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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Antalya to Istanbul ... and home


Saturday, October 20, 2012

What a wonderful day we had on the road today! The sun was shining, the sky was blue and the world was beautiful! We left Oludinez early this morning, knowing that the 300 kilometres we were going to travel today would take us far longer than most other people.

Jim and I are curious people and it takes very little to peek our interest and cause us to stop to investigate something along the way. By noon, we had travelled fewer than 100 kilometres!!

Much of the drive today was along a road that rivaled the Great Ocean Road in Australia. It flanked the deep blue sparkling waters of the Mediterranean Sea as the road rose and fell along steep mountains cliffs and across seaside valleys. Happily there was very little traffic along this road for most of the day so we were able to take our time and stop frequently to take photos.

Off the coast of Turkey, there are many islands. In the course of conflict and history, somehow Greece has acquired all the islands. So as we were travelling on the roads of Turkey, we were also enjoying the scenery created by the nearby Greek islands, their green landscapes contrasting with the blue of the sea.

One sight today that took our breath away was the vast array of greenhouses that covered many of the valley floors. It is no exaggeration to say that we saw thousands of greenhouses today as we drove along the coast. Tomatoes, peppers and herbs are grown in greenhouses here in prolific numbers. Much of the crop is for consumption within Turkey but these crops are all large export items, contributing substantially to the economy of this country. I am sure we just found out where most of the greenhouses are located. To look down into a valley from a high mountain cliff and see nothing but greenhouses was both awesome and surreal at the same time.

One other event occurred today that transported us to the mountain slopes of Austria with Maria singing The Lonely Goatherd. As we reached the top of a long climb up a mountain, we heard the identifiable jingling of goat bells. Sure enough, moving toward us was a herd of about 100 goats with a shepherd at the front and the rear of the pack. Of course, we stopped to take some photos. And traffic coming the other direction would have been totally blocked …. Except there was none. Whew!

As we travelled along today, we visited several lovely locations. The first was Patara Beach, one of the longest sand beaches on the Mediterranean. It was quiet this weekend, a nice change I am sure from the peak of tourist season, and certainly pleasant for us. There were a few families there and some of the folks even ventured into the water.

A few kilometers further we drove into the village of Kalkan. As advertised it is a cute fishing village, nestled into the steep slopes that run from the highway to the sea. While fishing is still an activity in this small port, tourism seems to have taken over. Restaurants, cafes, shops and hotels line the cobbled streets. It is clearly a popular tourist destination, one where a visitor would want to plan the day very carefully. The hills are steep and they go down a long way to the crystal clear and deep water of the sea.

Our final official stop was at the ancient village of Phaselis. This town was established by the Romans in a pristine location, situated on a point of land surrounded by three sheltered bays. Fishing was the main activity of the day and the sheltered waters must have supported and protected the fishermen. The Romans certainly knew how to build structures to last. The ruins in this place are over 2000 years old.  Many buildings remain partially standing but most impressive is the  aquaduct with its many arches still supporting the water trough that carried water along the top of it.  Surrounding the ruins is a lovely pine forest creating a shady beach, perfect for picnics and swimming. A delightful place on a warm sunny day.  We stayed a short while and timed our exit perfectly. As we drove out the access road, we encountered about 10 tour busses on their way in to visit this site. We are very happy that we saw it when it was quiet and tranquil.

By this time it was almost 4 pm and we had driven 260 kilometres. Still 40 to go. The last 40 were punctuated with road construction and a significant and continuous increase in traffic as we approached the city of Antalya, population 1,250,000. No wonder there was more traffic. We wove our way through the narrow and crowded streets toward the very centre of town, an area known as Old City. Our hotel was called Elegance East and when we arrived we could tell that it was going to live up to its name. The lobby was warm, welcoming and, well, elegant. Our room was beautiful. And the pool and deck area nestled in a central courtyard was calling our names.
We spent some time relaxing in that space before returning to our room to organize ourselves for our one full day in Antalya. Dinner soon followed and more relaxing before bed.

I finish as I began …. What a wonderful day we have had!


This will be the last post in this blog. The Robinson Adventures 2012 will officially end on Friday, October 26 when we land in Toronto and our son picks us up for the drive home.

Thanks to all of you who have been loyal or occasional readers. It has been fun to write this blog. We will reread it over the years and have some wonderful memories and recollections from this diary.

If you have enjoyed the blog or would like to make a suggestion or two, I would love to hear from you, either through the comment section herein or in an email to me personally. 

We are already planning our next adventure so look for us again next year about the same time as we embark on travels in a new location.

Happy reading!
Donna


Saturday, October 20, 2012

What a wonderful day we had on the road today! The sun was shining, the sky was blue and the world was beautiful! We left Oludinez early this morning, knowing that the 300 kilometres we were going to travel today would take us far longer than most other people.

Jim and I are curious people and it takes very little to peek our interest and cause us to stop to investigate something along the way. By noon, we had travelled fewer than 100 kilometres!!

Much of the drive today was along a road that rivaled the Great Ocean Road in Australia. It flanked the deep blue sparkling waters of the Mediterranean Sea as the road rose and fell along steep mountains cliffs and across seaside valleys. Happily there was very little traffic along this road for most of the day so we were able to take our time and stop frequently to take photos.

Off the coast of Turkey, there are many islands. In the course of conflict and history, somehow Greece has acquired all the islands. So as we were travelling on the roads of Turkey, we were also enjoying the scenery created by the nearby Greek islands, their green landscapes contrasting with the blue of the sea.

One sight today that took our breath away was the vast array of greenhouses that covered many of the valley floors. It is no exaggeration to say that we saw thousands of greenhouses today as we drove along the coast. Tomatoes, peppers and herbs are grown in greenhouses here in prolific numbers. Much of the crop is for consumption within Turkey but these crops are all large export items, contributing substantially to the economy of this country. I am sure we just found out where most of the greenhouses are located. To look down into a valley from a high mountain cliff and see nothing but greenhouses was both awesome and surreal at the same time.

One other event occurred today that transported us to the mountain slopes of Austria with Maria singing The Lonely Goatherd. As we reached the top of a long climb up a mountain, we heard the identifiable jingling of goat bells. Sure enough, moving toward us was a herd of about 100 goats with a shepherd at the front and the rear of the pack. Of course, we stopped to take some photos. And traffic coming the other direction would have been totally blocked …. Except there was none. Whew!

As we travelled along today, we visited several lovely locations. The first was Patara Beach, one of the longest sand beaches on the Mediterranean. It was quiet this weekend, a nice change I am sure from the peak of tourist season, and certainly pleasant for us. There were a few families there and some of the folks even ventured into the water.

A few kilometers further we drove into the village of Kalkan. As advertised it is a cute fishing village, nestled into the steep slopes that run from the highway to the sea. While fishing is still an activity in this small port, tourism seems to have taken over. Restaurants, cafes, shops and hotels line the cobbled streets. It is clearly a popular tourist destination, one where a visitor would want to plan the day very carefully. The hills are steep and they go down a long way to the crystal clear and deep water of the sea.

Our final official stop was at the ancient village of Phaselis. This town was established by the Romans in a pristine location, situated on a point of land surrounded by three sheltered bays. Fishing was the main activity of the day and the sheltered waters must have supported and protected the fishermen. The Romans certainly knew how to build structures to last. The ruins in this place are over 2000 years old.  Many buildings remain partially standing but most impressive is the  aquaduct with its many arches still supporting the water trough that carried water along the top of it.  Surrounding the ruins is a lovely pine forest creating a shady beach, perfect for picnics and swimming. A delightful place on a warm sunny day.  We stayed a short while and timed our exit perfectly. As we drove out the access road, we encountered about 10 tour busses on their way in to visit this site. We are very happy that we saw it when it was quiet and tranquil.

By this time it was almost 4 pm and we had driven 260 kilometres. Still 40 to go. The last 40 were punctuated with road construction and a significant and continuous increase in traffic as we approached the city of Antalya, population 1,250,000. No wonder there was more traffic. We wove our way through the narrow and crowded streets toward the very centre of town, an area known as Old City. Our hotel was called Elegance East and when we arrived we could tell that it was going to live up to its name. The lobby was warm, welcoming and, well, elegant. Our room was beautiful. And the pool and deck area nestled in a central courtyard was calling our names.
We spent some time relaxing in that space before returning to our room to organize ourselves for our one full day in Antalya. Dinner soon followed and more relaxing before bed.

I finish as I began …. What a wonderful day we have had!


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Happy 10 month birthday, Edward!

Well, this is our first and last full day in Antalya and it looks like a pretty cool city. Lots of parks, fountains, public sculpture, cafes, and seashore! There is a tram line that runs for several kilometres from one side of the city to the other including along the old Roman city walls which encircle the Old City.  And, don’t forget, the hotel we are currently in has a lovely pool with water warm enough to enjoy and steps down into the pool that even I could manage (without the boot, of course). We were ready for a great day!

Until ….. we heard the thunder. At first, we thought it was someone running a cart down the cobblestone sidewalk. Then, we opened the door to our room only to find that the sky had opened and rain was bucketing down. We are not talking a short and gentle shower. We are talking about a torrential downpour that lasted for a long time.  When it ended some blue sky appeared overhead …. But it was merely a teaser. Because very soon …. More rain poured from the heavens … and we knew we were in for a long wet day.

Moving on to Plan B, we had a leisurely breakfast and then borrowed a hotel umbrella and ventured out into the wet. First we walked down the block a short distance to Hadrian’s Gate. Hadrian was emperor in about 30 AD. And he built a wall in Britain but also made his way all the way to Antalya where a very large gate was constructed in his honour.  I think his international travel is pretty impressive given that most of it would have happened on foot or horseback. Today, almost 2000 years since his visit, people walk through this gate every day to gain access to the Old City. 

There is a tram stop across the street from Hadrian’s Gate so we stood in the covered shelter and waited for the next tram to arrive. A story unfolded as we waited. We are not sure if it was a comedy or a drama. By way of background information, let me say that the tram tracks run along a segregated lane on the road and there are high curbs on each side of the tracks where no traffic is permitted. Unless you are driving an ambulance on its way to an emergency, siren blaring, lights flashing. In order to save time, you turn into the tram lane and drive to your destination. We watched as the ambulance stopped about a half a block down the street and the medics jumped out of the vehicle. A couple of minutes later (you have already guessed what happened) a tram came along and met the ambulance head to head in the tram lane. The medics hopped back into the vehicle and backed the van down the tram line all the way to the corner where we were standing and watching all this unfold. When the ambulance arrived at the corner, it simply turned into the traffic and drove away. I cannot tell you if there was no emergency after all or if they simply abandoned the situation. From our point of view, it was all a bit bizarre – comical if all turned out well, dramatic if it did not. We will never know. We simply boarded the tram and left the scene.

The tram ride was quite enjoyable. It took about 30 minutes to reach the end of the line. Along the way, we passed though large shopping areas; we travelled past large sports complexes; we saw countless restaurants and hotels; and the route travels along the Mediterranean coast for much of its route. Even under grey skies in the rain, the Mediterranean Sea has a charm about it.

At the end of the line is the Antalya Archeological Museum, described as having one of the best chronological displays of the development of culture in this part of the world. Even without the benefit of very much English in the museum, we were able to observe the differences in the various stages of in the ancient history of man. The artifacts on display were fascinating.

One of the main features of the museum is the substantial collection of statues that they have acquired. It is unfortunate that the names of the actual sculptors are not known and sometimes not even the names of the sculpted. But the quality of the work is remarkable, the level of detail, the sensitivity in facial expressions, the gentleness of the flow of fabrics, the structure and proportions of the human body.  And all of this achieved with rudimentary tools. And then buried under mounds of earth until someone accidentally found them in the course of their day to day activities up to 2000 years later. One of the notable sculptures in the museum was only unearthed forty years ago.

We paused for a beverage break after we were finished in the museum. The rain continued to pour down and we naively thought if we waited just a short while that might change. Alas, it did not and we ventured back out into the weather to reboard the tram. This time we remained on the tram from one end of the line all the way to the other. Although we retraced our steps along the route for half of it, we did see some different things. And, we met several other tourists who were doing the same thing as we were – a family from Saudi Arabia, a woman from Germany, a couple from Switzerland. This morning at breakfast we also met a couple from Sweden and a couple from the UK. Antalya is clearly an international destination for people from all corners of the globe. (It has two international terminals at its airport.)

We returned to our original tram stop and decided that an early dinner was in order. There is a restaurant adjacent to our hotel so stopped in. It was still pouring rain … and all the tables were outside, some protected by large umbrellas. We chose one of them and ordered our meal. Eventually we had to move to another table under an overhanging roof because the wind had increased and we were now using our own umbrella even under the restaurant umbrella.  It was actually quite comical. Sadly, it was a rather ordinary meal, except for Jim’s excellent lentil soup.

Jim has now gone to a hamam (Turkish bath) for a scrub and a massage. And I am happily settled into our room for the rest of the evening. This hotel offers excellent internet service, 3 English television stations and I have a new book downloaded on the kindle. The evening will be comfortable and dry!

Tomorrow morning we fly back to Istanbul.


Monday, October 22, 2012

We flew from Antalya to Istanbul early this morning. It was a short and pleasant flight. Jim and I realize that we, at times, treat a flight as if it is a bus trip. We just get on and the plane takes us where we want to go. No muss, no fuss.

This flight offered a new opportunity for us though. And it had everything to do with the fact that I am still wearing this ridiculous boot on my foot. Today the plane parked out on the tarmac away from the terminal. Therefore there was no jetway through which the passengers could deplane. Everyone had to go down a flight of stairs and board a bus that would take us to the terminal. I was quite prepared to do that. I can manage stairs well enough as long as no one minds a slowpoke.

But the flight crew had other ideas and directed me to an exit on the opposite side of the plane. There was an open door and a wheelchair sitting on a platform. It was at that moment I realized that I was about to be transported off the plane in a service vehicle that had a hydraulic lift to carry things and people apparently on and off the plane. Jim came with me as well as an attendant. The doors closed behind us and we slowly were lowered to a new level. But we were not on the ground yet.

Next, the vehicle began to move along the tarmac. What a great tour of the back end of an active airport we had. Planes coming and going.; luggage being conveyed in every direction; service vehicles of all kinds moving to and from planes; and us!! We finally arrived at the area of the airport where the ambulances are parked and at that point we were lowered to the ground in a kind of exterior elevator.  The attendant who had been with us passed us off to another attendant who then pushed the wheelchair to luggage retrieval and on to find our hotel rep who was meeting us. We all proceeded to the parking lot where I was safely installed in the waiting vehicle. It was a pretty amazing journey actually.

A short time later we arrived at the Ada Hotel (unlike our previous hotel, this one has an elevator).  We settled into our room and then headed up to the rooftop terrace for a cup of tea. There is a magnificent view of the Sea of Marmora from the terrace as well as a distant view of the skyline of modern Istanbul. There are about five mosques within easy view of our hotel as well as many beautiful views of Sultanahmet buildings and neighbourhoods.

It was not long until a Call to Prayer was sung. With five mosques at close range, it was like hearing five echoes. The same words, the same melody but five different voices, each of which begins to sing in its own time and its own pitch. So there was no synchronicity or musicality at all. An amazing practice across this vast country.

Jim headed off to the Grand Bazaar to pick up previous purchases and have a cup of coffee with one of the vendors. He arrived back quite late in the afternoon. We had not had lunch so decided an early dinner was in order. We used Trip Advisor’s recommendation and selected a restaurant, Fener Fish, that featured excellent fish and also provided transportation to and from our hotel. Bonus!!

The meal began with some tasty meses and Jim and I, uncharacteristically, ordered the same main course, fish stew made from sea bream. It was magnificent. Trip Advisor does it again!!!

As we ate at our sidewalk table, darkness fell and the daytime life of the street transformed into night life. The streets were crowded with restaurants. Tables and chairs spill out onto the sidewalks and streets.  Bright lights and coloured lights add atmosphere to the street scene. Pedestrians stroll from menu to menu looking for the best place to eat. Men gather at corner shops for tea and street vendors offer a very different range of products at night than during the day.

Vendors plied us with roses, corn on the cob, nuts, peeled apples, packets of Kleenex, cigars, sweets … the list goes on. Musicians stroll from place to place playing music and looking for tips. Bottles of raki sit on the tables of those diners who want to extend the meal through the evening. We never did try any. And cats prowl the streets, well cared for, but looking for any morsels the patrons will pass on to them.

After a long, leisurely meal, we were taken back to our hotel and settled in for the night.


 Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tuesday was the day that we were going for a cruise on the Bosphorus Strait. Altan, our friend, was joining us part way along and we were going to have lunch at the last stop before the Black Sea. We were looking forward to the whole experience.

We boarded the ferry at about 10:30 and headed up the Bosphorus. Istanbul stretched for miles on both sides of the strait, Europe and Asia. It was an interesting feeling to be travelling in open water that separated two continents, although it was one city. We of course saw many fascinating buildings, two huge bridges joining the continents, and active ports where businesses and tourist activities flourished. What was the most memorable thing along the Bosphorus though was the number of freighters that were travelling from the Black Sea south to the Sea of Marmora and points beyond.  It was a steady stream of traffic, mixed in with a myriad of ferries, tour boats, small business craft and fishing vessels.

Fishing in the Bosphorus is a very successful industry. Fishing boats put down anchor almost anywhere along the waterway and, using a crane, drop their substantial nets into the water. After a few hours, they pull the nets up again and harvest the many fish that have been caught. Fresh fish are sold to markets and fish shops all along the shore where they are displayed and sold to individual customers as well as fish restaurants.

Altan joined us at the appointed location and we were able to ask him the many questions that had come to mind as we made this wonderful trip on the water.  We stopped for lunch at Anadolu Kovagi, the last port before the Black Sea. It was on the Asian side of the strait. We have not spent much time on the Asian side while in Istanbul although our entire road trip last week was in Asia.

In the distance, we could see the opening to the Black Sea, a place we have only read about in history books and travel information. And there it was, before our eyes. It was pretty thrilling to see it and hope that one day we might get there. So close today yet so far.

Lunch, of course, consisted of fish … this time a different kind of fish stew, prepared with sea bass, equally delicious as last night’s offering. The server brought a large tray of meses to our table so we could choose the ones we wanted and then he brought a large tray of nicely displayed fresh fish so we could choose the type of fish as well. We deferred to Altan’s judgement on both and he did not lead us astray.

After lunch we reboarded the ferry and headed back toward Eminonu, our starting point. Partway along, it was time to say farewell to Altan. It has been so much fun seeing him in his city and being able to ask questions that we could not easily ask anyone else.

The sky had opened and heavy rain was falling which made the world look a different place. We have heard that as autumn moves forward, rain is more frequent in Turkey. Hmm …. We have had some great weather up to this point. We only have a few days to go.

After we disembarked the ferry at Eminonu, we went to the Spice Market. What fun! We ended up spending a lot of time looking and choosing some purchases - dried fruit, nuts, Turkish Delight (of course) and some spices for Carroll. I also selected several ceramic pieces for friends and family at home. And a very beautiful scarf for me!

Then it was time to head back to our hotel. For all that Jim and I are pretty intelligent travellers, we did make one big mistake today. We did not bring the address of the hotel with us. So, we did not have anything but the name of the hotel to give to the taxi driver. We pored over maps to find the name of the street. We even called Altan to ask for his help. We knew he had the phone number for the hotel and we could call them to get the address. But, alas, no answer.

So, we took the plunge and hailed a cab. Happily, we ended up with a very friendly and helpful driver who could speak a bit of English. We gave him the information we had and he stopped several times in Sultanahmet to ask other people for directions. We were all relieved when we finally arrived at the Ada Hotel. We have already picked up address cards and have them in our wallets ready for tomorrow's adventure.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Today began with a leisurely breakfast on the rooftop terrace of our hotel (fifth floor view).  It was a pleasant day and the sun was just emerging above the buildings as we ate. We paused to take many photos of the views at close hand and in the distance. The Sea of Marmora sparkled not far away and showed off the many vessels that make their lives and livelihood on the water – fishing boats, sea-going freighters, ferries, pleasurecraft and a myriad of other boats bobbing on the gentle swell.  Neighbouring hotels and apartment blocks were coming to life as the morning moved forward. And the streets were alive with traffic of the vehicular as well as pedestrian variety. Minarets of all sizes and design are visible from our hotel (I know I have mentioned the sounds that emerge from them at regular intervals throughout the day.)

After breakfast, Jim returned one last time to the Grand Bazaar to purchase couple of items and have coffee with a carpet vendor he has become acquainted with. I remained on the roof to enjoy the sights and sounds of Istanbul.

Directly across the street from our hotel stand the ruins of a minaret. The crumbling top is often a perch for a seagull or two. Imagine my surprise when I was distracted by some movement at the top of the minaret (eye level with me) and a head popped up from the centre. Then another … and then a third head. Three local children, all about 9 years old, had climbed the interior staircase and were happily perched on a narrow and precarious ledge of loose bricks high above the street. (I was on the fifth floor of our hotel.) Yikes!! They waved and I asked if I could take their photo. They were very obliging and life went on. Some time later I saw them traversing a narrow brick wall with a v-top on it. And then on the roof of the nearest mosque. I guess they are experienced climbers.

Speaking of people and photographs, one of the attributes of many Turks that we have met is that they want us to take their photos. The logic of this defies us since they will never see a print of the photo and most times they do not even get to see the original in digital format. Nonetheless, they are delighted when we agree to take their photos and often pose for us. We have several photos of very friendly but totally unknown people.

We arranged to have our laundry done for the homeward bound trip. We turned it in at 9 am and it was back before noon. I am always impressed with the cleanliness and the great folding provided by the laundry service. The delivery person was concerned because there seemed to be a turquoise sock missing. I showed him that I had the mate to the sock on my foot. (I wear one sock under the boot.) We all had a good laugh about that.

Jim was back, the laundry in our room, and our Whirling Dervish tickets were arranged for this evening. It was time to be off for a self-directed tram tour of Istanbul. We took a taxi to Eminonu and boarded the tram there. The tram tracks crossed the Golden Horn and we remained on board until the end of the line. Most of the time, we were able to see the Bosphorus Strait to our right and the cityscape to our left. There was always something interesting to look at or new things to notice as we travelled along.

At the end of the line, we disembarked and took the most sophisticated funicular railway ever to connect to another tram line.  The funicular was ultra modern and sleek and travelled through a newly constructed tunnel up a very steep coastal hill. When we emerged at the top, we were in Taksim Square, considered to be the central square of Istanbul. It was a busy place and presented some challenges to us to find and physically reach the other tram line. Uncharacteristically we both became frustrated and gave up the mission. Even getting back to the funicular was a challenge by this point.  Let’s suffice it to say that we were glad when we finally reboarded the tram line we had just travelled.

We then travelled to the very end of the line going in the other direction. This route took us through the oldest parts of the city and then, outside the walls, we passed through several suburbs, business areas, light industrial parks and housing complexes.  It was a long distance to travel but it remained interesting all the way along.

Much of territory was the same as we had seen on our first day here on the Hop On Hop Off bus. Somehow it looked more familiar now and we certainly have a far greater understanding of the customs and culture. There is a significant religious holiday this weekend (a 4 day weekend) and the streets are already beginning to fill with people who are coming into town for the occasion. Similarly, the highways are getting clogged with the traffic of the outward bound, those Istanbul residents who are leaving town this weekend.  It sounds like a long weekend at home!

When we returned to Eminonu again, we took a taxi to the Fish Market and enjoyed looking at the day’s catch, all beautifully displayed. We selected one of the many adjacent restaurants, one with a great sea view, and sat down for an early dinner. We selected a beautiful sea bream for our main course and supplemented it with some mese plates – mussels, chili tomato sauce and ground olives in oil. A glass of wine for me and an Efes Dark for Jim were just the right beverages.  We finished off with a delicious Turkish pastry made mainly of honey and pistachios and a Turkish coffee. Yum!

We enjoyed watching the Bosphorus bound ocean vessels as well as the fishing boats of various sizes. Two old geezers caught our eye and entertained us for a while as they cleaned and tidied their small boats after a day of fishing. Either one of them could have been blown overboard in a whiff of breeze but there they were climbing from one boat to the other to lend a hand with whatever task needed to be done. It’s funny how each end of this day has been punctuated for me with worry about the very young (minaret climbers) and the very old (precarious old men).

Jim has headed off to a Turkish barber. His barber at home told him not to come back to Canada without visiting a Turkish barber. True to form, Jim has left it until our very last night here.

Jim has written a description of his visit to the barber …

Before we left home, when I mentioned that we were going to Turkey, I was told to be sure to get a haircut there as Turkish barbershops can and do provide more services than most such shops in Canada.  They are also open longer hours: most are open at least until 8:30 or later. So I left our hotel at 6:30pm to get a haircut knowing that I had to be back two hours later to leave in a taxi to attend a performance we had booked.  Two hours – should be no problem to go out, get a haircut and be back: some places in Canada schedule haircuts every half hour.  But I was worried.
Luckily, I had checked out a few shops earlier and narrowed my choice down to two likely suspects: a shop with two older barbers in an alleyway, and another larger unisex shop with younger barbers.  The one with two older barbers was somewhat far from our hotel, and seemed always to have someone waiting outside to go in, perhaps a good sign if you are not in a hurry. So I opted for the unisex shop.
Here you get much more than just a haircut. I declined having a manicure, a pedicure (with fish I understand), and a full body massage. There may have been more on the menu, but I was there for a haircut, and luckily did not have to wait very long before I was allocated my barber (I will call him Mehmet).
First question from Mehmet: do you want tea or coffee?  I opted for tea and it came in the Turkish standard clear curved glass and saucer with two sugar cubes on the side.
Then I was asked about how I wanted my hair (shorter) and beard (#2 on the side and #1½ underneath).
My head was sprayed a bit with water, and then the snipping started. Now, my frequent approach to haircuts is to close my eyes to convey my complete confidence in the barber’s abilities. But in this case I did look in the mirror periodically only to notice a very young face, just a few inches from my head, following the scissors as Mehmet lopped off four weeks growth. I have read that barbering as a profession is taken very seriously in Turkey: no foreign national is allowed to cut hair there.  I also understand there is a huge apprenticeship system where young boys watch someone use scissors for two years before they are allowed to try cutting on their own.
Periodically, Mehmet would stop and invite me to take another sip of tea.  After the hair was mostly tamed using scissors, clippers finished off the beard.
Now it was time for the shaving: lather and a straight razor, and since Gillette has convinced people that one blade is not good enough for a shave, Mehmet went over the skin with the straight razor three times, and then applied a lotion.
About this time, Mehmet inspected my head – lots of oohs and ahs – it did not sound like he liked what he saw. A device was set up to blow steam onto my face. Mehmet then painted my entire ears including the cavity with a warm liquid, and went away.
A young assistant arrived with a large two-fisted vibrator and started massaging my calf muscles while Mehmet or someone else was massaging my neck and shoulders by hand.  After completing the calf muscle massage the vibrator moved up to give a thigh muscle massage. Meanwhile the neck and shoulder massage continued.
Mehmet returned and removed what used to be the warm liquid – it was now cold wax that contained lots of hairs that I was unaware I had.  Two big ouches and a few small ones as Mehmet picked off wax bits that were missed with the big pulls. Mehmet proposed doing a wax job on my nose as well, but I declined.
Instead Mehmet gave me a scissor job on and in my nose, but clearly regarded this as a second-best approach.
At the end of all this, the steam was turned off and I found out what it was about: the barber had noticed three pimples on my nose and they all had to be squeezed!
Once the face was looking marginally OK with pimples in retreat, it was time for face polishing.  Lotion was spread over my expanding forehead and face, and an assistant came along with an electric polisher: think miniature floor polisher with only one wheel and you have the idea. I guess my face must have been pretty dull when I started because it seemed to require polishing for a long time.
Now it was time to lean forward into the sink for a hair and beard shampoo and rinse. This was followed by a head massage.  During the massage I realized that it was 8:10pm and I would have to leave soon.  I excused myself from the massage and asked to pay.  Another assistant came up and indicated that I was not done yet; my understanding of Turkish and hand-waving was that I needed to have my hair blow-dried and I will never know what else as I excused myself and paid.

Jim got back from his 90 minute haircut just in time for us to leave for the Whirling Dervishes. Whirling Dervishes are Sufi who are practising Muslims in the Mevelevi Order. They receive intensive training in the beliefs and teachings of Mevlana Rumi, one of which is that repetitive, unconscious movements (ie whirling) can transform you into a meditative/mystic state and allow your mind to be free of all earthly thoughts. Live music, both instrumental and vocal, provides the background for the dancers who perform a series of dances, each of which culminates in whirling, at times slowly and sometimes very quickly.  The entire performance is in fact a sacred and spiritual event for the performers (musicians and dancers). It is hoped that the audience will also feel the spirituality of the whirling as they watch.

I have to be honest about this.  Sadly, Jim and I did not feel the spirituality. We went with open minds, looking forward to a new experience and deeper understanding of Whirling Dervishes. The audience was respectfully quiet and engaged. But we were left feeling quite empty and confused. Not what we had hoped for from this event.

Now we are back at our hotel and packing for one final trip home. We are happy about the way our luggage is organized and we do not anticipate any ‘weight’ glitches along the way. (As some of you know, we do not travel lightly!)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

It is hard to believe that this three month adventure will soon be at its end. We have enjoyed every element of it. So many amazing people and experiences packed into each and every day. We have taken thousands of photos, written an extensive diary and compiled four photobooks which await our arrival home. I am about to press send on the final one tonight.

Today we enjoyed a final breakfast on the rooftop terrace of our hotel in Istanbul. The sun was shining, the sea was gleaming and the sky beckoned to us …. It is time to go home.

En route to the airport, we noticed that the streets were uncharacteristically quiet. Few pedestrians and few cars. Today is a significant religious holiday in Istanbul and most shops and businesses are closed. Families were picnicking in parks and fishing along the seashore.

And, we are flying to London (which is where I am writing this). And then tomorrow home to Toronto. I will say it gave me much pleasure when I saw the British Airways agent tag our bags with YYZ (Toronto).

One more sleep!

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