You Wanna Buy a Rug?

One of the great Robin Williams lines in Aladdin is delivered with a cigar and a shoulder nudge…and gave us lots of laughter as we travelled through Turkey and its many bazaars.

In fact, before we left, Rebecca asked what I wanted to bring home, and I definitively DID want to buy a rug. We accidentally bought beautiful rugs at an auction in graduate school – squeezing several months of groceries out of the sky in the process – but they are wonderful things to live with, and after almost 30 years of love, they are really done…so I was in the mood to buy a rug.

Rebecca has a love of exploring bazaars and markets and we both enjoy the banter and conversation with vendors who build relationships as well as deals. Markets are a great place to practice a new language and to learn about a new country, so we wandered willingly and happily through the chaos and hawking – looking for the people we thought we could trust to have quality goods and find us exactly what we wanted. Ali – our rug man – and Omar – our scarf man – did not disappoint – but I am getting ahead of the story!


Omar and me


An enjoyable visit to the bazaar requires several skills. The first is the looking-not-looking saunter along the aisles. This is a way to evaluate what is on offer and what quality is available today. Once you pause, it is a sign that you have identified something you might wish to buy, and the vendors are now free to approach you to offer their wares, “Lady, you want to see my shirts? Best quality shirts! Good prices. I help you,” and this signals to the next 6 vendors that you are now shopping, so you are assailed with their offers of tea, spices, and scarves. We enjoy sharing a smile and a brief good morning, or “Thank you, they are lovely!” with the first vendor, and perhaps the second, but ignore the third and fourth – which is a signal that we are – sadly – moving on.


The Grand Bazaar – go early. The first sale of the day is always good luck!


You rarely get to see the cobblestones at the Grand Bazaar – but during Bayram it was us and the cats! We were at Gate 13 trying to return to our Turkish Delight man…a noble quest!

Sometimes, we stop longer to fondle a leather pouch, or consider a tea set. The vendor may ask where we are from, guessing English as a first language, but sometimes quickly changing to German or French – or even Russian. We discuss the merits of the bag, the quality of the leather (See lady – I hold a flame up to it to show you – real leather!). I ask if there is one without a zipper – I really wanted one without a zipper. Now we are both sad because this is the only bag this lovely gentleman has – he shakes his head – “Not today lady. I only have zippers today.” Again, I thank him for speaking with us and we move on. Another time, we dig through a whole stack of tea sets, looking for the blue one I wanted. No luck. This same vendor shows us 15 different towel designs – I am looking for the perfect one for my brother – “Perhaps this one” I say. “We will come back.” He is so pleased when we return 20 minutes later. We found a blue tea set around the corner, but this is the right towel. In France, we looked for the perfect cheese, in Africa, Rebecca found the perfect black blazer, in China, I needed the perfect black purse – and in Turkey, I am searching for towels and tea sets – but everywhere we go the vendors spend time finding us the perfect thing so that we will all be happy when the deal is closed.


My blue tea cups on my own towel from Antalya

Our hostess in Turkey is a fierce and beautiful professor and a former student. She is determined that I be treated well, and negotiates my first cab fare and several purchases in the old port of Antalya. She insists on “Turkish prices – not tourist prices!” for her friends. I laughingly explain to her that tourist prices are completely fair. First, we require people to work in a foreign language, second, we ask a lot of stupid questions, and third, we don’t always understand the rules of doing business! It is hard work to serve tourists! I know this because I grew up in a tourist destination. Hospitality is an art form which guests and visitors always appreciate. Tourists often run rough-shod over the grace and dignity and care which go into making their stay magical. They openly explain how they are shocked by the price of fruit (in a remote northern city) – or leave garbage on the beach – or want to visit a mosque in their shorts or kill a turtle for sport. These things make us sad in a very specific way – the french have a verb for it – gené – I am sad and ashamed which makes me hang my head and become quiet and shy. Tourist prices are a tax on these indignities. We try to be visitors wherever we go, and when we are tourists, we accept the protection of our hosts with gratitude.

Turkish rug merchants take hospitality to the next level. A rug is a serious deal. It is an investment, and will be an intimate room mate for many years – embracing your feet in the warmest rooms of your home. We select our rug men carefully, refusing to speak with the ones whose body language is less than open and honest, or whose shops and windows are not composed thoughtfully. The rugs have to be protected from the sun, but need to be touched as well so they do not feel sterile. Ali has just such a shop. We stop at his window on the first day, and he stops to chat and eventually invites us inside so that we can see. He might have a rug we would like. The lights and air conditioning are switched on and he offers us some apple tea. We are thirsty and jet lagged and gratefully accept. We discuss rugs and colors and I ask to see one of the tiny ones in the corner. These are Hereke rugs – hand knotted silk – and have 300+ knots to the square centimeter. It is a privilege to see them. They take over a year to make. Ali lets me sit with the rug beside me and I touch it gently. We don’t make a deal with Ali on the first day, but we have had a serious conversation. I tell him the first day of the trip is not an auspicious time to buy a rug. I must look and consider, but we will be back. He counters that we will not have to worry and think about it if we settle the deal now – he wants us to have a relaxing holiday and the rug I have picked will be difficult to find elsewhere! We are both right. When we return at the end of our trip, we tell him he has the best apple tea in all of Turkey, and we settle down to make a deal.


A Hereke rug in an Ottoman design – not the one I bought….

Ali and his assistants empty three shops and have buried his showroom floor several times with rugs by the end of our three visits to his shop. Almost all of them are beautiful. Many are completely unsuited to my house, or turn out to be slightly too big. When we tire of trying to pick out my rugs, I ask him about the designs and where they come from – some are tribal, some from Mesopotamia, some are Ottoman. In the end, Ali finds me the one perfect rug for my living room, and I bring home samples of all of the designs that I love. We close the deal on our last day in Istanbul, the third day of Bayram (the sweet festival, celebrating the end of Ramadan – the 30 days of fasting). We agree that this is a very auspicious day to buy a rug, and celebrate the deal with his boss over some chilled white wine.  

Two of the beautiful tribal rugs that were too wide for my hallway…



Tourists are so Funny!

There is this small village in Turkey called Olympus. Up the hill from the village of Olympus is a hill with burning rock – where methane slowly seeps out from underground and burns at the surface. The hill is called Caldiera.

Naturally, in our open touristic state of mind – we put 1+1 together and conclude that this must be the home of the Olympic flame – which is a great story. The site posts a billboard telling the story of a race run from the hill to the sea with flaming torches – signed by the Santa Claus Society. Our hosts remain tactfully quiet, which provokes comments from me about the Greeks, who probably made up some lame story to claim that they own the flame. 

They laugh.

According to the internet, the modern Olympic flame is lit from the sun at the temple of Olympus at the Acropolis to symbolize purity.
I still like the story of the burning hill…
PS There were also ruins of a Byzantine church – with the remains of friezes – at the site. Free to touch. Cool. Old. Very old.

Hiking in Turkey is All About the Rocks

On Tuesday night we hiked up an old road – built for trading olive oil by the Lycians and improved by the Romans. There are still olive trees on the hills. At the top of the road, we found a nomad’s tea shop, a Roman temple, city hall, and cistern. The temple was built with marble from at least 200km away and the latin inscriptions are still clear. Right next to the Roman temple stood a Byzantine church. Over the hill sits another cistern from the Ottoman era, still in use. We were welcome by a goatherder and his wife, formally fed tea made from the sage bush in their yard, and invited to buy spoons made from sandalwood, belts woven from goat hair, goat bells, and wild honey. Our new Turkish friends on the boat are curious and open and enjoy being active outdoors – much like our Czech relatives and our Canadian friends – but against a backdrop of antiquity rather than against our Canadian landscape of wilderness, wildflowers, and wildlife. Here, hiking is all about the (very, very) old rocks.

Written July 14, Posted July 19


Andrew and Mehmet looking at a Roman rock


Latin inscription – what does it say?


Roman or Byzantine? Our Turkish friends can tell….


Ottoman era cistern (water storage). Water storage is a big deal for serving merchant ships


Hiking on a Roman road first built by the Lycians – now the Lycian Way hiking trail. Note the olive tree – bottom left.


Life on the Seahorse – cruising and diving on the Aegean Sea

17 of us slept under the stars, woke at 7am for pilates and swim in the sea before 8am breakfast, or slept in (including the instructor). Then eat at 8am, move the boat, dive at 10, swim or snorkel after diving, rest in the shade, 12:30 lunch, nap or read or chat while the boat moves to a new dive site, dive between 3 and 4pm, swim, shore walk at 7 (sometimes), watch the sunset over the Turkish coastline, 9pm dinner with 6 mezes and 4 mains, drink tea or beer and chat with friends, fall asleep under the stars by 10:30. All to the rocking motion of the boat with sea breezes and as much or little sun as you like. There is nothing bad about this.

“Old” Just Got 10 Times Older

In Alberta, old was a “turn of the century home” not so very long ago. In England, my idea of “old” multiplied to hundreds of years old. In Antalya, old is measured in centuries. I kind of knew this was coming, but it is a bit mind boggling.

On Monday, Inci took us to explore the old town and I asked her when Antalya was founded. She wasn’t quite sure, but Hadrian’s Gate was built to welcome the Roman Emporer here in 136 AD. I concluded that Antalya has ALWAYS been here. The wheel ruts made by the Roman chariots and wagons are about 4 inches deep.

On Tuesday, we went to Side to see the Temple of Apollo and Athena. There are several such temples scattered around the ancient world, in case you think this is a bit confusing. This site dates back to the second century BC – so that would be 4000 years old – and there is also an amphitheater and a huge mess of leftover city that you can explore at your leisure. Being IN an amphitheater is Wow.


Touring with Visitors – Inci and her Mom


Princess Rebecca…she wouldn’t let me post the goofy picture


Side, Roman Amphitheater


Rebecca commented to Inci that she must have seen these places many times…the words old rocks were upgraded to ancient rocks….less pretentious than Antiquities.

Yesterday, we went to the beach at Phaselis. This is like a provincial park with a really nice quiet beach, no beach chairs and umbrellas, and very few tourists. Lots of familes – and also the site of an ancient harbour founded in 700BC by the Phaseliens – who apparently were not very good at repaying their debts. Pirates took over the harbour at one point, and later Hadrian was also welcomed with a gate – which still stands. The harbour eventually turned into a swamp and the site was abandoned. Our delightful tour guide treated this as quite incidental – not worth mentioning actually.

I have tried many times in my life to go see a Roman aqueduct. There are a few of them in the UK and in France, but somehow this fascination never worked out. In the last few days, I have seen several. We went a good half hour walk out of our way to find the first one in Istanbul, then found several others scattered around our walks, but Phaselis really made the point.  The aqueduct is a car park. In Turkey, Antiquities are just about as common as potatos on PEI, and we are definitely the wide eyed visitors!!!
After Phaselis, we climbed a hill in Olympus to see the burning ground where gas escapes…

Aqueduct at Phaselis