Thursday, November 09, 2006


Istanbul, Nov 9th at the superb Four Seasons my surprise from Eyup and Aysegul! It is 65 degrees and sunny.

We left snowy Cappadocia and dear Suha and his unique Esbelli Evi Hotel with a heavy heart. Lisa had told me what a superb guy Suha is.....he is enguzel which in Turkish means "most beautiful"....with our splendid driver Suad we drove across the barren landscape, going on a new beltway around ultra hideous Ankara (it didn't have that ethereal Pre-Greek museum it would rank right up there with Minsk and Bucharest and Oklahoma City as one of the capital cities to forget). We drove then into mountains which I had never realized existed between Ankara and Istanbul (I had never done this trip overland).

We drove through some heavy snow to arrive at the utterly beguiling town of Gonyok (with the umlauts if is pronounce gern-y-erk) and it is much prettier than it sounds, an Ottoman town of 5000 people with traditional houses, hugging an almost secret valley between mountains...and utterly invisible from a half mile away. We lodged in an old KONAK which is the Turkish upper class equivalent of a chateau or a schloss. The family who has lived on the site since the 1300s was there to welcome us. Great fun. We each had a bedroom (though shared one bath) around a large carpeted (of course) living room. The four of us really comfortable though in an American sense were roughing it. We had a lovely small town dinner with great grilled lamb and the usual delicious rice pudding, a dish which Turkey invented and which is as good as anything in the land.
I was festering then as we drove towards Istanbul (joining the super highway from Ankara for the last 100 miles) about where I was going to stay....the city starts about 35 miles out and now numbers circa 12 million people, a great deal more than the naiton of Greece. Eyup told me he had taken me at my words and have booked me in a small pension in the Sultanahmet quarter. What a glorious surprise after our semi rough digs of last night to drive up to the Four Seasons with everyone coming out to greet me. What a welcome - complete with champagne, fruit, pastries, a box of super chocolates etc. in my beautiful room overlooking the still-flower filled court. I love the place and have never stayed here though I longed to the last couple of times
I was here. Dear Eyup and Aysegul. They knew I would be delighted.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Capadoccia III

Monday Nov 6th, Urgup, 26 degrees clear with full moon after heavy snow

I know I repeat myself but Cappadocia in winter is surreal. We were awakened this morning at 4:45 AM to drive through ice covered roads for about a half hour to our balloon rendezvous point....joined with an American guy from San Francisco, two Australian couples (they had never met), the young travel writer couple from London whom I have mentioned (and like a great deal) board our balloon...a freezing morning but with calm winds....we stand there in every bit of clothing we can muster (I wear Aysegul's extra mittens, Eyup's extra wool cap as the balloon is slowly inflated....then we climb up toe holes in the large basket....I feel like an elephant but the crew assists wonderfully reminding me of getting into those longboats off the ARANUI in the Marquesas.

Rebecca, the English writer friend, is terrified of heights...I am moderately.....mountains don't bother me but I can't walk over a railroad trestle comfortably....we clutch each other and ascend. Cappadocia is surreal in deep snow, the Gaudi-esque landscape looking absolutely impossible as though it were some Hollywood computer animated scene....we go as low as tree tops (at one point I plucked a brilliant yellow fall foliage leaf and gave it to Aysegul)....then we ascend and ascend more...through the total cloud cover to about 7500 feet......One could see a number of extinct volcanoes, the Taurus mountain range super snowy towards to the Syrian border about 225 kms away... utter silence... only the occasional blast of fire to keep the balloon filled....was it scary?

AT one point I couldn't decide if I were more scared or was VERY cold.....probably about 20 in the near-stratosphere.....Cappadocia it seems has the finest thermals/winds etc (much better than our best which is the Albuquerque region) in the world...our captain is a Swede with a French wife...he is very competent thank god...there are about 8 balloons in sight across the horizon despite the freezing weather and formidable snow on the ground....I am loving the ascent....there are a coven (or whatever they are called) of foxes playing in the snow as we ascend....the combination of trees in high Fall foliage Lorraine poplars, maples, little apricot trees and the freak heavy snow is mindboggling pretty.....
We are aloft for 2 hours....descend then to have champagne and warm pound cake and coffee.....all of us feeling as though we have communed with another plane somehow...I guess we have....
Later today we explore back roads of this remarkable area of the world...going into little non-tourist villages, to a charming folk museum filled with delicious naive art (including naive art mannequins)...we take salep (the delicious winter hot beveerage of Turkey...vaguely cinnamon is its own peculiar spice and I like it)....Cappadocia is a major wine producer and we go to the Koc (the great tycoon family of Turkey) family tasting area (where Eyup and Aysegul buy 3 cases of remarkably good cabernet sauvignon-type red).....It is a lazy day after the drama of the balloon.
We motor off towards Istanbul tomorrow....Aysegul wants me to see the reworking of the pre-Greek (mostly Hittite) museum in Ankara....which I remember vividly from that visit with Fred Darragh an aeon ago....with Billy and Linda Brown too whom I think about in frigid Cappadoccia. We will stay a couple of nights in villages at little inns....then on Friday afternoon I will be put on the plane for London for a weekend at the Goring....a transition which ought to be pretty breathtaking in its contrast to where I am now.
I know I have put you all to sleep.....I am constantly revivified by the Turks, the landscape, the food, the great warmth of welcome....It is travel at its very best!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Capadoccia II

Urgup, Cappadocia, Turkey Sunday.......November 5th

It is an absolutely ice palace outside here....a heavy snow has fallen making the Gaudi-esque landscape look especially surreal...and now a full moon is about to come out with what looks like a perfect halloween bat of clouds in front of it.
I am at the Troglodyte's Hotel, Esbelli Evi, and I so like Suha the owner-manager who has been so solicitous and intelligent and funny.

We just got the word of the death sentence on S Hussein. The Turks seem to think that it is oddly a bit of banality at this point and perhaps they are right. They are apprehensive about Iraq, a place which they know is not a nation in any true sense of the word and a place they ran for centuries, will divide in threes which would only bring a sense of true alarm to the Turks with their huge Kurdish population in the SE. It does appear that these Kurds were the chief murderers of the Armenians during that ghastly period (of course with the blessing of the Sublime Porte or whatever). Turks seem to only hope that their Kurds will realize that Turkish citizenship and good behavior is going to be a hell of a lot more valuable than being new citizens of a dubious new state.
The gang here is supplemented by an absolutely delightful young English travel writing couple, Tim and Rebecca Robbins and I will write more of them later and will want to keep up with them.
Sorry for such a rambling, Sunday reflection-like email...but Cappadocia does bring out a certain need to make some sort of expression....if only because the place is so astoundingly eerie. We're about to group for dinner at some village kebab place. I am panting for my favorite Turkish dish, a yoghurt kebab with grilled eggplant.....(had Imam Bayaldi, or "the priest fainted", that great eggplant dish at lunch.) GOD I forget between each visit how well people dine here. Had my first truly superior Turkish red wine too....nurtured by the tycoon Koc family, the Rockefellers of the land....delicious.
I know you all are sick of this.....but I will end by saying that Cappadocia smiles on all of us with
a sort of pock marked, enigmatic grin.


November 5, Urgup (Cappadocia) light snow and Mysterious!

What a trip up from South Africa: the 11 + hours flight up from Cape Town to London where BA put me up at the in-airport Hilton....Heathrow more of a potential disaster than I remember.....the Hilton is attached for example to terminal reach terminal 1 with any amount of baggage at all is a 20 pound taxi shuttle buses from any airport hotel it

BA was comfortable coming up...a thrilling ride over the Kalahari and then Angola...clouds and then northern Nigeria and the utter vastness of the Sahara....clouds then and suddenly Lyon below and dusk over NW France enroute Heathrow. Oddly, BA is like Qantas in many ways: the glorious sleeper seat (with pajamas again given to passengers), 18 seats in first (all filled which they have been on all of my long haul flights) which is decent enough (with quite superlative wines) but not remotely out of the know, a filet in red wine sauce or a tuna steak after no special canapes...good cheese platters.....the days of caviare and foie gras are over with it seems...the food does at least leave one less bloated.
The night at the factory-like Hilton....the one, which charges something like 200 pounds for "civilians" but which British Airways gets for 60 Pounds a night...also have a dinner and breakfast voucher which I did not use.

Morning flight over Europe.....mostly cloudy but brilliant skies leaving London over the channel...and again clear over a very snowy E Rumania, Bulgaria and Thrace.....snowing at Ataturk Airport as I arrived.
To find Eyup and Aysegul and the fact that we were leaving in two hours (my surprise!) on a Turkish Airlines flight to Kayseri/Cappadocia......nice Turkish Airlines domestic service, greatly improved from the old days....even on the 1 1/2 hour flight a tuna sandwich and a brownie!...we arrive at Kayseri to find Suad, the Argent driver in a comfy VW van (all leather inside) for the 1 1/2 hour ride over be greeting by DEAR DEAR Suad a travel writer couple from London whom I like...and a typical groaning board dinner of full mezze and so on....I was about as hungry as someone who has just finished a huge Thanksgiving dinner...but tried to appear starved....particularly glorious tarama, dolmades and all the things I like.

It is now 1130 PM as we go to Esbelli Evi, the in-cave hotel of ENORMOUS charm and to bed...for all of 5 hours....a 500 AM wake up call and a trasnfer to Urgup Village for the hot air balloon ride...which is cancelled because of the snow....yes, it is a lovely wonderful of the Gaudi-designed landscape of Cappadocia with a brushing of the white stuff...utterly is my body.WHERE AM I? You all know the feeling. I am now typing on S's computer in the living room at Esbelli Evi...having returned to the hotel from the aborted hotair balloon and slept for an hour or so...a superb breakfast with those poppy seed simits, village bread, home made yoghurt and jams, beyaz penir...the works...oh glory....
Aysegul is more beautiful than ever....Eyup more solicitous and loving...they have a complete 5 day tour mapped out for me....wandering the backroads, staying in little sounds enchanting and I am finally waking up to the land of Oz.

I so love this country...beyond love! Should have some really original antics to report when we get to Istanbul on Wednesday night. With any luck Suat will travel with us.

The editor in chief of LONELY PLANET is due here today and all bells and whistles will be intoned.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Cape Town II

Cape Town Novenber 1st 2006....70 degrees with strong sea breezes and not a cloud in the sky...glorious.
The Cape TIMES announced this morning the most favored halloween mask of last night: This year's winner as a replica of George Bush. In the past, the winners had been such icons as Osama Bin Ladin, Draclua, PW Botha, Saddam Hussein and Idi Amin. Go figure.
The TIMES also announced the death of Botha, that last of the APARTHEID premieres who was a die hard until death and actually believed that the races here had to be divided between white (including Japanese), Asians (Indians and Chinese mostly), Cape Malays (mostly of Indonesian descent) Cape Coloured (the total European probably-majority population of mulattos), then the various black tribes. My god, someone needed a slide rule to keep up with it all. Botha WAS a ghoul and yet Mandela (whom he imprisoned) and Archbishop Tutu have sent warm condolences to his family and have asked them if they would like for the premier to lie in State......WHAT what a glorious city.
As I wrote Spring has fulminated forth in such a riot that it is almost unbelievable. If the sea breezes were not brisk today, the roses in my cottage's little garden would probably smell like a florist shop or the cosmetics counter at Sak's. I went yesterday down to the Cape of Good Hope, that obligatory trip, one that I have now made I think 5 times....always something new: this time a number of different varieties of the extremely exhuberant Protea flowers (on bushes...looking like blooming artichokes almost), a dozen heathers.....lots of whales playing out at sea. Went on a small group tour...terrific young couple from Dublin among others, both so enthusiastic about the Cape that they are considering emigration.....even though Dublin booms as it never has in its history.
It is curious to talk to people and find out how essentially relaxed they are about their new racial reality. They greatly resent those who left South Africa, mostly Apartheid types (though they may have denied it) who would not have been comfortable in this very well working multi racial society. The locals are deeply resentful of the emigres of the apartheid and just-post era, easy to understand. I heard the same expressions of disdain in Havana for those who left Cuba. I am sure that there are still massive economic racial divides here, but on the whole things seem amazingly relaxed. The houses all have plaques from this or that security service.....but people tell me the streets are much safer than 5 years ago. YEAH!...I have seen the Tower of Babel and it works.
This will be my last missive from the gloriously blooming so-called dark continent.