Monday, October 13, 2014

On Our Way.

Road trip dondurma break in Kahramanmaraş, the supposed birthplace of the iconic Turkish ice cream.

Today as a very long travel day. We went by taxi from Kuşadası to Izmir, then by plane from Izmir to Kayseri and then lastly, by tourist van from Kayseri to Adıyaman. The day started before the crack of dawn.


I have a great internal clock, if I might say so myself. I had set the alarm to go off at 3:30a but I was awake well before then. I got up and got ready for the day. Our taxi is suppose to arrive at 4a and Bro wanted me to wake him up at 3:45a. Since I was already up, I made no attempt to be quiet so he woke up on his own. We were on the 3rd floor of the guesthouse and there is no elevator so we have to lug our suitcases down the stairs. I'm always afraid I will somehow slip and fall if I go down too fast with a heavy suitcase in hand so I decided to head down early, taking each step carefully. Bro followed a few minutes later. The lobby was dark but seconds after I arrived, I heard *J* rustling in the adjoining room. He had insisted on seeing us on, in part because the front door remains locked after hours and we wouldn't have been able to get out without him. In any event, I don't think the poor guy gets to sleep much....especially when you have folks pretty much arriving and leaving at all times of the day and night. As always, I tend to pace back and forth when I'm waiting for a ride. I don't get at ease until I'm in the vehicle and on my way to my final destination. I inherited this nervous habit from my dad :-( Bro spent his wait time with *J* watching the news on the TV. These days, there's a bit of unrest in the country, with the Syrian refugee crisis dominating the news. Riots are breaking occasionally, even in Istanbul. *J* was telling Bro that he was heading to Istanbul next week for a bit of a rest and to take care of some immigration matters at the Japanese embassy.  He told us to be mindful when we're in Istanbul as disruptions could arise as a result of riots.  I think we'll be okay....fingers crossed.

Breakfast at Kayseri airport.

By 4am, the taxi had not yet arrived.  I was trying to not get so worried.  *J* placed a call and then assured me the guy was on his way.  At about 4:15a, a car pulled up outside.  It was our ride!  I could not breathe :-)

We loaded our luggage in to the trunk, said our goodbyes and thank-yous to *J* and got in for the ride to the airport.  Bro leaned back and caught a few more zzzz's.  Me, once I'm up, I'm up.  I just got lost in my own thoughts....at the same time keeping an eye on the driver.  I hoped he was awake.  At this time of day, the road was pretty much empty.   Our hour and half long trip to Izmir airport took barely an hour.  We arrived with plenty of time to check in and clear security.  The airport was by no means empty - there were plenty of people boarding early morning flights but most certainly, there is no crowd to have to contend with.  I prefer traveling at this time of day....worth having to get up extra early.

Last night, I had gone over the day's plans with Bro. Our next two days will be on a conducted tour to see Mount Nemrut and other sights in the region.  I chose to go the tour route just because it was easier to have someone show us around this part of Turkey as it didn't seem all that easy to do it independently - especially with regards to transportation.  And the cost of the 3 day, 2 night tour was very reasonable - 160 Euros per person including all transportation, accommodation and food.


I had arranged for the tour company to pick us up at Kayseri airport.   Our flight from Izmir to Kayseri would land around 8a.  The bad news is that we would have to wait 2 hours before the tour company would be at the airport to pick us up.

Our flight from Izmir landed in Kayseri on time.  We had two hours to kill so we  headed up to the cafeteria on the second floor and had a very light breakfast - some Turkish börek, yogurt for Bro and two cups of Turkish tea.

There were a few tables with very comfy chairs to sit on.  We munched on our food and chatted.  Time flew by quickly and before we knew it, 10a was about to arrive.

We headed back downstairs and exited the terminal.  It was glorious day - sunny, temps in the mid 70's and no humidity.  I could be in this weather all day, every day, every year for the rest of my life!

Outside Kayseri airport.

As we waited, we chatted some more.  By 10:15a, no one had shown up so I called the tour agency.  Driver is on his way.  Hmmm....didn't say when.   I didn't know if we were the only two tour passengers or if there were more so I had no idea if I was looking for a small car to arrive or a large tour bus.  In any event, plenty of vehicles came and left and even a few people approached us to see if we were their customers.

By 11a, there was still no sign of anyone coming to pick us up.  As Murphy's Law would have it, the moment I picked up my cellphone to make a call was the moment a small passenger van stopped in front of us.  A man got out and held up a piece of paper with two names on it.  Mine was one and I didn't recognize the other so that meant there was another group of tour members to be picked up at the airport as well.

The driver loaded up our luggage and we got on board the van.  There were already at least 10 people seated.  The only spots left were on the bench seat at the very back of the van.  Bro and I took two spots.  A few minutes later, two elderly men got on board the van and sat beside us.  With the van full, our tour got underway.

As we drove along, our guide introduced himself to us.  His name was Denis.  Denis then laid out the tour plan for today, tomorrow and the day after.  Today was basically a long road trip.  Tomorrow, we cover all the sightseeing and then the day after is the long road back to Cappadocia.  He also set our expectations.  Several of the places that we're slated to visit tomorrow are very close to the Syrian border.  If there's any sort of violent disruption (fighting?) happening, the police will set up roadblocks and we will not be allowed to proceed. He told us that the last two groups were stopped from going to all the places on the tour itinerary.  The gentleman sitting right next to me was visibly upset at the possibility that the tour would effectively be a null event. Apparently, he had arranged to come on this trip to see a very specific highlight - Gobekli Tepe (which I had never even heard of) and the thought that he had come all this way only to be denied was upsetting news to him.  I told him to keep positive and only be disappointed if it actually didn't happen.  I don't think that was of much comfort to him but I can't help myself, I'm a glass half full person.

Of course, Bro heard the words "police" and "blockade" and immediately wanted to know why I hadn't warned him that our tour would take us so close to the Syrian border.....he asked with a smile so he was partly joking but I know he was also partly serious.  To his joking side, I told him I had fully shared the travel itinerary with him and it wasn't my fault he hadn't read it :-)  To his serious side, I told him I wasn't aware of the danger beforehand.  I had planned the trip so far in advance that I don't believe the Syrian crisis had really erupted yet.

Okay, with all that Denis said safely stored in our brains, I kicked back for the ride.  I had absolutely no idea where we were headed to next.  Not that I hadn't listened to Denis but truthfully, I just didn't remember the name of the place.

For me, driving through the landscape of Cappadocia is familiar territory - this is, after all, my third trip back to the region. For Bro, it was all new.  He sat quietly and looked out the window.  I started to get to know the man sitting next to me.  His name was Chuck.  More on Chuck later.

For now, we had arrived at our first destination, a caravanserai.

Our group gathering around Denis to hear him tell us about Karatay.

The word caravanserai literally translates as *caravan palaces*. Caravanseraies were first seen in Central Asia during the era of the Silk Road.  These buildings, first constructed as small buildings for military uses were later developed and changed into larger buildings that provided accommodation and other amenities for the traders and stables for their animals. Caravanserais have existed in Cappadocia going back as early as the 10th century AD when Seljuk traders were dependent on camel caravans for transport.  See this Wikipedia page for a list of all the caravanserais that were constructed in the region.

The pointed arch of the portal is filled with a design of stylized stalactites.

Our visit was to Karatay, a caravanserai that is situated on a road that was part of the main trade route into Syria.  The caravanserai is named after its patron, the vizier Celaleddin Karatay.  Construction of the caravanserai began during the reign of Alaaddin Keykubat and was completed during that of his son Giyaseddin Keyhusrev in 1241.

I started out listening to Denis but with his heavy Turkish accent rattling off a bunch of unfamiliar terms, it was difficult to follow his story.  I soon gave up and just took photos.


We were standing in front of the very ornately carved portal which dominates the south wall measures 46 by 80 meters, and projects both beyond and above the wall.  The portal decoration incorporates floral and figurative as well as geometric motifs, which distinguishes the design of Karatay from other caravanserais.  By many accounts, Karatay is one of the more beautiful of the Seljuk caravanserais.

Above the portal, there's a Kur’anic inscription in Arabic that reads, "This building belongs to God, who is One, Eternal, and Everlasting, August and Magnificent Sultan, King of Kings, the Shadow of God on Earth, Keyhüsrev son of Keykubad, Commander of the faithful in the year 638".


Detail of lace arabesque carving.

Waterspout of a human figure.  The head is now missing.  You really have to use your imagination to see the human.

The supporting towers or buttresses of Karatay were designed geometric shape (half-cylinder, half-octagon) typical of Seljuk caravanserais.  What sets Karatay buttresses aside from all the others is the buttress with the rope design winding its way from bottom to top.

Karatay's  unique rope design buttress on the right.


Denis took his time telling us the story behind Karatay, in part because there was so much to tell and in part because I think he was waiting for someone to come along and unlock the front door so we could enter.  Unfortunately, it was not our lucky day today.  No one came by with a key so we never got to go inside.  A shame really as it looks interesting.  Here's what we missed.

Our next stop was just that.  A stop.  The usual road trip break to stretch our legs and use the facilities.  For Bro and I and the two men that were also picked up at the airport, we hadn't been on the road for all that long but for everyone else, they were in the van for at least two hours and for some even longer so a break was much needed.

That's our Mercedes van.

These days, road side stops seem to be the same no matter what country you're in.  You can get gas, food and in the case, a bed for the night.


Back on the road, we had quite a drive before our next destination, which would be for lunch.  As we drove along, the scenery changed from the arid desert like landscape in Cappadocia to valleys filled with farms to craggy mountains. 



We were quickly approaching central Turkey.  This is my first trip through this part of Turkey and I was surprised by just how mountainous it is.  Plenty of land for growing crops and grazing animals.




It was about an hour and a half later before we stopped for lunch. The usual tour group fare.  You get to restaurant that's set up to cater to tourists.  It was a very modest place with the usual a preset selection of food for tourists....in this case, we had a choice of soups and several different entrees.

Standing in line to give our lunch order to Denis.

A long table had been set up for us inside the restaurant.  Bro and I took our seats.  From the conversations around the table, it appears that several of the other tour members have already spent some time together.  I have yet to figure out anyone's names.  Hopefully, I'll get to know a few of them better before our tour is over.

While we waited for our lunch to arrive, I wandered about a bit.  Next door to the dining room was a small kitchen area.  I watched a man skewer meat for adana kababs which was coincidentally, what I had ordered for my entree.

Next door to the restaurant were two small markets.  They had produce for sale out front.   Bro would soon make his way here.  I was interested to see what kind of munchies they had for sale....you always need snacks for the road.  Nothing called out to me so I left empty handed.


Back at the restaurant, Denis passed around a  plate of local cheese and honey.  The cheese was salty, like feta.  The honey was sweet as honey is.  Turks love honey and I did notice a few beehive boxes in the fields.

My meal.  Okay.  As I expected, you can't really go wrong with slightly spicy ground beef grilled over open flame though the meat was way overcooked so it was a bit dry and tough. On the other hand, Bro's fish was really good - very fresh and the meat was firm; I think it was trout.  According to Denis, it's caught from a local stream.

After lunch, Bro checked out the two mini markets.  One had locally grown strawberries for sale.  I would have thought that it was too late in the season for strawberries but here they were. Bro sampled one and declared it worthy of purchase so he bought a small bag's worth.






It was a short drive before we arrived at our next destination where we had our dessert :-)  I recognized the name as soon as I saw it - Mado!  My favorite Turkish ice cream place.  We had arrived into the town of Kahramanmaraş which is supposedly the birthplace of dondurma, the iconic stretchy ice cream of Turkey.

Salep, a required ingredient for making dondurma.

Ode to the goat.  Can't make dondurma without goat milk!
The other Mado places that I've been in have been like sit down, dessert type places - you can get ice cream, dondurma, Turkish pastries and tea and coffee.  This one was all that plus a bit of a gourmet food store.  You can also buy all that you need to make your own dondurma at home - fresh goat milk, salep and mastic.  There were also some unusual cooking ingredients like tarhana which is used to make a thick soup.

Classic dondurma is like vanilla.  Just plain  goat milk, salep and mastic.
You can't be in the birthplace of dondurma and not have it so most everyone else, including Bro, indulged.  I have to confess, I'm not all that crazy about it; I much prefer ice cream so for me, it was a scoop of the mulberry....a flavor that I most certainly cannot get back home.

After our afternoon dessert, it was on to our final destination of the day.  Our itinerary originally had us spending the night in the town of Kahta, which is the town closest to Mount Nemrut but as often happens, things change so we're spending the night in the town of Adıyaman instead.  In all honesty, it really doesn't matter to me where we spend the night as long as we get to Mount Nemrut tomorrow morning in time for sunrise.  We may have to get up a bit earlier but that's okay by me.  Don't know how anyone else in the group feels.

Our hotel is comfortable enough.  We have a corner room, with a view of the street outside the hotel's front street.  The bed is super comfy.  The bathroom modern and clean and we have TV with cable if we want to watch any TV.  I think some of the other folks didn't get as nice a room as we had so there were some complaints.

Dinner was a buffet meal in the hotel's restaurant.  As nice as our room was, the meal was not so good.  Ah....but I can't complain.  I got to eat.  While we munched away, we were a captive audience for Denis who took the opportunity to not only tell us about our agenda for tomorrow but also to give us some history.  I really struggle with his accent which is surprisingly considering I spent 30 years working in an international organization.  Could it be I'm losing my ear for foreign accents?  That would be horrible!

Tomorrow, we have to be ready to leave at 3:30a!  Another early morning wake up call.....two days in a row.  Bro is (jokingly) complaining.  He says he'll talking with his travel agent and will be doing a more careful review of the trip next time.  We had a good chuckle over that! :-)

It was early evening by the time we arrived into Adıyaman and it was past 9:30p when we finished eating dinner. For us, there was just a bit time left to take showers and prepare for our hike up to Nemrut.  It's been a really long day for both of us and we're hitting the sack early tonight.  Tomorrow will be packed day of sightseeing and I want to be fully rested as I am sure that Bro does as well.  Unfortunately, I am excited beyond excited to be finally going to Mount Nemrut that I hope I can get my brain to shut off long enough for me to fall asleep!

Goodnight from Adıyaman!