I’m up before 7:30am, as is the sun that’s on the other side of buildings and trees, and not to be seen till I go upstairs to the breakfast rooftop patio. I take in the skyscrapers on the horizon, the ships in the strait, the satellite dishes and birds, and the fake plant next to the woman wiping rain off chairs and tables. I’m sure breakfast will be a feast, and something worthy of writing about, but it won’t be from this hotel.
I walk down the street, more aware of doors, not blocked by tourists and rain, smiling with their morning photographic confidence. I walk into the bakery – Evin Unlu Mamulleri Kadirga, between my hotel and rental car – and point to a Turkish bun with sesame seeds, a flaky stuffed pastry, and a rolled potato pan borek – all different textures, shapes and fillings. This is where I fall in love with fresh squeezed pomegranate juice with no additives in my 9 oz cup.
I thought I’d get up early and sightsee, and that’s what I’m doing in standstill traffic where men are between the lanes selling water and simit. I pass under the Valens “Grey Falcon” Aqueduct, built in 368, which is a grandeur example of Roman architecture – and my ability to get lost. It will take me another 50 minutes to get on the Galata Bridge. I will pass the Welcome to Asia sign at 9:34 am (that I was not expecting) after driving over the Bosphorus Bridge, then past the airport I arrived at, and through a few tunnels – one being Hereke Tüneli, built 1977-1980.
On the other side of these tunnels is the Sea of Marmara complete with mountains, trees, clouds, curvy roads, and a reflection of the sunlight on the water. I reach the city limits of Sakarya at 10:45 am and notice when I go over 50 km/h that the electronic speed limit sign in Adapazari turns into a sad face – which of course makes me want to go fast, but also the need for a toilet has me urgently looking for the Deprem Kültür Müzesi and a place to park two blocks away instead of behind the Earthquake Culture Museum.
I try to maintain my composure with the curator and the guard as I look at the entrance fee board and ask for the bayan’s toilet. I’m pointed in the right direction and am rubbing all over the wall with my hand trying to find the light switch in the dark, offering almost simultaneous relief. Now I’m free to explore the images of the damages from six earthquakes caused between 1902 and 1999 – when 20 countries offered money, blankets, tents, and search & rescue teams to assist the 500,000 homeless and 50,000 injured.
There’s a display of the uniform worn by civil defence, tools used, a typical kitchen, and a regions map that I can’t read. The curator finds me reading the only two English paragraphs in the museum and he seems happy that I’m here. I thank him and help myself to the exit and enjoy a bit of the city before getting back on the highway. I thought I had other plans here, but the map is now showing them as hours in different directions – something I don’t have time for.
I walk into a cold store just to see the cigarette and alcohol on display – something I’m not used to in Bahrain. It’s not that the country doesn’t sell smokes, but they don’t have Winston’s advertising that ‘smoking slows blood flow and causes sexual impotence’ or Camel’s warning that ‘smoking highly addictive, do not start’ with a picture of a man behind cigarette bars – like prison, but the price is only $2.82 a pack. I’ll spend 35 cents on two small waters and walk back to the car. I notice the speed radar sign above the road go from a red frown face, to a red 51, to a green 50.
An hour of tree covered hills brings me to Düzce for three bananas, cheese bread, and an unasked-for car wash totalling 11.5 lira. I get petrol in Bolu with more snacks and a can of coffee as I continue to drive in the rain. I’m enjoying the change in weather and the dark clouds it brings. Sometimes boiling hot, to the point of cooked clouds and bugs, can leave those things un-photographed. This country has a wealth of things to point my lens at, and mosques and the Turkish flag are not sparse.
I stop in Ankara at 3pm and get Nescafe when I’m expecting Turkish coffee. I try to inquire and the cook brings out more Coffee Mate that I decline – I’ll drink what I have, along with the juice box of vişne suyu (cherry juice). The goal is that this caffeine will get me to Cappadocia; past the mountain turns, the splits in the road, and the stretch of fields. Going between 50 and 150km/h will take me past houses old and new, construction and cemeteries, and roadside tent parties. Going between towns I notice their simple signs – town name (entering), town name with red line angled across it (leaving).
Another bayan WC, another lira. Another petrol station, another tiny receipt, but what I wasn’t expecting was the free box of tissues telling me to, “Hayirli yolculuklar,” Have a good journey, and the car cloth that came with it. The sun will win my attention for a 45 minute stretch. There are tractors, and signs, and a falcon water fountain (perhaps a mistranslation), but I won’t stop again till I see the sign for Organik Sarap.
I turn down a dirt drive and park in front of the barn where two men were enjoying the last of the sunlight. One leaves as I enter and admire all the large wood holding all the glass bottles. I ask for the WC and it’s a good thing that I always carry my phone – I will need the flashlight function. We go behind the plastic wall, down the long unlit hall, and he directs me behind a door. I don’t know whether to feel more scared or relieved when I hear him walking away.
When I return, he has gladly poured me at least six glasses of wine so that I may try each bottle he has. I thank him for his kindness but have to decline to drink them all. He goes to his laptop and I hear the lyrics from Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.” I have to laugh inside, but he did pick the right language. Unfortunately, neither of us is able to pick out the word English from the list of words that start with E and I on Google translate; it’s İngilizce. I appreciate the friendship, even with the language barrier, but I show myself out when he points to the tent in the corner.
I have a room reserved at Dora Cave Hotel in Göreme. I’m grateful I don’t let others’ sour opinions of a place influence my decision. I was kindly greeted, offered a seat and some tea, and conversation while waiting on dinner – on the house. I was served beans, rice, grapes, and bread; then shown upstairs to my room to spend the evening in a hot shower, staring at the caves in the distance, and relaxing on one of the two beds.