We were hoping our flight from Kuala Lumpur to Istanbul would be an empty one, since it was going to be fairly long. Unfortunately, it started out completely packed but more than half the people on the plane got off when we landed for a stop in the middle of the night in Dubai where the duty free stores seem to be operating on a 24 hour schedule.
Arriving tired and hungry in Istanbul early in the morning, we decided to venture out into the city to combat the jetlag. Being able to fly from one end of the world to the other is a really strange thing because you literally get picked up in one environment and get dropped off into a completely different one. Although Istanbul is on the geographic border between Europe and Asia, it feels completely European. Having grown up in Europe, Jo immediately associated the cobblestone streets, the bakeries, people and overall atmosphere on the streets with the place he’s grown up in. Istanbul feels Asian only because of its’ predominant Islam religion.
Before we caught our plane to Istanbul, Jo called his Mom from Kuala Lumpur (she’s one of the few people among our friends and family who doesn’t have email, at least not yet) and when she heard that Turkey was our next stop, she started telling him to be careful about what we ate and drank. It was such a sweet, motherly thing to say, but for us, it was especially funny because for the last 10 months of traveling, we’ve done nothing BUT be careful of what we ate and drank. With the exception of Australia and New Zealand, we’ve been drinking and brushing our teeth with filtered water, keeping our mouths shut in the shower, and staying away from salads and fresh fruit and vegetables we can’t peel ourselves. Never a 100% guarantee of being sick-free as we discovered in India, but we’ve got the routine down. Not to worry, Moeke.
So far, we’ve kept the threat of nasty bacteria lurking in Turkish food and water at bay with our vigilant watch, but we’ve had to relax it a bit to dip into the scores of yummy fresh salads that Turkey has to offer. Fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, together with olives, eggs, cheese and bread are the standard breakfast fare in Turkey and each morning we gobble it up, washing it down with a cup of cay (Turkish tea) or Nescafe. Living in Seattle, we’ve become coffee snobs and prior to this trip wouldn’t have gone near a cup of Nescafe unless we were camping in the boonies, but in just about every country we’ve visited, a cup of Nescafe is something to linger over, and Turkey is no exception. That is only, of course, when you’re not in the mood to partake in one of the Turks’ favorite pastimes: sipping strong shots of tasty cay, sweetened to your liking with cubes of sugar, from tiny tulip-shaped glasses. Cay is everywhere in Turkey. It’s both a beverage and a social invitation. Everyone’s drinking it: in tea shops and terrace cafes, on the street corners and in local shops, at the end of a meal or all on its own. Many of the shopowners have a direct intercom connection with their local Cay cafe. If customers or friends stop in, they’re immediately offered a cup which swiftly arrives, piping hot.
Turkish hospitality is something known the world over, and we’re happy to say that it’s still alive and well in Turkey. From the no-strings cup of cay and chit-chat about our age in a silver shop in Amasya to the nice guy in Safranbolu who went well out of his way to take us to the bus ticket office in the scorching heat, we’ve been charmed by the warmth and friendliness of just about everyone we’ve met in Turkey.
In Safranbolu, we stayed in one of the beautifully restored 19th century Ottoman houses that the town is famous for and the morning we left were smothered with lemon cologne and kisses by the grandmotherly owner and her son before they drove us to our bus stop outside of town. In Amasya, we were ‘adopted’ by a couple of 15 year old kids who found us a place to sleep and took us for a tour of the town the following day, just for the pleasure of hanging out with tourists, learning English, and avoiding a summer of boredom. Semih and Cagri were sharp and amazingly knowledgeable about the history of Amasya and Turkey for their young years. They were also probably the best English speakers in town and they showed us a great time, visiting museums and mosques and getting us stuck up in the balcony of a minaret as the Muslim call-to-prayer began, the loudspeakers blasting out the voice of the muezzin (crier) and practically blowing out our eardrums in the process.
In Tokat, the Twilight Zone eeriness of being the only tourists in sight and the continuous curious stares we received were softened by the sweet geniality of the caretaker of Latifoglu Konagi, an Ottoman house-cum-museum. Despite the fact that we spoke only a few words of Turkish and he about the same in English, he was able to give us a tour of the place and tell us about the big soccer match with a rival town that was going on that night and we were able to get across that Jo and I were from different countries, married, but with no kids and that we (and my family) lived in America, and Jo’s family lived in Belgium, all with a little sign language, a few phrases and words from our guidebook and pen and paper. He taught us the Turkish words for mother, father and children, and explained to us that his own mother had died just a month before of a heart attack, something which sadly no words from us could heal.
Leaving Tokat, a Turkish man who spoke good Dutch, and had been living in Holland for the last 30 years struck up a conversation with Jo and helped us make our connection onto the correct bus that would take us to Cappadoccia, which is where we are right now, wandering around Turkey’s fairytale land and dodging the hot rays of the sun. But that’s a scribble for another time…
*Visit Kristi and Jo’s website www.wanderlings.com for their travelogues around the world.