Travel: Turkey

Inspired to Blog

That’s me, hiking Kauai’s infamous Kalalau Trail

I am on a hiking trail—the famous eleven-mile Kalalau Trail, carved into the steep cliffs of Na Pali on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. After 35-plus years living in Hawaii, this is the first time I’ve set foot on the Kalalau Trail. I’ve thought about it, talked about doing it and even planned it on a previous trip to Kauai, but this is the first time I’ve ever done it, even though I can only claim the first mile and back. Next time I’ll go further.

And that’s my inspiration to blog—traveling and trying things I’ve never done before, and not letting my age (let’s just call it “advanced”) or physical limitations hold me back. This past summer on a cruise up the coast of Norway, I joined a bird-watching excursion to the Stappen Islands at Norway’s North Cape. My goal was to photograph puffins, Arctic turns and other seabirds in flight, and it proved a tougher task than I imagined. Our little boat rolled and pitched in the sea, and although I wedged myself against the railing, at times I worried about falling overboard (I’m tall and the railing was only waist high). I also admit to a little seasickness. But yes, I did get a few good shots.

A year earlier, I took a tour through Turkey. On the itinerary, our brochure listed a visit to an underground city in Cappadocia. When we arrived at the entrance, I was taken aback to learn that the underground passageways were extremely low, narrow and claustrophobic. Several members of our group declined to continue, but I was determined not to miss anything, so down we went—seven levels, each deeper than the first. The tunnels were so small, we had to crouch or walk on our knees, and our arms brushed the rough walls. Sometimes the line of people in front of me would stop for several seconds. I’d wonder what was happening and imagine getting stuck in there, running out of air, but then we’d move again. Thank goodness I’d worked on squats before leaving home.

One of the larger rooms in the underground city, Cappadocia, Turkey.

Looking back, I can think of other times I was fearful but determined to press on, like when I was faced for the first time with driving a left-handed-stick campervan on New Zealand’s North Island roads where truckers speed madly around slowpoke tourist campervan drivers, jumping off a rocky ledge in Hana Maui to join my friends in the waterfall-fed pool below (and being sure I was going to die by doing so), commanding a sled-dog team on an Alaskan glacier (braking is the hardest part), swirling above the clouds in an open-cockpit biplane over the San Juan Islands and leaning out to take photos while my stomach did some swirling of its own, and even swimming with sharks (no cage) in Midway Atoll’s lagoon.

All these travels inspire me to blog. I can’t wait to share each moment, and conversely, read about others’ adventures. I’ll probably want to try some of those adventures. And if I do, I’ll blog about them.

This post has been a special photo challenge by the Daily Post. For others’ blogging inspiration, check out the link.

Categories: Hawaii, Photography, Travel, Travel: Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 49 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Big

The Trojan Horse. Existing only in the pages of Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad, it has been recreated on the outskirts of Troy—an ancient, excavated city in northwestern Turkey.

the Trojan Horse

The Trojan Horse and me

In the poem, Paris, Prince of Troy and thought to be the handsomest man alive, traveled to Sparta in Greece to win the affections of the beautiful Helen, wife of Menelaus.

When Menelaus found out that Paris had stolen his wife and carried her (and much of Menelaus’ treasure) off to Troy, he sent a fleet of ships to destroy Paris and Troy. But Troy wasn’t that easy to destroy. So a large wooden horse was built. It was hollow so that soldiers could hide inside. When the Greek fleet sailed away, the Trojans thought they had won and brought the giant horse—which they were told would bring them luck—inside the walls. That night, of course, the soldiers in the horse emerged and slaughtered the Trojans as they slept off their victorious drunken stupor.

There’s much more to the story, just as there is more to the finding and excavating of Troy, but that’s for another post.

To show how BIG the horse is, note the relatively tiny figure (all 5’9” of me) leaning against the horse’s leg.

The term, Trojan Horse, is used today to represent a deception—something that looks good on the outside but really isn’t. I’ve had a few encounters with that: an ex boyfriend or two, even a job that looked like my dream job but soured after a couple of months. Anybody else had any Trojan Horse experiences?

Categories: Animals, History, Photography, Stock Photography, Travel, Travel: Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Solitary

This week’s theme—solitary—really resonates with me. Although I love being around people and I’m usually the last one to leave a good party, I find myself needing a lot of alone time. Time to think. Perhaps that’s because I’m half photographer and half writer, and what’s a writer to do without time to think and record those thoughts? So I spend half my life being solitary, knowing that whenever I’m ready, the photographer half can come out to play.

What do you think of when you see this image? Has the boat left him adrift in the vast ocean?

man swimming in Mediterranean

Solitary Man

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Urban

open-air restaurants and cafes in Istanbul

Young Istanbul-ites gather at outdoor restaurants and bars on a sultry summer evening.

The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul itself, Cappadocia….all these iconic sites come to mind when travelers think of Turkey. But for this week’s photo challenge, I wanted to show a different side of the country that straddles two continents, and, indeed, two worlds. Turkey is at the same time part Asia and part Europe, Islamic yet democratic, both modern and ancient, and in the immortal words of Donnie and Marie Osmond, it’s a little bit country and a little bit Rock ‘n’ Roll.

By Rock ‘n’ Roll, of course, I mean Urban. In the Turkish countryside you’ll see vast acreages dedicated to growing fruits and vegetables. But you’ll also see a plethora of urban centers. Istanbul, certainly, but also Izmir, Ankara, Antalya and many others.

I’ve selected just a few of the many images that to me represent Turkey in its most unique urban sense.

giant ant art display

A giant-ant art installation occupied this Istanbul square across which pedestrians hustled from buses on one side to trains and ferries on the other.

election billboard

Election machinery was revving up while I was there, and political billboards popped up like fields of poppies.

Istiklal street and pedestrians

Crowds of pedestrians on Istiklal Street offer a snapshot of urban life for the 13.5-million inhabitants of Istanbul.

blue tram in Sultanahmet

A modern tram picks up passengers in Istanbul’s Old Town—Sultanahmet—near the Grand Bazaar.

Turkish flag and soldier statue

Turkish Pride—The country’s flag and statues representing soldiers who fought for Turkey’s independence are a common sight in every city.

Hierapolis ruins

The Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis was a bustling urban center and healing spa from the first century BC.

Categories: Architecture, culture, History, Photography, Stock Photography, Travel, Travel: Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Turkey: So You Think You Can Dance

A belly dancer wow’s the audience in an underground nightclub in Cappadocia, Turkey.

I wish I’d taken a video. Still images don’t do justice to the energy and fluid dynamics of these folk dancers in an underground nightclub in Cappadocia, Turkey. Especially the men. They seemed to have springs in their legs, like Russian Cossack dancers.

Our guide said, “the belly dancer is not very good. She is the daughter of the previous belly dancer who retired.” But we thought she was good. At least she was flashy, loving the attention of all the men, dancing close to them, provocatively. And I loved her costume.

The room was divided into five alcoves with two sets of tiered tables in each. I was fortunate to be sitting in a center alcove on the front end of the second (higher) tier, so I had a good view. Our busload of mostly Australian tourists shared an alcove with another, rowdier group from Spain, several of whom were dancing at their table. The Germans filled up the far right alcove. Italians at far left. As a rough estimate, I’m guessing that there were about 400 people in that room. And all around, raki (very strong Turkish national drink) flowed freely.

When the show finally ended, we boarded our bus for the ride back to our hotel, all of us singing Waltzing Matilda and other Aussie songs.

The next day we visited a shop that sold the most beautiful, wonderfully decorated ceramics. And the woman behind the checkout counter, barely recognizable in street clothes, was our belly dancer. It seems that entertainers everywhere must support themselves with day jobs.

The ladies take center stage

These guys were super athletic

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Tulips in Turkey

tulips arranged in S-curves decorate the border of a driveway leading to Istanbul University

Turkey is full of surprises. For example, it is commonly believed that tulips originated in Holland. In fact, tulips are native to Central Asia and Turkey. It seems that in the 16th century, someone brought them from Turkey to Holland where they became wildly popular.

In Turkey, under the reign of Sultan Ahmed III, the period between 1718 and 1730 became known as the Tulip Era—an era of peace in which handmade textiles, embroidery, carpets, clothing and other objects were adorned with tulip designs and large tulip gardens sprang up around the Golden Horn in Istanbul. When the sultan was dethroned, the Tulip Era came to an end, but tulip gardens can still be found in Istanbul, and the lovely designs still adorn many handmade goods (see photo below).

The botanical name for tulips, Tulipa, is derived from the Turkish word “tulbend,” meaning turban, which the flower resembles. The tulip is considered the king of bulbs and is Turkey’s national flower.

a gold letter opener from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul sports a tulip design

Categories: culture, flowers, History, nature, Photography, Shopping, Stock Photography, Travel, Travel: Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

Inside a Turkish carpet factory sales room

They’re beautiful. They’re beguiling. They have cachet. They’re well made. They’re easy to clean. They’re hard to resist. You want one, but they’re not cheap. The sales staff brings you tea and goodies to eat as the head salesman extolls the virtues of his carpets, and his assistants roll them out one by one.

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Travels in Turkey: a Treat for your Feet

the white cliffs of Pamukkale, also known as Cotton Castle

Ouch! Double Ouch! I’m the original tenderfoot, and walking barefoot over little ridges feels like walking on a bed of nails. But the sign said, “remove your shoes,” so I knew resistance was futile, especially since management had conveniently made available plastic bags as shoe carry totes. A short distance to go over the ridged and wet terrain, and I knew the end result would be worth it.

Russian babe enjoying the sun

I was at Pamukkale (pronounced Pah-MOOOK-kah-lay), where calcium-rich water oozes over a cliff and forms lovely white-terraced pools. At one time visitors could climb down to the lower pools and soak in the mineral waters, but no more. To keep hoards of tourists from damaging them, the lower pools are closed to bathing. But all is not lost. Travelers can still try out the healing properties of Pamukkale’s springs.

Making it to the mineral pool: priceless

One way is to patronize the spa. Pamukkale has been home to a spa since the Romans built the city of Hierapolis around the sacred, volcanically warmed spring (once you buy your ticket you can visit both the terraces and the extensive ruins of Hierapolis).

It’s gotta tickle

I didn’t check out all the options at the spa, but I found Cleopatra’s Bath (featuring underwater seating designed as broken and tumbled columns) and two rows of aquarium tanks. Sit on a bench above a tank, immerse your feet, and dozens of itty-bitty cleaner wrasses will relieve you of dead skin and any ectoparasites they can find. It’s their job. And their food supply. One kind gentleman agreed to let me photograph his feet.

Cleopatra’s Bath

The other way is to do what I was doing—gingerly picking my barefoot way over to one of the calf-deep pools on the plateau at the top of the cliff, relieving my feet at little tidepools along the way. I must admit, the warm water felt indescribably good, and whether it was the comfort of the smooth-bottomed pool, or whether the healing waters were actually performing their magic, I won’t ever know. But afterwards, my nagging headcold disappeared. I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.

Hierapolis ruins in part

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Where in the World…?

Where in the world is this ancient community dwelling (interspersed with Christian churches)? If you know, please share your story and your thoughts about this place: How and when did you come to be there?

Clues:

It’s in an ancient land where people lived above and below the ground.

Once the people embraced Christianity, but no more.

Most days, a flotilla of hot-air balloons hovers above the landscape.

You will see an occasional camel, which you can sit on and have your picture taken.

Shop for intricately decorated ceramics, leather coats, and carpets.

(Dallas, has Ahmet been here?)

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Travels in Turkey: Underground Temple

the “killer” shot

When visiting another country, we have to decide: Do we drink the water or not? For Turkey, travel guides often advise buying bottled water. We followed that advice and went a step further—lugging a charcoal-filter pumping system with us. Nothing spoils a vacation faster than a case of Montezuma’s Revenge. On the other hand, I have a friend who always drinks the water wherever she goes—including Turkey—and never gets sick. I think it depends on your constitution. Cast-iron digestive system—go for it. Otherwise, err on the side of caution.

But that’s not exactly the subject of this post although there is drinking water involved. So to get to the point, I’d like to introduce you to Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern.

abstract

The largest of Istanbul’s underground cisterns, it was built in 542 AD by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (way back when Istanbul was Constantinople), and was capable of holding 100,000 tons of water, which arrived via two aqueducts from a source in the Belgrade Forest (about 19 kilometers away). Back in the day, the water level was a lot higher, and citizens retrieved their water through large, round, well-like holes in the ceiling of the cistern. Justinian may have thought this oversized well, which supplied water to his palace, was pretty slick, but future conquerors—the Ottomans—not so much. By some accounts, they preferred running water, so the cistern system fell into disrepair.

Everybody pretty much forgot it was there until 1545, when a Frenchman who was researching Byzantine antiquities noticed that some residents got their water (and sometimes caught fish) by lowering buckets through holes in their basements. He also found an entrance at the back of someone’s garden, and steps leading down into the cistern.

The chamber was alternately restored and ignored over the years, and even used as a dump for junk (and corpses). Then in 1987 Turkish authorities realized what a great tourist attraction it would be and cleaned it up, pumping out tons of mud and dirty water and building a walkway around the interior perimeter.

Peacock feathers or tear drops? A unique column from the Arch of Theodosius

Although it’s not in somebody’s garden these days, the cistern entrance is still not that obvious. Just go to the northern end of the Hippodrome, across the street from Hagia Sophia and opposite the yellow building of the Tourist Police, and look for the queue in front of an inconspicuous ticket booth. Once you’ve paid your ten Turkish lira, follow the 52 stone steps leading down into the chamber.

I had seen pictures, but nothing prepared me for actually viewing it firsthand. A forest of 332 marble columns and their watery reflections mesmerized me, and it was hard to focus on the task at hand—getting that one killer photo. After setting up my camera and tripod as inconspicuously as possible, I waited patiently for the hoards of people swirling around me to snap their pics and move on. Eventually, a space opened up. I moved in and took a quick series of shots: f11-22 for maximum depth of field (sharpness), and shutter speeds ranging from 3 to 15 seconds.

Just a note here: tripods are actually not allowed, although in my defense, I didn’t know that at first (if there was a sign, I didn’t see it, officer. Honest). I found out when I was later asked, politely, to put it away, and I can see the reasoning. Lots of people crowding around (even groups of schoolchildren on outings), and it’s too easy to trip over extended tripod legs. Again, in my defense, I kept the tripod legs in a very narrow stance, and blocked them with my legs during the few minutes I was shooting.

Getting that shot was the highlight for me, but there was more to see. A dozen or so merchants have set up shop just below the entry steps, selling art, kitschy souvenirs, photos of you dressed in sultan/harem costumes (which they supply), and food. There are fish swimming in the shallow water, and musical concerts are sometimes held here (the acoustics must be awesome).

If you’re into ancient architecture, it’s interesting to note that the cross-vaulted ceiling is made of brick, and the column tops (capitals) are from different periods: most Corinthian, some Doric. Even the columns were gathered from various ruined buildings. So although it’s a magnificent feat of engineering, it was, in fact, cobbled together.

Stone-faced Medusa. Not so scary anymore, is she.

Two of the cobbled parts (and no one knows where they came from) are blocks carved as the head of Medusa—that gorgon whose unruly hairdo—a mass of writhing snakes—could turn a man to stone with one glance. Both blocks support columns. One head is planted upside down, the other sideways (the why of that is also a mystery).

Since you’ve read this far, here’s your reward—a bit of movie trivia. In “From Russia With Love,” James Bond (Sean Connery) gets away by rowing a boat through the Basilica Cistern.

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Travels in Turkey: Where to Park your Camel

When I was a teenager, my parents moved us—lock, stock and barrel—from Pennsylvania to Southern California. We made our way across the country packed in our station wagon, checking into a motel each night and seeing the sights by day. When we were hungry, we stopped at a diner or supermarket along the way. All we had to worry about were boisterous bikers, a wrong turn here and there, and getting caught smuggling our parakeet, hamsters and cat into the motel each night.

About a hundred years earlier, eager settlers made the same trip via another kind of wagon—a wagon train. They had it a little tougher than we did. No convenience stores and plenty of danger from marauders or the whims of Mother Nature.

Now let’s go back a little further—to the 10th century AD. There were no cars, busses, trains or planes back then, so travelers—mostly merchants carrying the riches of Persia and China to the markets of Europe, and vice versa, along the Silk Road—made their way across the landscape of central Asia in camel caravans. Safety in numbers, right? But there were plenty of highwaymen lying in wait in the dark of night to rob and kill.

a hallway off the central courtyard

Fortunately, the sultans of Turkey had a bright idea. They knew the best way to encourage commerce (and the taxes, political power and prestige the label of “trading dynasty” brought with it) was to protect the merchants, so they built a series of caravanserai (essentially parking garages for camel caravans) along the trading routes—each one a day’s journey from the last.

These caravanserais were like stone forts or castles, with a large entry portal to accommodate the animals and whatever they were carrying, and an iron gate. There was no roof over the central courtyard, which often held a small mosque. Interior rooms included a great hall, bathhouse (Turkish-bath kind), bathrooms and places to sleep. Ovens were embedded in the ground to keep the place warm, and candles and lamps provided light. A manager oversaw operations.

Elaborately chiseled entrance to the Great Hall

Not only would these government-run caravanserais provide a nighttime safe haven for travelers, their camels, horses, donkeys and cargoes, they also offered services such as doctor, imam (prayer leader), veterinarian, messenger, blacksmith, shoe repair and cook. Travelers could stay for three days, and all services were free during that time. It was a win-win situation for both travelers and government.

When Europeans found new ways to China, the Silk Road declined in importance, and after the 15th and 16th centuries, most caravanserais were never used again. Many are in ruins, but some are well preserved and a treat to visit and explore.

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Travels in Turkey: Food

Standing in front of a restaurant in the tourist enclave of Sultanahmet (the old town), Istanbul, gazing through the window at a mouthwatering display of food. The chef (he’s wearing a white kitchen uniform) beckons us inside. No need to wait for a menu or a server. No need to try and figure out what the menu says. We can make our selections from the array of goodies in front of us. We ask, “What is this, what is that.” He tells us. We choose several. A waiter directs us to a table, and within two minutes, our selections are in front of us. I like this concept. The food is delicious. I become particularly fond of the eggplant, cooked in olive oil and spices, and topped with a mountain of mashed potatoes.

This country knows how to cook veggies, and especially eggplant. I rarely eat it at home—probably because I’m not the greatest cook on the planet. I tried making moussaka once and somehow over-salted the eggplant. My dinner guests said it was very good, but I could see their mouths puckering around the edges.

There were many other gustatory delights, too. Spicy soups complimented by cooling and creamy yogurt. And heavenly bread. My favorite has to be guzleme—a flat bread that looks a lot like a giant tortilla but is sprinkled with bits of cheese and spinach. It’s rolled out by hand and warmed on a dome-shaped oven, which makes the cheese melt into the dough. Then it’s folded and rolled into the shape of a burrito. I couldn’t get enough.

For you meat lovers, there’s that, too. No pork, but plenty of beef, lamb, fish and chicken. At the fast-food emporiums in Sultanahmet, we sampled a lamb kebap (or kebab). Lamb is sliced from a vertical spit and layered into a bun, with a few French fries and some lettuce shavings thrown in for good measure. Cost: about 4 or 5 Turkish lira. It was good but a bit dry. Could have used some olive oil.

lamb doner kebap in Sultanahmet

I was a bit put off fish after a stroll through the morning fish market, where the turbot, or flatfish—covered with red welts on its underside—looked scarily unappetizing, although I hear it’s quite good. But it did come from the Bosphorus. And looking at all the ferries, fishing boats and other boat traffic on that busy waterway, I can only imagine all the oil, diesel fuel and other detritus that comprises the fish’s living environment.

flatfish from the Bosphorus

We only had one really bad meal: chicken in soy sauce. Now, I like salt as much as anybody—probably more. In my youth I had no trouble consuming an entire large bag of potato chips in one sitting. And I live in Hawaii, where salty soy sauce is as much a staple as ketchup. But this meal was like chewing on a salt lick (not that I’ve ever done that) or spooning heaps of salt directly into my mouth (haven’t done that either, but I can imagine). I’m sure the chef was catering to what he thought was American taste, but I couldn’t finish it and had to drink what seemed like the contents of Lake Superior to compensate.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the ice cream. Turkish ice cream is heavenly. I still dream about the stretchy, elastic stuff. Ice cream vendors in tourist areas will not just hand you a filled cone but get a big kick out of putting on a show for you, pretending to drop it or steal it back from you. It’s quite entertaining the first couple of times. Ice cream tip: pile up your cone with several different flavors mashed together. You won’t regret it.

One final note: Food prices are very reasonable, but the same can’t be said for drinks. To buy anything alcoholic (beer, wine) at a restaurant you’ll need to pawn the crown jewels. Perhaps they’re trying to discourage us and steer us to tea. But by all means do try Raki, the licorice-flavored, high-octane national drink, and the favorite beverage of the country’s beloved first president, Ataturk. More about him in a future post.

I know some of you have visited Turkey or are living there now and you know the food better than I, so please feel free to tell me if I’ve misstated something, and to add your favorites. I can’t remember everything I ate, but other than the salt lick, it was darned good.

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my photos

my photos

A link to one of my photo websites

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Travels in Turkey: Ephesus

Ephesus (pronounced ef uh sis), on the western coast of Turkey, is an archaeological time warp and the best preserved ancient city in the world. Once Greek, then Roman, changing hands according to the dominant empire of the time. A place where John the Baptist swayed audiences in its grand coliseum. Where slaves or peasants or hired help carried Cleopatra in her sedan chair along the length of its main thoroughfare. And where today, visitors from all over the world come to tread the same ancient streets, gazing at Hercules’ Gate and the magnificent Celsus Library façade and the Temple of Hadrian and even the public latrines, where slaves warmed up the cold marble before their masters sat.

One of the great Greek cities of Asia minor, Ephesus was originally founded by Ionian Greeks around 1000 BC at the mouth of the now silted Kayster river. The city flourished during the 7th and 6th centuries BC and again from the 4th century BC when it came under the authority of Alexander the Great and his Hellenistic successor Lysinachus. Under Roman rule Ephesus became the principle port and commercial center on the Aegean Sea, and the city was also a key to the development of Christianity.

Our guide told us that Roman men who wanted to get away in the evening would say to their wives, “I’m going to the library, dear.” Once at the library, however, they entered the tunnel that led to the brothel next door. Those sneaky Roman men.

Check out my Ephesus photo gallery at http://www.jennifercritesphotography.com/Stock-Photography/Europe/Turkey/10980932_Z9MsjV#!i=803384905&k=gAKoM.

Do you have an Ephesus story?

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Travels in Turkey: People

This time last year I was in Turkey. It’s a place that will not leave my thoughts. Before I went, what I expected was mosques and sightseeing. What I got was a cultural infusion of sights and people that left me feeling both awed and happy.

Today, let’s start with the people. Turks, especially those in the countryside and outlying towns, really like Westerners, perhaps because we’re different, or come from such faraway places.

At one restroom/convenience-store stop along our bus route, a wedding party and family (sitting at picnic tables in front of the store) offered us food from their post-wedding feast. “Turks love to feed foreigners,” our guide told us. Everywhere, groups of wide-eyed schoolchildren and their teachers surrounded me, practicing their limited English by asking the same two questions—what is your name, and where are you from—clamoring to hear me speak or just wanting to stare at me. The lack of a common language didn’t seem to matter. Somehow we communicated. And they were eager to jump in front of my camera.

If you’ve been to Turkey, I invite you to share your stories of this amazing place by commenting below. Or perhaps you’d like to author a guest blog. And look for more—much more—from me on this subject.

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