My first time voyaging around the world, I put Turkey as a must-stop. One of my house-mates in college was from Istanbul and had indoctrinated me in love ballad artists from his home country. Also, I had fostered an interest in Sufi poetry from my teen years.
I started my visit in Izmir a port town close to the Greek Isle of Chios.
From Izmir I traveled by luxury bus to Istanbul. The long-distance bus lines in Turkey operate like airlines, with ride-attendants offering drinks and seeing to the comfort of your journey!
I found the vocal music of Turkey to be more emotive and evocative than music of other countries. It has vocal trills that waver like violins, violins that waver like wails, carrying a raw gravity through tone that you can identify with even without understanding the lyrics. On travels I like to listen to the local radio to sample as much of the cultural zeitgeist as I can. I discovered one radio band where a solitary a-cappella male voice would narrate a story with wending melodic tones. When I asked people around me what I was listening to, they informed me it was a recitation. My visit was during the age of cassette tapes. So I was able to fill the empty spots in my backpack with dozens of cassettes for later study.
The Mediterranean style food on offer in the streets of Istanbul is spectacular. A single meal is a combination of a batch of tapas-like servings. The shawarmas and sandwiches were rich in spice and overflowing with fresh vegetables and sauces.
The mosques in Istanbul are the size of concert arenas. They appear like bulbous muscular organic objects defended by their towering minarets where the call-to-prayer is recited.
Markets bustle with tremendous velocity of goods in motion similar to Cairo and Marrakesh. There is more motion from merchants trying to stay stocked than from browsing customers. Shopping in the street markets appears to be a coordinated ballet where supply outpaces demand.
The Lonely Planet advised that travelers visit a bath house. The one I visited felt like a massive tile-lined church filled with steam and a heated dias at the center where bathers could lie as heat radiated from marble. The acoustics were so alive that it was very tempting to sing. But that was obviously not the thing a tourist should do…
I was tempted to stay for a week longer. But the challenge of budget travel is that often you come very close to running out of money, as I did at the end of this leg of travel. Once I found a flight home at the budget travel agency, I went hunting in the market as a merchant to see what I owned that I could sell to afford the flight home. Fortunately, I found someone who appreciated Japanese cameras. He said that the lens for my 35mm camera was very high quality. I had bought this in a street market in Seoul. But he offered to buy it for more than I’d paid! It was just enough to get my flight home. Phew!
During my time in Berlin, I got to know other Turkish folk. (A large portion of Berlin’s population is of Turkish heritage.) Getting a chance to learn more of their culture made me keen to return to Turkey again soon. Hopefully next time I will be able to make the journey to the cave-ridden city of Cappadoccia.
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