In central Turkey, we folk-dance through tea-soaked and hospitable ancient villages, seeing geological wonders, cliff dwellings, and the red pottery kilns of Avanos. Leaving the camel rides and carpets behind, we arrive at the modern city of Ankara to learn about Ataturk — the "father of the Turks" — who led this sultans' empire through to the twentieth century.
- Read the script from the show.
Central Turkey (excerpted from Europe Through the Back Door)
Cappadocia is rightly famous as the most bizarre and fascinating bit of central Turkey that accepts credit cards. The most exciting discovery I made on my last trip was a town on the edge of Cappadocia called Güzelyurt.
Güzelyurt means "beautiful land." It's best known in Turkey as the town where historic enemies — Greeks, Turks, Kurds, and Bulgarians — live in peace. The town is a harmony of cultures, history, architecture, and religions. Walk down streets that residents from 3,000 years ago might recognize, past homes carved into the rocks, enjoying friendly greetings of merhaba. Scowling sheepdogs, caged behind 10-foot-high troglodyte rookeries, give the scene just enough tension.
Walk to a viewpoint at the far side of town (above the Sivisli church), toward the snowy slopes of the Fuji-like volcano that rules the horizon. Before you is a lush and living gorge. The cliff rising from the gorge is stacked with building styles: Upon the 1,600-year-old church sit troglodyte caves, Selcuk arches, and Ottoman facades. And on the horizon gleams the tin dome of the 20th-century mosque, with its twin minarets giving you a constant visual call to prayer. The honey that holds this architectural baklava together is people.
Put your camera away, shut your mouth, and sit silently in the sounds of 1000 B.C. Children play, birds chirp, roosters crow, shepherds chase goats, and mothers cackle. (Ignore that distant motorbike.)
Below you, sleeping in the greens and browns of this land of simple living, is the church of St. Gregorius. Built in 385, it's thought by Gregorian fans to be the birthplace of church music, specifically the Gregorian chant. Its single minaret indicates that it's preserved as a mosque today in a valley where people call god Allah.
Who needs three-star sights and tourist information offices? In Güzelyurt, we dropped by the city hall. The mayor scampered across town to arrange a lunch for us in his home. He welcomed us Christians, explaining, "We believe in the four books" — the local way of saying, "It doesn't matter what you call Him, as long as you call Him." He showed us the names of his Greek Christian friends, kept as safe and sacred as good friends could be in his most precious and holy possession, the family Koran bag.
The lady of the house made tea. Overlapping carpets gave the place a cozy bug-in-a-rug feeling. As the lady cranked up the music, we all began to dance like charmed snakes until our fingers could snap no more. A small girl showed me a handful of almonds and said, "Buy dem." Badam is Turkish for almond, and this was her gift to me. Enjoying her munchies, I reciprocated with a handful of Pop Rocks. As the tiny candies exploded in her mouth, her surprised eyes became even more beautiful.
The town's name is spelled proudly across its volcanic backdrop. The black bust of Atatürk seems to loom just as high over the small modern market square. The streets are alive with the relaxed click of victorious tavla (backgammon) pieces. The men of the town, who seem to be enjoying one eternal cigarette break, proudly make a point not to stare at the stare-worthy American visitors searching for postcards in a town with no tourism.