"I have travelled with Denys James in Thailand, Turkey and Laos.

Denys’s trips are always well organized, while leaving space for some adventurous members of the travelling group to take two to three day trips on their own. Denys’s local help/translators are always competent, most of them are from the world of academia, teachers etc and they not only have command of the language, local customs, but also enjoy the exposure to art/craft that the trip offers.

Hotel accommodations are always excellent, locations are central and within walking distance to places of interest. The artists visited are well known artists or makers carrying on the tradition of many generations. 

The pace of the trip is relaxed, and great camaradery emerges during the trip. It is probably due to the common interest  but also due to the atmosphere that is created by Denys himself. 

I have great memories of the trips and we ( my friend/s I travel with ) talk about our experience even today, whether it is the hotel where we stayed, the river we crossed or the people we met. I am still in touch by email with a girl I met in Thailand, Korat, in whose wonderful place we stayed. 

I highly recommend travel with Denys and the countries he took us. I am looking forward to the trip to Myanmar ( Burma) and Morocco."

Turkey; A Very Special Place
Shirley Rimer

[reprinted from Albert Craft Council magazine]

In September and October, 2002, I was lucky enough to be one of a group of artists, primarily ceramists, to travel to Turkey. The trip was organized by Denys James, a well-known ceramist from Salt Spring Island.

Istanbul is a city of 14,000,000. It's very smoggy but has surprisingly clean streets and a modern-looking population. Prices are very reasonable and people are friendly. Our pension, The Side, was in the old city and just a step out the door and I had a great view of the turrets of the Blue Mosque, which were beautifully lit in the skyline at night. The interior of that mosque and most of the others we toured were decorated top to bottom in Iznik tiles. The variety and splendor was breathtaking.

We spent a day touring mosques, the Aya Sofya, and the ancient Spice Market. The next day we visited the Grand Bazaar (labyrinthine medieval shopping mall containing 65 streets and 4400 shops) and the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum. The following day included the Sunken Cistern that was built by Constantine, an underground cistern, now a museum, filled with fish and echoing classical music through the dimly lit pillars spread throughout its large expanse. I'm always a bit awe-struck by the historical significance and the beauty of the ancient monuments and museums I visit. Turkey was very unique and, beyond Istanbul, it became magical.

The trip to Ankara was a delightful experience. We took a ferry to the terminus for the Anatolian trains and took an overnight train. We all had sleeping compartments and after testing out the local liquor of choice, Raki, I had a comfortable and enchanting night. It was definitely more exotic than the other available modes of transportation. Morning brought us into Ankara and we headed for the Angora House Hotel in the heart of the old city, a Hittite settlement nearly 4000 years ago.

The Hotel was full of beautiful antiques, and was itself a refurbished antique, and the shops in town were full of old Turkish carpets and a variety of other very antique items. Wandering through the narrow streets of the old city, surrounded by large stone walls, I could see that time hadn't taken much of a toll on the lifestyle of the people. Many women ran from their homes to show us their scarves with elegant and delicate crocheted lace edges. A large majority of the women outside of Istanbul wrap their heads in scarves, those with the lace edges being more special, but many scarves of beautiful silken fabric and floral patterns were worn. Prices were phenomenally low and I couldn't resist several purchases.

Another wonderful practice in Turkey, even in the Bazaar in Istanbul, is to offer all customers a glass of "chai", the Turkish black tea. I'm not a tea drinker, or should I say I wasn't, but I really developed a taste for it and loved the hospitality and genuine friendliness that accompanied every cup. It's a lovely custom and seemed very personal in an impersonal world. I've purchased the double teapot and the little glass cups and plan the same hospitality in my studio. It's really a nice tradition.

From Ankara we headed to Cappadocia. I knew of the famous underground city of Derinkuyu, built to house a community of Christians fleeing persecution, but I had no idea of the mystical and amazing environment in which I'd find myself. Our home base for a week was a town called Avanos, nestled on the north bank of the Red River.

Avanos is a town focused on potters (although they are also known for their onyx and carved alabaster). There are literally piles of pots around telephone poles, against the walls of storefronts, piled around just about anything you could pile pots around. The town center has a monument to a well-known potter in town and two very large pots surrounding the monument are also made by a senior potter in town. The fountain in the center of town is made of stacked pots with the spout made of two pots joined together. Many people in town collect their water there every day.

In Avanos, whilst not out and about being inspired by the landscape, we spent several hours a day in a studio testing the local clays and trying a little creativity of our own. Erdogan Gulec, our host, presented us with an intriguing space in which to work. There's barely a wall in Avanos that doesn't hold one of Erdogan's murals (a slight exaggeration) and he is a generous and warm-hearted man. He not only offered us the run of his studio but tea and Raki were in endless supply.

Even the Sofa Motel, where we stayed in Avanos, was unusual and delightful. The lobby, hallways and rooms were piled with antiques of every description. To get to my room was truly a trip; first up and down stairs and down hallways, then through a long tunnel with large and very odd shaped stairs carved out of the rock, then out through a courtyard, up more stairs to a lovely balcony. From the window in my room I could see the river and much of the town. I could see the sunrise and hear the morning call to prayer echoing through the town. It truly was enchanting.

Sally Michener and I had booked a few extra days in Istanbul. The group flew back to Istanbul together and we slowly said farewell to our new friends. We visited Chora Church, a Byzantine building with 14th Century gilded mosaics that were amazing. We took ferries from Eminonu, the main ferry terminal for travelling back and forth along the Bosphorus, from the European side to the Asian side and back again. We spent time in Taksim, the hub of modern Istanbul, and we visited the Prince's Islands. We experienced breathtaking views and amazing tombs and tiles.Turkey truly is a treasure with much more to offer than I could squeeze into such a short visit. Back in Red Deer, I'm inspired and have a plethora of ideas for future projects. What a great trip!

Turkey Ceramics Excursion