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Monday, January 11, 2010

All good things come to an end....

This was it, our final day. I don’t wanna go back! How can we savor our final moments? Well, without any money our options were limited. We’ll have to come back to the museums in the summer, which is probably better because we’ll want to escape from the heat.

Another walk through Istikal Street, a crowded pedestrian street lined with shops and restaurants and bars. During the day its not so grand, but at night it lights up with thousands of people doing their own Turkish xhiro, meeting friends for drinks (or backgammon, equally as popular here), and shopping. Istikal comes to an end where Galata begins; the main difference being that the road slopes steeply downward and the shops become a bit grungier. Near the bottom sits the Galata Tower, offering a panoramic view of the Golden Horn. There is a hostel and cheap eateries along that road, too.

Galata Tower

Trinkets along Istikal Street

I completely neglected to mention that one of our goals while in the city was to search for bicycles to use on our trip after service. I had read online of a few recommended shops and we were really hopeful to find touring bikes, anything that might suffice. However, as it turns out the shops are really parts-shops, and I doubt we could find all the right parts to build our own bikes. The only possible shop, a Trek importer near the Galata Tower, well, it was a Trek importer. They had two bikes that may have been rideable, but were extremely low quality and overpriced. So… well you’ll see my bike rant soon.

The day passed quickly, and soon enough we were waiting for our 8 pm shuttle at the Metro station. Another chilly, groggy adventure at the border (everyone gets woken at 3 am to stand in a long line out in the freezing cold). When we woke up again the sun was peeking above the horizon, welcoming us back to Greece. With considerable more difficulty than in Turkey, we hitched our way back across the north of Greece to Ioannina, and from there bought the final scheduled bus tickets to the border. Its possible to hitch all the way home but we were dead tired and sick of standing roadside. Oh and as luck would have it, one of the guys that had picked us up runs an organic farm outside Thessaloniki. He looked more like an Oregon hippie to me than a Greek, and gave us a bottle of cherry raki that his mother made—it was actually delicious! (I hate raki, this was something on another level) He also tossed us some of the most mouth-watering tomatoes I’ve ever had. We’ll have to swing by the farm on our route for sure.

So now were back. It took several days for us to get back on schedule with work and friends. I’m still making the rounds, wishing people happy new years and scheduling coffee dates to catch up.

Except for the frequent downpours, I am convinced spring is just around the corner. Did I say that? Its only January. But a girl’s gotta hope right? Before I know it the sun will be shining brightly, we’ll be passing the days beachside, and I will no longer be wearing 3 thermal layers to bed… It’s the final stretch.

This year will be full of so much change for me. Not only will I be saying goodbye to the town and people and life that I have spent two years+ getting accustomed to, but Chris and I will embark on a new journey through some difficult territory. And by the end of it all, perhaps by the next Christmas season, I will be back in the States. I can’t even imagine what I will do. For now, I can’t think of that. I think I’ll go walk to our castle instead.

Unbeatable sunset over the Bosphorous, see you again in the summer!

New Years at the Farm or Güle Güle 2009

We decided to take up our new friends (Marcus and Ferit)’s offer to join them in Edremit for New Years, so once again Chris and I went searching for a bus company to buy tickets to the coast. These are the guys we couchsurfed with in Konya; Ferit, we were so excited to learn, inherited an olive grove on the western coast, and is in the process of converting and certifying it to an organic farm. They were throwing a New Year’s party out on the farm with 2 dozen other Erasmus students from around Europe. The drive to the farm took pretty much all day (4 hours longer than expected), so when we arrived in the town we were starving! No food from 6am-4 pm except the stale bit of cake-bread the bus usher handed out, horrible. We promptly found a small shop serving chicken and beans to tuck into, yummy.

Our instructions from Ferit lead us to a small shop, where we met his cousin, a Turkish man who lives in DC. Turns out he is a lead economist for the IMF, which allowed us many interesting conversations about his life and work and opinions about the current global crisis. Another of Ferit’s cousins present is the owner of a nearby citrus farm, also interested in converting it to organic. He explained to us that one of the biggest obstacles is that the government sprays crops annually to keep the number of mosquitoes and other pests down, so even if he could somehow get his property omitted from the toxic downpour the bugs would swarm and destroy his trees… There are a large number of organic farms throughout Turkey, so there must be a way of getting around this, I have a feeling when he sees Ferit’s success he will take the leap.

So anyways, eventually Ferit came to pick us up, we stocked up on loaves of bread, vegetables, and spices, and then we drove into the mountains. The farm is pretty well set up with a large house, gardens, hand built terraces, and some grafted trees. (We learned a great deal about the benefits of wild, old growth roots combined with tasty, edible fruit trees) I am so excited to come back in the summer when everything is blooming!

This is Ferit's farmhouse

By the time we arrived the house was full of the Erasmus students—we spent hours introducing ourselves and telling our story over and over about what we are doing in Albania and such... I must admit that I am super intimidated by Europeans. I’ve suspected for awhile but this really cemented it in for me. I always feel nervous around them because they tend to know so many languages--- at least English on top of their native tongue, and I feel like Europeans know so much more about my culture, politics, and history than I could ever know of theirs.

Midnight bonfire countdown!

A big meal was cooked to feed the 20+ people, in hilariously industrial-sized pots of soup with salad and bread. We ate in shifts around the table while others mingled by the fireplace or out on the front porch smoking cigarettes. I don’t know who DJed the music, but someone (Santa??) granted me some fast happy ska beats, so I danced the night away! Just before midnight we all rushed outside to a big bonfire and counted down the stroke of midnight, then began rounds of cheers and hugs and cheek kisses (oh those Europeans!). Eventually we learned it was someone’s birthday so we took turns singing happy birthday in various languages, which I really enjoyed, although I do wish there were more traditional variations from the tune Americans sing. Only the Polish girls sang something completely unique, but surely each culture has an original song, right?

Ferit and Mr. Curry, his pet donkey

The next day we lounged around the house, exploring the gardens and hanging out. Ferit gave Chris and me a tour of the farm, explaining how and when things were built and what plans he has for the future. I’m so impressed and jealous—I wish I could inherit a big beautiful chunk of über-fertile land! Clearly it will be difficult, but I think the fruits of his labor (literally!) will be well rewarded.

Overlooking the olives and pines

In the afternoon Ferit took us on a walk up into the mountains, where we picked wild mushrooms for the night’s dinner. We walked up to a ridge overlooking the beginning of a vast expanse of mountains that stretch for hundreds of miles to the country’s interior. Turkey is so beautiful! Despite the beach homes and general development, it still seems ruled by nature. I fear for Albania because the people are desperate to have what their European neighbors have, and have had for the last 50 years, and they are destroying the country along the way. More hotels! More apartments! More imports! More roads! Nevermind that there is nowhere for the garbage to go but the rivers, and that the pristine coastline is exponentially disappearing…. Grr…

Returning as the sun set, we spent one more night at the farm. In the morning Chris and I woke early and began our long journey back to Istanbul, this time playing our cards by hitchhiking. It turned out to be easier than we could have imagined, with several friendly and generous people happy to pick us up. In fact, twice our benevolent drivers insisted on taking us out for a meal, so we were extra lucky to save both bus fare and get food. (Which was especially good because I lost all of my money on our last day in Istanbul. I was completely broke, relying on my sugar-daddy who was also quickly running low…)

By the end of the day were back in Istanbul. Like a second home!

Back to Istanbul!

Once again we pulled into the Otogar, after a long night of inclined sleep. It’s possible to snooze on comfortable buses, but not as restful as a bed for sure; inevitably you are the walking dead the next day. From the Otogar we hitched a lift on a shuttle to Kadikoy’s station, and from there hopped a city bus on a loop around the Asian side of town before exiting outside the Anadolu İmam Hatip Lisesi School.

We would be spending the next few days with a woman I contacted through couchsurfing, Neshe. Chris and I agreed to meet her here and to spend some time with her English students. Little did we know what was in store for us! When we showed up, we were shuffled up winding stairwells, through a sea of girls cloaked in burgundy headscarves, to the teacher’s lounge on the top floor. While waiting a few minutes for our hostess we snuck off to the bathrooms to freshen up a bit—we did just roll off an all-night bus with frazzled hair and eye goop after all. Neshe turned out to be an amazing and super friendly woman, and her students welcomed us with a party! We spent two hours eating a spread of various homemade Turkish foods and answering questions about our lives and things that we like. Some of the girls played songs on the ney (of Persian origin, an end-blown flute) for us, and at the end they begged to take photos and get our facebook names. The funniest thing was the way they took to Chris— as Neshe warned us, they don’t interact with men much, let alone older foreign men, so for Chris to speak openly with them (and dazzle them with drawings on the chalkboard) makes the girls kind of giddy… :) As far as school conditions go, I couldn’t help but notice how well kept the classes and halls were—no broken window panes, the bathrooms had toilets and soap and running water, and there was a general lack of kids just hanging out in the halls causing trouble. Amazing!

For three days we stayed with Neshe, in her apartment near the Uskadar ferry station, on the Asian coast. We would ride across the Marmara in the morning and walk around SultanAhmet, exploring as many mosques, alleys, bazaars, and baklava shops as we could squeeze in each day. Chris generally had his favorite ‘chicken man’ joint, and I carried dried figs and cranberries in my camera bag to nibble on. SultanAhmet is a large neighborhood with most of Istanbul’s best tourist attractions.

Gotta wash up before entering...

Crowded streets some vendors find opportunities selling simit, a popular breakfast snack

View of Blue Mosque from across at Aya Sophia

"Book Street" near the Grand Pazar, full of Qurans, novels, texts, and artwork

Stalls inside the Grand Pazar

Near the ferry dock is the first of 3 gargantuan mosques—the New Mosque. Nearby is the covered Spice Bazaar, where treasures and treats from the limits of the Silk Road were brought, one of the earliest products of globalization. We spent most of our time wandering, peeping into dozens of once-essential hans (caravansaries), which are now worn down and mostly converted to shops or storage spaces; de-shoeing and ducking into plenty of small and large mosques to admire the inner calligraphy and tilework; taking photos, trying hard not to let people see me capture them as subjects of the Turkish Life and Times. Most of my photos are of markets and mosques, which pretty much describes the whole city. Everywhere you turn there is a shopfront exploding with sacks of nuts and dried fruits, hanging peppers, bags of colorful spices, rows of tempting and elaborate desserts…

Galata Bridge is packed day and night with fishermen, who sell to the restaurants below deck and to the many nearby stalls serving fresh grilled fish sandwiches

Seedsellers keep birds well fed outside the New Mosque

Delicious goodies inside the Grand Pazar

Antiques abound outside the Grand Pazar

Stalls brimming with goods

Cafes and endless shops with trinkets, carpets, jewelry, etc. in the Grand Pazar

Two of the other famous mosques in SultanAhmet are the Aya Sophia (formerly the Hagia Sophia) and the Blue Mosque. Both are enormous structures with extravagant features and fascinating histories; the Aya Sophia was originally built as a Byzantine Church in the 6th century, and later converted to a mosque when the Ottomans stormed the city to conquer Istanbul in 1453. The enormous dome is mesmerizing from the outside (they say the statue of liberty can fit inside without her torch), but we didn’t get the opportunity to venture inside on this trip. The Blue Mosque is remarkable in its design—the only mosque in the world with 6 minarets. It is architecturally impressive on both the outside as well as in. Chris and I enjoyed part of two beautiful afternoons outside these camiis, taking in the views and watching other tourists and locals as they went about their day. As always, Chris busily sketched while I wrote in my little journal.

Baklava break at the Blue Mosque!

Aya Sophia and Hamam

Sketching in the mosques

Gargantuan Blue Mosque-- tourists line up to squeeze inside between calls to prayer

As the sun set we returned to Neshe’s apartment and would spend the evenings with her, usually she cooked us a fabulous dinner of Turkish foods and we’d talk about our days’ adventures. Neshe taught us a lot about the city and Turkish culture. I love couchsurfing so much because I finally have someone to answer all my silly questions, and Neshe was great because she’s very open-minded and I was able to glimpse through the eyes of a conservative Muslim woman. I also really admire her self-confidence and sense of adventure. Contrary to her culture, she’s traveled to many countries (alone even), and is receptive to opening her home to foreign strangers through CS. Actually, she has made many wonderful friends through couchsurfing and consequently opened opportunities to visit many of them throughout Europe and even host other members of their families who visit Istanbul. She really inspired me to take more advantage of CSing and to do better to keep ties with terrific people that I meet.

Two other awesome things that came about due to our meeting Neshe are: 1) she took us to the Sakirin Mosque, which is the first mosque designed by a woman. I had read an article about this a few months beforehand, but never would have found it on my own. It was only a few bus stops from her house, so we went there one evening before meeting her friends out for some tea.

Beautiful, elegant, modern Sakirin Mosque

And, 2) she took us to a whirling lesson! Neshe is learning Sufism, otherwise called Mystical Islam, which was made popular by the epic poet Rumi Mevlani, whose mosque and tomb we went to in Konya. Our very own dervish! She took us to her whirling class one night, where we spent hours practicing to spin on one foot, trying hard to not fall over, and watching the other students (all females, hoping to be the first order of female dervishes) as they twirled round and round to the music… It is much more difficult (and painful) than it looks!

Whirling Dervish apprentices (look at that concentration!)

Christmas in Cappadocia!

That’s [Kap—ah--dōk—eeyah]. I mentally debated for quite some time whether we should risk spending Christmas trapped in a frigid, snowy outpost. Two years ago we were sipping pineapple smoothies along the river in Luang Prabang. Before that we were picnicking on an ancient temple in southern Mexico, savoring avocado tacos and Corona. And I’m such an Arizonan wuss! I swear I’m just not built to withstand temperatures below 60 degrees… so frankly I was not expecting to have a merry Christmas. But I desperately wanted to visit the fairy chimneys I’d heard so much about, to explore the valleys of bizarre landscapes, and see the so-called cave hotels.

Welcome to Cappadocia!

As it turned out we had a streak of WARM sunny days! No snow or rain in sight, we spent 4 days walking through the valleys, which have been carved into outlandish rock formations (a special combination of soft volcanic rock layered with a stronger one causing uneven erosion). For centuries, early Christians carved homes into the rocks, hiding from persecutors, and even dug entire underground cities. Many of the caves are intact, with easily discernible features such as the pigeon homes (looks like shelves built into the walls), wine stomping basins, storage areas, etc. They say the Christians kept homing pigeons to send messages back and forth, which have now become extinct.

We spied a hot air balloon in the Open Air Museum

Explaining the built-in pigeon homes and wine storage

In front of Pigeon Valley (or Penis Chimney Valley)

Rorschach test: what are these?

Most of the nights we stayed in Göreme, one of the main towns with various hotels built into the rocks. There are also several restaurants, cafes, and antique & handicraft shops, but it’s very much a town developed completely around tourism. This time of year there were very few tourists, so we easily got beds in a cheap but pretty hostel, called the Nomad Cave. Run by a friendly Turkish woman, and providing a comfortable sitting area and free internet, we happily crashed in the communal cave room, though I must say a room full of breathing bodies and dirty clothes combined with the natural stench of a dark cave emitted an even more potent funk…

Our hostel room at the Nomad Cave

Rooms really are built into the caves!

Peering at the town from inside a cave

For Christmas day we splurged on a hotel in a nearby village, more money than we have ever paid for a bed, but so extravagantly luxurious we had to take the plunge. The hotel, the Village Cave, is built into the rocks where the owner was born and raised. Until the 1950’s people still lived in the cave houses, but now are abandoned and crumbling.

These caves, facing our hotel, were lived in until the 1950's

Wanting to make the most of our hotel stay, we spent the afternoon in our room, enjoying Christmas treats I had packed away, reading our Christmas cards, and even did a session of yoga! Our room was beautiful, kept warm with a radiator, and had a hot steamy shower with pressure... What could be better?

Pull-ups with the pigeon homes!

Super comfy, sinfully luxurious

Also in the hotel were a young American couple and their Canadian friend, currently teachers in Doha (Qatar). They talked a great deal about the life and culture of their city, and despite the people’s excessive wealth there are still endless social and environmental problems (not too far off from Albania). In the late evening they took off for a bar in town; meanwhile, we stayed with our new Spanish friend (he’s hitchhiking to India, sleeping in the caves) by the crackling fire, sipping hot chocolate and beer.

Hallway to our room, lined with water-eroded ridges

Village Cave lobby, we sipped drinks fireside on Christmas night with our new Spanish friend

We tried to stay as long as possible in the hotel the next day, but around noon the owner kindly asked us to vacate our room for the next guest. We reluctantly packed our backpacks and said goodbyes, then walked the 2km back to Göreme. (Stopped along the way upon invitation for tea, as well as a backgammon lesson from the elderly shop owner)

Enjoying tea by the Samovar, we didn't want to leave....

Back in Göreme, and again at the Nomad Cave Hostel. We dropped our bags (again in the cave) and set off for another town to explore an underground city. Several underground cities have been discovered, with layers going 14, 19 + levels under the surface. Tourists are allowed to dart around 4 -5 levels or so, getting lost within passageways, popping heads into multiple rooms at once, ducking and crawling through odd shaped corridors. After a thorough exploration we set off back for town, since the sun was setting and we hitching. We had missed the last bus to Göreme, but that gave us time to stop into a store for a baklava break (by this point I was really refining my baklava selection-- happy to discover the Albanian style is still my favorite).

Brief pause during our excursion in the Underground City

Good thing we're not claustrophobic!

Eventually we made it back to the Nomad, with plenty of time to relax in the lounge area and chat with the handful of Korean and Japanese backpackers also traveling through.

Final day was full of sunshine and gave us a chance to walk through Love Valley, full of giant fairy chimneys and rock formations. Plenty of abandoned cave homes built up into the rock faces, some isolated towers that I imagine once housed large farming families. I can picture them clearly—old Turkish man in his knitted skull cap, picking grapes; his wife in her flowery headscarf tending the fire and baking bread, their 8 children running mischievously around the valley, perhaps the older ones grazing the family’s goats… I have lots of fantasies when I travel!

What lies yonder in the Love Valley?

Them chimneys is huuuuge!

So a few hours later we arrived in another village, one with a complex of cave homes (now deteriorated and abandoned) and even a cave “castle”! Actually, the castle is a large hill that has been hollowed out with a maze of passageways and caves, probably never having housed a royal family of sorts, but still impressive. From the top we enjoyed a 360° view of the surrounding gorges, wishing we had more time to stay and explore…

The "castle" of Uçisar

Shops selling trinkets outside near Uçisar's castle

Our stay in Cappadocia was simply peaceful, surprisingly beautiful weather and a feast for the eyes. I’m just going to have to stick a bunch of pictures down here to give something of an idea, but I doubt it will do the area justice. :)

Peering down at other caves, can you imagine them inhabited?

Not exactly the pot trees we have in Lazarat...


Chris and I {*escaped*} for the holidays this year--- to Turkey! I’ve been waiting years to feast my eyes on the delights of said country, an appeal growing from endless stories of culture and intrigue that oozed out of the once-great Ottoman Empire. Our hometown of Gjirokastёr was built out of the Ottoman reign—Turkish style houses, pashas and mosques, hamams and hans and teccas... Albania’s history has been drastically shaped by the Turks who ruled from afar, janissaries that controlled the masses, Byzantine churches desecrated and family names changed to Muslim ones. Even our local oligarch, Ali Pasha of Tepelene (now immortalized on every bottle of Tepelene Water), whose son was given control of Gjirokastёr’s kalaja, was in cahoots with the Turkish sultans. And the epic hero Skanderbag (or Turkish Skanderbej) who rose in the ranks of the Ottoman military, eventually turned his back and fought to liberate Albania, stopping the Ottomans from spreading power further into Italy…

Anyway, Chris and I emptied and tidied our house, stuffed our bags, and hopped on a furgon to the Greek border. Once on the other side (freedom! vacation officially begins!) we stuck out our thumbs and stitched our way across the northern mountains to Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city. Greece feels like eye candy to me— endless rows of baklava shops, windows brimming with mystery pastries, over-the-top cafes with flashy signs and incomprehensible letters. I’m both excited and disappointed by the “advanced” level of development, overwhelmed by the cost of goods on the European market, disgusted by the inevitability of Albania’s growth pattern…

Chris samples skanikopita but I'm only interested in that beautiful baklava behind him....

Thessaloniki is full of Christmas cheer in December, lots of twinkling light and santas, even a life size nativity scene! We bought our bus tickets for Istanbul—overnight 10 hours—and briskly walked circles around town to keep warm. We were lucky enough to stumble upon some outdoor party (grand opening of something I think) where they gave out free hot drinks and cookies; we tried hard to look anonymous as we hovered near the heaters...

Street party? =free food, drinks, music, and heat!

Nativity scenes and festive streets in Thessaloniki

Arriving in Istanbul (not Constantinople) in the early hours, totally disoriented, hungry, and cold, we sought refuge in the nearest breakfast börek shop for a cup of tea. The restaurant, a chain that rivals store counts with Starbucks, also housed an internet café several flights up, so we were able to skype our friend and hostess. We planned to stay a few nights with Besana, an Albanian friend from Gjirokastёr, who is getting her master’s degree there.

Early morning chill at Taksim! (Fresh off the bus)

Findikli Molla Celebi camii, in Bektas, overlooking the bridge and Golden Horn

Besana put us up in her tiny apartment (small but super convenient location in Taksim, the central square) and spent 3 days guiding us around town, drinking samovars full of Turkish tea** at a café overlooking the Bosporus; wandering past the Aya Sophia, New Mosque, and Blue Mosque; riding the ferry over to the Anatolian side of town, sampling the city’s best baklava shops and food stalls (including kumpir, a popular meal consisting of a giant baked potato stuffed with cheese and topped with a vast array of veggies and fixins’); smoking nargile at a madresa-turned-café spot...

Wandering the streets near Bektas

Ordering kumpir, a filling vegetarian lunch

Men washing their feet outside the New Mosque

Ferry ride across the Borphorous

One of our many, many baklava stops

Smoking nargile at the madresa

**what we learned about Turkish tea: Samovars (introduced by Russia) are commonly used to boil water in a pot on the bottom and then pour into a second pot (filled with black tea grown in Eastern Turkey, near the Black Sea) that sits above it. A small amount of concentrated brew from the top pot is poured into a small tulip-shaped glass, then hot water is added from the bottom pot, and served with one or two sugar cubes (not packets, but yes sometimes individually wrapped cubes). To order an “open” cup is to have less tea and more water.

Proper Turkish tea party, inside Gulhane Park

Sultan Ahmet caddesi tram road, lined with restaurants and shops

Blue Mosque lit up at night

We booked another overnight bus to Konya to visit the Mevlani mecca, hometown of Sufism’s founder Mevlani Rumi. I had contacted a couchsurfer to host us; and from that stay we met also a French couple who are on a year’s journey, walking from Paris to Israel. From the Otogar (bus station) Chris and I rode the tram away from town, toward his apartment by the university. Our host, Marcus, is an Austrian exchange student studying organic agriculture, and is part of Europe’s Erasmus program. His roommate, Ferit, is half Turkish, half Austrian, also studying organic agriculture, and recently inherited his family’s olive grove on the Marmara coast. We totally hit it off with the guys, and were invited to visit the farm for New Year’s for a party. Since we originally wanted to come volunteer on a farm (through and were turned away because lack of availability, this was a stroke of good luck!

Linear tram connecting the city to the University, 40 km away

We stayed 2 nights in Konya, wandering the modest size town, 45 minutes away by tram. Apparently the outer city has grown into completely reckless sprawl, clusters of enormous concrete apartment buildings lining the tram. Staring out the windows as the developments flew by, our mouths gaping in horror, we discussed the somewhat orderly organization with spaces for future parks and potential trees. For now it lays barren, nothing but skyscrapers and mosques. No shops, no amenities…just apartments.

View of the bizarre city sprawl from Marcus and Ferit's balcony

Inside the actual town Chris and I visited the Mevlani mosque, and several others, seeking shelter from the late afternoon chill. We typically sat in the back, me hiding underneath my hijab, quietly reading or writing in my journal while Chris filled his book with sketches. We toured the enormous indoor fruit & veggie pazar, sampling white stringy cheese that resembles hair, dried mulberries and apples, and conversing with the cheery shop owners. Turkish people strike me as incredibly friendly (even more than Albanians?), always asking where we come from and happy to hand out a small morsel of their goods. Several people invited us in for a cup of tea, and chuckled happily when we spoke the few Turkish words and phrases we had learned.

Konya's gorgeous and almost overwhelming fruit n veggie pazar

Mevlani camii (no pictures were allowed inside, a shame because it was exquisitely decorated, I promise)

An elaborately decorated mihrab inside one of Konya's many cammis

Inside Konya's tile museum, full of beautiful pottery and tiles

Shops throughout Turkey are absolutely spilling with barrels of dried fruits, nuts, spices, bulgar, etc.

And then a trip to the Hamam! Although this is now a touristy thing to do, local people traditionally (some still do) congregated at the neighborhood bathhouse for a wash and scrub, truly an invigorating experience. This hamam sees few tourists, so I was led by a woman through a maze of steamy rooms, as she instructed me (by pointing and demanding, but no English spoken) to Wash here! Lay down! Turn over! I anticipated being embarrassed to strip down in a public space, but as it turned out the few other women sharing the fountains in the bath were not intimidating, and barely noticed my presence. And truthfully, these women were so rotund, with strata of fat rolls they sat meticulously washing, like an ancient Greek painting, it was kind of comforting to have them around. As my lady scrubbed my skin with her special mitt, layers of grey goop dripped off, akin to eraser rubbings. Admittedly, at this point I hadn’t showered in almost a week, causing a transition to cleanliness so drastic I felt like I transformed into a human again. Who knows what I was before… (stinky hippie!)

From Konya we bought bus tickets (the buses are pricier than Albania but really comfortable) to Cappadocia… more to come!

Sufi headstones outside the Mevlani Mosque-- they have sufi hats!

Turkish man takes a break in the pazar, another good use of an oil canister

Street salep-seller, a hot drink made from ground orchid roots