The flight from Istanbul, Turkey to Guayaquil, Ecuador is a lot longer than we prefer to stay on an airplane. We therefore decided to break up the long flight home with a night in Amsterdam on the way back. We weren't expecting very much, other than a chance to stretch our legs and grab some dinner.
We checked Tripadvisor for things to do in Amsterdam, and the local Artis Royal Zoo ranked quite high, so we decided to spend our last afternoon there. To our surprise, it was one of the most enjoyable zoos we've been to in the world, with lots of shade trees and play areas for kids. It was built in 1838 and one of the oldest zoos in the world, so there were a medley of neo-classical and new buildings, and well-maintained classical gardens lined with statues. There was some major reconstruction to build a new elephant environment, but the rest of the zoo was intact, with some enclosures that were surrounded by moats without fences, allowing some unobstructed photographic opportunities. In other displays, you could get quite close to photograph the iguanas and other animals inside the pavilions.
There were some animals we had never seen before in a zoo setting, including African wild dogs, some large Komodo dragons and South African penguins. The anteater (middle left) appeared to be wearing some kind of animal fur coat, until we finally realized those were young ones on the back of the mother.
After dinner, we wandered the canal zone. The wind was very calm this time (unlike our last visit 3 months ago), providing colorful reflections in the water for sunset. All in all, this stop made for a great last night for our vacation.
Now that our latest vacation is complete, this is a summary of what it feels like to live in Istanbul, even if only for a couple of months. First, mosques are everywhere and a part of daily life, even for those who are not practicing Muslims. There are 2,995 active mosques here, and every one of them has loudspeakers on their minarets, so the call to prayer can be heard 5 times a day throughout the city.
Those calls to prayer create noise at those times. The rest of the time though, the city is surprisingly quiet. Not "out in the countryside" quiet, but much more so than a city of this size would suggest -- and much quieter than Cuenca. In 11 weeks in both Turkey and Cyprus, we never heard a single car alarm (yeah!) nor house alarm, which has become an almost constant background noise in Ecuador. In Cuenca, we have church bells that ring at multiple times before sunrise, and hear rockets that are fired off frequently. None of that annoying noise exists in Turkey, which balances out the sound of the calls for prayer from the mosques from morning to night.
The skyline of Istanbul is that of a modern city, punctuated by frequent mosques. There are very old structures, dating back more than 1000 years, sitting right next to modern buildings put up in the last couple years. Istanbul is quite picturesque, and a real treat for photographers.
Construction is going on everywhere, including a new 5-level apartment building right across the street from where we were staying. There are more than a dozen new apartments going up within a few blocks of where we have been staying. Many mosques and museums are also being renovated as part of the construction boom. We could hear sounds of drills and hammering 7 days a week. For each building under construction though, we only saw a few workers each day, and it seemed like it would take a long time to finish at that rate.
Istanbul is a city of 15 Million people, concentrated into an area of 2000 sq miles. Compare that to Ecuador, where the entire country also has 15 Million people, but spread out over an area of 110,000 square miles. Ecuador has 50 times more land with the same number of people in Istanbul itself.
With that many people in such a small space, crowds are a given. The streets are clogged pretty much 24/7, and there have literally been times when we walked a couple miles faster than the traffic next to us. Very long commute times appear to be common, and we have been told that 1-1/2 hours each way to work is not unusual.
On the Asian side (where we were staying), very few people use the sidewalk. Instead, everyone walks in the street, even though cars are rushing past inches away on narrow streets with cars parked on both sides. People complain about the sidewalks in Cuenca, but they pale next to Istanbul, where the sidewalks are both uneven and usually completely blocked from cars or equipment every couple hundred feet.
We have found that most people in the world are proud of their home country. That is also true in Turkey, where flags are hung from numerous apartment windows and most parapets.
We never really got a solid answer as to why there are so many pharmacies in Istanbul. There will be one every few blocks, and one corner near us has four pharmacies -- one on each corner of the intersection.
There is a dizzying array of transportation means to get around town. Modern subways and buses criss-cross the city, with the stations nearest us opened in 2012. We used every form of public transportation shown above! And, although the ferries take longer to get from the Asian side to the European side, the views from the ferries were stupendous and such a pleasant way to commute. All the transportation systems were efficient, and waiting times were so short, that it became fun to use the discounted Istanbulkart that was accepted by most of the transportation forms. Imagine walking to the station, traveling by underground subway, riding across the Phosphorous straits on a ferry, taking the T-1 tram across the city, riding a mini-bus to another part of town, traveling up a hill on a funicular, then taking the Marmaray train under the Phosphorous all in one day.
And, when you're riding on a ferry, you cannot believe how many different types and sizes and boats are crossing the Bosphrous simultaneously. There were so many cruise ships, dozens of lines of ferries of all sizes and shapes, private cruisers, pilot boats, trash removing boats, cargo ships, speed boats, coast guard patrol boats, fire boats, boat taxis, party boats, row boats, barges, all going in different directions at high speeds, we were shocked we didn't see any incidents.
Cats are everywhere in Istanbul, including hanging out in the ancient ruins. Whereas, Cuenca is a dog-friendly city. Even those that do not own a cat themselves will often care for feral cats in the neighborhood. It is common to see a cat sitting at the entrance to every restaurant, and common to see platforms where dozens of cats hang out and are fed by some elderly local.
Turkish Delight is the national candy here. When buying some, the trick is to find a store with high turnover, so the Delight is fresh.
American fast food restaurants are still relatively rare, but they are there.
Pretty much everywhere we traveled, there was someone taking a selfie. Even though the "smart phone" cum camera and the selfie stick are not new, this is the first time we have seen it being so prevalent.
And of course, the people. I have said this before, but need to say it here again at the end -- the Turkish people are the friendliest we have ever met in our wide travels. We traveled with a camera almost every day, and came back with 19,913 images, most of which included one or more persons. I can count on both hands the number of times someone indicated they did not want their photo taken. The more common response was a big smile, followed by a "thank you" for taking their photo. When we got lost, people would take time to personally walk us to the bus stop across the street, talk to the driver in Turkish to take us to our destination, or when we were trying to figure out which ferry to take, people would go out of their way to point out the correct stop.
The one negative for us is the language. The Turkish language is much different than English, or any Romance language, and the written language does not seem to have any relationship to the spoken language (I am sure it would seem closer if we really understood their alphabet). When listing to someone speak, I am not even able to tell where the words are in the sentence, let alone have any idea of what is being said. It was common for us to practice a word over and over, then say it to a local, only to be met with a look of bafflement. When it was finally understood what was meant, they would repeat the word -- and I swear it sounded just like I said it! (Of course, that was true our first months in Ecuador too...).
At one mosque, I met two university students who were studying English, and who wanted to talk to a native English speaker. We have become "pen pals" for the past several weeks. At one point, she asked "Why don't you learn Turkish? It is such an easy language. Not difficult like English!" I smiled, and pointed out that she had learned Turkish as a baby, and thus now considered it easy, just as I had learned English the same way. It was interesting that she had never thought of that, and had little concept of learning as a child vs learning as an adult (let alone a retired adult...).
Turkey is a unique country in many ways. It's mind bogging to know that ancient civilizations evolved here, and you can still see both the old and the new together in one location. I think you will be surprised at what you find if you come and visit.
Now that we have completed 11 weeks in Turkey, I want to address one concern that came up repeatedly. Not with anyone in Turkey, but with friends and family back home. Whenever we said we were going to Turkey, we could count on the response being along the lines of "How can you go there? It is so dangerous!"
Well, not really...
There have been some attacks in the Southeast part of the country, with ISIS crossing the border from Syria, and some bombs set off in a few crowded tourist areas before we came. (The incidents are occurring randomly around the world whether in Brussels, Paris, etc. these days, and not just in the middle East.) Almost all casualties on the Turkey side on the border involve military personnel, and we were never closer than 600 km from the trouble. Never a threat to us.
I have often said how safe we feel in Cuenca, Ecuador. Istanbul felt far safer than Cuenca. In Ecuador, we have the constant worry about petty crime. Nothing big. Murder and assault are rare, but pick-pockets, or drive-by snatches (e.g., a motorcyclist grabbing a phone or purse) are quite common. Leave a phone on a table while going to the counter, and you will probably find it gone when you return.
Not so in Istanbul. Many people casually carry their phones in their hands while walking, yet I never saw or heard of any phone thefts. People leave items on a table while walking away frequently, and their stuff is always there when they return. Our photo tour leader told us many times not to worry about leaving our camera bags unattended, since people in the villages all knew everyone. People are required to leave their shoes outside when entering a mosque. With dozens of pairs of shoes outside every mosque, I never heard of anyone having a pair stolen. At the Turkish Cyprus airport, we were told to just leave our luggage outside while we went in for rental car paperwork. "Don't worry. Nobody will steal it in Turkey or here" we were assured. Yep, no problem when we returned for it later.
In Ecuador, as in the US, when you enter a store carrying a bag, you are required to leave it with security at the entrance. Bags are often inspected upon leaving, to be sure you didn't steal anything. Not so in Istanbul. Just walk in with the bag from another store. When you check out, nobody looks twice at the bag you didn't put on the counter. It is just assumed that if you got something inside the store, you will pay for it on the way out.
Some small neighborhood stores will even let locals have an account, and goods purchased to be paid for later.
In Ecuador and the US, most larger stores have security cameras, where a guard is in a room scanning the crowd for shoplifters. Not in Istanbul. I never saw a camera security camera anywhere, and never had a store employee follow me to be sure nothing was stolen. Again, they just assume you are honest, plus the punishment for getting caught is quite extreme, up to 20 years in prison (one minor received a sentence of 7 years for stealing a pack of cigarettes).
We are often warned that crowds are a playground for pickpockets in Cuenca. We never felt the slightest bit threatened in Istanbul, even in the largest crowds. We lost the habit of checking our pockets after someone bumped into us -- because in Istanbul it is simply the large number of people who bump into you, and not someone trying to get into your pocket.
All of this is with very few visible police. In Cuenca (at least in Centro, where we live), it is unusual to go more than a couple blocks before seeing one or more policemen. They are there to discourage crime, and they do a pretty good job of it. Once again, not in Istanbul though. Large parks with hundreds of people will usually have one police car parked somewhere in the vicinity, with two to four police inside. We averaged walking 6 miles per day in Istanbul, yet there were several days that we never saw a single police officer.
Istanbul does have obvious concerns about terrorism. That is visible in only two instances though, both of which are unique to Istanbul in our recent travels. Every group of turnstiles entering into the metro has one security guard with a "magic wand" that he passes over all backpacks and luggage, to detect explosives. Also, you must pass through an X-ray and metal detector going into any shopping mall, plus go through double security lines at the airports before going through passport control. Both are done very efficiently though, and have almost no impact on traffic flow (unlike TSA...). And, you cannot get a SIM card unless you are a resident, as cell phones have been used as remote triggers.
Overall, we have never felt any safer in all our travels than we have in Istanbul, and Turkey in general. Newspapers tend to distort and generalize, making problems seem much worse than they are. We could point to many examples of situations we have actually been involved in, where we saw that up close. It is true for the problems in Turkey too. In summary, we highly recommend people come and enjoy one of the most friendly countries we have visited.
How can you be afraid when broad smiles greet you at every turn?
We read about a large market on the Asian side (where we are staying), and decided to go there. We got the address and directions from a web site on local Istanbul markets, and off we went. First we walk to the metro, take that to the end of the line, then find bus 8A, and take that for seven stops and get off.
When we got off the bus, there is a 40,000 sq ft hole in the ground with a sign for the Mandarin Hotel construction project! Huh??? We walked into a local store and ask about the bazaar. He looks quizzically at us until we find an alternate word in our digital dictionary. The owner then says in broken English "Pazar. No more" as he swipes his hands together to emphasize the point. He then says we can walk a kilometer to get to the new location. Off we go.
A couple block later, we decided to stop in a little tienda for a drink, since it was getting hot and we suspected 1 km might be an underestimate. Evelyn asked that owner for confirmation. "Yes," he said, "Pazar has moved. There is a free bus that takes customers to the new pazar" as he points for us to go a block to the signal light, then turn right.
We walk to the shuttle location, where we find one matronly woman waiting. Through hand signs and "pazar" as our only word in common, she confirms we are in the right location, so we wait. Half an hour later, the shuttle (a minivan) arrives, and we are off again -- for roughly 5km (not 1...), including a stretch of freeway we would not have been allowed to walk.
Where do we find ourselves? At the largest neighborhood bazaar in Istanbul... right next to a metro station halfway back home (Göztepe)... We took a very long way and time to get here, but at least the route home was short.
The first section was filled with fruits and vegetables, just as we would find in any of the larger mercados in Cuenca. The food appeared more fresh and larger than ones we've seen at our local markets, and the prices much lower than the other markets we have visited. We ended up buying a few bags of fruit to sample. Since we were leaving Turkey soon, we couldn't really get much.
There were also large sections of the bazaar dedicated to dry goods of all types. Designer blue jeans (meaning pre-ripped...) for 25TL (about $8 US), blouses for 5TL (less than $2US), etc. Women gathered around vendors, sizing up clothing items (no dressing rooms), picking up and feeling plates, tossing linen and towels to test their weight. There was clearly a LOT of merchandise sold, and you could sense a buying frenzy whenever new stock were brought in. We saw many women with wheeled carts and large shopping bags filled with goods all day long.
Mehmet (the guide for the photo tour we took back in April) says that every neighborhood has a local bazaar, but that this is the largest one in Istanbul. When we visited the Grand Bazaar in April, we found most of the shoppers were tourists, with vendors constantly hawking their wares, trying to get every passing tourist to come into their shop.
The vibe here was very different. There were only a few hawkers, and those were generally busy slinging their goods into bags while singing out their pitch to attract others. Even more important though -- we were the only tourists in the entire place. It was packed with people actively buying, but everyone apparently lived in the area, buying goods they would take home and use that night. This was clearly a successful, active market used by locals, rather than a tourist trap.
Whenever our cameras lifted, there was always a vendor shouting out "take picture of me!" This was another place where the people were universally friendly and inviting. It was quite a treat to take a photograph, and have that person then say "sağol" (Turkish for "thank you") and hand us free samples of their food to show their appreciation.
I just had to add one more block of the friendly faces we saw today. Turkey will always stay in our memory as one of the most friendly countries we have ever visited.
The "Blue Hour" at Ortaköy Camii
We traveled by ferry to Beşiktas, today, then took a long walk to Ortaköy Mosque, which is located right at the foot of the Bosphorous Bridge, specifically to photograph the "camii" (in Turkish) as the sun set.
When we arrived at Beşiktaş, we tried to find the bus to take us to Ortaköy. However, we failed to find the bus stop, so opted to walk the couple of miles. Turned out that was a fortunate move. While walking, we passed the same bus number we had been looking for three times. The roads were so clogged that we arrived in Ortaköy before any of those three buses did...
Ortaköy is a picturesque village right on on the Boshorous strait known for its colorful nightlife scene and its mosque. The mosque is quite a gem; small yet beautiful and tranquil (upper row). People come to the restaurants (lower row) for their kumpir (potato skins filled with your choice of goodies), fresh seafood and waffles. While waiting for the sun to set, a strange-looking boat arrived (middle left) and began scooping up garbage from the harbor. We had seen a couple of these boats before, but this was the first time we saw them in action (also see video clip at end of this blog post).
As always, watching people is a favorite activity for us. The imam praying (upper left) is probably the same person doing the 5-times per day call to prayer over the mosque loudspeakers. A wedding couple came for their photo shoot a little before sundown (upper right), and other people were feeding the pigeons on the square. Once the sun had set, we saw a young girl holding a paper "wish lanterns", ready to launch it.
Here is a 47 second video showing the garbage boat in action, with the claws grabbing the trash on the surface of the water, then a conveyor belt pulling it out. The Bosphorus Strait was generally considered a polluted garbage dump in the 2000's. In 2009, Istanbul put 12 of these on full-time duty. You would never know today that garbage was once a problem. These boats have been extremely effective.
Yesterday, we started at a crafts market in Üsküdar, then took the ferry across the Bosphorous to tour the Dolmabahçe Palace, which was built in 1853. It is easy to look at all these palaces, and wonder why "each new sultan had to build his own". In this case, though, it was replacing Topkapi Palace, which the line of sultans had occupied for over 400 years. I guess I'd look for new digs after 400 years too...
The grounds include a huge garden, which is actually landfill created in the 18th century. The buildings are grand, as you probably expect. Created by French and Italian architects in the "Westernization Period" of the Ottoman Empire, the buildings and decor look like ones we've seen in Versailles, France.
Unfortunately, there was no photography allowed inside any of the buildings.
Today we took the ferry up the Golden Horn, and then spent another few hours at Eyüp, a local pilgrimage site. The village has large cemeteries, including older Ottoman mausoleums, so we spent some time locating the Ottoman headstones dating back to the Middle Ages, while others were new in this decade. You can recognize the men's headstones, as they have either a turban or a fez, whereas the women's headstones were adorned more simply.
We had earlier visited the Eyüp Sultan Mosque, so won't repeat those images here. There were several other small tombs around the village with the remains of past sultans. Then, we rode the funicular to the top to Pierre Loti for the panoramic views and some ice cream.
People-watching is always a popular portion of any trip we take, and this was no exception. As was true last time we were here, there were about a dozen young boys dressed up as sultans for their circumcision ceremonies.
On the way back home, we saw this scene of urban decay on the riverbank. An old factory and boat long since rusted and gone to ruin. If we had a few more days in Istanbul, we would have arranged to go there and crawl through the debris for some interesting detail photos.
We are now in our final week in Istanbul, and are starting to explore places that have been on our "would like to see if we had time" list. Today, that brought us to the Sea Life Aquarium. Because our first two businesses back in the early 1970's related to tropical fish (a long story for a different time), we often visit aquariums in cities around the world, whenever we have time. We have seen some of the best in the world, so didn't really have particularly high expectations today.
As we got off the metro, there were a couple of kids (OK, at this point, anyone under 40 is a "kid" to us...) handing out discount coupons for the aquarium. That was a bonus, not only for saving 10TL per ticket, but also because we had no idea where to go. Signage for the aquarium was non-existent, so I asked the kids where to go. In very acceptable English, he gave me directions ("turn right, then left, then go 100 meters, then turn left, then go 20 meters, then turn right" -- yeah, not very obvious is it?).
We approached the front door, and found a small entrance like you would see for a tienda. I almost suggested we skip it, but we had traveled over an hour to get here, so we went in. The hallway leading to the ticket counter was lined with cartoons of fish. It looked like we were entering a tacky roller coaster ride from the 60s era. My expectations fell still further. At the counter, we presented our coupons, and then Evelyn asked if there was a senior discount (I'm not accustomed to asking for that yet!). Sure enough. That brought the 45TL ticket down to 32TL (about $10 for both of us). Off we went on our "dive" as they called it.
We turned the corner... and almost immediately our expectations rose. Very nice displays of a wide variety of tropical fish, both small and large. Healthy tanks with healthy fish, and every time you thought you were done and turned another corner, there were still more tanks. The longer we were there, the more impressed we became.
Yes, there were cartoons along the way, plus puzzles, for the school kids. The images of crabs, eels, and other aquatic animals were annotated with "fun facts" and descriptions of the various parts -- both in Turkish and English. This place was geared as much to kids as to adults, with enough to keep both entranced.
There were tunnels for kids to crawl through (upper left), diving bell domes to get an inside look (Evelyn in the upper center), massive displays to surround you (lower left), and of course lots of opportunities for selfies (lower right).
After wandering along the path of display tanks for more than an hour, we came across the tunnel shown in the block of images starting this blog. This wound along for another 100 yards or so, with the fish (including at least a dozen varieties of sharks and another dozen varieties of manta and sting rays) swimming around and over the top of us. This last section kept the attention of most people for at least another half hour.
We fortunately chose an early afternoon weekday to come. Crowds were quite small, with only a couple dozen people wandering the displays. Afterwards, we went across the street to CookShop. The restaurant was nearly full when we went into the aquarium, and still nearly full when we left. Good sign, so we tried it. The food was delicious (we will probably go back). Their motto was "ordinary things done in extraordinary ways"
As we ate, a horde of 50 or more young kids piled into the Sea Life Aquarium as part of a school field trip. We smiled as we finished our ice cream dessert, a Swiss ice cream that is only sold this time of year, and were glad we had come earlier in the day...
Today, we cruised along the Bosphorus Strait, a body of water that connects the Sea of Marmara (where we start) to the Black Sea (where we turn around), as well as separating the continents of Asia and Europe. The cruise takes about 90 minutes, plus a 3 hour break at Anadolu Kavagi, then 90 minutes back to the starting point. The weather was "mostly sunny", which enabled us to see the turquoise color of the water in the strait. The Bosphorous tour is considered one of the top 10 things to do in Istanbul, so we checked it off.
Above are various scenes we saw from the ferry as we traveled up and down the strait, as we passed by many wooden villages, mosques and castles. The lower right image shows a group that appeared to be military cadets in dress whites at the shore, cheering a rowboat of classmates as they passed by. There was only the one boat though. No others appeared to being racing against them, and there was no other indication of a race event. We motored on past, scratching our heads over what was really going on.
For an extra 14TL (about $3.50 US), you can rent an audio tour in your preferred language. I got one, and felt it provided a good narrative of the various highlights along the way. The narrative talked about the various buildings we were passing, and some often interesting historic tidbits. For example, as we crossed under the Bosphorus Bridge, we were told that the first recorded crossing was in 500BC, when Emperor Darius the Great of Persia created a bridge by lining ships side by side. He then led 700,000 soldiers over that pontoon bridge to overwhelm Macedonia.
As is usually the case, it was the people that were most fascinating. Here are a few that we met along the way, both on the ferry and in the village. John (top left) had 5 days between finishing school in Davis, CA., and starting a new career as a paramedic in Las Vegas, and chose to spend that time in Istanbul. It's what we would have done at his age.
When we arrived in Anadolu Kavagi, we had three hours to explore the former fishing village before our return trip. We opted to climb the very steep hill up to Yoros Castle. At the top, we snacked on fried mussels, which the restaurants in this village are known for. This castle is the only historic remnant in town, and overlooks the Black Sea. It is a rather small castle, compared to most others we have seen in Turkey, and was closed today. Thus, even after climbing the hill, we could only see the outside and the expansive view. Enroute on our walk to the castle, we passed a small cemetery.
We returned to Eminönü, the same port we had departed from. This ferry port is filled with food vendors of various sorts, so we decided to sample some of the food this time, including a very popular fish sandwich. We had also seen some small donuts-like fried pastries many times (center). This time, we decided to buy a cup (2TL, or about 60 cents US). Sure enough. Glazed donuts for a treat.
We had also seen the red liquid with something-or-other in it (upper center and upper left) many times, and this time bought one to try (also 2TL). Turned out to be pickles and cabbage in pickle juice. Very popular with the locals to augment the fish sandwiches, but not my favorite...
Our last two nights exploring Cyprus included two final sunset photography ops. First, we had read about a shipwreck very near shore that looked like it would provide an interesting foreground. We drove up and down the coast north of Paphos, asking people in English where a "shipwreck" was located, and nobody seemed to know. In our drives down small dirt roads to check yet another section of beach, we came across an old rusted tractor sitting in a banana farm field. That was too colorful and interesting to pass up (above)...
Finally, we brought up a photo we had seen of the shipwreck on our iPhone, and showed it to a cafe waitress who had just told us there was no "shipwreck". She looked at the picture, and immediately said "Oh that. Over there." and pointed down the beach about a mile. We never figured out if they call it something else or what the communication issue was, but we found the ship easily enough after that.
The Edro III ran aground in 2011, and can be seen just a few feet off the shore. The ship is badly rusted (upper left), which adds color and character to the wreck. Just as the sun was setting, two powered paragliders came flying over (middle row). As I was watching them, I was wondering where I could rent such a cool way to see the coast...
Tonight was our last in Cyrpus, and we went to a small village inn that had been recommended for dinner. While we were eating, clouds rolled in and rain threatened for a couple minutes before passing by. We finished dinner about half an hour before sunset, and asked the waitress where the best sunset could be seen. She pointed to the sky full of clouds and said "no sunset tonight." "But where would you go if there was a nice sunset," we insisted. "Latsi Harbor" was her reply. We thanked her and drove off in that direction, not expecting much.
As we approached the harbor, the sun peaked through some clouds on the horizon and color began to form. We rushed to Latsi, grabbed our cameras and tripods, and started running towards the harbor, stopping every few yards to snap another photograph of the rapidly changing sky (upper row).
Once the sun had set, we began to photograph in earnest, with tripods, as the harbor lights came on (lower right). As the blue hour arrived and the sky turned that deep blue that only happens shortly after sunset, we grabbed as many more harbor images as we could (middle left and lower left).
When the light finally faded, we grinned at each other, and were rather happy to end our Cyprus trip with a light show like this. ☺
Today was Evelyn's birthday, and it turned out to be quite eventful (but remember that we never ask a woman how old she is...). As we were driving from the village of Vouni to Paphos in Cyprus this morning, we saw some goats in a field, and decided to stop to photograph them. Every time we approached, they would run away, so we were not having much luck.
An elderly man then drove up to Evelyn in his beat-up pickup truck. Evelyn feared that he was going to chase her out of his fields for trespassing, but instead the man said in broken English "get in and I drive you (to the goats)." Evelyn was then able to capture the goat images above. After photographing for awhile, the man offered her to come to his home and join them for some Turkish coffee, picking me up along the way.
We then spent the next two hours sitting in the home of George and Nicoletta Mouzourou (center image). George went to University of Romania, where he met Nicoletta, and they were married in 1970, with one ceremony in Romania for her family, and a second in Cyprus for his family. The dashing young man in the lower right photo is George shortly after they were married.
They settled in a village in the Karpaz Peninsula, in the northeast part of Cyprus. After graduating from the university, he was assigned there by the government as a veterinarian and she as a doctor. In addition to their professional duties, they raised sheep. When the Turks invaded the island in 1974, the couple was given one month to leave and go to the South, with all other Greek Cypriots. When I asked George where his parents were born, he replied Cyprus. Grandparents? Cyprus. Great-grandparents? Cyprus. Four generations in Cyprus, yet he still identifies himself as a Greek Cypriot, as does the Turkish government.
When they arrived in the South in 1974, they were refugees. One day they were traveling in the countryside and saw a sick sheep. Being a veterinarian by training, he went to care for the animal. A Greek soldier saw what he did, and told him "this is your new home," giving them the house and land that had been vacated by a Turkish Cypriot that had similarly been forced to relocate. That is the house they still live in now, and where we met and talked with them. Nicoletta is still actively working as the village doctor. She learned her English treating tourists who were visiting the island that needed medical help over the last four decades. (English is the lingua franca that is common to most visitors from both Europe and Asia.)
George repeated over and over in the two hour conversation that "We like everyone. Germans, Russians, Americans, Turkish. They are all our friends. It is only the governments that cause trouble. They do not care for the people. They only want our land." George told us that the original Turkish Cypriot owner of their current home visits about once a month for a weekend. When that person comes, George and Nicoletta vacate the home, so the original owner can spend time in the home where his father was born and died.
George also had some interesting comments on modern life. At one point, he lamented "Things are too complicated now. In the old days, two men would stroke their mustache (he demonstrated by stroking his), then shake hands. That was all that was needed for an agreement. Now they want you to sign all these papers. No more trust between two men." I smiled and asked how women made agreements, to which George responded very seriously "Women could not make binding agreements, since they had no mustache." I still don't know if he was pulling my leg with that comment... ☺
I could go on for pages just relating their life story and our conversation, but we need to move on. George is now 77, and fears he will never see "his home" in the North again, where both his father and grandfather were born.
Later we roamed Paphos on a Segway tour, visiting some of the ruins, the harbor, the lighthouse, and learning the history of the area. Callum was our guide, and told us many little known factoids, such as real meaning of the thumbs up and thumbs down in the gladiator ring. He claimed that the movies have it backward. In Roman times, a thumb-up gesture meant to "run him through with your sword" while a thumb-down indicated "drop your sword and let him live" -- the opposite of what Hollywood shows. (With later research, I find his account of thumbs-down seems accurate, but the "let him live" gesture may have actually been a fist, with the thumb hidden?)
As we paused in front of Paphos Castle, he told us that at one point, it had been used for storage of salt. We learned that salt was considered more valuable than gold, and that soldiers often received part of their pay in salt (salarius), which became the basis for the term "salary" in current English.
When we asked him where we could best see the sunset, he told us to walk about a kilometer down a path behind the castle to an overlook on the beach.
The sky was bland with no clouds, but we decided to head out to the point anyway. Less than an hour before sunset, a few clouds started forming on the horizon, and a little color began to develop. We feared that the only foreground available was a set of three concrete blocks of unknown origin (top right).
Then, a little before sunset, a romantic young couple came and sat down right in front of me and took a selfie. Great foreground! (middle left) They then got up to leave, and I called to them to sit back down, which they did. ☺ We talked for the next hour or so as the sky developed more color, and they posed for more photos (middle right). Abel and Hiwat are IT professionals on vacation from London, who helped make the evening and the photographs more interesting.
After the sun set, we walked back towards town. As we passed the small Paphos Castle at the entry to the harbor, there was another photo op of a romantic couple in silhouette (lower left).
As the full moon rose (lower right -- yes, it was shot on that same night), we went to Gabor, a fabulous French restaurant in town, where they treated Evelyn to a special dessert, complete with painted plate (upper left) and song. When we returned to our room, a bottle of French champagne was waiting, compliments of George, the owner of the hotel where we were staying.
Overall, a memorable way to spend "another turn around the sun."
Addendum: Above photos were sent to us a week later by Callum, the guide from the Segway tour.