Monthly Archives: July 2016

Exploring Turkey – Part Two

President Erdogan

Since I last wrote about Turkey in an earlier blog, on Friday, July 15, a failed military coup tried to take over the country. It was not well organized and the coup was quickly put down. Elected to office three times, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is popular with his constituents as shown when he went on social media and called for citizens to take to the streets to stop militia involved in the coup. The failed coup, however, has had major repercussions for those considered disloyal to Erdogan.

Since the coup, the government has rounded up thousands of suspected military and judiciary officials including generals and other high-ranking officers. This week, Erdogan cracked down on numerous educators and media outlets, an upsetting turn for people who view these actions as extreme. Some feel Erdogan is taking the coup as an opportunity to purge those viewed as disloyal to the government.Turkey

With all that has happened, Turkey may appear to be just another unstable country in the powder keg area known as the Middle East. At the same time, it is important to note, since 1925 Turkey has had a secular government. While Erdogan’s government has a record of tight controls over the media, Turkey has had strong political parties. Also, Turkey has a thriving middle class blending Eastern and Western cultures just as the Bosphorus blends the European and Asian sides of Istanbul.

As I wrote in my earlier blog on Turkey, we visited the country in May 2011. The Arab Spring had begun in the Middle East in 2010 with positive, social media buzz and high hopes for greater democracy throughout the region.  Al Qaeda’s role had been reduced in Iraq and Afghanistan and we had not yet learned of the terrorist group known as the Islamic State.

When we visited, we had no idea of the tragic events about to explode in that part of the Middle East. Two significant events occurred while we were in Turkey: the U.S. took out Osama bin Laden and civil war in neighboring Syria was heating up.

Iman prayed in our honor*

Iman prayed in our honor*

When we awoke on May 2, 2011, we found out bin Laden had been killed at his Pakistani compound by U.S. Navy Seals. I was concerned about the reaction Turks would have to us as Americans. When I asked our guide, Ersin, about this, he said people feared bin Laden and wanted the terrorist dead. That afternoon, while visiting a small mosque, Ersin introduced us to the Iman who asked if he could recite a prayer of peace in our honor.  As the Iman’s tenor voice soared through the mosque we stood with tears in our eyes.

We took photo with master ceramicist, Galip and our new single-fired piece of colorful tulips.

We took photo with master ceramicist, Galip and our new single-fired piece of colorful tulips.

Less dramatic, was a visit to a ceramic shop in Cappadocia owned by Galip, a master ceramicist. Galip sat at his potter’s wheel with a lump of clay and as we watched, molded it into a delicate tea pot. We then toured his shop and saw how his staff hand painted pottery pieces.  We couldn’t resist. We took home one of Galip’s beautiful art pieces, a single-fired, double-sized tile decorated with multiple small blue tulips and one large red tulip.

Women at looms weaving rugs

Women at looms weaving rugs

Another interesting stop was at a rug factory where we saw young women at looms weaving beautiful rugs. After being trained in the art of rug weaving, these women can go home to continue weaving and selling hand-made rugs. We also toured the rug factory and saw how silk worm cocoons are spun into thread, then dipped into colorful dyes and dried before being used to make colorful rugs.

One of our most fascinating experiences in Turkey was seeing the Whirling Dervishes perform their religious dance honoring God.

The Whirling Dervishes

The Whirling Dervishes

It is performed by men wearing long white skirts and tall colorful hats. First, musicians begin playing slow, somber tones as the Dervishes start whirling slowly in a circle with their arms wide open. As the music grows faster and more enthusiastic, the whirling increases with the men dancing trance-like and turning ever faster with right hands reaching toward the sky and left turned down to the earth.

This ancient ritual dates back to the 13th century when a Persian poet, Rumi, founded the Mevlevi Order of Dervishes. It was practiced continually until 1925 when Turkey’s new Republic banned the order as it worked to secularize the nation.

The ban was partially lifted in 1953 and the Dervishes now are allowed to perform their ritualist dance. We saw the Dervishes perform in Konya at the Saruhan Caravanserai, meaning caravan palaces. Constructed in 1249, the building was a popular stop on the Silk Road and has been restored as the Mevlana Museum.

Our next stop was two-nights in Antalya, a coastal Mediterranean resort town. With time off in this lovely walking city, our group was happy not to have formal tours scheduled. We were all operating on information overload. We’d had full days touring Istanbul, three busy days in Cappadocia and an overnight stay at the home of a conservative Sunni family on our drive to the coast. We were ready to slow down, poke in and out of shops, have lazy lunches and delicious dinners and relax pool side at our hotel.

Sailing on two-masted wooden gulet up the coast

Sailing on two-masted wooden gulet up the coast

While in Turkey, we toured by plane, bus, van, taxi, ship and powerboat. We decided not to take the hot air balloon tour over the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia. Too expensive.

We set sail from the port in Antalya on a beautiful gulet, a two-masted wooden sailing vessel. For three days we sailed up the Mediterranean coast to the Aegean Sea in a beautiful mahogany schooner. The gulet had eight staterooms and the captain’s quarters to house a three-man crew, our group of twelve and Ersin. It meant the crew had to bunk in the galley.

Our first port of call was Dalyan, a coastal town that includes a famous breeding ground, Iztuzu Beach, for the internationally endangered loggerhead sea turtles.  A guide took us by powerboat to the beach and we learned more about what is being done to protect the turtles.

The guide then took us up the River Dalyan to see the Lycian tombs carved in the river’s sheer cliffs.

 Lycian tombs carved in cliffs circa 400 BC

Lycian tombs carved in cliffs circa 400 BC

The weathered façades were cut from rock dating back to 400 BC. The ancient Lycians believed the dead were carried to the afterlife by magical-winged creatures. The Lycians carved tombs in the cliff’s face to place their honored dead in geographically high places and assist them on their journey.

That evening we dropped anchor in clear blue water known as Cleopatra’s Bath Cove containing Roman ruins supposedly used by Cleopatra in an area given to her as a wedding gift by Marc Anthony.

Cleopatra's Bath

Cleopatra’s Bath

I’ve read her bath was warmed with hot water drawn from a nearby crater lake. So with the bay’s interesting background, we couldn’t resist taking a quick swim even though the water was quite cold.

Our gulet sail ended at a resort town, the Port of Kuşadası, on Turkey’s Aegean coast.  From there we took a van for the one hour drive inland to Ephesus, an important port city in days of old, reported to have had a population in the hundreds of thousands.

Massive Amphitheater in Ephesus

Massive Amphitheater in Ephesus

Entering Ephesus, we saw terra cotta pipes of varying sizes carefully stacked on the ground. We learned the pipes were part of the Roman aqueducts used to bring fresh water to the city.  Our first stop in the ancient city was at the amphitheater built in the first century AD.  With a one-time capacity of 25,000, we imagined events and performances staged there so many centuries ago and still used today in a festival held each May.

We walked the ancient cobble stone pathways and marble roadways of this Greco-Roman ruin. We stopped by the two agoras or public squares: one for commerce and the other for official business. Ephesus is one of the world’s best-preserved sites and continues as an active archeological site.

Library of Celsus’ restored façade

Library of Celsus’ restored façade

One of the best known buildings in Ephesus is the Library of Celsus, an ancient Roman building completed in 135 AD honoring a Roman Senator, Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus. Built by Celsus’ son, the library stored 12,000 scrolls and served as Celsus’ mausoleum with his burial in a crypt beneath the library.

An earthquake in 262 AD destroyed the library’s interior with only the library’s outer façade left standing. It, too, was destroyed by an earthquake in the tenth or eleventh century AD. The library remained in ruins until the 1970s when archaeologists re-erected the outer façade shown in photo.

As I conclude this blog, I think back on our trip to Turkey with its well-preserved past dating back 12,000 years in a land formerly known as Asia Minor. It was interesting and awe-inspiring to bear witness to this ancient past. It is unfortunate people no longer feel safe to visit this exciting and enjoyable country. Also, after visiting neighboring Turkey, it makes me both angry and sad to know ISIS has intentionally destroyed so many of ancient Persia’s historical sites, today known as Syria.

*Photos by Phyllis Bonfield

The Takeaway: Our tour of Turkey had everything. We saw beautiful structures that amazed in Istanbul and magical sites in Cappadocia. We experienced man’s kind humanity when an Iman said a prayer of peace in our honor and we had exciting adventures sailing on a gulet. We experienced man’s ingenuity in Ephesus and its highly-developed civilization thousands of years old. What interesting experiences have you had while traveling in foreign lands that may be pertinent to events occurring today? Share and let’s learn from each other. Include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

Exploring Turkey – Part One

We were sickened to learn of yet another mass terrorist attack – this time at Turkey’s Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. It took us back five years to when we visited Turkey, the land where East met West at the Straits of Bosphorus on the Silk Road.

We were in Turkey in May 2011 when the U.S. took out Osama bin Laden. (More about that experience in my next blog.) It was also the month civil war broke out in neighboring Syria. The Turks, who since 1923 have had a secular parliamentary government, felt the unrest in Syria, under the rule of the Ba’ath Party with the al-Assad regime, would be quickly crushed.

TurkeyThe Arab Spring began in 2010 with joy and social media buzz – the year before we went to Turkey. Shortly after our trip, those early joyous calls for greater democracy in Arab League countries turned to dismay. By 2014, upheaval had led to bloodshed as the Islamic State gained control over territory in Syria and Iraq. Today refugees by the millions flee war-torn countries and the world grapples with forced migration.

When we visited Turkey, this tragic scenario was unforeseen. We spend three days in Istanbul, then traveled to an enchanting area known as Cappadocia before driving south to the beautiful coastal resort town of Antalya. Our trip took us on a two-masted wooden sailing ship called a gulet for three nights.  It was most appropriate for visiting Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, a wedding present to Cleopatra from Mark Anthony. Our final destination was the ancient town of Ephesus on the Aegean Sea.

We went to Turkey on a small group tour organized by Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT). The trip began at the same airport where the recent tragedy occurred. Turkey and was our first experience in a country where Islam is the major religion with the call to prayer ringing out five times a day.

IstanbulWe stayed at a small hotel on the edge Istanbul’ Old City, a walled area basically Constantinople in days of old. While we took buses to major tourist sites, we could have walked to many of them.  One outing was by boat, a cruise on the Bosphorus, the world’s narrowest, natural strait. This busy passage is used for international navigation that divides Istanbul into two sides: one is European and the other Asian. As the continental border between Europe and Asia, the Bosphorus connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara — and by extension via the Dardanelles, to the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean.

A must see is Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar Market, truly grand in scale and a place one could easily get lost, as I did, several times.

The Spice Bazaar Market

The Spice Bazaar Market*

It’s one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world with 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops.  Personally, I found the Spice Bazaar more to my liking with only 85 shops selling mounds of spices in every color and description, Turkish delights, other sweets, dried fruits and nuts, plus a smattering of jewelry and souvenir shops sprinkled in.

Tulips were in their full radiant bloom

Tulips were in their full radiant bloom


A surprise on our arrival was the many gorgeous tulips.  We were told tulips are Turkey’s national flower.

Native to Turkey, tulips were exported to Holland!

Must on any tourists’ itinerary is Istanbul’s big three sites: the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace, all located in the Old City.

Completed in 537 AD, the Hagia Sofia is a structural marvel with its massive dome. Modern engineers continue to study this dome to learn how it has survived earthquakes and the ravages of time.

Huge Dome of the Hagia Sofia

Huge Dome of the Hagia Sofia

Built as a Greek Orthodox cathedral, the Hagia Sofia was the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople. During the Fourth Crusades in the early 13th century, Constantinople was overran and the Hagia Sofia became a Roman Catholic cathedral. When the Turks conquered the city in 1453, the Hagia Sofia was converted to a mosque which it remained until 1935. The founder of the Republic of Turkey and its first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, transformed the Hagia Sofia into a museum.

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or Blue Mosque as it is better known, was built in the early 1600’s. The magnificent primarily hand-painted blue tiles adorn the mosque’s interior walls, thus the name Blue Mosque.

Blue Mosque is beautifully lit at night

Blue Mosque is beautifully lit at night

At night the mosque is bathed in lights framing the five main domes, six minarets and eight secondary domes.  When we visited, men were coming in for mid-day prayer. As we watched, they quietly walked to the front of the massive prayer hall, kneeled on the lush red carpet and prayed.

The Topkapi Palace was the home of Ottoman Empire sultans from the 15th century to the 19th century. Overlooking the Bosphorus, the palace is safely cloistered behind high thick walls with watch towers. It is a vast complex with spectacular Islamic art and intricate hand-painted tilework linking courtyards with beautiful decorative rooms.

Topkapi Palace grounds

Topkapi Palace grounds

The palace included the Imperial Council Chamber with adjacent private rooms and special one-way viewing for the sultan’s private use as well as rooms for the sultan’s large harem. It also housed the Imperial Treasury with its dazzling gold objects and many precious jewels.

Upon leaving Istanbul, we flew to Kayseri in central Anatolia and were met by a chartered van for the rest of trip to Turkey’s coast. Our first stop in Cappadocia was Goreme National Park, a World Heritage site, well known for its unique geological landscape. Called fairy chimneys, they are large cone-shaped rocks formed when ancient volcanoes left thick ash which hardened into soft rock. Over time, wind and rain eroded these massive rocks leaving fairy tale vistas of cones, pillars, mushrooms and chimneys.

Ancient cultures living in Cappadocia left their mark as well. Digging into the soft rocks, these ancient people built dwellings, castles, worship areas, storehouses and even stables for animals.  

Cappadocia - a land of fairy chimneys

Cappadocia – a land of fairy chimneys

This large area is now a vast network of tunnels built in honeycombs forming entire towns, some with as many as eight levels going underground.

With erosion once again threatening Cappadocia, preservation efforts were underway when we were there in 2011. The increased tourism meant more modern development including hotels and restaurants built into the rock.

With the current unrest in the Middle East, I fear what has become of the growing tourist trade, the thriving pottery and rug- making cottage industries and the enjoyable people we met while visiting Cappadocia.

In my next blog, I will discuss watching a master potter at work, visiting a rug-making factory, seeing the famous Whirling Dervishes, meeting a sensitive Iman on the day bin Laden was killed, visiting Turkey’s beautiful coastal resort and touring the Turquoise Coast on a lovely wooden boat, a gulet.

*Photos by Marcia Seifert

The Takeaway: Going to Turkey was an amazing adventure from visiting a land of the Islamic faith as it is intended to be, one that preaches peace and kindness, to ancient sites that bear witness to a highly-developed civilization thousands of years old. What interesting adventures have you had while traveling to a foreign land? Share and let’s learn from each other. Include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]