Monday, March 28, 2016

Traveling through the emotions

Traveling through the emotions

Traveling through the emotions
(Photo: Diego Monfredini)

“Touching is everything to us. Then hearing, but hearing is not enough. You have to listen to the people, the music, the streets and even silence, because even silence tells you something.” If every city has a peculiar sound, silence is what Elena Bussino says about Cappadocia.
Bussino who travelled to Cappadocia along with seven other visually impaired tourists says: “I sense that this place is still pristine, silence is the sound of Cappadocia.” Bussino travels despite his blindness. This is pretty surprising to us given that we do not appreciate the most basic senses including hearing, touching and listening. For them, relying on these senses is just normal. They touch, listen, smell and even take selfies. Most of them do not remember how many times they have performed such a trip. Bussino lists some of the places he has been to, “Britain, Spain, France, Prague, Budapest, Ireland…” He tries to visit an English-speaking country every year because he is an English teacher and wants to remain fluent.
Bussino and his friends usually travel with family and exclusive tours that cater solely for the visually impaired is something new for them. Travel agencies tend not to pay attention to these niche events which tend to be organized by specific societies and charity groups. But the “traveling via emotions” project by Enrico Radrizzani is an exception. He believes that he is the only business entrepreneur organizing these kinds tours.

Radrizzani says, “I live wherever my suitcase is.” Cappadocia is the place where his suitcase has stayed the longest. Radrizzani who came to Turkey 24 years ago for the first time has traveled around the country a lot since then. He stayed for short periods of time in countries where he was showing tourists. Currently, he travels back and forth between Turkey and Italy. This is the second tour to Cappadocia that Radrizzani has organized for the visually impaired. The first was not as comprehensive. There were only four people in the first, but this one is totally different he tells us. His job is both hard and easy: “To ensure that they appreciate what is going on around them, we try to tell them that they should leave all other senses aside so that they grasp what their eyes cannot see. This takes a long time.” Of course, this is the hardest part, but the tourists are pretty independent and friendly, they are also pretty brave. Radrizzani, who has held countless tours so far, notes that regular tourists sometimes act childishly where the visually impaired tourists are pretty comfortable. He says: “They are pretty familiar with the idea that the cities have not been built with the needs of the visually impaired in mind and they use all of their other senses to the fullest. For this reason, they are more powerful. For instance, last week, we held a march in the full moon with a group of regular tourists. Most of them were scared of walking in the dark. But these people walk in the dark day and night. They fear nothing.”
We get to see what Radrizzani is trying to tell us first hand when we go on a nature walk in both Meskendir Valley and Mustafa Paşa. The visually impaired tourists did not complain about a thing when passing through the hardest parts of the routes. They never complained of being tired and we realized just how strong their other senses are. We want to talk to them about how they feel. Ester Tornavacca says: “We learn how to use the sense of touch at an early age. It just becomes part of your life over time. My mum taught me how to use touch since childhood. I started travelling with my mum. She told me I should touch everything during the trips. Touching is like seeing to us. I think that this sense is stronger in women. It takes some courage, that's all, true, it is hard, but not impossible.”

Tornavacca came from Turin. She works as an analyst in a company in Italy as well as teaches drama to children. She is one of the two in the group who is partially sighted. She says: “I have no vision in one eye but I do have slight vision in the other. I can just see colors and shades, no details. I know you are in front of me, but I cannot tell how close you are. I need to touch to see that.”
Tornavacca adds: “I have traveled a lot but these were standard tours organized by travel agencies without considering the needs of visually impaired people. I heard about Enrico's company last year for the first time. I wanted to join the tour to Turkey because Turkey is one of the countries I wanted to see most.” Like Bussino, she also dreams that the next stop will be Istanbul.
Tornavacca talks a lot about her mother who encouraged her to travel more: “My mum was looking for me as well, so I was also able to see things around me.” Elena Bussino believes that traveling is not a problem at all for a visually impaired people if they have somebody to accompany them. She holds that the key is scheduling the vacations and travels at the same time. Some people have children and others have conflicting schedules. Normally travel agencies do not allow visually impaired people to travel by themselves. So what they really need is somebody to walk with them.

Almost all of the guests in Cappadocia lost their vision right after birth. In addition to Elena, who has not been able to see since age 3, Consuelo Bconsu has been suffering from the same problem since he was 18. He believes that this carries some hardships: “You lose the world you are familiar with and you are aware of what you lost. Of course, remembering colors and objects makes communication with people easier. When somebody speaks about a ‘red shawl,' you have an idea of what they are talking about.”

Bconsu works in the human resources department of IBM in Italy. Like others, he travels a lot. He has memories of the places he has been to. Every city has its own voice, odor and atmosphere in his mind: “I cannot tell you exactly, but they do have them. Otherwise, every part of the world would be the same to us.”


We realized that we do not use our other senses

Radrizzani has a team of six, including himself, on the tours he organizes for the visually impaired travelers. Four young Italians contribute to the tour and he has a Turkish guide as well. Three of them accompany the tourists on the tour: “We do not do anything. They take care of everything. We just walk with them.” Valentina Coviello says, “We have learned a lot from them.” She adds: “During the valley walk, we traveled with two groups. After a while, we realized that the other people in the other group started to smell the flowers and touch stones and trees. I realized after walking with them that we use our senses pretty rarely. Now I touch, smell and listen, and sometimes I even close my eyes.”
Visually impaired tourists communicate with local people and they like to talk to others. Bussino explains why: “If you visually impaired, people around you become more curious about you. You can take advantage of this and communicate with those people and become comfortable with their culture and customs.” Paolo Rivalta, a visually impaired traveler, explains why visually impaired people rely on other senses: “I pay attention to other senses because I cannot see. You most probably ignore them because you are able to see, because eyes are the most dominant sensory organ. Maybe you think you do not need other senses.”

Diego Monfredini is another member of the “Traveling via Emotions” team. He is a professional photographer and the producer of an award winning short film about traveling through emotions. He not only takes photos but helps the tourists walk, too.

‘What you see on your right-hand side is…'

Cafer Gezer is serving as a guide for tourists in Cappadocia. Traveling via Emotions, which is owned by Radrizzani, cooperates with local agencies. The logic of tourism was what drove Radrizzani to introduce this traveling through motions project. The Italian tourism entrepreneur avoids the classic tour approach in his organizations. He cooperates with local agencies to organize slow tours that give more time for the tourists to get to know the local people and their culture. In other words, it is not a standard travel tour where people have a short space of time to see as many places as possible. He had experience with visually impaired tourists for the first time in the Ancona Museum in Italy six years ago. He has received many requests since then. Over the last three years, he took visually impaired tourists to Cappadocia. Radrizzani wants to improve this project and for this reason he is open to recommendations and cooperation. He will organize a tour to Morocco and Tunisia next month but he is also considering tours in southeastern Anatolia and Istanbul. And of course, it won't be just Italians joining the trip.

This is Cafer Gezer's second experience with visually impaired tourists. He talks about his experiences: “This is just new for us. We learn together with them.” In fact, they do what unimpaired people do on a regular tour. The only difference is that he gives a lot more details. For instance, he sometimes forgets that the audience is visually impaired people, starting by saying, “What you see on your right-hand side is…” But some of the tourists just correct him, saying, “You mean what you see…”

On the Traveling through Emotions tours, visitors are able to do everything regular tourists would do, with a few added extras. Radrizzani explains: “They touch the strings and designs in the rug workshops. We allow them to touch the final product in the marbling workshop. We attended a roof wedding ceremony where they danced and talked to the people. And most specially, they touched whirling dervishes.” Of course, these were all made possible by Radrizzani's connections in Cappadocia after spending a lot of time travelling in the area. People in Uçhisar know him and his friendships and connections enable him to organize special events for the visually impaired visitors. At this point, Radrizzani says that the traveling through emotions tour is not more expensive than regular tours. He says: “People in the region are sensitive. The hotels offer their best prices out of a sense of social responsibility. The people in my crew work on voluntary basis.”

They touch while flying

Visually impaired visitors also experience the helium balloon tour, an indispensable part of any Cappadocia tour. They actually have an added experience in visiting the home of the pilot who steers the balloon. İsmail Keremoğlu welcomes his guests and gives details, including the technical information, about the helium balloon experience. Then they touch the balloon that they will be travelling in the next day. Before sunrise, they move to the spot, once again, they are allowed to touch the balloon. Then we get onboard and rise 300 meters high. Bussino and other friends stand next to the pilot and listen to Cappadocia. Another group of Italians in the balloon are busy taking photos. Those people look at the view, that is for sure, but I am not sure whether they can actually see.

We were busy with taking photos that we would share on Facebook when they were enjoying the sense of serenity and escalation. The silence is broken by a song as one of the visitors starts to sing, “La chante mi cantare.” This is followed by laughter. Our pilot is pretty pleased with the new guests and he has a surprise for them. He does something that he does not normally do and lowers the balloon to pass through trees so that his guests can “see” in their own way. The visitors touch the leaves of the trees. Our pilot turns his face towards us and says, “You will see sunrise in a moment.” And then he turns towards the other side, telling the vision-impaired guests that they will soon feel the touch of the sun on their skin. Then another little surprise follows. The balloon slightly touches a rock and this makes people pretty happy. And silence again. For some reason, I recall my forgotten senses, the ones I have forgotten to use for a long time, particularly my eyes. First, I put my camera in my bag, then I start to take a real look at what is around me. And then I close my eyes to hear the silence because they I have been taught that silence has something to tell us.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Slowly along the Turkish Riviera

Slowly along the Turkish Riviera

Slowly along the Turkish Riviera
Akdeniz (Photo: Sunday's Zaman, Selahattin Sevi)

The turquoise coast. The turkish riviera. Don't those words have a romantic ring to them? Don't they just make you want to rush out and take a holiday immediately?

The Turkish Riviera stretches all the way from Marmaris in the west to Antalya in the east. My money's on the bit in the middle though, the bit that is bookended by Fethiye in the west and Antalya in the east. Clear azure seas. Perfect rocky coves. Delightful little beaches. In the hills behind them the ruins of the lost Lycian civilization. What could be more alluring?

Here are some of the highlights of that stretch of the coast, most of them readily accessible on day trips from either Fethiye or Antalya.

Ölüdeniz and Kayaköy

Facing out over a bay full of rocky islands, Fethiye town makes a great place to base yourself with all sorts of shops and restaurants tucked away in the bazaar area along with an old hamam (Turkish bath) and a lively fish market. In the evening few things could be nicer than strolling along the harbor front and sizing up the boats that wait to take holidaymakers out on “12 Island” tours of the bay. There's even a town beach in the suburb of Çalış accessible in summer via a delightful water taxi ride from the harbor.

Çalıs, however, is fairly built-up. To stretch out on sands without a hotel looming over you, you're better off heading out to Ölüdeniz where a spit of sand juts out into a glorious lagoon. These days you'll find it jampacked with sunbeds, although an admission fee keeps things relatively exclusive. Don't fancy paying? Well, then you can stretch out on the sand for free at Belcekiz, which is where the dolmuş from Fethiye will drop you. As you snooze the day away, you'll be able to watch the hang-gliders launching themselves off nearby Baba Dağı (Mt Baba). Daniel Craig tried it in Skyfall should you fancy channeling his James Bond alter ego.

Returning to Fethiye, you can hop off the dolmuş from Ölüdeniz and hop into another one running inland to the ruins of Karaköy, the abandoned Greek settlement that provided the inspiration for Louis de Berniere's wonderful novel, "Birds Without Wings." In 1923, the Greeks who used to live here were sent to live in Greece. A smaller number of Turks “returned” from Greece to Turkey, and so the old houses were left empty. Despite frequent suggestions that they should be rebuilt, the houses and churches still stand abandoned for the time being. This is a great place to come and let your imagination take wing.

Tlos and Saklıkent Gorge

Fethiye travel agents offer combined trips to the ruins of the great Lycian city of Tlos perched partly on a dramatic plug of rock. Most of what survives today dates the later years of the Roman occupation, although the Lycian necropolis with its rock-cut tombs survives with a much-later Ottoman castle plonked down on top of it.

Tours also take in the lovely if no longer hidden gorge at Saklıkent (Hidden City). Here the canyon walls soar so high and are so close together that the sun never reaches the bottom even in summer, leaving the water running along the bottom icy cold. All manner of daredevil sports are on offer here and a string of restaurants line the banks of the river outside the gorge itself. Some tours will take you instead for lunch in nearby Yakaköy, where restaurants wrap themselves in picturesque style around trees and running water.

Butterfly Valley and Faralya

In summer, boats ply back and forth from Belcekiz beach to lovely Butterfly Valley where it's possible to camp behind the small beach off the path running inland to a small waterfall backed by soaring rocks. On top of those rocks sits Faralya, accessible by a path that only the surefooted should attempt. Everyone else is better advised to take the dolmuş from Fethiye to the hotels and pensions lined up to scoop its spectacular sunset views.

A short stop in Butterfly Valley is also a fixture on the boat trips out of Ölüdeniz, if you just want to get a quick look and move on.

Xanthos and the Letoon

Before the Romans came along, this was a part of the world that belonged to the mysterious Lycians about whom little that's certain is known. Their capital was, however, uphill from Kınık, which is easily accessible from Fethiye. Here you can admire another rock-cut necropolis as well as a strange tower-like monument that dates back to the days when the Persians had overrun the site. Most of the finest monuments from Xanthos were removed to the British Museum in the 19th century, but there's enough left here to give you a sense of what the city must have been like in the days before its menfolk killed their wives and children and set fire to the town rather than surrender to the Persians.

A little way away from Xanthos stands the Letoon, the remains of a huge temple complex dedicated to the goddess Leto and her children, Apollo and Artemis, that was the most sacred place for the Lycians. Together these two sites form one of Turkey's world heritage sites.


Of all the beaches along the Turkish Riviera none can compare with the splendor of Patara, an 18-kilometer-long stretch of sand fading on the western side into dunes planted with eucalyptuses that give off a vague whiff of Australia. Like the beach at Ölüdeniz, the one at Patara is protected with all the hotel development inland at Gelemiş. Not that keen on sunbathing? Well, the area between Gelemiş and the beach is thickly covered in ruins, some of them, such as the old Greco-Roman theater, absolutely magnificent.


A big hit with the British, many of whom have set up home here, Kalkan was once a small fishing village, the memory of which still hangs about the harbor front where chi-chi restaurants compete to see which can vanish beneath the thickest coating of bougainvillea each summer. It's a pretty place with not a great deal in the way of sightseeing on offer. Make it your base, then venture out to explore on day trips.

Kaş and Kaleköy

Built on a hillside that slopes down to another colorful harbor, Kaş offers a great mix of gourmet dining and boutique shopping with a smidgen of local sightseeing and plenty of options on the watersports front. It's also the best base for visiting the delightful offshore village of Kaleköy, one of the prettiest places in all Turkey with yet another Lycian necropolis to explore and a row of fish restaurants lining the waterfront. From Kaş you can also hop across to the Greek island of Kastellorizo (Meis) where a gyro for lunch might make a welcome change from yet another döner kebap.

Demre and Myra

Approaching the small town of Demre, you will be amazed at the serried rows of plastic-wrapped greenhouses. Behind this not very appealing façade, however, there's a town whose life revolves around the ruins of a Byzantine church thought to have housed the bones of St Nicholas, the prototype Father Christmas (Noel Baba), until they were stolen by 11th-century pirates and carried off to Bari in Italy. That aside, the church is worth visiting for its wonderfully colorful frescoes and mosaics. A quick kilometer's walk away, there are also spectacular remains of a Greco-Roman theater and -- yes, you've guessed it -- another picturesque rock-cut Lycian necropolis.

Olympos and Çıralı

Treehouse or eco-pension? Your answer to this accommodation question will dictate whether you're better off heading for Olympos, where most of the treehouses these days are really more like chalets, or to Çıralı, a small beach resort where most of the accommodation has been designed with an eye to protecting the environment (although these days there's a great deal of it). Whichever you choose, you'll have on your doorstep the romantically ramshackle ruins of ancient Lycian and Roman Olympos and the eerie Chimaera, an inextinguishable flame that flares from the mountainside and makes a great sight either during the day when the path will seem less scary or in the dark when the hooting of the local owls will add to the sense of awe.


Close to Antalya with its choice of beaches (including a new women-only one), its marvelous walled Ottoman enclave (the Kaleiçi) and its superb museum lie the ruins of Phaselis set right on the beach so that you can visit them, then take a dip afterwards. Come soon since a planned new hotel development will almost certainly detract from the glory of the erstwhile untouched woodland setting.

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