Country Report – Turkey – Part One

 

We never made it to the Yedikule. There was too much else to do; meeting up with old friends, making new acquaintances among the locals, playing music in cafes and restaurants, and just being on holiday.

Besides, there will be other chances. I will be back in Istanbul. I’ve fallen in love with the place, and with Turkey generally. The music shops, for a start, are close to my idea of heaven. The instruments are beautiful – I’ve promised the manager of one place that I will be back next year to buy a Saz, a kind of long-necked, fretted version of the oud. The sound it produces is almost as haunting as the voice of the oud.

Life has been busy for the past couple of weeks. We spent a few days in Istanbul, a vast metropolis that sprawls for miles in all directions, the beating heart of Turkey. We had to make a few trips to consulates for our visas, and the only tourist site we could bring ourselves to queue up for was the Blue Mosque. It was impressive, but something about the experience of queueing with everyone else put us both off. Personally I was more taken with the view from the ferries that go back and forth across the Bosphorus. (Quiz question: what do the Bosphorus and Oxford have in common?)

The choppy waters dividing Europe and Asia add to Istanbul’s unique character. I expected something like Cairo – huge, polluted, poor and insufferably overcrowded – but the air is clear, the city seems fairly prosperous, and even the transport system works quite well.

After a few days sorting visas and meeting friends from Turkey, Jerusalem and Finland, we took an overnight bus down to Goreme, a village in Cappadocia in the south of Turkey. It’s famous for its bizarre geology. The whole village is in a valley dotted with enormous, fat phallic towers of rock. Some are so big that people have hollowed out houses in them and settled in. The surrounding valleys are full of the same thing. The early (Byzantine?) churches here, built in huge caves, are world famous. The best way to see the landscape is by hot air balloon, but we are impoverished backpackers and besides, the balloon trips were full of Japanese girls clicking away on brand new digital cameras and screaming with laughter. Fearing I might push one of them out of the balloon, Josh persuaded me to go mountain biking with Kelly, an American yoga teacher and our new spiritual guide (she’s currently spinning on her third chakra).

We met Kelly in the local music shop, where I was searching out some albums by Neset Ertas, one of Turkey’s most famous Saz players. We chatted for a few minutes and didn’t make any plans, but that evening we ran into her on our way to a restaurant to play some music. We ended up sitting around a campfire on the roof with a saz player and a percussionist, drinking beer and jamming.

Kelly came on a long bike ride with us the next day, over to another village to see a church in a cave, then around through the sandy valleys back to her friend Mustafa’s cafe. I played oud for a while (try carrying one of those on a bike…), and the next evening, after a much-needed yoga class, we went there again. Josh brought his CDs and played house music until late. The bar owners had a barbeque in our honour. The welcome was warm and genuine. I will be be back.

 

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