Dawn Til Dusk – Turkish Travel During Ramazan
“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have traveled.”
This year, we didn’t have turkey for Christmas, so we went to Turkey for Christmas. After all, it is where Saint Nicolas is buried in his tomb near Myrna. We land in Istanbul and spend a week visiting the obligatory sites including Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and Grand Bazaar.
The city’s skyline is pierced by countless minarets as far as the eye can see. Under one such tower, we stumble across a crowded impromptu market. Shortly afterwards, it is promptly dismantled by the arrival of the “polis” and several paddy-wagons.
Much to our delight, the bus doesn’t turn into a decrepit, suspension-less rust-bucket with a perpetually blaring horn, dodging herds of cattle on a road pock-marked with bottomless craters.
Roll over the image for the effects of the police on a Black Market
The clock at the front of the bus even continues to display the correct time. Yes Dorothy, we’re still in Kansas – and our carriage hasn’t turned into a pumpkin. A standard Turkish bus is super ultra deluxe luxury, about the size of a 747, complete with a steward offering refreshments. And, it cannot go more than forty-five minutes without stopping for a wash, chai and a smoke.
Ramazan Road Trip
As we soon discover, the daytime chais and smokes were coming to an end. Our reentry to Asia coincides with the beginning of the yearly fast of Ramazan ( in Arabic). It is the month within the lunar calendar when nothing passes a Muslim’s lips from sunrise to sunset – at least in theory. Although it is an important, interesting and fascinating aspect of the local culture, it makes for less than convenient travel through the old Ottoman Empire and Islamic world in general.
But, nonetheless, here we are. Our first stop is the beautiful isthmus of Amasara, jutting out into the Black Sea. Ongoing turmoil in the Middle East deters most tourists and, like many of the region’s highlights, we have the place to ourselves. Next, we move inland to the medieval town of Safranbolu where blacksmiths and cobblers still ply their trades the same way they have for centuries.
We arrive after dark, and finding dinner isn’t a problem. Early the next morning, around 4am, we are rudely awakened by what sounds like a horse-drawn cart loudly rumbling down the cobblestone street. Outside, instead of a cart, we see a boy walking down the cobblestone street – banging a drum and leaving a cacophony of barking dogs and crowing roosters in his wake. WTF?!
We go back to sleep, get up at a reasonable hour, and go in search of some breakfast. But, everything is closed and the only food available are packages of biscuits. It dawns on us that the little drummer boy was waking everyone up so they can have breakfast before sunrise. So, some Ramazan meal planning is obviously required for the next few weeks.
Anatolia, Amasya and Ankara
We continue through central Turkey, visiting the psychedelic and phallic tufa cones of Göreme in Cappadoccia where some of the world’s earliest churches can be found. Next, we explore the cave-riddled area near the middle of Nigde – literally “nowhere” in some languages.
Amasya was once an important stop on the Silk Road. The city is naturally fortified by the surrounding mountains, whose cliffs are dotted with dozens of tombs. The old caravanserai on the banks of the Yesilırmak River, where ancient trading convoys would rest for the night, can still be explored.
Any Middle Eastern town worth its salt has a hill-top citadel. Safronbolu and Amasya are no exceptions. The atmosphere created by the calls to prayer echoing across the terracotta roofs through a haze of coal and wood smoke is one of those rare moments when one can clearly imagine how things were eons ago. Little, it seems has changed.
Eventually, we make our way to the capital, Ankara. In larger cities, finding food during the day is not as much of a challenge as in the smaller towns. But of course, Ramazan is observed here, too. And every evening, we take our places in a restaurant with the locals. With a cigarette in one hand, a spoon in the other and a bowl of steaming bean soup in front of them, they wait for the faint sound of a distant cannon signaling the sunset to light up and dig in.