28th November, 2012
Tel Aviv to Istanbul to Ankara
For all photos for 27th November, click here to view them on my dropbox site. If you don’t have Dropbox, use this link to sign up and you and I will both get a bonus amount of free storage space.
We were up very early this morning, waking at 3am to be ready to have our luggage on the bus by 3:45am, to be on the bus and going at 4:15am. We drove through the dark for about two hours. I slept a little, wrote a little, and spent some time in conversation with Gila and Rosemary – mainly about the politics of the region and about Turkey and about the Christian heritage of Turkey. I asked Gila about the possibility of conducting a joint Jewish Catholic Muslim pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and she was quite positive, saying she had done this before for a group from Russia. She is confident that while there would be significant difficulties, most of these could be handled, as long as the tour leaders were sensitive and ready to understand that at some points the Muslim members of the group would take longer to process in security checks. But if they have foreign (eg. Australian, British or American) passports, there would be no serious obstacle, she thought. There would be no problem with such a group visiting the temple mount, although only the Muslims would be able to enter the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Gila has a very good website, which I looked up last night before going to sleep: www.itsgila.com. Check it out.
We arrived at the airport about 6:30am just as the sun was coming up. I gave the vote of thanks to Gila and Abed (giving them the copies of Kairos I had meant to give to Habib in Nazareth). We farewelled Abed after he had unpacked our cases, and Gila shepherded us inside to the security check line, giving us clear instructions about what would happen, where we would be asked to go, and what we should say and do and not say or do. The process can be quite daunting, I am told, as there are a series of checks, but the airport was not very busy – perhaps a combination of the morning hour and the reduction in tourists at this time. It is easier too going in through as a group with a recognised tour guide. There are random checks all along the way. After my luggage went through the x-ray, I was one of those randomly selected for a further questioning. Although I did not have to open my suitcase, I was asked how many shoes I had, and whether I had bought these in Israel or brought them with me. After simply answering these questions, my bag got the required sticker of approval and I moved on to the check in stage. My case came in at 19kg (a good thing, I thought, that they didn’t weigh my backpack). We went through customs, put our carry on luggage through the x-ray scanner, one final check of our passports and boarding pass and we were finally on the other side at 7:30am. We spent our last shekels on breakfast, I bought some fridge magnets for our collection at home, and then went up to the departure lounge to write up yesterday’s diary. The plane boarded on time, and we left promptly for Istanbul.
The flight was just over two hours, and on the way we received “breakfast” – a roll, a piece of cheese, a slice of meat and a slice of tomato – hardly a snack really given we had had little substantial since we left Ma’agan (and even then, “breakfast” was just tea and cake). Coming in to Istanbul, we circled for a good while, giving Versi and me a good view of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque on the Golden Horn.
The Istanbul changeover started off easily enough with no queues to speak of, but after paying our US$60 in cash for our visa, we missed the line up for the passport check, which, when we found it, had developed a queue the size and variety of the whole of the United Nations. There was one line for Turkish citizens with about 6 processing stations, and then there was one line for everyone else also with six processing stations. No more than two or three Turks were in their line, while hundreds of us were crammed into the winding line for the rest. Meanwhile the time for boarding our connecting flight in the domestic terminal was drawing ever closer. After being in the queue for about twenty minutes, someone decided to open the Turkish processing stations for the rest of us, and things moved much faster. I had time to duck into the duty free shop for another bottle of whisky for the next leg of the trip, and then we had to make a dash for it to the other end of the airport to the domestic terminal, to gate 402! We had to go through another screening check (off with the coat, the hat, the bum bag, out with the computer and the liquids etc. etc., and then all back on again) and arrived at the gate just moments before the boarding began. Our new guide for Turkey, Hakan, met us and another tour member joined us (Diana) and we were on our way onto the plane for Ankara. As soon as I sat down on the plane, I fell asleep.
I was woken by the voice of the captain, and was thinking “Hullo, we are here already and I have slept right through it”, but in fact we were still on the tarmac and the captain was just announcing that there would be a 25 minute delay before take off. The flight took us over the Sea of Nicea (I had a very good view of Iznik/Nicea from the window) and in the distance were the snow covered mountains near Bursa (which I had visited back in 2007). We arrived in Ankara a little later than expect, but were greeted with a coach which was of limousine proportions compared to what we had been travelling in before. Abed must lie awake at night dreaming of driving a bus like this. It was at least twice as big as we needed, as everyone had a seat to themselves. It had two doors, a fridge at the back, and wide window that would enable good photography. The bus and the driver, Bilgin, will see us all the way to Izmir sometime at the end of next week. Bilgin had an early opportunity to display his talents to us. He had to get us as quickly as possible to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations as the closing time for the museum was close approaching. We drove through a growing and fresh looking city. I expect this. Turkey’s economy is doing okay, and Ankara is a relatively new city, purposely developed as the capital of Turkey ( like Washington DC, Brazilia and Canberra). What I didn’t expect was to find a wonderfully preserved area of traditional housing and shops in the Old City of Ankara, which is where the Museum is located. I would love to come back to explore these little winding alleyways and exotic shops one day, but there will not be time on this trip as we are leaving early again for Cappadocia in the morning (we have 8 places to visit and 400km to cover tomorrow!). Bilgin demonstrated his skill in negotiating these narrow winding hilly streets. I believe this man could drive the proverbial camel through the eye of a needle.
Hakan then had the opportunity to demonstrate his expertise to us as he introduced us to the artwork and relics of the ancient Anatolian civilisations dating back to the very beginning. See the photos for some examples. The women in the group seemed especially taken by the artifacts of the worship of the earth goddess, the Great Mother. I don’t know why – they seem to think that this must have been a good thing. This isn’t the place to discuss theology (not today and not at this hour) but it is my conviction that had the Mother goddess religion survived, the development of monotheism would not have been possible. There were other treasures here too, including some golden jewellery found at the Troy site (which I also visited in 2007), which have been in the possession of the United States until very recently. There are very many stunning bass relief carvings on stone also.
When we left the Museum, Hakan took us on the bus around to see the monumental monument to Ataturk himself. There is something overwhelming about the size of this tomb, and makes one wonder (not for the first time) about the status of Ataturk in the Turkish psyche. Hakan told us that his father was in the military, so I must quiz him about this experience and about his own religious position.
We were then taken to our hotel, the Hotel Ickale, which is not far from the old city, but in the newer downtown area. This really is a very nice hotel, and yes, it has free wifi in the rooms. But I have to go out on the balcony outside my room if I wish to smoke. It is quite cold outside – I would say about 9 degrees Celsius – so I am working inside at the moment. Tea was delicious (great soup – I have been looking forward to this – and wonderful deserts). We had “Angora” red wine, and it didn’t taste in the least bit hairy. (Ankara is the origin of the Angora goats). After dinner we went for a short walk up the street to negotiate with the ATM to give us some Turkish Lira.
It is time for bed now. I am completely worn out and we have a 6am start in the morning. We also are moving on to a new hotel. Pity, I would have liked to have stayed here and in Ankara for a bit longer.