Mosaic sidewalks

Laying a mosaic is not cheap. If you wanted a mosaic made today then you would have to pay enormously for the time that it takes skilled artists to create one. The labour-intensive art of mosaics would have taken the work of many slaves in Roman times. So it is a bit of a shock to find a long stretch of sidewalk on the street of Curetes in Ephesus which is covered in mosaics.

The road was open to chariots until the 4th century CE. So, if this is indeed a sidewalk, then the mosaics date from before that. They are not as elaborate as ones found in patrician houses. There are simple repeating motifs of flowers and leaves with scroll work around it. The sheer size of it is stunning, and it does speak of great wealth in terms of skilled man-hours. Even without the evidence of the buildings in this area, the sidewalk is a good reason to believe that this part of the city was where rich families lived. Was this the work of one public spirited family, or commissioned by the Boule, the governing council? I couldn’t find an answer.

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On the streets of Kusadasi

After a big iftari dinner in Kusadasi we decided to take a walk through the streets. Most shops had closed; their staff were off for their own iftari dinners. If it wasn’t for that, I would never have noticed this vibrant piece of art on the rolling shutter of a shop. My feelings about Kusadasi could not remain the same after this.

Kusadasi is a big town, but it is on the tourist circuit because cruise ships which come through the Greek archipelago stop here. In our three nights in Kusadasi we saw two such ships come in and leave. There is a wonderful promenade on the sea along Atatürk Bulvari, reminiscent of seaside walks on the Cote d’Azur. Behind it is a warren of streets with cheap shopping. Later, while chatting with the concierge at our hotel I would discover that British, Chinese, Russians and Indians are deemed to be the most frequent visitors. That is a mixture you wouldn’t find in most tourist destinations.

After that wonderfully wacky shutter decoration I wasn’t surprised by other business establishments. This one was shut, but the door was clearly made up to look like a cave. Roma hamami! Was this one of the Turkish hamams? There were several more hamams along the road, so it would well be one.

Further on I was reassured to find the usual internationally recognizable street art. It had an innocuous message in English. Either the youth here is not disaffected, or they get very pleasant tourists with time on their hands.

Off in a side street we came across a travel agency which advertised itself with these folksy paintings on its wall. One of them showed an embroidered head dress. Could it be traditional? It showed too much hair for a traditional Islamic woman’s headgear. But then, the Ottoman empire included Greek, Bulgarian, Albanian, Egyptian, Arab, and Irani people. The traditional Ottoman headgear could have come from anywhere in the Balkans, central Asia, or the middle east.

No conversation in Turkey is complete without çay. I saw a taxi business open late at night, with two on-call drivers whiling away their time in conversation, with cups of çay. They smiled and waved as I took their photo. Kusadasi is a base from which one can explore the major Aegean ports of antiquity: Ephesus, Priene, Miletus. We had hired a car for this leg of our trip, but if we hadn’t, then tour buses and taxis were not hard to get.

Scholastic socialization

We took a little zag off Curetes street in the ruined city of Ephesus and suddenly we were in a little maze of paths which were part of a public bath from the 4th century CE. Right next to the entrance, in a niche by itself is the headless statue (featured photo) of the person who’s said to have refurbished this old 1st century CE building into a bath: a lady called Scholastica. We wandered through the changing room (the apodyterium), the unheated room (frigidarium), the warm room (tepidarium), glanced at the pool and the hot room (caldarium).

The Family and I suddenly realized that this was a Turkish Hamam from a time before there was Turkey. The chattering classes of Ephesus would arrive, along with their attendants, and proceed to be massaged and bathed as they socialized. Must have been quite a nice investment for Scholastica. This structure was discovered in a dig in 1926. I found a little hole in the floor through which one could see part of the earthen pipes through which steam circulated. Did men and women bathe together? A long article that I found presents evidence for and against. It is interesting to read this article along with one on sexual relations during the Roman empire.

A Turkish Iftari dinner

When I discovered that our holiday in Turkey spilled into the month of Ramazan, I was very happy. Each ethnicity of muslims have their own special food at Ramazan, and I was eager to discover Turkey’s. On the first night of the month we were in Kusadasi. Walking along the sea front, looking for a place for dinner we came across a lively and pleasant restaurant. We later realized that it was part of a big Turkish chain.

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The menu advertised an Iftari dinner. Could I do justice to it? Travel is always an adventure, and you have to jump in. It was the first of Ramazan too. I ordered my three course meal. It came with a glass of the thick buttermilk which is called ayran in Turkey. The first dish was the usual platter which breaks a fast. There’s always a date, some nuts and more dried fruit, olives, some fresh vegetables. I was disappointed that the platter did not have any cheese; I’d begun to expect a Kashar (cow’s milk cheese) or Tulum (goat’s milk cheese) on every meze platter.

A little break, and then the çorba arrived. It was a tomato soup, served with croutons and grated Kashar. There was a long break before the main plate arrived, giving me enough time to regret ordering such a large meal. The main plate was a tremendous serving of kababs over a lavaş (pronounced lavash, meaning a nan). I would become very fond of the seared vegetables that accompany a kabab in Turkey. There is also always a serving of chopped garden salad on the plate with it.

When I eventuially finished the meal, I realized that it was difficult to work your way through a meal like this unless you had fasted during the day. The çay was needed at the end of such a meal.

Goodbye to Cappadocia

At first sight Göreme was charming. The village emerged from caves carved into cliff-sides, fairy chimneys dotted about the town! After spending a few days in Cappadocia, I thought it wasn’t nearly as lovely as I’d first thought. The town was a typical tourist hub, full of cheap things, lots of hotels and tour agencies. But then on my last evening I was charmed again by the cars I saw while walking around town.

The parked one was a beauty. But earlier in the evening, while searching for a place where could taste the Cappadocia wines, we’d come across another beauty. A 1953 Studebaker Starlight coupe? Not quite that classic, but a beauty nevertheless. I passed another classic convertible. I may sometimes miss a car, but a convertible makes The Family stop and look every time. This was no exception. I also admired the look of the Göreme Cafe; there was not a single person there below the age of seventy. This wasn’t the place we were looking for.

Later, after a tasting a couple of wines we walked back to our hotel. Most shops had closed. We passed one of the many carpet shops in the town, just as it was about to shut. The next day would be the beginning of the month of Ramazan, a time when nights become more lively. Very early the next morning I heard drums on the road announcing the approach of sunrise. This is an old Turkish custom, warning people during Ramazan that they have to finish their pre-dawn breakfast, Sehri, before the sun rises.

I could get another hour of sleep before leaving to catch our flight on to Izmir and the Aegean coast. I caught a breakfast at a small kiosk (a word which changed meaning as it came into English from Turkish through French) at the airport. After choosing a freshly pressed orange juice, a coffee, and a fresh-baked pretzel I stepped back to take a photo. The shop had everything that a traveler might need: food, souvenirs, even some luggage. I clicked a photo of a charming piece of luggage elsewhere in the airport and sent it to the Youngest Niece. Her instant response, “Cute!” She’s at the age when this word is over-used.

Derinkuyu overground

The village of Derinkuyu seemed a little schizophrenic. On the one hand there was the ancient underground city, and on the other the Greek orthodox church, both abandoned in the 1920s. The underground city is one of the major tourist draws in Cappadocia, but very few walk the few steps to the church. Between the two there seems to be a dividing line which cuts through the village. On the side which contains the entrance to the underground city a market place has come up; there are cafes (featured photo), and even a little hotel.

On the other side the village seems to be crumbling and falling apart. Crumbling, derelict places hold a special fascination for travel bloggers and photographers, it seems. My companion for the hour was a keen photographer, and he turned out to be a blogger as well. We walked towards this other side of the village first. The ignimbrite which has been carved into villages and troglodyte cities for millennia also seems to give blocks of stone to build houses with. Some of it was rough, and not very handsome to begin with.

Other houses had been made with care and love. The relief work in the stone above windows, and the niche, would have been part of the facade of a beautiful house once upon a time. Now it looked like an abandoned mess. A hole had been bashed into one of the stone block, probably to provide an opening for a pipe. And now the whole frontage had begin to crack.

I zoomed back a bit to take a photo of the surroundings. You can see two houses, standing side by side, each of which would have looked pretty once upon a time. Both households would have had some pride in living so close to the town’s church. Now the wall of the lower floor is crumbling. A hole gapes in one of the walls; perhaps a door frame and lintel have been removed. The facades are cracked and sagging, and will not last much longer.

Round the corner, and right outside the church I saw this small house. It hadn’t started crumbling yet. Still there were signs scrawled over it: Satilik (meaning “for sale”) and Satilik Ev (Turkish for “house for sale”). What happened to this side of the town? The Greeks who lived here left a century ago, why have the houses been put up for sale now?

The other side of the village doesn’t look rich, but at least it is not deserted and crumbling. I saw lines of cafes. Some were closed, but the chairs and the table outside seemed to indicate that the closure was temporary. Later in the day, probably, the cafe would reopen. The dappled sunlight looked cheerful.

Next to it, other cafes did some business. Each of these establishments had one occupied table. An old man sitting alone did not want to appear in the photo, but was not bothered enough by me to either tell me to stop or to walk away. You can see him holding up a napkin to cover his face. People at other tables are not bothered by me. This village sees a lot of tourists, and the locals pay them little heed, unless they are in the tourist trade.

Watching ducks in Ihlara valley

We had a wonderful walk through the Ihlara valley. Confusingly, the river which flows through it is the Melendiz river, and the valley is really named after a nearby town. It was a lovely spring day. The valley was full of families out for a walk. We’d climbed down some steps to look at the murals in the rock-cut church called the Ağaç Altı Kilise before starting on the walk. This is a narrow valley, with the river taking up more than half the width of the valley. Trees straggle down the slopes on either side; we’d passed almond and pistachio trees on the way down. Between the trees and the tall cliffs, the path is well-shaded.

We’d been so busy seeing all the wonderful sights that Cappadocia offers, that we’d not managed to keep much time for simple joys like this. At the end of the trek, we saw a little group of locals who were just chilling. The river bank on our side was too steep to follow their lead and dip our feet into the cold water. The Family had been keeping an informal count of the number of the number of women who cover their heads. Although most Turks are Muslim, the country’s secular constitution has allowed people personal choice in matters of religion. The clearest sign of this is the very large fraction of women who can be seen with their heads uncovered.

Although we couldn’t dip our feet into the water, I could spend some of my time watching ducklings. Elsewhere, we would meet a dedicated group of birders who had seen Dalmatian Pelicans nesting. We had no such luck. But it was pleasant to sit in the cool breeze next to the river and watch the clearest sign of spring: a melee of Mallard ducklings. The adults were in their glossy breeding plumage, but it was the chicks which caught my eye.

The chicks of the Mallard have stripes of black across the eyes, and black on the top of the head and back. I don’t know the identification of this chick. Several of these were mixed in with a bunch of Mallards. Could it be that new hatchlings do not develop black colouration till later? Idle thoughts come to a relaxed and idle mind. That’s a nice state to reach on a holiday.

The first three notes just happen to be…

Göreme. Gö re me fa sol la te. I would have whistled as I walked if I weren’t so tuneless that The Family objects to it. Our first long walk in Cappadocia turned out to be full of wonderful sights. The fairy chimneys that the region is famous for are hollowed out with caves in which people used to live, and apparently still do. Göreme had several such caves still in use. The path was beautiful, full of the wildflowers that you can see in spring, and lots of sparrows and magpies.

The trail is well-marked, and you don’t need to worry about getting lost. We passed a party in progress. We tourists require exoticism, and the party disappointed by being totally ordinary: normal people dressed up for a party, holding glasses of wine in their hands and taking photos of each other. I did a little ambush photography. It had rained in the day, and the sky was full of clouds. But the sunset was glorious, and lit up the landscape like an enchantment.

The Black Sea

We flew in to Istanbul’s new airport around midnight and took a taxi to the Black Sea resort of Kilyos. The flight had been tiring, and we fell asleep immediately. It was only in the morning when we went down for breakfast that we found what a charming village we had chosen to spend the night in.

We’d seen this huge stone tower outside the hotel when we looked out in the morning. At the reception we were told that it was part of a Byzantine “water castle”. Looking at the map, I realized that modern day Kylios lies between Istanbul and the area known today as the Belgrade Forest. This was one of the sources of water for Constantinople. So I guess this immense tower is the remnant of a Byzantine aqueduct.

We walked past it to the village. At a cross roads there was a cluster of shops. A knot of women who’d been chatting in front of the grocery store had begun to melt away by the time The Family and I reached the square. When I took a photo of the store front, only the shopkeeper was in the frame. I liked the wooden upper balcony. It looked like the owner of the shop could have lived in the upper floor.

Across the road was a store with fruits and vegetables on display. In this part of the near-west I didn’t expect to see anything really new. It was mid-spring, and I saw strawberries and apricots on display. Along with those were trays of juicy blackberries. Both The Family and I had grown up eating wild blackberries, usually before they had a chance to ripen. The shopkeeper hurried over to sell us a box of the fruits, dut in Turkish. We munched on them as we walked through the village.

The next store was a kiosk with clothes. Modern shops at the western end of the ancient silk road are not that different from those in Xi’an and Guangzhou, at the eastern end. When you examine the labels on the clothes you find that the silk road has come alive again. It was a little surprise to see the Turkish flag flying in the store. Over the next few days I was to see the Turkish flag prominently displayed in many shops.

The freshness in the air and the warm sunlight made the prospect of sitting at an outdoor cafe very welcome. If we’d not just finished breakfast I wouldn’t have minded sitting down. The Family and I looked at the menu and then disappointed the server by walking on.

We turned a corner and walked down a path which sloped into the sea. A bakery was doing brisk business. We looked at the breads on display. The style of breads here are not very different from those in other near-western countries. The baking seems to be done at a lower temperature than that commonly used in the far west of Europe, so the crust is not as crisp as in France or Germany.

It was too early for restaurants to open. Kilyos seemed like a town which is open late at nights, and, as we found elsewhere in Turkey, such places wake slowly. This restaurant seemed to have its menu properly set out in the mural beneath large picture windows. Street art can be so useful! We walked past this menued wall towards the sea and got the featured photo. Small waves lapped the shore; there seemed to be a sandy beach a little way off on one side. The water seemed clean in spite of a nearby shipping lane.

Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to sit around and enjoy the perfect weather and the crystal water. We had to catch a flight out to Cappadcia soon. We turned to go. On the way we passed through an open cafe, and I paused to look at their selection of beers. There were a lot of internationally well-known brands, but one shelf held the local beers. I would get to taste several varieties of Efes during the trip. I didn’t see Bomonti again, and if I have to believe the average reviews, it was no great loss.

As we walked back to our hotel, a Black Sea cat crossed our path. It ran across the path, climbed part of the way up a staircase and glared at me as I paused to take a photo. This was a good sign, the first of the feral cats of Turkey. When we passed it ran back across the street. It had come out only to look at us!

The High Life

As a tourist, the Himalayas are wonderful. The lower hills have comfortable hotels and good food. In the high Himalayas a few days of discomfort, lack of hot water and unheated rooms, are outweighed by the beauty of the surroundings. The locals have to live through this all their lives, and for them it is a different matter. Chopta, in Uttarakhand, is at an altitude of over 2.6 Kilometers. The extensive meadows attract shepherds in summer. But the winters are so harsh that they have to move down to other villages nearby. A lifestyle like this can be seen across the Himalayas. If the shepherds have been using dogs all this time then I hadn’t noticed them. I did a double take when I saw one in the photo that The Family took.

In a lower village she took this photo of women’s work. The amount of work done by human muscles when machinery can easily be used instead is amazing. The burden on the backs of each of the women is clearly at the limit of what they can carry. I wonder whether they are carrying these leaves for their own use. If they are, then they do not have access to motorized vehicles like the one they are passing. The Family and I have a romantic dream of retiring to the mountains, but life at these heights is far from easy, and the dream does not survive the first light of rational planning.