March 31, 2015
Images and words by Caleb Thal
One of my favorite things about traveling is arriving at a destination at night. Everything is more surreal after dark and 24+ hours of travel. Out of the airport and into the night, we took a shuttle to Avanos, a city in central Turkey, and one of the pottery capitals of the world. Besides a few barbershops that were still open for the night, the neon shop signs were the only illumination. We drove up hills and finally arrived at our hotel overlooking the dimly lit city. We went to sleep having no idea where we were.
In the morning we got our first glimpse of the city — and it was magical. Greeted by a sky filled with hot air balloons and a call to prayer, we sat down and had our first Turkish breakfast consisting of olives, tomatoes, hardboiled eggs, fries, sweets, and of course tea.
Avanos is famous for its pottery, cave churches, and history. It is an old city; their pottery style can be dated back to the ancient Hittites. As we walked the streets, it didn’t take long to notice that although some of the shops are modern, most of the city is built into underground caves. Ruins were everywhere, and the little kid in me wanted to spend hours running through the town, exploring every nook in cranny.
This was my first glimpse of Turkey and as much as the landscape was breathtaking, the real beauty of Turkey is found in its people. Being one of the most hospitable countries in the world, I have never felt more welcomed than I did here. A man invited us over to his table at an outdoor cafe and bought us tea. We sat there, not speaking a word to each other. We couldn’t speak each other’s language, but we didn’t need to as we were enjoying each others company. Another man, a potter, invited us into his shop every time that we walked past. He would call for tea, and he would chat to us about his art; a skill that he had learned from his grandfather; a family tradition.
We were tourists learning about history of the area, and yet we were able to develop relationships with the people, which is something that is completely unique to most of my travels. We were invited into people’s homes to share meals. Restaurants would take pride in teaching us their customs as we ate. We even got to attend a Turkish wedding, a festivity lasting three days. The teenagers enjoyed showing us around. We joked about Jimmy Fallon, talked about teen angst.
I will never forget the majesty of Turkey, and specifically the friendliness and hospitality of the people; those with an ancient pasts and a bright futures ahead.