Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Snake Castle (Yilankale) and the Mediterranean Sea

Dan works every other weekend.  So the weekends he does not work are heavenly.  I have come to appreciate all of the precious time our little family has together more than ever.  It is bliss.

We try to go out on little adventures on weekends that he's not at work.  This past Saturday we ventured to Snake Castle.  Snake Castle was built in the 13th century.  There are many legends about this mysterious castle, but little is known about its true origin.  According to mythology, it was home to a ruler who was part man and part snake.  Another story claims that it was so infested with snakes that it had to be abandoned. 

I must admit, though excited about a chance to explore a new place, I was not very intrigued at the thought of spending the day at the ruins of an old castle.  I figured we would wander around for awhile, taking pictures of ancient stones and piles of rocks, trying our best to imagine what the castle would have looked like long ago.  Snake castle more than exceeded my expectations!

It was incredible!  The castle sits at the top of a mountain.  We drove partially up the mountain and then parked our car to start the hike.  We straped Peter in our hiking backpack on Dan's back and started the trek.  We began our hike on a paved path which quickly disappeared as we found ourselved crawling up marble boulders on the side of a mountain.  The amazing (and sometimes unnerving) thing about landmarks and historical sites in Turkey is that there are no guardrails, no safety nets, no fences or restricted areas.  You can crawl up and down and all over history.  And that's exactly what we did. 

Dan, being the history buff that he is, excitedly scaled the mountain with Peter perched on his back.  I followed the boys, sending Dan gentle reminders every 5 seconds "Careful, Dan..."  "Maybe we shouldn't go that way."  "Are you sure about this?"  (Side note: Dan took wonderful care of both of us and we made it through without a scratch.  I was probably overly cautious...but that's my job.  I'm a mom!)

When we reached the top, I was amazed at what I saw!  Rather than seeing piles of rocks that somewhat resembled what used to be a castle, I saw towers and archways and rooms and windows and still looked like a castle!  It is incredible how intact it still is!  We were the only ones there, so we took our time exploring each room and imagining it almost one thousand years ago in all its glory.  Peter also enjoyed the view from Daddy's back...he quietly soaked it all in and didn't complain once.

After climbing the mountain and exploring the castle, we came home for a late lunch, some rest, and a shower.  Then, we geared up for the next part of our day! 

We have had the blessing of being introduced to a wonderful Turkish man who lives in Adana.  He has taken good care of us and is always eager to show us around his beautiful country.  On Saturday afternoon, he insisted on taking us to the Mediterranean Sea.  We, of course, eagerly agreed to his plan.  He took us to his family's vacation home on the beach.  It was wonderful to see the Mediterranean Sea for the first time!  It was almost sunset and the view was beautiful.  Dan took Peter down to the waves to introduce him to the ocean for the first time.  It was a little too big for Peter...and he nervously insisted on being held the entire time.  Can you blame him?  He is a Nebraska boy, after all.  We're going to have to get used to the Sea.  I'm sure it won't be hard. 

My mom

My mom is the most adventurous person I know.  As I was growing up, I always marveled at the stories I heard about my mom's world travels.  At the age of 16, she flew to Greece all by herself and lived as a foreign exchange student for a Summer.  My mom spent over a year in Switzerland after college.  She's traveled all over...and has the exciting stories to prove it.  She once dove under a car in Switzerland to dodge to chaos of a riot.  She's boogied at the Discotec as a teenager in Greece.  She's skied the Alps.  There are even rumors (that she firmly denies) about her cheating death at a pub in Ireland.  Adventurous.

Now God has blessed me with this opportunity.  I can follow in my mom's footsteps...and have my own adventures.  Inspired by mom, I've been trying to soak in as much of the culture as I can.

The base offers free Turkish language classes on Tuesday nights.  They are fantastic!  It's so much fun to stretch my brain in a new way.  I'm not fluent in Turkish (or even close!) but it has been exciting as I start to recognize little bits and pieces of Turkish.  I was giddy the other day when I recognized "Dikkat: Cok Sicak" as "Caution: Very Hot" on the side of my Starbucks Carmel Macciato cup!

Last week, I took a Turkish Cooking Class sponsored by the Spouses' Club.  We had the opportunity to go behind the scenes at a Turkish restaurant and learn how to make Turkish food!  It was exciting to watch the owner of the restaurant sprinkle handfuls of spices on his creations and toss them into the large stone oven. 

Maybe I haven't embarked on large scale adventures just yet, but I am savoring all of the little cultural experiences that have come my way so far. 

I always admired my mom's adventurous nature, but I never imagined that I'd be able to follow in her footsteps and have some adventures of my own.  I am thoroughly enjoying it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tarsus: Saint Paul, Cleopatra, & Waterfalls!

Yesterday, we ventured beyond the Incirlik Air Base gates to the nearby city of Tarsus, hometown of Saint Paul.  This was our first adventure on our own; just the three of us!  Armed with a phrase book, some Turkish Lira, an adventurous spirit, and a roll of toilet paper-just in case- we set off on our way! 

Dan was a natural at driving in Turkey.  It was his first time, but he quickly caught on to the unpredictable craziness and was even liberally honking his horn like a Turk in no time!  Thank You, God, for keeping us safe!  It was the Feast Day of the Guardian Angels, so we felt like we were in good hands. 

Dan downloaded maps of Turkey into our GPS, which was a lifesaver!  We arrived in Tarsus, safe and sound, and found a parking lot.  As we stepped out of the car, we heard the sounds of roosters crowing and a carpenter tapping a hammer.  We saw several Turkish old men relaxing around a card table near the road playing a traditional Turkish dice game and eating pomegranates.  It was not hard to picture Saint Paul walking through the streets of this quaint little town. 

Our first stop, Saint Paul's Well.  This well was around during the time of Saint Paul, so you can bet that Saint Paul stopped to drink water here often!  After roaming up and down several cobblestone roads we found our way to this holy landmark.  As we approached, I reminded myself over and over...Saint Paul walked here.  It was incredible. 

When we first arrived, we were the only ones there so we eagerly raced to the well, said some prayers, and started snapping photos.  The well had a bucket full of water perched on top of it.  Saint Paul's Well water. 
Peter joyfully splashed his hand in the bucket while we debated whether or not we should take some of this holy water with us.  We concluded that Saint Paul would approve and we eagerly dipped our empty water bottle into the bucket.  The very next moment, we heard a man yelling in Turkish.  He raced toward us, grabbed the water bottle from Dan, and dumped it out.  Gulp.  "Sorry, sorry!" we pleaded as we sheepishly backed away.  The man gestured toward the well, lifted the metal lid, and cranked the handle to lower the bucket into the well.  Moments later, the bucket returned, full of fresh water from the well.  He motioned to Dan to lower his water bottle into the bucket to retrieve fresh water from the well. 
"Tesekkur ederim!" we enthusiastically thanked him for his kindness as we left with a full bottle of water- straight from Saint Paul's well!   

I love the little cobblestone streets near Saint Paul's well.  It is so peaceful and quaint.  We saw children giggling and playing, a man selling his paintings, and a couple enjoying lunch at a little cafe.  We pictured young Saint Paul running and playing on these same streets as a boy.    We pictured the same fiery Paul walking these streets years later after his conversion.  Incredible.

After our stroll through Saint Paul's neighborhood, we walked several more blocks to a busier part of town.  Our next stop was Cleopatra's Gate.  Here, Marc Antony first met Cleopatra so he could determine if she would support him over Octavius (Ceasar Augustus).  Cleopatra's arrival into Tarsus was so spectacular and her beauty was so striking that Marc Antony fell head-over-heels for her instantly. 

Our last stop was to see the beautiful waterfalls of Tarsus.  It was a perfect ending to a wonderful day.  We ate dinner at a restarant overlooking the waterfalls and enjoyed a cool, misty breeze and a beautiful view as we ate.  After dinner, we tasted our first Turkish coffee!  It was thick and rich and delicious! 
And the cherry on top of the meal: we asked for the Turkish!