Eating Local: Breaking Bread in Turkey

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On the “Antik Road” in Cappadocia. (1998) A local family cooking flatbread over an outdoor oven in Guzelyurt, Turkey. They shared the bread with us–it was delicious!

via Photo Challenge: Local

It was a crisp day in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, and my husband and I were out walking through the town of Guzelyurt– a small town set outside of the larger and more tourist-populated areas of Cappadocia.  (“Guzelyurt” means beautiful valley.)

We would often visit and stay in Otel Karballa there: a lovely structure that

had once been a Greek monastery, but was now converted to a small hotel with a fantastic chef and the ability to give its guests an authentic taste of life and history in this enchanting region.

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goremeThis area of Turkey is fascinating– so well known for its natural beauty and unusual landscape, as well as its long and illustrious history.   In fact, the two things go hand in hand.  The famous “fairy chimneys” of Cappadocia housed the cave dwellers of the Bronze Age, and later housed early Christian refugees and gave rise to the thousands of cave churches that dot the region.

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A fuzzy photo from one trip to Cappadocia: at the mouth of a cave church, with dwelling areas above it.

alanya-turkeye-193Once inside these churches, you are often  met with once-beautiful frescoes that (while still beautiful) are severely weathered by both age and ordeal.  Age, because most of the churches here date to between the 6th and 11th centuries; ordeal, as they were intentionally defaced because of religious aniconic sentiments.

If the cave dwellings and the colorful history weren’t enough to make Cappadocia a fantastic destination, it has this going for it:  it’s no artifact, it’s still living.  The potteries of the region are thriving, the people are hospitable, and many locals still live in the hollowed out cave dwellings (and have wired them for electricity!).

Walking down one ancient road in Guzelyurt, you might look up to see this:

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only to believe that you are passing by empty, ancient buildings (but note the electrical wires that run the length of the road).  Then the next thing you stumble upon, two doors down, is the family from the lead photo on this post, huddled in the doorway of another ancient structure and adjoining cave and making their daily flatbread over a simple fire and dome of hot metal.

 

The ancient meets the everyday in the streets and valleys of Cappadocia,  the modern meets the miraculous.  For my husband and me, who grew up in the tidy convenience of suburban America and were more likely to take dinner  from a casserole dish hot out of a Kenmore oven, or even from a drive-through  fast food window,  this family, hard at work to make their daily bread, kneaded and rolled on a board on the ground and cooked over an open fire on a humble metal dome, this moment was extraordinary.  And so very ordinary too.

We stopped and spoke to the family.  We shared what little language we knew, and they shared some of their bread , warm and crisp from the fire. I don’t think anything has ever been more delicious than those few bites shared on an ancient road.  What an incredible way to eat local.

 

Fuzzy Photo Monday

The best adjective to describe any given Monday morning is fuzzy.   So, in honor of all those fuzzy Monday mornings, I’m posting fuzzy, dusty photos from a few travels in Turkey roughly 15 years ago.  They may be grainy and faded, but the beauty of the place and the people  still shines through.

Istanbul is a good place to start.  While in Istanbul, we stayed in a small hotel on the Hippodrome–the center of ancient Constantinople, where civic and sporting events were held.   The Hippodrome is a long, oval area today, flanked by obelisks at each end, and just beyond each end of the Hippodrome stands one of Istanbul’s most recognizable landmarks: the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

The Hagia Sophia is, arguably, the jewel of Istanbul.

The Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul
The Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul

The Hagia Sophia began her life in the 500’s as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral, and over the years has served as a church, a mosque, and a museum.  Despite the ravages of time and bickering ideologies, this beautiful monument to Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia, or, as the Turks say, Ayasofia) still impresses and humbles its visitors today.

 

walls of the Hagia Sophia
walls of the Hagia Sophia

 

Hagia Sophia inside
Hagia Sophia inside

The Blue Mosque was built in the 1600’s, so it’s no new comer either.   The interior is impressive and serene–covered in Turkish Iznik tiles and caligraphed verses from the Quran.

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The Blue Mosque

 

The exterior courtyard of the Blue Mosque is serene and was once used as a school, but I don’t think that’s the case any longer.

Nearby, you can take a tour of the underground cistern-which is impressive too.  It was built in the 500’s, but lay abandoned and forgotten for hundreds of years.  The columns and carving, as well as the dramatic lighting, make it a beautiful and eerie place to see.

Underground cistern in Istanbul.
Underground cistern in Istanbul–built in the 6th century, still a marvel.

You’d spend a full day or more travelling from Istanbul to Cappadocia in central Turkey, but it would be worth the effort.

Goreme in winter, from Wikipedia.org
Goreme in winter, from Wikipedia.org

Cappadocia is a somewhat mountainous area, best know for its “fairy chimneys” and early cave churches.   Urgup and Goreme are probably the easiest places for tourists to get around, and they are a good homebase for viewing the fairy chimneys (rock formations that are distinct) of the area.

"Fairy chimneys" of Cappodocia and the Ilhara Valley.
“Fairy chimneys” of Cappodocia and the Ilhara Valley. You can see the dwellings carved into them.

 

Ilhara Valley Cave Church 2 The Ilhara Valley in Cappadocia is also famous for its very early cave churches.  They are in varying stages of preservation, but are fascinating to see.

 

 

 

 

Guzelyurt was our favorite town in Cappadocia, and was off the beaten path.

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View off the back porch at Otel Karbala, Guzelyurt.

We would stay at a hotel there, Otel Karbala, which was beautiful and converted from an old Greek monestary.  The town was light on tourists, and heavy on beauty and history.

On the "Antik Road" in Cappadocia.
On the “Antik Road” in Cappadocia.

This photo especially tugs at my heart. This family was baking bread over a fire outside of a cave on the Antik Road (old road) down a hill in the town of Guzelyurt.  They were so friendly and we stopped and ate a bite of their bread–a delicious flatbread (pide) that they were eating plain and warm from the fire.  Pide is popular in Turkey, and often cooked over an open fire on a hot, convex piece of metal, but it can also be made in a large oven (think of America’s large brick oven pizza establishments).

Pide with meat
Pide with meat

Our “hometown” in Turkey had a large bakery that served, really,as a community oven and produced hundreds or thousands of pide each day.  Pide is often embelished with meats or cheese and spices.  Plain pide is also good for scooping up mezes (appetizers).

 

 

But, back to Cappadocia.  It’s probably my favorite place in Turkey, and, besides the sightseeing and natural beauty of the area, it also offered many opportunities to shop for carpets in an environment that was less rushed than Istanbul.  Here, carpet dealers feed you, play with your children and dogs, and eagerly teach you about the various types of carpets and regional styles they have on offer.

Carpet shopping in Cappadocia.
Carpet shopping in Cappadocia.

And, if you have enough time in Cappadocia, one last recommendation: visit an underground city.  There are dozens of these sites, and we’ve been to Derinkuyu and Kaymakli.  These cities are ancient rabbit warrens underground,  complete with ventilation shafts and stones that can be rolled to block entrance into any given tunnel–they are advanced and well planned, but may date back to   the Bronze Age,  and were certainly used during the Byzantine period as hiding places during times of religious persecution.

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A puppy in my arms, and a flashlight on my husband’s forehead, while we wander the underground labyrinth.

 

As feats of ancient engineering, these underground cities are astonishing.  As history lessons, they are sobering.  As an afternoon out. . . they are a pretty good frolick . . . but not recommended for people who are claustrophobic.

I’ve covered a lot of ground at a crazy quick clip here–but it’s a fuzzy Monday, so that’ll have to do until I’ve downed considerably more coffee.

Gule, gule!  (“Bye, bye” in Turkish)

 

Let’s Talk Turkey

We’re beginning the November wind-up to Thanksgiving, so let’s talk Turkey. . . with a twist.    The country, not the bird

These photos are from my travels in Turkey 15 years ago.  I pulled them from a box of negatives, held them up to the light to determine which were which, and scanned them on a rinkydink digital converter.  The images are still distinct, but not crisp. There’s just a bit of a haze to them, though you can still pick out the details.  (You may even find me lurking in a shadow, where’s-Waldo-esque, if you try.)

turkey 2 picmonk collage

 

I remember this castle and these sites vividly–we were on the Turkish Mediterranean.  But I can’t remember the name of the place.  It’s not on tip of my tongue.  It’s not even a lingering taste at the back of my throat.     It’s just gone: swallowed and digested by the intervening years.  I’d recognize it if you offered it up to me, but after an hour of racking my brain, I still don’t have the power to conjure it on my own.

How can we be so fickle to forget places we have loved and sights that left us awestruck?  Time is a notorious thief, and I have no name for these photos, but I remember.  A brilliant day by the sands of the Mediterranean Sea and under the gaze of the Taurus Mountains.  I haven’t forgotten how I felt.

Maybe recognition is more important than recollection anyway.  It carries that power of empathy–to remember how something felt, to feel connection to the past or the place or the person, even when the name has left you.

That’s a traveller’s power–the power of connection.  We can rely on our guidebooks for place names when we have to, but the ability to connect to the people or stand in awe of the beauty, well, we have to summon that ourselves.

Forced to choose, I’d keep the feeling over the catalog of names any day:  better a fickle mind than a fickle heart.

 

*And, as a post script:  my travel guidebook has come the the rescue.  The castle is at Anamur, Turkey.

Here are a  few more photos from Turkey.  (More to come in the months ahead, when I get old photo negatives converted to digital.)

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Oops!

 

On the "Antik Road" in Cappadocia.
On the “Antik Road” in Cappadocia.

This last photo is an especially fond memory–and I can recall the details.  When I have more time, I’ll bring it back out and tell you the story.   For now, I must say “Gule, gule” (goodbye).