Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sunday, May 31, 2015 - No comments

Roadside Türkiye: Top Ten Reasons to Drive Instead of Fly

The first couple times I visited Turkey, long-distance buses were pretty much the only way we got around.  Only the biggest cities had airports, and airfare was spendy.  We never really knew where we were going next until the day before we left, so being able to buy last-minute tickets at the local bus station worked with our spontaneous travel style.  The seats weren’t always comfy, and eight hours sitting behind a chain-smoking driver was enough to make me want to hijack the bus.  But a full day of headphones and a book always helped this introvert like her travel companions more when we got where we were going.  It was fun to try to guess what was happening in the (badly dubbed) movies they’d show.  (I swear they use the same male and female voice for every character in every film...)  And I could always look forward to a Nescafe and a Pop Kek when the snack cart made the rounds...

By the time I moved here, more airports had sprung up and several budget airlines had appeared on the scene, making it usually more economical to fly than to take the bus.  Nowadays, pretty much the only time I choose land over air is when I’m leaving the country and my luggage weighs more than the kilos allotted for a domestic flight.  And while I love the convenience and time saved by flying, there’s something I miss about my bussing days...

The view outside the window.

I love soaring over puffy white clouds and miniature mountains as much as the next person, but there’s just no way you can know a country by looking at it from 30,000 feet.  You can’t read its billboards, see what’s growing in its fields, observe what its people are wearing, or discover what houses look like from one town to the next.  To really see a place, you...even if just from the have to be at eye-level.

While a bus window makes for a great way to see the countryside, obviously the combination of "view" and "freedom to stop when you want to" makes a car the ideal choice for a Turkish roadtrip.  And so, fuel prices aside (I don’t wanna hear any complaining from across the ocean - we’re currently paying $2.20 CDN a litre over here!), here are ten reasons you should drive instead of fly this summer.

Top Ten Roadside Reasons to Drive Instead of Fly

1.  Fantastic Statuary

No town square is complete without at least a bust of our nation's founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.  That's a given.  But the other statues gracing roadsides and roundabouts give the traveler insight into the "favourite sons" of a city as well as herald the goodies the town is famous for.  

A whirling dervish near the Mevlevi Lodge in Kütahya.

A glance at the past:  Nasrettin Hoca, the most famous Anatolian storyteller,
in his trademark pose near his hometown of Akhisar.  (If you happen to be passing through, Akhisar hosts its Nasrettin Hoca Festival from July 5-10 every summer.  Pull up a cushion and settle in for a tale or two...)
"The famous Trabzon bread that never rots."
(It's also dense as a brick - you definitely don't
want that thing falling on your head!)

The "Rose Intersection" in Isparta, renowned for its fragrant blooms
and rose-scented creams, soaps and Turkish delight.

Swing through Amasya in early fall and stock
up on its crisp, juicy apples.

If you're in the market for a new garden gnome, Turkey's got you covered.

A friendly wave to send you on your way....

2.  Colourful Companions

Half the run of a road trip is checking out the people in the lane beside you.

A twenty foot high stack of soccer balls certainly breaks up the monotony
of an endless highway.  (And if the netting happened to burst, now THAT
would be something to write home about!)

"Don't come to the taxi stand,
we'll bring the stand to you!"

Make way for tractors and teyzes in tow.

Goat and sheep-induced traffic jams are a
  common occurrence on Anatolian roads.

Here's someone you really DON'T want to have to
share the road with.  Get stuck at a red light with a musical
Election-Mobile and you'll have a headache for hours.
June 7th can't come soon enough....

3.  History Lessons on the Fly

Find yourself driving through a place you've only ever read about in your kids' school books?  Turks are fiercely proud of their history and the countryside is thick with monuments and markers of famous battles and events.  Road trips are a great way to connect the dots and see history come to life.

Sign at Duatepe, just west of Ankara:  "You are on the soil where the
Republic was won."  During the War of Independence, the Greek army
advanced almost as far as the capital before being driven back to the sea.
This legendary site, where the tides of the battle turned, is hallowed
ground in the Turkish heart.

"May 19th - Population 24,500."  An entire town named after
the day Atatürk landed at Samsun and launched the war
for the Anatolian heartland.

Get to know the Father of the Turks.
Atatürk's likeness and his immortal words adorn buildings,
monuments and overpasses from İstanbul to Antalya,
İzmir to Van.  This one reads, "Happy is he who calls himself a Turk."

4.  Impromptu Dance Parties

The Turks are a nation of dancers.  It's in their blood.  And when their feet feel the rhythm, they are not above pulling the car over and starting up a halay.  Could be that their football team just scored a goal.  Could be that they've just caught sight of their hometown after a long absence.  Or it could simply be that a good song came on the radio and the spirit moved them.  So, hop on out and join the chain!

A roadside halay in the province of Gümüşhane.

5.  Pit Stops That Beat a Bag of Peanuts By a Mile

Domestic airlines that serve actual food (unless you're willing to cash in your gold) are down to a precious few.  And even then, the standard fare is a cheese and tomato sandwich and a bit of eggplant salad and some olives if you're lucky.  But a car gives you the freedom to follow the LED signs to whatever you might be craving.  Pide (flatbread "pizza"), kebap and köfte (spiced meatballs) are available countrywide, but roadside restaurants are a fun way to sample local specialties without having to go all the way into town.

Kurufasulye (white beans in tomato sauce) is the ultimate in Turkish
comfort food.  They can be found at every rest stop, often being
devoured by truck drivers on their way back from delivering loads
in Europe and college kids counting the miles to Mom's home cooking...

"Tokat Kebabı" - grilled lamb and eggplant served with a side
of the province's famous tomatoes.  (In an episode of the popular
comedy, "Avrupa Yakası", Burhan is trying to figure out what to
offer Queen Elizabeth when she comes to Istanbul, and ends
up presenting "her majesties" with a plump tomato from his hometown
of Tokat because there's nothing more worthy of her in all the land...)

If you're passing through "Hazelnut Country" in Giresun
or Ordu, skip the BP station and grab a Coke from a jumbo
nut-shaped snack counter with a sea view!

That Turkish Airlines food cart definitely doesn't
serve Magnum Bars.  Just sayin'.
6.  Fruit of the Land

When driving a Turkish highway, an empty trunk won't stay empty for long.  There are too many yummy things to buy along the way!  Whether it's snacks for the road or a hostess gift you forgot to buy before leaving, the purchase of a few kilos of fruit will give you a taste of the local flavour as well as make some farmer's day.

Fresh honeydew and melons for sale near Ankara.
The best part?  They take Visa!
Organic honey, fresh from the bee's belly, and
much cheaper than the grocery store.

Antalya is the Florida of Turkey - citrus fruit galore!

7.  Language Lessons a la Billboard

A good language learner always keeps a dictionary in the car.  Getting out of your city and your familiar surroundings often means exposure to new words on signs and billboards and is a great way to build your vocabulary.  (And if you're feeling fiesty, challenge your roadtrip buddies to a friendly game of "How many words can I find that I know and you don't".  :)

"Teveccüh" = "courtesy, kindness, favour."  Who knew?

8.  Hot.  Fresh.  Now.

Forget Krispy Kreme.  Hot fresh roasted chickpeas are where it's at.  And they deserve a category all of their own.  While Çorum is most widely renowned as the Chickpea Capital of Turkey, entire main drags of many towns, like Serinhisar in Denizli, are lined with nothing but chickpea and nut sellers as far as the eye can see.  The signs on the shops selling them inevitably involve the words "world famous" or "so-and-so's Chickpea World" and each one offers a variety of flavours (plain, salted, honey-and-sesame, chocolate covered) as well as an assortment of nuts, dried fruit, and Turkish delight.  Pick some up for your Turkish friends to let them know you thought of them as you traveled - for whatever reason, those little balls of salted chalk have a direct line to their hearts.

"Leblebi Bazaar"

"Hot roasted chickpeas, 10 TL.  We do gift packs."

It seems that where you find chickpeas, you find clay pots,
though no one's really sure why.  It conjures up memories of the
"video and tanning" phenomenon that once infected the South...

9.  Road Trip Games

Let's face it:  cross-country drives can be long and tedious, especially if there are kids in the car.  Fortunately Turkey has no shortage of fun things to count.  (Motorcycles with more than three people on them, life-sized statues of cartoon characters and people driving the wrong direction come to mind....)  So, whether you prefer a scavenger hunt where everyone participates or a competition for who can spot the most of a certain object, make your list and start scanning the road!

The license plate game is always a favourite.  Print off a list of the
license plate codes for Turkey's 81 provinces and see who can
find them all.  (Warning, this could take up to three years.  Some would
swear that certain hard-to-spot provinces have no cars and only use
horse drawn carriages...)

Bonus points for foreign cars with Turkish bumper stickers.  (Germany
must be full of cars owned by homesick Turks sporting slogans like
"Every place is Trabzon to us.")

See how many mescits (mini-mosques or "prayer huts") you can count
in a day.  (Roads leading out of Konya are goldmines for this one!)

Some chiropractor somewhere is making a fortune on his ads telling
drivers to "Call this number if you have a herniated disc."  The highways
around Antalya have a high concentration of his graffiti - see who can find the most.

And then there's the ever popular "Count how many signatures and
likenesses of Atatürk you can find on the back of vehicles..."

10.  Freedom to Detour

Perhaps the best part of traveling by car is the freedom to stop and look at every random thing that tickles your fancy.  If you're not pressed for time, every exit sign is an invitation and every "Hey, what's that over there?" an opportunity to see a snatch of the country you would've otherwise never seen.

There just happens to be a Roman aqueduct on the side of the road?  
Go check it out!

Passing by that sign for St. Nicholas' birthplace for the umpteenth time?  
Maybe today's the day you should pop in and find out what the 
Santa Claus story is REALLY all about.

If you have to stop for lunch anyway, why not veer just slightly
off the 
beaten path and cool your toes in the Med before you 
make the last push towards home?

Keep your eyes open for those brown "Tourist Attraction" signs.
Samsun could be just another mile marker on the Black Sea coast road,
but a tour of the 
Bandırma - the boat from which Atatürk stepped ashore
and started Turkey's War of Independence - makes for a great stretch break.

One of the best parts of overland travel is getting to decide where you'll
spend the night.  A little pre-trip research can mean the difference between
sleeping in "whatever dumpy pansiyon you happen to find" and spending the
night in a restored Ottoman house in Amasya, the city where the sultans' sons were educated and where the Republic of Turkey's "birth certificate" was signed.

So, what are you waiting for?  Load up your HGS Card, fire up your GPS and hit the road!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday, May 17, 2015 - 3 comments

A Time to Weep and a Time to Laugh

For years we’d heard about it:  the hometown where they loved to spend their summers   (“All the fruit you could ever eat...And that water.....”) but were so glad to return from in the fall.  Then last spring, they moved back there for good.  Elderly parents to take care of, a vineyard to tend to.  And so it became that our best Turkish friends are two flights, a hundred years and several layers of headscarf away. 
Two weeks ago, we made our fourth trip out to their village since they moved.  First it was their daughter’s wedding, then a proper catch-up visit.  Then a third, tearful trip a week later when the man who was so much like a father to me succumbed to the damage done by the brain aneurism he’d had during our autumn picnic in their orchard on the third day of our previous visit.  

This fourth one was both hard and sweet.  Same furniture, different house, same old comfortable friendship.  A lot of laughter and “remember when” punctuated by a lot of tears.  A happy reunion with a sad family that has a long way to go before the words “father” and “husband” aren’t followed by a sharp intake of breath and a pack of Kleenex.  Last summer’s wedding is now this year’s baby, and the piles of relatives we once struggled to keep straight (okay, we still do...) are now becoming familiar friends.  

It’s a season of adjustments.  Their old home that’s become their new home.  New family members added, by vow or by labour.  Beloved family members lost by death or divorce.  And plunked into the middle of it, two foreign women who have somehow earned the honoured place of “insiders.”

The day we spent up at their orchard was one I both looked forward to and dreaded - a big family picnic under that same apple tree, food cooked over that same fire, tea drunk out of those same glasses while sitting on those same tree stumps.  And yet it was also a chance to clear stones from the furrows and sticks from the veggie patch, to marvel at the blossoms that had appeared on trees that we last saw bone bare, to throw our own handfuls of dirt onto the foundation of the little house for which he showed us the plans just minutes before he collapsed.

A chance to hope for beauty from ashes.

Here’s our weekend in soundbites:

“Smell these lemons!  Smells just like home.  I don’t miss it there, not really....but I do miss the lemons from your garden....”

“He always said he had a third daughter, you.  And just before that weekend, I said, “Dad, why do you look so happy?”  And he said, “Cuz they’re coming to visit.”  

“But then it snowed on Thursday and all the trees got cold.  Another week and we’ll know if they froze or not.”

“Motherhood looks good on her, doesn’t it?”

“Go pick some parsley for our salad - the big leaves.  It’s the patch up there beside the green onions.  You remember - you picked it last time...”

“It was that spot by the fire where my dad died, wasn’t it?  Can you tell me again everything about that day....”

“Hacı Baba’s tea is always good.  He mixes the Turkish stuff with the illegal stuff.”

“I used to climb that walnut tree when I was little.  Here, you wanna come up with me?”

“What a pair we are!  Two sisters - one can’t hear and one can’t talk!”

“My dad used to collect these little bits of sap - he called them “ınç.”  And he’d stick them all onto the back of his hand, like this, and then he’d bring them to us and let us eat them.”

“Dan dini dan dini, little baby cow.  Her mom’s a monkey, her dad’s a flea.  Ey, ey, ey baby.....”

“They told us in school that they’re checking people’s teeth before they can apply for police school.  They won’t take you if you have bad teeth.  Or if you have weird marks on your face.”

“The water here isn’t like the water anywhere else.  Do you want to stop and drink some?”

“I think I miss the pazar the most.  And you guys, and my other neighbours, of course.  But if I could just go to the pazar - not even to buy anything, just to see all those greens lines up in a row.  We don’t have pazars like that here.  Everyone has their own garden, you know?  But I miss seeing it all in one place.”  

“You have a cold?  You should drink this soup.  Nettle and herbs and greens.  I know all about healing soups...”

“The usta is up there right now making the rock wall for the base of the house.  Then we’ll go up and flatten out the dirt and let it rest.  My dad had the dirt brought in right before he....  And, well, we haven’t done anything with the house yet until now.”

“I still haven’t gotten used to this place.  After living where we used to live, it feels like someplace other than Turkey to me now.” 

“Wrap that baby up!  She’ll freeze out here!”

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?  My father-in-law made it when he was in jail.  He made that wooden mosque there, too.  And my husband made these beaded roses when he was in......”

“Tea’s almost ready.  And I made egg salad because I know it’s your favourite.”

“I don’t know if we’ll be able to make it to your house.  We only have a few days, and a month wouldn’t be enough to see your whole clan!”

“See how the blossom just crumbles in my hand.  Such a shame.  No plums again this year...”

“The people who own the vineyard next to ours won’t let us put a window on the side facing them.  They’re afraid someone they don’t know might watch them from inside.”

“Mom, you used to string up a swing like that and rock me in it when I was a baby, didn’t you?”

“I haven’t been able to go to his grave yet.  I’m not ready.  I had to come to the vineyard.  I have no choice - there’s so much work to do and the trees won’t wait.  But not the grave, not yet.”

“We were lucky with her.  She’s the best bride we could’ve asked for.  Always smiling, never doing anything to cause problems....”

“Oh, but you know your Book’s been changed, right?”

“I don’t know what happened to the börek.  It all stuck to the bottom of the pan.  She came last night and she made it and put it in the that why?  Did the eggs all sink to the bottom?  Now I can’t get it out.  It was going to be such good börek...”

“I think I understood about five percent of what I heard today.  These accents....  How come no one ever conjugates a verb around here??”

“That’s because she’s a police wife.  Gets everything for free - even her phone plan!  Not a regular civilian like us...”

“He says he always gets up from the table before he’s full.  If you eat until you’re full, the devil roams freely in your veins.”

“You’re just like Grandma.  She never remembers her tea during breakfast cuz she’s too busy with the cheese.  And then she gets mad that it’s cold.  Hand it to me, I’ll freshen it.”

“And they built all those houses, all the same.  A few hundred of them.  But no one’s buying them.  There are only seven thousand people in this town - do they think that many people are going to move out here?  Maybe if they built a factory or something where there would be jobs.  Plus, who’s going to buy a house with no radiators?  You’d freeze in the winter.”

“She’s not a guest in this house, she’s family.  Let her fill your teacup.”

“My aunt’s house you’ve been to.  Just a few apartments down from us.  My sister’s is in the building just below that.  And in that building, my brother that died - his wife and daughter live there....”

“Remember when we came here last summer, the day after the wedding?  And you took a picture of the one lonely walnut up in that tree.  I hope there’s more than one this year....”

“I had an errand at town hall today, but you heard that funeral announcement, right?  The mayor’s dad.  He was the mayor before and now it’s his son.  So now I can’t go for a week, at least.  Maybe ten days.  To pay my respects, of course, but not for business.  It would be rude.”

“Don’t worry about the littlest rocks.  Just get the big ones.  When that bucket’s full, we’ll go dump it onto the dirt where they’re working on the foundation for the house.”

“I’m worried about him.  He hardly talks anymore and won’t open up to any of us.  He’s doing okay in school now, thank goodness.  But he watches Kurtlar Vadisi and I think it’s made him hard.....”

“I’ve been stuck inside with her since she was born.  It’s finally getting warm now and I am so ready to get out of the house and walk down to the sea...”

“This village is suffocating.  The nature here is pretty, but the community, it’ll drown you.”

“Those egg stains never did come out of the carpets.  Who throws eggs at the groom anyway?”

“Poor Teyze, bless her heart.  She’s facing the wrong way.  Mecca’s over that way.”

“He’s a good father otherwise.  Brings home money.  Takes us out on the weekend.  It’s when he drinks that we’re so afraid of him...”

“And all you have to do is take the lace and sew it onto the two ends of your towel.  Not many people can do it like I do it so I sell a lot of them.”

“Do you leave your car in Turkey when you go back to America or do you take it with you?”

“Keep an eye on the chicken so that cat doesn’t run off with our lunch like last time!”

“You can’t buy alcohol here in our village.  At all.  People go down across the highway to the Alevi village to buy it.  And you can’t play Backgammon or Okey here, either.  You used to be able to, in our grandfathers’ time.  And then some guys got in a fight.  Now, no games.”

“Oh, don’t go to bed yet.  Let’s have some Turkish coffee!  Your time here is so short...”

“I miss my dad so much.  On days like this, I catch myself thinking he’s just off buying chicken for the barbecue and he’ll come up and join the picnic in a little bit...”

“You should come back in cherry season.  And in October  - the first weeks of October - for the grape harvest.  Our grapes here are famous.  You’ve never tasted grapes like these....”