Tour de Farm: Idyllic Idling in Erdek

With a population of over 13 million and one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, Istanbul has all the thrills, diversions, and energy of a huge cosmopolitan city. But all that can sometimes leave one wishing for a respite. We were treated to just that by our friend George. As a transplanted Texan who has lived in Turkey for the past 20 years, George combines the patented charm of the Turkish men with good old-fashioned Texas hospitality. Not really knowing any of the four of us, he nevertheless graciously invited us to be his guests on his farm outside of Erdek, a lovely small town a 2-hour ferry ride across the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul.

George’s farm is flush with flowers, vegetables, fruit and nut trees. We were treated to apples, peaches, pears, pomegranates, plums, olives, and almonds all grown on his farm, as well as his own honey and fruit preserves. All were incredibly fresh and delicious. The almonds were small and crisp and tasted like they were infused with almond-oil compared to the ones we can buy in the States. To this feast, he added fresh, locally made borek (a Turkish pastry), baclava, and of course, tea.

We revelled in 2 days of lolling on his deck with spectacular views of the sea, strolling around the farm, and enjoying George’s good company. We watched the full moon rise and indulged in a delicious dinner seaside at Yesilim Camping and Restaurant–unassuming-looking and informal with fabulous seafood and vegetables.

The second day, after a stroll through Erdek with stops for lunch and ice cream, it was time to catch the ferry back to the bustle of Istanbul.

I swear that’s a fly rod he is carrying off the ferry.

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A Visit to “the World’s First Temple” as Turkey-Syria Border Tensions Erupt

An errant Syrian mortar on October 3, 2012, brought death to a Turkish mother and her 4 children and focused world attention on the Turkish town of Akçakale, nestled up against the Syrian border. Turkey quickly retaliated by shelling military targets just across the border in Syria, killing several soldiers who were there defending the swaying Assad regime.

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“War Crosses the Line,” reads the headline in a Turkish daily after the deadly Syrian shelling.

Only the week before and 20 miles away from Akçakale, we had bumped over gravel roads to a site that receives much less of the world’s fractured attention. Known as Göbekli Tepe, “Potbelly Hill,” this active archeological dig features circular arrays of massive standing stones with finely carved animal and human-like figures that have been dated to more than 11,000 years old, some 8,000 years older than England’s Stonehenge and 7,000 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

Both Smithsonian Magazine and National Geographic have dubbed Göbekli Tepe “the world’s first temple.”  National Geographic goes on to say,”Indeed, Göbekli Tepe is the oldest known example of monumental architecture—the first structure human beings put together that was bigger and more complicated than a hut. When these pillars were erected, so far as we know, nothing of comparable scale existed in the world.”

German archeologist Karl Schmidt began exploring and excavating the area in the 1990s, after other archeologists had given it short shrift.  The discoveries there have set many a hoary archeological theory on its ear.

We were lucky to visit during the two-month period of the year when the area is an anthill of careful continuing excavation.  We were moved and humbled to stand so close to such ancient and finely rendered artifacts and hope that the tensions and retaliations along the Turkey-Syria border do not damage this incredible site.

Archeologist Karl Schmidt supervises the meticulous work of the Turkish and German archeology teams.

Schmidt and team members inspect a new discovery unearthed during our visit.

Is It New Mexico? . . . Or Is It Cappadocia?

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I saw a few photos of Kapadokya (Cappadocia) before leaving for Turkey, but didn’t really know what to expect. As we drove into the area, I felt like I was in my beautiful New Mexico, right down to areas that look just like Tent Rocks. Soon we stopped to take photos at Kapadokya’s own version of Camel Rock. Russian Olive trees are everywhere. Chiles strung and hung on balconies to dry recall New Mexico’s chile ristras. Horses saddled up wait with their Turkish cowboy to give rides through the countryside. Kapadokya even launches 100 or more hot air balloons early every morning to sail tourists over the striking landscape.

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Kapadokya’s Camel Rock

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20120923-075806.jpgSo what is the difference between the New Mexico and Kapadokya landscapes? The rock formations in Kapadokya are formed of tuff–soft rock created from massive ash eruptions from three area volcanoes.  For hundreds of years, into this soft rock, the residents of Kapadoky have carved underground cities and, above-ground, houses, fortresses, stables, pigeon houses, and, most remarkable of all, churches.

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Map of one of Kapadokya’s 6-story underground cities, carved by early Christians to hide from the Roman soldiers. It includes food and wine storage areas, living quarters, a room for butchering animals, access to underground water source, and an elaborate tunnel scheme between other underground cities for escape if Romans find an entrance.

My hand is on the huge stone wheel that was rolled into place and locked over the escape route through a tunnel to a neighboring underground city.

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Pigeon Valley has many pigeon houses carved into its rocks. The pigeons were used as messengers as well as for food. The houses were usually painted with some design which was repeated on a pigeon’s wings, so that the pigeons could identify their house and the owners could identify their birds.

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Pigeon house.

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Fortress in the city of Nevishir, with residences below still in use.

Below is the entrance to Göreme National Park, one of the “Treasures of Turkey,” which preserves an area in the fabulous rock formations of Kapadokya into which are carved more than a dozen churches of the early Christians.  Turkey is a country in which 97% of its citizens are Muslim. Yet the respect and attention this country has given to preserving and honoring the long history of Christians in this land is remarkable and impressive. I wonder if so-called “Christian” countries would be so respectful of Muslim relics in their lands?

Entrance to Göreme National Park, one of the “Treasures of Turkey.”

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Göreme National Park, which includes a dozen churches carved into the rocks.

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Part of this church’s walls have fallen away, revealing how the churches carved into rock were fashioned after the architecture of churches built of stone.

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The inside walls of these churches were covered with elaborate and beautiful frescoes. Photos were not allowed inside the churches, but here are a couple of images from the internet to give an idea of how incredibly these areas were decorated.

Fresco in the Dark Church (copyright Hawkeye58.wikipedia.en)

(Copyright George Johann)

One of my favorite frescoes was the rendition of the Last Supper in the Dark Church. Here is a copy of it reproduced on a contemporary tile.20120923-080406.jpg