July 30, 2014

Kadifekale and, of course, Kediler

I woke up with an adventure-killing headache this morning. I whined, groaned, and moaned my way out of what I thought would be an intolerable walk to Kadifekale, some castle ruins laying dormant atop a hill in İzmir.

Instead, we took a wonderful two-hour nap, brought home two huge 10 liter waters from the store, and studied Turkish.

By five o'clock, I was feeling fully myself again, and I volunteered to go on the previously "intolerable" march to the top of a hill in 100 degree heat. In typical Jena style, ponytail, t-shirt, walking shorts, and athletic shoes, I was ready to face the adventure. Alan, thoroughly slathered with his ever-present sunscreen, wearing all black, including black jeans (I guess people with less body fat don't get as hot?) set off alongside me with our water bottles in his backpack. We rode bikes for the first leg of the trip in order to save our energy for the climb.

We ditched the bikes at Konak, the place famous for its old clock tower. Fighting our way through the masses (sidenote: it's a holiday called Bayram here, the end of Ramadan) like salmon swimming upstream, we finally made it to the base of the enormous hill, which, in true Turkey style is covered, every square inch, with houses and other buildings. We followed the winding roads and steep alleyway staircases up and up and up. Cats, dogs, and beautiful plants lined the streets. The houses, built precariously close to the street, were painted in every tropical color. Not deeply saturated hues, but instead, the mellow sea foam, tangerine, and sky blue type. I love how every house is completely different from its neighbor--the Turkish houses have so much character. Mysterious little doors and peppers strung on twine begged for me to take pictures, but instead I just observed.

As we climbed higher and higher through the winding, narrow streets, I noticed that the beachfront of İzmir I have come to know is a far cry from how most people in this city live. The higher we climbed, the longer the women's hemlines became. I don't think I saw any women's bare arms or legs once we started climbing past a particular intersection. More of the women covered their hair, and some even wore the full black abaya and hijab characteristic of Saudi Arabia. In my shorts and uncovered hair, I became all the more conspicuous tripping over uneven sidewalks and dodging errant cars, catcalls, and motorcycles. I tolerated my own discomfort in favor of reaching our goal--the castle.

HUGE flag flying at Kadifekale
On top of the hill, just before the castle, I observed a cemetery in which each grave had a flagpole flying a good-sized Turkish flag. It was actually very beautiful and moving to me for some reason. I like the Turkish flag a lot--it's so bold and bright. It is displayed everywhere here, and while I refrained from photographing the cemetery, I did capture the enormous flag flying above the castle.

What remained of the castle was impressive, mostly because I'm still not used to really old things. I mean, in the US, something built in the 1800s is old. Here in Turkey, buildings from before the time of Christ are everywhere! It's cool to have so much history underfoot, even if it's pretty much just ruins.

Swingset at Kadifekale
There was an interesting playground on the hill with the castle. I have noticed that the Turks like to entertain the kids with playgrounds everywhere. A great idea. US--take note. Alan described this particular playground as "gnarly" because of its cruder than usual appearance. Picture a welder wanting to make something for his kids. He takes pieces of metal intended for framing a building, and welds them together. The final product looks like Piet Mondrian and an Eastern-block architect consulted on the blueprint for the play area. Alan said that he "wanted to play on it" but he was worried he "might get hurt," which means a lot from the guy who wanted to try kite surfing. By the way, my father, also a welder, once made me a swing set in his shop. It was pretty awesome, and a little gnarly.

The view of the highways leading out of Izmir.
The carving of Ataturk is just left of center.
We checked off the castle, and with attention to how much remaining sunlight we had to traverse back down through the jungle of allies and stairways, we decided to go with Alan's idea of orienting ourselves with the Kültürpark (our favorite place) and diving down the first long staircase pointing in that direction. While I might have preferred retracing our steps, I was game for the downhill adventure.

Not long into our dizzying route, we became the attraction for EVERYONE who was in shouting distance of us. They yelled very polite English phrases that they knew, such as: "HELLO!" and "MY NAME IS ASLI!" and "WHERE ARE YOU FROM?" in hopes of gaining our foreigner attention. Children ran alongside us, asking for money (this is a Bayram tradition somewhat similar to trick-or-treating). The chatter and hubbub reached a fever pitch in the narrowest, most congested area of the hillside. I started to freak out due to the winding roads and unsolicited attention, and two teenage boys came up to me and started asking me questions. Instead of snapping at them, for some reason, their presence really calmed my frayed nerves. They asked if I was going to the Izmir Fuar (a.k.a the Kültürpark) and politely gave me directions (not that useful due to the incredible maze of streets) as they walked with us for a few twists and turns. They asked me about New York and Miami, and told me how old they were and where they went to school, etc. They left us to our own devices just as abruptly as they had approached us, and we easily navigated the rest of the way.

Talking to the boys would later be a point of contention between Alan and me as we discussed possible outcomes of this sort of random interaction. The fates of victims on the TV show "Locked Up Abroad" came up in our heated discussion, as did past run-ins with would-be muggers in various cities. Basically we decided that I might work on my street smarts and Alan might work on challenging his assumptions about all strangers in foreign countries being opportunist thieves. Marriage = lots of difficult conversions about compromise.

Lora, the kedi guard dog.
My favorite cat, Michael " Jordan" Jordan is photobombing.
We detoured to see our demi-pets on the way home, as a way to calm down from our argument and recharge our souls. Two-legged dog was there, and very happy to have both of our undivided attention focus on scratching his itchy places. The Kedi Anthill erupted with life when we showed up ready to play. We also greeted Erkan, who cleans the Kedi anthill and feeds the cats every single day. The kediler (kitties) chased the long pieces of rope Erkan gave us, and we enjoyed their enthusiasm. Even the super creepy one-eyed kedi (with an empty socket on the other side) got in on the action tonight. It was a perfect end to our adventure and to a day when I woke up with that nasty adventure-killing headache.