Tag Archives: Turkey
3 October, 2015

Turkish Overload

Anybody who’s ever gone abroad for any extended period knows that sooner or later you end up doing something while travelling that you wouldn’t ever consider doing while home. Travel is funny like that. It has a way of stripping away your inhibitions, filling you with courage, or even leaving you in such a desperate situation that you have no choice but to take a deep breath, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. For some, it might mean a bungie-jump off a bridge in New Zealand or perhaps a daring stroll on a nude beach in France, or having to risk a night out under the stars without tent or sleeping bag. For us, two hungry cyclists on the outskirts of a small town in Turkey, it meant something far more unlikely. And unseemly. We ate at Domino’s.

I know, I know. How will we ever readjust to American life? Are we even still housebroken?

The adana kebab and jalapeno toppings were on fresh-tossed dough, albeit with too little sauce, but all in all it was a decent pizza. Foreign travel never ceases to expand one’s mind.

Heading west out of Capadocia.

Heading west out of Capadocia.

Our forays outside our comfort zone continued the next morning when, with a head full of mucus, a constant cough and slight fever, I led the way south through a series of mountains with ever-darkening skies giving chase. Wishing nothing more than to lie in bed and embrace my bout of man flu, as is my right duty, I found myself, instead, on my trusty Fargo for six miserable hours, in periodic rainstorms, through a desolate stretch of western Turkey. Kristin offered soft, nurturing words of encouragement throughout the ride while making sure to replace my stash of Gummi Bears with cold medicine from our first aid kit.

Into the mountains of western Turkey. Gorgeous river valley.

Into the mountains of western Turkey. A gorgeous river valley that demanded to be photographed.

That night, in Çanakkale, I rinsed down some Theraflu capsules with a complimentary bottle of water, paying no mind to the broken safety seal. Glass bottles get reused all the time in Greece and Turkey as a way to reduce waste; hotels and restaurants routinely refill the bottles from large jugs of spring water. I spent the next two days, including a visit to Ancient Troy and the eve of my 40th birthday, focused on a task I always thought reserved for a later period in life: getting through the day without soiling myself.

Pro Tip: Petrol Ofisi service stations have the cleanest, most westernized bathrooms of all the petrol chains in Turkey. Memorize that logo at the link; it’ll be there for you when you need it most.

As readers of our newsletter are already aware, we are deviating from our original plan to travel overland across Asia — our reasons include the oncoming winter, likely visa difficulties, desire and lack thereof, and money, among others — and are instead departing Athens sometime around October 15th aboard a cargo ship bound for Singapore. This ship, in fact. In order to catch that cargo ship, we have to be back in Bodrum by October 8th to catch an overnight ferry back across the Aegean Sea. This has left little margin for error in our 1600-mile (2,575 km) loop around western Turkey.

Near the Galata Bridge and spice market in Istanbul.

Near the Galata Bridge and spice market in Istanbul.

We were worried that the aggressive itinerary — from Bodrum to Cappadocia to Istanbul and back to Bodrum — wouldn’t leave enough time for sightseeing, that we’d be so focused on each leg’s destination that we wouldn’t cherish the in-between places as much as we try to do. Nevertheless, we plunged ahead and went for it.

Crowds gather throughout the day except during prayer service.

Crowds gather throughout the day except during prayer service.

Now in Izmir, with our Turkish finish line just a few days of riding away, I can say that we indeed spent most of those days heads down, just trying to get the miles in. Every day was the same: wake up in an unfamiliar bed, eat the same hotel-provided breakfast of cold vegetables, cheese, olives, bread, and hard-boiled eggs, and then ride to the next hotel five or six hours in the distance. Sleep, wake up, repeat. And in looking back I can see that I don’t have many memories of these days or even many photos either. In fact, our most pleasant memory of this time was that of discovering the robust network of ferries that crisscross the Sea of Marmara. Despite our aversion to sailing, we do enjoy ferries and it was with great relief that we chopped two days of cycling off our route by entering and leaving the European side of Istanbul by sea.

Kristin with the headscarf she bought for going into the Blue Mosque.

Kristin with the headscarf she bought for going into the Blue Mosque.

I spent a fair bit of time this past week trying to think of something to write about (hence the delay). And each time I tried to form an opinion of Turkey, I saw two friendly faces pop to the forefront of my mind. One was that of Brad, the first person I befriended upon moving to the Seattle area in 2002. The other is Joe, a frequent co-author and friend of mine whose last email I now realize I am comically and unforgivably late in replying to. Next year, perhaps?

Brad, despite being an expert at long-form critique, has for as long as I’ve known him, been equally skilled at providing simple, one-word opinions. He’s been deploying everyone’s favorite snarky onomatopoeia, meh, with all of the timing and potency of a precision-guided F-bomb for as long as I can remember. Joe, on the other hand, doesn’t say “meh.” At least not with his voice. No, when asked to give an opinion on something neither great nor awful, memorable nor deplorable, Joe provides a squinting, wincing, tortuous, body-twisting, shoulder shrug that says all that needs to be said. As if to show how physically painful offering an opinion on something so… so utterly meh would be.

Blue Mosque at night with colorful fountain.

Blue Mosque at night with colorful fountain.

Which leaves me here, in a place neither suited for one-word analysis nor live-action melodrama. I will try to explain my ambivalence as best as I can.

The nine days we spent cycling from Goreme to Istanbul are a blur of desert, wheat fields, and mountains. Even the tea stops soon began to feel commonplace and forgettable. The landscape, though expansive and seldom scarred by man’s blemishes, lacked majesty. The food we enjoyed so much earlier in our travels soon began to taste as flavorless as our days. Had I not have ceased journaling weeks ago, I would have certainly given it up en route to Istanbul. What would be the point?

Istanbul was no better. That exotic-sounding city whose twice-named history was etched in my memory by the They Might be Giants cover song of the same name, Istanbul is a place that beckons with fantastical mental imagery. Istanbul. Where West meets East and vice-versa. Istanbul. Backgammon boards, hookah parlors, labyrinthine bazaars, carpet dealers, grind-filled itty-bitty cups of coffee and all the pistachios and apricots you can eat. I’d like to point out right here the similarities of the words imagination and imagery. Which begat which? The Istanbul we found was, in reality, no more exotic than most any other European city.

Looking across the Golden Horn to Karakoy and the Galata Tower in Istanbul.

Looking across the Golden Horn to Karakoy and the Galata Tower in Istanbul.

Perhaps it’s because we have been travelling for so long and seen so much that was truly different. Perhaps it is because the people who are awed by Istanbul’s presumed exoticism arrive there straight from the West and haven’t already been in the country for a month like we have. Maybe they’ve never been to a Muslim country before. Or maybe they saw what they expected to see as opposed to what they found. Whatever the reason, Kristin and I found Istanbul to be immediately forgettable. It’s dirty, smelly, and carries nearly as much graffiti as Athens. Tourist attractions, despite low occupancy rates following last month’s attack on the city’s US Consulate, had long lines and were so overtly touristy, it made us lose our interest quickly.

This isn’t to say that it’s not worth visiting. It is, even if only to know we don’t need to return. And we’re happy to have walked through the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (i.e. Blue Mosque) and wandered the spice market, and had the obligatory fish sandwich down at the Galata Bridge, and saw where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk died in Dolmabache Palace, and scoffed down multiple kokoretsi (sheep intestine) sandwiches near Taksim Square. These were all fine things to do. But that Turkish mystique eluded us. The exoticism escaped us. Ultimately it was just another city filled with traffic and touts and cheaply-made souvenirs and overpriced restaurants.

We caught up to these 5 Iranian Cyclists on our way south along the Aegean Coast. They didn’t hesitate to offer us some Gummi Bears (my kind of people!) and invite us to Iran, insisting that we’d love it. One day, I hope!

The truth is, we’ve soured on Turkey. The petty peculiarities we found endearing several weeks ago are now common irritants and downright annoying. We’ve gotten jaded, but it’s not entirely Turkey’s fault. One of the things we’ve noticed in this trip is that our motivation takes a dip after every three months of steady bicycle touring. That’s part of the reason we’ve booked this cargo ship to Singapore. Nineteen days at sea. No Internet. No email. Nothing. Nineteen days to digest everything we’ve seen and done since leaving Rome in June and to regain the desire to see more. Believe it or not, one does tire of a steady stream of new sights and sounds and major tourist attractions. At least we do.

Turkey stopped being interesting somewhere between Goreme and Istanbul. And part of that was because of everything that came before. All that time in Italy and Greece as well as those first few weeks in Turkey. Too much stimuli. But part of it is Turkey’s fault (and not just the omnipresent flies and cats that occupy every restaurant in the country). Never in my life, aside from a morning-after-9/11-America, have I seen so many flags flying in a country. The crescent moon and star fly on fields of red throughout Asia Minor; on trucks, on houses, on restaurants and gas stations and hotels. The Turkish flag is everywhere. Yet there’s something even more widespread: litter. For as bad as the litter was in southern Italy and Greece (and it’s really bad in both those places), it’s far worse in Turkey. Plastic bags and bottles line every street, broken glass dots the shoulder of every road. Disposable cartons, wrappers, and dirty diapers — yes, DIAPERS! — get tossed out the windows of moving cars as if nothing could be more normal. We’ve seen these things happen multiple times.

We share the roads with vehicles of all sorts in Turkey.

We share the roads with vehicles of all sorts in Turkey. And always get a friendly honk or a wave.

We’ve camped exactly one time in Turkey and the main reason for that is because of the litter. We’ve pedaled right on past countless picnic areas, water springs, and other clearings that would have been perfect for camping if not for the piles and piles of garbage everywhere. For a nation of people who seem to be so patriotic and so proud to be Turkish, they sure do treat their landscape like a wasteland.

Other touring cyclists have warned about the stray dogs and the aggressive rock-throwing children of Turkey. We’ve encountered no such kids and not one of the hundreds of stray dogs (they’re everywhere) has so much as lunged at us. Both animals and people have been nothing but courteous. Most smile and wag their tails, the dogs that is. Our annoyances have been constrained to aggressive drivers around Izmir, the constant buzzing presence of flies, the stench of urine, and the litter. Oh the litter. It’s depressing. It smells. And you can’t avoid it. And I don’t mean to imply that the United States is litter-free. Not at all. Truckers make sure there’s a noticeable amount of litter on America’s highways as well. But I’ve never seen anything like what we’ve seen in Turkey, at least not in a country this wealthy. And this proud.

But I guess, as the song goes, that’s nobody’s business but the Turks.

15 September, 2015

Photos: Flying Above Cappadocia

We’ve turned the corner back to the west, to Istanbul, after spending three wonderful nights in the heart of Cappadocia’s fairy tale landscape. The central Turkey region of Cappadocia, a name dating back to the Persians meaning “land of beautiful horses”, contains multiple extinct volcanoes that, over the thousands and millions of years predating ours, the Persians, and the Hittites arrivals, buried the landscape in ash and basalt. Rain, wind and man went to work carving a fantastical landscape of narrow rock spires, many of them capped with a slab of basalt. Back home in Washington state, we call these landforms hoodoos. Here in Turkey they call them fairy chimneys. They’re basically the same thing, though here in Cappadocia, particularly around the town of Goreme, hundreds (thousands?) of these tufa-based fairy chimneys were hollowed out and became homes, churches, and storerooms.

The best and most popular way to witness this amazing landscape is from the air. Every morning nearly a hundred hot air balloons take to the sky above Goreme and fly up to 3,000 feet above the fairy chimneys and valleys that make up Goreme National Park.  Like the camel trek in the Sahara, hiking with the Komodo Dragons, and taking the Queen Mary 2 across the Atlantic, we decided it was time for another bucket-list type of splurge. Riding in a hot air balloon was something Kristin and I have always wanted to do and there’s arguably no better place to do that in Cappadocia. So after 11 days of cycling from Bodrum to Goreme — and with my fortieth birthday coming up —  we lived it up for three nights in a fancy cave suite, went sailing on a 90-minute sunrise balloon ride, and joined an all-day tour of the villages, valleys, and one of the underground cities in the area — the Hittites carved out 32 multi-level underground cities in the 6th century BC, some extending over 150 feet below the surface and spreading out over 3 kilometers in area. The underground city we visited was 8 levels deep, extended over 2 kilometers in area and is believed to have been able to temporarily house up to 4,000 people. Goreme’s location along the Silk Road meant it was a prime target to brigands and invaders and the peace-loving Hittites found it better to carve out extensive underground hiding places rather than face the invaders in combat.

But enough with the history lesson (as told by our tour guide), let’s get on with the photos!

Last-minute burn before we boarded for our sunrise flight.

Last-minute burn before we boarded for our sunrise flight.

Another Butterfly Balloon over Pigeon Valley in Cappadocia.

Another Butterfly Balloon over Pigeon Valley in Cappadocia.

Sunrise over the town of Goreme where nearly a hundred balloons set flight almost every morning.

Sunrise over the town of Goreme where nearly a hundred balloons set flight almost every morning.

Flying east into the sun.

Flying east into the sun.

Rocks and balloons!

Rocks and balloons!

Wow! The interior of our hotel room at Ottoman Cave Suites in Goreme.

The interior of our hotel room at Ottoman Cave Suites in Goreme.

Table with a view. Sunset at Goreme from Nostalgia Restaurant.

Table with a view. Sunset at Goreme from Nostalgia Restaurant.

The Three Beauties fairy chimneys at Urgup.

The Three Beauties fairy chimneys at Urgup.

On a hike in Soganli Valley.

On a hike in Soganli Valley.

Pigeon Valley from Uchisar.

Pigeon Valley from Uchisar.

Kristin in one of the fairy chimneys of Soganli Valley.

Kristin in one of the fairy chimneys of Soganli Valley.

I want to take a moment just to say something nice about the town of Goreme that was both surprising and refreshing. Yes, this town is a tourist hot spot. But a tourist trap it is not! We found the prices of the hotels and restaurants to be well within the range of everywhere else we’ve been so far in Turkey — that it is to say, much less than Greece and Italy! The prices of snacks, beers, and groceries at the markets were as well. Better still, there’s no high-pressure sales annoyances to deal with; you can browse the market stalls and craft shops without being hassled; and the touts that are present keep their distance and are polite. Our tour guide, Gulsen, from New Goreme Tours not only really seemed to have our best interests in mind when it came to steering us clear of rip-off “wineries” and museums that offer little to no value, but it was clear that she was well-trained in dealing with westerners. And trust me, we North Americans and Europeans (and Aussies and Kiwis too) have certain idiosyncrasies about us that not every tour guide is ready for.

So if you’re thinking of taking a trip to Turkey, don’t hesitate. Go! And if you were worried about the hot air balloon rides not being worth it or Goreme and the Cappadocia region being one giant tourist trap, you can put that fear to rest as well. Yes, it’s extremely popular, but even right now in high season it didn’t feel the least bit crowded and the people in the tourism industry here really know what they’re doing and never once make you feel like you’re just a bag of money to them. That being said, definitely splurge on one of the 90-minute hot air balloon rides, as they are capped at 12 passengers whereas the 60-minute flights pack 20 people into the same size basket. We went with Rick Steves recommended Butterfly Balloon Tours and would go again in an instant. Our pilot, Mike, is British (i.e. fluent English speaker), had once flown over the North Pole in a hot air balloon, and has been in Turkey for 15 years. Butterfly offered a safe, professional service from the hotel pickup to the champagne toast back on land. Last but not least, we also highly recommend our hotel. Ottoman Cave Suites is small and very boutique-ish, but also very high on service and attention and in a great location.

Still not sold? Here’s a video from everyone’s favorite Seattle-area travel guru, Rick Steves, from his visit to Cappadocia.

Special Thanks: We wish to once again offer our continued thanks and acknowledgment to Ron Helm and Pacific Biomarkers, Inc for their generous sponsorship of our journey. Thank you so much!

9 September, 2015

Stopping for Turkish Tea in Anatolia

We pushed our bikes past hundreds of Syrian and Afghan refugees lining the waterfront in Kos, their point of entry into Europe and, hopefully, a better life. Tens of thousands of refugees crossed the waters of the Aegean from Turkey to the easternmost Greek isles of Kos and Lesbos this summer; we arrived in Greece some seven weeks earlier, just as the banks were opening — crisis averted — and we left effectively swimming against the current of a mass migration washing upon its shores. Some countries just can’t seem to catch a break.

The Turkish port city of Bodrum, from which many of the migrants shoved off in little more than inflatable dinghies, was our destination. The tiny ferry cut a northerly bearing across the strait, then turned hard to starboard, a 90-degree turn into the chop. The wind howled, spray off the bow reached us on the sun deck, and the scarlet flags emblazoned with the Turkish crescent and star failed to grow in size as the short twenty-four kilometer journey dragged on interminably. The refugees we saw living in tents and on donated mattresses lining the bicycle path in Kos, visible from the cafes and restaurants where tourists and locals alike dined on lamb chops and swilled their Mythos lagers, told news reporters that Turkey had nothing to offer them: Europe was their only hope. No matter how difficult our days ahead may get, no matter how steep the mountain’s pitch or how much we wilt under the sun’s rays, I know it will never compare to what these people endured the night of their sea journey. Nor will our stakes ever be as high. I do, however, know Turkey has something to offer us.

Bodrum harbor at night.

Bodrum harbor at night.

We are not blind to the war that drives the refugees westward, even as we seemingly cycle eastward in the direction of its epicenter, nor are we ignorant of the hostilities taking place inside Turkey and along its borders. What we are is geographically aware. Konya, where I write these words, is the most religiously conservative of Turkey’s major cities (1.2M people) and yet we walk the streets in perfect comfort. Our easternmost destination in Turkey, Goreme National Park, is still nearly 300 miles from the Syrian border. Is that too close? Who can tell? While there’s no guarantee that terrorists/ISIL aren’t getting across the Turkish border with designs on attacking Western targets (some probably are), we are confident that none are lurking in the bushes, hoping to pounce on the off chance a couple of Western-looking cyclists happen by. We are also curious about how we’d be received in this modern, thriving country that, in our opinion, gets an unfair bogeyman rap in some ignorant Western media outlets on account of its eastern neighbors.

Turkey's roads are lined with produce vendors. Not all are awake.

Turkey’s roads are lined with produce vendors. Not all are awake.

Turkey has long been one of the countries Kristin has most looked forward to visiting on our trip. It’s where Europe meets Asia, where cultures transition, blend and collide; where foodstuffs mingle and delight; and where some of history’s greatest legends were born. It’s also a place that, during the years we spent planning our trip, we saw consistently ranked by other cycling travelers as one of their favorite, can’t-miss destinations. So here we are, current events and worrisome family and friends be damned. And we’re having a great time.

We left Bodrum after a day spent acclimating to our new surroundings, tracking down a roadmap, memorizing  greetings and polite phrases, and touring the magnificent Bodrum Castle and Underwater Archaeology Museum (Bronze Age shipwreck recovered!). The route eastward out of Bodrum was very hilly, the heat had yet to abate — it hit 112 °F on one particular hill that day — and the riding was largely on the side of a highway as seemingly all east-west roads in western Turkey are at least a minor highway. In fact, after nearly 500 miles of cycling in Turkey we are now convinced that nearly every two-lane roadway in the country is being converted to a four-lane divided highway. Simultaneously.

Lots of construction in Turkey. 2-lane highways being converted to divided 4-lane highways everywhere we go.

Lots of construction in Turkey. 2-lane highways being converted to divided 4-lane highways everywhere we go.

While we’ve yet to find many of the tranquil narrow country roads we love to ride, the famous Turkish hospitality has greeted us around every corner. And it’s usually in the form of  a tulip-shaped glass of tea. We spend much of our days riding from one petrol station to the next, raiding their ubiquitous mini-marts for water, Fanta, and Gummy Bears (don’t judge!) and it was at one such stop where we met a Turkish man touring his country on a beautiful BMW dual-sport touring motorcycle. While going over routes and itineraries, the gas station attendant came over, begged his interruption, and asked if we wanted tea. Not two minutes later, the five of us were sitting on a concrete wall, silver saucers in hand, drinking our scalding-hot glasses of floral dark tea. Later that same day, atop a mountain pass, I was waved over to sit in the shade with three generations of honey sellers on the side of the road. Kristin soon joined us and, over a glass of wine, we pantomimed a bit of our stories to one another. Though we had to politely — though probably rudely — refuse the invitation to buy a large jar of honey (a worse thing to put inside my panniers I can hardly imagine), the old man ordered his grandson to give one of the stuffed animals they were selling to Kristin as a gift. And so finally, on our first day of riding in Turkey, we gained our mascot. Kristin named him Bodhie for the town of Bodrum we had left that morning.

Kristin with mascot Bodhie heading for Konya in central Turkey.

Kristin with mascot Bodhie heading for Konya in central Turkey.

Those first few days in Turkey felt like real bicycle touring again. We were wild camping under some shady pines, riding without an itinerary, taking advantage of cheap roadside motels (cheap in price, but very nice in comfort), and were even starting to see large mammals again, albeit roadkill: we passed a dead wild boar on the side of the road not ten miles from where we camped one night. How great it is to be back in a country with wildlife larger than a fox!

Wild camp spot our second night out of Bodrum.

Wild camp spot our second night out of Bodrum.

Our route took us to the tourist town of Pamukkale where, for a former geology buff like myself, the massive travertine cliffs were more than just a pretty backdrop. From there we made our way east to Konya, by way of Isparta, wending northward along the eastern shore of Lake Egirdir and then back southward along the eastern shore of Lake Besiher. The mountains of western Turkey had given way to pomegranate orchards and groves of figs and apple trees as we climbed our way onto the Anatolian Plateau and the further east we got, the less European our surroundings became; Asia Minor is as perfect a name as there ever was.

Kristin at Pamukkale.

Kristin at Pamukkale. Travertine deposits from calcium-rich thermal waters make the entire area look like an icy, winter wonderland.

But wherever we went road construction greeted us. Sometimes the new stretch of road would already be paved, but unopened, and we’d push over the gravel hump and have days-old highway all to ourselves, smooth cruising for miles! Other times we’d be forced to balance along the edge of a narrow gravel-strewn shoulder as trucks, buses, and cars all tried to squeeze past us and one another in a too-narrow space. But the cars treat us with care. In fact, if there’s any irritation we suffer at all, it’s from the constant honking and waving we receive. Seemingly half of all cars and nearly every truck slows to honk and wave at us as they pass. The attention is amusing at first, especially given how many cars seem to have personalized designer horns, but the horns can be quite loud and one does grow tired of waving to hundreds of people every day.

Nevertheless, we can’t complain. The same friendly instinct that has Turkish drivers waving and honking and yelling Merhaba! is also what leads to some of our fondest memories. Like the truck driver who pulled over, waited for us, and handed us two unopened bottles of water on a hot day. Or the family who insisted we eat some of their figs. Or, best of all, the construction crew that waved us over to join them in their tea break. We were riding along one of the new unopened sections of highway on our ride into Konya and up ahead, sitting in the shade of their truck, was a road crew enjoying a break. “ÇayÇay!” The older man, Ibrahim, yelled as he motioned for us to stop. “Merhaba,” I greeted in return, before realizing he was inviting us for tea. We squeezed the brakes, leaned our bikes against the truck and sat down for tea. Fortunately we had some figs and plums to share and one of the workers, Mustafa, knew a few words of English. We passed a half hour in each other’s company, draining the last of their double-boiler of tea.

This road crew waved us down and invited us to have tea with them. Turkish hospitality reigns supreme!

This road crew waved us down and invited us to have tea with them. Turkish hospitality reigns supreme!

At some point in every one of these encounters, the question of where we’re from comes up. Nobody ever guesses America*. Some think we’re German. Others assume we’re French. A few have even asked if we are from Spain. One said Australia. But America? No. Americans never come to Turkey, they say. In fact, sadly, we’ve yet to meet any Turkish people who have ever met an American traveler. A few years ago (and maybe even still today) it was popular for Americans to say they were Canadian when travelling overseas. Some did it for fear of terrorism, under the misguided belief that terrorists only target Americans, and others, we’ve heard, did it out of embarrassment. Some because of the country’s political/war actions and others because of the “Ugly American” stereotype that preceded them. I can’t stand stereotypes and have little patience for people who promote them. Especially when they can be so easily challenged. Kristin and I happily say we’re from the United States for two reasons: 1) because I like to think we represent the country well and the more people who get to actually know Americans (and us likewise them) the better off the world we’ll be, and 2) why not?

Three generations of honey sellers on the side of the road invited us into the shade for some wine and a chat.

Three generations of honey sellers on the side of the road invited us into the shade for some wine and a chat.

While I do chafe at being asked where I’m from when it’s the first words out of someone’s mouth, before we’ve established any dialogue, it’s not because I don’t want to say I’m American. It’s simply because I find it rude. “Where you from? Where you from?” is a phrase that grows annoying. It’s asked out of curiosity, and sometimes to figure out what language should be spoken, but it’s also code for We know you’re not from around here. And nobody likes being reminded that they don’t fit in. In tourist areas, the question gets shouted to us from across the street by merchants hoping to bait us into stopping, and hopefully buying. Sometimes I ignore it, other times I reply “Earth.” Once or twice, I just agreed to their first guess to end the discussion. Never mind that I don’t sound French. But I happily welcome the question after a relationship has been established. Americans like to ask people what they do for a living, others ask where people are from. Same thing; appropriate when a relationship has been established, but a pretty lazy icebreaker.

I was waiting for Kristin atop the hilll in Pamukkale and these men came over to chat. Three of them were Iraqi and were so happy to meet an American -- "Go-Bama" they yelled -- and insisted on a photo with every camera.

Doug was waiting for Kristin atop the hill in Pamukkale and these men came over to chat. Three of them were Iraqi and were so happy to meet an American — “Go Obama!”they yelled — and insisted on a photo with every one of their cameras.

That being said, I nearly laughed out loud at the timing of one man’s inquiry today. I was at a barber in Konya, across the street from a very large, beautiful mosque. Outside the shop I could see women walking past completely covered in black, from head to toe with scarf, robes, and veil , the muezzin had just begun the call to prayer, and the barber had a long straight-edge razor at my neck, about to shave. There may as well have been a sign above my head flashing the words “Vulnerable Infidel” with an arrow pointing at me. The other barber, tapping distractedly at his iPhone, looks up and says the words: “Where you from?”

He repeats my answer in surprise and goes back to his phone. There’s a brief pause. I suppress my urge to chuckle being that there is still a large razor blade at my neck and then the man looks back and, like every other person to whom we’ve told where we’re from, he replies. “America? Very good. Very good. Enjoy Turkey. Welcome!”

Kebap platter for two.

Kebap platter for two.

*With respect to my answering America, allow me to explain. I have always been a bit uneasy when people from the United States use the one-word term America when asked to name their country of origin, as that word, America, actually refers to some 35 different nations that comprise “the Americas.” Yes, this is geographic semantics, and I fully acknowledge that the USA is the only one of those 35 nations with the word America in its title, but bear with me. Are our Canadian friends not also from America? What about those in Brazil or Mexico? Yes, technically, they are also American. So, for that reason, I often replied that I was from the United States. As most people do. You would be shocked — SHOCKED — by the amount of times this response was met with a blank stare. Whether in Spain, Japan, Italy, Greece, Indonesia, Morocco or Turkey, we have met countless numbers of people who, upon hearing United States, act as if we just said we’ve come from the planet Tralfamadore. It was only upon saying America that they knew what we were talking about. And this was almost always met with an excited, “America! Go Obama!”