Turkish Treks 2: Deep History

Is this thing on? Hello? (Brushes dust off of photo files...) 

Oh, hello. You might remember me, I'm someone who goes places, takes photos of said places, and puts them on a blog. No? It's been nearly a year since I was here, with some photos from a trip now a year and half back, to Turkey for work and then fun. We went to France last spring, and I just got back from Belize (sigh....) and I can't start on that magnificence until we finish up with trips prior. Shall we continue our romp through Turkey? 

Traveling in Turkey alone was a daunting thought. Not the solitude, but a bevy of other semi-formed, half-irrational fears. Thankfully, it's that first day alone, that single empowering day proving to your harshest self-critic, that sets the tone for the rest of the adventure. And with that, it only makes sense to set out for Şirince. 

Şirince is a quiet place of a tumultuous fate. Said to have been settled by escaped Greek slaves when the much-lauded port city of Ephesus (photos in the next post) was abandoned in the 15th century, half a dozen miles down the valley by winding road, the town looks as though it were cobbled together step by rocky step, building by crooked building, like a jigsaw puzzle against the hillside. It's stone walls are thick, cool, and whitewashed with fading blue trim. When the Greek inhabitants of the town were expelled in 1923 as part of the religious-motivated Greek and Turkish population exchange, the town was given it's current name, balconies were added to the stone houses in turkish style, and the church became a monument as the mosque anchored the new center of town. Today, the town is known for it's wine making. Day tourists roam up and down the staircases, through narrow winding streets, tasting wine and maybe buying some. Not, mind you, because it's great wine, but because... hey, they make wine here, and that's unusual.  I spent three nights here, in the Kirkinca Guest House. I highly recommend. The cook brings you a breakfast feast while you are sitting high up in the tower of the stacked guest porches. The sun pushes heat into your sleepy bones -- and in the summer, that happens FAST, so don't miss that golden hour of perfect morning, and it's twin, dusty dusk. 

Perched on a hillside, the sun comes up slowly, with a wan pink light in the morning, and descends almost regrettably, grabbing once or twice more at the town with hot orange fingers reaching up from between the hills of the valley to the west, towards Selçuk, and from the long-abandoned Ephesus. This is when the heat fades, when the town has color, and scent, and sound. There's a donkey braying in the trees, tied up until tomorrow's labors begin anew; there are couple of goats bleating their annoyance from a pen of branches and tarps; there's a dog fight out near the cemetary; there's spice in the air and woodsmoke; the dust in the air reflects gold and glittering peach; now the whitewash is searing orange, now thin pink, now a pale blue-purple as the light dies. THIS is where you remember how much you love to wander. 

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Turkish Treks 1: Town

Oi. There aren't even words for the thrill of adventure, for the appeal of new sights, sensations, smells, the sounds of a different city, a different environment, a uniquely vibrant culture. I would wager I actually go crazy if I don't get out of my cultural comfort zone on a regular basis. It could be a trip down a wild and tangled coast, not so different from my home now, or .... the historical revelry of a city like Paris (yep, our spring destination to visit a friend. Sorry Mom, if you're reading this; I haven't told you yet...). And last August, it was Turkey. Map at right gives you an idea of my ramblings, mostly by bus, but also by ferry (and better, also bus ON ferry), tiny car, and horse-drawn cart. 

Turkey is a fabulous place. FABULOUS. Folks are full of smiles and kindness in small towns; breakfast (kahvaltı) is the greatest meal you will have ever eaten; wild dogs use crosswalks; Greek myth and Turkish legend are built right into modern cities; and did I mention the breakfasts?? Seriously, picture this spread: two kinds of fresh cheese, cut figs and melon, crusty bread still warm from the oven, three fruit preserves, pickled vegetables and red pepper paste, crisp cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, eggs, olives—which I am now addicted to after a lifetime of disgust—and honey. 

And if we need to emphasize one item on that table, let's focus on the honey. It's fresh, it has a thousand undertones like a glass of wine, and in one hotel, it dripped salaciously from the full sheet of honeycomb they strung up with a knife for cutting out a personal slab. Umm... yum. 

Now that we're all thinking about honey... here's a series of unrelated photos. Apologies for the awkward transition --- let's begin in Izmir, catching up with a childhood friend who was living in Istanbul at the time -- 

This is Sarah. She's delightful. Her ability to find humor in everything, with a thick layer of sarcasm, is wickedly amusing. She also taught me my first—and sadly, last—Turkish word. It's "teşekkürler," which takes the gold medal for most syllables needed to say 'thanks'. It's also the reason why I haven't learned any more Turkish. If I can't master this one word, which sounds like a combination between a cat working on a hairball and a mother scolding a toddler, then there's little hope for my Turkish vocabulary....

And this Izmir. Half of my photos of Izmir are from my hotel room on the 18th floor, overlooking the harbor on the Aegean, because we had a harrowing 4 days prepping for a major project meeting. I don't think I have ever had so little sleep for so many consecutive days. Consequently, by the time it was time to pack up and abandon Izmir, there were only a cumulative dozen hours or less spent exploring the city. Nonetheless, with the exception of the loud angry anti-America protest, the strolls through the filthy bazaar, the hidden alleys with old gents playing games and drinking turkish coffee, and the trips out for Turkish Delight, it was a lovely visit.

I wasn't kidding about the crosswalks...
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white in gray.

Winter here is G-R-A-Y... or G-R-E-Y, if you must .... And with the dark dose of gray, comes the migration of thousand and thousands of birds. Seeking refuge from a brighter and harsher northern winter, we've got enormous populations of winter birds in BC. A favorite of mine is the bevy of swans that scavenge in the fallow fields of the Skagit Valley, which we'll call a 'whiteness of swans' on a more poetic day. And while these are generally marvelled at when zipping by at high speed, the birds at Boundary Bay can be observed at a more leisurely pace in the gaping dawn of a very wintry morning. For some, it's a daily or weekly obsession; for me a passing fascination. Here's the scene from a damp day last year.

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