Sunday, October 16, 2011

For every thing there is a season

Deep-red pomegranates hung heavily from countless trees along the Mediterranean coast in early October. Two months earlier, women sat by the side of the road in the Aegean town of Ayvalık, selling bags full of freshly clipped squash blossoms, delicate yellow flowers soon to be stuffed with rice and spices and served on local tables.

Traveling around Turkey, it's easy to see what fruits and vegetables are in season. Meat and fish too have their special times of year, with restaurants sticking handwritten signs in their windows to announce the arrival of hamsi (anchovies) or goose. Even in Istanbul, where you can get imported Granny Smith apples or out-of-season strawberries in large supermarkets, produce stands and carts overflow for a few weeks or months with the best of what's growing right now -- juicy cherries in the peak of the summer heat, tart citrus fruit to ward off the late fall chill, hearty brussels sprouts in the dead of winter.

Though what people eat around the world -- including in Turkey -- is becoming increasingly homogenized, food's link to a particular time and place seems stronger here than back in the United States. People many generations removed from rural life will readily tell you with pride that "their" village makes the best cheese, grows the tastiest apples, or is without a doubt the place to get superior pistachios. At the end of summer, the baggage areas of long-distance buses heading to Istanbul from all corners of Anatolia are full of evidence of this devotion -- canvas sacks of nuts and crates of fruit, carted back by visiting city dwellers who won't accept any substitutes for the true tastes of home.

NOTE: From famine and hunger to organic gardening and vegetarianism, bloggers around the world are writing about the past, present, and future of food for Blog Action Day, an annual event that seeks to focus attention on an important topic such as water, climate change, or poverty. Register online and get blogging to join today's global conversation about food.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Famished in Phaselis

Schedules may often be more like suggestions, "no"s may sometimes mysteriously turn into "yes"es, and procedures may change from day to day, but if there's anything you can count on in Turkey, it's that there will be a dolmuş (private minibus) going where you want to go, and that when you get there, someone will be selling something to eat.

So there was no reason to doubt the Lonely Planet Turkey guide when it said you could buy snacks at the site entrance to Phaselis, the ruins of an ancient city set along three small bays on Turkey's Mediterranean Coast.

"Snacks," though, turned out to be a cooler of sodas and a few overpriced candy bars. My faith in the certainties of Turkish travel badly shaken, I bought a Twix bar and headed onward. I had spent three hours on the dolmuş to get here; there would be no turning back in search of tost.

The ruins and beaches, fortunately, were exactly as advertised.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cellular confusion

Despite their many and long-held animosities, Turkey and Greece have a lot in common. Not that either of them would admit it. When I visited Athens a few years ago, people often stiffened noticeably when we told them we were from Istanbul, and then insisted we absolutely must try "Greek baklava," "Greek coffee," or "Greek kebab" -- all of which tasted pretty much exactly like their Turkish counterparts.

See my toes? They're in Turkey. That island offshore? That's Greece.
The similarities are so strong that while riding in a minibus on a winding road hugging the cliffs along Turkey's Mediterranean coast, even my cell phone got confused about exactly where it was.

"Sayin musterimiz, yurt disi operatorden sinyal almakta oldugunuz icin Turkcell Dunya tarifesi ile ucretlendirilmektesiniz," read the first in a barrage of text messages explaining call and SMS fees in Greece and touting the "avantaj" of Turkcell's international calling packages.

Dear customer, you are getting a signal from an international operator and will be charged Turkcell World fees...

The nearness of Greece is particularly keenly felt on Turkey's Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, where places like Ayvalık, Bozcaada, and Kalkan retain the distinctive architecture of their historical "Greek quarters," if not the residents, relocated in the population exchange of 1923. Near Fethiye, an entire town, Kayaköy, stands empty, its stone homes never re-inhabited after their owners were forced to leave. Continued saber-rattling today over Cyprus and an Aegean territorial dispute are further proof, though, that closeness doesn't always lead to comity.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Up the stairs and back in time

With its clean-swept sandstone steps and lush, well-tended foliage, this little neighborhood staircase could be located in any number of warm-climate, well-to-do communities around the world. I could easily see people in Los Angeles, or maybe Santa Fe, or even somewhere in Spain, walking up these stairs after work, and going home to one of the handful of houses lining the steps on both sides.

What these imaginary people wouldn't find at the top of those doppelgänger stairs, however, would be what these particular steps led to: a 2,000-year-old Lycian rock tomb, carved into the hillside above.

There was a pretty nice view of the sunset from the top too, but those aren't quite so unusual outside this beautiful and history-rich stretch of Turkish Mediterranean coastline.

TO VISIT: This tomb, and some less-well-preserved ones nearby, are easy to get to from the town center in Kaş, though you won't find any signs until right at the base of the steps.

Go up from the town square on Uzun Çarşi Cad. (you'll pass an impressive free-standing sarcophagi dating to the same era on the way) until you see the big Phellos Health Club on your right. Turn left on Likya Cad. and continue uphill until you reach the tombs.