Coming from a country that's only a few hundred years and learning about Colorado history that only stretches back a few centuries, it's hard to imagine something eight thousand years old, or 6,000 B.C. And grasp my mind around the idea that historical figures such as the Apostle Paul used to walk the same streets.
Ephesus used to be the capital of Asia back in the day. It was built and rebuilt and added on to and became one of the largest cities of it's time with a population of 200,000 before it's fall (sometime around 300 A.D.)
The ruins that we visited have a main street that extends the length of the town and is just over two miles long. The city is complete with marble roads, an underground sewage system, fountains, a library and two stadiums-one of which holds 24,000. Wow!
The most shocking thing for me was seeing the architecture and layout of this ancient Roman city and comparing it to what the American Indians were building two hundred years ago. What a stark contrast! And how interesting it is to see what kind of building structures each culture made to suit their specific needs, completely unaware of the other culture. I've gotta give it to the Romans though, sorry Native Americans...you were a close second!
I am partially convinced the ancient Romans got around to inventing machines long before our society did-archeologists are just keeping it a secret from us. How else could someone 8,000 years ago make columns so round, carve intricate decorations and statues from marble and build a stadium the size of a modern opera house? Just saying, food for thought!
An archway in Ephesus
Traveling outside of Istanbul has shown me a completely different side of Turkey. We are staying in the small town of Selcuk which is just outside of the ancient city of Ephasus and only a few km from the coast. Here, the lifestyle is much more relaxed. There are only a few mosques and ruins mixed in with the city. The Turks spend afternoons sitting in cafes playing games, smoking and sipping on Turkish tea.
Many of the eateries here have a name something like "(enter Turkish name) Restaurant and Cafe." I spent several days thinking how redundant and funny it sounded to say, "restaurant cafe." Clearly, there was no one fluent enough in English to inform these people that the second label was not necessary.
Finally, after noticing certain "cafe only" places I learned the secret. The place where the Turks spend their afternoons drinking tea and playing cards are cafes...or drinks only! And restaurants serve food. I found this really interesting and such a precise use of two English words that had evolved to be almost synonymous. Kudos to the Turkeys!
With that being said, I have become very fond of the cafes and think the US needs to implement something similar (that's not Starbucks). The cafes here are outside in large spaces such as parks in the city center or along the sea shore. No wi fi, no laptop plugs, but good camaraderie and small glasses of cai.
In addition to my cafe vs. Restaurant enlightenment, I have learned a few more interesting knowledge tidbits that I feel should be bestowed upon you.
1. No one wears deodorant...I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe the stores don't carry it (I haven't checked yet)
2. There are stray cats everywhere. They are actually kind of cute and cleaner than stray dogs.
3. Some toilets are a mere hole in the ground...eew!
4. Overall, the country seems to be pretty safe and well developed. People don't heckle you on the street or in the market (which is a major plus after living in Mexico) and the Turks can be very nice and hospitable if you just ask for help.
If you ever visit Istanbul, you will notice that the skyline is scattered with unusual dome shaped structures with spires extending from each side. This typical mosque outline resembles a spaceship sandwiched between two rockets ready for blastoff...something surely from a sci-fi movie.
With a population of four million and 99% Muslim, there are mosques nearly everywhere you look. Mom and I counted ten from just standing in one spot! Along with the mosques comes the five-time daily call to prayer, announced through the loud speaker attached to the spires on each mosque and many many women clad in burkas and head scarves (not sure of the official term for this). Mom and I have become really skilled in singing the call to prayer. It goes something like this, "uhhh-ahhhh-ahhhhh-uh-ohh-ayyyy" and so on. This doesn't nearly do it justice, so ask for a personal demonstration next time you see one of us!
Our four days in Istanbul have been jam packed! We explored much of the city on foot and became quite familiar with the mass transit system (which is very nice!).
The city is divided into two parts-west and east or Europe and Asia-by a strait called the Bosphorous. The European side is more modern and urban, while the eastern side is lined with Victorian houses and has much more greenery.
On our first day in the city we took a boat tour of the Bosphorous and got to see the cityscape and architecture of both sides. The coastline is so beautiful, the water is clean and dark blue, and all the buildings are vibrant colors. It looked like pictures of Greece and Italy, and I had to keep reminding myself I was in Turkey and not somewhere else!
Afterward, mom and I enjoyed a fish sandwich (traditional Turkish lunch) and were befriended by a young man named Toga-my first Turkish boyfriend! Toga asked if I was my moms son, and I knew I was going to like him! We talked for awhile (mom enjoyed making references to her "son" when possible). When it was time for Toga to leave, he insisted on buying us a present. We each picked out a postcard and he signed them for us.
The Turks as a whole were very hospitable. Our host, Ayse (we rented a room in an apartment of a local) gave us detailed directions for getting around, loaned us her bus pass and even paid for us to take a taxi to the city center. While it was hard to come by English speakers, we did a pretty good job getting by pointing and gesturing. Ayse told us about the city, government and Turkish culture, something you surely wouldn't get in a hotel. It was also cool to see how the locals live.
Some other highlights of our visit were:
-The Egyptian Spice Market: a large market with spices, food, clothing, jewelry, and pretty much anything else you could dream up!
-The Bosphorous shore: it's lined with tables and chairs and the locals relax in the sun drinking cai (small glasses of tea) and playing backgammon.
-The Prince's Islands: a cluster of six islands off the coast of Istanbul. We took ferries to three of them and spent the day wandering around. There aren't any cars on the islands, so everyone uses horse carriages or bicycles to get around. The view of the city is incredible! Skyscrapers and high rises stretch for as far as the eye can see, we didn't realize Istanbul was so big!
We're on the plane now headed to Ephesus to see the ruins! Farewell Istanbul-you are a lovely city and hello to a new adventure!
Mom & me drinking Cai on the boat
I haven't been on top of the time situation, so I hope you're not disappointed by my lack of countdown. I will be boarding the plane for Istanbul in a few short hours, and I am lucky enough to have my mom joining me on my journey for the first two weeks!
The past month has been full of browsing online travel forums (Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree Forum has saved my life many times), getting travel vaccines, memorizing airport codes and vigorously studying world geography. The last one wasn’t so hard since my shower curtain is a map of the world. Needless to say my obsession with maps paired with said shower curtain was probably not conducive to saving water. Now, I have everything necessary to live stuffed into my little backpack and I am ready to embark on my new career as a nomad.
When I tell people that I'm traveling the world, I get one of two responses. 1: wow, that's awesome, I've always wanted to do that, I'm jealous! Or (the critical) 2: Is that safe? How do you have enough money to afford that anyway? Have you made all your reservations and plans, how will you get around?
Now, I'm glad I no longer have to respond to these questions (or at least I can ignore them). As my departure time creeps up, I'm calm and relaxed, just as if today were another mundane day. In the back of my mind, I'm thinking I should be bursting with excitement (or anxiety) over this huge life change. For me, this is just a learning experience—like going to school. I want to absorb everything I can, being a student and teacher amidst the jumble of people in the world.
I don’t have many plans, just a few one way airline tickets and email addresses of friends of friends in each city. Many of you have been asking for an itinerary, so here it is thus far:
Sept 8-Istanbul, Turkey
Sept 13-Ephesus, Turkey
Sept 16-Greek Islands
Sept 24-Bari, Italy
Sept 28-Dubrovnik, Croatia
Oct 3-Budapest, Hungary
Oct 6-Prague, Czech Republic
Oct 9-Stockholm, Sweeden
Oct 13-Trip from Helsinki, Finland to St. Petersburg, Russia
Cheers and Farewell US of A.