Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Safranbolu, Turkey, Saturday May 17th

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We packed up before breakfast which was served in the downstairs lounge room. We chatted with a Swiss couple whose English was impeccable. Mulat, the Turkish student who had helped us yesterday, was there to help his friends during the busy time so he took us over the other house. It is also an Ottoman house with a large downstairs reception hall but it is not lived in by the family. Instead it is used for more bedrooms with each floor having a shared bathroom. The rooms still featured carved woodwork but no extras. When we discussed the difference in price, it turned out that the room we had had the night before was now double in price (100 lira) because it is a long weekend holiday, and the current room was now the price we had paid the night before (50 lira = $43). Apparently that is what happens in the summer and at peak periods.

We had the whole day and two maps so we decided to head for the Governor’s Residence, but to get there by meandering along as many streets as possible. We passed our tea house of the day before, where the same people seemed to be caught in a never ending game with scrabble-like tiles, and glasses of tea and the same waiter in a striped shirt ran in and out with the same tray of five now full, now empty glasses. It felt as though even the tea house had been set up for the tourist to observe, although with mannequins that had various expressions.

Some of the houses are in a terrible state and Keith commented that a convention of building inspectors would have a field day here (and probably have a collective fit). Each house has stone or concrete walls for the first floor. After that they have wooden frameworks with a filler in between which is usually bricks, but sometimes stone, and originally the surface would have had some sort of render over the top. Some walls bow out incredibly, while others have lost their render and seem to be losing the will to stand. Actually you can see that the most interesting buildings to us were the ones in bad repair. The others were charming and very pretty, with balconies draped in flowers and vines and with the stone walled gardens softening everything. It did feel as if we had stepped into another century, except that large crowds of friendly Turkish tourists, wearing the whole spectrum of clothing from conservative to skimpily modern, had stepped in with us.

The museum is set above the town on a hill with the central part, where we were staying, to one side of the hill and with more houses on the other side. A deep, narrow ravine with a river at the bottom ran along the valley. We had to wear plastic overshoes in the museum so I suppose at some stage the tourist numbers must have made the taking off and storing of shoes complete chaos. The first room was a gallery for paintings of Safranbolu, and the one after that had some Ottoman items such as door knockers which are featured in the houses. It also had fascinating old photos of school groups and other happenings in Safranbolu in the past. Although I obviously didn’t know the people and couldn’t read the Turkish labels properly, they were fascinating. Some women were wearing heavily embroidered outfits for a wedding in one photo. In the foyer there were some similar clothes on display and it explained that the embroidery was done with silver wire.

The governor’s room was set up with a desk and official paraphernalia. The other upstairs rooms had small displays from other aspects of domestic life. I liked the portable basin with its splash rim and soap holder on top. More examples of embroidery showed us that it was an important art form as well as a decoration.

Downstairs was absolutely fascinating, with separate little rooms being set up as the shops and workshops of the past. The first item of display was a pump for firemen that needed two to work it.

The chemist shop had items which had belonged to a man whose photos, qualifications and family photos were also displayed. Outside the chemist shop there were some advertising posters, on of which I guess would have been from the 1930s. We were surprised as the sexualisation of the young child in the photo, who is demonstrating what happens if you use that perfume. Our reaction and this poster show the different attitudes of past eras and also the more sophisticated reading we generally have of media today.

Other displays showed a lolly shop where you felt you could just reach over and sample the Turkish Delight, a shoe maker who made the local flat soled soft shoes that are still made and sold in many parts of Turkey, as well as a competitor who was whipping up ‘modern’ styles, wood workers, saddle makers, a black smith, a tailor and a nut and spice merchant. There were various items we could not identify and the attendant, who happened to be a student tourist guide in his final year, was happy to search for the English words to explain them to us.

Taking the longest route possible we rambled back to the centre, where there are two beautiful old mosques and an ancient bath house which still operates. Another turn took us across a bridge over the ravine and around the museum hill to some poorer sections where the cobble stones have lurched off into piles and the houses are yet to be invested in. This area was also more populated with Safranbolu residents rather than tourists, so we were back to carefully tended gardens of vegetables, productive trees and friendly greetings. A teenager with Downs syndrome wandered along talking to himself and stopped to greet us. Little boys no older than our four year old grandson, Frey, were out and about playing or walking off to destinations taking younger siblings along. An elderly man, wearing the common woollen beanie with a little stalk on top, seemed to be skiing with the two sticks he required to assist him to make it safely through the village. Women sat in doorways, always with a crochet needle edging scarves and table clothes with intricate designs. For us, the side of Safranbolu we were now seeing, where lives were being lived as they are now, with the crumbling remains of another era requiring ingenuity, and tolerance for an edict that turns your town suddenly into a museum, was by far the most interesting and relaxing.

Too soon we dipped again into the tourist throng. This time we visited the caravanserai, where trade was once carried out and travellers and animals were accommodated. The building is now a hotel but you can pay to walk around it and look at the courtyard. It was elegant, and dining in the courtyard would have been a five star treat, but we had to be content with the views from the roof and the tasty Turkish Delight some other tourists gave us.

The stalls at the Saturday produce market were set up like colourful mosaics. We bought some cherries and strawberries for our picnic lunch; a great addition to our regular fare. To reach the park on top of a hill, we climbed up the steps that are substitutes for streets and lanes. Houses are built all the way up the steep incline, with little terraces having been cut out to accommodate them. We had to pay 2 lira to enter the park, with a free beverage being included in the price. The local council runs a tea room and have made a very pretty park around an area where there are some ancient tombs. We sat under a tree and did some people watching while we ate, descending into lazy-day fatigue as time went on. Even our beverage of saffron tea did not revive us, although the replica Ottoman tea room was perfect for it.

At last we made our way down the steps to a museum house called Kaymakamlar Muze Evi. Inside people were thronging the ticket desk and flowing up the stairs to see the rooms, which show the Ottoman way of life with, furnishings and mannequins. This house was very well set up and had good explanations with some in English. I read the Turkish signs if there was none or only a few in English and it is amazing what could be understood. There was a revolving cupboard, where the women of the family could place food, give it a twirl, and the food would be able to be taken out by the men, without the women having been seen. This was not used in the family context and was reserved for when men from outside the family circle visited.

Space was ingeniously saved with a cupboard that opened up to be a bath tub, which, after use, reverted to bedding storage.

The bride’s room was for the eldest son’s wife. It had a little room off it where she could display her trousseau and clothing. The clothes there were interesting and, while old, I am not sure what era they came from. Some were knee length and looked like they must have been well after the Ataturk era. There was no explanation of what happened for the younger brothers and their wives, but it was customary to follow the patriarchal pattern. Women went to join their husband’s families in multi-generational households. The ethnographic museum in Gazientep had had a sister-in-law’s room, suggesting that in larger homes there were various living quarters under the one roof. In the gardens outside, tourists, struck with a similar apathy to us, marvelled at a table tennis ball spinning in the spouting water from a fountain, and sipped tea in the gardens.

Maybe the tiring travelling of the day before had come home to roost, but we both had only enough energy to enter the tableau at the tea house and watch the crowds. We had enjoyed Safranbolu, but we were keen to be in a small place in which we could watch the celebration for May 19th, so we studied the map as we sipped.

Back at our pension, we consulted Mulat on where to go. He gave instant and firm advice that we would find the town with the difficult to pronounce name of Akçakoca (sounds like Arkcharkojar). We instantly and gratefully took his advice, being too tired to have made a decision. Part of our fatigue has been brought on by late nights trying to find couch surfing hosts for Istanbul and Bursa; a frustrating exercise so far. Travelling turned out to be a problem because we were advised that no bus company would want to sell a ticket that only went half way to Istanbul, when they could fill their buses on a holiday weekend with full fare paying customers. The owner of the pension said that he would ring for advice on other routes when we came down for breakfast the next day. At last we went to bed – hooray.

Turkish tourists having tea in the park at the top of the hill. They could be from anywhere - even a suburb in the north of Geelong.

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