Last Impressions of Turkey
Well, first off, Turkey is an amazing place…simply a historians dream…there are few places in the world that can claim the history and a true chaotic and complicated one at that…I read a brief historical book to catch up on a few thousand years of their fractious past before I arrived…I particularly like the Byzantine and Ottoman times…lots of intrigue, especially during the Ottoman days of the Sultans…My my what a violent and yet “sultry” bunch they were…Fratricide & Concubines together…Yep, fun times were had by all except maybe the one Sultan who was pulled out of the Golden Cage, after living in solitude from year 2 to 51! He seemed to be a bit whacked…so his Sultanhood didn’t last too long…and these guys ran a very tight ship…One bad move and you could get your head cut off and displayed for all citizens to see when they did their daily shopping in the Palace Courtyard…and don’t even think about begging for your life…the Sultans only used those who were Deaf/Mute so they couldn’t hear the pleading or tell the tales afterward…And these Sultans were actually quite kind when you consider the Romans would tie their “bad” guys to the corner of the Theater so when 1000’s upon 1000’s walked into the coliseums to watch a show of, most likely, lions ripping apart one of their fine citizens or perhaps some gladiators fighting to the death…the various citizens could beat the “bad” guy or do whatever they chose because he would be left there until the elements, starvation or just the violence of their fellow comrades took them down…So when you ponder how bad things are today, there may be another way to look at things…you could be living back in one of the many more violent time periods…and there were many of them…
The History of Turkey is spiced up with their amazing topography…from their location between 3 Continents that allows them to share several seas…to the beautiful Fairy Chimneys in Cappadocia…to the majestic mountain ranges…magical White area of the calcium beauty of Pamukkale…and so on and so on…This country has it all…
On top of the History, topography are the people…As with most of this area of the world, it is embedded in the culture to welcome any visitor as if they are long lost family. Regardless what you see on TV, if you find yourself lost in many of these countries, you will be welcomed into a local home and if there is strife, you will be protected…that is once you are in the home. It is a strong part of both culture and religion.
On this trip, I had the most amazing opportunities to meet and spend time with so many different people from so many different places…Since this “tour” was really an independent one where they moved me from place to place but each place offered new people(some I would see over again) in the group and new guides from different areas of the country…This is actually a really easy way to tour…and because I am solo, I tended to open up conversations more readily. This trip, unlike others , really had diverse people…
The tour itself had several people from Singapore. One couple had lived in places like Afghanistan…the husband kept telling me that if I went to Iran, that I would love Kabul! He ran a tour company there for 3 years…seriously…I said I would only consider going there if I could travel safely around…he said Kabul is completely safe but not so outside…so I think that will not be on my list…He and his wife were Sikhs(and he pronounced it Seek…not Sik)…They spent some time explaining their religion…seems more like a philosophy like Buddhism…And just a little tidbit, the Sikhs do not like the Muslims…which is tragically ironic since after 9-11, many Sikhs were killed because crazy Americans thought they were Muslim…Very different religion…more meditative. And, not to belabor a point, but Islam is a religion of Peace just like Christianity and Judaism and all Religions BUT like all these other religions, it’s Philosophies can be misread and misinterpreted to do negative things…it’s not the religion, it’s those people who abuse it.
The 4 women from Singapore were all in their 30’s and knew each other from High School…one was a surgeon, Banker, Business Woman and Marketer…
We had fabulous discussions on Health Care and Politics…Singapore, like Australia, has mandatory voting…and Singapore is single party with a dictatorial Capitalistic Society…And unanimously they were happy with that setup…they said their economy, like all the world, is coming out of the world recession but for the most part they have little complaint…Having been to Singapore several times I can attest it is one of the most modern and fast moving places there is. They had tons of questions for me from why we have so many guns and killings to why so many Americans don’t want Universal healthcare to how is it we are OK with our Politicians spending Millions(I corrected them to billions) on campaigns yet they won’t spend money on education and transportation. Their(along with most other countries campaigns are at most 3-4 months…at most)…I was just so impressed with the depth that they followed our world…and they were quite well versed on the Middle East and Europe. It put me to shame…My Thai friends were the same.
I had a couple of Breakfasts with a Syrian woman & her daughter, who works for a relief agency for refugees in the south. And they talked to me about the issues…and told me a number of heartbreaking stories.
I spent several hours chatting up 2 Chinese businessmen on the boat…We compared notes on what we thought we knew about each other’s countries..that was enlightening and funny…also got some great travel tips when I want to go to China too…and they reassured me with my investment of Alibaba! Haha…We had a lengthy conversation on it.
I was eating dinner in Istanbul and a woman from Siberia sat next to me so we joined tables…After talking awhile, she told me that I did not sound like I was speaking American English…she said I sounded like I was British! I had a Turkish man tell me the same thing…funny, eh?
OK, I’ll tell you a few of my meet ups because it highlights why I think Turkey and Istanbul, in particular, is a wonderful eclectic place…Unlike wonderful European destinations like Barcelona, Paris etc, Istanbul is a huge hodge podge of the world…and the people there seem ready to meet and greet each other in more then just a wave…My Russian friend tried to say that she loved Istanbul because it had a wonderful energy about it…and she loved the feel….Now many people may be turned off by this but I absolutely loved it…I love meeting new people and hearing all these different stories…It reminds me how sheltered I am in the States…how truly little I know…but hopefully that nugget of information will help inform me far better from now on…I will be far more aware of what I read…I will dig deeper and not just accept the reports…because now I know there are real people and situations behind the headlines…I have always known that BUT I think it becomes quite real when faces and stories(even if they are a few) are associated…
Turkey has long been a secular state since the Ottomans finished their rule…They are about 90% Muslim but have had a very secular rule until their Presidential election12 years ago… The man who is now President is the first Islamist…and Turkey is in a time of change…unlike other nations in the region, the change is happening gradually but it is happening…and many Turks are not happy…But as with the US, many don’t exercise their right to vote…They have a huge election June 7th for their entire Parliament and it doesn’t look good…I told my guide in Istanbul the first day that I had seen more women in dark Chadors in Istanbul then in Iran…as a matter of fact, I saw many women in Burkas here…and most are very conservatively dressed…no high fashion, like Iran….and I never saw 1 woman in a Burka in Iran…The call to prayer is projected loud and clear 5 times a day, including 4:30AM here but I rarely heard it in Iran(and they only pray 3 times)…My guide here was quick to tell me that these weren’t Turkish women but Arabic…She said it with such disdain…I asked her to explain…She said that the President had been inviting those in the Arab Muslim community to move here and buy property…and they have been coming in droves…This concerns many Turkish people, mostly the young, because they fear the Arabs are coming to take over their country with a more conservative form of Islam. Every guide has been quick to talk about this and none are happy…It’s like how the Ottomans brought Islam to Turkey after they overthrew Constantine and the Christians…They allowed Christians to continue without any problem BUT they soon moved Muslims into areas to “convince” their neighbors of the virtues of Islam…and eventually they taxed the Christians(but not Muslims)…so since the Christians liked their neighbors and didn’t want to be taxed they converted…a bloodless transfer…well many in Turkey think that is what is happening now…and it is even more complicated…but even with the undercurrent of political discontent, Turkey offers a safe and inviting holiday…and if you can’t make it to see all of Turkey at least try to stop over for 3-4 days in Istanbul….and the Turkish Delight is to die for….
Well I am transiting to Tunisia(via Barcelona & Paris!) and hope to report a little after my overnight in the Sahara with the Bedouins.
Your tireless(or rather tired) traveling friend