Walking into Turkey was like paddling in warm water. The friendliness of the people, everyone, all of them, wherever we went, was like smiling kisses on cheeks. They were kind, helpful and welcoming.
We wended our way, taking little local buses to Goreme in Cappodocia then south along the coast, then north up to Istanbul, stopping in small seaside villages as well as some major towns along the route. The drivers were always willing to suggest places we should stop to explore. I had learned a little, simple conversational Turkish, which bloomed appreciative smiles and comforted me later on my return to some of London’s Turkish restaurants in nostalgic cravings.
Goreme is an ancient town built in volcanic rock formations — now a National Park and World Heritage site. Churches, caves and dwellings were within the “Fairy Chimneys” from 2000 BC, sheltering and hiding early Christian escapees from the Romans, among others throughout the ages. Perhaps it was the school holidays, but we were delighted when a young boy attached himself to us and started talking about what we were seeing as we were walking through. That is one of the warm gentilities of exploring less visited areas. He explained and answered questions pertinently in simple English. We made our way to a little tea house he had recommended for lunch and thanked him with happy remuneration. I am confident that forty years on, he is the CEO of a very successful tour guide company for the area!
Pamukkale in the southwest was a definite destination. Travertine terraces of sedimentary rock formed by underground volcanic activity produce hot springs resulting in pale calming blue pools and hanging limestone walls — they are moonscape magical. For centuries, people have gone to Pamukkale to bathe away their ailments as well as refresh their souls in the wonderment of serenity.
The story of how we got to Pamukkale is a wonderment all its own. One day we stopped for lunch at a small roadside tea house near Pamukkale. Often these little, ten table, open cafes, though situated near bus stops are ostensibly a gathering spot for men in the village. Here they can monitor the comings and goings of the town and the activities and safety of its residents.
The owner was highly educated with excellent English and great pride in the democratically elected, secular Turkish culture and political system introduced by Kemal Ataturk, regarded as the founder of modern Turkey. Ataturk gave women equal civil and political rights; ordered free and compulsory primary education for all children; eliminated the Arabic script and adopted western script in attempts to connect to the modern western world. And all this in 1923, proudly before many in other “western” nations had these rights. We had an interesting, eye-opening discussion with the gentlemen who highly recommended we visit the pools at Pamukkale.
It was getting late so we asked where there was a hotel, inn or B&B nearby that we could stay for the night. Without hesitation, our host offered his home. Shoeless, we were invited into the house and shown to our separate rooms.
It was Ramadan so we were woken by drumbeats and the Mullah calling all to rise before dawn to eat. We were given a simple breakfast of bread, white cheese, olives, tomatoes, boiled eggs and of course black tea. What a splendid and healthy way to begin the day! I will never forget our host’s kindness and this exemplar of true Islamic hospitality.