Monday, April 28, 2008


Deciding that we had been in Istanbul for too long without getting out, and that we needed to be tourists for a bit, my friend Cat and I decided we needed some K/Catherine Zamanı - K/Catherine time, and so we headed off for Denizli and Pamukkale on the 5:30 train Friday evening. I had bought food at the deli, Cat had brought a bunch of American junk food her mom had sent over, and we were set to go. Two hours into the train ride, a couple of guys got on. One was a naval officer, the other a student of geology. From the beginning the naval officer, ufuk, monopolized the conversation, and likely due to some of the weirdness involving heirarcy in Turkey, we heard very little from the student, Uğur, during the trip, although he did often try to feed us.

I fell asleep early and was expecting to be woken up a bit before 9 as we were entering Denizli. I was woken up at 9, but it was only by Ufuk coming back into the compartment, and then later by the conductor wanting his sheets back. It was only just before noon, three and a half hours late, that we finally arrived in Denizli. Not thinking about the ride back, we just wanted to get to Pamukkale. On our way into the dolmuş we were harassed by two different guys, and feared for the worst. When we arrived in the village below Pamukkale (which means cotton castle) however, it was dead. Almost no life. The restaurants were all completely empty, and as it was just past noon, I had expected them to be full of people eating.

We walked around, very hungry and falling apart, before getting some lahmacun at the recommendation of a guy who seemed nice and was running a sort of tea garden that had no food. The lahmacun was good, and it made both of us less grumpy. While sitting there, we looked in the guide book and decided on a place to stay. After asking directions from a couple of old guys, we were met halfway down the road by a guy on a scooter from the venus hotel. They must have called him, although we were perfectly capable of getting their on our own. The place was a large pink house with balconies, a great garden, and adorable rooms, and so we decided to stay.

Emptying our backpacks slightly, we returned back to the enterance of pamukkale. We walked up a sort of gravel road for a bit, and then reached a sign instructing us to take off our shoes. So now the list of places you may not where shoes in Turkey is Mosques, houses, and Pamukkale. Pamukkale was formed by lots of hot calcium loaded water ran accross the hill, and as the water cooled the calcuim fell out and coated the rocks. It created lots of pools called trasterverines, which are amazing. They used to be full of water, and the place used to be even more white, but with a huge boom of tourism in the 80s and 90s, much was destroyed. Now they have taken sharp measures to try to protect the area, including making people take off their shoes. We we walked up the hill, making little ouch noises as we stepped on tiny ridges of calcium. At the top it was much more red, hopefully from bacteria or algae. At the top were also hoards of tourists from tour groups. Most of them are brought in to the north entrance, so that they do not walk up the hill. At the top we sat down by some running water, and stuck our feet in. It's warm and full of calcium and supposed to be healing.

Pamukkale is not a new formation. The romans also had the opinion that the waters were healing, and so they built a city at the top of the hill. The city is named Heropolis, and the ruins there are amazingly well preserved. My favorite bit was the theater. It's a huge amphitheater that is mostly intact.
Unfortunately, they did some restoration work, and now you cannot get to the stage. I had heard that the acoustics were amazing, and really wanted someone to be standing on the stage saying things, to see if I could hear them. It would be really amazing to put on a roman play there.

In addition to the theater was the main road, a holy pool, with the remnants of columns that is now full of swimming germans and russians, a temple of apollo, and a spring that lets out poisonous gasses. There is also a very impressive cemetery. I guess not all the people who came to the city were cured. Some of the tombs were on the white calcium pamukkale. The poppies were in full bloom, and I am positive that Cat got tired of me saying, so pretty, çok güzel. Yes, I know there are many other adjectives I could have used.

On our way back to the village, the place was much more quiet, as most of the tourist groups had gone home. It also got cold as the sun started to go down. We sat for maybe a half an hour with our feet in the warm water, until an official looking guy took out the dam, and the water slowed to a trickle. There was also a policeman with a whistle and a big stick that was attempting to keep people in a certain area, and coming after them if they passed the line or if they wore their shoes.

The bad part of having our feet in warm water that long was that they were much more sensitive to all the ridges and gravel on the way back down. But the sun was setting, and it was spectacular. By the end we were both wearing our coats, but had our pants rolled up and were carrying our shoes. Against the background of white it was pretty funny - like being barefooted in the snow.

We returned, exhausted, and a bit sunburned to the hotel for dinner. The food was fantastic! The best mercimek çorbasi ever, salad, a plate of different vegetables, and then kebab. At the end I thought I was never going to get up. Cat also befriended a dog named fındık (hazlenut). She was small and black, while the large white dog was named Çilek (strawberry). We ate sitting at a table in the garden.

Intending to just go up and watch TV and sleep, we got distracted talking to the guy who ran the hotel. He convinced us to stay for tea, and told us that he had had 400 tourist girls, but was now engaged so we didn't have to worry about him. However, his brother was there, who had studied Ottoman at university and had never been with a tourist girl, and had I had a Turkish boyfriend yet. That should have tipped us off, but we stayed, had instant pomegranate tea, and the cousin showed up. The brother's name was Yusef, the cousin Bekir.

We sat in the main room, discussing university, the various merits and disadvantages of the american and turkish university entrance system, and the system once you enter university, basketball, football, being a teacher, etc, and then they suggested that we go see the lake and pamukkale light up at night. Cat and I wanted to see it, and put our stuff upstairs, giving them time to discuss. They concluded that it was far to walk, and therefore they should take us on the motorscooters. And now I am afraid I have also gotten Cat addicted to motorcycles/scooters.

Anyways, the seemed to have thought it was a date. The whole thing was very amusing, and good turkish practice. Yusef, the guy who picked me, told me I was cute and asked what I thought about him. I told him I had not decided, which got a laugh. And then we turned down an offer to go to the disco and went to sleep.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Adventures in Art

I feel as though ever since I got to Istanbul I have been surrounded by photographers. There are of course my two roommates, but I we have also had numerous guests. Charlie is a photographer, as is Filip. Orçun's friend, another photographer is currently staying with us.

Ingo, in particular, has really helped me to expand my idea of art, and of beauty. He takes objects most would consider trash, and sees the beauty in them. Plastic on a building being restored, trash on the beach, wrappers tied to a tree for wishes, a dirty dish rag, all of it can be beautiful if looked at through Ingo's eyes.

I have watched him take numerous photos, but two of his photos have involved more adventure than the others. The first was nearly two weeks ago. I somehow ended up with a four day weekend, and so we spent Friday exploring Üsküdar. Mostly this just involved walking and walking. We visited an old abandoned mosque, and found the theater. Ingo had mentioned that he wanted some motor oil for a photograph he was working on, and as we were walking we passed a car shop. So I decided I would just go in and ask.

When we walked in the man in charge was on the phone but he motioned us to sit. I think he was a bit surprised when I chose the chair closest to his desk, instead of letting my guy take it. When he got off the phone I started my question, the same way I have started many requests - Thıs is a really weird question, but do you have some motor oil we could have. Not really knowing the word for motor oil, just the word for oil I managed to convey what we wanted. I explained right away that Ingo wanted to use it for a photograph because oil looks so colorful when you put it on water. Although I am sure they were thinking the whole thing was highly amusing, they were polite enough to agree with me, and a short while later a guy came back with some slightly used motor oil in a plastic water bottle.

Then we were offered tea. The only thing was apparently the boss man didn't realize that they were out of tea when he offered. So we sat and I tried to converse while we waited. I remember discussing cars. They all agreed that Mercedes, or just German cars in general were the best cars. Of course we discussed the weather. Football. What I was doing in Istanbul. How all Turks want to go to the US but here is a weird american girl that came to Istanbul to work. When we were just about to go the tea was ready, and the boss man sent out one of the other guys to buy some biscuits. So there I was, surrounded by guys, drinking tea and eating biscuits in a car repair shop with half a bottle of free motor oil in Ingo's backpack that they would not take any money for. Ingo has finished the photograph now. Always better to have a story to go with the photograph. And I am sure we provided the amusement for the week.

Adventure in art number two. This weekend Ingo and I went to the first of the prince's islands - Kinaliada - which means Island with Henna, perhaps named because of the red sandstone that they mine from the island. The island is much different from the other islands. The others are covered in pine forest, but this one is covered in very dense short vegetation - mostly bushes. Perhaps it burned, perhaps it is due to the stone, the wind, I am not really sure. We set out with my backpack full of picnic food, Ingo's full of his camera, and walked. Two hours and half of the island later, I decided we had found the picnic spot and I was not going further until I had eaten. Ingo had to go look around the corner, but when he spotted some plastic blowing in the wind decided that this could be a good picnic spot, and then he could take a photo. The spot was beautiful - a view of marmara and not a house in sight. Well, unless you looked around the corner to see the sprawl of Istanbul.

The food was fantastic, better because it was eaten outside with a view. I think picnics definitely make my top 10 list of favorite things, perhaps they are even in the top five. So food finished, I looked at the view and Ingo started the business of photography. It was only when I saw him pick up the object that he was photographing that I told him he needed to photograph it in the air - not on the ground. It was a tree branch, sort of resembling a harp, that had gotten tangled in white plastic. As I held it and looked up it felt very might like I was at a wedding and holding a veil in the air. Before, all I would have seen was old dirty plastic. Ingo tried to photograph it, but concluded the spot was not right.

So we walked down the hill we had climbed before I declared a halt for the picnic, and then started scrambling up this slope that was covered in medium sized rocks (not very small rocks) It was sort of like the place was just waiting for an avalanche. Up we went, climbing over purple rocks, red rocks, striped rocks, rocks with lichen. But that spot wasn't good either and so we left the backpacks and went all the way to where some short trees were growing. Ingo went first and I followed with the veil and tree branch harp. At one point Ingo yelled my name and I looked up to have a rock tumble past where my head had been a second before to instead hit my food before thundering on.

Ingo put his object in a tree and I sat there and kept the plastic uncaught. Occasionally Ingo would move to get a better angle, and every time he did, I found a small avalanche go past me. The worst of it whacked me in the elbow. But neither I, nor Ingo, nor the camera tumbled down the hill, although we all tried at one point. Sitting perched on the hill, defying gravity, the plastic looked amazing against the blue sky, water and the trees. A police car drove past on the road below, saw us and stopped. One can only guess what was going through their heads. They waited a while, and then we breathed a sigh of relief when they drove on again.

Inching my way back down on my butt, I thought I might be crazy. But turning around and looking back, the plastic blowing in the tree still looked beautiful.