It was only with the call to prayer echoing from the minarets that I snapped out of a daydream. With the winter sun warm against my face on a terracotta roof terrace, I recalled the scurry heading towards the airport last night. Overlooking the Bosphorus River with the fur of an Amanda Laird Cherry brushing my neck, we began planning a two-week journey with this incredible label.
Walking towards Taksim Square I became aware of the red and white striped vendors selling simit on the street corners and the smell of roasted chestnuts. The urban plaza, leading off Istiklal Street marks the point of modern Istanbul and attracts thousands of tourists daily. It's surrounded by high profile hotels and boutique shops. Keeping warm in my ALC-coat, we passed the various flower shops, close to the Monument of the Republic, on our way to sit on the park steps. In the background, I heard someone yelling something in Turkish and motioned for me to come over. Before I knew it, my hands were stuffed with seeds and I was feeding hundreds of pigeons.
Although Istanbul has developed into a modern city with all the necessary infrastructure, it was pleasing to see how old and new were integrated. No matter where you go, there is always reminiscence of old wealth and glamour. Beautiful Baroque gates adorned with Turkish patterns and enough lights to make any grown-up believe in fairy tales again. A remarkable structure that embodies the flair of both East and West is the Ortaköy Mosque erected in command of Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid. With her graceful arches and carefully articulated dome she projects ever so elegantly into the water and stands proudly as tourist passing by on the river photograph her beauty.
Hopping on a ferry, we traded Europe for a day on the Asian side of Istanbul. Arriving at the port I immediately experience the city differently. The plazas were not as inviting and the streets lacked the charm of Beyoğlu, for a minute it felt like being stuck in bad neighborhood somewhere in an East European country. I started thinking that perhaps coming here was a mistake but then discovered, as we walked down Moda street, that there was indeed a vibrant side to this area.
Informal markets rendered the street edges with textures and colours of fresh vegetables, fish and spices. Life on this side of the river seemed a lot more relaxed. It's as if people had forgotten about the Galata Tower and the Blue Mosque and just lived...Needless to say, that my exposed ankles and felt hat attracted more attention that I was hoping for.
Religious buildings, in most ancient societies, represented power and wealth. It also showcased advancements in technology and science and gave artists the platform to bring life to the ideas of sultans and priests. The Hagia Sophia has been on my bucket list ever since I started studying architecture. The mixture of Byzantine and Ottoman influences is simply mind-blowing and is depicted on big black circular calligraphic signs mounted on columns that could touch the heavens. Contrasting this are the simplistic biblical frescoes shimmering in gold. While walking on the gallery one slowly becomes aware of the scale of the building, the ornate floral capitals of the columns and the thin rays of light hitting the white veined floor through wooden pane windows.
Ending our visit in Istanbul we crossed over to the island of Buyukada. The town greeted us with beautiful warm autumn colours and the sounds of horse and cart coming down the tree lined avenue. It was like stepping onto a movie set, one where everyone rode on bicycles, had tea parties in die park and walked on marble laid entrances from money long forgotten, much like Alice in Wonderland. On the main piazza, little bunting flags, in red and yellow, were tied to the clock tower and locals were sipping peacefully on sahlep. Before we knew it, dusk had crawled up on us and the old ship-lap buildings started casting longs shadows.
We took a plane to Denizli early the following morning. The almost barren landscape welcomed us with snow on the mountains and temperatures dropping below zero. On our way to Pamukkale, we stopped at Laodicea Archeological site. The silence of the terrain was almost deafening as we were the only people, apart from a grumpy old man selling tickets in a weathered wendy house. In a black tunic by ALC, I walked up to the temple entrance and turned around overlooking the ruins. As if among the Roman crowds of two thousand years ago, I began to feel a deep reverence for this long forgotten civilization and their accomplishments.
A stone-throw away lies the small town of Pamukkale. Riddled with poverty, the locals survive on the income from (primarily Asian) tourists and live off their land. But in the background, like a massive stage curtain, lies the white mound of Pamukkale World Heritage site. Easily confused for snow in the winter, the ice blue water cascades down the hill in natural circular salt pools. In a misty haze, I rolled up my polka dot pants and stepped into the hot springs and watched the white powder explode beneath my feet.
Completing our trip, Aldrin and I took the overnight bus to Cappadocia. Waking up nine hours later, it felt like opening my eyes to a different planet. Completely disorientated we pulled our bags up the cobbled street pavement to our hotel, surrounded by three-storey high earth towers carved to look like something prehistoric creatures lived in.
The more we moved around the village the more I realized, despite the touristic nature it adopted, how very basic people used to live here. Pottery and leather, hand-woven textiles and big masonry blocks, all part of the earth - the elements that made up this landscape were the very same that shaped the way people live here.
On our last day, we took a hot air balloon ride. After it was cancelled a couple of times, it was as if the blue glass evil eye charms had warned off all the bad winds and we were able to experience this whimsical valley from the air. Draping myself in a brown and yellow ALC shirt, I watched as the enormous checkered bulbs floated around us, I closed my eyes and realized how precious this country is.
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