Armenia

Novarant Monastery,Armenia,MusicForTheEyes.com,Caucasus

Novarant Monastery, Armenia. © Grigory Gusev_flickr

Armenia is a strange country full of ancient churches and modern grudges.

It is proud of being the first Christian country in the world and, at the same time, nostalgic for the old Soviet Union that gave birth to the first modern Armenian nation-state.  Its people suffered a horrible genocide at the hands of the still unapologetic Turks during WWI, but then carried out their own smaller genocide against neighboring Azerbaijan in the 1990’s, snatching and still holding today 20 percent of their neighbor’s territory.

Yerevan,Baku,Botero

Sharon with Botero Statue in Yerevan. © Fred Lundahl

Armenia is a relatively poor country where not only most cultural projects–but also major infrastructure construction such as tunnels and highways–are often funded by Armenians living abroad in the diaspora.

Two thousand years ago Armenia was a vibrant kingdom that grew in size and strength after being the first to convert to the new faith of Christianity in 360 AD.  In the early centuries of Christianity, the Armenian and Byzantine empires disagreed over church doctrine and began fighting among themselves.     thus ill equipped to fight off invaders from the East.   The Armenian empire was the first to be blotted out in the 13th century, followed later by the Byzantines in the 15th.

Yerevan,Armenia,MusicForTheEyes.com

Living in Yerevan. © Sharon Lundahl

From then until the 20th century, Armenians continued to inhabit their traditional lands usually living as second-class citizens under an Islamic government, whether persian or Turkish.  Even when Russia expanded into the Caucasus, Armenians remained second-class citizens…a merchant class referred to by Anton Chekov as the “Jews of the Caucasus.”  In WWI, the Turks saw Armenians living in Turkey as pro-Russia “fifth colonists” and cruelly moved huge numbers from place to place resulting in over a million deaths.

Yerevan,Armenia,MusicForTheEyes.com

Soviet-era Car in Yerevan. © Sharon Lundahl

Shortly thereafter, Armenians in the Caucasus embraced the downfall of the Czar and welcoming the coming of Communism.  Their support for Communism was repaid when the USSR carved out a nation for them in the 1920’s.

Yerevan,Armenia,MusicForTheEyes.com

Yerevan Modern Art Museum. © Sharon Lundahl

The ill fortune that Armenians suffered resulted in many fleeing to new lives in America and Europe.  Those Armenians living in the diaspora maintainclose emotional ties to their homeland and issues such as the Turkish genocide.  To those Armenians, Turkey remained the enemy.  Armenian terrorist groups assassinated a number of Turkish diplomats around the world in the 197o’s and 80’s.

Yerevan,Armenia,MusicForTheEyes.com

Fred with Armenian Movie Actors. © Sharon Lundahl

The break-up of the Soviet Union resulted in an independent Armenia that suddenly became an honorable cause for Armenians abroad to support with financial assistance.  Yerevan is filled with museums and monuments paid for by diaspora Armenians.  US businessman Kurt Kervorkian paid for major highway tunnel and donations from the diaspora are a major source of the government’s funds.  A new fancy shopping mall opened while we were in Yerevan…paid for with diaspora money.

Yerevan,Armenia,Church

In an Old Armenian Church. © Sharon Lundahl

Still, Armenia will remain poor until it mends its relations with its neighbors.  For a time recently, it seemed there might be hope for reconciliation with Turkey during an exchange of “football diplomacy.”  Those efforts ultimately floundered on Turkey’s insistence that Armenia settle its differences with Azerbaijan first, and Armenia’s refusal to do so.

This unresolved conflict shows no signs of abating and, with Azerbaijan’s growing military might, could be a flashpoint for another nasty regional regional war.  Unlike Israelis and palestinians, there seems to be no one in either country willing to take a first step towards peace.  If anything, the sides are drawing further apart.

The recent case of an Azerbaijani officer who killed a sleeping Armenian officer with an axe at a NATO training course–and then was pardoned and welcomed as a hero upon his transfer to a prison in Baku– shows how intractable the situation has become.

Yerevan,Armenia,Caucasus,MusicForTheEyes.com

Entering Yerevan. © Lasgalletas_flickr

 

Baku, Azerbaijan

Baku,Azerbaijan

Baku, Old and New. © Sharon Lundahl

Fred loves Baku.  He loves its history, its people, its arts, and especially its textiles.  During our week in Baku before we joined the tour group, we stayed in the Sultan Inn, a small boutique hotel in an old mansion inside the walls of the old medieval city of Baku.

Baku,Azerbaijan

Statue in Downtown Baku.© Sharon Lundahl

We found all of the carpet dealers he had known before were still in business, and we spent hours drinking tea and reminiscing.

Happy Guy in Baku. © Sharon Lundahl

Happy Guy in Baku. © Sharon Lundahl

Baku is filled with extraordinarily beautiful 1900-era baroque buildings built during the city’s first oil boom.  In 1900 with the Rockefellers, Rothschilds, Alfred Nobel and other western millionaires flocking to the city, Baku was the number one exporter of oil in the world.

A little more than 100 years later, Baku has once again become an important oil exporting power, and huge wealth is flowing into the country.  Not all the money is  going into luxury cars and shopping malls filled with Benneton and the Gap stores.  Some is being used to erect new buildings, many in the style of the older baroque masterpieces.

Baku,Azerbaijan,MusicForTheEyes@yahoo.com

Fred and Friend. © Sharon Lundahl

We found amazing modern buildings like the new carpet museum being constructed to look like a rolled carpet, other gala event centers such as the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest’s concert hall, and the world’s tallest flag pole–along the city’s seawall park on the Caspian Sea.

The city’s skyline inland from the Caspian Sea had changed incredibly too, with the construction of three  huge over-the-top skyscrapers shaped like flames whose reflective glass skins exhibited gigantic light shows all night.  The whole town seems to be continually in party mode.

Baku,Azerbaijan

1900-era mansion. © Fred Lundahl

The carpet business in Azerbaijan, however, is not doing great.  Even though their carpets are of legendary beauty, they are now too expensive for the American market.  Even the Baku rug stores are selling the cheaper Afghan and Pakistani carpets.  Stunning old rugs are still to be seen, but government rules forbid their export.

Baku,Azerbaijan

Pretty girls in Baku. © Sharon Lundahl

The Caucasus – Ten Years Later

Azerbaijan Baku Rugs Carpets

Fred in Rug Store in Azerbaijan. © Sharon Lundahl

We have just spent the month of October in the three countries that make up the region known as the Caucasus–Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia.  Both Sharon and Fred had worked, separately, in the U.S. embassies in Georgia ten years ago.  In addition, Sharon had served in Armenia, while Fred served in Azerbaijan.

Armenia Market

Market Lady in Armenia.© Sharon Lundahl

The choice of this trip for our 2012 autumn adventure was for the two of us to see all three countries together, catch up with old friends made there, and see what had happened to the people (and their textiles) in the last ten years.

We first spent a week in

Azerbaijan Baku children's Theater

At the Baku Children’s Theater. © Sharon Lundahl

Baku visiting Fred’s old haunts in Azerbaijan.  We stayed in a boutique hotel inside the walls of the old city, drank tea with many carpet dealers, attended a wonderful Azeri opera with a friend, and looked in amazement at what 10 years of unbridled petroleum-fueled growth had done to this ancient city.    One ominous fact: 20 percent of GNP is being spent on the military in this small Islamic country closely allied with the West and, oddly enough, with Israel.

In Georgia, which we both love, we arrived just after the first peaceful democratic election ever held in the region.  A young US-trained president, who had both transformed the government AND entered into a quickly lost war with Russia in his ten years in office, had graciously given up power to his rival.

Georgia Church Caucasus

Old Georgian Church. © Fred Lundahl

We visited with old friends in Tbilisi and saw where the Russian tanks had ground to a halt within sight of the city in 2008.  We watched a country filled with refugees (of Internally Displaced Persons–IDP’s) from the war, and with no diplomatic relations with neighbor Russia, buckle down and carry out amazing improvements for its people with few resources other than tourism dollars and oil-pipeline-transfer payments.

Armenian church Caucasus

Old Armenian Church. © Fred Lundahl

We finally ended up in Armenia, a cosmopolitan country with vast foreign diaspora sending huge amounts of money back home to build monuments, shopping malls and art museums, but who still fret continually about the terrible atrocities done to them by the Turks in 1915.

Azeri girl Baku Azerbaijan Caucasus

Pretty Azeri Girl. © Sharon Lundahl

Landlocked Armenia has few resources of its own and relies on Russia for its national security.  Its intransigence on the issue of the 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory they have occupied since 1994 has prevented Armenia from normalizing relations with Turkey and, also oddly, has driven them to be closer allies with neighboring Iran.

On this trip, on the micro level, we found little had changed for our friends in the three countries.  On the macro level of relations between nations, lots had changed…and not all for the better.

Georgia Tbilisi Carpets Rugs

Sharon at a Rug Store in Georgia. © Fred Lundahl

Whale Visitors to Whidbey Island

Whales Whidbey Island Gray

Gray Whales off Whidbey Island. © Minette Layne/flickr

This is the story of the “Saratoga Grays”–12 whales who visit Whidbey Island each year.

Once upon a time–who knows how many years or centuries ago–a single gray whale found its way into the Saratoga Passage between Whidbey and Camano Island north of Seattle.

Grey Whale Whidbey Langley

Gray Whale. © www.photobotos.com/flickr

That one whale managed to break off from thousands migrating northward from Mexico to Alaska, and then found its way almost 100 miles into inland waters.

His detour was amazing enough…but it was especially amazing that the krill-eating whale was so hungry that it somehow figured out that there were small edible crustaceans living in the sands of the tidal flats of this small area.

Gray Whale Whidbey Island Langley

Seen in the Whale Parade. © Sharon Lundahl

The first whale that used its baleen plates to sift out crustaceans from sand– rather than sifting its usual krill diet from seawater–liked the taste so much that when it found its way out to join its companions in completing the migration north to Alaska’s krill-rich waters…it somehow passed on news of its discovery to a friend or two.

As a result, a few other whales began to make the detour into the Sushi Bar around Whidbey Island during the annual migration…but never more than about a dozen came.  (If that first whale had passed on news of its discovery to everyone, there would have been thousands of whales visiting Saratoga Passage every year.)

People living around Whidbey Island had probably noticed whales coming in to feed in the shallows for centuries.  It was not until the 1970’s, with the increasing concern among conservationists that whales needed protection from humans, that scientists began cataloguing and identifying whales by their individual markings; only then did it become clear that it was the same bunch of whales who visited Saratoga Passage each year.

Whidbey Island Langley Gray Whales

Whale-Happy Girl at the Whale Parade. © Sharon Lundahl

They come in ones and twos, showing up between mid-February and mid-June, feeding at high tide–eating the crustaceans like the “ghost shrimp” living in the sand close to the shore–and then departing to continue their migration after a few days of feasting.

What’s with this bunch of whales?  Other gray whales occasionally stumble into Puget Sound when sick or starving and die, apparently not knowing that there is edible food in the sand.  The Saratoga Grays apparently don’t share the knowledge of their Sushi Bar very widely among their companions.

Baha Mexico Gray Whales Langley Whidbey Island

Inter-species Communication in Baha, Mexico. © Fred Lundahl

No one knows for sure why this is, but scientists speculate that the Saratoga Grays are perhaps from the same matrilineal line of whales; they guess that the first whale to discover food in the sand passed that knowledge on to a sister or brother, who passed it on to another close relative, and so on.  Still, since the 1970’s, only about 15 or 20 distinct whales have ever been identified in the Saratoga Passage.  Since the 1990’s the number has been pretty static at about 12 or 13.

Whales Whidbey Baha Mexico Langley

Fred Playing Harmonica to Whale at Baha. © Sharon Lundahl

Well, whales will be whales, and the people of Langley, a small village of 1000 souls on Saratoga Passage, are happy enough that the dozen show up each year like clockwork.  The whales regularly feed so close to shore along the waterfront of this small town that they have become a great attraction, drawing locals and tourists alike to the town’s seawall at high tide when one can stand closer to a feeding gray whale than one is allowed to be in a whale watching boat.

The town hosts a small “Welcome the Whales” festival each April, which includes a Whale parade, lectures and experiences for young people.

Gray Whales Whidbey Island Langley

The Whale Bell in Langley. © Sharon Lundahl

One of the founders of a regional whale conservation group called Orca Network donated her minister-grandfather’s church bell to the town to provide a signal for alerting townspeople of the presence of whales.

 

This whale bell has been erected in the middle of town and, when a whale is sighted, someone rings the bell.  Everyone rushes out of the shops and pubs down to the seawall to watch the whales, naturally oblivious to all the attention, feeding a scant 100 meters away. The local Clyde Theater even is known to stop its projector in mid-film when the whale bell is heard and to advise theater patrons to take five minutes to run down to see the whales before the film resumes.

Whale Parade in Langley WA Whidbey Island

Langley Whale Parade in the Rain. © Sharon Lundahl

Summer in Langley

Fred Lundahl at the Friday Second Street Market. © Sharon Lundahl

We are enjoying blissful summer days in Langley, our home in the Pacific Northwest.

 

Even though it has been quite cool so far, we are expecting  weather in the 80’s this coming August weekend.

 

Kids Buying Corn. © Sharon Lundahl

Most of you know that our shop,

Music   for the Eyes, is located in a small village on the sea, where we can watch for whales in the spring—greys who come up near the shore to scoop up ghost shrimp at high tide.

Langley is home to about 1000 people, and –even better– we are located on an island.

To visit Whidbey island, take a ferry from Everett on the mainland north of Seattle, and come to our forested paradise.  Our “traffic” happens when the ferry unloads.

Herons and birds abound, and our favorites, bald eagles, nest in our tall trees and entertain us all year long.

Most of all, we love the people of Langley. 

These pictures are taken at the Second Street market, which is put on each Friday by the new Main Street organization.  The market has local vendors, music, food, buskers, friends and visitors.   You are welcome to join the party!

Singing Happy Birthday at the Second Street Market. © Sharon Lundahl

 

What Do Afghans Think?

Hakim, Bay Murad and Assad Warming Up in the Desert. © Peer Nazar Turkman

Of course, I don’t know what all Afghans think, but I have been surprised by the political views of one Afghan friend, Peer Nazar Turkman.   Peer Nazar is a successful businessman who buys and sells beads, jewelry and other Afghan things both in Afghanistan and in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Afghan Businessman Peer Nazar Turkman. © Peer Nazar

I have dealt with him for a number of years via email and have found him frank and perceptive.

Peer Nazar took the pictures here in Balkh Province, Qultaq Village, of north-western Afghanistan.  Looking at the map of Afghanistan on the opening page of this email, see that this village is north of Mazar-e-Sharif, closer to the border with Uzbekistan.  It is south of the Amu Darya, the Oxus River of

Proud of the Products They Make. © Peer Nazar

antiquity.   Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of Balkh Province, is the 4th largest city of Afghanistan, with a population of more than 300,00 (2006 estimate).   By its location, you can see that this village is far from the areas of strongest Taliban influence in the south.

Peer Nazar has described the lives of the people who work here to us.  These Afghans are all beadmakers, and they are all ethnic Turkmen.  They make small beads of lapis lazuli, turquoise and agate… in the sizes of .05mm,  2mm, 3mm, 4mm, tube cylinder beads and round facet-cut styles.

Beadmakers at Work. © Peer Nazar

Peer Nazar explained that during the Taliban occupation these people suffered under terrible living conditions, but that now 80 percent of them are doing well.  They are able to sell their products to people such as Peer Nazar,  who exports to shops, including Music for the Eyes in Washington State.

Peer Nazar says that the Afghans he knows–including all in this village–are supportive of the presence  of foreign troops in Afghanistan…”because now there are no killings, no thieves and no weapons….

Polishing the Beads with Donated Equipment. © Peer Nazar

and now everyone has a job.”

The men shown here in the top picture—Hakim, Bay Murad and Asad—are hard workers and earn from about $150 to $300 a month, which allows them a good life.    The three men support 16 people in total.

Panjagha, in another picture, is about 50 years old.   In addition to being the security guard, he makes small statues from lapis lazuli such as those shown in his photo.

The Youngest Helper. Peer Nazar

The young boy is Door Mamad.  He is the son of the bead-maker Hakim.  Door Mamad is 10 years old in Class 4 at school, and helps his father at work after school.

I learned also that Qultaq village benefits from help from a German foundation called GTZ, which provides emergency aid and sustainable development assistance to Afghanistan.  GTZ gave the Afghans their machines and tools, rent a house they use for their work and provided a tent they use for lunch and instruction.

Security Guard and Sculptor. © Peer Nazar

 

 

 

 

 

Even though I would not try to predict the future, I can conclude that in this one small part of Afghanistan, NATO troops have surely changed these lives for the better.  These people have hope and have learned how to support themselves.

Qultaq Village in Balkh Province.

Qultaq Village in Balkh Province. © Peer Nazar Turkmen

Nowruz Festival: Forbidden in the USSR

Persian Wall Painting from Safavid Era

Ancient Persian Painting of Nowruz Celebration. © Reza Nazarbeyg

The ancient Zoroastrian spring equinox festival Nowruz  was once again celebrated in Seattle  this March 21st by both the local Iranian and Central Asian communities.

Seattle Nowruz Celebration © Bek Shamsiev

The Central Asian event, for which we loan textile decorations, was again hosted by the Seattle-Tashkent Sister City Association which celebrates its 40th anniversary next year.

 

Since the name of the festival–which means “new light” or “new day” in ancient Persian–can be transliterated into the latin alphabet in several ways, we choose to use “nowruz” . (A school kid was

Trying out hats! © Fred Lundahl

disqualified from the national spelling bee in 2006 for using  this (Random House) variant rather than  Webster’s “navruz” spelling.)

 

Nowruz has been celebrated for thousands of years as the beginning of the new year and the end of winter.   The 500 BC King’s Palace at Persepolis in Iran is constructed so that on the  day of the Spring Equinox, the rising sun’s rays flood through the doors of the throne room and illuminate the throne.

 

Festival Food. © Fred Lundahl

The festival brings communities together for feasts,  dancing and gift-giving.  There is even a Santa Claus–like  figure called Haji Firuz,  thought to represent the Sumerian god of sacrifice, who dies every autumn and is reborn at the spring equinox.  A number of festivities taking place involve fire and the other basic elements, a holdover from Zoroastrian days even in fundamentalist Islamic Iran.

 

The coming of various other religions such as Islam to the area of Persian influence from Turkey to China did nothing to diminish the popularity of the festival which heralds the coming of spring.

Only the Russian communists in their efforts to stamp out religion succeeded in banning the celebration in the Soviet Union for a time.   Finally, with the coming of “perestroika”, the Central Asians succeeded in being allowed to commence their Nowruz celebrations again in 1988.

Kids Playing at Nowruz. © Fred Lundahl

 

Nowruz is the most popular festival in Iran.  It is celebrated from Albania to Western China to Afghanistan to India and is equally popular among all Turkic speaking peoples.  In 2009 Navruz  even became an officially recognized holiday in Canada.  Can the US be far behind?

 

This is a You Tube performance of “Happy Nowruz” of the Silk Road Dance Company, which will perform at Seattle’s Asian Art Museum on May 5th as part of the “Colors of the Oasis” ikat silk exhibition… for whose education room we have donated some ikat textiles.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9qQ3pZGzRM

Nowruz in Uzbekistan. © dalbera_flickr

 

 

MUST SEE…”Colors of the Oasis”

Uzbek in Ikat Robe in 1911. © Prokudin-Gorski

Those of you who have visited our shop on Whidbey Island are often amazed and enchanted by the 19th century Central Asian silk robes and textiles we collected in Uzbekistan.  For the next three months there is an outstanding collection of antique ikat robes and textiles, “Colors of the Oasis” on exhibit at the Seattle Asian Arts Museum (SAM) in Seattle.

Antique Uzbek Ikats at SAM

Sharon and Fred at SAM. © Nanci Froemming

This wonderful collection on loan from Washington DC’s Textile Museum was donated by American businessman Murad Megalli, who was collecting textiles in Central Asia at the same time we were … though on a quite different budget than we two penurious diplomats.

“Ikat” is actually a Malay word describing the tie-dye technique of making shapes and designs in fabric.  Many folks are familiar with the ikat, mostly cotton, fabrics of Southeast Asia.  The Uzbeks actually call their silk tie-dyed fabrics “adras” or “atlas” which they translate into English as “national cloth”.  Still, the textile world has chosen to call the complex and colorful Uzbek silk tie-dyed fabrics by the Malay word–ikat–so we do too.

Antique Uzbek Chaupan

Uzbek Ikat Chaupan from the Lundahl Collection. © Sharon Lundahl

The Uzbeks have been making these silk fabrics they turn into clothes, both robes and trousers for men and women since they stole the art of making silk from the secretive Chinese many centuries ago.  At about the same time, they apparently stole the technique of tie or “resist-dying”, as it is more formally known, from Asia as well.

The process of making ikat is incredibly

Antique Ikat. © Sharon Lundahl

complex, and too lengthy for us to describe here.  To find a good description, go to the SAM exhibition.

Sericulture (silk making) continues to be practiced in present-day Uzbekistan.   The Bolshevik  revolution forced all peoples of the Soviet Union into factory towns and collective farms.   This resulted in gaudy, low quality mass production ikat, which is now being replaced by a return to the old techniques practiced for centuries,

Antique Uzbek Ikat

Antique Ikat at Lundahl Home. © Sharon Lundahl

Drive anywhere in Uzbekistan, and you notice the roads are lined with mulberry trees (also stolen from China), whose leaves are the favored food of silkworms.  Visiting any of the many silk workshops, it is amazing to hear the audible “crunch, crunch, crunch” of thousands of silk worms on tables in long darkened sheds happily feeding on fresh mulberry leaves.

Prior to the Russian conquest of Central Asia in the 1860’s, the lining of ikat robes was usually home-spun cotton cloth decorated with block-printed designs.

Antique Uzbek Ikat Chaupan

Antique Uzbek Ikat Chaupan. © Sharon Lundahl

After the arrival of Russian trade goods, robe linings were made of mercerized cotton yard goods printed in colorful patterns made in textile factories in European Russia.  The traders kept bringing different and updated patterns each season, which encouraged the seamstresses to keep up with the latest fashion patterns.

An interesting note: the Uzbeks invented their own “Scotchguard”… by rubbing a layer of egg white on the fabric, making a glaze that protected the silk.  You can often still feel it on the fabric.  Although you can’t touch the ikat at the museum, you CAN touch it at our shop, Music for the Eyes.

Uzbek Woman in Ikat Chaupan

Uzbek Woman in Ikat Chaupan. © Prokudin-Gorski

 

Please Help With Your Ideas about Travel in Turkey

Istanbul Turkey

Fred Shopping in Istanbul, Turkey. © Sharon Lundahl

Now that we have  completed six blogs about our recent trip, we would like to ask for our readers’ help in planning our next trip to Turkey.  What new place in Turkey should we visit next and what new things should we buy for our shop?

Here are some questions which you could answer and share:

(1) What are your suggestions about travel in Turkey?

(2)  What’s the most interesting place you’ve been that you didn’t know about before you went there?

(3)  What is the most outstanding (or surprisingly good) hotel or restaurant you found in Turkey?

(4)   What new treasures should we look for in Turkey to sell in our shop?

(5)  What interesting rugs should we look to buy in Turkey?

(6)  To help us in our blog-writing, which of our Turkey blogs did you enjoy most (or least)?

Crossing Turkey by Train: 40 Hours on the “Eastern Express”

Kars, the End of the Road

Slightly Seedy Trabzon

Amasra on the Black Sea

The Midnight Bus to Safronbolu

Old Istanbul (Stamboul)

Turkish Man in Spice Bazaar in Istanbul

Turk in Spice Bazaar in Istanbul. © Sharon Lundahl

Crossing Turkey by Train: 40 Hours on the “Eastern Express”

 

Scenery from the Eastern Express. © Sharon Lundahl

Most foreigners,  when they think of Turkey, bring to mind a  more-touristy western Turkey,  with its biblical sites and Med-Sea beaches.  The country of Turkey is actually quite huge, east to west.

During our recent trip, we decided that a good way to see a lot of Turkey would be to take the train from Kars back to Istanbul.   Everyone has heard of the “Orient Express” running from Vienna to Istanbul, but few of us have heard of the “Eastern Express” which runs to Istanbul from far eastern Turkey.

The Eastern Express Train. © Sharon Lundahl

We boarded the train at midnight in Kars after buying a sleeping compartment ticket for the two of us for the next two nights  for an exorbitant $65.00. For that amount we received a two-person sleeper with clean bed linens, complimentary snacks for our small fridge, and an attentive sleeping car attendant to look after our every need (though not our need to find someone who spoke English, which he didn’t.)

Kids Playing along the Turkish Train

Kids Playing Along the Train Track. © Sharon Lundahl

The train route seemed to hit all major cities from east to west throughout Turkey.  The track bed on which the train rode is quite old and limited the speed the train could travel, but the scenery was simply spectacular.   There were hundreds of tunnels along the route which often winded through the mountains beside river beds rather than following highways.  In many parts of Turkey the highways were built after the railroad.

The Good Cook on our Train. © Sharon Lundahl

As our trip took place in mid-October– already the beginning of winter in the lofty mountains of central Turkey– the train wound its way through snow-capped mountains that reminded us of the U.S. Rocky Mountains.  The view from our compartment window or from the splendid restaurant car often provided a wonderful glimpse of Turkish village life as people went about their daily tasks oblivious to the train passing their barnyard or village coffeehouse .

Picture of Famous Attaturk in Train Station

Attaturk Sign in Train Station. ©mellen-petrich@flickr

The scenery began to flatten out a bit by the time the train reached Ankara, and from that point to Istanbul, the old meandering track was paired with a straighter new high-speed train track under construction along side.   This is to be the new TGV (Trein Grande Vitesse) fast train which will cut the  Istanbul/Ankara travel time from six hours to two hours.

The thought of being able to take such a speedy train in the future began to gnaw at us…as our “express” seemed to lose speed the closer it got to Istanbul.  As we followed our train’s plodding advance across our map of Turkey,  and the hours stretched on and on, we finally found ourselves alongside the Bosphorus.  Our hopes rose at sight of the familiar waterway, but  our train’s speed declined still further in response.

Map of Turkey Showing Route of our Train © Sharon Lundahl

The train’s progress into Istanbul seemed interminable, as we were five hours late, and especially because Sharon ran out of books to read about four hours from the end.  This disaster resulted in a solemn promise to all the gods ever worshipped in Turkey to buy a KINDLE so that she would never be caught bookless anywhere again.  (She did so, and found out that it is good “travel insurance”–but not anywhere as pleasant as holding a book in your hands.)

The only other problem Sharon experienced on the train involved the Turkish-style hole-in-the-floor toilet in the swaying railway car.

The train finally pulled into the picturesque  late 19thcentury Hadarpasha Railway Station on Istanbul’s Asian shore 40 hours after leaving Kars. We had forgotten, however,  that our journey was not yet over just because we had finally stumbled off the train.

Turkey Train

Haydarpasa Train Station on Istanbul's Asian Shore. © fafaru mitikie@flickr

Istanbul is split by the Bosporus into an Asian side and European side, the latter of which was where we spent most all of our visits among the great monuments of past epochs such as the Hagia Sofia and her sister palaces,  churches and mosques.

To return to our hotel on the European side, we exited the Railway Station and boarded a ferryboat for a 20 minute journey across the Bosporus to a tram stop and hauled our tired bodies across the Golden Horn and back to our non-swaying beds and American-style (hurray) “convenience” and bathroom!

Scenery from the Eastern Express. © Sharon Lundahl