Category Archives: Turkey

Erzurum to Hopa, Türkiye to Batumi, Georgia

2/6 – Got up early this morning to catch a bus – it is 3 degrees F! That’s mighty cold for a southern belle like me… We bought tickets on the 7:30am bus to Hopa, Türkiye, the last town before the Georgian border.

Based on our experience with Turkish buses, we did not wear our long johns despite the cold, as buses usually have the heat cranked up to 80. Just our luck, this bus had no heater! We sat and shivered for the first hour, until the sun started to warm things up. Of greater concern was the driver, who, without a defroster, kept splashing lemon cologne on the windshield and rubbing a little circle to see out of!

Once the windows cleared, we were treated to some great mountain scenery, reminiscent of Nevada or Arizona.





We also got to see some of the strange sandstone formations for which Cappadocia is famous.




We rode for a while along the river.



We arrived in Hopa by 12:30, and took a cab to the border, where Türkiye bade us farewell.


And Georgia welcomed us in!



As we waited to get through passport control, I noticed that these folks don’t adhere to the western concept of orderly queuing – there was a knot of people in front of each border inspector, and they jostled for position, trying to cut in front of others without making eye contact. You know this New Yorker wasn’t having any of that! Today was good practice as we move into Asia.

I was struck with the things people were carrying over the border – big bottles of laundry detergent and all sorts of household goods in plastic bags. Is Türkiye that much more prosperous than Georgia?

A half hour minibus ride got us to Batumi, where the weather is 65 and sunny. Hallelujah! We can put away the long johns for a while! A former Soviet city, Batumi looks like it is gearing up to be a Black Sea beach destination. Lots of new construction on the waterfront.






When we checked our iPads, we discovered we’d lost two hours of time instead of the one we expected when we crossed the border. We are now 9 hours ahead of home. Solution? Go out for supper, instead of lunch!

We had supper in a Ukranian restaurant right across from My Warm Guest House (yes, that’s the name of our hotel!), where the menu was printed in Russian, Georgian and English. Thank goodness, as I don’t expect to get the hang of reading Georgian anytime soon. It all looks like Ms and 3s to me!image

A Day in Erzurum

2/5 – Jim decided we needed a day off before crossing the border, so we had today to explore Erzurum. Our first order of business was to find a barber (berber), as Jim has been looking for a haircut for a while. This would not normally be a blog worthy event, but the barber did something we hadn’t seen before. After cutting Jim’s hair, he lit a torch and burned the little hairs out of Jim’s ears! It was thrilling to watch, and Jim didn’t scream, so I guess it’s a viable way to get hair out of your ears…

Erzurum had a substantial snow before we arrived, and the streets were in various states of packed ice, slush or mud, which made walking hazardous. The temperature was in the 20s. We only had a mile to the city center, but it was treacherous going all the way.


Here we are sliding down a street full of wedding shops and jewelry stores.


Erzurum is known for wedding shops.


Our goal was the Citadel, a twelfth century fort with a tower that afforded an overview of the city. The fort was mainly walls covered with snow.




The views from the tower – beautiful mountains all around!




There is also a mosque here, famous for its unusual minarets. They must be refurbishing them this winter.



We stopped for lunch at a tavuk doner (chicken wrap) shop with only two tables. Our last doners in Turkey!


The wraps were delicious, but the little shop had no sink. When we were done, I watched the proprietor wipe off our table with a rag, take our plates outside, wipe them with the same rag, then put them back on the stack of clean plates! There are some things we are better off not seeing…

Tomorrow, Georgia!

Istanbul to Ankara to Erzurum, Türkiye

2/3 – Today we bid farewell to Istanbul. We plan to take the high speed train from Pendik (about 20 miles east of the city) to Ankara, then a sleeper train from Ankara to Erzurum. We will travel east across northern Turkey until we reach the border with Georgia. It’s been a grand three months, but our visas are due to expire, and it’s time to move on.


Unfortunately, Jim was not able to book our train tickets online, so we got up early, walked to the train station and hoped for the best. The news was not encouraging. Both of today’s trains to Ankara were sold out. When we expressed dismay, the man, with very little English, managed to convey to us that a few business class seats are held until thirty minutes before the train departs. We sat patiently waiting for an opening on the 10:30 train. No luck. He told us to come back at noon and try again for the 12:45.

We went and had a doner sandwich, and the lovely salty yogurt drink Ayran. At 11:45 we returned. Where was our guy? We saw him outside talking on his mobile. What if he’d forgotten us? What if he was on his lunch break? At exactly 12 noon, he opened a side door and motioned for us to follow. He led us upstairs to an office with a computer, where he printed out our tickets to Ankara without our having to stand in line. Nice person of Turkey! He asked our ages, then gave us the business class seats at half price with a senior discount. Then he looked at the second leg of the journey. All the private sleeper cabins on the overnight train were booked, and there was only one couchette (4 bunks per cabin) left, in the men’s section. Jim took the couchette, and I got a seat in coach, where I will spend the night trying to sleep sitting up. Well, at least the seats are more comfortable than I would have on a plane…

The high speed train got us halfway across the country in four hours.


The scenery did not disappoint, and we business class travelers were served soft drinks, coffee or tea, and were given a box lunch and a Snicker bar. Life is good!




Here’s the sunset as we approached Ankara.



We had a half hour layover before boarding the Dogu Expressi at 6pm.


Making stops in every town, we’ll get across the other half of the country by 2pm tomorrow. I settled into my crowded coach car, listening to a hundred phone conversations trying to outshout the crying babies. Sheesh! I bet Jim was having a fine, quiet time back in the sleeper car!

We met for supper in the dining car at 7, and had a pretty good and reasonably priced meal of chicken shish kabob and rice. We asked for tea, and were told that tea would not be available until 8pm. Now that is very strange – Turkish people live and breathe tea, and it is always offered at any time of day or night! Oh well, we waited until 8, asked again, and were given our tea.

Sleeping wasn’t too bad – just like the olden days of air travel, I found two empty seats side by side and stretched out across them, with my feet in the aisle. At the next stop, however, a person had a ticket for my claimed seat, so I had to move. Then I saw another passenger turn the seat across from him around so he could put his feet up. That looked like a great idea, so at the next stop when the car emptied a bit, I did that too. I was awoken every hour as the conductor called out the next stop, but it really wasn’t bad.

2/4 – I met Jim back in the dining car for breakfast.


It turned out that there was only one other man in Jim’s cabin, and he got off in the middle of the night, so Jim now had a cabin to himself. I wasted no time moving my stuff back and settling in.

We had passed through some regions of deep snow during the night, but this morning’s views looked wintry but nice.




As the morning progressed, the views looked colder.




At 2pm we got off the train and trudged a half mile through yesterday’s snow and today’s slush to find our hotel. Next stop, Georgia!


Istanbul Fed Ex Customs Office – a Cautionary Tale

2/2 – This is a story that started about a month ago. Jim had been trying to buy new boots and a warmer down jacket, but having no luck here in Turkey, as he is taller than average with extra large feet. After striking out in Istanbul, Kas and Antalya (stores only stock shoes up to size 45, and Jim needs 48wide, and extra large jacket with a 37 inch sleeve), he gave up and ordered what he needed from Amazon in the US. He had everything delivered to son Peter’s house, and Peter graciously agreed to ship the stuff to us.

After researching, the cheapest way to ship to Turkey was Fed Ex, at about $300.00 for a single box, with four day delivery. The cost to ship was twice the cost of what was in the box! After swallowing hard, Jim told Peter to go ahead and ship, because he really needed the new boots. These would be the most expensive boots ever! During this discussion, I asked Peter to put a new mobile phone in the box also, as mine has been acting erratically, and I didn’t want to be without a phone, which we use to navigate our way around using Google Maps.

So, Peter shipped the box to the hotel we planned to stay at in Konya, and we called ahead to make sure they would hold it for us until we arrived. On the fourth day, Fed Ex called Peter and said there were customs forms that needed to be filled out and duties and taxes to be paid now that the box was in Turkey. More money?? Peter gave them our info and asked them to email the forms to us. When we didn’t receive anything, we called Fed Ex International in Atlanta, and they gave us a number to call in Istanbul.

The Istanbul office had a lady who spoke English, thank goodness. She asked us to itemize what was in the box. We told her clothing and a phone. That brought the conversation to a screeching halt, as it is not permitted under any circumstances to ship a phone to Turkey.


Who knew? We asked for our options, and were told we could either abandon the box, or pay another $300.00 to have the box shipped back to the US. It could not be delivered. No! Jim needed those boots! We asked if they could remove the phone and ship the rest. No. We had to disposition the whole box. We went around several times, and then she told us that we could come to the Fed Ex Customs office in Istanbul and have the box opened and the phone removed. We had to be there in person. Okay!

So, on the day we returned to Istanbul for our flight to Israel, we spent three hours on buses, metro and taxi to get to the customs office.


We arrived triumphant at 3pm, only to be told it was too late in the afternoon to inspect the box (their hours were 9am to 5:30pm) , and to return in the morning. We threw ourselves on their mercy, describing our three hour ride. We were leaving for Israel early the next morning, and would not be able to return for two weeks. Fine, we were told, the box would be held until we returned.

So, sadly, we reversed the trip back to the Asian side of Istanbul, which took 5 hours due to evening traffic, so we would be on time for our morning flight. We were exhausted, and Jim was going hiking with bad boots. We figured the day’s transportation had cost us another $50.00. We were demoralized and disgusted. Jim decided to just abandon the box, and we agreed to never speak about the whole incident again.

Then we went hiking in Israel, and every day was a misery for Jim’s feet. He changed his mind. When we get back to Istanbul, he said, let’s try again to get that box.

Our plane landed on the Asian side of Istanbul on Friday, and we took the three hour ride back to the European side, this time getting a room right near the European airport. We cooled our heels over the weekend, then got up early Monday morning so we would be there when the Customs office opened, and took a taxi there.

The girl in the office remembered us, looked up our package and arranged to have it inspected. We walked back to the warehouse and waited while they located the box. The inspector opened it, examined the boots, jacket and phone, and put everything back in the box. He asked to see Jim’s passport and looked at the date of our stamp for entering Turkey. He explained to the men surrounding him (everything is done here by committee) that we had a ninety day visa, and were citizens for that period of time. He wrote out a form and stamped it, and told us to take it to the airport (6 miles away), show it to Customs there, and come back with another document, at which time we could retrieve the package.

We got an address from the office lady, and the name of a person to ask for at the airport cargo terminal. We asked for another taxi, but as we were waiting, a Fed Ex 18 wheeler was leaving the facility, and the security guy asked him to give us a ride. Nice Person of Turkey!

Unfortunately, the truck was not going to the cargo terminal, so the driver dropped us off on the highway in the rain, telling us with hand signs and no English that it wasn’t too far to walk.

It turns out there are LOTS of cargo terminals at the airport, and we trudged from building to building in the rain, showing our piece of paper and asking for help. image

We finally got to the right building and found Meryam, who added more documents and more stamps to the papers we carried. She sent us to yet another building to have three photocopies made of all the forms and Jim’s passport with the all-important date stamp. Then she did some magic stapling and stamping, and told us we were ready to go back to the Customs office.

We walked back out of the airport and onto the main road where we could hail a taxi. Back we went the 6 miles to the Fed Ex office. This taxi driver tried to rip us off for twice what the ride should cost, but we were sufficiently bedraggled, pissed off and surly that we argued and refused to pay his price, giving him a fair amount and walking off with him yelling and waving his fist. We went back in the office and…. It was noon. Everyone had gone to lunch and the warehouse was locked until 1pm. Luckily, anticipating a grueling ordeal, Jim had packed us some sandwiches, so we sat on a bench, ate and waited.

At 1pm, the warehouse reopened, our forms were inspected and approved, and we were sent upstairs for yet another stamp. Then we were walked to a building we hadn’t been to yet. There we waited outside a locked door until the next man-with-a-stamp returned from lunch. Then we were ushered into a queue, where we thought we were waiting for our box. When we got to the front of the line, we were presented an invoice for $103.00 in storage charges for the box! Jim really lost it at this point, but, having come this far, what else were we to do? He reluctantly forked over the cash, muttering about bureaucracies in third world countries, and at 2pm, we were finally handed our box.

What should have felt like a triumph, felt instead like a particularly painful screwing. We decided not to add up all the costs again, but to enjoy the boots, the jacket and the phone and consider this a lesson learned. Why they let us have the phone after all the hoopty-do about it not being permitted, we will never know.

We took yet another taxi to the nearest metro station, and rode three hours back to the Asian side, so we’d be in position to get to the train station in the morning. Now I’ve told the story, and we agreed to never talk about the incident again!image Jim’s new boots, size 13W.

Tel Aviv to Istanbul

1/30 – Up early this morning for the cab ride to Ben Gurion Airport. Security is very tight here, and we were interviewed about our travel plans before we were allowed to check in. It should be noted that, although we had to go through a security scanner, we did not have to take off our shoes, nor were we asked to give up our water bottles.

Two hours later, we touched down in Istanbul, at the airport on the Asian side. We spent the rest of the afternoon on two buses to get us back to the European side, where we have to see a man about a box on Monday. Istanbul is a huge city!

Jim had reserved a small apartment through When we got there, it was not an apartment at all, but a dumpy room with an electric kettle and a fridge that needed cleaning. Without the ability to cook, there is no reason to pay extra for an apartment, so we trooped back downstairs to speak to the manager. After some wrangling over the phone, he gave us our cash back, and we got into another cab for a place we quickly found online. It’s really amazing that in all our travels so far, this is the first time we had to leave a hotel. We read the comments and ratings carefully before we book, and most places present themselves honestly.

Half an hour later, we were tucked in to a lovely modern apartment with all facilities, a washing machine, and even a crib, in case we decide to have a baby! There was a supermarket down the street, and Jim bought the makings of a delicious supper, and had it on the table in an hour. Home sweet home!

1/31 – you may not believe this, but I stayed in bed all day, getting up only for meals. Traveling is hard work, and sometimes we need a day off from our vacation!

2/1 – Super Bowl Sunday! Jim’s trying to figure out how to watch the game, which will start about 3am tomorrow, our time…

We ventured out to check out the neighborhood and buy more groceries. We are in the southern part of Istanbul, right on the Sea of Marmara. We decided to stroll down to the harbor. When we got there, the wind was blowing fiercely, and the streets were flooded.


It was like being in a hurricane, without the rain!


Some of the boats looked swamped.


The chestnut vendor didn’t budge from his spot, and the Sunday strollers braved the headwinds to continue their strolls.


One block inland, life was normal, and the winds were gone. Very strange!

Was awoken at 4am to the sound of football -Jim figured out how to watch the Super Bowl after all. Glad the Pats won, because it would have made my brother happy.

Konya – the Archeological Museum

1/14 – Close to Konya is the archeological site of Çatalhöyük, where artifacts as old as 9000 BCE have been salvaged from underground houses that pre-date the concept of a village (buildings with differentiated uses). Excavation has been going on since the 1960s. It’s a little cold to visit the excavation, so we decided to do the next-best thing and visit some of the artifacts at Konya’s Archeological Museum.

We navigated across town thanks to the Google Maps GPS on our phone. I really can’t imagine how we could have gotten this far without it. It’s another cold, grey-slush day. A little girl says Hello! as we pass. When I reply Merhaba! (hello) her face lights up with delight.

We pay 5 lira each admission, and the security guard flips on the light switch and motions us into a dusty room. We are the only visitors.

The first room is filled with Roman sarcophagi from the 3rd century CE.

The detail and preservation here is excellent. The carving is intricate, and depicts scenes from life.

There are also pieces of mosaic floor, undated (not much signage here).

The next room has the artifacts we came to see. Pottery from 1950 to 5000 BCE. Said another way, these pots are up to 7000 years old! This blows my mind.

An incredibly old bathtub.image

Here is an Çhatalhöyük artifact with red handprints, dated 7000 BCE. 9000 years old!image

The skeleton of a one year old child, buried with bracelets on wrists and ankles. Bodies were buried in baskets, under the floors of the houses. image

Here is a lamp, shaped like a bunch of gropes. Although I smile when I see attempts at English translation that fall short of the mark, I am very grateful for all the signs we have encountered that make the attempt. We would be lost without them! image

Konya – Today’s Mystery!

1/15 – We are staying this week at the Huzur Suites, a very new and modern building with efficiency apartments. It was especially important for us to rent a place with a kitchen, as we are here for a week, Konya is not a tourist town, and there are not a lot of restaurant options here.

This morning after breakfast, the electricity went out. We’ve experienced this frequently in Turkey, so we were not alarmed. The strange thing was that the wifi continued to work as we sat in the semi-dark, which meant that there was still power down in the lobby, just not in our apartment. Curious.

After a while, we heard the shouting of many male voices in the lobby. Of course, we couldn’t understand what was being said, but there was definitely a commotion. We stayed put until it quieted down, not wanting to walk into an unknown situation. When the voices abated, Jim stuck his head out and came back with a report – there were 10 policemen in the lobby!

The manager saw Jim and came to the door to ask if everything was alright. Jim indicated that we had no power, and the manager seemed to be surprised at this. He flipped a few switches in the hall, but nothing happened. The voices rose again and he hurried off.

We were just wondering how we were going to heat up our lunch without electricity, when the manager knocked again. “Pack up 10 minutes”, he said. “New hotel.” Really! Whatever could be going on?

We did a mad scramble to pack up all our stuff, and Jim emptied out the fridge and the freezer. We were staying four more nights in this town, so we had plenty of provisions, including a frozen chicken that was going to be tonight’s supper. In 10 minutes we were ready to go.

2015/01/img_6399.jpgHuzur Suites, all locked up.

We hauled our packs and groceries to the lobby, and the manager indicated that we should go with the desk clerk. “Sorry – problem, ” was all the English he had. We walked past the policemen, got into the clerk’s car, and he drove us across town. “Very nice hotel”, he said, trying to make conversation. Jim said, “no hotel, apartment”, several times, as the young man assured us he was taking us to a very nice hotel. He stopped at the entrance to what I’m sure was a very nice old hotel,and surely not an apartment. We insisted again that we needed an apartment – after all, we had prepaid for the week, and refused to get out of the car. The poor clerk dialed on his cellphone, and then, after a hurried conversation, turned the car around. “Apartment,” he said.

So now we are at a new place, Es Güven, not too far from our old place, with a very nice kitchen and not a clue as to what happened. But we’ll have chicken for supper tonight!

2015/01/img_6400.jpgOur new home.

Konya – the Mevlana Museum

1/12 – Happy to say that the temperature rose to the 30s today, so the ice melted off the streets, and turned the sidewalks to dirty icy slush. Reminds me of growing up in New York…


Today we set out from our apartment in the opposite direction, and it turns out we are only a few blocks from the city. Our street is very quiet, as we are on the far side of the city cemetery.


We haven’t seen headstones like these before.

We’re on our way to see Rumi’s tomb, at the Mevlana Museum. Mevlana means Master, and refers to Rumi. You can see the green spire (tower?) of the museum in the distance. The spire is the same color green as the decoration on the headstones. I looked online, but was unable to discover any info about this.


Here’s a funny thing. At the entrance to the museum is a ticket booth and a sophisticated electronic turnstile. We stand a moment, trying to puzzle out the price of admission, which seems to be 50 lira ($22) plus some sort of museum card. We are mentally figuring what the total cost might be, and that this is the most expensive museum we’ve encountered, when the person in the ticket booth smiles and says the entrance is free. Free? Yes, and hands us two fancy tickets, which we scan to get through the turnstile. Most curious!


Once inside, the first thing we saw was an invitation to visit Rumi’s mom. What a nice thought!image

The museum consists of several mausoleums. We headed to the main building, where Rumi’s tomb is located.


Inside we found the sarcophagi of some of Rumi’s relatives and close followers from the thirteenth century. Sufi turbans decorate each one.


Some look like Sufis seated at prayer.


Rumi’s sarcophagus is covered in golden brocade and the area is beautifully decorated.


The museum contains a mosque, and a collection of illuminated Qur’ans, ranging in size from very large to a little octagonal one the size of a silver dollar.



We saw the Mevlana’s Sufi robe and turban.image

As always, I was attracted to the intricate designs on the walls and ceilings.

The rest of the museum showed us Sufi artifacts, including the instruments played during the whirling dance, and some seriously heavy prayer beads.

The cane-like thing is a chin rest, so Sufis in training could take short naps without laying down!

There were dioramas that showed how Sufis were trained for 1001 days.

As we left the museum, we were invited in for tea at a ceramic shop with gorgeous handpainted plates (my favorite!) unlike those we have seen anywhere in Turkey. The proprietor, Issa, was very knowledgeable and shared much about the Mevlana, Islam, and porcelain.

One of the down sides of backpacking is that we have to resist the urge to buy pretty things, as we can’t carry them around, and shipping cost back to the states is prohibitive. We’ll have to be satisfied with the memory of these beautiful plates…

All streams flow to the sea

From Jim – whirling looks better on video!



Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, known in the West as Rumi, was a 13th century, poet, Islamic scholar, and Sufi mystic. He inspired the Mevlevi, a Sufi sect known as the whirling dervishes. Sufism is practiced within the context of Islamic culture.

Rumi’s poems have attracted international attention — inspiring many to follow the inner path.

We walk to the Kulturmerkesi (Konya, Turkey), where the dervishes whirl every Saturday night. It is snowing heavily and very cold.

The dervishes file in wearing black cloaks. They bow, are seated, meditate during a vocal recitation and a flute performance.

After ritual bows, they remove their black cloaks, symbolizing casting off the ego.

The Sufi master leads a series of greeting bows, involving about ten dervishes in a circle. The dervishes cross their arms, grasping their shoulders — symbolizing the oneness of God. They then began whirling, in turn, in a ritualized manner.


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Konya – Rumi and the Mevlevi

1/10 – Our friends are asking why we chose to travel to this cold and snowy spot, when we have been trying so hard to avoid winter weather. The answer is Rumi.

For those who do not live with Jim, and may be forgiven for not knowing, Rumi was an Islamic theologian, Sufi mystic, saint and poet who lived in the 1200s and was the inspiration for the Mevlevi, or Order of the Whirling Dervishes. He believed that music, poetry and dance were pathways to God. He embraced all religions. His poetry has been translated into many languages, and is still read, performed and enjoyed today all over the world. His words have graced a thousand posters. His tomb is here in Konya.image

Every Saturday evening, the Konya Kultur Merkezi opens their doors to anyone who wants to experience the Sema, or ritual dance of the Mevlevi. There is no charge. We trudged through the snow and bitter cold to join a hundred others who came to share the experience.


We had witnessed an abbreviated Sema in Istanbul, with three dancers and three instrumentalists. Here there were a dozen instrumentalists and singers, and 25 dancers. The Mevlevi train for 1001 days. During the westernization of Turkey in the early 20th century, the Mevlevi were forbidden to practice. It’s only since the 1990s that they have been permitted to share the Sema in public again.

The Sema starts with a period of prayer and reflection, while music plays softly on flute, strings and drum.


The dancers start with their hands clasped tight on their shoulders, forming the numeral 1 for the One God.


After bowing and receiving a blessing, the dancers begin to spin, unfurling their arms slowly. Their left foot remains in contact with the earth, as they propel themselves around with their right. Their arms reach up toward the heavens. Their eyes remain open. They each whirl at their own rate, not in time with the music or with one another. No one falters. They range in age from smooth-skinned teenage boys to grey-bearded older men. They whirl for a long time, resting briefly between four passages of music. image

Everything in nature revolves, from the motions of the earth to the particles of the atom. By consciously revolving, the Mevlevi seek to ascend spiritually toward the perfect love of the divine. image


At the end of the dance, passages from the Qur’an are read, a prayer is recited for all the departed, and the dancers silently file out of the auditorium.

A peaceful and joyful evening.image