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Kappadokya

Kappadokya looks like a lunar smurf village. Biblical and space-age. In fact, part of a Star Wars was filmed there. In Central Anatolia, Turkey, it deserves as much press as the Grand Canyon, though not many Americans know about it.

Surreal “fairy chimney” rock formations were formed when volcanoes erupted, leaving ash, lava and basalt that eroded unevenly.

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Assyrians, Hittites, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks and others have lived in or occupied Kappadokya.

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Various peoples have LIVED in caves carved out of the soft stone for hundreds of years.

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Byzantine monks lived in carved monastaries in the rock formations and in the cliffs. We walked into rock-cut monastaries mimicking barrel vaulted structures. They’re painted with amazing Byzantine murals.

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Unfortunately, some of them have been defaced recently by vandals and religious zealots who often scratch out the eyes.

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The cave interiors are truly Flintstonian, with “built in” cabinetry — carved niches to hold foodstuffs, and carved areas for stomping grapes for wine. Carved tandoori ovens in the floor and long benches for feasts too.

Within the last fifty years, the Turkish government forced everyone out of the caves because the stone was occasionally collapsing, and was a hazard. Many of them now live in villages, like the one where we saw this youth hostel:

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We had the most luscious candy-like apricots ever that day. Turkish apricots are truly the best. We also saw apricots drying on rooftops of the village — the flies buzzing around them convinced us fresh was definitely better.

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Chickens!

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Some of the locals live in more luxury in some modern homes that look uniquely Turkish.

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We stayed in a cave hotel that was originally a private home. The rooms of the 150 year old hotel were actually carved into the rock, so our room was a cave. Our suite was “Anka’s Lair.”

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Oz and Endam’s wedding

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All Turkish wedding ceremonies are civil ceremonies and take place in government buildings. Oz’s ceremony guests (all 500 of them) waited outside the building, along with the guests of other weddings. When it was time for the wedding, Oz and Endam’s names appeared on a readerboard letting us know it was time to enter the theater-like ceremony room. At the front of the room is a long, governmental-looking desk where the judge, the couple, and their 3 witnesses sit under a painting of Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey. My Dad was one of the witnesses that day. He got a round of applause for saying the only Turkish word he knows “Evet” for Yes, when it is his turn. It was very sweet. The ceremony took about 15 minutes.

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The flowers took a very different form than they do in the US. They come on a sort of sign-post, and contain the name of the giver. If you can’t make it to the wedding, you send one of these. Companies that Oz and Endam had worked at also sent them.

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The reception was at a health/country club. The club was festooned with bright oranges, yellows and greens. The bride looked beautiful and wore a western gown, and the couple took lots of glamour shots before joining dinner. When they made their appearance, it was after we took in a video containing childhood photos set to dramatic Turkish music. They had a pyrotechnics budget! Small fireworks went off beside the pool while the couple walked the length of it.

After food and raki, the Turkish dancing started. Their live band was playing some old fashioned Turkish music and some gypsy and Kurd music as well. We got up to dance with everyone, looked foolish, and had a great time. There was bellydancing, but not by me. I scuffed my Ferragamos.

Dusty Springfield for a day

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Ozgur and his family arranged for my family to have our hair professionally styled on the morning of his wedding. While the men went to have their ear-hair burnt out with flaming menthol-coated cotton balls, Oz’s mother led me, my mother and sister to a women’s salon about a block away from their apartment. She left us with four male hairstylists who spoke no English. I gestured “up!, no, up! Up!” to indicate “up-do” and hoped for the best.

A shy adolescent boy washed my hair with stiff fingers in a simultaneously creepy and sweet way. An assistant dried my hair while the lead stylist was brushing/styling. The queeny lead stylist snapped his fingers for immediate shut-down/start-up of the dryer. Hairspray and B.O. filled the air as several cans were dramatically applied to my head. Empty cans were hurled at assistants at random. My longish hair was theatrically teased till it looked like a mushroom cloud above my head. In the mirror, my sister wore a pained expression and looked like Diana Ross.

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Ultimately, I was fairly happy with my rock-hard pearl-encrusted French-twist hairstyle. Brittany was less thrilled with her poufy bob. But Jason was the real star. When we returned to the apartment, he stepped out sporting a spiky oily David Beckham-hedgehog hybrid. It was amazing and frightening. It even changed his personality a little.

Istanbul

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Istanbul is beautiful with lots of red roofs and minarets everywhere. We stayed at the Anemon Galata, a charming older hotel which has been boutique-ified. It’s on one of the “7 hills of Istanbul,” and by Galata tower, which was created by the Genoans during their occupation of part of the city.

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Our hotel was on the western side of the Istanbul — the side that is part of Europe. Mehmet and Fuson, Oz’s parents, live on the eastern side, which is part of Asia. Istanbul straddles the two continents, and has a European side and an Asian side. The freeway sign says “Welcome to Asia.” One day we took a boat tour of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus River, which divides Europe and Asia. The sights were amazing, but the photographs weren’t. From the boat, we were able to see all the major large mosques including Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque as well as structures such as an art nouveau mansion serving as the Egyptian Embassy.

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Our friends were very hospitable. We had many wonderful meals made by Fuson, Ozgur and Pinar’s mother (with the occasional meatball made by Mehmet, their father). We ate kebabs, cucumbers, aubergines, tomatos, Anatolian honey, sour cherries, a ubiquitous white cheese, and Raki (Turkey’s answer to Ouzo) on a daily basis.

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Dinner with Oz’s family on the eve of his wedding was truly special. There must have been at least 25-30 of his family members crammed into their living room that evening for the big feast.

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I snuck a photo of this niche in a room of Topkapi palace. The inverse geometric forms are just gorgeous to me — simple and modern, evocative of Buckminster Fullerian geometry. And the stark white is a nice foil to some of the elaborate painting, tiling, typography, etc.

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This is the beautiful “Tree of Life” pattern.

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Which happened to be on the outside wall of this special room:

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After leaving Topkapi Palace we happened to see a child on the street dressed in a fancy white dress-like garment and white pointy cap. We later learned that this unfortunate child was wearing his “circumcission outfit” for his “special ceremony” that day. Apparently kids are circumcised at age 5 up to age 8. So they actually REMEMBER it.

After the Circumcission Room, we saw some more amazing tiles. I didn’t read up on it, but Turkey obviously has an amazing tile and pattern tradition. You can see the mix of Eastern and Western motifs in the tiles and other ornamental elements of the palace.

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Ozgur’s friend Sebil was our tour guide for a day.

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She took us to the Blue Mosque.

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After that we walked to Aya Sophia.

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I’d wanted to see Aya Sophia for years. The forms are such an amazing combination of East and West.

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There was a contemporary tile design exhibit on at Aya Sophia, including this one by Zaha Hadid:

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Magic towels were procured at the Grand Bazaar.

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