Warning: Declaration of Suffusion_MM_Walker::start_el(&$output, $item, $depth, $args) should be compatible with Walker_Nav_Menu::start_el(&$output, $data_object, $depth = 0, $args = NULL, $current_object_id = 0) in /home/customer/www/dreamcatcherseminars.com/public_html/wp-content/themes/suffusion/library/suffusion-walkers.php on line 17
Nov 272010

Checking out the gold in the Grand Bazaar

We have to beat feet to Ankara. Our plane leaves for Istanbul at nine and it’s a four hour drive from Cappodocia.

Unfortunately we arrive after dark in Turkey’s capitol city. I can’t see much. It appears from it’s highways, a very modern capitol. The freeway to the airport is broad, with bright, blue, neon displays every kilometer or so.

The airport itself, with its architecturally stunning and spacious, marbled public areas, is worthy of any capitol city in the world.

We arrive at the Sabiha Gokcen Airport south of Istanbul in Asia rather than Atatürk International on the west and in Europe. On the bus from the plane to the terminal I meet a Turk who speaks excellent English. He’s a colonel in the Turkish army and a graduate of West Point. We chat only briefly but after reading several book on Turkish politics I yearn for a real conversation to gain his unique perspective.

It takes another hour and a half to reach the Grand Anka Hotel where we will spend our last three nights. At this late hour the trip is long and uneventful other than crossing the beautiful Bosphorus Bridge as the tens of thousands of colored lights ringing its cables and superstructure put on an ever changing light show.

Our final days with the group, who is now more family than simply co-travelers, are spent meeting with various media, charitable and professional associations as well as exploring Istanbul’s famous bazaars.

Our first stop after breakfast, is Fatih University, an inter-faith college and the alma mater of Serkan’s wife, Nooran, who we finally meet. She needs to pickup some paperwork for their upcoming three-year sojourn in America.

Serkan and his lovely wife, Nooran

Mustafa Yücel of Fatih University

We meet with one of the administrators and, true to form, our erudite group peppers him with questions about education at the university level in Turkey and Fatih in particular. Fatih is a Gülen inspired institution and draws students from around the globe. I believe seventy-five countries are represented. Classes take place in English.  The university is young and only now providing graduate-level courses.

Our group at Fatih University with gifts, more books.

Our next stop is Zaman, one of Turkey’s leading newspapers and the only with an English language edition. Zaman’s modern building is architecturally interesting with a visually stunning interior atrium rising seven stories to an open skylight. Offices circle the brightly-lit interior while floor to ceiling windows allow a view into the bustle of the newsrooms.

The stunning interior of the Zaman building

Meeting with Karim Balcı, one of the editors

A view into a part of the newsroom, some with headscarves, some without.

Security measures at Zaman’s entrance

An interesting point that opened my eyes to the danger Al Qaeda poses beyond the U.S. we learned from our conversation with the editor: Because of Zaman’s stance as a moderate Islamic newspaper and its vocal condemnation of terrorism, the military recommended security measures be taken. Zaman’s building is now surrounded by high fences, cameras and guards; it’s underground parking protected from car bombs by moveable barriers.

In one of the main corridors of the Grand Bazaaar

Amazingly, we have a free afternoon to spend in the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. Several of us spend hours wandering the maze of over 4,000 shops lining the crowded, noisy corridors and narrow alleys of the ancient bazaar. Certainly it’s touristy, with trinkets and geegaws alongside finely-made leather jackets, quality silks, beautiful, hand-made carpets and exquisite fabrics.

The entrance to a shop in the section of the Grand Bazaar devoted to fabrics

If you can’t find it inside, then it’s likely sold in the warren of streets we encounter while trying to find the Spice Bazaar. Thousands more shops bustle with with activity; Turks here rather than tourists.

The two bazaars appear much closer on the map than in reality and after a few wrongs turns we stumble upon the entrance and unmistakable aromas of the Spice Bazaar. It is a delight to the senses, even more than its larger cousin. Elaborate displays of colorful spices, nuts and candies line the aisles, each stall competing for eyeballs and noses. Signs proclaiming “Iranian Saffron”… and “Turkish Viagra” vie for our attention.

One of my architectural clients in Vail told me I must look up a friend with a shop here. I find it without much trouble, opening its door, one of only a few stores with doors, and step from the noise and crowds into the quiet, lightly-scented interior. I find a store selling much higher quality merchandise than most.

I ask for Tahir but am introduced to his brother, Ibrahim, instead. Tahir is out of town, he tells me, visiting their family’s home town of Nigde! Nigde of all places!! The small town in central Anatolia where we received such an overwhelming reception only two nights before! Talk about coincidences.

Ibrahim invites us downstairs into a basement world of fine carpets, fabrics and clothes where, true to form, we share tea and customary Turkish hospitality.

Esra Tur at Kimse Yok Mu explains in excellent English some of the programs undertaken by the charity

Our last day together begins with a visit to a Gülen-inspired charity, Kimse Yok Mu, “Is anybody there?”, the name based upon a cry from a victim trapped in Turkey’s 1999 earthquake.

Afterward, we stop at Samanyolu, among Turkey’s highest-rated TV networks. Here, we are told, they strive to provide quality programming that is in some way uplifting or family oriented. As well, they over-dub popular shows from other countries including America. No gratuitous violence, certainly no profanity. A brief tour finds us in the kitchen of Yesil Elma, Turkey’s Emeril, just prior to broadcast.

A brief lesson in Turkish Cooking as Yesil Elma prepares for his show

Chef Casey and his eggplants

Yolanda can’t resist a photo with the chef

We receive a quick lesson in Turkish cooking from the gracious host while indulging our questions. Cem, our “assistant guide” from LA, phones his wife, a big fan, handing the phone to the chef. She is thrilled.

The dessert counter at Kanaat Lokantası in Üskadar

It’s now lunchtime. We’re in Asia and Serkan directs us to a restaurant owned by a friend in Üskadar, across the Bosphorus from the Golden Horn and Istanbul’s prime historical attractions. The restaurant has been around for ages and specializes in dishes from the Ottoman Era.

Feelie making a point to the owner, Serkan’s friend, Mehmet Ulutürk, during lunch.

During lunch, smoke rises from the upper floor of a bakery across the street. Fire has always been a severe threat in Istanbul due to the crowding of the wooden buildings, many, very old. The city has suffered huge conflagrations in the past.

Fire trucks arrive promptly, the smoke diminishes and all is well is Üskadar.

The rest of the afternoon is spent in Asia. We visit Bakiad, the Atlantic Association of Cultural Cooperation and Friendship, one of the sponsors of our trip and meet with Osman Baloglu, the General Secretary. Their mission statement reads: Our ultimate goal is to serve and maintain global peace and harmony by building bridges towards a long lasting friendship between the peoples of Turkey and North America, including transatlantic countries, through educational, social, art and cultural activities.

At Bakiad

I must say, and I believe I speak for the other members of our group, they achieved their goal with us. We have learned so much about Turkey’s history, people and culture. We have experienced unparalleled hospitality. We have engaged in deep, rewarding dialog, gained insights into Islam and it’s unique practice in Turkey’s culture, and I believe we also provided those we met with a tiny window into our culture, beliefs, values and lifestyle. Clearly, the goal of building bridges was achieved. We hope too, that lasting friendships were formed.

Meeting with Dr. Ahmet Atliğ at the Journalists and Writers Association

Our final meeting is with members of the journalist’s and writer’s association. Our group is ushered into a bright, spacious meeting room whose broad windows open to a lush, terraced garden. The de rigeur tea is served and our dialog with two, well-dressed gentlemen, one, a former Imam, both writers, begins.

Much of what is discussed focuses around their interest in ways to get the message of the moderate Gülen Movement out, especially to the US, and who to invite on these exchanges. Our ideas surround inviting Buddhists and Hindus; the smaller sects, in addition to those of the Abrahamic traditions; also, inviting artists, ministers of mega-churches and young people, so that they might live with an understanding of the warmth and love we experienced and that this understanding might influence their future.

Additionally, we talked about Wahabbism and the power it exerts over America’s perception of Islam. Succinctly, the former Imam described it in these terms: Taking a cup of tea he said, “This is tea and this is sugar. Sugar is spirituality. Tea needs sugar. When you take the sugar out of the tea, here, you have Wahabbism. No spirituality, just pure religion, dry knowledge.”

Later, in summing up the purpose of these cultural exchanges he cites a story about Rumi: “One day Rumi was asked the meaning of love. He struggled, but couldn’t define it. Instead, he said this: ‘I can’t express to you the meaning of love, just taste it.’. You came here, we’ve been to America and we tasted. Our duty is to say just taste it.”

Dusk is now descending. Still in Asia, Serkan has one last surprise. We find ourselves in a park, high above the Bosphorus, the colorful lights of Istanbul’s two famous bridges shine far to the west. A large, palace-like structure looms in the gathering twilight, floodlights playing across its ornate facade. We enter the high-ceilinged, tastefully, ostentatious rooms for our last dinner together. This is a restaurant few tourists would ever find.

Outside the Beltur Hıdiv Restaurant

Capping our meal as well as our trip, we each attempt to share our feelings about our time in Turkey, each other and especially our warm feelings toward Serkan. Little do we suspect that Serkan has a final surprise up his sleeve. Cem’s wife, Noor, joined us at lunch and spent the afternoon with us. It’s her birthday and Serkan has ordered a birthday cake complete with sparklers shooting into the air.

We all sing happy birthday and Noor is overcome with tears. Such a fitting ending to not only a wonderful day, but to an incredible journey filled with warmth and surprises.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging


Nov 092010

Next on the agenda is the incredible, in the truest sense of the word, fairytale landscape of Cappodocia. First though, on the road from Nigde to Cappodocia, a tour of the subterranean world of Kamakli.

The town above Ramakli

According to the Turkish Department of Culture, the Phrygians began the complex of underground cities, carving them from the soft, volcanic rock of the region in the 8th-7th centuries B.C.E.. They were greatly enlarged in the Byzantine era and perhaps sheltered the early Christians from Roman persecution. In the 6th and 7th centuries C.E., Christians, fearing Arabs raiders, used them as well. More than 200 underground cities, many connected through miles of tunnels, have been discovered between the towns of Kayseri and Nevsehir. Only a few are excavated and open to tourists.

Casey and David photographing inside what was the church.

One of the stone doors which was rolled into place in times of danger. The hole in it’s center allowed the defenders to shoot arrows at the attackers.

The Kamakli underground city is a labyrinth of rooms. Stables, passageways, kitchens, wine cellars, air vents and churches extend eight erratic levels below the surface. Only four levels are currently open. The city is cleverly excavated to allow airflow from the surface. Smoke from the cooking fires was absorbed by the soft rock, hindering detection. Up to 3,000 people took refuge for months at a time.

Another nearby underground city, Derinkuyu, an eleven level complex, is believed to have housed as many as 50,000! It must have been a cramped, uncomfortable and desperate existence with little privacy.

Selling carpets outside the underground city

A short drive takes us to Göreme where, even though prepared, I am astounded by the amazing honeycombed, rock pinnacles of the small towns. Doors, windows and porches of homes are sculpted into the volcanic tuft. Signs adorn the bizarre formations as small shops are carved into the stone.

One of the towns in the Cappodocia region

I yearn to stop as we drive by one amazing town after another. Finally, the bus pulls up in front of a large complex of stalls selling every conceivable trinket and rug. Walking between them takes us to a long cliff overlooking a panorama the like of which I have only seen in a few of America’s western national parks and monuments.

The valley stretching beneath is a complex panoply of erosion sculpted white and gray hoodoos. The hulking pyramid of an extinct volcano, the likely source of all this tuft, lurks in the distance beneath a bright, blue sky. Interspersed amidst this bizarre landscape are houses, shops, mosques and large hotels. Homes have been hewn from most of the rock formations. I can only imagine their interiors. Many pinnacles are hotels. Rooms can be had for a little as $50 a night with rooms in the higher-end hotels going for hundreds of dollars a night.

A hotel set within the valley

Thousands of prayers adorn the skeleton of a tree at the valley rim

We are allowed an all to brief stop and sadly, no chance to descend and walk amongst the incredible formations of this fairyland-like town.

Reluctantly climbing aboard the small bus, we head to our next destination, a restaurant for lunch. And once again, nothing could have prepared us for what we are to experience.

As we pull into into the large parking lot, little is seen but a brown ridge covered with dried grasses and low bushes. It is fall after all. Rounding a corner, we encounter a spacious, stone courtyard flanked by two stone eagles leading to the finely carved, columned entrance to Uranos Sarikaya, where we are to eat.

The waiting room near the entrance

A wide, dimly lit hallway perhaps fifty yards long leads deep into the hillside. Passing through the archway at its end we enter a high, round chamber, the restaurant itself, beautifully carved from the living rock. A lone musician plays the zither in the subdued light at the very center of the circular mosaic floor, sitting within concentric circles of elaborate design. Five chambers, each with stone six tables seating ten diners extend like spokes of a wheel from the mosaic hub. Everything, the tables, benches, railings, columns and doorways are carved in place from the stone of the mountain; truly beautiful craftsmanship. This must provide a taste of what the homes and hotels must be like.

The cooks arrive with once again, too much delicious food and any frustration over the short time spent viewing the valley is forgotten.

The zither player serenades us at our tables with traditional songs

The kitchen off the entry hallway

The kitchen off the entry hallway

Following lunch we return to the area of Göreme for what, according to the guide books, is an imperative; the Göreme Open-Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The museum is a monastic complex of Byzantine refectories and churches carved into the rock between the 9th and 12th centuries C.E..

Crowds waiting to enter one of the churches

Once again, fantastic shapes abound. We have time to enter only a few of the eleven or so tiny, 12th century churches. Vivid, colorful frescoes, most in exceptional condition, adorn the walls and ceilings. The love, talent and stupendous time and effort is humbling and awe-inspiring.

Unfortunately, again, I am not allowed to photograph inside the churches. Even though with my cameras, I wouldn’t need to use flash, it is understandable. If allowed, thousands of flashes would go off every day. This continual assault would degrade these thousand year-old treasures in no time. Here are links to some photos of the frescos taken without flash. It gives a taste of the beauty of the work as well as more history: http://www.goreme.com/goreme-open-air-museum.php and http://www.sacred-destinations.com/turkey/cappadocia-goreme-cave-churches

Sadly, our itinerary doesn’t include a night here. We have another several hour drive to Ankara, Turkey’s capital, to catch a night flight back to Istanbul for our final few days with this amazing group of new and extremely interesting friends. I have to be satisfied with a morsel of what Cappodocia offers. Truly, this region of Turkey is so phenomenally otherworldly that I must return and spend days wandering its valleys, exploring its ancient wonders and photographing its bizarre, fairytale formations.

The traditional Turkish amulet used to ward off wishes of bad intent or the “evil eye”

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging