THE KAERU KID: Turkey Trot

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a four-part series.

The Classic Turkey tour continues as we leave by bus from Istanbul east-southeast on the way to the capital city of Ankara. We rode a nice air-conditioned bus with free bottles of chilled water available as we cruised on the beautiful modern highways, over rolling green hills. We left Istanbul at around 8 a.m. and arrived in Ankara at around 4:30 p.m., with rest stops every two hours and a lunch break.

Our guide explained that the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, decreed that despite the population being primarily Muslim, it would be a secular state with women being given more freedoms.

The eight-year compulsory education has resulted in a 90 percent literacy rate. Turkey has universal health care. Turkey has compulsory military service, but deferment is available for those attending college or vocational school. Women serve as officers. One of Atatürk’s daughters, Sabiha Gökçen, was the world’s first female combat pilot.

Atatürk  moved the capital from Istanbul to Ankara. Ankara was famous for mohair from Angora goats and angora wool from the rabbits. Ankara was settled around 2000 B.C. by the Hittite civilization, but our bus did not take us to any of the ancient remains. We drove through a modern part of the city and stopped at the archeological Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, which contains well labeled items that reflect 12,000 years of history. Voted the best European museum in 1997, it is small enough to see without becoming exhausted. It was well worth the visit.

Our hotel stay was at the upscale Crowne Plaza with a multistory mall next door that would rival any American mall.

LOOKING BACK AT TURKISH HISTORY ­— Cappadocia (Left) boasts unique geologic formations that resemble mushrooms or “fairy chimney houses.” photo by The Kaeru Kid

LOOKING BACK AT TURKISH HISTORY ­— Cappadocia boasts unique geologic formations that resemble mushrooms or “fairy chimney houses.” photo by The Kaeru Kid

A long drive southeast to Cappadocia required an early morning departure. In the old days, camel caravans could only travel around 10 miles a day, so every 10 miles or so a caravanserai would be built to act as an inn, with a stable for the animals, as well as a mosque in a square shape with an open courtyard. We stopped at one to view the structure. We made another stop at an underground town that was built so that townspeople could hide when enemies attacked. Carrier pigeons were used to warn about attack. We had a short period of rain, but were able to take shelter in the underground town while having a tour. The weather in May was generally comfortable with only minimal rainfall.

After an overnight stay in Cappadocia, some members arose early to take an expensive ($200) hot air balloon ride. When the riders returned, they were flush with glowing comments. Cappadocia means the land of the beautiful horses and has a long history of being conquered and ruled by many different dynasties, but none of this colorful history is imparted on the tour.

Cappadocia boasts unique geologic formations that resemble mushrooms or “fairy chimney houses.” Early Christian inhabitants found remnants of underground structures and they continued to carve living quarters, monasteries, and churches into the volcanic tufas. There are many narrow tunnels connecting the rooms. This pattern was a defensive plan so that large stones could easily block passageways. Roman strategy was designed to use large numbers of men to attack, but the narrow aisles prevented this formation and the soldiers could be picked off as they passed.

Goreme Open Air Museum in Cappadocia is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is composed of many Christian churches that were cut into the rock during the 10th through 12th centuries. The audio guide is not worth the cost. A visit to this area is one of the highlights of a visit to Cappadocia, and thus very crowded. No flash pictures are allowed inside to protect the wall murals. A virtual tour can be made online, but be prepared for difficult navigation: www.muze.gov.tr/goreme-en. The Turkish government is trying to protect the deteriorating structures by coating them with a preservative material.

This is a fertile valley; it’s considered the breadbasket of Turkey,  with vegetables, apples, apricots, grapes and a host of other agricultural products being grown.

As with most guided tours, we made obligatory stops at factories, ostensibly to show how different products are made. At the conclusion, the products are offered for sale. One such stop was a rug factory that shows how silk was made and woven with wool. To deflect complaints, refreshments of tea, raki (Turkish licorice liquor), red or white wine was offered during the sales pitch. The inflated prices were probably open for negotiation, but a friend warned me that some rug merchants aren’t very reputable.

After a lunch that included a local specialty, a yogurt filled ravioli, and a tasty hot milk drink made of grounded up orchids sprinkled with cinnamon served at a pleasant restaurant located on the Red River (so called for the red clay), our tour resumed with a visit to a ceramic factory that used some of the red clay. Next, we visited a jewelry factory offering local turquoise, onyx and other semi-precious stones. It is well known that guides receive a commission from sales (which further inflates the prices), but some tourists indulged in shopping.

A visit to overlook Pigeon Valley, which was named after the large flocks that were here in the past, was a pleasant interlude to learn how the birds were vital for communication and how their droppings were valuable fertilizer. Few pigeons remain in the area today. Hasan’s Tea Garden in the area was highly recommended by other tourists because of how entertaining Hasan was (www.captivatingcappadocia.com/cappadocia-pigeon-valley). I learned only later about the tea garden and unfortunately missed the experience.

The next day required a 12-hour bus ride southwest to the seaside town of Antalya, providing another opportunity to question our guide about Turkish life. Our guide spoke disparagingly about a controversial imam named Fethullah Gülen who lives in exile in the United States. He claimed Gülen was a major force trying to change secular Turkey into an Islamic one. A recent “60 Minutes” segment featured Gülen (www.youtube.com/watch?v=dh4EwqRYTpE). Google him for a fascinating portrait of a Muslim cleric who advocates interfaith tolerance, among other beliefs.

We traveled through lush farmlands growing wheat and sugar beets. Large factories outside of towns such as Konya make automobiles and trucks under license from German, Korean and Japanese companies. Enterprising Turks working in Germany were laid off, but they bought the factories and brought them back to Turkey to continue producing auto parts. There are also high quality Turkish leather factories. I was impressed with their work ethic culture.

Modern high-rise buildings line clean streets in these factory towns. One does not see homeless people, despite  the current nine percent unemployment rate, as extended families help each other, along with the Muslim custom of taking care of the poor. Modern fighter jets screaming overhead attest to a nearby airbase.

It has been 25 years since Turkey applied to join the European Union and some believe the delay is because they are a Muslim country. Economically, they would seem to qualify ahead of some of other countries recently admitted.

We visited the town of Konya, where the mystic Mevlana Rumi lived and is buried, easing the long drive. He was the founder of the whirling dervishes and his tomb is a holy site. The interesting and informative museum next door explains the reason for whirling and how it takes a long time before being admitted to join. This order was outlawed but because it has transformed itself into a nonpolitical group it is allowed to still practice. In fact, UNESCO in 2005 recognized the whirling performance as a masterpiece of humanity. One can read a more detailed explanation online at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mevlevi_Order and see an example of “whirling” at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_Cf-ZxDfZA

The Kaeru Kid lives in Las Vegas and hopes readers will send him comments at KaeruKid@yahoo.com. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

 

Las Vegas Tidbits

Whoever said, “Life is too short, start with dessert,” must have inspired my creative friend, Mitsuo Endo (chef/owner of the creative Japanese restaurant Raku), to open Sweets Raku, located at 5040 Spring Mountain Road on Eater Vegas in the same Seoul Plaza, located next to Kabuto. Sweets Raku has an imaginative display of alkaline water bottles at the entrance to the starkly modern all white interior.  Sit at the bar for the full experience of being able to watch Mio Ogasawara and her staff prepare the delicacies.  The cost is $19 for a prix fixe meal, but there are added costs of speciality teas, coffees or wines.  An edible menu rolled up and inserted into a ring of candy is presented.  There is a choice for each of three courses.  The edible menu is made of rice paper that can be consumed by dipping into a sweet red sauce.  I enjoyed my visit, but doubt most Nikkei will visit when they hear the $19-plus cost, which  seems high for pretty pastries, sorbets and such.  I wish Mr. Endo luck with this project,  but I was disappointed because I was looking forward to tasting more Japanese-oriented desserts, such as sakura mochi, hanabira mochi, dango, kompeito (Japanese candy), etc.  From a business standpoint, these may not be tasty to many Western taste buds or even to Sansei and later generations.
If you’ve ever wondered and want to experience a state of the art toilet, this is your opportunity here.

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