“Every flower is beautiful in its own garden. Every antiquity is beautiful in its own country.” So reads the sign at the entrance of the Efes Museum in Kusadasi, Turkey.
I would not have appreciated that expression before our last trip to Turkey.
I have travelled, and looked at what I viewed as a lot of rocks scattered around in a number of sites around the world, without fully embracing their significance.
I’ve read the guidebooks and remember at least some of my history lessons. But they never hit home until Istanbul and Ephesus.
Most people can remember a special teacher whose enthusiasm and communication style made a boring subject suddenly seem exciting.
So it was for me with antiquities. Our guide in Ephesus was a scholar, with degrees in linguistics, architecture, and history. He didn’t just deliver us the stories of the past, but he made them come alive with passion and excitement.
Ephesus is one of the best preserved antiquities in the world, and it was his illustration of what we were seeing in this world from the past that was, for me, an epiphany.
During the remainder of the journey I saw everything differently.
I saw an expression of cultures, of how they lived, ate, worked and died. I understood the spirit and intelligence of the times. Each ruin now painted a real picture of war and peace; always, it seems, with much longer periods of war than peace. I could envision the feats of the great and not so great. And I was able to put a face on the people who lead, as well as those who were forced to follow.
Spending time at Ephesus opened so many knowledge doors. The theatre, the performances that brought life to the history, the power at being at the tomb of St John.
At times it was almost too much to handle. There are many sites of antiquity but this one certainly is extra special.
It was our second visit to Turkey, we decide to move beyond the major tourist spots to try to find another side of Istanbul.
Our hotel was not downtown, but rather in a residential and business area about 12 kilometres from the city centre.
A short walk from the hotel we find a small restaurant that looks appealing. The menu has no English translation, and it quickly becomes clear that the servers will be of little help in deciphering it for us.
None of them can speak English, but instead a menu with large, well-photographed pictures of the available courses is placed in front of us is.
We are pretty sure, but not certain, what the photos represent. Thankfully, the owner/manager has some fluency in English and is able to help us make our selection.
The lentil-based appetizer soup was exceptional, our main courses are excellent, and the peanut and honey dessert they decide to complement us with is outstanding. But it is not the meal, as good as it was, that creates the lasting memories.
Romely is a family-run restaurant, and by happenstance we are there on the night of their grand opening. The manager, Ugur Yilmaz, eager to include us in the celebration, introduces us to his family and the others who are dining. As he leads us through the menu, he proceeds to explain to his staff where we have come from in Canada, along with his own knowledge of our region of the country.
The next morning we make our way to a little restaurant on a side street, three blocks away from the famous Blue Mosque of Istanbul.
We have not come here solely to dine. We have signed up for a cooking class on traditional Turkish foods with Eveline Zautendijk, who owns and operates Cooking Alaturka.
There are only 5 couples in the class, including my wife and me.
Eveline herself is not Turkish. She holds Grande Diplome with honours at Le Cordon Bleu of Paris. She originally came to Istanbul to work in hotels in the tourist area.
As she puts it, “Turkey is a place people come to and never want to leave.” Then she adds, “So be careful.”
For three hours we cut, chop, and listen as Eveline explains the history, and describes how each of the 5 dishes we will be preparing has meaning in Turkish culture.
We learn the history of the spices we are chopping. She explains the differences between eastern and western Turkish cooking, as well as the manner in which these particular ingredients have an integral place in the traditional household.
Finally, we sit down over a couple of glasses of wine with our new-found friends and enjoy the meal that we have created with our fellow want-to-be chefs.
After being indoctrinated into the Turkish style of living through this food experience, we are even more excited about going back.
With Turkey near the Syrian border and being forced to host thousands of refugees, along with its own internal challenges from a political standpoint, people are not travelling there in the number as in the past.