Thursday, 3 November 2011

Latvia, Georgia and Turkey Pt. 7: Ankara and Istanbul

world-map istanbul

Part Seven of my Summer 2010 trip





Links to all parts of this travelogue:

Part 1: Riga, Sigulda and Turaida

Part 2: Tbilisi, Mtskheta and Kazbegi

Part 3: Tbilisi, Gori and Uplistsikhe

Part 4: Batumi, Kars and Ani

Part 5: Doğubeyazit, Van and Diyarbakır

Part 6: Urfa, Haran and Adana

Part 7: Ankara and Istanbul


9th August, 2010 – near Kirikkale, Turkey
I awoke around nine, the time that the Çukurova Mavi Treni was due to arrive in the Turkish capital, but to my surprise, when I opened my blind, it was still twisting its way around tight curves high above an arid river valley, with Ankara still several hours away. I read The State of Africa and watched the stunning, lonely scenery pass by before it morphed into the suburbs of the capital.
Onboard the Çukurova Mavi Treni
I was pleased to be arriving in Ankara. Pleased because it represented the completion of the longest leg of my journey and Istanbul was now a mere seven hours away, but pleased also because arrival there physically linked my travels in 2003 with this trip. When I alighted the train in Ankara’s grand railway station, I could now draw a continuous line in my travels all the way from Georgia to my home in Stoke-on-Trent.
I’d liked Turkey’s capital back in 2003 most other travellers seem to leave unimpressed by the place. I however, had loved the vast pseudo-Classical mausoleum for Atatürk – the Anıt Kabir – and the old Ottoman town huddled within the walls of the citadel, walls which were dotted with segments of earlier realms, a chunk of Greek inscription here, a lintel off a Roman column there. Most of all though, I’d liked the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations, one of the most magnificent museums in the world, a fifteenth century covered market now filled with remnants of a dozen ancient civilisations; Roman, Greek, Hittite, Assyrian, Urartian and more.
One of Ankara’s more modern glories though, is her railway station, a huge Art Deco terminal that befits the capital of a great, forward-looking nation. One feels like Hercule Poirot as one waits in its clean, ordered, 1920s foyer, almost expecting a mysterious murder to take place. Across the tracks is a steam locomotive museum that further enhances the illusion of being between the wars. I’d strolled around that seven years before but somehow I’d missed then the small railway museum full of memorabilia and models at the end of the platform and the preserved coach that once ferried Atatürk – a man most enthusiastic about rail travel – around his new republic. Comparing him with his contemporary Stalin whose coach I’d viewed back in Gori, despite being a socialist at heart, I have to say that the ex-military man comes out on top, for whilst his record was certainly not blemish free, he always tried to keep his killing to a minimum and actually modernised just as much as Stalin talked about it.
Rail travel between Ankara and Istanbul had changed markedly since I’d last made the journey seven years before. The Turks are busy constructing a high-speed line between their two main cities which, when completed, will reduce the journey time from seven hours to four. In August 2010 however, only the first part of that route, the section from Ankara to Eskişehir, had been opened, but even that shaved an hour or so off my journey time.
I boarded the swish new Yüksek Hizli Tren (literally, ‘High Speed Train’), set out like the Bullet Trains at the opposite end of Asia that have inspired it and waited for the experience to begin. At first I wondered what all the fuss was about as the train meandered through the suburbs at speeds and on tracks no faster or newer than those of the train that I’d entered the city on. However, as soon as we passed the airport and left the city behind, we took off, the old line swinging off to the south and the speed indicator above the door informing us that we were now travelling at speeds in excess of 200km per hour. The empty steppe whizzed past in a blur, the old line still busy with freight trains crossing us regularly as we continued on our straightened path, and before I knew it, the Yüksek Hizli Tren was slowing down again and we pulled into Eskişehir.
 Yüksek Hizli Tren
Back in Ankara I’d tried to find out the times of the trains onwards to Istanbul from Eskişehir but the (not very helpful) staff at the booking office had been unable to provide me with the information I needed, causing me to look into the possibility of tarrying awhile in the city or perhaps taking a bus on to Bursa, a place that I rather wanted to have a look at. The truth was though, I was tired of all the travelling and sight-seeing and merely wanted to get to Istanbul – which represented the end of the journeying – as soon as possible and so when I found out that there was a departure onwards to Istanbul within the hour, I booked myself onto it.
Waiting on the platform I fell into conversation with a man named Ahmet who was a businessman from Kayseri. He chatted at length about his many exploits in West Africa where he has spent much of his life doing business. This was of great interest to me as I was still wading through the excellent State of Africa and so I decided to get some first-hand accounts of the chaos that I’d read about in the book. Before opening the tome I had known full well that Africa has its problems, but as I turned each page it became more and more apparent just how huge and insoluble those problems are. Ahmet confirmed all that was said and added to it, concluding that the entire continent was corrupt and knackered from top to bottom. Nonetheless, he maintained that there were some good business opportunities to be had there if you were willing to take a risk and I heartily enjoyed our conversation which helped to pass the long hours between Eskişehir and Istanbul. However, all was not perfect for midway through our trip, a man several seats in front came up to my companion and started reprimanding him loudly before returning to his seat obviously most angered. When I enquired as to what the problem was, Ahmet informed me that he'd objected to English being used on board a Turkish train. “I am so sorry,” he said glumly, “people like this, stupid people. Look, he is an extremist, a crazy religious man; he has a headscarf girl with him!”
You might be forgiven for a moment for wondering why my new friend had brought the headgear of his accuser’s companion into the explanation, but the fact is that there are few places in the world where the issue of what one wears on one’s head has provoked such anger and debate. Atatürk himself started it off by banning the headscarf, the veil and the fez as symbols of Oriental backwardness that had no place in his new, secular, westward-orientated republic. In but a generation a nation of traditional, conservative Muslims were expected to become liberal Europeans. To everyone’s surprise though, his aim was achieved… well, almost. Nowadays however, the backlash has arrived. With the rise of the conservative religious right, the headscarf has become a symbol, a potent political symbol, of how faith is forcing its way into the mainstream once again. It was the central issue in Pamuk’s Snow. That novel was of course, set in Kars, although I noticed the rise of the headscarf much less there than in other parts of the country. In the Kurdish areas it is predominant, Urfa too where the all-encompassing black chador beloved by the Iranian mullahs was worn by a sizable minority. Most striking however, was in the Çarşamba District of Istanbul below the Fatih Camii where virtually all the females donned a chador and with those that didn’t, there was still never a hair on show.
To the secular Turks like my businessman travelling companion, the wearing of the headscarf is both harmful and confusing. Atatürk sought to liberate women from slavery so why try and return to such a state under one’s own free will? It must be forced on them by their uneducated husbands or fathers is the line that secularist thinking tends to go, for the alternative is that the girls themselves must be crazy and as such, in no fit state to take a part in the mainstream. Besides, how does it look to the Europeans who the Turks are desperately trying to court so that the long-promised dream of becoming an EU member state finally becomes a reality?
As for myself, I can’t help but agree in many ways. To me, when I see the headscarf – and even more the veil – it just screams “Oppression!” Yes, I know that many girls choose to wear them either as an expression of faith or politics, but I still fail to see how a garment designed to mute the attractions of a human being and divert attentions away from them can be liberating. But then I am both a Westerner and a Christian. A religious faith is something that I can comprehend, but not one that demands an easily identifiable dress code and a place in national politics. To me, one’s faith is personal and should not be imposed on others, and I struggle to see how the alternative can be pleasing in the eyes of God. However, before one distances oneself too much from the situation, it is worthwhile to note that I never once saw a niqaab (faceveil) being worn throughout all my travels in Turkey; there are plenty on display in my hometown of Stoke-on-Trent.[1]
The sun was setting as our train drew into Haydar Paşa railway station, the grand terminus on the Asian shore of the Bosporus. Istanbul is an incredible city to enter from whichever direction one approaches and after hugging the shoreline and watching the boats on the Sea of Marmara for the last hour, this route was no exception. Although hot, dirty, sticky and tired, I felt rejuvenated as I exited the station and saw the ancient city of Byzantium on the far side of the straits. My travelling was over at last and here I was in the most beautiful city on all the earth.
After taking the ferry across the Bosporus, I booked in at the Otel Istiklal just by the Sirkeci Railway Station. I’d stayed there on my last trip and it had cost me 5,000,000 lire (£5) per night. Now though, the price was 30 lire (£15). Like everywhere else in Turkey, the prices had increased, but here in Istanbul I was soon to learn, they had rocketed.
After two days and one night of continual travel without a shower, I had only one priority after dumping my backpack and as Turkey is famous for its baths then I knew I would have no problem in satisfying it. In 2003 I’d made my way up to the Gedikpaşa Hamam, a 15th century bath house near to the Grand Bazaar, where I’d relaxed in glorious – albeit slightly shabby – surroundings and washed away the rigours of my previous journey from Ankara. Since it had worked a treat then, I decided to try it again and I fought my way through the hordes of tourists in Sultanahmet, (such a contrast with my last visit in the depths of winter when snow drifted through the streets and the only other tourists I saw were a handful of South Koreans!), and took a tram up to Beyazit where I located the hamam again and went inside. Like with the hotel, the price had shot up – I forget what I’d paid before but now it was the equivalent of £12! – and it had been renovated. I was not pleased; the renovations had not really improved the place and I resented paying over the odds. Nonetheless, it did the job and besides, even though I’d only been there for a couple of hours, I had now fully realised that tourist-infested Sultanahmet is a world away in terms of price from the less-frequented and much cheaper regions of the country that I’d just come from.
And so being a tourist in that most touristy corner of Turkey, upon leaving the hamam I did something that only a tourist would do, something virtually unforgivable in backpacker circles: I sought out the famous Golden Breasts and ordered a double-cheeseburger meal made large.
And by God, I enjoyed it!
10th August, 2010 – Istanbul, Turkey
The Otel Istiklal was fine and comfortable enough in the depths of the Turkish winter, but in the unbearable heat of the summer it was quite a different matter. With no air con or even a fan, the heat was sweltering and I struggled to sleep. By the time that morning came I was tired and drenched in sweat.
Having crossed over to the Dark Side the previous evening, I saw no reason to switch back that morning so I breakfasted at McDonalds, proud that this was one of those very rare occasions when I was up early enough to actually catch the breakfast menu. Don’t get me wrong here, I do like Turkish food, a hell of a lot actually and at home I eat it regularly, but I had been away for almost three weeks now and my stomach craved something it recognised.
Full of junk, I went out to see something of the city. On my last trip I’d visited the Topkapı Palace and Aya Sofya, explored Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu and visited the Greek Patriarch, (the Orthodox ‘Pope’ although his residence is far less ostentatious), but there was still plenty to see, enough to fill a fortnight, let alone a day. I decided to start off therefore, by getting an overview of the whole place before delving into the details and so I strolled over to Rüstempaşa to catch a boat to take me on a Bosporus cruise.
Through my short ferry trips between Sirkeci and Haydarpaşa, my reading of Crescent & Star, (Kinzer actually swam across the Straits early one morning), and Orhan Pamuk’s novels centred around life in the fast-disappearing ancient wooden villas that line its shores, I felt like I knew the Bosporus quite intimately, but in a second-hand fashion. I wanted to make that relationship direct and real, to see the villas, bridges, tankers and palaces that I’d read so much about and so it was that I boarded a boat full of Americans, Japanese, Italians and Turks to take me up to the Fatih Bridge and back.
If there is one city on earth that you should try to visit just once before you die, then it is Istanbul. No other city on earth can match it for architecture, setting and history. And if it is that you only ever get to do one thing in that great city, then make sure that thing is booking yourself onto a Bosporus cruise. From the boat one can see the grand imperial mosques of Sultanahmet; the Topkapı Palace and Aya Sofya; the district of Beyoğlu where all the Europeans used to live; the Galata Tower lording over its churches and mosques; the skyscrapers of Şişli; the gargantuan Dolmabahçe Palace; magnificently decadent 19th century mosques; the Beşiktaş Stadium; the Kempinski Hotel – formerly a palace built for Sultan Abdül Aziz; the glorious wooden villas that Pamuk so cherishes; the Rumeli Citadel built by Mehmet the Conqueror; the awe-inspiring Bosporus and Fatih suspension bridges and much, much more. I sat on the deck and drank it all in, reacquainting myself with old friends that I’d read about in books and delving into my guidebook to get acquainted with new ones, whilst all the while keeping an eye on all the boats plying the waterway; rusty tankers from  the Ukraine and cargo ships registered at Panama or Majuro.[2]
The Rumeli Citadel and Fatih Bridge
More important than all of that though, was what happened to me on board that voyage. We had already reached the Fatih Bridge with the Rumeli Citadel nestling beside it and had turned back towards our home port on the Golden Horn when, with no new sights to distract me, a novel started to form itself in my mind. Since I started writing for pleasure back in 2000 I had completed six full-length novels, but not one since 2006. In the period of four years since finishing the (dubious) Disco 2005, my fiction output has dried up considerably, largely due to work and family pressures of course, but indeed, it was worrying. The (mediocre) short story The Visitor written in the tea garden in Urfa had been my first in many months and all that considered, it is understandable as to why I was so delighted that my inspiration had returned on that Bosporus boat. This was more than just an idea too, for unlike all my other works, this one just flowed out there and then with 80% of the novel which was eventually written and entitled Into the Belly of the Beast being planned out in some detail on that cruise, (and indeed, the extra 20% only came about as the original was too short when written). The story – a loose sequel to the Onogurian Three trilogy involving descendents of the original participants – is pregnant with details, sights, sounds and places from throughout my three-week trip. The heroes travel to Istanbul and then by train to Kars; a rogue agent is thrown off that train in those wild and lonely hills between Ankara and Kirikkale that I’d woken up to after drinking with Onur in the buffet car, (and indeed the heroine gets the Turkish agent drunk in the same buffet car before throwing him off the train); my heroes cross over from Turkey to the USSR by the canyon next to Ani, hiding in a ruined church until nightfall; they meet partisans in a vast Ukrainian forest much akin to that around Sigulda; the novel ends in Doğubeyazıt where the hero is busy secretly exporting Armenians out to the West using a secret passage under Mt. Ararat, and the whole story is underpinned and inspired by the story of Kim Philby whose autobiography I had read in Georgia. The other locations used – Rudozem, Varna, Corfu and Athens – were all taken from my previous travels and were in fact, mostly in the 20% added on at the end. Into the Belly of the Beast may not be the best or the most literary book that I have ever written, but it represents both a return to inspiration and a more colourful travelogue for my trip across Georgia and Turkey than this one can ever hope to be. I left the boat at Rüstempaşa a pleased man indeed.
Bosporus villas
The skyscrapers of Şişli and the Bosporus Bridge
There was one sight that I had missed in 2003, (because I’d only read about it afterwards), and that I really wanted to see this time. The Church of St. Stephen of the Bulgars is remarkable for being built entirely out of cast-iron but it was a good kilometre’s walk away and so I decided to combine a visit to it with the advice of Brian Connellan and visit the Zeyrek Camii en route. This mosque was originally a pair of Byzantine churches and is the second-largest example of Byzantine architecture left in Byzantium (after Aya Sofya), the city that gave its name to the empire.
I walked through the higgledy-piggledy streets of the Küçükpazar District to the mosque which occupies a beautiful position commanding views over the Golden Horn and across to the Blue Mosque, but, to my dismay, (and yet at the same time pleasure, for although bad for me personally, it was good for the building itself), it was closed for restoration. Disappointed, I decided to trudge up the hill to explore the Fatih Camii, the first imperial mosque to be built in the city following its capture by Mehmet the Conquerer.
Once again though, I was to be disappointed. Whilst this mosque was open and I managed to look inside, there was little to see as that too was under restoration and I was confronted by a mass of scaffolding that obscured the beauties of its interior. Far more interesting was the plaza outside where scores of girls draped in thick black chadors were milling around. The Fatih Mosque is in the heart of the Çarşamba District, one of the most conservative in the city, whose population seem like they would be far more at home in Saudi Arabia than the Westernised districts of their own city that lie just a few miles away. I walked through the quiet streets amazed that such a religious neighbourhood exists in the heart of Turkey’s most European city, and then ended up at an establishment that I am sure most of the residents of Çarşamba are not that bothered about going inside.
The Church of St. Stephen of the Bulgars is the place of worship for the city’s Bulgarian community and although I fancied the opportunity to speak Bulgarian to the locals, the main purpose of my visit was to see the remarkable building itself which was constructed in 1871 in Vienna and then shipped down the Danube in pieces and assembled on its current site. All-metal churches are of course, not that uncommon, but usually they are temporary structures constructed out of corrugated iron. This however, was something else; from a distance it looks like any other 19th century baroque church and it is only when one gets up close that one can see that it is constructed out of large cast-iron sections, a fascinating oddity in a city of surprises.
The Church of St. Stephen of the Bulgars
By this time I was fed up of the heat, fed up of the sight-seeing and fed up of travelling. I wanted to go home but I knew that before I caught my plane back to Blighty the following day, there was one more sight that I simply had to see.
The Blue Mosque is one of the two world famous buildings in Istanbul. The other – Aya Sofya – I visited back in 2003, but that day I’d avoided the Blue Mosque, afraid to pay another admission fee as hefty as that for Aya Sofya. Only later did I learn that it is free.
The mosque’s official name is the Sultan Ahmet Camii and it was built by the sultan of that name between 1606 and 1616 to rival or even surpass Aya Sofya. From the outside, it has surely succeeded in outdoing its older neighbour – Aya Sofya, after several buttressing attempts following collapses during earthquakes, looks rather workaday and heavy – but common wisdom holds that regarding the interiors, Aya Sofya still holds the crown, for the dome of the Blue Mosque is far smaller and less impressive and is supported by four huge pillars, (rather than the walls themselves), proof that in a thousand years the art of dome-building had not really progressed all that much. Nonetheless, I still wanted to see it, so I took a tram uphill, got off by the famous Hippodrome, once the centre of Byzantine life, and strolled across to the mosque.
To say that the Blue Mosque is impressive is truly an understatement. Its sheer scale and beautiful proportions have to be seen to be believed. Only the King Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca comes close out of all the Islamic edifices that I’ve seen and that was built almost four hundred years later with all the aids of modern technology. Inside, whilst not able to rival Aya Sofya for size, it is still mightily impressive; a gigantic souped-up version of the scores of Ottoman mosques that I have visited across Turkey and the Balkans, its walls covered with tens of thousands of blue tiles from which its unofficial name is derived. I sat down on the carpet and drank it all in, realising that there, in that glorious shrine to Ottoman might and magnificence, my journey across the modern-day successor state to the Ottoman Empire was symbolically drawing to a close.
I filed out and found an unexpected delight awaiting me in the mosque’s grand courtyard. All around the edge were large displays of before and after photographs of historical buildings restored by the Turkish Government. In amongst them were a surprisingly large amount that I’d seen on my trip with examples from Kars, Doğubeyazıt, Van, Diyarbakır and Urfa as well as several of the interesting buildings I’d noticed from the bus when going through Bitlis. It was nice to see the government so committed to preserving the national heritage although sadly there were few Armenian churches in amongst the photos on display. Pleased with this little diversion, I retired to the park for tea and another think about my new novel before heading back to the hotel for bed.
The Blue Mosque

11th August, 2010 – Istanbul, Turkey
I slept slightly better on that, my last night in Turkey, but still rose early. Over breakfast I started a new book – Imperium by Robert Harris – before heading out to buy some souvenirs for friends and family and also to purchase a jar of coffee.
Back in Diyarbakır, I’d been so impressed by the menengla kahve that Ahmet Sezer had introduced me to, that I’d bought a jar of the stuff from the bazaar in Urfa. However, on the long train journey between Adana and Istanbul, disaster had struck and the jar had broken causing thick brown goo to soak all my books. That almighty mess was eventually cleared up but I was still a jar of coffee down, so I’d enquired about buying a replacement in several shops in Istanbul only to be told that menengla kahve is not all that popular in Istanbul and the only place where I’d be able to get hold of it is the Spice Bazaar in Rüstempaşa. En route to there, I popped into an interesting-looking Ottoman Era building that turned out to be the Tomb of Valide Sultan Turhan Hatice, the opulent resting place of half a dozen sultans.
In the Spice Bazaar I managed to get my coffee at only the second place I asked at and that done it was time for me to leave so I grabbed my bag from the hotel and took the ferry across the Bosporus to the Harem Bus Station from where a dolmuş took me fro some distance along a dual-carriageway before dumping at a bus stop in the middle of an anonymous suburb. There I had to wait for an indeterminably long time until a local bus arrived to take me onwards, for untold miles through countless suburbs that had once been villages, to the Sabiha Gőkçen Airport, Istanbul’s second air hub. In there I used up my last lire on an inflatable aeroplane for my son, (who is being encouraged to have an interest in all things related to travel), and a McDonalds before settling down to finish Imperium.
I finished the book on the plane that took me back all the way to Britain. I was not sad to be leaving, for the truth was that I was tired of all the travelling and needed a rest, and furthermore, tired of being alone. Some people can travel solo for months on end and I have to admit that it does have its benefits, but I personally prefer someone to share it all with. Experience has taught me that a fortnight is about my limit and I was well over that. I truly hope that Paul recovers in time for next year’s expedition.
But if that sounds all very negative, then I am sorry, for the trip was not such a bad one at all. Although I entered into it with lots of apprehensions and worries, overall it was incredibly enjoyable and the perfect tonic for a hard year. I saw places that one can only dream of seeing and I met some fantastic people on the way. Turkey I had been to in 2003 and felt that I had only touched the tip of an incredible cultural, historical and geographical iceberg. Now, I felt like I was beginning to get to know her; I had traversed her from east to west and seen something of both her European and Asian faces. At times these had merged strangely; Kars reminded me of a Balkan city yet it is surrounded by the empty steppe of Central Asia; Urfa is solidly Middle Eastern yet only a few hours away was the very European Adana.
I had read a lot beforehand about Turkey, admittedly most of it written during the problems with the PKK, and the majority of it had not been good. Tales of police and military brutality, Kemalist inflexibility, Kurdish extremism, a stubbornness to accept responsibility for the Armenian Genocide, the worrying rise of Islamism, Christian persecution and dodgy democracy impregnate the pages of Pamuk, Dalrymple, Kinzer and de Ballaigue. Whilst all that is undoubtedly true, one cannot help feeling that things now are on the up. The long-running conflict with the PKK is over and the Kurds have accepted a solution involving some autonomy; the Islamists have turned out to be far less radical that had been feared and relations have been established with Armenia that might one day blossom into full normality. Soon after returning to Britain I read on the BBC website that Armenian Mass had been celebrated for the first time in ninety-five years in the Church of the Holy Cross on Akdamar Island on Lake Van.[3] True, there have been setbacks also, but the very fact that I could travel through the south-eastern provinces freely marks a massive step forward. That said, seeing the very Asiatic nature of Turkey’s Far East as well as its poverty and the heavy military presence makes me have serious doubts as to whether Turkey will ever be suited for EU membership. We shall see.
On a more personal level, what this trip represented for me was to fit together many pieces of my life’s great travel jigsaw puzzle. A personal passion of mine is not only to visit new places, but also to be able to see how they relate to all the other places that surround them; how one culture can morph into another, quite different one. After having spent a great deal of time getting to know the formerly Ottoman Balkans, (and then seeing how they morph into Central Europe, the Lowlands and then my homeland), this trip gave me the chance to see how that Ottoman culture altered as it moved into Asia and slowly morphed into the Middle East which I also know well from my time spent in Israel and, in another direction, how it changed as it continued to travel eastwards to the Caucasus – a region I have long wanted to visit and one that I shall definitely return to – and Central Asia which I also got a taste of during my Trans-Asian expedition in 2002 with the Lowlander.[4]
I was skint before I set off and the spending on the trip had only exacerbated that problem; travelling alone had been hard at times and I’d really missed my son, and the time of year had been way too hot for me. Put all those factors together and the head must clearly conclude that it would have been far wiser to cancel and stay behind at home. Thankfully though, my heart generally takes precedence over my head and so instead I’d gone ahead and done it and, after several months to think about it and reflect, by God I’m glad I did! And if you ever want to know why, just book yourself a ticket eastwards, towards what Orhan Pamuk’s poet Ka referred to as ‘The Place Where the World Ends.’ You’ll soon understand…

For those who might be interested…
Back in England Paul Daly hobbled his way over to Stoke on his dodgy yet recovering foot. To commiserate him in his misery, we cracked open the Black Balzams bought in Riga. It poured out like liquid treacle and had an aroma to match. We clinked glasses and threw them back. The retching started but a second later…
The unfinished bottle still stands on my shelf, a challenge to all hardened drinkers. Let me know if you’re interested in finishing it off…
Dare you face the Black Balzams…?
January 2011, Smallthorne, U.K.

The guidebooks used on this trip were:

Bradt Latvia (4th Edition), 2005 – Stephen Baister and Chris Patrick
Bradt Georgia (3rd Edition), 2007 – Tim Burford
Lonely Planet Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (5th Edition), 2009 – Carolyn Bain
Lonely Planet Turkey (9th Edition), 2005 – Jean-Bernard Carillet et al
Rough Guide Turkey (6th Edition), 2007 – John Gawthrop et al
Whilst on the trip I read the following books in the following order:
Fury – Colin Edmundson
My Silent War – Kim Philby
Islam: A Short History – Karen Armstrong
Abandoned Harvest – A. Kosogorin
Crescent & Star – Stephen Kinzer
The Book of Ganesha – Royina Giewal
The State of Africa – Martin Meredith
Imperium – Robert Harris
Over the years I have read a great number of books discussing Turkey, her history and her present-day situation. The ones that have held a most lasting impression and has perhaps influenced this travelogue listed here. Some I have reread immediately before or following the trip. Those are marked by an asterisk.
For Turkish History the best books I have read are:
Byzantium: The Early Years – John Julius Norwich
Byzantium: The Apogee – John Julius Norwich
Byzantium: The Decline and Fall – John Julius Norwich
The Secret History – Procopius
The Ottoman Centuries – Lord Kinross
Ataturk – Lord Kinross
For present-day politics/travel:
Crossing Place
– Philip Marsden*
Rebel Land – Christopher de Bellaigue*
From the Holy Mountain – William Dalrymple*
Crescent & Star – Stephen Kinzer*
Birds Without Wings – Louis de Bernieres
The Maze – Panos Karnezis
Snow – Orhan Pamuk*
The New Life – Orhan Pamuk
The Black Book – Orhan Pamuk
Istanbul: Memories and the City – Orhan Pamuk
The Museum of Innocence – Orhan Pamuk*
Magi – Adrian Gilbert

Alus                             beer (Latvian)
BDP                            Peace and Democracy Party (Turkish: Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi), a political party representing the Kurdish minority in Turkey
Bey                             literally ‘chieftain’, the term is used for any type of leader and often men are addressed with it as a term of respect, akin to ‘sir’ in English (Turkish)

Caddesi                     street (Turkish)
Camii                          or ‘cami’. Mosque (Turkish)
Caravanserai             inn in the Middle East where one could stable camels, eat and stay for the night. These establishments were crucial to the Silk Road (Turkish)
Chakapuli                   a stew of lamb, scallions and greens in their own juices with tarragon (Georgian)
Çorba                         soup, usually lentil (Turkish)
Dolmuş                       Ford Transit minibus (Turkish)
Dom                            home (Russian); used to refer to a ‘homestay’
GAP                            The Southeastern Anatolia Project, (Turkish: Güneydoğu Anadolu Projesi)
Hamam                      Turkish baths (Turkish)
Kale                            castle (Turkish)
Kharcho                      mutton soup with rice and vegetables (Georgian)
Khinkali                      pasta envelopes of dough stuffed with mincemeat (Georgian)
Kilisesi                       church (Turkish)
Marshrutka                 Ford Transit minibus (Georgian)
Menengla kahve        Coffee made from pistachio nuts (Turkish)
Mtsvadi                       shashlik kebab (Georgian)
Nargile                        a water-pipe in which flavoured tobacco is smoked. Often called a ‘hookah’ or a ‘shisha pipe’ in English (Turkish)
Paşa                           general (Turkish)
Pili                               dish consisting of meat on the bone in a soup (Turkish)
PKK                            Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Kurdish: Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan), a Kurdish separatist movement that fought a guerilla war with the Turkish government between 1978-2004
Sahabeh                    companions of the Prophet Mohammed (Arabic)
Saldējums                  ice-cream (Latvian)
Şalgam                       drink made from boiled turnips, carrots and vinegar (Turkish)
Türbe                          tomb (Turkish)
Wudu                          ritual bathing in Islam (Arabic)

[1] Actually, a slight lie there; I did see several of veiled women in Istanbul, but they were all tourists and several were British.
[2] The capital of the Marshall Islands apparently. With a population of but several thousand, I am at a loss as to why they need huge cargo ships. Unless of course, tax evasion is something to do with it…
[4] See ‘Across Asia with a Lowlander’.

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