Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Hoscakal Turkiye (Goodbye Turkey)

Talk about a contrast from the norm…

This morning, I woke up in my hotel bed, with its crisp, white clean sheets, freshly laundered each day. I turned the light on … and it worked. And so too did the toilet and the taps, and there was even hot water, too.

I did all the usual bits and pieces, and then wandered down to the hotel restaurant, where I had a fantastic breakfast of three different types of cheeses, four different types of marinated olives, five different types of bread and tomato, cold meat, HONEYCOMB(!!!), scrambled eggs and, the piece de resistance, the wonderful, donut-shaped Turkish ekmek (bread), with it’s fluffy white interior encased in a crust of sesame seeds. All this was washed down with three cups of the most wonderful, thick, black coffee, all served with a smile from the hotel staff. F’n fantastic!

I then wrapped myself up, and set out into the refreshing, sunny chill of Izmir, and wandered with the citizens as they made their way to work, along beautiful, clean, tree-lined streets, on smooth, paved walkways.

The chill air electrified my every step as I made my way to the Old Bazaar. In this enchanting, cobbled street, I meandered beneath the canopy of vines as the vendors set-up their shops for the day. Amongst the bustle, I saw the centuries-old processes of laying out the fish on wooden slabs, marinating barrels and barrels of hundreds and hundreds of different, dark and juicy olives. I was comforted by the homely smell of slabs and slabs of goats’ cheese lying beneath fragrant olive oil in huge vats, and was dazzled by the vibrant greens, reds, yellows and oranges of the fruit and vegetable stalls.

I laughed with the butchers as they delighted in an age-old game which, although occurring on a daily basis, perhaps for hundreds of years, they still enjoy. While executing their grisly work at their benches, they would keep a watchful eye out for the many alley-cats who would come creeping up to the door in the hope of stealing a meaty morsel, only to be sent scampering into the street as the burley men let fly with a projectile of old bone which was always sitting close to hand.

I pressed on, and while passing a side street, some heavy-looking, oddly stacked stones sitting on a large, open expanse caught my attention, so I detoured left to investigate. I soon found myself staggering, wide-eyed with awe, through the catacombs of the Smyrna Agora; the oldest agora (Greek market) in the world, founded and built by Alexander the Great, and later extended by the Romans and Byzantines. The ancient, arched walkways which honeycomb beneath the open expanse of ground above are slowly being excavated, and for less than AU$2, I was allowed to wander through, completely alone and unmolested as the sun began to rise high enough to cast ghostly shafts of light down, through the fog and into through the various holes in the massive stones of the vaulted ceilings high overhead.

Invigorated from my brief encounter with these once magnificent, and incredibly advanced civilizations, I retraced my steps to the bazaar, and soon entered the closeness of the more frenzied, older streets. As I picked my way past steaming hot nuts, trinkets and sparkling jewellery, I heard a wailing overhead, and raised my eyes to an opening in the canvas which was stretched across the alley to protect the vendors from the weather. There, towering above, were the massive, arched windows and imposing grey dome of a late 18th century mosque, so large that it felt like I could reach up and touch it. And from the pointed, Rapunzel-like minaret, I saw the Imam melodically calling his faithful to prayer, as his ancestors had done for centuries.

I smiled ironically at my own prejudices as I watched two imposing, tough-looking young men greet each other with a hand-shake and then two rough, un-shaven kisses on each others cheeks, and all around me, I heard the laughs and shouts, and felt the warmth from the smiles and nods of Izmir’s citizens.

Time was ticking, and I had a plane to catch. I set-off beneath ornate, wrought iron, Ottoman balconies and passed through the remaining arches of the city’s imposing, ancient stone walls, heading for the harbour. Here I heard the hubbub of harsh, guttural chatter from hundreds of happy Turks enjoying thick, Turksih coffee at tables along the waterfront.

On my way to the hotel, I stopped off for a final indulgence at a small, glass booth, where a man, cigarette sticking out the side of his thin lips, placed some steaming-hot lamb, fresh tomato, lettuce, onion and chilli sauce onto some wonderfully smelling pide and wrapped it all up into the most portable, tastiest snack in the known world. My Doner Kabap was the last in an infinite collection of fond memories gained over the previous ten days.

Goodbye Turkey … until next time … I will surely miss you.

The remarkable, encanting arches of the Smyrna Agora - an auspicious find for a curious Donkey. Pics: www.fakkw.uni-paderborn.de and www.ntimages.com respectively.


Anonymous said...

Hey there Traveling-Jake. No more pixx of Turkey?

DonkeyBlog said...

Naaaah ... unforunately Donkey's yet to enter the age of digital photography. Y'know, us old nags don't like to jump too quickly into these new-fangled ideas ... hence my first viewing of a Blog in July 2006! Maybe next year, eh?

murph said...

You don't need more photographs. Your story paints a much more beautiful picture.

Excellent writing donkey! I really enjoyed reading it and it's like I was there in that market, smelling those aromas, and hearing those sounds....and I want a doner kebab....NOW!!!