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Stories from Turkey

Cesme, Turkey

Turkish Arrival

timFinding a Turkish guidebook in the Greek islands proved impossible. In the long-standing feud between these two countries, perhaps no self-respecting Greek would dare to cross the line into Turkey. But for whatever reason, we ferried from Greece to Turkey with little clue as to what lay ahead.

Our 45 minute ferry ride from Chios landed us in Çesme, a surprisingly upscale resort town, where we spent the afternoon strolling through the boutique lined cobblestone streets and a cafe covered beach front. In the late afternoon, sun lit the 700-year old Çesme Castle with a warm golden glow. We ate our first Turkish meal in the castle's tower while looking down at an ice cream vendor doing brisk business in the pedestrian plaza below. Our rice stuffed peppers, calamari, eggplant salad, and green beans were served with bread and a cold Efes beer. I think I'm going to like it here. top

Izmir, Turkey

Cityscape

timI'm amazed at modern Turkey's bus system. In our short 1 1/2 hour journey from Çesme to Izmir (in a brand new Mercedes bus), a conscientious attendant offered us no less than hand disinfectant, bottled water, and hot coffee, tea, or soda. The service rivaled any airline, yet the price, at about $2.50 was as low as a city subway ticket.

Once in Izmir's southern bus station, we hired a cab to the city center. Kilometers of blocky 7-10 story apartments rolled by my window like a rolling stage backdrop. A typical uninspiring cityscape - endless grey buildings encircled by balconies and digital satellite dishes, with banks, cafes, mom & pop grocers, and clothing stores on the street level.

Surely a 5000-6000-year old city had more to offer? We checked into an ""otel"" and joined the city's leisurely Sunday strollers to find out for ourselves.

We walked first to Izmir's 100-year old Ottoman clock tower and watched the pedestrians in the busy Konak Square pass by. Several stopped at the wash basins surrounding the base of the monument to splash around in the water and quash the midday heat. A shoeshine boy plucked down next to us on a makeshift tin can seat. He jokingly asked if my beat up sandals needed a shine, then pursued Michelle's suede hiking boots with a brush despite her repeated ""no's"". We left him behind in the plaza a few moments later, still requesting money that we were not about to give him.

The nearby Izmir bazaar buzzed with weekend browsers and eager shopkeepers trying to turn our heads with, ""Where are you from?"" and other pre-sale pleasantries. I was neither in the mood to buy nor carry in my backpack any of their leather works, shoes, Turkish carpets, cell phones, watches, or other goods, so I declined every advance. The only person who tempted me was a street vendor filling the bazaar with the aroma of fried fish. Customers circled around him, eating his fish on paper plates with a wedge of lemon.

We walked north of the bazaar and through the gates of the Kültürpark. This large city park offers its city residents a zoo, amusement park, roller skating rink, and restaurants in addition to greenery and gardens. We drank a cup of thick Turkish coffee in an open cafe, between couples sharing tea from wood burning semavers (samovars) and men smoking tobacco from giant hookahs.

In the evening, the air cooled down to the perfect silky temperature between warm and cold. We found a pleasant harbor-side park overlooking the Aegean Sea and watched the last vestiges of daylight fade from red to purple. The rest of Izmir seemed out to join us, as even at 9 PM the park benches and jogging trails were full of couples and families enjoying the last few hours of their weekend.

We ate a Turkish pudding and watched a vibrant city at play. top

Ephesus, Turkey

Exploring the Early Church

michelleAlthough I have been a Christian most of my life I am embarrassed to admit I've remained quite ignorant of early church history. So I was surprised to learn Turkey, although 99% Muslim, overflows in early Christian history.

Selcuk, a town a couple kilometers off the west coast, is a wonderful place to begin to rectify my ignorance. St. John, an apostle and writer of the Holy Bible, retired and died here. It is also believed he brought the Virgin Mary here after the death of Christ, where she too spent her final days. Nearby is Ephesus, home of the Church of Ephesus, one of the seven Asian churches in Revelations and a city where St. Paul preached, spreading Christianity.

We arrived in Selcuk by bus in the morning, leaving a whole day to roam its streets. We visited its museum, ate lunch in an outdoor cafe and then wandered up a hill to the St. John Church, a 6th-century basilica built over St. John's tomb. Although mostly a crumbling ruin, it was fun to walk among the large stones strewn about, lone columns standing that once supported huge domes, and up stairways that led no where, the second floor long gone.

If the church was fully restored it would be the 7th largest cathedral in the world. Its surviving foundation clearly showed its immense size. St. John's tomb lay at the top of the cruciform shaped church surrounded by the remains of cracked marble floor and beautiful mosaic tiles, now exposed to wind, rain, and sun under the open sky.

I walked to the edge of the hill and looked out to the vast plain below, stretching to the horizon with miles and miles of farmland. I imagined John sitting as an old man under the willow trees, writing his Gospel while gazing at the same view. I wonder if he had any idea this new religion he was promoting would change the world forever. top

Looking up at the Library of Celsus, a monument and library erected in 114 AD by the Roman leader Tiberius Julius Aquila in honor of his deceased father, Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus. At its peak, this library held up to 12,000 scrolls. Two Turkish women cook a stuffed pancake-like dish in a wood stove. My feta and spinach order was very similar to a quesadilla or papusa. Looking up at the Library of Celsus, a monument and library erected in 114 AD by the Roman leader Tiberius Julius Aquila in honor of his deceased father, Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus. At its peak, this library held up to 12,000 scrolls.

Pamukkale, Turkey

The Nature of Time

michelleTurkey is full of ancient ruins and they pop up in unexpected places - an ancient theater sits beside a city street, a Byzantine aqueduct stands along a road, 1000-year old tombs carved into cliffs overlook a town.

Walking through a field full of large rocks and tall grass, we came across the upper part of a stone doorframe rising out of the ground. It was then I realized we were walking on top of an ancient city covered with centuries of earth. I stooped down and picked up one of the many pieces of brick covering the ground, fragments of old roof tiles probably over a 1000-years old. It blows my mind away to stand on top of what was once a prosperous community of markets, public baths, theaters, and houses, and now, due to invasions, earthquakes, and natural erosion, is a pile of rock and earth I am climbing over and exploring.

Buried under me was probably clay jars for holding water and wine, coins, jewelry and hair clips, and other household items from long ago. And I think of thousands of years from now into the future when others are walking over the ruins of our great cities - maybe New York, LA, or London and finding the remains of a civilization - a comb, a car tire, a plastic cup. Like these once thriving kingdoms, ours too will some day fade and be replaced. It is the nature of time. top

Turkish Countryside

michelleRiding on long bus rides can be hot, uncomfortable, and cramped but I find these rides offer a glimpse into local life I otherwise might not see. The steady rumble of a bus usually has a way of coaxing me into a drooling, sleepy stupor, but I was successful in fighting off sleep during the 5 hour journey and was rewarded with sights from the Turkish countryside and small towns. I have found the Turkish cities quite modern, abounding in ATMs, cell phones, and fast food restaurants. The countryside offers the opposite view - a timelessness of people making a living off the land, small town communities, and a simpler life.

The bus wound its way along fields rich in shimmering gold wheat rotated with rows of green vegetables. The effect was a giant natural quilt blanketing the land until it reached a mountain's edge. The shades of greens and yellows against the blue sky and the softness of the grass as the wind swept through it gave me the same sense of awe I get when gazing at a blazing sunset.

When we entered towns along the way, I soaked in the people and their way of life. An old woman sat on a donkey, her long white head covering flapping in the wind. A camel, piled high in Turkish rugs, looked like a small wool mountain strolling down the street. Old men, wearing dark hats, vests, and serious expressions, sat in small groups in the shade. School children in blue and white uniforms stopped at a community fountain and drank from a plastic cup attached to the fountain by a string. We passed many elderly couples getting around by horse and cart and farmers selling produce on the side of the road.

People continued to board and get off the bus as they reached their destinations. By late afternoon we were the only passengers left. The remaining part of the journey was through a rocky mountain pass with windy roads. I watched in fascination and disgusted amusement as the bus driver spent the entire final hour picking his nose with an intensity and concentration usually associated with brain surgery. Half his index finger would be lost in one nostril, swirled around, and then he would switch sides. After the first 20 minutes I was positive there could be no possible way anything could be left to pick. But his digging continued for another 40 minutes! A couple times I was alarmed he might drive off the road, as his attention was not on his driving.

I was relieved when we finally reached our destination, Fethiye, a seaside town with a large marina and nearby beaches. top

Just Say No

timI waited for our next bus on the curb a small station, watching people and killing time. I was particularly engrossed in the chatty conversation of some old Turkish women when a boy carrying a basket of goods approached me.

He waved four packages of facial tissues into the air and said something I didn't understand in Turkish. I tried to brush him off by shaking my head side to side and saying, "No thanks." But he persisted by waving the packages closer to my face. When I responded with a second nod and "No," he started making finger gestures for cost. This boy just doesn't take "no" for an answer I thought.

But then I recalled a fact about Turkish body language. Shaking the head from side to side as we do to indicate "no" actually indicates the expression "I don't understand" in Turkey. The boy continued bothering me not because he was doggedly persistent, but because he thought I didn't know what he wanted. (In other words, he thought I was an idiot, which in hindsight, I guess I was.)

With my realization, I laughed out loud in an enlightened yet slightly demented way that changed the boy's expression from helpful to cautious.

One says no in Turkish by raising one's eyebrows and tipping the head back. I attempted a poor freakish facsimile of the Turkish version and the boy swished away. top

Fethiye, Turkey

Boat Cruise

michelleWe left this morning on a four-day boat cruise. It's a six cabin boat and there are eleven passengers and three crew. Each cabin has its own bathroom, there are comfortable mats to lay on the deck, a hammock, and snorkeling equipment. The itinerary is to visit different stops along the way - a gorge with a waterfall, ancient ruins along the coast, small islands, seaside villages, and end the journey down the coast in Olympos. Bon voyage! top

Close to Perfection

michelleOur cabin room was hot and stuffy so I grabbed a blanket and slept on the deck under the stars. I fell asleep to the gentle rocking of the boat, to the sound of music and laughter coming from surrounding boats in the cove, and to the moon slowly rising over a mountain silhouette. I awoke at 5 am to the pink dawn, calm water, and precious silence.

At 6 am the boat engine roared to life and we set off into the open water. Over the next hour a couple people woke and joined me on the deck. We sat in silence, wrapped in blankets, each lost in the quiet of the morning as wind whipped through our hair and the waves rhythmically lifted the boat up and down. Suddenly, we were shaken from our meditative states by three dolphins jumping playfully at the front of the boat. They jumped through the waves and soon were swimming along side us. I leaned as far over the railing as I could and watched their sleek gray bodies swim gracefully below until they disappeared into the blue depths. The unexpected encounter filled me with wonder and excitement.

We spent the day doing what people do on lazy boat cruises: eating, swimming, snorkeling, sun bathing, relaxing, and docking for a couple hours to explore a small seaside village. In the evening we anchored off a deserted island covered with ancient ruins. We feasted on a dinner of grilled eggplant, peppers, onions, chicken, and potatoes, while sipping wine and enjoying each other's company. After dinner some people went ashore and sat around a blazing bonfire while the rest of us turned up the music and danced on the boat until after midnight.

I fell asleep on the deck under the stars; content I spent a day close to perfection. top

The ruins of a church in the abandoned Turkish city of Kayakoy, or Kaya. Two thousand homes here once hosted a thriving community of Greeks, but were abandoned when the majority of Greek people were expelled from Turkey in 1922 following the Turkish War of Independence.

Olympos, Turkey

Tree House

timWe ended our sailing cruise in the seaside town of Olympos, a 2000 year old city known simultaneously for its rich history and as a destination for cheap hippie backpackers.

Ironically, Turkey banned the use of concrete in Olympos to protect the old city's ancient ruins. Developers responded with a unique solution - they built tree houses for the tourists. And now, the tree houses lure the hordes more than the historic ruins.

Our tree house looks more like a primitive wooden house on six-foot stilts rather than a proper tree house. But many others in town live up to their name and keep me looking for a loincloth-clothed Tarzan to come swinging down to earth yodeling.

The area is bracketed by tall cliffs and a nearby beach. With the shady fruit trees that grow everywhere, the unhurried clientele who create an easy going atmosphere, and a $6 per night cost (per person/including breakfast and dinner), I think we can afford to spend a few days here. top

Chimaera Flames

michelleWe spent the day on the beach of Olympos with our new friends from the boat cruise. It was another lazy day. We sunned on the sand, every so often running to the sea to cool down. For lunch we bought pastries and soda from a man who carried his goods on a large circular tray balanced atop his head. He paced up and down the beach all day enticing our business by the sweet aromas of freshly baked bread.

In the late afternoon we headed back to our tree house abode, a couple shades darker. We showered, ate dinner, and by nine o'clock our stomachs were full and the moon shone brightly above. We boarded a mini bus with other tourists and set off to see the Chimaera, a group of flames that naturally blaze on the slope of Mt. Olympos. After a long drive in the darkness, the minibus stopped at the base of the mountain. With the aid of flashlights we hiked twenty minutes up a steep path until we reached a rocky clearing. Scores of yellow and blue flames burned in patches around rocks. Other tourists were already up there sitting quietly around the flames, observing the natural phenomenon. A resourceful man took advantage of the flames and tourists and set up a drink stall over to the side, tea pots perched on the flames.

It is said long ago sailors on the open sea used the flames as landmarks. It is unknown what causes the flames รป except they believe it's gas escaping through holes in the rocks and when it comes into contact with air, bursts into flames. The whole sight was a bit surreal. top

Egirdir, Turkey

A Peaceful Lake Town

michelleEgirdir, a small picturesque town, sits on a peninsula jutting into Turkey's fourth largest lake. We had heard it was a quiet peaceful place with a hometown feel and decided to visit for a day or two. When the bus dropped us off in the center of town, we were greeted by Ibrahim, owner of Lale Pension. His broad smile and warm personality immediately made us feel welcome.

We walked through town towards the pension with Ibrahim leading the way. Thursday is market day in Egirdir but by our evening arrival the merchants were packing up their goods. We did stop at one of the few remaining stalls to buy fresh corn. Ibrahim kindly offered us the use of his stove and my mouth watered at the thought of eating some of my favorite food sopped in butter and sprinkled with salt. What a treat!

We passed under the gate of a castle, entering the old part of town. Ibrahim led us up a steep hill lined with old wooden houses warped with age. Arriving to the pension we were introduced to Ibrahim's pregnant wife and his father, welcomed with hot tea and a fantastic view of the lake, and were immediately made to feel at home.

After a wonderful feast of corn, we headed out to explore the town with contented stomachs. top

Call to Prayer

timNothing reminds visitors they are in a 99 percent Muslim country more than the call to prayer. Forget the fact that Turkey has a secular government and relaxed atmosphere. When the call is broadcast simultaneously from every mosque in a city at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, dusk, or after dark, the haunting sounds echo from every direction and make the otherwise secular streets feel holy.

The family who runs the Lale Hostel here in Egirdir is a friendly bunch. The owner Ibrahim is a helpful guy and as Ibrahim proudly told us, his father is a muezzin with an excellent voice. When I asked Ibrahim about hearing his father sing, he didn't hesitate in sending me down to the mosque to watch the call to prayer. I jumped at the opportunity just a few minutes before his father was due in the service and found myself bounding through the darkened nighttime streets behind him, wondering what I was in store for. We arrived to a locked mosque at around 10 PM and waited for the Imam to arrive with the keys.

Our awkward conversation crawled along with language problems, as Ibrahim's father spoke to me in broken English and I spoke to him in the few Turkish words I knew. But I didn't need spoken language to realize he wore a genuine smile with his gentle personality.

The Imam arrived with a trickle of other followers who chatted amicably amongst each other. Once they established that I spoke no Turkish, I dissolved into the background and spent the time watching people ritually cleanse themselves in the ablution fountain nearby.

With the Imam's signal, Ibrahim's father enclosed himself into a phone booth sized recording booth below the minaret and sang the call to prayer. I heard his voice as an even mix, half muffled through the wooden door and half broadcast from the loudspeakers high above my head. But still, Ibrahim was right to be proud. His father's voice was enchanting.

The prayer ended three minutes later and as I readied to leave, Ibrahim's father surprised me with an invitation to watch the actual prayers inside the mosque. I wasn't sure what to expect, but removed my shoes and followed him in.

The Quran forbids displaying images of Muhammad and other religious leaders, so unlike Christians who decorate their churches with images of Christ, Muslims decorate their mosques with prayers rendered into flowing calligraphic paintings. These paintings hung on the walls alongside two loud clocks that broke the room's silence with steady ticking.

I knew virtually nothing about the ritualized Islamic prayer and felt naturally out of place. But I'd been invited in and none of the 9 people in the room seemed bothered by my presence. So I stood in the back and observed silently.

Ibrahim's father started the 20 minutes of prayers with his smooth voice. Participants then followed the Imam in prayers, standing, kneeling, and pressing their foreheads down to the red carpeted floor. The Imam's transformation amazed me. Ten minutes ago he looked like a normal everyday guy and now, he was a black robed holy man with a cylindrical turban. The Imam's deeper voice chanted in turns with the Muezzin in a mesmerizing duet that made me soon forget my doubts about coming.

The participants practiced other parts of the ritual, mouthing silent prayers, placing their hands up to the heavens, and fingering rosary beads. The Imam ended the session with a prayer and the participants exited silently.

I tried to express my sincere gratitude to Ibrahim's father when I walked back to the hostel with him. He offered me a real glimpse of Turkey that I will not soon forget.

Listen to the Turkish Call To Prayer and the Turkish Mosque recordings in the Sounds section. top

A Nomadic Village

timWe hiked the steep 7 km switchback road to the nomadic village of Alepinar in the late morning heat, arriving hot and thankful for the shade provided by a row of tall poplar trees. The old stonewall we sat on enclosed a field of wildflowers and provided a nice vantage point to survey the village - old homes, a mosque in the center of town, and a farmer driving his tractor around.

A group of women in flowery dresses and headscarves busied themselves around washtubs full of water and what looked like wheat. Our curiosity attracted theirs until one of them broke the silence, pointing to one of the large washtubs and exclaiming, "baklava." I wasn't sure how a large tub of vegetable matter could be a philo dough pastry, so I thumbed though a worn vocabulary book and jokingly shouted out food items made with wheat. She nodded and laughed with each one, finally confirming what was in the tubs when I found the Turkish word for wheat. Michelle offered them oatmeal cookies and they responded with homemade stuffed grape leaves.

Further down the road, two older women sat on a wall with a ten-year-old girl. Like with many children in modern Turkey, the girl's modern T-shirt-shirt and jeans posed a striking contrast between her two traditionally dressed elders. She welcomed us with a handful of freshly picked cherries and we pantomimed a conversation with the trio for a half an hour.

The overlook at the end of the road offered an exceptional view of Egirdir from above. A sweet old couple beckoned for us to sit around a few plastic tables and eat from their restaurant, which turned out to be a funky little shack nearby. Michelle entered the shack to watch the woman cook, while I sat outside enjoying the view and freezing my head with the coldest, most satisfying bottle of water that I've ever been served. top

Cappadocia, Turkey

Photos

timPhoto check-in. top

A bird escapes through an opening of the roof of a Turkish caravanserai. This building was one of many built by the Turkish government every 40-45 km along the Silk Road from China as a resting place and fortress for caravans. Here travelers could buy replacement camels and horses, have their animals treated, and stay for up to three days without payment. The system was paid for by a 10% tax on goods levied upon all caravans as they entered the country. The unusual cave homes of Turkish Cappadocia, carved into the soft stone by residents since the early Christian times. The soft stone, called tuff, is made of volcanic ash from an eruption some 10 million years ago. The unusual cave homes of Turkish Cappadocia, carved into the soft stone by residents since the early Christian times. The soft stone, called tuff, is made of volcanic ash from an eruption some 10 million years ago. The unusual rock formations of Turkish Cappadocia, formed by differential erosion between a top layer of hard rock and a bottom layer of soft stone. The soft stone, called tuff, is made of volcanic ash from an eruption some 10 million years ago. The crescent moon and star, similar to the Turkish flag, hangs over the mountains of Cappadocia. A path through a cave in Cappadocia's Rose Valley. The area is known for its cave dwellings and unusual rock formations made from tuff, a soft stone composed of volcanic ash. A path by a cave in Cappadocia's Rose Valley. The area is known for its cave dwellings and unusual rock formations made from tuff, a soft stone composed of volcanic ash. A path through a cave in Cappadocia's Rose Valley. The area is known for its cave dwellings and unusual rock formations made from tuff, a soft stone composed of volcanic ash. A room in Cappadocia's Church of Saint John, a primitive church carved from a soft stone called tuff (made from volcanic ash). A mule in Cappadocia's Rose Valley. The area is known for its cave dwellings and unusual rock formations made from tuff, a soft stone composed of volcanic ash. A fairy chimney in the Valley of the Fairy Chimneys, produced by differential erosion between the hard rock on top and the soft rock below. The exit of a cave home in Cappadocia's Rose Valley. The area is known for its cave dwellings and unusual rock formations made from tuff, a soft stone composed of volcanic ash.

Safranbolu, Turkey

Communication Challenges

michelleSchool children, shop owners, bakers, and young men called out Japanese greetings to me as we strolled through the narrow cobblestone streets of Sanfranbolu. I found the attention a bit unnerving since I don't speak a word of Japanese. I know the town gets very few foreign tourists but from the attention I was receiving I concluded the Asian tourists that do visit must be Japanese. My parents met in Japan, I have black hair, and I crave sushi often, but these are the extent of my Japanese ways.

Sanfranbolu is a town situated in northern Turkey near the Black Sea. Its old Ottoman wooden houses make it an Unesco World Heritage Site and the lure of fine architecture drew us off Turkey's main tourist trail for a visit. The houses sit on steep hills, looking down on the main square, a mosque, a two-domed bathhouse, and a 350 year-old caravanserai (a way-station for traveling caravans).

On our first full day in Sanfranbolu we spent the day walking through the streets observing the architecture, stopping often to look up. The houses are large 3-storey structures made of wood and plaster. The old plaster walls, overhanging bay windows, decorative iron handles on gates, and textured wooden doors made it a feast for the eyes. The roofs are made of rugged terra-cotta tiles, adding orange warmth to the already rich environment.

Most of the places we have visited in Turkey are popular tourist destinations and the locals have picked up enough English to communicate effectively with visitors. But in Sanfranbolu we found few that spoke English and for the first time we relied heavily on our Turkish guidebook's language section and found ourselves gesturing to communicate. Ordering food, checking into a hotel, catching a bus, and buying souvenirs became more like a game of charades than a business transaction. When gestures failed, we would draw pictures. Sometimes the business owners would bring out their English-Turkish dictionaries and we would teach each other words. The interactions made us laugh and we met many wonderfully patient Turkish people as we struggled to communicate. top

A several-hundred-year-old mosque in the Turkish town of Safranbolu. Safranbolu's historic architecture has qualified it as Unesco World Heritage site. A several-hundred-year-old mosque in the Turkish town of Safranbolu. Safranbolu's historic architecture has qualified it as Unesco World Heritage site. A woman walks down the street of historic Sanfranbolu. A sitting area inside a traditional Turkish home.

Istanbul, Turkey

A Ticket Home

michelleMy sister is expecting a baby and asked me to come home and help. She is the first sibling to have a child and it's a really big deal for the family. So I agreed to cut my trip short and fly home early. We agreed Tim would keep traveling until the end of the summer through Europe.

Upon arriving in Istanbul my first errand was to purchase an airline ticket home. The travel agencies were closed on Sundays and so I couldn't inquire about buying a ticket until Monday morning. I hoped to buy a plane ticket for the last day of June, leaving a week to tour the city and mentally prepare for my return home and separation from Tim.

Early on Monday we walked into a travel agency in the tourist area of Istanbul. Big colorful signs in the window advertised cheap international flights. The agents tapped at their keyboards, studied the computer screen, and made some calls to the airlines. Good news: there was a seat available (the only one in the next two weeks). Bad news: the flight left that night! Tim and I stared at each other in horror. I had to buy this ticket to get home but wasn't emotionally prepared to leave so soon. I was filled with conflicting emotions: sadness in leaving Tim and the travel lifestyle, excitement to see family and friends, surprise at leaving so quickly, anticipation of what life in the US would be like after traveling for so long. Reluctantly I handed over my credit card and within minutes I had an airline ticket in hand.

We set out into the city with a purpose. I had less than 12 hours to sightsee, buy presents, and pack. First we visited the Grand Bazaar, an indoor market of overwhelming size and merchandise. The bazaar began in the 15th century and since then, has only grown. Now it covers many kilometers and feels like a giant maze. We wandered for a couple hours looking at spices, clothes, Turkish carpets, lace, and an amazing selection of souvenirs. With only a little room left in my backpack I could only buy a couple t-shirts and decorative pillows.

We strolled through the park in front of the St. Sophia as the light glowed in the early evening. Then we ate a wonderful Turkish dinner on a rooftop restaurant. From here we could see ships sailing in the harbor, effortlessly gliding along the water. Brilliant sparkles shone off the golden spires of the nearby Blue Mosque as they reflected the setting sun. As our last meal together on the trip it was incredibly romantic and poignant. I kept taking deep breaths and looking around as I realized tomorrow I would be home and these were my final moments of this fabulous adventure. top

A view of light streaming through the window of Aya Sofia, the Church of Divine Wisdom, built between 527-565 AD by Emperor Justinian. Converted into a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.XXXX(Also called Aya Sofya, Sancta Sophia, Hagia Sofia) A view of Aya Sofia, the Church of Divine Wisdom, built between 527-565 AD by Emperor Justinian. Converted into a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.XXXX(Also called Aya Sofya, Sancta Sophia, Hagia Sofia) A view of light streaming through the window of Aya Sofia, the Church of Divine Wisdom, built between 527-565 AD by Emperor Justinian. Converted into a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.XXXX(Also called Aya Sofya, Sancta Sophia, Hagia Sofia) A mosaic of the Madonna and child in the Aya Sofia, the Church of Divine Wisdom, built between 527-565 AD by Emperor Justinian. Converted into a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.XXXX(Also called Aya Sofya, Sancta Sophia, Hagia Sofia) The lights of Istanbul's famous Blue Mosque (1616) attract many birds that circle overhead at night. The lights of Istanbul's famous Blue Mosque (1616) attract many birds that circle overhead at night. Light filters down on a bismillah in Topkapi Palace, Istanbul's home of the sultans for almost 400 years. Bismillahs typically read as a prayer to God, with meanings similar to Arabesque designs inside of Topkapi Palace, Istanbul's home of the sultans for almost 400 years. Intricate Turkish tile work and chandelier in Topkapi Palace's Sacred Safe-keeping Rooms. Topkapi Palace was Istanbul's home of the sultans for almost 400 years. The Sacred Safe-keeping Rooms still hold sacred possessions once owned by the Prophet Mohammed. An intricate ablution fountain in Topkapi Palace, Istanbul's home of the sultans for almost 400 years. Arabesque patterns of light filtering through a skylight in Topkapi Palace, Istanbul's home of the sultans for almost 400 years. Sun filters across Turkish tile work and mother-of-pearl doors in the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul's home of the sultans. Sun filters across a red couch and mother-of-pearl doors in the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul's home of the sultans.

Istanbul, Turkey

Holy Relics

timTopkapi Palace in Istanbul housed the leaders of the Ottoman empire for 623 years, surrounding them in luxury befitting an empire that stretched from Hungary to Yemen and from north Africa to Iran. Its rooms shine with inlaid mother of pearl, rich Turkish tile work, Arabesque ornamentation, and silk Turkish carpets.

The family's living quarters, or Harem, display some of the finest workmanship. But the safekeeping rooms that house holy relics intrigued me more. Their bizarre collection had me guessing the authenticity of each artifact and left me wondering if the rooms were full of hoaxes or genuine items. There is little question the palace takes these items seriously, considering the rooms sacred. A imam even prays constantly from a booth in the corner of one of the rooms.

You be the judge. Is that stick really the Baton of the Prophet Moses? Does that bottle really contain The Dust Brought from the Tomb of the Holy Prophet Mohammed? Was that sword once owned by the biblical David? How about the gold-framed footprint... did Mohammed really make that? Do these gold-jeweled boxes really contain Mohammed's teeth? Are those curly hairs encased in blown glass really plucked from Mohammed's beard?

I don't know. You'll have to decide for yourself. top

A view of light streaming through the window of Aya Sofia, the Church of Divine Wisdom, built between 527-565 AD by Emperor Justinian. Converted into a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.XXXX(Also called Aya Sofya, Sancta Sophia, Hagia Sofia) A view of Aya Sofia, the Church of Divine Wisdom, built between 527-565 AD by Emperor Justinian. Converted into a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.XXXX(Also called Aya Sofya, Sancta Sophia, Hagia Sofia) A view of light streaming through the window of Aya Sofia, the Church of Divine Wisdom, built between 527-565 AD by Emperor Justinian. Converted into a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.XXXX(Also called Aya Sofya, Sancta Sophia, Hagia Sofia) A mosaic of the Madonna and child in the Aya Sofia, the Church of Divine Wisdom, built between 527-565 AD by Emperor Justinian. Converted into a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.XXXX(Also called Aya Sofya, Sancta Sophia, Hagia Sofia) The lights of Istanbul's famous Blue Mosque (1616) attract many birds that circle overhead at night. The lights of Istanbul's famous Blue Mosque (1616) attract many birds that circle overhead at night. Light filters down on a bismillah in Topkapi Palace, Istanbul's home of the sultans for almost 400 years. Bismillahs typically read as a prayer to God, with meanings similar to Arabesque designs inside of Topkapi Palace, Istanbul's home of the sultans for almost 400 years. Intricate Turkish tile work and chandelier in Topkapi Palace's Sacred Safe-keeping Rooms. Topkapi Palace was Istanbul's home of the sultans for almost 400 years. The Sacred Safe-keeping Rooms still hold sacred possessions once owned by the Prophet Mohammed. An intricate ablution fountain in Topkapi Palace, Istanbul's home of the sultans for almost 400 years. Arabesque patterns of light filtering through a skylight in Topkapi Palace, Istanbul's home of the sultans for almost 400 years. Sun filters across Turkish tile work and mother-of-pearl doors in the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul's home of the sultans. Sun filters across a red couch and mother-of-pearl doors in the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul's home of the sultans.