On the road, and happy. Here's the quick logistical wrap-up. Traveling with Trevor, my friend from the PCBG, and his hometown buddy Ryan, who will be with us for another week. Last Thursday night Trevor and I left Bulgaria for good on the night train to Istanbul, which was promptly 4 hours late, and auspicious start to the journey. But it's all been golden since then. Spent two days in Istanbul, took a 10 hour bus ride to the 3rd biggest city in Turkey, Izmir, which is on the Aegean coast. Spent 3 nights there, then bussed it to Denizli, where I write this, which is a medium sized inland city.
The good stuff: Except for Istanbul, we have been doing what they call "couchsurfing," and it is fantastic. Through a website, we connect with local people who are willing to host travelers for a few days and show them around town to varying degrees. We have hit the jackpot, and have stayed with the most wonderful, caring, and open people I could have imagined. I'm learning so much about the fascinating and complex nation of Turkey, so much more than I would staying in hostels or hotels. I fee like we're experiencing the "real" Turkey, off the well-worn tourist track.
In Izmir, we were hosted by a terribly kind and welcoming woman named Gulchin, who made us tea and toast for breakfast every day, and showed us all around her home, known as the most liberal city in Turkey. Last Monday was the Turkish national holiday, like our 4th of July, and we got to see the parades and orchestras play around the city.
From there we have traveled inland to the university town of Denizli, where we are being hosted by Mustafa, a textile engineer. Last night we hung out with his friends, all textile engineers. All friendly and intelligent, and again, wonderfully welcoming.
Turkey is a country in transition. The people we have met have been open and honest with me about their views, and I've been able to get genuine insight into this country. The east/west divide in Turkey is strong, as is the liberal/conservative, secular/religious, and rural/urban. I need another long blog posting to go into detail about the importance of all these issues, and maybe another two blog postings to discuss the man who looms over everything in modern Turkey, the founder of the country who is simply called Ataturk. He's a revered leader, idolized in a deeply genuine and sincere fashion - a young woman I talked to last night told me she owed "everything in her life, every opportunity, every possibility" she has to Ataturk. But that's another story for another day.
Mustache politics. Well, I'll admit, we three boys are growing mustaches. It seems to be a bit of a national joke that all Turkish men of a certain age (that age being older than 40) sport a thick full mustache. So, in a feeble attempt at integration and irony, we're growing them too. But like the country itself, nothing is simple or straightforward. I learned last night that your style of mustache determines your political views. A curl down around the mouth, like a half-fu man chu, means you are a nationalist. A thin straight across the top lip 'stache, means you are an Islamist, or at least of a more-religious bent. We are treading tricky waters here with the hair on our faces. How fascinatingly interesting.
There is so much to tell, but time is short, and we have a bus to catch to our next destinations, Pamukkale and then the town of Konya. We're pushing towards Capadoccia.