Kris à Genève

A Canadian living in Switzerland

Turkey with four women

with 2 comments

The day after Eileen took me to see Paul Simon as a graduation present, we flew to Istanbul for a three-week vacation in Turkey. There we met three friends from Canada: Dani, Daphne and Orla.

I was apprehensive (only slightly) about travelling with four extroverted women for three weeks. I enjoy their company, but as an introvert I also need regular doses of quiet time, and I worried that amid the constant buzz of these four charming ladies, I would forget to take my medicine. That said, the four ladies were very aware of me and my need to wander off on my own at times. In fact, I am sure they were happy to be rid of me occasionally so they could turn up the volume and do their shopping without me slowing them down.

Over the course of our trip, we heard a few comments about the odd gender distribution of our travelling group, including “the sultan and his harem,” “beauties and the beast” and “the five wheels – guess which one is the fifth?” Here is a photo of the five of us – decide for yourself which caption is most fitting.

This photo was taken during a four-day sailing cruise that was one of the highlights of my trip. We left from Fethiye on the Mediterranean coast and “sailed” (with a motor) through the little coves along that part of the coast. The itinerary was not too ambitious: one or two hours of sailing between breakfast and lunch, then another hour or two between lunch and dinner. This was fine with the 18 guests, as when the boat was in motion, we could escape the heat by lying in the shade and enjoying the breeze. Reading and napping were the activities of choice on deck. At the different anchorages, we swam and snorkeled until the bell rang for meals. Each couple had a cabin with its own head. And the captain was an excellent cook – we enjoyed our best meals of the trip on board.

Here is a photo of the deck just after sunrise – most of the guests slept outside.

For an idea of what the boat looked like, here is a photo of similar boat at one of our anchorages:

Days included multiple naps, so I had no difficulty waking every morning to shoot sunrise photos from the deck. Although the options are limited because of the expanse of water that separated me from everything, one new photographic effect amused me on those mornings. During long exposures, the slight rocking of the boat would jostle the horizon, while the deck of the boat remained in sharp focus, creating a unique blur. Here is an example:

At most stops the crew organised a short walk from the beach to the surrounding hills. My four ladies preferred the shade on deck to walking in the heat of the day – at 35+ degrees they were probably the smart ones. But the walks added some variety and activity to the day for me, and I enjoyed chatting with the other cruisers. Here is a panorama I created from three photos taken on a cliff above one of our anchorages – click it for a larger image.

Since the Mediterranean coast of Turkey is very popular, especially during the summer, we tried to avoid the crowds and noise of the main beach and party destinations, which led us to the town of Datca. It was still busy with tourists, but they seemed to be mostly Turks, and the seaside remained relatively quiet.

For one of our days in Datca, we loaded the girls up with motion sickness pills and drove along the rugged, isolated Datca Peninsula. The road twists and turns above some expansive views and terminates at the ruins of an old Hellenic / Roman settlement on the point called Knidos.

I am rarely enthused by ruins, as the piles of rocks themselves are uninteresting. Moreover, I find the supposed attractions of ruins – a visualisation of history and architecture, for example – are best left to books and the imagination. But the setting at Knidos was beautiful, especially the little lighthouse you can see in the above photo, which sat on the point, beyond the ruins.

The lighthouse had a large Turkish flag painted on its main sea-facing wall.

In Datca, the ladies organised a set of events they called the “Mini Olympics.” These included a Mars bar eating contest, judged by me on criteria such as speed, style and effectiveness. The following photo shows another event – can’t remember the name – in which the ladies lined up all of their toiletries to see who had the longest line, most items and highest total volume. It was absurd but funny. In the end, Orla dominated the day’s events, winning both events in almost every category.

Continuing the theme of low-key destinations, we spent three nights at a great hotel with a pool in Patara. The town is famous for its ruins and its long sand beach. Ironically the two attractions are somewhat in conflict with each other. Because the ancient town was built on the coast, the modern town formed inland, a few kilometres from the beach. Once excavations of the ruins began, they created a historical site and began charging admission. But only one small road goes from modern Patara to the beach, meaning you have to pay admission to the archaeological site to visit the beach. It is inexpensive, but silly nonetheless.

One day I set off from the windy beach on a long, stifling walk up a sand hill that separates the ruins from the beach. For my troubles, I earned a scorching sunburn on my left arm – the sun was low in the evening sky – and this photo, which looks inland over the ruins toward the modern town.

Our hotel offered a quirky bonus: free tractor rides to the beach.

Here is a photo of the beach from the headland at one end. The beach is advertised as being 18km in length, and the only development is the small cluster of buildings and umbrellas that are just visible in the middle of the photo.

On one of our days in Patara, we joined a tour organised by the hotel owner Mufazzer of a few tourist attractions in the area. The day was hot, the sites crowded with tourists, but Mufazzer was an engaging guide. Ironically the most overrun tourist destination of the day, the narrow Saklikent Gorge, yielded my favourite photo of the day:

From Patara we travelled to Antalya, our last destination on the southern coast before flying to Istanbul. Antalya is apparently Turkey’s third largest city, a surprising fact because tourism seems to be the only industry. Despite all of the tourists, it has a pleasant old city and an atmospheric harbour.

During our stay, Antalya was stiflingly hot. Elsewhere on the coast we had enjoyed slightly cooler temperatures and a steady breeze; in Antalya it was 38-40 degrees and still. It was a destination in which we could choose one outdoor activity per day, with the remaining hours spent cooling off in air conditioning or our hotel pool. Although I am picky about museums, Antalya has a good one, if not only for the fact that we could wander around its many exhibits in heavenly air conditioning.

From Antalya we flew to Istanbul for our last four nights in Turkey. We had also spent three nights there at the beginning, but even seven-eight days is only enough to scratch the surface of this amazing city. It quickly established itself as one of my favourite world cities. For one thing, its historical importance is immediately visible in its geography: its control of the Bosporus waterway that separates Europe from Asia; its perfect natural harbour – the Golden Horn; and the hilltops on which its different districts are built.

For another, Istanbul’s situation as a crossroads between Europe and Asia is visible not only in its physical geography, but also in its cultural geography. As with other Muslim cities, mosques are the dominant monuments on Istanbul’s skyline. But the style of Istanbul’s mosques have unmistakeable Byzantine influences, creating its paradoxical combination of wide, cautious domes surrounded by slender, indifferent minarets.

During our stays at the beginning and end of our trip, we rented an excellent apartment near the Galata Tower, on the hill of the Beyoglu district that sits across the Golden Horn from the historic Sultanahmet district. Our apartment building had a rooftop terrace, which gave and excellent panorama of the European side of the city. Here is a photo of the view from the roof at night, looking across the Golden Horn to the Haghia Sofia (left) and the Blue Mosque (right) in the Sultanahmet district.

The Beyoglu district itself is fantastic. The Sultanahmet district feels almost entirely given over to tourism, so restaurants seem overpriced and of mediocre quality and every second shop sells cheap souvenirs. By contrast, although Beyoglu receives its share of tourists, the restaurants and cafés still seem to cater mainly to Turks and thus it has a lived-in, trendy feel. Here is a photo of the central Galata Tower and its square – 100m from our apartment – still buzzing at 1am on a Sunday night.

Although the Sultanahmet is touristy, it was easy to tolerate the crowds to see the two amazing central monuments: the Haghia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. The former is now a museum; the latter remains a working mosque. Both have long queues to enter.

Across the road from the Haghia Sofia is the underground Basilica Cistern, which was built during the Byzantine era to supply the palace with water. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. First, it is probably the only cistern I have visited, so it was distinct from the many mosques, churches and castles that blur together in the average traveller’s memory. Second, it was cool and quiet on a hot, busy summer day in downtown Istanbul.

The operators of the Cistern have left a metre of water or so and built a raised ramp through the forest of columns that support the ceiling. One surprising aspect was the obvious effort expended on the aesthetic carving of the columns and ceilings that were to be flooded with water. Another surprise were the giant fish swimming in the remaining water – presumably they were introduced to keep the algae and insects in check, but now you could hold quite an underground fishing derby down there!

Another pleasant surprise was the Suleymaniye Mosque on one of the higher hills above Sultanahmet. The humbly named sultan Suleyman the Magnificent had the mosque built in his name as an Ottoman monument to outshine the Byzantine Haghia Sofia. His extensive tomb is also on the grounds. I do not know how the mosque rates in the order of importance of the city’s grand mosques, but I much preferred it to the Blue Mosque. It is smaller and much less busy. Here is a photo of the few visitors when I was there, in contrast to the thousands of visitors I encountered at the Blue Mosque.

The Suleymaniye was also brighter and breezier than the Blue Mosque. In general I prefer mosques to churches because they seem to incorporate light and space better, and the Suleymaniye was an excellent example. They achieve this with obvious features you can see in the above photo such as more windows and lighter colours and tones.

I find two other features contribute to the sense of space in mosques: 1) Islam forbids the representation (idolatry) of human beings and other creatures, so the design of mosques does not have the reductionist focus that churches do on altars and icons displaying depressing images of the crucifixion or sombre saints and 2) instead of idols, Islamic decoration features passages from the Quran in Arabic script, which, for a non-Arabic speaker like me, is elegant and pleasing without commanding attention.

A final cultural treat before we left was the beginning of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, during which devout Muslims forsake food, drink, cigarettes and sex during daylight hours. I have travelled during Ramadan in other Muslim cities, and it can be a drag, as business hours are spotty and fasting Muslims can be understandably crabby. But Istanbul is enough of a cosmopolitan city that we felt no effects of Ramadan during the day, and then could enjoy observing the locals breaking their fast after sundown (for three of the proscribed indulgences, at least).

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Istanbul. For Dani, Daphne and Orla, it will be a long trip to visit again. But it is only a three-hour flight for Eileen and me from Geneva, so I am keen to return for a long weekend. To finish, here is a photo of Dani, Eileen and Orla (Daphne had to fly home early) enjoying the atmosphere of a Ramadan evening in front of the Blue Mosque.


Written by Kris Terauds

September 24, 2011 at 14:35

2 Responses

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  1. Wow! Sounds amazing and the pictures are gorgeous. Jealous.


    September 26, 2011 at 02:37

  2. Caption for the 5 wheels pic: Mt. Krishmore , big head sandwich, 4 rivers and one paddle , 4 reasons to pack earplugs, (how many words are women meant to use in a day? Lets say 5000) 20000 wpd/2ears = headache (i mean that in the best way ladies), if you sleep for 9 hours that leaves 15 hrs, thats 1333 words per hour. or 22.222 words each minute which means if a word takes 2 seconds to say a breath here and there, that means on average there wasnt a second of peace and quiet for your entire trip! Yikes introvert!


    October 30, 2011 at 10:08

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