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02 October

Ten Things You Must Do in European Turkey

Oct 2, 2005

Dear all,

It has been three weeks since I wrote to you about my one day journey in Esfahan, Iran. After that I spent another week in northwestern Iran, met several very nice Azerbaijan people and stayed at locals’ homes for a couple of days before crossing into Turkey.

In Turkey I generally moved along a rectangle: from the east to west along the Black Sea, from north to south along the Aegean Sea, and from west to east along the Mediterranean Sea. I am now on the third arm at a lovely port of Antalya by the Mediterranean.

Last week I spent six days in northwestern Turkey, e.g., the tiny European part, and had very good time there. So what’s my tips for your future journey in this region?

There are ten things you must do:

1. For antique lover, visit the magnificent Istanbul Archaeology Museum;

Turkey is an important crossroad for various early civilizations. The Hittites, the Phrygians, the Urartians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Persians, the Romans……all left their legacy in this immense land called Anatolia. Through centuries of Roman dominance, great amount of Roman sculptures remained and arguably the best part is kept in Istanbul Archaeology Museum. It also has a handsome collection of antiques from Egypt (raided two thousand years ago).

2. For shopping mania, visit the Istiklal Cad. of Istanbul;

I am not at all interested in shopping, yet I went there twice. It’s a lovely pedestrian street with an old, but still in operation, tram track in the middle. I love to stroll in the evening under warm neon lights and watch people gaily passing by. But my favorite is to walk into every bookshop, wander along its CD section and enjoy different kinds of music.

Turkish music, no doubt, is most frequently played; yet I was fascinated by the Russian-style music played by a very small shop. The first night I almost passed without noticing it: it’s too small. It’s because of the music that made me stop and look for its source. I found this shop and found this CD: Dance With Me by St. Petersberg Lyric Ensemble. I asked for price. It’s about $25. My daily budget in Turkey is only $40. I moved on.

The second day when I passed the same shop I heard exactly the same song. Seems the shop owner loves this CD. I found this CD again, held it in hand, pondered for a while and gave up again: on that day I had already bought two Turkish music CD as gifts, I no longer had any budget left.

You might say: hey buddy, don’t be so stringent on yourself. If you love it, just have it. Not to mention you definitely afford a $25 CD.

Well, I would have if I was back at home. But now I am on the way and I set a budget and I have to follow it. It’s a pity that I couldn’t get the CD I love, but think about it: A journey is not perfect without imperfection (what nonsense are you talking about???). So I am happy to see such imperfection happen and I am happy to keep an eternal great memory of this CD in my mind (Yet I still wish I could find it in HMV back home).

3. If you are a dipsomania, go to Nevizade street in Istanbul;

Again, I am not at all fond of alcohol. However, I had some interesting experience there.

I’ve told you that I enjoyed walking along Istiklal Cad. On the first night in Istanbul I was doing so when a local guy approached me. He speaks excellent English, claiming himself a graphic designer and came from Ankara on business. It’s a pleasant talk until he proposed to drink a beer in a nearby pub along Nevizade.

I had learned scam story from my Lonely Planet, so I instantly rejected, saying that I just had dinner thus didn’t want anything. And we parted.

I felt a little bit guilty. He really seemed to be a quite decent guy. Maybe I shouldn’t have turned him down.

Then I returned my hostel dormitory and told this story to a New Yorker roommate, who comforted me with his story. The day before, he was also happily walking on the same street and a guy also approached him and talked with him in good English. Then the guy proposed the same and this New Yorker accepted. They walked into a pub and ordered two jugs of beer. Before they started, two girls joined them and, of course, our charming New Yorker agreed to buy them beer as well.

He drank only one fifth of the beer before he felt dizzy, whereas the guy kept asking him to drink. He sensed something wrong, stopped drinking and asked for bill to check-out. He thought 4 jugs of beer might cost 20YTL or so (1.33YTL = US$1), but the bill was actually 350YTL.

“What?!” He yelled and refused to pay. The local guy was so kind to offer to share half the cost so that the New Yorker only needed to pay 180YTL.

“But I only have 60YTL with me.”

“No problem. We will show you the ATM.”

So the local guy and the pub owner escorted the poor New Yorker to a nearby ATM and withdrew another 120YTL.

Are you aghast? This is not the end of the story yet.

When the New Yorker came back to the same dormitory of the same hostel, he told his sad story to his two roommates, whom I didn’t have the honor to meet. The two Europeans comforted him with their stories, respectively. The first one met with exactly the same situation and paid 400YTL, whereas the second one was brave enough to finish his jug of beer, lost consciousness afterwards and  woke up at an unknown place with all belongings gone.

4. For history lover, visit the Topkapi Palace, especially the Harem;

Even people like me have to admit that, one of the very few benefits, I mean real ones, that so-called “democracy” brings to the mass is that we can visit the royal palaces.

Harem is the inner palace where Ottoman Sultans spent with his wives and concubines. It is said that some Sultans love women: having 300 strong concubines, whereas others hate them: one of the Sultans wore special shoes that generated harsh noise so that ladies in the Harem could avoid him. Another Sultan both loved and hated his concubines. When the latter prevailed, he drown them all in the Bosporus Straits.

Let’s stop talking about such unpleasant stories.

5. For Christian, visit the Aya Sofya for its gorgeous mosaic of Jesus Christ;

After my journey through the Islamic world of northwestern China, Pakistan and Iran, I am delightful to see a larger variety of religions in Turkey. This is the region where Christianity first prospered. Virgin Mary, escorted by St. John, retired in a small cottage  that I visited during sunset two days ago; St. John himself wrote the Book of Revelation there and indicated seven churches of Asia (I visited two in Pergamum and Ephesus); St. Paul, arguably the greatest Christian missionary, made three journeys across Turkey; and even Santa Claus was born in Kale along the east Mediterranean Sea.

As part of the research work necessary for a fulfilling journey, I am reading a very nicely translated Bible Chinese version, courtesy of Jennifer Lee. Thanks alot!

6. For voyage lover, take one on the Bosporus;

The name Bosporus came from ancient Greek. Bous means cow and poros means ford. So Bosporus means place where the cow crossed. The Greek mythology has it that Zeus, the king of gods (and the king with excessive libido) had affair with a lady called Io. After his wife Hera discovered his infidelity, Zeus turned Io into a cow in an attempt to cover it up. Hera sent a horsefly to sting the cow, which had to flee by crossing this strait.

Zeus had too many such infamous stories. 10 days ago I passed a town by the Black Sea called Sinop. The name comes from Sinope, a beautiful girl that Zeus fell in love with. To chase her, he promised to grant her any wish. Guess what? Sinope asked for eternal virginity.

7. If you love the rural view, enjoy the south Europe landscape;

(Zory: I had a look of Bulgaria from the Turkish border)

8. If you a military fan, visit Gallipoli Peninsula;

This is the battlefield on which the Allied troops and the Turks fought for 9 month during the first World War, which resulted in the rise of Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk or Father of Turkey) for his wild guess of enemy landing site, which resulted in the sack of Winston Churchill for his disastrous adventure, and which resulted in more than half a million casualties.  As we all know that WWI is not a justified war (that is to say there was no good or bad side at all), so many invaluable lives was lost in a meaningless battle. What a pity!

We might not be able to avoid war. But at least we should avoid such nonsense war. And this is why people should visit this battlefield.

9. If you want a haven of serenity, visit the peaceful town of Edirne near the border of both Bulgaria and Greece;

Edirne was the brief capital of the Ottoman Empire between Bursa and Istanbul. It has several wonderful mosques that represent the transition between architecture styles. Designed by the great architect Mimar Sinan, Selimiye Camii is the most beautiful mosque I’ve visited in Turkey. Unlike most mediocre mosques with huge pillars in the middle of the hall blocking your view, or poor natural lighting that made the dome terribly dim and gave rise to huge and ugly lamp hanging from above, this mosque was so nicely designed that its pillar was hid within the wall and, because the burden was distributed properly, the wall affords lots of dormers, which brings abundance of lighting to the hall.

And the last benefit: there is hardly any tourist at all. So sit back and enjoy the undisturbed view of this architectural miracle.

10. Come back here again!

PS: Two days ago I was standing in the stage centre of the amphitheatre at Ephesus when a group of German tourists cheered me to read or sing something. So I sang “Oh wear your tribulation like a rose” (from Hymn to St. Cecilia by Benjamin Britten). The acoustic effect is so nice that everyone were stunned. And, as a result, every one in that ruin that afternoon knew about this Chinese tenor:-) Even three hours later when I met a Spanish couple on the street, they recognized me instantly. Thank you, the unknown Roman architect, who made me a starlet thousands of years later.

Best regards,

Wang Yi

The Rogue Nation Traveler

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