Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Izmir and Our Journey Home

After four full days of traveling, we decided to have a relaxing morning before we headed to the airport in the afternoon.  We ate breakfast, packed up our bags, and checked out of our wonderful hotel.  I must admit, I was sad to leave this hotel.  As we said goodbye to the hotel employees and walked out the door, Dan whispered to me "I'm going to miss them!" and I whole heartedly agreed. 

Children are treasured in the Turkish culture.  I can't count the number of times a day Peter is swarmed by Turkish people with hugs and kisses and attention.  It is really beautiful.  Our hotel was no different.  Almost every single hotel employee (bellhops, valets, the front desk, the waiters) knew Peter by name and went out of their way to play with him.  And nearly every time we saw a hotel employee, they would excitedly run behind the front desk and return with a brand new Hot Wheels car for Peter.  Since our little man was treated like a king, he soon became endeared to the hotel employees and flashed his most charming smiles and enthusiastic waves whenever he saw them.  Which, of course, prompted them to shower him with even more love and gifts.  When I thanked one of the hotel employees (who looked just like a Turkish George Clooney) for all they had done, he sincerely responded "Everything for Peter!"  He may have meant "anything for Peter" but I think everything is the more appropriate word anyway. 

After leaving the hotel, we set out to explore Izmir.  Though we stayed in Izmir for 4 nights, we had not yet had the chance to explore the city.  Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey and is more European than many Turkish cities.  Our hotel was in downtown Izmir with a view of the Aegean Sea.  It was beautiful.  We walked down near the water and saw Turkish families playing with their children, couples sharing tea on Seaside cafes and vendors selling Turkish breads, sandwiches, and tea.  It was another beautiful, sunny day.

We walked further down the sidewalk to the Konak Clock tower, the symbol of Izmir.  Near the clock tower was a mosque.  There were about 50-75 men on prayer rugs in the grass by the Mosque praying their prayers.  The clock tower was in the middle of a city square.  The square was filled with pigeons.  Peter laughed and squealed with joy as the pigeons flapped their wings and took flight while he ran after them.  Other Turkish children joined Peter in this game.  These pigeons may have been the highlight of Peter's entire vacation.

After exploring Izmir, it was time to catch a Havas (airport shuttle bus) to the airport.  The hotel employees told us where the Havas stopped every 30 minutes, so we carried our luggage and waited.  When the bus pulled up, we noticed that "Havas" was not printed on the side of the bus as it had been when we had ridden it earlier.  Dan tapped a young Turkish woman on the shoulder and asked her "Havas?  Havaalani (airport)?".  She did not speak any English, but was very friendly and tried to make gestures to guess what we might need.  We then tried the bus driver "Havas? Havaalani?".  He did not speak much English either, but was able to say "Yes.  Airport." 
So...we hopped on the bus and crossed our fingers.

The bus drove further and further in the opposite direction of the airport, stopping frequently to pick up more people.  My stomach began to feel sick as I realized that we were on the city bus, rather than the Havas.  We rumbled down the street with Turkish music blaring and little Peter somehow drifting off to sleep on my lap.  Dan and I nervously started to discuss our options when suddenly the bus made its last stop and turned around- and headed for the airport.  It took us a little longer to get to the airport than planned, but we arrived with plenty of time and saved a bit of money too!

After checking our bags, Dan and I took turns chasing Peter around the airport while the other one watched our carry on bags.  Peter soon made friends with a little boy about his age.  Dan and I laughed as we noticed that the two boys looked quite a bit alike.  Peter was playing with the Turkish version of himself.  It was so cute!  Our good, Catholic little man kept extending his hand to the little boy (he has started doing the Sign of Peace at Mass now and is quite excited about it), but the other boy was not interested in shaking Peter's hand.  It didn't seem to bother Peter who continued playing happily with him. 

After going through security, I realized that Peter had not had dinner yet.  I started digging through our bag in search of crackers.  A sharply dressed woman sitting next to us noticed me and started digging through her bag as well.  She pulled out a cheese filled roll and handed it to Peter (once again, the Turkish people are so good to children!).  My mother instinct internally cringed as Peter accepted the roll from the stranger.  She was so enthusiastic and kind, I just couldn't refuse.  Peter took a small bite before I took him around the corner and tossed the rest of the roll.  I'm 99 percent sure it was fine, but I decided it wasn't worth the time I would later spend worrying about it. 
Peter and I walked to the little airport snack shop in hopes of finding something resembling a good dinner for a toddler.  I ordered "tost" with cheese.  The Turkish tost is like a grilled cheese sandwich but without the butter.  It was much healthier than our American version, but very dry.  I wouldn't order it for myself, but Peter (who hasn't been tainted by our American love for butter and grease yet) gobbled it right up. 

It was soon time to board the plane.  We sat next to a nicely dressed Turkish business man.  It was about 5:30 pm and he looked weary from a week of work.  I said a prayer for him as my energetic one year old crawled all over my lap and chattered incessantly.  If he was hoping for a quiet, restful flight, he sat by the wrong people. 
This man was just another example of the Turkish culture's love of children.  He did not speak any English, but quickly began playing with Peter.  They high-fived and played peek-a-boo.  Peter loved his new friend and enthusiastically played with him.  After awhile, the flight attendants came down the aisle with a cart of snacks and drinks.  This airline did not have any complimentary snacks, they were all steeply priced.  When the flight attendant reached our row, the business man asked her several questions in Turkish and then handed her some Lira.  She handed him a variety pack filled with lots and lots of cookies and crackers.  He smiled and handed them to us.  We gratefully thanked him for the very kind gesture.  He pointed to us and held up one finger, then pointed to himself and held up three.  He had three children of his own.  

The flight was very quick and before we knew it, we were landing in Adana!  We gathered our bags and took a shuttle back to base.  We felt triumphant when we arrived at our house after the successful completion of our first big trip on our own.  Though tired from our week of traveling, there was an excitement in the air as we entered our home.  It was Christmas Eve!  We put Peter into his pajamas and read "The Night Before Christmas" with him.  After our tired little man was asleep, we had a frozen pizza while setting out the gifts and cookies for Santa under our little tree.  I knew this would be a Christmas Eve we would never forget!

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