Arriving in Turkey was another very early morning, and upon exiting the Istanbul airport, I had a difficult time locating the subway…. As had become my custom by now, I just looked around for another ‘backpacker type’ (ie: someone traveling with a backpack, looking casually around, or simply young and adventurous). I located a young man named Nico, and we both found our way to the trains. He had a more central location to get to, but we were able to together decipher the map, and figure out which way to go. My particular hostel this time was up a winding street, and took me a few tries to get to–but I found it! The host was very welcoming and gracious.
Being in a Muslim country, there is certainly an expectation that I would not engage the men eye contact, and so I was grateful to have a S. African friend (Nico) to look at during this trip… I found my way to the east side of the river, and then up to my little hostel to get a nap. In this hostel, I discovered that the only outlet was high on the wall, so I had to move a chair over there in order to charge my devices. I had a momentary concern as I couldn’t find my passport in one moment–and then realized they had borrowed it when I checked in and I hadn’t received it back. Throughout my entire trip–the passport and camera were constantly in reach, so I had to take a few deep breaths and re-think the morning before I remembered where it was.
After getting a couple hours of sleep, and a shower, I headed down the alley from the Red River Hotel to the city. I was able to watch some men playing backgammon for little bit, pick up a banana and yogurt in a shop, and find my way back across the Bospherous straight. On this first day in Istanbul, my priority was figuring out the rest of my LAST week of travel. What was different on this day is that I was more profoundly aware than ever of traveling alone. See, I had three friends who had considered joining me, but none of them were going to be there with me.
I first headed to the historic blue mosque, and was stunned by its majesty… There is the usual juxtaposition that you see at a historic religious site, where there are some followers of that faith engaging in their own worship, and then the much larger throngs of visitors/tourists capturing it all for their first (and often only) time. I know that in Colorado, when people see the mountains for the first time, I am often reminded what a majestic place I am surrounded by daily, and I imagine those worshipping here might have a similar experience.
I enjoyed my first Turkish coffee (WOW, that’s strong stuff!!), and some delicious foods (dolmas, hummus, etc.) overlooking the plaza, and then headed over into the Hagia Sofia. This building is under a great deal of construction right now, as the country is bidding for the 2020 Olympics. The Hagia Sofia has been occupied back and forth by Christian and then Muslim influences over the course of its history. One of the byproducts of this frequent change is that some of the works of art have been defaced (literally–the faces have been scraped off) because in Islam, it is not acceptable to have images of people in the place of worship. I also then visited the Blue Mosque–both amazing buildings in their artistry and the amount of work being done in restoration.
At the end of my first full day, I was trying to figure out flights/transportation to the other cities in Turkey that I wanted to visit, and I went to a travel agent. Turns out that arranging everything through them would be 4 times more expensive, and this is when I really was wishing I had someone else with me to do some of the planning / coordinating for a change.
I went into a little hotel for dinner, and proceeded to realize how sad I was about being alone here. It seemed that everyone who walked past was either part of a large group, a cozy couple, or some clan. I started crying right there in the restaurant, and as I was the only patron, the server was a bit perplexed! How to handle this kind yet crying American girl?? He kept smiling at me, served me well, and was just a friendly face. I was able to get online, and thankfully get support from a friend who was up at that crazy hour! Then, just before I logged off, someone mentioned ‘flower tea’ to me, so I said I would look out for it in the coming week. Well, this night turned out to be just perfect, because the lights over the two impressive buildings (Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque), as well as the fountain, were impressive and stunning. I enjoyed walking around and taking pictures, and wouldn’t you know–just then a vendor came by with flower tea (yummy stuff…). So, I leisurely worked my way back to the hotel, and asked God to provide the company I need and want for the rest of the week… and boy DID HE EVER!?
The next morning, Wed March 13th, I met up with a lovely gal named Julie at Starbucks! I was over there because my hotel manager had arranged for me to leave my bag at another hotel and not have to lug it around all day before my evening flight. Julie, it turns out, is from Florida and is on vacation awaiting news of her Bar Exam (yes, she passed!). She and I enjoyed the HopOnHopOff (or HOHO) Istanbul in the morning, and then connected with Nico and Brooke at the Izbat restaurant for lunch, overlooking the harbor. This was another one of those simply amazing meals and moments with people–all three of them were delightful. I popped over to the Basilica Cisterna, which is an underground cistern, later to be brought to mind as I read Dan Brown’s INFERNO on my Puerto Rico trip… After the haunting and cool Basilica, I hopped on the trolley, but then I was worried I wasn’t going to make my flight–so I jumped into a taxi. As it turned out, this was one of my closest travel connections, but I did make the plane to Izmir.
Funny thing about this transfer, I had read something about ‘plan ahead’ in Turkey, so I got on my phone and made a reservation in Cappadocia (at the Flintstone Cave Hotel), and asked for a shuttle pick up at the airport. Little did I have in my pea brain, that the airport is TINY, and over an hour from Cappadocia! This led to one of the most interesting/stressful/crazy moments in my trip… I get off the plane in this tiny town, and just after you grab your bag you are out the door. Hmm.. I look around at the shuttle drivers (with names on their papers), and none of them has my name on it. So, I approach the one with the most names, and ask if he serves Flintstone Hotel, he says yes, but because my name is not on the paper he is unwilling to transport me. Well, this went back and forth a few times (ask me for the full story, its better in person), but I did end up on his shuttle. Praise GOD, because this was apparently the last shuttle of the night, and I have no idea how much a private taxi would have cost me… At that moment I was so immensely grateful that I’d listened to the nurse in my spirit.
As we drove into Cappadocia, it was dark, but there are beautiful lights on the outlines of the ‘Fairy Chimneys’… I was stunned. I was dropped at my hotel, and immediately connected with this little group of three: Magda, Elton and Aga. They told me there was a tour they were going on the next day, so I decided to join them–AGAIN, how little did I realize. Had I not done a tour, there is little way I could have gotten to all the sites we saw. Underground churches, carved out homes, the Monk’s Valley, Goreme open air museum, it was amazing! The whole place reminded me of those sandcastles you make just by plopping wet sand down–they are somewhat surreal, and yet this is also where many a persecuted believer has hid out. Thursday night, after this amazing tour, we walked down to dinner at the Top Deck, and it was fabulous, cozy, friendly and SOOO delicious. I also remember giving some medicine that morning to someone, and when they came back they reported a flawless day ;). That was a treat.
That night, Nico and Brooke arrived, and I made plans with them to drive around on Friday! Together, we drove and took in the Ihlara valley (including a nice long hike, tea at the bottom near the river, and many OLD churches in the walls of the valley), Derinkuyu underground city, and some little towns along the way ;). I visited the Hamman Bath for a Turkish bath in the evening (and my lady wanted me to bring her back to the states!), and then boarded a bus at 8:30pm to Parmukelle (arriving at 530am). In Parmukelle I hiked up and down, connected with another Magda and Albero–we enjoyed walking together, napping in the sun, seeing the old ruins of churches, colosseums, and the city there.
At the end of the day, I headed to Ephesus, and toured Ephesus on Sunday with Wing-see (a friend from the bus) and many others. We spent time at the possible house of the virgin Mary, drove through the countryside a little bit, and spent most of the day at Ephesus. After spending time in the ‘city’, we stopped by the site of the Temple of Artemision (Diana), one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. It was amazing to be where Paul preached so many years ago, and imagine the commerce and life so long ago here. Another bus brought me back to the airport to Istanbul, and EARLY on Monday morning, I began my flight home. Impacted. Changed. Exposed and Connected.
These three months are hard to summarize in words, but suffice to say they will continue to impact me, probably for the rest of my life. There is really nothing like getting out and seeing the world, interacting with it, and serving alongside people from other cultures and backgrounds. I am so grateful to God for the provision, safety, and direction all along with this trip (from first idea, to the final landing). There are more stories to tell, but at least I have all the progression and itinerary finally completed on here ;)… feel free to strike up a conversation with me about any of this whenever you want–I think about other countries just about every day.
Let me encourage you to get out there and explore–it doesn’t need to be as long or broad as this trip to be impacting, if you want advice, just ask!
HAPPY NEW YEAR–here’s to a great 2014 :).