This was a journey into the unknown and intriguing cultures of the Middle East, and the encounter of a friendliness and hospitality hard to come by anywhere. Turkey was first off with a visit to Istanbul and the west coast of Turkey.
This article is no. 1 of 5 in a series based on my travel diaries from 1986. I was on a five week journey to Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel / Palestina.
Monday 21.7.1986 – Stavanger & Istanbul
Currency facts: 1 NOK = 90 Turkish lira (TL), 1 USD = 670 TL
A direct flight brought me from Stavanger (1840 NOK) with SAS. There was alright food on board. I arrived in Istanbul in the afternoon and took a bus into Aksaray for 500 lirasi. I strolled from there to the Sultan Ahmet area. Here is found most of the sights, cheap accommodations and restaurants. I wandered around a bit and had a look inside different hotels. The rates were 3000 lirasi all over for a single room.
- GÜLHANE ÇINAR HOSTEL, at Alemdar Caddesi # 24, tel 527 50 70. Dormitory 1500 TL. A lot of traffic, somewhat shabby, but alright really. Map
In the evening I went for a walk. It gave a good feeling to walk down to the seafront and watch the bridge over the Bosporus, the strait dividing Europe from Asia. The Asian part of Istanbul was right across the strait and the bay called the Golden Horn was to my left.
I crossed the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn bay and returned to my hotel along various small streets. There was a lot of walking this evening, but it is wonderful to be travelling again and great to be in Istanbul. The muezzin in a nearby mosque has hopefully sung his last “song”, and I’m going to bed.
Tuesday, 22.7.1986 – Istanbul
There was terrible traffic on the street straight below the windows. Because of the heat the windows had to stay open all night. I got up around eight and had breakfast at the famous Pudding Shop, a former popular hangout among freaks and hippies – now fairly “civilised”.
Last night I had a look at the Blue Mosque, walked around it, and when Hagia Sophia opened I went in there. It was large and impressive, but fairly run-down and under renovation.
I then walked up to the Grand Bazaar. Interesting yes, and a lot to see, but the roof over it, and the style of the shops seemed “sterile” to me and little exotic. The times have apparently changed here as well. The tourists have made their arrival and put their marks on the place. The small streets in the neighbourhoods had in contrast kept much of their character. They were much more exciting and interesting to walk around in.
The Süleymaniye Mosque is great and a very attractive view from the Galata tower on the north side of the “horn”. (Despite 800 TL in entrance fee.)
I had a lot of walking behind me when I returned in the early afternoon to my hostel and lay down a bit. A couple of Danish guys staying in my dorm told me of their trip earlier in the day. I followed in their footsteps, almost. First I went down to the Galata Bridge and took a boat over to Usküdar on the Asian side. I walked the streets up north for a while and took a bus over the bridge across the Bosporus. After some fumbling I returned home.
Just in time for a shower before the “sound and light” show started at the Blue Mosque. Pretty amazing stuff, full of effects.
Wednesday 23.7.1986 – Istanbul
Today I took a ferry up, northwards, on the Bosporus (Bosphorus) strait. It was a combined tourist-/local boat zigzagging its way up. I went off at the last stop, spent a few hours in a small village and took the first boat back home.
I didn’t do much more today, but mailed a few postcards home to Norway.
Thursday 24.7.1986 – Istanbul & Bursa
A lucky and adventurous day.
I had come to the conclusion that I had seen the most of this crossing point between East and West. So I went to Topkapi Gate where there is a large bus station. From there I took a bus to Bursa, apparently a town with several sights. It cost me 1800 TL. Bursa is a four-five hours bus ride south of Istanbul.
On the bus I came in contact with two young Turkish men. One of them spoke very little English, but he was a very devout Muslim. I was later told that he did not like my shorts. That is not appropriate, of course! He exclaimed: “Islam good – Khomeini very good!” But he was alright and even bought me a kind of sour milk when we stopped to eat.
The other guy I got in touch with spoke better English. Emre, his name was. We got so much acquainted that he invited me home to his mother and two brothers, and even offered me to stay the night there. “I’m glad to”, I said and joined them.
The whole family was very nice. So there I was offered Turkish food, tea and coffee. It all tasted well. I and Emre walked around town a bit to see the sights. They were well worth seeing.
We two, and a friend of Emre’s later sat until very late and discussed this and that about life in Turkey and Norway. Very interesting. They had apparently a very biased view of Norwegian (and Scandinavian) girls, for being promiscuous and go to bed with every man they lay their eyes on or who asks for it. I tried to explain that they don’t actually sleep with just any man.
Friday 25.7.1986 – Bursa & Izmir
Despite Emre’s wish that I stayed on for a few days longer, and me being tempted by the offer, I ended up leaving Bursa today already.
Indeed I delayed my departure some hours, but around in the afternoon I sat down on the bus to Izmiron the Aegean coast. My thought is to use this city as a departing point to excursions north and south. The bus took a bit more than six hours and cost 2500 TL. In Izmir I took a city bus into the centre and checked into one of the hotels there.
- KÜÇÜK EFES OTEL, Gazi Osman Pa?a Bul. #48, Çankaya. Tel. 135491 / 147276. The rate was 2200 for a single room. Nice and clean, but the shower down the corridor was poor. Map
Saturday 26.7.1986 – Izmir & Bergama
A fine day. Well, not thinking of the weather – it is always bright and warm. I drink (pour) continuously, probably five-six litres a day. At least.
What I’m thinking about is that I took a 90 minutes bus ride (500 TL) to Bergama, north of Izmir. There is an Acropolis on top of a mountain, complete with old Greek and Roman ruins. The town is more known under its earlier name, Pergamon. It was one of the most important cities in the old Greek era.
I took a taxi to the mountain top, it would have been too demanding walking up. I managed to reduce the price to 1000 lira.
There were lots of exciting things to see: An almost intact amphitheatre seating 15,000 spectators, temples, and the remains of a big library. What perhaps would have been most interesting to see was the large Zeus altar / temple. But German archaeologists had nicked it with them to Berlin, along with other treasures.
The Turkish are nonetheless busy at restoring the entire site. The ruins on top of the mountain, which all the package tourists get to see, appeared to be merely the top of the iceberg. I went down the mountain side on foot, and discovered a lot of impressive sights. The remains of several large gyms bore witness to much livelihood in the old days. Very interesting.
So is actually also the town of Bergama at the base of the mountain. Many traditional houses and exciting shops (carpets, brass etc.). And as usual men (for the most part) sit in cafes and drink çay (tea) while talking. In some places the water pipes were burning.
Back in Izmir I had some laundry done for a fiver, fast and clean. I rounded the day off with a better dinner down at the harbour promenade.
Sunday 27.7.1986 – Izmir & Efes
Another fine day, and yet again an ancient city in ruins get the honour for that. I left early in the morning, after breakfast at my hotel. My plan was to go to Efes, formerly better known as Efesus. I took a bus toSelçuk (500 TL, 1.5 hours). From there it is 3 km to walk or a 1000 TL taxi ride. I jumped into a taxi and walked back.
Efesus was truly great: A large theatre, library, temples, houses, a brothel, and marble streets all over the place. It was fairly well kept too. The Greeks and the Romans must have known to lay down many and successful hours of work.
Selçuk too had its offerings. The best preserved remains of the St. Johns basilica witnessed of great proportions. A fortress on top of a cliff had walls 15-20 metres high, completely intact. The museum in town showed off many interesting artefacts, including a small figure with a large fallos and one larger (1/2 metre) carrying a fruit tray on top of his hard one. Funny.
In this area south of Izmir there are other old ruins as well, such as Milet and Priene. But then I would have had to join organised trips, so I let them be.
Monday 28.7.1996, Izmir & Konya
The time was come, I thought, to leave Greco-Roman ruins on the Aegean coastline and go inland and up on the Anatolian plain. Before I get to that I need to add some more about yesterday.
I met, while having lunch in Selçuk, a young man. Well, met… He came and lit my cigarette and we had a cup of tea together. Turkish tea, by the way, is served in small glasses formed almost like a woman’s body with a tray under and two pieces of sugar on the side. Very common and very tasty.
Anyway, it turned out that he was a seller of Turkish carpets, or to be more precise: Kurdish. His kin were tying knots in eastern Turkey, near the Lake Van, while others in the family were selling them here in the west. I joined him and went to his shop to have a look and learn more about carpets. My thought was of course not to buy anything, I never do. But there is no rule without exceptions. This rule was confirmed. I left the place with two carpets, one cost me 95 USD and the other 50 USD. The carpets were nice and of good quality. This impression I got confirmed by other sellers and by an expert the next day.
Expert? Well, when I was going to ship them home by post I learned at the post office that I needed to get an export permit to take them out of the country. In case I did not steal a genuine art treasure.
Therefore I was sent up the Museum of Archaeology where I got my paper stating that I was allowed to export them. The nice gentleman at the museum meant that the carpets were of good quality and that 120 USD would be a good price. I who had paid only 25 USD more felt happy about that, being a tourist and amateur. But I had bargained, pretty much too. In the end I was able to ship the carpets, with a ship that would take 3 months and for a stiff price (15400 TL = 23 USD).
Now back again to my main story. It was a very stressing morning because of the shipping process and I missed a morning bus. I almost also missed the next one at midday going to Konya, an eight hour ride (3000 TL). The trip offered great scenery, large plains, farming areas and small poor villages. Here most women wear salvar (baggy trousers)!
In Konya I got the assistance of an eager carpet seller to find a hotel. In the end I found:
- HOTEL SEYRAN, Kapi Carni Civari Kömörcüler Sk. # 40. 1400 TL for a single room with 400 TL extra for the use of shower in the corridor. Nice and clean and with excellent location in the middle of the bazaar. Map
I wandered around town a bit before returning to my room to write this.
This article is part of a series based on my travel diaries from 1986. I was on a five week journey to Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel / Palestina.
(1) Istanbul and the west coast of Turkey: This was a journey into the unknown and intriguing cultures of the Middle East, and the encounter of a friendliness and hospitality hard to come by anywhere. Turkey was first off.
NEXT CHAPTER: (2) Roaming Turkey’s Anatolian plateau: The fascinating life and scenery on the Anatolian Plateau, as well as the bureucratic hassles of continuing the journey.
(3) Deserts, towns and memorials of Syria: Syria was a closed country, not welcoming tourists. But what an exciting past and present! In combination with an eagerness among young people to meet Westerners the stage was set for an exciting week.
(4) Jordan’s capital, Petra and the Dead Sea: Few places on planet Earth are as legendary as Petra, and few activities as fascinating as swimming in the Dead Sea. This chapter of my journey also tells the tale of my unpleasant encounter with a Palestinian soldier.
(5) A dive into ancient history in Israel and Palestine: This is the last part of my five week journey. Israel – finally I had come to the Promised Land.
This was the guidebook I used