Thursday, 22 May 2014

Turkey Time

Fifteen more people have seen me naked.

How's that for an opener?

But I get ahead of myself.

Everything changes so much within a few days. When I arrived in Turkey it reminded me of a rabbit warren. Chaotic. Impossible to understand. The passport line at immigration took near on an hour to get through and the traffic makes me flinch (what safe breaking distance?). But the country is infinitely less frightening now. It’s… stirring. Confronting. Beautiful and peaceful.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve still had my share of noise. I’ve lost count of the amount of Turks who’ve shouted at me (their standard volume, I think) and the car horns are endless – but there’s also something reverent about this place.

I met my tour group at my opulently decorated Sirkeci hotel, and everyone fell into fast friendships. There’s twenty-four of us – which has turned out to be a really great size – and our Turk guide is fantastic. We saw the incredible Blue Mosque and the staggering Hagia Sophia Basilica. I tried and failed to come up with the right words to describe each. I’ve stalked Turkey through various Instagram accounts for near on a year and it was surreal to find myself standing beneath their gorgeous domed ceilings.

The Basilica Cistern really captured me. It was an unexpected surprise and somewhere I could have lingered for hours. I’ll go there again when I return to Istanbul. I need another hit. An underground water collection structure; the cistern I saw had domed ceilings, hundreds of columns – their feet lit with gold lights, and knee-deep water rich with wished-upon coins and fat fish. Early recycling at its best, two statues of Medusa had been reused to prop columns – they were extraordinary. The whole thing had a strange, alluring energy.

We drove to Ankara next, the capital of Turkey (the equivalent of Australia’s Canberra - the political centre rather than the tourist centre). The Turkish countryside is ever-changing and the vistas are extraordinary. We attended the Youth and Sports Day ceremony at Ataturk’s Mausoleum, and were treated to a spectacular display of national pride, then got our feet into the second biggest salt lake in the world.

After that, we indulged. Or should I say, we were bullied into letting our troubles float away.

A Turkish Bath is an experience you will never forget, and therefore highly recommended.

Yes, you’ve reached the naked part of my story.

The guys and girls were sent their separate ways. The girls were given small towels to cover ourselves. A clay mask locked our expressions in place and a sauna roasted us. All of us were wearing bathers – something which proved a waste of time as the Turkish women in the massage room either pulled them off or pulled them up. Like… up. 

You try relax after a violent wedgie.

They filled these pillow-like things with foam and covered us in the stuff. We lay on heated marble – which was frikkin’ awesome – and were massaged and entertained with song, music, and brusque foreign chatter. Me? I must’ve done something really wrong. Karma-come-collect wrong. My masseuse tried to drag my skin from my body with metal-like fingers. Because she was trying to break my muscles – and perhaps my spine – I’m forced to conclude I hurt her children somehow. I ended up begging her to be gentle. 

Despite some confronting elements, it was a great experience.

Cappadocia next. An alien landscape of volcanic formations made millions of years ago, fairy chimneys, and magic sunsets. We went to dinner at a local’s house – the police chief and his wife cooked for us. Early the next morning I had a dream come true: sun rise hot air ballooning over one of the most striking landscapes in the world.

It was… flawless.

Hundreds of other balloons joined us in the air. Points of bright colour in a pale sky. I’ve never seen anything like it, and maybe never will again. It’s a bucket list kind of thing, and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity. We flew for about an hour. One of the guys proposed to his girlfriend, it was so sweet. We each took over a hundred photos, I guess, but after a while I just put everything away and stared around me.

Sightseeing through Cappadocia involved an open air museum with ancient Catholic frescos, cave churches, and ancient homes. Brilliant vantage points for photos. We drove around the area for a few hours, seeing Pigeon Valley and the like, then when some of the group went to a Turkish dinner and dancing evening, me and a few others caught a ride to Sunset Point and watched the end of a beautiful day. It was a popular place. We lounged on cushions and listened to local boys singing softly beside us. Bliss. I’ve been a lot of places, but that sunset makes the top five of my life.

I keep thinking, I saw the sun rise and set on one of the loveliest days of my life.

Today we drive to Konya, then a long driving day tomorrow to the coast-side village of Fethiye. You’d recognise one of its elements – Butterfly Valley is one of the most photographed valleys in the world, I think.

Until last night, I’d been operating (poorly, I think), on seven hours of sleep accrued over three nights. It didn’t matter how exhausted I was at the end of each night, I got into bed and stared at the ceiling. My zombie tendencies would have amused people if they hadn’t been so near to collapse themselves, but we had a ten-thirty departure this morning, so everyone’s bounced back.

The pace of organised tours is like nothing else.

So for now, I'll finish by saying I'm travelling with wonderful people, seeing wonderful things, and smiling all the time. Life's sweet.