Archive for November, 2012

Turkey – Tea, Tobacco and Ka-Bobs

November 28, 2012

Turkey – It seems many people in this country run on two things…tea and tobacco. For three weeks we were in Istanbul, the largest population of any city in Europe. The country is demographically young, the average age is around 26 years. There is a struggle going on for the hearts and minds of the Turkish people. On one side is secular Turkey — modern dress, progressive ideas and looking toward the future. On the other side is the conservatism of the government and the Islamic clergy, bound and determined to stay in the 14th Century, cover the women and pray 5 times a day. It is an interesting point that the Imams, the Islamic clergy, are paid by the state even though there is supposed to be a separation of church and state. Istanbul is not that crowded for such a large city, at least we didn’t find it that way since we weren’t driving. The number of cars I’m sure is limited by the cost of $7 a gallon gas. The Metro that runs throughout the city is fast, relatively cheap and efficient and we used it to get around. One thing I took notice of was the lack of women drivers. With an unscientific count it appears that 85% of the drivers are men. I don’t know why this is. Unlike Saudi Arabia where the women can’t drive, the women here can drive, but just aren’t on the roads, strange. But, as I said, it is an unscientific observation. There are not many art galleries in Istanbul, the people here (according to a gallery owner we met) don’t buy nor appreciate art for the most part. We also found that nearly half the art galleries listed on a city directory were vacant store fronts. We did find some very high end installation art spaces supported by local bands. So it goes. The exception was the Istanbul Modern Museum. It was  large, interesting, a must see if you are in Istanbul. The museum collection rotates and they have an eclectic mix of post modern art. We did find a fab restaurant across the Bosperous, on the “Asian side” of this divided city that served Anatoli type cuisine. The food is yummy, stewed meats, stuffed onions and eggplants, vegetables, salads that are varied and delicious. Not a ka-bob in sight. See pictures. Istanbul has a lot of cats living on the streets, not feral cats, buts cats fed by local people. On our street we had at least 11 cats hanging out in front of our apartment building. later at every ruin we stopped at there were cats. Dogs are considered dirty, but cats are tolerated. Never saw a rat.
We did the tourist thing and visited the Blue Mosque (it is not blue, the tiles inside are blue) and the Hagia Sofia museum. The Hagia Sofia was a church originally built by the Byzantine emperor Constantine, later converted to a mosque when the Ottoman Turks ruled, then it became a museum. These two are must sees. Expect long lines to get in when the large cruise ships are in port. The Ottoman Empire was ruled by Sultans who ran the show here for over 800 years. All of these sultans seem to have the words “conquerer” or “exhaulted” or “magnificent” after their name. There was never Sultan the Mediocre or Sultan the feeble. One of the very well known places in Istanbul is the Grand Bazaar. The place has store after store selling rugs, candy, spices, clothing, you name it. Alas… The Grand Bazaar faded from greatness years ago and is well past its prime. The place is an over-priced, well lit tourist trap where the fake friendliness of the vendors is at best ingratiating. Don’t bother. There is no grand in this bazaar. After our three weeks in Istanbul we took a tour of the rest of the country. The problem with a whirlwind tour of 12 days and 8 hour a day is the sights all start to run together in your memory. Cappadoccia ( A region in Turkey with unique rock formations akin to Bryce Canyon in the US) was beautiful but, alas, it rained the day we visited. There were several ruins that stood out — one of the best was the ancient city of Ephesus. It is the most popular place to visit, and the most restored. Many cruise ships stop there. (See pictures) One of the biggest disappointments was the “unreal landscape at the “Cotton Castle” of Pamukkale with its white terraces of limestone deposited by thermal waters through the ages. It is an UNESCO world heritage site and in lists of sites to visit before you die there are photos of amazing turquoise blue pools of water in white limestone. Fact: The pools are dry because the hotels upstream wanted the hot water for their pools. The water that remains is now a faded blue. The reason all the ancient ruins are ruins is because of earthquakes. Pretty much all the ruins were destroyed by tremors. The city of Troy, probably the most famous city on the tour was a disappointment because there is nothing left to see — little more than rubble and some stone walls. The city was founded in 1900 B.C.E. and actually was a series of fortresses (9 in all) built on top of previous cities during the ensuing centuries. There is historical disagreement when and if there was a Helen
and if Troy ever went to war against the Greeks. Likewise the wooden horse story is open to question. You could miss this place unless you wanted to say you saw Troy, or what was left of it.

Anyway we enjoyed Turkey and it was nice to be in a more affordable country, the shopping was good, unfortunately we had no room in our suitcases to buy much. I am tired of blogging, go to pictures. Happy Ka-bobs.

Photos are available at