Monday, April 28, 2008

Kapadokya to Ankara

We spent all day Sunday enjoying the Cappadocian landscape. In the morning, we toured an underground city - one of many in the area. The guide we hired had actually been born in one of its caves and lived there until 1964, when the government paid everyone to move into modern houses so they could turn the complex into a tourist sight. (Some people later moved back to the caves because they were more comfortable than the houses - warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer, quieter and darker.) It's definitely smaller and darker than I'm used to (even after basement living in DC), but brilliantly designed and constructed. Stables, wells, ventilation shafts, communal kitchens and dining rooms... I wish I could have seen it in action. A living history set-up would have been great.

We had tea at a panoramic viewpoint and then continued to the Göreme Open Air Museum, which has a concentration of very old churches (approximately 11th century). Some had frescoes, and some had simple red ochre painting. Originally, Christians lived in the area to escape persecution, and later they lived there as hermits, monks or nuns to pursue a solitary way of life.

After lunch, we hiked through Rose Valley and soaked up the (mostly) natural landscape. There were a few farmers tending grape vines and 2 postcard shops, but besides that it was just the soft, organic windswept stones. Some are snow-white and some are rosy, and some are yellow. I can't wait to post pictures.

Today, we had a relaxed morning in Ürgüp - Mom and I went shopping and stumbled into a ceramics store, tended by the artist herself. We each bought a very pretty plate - it's one of the things I'd been looking for as a souvenir of this trip, so I'm happy to have found such a nice one. Mom also found a really cool rug for her kitchen, so it was a successful morning!

We took the bus to Ankara, and had a terrific dinner at Margaret's apartment - cooked by Uğur, her boyfriend. Dessert was asure - the story goes that at the end of the voyage, everyone on Noah's Ark brought whatever food they had left and added it to the pot. The result is a sort of rice pudding that includes barley, chickpeas, nuts, dried fruit and other stuff. I'll definitely try to make a batch when I get home.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

More ancient ruins, some school children, and an introduction to carpet making

Abstract: I'm having a great time, and Turkey is fascinating.

Thursday: We mini-vanned to Bergama (formerly Pergamum). The Greeks founded it in the 8th century AD, but it got really famous when the Roman physician Galen set up shop there in AD 129 and made it the Mayo Clinic of its time. The ruins were neat, but I think we'll all remember the school children the most. We ran into a group of about 30 kids - fourth graders maybe? - who were really excited to talk to us. Their guide spoke good English and Margaret speaks enough Turkish that we could ask questions of each other. After that, the kids just had a great time practicing their English on us: What is your name? My name is _. How old are you? Where are you from? What is your favorite football team? Fortunately, Margaret had taught us about Turkish soccer - Fenerbahce is the most popular team, so when I told them I rooted for Fenerbahce, they all cheered. Then they discovered that I have a tongue piercing and I was completely mobbed. I kept trying to say goodbye and to find the rest of my family, but I was like the Pied Piper! Finally their guide called them back, and we toured the rest of Aesklepion in peace. Great day.

We also saw the Red Basilica, which is referenced in Revelations as one of the seven churches of the Apocalypse. Originally a Roman building, it's so big that instead of taking it over, the Christians just built a smaller church inside of it. We mini-vanned to Izmir, Turkey's 3rd largest city, and spent the evening wandering through the bazaar and enjoying raki (anise liqueur) and mezes.

Friday: We flew to Kayseri in the morning, which is in central Turkey and took a van to Urgup, our home base in the Cappadocia region. This area is made up of very soft stone (the result of volcanic ash) topped with harder volcanic stone. The tuff is so soft that people have been digging caves into the hillsides and inhabiting them for thousands of years.

We spent Friday afternoon learning about carpet making, and then shopping for carpets. It was really interesting (We saw how they make silk thread from the cocoons of silk worms!) and definitely gave us a greater appreciation for the handmade rugs we see everywhere. My aunt and uncle bought two gorgeous carpets, and my parents bought two simple kilims (woven, not knotted) for the cabin. It was a stormy day - lots of wind and a little rain - so it was good to stay inside.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Just a brief note today, since I'm at an internet café and running out of time...

We spent all day Tuesday in İstanbul - toured Hagia Sophia in the morning and took a boat tour of the Bosphorus ın the afternoon. Had a super fun dinner with my mom's cousin (who lives here) in the Taksim neighborhood - bustling, modern, nary a headscarf in sight.

We spent all day Wednesday traveling from İstanbul to Selçuk - a ferry and three buses. Today we visited Ephesus - lots of beautiful Roman ruins. We also saw the house where the Virgin Mary spent her last days, and the tomb where John was buried.

The weather is beautiful. There are poppies and roses and cats everywhere. And turtles!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace, & my sister!

Very successful first full day in Turkey. We visited the Blue Mosque in the morning - one of the most important, and beautiful, in the world. It's not as vast as St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, but for me equally awe-inspiring. There's a huge central dome, and many smaller ones cascading down around it. The inside is completely covered with blue İznik tiles - up close, you get to appreciate the intricate floral patterns. From a distance, they dissolve into geometric patterns.

(Here's a detail from one of the domes... I couldn't find any great images of the interior on Google Images.)

In the afternoon, we visited Topkapı Palace and the surrounding Gülhane Park. There are thousands (millions?) of tulips, and most are at their peak. We ate lunch in a little tea garden overlooking the Bosphorus, and then entered the palace grounds. There are four courtyards, each fancier (and more exclusive) than the last. We paid extra to see the Harem - well worth it. Much of it was built by Mehmet Ağa, the same architect responsible for the Blue Mosque, and it was fun to pick out details that carried over from the morning's visit. In addition to the palace buildings, we saw a neat collection of items that the residents would have used - china and silverware, armor, kaftans, jewels, etc.

(This is in the 3rd courtyard.)

We returned to our hotel, happy to find that Margaret had made it there safely, and drank beer on the rooftop deck. We had dinner at a famous local kebap shop (akin to Ben's Chili Bowl in DC) and dessert (tea and baklava) at a sidewalk café. Margaret and I stayed up late talking - it's so good to see her again.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Arrival in Istanbul!

I've been in Istanbul for just over 12 hours now, and it's wonderful. I met my parents in the Minneapolis airport, and together we flew to Amsterdam and on to Istanbul. A van picked us up and drove us on roads lined with thousands of tulips, along the shore of the sea of Marmara where hundreds of families were picnicking, to our hotel. We freshened up (I'd been traveling for 22 hours) and met my Aunt Flury and Uncle Mel (my dad's sister and her husband) on the rooftop cafe. We had a clear view of the Sea of Marmara - busy with ships coming from the Black Sea (via the Bosphorus), bound for the Aegean, Mediterranean and beyond (via Gallipoli). I looked to my left and saw the Blue Mosque, practically next door!

(Here is someone else's picture of the Blue Mosque... I won't be able to post my own photos until I get home. But it's pretty much the view that we had.)

After a little chatting and a bottle Turkish white wine, we set out for a brief tour of the neighborhood - lots of shops targeted at tourists selling mostly carpets, fezzes, beautiful ceramics, and an evil eye charm that wards off carpet salesmen; the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia; and a bunch of pretty buildings, in a bunch of architectural styles. We enjoyed a great seafood dinner (again with a view of the Marmara) and happily got to bed at 10.

(Here's the Hagia Sophia - again, not my photo.)

There are a lot of street cats here (probably about 10 outside our hotel door at any given time), and when I woke up at 2 am to open the window, a little grey cat greeted me! I'm in a street-level room, and there's no screen on the window - just an iron grille. I had to leave the window closed, because I didn't really want the cat to come into my room, and it looked curious enough that it just might.

I'm not sure what's in store for today, but at some point my sister will be joining us! I'm very excited to see her.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Great wedding, great weather, great excitment!

Mea culpa, I've been miserable about blogging lately. I've been busy with lots of stuff that shouldn't go on a blog this public, but all in all, life is excellent.

On the travel front:
I was in Minnesota last week for my cousin Lisa's wedding! I spent a few days in Duluth shopping and walking the Lakewalk with my mom, eating venison for supper and sour cherry crunch for dessert (which is nearly as good as rhubarb crunch) and generally enjoying being home. The wedding, held in Minneapolis, was terrific. Excellent locations, beautiful ceremony, and a fantastic band - they had everyone dancing and begging for an encore when they took their leave at 1 a.m. I wish Scott could have been there - partly because I missed him, and partly so that he could witness the Slick family in full force. I loved dancing with all of my cousins and aunts and second cousins. (Rumor has it there will be another Slick Christmas at the Yukon Palace this year... I sure hope so.)

The only hard part about Minnesota was the weather - it was cold (just above freezing), windy and raining/sleeting/snowing just about every day I was there. I returned home to California where it was a dry 85. Enough said.

This Saturday, I'm leaving for Turkey! I'll meet up with my parents in Minneapolis, and the three of us will travel together to Istanbul, where we'll meet up with my Aunt Flury and Uncle Mel, and then we'll meet up with my sister! I haven't done nearly enough background reading. Good thing I have some long flights coming up, right? I expect to be checking email every few days and will do my best to post some updates here.

And now for your regularly-scheduled kitchen adventure updates.

This is not, I grant you, the most photogenic dinner. Nor is it a halfway decent photograph. But it was an adventure worth documenting - one of those "necessity is the mother of invention" kind of dinners. The kabocha squash had been languishing in the fruit basket for weeks, and I felt kind of sorry for it. I'd picked up fresh salmon from the grocery store that needed to get eaten, and we had a few cups of cooked amaranth in the fridge. We nuked the squash, mixed the amaranth with curry powder and stuffed it in the squash, nestled the salmon on top, and popped it in a hot oven for a few minutes. Not bad! Not great, but a good starting point for next time.

If you want a great recipe, try this curried eggplant soup. I microwaved the eggplant instead of roasting it, to save some time. We made this earlier this week, and it's definitely going into my "tried and true" recipe folder!