Thursday, September 06, 2007
That is good stuff. I'll continue pretending that drinking hot coffee when it is 32 degrees C and cloudless outside is a good idea. And yes, it is hot as balls out here and will only be getting hotter as we head east. Some of our new friends left last night to head southwest towards the coast and beaches. I suspect I will be very jealous of them very soon.
When finally we had time to trade the inside of conference rooms for the sights of Istanbul, we made the most of it. The Aya Sofya was beautiful (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hagia_Sophia), the Blue Mosque was amazing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sultan_Ahmed_Mosque) and had the most peaceful atmosphere inside (as long as you blocked out the screaming kids), but the thing that floored me the most was the Obelisk of Theodosius (http://www.quovadimus.org/turkey99/istanbulmonuments/5-400.html). This pillar, whose carvings look fairly new, is the oldest monument in Istanbul. It was carved in Egypt around 3,500 years ago! Amazing. Simply amazing. As I stood there gaping, the sun made its way below the horizon, singing birds flew past over head and the ezan began calling (the ezan is the call for prayer-Islam) and within my sight were these incredible and ancient sights. It is a bit mind-boggling to be somewhere and be seeing things that were subjects of history classes, things you never thought you would see and places you had never dreamed of visiting. A magical moment.
The following day we checked out a couple of the bazaars (Spice and Grand) which were interesting. The Grand Bazaar was a bit overwhelming not only because of the scale and number of goods, but because some cruise ships had dumped their passengers and the crowds were tremendous and suffocating. Which provided the perfect excuse to grab some lunch, meet up with a friend from the conference and hit up a hamam (Turkish bath).
Let me tell you about the hamam. Steps led us down into a cool and semi-lit reception area. Towels were handed to us and we changed into them and headed off to the baths (men and women are separate). Etiquette called for always being covered (men) with the rough towel, an uncomfortable state of being until the towel became wet and pliant. The inside of the bath itself had a floor of all marble and marble covered walls up to about head height. And it was hot and steamy. Marcus and I sat and shoveled water over ourselves while waiting our turn for a wash and massage (a necessary experience we were told). Finally the raised marble platform that filled most of the middle of the large room emptied and I sat to indicate my readiness. A big pot-bellied and hairy Turk came over and we got down to business. First he used a very rough loofa sorta thing to go over my back, stomach, arms and legs. He was intrigued by my tatoos and I think he tried to rub them off. Didn't work. Next he had me lay down on my back on the platform. Standing off to the side, he filled a pillow case with hella-foamy soap and....washed me (privtate bits were left unwashed by him). Both sides, and then a brief massage that involved a lot of heavy kneading, crushing twisting mushing and torquing. It was nice! Then we went off to one of the side areas and he used a bucket to rinse me off. Sitting me down he then washed my hair and again bucketed me off. Envision all of this done in a very gruff manner. It was pretty nice and I was cleaner than I'd been in....a long time. After all that Marcus and I sat in the sauna for a bit and then floated around in a big pool of cool water. Not a bad experience at all!
That night we jumped on a bus headed to the town of Goreme in Cappadocia (http://www.turizm.net/cities/cappadocia/goreme.htm). A shuttle bus picked us up at the hostel (we stayed at one the night before in order to hang out with other conference people that were still in town) and 20 minutes later it dropped us and the others at a spot 5-minutes away from the hostel by foot. Amusing, though a bit silly. It prompted conversations between us, two Bengali/Brits and a couple of Aussies. It was a long ride, with a good 10 hours or so of it without a/c which made for a sweaty ride. But we were given tea and coffee after our potty stops and I even managed to sleep a bit! That was the most amazing part. I did get to watch the sun come up over the fairy chimney/hoodoo type formations and forced myself to stay awake to soak in the countryside until we pulled into town. As we plodded around with the others, it was decided that Steph and I, the 2 Bengali/Brits, the 2 Aussies and 2 other Americans would all stay at the same hostel. Our rooms? They are caves! A rad little hostel.
After eating breakfast and taking a nap, 5 of us walked to an outdoor museum which allowed us a glimpse into the ancient ways. In this area, homes are build into the formations and cliffs. It's awesome! The museum was a lot of old churches built around the turning of BC to AD and are built into caves. Next up was a taxi ride out to some fairy chimneys and on the way back the driver threw in a stop by an overlook above a small valley that very much reminded me of Bryce Canyon in Utah. Awesome. I am glad that this area is somewhat akin to Utah, as I feel like I am getting a bit of my desert fix.
Day 2 in Goreme: an underground city in Derinkuyu (http://www.hitit.co.uk/tosee/cappy/ucities.html). Levels and levels of tunnels and structure all underground. it was like a playground, if you could forget that their original purpose was to hide from marauders.
I'm running out of steam so I'll continue later.