Why do so many people chase eclipses? Why do they fly half way around the world to remote locations and wait in the middle of nowhere for an event that lasts for a few minutes? If the weather misbehaves in the least they see little if anything exciting. I have never met a total-eclipse-of-the-sun witness who did not have a strong desire, even a definite plan, to do it again. It is one of those experiences that people have once and almost immediately desire to repeat.
People even go to eclipse locations where nothing else happens, so when I read of the eclipse of 2006 and discovered that it could be viewed from the Greco Roman ruins at Side, Turkey, it seemed almost too good to be true. Turkey has some of the best and most accessible ruins in the world. The worst thing that could happen is that I would miss the eclipse experience and still revisit some of the magnificent ruins that I had seen fifteen years ago plus more. So I signed up for a twelve-day trip with the agency, Travel Quest, based on the recommendation of a good, eclipse-chasing friend who was planning the trip himself. Travel Quest offered a four, seven, and twelve-day trip; however, to see Ephesus, the most spectacular ruin of all, one must choose the twelve day trip, so I did.
Bill always does good research on such things so using his plan would save me a lot of research time. Whether this was the best choice is still in question, however, since Bill later discovered and switched to a Turkish company that offered 15 days for about half the cost. Eventually, I heard a similar story from others who took similar trips. Since I had already made irreversible commitments, I stuck with Travel Quest and was relatively happy with their performance.
Describing the physics of an eclipse of the sun is relatively simple. The moon is large enough so that any time it passes through a line between the centers of the sun and earth, the sun is visually blocked from view along a wide path across the earth; that is, the moon casts a full shadow somewhere on the earth. And yet the moon is small enough that even within the shadow, light from the corona-which extends way beyond the sun’s surface-can be seen. This set of conditions happens every few years at some location on the earth.
Describing the EXPERIENCE of viewing an eclipse may be, like attempting to describe many of life’s experiences, entirely fruitless. Showing pictures of the event doesn’t help much either. I had looked at many pictures of a dark circle within a blurry white light and wondered what is so exciting about that. Even the movies capture only a minutia of the sensations that fill ones complete environment in that few minutes of darkness. I will attempt to describe the experience, knowing full well that every experience of every eclipse is different for everyone. Understand that I had prepared myself for the experience by studying and planning what things to look for during the eclipse. In the excitement I forgot about half of what I had planned to do.
We are located on a beach in Side, Turkey, immediately behind the five star hotel, Sunrise Queen. An hour before totality many of us sit comfortably in the shade of palm trees that line the beach, on loungers and chairs provided by the hotel and munching a sack lunch provided by Travel Quest. An acre of the beach has been cordoned off for our group of 120 people. A dozen guys have set up telescopes and video equipment, ranging from the simplest home made set up to elaborate tracking systems and expensive cameras. We had considered watching the event from the balcony of our room, but on second thought chose the camaraderie of the rest of the group. An associate editor of Sky and Telescope magazine, cosponsors of the group, had come along to answer questions, provide tutorials, and offer expert advice to those who were attempting to photograph the event.
Up until a few hours earlier, weather was a primary topic; however, now was a beautiful sunny day with just a few, thin cirrus clouds in the distance. First contact- when the moon’s edge first crosses the sun’s edge- happened at 12:38 PM. Within a few minutes we could see, through dark glasses, a small dark sector at the sun’s edge at the five o’clock position.
As the moon’s disk slowly crept across the surface of the sun, one would not know, without directly observing the sun through dark glasses, that an eclipse was in progress, even when the sun is almost covered by the moon. This is because the sun is so bright. The huge difference between a total eclipse and a partial eclipse soon became evident. When the sun was about 90% covered I realized that I no longer needed sunglasses to be comfortable in the sunlight, so I removed them. (The sun is still much too bright, however, to look at.) Shadows began to look different. In full sunlight, the pupils of the eyes close down so that one doesn’t really see what is in a shadow; it is too dark. Now with the sun 90% covered, the contrast between light and dark in a shadow had lessened to the extent that details were now visible in both dark and light. Other than that, the pupils adjust so that everything appears just as bright even with only 10% of the sun available.
As the coverage approached 95% a lot of things started happening at once. The air began to cool down, and people began putting on jackets. A strong breeze started off the water. Everything around us took on a different hue, like at sunset. The sounds of birds that had filled the trees earlier suddenly were no more audible. I could almost feel the shadow of the moon racing towards us at thousands of miles per hour. Then I heard a voice shout out, “Filters off!” And it was suddenly dark and we could now look straight at the sun with no protective glasses. What we were seeing around the moon’s edge is the light from the corona and streamers that stretch millions of miles out from the sun beyond the shadow of the moon. The horizon all the way around us was lit up, because not so far in the distance, this side of the earth was experiencing daylight while we were standing in the dark shadow of the moon. We were experiencing something like a 360 degree sunset with the horizon beginning with a light violet fading into a gold then a bright blue that grew darker as you looked further up from the horizon. People were gasping, shouting, crying at the beauty of the overall experience of seeing and feeling. Some of my excitement was clearly my own and some of it was that shared with others having similar feelings.
Stars began to become pop out, enhanced by our opening pupils. Venus was the brightest, but Mars was also visible. Almost overwhelmed by all of the eerie sensations, I struggled to remember all the things I had wanted to observe. I switched between watching the horizon and watching the moon-covered sun, realizing that time was passing. Someone shouted, “One more minute”, bringing us back to a realization that what we were seeing is a quickly passing event. The sky color continued to change as my eyes grew more accustomed to darkness with deep blues fading into violets and reds at the horizon. A real shocker that I was not prepared for occurred when the sun first emerged from behind the moon producing the “diamond ring” phenomena, formed by the corona and the huge flash of light of the emerging sun. The startling nature of the experience seems to be both the speed with which it occurs and the extreme brightness that comes in an explosion. This instantaneous burst was accompanied by a collected gasping of the crowd as if in a group orgasm. One then must immediately put back on the protective glasses.
The surroundings were bright again within a minute, even though only a small fraction of the sun’s surface is visible. An hour passes before we have full sunlight, but events start happening in bursts. Birds that had gone to roost awaken quickly and begin making the kinds of noise you hear in the morning. The excitement is mostly gone at this point, even though most people hang around to discuss what they saw and what they did not see.
“You know you are with a tour group in Turkey when you spend one hour at Ephesus and three in the carpet factory” WWT, 2006
After an over night stay in New York, a ten hour flight to Istanbul, ten hours of time change, a one hour flight to Antoya, a one hour bus ride, and a few layovers, we arrived at the Sunrise Queen Hotel in Side, Turkey, the primary site of the eclipse viewing----nearly three days after setting out from Los Angeles. The four busloads of people in this tour were enough to essentially take over some hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions, one of the few advantages of being with a large group.
Our hotel room, actually one of the most luxurious suites I have ever had, had a balcony that wrapped completely around two sides, giving a 270 degree field of view facing the Mediterranean Sea. Our first full day of touring, Tuesday, took us to the Greco Roman ruins of the port town of Side, which includes an impressive stadium. Walking from the parking lot to the stadium took us through the ancient marketplace, where everything including slaves were once bought and sold. We were amazed to find ourselves walking on 2000-year-old mosaics that were part of the sidewalk. Any other place in the world I had seen Roman mosaics they were housed and protected, usually under glass. We entered the stadium through the typical tunnel entryway that characterizes these structures. Within the stadium we could see where Roman gladiators fought to the death as well as a great view of the ancient city itself. Spectators once brought picnics and drinks to these events and spent the day cheering for their favorite gladiator. Such fights were always put on to a sell out crowd.
Astronomers were setting up equipment in the stadium to broadcast the eclipse worldwide over the Internet. This location was offered to us as an option to view the eclipse; however, realizing that the place would be packed with people most of us elected to remain at the hotel. The village of Side is a picturesque place with an easy walk to the harbor, one of the largest in Asia. We spent about two hours in Side before moving on to our next stop, Aspendos, a Greco Roman ruin that contains one of the best preserved Theaters in Turkey.
One of the down sides in traveling with a large group is the number of problems that come up that take time to solve. Problems ranged from toilet requirements to pace maker alarms. Toilets at tourist bus stops in Turkey are maintained by a man or woman, who typically charges each user 0.5 to 1 lira ($0.35 to 0.75). Every bus has at least one person who has a problem here, especially tourists like us, who had just arrived in Turkey the day before, some with no local money, no small bills, or just not understanding the system. I had a pocket full of 50 lira bills from the bank teller machine and a few one-dollar bills. The attendant at Side was a stern entrepreneur, who was willing to take almost any currency. He accepted a dollar and gave me back 0.25 Lira (He was charging me about $0.80). Pauline, facing a similar dilemma, had been rescued by another member of our group, who loaned her a Turkish lira.
As we were boarding the bus a tremendous ruckus broke out. After a Turkish styled standoff, one of our guys had given the attendant a 100-dollar, something the attendant had never seen, to which he paid back 0.25 lira in change, just as in my case for the one dollar bill. When finally, the gentleman, with the tourist guide helping, confronted the attendant they found him studying the bill, attempting to figure out what it was. The tour guide loaned our man a lira to pay for his pee.
We spent about an hour wondering around the magnificent theater at Aspendos; there was no time to walk in the ancient village, since we had a lunch scheduled at 12:30. To our amazement we ran into our friends, Bill, Annice, and Bob in the theater. (They had switched to the Turkish travel agency.) We vowed to compare notes at the end to see if we had gotten much extra by paying twice as much for our tour. What are the odds that two people can take two separate tours in Turkey and run into each other? Amazingly, we ran into them three different times.
Outside the theater, there was just enough time to make my first Turkish purchase, a few woven bookmarks. Even if they were made in China, two bookmarks for a lira made this my best buy in Turkey.
In every busload of tourists there is always one couple whose time is worth more that the rest, and the same couple is missing for five more minutes each time the bus is loaded and ready to leave. I learned straight off that I could hang around outside the bus until this particular couple showed up after each stop. I observed the same phenomenon on my last tour bus trip.
We had our first of many delightful lunches in a local restaurant that had been set up especially for busloads of tourists. These places are very efficient, serving hundreds of plates in a few minutes time. I began to recognize a highly developed “mass production” tourism industry, which I had not actually recognized before. This must exist in most countries, but the Turkish industry surely ranks at the top for state of development. Huge hotels have sprung up near the major tourist attractions, typically outside of towns where the land is cheap and where the industry does not have to compete with the local vendors. Each hotel serves buffet styled meals three times a day that can efficiently handle hundreds of customers at once. The hotel parking lots are designed to handle mostly buses. Most places we stayed had their own shops and were not within walking distance of a village or town. The prices on goods were about twice that in the local village, and usually listed in euros and dollars. In some places they had no Turkish lira with which to give change. This system manages to isolate the tourists from the real country. This is not all bad because many people would, in truth, choose to avoid learning how to deal with the real country. In this way they don’t have to order meals, purchase tickets for the attractions, figure out the local transportation system, or understand any of the language; it is all done for them.
After lunch we moved on to Perge, the ruin of one of the leading Roman cities up to the time of takeover by the Christians. Perge is a beautiful ruin, covering many acres and featuring a column lined street that stretches for about a quarter mile to a fountain. Columns, buildings, a bath, and remains of houses stretch as far as the eye can see. It is unimaginable how such magnificent cities could have died, gone out of existence, and subsequently been covered over with dirt. I could have spent days wandering around and meditating in these ruins. We had one hour before heading back to the hotel.
That evening all four groups ate together in the mass production feeding room. To be perfectly honest, these were excellent meals, including soups, salads, and huge varieties of appetizers and main courses. The dessert table had at least twenty-five different types of tempting desserts. During the first few days, I managed to fill up a large plate several times, including a dessert plate. Eventually, I came to my senses, realizing I was not doing myself any favors eating this way. I remembered my own motto, “The worst way to waste food is to eat it.”
After the meal we had a film and brief lectures on viewing the eclipse.
The next morning we arose at seven and joined the group in the mass production breakfast feeding room, where the bread table was so impressive in different types of breads I took pictures of it. I had a full American breakfast, topped off with a full English breakfast, and polished that off with a Turkish breakfast. After two days of this, once again I came to my senses about breakfasts, and was satisfied eating a few pieces of fruit and bread. A corollary to the wasting food homily above could be “The worst way to get ones money’s worth in a restaurant is to eat as much as possible.”
The rest of the day was about the eclipse, described above.
The day after the eclipse we rose at 5:15, had a buffet breakfast at 6:00 and left at 6:30 for Cappadocia, a six-hour bus trip with a few stops on the way. One of the major stops, the city of Konya, included the burial place of a famous Islamic Imam by the name of Mevlania. Mevlana was one of those people who could have made a huge difference in the world if people had only listened to his teachings more. During this trip we were treated to amazing scenery in the Taurus mountains between the Mediterranean Sea and Cappodocia. We had our first of many pleasant experiences with the delightful Turkish children. Turkish children love to interact with tourists. After persuading the driver to stop for photography at a particular scenic spot near a village backed by a snow capped mountain, we were spotted by young lads, who appeared to be five or six years old. Upon discovering that we were Americans, they raced to the side of the bus to practice their English. They encouraged us to take photos of them.
They were having so much genuine fun with us that I was not sure if I should contaminate this with a coin or not, but I could not resist. They seemed a little puzzled at first when I gave each of them a lira, but that quickly turned to excitement. It did not seem to be a routine experience for them. We had similar experiences with Turkish children everywhere we met them. They wanted interaction with us. They practiced English with the usual questions about age, name, children, etc. One little girl asked Pauline and me if we loved each other and if we were happy. They wanted pictures made with their arms around us. It was a delightful experience.
During the long trip, our Turkish tour guide, Barak, discussed his Muslim religion. Surprisingly, Muslims in Turkey have created and live by a kind of double standard where laws created by a secular government seem completely out of phase with Muslim law. They are happy to enjoy what has been legalized by the government-such as alcohol sales and prostitution-while feeling like devote Muslims. Barak’s knowledge of Christianity was also impressive.
Barak was full of detailed knowledge of the kind you rarely see in guidebooks. He told personalized stories about the history of the region. He also taught us a few Turkish expressions, good morning (gun eiden) and good bye (Allahsmalidick). For the latter he provided a simple way to remember the expression. “Simply say, as fast as possible, ‘ I lost my little dick.’”
We spent the next three nights, Thursday through Saturday, in the mass production tourist Hotel Dedeman outside the town of Nevsihir, in Cappodocia. The hotel, located on a hillside about a mile from town, offered a wide variety of services such as Turkish baths and massages, pools, nightclubs, and shopping mall, all topped off with a beautiful westward sunset view of the town. Most of us ate the buffet and collapsed in bed after such a long day.
The following morning day we visited the rock formations at Cappodocia near the town of Uchisar, named after the castle high on the hill (Uchisar means sharp castle.) Because of layering of volcanic ash in this region, unusual rock formations had left what are known as elf’s chimneys, pointed yellow rocks with a black cap. Because the stone is relatively soft people had carved homes, stores, and even monasteries from them. We stopped at a few different locations where we could leave the bus and walk among the formations.
We had to leave soon, however, to make time for the infamous visit to the ceramics factory. (Mass production tourist venues, like the carpet factory and ceramics factory, appear to be a universal constant in tourism. They exist in many countries. I discuss this generic phenomenon in the appendix below. See "The infamous touristium factory". After spending nearly three hours in the ceramics factory, I counted 18 people entering the bus with bags of ceramics. Judging by a few specific cases, they probably averaged over $500 per bag. Our tour guide told us that the two other buses had spent over $6000 in the ceramics shop. My guess is that our bus beat that number by a goodly amount. One of our guys had wisely elected to use the time to walk around the town.
Entire cities had been constructed in the soft volcanic ash in Cappadocia, at least four of them completely underground. After leaving the ceramics factory we visited one of the underground cities, where we walked and crawled up and down four of the eleven levels that had been carved into the lava. People had lived underground to hide from invaders sometimes up to seven months without coming out.
At that point, Barak had arranged for a few people, who had asked, to visit a “Jewelry Factory”. Fortunately, it was close enough to our hotel that the trip was optional. About half of our group joined in.
For the evening Barak had arranged a visit to see a belly dancer in a nightclub. Pauline and I elected, however, to stay home that night to prepare ourselves for a 4:30 rising the next morning for a balloon flight over Cappadocia. We figured choosing between a night’s rest and loud music and more alcohol was a no brainer at this point.
Saturday morning we arose at 4:30 AM for a sunrise balloon flight over the formations around the Goreme Valley. Our flight launched at 6:30 AM, just before sunrise and landed an hour and a half later, taking us up and down from tree tops to 1700 feet where we enjoyed beautiful views of the mountains, valleys, and the other balloons as well. Pauline shot so many photos from the balloon that she had to change digital memory sticks twice in flight. The trip was topped off with champagne and a flight certificate signed by the pilot.
Back at the hotel, we had fifteen minutes for breakfast before continuing exploration of the rock cities. In one of the areas, near the town of Goreme, we had 40 minutes to walk through some of the rock structures, many of which had a home or tourist shop carved inside it. I took the opportunity to explore deeper into the canyon. At one point I turned and looked through falling apricot blossoms upon one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. If there had been anyway to do it, I would have gladly left the bus and stayed in this one spot the rest of the day.
We had, however, to make time for our mandatory trip to the infamous “Carpet Factory” to “…see local craftsladies at work.” You have never seen high pressure salesmanship until you visit a Turkish Carpet factory. By the end of the trip we speculated with some additional knowledge that people were paying about a factor of two or more for carpets in these places than one could buy in town, if, of course, you knew what you were doing. Some of the hand made silk carpets go for prices above $10,000. They are extremely beautiful. I watched tourists in our group enter the carpet factory without the least idea of buying a carpet. They simply wanted to see the “craftsmen at work”. The same people came out of the factory carrying thousand dollar runners and mats. I was imagining that purchasing one of these carpets would be somewhat like purchasing a hybrid dog. You just have to spend a lot of time taking care of it. At least the carpet wouldn’t chew up your upholstery and chase the neighbor’s cat.
Buying one of these carpets was like buying a car. It came with all kind of authenticity papers, even a document with a hologram on it, guarantees, and photographs, extending the time in the carpet factory to about two and half hours. Since carpet weighs a lot more than money, our bus weighed a lot more after leaving the factory, even taking into account the larger pieces were shipped.
We then had just time to squeeze in a visit to the famous Monasteries at Zelve. Unfortunately, we had used up the better weather part of the day in the carpet factory so we walked in the rain for the first time on the trip. These monasteries included four churches carved out of the stone in the middle ages. They were said to have hosted visits by such dignitaries as St. Peter and St. Paul. We saw her some of the best frescos we had seen in the rock cities. One church, known as the “Dark Church” had especially good frescos that had been restored.
On our last evening in Cappodocia we were treated to a “Whirling Dervish” ceremony in a nearby folk center. Whirling Dervishes are members of a religious group, known as Sufis, created by the Imam, Mevlana. They are said to have mystical powers. In this ceremony about four Dervishes spun around in a circle surrounding the head Dervish, accompanied by music from drums and a stringed instrument. As they spin, one hand is turned upward to collect cosmic energy while the other is turned down to feed it into the earth. In the spinning process the Sufi’s spirit leaves his body and travels into the cosmos. While this ceremony lasted less than an hour, it is said that Whirling Dervishes spin sometimes for days without stopping. Occasionally they pass out and have no recollection of where they were or how long they were spinning. These Sufis appear to be highly respected in the Turkish society.
The bus ride to the capital, Ankara the next morning took about four hours, taking us by the Salt Lake, second in size only to the Great Salt Lake in Utah. After a lunch in the capitol we spent about two hours in one of the greatest archeological museums in the world. We were thrilled to see artifacts from Catal Hoyuk, the oldest city discovered to date, including 8000 year old art works that we had seen before only in art history books. The museum has on display the oldest city plan in existence, a crude map of Catal Hoyuk. Other displays include carved walls of ancient cities and many sculptures covering thousands of years of history.
In mid afternoon we left for Kushadashi, a tourist resort on the sea (It is difficult to spell certain Turkish words because English doesn’t have the needed letters in the alphabet. Turkish has a letter that sounds like sh. Similarly, they don’t have an x, so they substitute ks for x, i.e. Taksi vs. Taxi.) . Arriving at the seaside hotel, Korumar, just before dark, we were given a room with an amazing view of the Aegean Sea. Once again, our hotel was located outside of town, separating us from the locals. Before turning in, I took a walk for about a mile just to the edge of town before heading back to turn in early for a fresh start to the ancient city of Ephesus the next morning.
We were extremely lucky that the harbor was free of cruise ships, this still being the off season. Barak told us that, on a typical summer day, there could be six cruise ships anchored in the harbor, each carrying 5000 to 10,000 tourists, all headed for Ephesus.
An entire tourist industry is built around Ephesus, everyone’s favorite ancient Roman city, with huge high-rise hotels springing up every day to handle the thousands of tourists that want to walk its streets. Considering that Ephesus was wiped out by earthquakes, burned, sacked and pillaged by raiders and covered with dirt for hundreds of years it is in remarkable shape. It took excavators 50 years to uncover the main street. It is said that the city is still only 15% excavated. Over 200,000 people once lived in this thriving trade center.
Walking the main street of Ephesus from one end to the other takes about thirty minutes if you don’t pause anywhere, but a real visit would require at least an entire day or more, especially if you would like to hike to the house of Mary, mother of Jesus. That’s right; St. John and Mary were believed to have moved here after the crucifixion. The library here was second only to the library in Alexandria Egypt.
Medicine was known to be at a very high state in Ephesus with diagnostics and cures that are still not understood today. A few people have hypothesized that if all this knowledge had not been destroyed by the Christians and had been available to build upon, then diseases such as cancer would most likely have been cured hundreds of years ago. Our guide described a process by which the Romans could determine sex of an unborn child from the mother’s urine that was perfected and lost in the destruction of Ephesus.
One of the prize structures of Ephesus was the temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Artemis was worshipped at Ephesus primarily as a god of fertility. Two excellent statues of Artemis survived the destruction of Ephesus and can be seen in the museum, depicting her chest covered with what appears to be multiple breasts. (Some interpretations call these testicles. The actual meaning is still in question.) An interesting story with some historical backing concerns the reason the two statues are in such excellent condition. The temple containing the sculptures contained an eternal flame that was constantly tended and diligently maintained. One day the attendant discovered that the flame had gone out. He immediately removed the sculptures and buried them in a protective chamber. On the following day, a devastating earthquake almost totally destroyed the city. The sculptures remained hidden and protected in this chamber for nearly a thousand years.
A story of the temple of Artemis related by our guide is that the British more or less tricked the local people, who had no idea what the artifacts were worth, into helping load them up and cart them off to England, where they have been reassembled in the British Museum. The Turkish government has made attempts to get the artifacts returned without success.
Being somewhat skeptical of the story, I did a little research and came up with a more likely account. In 1863 the British Museum sent John Turtle Wood, an architect, to search for the temple. It took him nearly seven years just to find the temple only after digging a huge twenty-foot deep test pit. Wood excavated the whole foundation leaving a hole some 300 feet wide and 500 feet long. The remains of some of the sculptured portions were found and shipped the to British Museum where they can be viewed even today.
The English architect saw the locals using artifacts from Ephesus to construct everything from churches to cisterns and was horrified at the thought of where all the remaining material would end up. Many of the columns had already been moved to other places to use as building materials. One only has to visit the city cistern in Istanbul to see valuable artifacts, including two sculptures of Medusa being used in construction. The builders did not even bother to place the Medusa sculptures in the correct orientation when using them as a base. If Wood had not moved the material to England the temple of Artemis would most likely have been lost forever.
Another favorite tourist attraction at Ephesus is the public toilet, which has fifty seats. Men sat around in here conducting business and being entertained for hours. Tourist love having a picture of themselves sitting on one of the toilets. Your would have to realize that the guy in the picture, however, is about to shit his pants, since nobody has the guts to drop his pants for the picture.
We spent three hours walking in Ephesus, with the walk ending at a huge stadium that would have seated about 20,000 spectators. Many gladiators died to the cheers of such crowds. The Ephesus museum, which we visited after leaving Ephesus, had a special exhibit on gladiators, including punctured skulls and sliced bones. But these fights did not always end with a gladiator dying. More often than not, a gladiator was spared to fight again, especially the favorites of the crowds.
From Kushadashi we flew to Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey. With a population of more than 14 million people, Istanbul sprawls across two continents, Europe and Asia and is touched by the Sea of Marmara on the east side and the Black Sea to the North. We spent two full days visiting the major mosques, bazaars, and a boat trip through the Bosphorus, the narrow channel that connects the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea.
Turkey’s national hero, a man named Ataturk was the kind of politician that the world needs more of. His insights and contributions to the country made a huge difference in where the country is today. His foresight has made this a rich and wonderful country, and the people mostly appreciate what he did. There are more things named Ataturk in Turkey than Kennedy in the U.S. In many respects, unlike all other Muslim countries, Turkey is more advanced than the USA.
We had about an hour each in the most famous mosques, the Blue Mosque and the St. Sophia. Both are amazing and beautiful structures. St. Sophia has been both a Christian and Muslim church and is now, owing to the foresight of Ataturk, a museum that celebrates both religions. Christian mosaics that had been plastered over by the Muslims were restored in many walls of the church. This is one of the few places in the world that one can witness artwork honoring both Christian and Muslim figures side by side.
We spent almost an entire day visiting the sprawling Topkapi Palace, including a nice lunch in the Topkapi restaurant. This palace houses some of the most spectacular jewelry displays anywhere in the world. One can see bowls full of 50 carat rubies and several diamonds weighing over 50 carats. One of the largest areas in the complex is the harem quarters. Sultan Ahmet was known to have 580 concubines in his harem. It makes one wonder how he had any time for anything else.
During this visit, I found a half hour’s free time to sit in a courtyard and draw. Within a few minutes, I felt the presence of company, a small lad standing beside me. Finally, when he raised his courage sufficiently to speak to me and discovered that I spoke English, I not only became his best friend, but friend to a dozen of his buddies, all of whom wanted to say something to me in English. My real coup de grace came when I attempted to speak Turkish; they loved it, and each wanted his picture made with his arm around me. I did not get a lot of art work done, but I did make a lot of Turkish friends. Wouldn’t it be nice if they would keep that attitude the rest of their lives?
Shopping in the Grand Bazaar is an experience everyone should try at least once. Housing over six thousand shops under one roof, it is the largest covered bazaar in the Europe. For someone like me, it is extremely difficult to make a purchase there, because as soon as I approach a shop to look at something, I am accosted by a salesman who is determined to sell me something, anything, and right now. If I look at a necklace, he grabs it off the stand and starts to put it around my neck and begins bargaining even before I have had a chance to look. It appeared that anything in the bazaar could be purchased for less than half the first asking price. I purchased a leather wallet, which started at 45 lira. “How much are you willing to pay?” He asked. Since I was not in a rush to buy, I offered 25 and stuck with my price. Eventually, after some haggling he took my offer. I knew I had gone too high.
Pauline had been looking for some Turkish earrings and had asked me to help with the purchase. We struggled to look in spite of the constant interference by sales persons. At one stand an older gentleman began to spread out sets of earrings and we saw a few that were interesting. When Pauline asked the price, he told her fifty lira, about 40 dollars, which we both knew was much too high for these. She told him that she wanted to look at some other styles in other stands and he offered her his card so she could come back.
At that point he persisted with a pair that she had shown interest in by asking her how much she would be willing to pay. She looked at me for advice, so I offered 25, about 20 dollars. I could see that she was a bit surprised I had started so high, since we were guessing this was about what they would cost in the USA. Then the strangest thing happened. Apparently, I had pissed off the old man. He took back his card from her and told her she would not be needing it since my offer was not something he could work with. We left the stand without any further negotiation. This interaction was unlike any I had had yet. I guessed that he just didn’t like Americans and was close enough to retirement that he didn’t really need the sale.
Our favorite bazaar was the spice bazaar. We spent over an hour testing the free samples of Turkish delight and smelling the wonderful spices. In the end we came away with more goods from the spice market than any place we had been so far, including include three types of Saffron, a purse, Turkish delight, and nuts.
The two hour boat trip through the Bosphorus was another real treat. Sitting on large cushions on the top deck of a boat completely taken over by our group, we observed every sort of architecture including mosques, government buildings, hotels, castles, and some of the most expensive residences in Istanbul. The trip took us under two bridges that connect Asia and Europe, first up the European shore and then back along the Asian shore.
The tour was declared officially over Friday at noon after the boat trip. However, in typical tour company style, they go for the last cent that can be squeezed out of the tourists. “At this point the tour is officially over. We can take you back to the hotel, where you have the afternoon to yourself………or, if enough people are interested, we have arranged a special trip to one of the finest churches in Istanbul. Although this visit is not on the tour agenda, it is a must see because of the most complete collection of mosaics……”. and so on. “The cost of the trip will be thirty five dollars per person.”
I think, by this time, the group had caught on to the tour company. Only five people out of the four buses were interested in the extended tour, not enough to justify the excursion. Barak, however, had promised to take us to “the best leather factory in town” if enough people were interested….and for free. About a dozen of us elected to go.
The “Leather Factory” was located about a half mile from the Blue Mosque on a small side street, barely wide enough for the bus to negotiate. The first thing we had to do after entering is wait for half of the group to visit the toilet. Then came the fashion show. To the sound of rock bands and boom, boom, boom, percussion, four different models paraded on a stage before us sequentially, including male and female showing off about twenty different styles of leather coats. Each of us had a scratch card with numbers we could scratch off our favorites for later reference. They spared no cost in displaying their wares. After the show, we were treated to drinks while being lead into a show room. Pauline and I had really liked several of the coats we had seen. I’d say we had been “hooked” at this point.
I had asked Barak if how we should negotiate with these people, and his response was that it wasn’t that kind of place. By this time I had learned to filter Barak’s information through a fairly narrow filter. As a starter, I looked at some wallets and belts like I had already bought and figured that these guys had about a factor of two mark up over the smaller stores. But, of course, they do have a large overhead when you figure that we had just used four models and a narrator for half an hour, not to mention the luxury toilet, drinks, and five salesmen standing around. They began dropping their prices and using the car sale tactics almost immediately. After coming down in price to about the just-exorbitant level, I agreed to buy the coats we liked if they would throw in an eighty-dollar wallet. It took the salesman about a millisecond to shake on the deal. I figured that even if we had overpaid, it wasn’t all bad that were about to contribute to the Turkish economy. Our group left the leather factory a few thousand dollars poorer than we had arrived wearing the “finest leather goods in the world”. The travel company probably made more money off of that trip than they would have in the extended church visit.
We rose early the next morning to catch our Turkish Airlines flight back to New York. Turkish Airlines is a real breath of fresh air after flying American for so many trips. On the equivalent American Airlines trip, one is lucky to get a decent meal and the privilege of buying drinks. Turkish Airlines served two full meals, free drinks at all times and a salad and sandwich snack in between. Even in short flights within Turkey, we had free drinks and meals served plus great on-time service from end to end. I hope they don’t discover what American Airlines gets away with in customer service.
I recognized one of the most obvious advances as a huge opportunity for someone to become a billionaire, simply by transferring it to the USA and other European countries. The unique problem that has to be solved, however, is an acceptable way to advertise and promote the technical advance. The advance is a modern, simple, low cost bidet. I have seen and used bidets in several countries, ranging from simple retrofit plumbing to elaborate, expensive, separate units that take up a lot of floor space. Modern bidets in Turkey are built right into the commode, are self-aligning, require essentially no additional plumbing, and would add only a few dollars to the cost of a commode. Once people finally realize that wiping s**t across ones bottom with a piece of paper is much less elegant than hosing it off automatically, and once they realize how easy it would be to replace their toilet with one of these like every Turkish bathroom has, someone is going to sell a zillion new commodes in the USA alone. But I am still working on a good way to educate people about this that would be politically correct and socially acceptable.
Mass production tourist venues, like the ceramics factory, appear to be a universal constant in tourism. They exist in many countries. Consider the following scenario. A county is known for various products or materials. In the case of Turkey these are ceramics, carpets, leather goods, and, to some extent, jewelry. In Belgium this could be lace, in New Mexico it would be turquoise jewelry, Arizona, Navaho pottery and rugs, and in India, it can be silk saris. For sake of generality let us call the generic product made for mass production tourists touristium. So wherever you run across the word touristium in the following discussion, you can substitute the product such as lace, leather, gold, diamonds, ceramics, carpets, etc.
If you go to the local tourist bazaars, many stores will sell touristium for every conceivable price. A pound of touristium ranges between one and ten thousand dollars because the quality of touristium can vary widely. The best touristium is hand made by craftsmen who use the best quality of materials and the best craftsmen, typically in a family business that has passed on the secrets for ages. Cheaper touristium can be made by using machines, lower basic materials, or even having it made in China. The only way to really know the quality of touristium is to know the dealer, unless of course you happen to be a touristium expert. You may never know how good a deal you got unless you ultimately sell your touristium.
In the bazaars, the dealers start out asking at least twice what they would ultimately accept for a pound of touristium, so it is not easy to get a handle on the cost. Touristium factories are set up primarily to cater to the less sophisticated and perhaps more wealthy tourists. They are usually located in rather remote places, have facilities to handle busloads of tourists, are very elegant inside, and they boast about being government regulated, a place where you are guaranteed not to get screwed (a good reason to guess you probably will be). One good thing about touristium factories is that they always have good restrooms that are free. Your tour guide bills a visit to a touristium factory as an opportunity to see local craftsmen at work. When you arrive there, you are served tea, coffee, and soft drinks, and get instructions about the history, folklore, and manufacture of touristium. They invest a lot in you and you suddenly realize that there is no easy way out of there without buying something.
After the exhibit, a dozen assistants pounce on the spectators and start selling variations of the touristium. These places deal only in the thousand-dollar touristiam. It is extremely hard to determine how much better this is than the five hundred dollar version. I purchased two simple, excellent leather belts in a roadside shop for about $20 each. At the Leather Center” such belts started at $40. How different can a leather belts be? Going into some of these centers was exactly like going into a car dealership. The salesman tells you a price and immediately suggests he can get his manager to offer a better deal if you are really interested because he needs a sale today.
I have not been able to determine if the tour guide gets a percentage of sales or just a fee per busload. This is not to say that these people are not providing a useful service. They may just be saving a hapless tourist from buying crap by selling him something good at a cost that is probably as high as what he could buy in his own country.
The next-level-down touristium dealer has the appearance of an upscale store in town. Salesmen in such stores are quick to tell you they can sell cheaper if you come in on your own. They will guarantee you the highest possible quality and sell considerably cheaper than the “factory” where the tour guide takes you.
Yet another level down is a stall in the bazaar. His touristium looks just like that in the factory and can sell a hundred times cheaper. Finally, guys on the street hawk touristium really cheap. It is almost certainly “made in China.”
In Turkey, the touristium model even applied to the Turkish delight, a local candy and apple tea. Our tour guide got himself into the act by passing around a box and claiming it was superior to what you see in most stores. He offered apple tea for five dollars a box and a 100-gram box of Turkish delight for six. People on our bus bought about thirty boxes. The highest quality Turkish delight and teas could be purchased in a local candy store for half that price.
One can look upon this as charging for a service people want, even simplifying the operation by dealing in dollars. However, these people come to trust the guide when in fact he is simply another cog in the sales machine with his own conflicts of interest. I would have considered it much more professional for Barak to take the bus load of people to a legitimate candy store where they can buy Turkish Delight from a candy dealer, and not become a candy dealer himself. I found buying my own candy and tea from one of the local stores to be a delightful experience.