Holiday 2012: Bozcaada

Well, after interesting and enjoyable experiences in Troy and Çanakkale, it was time for the pièce de résistance, the destination around which we planned the rest of the holiday: Bozcaada!

This lovely island is the third largest of Turkey’s islands and is located in the Aegean Sea not far from Çanakkale. As with ever place in Turkey, it has a long and diverse past. The island is mentioned in the Iliad by its Greek name Tenedos, and it is mentioned in the Aeneid as well, in the famous episode with the Trojan horse. The Greeks all left Troy in their ships and hid on the far side of Bozcaada so that the Trojans would think they’d left for good and sailed home. The wooden horse was left behind by the Greeks under the guise of being an offering to Poseidon, god of the sea, in order to gain safe passage home. Then, as just about everyone knows, the Trojans took the horse into their city and when everyone fell asleep, out popped the Greeks and that was the end for the Trojans!

The island came under the control of many different powers, including the Persian Empire, the Delian League, Alexander the Great, the Roman and Byzantine Empires, the Republic of Venice, and then eventually, the Ottoman Empire. Now of course, it is part of Turkey, although the island traditionally had a large Greek population which has dwindled over the years.

Nowadays, Bozcaada is a popular holiday getaway for people escaping from Istanbul for some sun and sea. Unlike other sun holiday locations we’ve visited in Turkey, the vast majority of visitors were Turks, and their weren’t many foreigners at all. We stayed in the main village in a lovely hotel just about 10 minutes walk from the ferry port.

Our hotel room was wonderful, with dark hardwood floors, simple decor and an amazing view of the village and the sea. We could see the island’s castle, and view of the whitewash of the houses, the red-tiled roofs and the sparkling blue sea was truly picturesque. Our hotel had a nice garden/courtyard area where we had our breakfast each morning with lovely fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, pastries, olives, about ten kinds of fruit jam, and a selection of the absolutely delicious Turkish cheeses! We enjoyed strolling around the cobbled streets of the village, ate some delicious seafood in a couple of the local restaurants and had tea under a giant leafy tree in the middle of the village. Bozcaada is famous for its wines, so we had a few glasses throughout our stay, although with Liam we didn’t sample quite as many as we might have otherwise!

One night we shared a wild sea bream in a restaurant right on the marina. When you arrive at the restaurant you can pick out the fish you want from a refrigerated display case. A student of Richie’s had recommended having sea bream on Bozcaada, but I wanted to try something new. However, when we asked about the prices, the fish I wanted to try was nearly 100TL, but the wild sea bream was ‘only’ 50TL. I had a change of heart and decided to trust the recommendation Richie had got! The fish was gorgeous, and I always love the simplicity of the way it’s prepared and served in Turkey; grilled whole, served just as it is with a bit of fresh rocket, rings of red onion and a slice of lemon. Nothing to distract from the delicious taste of the fish. It was great and worth the somewhat extravagant price!

Another night we had dinner at a meyhane in the village. We had a very light dinner of fried calamari and a dish with aubergine (eggplant) and garlic. Liam, as he so often does, attracted lots of attention from the staff. In particular, a girl working there, who I guess was probably college-age, had a great time holding and playing with Liam. She then called over one of her workmates, a guy maybe in his mid-twenties. Liam practically dove right at him and for whatever reason, took a real liking to him. The girl was a bit jealous! The guy did have a beard and curly hair, so maybe Liam liked him because of the similar features to Richie. Who knows!? The whims of babies are very mysterious indeed! On a side note, I have to say one thing I love about Turkish people is how much they love children. When we have Liam out and about EVERYONE talks to him and people in general are so kind and playful with babies and children. In shops and restaurants the staff will hold him and take him around the place to show everyone. People you pass on the street always smile and say maşallah to him. And everyone is also so accommodating, even when he makes a mess or cries, or whatever, you never feel unwelcome or like you’re annoying people. It’s such a nice place to be with a small child! But I digress…

So apart from eating and drinking good wine, trips to the beach were the other main events. From the village we took a dolmuş (a minibus) to the nearest beach, maybe a 15 minute drive away. On the way, the dolmuş would pick up people flagging it down from the side of the road, some locals going about their business and some holiday-goers staying in more out-of-the-way places. The roads on the island were pretty quiet, and we enjoyed zipping along past vineyards and fields of sunflowers. The beach itself was lovely as well, the sandy shore covered with beach chairs and sun umbrellas. The water was such a lovely blue, it was just gorgeous.

Now, I had been warned by many Turkish people that the waters of Bozcaada are very cold, but having swum in the Atlantic and Irish Sea, I wasn’t too concerned. It certainly was noticeably colder than the water nearby at Eceabat and other places I’ve swum in the Aegean Sea, but not too shocking for all that! What was remarkable was how still the water was. Hardly a ripple in the sea; you could just swim peacefully and watch the small fish swimming around your feet in the crystal clear water. Richie and I took turns swimming and playing with Liam. The sun was so bright and scorching we took extra care to make sure Liam was protected as much as possible and we didn’t stay at the beach too long just to be on the safe side. He had a great time playing in the sand though!

Finally, on our last evening on the island, we took a stroll around the quiet cobbled streets and enjoyed hearing the chatter of old ladies conversing with neighbours from their doorsteps, kids playing football or riding bikes in the narrow streets, the sounds of birds and general feeling of calm and warmth. The houses here are so lovely, just what you’d picture on a Greek island, white with blue shutters and red-tiled roofs, and a Greek church too, with its bell tower and cross in contrast to the now-normal sight of mosques and minarets.

So, to sum it all up, the place was gorgeous and I wish we could have stayed longer! And once again, Sea, thank you for the lovely time and the great memories. We shall meet again!

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Better late than never: Holiday 2012 visit to Troy…

Well, it’s been months since our holiday and I will finally make an attempt at writing about our visit to Troy. I have so much I want to say about Troy, and it’s a bit overwhelming, which is why I haven’t written anything for ages! I just don’t know where to begin.

We’d wanted to visit Troy for quite some time since it’s relatively close to Istanbul and also because Richie and I both really love the Iliad which is set in Troy. In fact, we named Liam after one of the heroes of the Iliad– Odysseus (the Latin version is Ulysses, which is Liam’s middle name)- so we thought that bringing Liam to Troy would be a ‘pilgrimage’ of sorts, so he can one day say he had actually been to Troy, even though he obviously won’t remember much from our journey there. Actually, just as we arrived at the site, Liam got very cranky, so I was walking around with him in his carrier to get him to sleep for a bit. He ended up sleeping through everything and, as it was extremely hot and sunny, my mission was basically to shelter him from the sun as much as possible and keep moving so he’d stay asleep rather than waking up and screaming his head off through the entire tour. Not the most relaxing experience for me, but I’m still glad I got to see Troy!

Anyway, I digress. So, rather than getting into all my deep thoughts on the Iliad, I’ll just give a bit of information about the historical city of Troy for  now, otherwise at the rate I’m going, it’ll be years before I get any more blog posts published!

The ancient city of Troy (also known as Ilios, which is where the title of the Iliad comes from) was located in north-eastern Anatolia in what is now Turkey, on the shore of the Dardanelles/Hellespont, a strait that connects the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas to the Marmara Sea and ultimately to the Black Sea. This was an extremely important shipping route in ancient times, as it still is today. Troy was in a perfect position to control shipping through the strait which made it a strategically important and extremely wealthy city.

The city was built and rebuilt many times over centuries and suffered through earthquakes, wars, fires and the mass slaughter of its people at different points in time. The original city may have been founded around 3,000 BC, during the Bronze Age, and was inhabited by different peoples at different times, then eventually declined and disappeared during the Byzantine Era.

The area around Troy is a huge archaeological site, only a fraction of which has actually been excavated at this point. While the epic events of Homer’s Iliad may be entirely fiction, it was still interesting to see some of the ancient features of the site and imagine what it would have been like in its prime. The city was obviously inhabited for thousands of years, and layers of construction were built on top of each other over time, so what we saw were bits from many different eras of the city. Among the sights were the walls and an entrance to the city, beautiful ornate sections of what was a temple to Athena, numerous altars in a sacrificial area, a ramp leading to another entrance to the city, the foundations of a house, and a small amphitheatre. Perhaps just as impressive as the ruins we saw was the view from the hill where Troy once stood. Lovely fields of sunflowers, olive trees and corn stretch for miles around and you can also see the waters of the Dardanelles strait sparkling in the sun. The guide pointed out some large earth mounds which were burial mounds, perhaps just like the final resting places of some of the Iliad’s great heroes, Achilles, Patroklos and Hector.

While standing on the hill, gazing out over the patchwork greens and browns of the plain and the blue waters of the Dardanelles, one can imagine what it must have been like for the inhabitants of the city looking out from the walls as enemy ships from distant lands arrived on the shores. From that spot they would have watched day after day as their loved ones fought on the field to defend them from the invaders, seen the chariots, weapons and armour glinting in the sun, wondering if those brought back dead or wounded were their own husbands, fathers, brothers. Each day they would have watched and wondered what their fate would be; would their heroes be able to repel the invaders or would those enemy warriors one day arrive victorious at the gates. The stakes were impossibly high; defeat would mean the men slaughtered and women and children killed or taken to distant countries as slaves. So whether or not it was the mythical Helen, Priam or Andromache, we know for certain that someone watched the encroaching doom from those walls, though their names are now lost to history.

Well, eventually I’ll write more about the actual Iliad, which I absolutely think is one of the best pieces of literature ever written. It is beautiful and amazing and there’s just so much one could say about it. But for now, here are the photos from our trip to the city that inspired that most epic of stories!

Göbekli Tepe and the beginnings of human civilisation as we know it…

So, the link for a BBC documentary ‘How Art Made the World’ was sent to me by a reader of my previous post about Göbekli TepeIt’s so cool, exciting and interesting, so I thought I’d post the video here! It’s so worth watching!
 
This is a short version just focusing on Göbekli Tepe, if you’re in a hurry:

And here’s the long version, the whole programme, which I definitely recommend watching because it’s absolutely fascinating and it puts Göbekli Tepe in much better context!:

Çatalhöyük: yet another reason why I think Turkey is the centre of the world!…

Well, as a lover of history since just about forever, I can remember learning about some place called Catalhoyuk in middle and high school. I remember it was supposed to be the first human city and it was somewhere around the Fertile Crescent, which was somewhere in the ‘east’ near some rivers called the Tigris and Euphrates. And that was about as extensive as the information in our textbooks was, if I remember right. The name of this first city has been lodged in my brain since I was about 12 (I’m guessing?) so at least in that respect, that lesson in human history was a success.

Çatalhöyük excavations

However, I am continually surprised and delighted as time goes on to learn more about these seemingly random places and things I got a little hint of in childhood but remained in my mind as bits of trivia more than anything else. Well, Çatalhöyük was fetched from the corners of my memory since we’ve lived in Turkey, because – you guessed it!- it’s in Turkey that this first ever human city was built!

 

Çatalhöyük is located in central Turkey, southeast of the modern city of Konya (ancient Iconium, for you history lovers). The ancient settlement is over 9,000 years old and may have been home to as many as 8,000 people, which might not sound like much by modern standards, but would have been huge compared to a hunter-gatherer group. This interesting article explores some of the questions archaeologists have been asking about what led people to live in permanent urban settlements and eventually invent farming.

Female goddess figurine, a common find around Çatalhöyük

I find it absolutely fascinating trying to imagine what these cultural ancestors of ours thought about the world they lived in, how they would have managed their society, how they would have survived and apparently thrived in the environment they lived in. Obviously, we can never know what they would have thought or what their worldview would have been, but I always find it so humbling to consider humans at once the same as us physically, emotionally, intellectually, and yet so different from us, divided as we are by such a huge gap in time, culture and technology. The awe and wonder of it all just go humming through me, right into my skin and my bones! I guess it gives me a healthy dose of being put-in-my-place, when I think my thoughts and views, my political, religious, cultural, etc. opinions and beliefs, my very existence in this world are so all-important, it reminds me that I’m just one small player in a great huge human drama that has been unfolding for hundreds of thousands of years and I’m just fortunate to be a part of it. Basically, I just shouldn’t take myself so seriously and should just celebrate the fact that I’m here at all and be thankful for all the thousands upon thousands of generations of human ancestors that made my current life possible!

So, again, Turkey seems to be right-smack-dab in the middle of culture, history, religion, EVERYTHING, certainly from a western perspective. What an amazing place to be! And definitely read the article; it’s incredibly fascinating.

Sometimes I really think that Turkey is the centre of the world: Göbekli Tepe …

So, over the last few years, reading various books, articles, etc., written by different people, during different centuries (or millenia), about all kinds of different topics- mythology, history, religion, archaeology, etc.- I have come to believe that area that makes up modern Turkey is basically the centre of the world, in that it has been a place where all kinds of important milestones in western civilization (and beyond?) have happened. Maybe I came across this stuff before living in Turkey, but I didn’t pay any attention to it. Now that we live here, it seems like the Turkey-as-the-centre-of-EVERYTHING theme keeps popping up all around me!

Anyway, I stumbled upon this latest example in an article from Smithsonian.com about an 11,000 year old temple, quite possibly the world’s oldest, found at Göbekli Tepe: , near the city of Urfa in south-west Turkey. It’s been under excavation for about a decade and it’s believed that only a tiny fraction of the site has actually been uncovered, so there’s still a ton left for archaeologists to discover!

The article mentions that, in contrast to what the landscape around this hilltop temple looks like today after hundreds of years of intensive agriculture in the area, at the time it was build it would have been surrounded by a virtual paradise; lush fields of wild wheat and barley, herds of gazelle, fruit and nut trees, life-giving rivers and streams. It would have been a beautiful and epic surrounding for this holy site.

The article describes some of the archaeologists theories about the site and a bit about the hunter-gatherer people who would have constructed it, as well as mentioning some interesting features of the monuments, such as the carvings of creatures like scorpions, vultures, and other dangerous predators and scavengers. Fascinating stuff. It would be an amazing place to visit before we someday leave Turkey.

It’s in travelling around Turkey and reading articles like this that I feel renewed enthusiasm for living here and having the great opportunity to experience bits of this rich culture, both past and present. It’s certainly great fortune to get to live at the centre of the world, even if only for a few years!

Gobekli Tepe

This and that…

Well, at long last, we have internet again. So, time for the updates.

First of all, we met a new doctor last Friday and she’s great! I’m really excited! She’s very supportive of natural birth and pretty much gave me all the answers to questions I was hoping for. She even had training last year with the author of my favourite ‘birth book’ (that I’ve read so far) called ‘Active Birth’. She has a private practice, which was in a lovely flat in Kadikoy, on the Asian side of the city, and it was so quiet and homey compared to the always-crowded American Hospital where we’ve been going. She likes to work with a hospital, also on the Asian side, who basically let her do her thing, which is great because I guess she’d be considered very unconventional here in Turkey. The only thing to figure out is how we’ll actually get to this hospital on the big day, since it’s pretty far away from where we live. I have no idea really, but we can figure that out later.

This coming Friday, I’m meeting the new doula, an American woman who has lived in Turkey for years. I spoke to her on the phone yesterday to arrange a meeting place/time, and she sounds nice anyway. She said she is available around my due date, so that’s a good start anyway. So, Richie and I will be meeting her in a couple of days to see what she’s like. I feel really happy and relieved that these things are coming together so nicely!

So, I think it is official that my emotions are slaves to the weather. Summer is finally, really here, and my entire mental outlook is so different. I’m sure that ‘morning sickness’ and all the early pregnancy stuff didn’t really help this winter, but still, I seem to get depressed and all that every winter to some degree. Now the sun is shining, the birds are singing and there’s a lovely smell of green and warm air and blossoms about, and I couldn’t be happier. All those happy summer associations have hit me. I keep recalling happy summer memories, relaxing in back gardens, barbecues, our amazing holiday last year, all those sort of festive summer activities that one normally does at this time of year. I feel full of energy and just so so happy that the good weather and sun are finally here to stay!

Hopefully, we’ll be heading off to Ireland this coming Monday. I’m going to the doctor tomorrow and hopefully she’ll give me the go-ahead to travel. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. It’ll be great to spend lots of time with Richie’s family, plus two of our best friends, Diarmuid and Andrea, are getting married and we’ve been looking forward to this trip for ages. Richie’s the best man, so he’ll definitely be going anyway, but it’ll be really disappointing if I’m not able to go. Anyway, I’m trying not to worry about it too much until I hear what the doctor has to say.

Finally, I’ve been reading some great books lately. A few weeks ago I read a book by Dutch writer Geert Mak, called An Island in Time: The Biography of a Village. Although he is writing from a journalistic perspective, his books read like novels, with such vibrant characters and amazing depictions of time and place. I’ve read two of his other books and they are equally amazing. Basically, he lives in a small village in rural Friesland and documents the huge changes in rural life over the last fifty years. While he focuses on the specifics of this particular village in the Netherlands, the book is illustrative of the rural revolution that took place and continues to take place throughout much of Europe. It’s fascinating and beautifully written. I was sorry when it ended.

Then last week I devoured the Odyssey, by Homer. Last year I read the Iliad, and was blown away by how readable, moving and modern it was, despite being thousands of years old. The Odyssey is a very different type of story, less grave and more fun, but it was definitely enjoyable. Now, sticking with ancient classics, I’ve just started History of the Pelopennesian War by Thucydides. I understand that he and Herodotus are sort of the ‘fathers of history’ as we understand it today. I had so much fun reading Herodotus’s Histories last year, and it’ll be interesting to see the contrast in Thucydides’s style. Herodotus is pretty colourful and full of interesting tales and stories of all varieties. Thucydides seems to be a more serious type of guy, leaving out all the ‘fluff’ such as potential involvement of the gods in human affairs and tries to just stick with the facts. It’s interesting so far, so we’ll see how it goes. I still think that reading these ancient Greek classics is way more fun while living in a place connected geographically to it all. Having seen some ancient Greek/Roman sites and being in a country that figures into stories like the Iliad and Herodotus’s Histories, it all seems a bit more real. I get a better feeling of what it all might have been like and I love having a better frame of reference for all of this stuff.

Well, this is a super long update, so I guess I’ll leave it at that!

Last day in Cappadocia: churches, canyons and underground cities…

Well, here are the photos from our last, action-packed day in Cappadocia. We decided to go on a tour, because many of the sites around the area would have been pretty much impossible to reach without a car. It’s not something we usually do, but it was definitely worth it in this case. We started out at a beautiful spot with amazing panoramic view over the region and one of Cappadocia’s impressive volcanoes looming in the distance. The guide explained about the whole volcanic geography thing, which was interesting.

Then we headed for one of Cappadocia’s apparently hundreds of underground ‘cities’. The underground city idea originated with the Hittites, some of the first people to live here. Their underground constructions were usually just one or two levels below the ground. However, later people expanded these settlements and the one we visited was eight storeys deep! We visited storage rooms, a meeting hall, cuneiform church, kitchen, wine-pressing room, living rooms and even a stable while wandering around twisty defensive tunnels designed to confuse intruders and make it very difficult for them to actually attack these underground fortresses. These places were useful in times of war or when enemies were raiding the area. The people normally lived in above-ground villages, but retreated into these underground ones only in times of need. Unfortunately, it was pretty impossible to take a decent photo down there, so you’ll just have to use your imagination.

After that, we headed to lunch in a cheap and cheerful sort of place near a small river in a forested canyon. This canyon was once full of cave houses and many churches. We also saw pigeon coves carved into the canyon walls at one point. People decorated these alcoves with red painted designs to attract the pigeons, who provided the people with droppings later used as fertilizer. Our guide said people only came to collect the fertilizer once a year, so as not to frighten away the pigeons. The shells of pigeon eggs were also used to make the frescos painted on all the churches stick better. I’m not sure if they were used to make a base-layer under the paintings or if the egg shell was mixed right into the paint.

We took a nice walk through the canyon and enjoyed the fantastic weather. It was warm, the sun was shining, and I loved hearing the sound of the stream as we walked along. We stopped at one of the churches and had a look inside, and then we hiked up a load of stairs to get out of the canyon so we could head off to visit a former mountain monastery, which was also pretty cool although much of it has fallen off in big chunks and been worn away by the elements over the years.

So, it was a beautiful last day, and we ended our trip with a delicious dinner and some wine. We had a local speciality, which is a vegetable and lamb stew slow-cooked in a small clay jar for five hours. The restaurant itself was great as well. It was snug and warm with an old iron stove in the middle of the room for heating, and we took off our shoes and sat on the floor, traditional style, on big, fluffy, comfortable cushions at a low table in our own little nook. I wanted to live there. It was so comfortable! And I had some of the nicest wine I’ve tasted in a long time. Sigh. It was amazing. I’d definitely love to go to Cappadocia again.