May - June 1998
Wednesday-Thursday, May 27-28
All my journals start the same way: Fidgeted all day before taking a car to JFK for my 10:45 flight. Air France seems fine, but coach seats keep getting smaller and smaller. I was on the aisle and slapped my seat back as soon as we took off. I managed to sleep soundly for five hours before the breakfast service woke me up.
We landed at Charles DeGaulle just ahead of schedule and breezed through immigration. I don’t understand the French system, but my duffel went straight on to Montpellier without any stop for customs which is just fine. Getting from Terminal 2C to 2D was a bit of a hike, but well marked. I guess there’s a shuttle bus system, but I just walked and was checking in by 12:15. Paris looked gray and drizzly so I felt no temptation to run in to explore.
A flight of a little more than an hour brought me to Montpellier. The jetway jammed so by the time we exited out the back, my duffel was sitting on the carousel waiting. Taxied into the center of town where my hotel turned out to offer a bright, pleasant room overlooking a backyard garden and the cathedral tower. The hotel is a converted residence and my room is two doors down the street from the desk, up two flights of spiral stone stairs. Very European: no public lobby, light timers at each landing to guide you to your room, but not much more.
Laura had left a message that she’d come from her last class around 7:30 so I slept for a couple of hours to catch up. Laura came right on time and it was great to see her. She really is “blooming.” And beautiful. And a lovely young adult. We walked around the very tidy, very attractive downtown: places, esplanades, Opera, shop. Very French style, tidy, colors like the Cotswold gold stone. It was overcast and damp, but all still radiated warmth. The formal French public buildings actually chill it all down. There’s little evidence of business downtown. Montpellier seems to be university and tourist shopping. It makes an attractive mix.
We had dinner at the Ancien Courrier, Montcalm’s home, so there was a (faint) tie to L’Amerique du Nord. The restaurant had a cleaned-up cave feel with exposed stone walls and offered a pleasant meal.
We walked back to my hotel around 10:45 and Laura headed off to walk home with plans to re-connect tomorrow morning.
Friday, May 29
I had a fun day with Mlle. Laura bopping around Montpellier. She came by the hotel around 10am and we walked out into a sunny and warm day. We grabbed some pastries and ate breakfast in a park looking over the aqueduct. Then we wandered all over town with a stop at the mall for camera batteries and a sweatshirt. After strolling we had lunch at a cafe table in the middle of a small square.
The afternoon was spent hiking -- Laura’s really become a walker -- first to the university which is bland and block-like, then to Laura’s home. I met Mme. Cathie, her daughters and son. Very pleasant though since I couldn’t converse at all, Laura took care of the conversation. In my defense, I could follow maybe a quarter of the conversation, but made no attempt to dive in.
The walk was long, maybe three miles, and hot, so I was worn out and tired. I took a nap in Laura’s room under the eaves with Pandy, up a tiny spiral staircase fitted into a closet. It was good sized and airy and I slept until 6:45 when we hoofed back into town.
Stopped at the hotel, ordered a taxi for 5:30am (Ugh), and wandered around before settling at another cafe in another square for dinner. Laura’s good company and time flew until I headed back to the hotel for a short sleep before heading off tomorrow morning. It’s great to see Laura so grown up and nice.
Saturday, May 30
A frantic start, but all worked out. I crept out of my room for a 5:30am pick-up and, of course, no taxi. I waited for ten or fifteen minutes on the deserted street, almost medieval with its cobblestones and stone buildings. No go. Eventually I roused help by leaning on the hotel bell and waking the young guy on call. Poor kid. He was half-asleep and had to pull on clothes, but he was a good sport and called another taxi which came at 5:55, We zipped to the airport and I was checking in by 6:10 so it all worked out well.
The flight to Paris was obviously a commuter run. I was the only female in the business briefcase section. Easy connection at Charles DeGaulle, but the Istanbul flight was late and missed the scheduled take-off slot. We sat on the runway in the clear sun with an announced two hour wait for another slot. Thankfully we got into the takeoff queue quickly and got airborne around 12:20. Three hours later, plus a time zone, we landed in overcast Istanbul.
Despite expectations of teeming chaos, it was all quick and orderly getting a visa, passport control, luggage, bank, taxi. The ATM was a hoot -- it worked, in English, but how much did I want? 1,000,000 Turkish lire? 5,000,000TL? More? Clueless. Turns out that 1,000,000 Turkish lire equals $4 so everything seems seriously out of whack.
I arrived comfortably by cab at the Amber Hotel where I immediately ran into Margaret Nomentana in the lobby. I took a quick shower in my room under the eaves (a bath since the ceiling’s too low to stand up.) The hotel highlight is the bathmat with two feet woven in. Then I met Margaret, Ann and Cinda McKinney (of Westfield, MA), and Barry the NY lawyer for dinner. I thought the Westfield connection was eerie enough, but Barry turns out to be first cousin to Fred Springer who sits next to me at work. Small world. Seems a congenial group at this stage. Dinner was a hike up steep dusty hills to a busy street with tram. We ate at Cafe Pierre Loti where the food was enjoyable, but the highlight was the waiter using a dustbuster to clean the table.
We came back to the hotel for a beer on the terrace, then off to bed just as the prayer calls were broadcast at 10:20. We’re not in Kansas anymore.
Istanbul looks far more modern than I expected. Lots of flat topped concrete buildings four or five stories high. Cars and highways looking very normal, though with a healthy disregard for lanes or traffic lights. Side streets are barely or anciently paved, and run at any angle but 90 degrees. Across the street from the restaurant this evening were domes and minarets. A layer of dust everywhere. Although we’re near the water, everything has been smoggy and hazy. It’ll be fun to come back when my brain and the haze have both cleared.
Sunday, May 31
Now we’re truly started. Up at 6:30, breakfast by 7, leave the hotel by 7:30. Jale, the newlywed Turkish-born guide was there to shepherd us. Georgy joined us at the airport, nice as ever. The group seems more evenly congenial and fun that Vietnam. The flight to Dalmann was quick, about 1 1/12 hours, followed by a van trip through dry, piney mountains on an excellent, but very winding road.
We met Maria, Dag and Perry, new husband of Jale at a terrace restaurant overlooking Kalkan. Good to see Maria and Dag again.
Here’s the overview on the group:
· Guides Maria Coffey and Dag Goering -- Classic guide types, but mature. She writes (earns a living, very modest, at it.) He’s a vet -- farm animals -- and signs up as assistant in Ireland during busy season each year. Neither one can stand to be geographically or structurally tied down. Definitely bonded as a couple; not planning kids because they can’t see how it would work with their globetrotting.
· Guides Jale Boga-Robertson and Perry Robertson -- Met through Mountain Travel/Sobek. Green guides although he’s a river guide. Terribly nice. Very newlywed. Can’t take their eyes off each other to worry about the clients. Hoping to set up kayaking and other tour business in Turkey.
· Starr Zuckerman (Gulet Owner) -- Everyone’s role model. Widowed. Took a trip on an archealogical dig and went crazy over the disorganization. Took over. Then was asked to do it professionally. Now partners with others running 4 gulets. She spends months each year in Turkey overseeing the equipment, crews and supplies. Practical to her toenails.
· Georgy Lindquist -- Quiet, nice to the bone, sees good in everything and everybody, active outdoors hiking with her husband and doing water things herself. Was on the Vietnam trip and ended up as my roommate here in Turkey.
· Lillian Murray -- Organized, neat, capable. Even while kayaking manages to have all the clothes and equipment match. On board of a Texas bank, but taking leave to work for a musuem. Divorced “Been there, done that” experience includes “the boat, the plane, and the ranch. It was work.”
· Carolyn Matalene -- Jolly and fun-loving. Teaches English and creative writing at University of South Carolina. Theatrical. Summers in the Hamptons and is chummy with Paul Taylor who lives next door. Quotes more poetry than Mummy.
· Barry Kaplan -- New York lawyer. Works contracts and licensing. Stylish and art-conscious, but straight. Knew Margaret from a prior trip to Alaska. Wisecracking and fun.
· Margaret Nomentana -- Artist, loner. After divorce, didn’t want to go back to her maiden name so took the name of a street in Rome. Very close to her stepdaughter. Sensitive to any prejudices against women. Ballet fanatic.
· Cinda, Ann, and Sarah McKinney -- Westfield Mass. Mom Cinda is not much of a talker. Shares a family boatbuilding business with her siblings. Ann is fresh out of Columbia and is starting social work with NY Foundation for the Elderly. Tan, lithe, poised, but not shrewd. Sarah just kicked out of college for hazing (something to do with “cigarette tatoos”) Bit wild and brassy. Sisters squabble, but all three love being The McKinneys. Both girls comfortable with an adult group. Father and brother both died some time ago in freak accidents. All readers.
· Mike Adams -- Attractive, but wants to be at the center of attention, engineer in a family run industrial scrap and recycling business. Has flown a MIG, and is going on a sub-visit to the Titanic later this year.
· Ann Gates --Trim and independent. Three husbands. Lives in Guatamala. “Horrible childhood. At 26 I decided to become an adult and get on with life.”
Just your average bunch of folks.
We settled in at our beachside hotel, then took an excursion to some ruins and an amphitheater at Patara. The Amphitheatre was the impressive bit, half buried in sand dunes, but a most respectable size, probably 5000 spectators. Then on to the 11 mile Patara beach which was sandy and lovely. Some swam, but the water seemed chilly so I sat it out. Blazing sun, dry, and hot.
Back to the stony beach at Kalkan harbor for orientation. Maria and Perry did the obligatory roll to be rescued by Dag and Michael while the rest of the lazy types watched from the beach along with an audience of locals. Then we all went for a warm-up paddle. I was with Barry who’s new to kayaking, but very comfortable on the water. We paddled around easily and once he hits his rhythm he’ll outpower most of us.
Back to the hotel for a quick shower, then dinner at Bertin’s Kitchen, a converted olive oil factory. Whitewashed stone walls, straw matting, rugs, low tables and pillows, hanging canvas shades, and live music. We had a great meal then many (me included) got up and danced with Jale. There was a strong drumbeat and a great “clarinet” player who was cooking. We all swayed, shuffled and marveled at Jale who has liquid arms and can shake her hips and bosom like a pro. Lots of fun and laughing appreciation from the band and locals. Fell into bed around eleven.
Monday, June 1
An exhausting day, but wonderful. We paddled off the Kalkan beach around 9:45, headed straight across the harbor, around an island, and across the channel back to the mainland, landing for snacks around 12:30. I paddled with Barry and together we did fine -- middle of the pack -- on such a long haul. Snack time was wonderful with walnuts, raisins, dried apricots, and a swim. Then another half hour of paddling to postcard-perfect Firnazlar bay complete with “President of Turkey’s” yacht. Lunch of salami, tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, etc. was served up on the hillside on a stone wall buffet table.
Afterwards, a group of us hiked with Jale up to the top of the ridge to see a Roman aqueduct dating from roughly the 2nd century. The hike was up, rocky and hot, but the views of the curve of the bay and the brilliant blue water were spectacular. When we scrambled to the top of the aqueduct we sat with the bay view on one side and a fertile farming valley to the other. The aqueduct itself was in good enough condition to make you stop and marvel at the engineering and construction that would be daunting enough today.
Back down for a quick swim to cool off, then another three quarters of an hour paddle back to Kalkan arriving just before 6pm. Somewhere between 10 and 12 miles for the day -- Whew! -- but we all managed pretty well.
Drinks by the pool, then a nice dinner by the harbor at a restaurant called Kostan. It’s run by a couple, Turkish husband and British wife, who reported that our kayak departure made the morning for the guests at their pension. Better than the Today show. Well, we ARE the first commercial kayak trip in Turkey.
Overall the day featured hot sun, clear dusty hills, rocks and scrub, clean water that goes from turquoise (really) to royal blue, even porpoises leaping as we left the harbor. Despite the long paddle, we had very little wind or wave resistance to deal with.
Tuesday, June 2
Another glorious clear day. Out of the hotel around 8am and boarded our floating palace the SultanA. New gulet, teak throughout. Totally luxurious. Big back deck covered by awning, with a dining table, and a wide blue-cushioned banquette across the back. Inside a large bar area with another enormous table, then cabins like little teak gems. Built-in double bed, cupboards, drawers, private bath with FLUSH toilet and hand shower, even air conditioning.
Out in the kayaks around ten for a pleasant paddle along the shoreline meeting the boat for a lunch of green beans, tomatoes, salad, bulgar, and bread. We motored for a half hour or so with the kayaks in tow (a nerve-racking experiment in the care of Jale and Perry’s eight red “babies”!) then out paddling again. I’d been with Georgy in the morning, then with Michael in the afternoon. He’d been complaining about working too hard in the single, but the two of us together could motor along at high speed. About 10-12 miles in all.
Met the gulet again at teatime, took a quick swim (from convenient ladder), then sat around chattily for cocktails. It got too late to go into the town at Kas as planned, so around 10:30 we all slipped off to bed. I grabbed the pillow, sheet and blanket and went up on top of the cabins where there was a lovely double row of thick mattresses. Lying there looking up past the mast to the starry sky was just magical. It looked as though the Big Dipper was pouring out stardust. Or maybe sleeping powder ...
Wednesday, June 3
Up around 7 for another glorious day of clear sun. We headed off (paired with Georgy) and paddled along the coastline. We did a long stretch by limestone cliffs before pulling into a protected cove where a local man was happily skinny dipping when eight red kayaks barged into his bay. He turned out to be the local landowner and, once he borrowed clothes from a friend, he offered to sell us most of the bay for $2 million. We declined.
I got swapped around after snacks and paired up with Jale. Hmmm. It was pleasant but she’s neither experienced nor strong so I was completely worn out. It was a relief to pull up to the SultanA and tuck into lunch and a beer.
After feeding, we motored to Aperlea where we snorkeled over the sunken remains of a Lycian city. I brought the wrong mask so I couldn’t snorkel comfortably, but the glimpses I got of wall remnants at the under ten feet of liquid turquoise water were great.
We hiked across a narrow peninsula to Tersane Bay through red earth, loose rocks, piles (heaps!) of sage, a turtle, goats, cows, donkeys, stone walls, old houses, cisterns. A nice chance to walk and stretch our legs. We were met at the other end by SultanA engineer Borisch who rowed us back to the boat in groups of eight or so. The things people do for a living!
During the cocktail hour we were regaled by Ann Gates who shared her stories of growing up in Hollywood, then Wellesley Hills, then University of Chicago, and then running off with the circus to become a lion tamer. (She’s now 67 and looks like a prim schoolteacher.) She named her son after one of the lions (Tyrone), she butchered horses to feed the lions, she hated to put her head in the lions’ mouth because of (a) bad breath and (b) intestinal worms which ended up in her hair. We were awestruck. (The look on Borisch’s face when this was translated was pure astonishment. “Dangerous lady.”)
Dinner, more fun chat, then to sleep on deck despite distant lightening.
Thursday, June 4
Happy Birthday me. What a fun day! The rain did come through last night around 1:30am, but I moved under the awning at the back and went back to sleep. Maria said it sounded like a pack of mice scurrying around deck when the rain started. Brilliant sunny morning and turquoise sea. I paddled with Lillian (my first gift!) who’s so strong that it seemed we were keeping a lazy pace. Actually we were leading the pack.
We snacked at a ruined basilica on Kekova Island, then paddled around two ruined necropoli right on the water’s edge. We also had several moments of paddling through rocky gateways between islands. Fun to float through a mini-maze of shallows and rocks, especially since Lillian can steer.
Arrived in Simena and sprinted across the bay to paddle over another sunken city. Couldn’t see enough to make it a big deal, but we were having a fine time racing along. On board for a great lunch, then motored into town in a borrowed launch. (Outboard still broken on ours.) First an endless performance by rug dealer, then endless tea with scarf hustler and family. Fun, but smacked of a set-up.
Finally on to the medieval castle (ho hum), necropolis, and endless “half hour” walk through farms. The trail has moved so the walk was rockier and much longer than billed. It didn’t matter because it was great to be out walking. The boat was missing when we reached “the other side” at Gokkaya Bay so we waited for an hour to (a) find the boat, (b) beach the kayaks, (c) pick us up, etc. etc. etc Finally got sorted out and on board around 8pm. The joys of an exploratory!
Dinner was my celebration and I truly got to be empress for a day. A lovely cake was produced with candles, a card, gifts -- Maria’s book, a headscarve, an evil eye pin (Jale), and a six pack (McKinneys) -- plus photos and laughter. So so so nice.
Margaret started a game of asking for everyone’s best birthday story. Who’d expect it, but it worked and many happy, funny and tender stories were told. Bed by 11pm. Such nice people, such a nice day, such a great place to be.
Friday, June 5
Slept soundly despite overflowing music from the disco across the bay. A “leisurely” morning paddle exploring islands. The water was like liquid crystal with a limestone shoreline that looks molten and drops down beneath the water to a sandy floor. The water is so clear you can’t judge the depth.
Dag found one lovely cave to explore, just made for a train of kayaks to go in, make a tight turn at the deep end, and paddle out. Beautiful purple and pink colors in the rock, especially along the waterline. Then the shock of coming out into intense sun after the dark of the cave. I was paddling with Lillian again and together we kept overtaking Dag and trying to ease off. We were careful not to pass Dag and be hit with the buy-a-round penalty.
Back for a sumptuous lunch of rice-stuffed peppers, zucchini, and eggplant. It’s another beautiful day, but hot. I needed a swim before lunch to keep from stewing.
Brief motoring, then we climbed into a “local dinghy-boat” covered with carpets and went onshore to visit the Lycian cliff tombs and Roman theater at Myra. It was more complete that the other ruins we’ve visited so more satisfying for me. The next stop was the Church of “Noel Baba” = Father Christmas = St. Nicholas. They’re restoring a medieval church and oddly have built a sort of warehouse/hangar over the whole site.
We finished with a long hour in the not-too-compelling market under a blazing sun while Jale and the crew did shopping. Boredom was relieved only by my sighting of a “General Store” offering wine, guns, and snorkeling gear. As Carolyn said, “Boys and their toys!”
Back on board late in the afternoon for a short motor to Finike. It’s a concrete block sort of marina town, somewhat grim in the daylight, but quite pretty at night with open restaurants and shops lining the harbor.
We were all chatting on the back drinking tails when Maria came rushing up and said that Jale was checking emails and that there was a message for me. Larry. Pacemaker. OK. No Istanbul. I felt empty, then worried that he was downplaying the whole story. I emailed back via Jale, but ended up upset. I’m trying to assume that all is well. The global village is here though. Jale was plugged in and accessing emails from the front counter of a tourist jewelry shop on the boardwalk. So email works, but long-distance phones are out of the question. I wonder when and where I’ll be able to find a phone and call.
Saturday, June 6
Woke to yet another day of clear sun. We motored out of the harbor early, before breakfast. The Big Paddle was to round Cape Xardimei. High point of the trip. Ta da. Well, we did it, complete with a sightseeing detour to an island in utter calm. We set record time for the paddle (especially considering that we were the first ever to do it in kayaks). It was so easy and calm that we were almost overcome by a sense of anticlimax. We spent the rest of the morning paddling comfortably -- paired with Georgy -- meeting the boat in a quiet cove for lunch.
Siesta time, then more paddling along the shore, lovely as can be, until we turned the corner into the harbor where the SultanA is spending the night. Suddenly we were paddling straight into a 15-20 knot wind wasn’t so much fun. Luckily it was daylight AND we could see the boat so the struggle was tough, but finite.
Tired, but relaxed on the boat for lots of pleasant chitchat before 10pm bedtime on deck in a lovely fresh night. The moon was so bright that I needed my eyemask to sleep. Disco music and desultory fireworks drifted in from town.
Sunday, June 7
Paddled out of our cove this morning with Georgy again into only a bit of wind. The course took us along a dramatic cliff-edged shore more impressive even than yesterday’s cape. The morning highlight was a cave, two kayaks big, where outside light somehow shone under the water creating a luminescent turquoise pool that we floating across. The color was intense and made the whole cave glow. Fabulous.
Back along the shore, took a beach break for snacks, then paddled deep into another cove to meet the boat for lunch. Around three we paddled maybe 45 minutes to a beach for “tea” (beer and chips) before a hike to Mount Olympus. The first three quarters of an hour was on flat roads through open air restaurants and farms, followed by fifteen minutes of strenuous uphill hiking. (Ordinary groups take forty five minutes for this segment, but hey!, we’re tough, there’s a path, it’s drippingly hot, so why not scoot up quickly?) There on the hillside were hundreds of flames burning steadily between scattered rocks. It would make a perfect setting for Macbeth’s witches. On the practical side, it was prudent to watch which rock you sat on. Some of them were hot enough to roast humans or food. What an eerie phenomenon.
Back down the same route in reverse, then dinghy with Borisch back to the boat for showers, beer and dinner. Folks stayed up a little later tonight, but still lights out around eleven. The crowd remains extremely congenial, though we’ve reached the point where everyone’s little irritating ways are known. But we’re already into savoring the last few days ...
Monday, June 8
The night was cold (long pants and extra blankets on deck) and windy but fun to be out. We were up and away for a lazy seeming paddle. I was teamed with Maria. It’s more humid here and the day seemed to be starting out extra hot, but it was fairly comfortable on the water. A quick swim before lunch perked me up, then a lovely siesta while we motored to Phaselis. Borisch rowed us by dinghy into the ruins which are complete enough to be really fun. There’s a paved main street running across a little peninsula, a central agora (mall), theater, baths, aqueduct, then the shopped-lined street runs down to another harbor at the other side. Alexander the Great wintered here in the 4th Century BC. Nice wandering, then back to the SultanA for packing and lazing before dinner.
While out paddling, Maria and I were discussing how men (mostly, but women too) change our names: Maria becomes Marie in Ireland; Katie becomes Kate with men. Her theory: I seem too powerful to fit the diminutive “-ie” form. Also, as we came in, we hit a paddling rhythm, strong but not pressured, and utterly steady. Maria said, “So nice. It reminds me of my long trips with Dag when we got into the long touring rhythm and felt as though we could go forever. It feels so nostalgic.” Well, even I could feel how comfortable it was to hit that automatic glide and feel that it’s perpetual motion. Funny how even an amateur can feel it, even if I couldn’t reproduce it by my own efforts.
The final water treat was a night paddle around the Phaselis peninsula. Almost a full moon. Everyone was a bit swapped around so I ended up steering (!) with Carolyn. The steering went better than I expected, though I never did get the pedals adjusted properly so I had to stretch my legs out like crazy to keep even. I started out with wild zigzags, but eventually was able to produce a straight-ish line. I did get hung up on some rocks, but I could see how the steering would be just fine with some practice. Carolyn was great and did absolutely no backseat driving at all. She doesn’t like steering either, so we just laughed and zigzagged.
Being out in the moonlight was cool. No lights except for Dag and Maria, kayaks trying to stay close together for safety. You can see an amazing amount down in the water -- who knew? -- and just watching the sky and shore in the dark was beautiful. Looking out to open water no horizon was visible, just a milky silver light out in the far distance that blended into the sky. Other kayaks were black silhouettes against the silver. Perry went by in a single and looked like a scene from a stage set.
Back on board around 10:15 for drinks and chatting. Settled the bar bill at $49 which wasn’t too bad, though it left me behind the McKinneys at $62 apiece. Dry land tomorrow will be a sad change.
Tuesday, June 9
Last day with the group. The motors started up around 4am which caused me to roll over on deck and sleep for another three hours as we powered into Antalya. The city looks like Miami Beach, but the Old Quarter and gulet harbor are wonderful. The marina is enclosed by seawalls, sparkling with blue water and wrapped by cliffs curving around, topped by castle walls, and backed by tall mountains.
We left the boat around 9:30 saying good-bye to Starr and the crew. We went on to the museum which was much more fun than I had expected. The displays flow from Stone Age though all the cultural waves -- Greek, Roman, Lycian -- and ends up with modern day. Just enough of each category, whether burial urns, statues, icons, rugs or calligraphy.
On to the hotel which was very attractive, but disorganized in the Turkish style. Rooms not cleaned, that sort of thing. Lunch was freeform, so I went with Maria, Dag and a handful of others to a disastrous attempt to eat where the locals do. Jale led us to an alleyway scrunched between two major highways where the noise was deafening, the air full of gasoline fumes, the food dubious, and the prices a bait and switch rip-off. Folks got a little testy, but we laughed about it later.
I wandered back through the Old Quarter with Dag (“But Katie, why do all the shopkeepers chase me? Why do they ignore you? It must be that New York thing.”) and Maria. Pleasant houses and streets, but pure tourist business. 100 percent.
A real highlight for the day was going for a Turkish bath with Georgy, Margaret, Lillian and Carolyn. It was a family run bath (man, younger wife, little girl and two nephews) in a multi-centuries old building. We were directed to wooden and glass changing rooms and given pareos of dishcloth cotton. Margaret and I opted for the all together while the others started in bathing suits. First stop was downstairs sitting in dim domed niches on heated marble while working up a serious sweat. Drips echoing throughout. Then on to the heated marble platform in the middle, lit by skylights and a single hanging bare lightbulb. The older man very professionally scrubbed us down with a soapy loofah, respectfully using the wrap to screen private parts. Then a rinse and more heat followed by the young man massaging us with bubble bath squeezed through a fabric “pillowcase.” Quite rigorous. We joked later that we were afraid we’d come out like Picasso paintings with various body parts moved around. Carolyn redeemed the thought by saying that at one point I looked like an Ingres odalisque. Shampoo too, then a rinse, then on to another thorough oil massage by the woman. At the end of two hours we were all limp with relaxation.
The baths themselves were eerie: shadowy, niches and rooms running off to the sides, constant echoes of dripping water. The domes appeared to be concrete while all the seating platforms were gray marble. It would be a great location for a tacky thriller.
We oozed back to the hotel to change and go for drinks then the farewell dinner. We ate a sumptuous meal at a cafe along the city walls looking at the sunset over the marina and the old city and moonrise over the navy ships in the main harbor. Good company. Speeches of feeling but not too gooey, then hugs and farewells in the lobby before midnight. This before a gruesome departure schedule of 4:30am.
Wednesday, June 10
Alarm at 3:55am. On the bus by 4:30. Maria and Dag both came down to see us off. Real pros. The four of us (Ann, Margaret and Georgy) were dropped off at the international terminal which meant that only Georgy, in transit to Italy, could check in. The rest of us, ticketed for the same flight, had to taxi to the domestic terminal for our check-in. Of course, we all met up again on the plane. It’s a system.
Quick flight to Istanbul, hugs with Georgy, then on to Kayseri, a military airport and town and the gateway to Cappadocia. We were me by a mini bus and a straight-from-the-catalog guide named Ali. (“Like Ali Baba, but I have lost the thieves.”) We drove for an hour through wide open country then lunched at a lovely taverna. On again to our hotel which looks like a theme park imitation of cliffside caves. Nap first, then a bit of sightseeing. First a valley lined with pigeon cotes carved into the cliffs. The (bird) entry is just a few, uh, pigeonholes, but the actual space behind is about the size of a NY apartment. Pigeons were valued for courier use, paint, fertilizer, eggs, and finally food. The walk down and around the caves was tricky but comfortable including a shortcut along an underground river.
A little further on we climbed the castle in Uchisar which looks out on an eerie landscape of valleys, rock spires, cave houses, minarets, and mesas. Weird. Some shopping, a swim, fun dinner at the hotel with Ann and Margaret, then to bed. I got through to Larry on the phone and he sounds fine and chipper so I do feel relieved. A lot.
Thursday, June 11
A day of touring. Left the hotel around 9:30 and headed for Goreme, a series of rock spires with early Christian churches carved into the rock. Centuries of frescos. The churches got more elaborate as we climbed up the hill with the most vivid and fine frescos dating from the 13th Century. But much much earlier, these caves were Christian monasteries and hideouts.
On to see other phenomenal moonscapes, then lunch at a “Greek House” in Mustafapasa. (Owned by Greeks pre-1923 and taken over for a restaurant.) We had a private room upstairs, unfinished wood floor, carpets, a sofa with pillows lining the room, big windows covered with white curtains edged in filet lace, a low round wood table in the center. There were built-in wooden cabinets at one end and a painted, beamed ceiling. Absolutely lovely and we had a dandy lunch.
Ali made the mistake of asking about our backgrounds so we had the pleasure of watching him try to look blasé as Ann described her lion taming career. Later she and I talked about the tented camps in Masai Mara. She mentioned being caught in her tent for two hours while a male lion was on courtship prowl outside. “He was acting very weirdly. Even I was scared.”
After lunch we had an endless stop at a pottery factory, but Margaret handled the demonstration participation AND the buying duties for all of us. Afterwards the two of us went to the baths while Ann poked around town. Great and relaxing, though more spiffy up than the baths in Antalya. Changing rooms around a sunken court, then wood lined saunas (VERY hot), and back to the cool plunge pool in the middle. After two steamings and a dip, we were ushered in to lie on the marble platform to heat up again, then onto massage tables in side alcoves for a long soapy massage. Not as good as Antalya, but that’s quibbling. It felt great. Two youngish masseurs wearing bathing suits -- a bit more to the tourist taste than Antalya’s cotton sarongs.
Back to the hotel for down time and dinner. Margaret and I are planning a sunrise balloon excursion, so tonight will be low key.
Friday, June 12
Ballooning for the morning. Up at 4:45 for a 5:15 pickup. We launched from Ibrahaimpasha and floated ever so serenely down to Urgup. Wonderfully textured landscape, views of the Rose Valley where parts of Return of the Jedi were filmed, great track along a rift valley with cave villages on the sides. The balloon franchise is run by a Brit -- Kiley -- and her Swedish husband Lars. They trained in Arizona, live half the year in France, and work the summer in Turkey. Very attractive not quite conformist couple.
After a brief stop at the hotel, Ali whisked us all off to Derinkuyu underground city. Incredible. Twenty-six levels of underground caves used over three millennia as stable, storage, and defensible hiding place. We went down eight levels which, courtesy of Ali, meant crouching along on your knees through some side tunnels and stooping along long stretches of stair and cave. The extent of the network is astounding.
Above ground we explored a 13th Century church and then moved along to the Ihlara Valley. It’s an invisible crack in the high steppes going down to a stream. We ate lunch on a terrace overlooking the canyon then climbed down (stairs) and had a very pleasant hour walking along the bottom through trees and fields.
The ride back was long but we went along back roads that gave us a fascinating, but sobering, look at village life. Many dilapidated buildings, lots unfinished, dusty roads, women in baggy pants and scarves heads in the fields, chickens, geese and kids. A brief stroll through local shopping streets wrapped up the day followed by drinks and dinner with the girls.
Saturday, June 13
Out of the hotel at 9, tea at the agency (the owner seems sharp), then van to Kayseri for the flight to Istanbul. We were met and arrived at the (La di dah) Four Seasons around 2. It’s very luxurious. They had a few missteps sorting out the reservation, but now I’m in a corner room, huge entry and closets, fabulous bath, enormous room, etc. Only the bars on the windows give away the building’s history as a prison.
The hotel is just off Sultanahmet Square. I wandered around to find that ALL the sights are within five blocks, so I started out by exploring the Bazaar. It’s a great building, but is pure tourist territory these days in both merchandise and clientele.
I had dinner with Margaret and Ann at Develi. Very nice, but Ann was in a funk over the lack of air conditioning at the Amber Hotel. Margaret and I came back to the Four Seasons for a couple of drinks. We connected on theater and friends, so we had a good time all round.
Sunday, June 14
A sightseeing day. I had breakfast in the hotel garden then headed for the Topaki Palace by 10am, still well ahead of the crowds. The audience rooms and harem are magnificent with elaborate tiles, gold trims, divans, grillework, rugs. All surrounding serene courtyards.
On to Aya Sophia which is a glorious space but under serious renovation and very shabby. The domed space is immense. There’s a stone ramp leading to the gallery where some familiar and spectacular mosaics are hidden. It’s startling to see how neglected it seems ... but maybe the dark and empty space is ok on its own.
Lunch at the Pierre Loti cafe, then on to the day’s highlight, Yerebatan Sarayi or underground cistern. You go into a little kiosk that looks like a subway station, go down an ordinary staircase, and find yourself in an enormous dim hall, 150x55 yards, forested with columns and several feet deep in water. Brilliantly, they play classical string quartets and that, combined with dripping water, creates a profound stillness. Built around 532, it’s simply astounding.
Back into the bustle and hustle (“Madame! Madame! Are you from America?”) to visit the Blue Mosque. The exterior is a rippling cascade of domes, very elegant. Inside there’s a high dome and a light, wide open carpeted area marked off in squares to show each prayer spot. Just above your head is a swirl of lights separating earth from sky.
I went back to the hotel feeling tired, but had high tea to revive. It’s so relaxing to be on my own with no guide and no group after all the togetherness of the last two weeks. I’m reveling in my own daydreams. Ended up having a gracious dinner at the hotel and collapsed into bed around 9:30.
Monday, June 15
I covered miles today since it’s my last day to catch sights and sites. After breakfast I walked down to the waterfront and admired the mishmash of ferries, liners, fast food boats, and daytrippers. I walked over the bridge then spent some time wandering through the Egyptian Spice market. It’s much less tourist-ridden and tacky than the main bazaar. In fairness though, I walked up through normal shopping streets to the Grand Bazaar and found it much calmer today than on Saturday. I managed to buy a few trinkets for gifts. The best line of the morning was, “Madame I am here. Let me spend your money.” The book market is just next door and is a small lane shaded and quite attractive to wander through.
Then my real quest began. I wanted to visit the Kariye Cami for the mosaics and frescos and I decided to walk to the Fatih section. It took about an hour and a half in the heat along dusty streets. Everyone in Istanbul seems to be putting in a NEW uneven sidewalk. Dust must be the force behind the custom of watering down the sidewalk in front of shops, even inside the bazaar. I got lost a couple of times too -- the maps are ‘way too general -- and wandered through unremarkable residential neighborhoods. Not much personality, but clean, well-stocked shops, neat apartments, schools. All the necessities and more. What’s nice is that away from the tourist sites, no one, male or female, hassles you. So it’s not Turkish “friendliness” elsewhere, it’s just a hustle.
I saw many women scarved, raincoated, even wearing full chadors with only a triangle of eyes and nose exposed. I’d say 40% of the women were covered to some degree. No overt disapproval of me, beyond surprise at seeing a tourist, but I was surprised at the conservative pattern in a city that’s very developed and Western in so many respects.
Once found, Kariye Cami was charming. Not a huge church, but a complicated layout and each area heavily covered with golden mosaics or clean frescos in reasonably good condition. The whole array was more complete and impressive as artwork than any of the other sites along the trip.
I was worn out so I took a cab back to the hotel and dove into a late lunch. Next I went for a final Turkish bath, this time women only. I was nicely steamed and scrubbed, but the massage was perfunctory at best. Still it felt marvelous to be clean of sweat and dust.
Margaret called around 8 after returning from her extension to Ephesus. It sounded nice, but heavy on ruins. I’m glad I passed it up. We ate nearby at Rami, a nice restaurant in an old Ottoman house. We were seated on a roof terrace covered with vines with a glorious, front-row view of the Blue Mosque. We chatted then stopped at the hotel for a drink, closed the bar, and I went off to sleep. Flight home on Tuesday was uneventful, but long. What a great trip.
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