Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Reflections on Turkey

My experience of Turkey had some positives. We met many nice people, the hotels were very good in the main, and people were very helpful and friendly in getting around by bus, train or other means. The public transport is great and very very cheap.

However, it is over-priced which surprised us. We expected cheaper food etc, it was cheaper than NZ or Greece, but a meal out was still expensive. A Turkish lira is about the same as and Kiwi dollar and things were similarly priced in the main.

We did not enjoy the cities aside from the sites. Istanbul was chaos. Izmir was described by a travel agent in NZ as a toxic waste dump and they were not wrong. We saw one ‘river’ which was green polluted goo. Disgusting. You can see the photo on my facebook page. The men were appalling in both Izmir and Istanbul, eyeing Emma up continually. She had a terrible experience of a guy offering to show her the way back to the hotel but he had a plan B in mind. Emma got away but was shaken up. Clearly many men in these cities think western women are up for it. We have found it different in the more touristy places away from these main centres where the men were more friendly and less in your face. Izmir I would describe as the low point of the trip. The site was a small agora area. We left a day early. We were going to head to Thyatira, Sardis and Philadelphia but on more research decided against it as petrol is ridiculous here ($3/litre) and so we headed to Pamakkule (Hierapolis and Laodicea).

Gallipoli was sensational. Assos was brilliant. Set against the sea with a fantastic site for exploring. Magnificent sea location. Heirapolis (Pamakkule) was also fantastic. The hotel the River Lycus was unbelievable. Cheap and a full resort with the works. The site was amazing with the white terraces caused by the Sodium Carbonate flowing in the streams. Amazing natural phenomenon. A kiwi feels a real connection to the place because supposedly the pink and white terraces of Tarawera before the eruption in the late 1800’s were similar. The site too was sensational. Laodicea is also a great site with hippodrome, theatres, a great road, temples etc.

Ephesus was fantastic. The Celsus library is amazing. There is a lot related to Domitian, Trajan and Hadrian which shows how big the Roman thing was at the time of Revelation and into the second century. We were stunned that the sea came up to the city and is now more than 5k away due to the silting from rivers. Amazing. It must have been an amazing place.

I had a weird experience in Istanbul. Was walking down the street lost looking for the Hagia Sophia. A guy came up beside me in crowds and said ‘Hagia Sofia?’ He was a local who spoke almost no English. I am still wondering how on earth he knew I was looking for the Hagia Sofia! He guided me to it and went on his way. An angel?

The hawking in Turkey really gets on your nerves over time. I will never forget the walk to the acropolis of Assos. There were shops lining the streets selling absolute rubbish. Badly made kids clothes and the most obscure trinkets etc. They all called out to you. Across Turkey they call out to you as you go by, ‘yes please.’ A taxi always toots when it passes you. They have an uncanny knack of picking out the westerner. When you walk near the shop they come after you, ‘yes please’, ‘t-shirts sir.’ They are in your face having little idea what makes westerners tick when it comes to shopping. The idea of looking at a menu to consider it is almost an impossibility as they are all over you asking, probing. They ask where you are from and then tell you how they think NZ is the greatest place on earth and the Kiwis are the greatest. To be honest, I am glad to be away from it. I overheard an American woman come out of a shop and say to her friends that if only they would just have let her have a look uncluttered she might have bought something. Still, they are all trying to make a living I suppose.

One of the favourite parts of the trip was seeing what I described as ‘funky Muslims.’ There are some photos of manikins dressed in this way on FB. These are young Muslim women who dress in trendy gear, cool shoes, long expensive coats, and colourful bright cool headscarves. They look great. It is a great look and we saw them everywhere in the cities. The fashion industry is big across the world.

The Turks in the city drive like madpeople. I saw a discussion on the NZ Herald about NZ drivers being idiots but they are angels beside the Turks (and the Greeks). They cut in, cut you off, don’t let you in. You have to force your way in. If you hesitate for a second you get blasted. The country roads of Turkey were better with people driving slower. But with a speed limit of 120km/hour, one has to have ones wits about you.

The Turks are so nationalistic. There are flags everywhere. Ataturk is huge here. He led the Turks to victory over the ANZACS and others at Gallipoli. He also led them after WW1 to reform their nation driving out the Greeks and secularizing Turkey forming a new republic. His picture is everywhere. The recent Israel disaster with the aid ship may tip the balance back to Turkey going with the Muslim states and opting away from the US. NZers are so non-nationalistic compared to Greeks and Turks. In the cities there is an uneasy feeling of an undercurrent of a desire to rise up against the west.

Having said that, Kiwis are held in esteem and honour here. We are well liked despite WW1 there is a feeling that both sides made a meal of it and young men died for little reason on both sides.

The country is dirty and the architecture boring as. There is less tagging, but there is no imagination at all in the cities. They are crowded and apartment block after apartment block. The geography is also uninspiring with scrubbed hills, dry flat land, dust, and little change of scene. NZ is an amazing place comparatively.

Interestingly, the call to worship from the minaret speakers is constant, often waking us up at crazy times like 4.30 or 5.30am. Yet, there is little movement to the mosque. We saw few black burka women but many with ‘normal’ Muslim gear. There seems the full range of Islamic perspectives from fundamentalist to liberal.

Their TV is different to Greece where there are many English programs with sub-titles and English channels in the hotels. Here, there are few and a lot of Turkish programs.

Unlike Greece, you can’t drink the water in Turkey from a tap, it is not safe. I had one bad evening when I forgot.

The men are not as fat as in Greece. They are short, dark, olive skinned with a different look. There are not as many beer guts. However, you never see a local in shorts, they always have long trousers. It seems the one part of the body you can’t show is the leg.

One thing that stands out as different to NZ is the quality of the beaches. There is nothing like our lovely white sandy east coast beaches. They are shelly or rocky. The water is nice and warm though and we have had some lovely times of swimming.

The sites we visited were sometimes well maintained but they could do better on sign posting, labeling etc. It seems they are just waking up to what they have got.

The beer of choice is Efes, very nice. Few people drink wine here say compared to Italy or Greece. Beer is in.

Compared to Greece, there were way fewer cops. They carried guns but were not seen everywhere.

The older women in Greece wore black. The Turkish older women wore head scarves, dresses and were similarly overweight. It seems putting on weight is still not a cultural issue. Smoking is huge here. Often hotel rooms and bathrooms smelt. Everywhere you sat people would light up. They would throw their butts almost anywhere. I will not miss this.

Whereas in Greece, because of our knowledge of Koine, we could work out what was written often, in Turkey the language was completely different. The people tended to have far less English too. This made communication and finding what you are looking for a lot more difficult.

One thing you note in travelling is the absence of animals aside from dogs and cats. In the fields there is the odd goat and cow, but that is it. The nation does not have a dairy or beef industry but imports it all as far as we can see.

One of the things that stands out for a NT specialist is the distances. The first Christians travelled miles. In Acts 19:10 it says that the whole of Asia Minor was evangelized in 2 years. This would include the areas of the 7 churches of Revelation and perhaps up to the area around the Black Sea. If so, this is no small feat. It took over 2 hours to drive from Ephesus to the Lycus Valley. It took 3 from Smyrna to the same point. The weather is hot. The movement of the gospel is an astonishing feat. Paul’s mission from Antioch west across Turkey through Greece was utterly phenomenal. I would imagine they used sea travel as much as possible. Paul was a legend!

The heat is strange. It is June here and sure it is hot, but it doesn’t burn and feel as hot as a humid Auckland day. You can sit for 5 hours in the sun and be mildly burnt. You don’t sweat as you do in Auckland. I like this heat.

Western influence is less in Turkey although the big names are there in the cities i.e. McDonalds, Shell, BP, Starbucks and coke is huge. There are less of them and they don’t feature outside the city (coke does!). Cell phones are everywhere though. They are westernized but not as much as Greece. The mall is not in here, the market is. The Bazaar’s are cool, but the hawking puts you off.

The sites of Turkey are great, but we did not enjoy it as much as some parts of Greece. Still, to get a feel for the NT this is sensational.

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