Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back to the Faeries. Part 1 of Bairam travels

The school finishes up with a national anthem and well wishes for Bairam
It was a chilly November night in Istanbul. Perhaps a little colder from my newly cut hair so I appeared a bit less like a hitching traveler.  I had just finished work and was home by 4pm.

Having packed my bags the night before all I had left to do was burn my five photos for the Istanbul Photo Contest held by Les Arts Turcs, print out the registration form and race against time to drop off the photos at the Sultanahmet office before returning by ferry to Kadikoy where I would meet the people I'd be spending my bairam holiday with. Having the photos in my hand, my backpack stuffed with clothing and a blanket, and a look of urgency I just prayed that there would not be a large traffic jam as is usual at 6 o' clock on a Friday night.
In my rush of urgency I jumped on the bus going the wrong direction and when passengers alerted me of this I got off at the next stop, eyes worried that I would indeed be missing the bus at 8:30pm.

After trying to find a bus to get me back on track and take me to Uskudar so I could take a quick ferry across to Karakoy I gave up and jumped in a taxi. My luck wasn't with me this night because as I had feared there was a massive traffic jam going towards Uskudar and I just happened to jump in a taxi to get there after giving up on the buses. I could have reached it faster by walking down the hill towards the harbor on foot.

Once there I ran to the ferry terminal and feeling as it was a race against time since I had just one and a half hours before the meeting time in front of the old theatre in Kadikoy, I sat back on the seat cushions in the heated cabin of the ferry watching the glowing river scene pass by.
I got on the other side and ran to the tram which would take me to Sultanahmet.
I made my way, running, stopping to ask for directions in my broken Turkish "nerede?" while showing them the street name I had written on my hand 'Incili Çavus Sok.' My final question to a doorman at a restaurant led to him pointing and saying 'here!'; I had just passed it.

I walked up the 3-4 flights of winding stairs that are so common in the buildings on the European side I found the door closed but a sign asking me to ring the bell. I did and I was soon greeted by a graying, yet lively man by the name of Nurdogan Sengüler, founder of Les Arts Turcs. He gave me a quick welcome with "come in come in, have a seat." I was then treated to a very fascinating rendition of the history of Les Arts Turcs, some of Nurdogan's current projects, and lots of banter about photography and the joy of art. It was clear, his passion for foreigners, Turkish arts, Turkey, and especially photography. We talked about different photographic pursuits, the history of the Istanbul Photo Contest, and how he worked tooth and nail to make the impossible, possible. The man truly is charismatic in the way he speaks. It's obvious he's a mover and shaker in Istanbul's art and photography scene.

As our talks turned from minutes to almost an hour I was becoming nervous. I regretfully asked to take leave so I could catch my bus in Kadikoy and as I left the door I raced back down the stairs, through the street alley restaurants, and back to the tram. I made it to Kadikoy by 8pm and had worked up quite an appetite.
I grabbed a doner sandwich for 3lira (about $1.50) asking them to stuff it with "beebare/biber" which is peppers in turkish. Just writing it makes my mouth water with delight.

I was among the first to arrive in the group, asking a few different groups of people waiting for buses until I found a couple that said they were part of the eXtra large tour group.

By 8:30pm everybody had arrived but the bus was still waiting and it was really chilly. My friend Mehmet, who invited me on the trip, went to get some food for the road along with some beers to officially start the holiday. We all made bets on when the bus would arrive and I won the bet with an optimistic 9:15pm.

It arrived and then we were off.

It was clear that many of the people on this trip were already friends as people drank and partied a bit as we made the overnight trip to the Land of fairy chimneys and underground cities.
Old friends back together again for a long haul to faerie land

It was with the rising dawn of the day that we arrived to Cappadocia. Exhausted from the sleepless ride we piled out of the bus to go to a roadside restaurant erected for tour buses and tourists just like us.
I wasn't feeling best so I just had some pancakes which are not the pancakes I love from the USA but a very thin flat bread filled with some type of bitter cheese. It was not what I needed and I couldn't even finish one.

The days itinerary was to first explore the Ihlara Valley and it's hidden churches, explore the complex underground city in Derinkuyu that protected the ancient christian inhabitants from various conquesting civilizations, and finally to stand atop Castle Rock that dominates the skyline in Nevşehir.

The whispers of dawn greet us as we approach Cappadocia
Time for breakfast at 9am

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