Arrival – Istanbul
We arrive Istanbul Airport at 6:00 p.m. aboard Turkish Airlines (which has granted our wish for bulkhead seats, proving a boon to our 12-hr. flight). Having chatted with a Turkish woman and her American husband aboard the flight, we are whisked through Immigration as her “guests” saving us standing in long lines. We change money and grab a cab to head to the apt. we will be occupying on the Asian side of Istanbul, courtesy of my Turkish friend Tulin’s connections.
The driver soon realizes that in Istanbul’s always terrible traffic it would take us at least four hours to get to the apartment by car so he calls our host family who agree that he would be wise to drop us at the ferry to cross the Bosphorus; we can catch another cab on the other side. So off we go, schlepping too much luggage, to figure out how to buy the jeton (tokens) that will allow us onboard the large ferry along with masses of others trying to squeeze over the plank. We make it, hail another cab, and arrive at our apartment at 10:00 p.m. There we meet Pelin, daughter of Tulin’s best friend, who cheerfully takes us to her mother’s large, modern, vacant 9th floor apartment overlooking the Bosphorus where we will spend the next five nights.
Day One – Buyukada Island
In the morning, armed with a map and Pelin’s instructions, we stop at a café for coffee before boarding a Dolmus (pronounced ‘dulmush’) – a kind of Jitney van that stops along the way collecting and dispersing passengers for $1.50 a ride. At the marina, we board a ferry bound for Buyukada, largest of the three Princess Islands near Istanbul.
On board we befriend three energetic, stylish Turkish women my age who are off for a day’s outing. One of them is an ‘Advocat’ (lawyer) specializing in women’s rights so within minutes we are a high-fiving sisterhood! We take pictures, make ourselves understood in French (they don’t speak English, we don’t speak Turkish) and have a gay old time during the ride.
The view from Buyakada
The island is a peaceful if somewhat touristy place to which many locals escape when the madness of Istanbul is more than they can bear. Noted for its horse-drawn carriages, its mountaintop monastery, its colonial architecture and the fact that Leon Trotsky lived there while in exile it is a charming place to spend an afternoon, especially if you crave some of Istanbul’s noted seafood. We quickly find an appealing restaurant at the marina and feast on mezze (Turkish appetizers, like Tapas) and Palmut fish (recommended by our ferry friends) before setting off to find Trotsky’s house (now an apartment building) and taking a carriage ride to the Monastery, which it turns out, sits atop a high hill too foreboding to climb. We return to the main square where I buy a lovely necklace from a street vendor ( $7) and board the ferry to return home. That evening we have a happy informal dinner at Pelin and Mehmet’s apartment on the first floor of “our” building. We’re joined by Pelin’s brother, his wife, mother-in-law, and young baby daughter along with Pelin’s and Mehmet’s two adorable daughters, Melis and Ekin, ages 3 and 6. The festive, chaotic family atmosphere is a special treat and by the end of the evening we feel like Turkish mishpooka (Yiddish: family) ourselves!
Melis, Ekin and their little cousin
Day Two – Istanbul’s Mosques and Main Sights
Again we hail a Dolmus for the ferry marina. The half hour trip across the Bosphorus is a special treat; the cool breeze is welcome and so is the magnificent view of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia as we near the bustling European side of the Bosphorus near Galata Bridge where street vendors sell everything from roasted nuts, simit (Turkish bagels) and cold drinks to trinkets and tours. Called Eminou, this is the heart of the old city of Istanbul; from here you can walk to the Spice market, the Grand Bazaar – oldest and largest indoor bazaar in the world with 60 streets and over 3000 shops – the famous mosques, the Roman cistern, and Topkapi Palace. It teems with people at every hour, ferries ply the Bosphorus like water bugs moving purposefully to and fro, men fish off the bridge, endless restaurants line the lower quay.
Mosque landscape from the Bosphorus ferry
We make for the Spice Market first where we buy a few souvenirs, then head to the Grand Bazaar where we add to the Turkish economy by way of a Kilim rug purchase for my office (which I bargain well for). Then, after a lovely lunch of lamb stew, we visit the famous 17th C. Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, constructed by Emperor Justinian in 537 and now a museum, both so extraordinary in their dimensions, history and art.
Tired by then, we head back to Bostanci (our lovely, quite upscale neighborhood which some compare to Paris). A quick stop at Migros, Turkey’s national food market, and we’re home for the evening with cheese, salami, bread, salad, olives, of course and wine for supper just as the city’s lights are coming on.
Day Three – A Bosphorus Boat Trip and Topkapi Palace
We do the Dolmus/Ferry routine and board a boat at Eminou for a two-hour trip up the Bosphorus and back. It’s a lovely journey on which we see old mansions, a naval academy, a historic fort, Istanbul’s two major modern bridges, the inviting Ortokoy waterfront with its five-star hotels, old mosque, and more. When we return we head for the famous Fish Market where we avoid the plethora of tourist restaurants on Kumkapi and lunch on gorgeous sea bass at the one waterfront market/restaurant which does not hassle us to eat there. Then we’re off to Topkapi Palace and its huge complex of buildings, only a few of which we visit. Topkapi, built in the 15th C., was the official headquarters of the Ottoman for almost 380 years until that distinction diverted to Dolmabachc Palace, which we pass daily on our ferry excursions.
We have dinner out with Pelin and Mehmet overlooking the Bosphorus, once again gorging ourselves on mezze and fresh seafood washed down by excellent white wine, and call it a day.
Day Four – More of Istanbul, Then and Now
Today it’s Suliman the Magnificent Mosque. On our way there, we make a serendipitous stop in a local neighborhood where people are busy doing their weekend shopping. There are stalls selling wooden items like carving boards and rolling pins, others with copious kitchen wares, still others with clothing and cloth, hammocks, trinkets for tourists who happen this way, and more. We stop for coffee but watching the small outdoor café owner making pide we can’t resist. That’s when we realize how much we love the thin crusted, beautifully seasoned version of pizza found throughout Turkey. It is an often to be repeated treat.
After visiting the mosque noted for its size/dimensions and domed centerpiece, we take a tram and then an underground funicular to Karim Square, heart of the artistic Beyoglu neighborhood of Istanbul noted for the Galata Tower (originally a prison) as well as a museum explaining the religious group famed for Whirling Dervishes started by the poet Rumi. In the square we enjoy an Efes beer and a fabulous Gyro bought from one of the many street vendors. It’s amazing to watch how they roast the lamb or chicken on a spit, continually shaving off the cooked outer layer. Then we board the old trolley that plies the main walking/shopping street and head for the Petras Palace Hotel, a landmark 5-Star Old World hostel famous as the end point frequented by passengers disembarking from the Orient Express, including famous writers like Agatha Christie. Her room was once open to visitors upon request so I pull out my press card, but alas the room is now rented like any ordinary room so I settle for an expensive pastry in the hotel’s notable tea room before we head home for another picnic dinner accompanied by very decent Turkish wine. We watch Aljazeera News before falling, exhausted again, into bed.
Days Five to Seven – Bergama and Kusadasi
Mehmet has kindly booked us a better rental car with his corporate discount (a blessing we quickly appreciate as our travels proceed) so after farewell hugs we make our way to the ferry that will cross the Marmara Sea and set us on our path to Tulin’s apartment in Kusadasi.
Our first stop is a small town where we discover a great little café for a lunch of home-cooked eggplant mousaka with thick yoghurt; it quickly becomes one of my favorite Turkish meals. No one in the restaurant, or the town as it turns out, speaks a word of English and we are something of a curiosity but we get along fine – until we try to buy a SIM card for my Thai cell phone which works here. (Only later after running out of minutes after three local calls do we realize that our calls are being routed via Thailand!) In the Turkcel office (Turkcel is the largest cell phone carrier in Turkey) our passports are perused with the utmost scrutiny, each and every visa entry a curiosity. Then I am asked the names of my mother and father. I try to explain that they are dead so in this context irrelevant but they persist so I say “Rebecca” and “Jacob” and this satisfies them. (I suspect I could have said Mata Hari and Santa Claus, rules are rules.) We have our SIM card, useless though it proves to be.
We stop for the night in Bergama, a lovely little town also called Pergamum, which was once a major power in the world both B.C. and A.D. It’s most dramatic remains are at the Acropolis that sits atop an impressive hill reached by car or by gondola (we drive up). There are temple and theater remnants and the ruins of a famous library which rivaled that of Alexandria, Egypt. When the Egyptians denied papyrus to Pergamum the locals developed parchment and were the first to bind books as we do today. In 41 B.C. Mark Anthony had the Pergamum library transported to Alexandria as a gift for Cleopatra and sadly, it was destroyed later by a fanatical ruler who thought the books un-Islamic.
We stay in a lovely boutique hotel, Les Pergamon, a lovingly restored former school and in the morning make for Kusadasi. Tulin’s directions leave a bit to be desired – a running joke now – but we manage to find her apartment complex and she greets us with a broad grin as we arrive. Kusadasi is an inviting beach destination on the Aegean and Tulin’s apartment has a delicious view of the sea just below her 3rd floor apt. We catch up on her patio and await the arrival of our old friend Yavuz and his wife Aythen who arrive at their nearby hotel from Bursa shortly after we do. We walk to the hotel and there, after 47 years, are reunited. (Yavuz and I first met in Europe while traveling in the summer of 1965; we then reconnected when he and Tulin were students at the University of Washington in Seattle.) I find him virtually unchanged and he says the same of me. We have cocktails at the hotel and then return to Tulin’s for dinner.
In the morning we pile into Yavuz’s SUV and head for nearby Ephesus, one of the must-see sights in Turkey. “City of the Gods,” it is a sight to behold. As Fodor’s guide puts it, “One would think that the greatest Roman ruins are to be found in Italy. Not so fast! With an ancient arena that dwarfs the one in Pompei, and a lofty library that rivals any structure in the Roman Forum, Ephesus – once the most important Greco-Roman city of the Eastern Mediterranean – is among the best preserved ancient sites in the world.” Here, shrines honor the goddess of fertility, St. Paul and Alexander the Great wandered the streets, and, if the legend is true, the Virgin Mary lived her last days. Filled with temples, theaters, shops and homes, a stadium and more, Ephesus also boasted what must have been its own Rodeo Drive with mosaic sidewalks, along with a brothel and western-style group toilets! Even for those of us who find ancient ruins a bit of a trial, it being impossible to wrap our brains around such antiquity, Ephesus is one Wow place.
Just one Ephesus marvel
We make a quick visit to the house of the Virgin Mary, who is said to have come there with St. John, then make for the village of Sirince, which is becoming noted for its wine and fine handicrafts. We buy a unique cloth beautifully embroidered with thin ribbons for a ridiculous $12 and then take Fodor’s advice, lunching at the Arsipel Restaurant. The meal is stunningly good; probably the best we had anywhere in Turkey, and the ambience on the terraced veranda is perfect. A wonderful end to a terrific few days with old friends who promise to let us reciprocate their hospitality next year in the U.S.
Day Eight – Bodrum
Bodrum is a beach town and we are ready for a rest. We find our way to the marina and the Otel Albatros, a small, friendly place, where we have a long rest before venturing out for seafood dinner. Bohemian artists, writers and painters put this place on the map in the 1960s and now it is a typically bustling tourist town. It would have been nice to spend time in some of the smaller towns and villages on the peninsula it dominates, and to have had real beach time on the Mediterranean “Turquoise Riviera,” but alas, we have not planned for that so the next day we push on to Pamukkale.
Day Nine – Pamukkale
The topography of Turkey as we drive around reminds me a bit of Spain. It is, at least in this October season, brown and dry, with low-lying and higher mountains surrounding vast landscapes of valley and plain. The vistas are impressively huge, and one gets a sense of how big a country Turkey is. The mountains are for the most part barren with only a few of them sprouting bursts of green shrub, so that it looks like an epidemic of alopecia has taken over the countryside. Happily the roads are good (and seemingly under constant improvement or repair) and we are able to drive on average five hours a day. (Our Ford has six gears and behaves admirably.) Sometimes we come upon one of Turkey’s huge cities in the distance and their size, sprawl and density amaze me. Places like Izmir, Ankara, Bursa, Konya, and of course Istanbul creep up and down every hill and mountainside in breathtaking conquest. Arnold says it is the wide vistas that render them so awesome. Whatever, I am stunned by their size and very glad I don’t live in one of them.
Approaching Pamukkale, we stop for a buffet lunch at a tourist restaurant at the entrance to town, then avoiding the hawkers, look for a place to spend the night. We are delighted to find the Melrose House Hotel, a small family run place that offers the traditional Turkish hospitality we have come to enjoy wherever we’ve been. Checked into our comfortable room, we make for the famed crystallized terrines – turquoise pools of mineral-rich volcanic spring water that formed over time by cascading over basins and natural terraces. Chalky white solidified cliffs look like white curtains flowing down into the town 330 feet below. There are 17 hot springs at Pamukkale; visitors come to cure a variety of ailments. I dip my feet; it is lovely and inviting.
We return to Melrose House for a home-cooked meal on the open air terrace by the pool and retire early. These days of long driving and lots of sights are tiring!
Days Ten & Eleven – Onward
Today, on the recommendation of our hosts at Melrose House, we stop to eat lunch at the lake town of Egirdir, specifically on a little island in the lake called Ada which is reached by a short causeway. But first, we visit the bustling local market. There are no signs of trinkets for tourists; this is a real market where people come to buy what they need. To that end, Arnold purchases a beautiful leather belt for $5 and I buy an Evil Eye keychain for 60 cents. But the real treat is meandering around the foods and spices on offer. Huge rounds of various cheeses line one stall, in another more varieties of olives than we’ve ever seen in our lives are on display. (The merchant gives us lots to taste.) There are women in hijab selling fruits and vegetables, meat and seafood, spices and sweets (including Turkish Delight), and more. There are baby chicks died blue, green, and red for sale, presumably to the delight of children. There are cloth and clothing stalls, kitchen wares, drug store items. It is, like all wonderful local markets, colorful, loud, crowded, and great fun.
Olives, olives and more olives!
When we’ve had enough we head for Ada and find a nice open-air restaurant by the lake that appears to cater to locals. The young waiter seems never to have talked to a foreigner; when we ask for mezze he doesn’t understand. We repeat the word in various iterations and finally he nods his head vigorously, but no mezze appears. So we order fresh lake bass, delicately breaded and fried w/lemon. Afterward, we ask for fruit, produce in Turkey being amazingly big, fresh, and tasty. “Do you have peaches?” I ask. A shake of the head in the negative. “Bananas?” The mezze-grin reappears and a shake of the head is affirmative. Then out comes a plentiful plate of peaches, oranges and grapes, but alas, no bananas!
Driving on we reach the small city of Beysehir, a regional capital and site of another lake which is smaller and less attractive but still quite nice. Here we find the Ali Bilir Otel, a minimalist 3-star hotel with a friendly staff. The room is clean with a lake view and there is a roof restaurant with an even better view where we have our dinner.
In the morning we drive on, lunching at a pleasant roadside restaurant. The young waiter has been to Holland and having taken a liking to us, shares some of his treasured Dutch coffee. We chat and eventually end up playing the age game. I guess him right at 25. Then I ask him how old he thinks I am. “Fifty, maybe 52,” he says. When I tell him that I will soon be 70, he makes my day: Drop-jawed and with a stunned look on his face, he says, “Are you sure?”
That evening we arrive in Cappadocia (Kapadokya) and easily find the hotel we have booked online in the town of Goreme. The Stone House Cave Hotel is sheer delight, and although we don’t have a cave room, we are upgraded to a family suite by the charming staff, young men who are all related and wonderfully friendly and gracious. We book the touristy dinner show, mainly to see the Whirling Dervishes, and walk around the town.
Goreme is definitely the place to stay in Cappadocia. Smaller and more colloquial than the other “base” towns, it is quaint and inviting, despite all the catering for tourists, and sits in the heart of the Goreme Valley where all the best sights are to be found. There are interesting shops selling old rugs, jewelry, souvenirs, and antiques (we buy a big brass key that once opened the door of a cave dwelling and pay far too much for it because in my enthusiasm I forget to bargain.) There are good restaurants and numerous hotels, all of which have the word “cave” in them. At night, curtains of little lights glitter festively over a small gulley of flowing water that runs along the main thoroughfare. From our room we can hear the clip-clop of horse-drawn buggies.
A taste of Cappadocia landscape
Days 12 – 13 Cappadocia
Cappadocia is a triangle of land with one of the most unusual natural landscapes in the world. It was formed by three volcanoes that erupted more than 10 million years ago. Over time the detritus of these explosions cooled and compressed to form soft, porous rocks easily worn by erosion so that they are ever changing. Valleys and rock ridges were gradually formed, shaped yet again by wind into “pinnacles, pillars, cones and mounds.” (Fodor) Some of the pillars have basalt rock formations on top that look like hats. Early Christians in the region dubbed these particular formations “fairy chimneys” because the found the place so magical they believed only fairies could have made it.
These early Christians followed many others who had lived in Cappadocia since 1800 B.C., including Romans. The Christians found the rock caves in the region a good place to hide from Arab persecution. The caves also provided a place to live and one of the most amazing sites to visit here is the Underground City (one of about 40 such cities but the only one open to visitors), reminiscent of the Cu Chi Tunnels of Vietnam. Here, thousands of people lived on multiple stories underground. Replete with all the elements necessary for daily life it is an unbelievable warren of passageways, living spaces, religious practice sites, animal shelters, tombs and more. Cappadocia is also home to copious Christian churches, mainly built into caves between the 10th and 12th centuries and decorated with now faded frescoes.
We take the Red Tour on the first day which takes us to a cave castle, and then to the Open Air Museum, a place of many Byzantine Orthodox churches carved into the rocks. We stop at various view points for spectacular photo opps, visit a pottery factory in the nearby town of Avanos, stop in Urgup to see the three iconic fairy chimneys that appear in all of Cappadocia’s PR, and conclude with the requisite visit to a carpet factory. In the evening our genial host and hotel owner, a handsome man in his mid-30s, drives us to the top of a nearby hill to show us the night view of Goreme and the fairy land becomes a valley of sparkling lights and silhouetted pillars of rock. “I love this place!” our host exclaims, and the joy of it is written upon his face.
The next day we take the Green Tour and are treated (in addition to the Underground City) to a 2-mile hike in the Ihiara Valley, the largest, deepest and longest canyon in Cappadocia. (It’s no Grand Canyon but it’s pretty). Along the way we stop at a floating tea house, then upon emerging have lunch at a riverside restaurant in Belisima. We then continue to Selime where some parts of Star Wars were filmed. In Pigeon Valley we take yet more pictures, then conclude with a visit to an onyx factory.
Upon returning to our hotel we are introduced to new guests, two young couples, one Turkish, the other their American friends who are on their honeymoon. Our handsome hotel owner decides we should all return to the hilltop for a sunset view of Goreme, after which we visit a local winery for a tasting. Then we eat dinner with the two young couples at My Mother’s Café. About the only thing we have not done here on the Must Experience list is ballooning over the landscape at five in the morning. It’s expensive and for someone with touches of acrophobia and claustrophobia easily, if sadly, missed. But what a spectacular place Cappadocia is!
Day 14 – Heading Back to Istanbul
We drive a long way today in order to get beyond Ankara, only stopping for lunch at Turkey’s answer to Howard Johnson’s. Reaching the town of Duzce at dusk, we find a strange, dark but acceptable hotel where, it appears, the guys on the desk, who turn out to be brothers, have never seen a foreign passport before. They have no idea what they are supposed to be recording from it, and consult each other somberly. Neither of them understands a word of English (and why should they? My Turkish is limited to about five words.) So when we ask for glasses for the room it becomes a game of charades until I finally draw two cups on a piece of paper. “Chai?” they ask. “Coffee?” No, just the containers, lutfen (please)! This leads to us being invited into the restaurant cupboard where we are invited to help ourselves.
The next challenge comes when we try to use the phone card we have bought. One of the brothers calls a friend who arrives sweaty and panting having raced to the rescue. But he doesn’t know how to use it either, so he calls another friend who “speak English.” Soon we have a cadre of young dudes arriving to try and help – to no avail. There is a phone store adjacent to the hotel so we go there, but no one knows how to use the card there either. Eventually the gaggle of young, tech-hungry do-gooders arrives at a consensus: “Not possible call America from here!” So we give it up and in the nearby grocery store buy fruit, bread and cheese to go with the excellent wine we have fortuitously brought from Cappadocia and go to our barren, dimly lit room for a picnic dinner, having raided the kitchen cupboard for dishes and cutlery.
Day 15 – Preparing to move on
Initially we think of making for the Black Sea for our last night before going to Jordan, but the traffic within 30 miles of Istanbul is horrendous, the road signs we need do not appear, and for the first time in our trip it is raining. Having decided to stay at the airport hotel rather than in town because the added expense will probably still be cheaper than taking cabs, we check into the TAV Airport Hotel at Ataturk Airport. The friendly desk clerk upgrades us to a deluxe room since we will be spending the better part of two days there (we’ve arrived early and our flight to Jordan the next day leaves late). Lucky for us since the allergy cold I developed in Cappadocia has morphed into a full-blown head cold and I take to the comfy bed, TV clicker in hand (finally, BBC!) not to rise again till the following day.
Amman and Petra
We arrive in Amman at 10:00 p.m. and are met as promised by Abu Rashad who will be our driver in Amman, thanks to my friend Mona with whom we will stay for two nights. Her apartment is lovely and large, the lights of Jerusalem sparkling from the terrace!
In the morning Abu Rashad picks us up at 8.30 for our tour of Amman and environs. We start at the Citadel, site of ancient ruins in the heart of the city. Originally the acropolis of the Roman city, the ruins are splendid. Here stood the Temple of Hercules, built in honor of Marcus Aurelius (161 – 180), for example. The restored amphitheater still hosts performances. And an excellent small archeological museum showcases artifacts from the Neolithic Age to the Ottoman Empire.
Driving by the landmark King’s Mosque (akin to our White House for royal photo opps), the blue-domed Mosque of Malik Abdallah, and the Palace, we make for the souk (market) area where Abu Rashad treats us to grapes and figs as well as konafi, a sweet treat made of white cheese wrapped in crusted herbs and fried – the street is lined with people eating it! We miss the remarkable Roman city of Jerash for lack of time, but we make for Madaba, an ancient city referenced in the Bible. Most notable for its Christian era under Byzantine rule, it became notable for its mosaic work. In the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, for example, the remains of a geographic map of Palestine are to be found on the floor, a remarkable remnant of a guide for pilgrims making their way to the Holy Land. Other mosaics are positively stunning in their complexity, size, and execution.
Mt. Nebo is our next stop. According to the Bible, this is where God told Moses to ascend the mountain in order to see the Promised Land before he died, and here he is buried. Several new churches, and remnants of older ones, with astounding mosaics, can be seen as well. We also stop at the Jordan River where only a few feet away, while we view it from Jordan, others are seeing it from the West Bank occupied by Israel.
Ancient Mosaic Map
Exhausted from the intense heat, we return home, grab a cup of tea and a shower, and head to Mona’s friends downstairs who are giving her a birthday dinner before she returns to the US for a month on home leave. It has been a fine, fast view of Amman!
Next morning Abu Rashad delivers us to the bus station for the daily 6:30 a.m trip to Petra. The trip takes 3.5 hours and we arrive at the Amra Palace Hotel in time for a fabulous lamb lunch (how do they make such magic with goat yoghurt?) at a local restaurant before buying our entry tickets to the ancient site.
We opt to ride through the Siq – the narrow, cavernous rock entrance to the old city – in a horse-drawn buggy, even though walking would be better, because the Siq is over half a mile long and there will be much walking to be done once inside. It is not hyperbole to say of Petra, as the book Art and History of Jordan does, that “there are few places in the world…whose impact on the visitor can be compared to the emotions aroused when, after rounding a bend in the narrow gorge called the Siq, he [sic] finds himself face to face with the tall façade of the “Treasury,” Petra’s most iconic monument. The only place that has ever awed me in a comparable way is St. Marco Square in Venice, and even then it’s an inadequate comparison. The splendor and size of this ancient building carved so artfully into the red rock ages ago leaves one breathless. It is, in a word, awesome. So are the other buildings and sites one sees moving into the city, most notably the Palace Tomb and the Deir, or Monastery. To use today’s vernacular, it is simply mind-boggling to see this vast, magnificent place! It is also exhausting, so we opt to take up the offer of a friendly, strong Bedouin guide who hoists us onto donkeys and leads us to some of the places on higher elevations that we would have missed had we had to hike to them. (“I’m so heavy!” I apologize. “Not a problem, Madam. I am very strong,” he replies.)
Along the way, we stop in some of the ubiquitous tea and souvenir shops (one of which is owned by Marguerite, the New Zealander who married a Bedouin in the 1970s, wrote the book “Married to a Bedouin,” and still makes her home here for a good part of the year.) We are struck by the grace and hospitality of everyone; no one pushes their wares on us. Rather, we are offered tea, and when we decline to buy anything, they say, “You are welcome here.” At one stop, I sit on a shaded rug and have tea with a woman selling the jewelry she has crafted. At another, I visit with a young mother, an artisan, and her baby. There is peacefulness about these women, just as there is palpable intelligence and sensitivity in our guide.
Tea with a Bedouin
The next morning we take a taxi to visit Little Petra nearby, a miniature version of Petra, then return to town for lunch where I buy a silver bracelet I’ve had my eye on. We rest before taking the 5:00 p.m. bus back to Amman. Upon our return at 8.30, we are met by Abu Rashad’s colleague who delivers us to the Crystal Hotel for our last night in Jordan, which turns out to have its own treat in store.
In Little Petra
Walking out to find a restaurant, we come upon a large, obviously upscale, authentic and inviting Middle Eastern venue where we have a splendid meal, inspired we are told by Syrian cuisine. The whole thing is a lesson in Middle East cultures. At one table a large family is celebrating something, all but one of the women wearing tasteful hijab around their beautifully made up faces; at another a young couple with a baby enjoy a meal; nearby five men in Arab head wraps and traditional white dress dine. Near them, in a corner, sit five women completely covered by black chadors. We marvel that they are out on their own, and then the waiter surrounds them with lattice screens and I get it: They are the wives of the five men and the men have asked the waiters to sequester them, perhaps because another group of westernized men is seated within view. I cannot help but wonder how women live like this!
Towards the end of our meal, a little girl who is part of what we now see is a birthday party, begins flirting with us, dancing ever closer to our table. We talk to her, admire her dress and headband, smiling at the adults at the table. Suddenly, when her grandmother’s sparkler-adorned birthday cake is delivered and Happy Birthday has been sung to her in English, we are presented with pieces of cake too! As we are leaving, we go to the table to offer thanks and birthday wishes, and the next thing you know, we are part of the party of this lovely, modern Jordanian family whose daughter lives in the American south with her physician husband and young baby!
At five o’clock the next morning Abu Rashad appears at the hotel to drive us to the airport for our flight back to Istanbul and the TAV Airport Hotel where we are welcomed like family and again upgraded. We rest, eat lunch overlooking the airport tarmac, and head downtown to Istanbul via Metro for our swan song, a visit to Yerebatan Cistern built by Justinian I, the Emperor of Byzantine, in 532 in order to meet the need for water in the city. This vast underground water storage facility is an engineering marvel and a beautiful sight. It boasts 336 columns, each over 26 ft. high. Walkways and subtle lighting allow visitors to make their way through the site among the sounds of dripping water and soft music as fish swim in the shallow water. (It wasn’t always shallow. Before the 1987 restoration the cistern could only be viewed by boat. In fact, James Bond rowed through it in From Russia with Love!)
We know how he feels!
We have dinner at the excellent Adonin, one of the many restaurants near the cistern and other famous sites, before returning to the hotel by Metro and doing our final packing. Luckily I have gone online to book our seats for the return flight to JFK only to see that our departure time has been moved up from 1:00 p.m. to 11.30 a.m.! Once again we are able to get the emergency row seats for the 10 hour flight to New York.
We arrive at JFK at 2:45 p.m., suffer an interminable wait at the baggage carousel, clear immigration, and head to the rental car agency, where we are given a true dud of a vehicle. We limp home arriving at 9:00 pm after more than 15 hours of travel, grab a bite, and fall into bed. I awake with a respiratory infection and a parasite, but the car fees are cancelled, the pictures are good, and it’s been a magnificent trip. Maybe some day we’ll get to return to these places of antiquity, kindness, and beauty. Inshallah!