more pronounced. In Boyabat we saw very few women out at all, and certainly not in any of the restaurants so, for lunch,we settled on a bag of chips and a Pepsi in the bus station as we waiting for our onward bus.

We talked about how much more conservative it might be as we moved even further north but we wanted to see the landscape and reach the Black Sea coast so we pressed on. We would manage the culture, and our lack of language, as best we could.

Sinop surprised us and proved to be a very relaxed, cosmopolitan, port town. The restaurants and cafes that line the harbor still have men outnumbering women, but there are women and they are not all covered and sipping tea…some are actually enjoying a beer! I still feel more comfortable when I am covered completely (long pants and sleeves…covering my hair would be inappropriate as a western woman, except when in a mosque), and I ensure that I don’t meet the gaze of men, but I like it and don’t feel so much of an intrusion.

We are still stared at though as we are definitely the only western tourists here, but people are more than friendly…we only need to look confused for 5 seconds and invariably someone will ask where we are trying to go! School children we pass practice their ‘hello’ (and some practice the other dirty English words they have been taught…I wonder if they know what f*ck you means?), and, although most people don’t speak any English, they are more than happy to read the questions I write out in Turkish and pantomime a response.

Pontic Tombs in Amasya, Turkey Coming to the north has been an exercise in flexibility, culture and tolerance. The landscape has been stunning, the history too deep to imagine, and the people are kind. I’m glad that India’s slowness prompted us to get off the beaten track and explore a region that we would have overlooked otherwise.

31 Jan

Turkey Itinerary

Our plan is to start our holiday in Turkey toward the end of September and stay until the end of October – should be almost 6 weeks.

One of our goals is to not be in any one place during the ‘busy’ season, and I think Turkey in October meets that goal (hee hee…’Turkey in October’ makes me giggle as we obviously will not be having turkey that October!). We will be there just at the end of Ramadan, so we will have to read up on the customs and meanings around that, and learn how to be a gracious guest of the country during such a religious time. Read More