October 17, 2013


Sigh.  There were so many interesting sights last weekend, when traveling down the Western Coast of Turkey, that if I tried to write them all here, I would be discouraged before even starting.

So let me talk about the best sight near Izmir, and mostly post photos :)

Ephesus, within the Province of Izmir ("the Ibiza of Turkey") was one of the most famous cities of antiquity. Its beginning of human settlement occured at the Neolithic period, around 6,000 B.C. With the waves of migrations it became a larger city until Alexander the Great conquered it in 334 B.C. and it experienced a period of prosperity for 50 years. After hundreds of years of conquerings and lootings, earthquakes and being silted up from river deposits, Ephesus was abandoned in the 14th century.
In its heyday, it had:
- government buildings,
- a hospital and pharmacy,
- fountains, latrines (doing your collective business with 48 other men) and public baths,
- a sewage system with clay pipes,
- shops lining the various walks,
- the 3rd biggest library in the world (at the time),
- a Greco-Roman amphitheather with stage for 25,000 seating capacity (used for festivals until 2001),  and
- a posh city center for aristocrats with frescos adorning walls and constant water even during dry periods.

The site is now mostly ruins with painstaking reconstructions, but it leaves visitors in awe of what an amazing city this was...

 Ephesus Library was once the 3rd largest in the Empire

 Frescos in what was once a neighborhood for wealthy families

 Cats own the ruins of Ephesus
Men were lucky to have clean latrines... But you'd better be comfortable doing your business with up to 48 other people.

 The smaller site of Bergama, with its intricate columns...

Amphitheater built into the side of a hill...
Breathtaking view...
And obligatory rug seller, was no less impressive!

 In the afternoon, we finished by visiting the House of Mary (apparently, Mary ended up in Southwestern Turkey after her son Jesus died -- don't ask me for the geographical logical of that one), and we added our wishes to the Prayer Wall
We ended up the town of Sirinc, with its 900 people, but seemingly overrun by tourists (and yes I was one of them)

October 13, 2013


On October 6, 2013, I spent a good part of the week in Gaziantep, a city of about 1.8 million, located not too far from the Syrian border. 

I walked in the old city market, full of tin spice grinders; dried red peppers on a string (looking like enormous cranberry garlands we hang on Christmas trees); hand carved wooden brushes; and ubiquitous cheap Chinese plastic goods. Turkey was on the Silk road, and today there are still barrels and barrels of whole and ground spices, many of which I’ve never seen before.

Alauddevie Came (Mosque) under Construction

The city is renowned for having the best Baklava in the country (that dessert with a crispy pastry top, a gooey honey base, topped off with a delicate dusting of green pistachio powder), so of course, it was my duty to have at least one per day. Then every day, I had minced meat, flat bread, and my fill of peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Though the food is simple and always good, I could easily tire of the repetitious ingredients here.

Who ever thought that a mosaic museum would be interesting? But it really was. During excavations in 2000, archeologists uncovered amazing mosaics in the city of Zap that lined the floors of pools, hamams (spas), churches and courtyards in Roman and Late Antique Periods. They carefully excavated them, working around the large missing pieces stolen by looters, and brought them out for public display. With a strange feeling of cognitive dissonance, I suddenly finally understood what my history teacher told me all those years ago: the Romans had more lavish lifestyles than most people today.  People in Gaziantep living in half-built cement houses on dusty sand floors, with spotting access to water or a good sewage system.
 Mosaic Museum

Finishing the day with tea in the open-air courtyard of Tutun Hani

First Day in Istanbul (Again)

This is my second time living in Istanbul for work, working on regional affairs.  I was here exactly a year ago for 2 months, and will be living here again for 4 months.

View from my Hotel Room
I arrived in this big Turkish city on October 1, 2013.  The first leg from DC to London was 7.5 hours. The second leg to Istanbul was 3.5 hours. For some reason, the shorter of the two felt intolerably long. An older man sitting next to me was reading was seemed like the Q'ran on his phone - a beautiful, flourished arabic script, trailing his finger along the words for the entirety of the trip. In contrast, I was watching "Monster University" :/

Upon arrival, the sky was very overcast, adding a sense of moroseness to the cement buildings in the outskirts of the city. Driving through the city center though, I saw an ancient aquaduct, and dozens of minarets of mosques overlooking the red roofs of some of the more elegant and older buildings. The view from my suite is beautiful, I can catch some of the Bosphorus sea, and the cramped city center, Sultanamet...

I checked my bb upon arrival of course. I already had a packed schedule, traveling to Gazientep for a few days. A rather inauspicious start for someone who likes her down time as much as I do.