Thursday, November 02, 2006

Fairy Chimneys, Hamams and Whirling Dervishes

Upon completing our fabulous week on the gulet, we all headed for Antalya to catch our next flight to the Cappadocia area of Turkey. Only 5 of the 10 who had enjoyed the gulet were going on to Cappadocia. Bailey, Ed, Gina, Dan and Christine went on to Istanbul for a couple of days before heading back home. Nancye Starnes of Charleston joined us in Urgup, our first stop in Cappadocia and added a lot of fun to that leg of the trip.

The Cappadocia region of Turkey is magical with its weird Martian-like rock formations (called Fairy Chimneys by the Turks) and caves where people carved out homes and churches to escape from raids or religious persecution. This area was part of the birthplace of Christianity and the churches have elaborate paintings telling the history and stories of Christianity. There are also underground cities where they had most everything from water systems to wineries to multiple stories of housing as well as elaborate booby traps to protect them from intruders. However, some of the passages from room to room or house to house are very narrow as you can tell from the picture of Nancye going through the tunnels. The ancient Silk Road winds through Cappadocia and we visited a keravanseray or inn used by traders and camel caravans that traveled its route. All was amazing to see and learn.

Our hotel in the village of Urgup, is actually built into the side of the Cappadocian cliffs. Our rooms were formerly part of the old caves; they were both spacious and cozy and had an elegant austerity with beautiful niches and shelves carved into the white washed walls. It was quite luxurious - not like any caves we've ever seen. All the rooms were different and everyone loved it.

On our first day in Cappadocia, one of the many things that we did was to visit a cave home where people still live. There we chatted and shared some molasses that the homeowner had made. We also bought traditional mittens and socks made by the women. Everyone was cleaning for the Bayram, the 3-day holiday at the end of Ramadan where Muslims fast for about one month. During Bayram, they have parties and dinners with their families and friends. From what we understand, it is somewhat like Thanksgiving where it is very family oriented and a time for giving thanks and love to all. Also it was fascinating to see them vacuuming a cave house.

While in Urgup, the women decided to visit a hamam or Turkish bath. The one in Urgup was about 150 years old and was quite traditional. Turks quite often use the hamams to both relax and bathe themselves. In these days, many people go - as we did - not only for the sauna and bath, but also for the wonderful scrub and massage treatment. Remember that in Cappadocia, many people still live in cave houses and have no plumbing. The day had been a very busy one at the hamam because many Turks had gone to bathe in preparation for Bayram.

None of us had ever been to a hamam so we sure did not know what to expect except that we would get a massage and a bath. Carol, Betsey, Nancye and Edith went. None of the men wanted to go which was probably good since there was only one room for bathing. Upon entering the hamam, we noticed that there were no women present. We took comfort in the fact that the male attendant did not seem surprised to see women coming in. He gave us each what looked like a gingham dishtowel and pointed us to dressing rooms and told us to take off our jewelry, completely undress, and wrap ourselves in the cloths.

Clad in the oversized dishtowels we were led into the hamam, a huge room with a big octagonal marble slab in the middle of it and open rooms in each corner with marble sinks. We were directed to shower or bathe ourselves using the marble sinks, then to go in the sauna for ten minutes and then lie on the octagonal heated marble lab in the middle of the hamam until they came to get us. The hamam was quite hot and we stayed in the steamy sauna for as long as we could take it. We then emerged and flopped down onto the heated slab and gazed up at the little round windows in the domed roof of the hamam which were blue and gold with the colors of the late afternoon sky, wondering what was next. After about 15 minutes on the slab, two men wrapped in the same oversized dish towels called for two of us. What a big surprise! We did not realize that men were part of the bathing experience.

Carol and Betsey were the first guinea pigs. Nancye and Edith, meanwhile, were left lying on the marble slab listening with growing curiosity to the sounds of water splashing and muffled voices while their imaginations ran wild. After about 30 minutes Betsey and Carol returned to the hamam for a final shower and Nancye and Edith were called into the "treatment room" (for lack of a better word) with the men. The room was bare of any furniture except for two marble benches about the size of a twin bed; one high and one low. On the high one, you lie down, are covered with suds and massaged on every part of your body that is not wrapped in the dishtowel. On the low one, you sit down and are scrubbed pink with a loofah mitten. One man is responsible for massaging and the other is responsible for scrubbing. We switch off when each man is finished. We all agreed that even as children we had never had such a wonderful bath!

Another new experience in Cappadocia was seeing the Whirling Dervish. They perform in a 13th century kervansaray which was an inn on the Silk Road. Trade across Turkey in medieval Seljuk times was dependent on camel caravans (kervan, anglicized as caravan), which stopped by night in these inns known as kervansaray, literally 'caravan palaces'. These buildings provided accommodation and other amenities for the merchants and stabling for their animals. A tiny pavilion mosque known as a köşk mescit, was situated in the center of the courtyard and the ceremony was performed there. It was quite beautiful and spiritual in this setting. We are told that as the Dervishes twirl, they go into a trance which takes them from worldly desires, allowing their souls to open and lost in their thoughts of God. Their dance is very graceful in both their feet and hand movements and the flowing white dress billows out as they twirl and the cone-like hat adds to the mystery of the twirling.

After Cappadocia, we flew to Istanbul, a city with a distinctive mixture of history and sophistication. There David Hughes, Nancye's boyfriend joined us from Great Britain and added a real liveliness to the group. Here is a great picture of him sniffing different instant coffees which were presented when we asked for coffee at Korfez, one of the nicest restaurants in Istanbul. As we soon found out, we had to ask for Turkish coffee to get real coffee. We never knew there were so many types of instant coffee.

In addition to seeing sights such as the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya, the Hippodrome where chariot races were performed and the beautiful and romantic underground Basilica Cistern which supplied water for Romans, we took the ferry down the crowded and vital Bosphorus and saw the Ottoman Military Band. Of course, the women had to test out the haman and shop at the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market.

Rick was on an endless quest to find Istanbul's best rice pudding while Carol loved the Attaturk banners and Turkish flags flying all over the city in celebration of Republic Day - which is like Turkey's July Fourth - and marks the founding of Turkey's secular form of government and also honors Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. And despite the endless hawking and negotiating by and with the rug merchants, no one in our group came away with a rug. We definitely learned that we were not good at the ancient art of negotiating - we only had a couple of weeks to learn. However, we have heard rumors that the earlier group did leave with a rug or two or three and we'd love to know how they did.

While in Istanbul, Edith and Rick had a great visit with their friends, Gurcan and Dogucan and even met Gurcan's girlfriend, Guler. We got to experience the real kebab at the well-known Hamdi restaurant.
The kebab had to have been at least 3 feet long and was absolutely delicious. We also learned the proper way to eat kebabs which is much like eating soft tacos where you pile lots of condiments and meat on a thin bread and roll it up. We tried the blood red turnip juice which Edith loved and the liquor, Raki, which she definitely did not like. We all are going to miss the Turkish food when we leave.