Thursday, March 30, 2017

Visiting Greece and Turkey: Amazing Turkish Hospitality! Can anyone match it?

OM Namah Shivay OM!   
Flying Visit to Greece & Turkey in 2011:

March 9, 2011 we left Bharat for Zurich.    Arrived around late morning to Zurich and we left our 4 big Baggages  at IBIS Zurich Messe Airport for free as we were returning to it after our 12 days tour of Greece and Turkey.   

The Same afternoon, we went to Athens by Swiss Air.   We took their subway system and it was extremely cheap to travel being seniors.    We learn the system very quickly.  Changed the train @ Syntagma to Omania Square Station.   (The Parliament Building is right opposite the Syntagma Square.)   Also it is the main Exchange Subway Station.  When we came, we decided to walk to Best Western.  Supposedly it was 15 – 20 minutes walking distance.    We enjoyed lugging our Baggage on the cobbled stoned side walks.   We did not have good direction, so we had to keep asking passerby …. May be a block and a half away, Niru suggested that she will wait by the Pharmacy at the corner of one intersection with all the baggages and I should finOMd out exactly where is this Hotel.  She had our two carry on bags, my computer bag and her Backpack, loaded with all the important papers like Passports, TCs, Cash etc. etc….

When I return after about half an hour, she was all worked up and asked me that do you know what happened?   NOoooo …

One young man came to her and started asking her in Greek Language … so out of courtesy, she stood up to talk with him …. He left as they could not communicate … she turned to her left and found that her Backpack was missing.   She ran to the intersection and saw one young man, walking away briskly with her Backpack … She screamed and she started running after him … Brave Zaveri Girl !!!!    That guy must be trainee, so he dropped the backpack and ran away …. She picked up the backpack and ran after him …. Then she realized that what about the other bags and my computer bag ?  What if the other guy came back and ran away with ?????  She returned running back found everything in order.  Thank GOD!!!

Next day morning we found that our Camera was missing  … That could have been in the computer Bags front pocket.   We had it on the plane … so we do not know whether we lost it on the Plane (I did use it on the plane.), Train or that robber at the Street Corner …

Hotel was very nice!    Free Internet and continental breakfast and so on ….  Nice view of the city from our Balcony.   The second shift manager, John remembered me from my inquiries a month or so ago.  So he gave me a very nice room on the top floor.    He also gave me information on where to pick up the Hop ON & Off Bus to take City tour the next day.  We felt that rather than running last minute to find out the Bus Station, let’s go that night and check it out!   To our scare, we found out that that area is infested with Druggies and Drunkards.  Some 100 people had gathered on the way to bus stand including some brave ladies!!   Without any show, we just walked through them …..

Next day morning, as we were going to that Bus Stand, about half of those specials were still there!    That Hop On – Off tour gave us a really good idea of the City and we saw Acropolis.   What a grand view of the City from all the way around as this Temple sight was located on the top of the Hill, in the center of the City.   What we had seen in the books during childhood, now was in front of our eyes.  Worth visiting!  Sanju-Trina had given us the List of the interesting places to visit… so that was extremely helpful … We liked the Monastiraki Square Area very much … Typical European City Center where free shows take place and people from all walks of life get together …  We also walked through that area….. where Sanju and Trina stayed.   Many narrow streets loaded with Greek Charms …small varieties shops …   At night we came back to Monastiraki Suare. 
 area to get a great view of Acropolis at night with lights …  We also inquired with Hotels in that area to get some idea …
 Third day we went to SanTorini Island… A Must visit … We stayed in Margarita Hotel (Hotels. com 1-800-997-9138.) in Firostefani 30-22-86024377.  It is well worth staying in Firostefani or Fira (Pronounced Thira), where there is some life.  It’s Capital City … Many Bargain places for auto rental right in Fira.   And there is no real need to rent a car as there is excellent Bus Service and Hotel pick up and drop off to Airport.    We visited all the major points in two days.    Oia Sunset point is must and also you get another grand Sunset from a place hardly five minutes` walk from Margarita Hotel.    Red Beach is great, Black is lousy and we missed the white Beach.

Due to Winter time, there were very little activities and very few tourists.   Thanx to Trina that she said there is no real need for Car Rental there.   Margarita came to receive us and then to the center of the town and Bus Terminal was 15 – 20 minutes walking Distance.    You buy a kind of a day pass and whole day you can hop on and off.   Over two days, we saw everything worthwhile.   
 Two days later we return to Athens.  We spent one day in Delphi, nice ruins to see.   Went by Public Bus.   We moved to Monastiraki Suare area, for better price, location and night view of Acropolis from the top of our Hotel.   We became very well familiar with major places in the City.      Our Six days visit to Greece was memorable one …..

Off to Turkey:

I read one article by Gunavant Shah on Turkish Invaders and I was deeply concerned visiting Muslim country!!!  I sent out e-mail to my YOGA and personal contacts and I heard from Dr. Nagendraji that there is connection with Istanbul YOGA Markezee (Center).   He introduced me to Ayca the main Person of that Center.  We exchanged e-mails and also discussed on Skype …. She wrote to me that "Do NOT WORRY" about anything and we will take care of EVERYTHING.  So I called RaghuRamji in Bangalore … he said that if Ayca wrote that, then she means exactly the same.  He added that after visiting Turkey, “you” will have different perception or view of Turkey.    

We flew from Athens to Kayseri via Istanbul.  We hardly had 1 hour to change the plane … going from international to Domestic Terminal.    Our flight got delayed by half an hour from Athens.  We bought Turkish Airline Tickets hoping that they would be more helpful in case of any missing flights …. When we came off the plane, there must be a few hundred people waiting in line  to go through Immigration … There is NO way we can make the other flight in half an hour.  We met the security guy and mentioned to him about our situation and he was extremely helpful in getting us through Priority line in Immigration.  We made the flight as that was also delayed by half an hour.  Meanwhile we ran through one Terminal to another one holding our Heart in our hands, huffing and puffing ….  

Now, as we are coming out of Kayseri terminal, one Gentlemen approached me saying you must be YOGA Teacher ….. Yes!   I am Mehmood, brother-in-law of Serife, our host, who does NOT speak English, is waiting for us in his car.  We arrive at the Karuna YOGA Center!   Big sign on the top of the entrance.   When we get inside we saw pictures of OM, Shiva and YOGA Postures.  Well it is real YOGA Center …. Burcu, English Speaking Turkish YOGA Teacher was our interpreter in the beginning.   She said that Serife is asking whether we wanted to stay in Hotel ….. and my mind picked up the storm wondering what happened to “Don’t Worry” and "We will take care of everything … ???"  How am I going to find out whether their choice is reasonable as I dropped all the inquiries as where to stay, anywhere in Turkey …. I said can we stay with you?  Burcu said, “NO!”  as “ she has lots of animals to take care off in the evening ….!  So I said, then what's two more Animals!  She chuckled and said .... but after our return from Cappadocia, we will be staying with her family.  

Meanwhile Ayca called .. So I asked, can I talk to her?   “Ayca, you said that do not worry, everything will be taken care off .. and now they are asking whether we want to stay in Hotel?   She said, “let me talk to them …..”

Burcu:   What we mean is that sometimes people prefer to stay in Hotel … but there is Shower facility in the Center too .. we have a choice to stay in Center or we can stay with Serife …. Well then, we will stay with Serife that nite.   Staying with Turkish people will be real treat and chance for cultural exchange …  

My YOGA Class started at 5 PM for a couple of hours.  As we began our class, I was wondering whether Burcu will be interpreting.  One extremely beautiful young girl walked in and sat down and started interpreting as I was talking … extremely well, fluently, and gracefully …   with lively atmosphere ….  To me class went really well … I wish they would give me the CD of that Program as they did record it …..

Serife’s family took us for a dinner to a Grand Place.  We were joined by more family members like some 15 members in the group.   We enjoyed our Vegeterian meal and they did their Turkish delicacies.  We went to Serife's Home after the Dinner.  I showed how to do Mandukasan to her Brother-in-law, Mohammod who came to receive us at the airport.  Hopefully, it would help him control his Diabetes.  Of course, he would have to do it 11 rounds before Meal, 2 to 3 times a day.  It takes hardly 3 minutes each time, so it would be great investment of 6 to 9 minutes a day to help diabetes.   Just FYI:  My fasting Sugar level over 120 dropped to 86 in 2011 and 81 in 2012 after practicing for two months.   During a year, I was doing only once a day of 11 rounds is evidently NOT enough.   

Now, Niru asked Serife that whether she had Washer Dryer as we had some six days clothes to wash.  Our host graciously took care of washing, drying and even folding ... stayed up till 12:30 Mid-nite and asked us to go take rest.  Next day, morning, they served us nice Turkish Vegetarian Breakfast.   Around 8 AM, her Husband, Mohamood along with his nephew, who can converse with us in English, took us to Cappadocia region, some 100 KM.  Along the way, it was nice drive loaded with the natural beauty including some ice capped mountains.   They dropped us off to an Excellent hotel, on the edge of the Cappadocia Valley, next to King's Cave Palace.   I asked the Hostess as to next day morning, we wanted to go to valley to see the Balloons ... Just to see as ride is very expensive.  She why do you want to go there?  Those balloons would be flying over our hotel in the morning and you would get great close ups of the Balloon and see all the Balloons that gather in Valley from your room balcony.  Words cannot just describe the beauty of this Valley!!!

Our tour bus came to pick us up at around 10:30 in the Morning.   Took us in the Valley.  Visited many caves.    These caves and the underground cities were the hide outs for Early Greek Christians.   As we were told that Romans did not like that, so they were after Greeks who accepted Christianity earlier.  So to save their lives, Greeks were hiding out here.   The number was a few thousands.  A few caves had Church and may be Sunday School set up.   In one of the caves, as we were leaving, I saw a Credit Card on the ground, I picked up and called a Gentleman, who had just entered.... Sir, your Card ... He said that he did not drop it ... So I looked at the Card, which had my name on it??????

They also took us to some amazing Rock Formations, which looked like Animals, Birds etc.  We walked and walked ... all day long ... going up and down the hills from one Cave to next.... It is well worth it.  Came back to the gorgeous Hotel  ... The Best ever we stayed in ...  Next day morning another Bus tour was arranged by Burcu and Serife.   To-day we went underground City.  This one had, as I recall eight levels or layers of Residential facility.  They had unique air exchange ventilation system.   Another picturesque - colorful Valley, also some 3 miles walk by the river etc.  If you love nature and have money, its a 'The Must' visit.  In 2010, after Sanju-Trina wedding, in July, we visited Northen Ireland and we saw those Rock Formation of Giant Causeway.  How nature works wonders ...... How did Nature make perfect Geometrical shapes of Rocks and so many without Human hand touching .... Very Unique Rock formations ....

Upon return to our Hotel, nice Limousine was waiting for us to take us to Burcu and Arife's Home.  Again another 100 KM ride back to Kayseri ... When we came into Burcu's Home, we were awed to see.... my God, it looked like very affluent place  ... like a palace .....  She also invited Serife and Mehmood to join for Dinner.   Everything on the dining table was home made ... many kinds of bread, Cheese, even Honey ..... Arife is a businessman setting up Hydraulic Power Plants.    That night, Burcu took us for a walk around the property and we learned that they had some 6000 Acers of land around, with some 20 race horse training ground, some couple of hundred Goats and Sheep, X number of cattle's herd, they have a few hundred Bee-hives and they bottled and sell Honey, they also have Vinery ... so on and so forth.  It was night so, we could NOT see much but she took us to those places during daytime, the next day.  Now, I understand, what she meant the other day, that she had too many animals to take care of and two more could be a problem!!!!!

Brought back to Karuna YOGA Center and gave us ride through Kayseri Town.   Then to Airport for Istanbul.  Vow, that was the Royal Treatment.... Thanx to Dr. Nagendraji of VYASA, Ayca and YOGA connections.  

Let's see what is in-store for us in Istanbul?  Visiting the Main Host of Turkey ....

One English speaking Lady came to receive us at the airport.  Her name escapes my memory ....  We were already late for Niru's Program on Vegetarian Cooking for this YOGA group.  Istanbul YOGA Markeze (Center).  Ayca is the owner, Director, Yoga Teacher .. all in One!  We were asked how should we go there, by Taxi all the way (there is a normal evening huge traffic jam on the Bridge) or by Taxi, Boat, Taxi, Tramway and walk but if we shuffle, it could be quicker ... So let's shuffle !!!!!!!

There was a group of Enthusiastic Yoga Students awaiting our arrival.  Sri Raghuramji was there too.  It was Nice to see him there.  He is the one who introduced VYASA YOGA in July of 1998 to us.   Let's take a little diversion..... I was kind of scared to go to Turkey, Muslim Country ... as I had just read a Article in the Gujarat Samchar describing the Muslim Invasion on Bharat and they had committed atrocities on our people ... The early invaders were from Turkey and how they invaded our SomNath Shiva Temple 17 times and every time they came, the doors were studded with Diamonds, Gems and Precious Stone ... This is how prosperous India was then.   Then when I sent out a note to my contacts that if they had any contacts in Greece, Turkey and Zurich for those March dates, 10th through 23rd.  Nagendraji responded that VYASA has an affiliate Istanbul YOGA Center and he wrote to Ayca ... We exchanged a few e-mails then we talked on the phone and extensively on Skype.  When she kept saying that she will take care of our Turkey visit and DO NOT Worry!  Like Krishna says in Geeta ... Maa Shuch ... Just come to my surrender and I will exonerate you of all your sins and liberate you, Maa Such - Don't worry!  So I called RaghRamji and asked him what does this mean.   He said, she means exactly what she says.   Does that mean that I do not look for staying accommodations, travelling arrangements ... YES!  He added that after I visit Turkey, I will have different perspective  of the People ... So I did stop looking for any arrangements except for flying  ....   Whatever comes, we will welcome it .... Now let's go back to Istanbul  ...

Let's get back to that waiting Enthusiastic Group ... I was told that there are some two hundreds YOGA enthusiastic ... they have become Vegetarians and most of them have NOW Spiritual Sanskrit  names ... Like Anupama, Karuna, Bhavani ,,, and so on ... They are trailblazers .... charting a new course in Turkey ... A couple of years ago. some 3000 people attended YOGA Conference in Turkey.   I firmly believe that YOGA will bring people of all walks of life to Unity.  While YOGA stems from Vedic Culture, like our Guruji always emphasized that it takes us beyond, Egoism, so any and all 'ism, and that will bring Humanity together and be united.  Should we call that Humanism ... Love will become the law of life... Peace and Harmony will ensue .....

They had Vegetables, Rice and Lentils and they insisted to use their spices ... It took beyond  two hours to make    They jotted Instructions on the Black Board and also many taking Video ... So at around 10 PM, we had our Turkish Vegetarian Meal.   

We came to Ayca's apartment with two Bedroom.  She had one for her Guru Sri RaghuRamji and another one for us and she would sleep on either sofa or reclining chair.  As we entered place, the first most impressive thing that drew our attention is some five feet Picture of Lord Nataraja on the cloth!  There was a small alter on the floor that had Ram Parivar and I think.  Ganesh Moorti.   In her living room, on the coffee table I noticed the Book Vivek-Chudamani by Adi Shankaracharya .  So I aksed her, "Do you know the meaning of this Title?"  She retorted, "Crest Jewel of Wisdom!"   Many Indian may not even know the existence of this book, never mind the meaning!!!!!!    I said, I know only one Shloak from this Book:  Prasanna Chitte, Pramatma Darshanam!   She said that there are many more shloaks like that and I aught to read this book.  So that night, I read first 22 pages from that book ....  Now if and when I visit her again I will finish the rest of it !!!!! If I haven't read it by that time!  Now, look at her bookself!  Loaded with  hundreds of Shiva Books, like, Shiv Sutra (By a few different Authors), Shiv Puran, and so on.   Also many Shiva Chants CD's and DVD's.   By this time, Ayca had translated Geeta and Patanjali YOGA Sutra - Darshan into Turkish language and that is part of the requirements of her YIC (YOGA Instructors Course) Program.  In 2011, she also translated Karma YOGA (Secret of Actions) and Bhakti YOGA by Swami Vivekananda.   Ayca – Plz include all the work you have done so far!)

Next day, I had my YOGA Class @ 10 AM for 2 hours.  So we were wondering how we going to manage to see the Highlights of the City.  I had sent Ayca, our son, Sanjiv's list as to what we must see and eat etc.    After my class, Ayca personally was taking us to take City sightseeing places.  She said Maa Shuchah.- Do NOT worry.. She will personally manage.  As we were passing by a Bank, I mentioned to her, that can we stop by so that we can get Turkish Lira ... In many words, she said enjoy our Turkish Hospitality and don't reach for money in your pocket!!!!

That evening I asked Ayca, that if we have my Yoga Class from 10 -12 noon, how are we going to see Istanbul and how do we do that?   Wouldn't that be too late start the tour?  he said that she is going to take us.

Next day morning, as were walking to her YOGA Center, we were passing by Bank, so I asked her to stop by for money exchange.  She said no money ... Experience Turkish Hospitality!   We had our YOGA class along with the interpreter.   then she took us to Hagia Sophia and thru Blue Mosque.  Literally amazing display of art and sculptures.  Then she asked for going Indian Restaurant for Lunch.  We said that we wanted to try Turkish vegetarian dish.  After we went for Grand Bazzar.   Lots of people and beautiful displays of anything u need / want .... 

By the way, we had bought Baklava from Syntagma Square in Athens for our Turkish Hosts, only to find out that Baklava is Turkish Dish NOT Greek.  

That evening, after our visit, Ayca took us for Baklava Dinner.  She ordered plate full of many different varieties of Baklavas and we relished them among three of us.  

Next day morning, Ayca had assigned her friend, Billure to take us to the city and show us more places.  Billure showed us the list and the note Ayca had written to her as to where to cross the road and how to take care of us in details.  She said, I know all these things but Ayca wanted to make sure of it.  She also left money for her in that envelop!!!
Billure took us thru other interesting places Palace such as Harem Quarter.
In the evning upon our return to Auca's apartment, I asked Raghuramji as to how to pay Ayca!  He said she would NOT take it but you can offer to her Yoga Center.  That's what happened.  We offered $200/- Cash.    Ayca had arranged for Limo service to airport.   How much to pay him.  She said that it's already  taken care.

Now this is Turkish Hospitality!  Can anyone match it?

We highly appreciate Nagendraji, Raghuramji of VYASA, Ayca, Serife, Burchu,  for the Great, Memorable Experience  of Turkish Hospitality!  

NOTE:   I wrote this originally on Sept 11, 2014 and Modified it on March 2015 and again on March 30, 2017 – the auspicious day to finally Complete and publish it.

I hope you enjoyed reading patiently these six pages.  One of these days, when I learn how to upload beautiful pictures of different events of our life on Picasa, U will have to wait for this tour pictures.

Sudhir Parikh 603-661-7101 

1 comment:

yogabud said...

what a wonderful account of your travels! hari OM! blessings to you both, Catherine R.