The boys had a week off for fall break recently so we headed to Turkey, spending the first few days in Istanbul before roaming around western Turkey. Istanbul is a magnificent, hip city. More than one friend has described it as their favorite city in the world. It is an unlikely but perfect blend of the old and the new, the east and the west, of contrasting cultures, with a sense of energy and innovation that rivals the days of Süleyman the Magnificent.
Though stuck in a tiny hostel room in the tourist ghetto of Sultanahmet on the European side where the call to prayer resonated loud and clear, we spent most of our time out on the streets exploring. Once out on a ferry motoring up the Golden Horn, we could take in the entire stunning skyline, rising from the Sea of Marmara, a jumble of Ottoman mosque domes and minarets in every direction. Back at street level we entered the cavernous interior of the Blue Mosque covered with tens of thousands of blue tiles. Its courtyard is the largest of all the Ottoman mosques and its six minarets equal to Mecca. Since the mid-fifteenth century, the Grand Bazaar, an enchanting covered warren with dozens of streets and hundreds of shops, has been a shopper’s Mecca. Though its main thoroughfares displayed plenty of designer knockoffs and tourist kitsch, the back alleyways overflowed with beautiful Turkish carpets, glazed tiles and pottery, copper and brassware, gold jewelry and the ever present evil eye. Jake was in heaven and would have wandered the streets for hours while Terry planted himself at a corner cafe and sipped Turkish coffee. Under the street level we walked around a 2000 year old Roman Cistern. By evening, we were ready to return to our tourist ghetto and choose a restaurant where we could lounge on pillows and Turkish carpets, play backgammon and savor the delicious Turkish cuisine.
The rest of the week we spent in Kusadasi, a small port city on the western Aegean. From there we visited Ephesus, an 1800 year old great trading city, once the provincial capital of the eastern Roman Empire and Hierapolis, another site of sophisticated Roman development, this a healing center with spring waters that formed beautiful travertine pools, called Pamukkale (cotton castle) along the hillside on which it sat. We also ferried to the Greek Island of Samos, just 2 hours from the Turkish coast for a day. Though empty and quiet, we were enchanted with Samos, its neat and tidy waterfront villages, the blue trim of the houses matching perfectly the blue of the Aegean waters, the slow pace of life. At the end of our idyllic afternoon, I discovered that I had lost my wallet at some point during the day. The island had been so empty we thought it impossible that someone could have pick pocketed me. On a whim, I mentioned it to the conductor on the island bus and he confirmed that yes they had found a wallet and he was sure it was mine. But the wallet was on another bus, currently on the far side of the island and not scheduled to arrive in Samos until after our ferry departed for Turkey. At which point, Graham valiantly volunteered to stay another day with Terry, in order to retrieve the wallet from the bus. Thus Jake and I caught our ferry back to Turkey and left the two of them, stranded on a Greek Island for another day.