Friday, December 12, 2008

Up to the Sea of Marmara

Just before Emirdağ I spotted a sign pointing towards a potato 'fırın' ('fyryn' in English) - meaning bakery - and Julie happily agreed to investigate down the village lane. We found a small bakery in a home where 4 or 5 women were baking big round loaves of potato bread. They were very excited and happy to see us! A cup of tea turned into an invitation to stay the night. Nobody spoke English or German but it turned out that the 25 yo son had married a German-born Turkish girl. So after lunch he turned on MSN and I chatted in German with his Turkish wife and brother-in-law. She was wearing a headscarf but spoke better German that Turkish. Later they called more relatives in Brussels. Grandpa sat next to the laptop cooing to his grandchildren, and I chatted with their 12 yo niece in my pretend Dutch.

It was a little bizarre to experience how these Turkish families use modern technology to maintain their very traditional family links.

Emirdağ is known for its high number of emigrants to France, Belgium and Germany (not the UK, though). Everybody proudly told of their relatives who live there and most of the men who approached me speaking French, Dutch or German told how they had spent a few years there.

Many said that they wanted to go to Europe for well paid work and more opportunities.
I began to suspect that their relatives over there, maybe for reasons of pride, weren't revealing just how difficult life is in western Europe when you can only do jobs requiring no education. Very few seemed to understand that a salary of € 1000-2000 a month is easily wiped out by the high cost of living.

Back at our bakery, mum and dad went downstairs to the big oven in the evening and baked fresh cheese, egg and beef pides for dinner - along with delicious 'hash hash ekmek' - slightly sweet layered bread with ground poppy seed and spices inside.

Beyond Emirdağ we crossed the main Ankara - Izmir highway and on dirt roads headed into some more secluded countryside with mystery abandoned villages and Phrygian ruins tucked away in the rolling hills.

Close to dusk, we met some grandparents baking börek in a clay oven outside. They had the family visiting from town, so the house was packed. Grandpa was the caretaker for an unused school- we camped there, under an Atatürk portrait.

Next day we discovered that this was a significant Turkish/Islamic holiday - 'Bayram' - a three day holiday in which the men of every household make ritual sacrifices of goats/lambs/cows. I thought it was meant to celebrate the end of Ramadan so I'm not sure why it started on Dec. 7.

Anyway, that morning I watched Grandpa cut the throats of two goats while Julie drank tea, looked the other way, and covered her ears when necessary.

As we continued on we saw a lot more slaughter that day. We met some teenage Turkish-Americans who had spent their lives in New Jersey and Istanbul. They had been at their grandparents in the village for 3 hours and were already bored and itching to go home, despite all the nearby caves, ruins and cliffs they could have explored.

In the evening we ran into an ambitious young engineer, Mehmet, and his wife who had come from Eskişehir to visit his parents in Yapıldak and invited us home. His parents were great but Money Mehmet milked me for English lessons all night and was only really interested in how much we earnt and how much more he could earn by learning English. He wanted to go to the UK for a three month language course. His wife was young, conservatively dressed and stayed very much in the background. We asked if she would go with him to the UK and this obviously hadn't occurred to either of them!

From here we rolled mostly downhill to Eskişehir, camping one night, with a serious frost now hitting the tent overnight. Eskişehir is a modern Turkish city with poor value overseas calls (thanks to the Turkcell monopoly) and excellent marble lined hot baths - 5 YTL ($A5) a pop. It was dark by the time we got out and we were just getting a little chilly and wondering what we should do for the night when we ran into Money Mehmet and wife trailing. He immediately invited us to his place and we agreed. But first we had to go to a modern bar packed with smokers where Mehmet and his wife kept telling us, 'We don't normally come to this kind of place.' I don't recall them answering our question, 'So what do you normally do? Why don't we just do that?'

North of Eskişehir we were surprised to find a petrol station selling gazyağı (fuel for my stove - between shellite and kerosene) after a long gazyağı drought. Up steep roads over the Sündiken Dağları range, with the first winter snows on the top at 1500m or so.

In Mihalgazi on the other side we resolved to stay in a mosque at long last and went sniffing around the first one we found. Unfortunately the old bearded fellow we met took us back to his place instead. He was friendly but had no idea what to make of us and mostly sat and looked dumbfounded.

Following morning: steaming hot hashhash ekmek straight from the oven (second sighting of this delicious feed) and lots of pomegranates to harvest on the road down the valley.

Cutting northwest across rolling hills towards İznik Lake we chanced upon
Söğüt, with an excellent pide shop opposite the bus station - and which is also known to Turks as the birthplace of Sultan Osman I, and hence the Ottoman Empire, in the 12th century. Hence it's quite a pilgrimage destination. Didn't rate a mention in a certain popular travel guide, though. Turkish flags were everywhere, on most cars even. It turned out that this was conscription day for young Turkish soldiers. Popular Turkish TV dramas often seem to pit valiant Turkish soldiers, doctors etc. against evil Kurdish terrorists. Boring and formulaic, but the Turks lap it up.

Further northwest we reached İznik Lake, surrounded by olive groves. Discovered that olives taste awfully bitter when raw.

İznik had a range of ancient Roman ruins including an amphitheatre, and decent B&B style accommodation - it's popular as an escape from Istanbul.

A little further around the coast of İznik Lake we found an olive oil factory!
I'd been guzzling olive oil since Iran and soaking all of my cooking in it so I was delighted to get an impromptu tour - after which I pulled out my oil flask and got a refill.

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