07.31.2008 - 08.31.2008
First, apologies to those who have been waiting for this update...we've done a lot of travelling in this beautiful country, and haven't had access to high-speed connections when we would have liked. Second, that means we went a little crazy with the photos, so if you have a slow connection, this one might be agony.
On to Turkey!
We love this place--incredibly warm people, gorgeous scenery, and unbelievably good food. We started our trip here in İstanbul, the city that is the crossroads of East and West--literally. A very cosmopolitan place, it instantly reminded us of New York, with its cafe culture and lively street scene. Home to the famous Aya Sofya Church (eventually redone as a mosque) and the Blue Mosque, built with an eye to outdoing the Aya Sofya. Both of them were stupendous--massive yet very airy feeling inside them. We took many more pics of them, but you can easily find more yourself. This is just a taste...
Another interesting, unusual site is the Basilica Cistern, which they have lit with groovy ambient lighting. This was actually used to supply the area with water starting aroun 1500 years ago.. It lay derelict for some time, and now there's carp aswimming in it. We ended up having çay in the little cafe down there. Very atmospheric!
Throughout Turkey, shop owners and staff have lunch and çay delivered from nearby places, carried on trays usually by boys. This is a place we happened upon and had some yummy köfte (like a seasoned meatball bt shaped differently). In this shot, you can see a tray of food being readied for delivery.
The next day we headed off to the Chora Church (AKA Kariye Muzesi) , which has some of the most beautiful frescoes we have seen.
After wandering around İstanbul the next couple of days, checking out various neighborhoods, including the one in Beyoğlu, across the Golden Horn, called Tünel, which is where all the young'uns drink beer and eat mezes, we got our rental car and headed westwards, across the Dardanelles. Will drove the whole way through Turkey, being the only one who can driive manual, and by the end had logged over 4,500 km! Turkey's drivers have a bad reputation but Will handled the roads like a native, passing every car and truck he could!
From Gallipoli, we took the ferry to Canukkale, and headed to Troy, along the Aegean coast. Frankly, it didn't excite us that much...There's something like 7 layers of settlements that have been uncovered there, and that makes it a little disjointed. Didn't merit including a pic...From there, we continued a marathon day, making our way to Assos, one of many archaelogical sites that dot the country. We stumbled across a beach and motel not in the guidebooks about half an hour away, and liked it so much we spent a couple of days there. You can see Lesvos, the huge Greek İsland, and the Ergul, our 'home', here:
After enjoying ourselves swimming in the Aegean, we moved on and went up to the Acropolis at Assos, a comparatively small site, but with beautiful views..and maybe Aristotle lived there...we can't seem to remember. Google it if you want. This is the nicely restored Temple of Athena:
Our trajectory down the coast would visit more ancient sites. That day we continued on to Bergama, the ancient Pergamum. The town Bergama is now below the acropolis and was quite vibrant. Will got his first Turkish haircut which includes a complimentary burning of ear hairs with what appeared to be a large Q-tip dipped in petrol. They take their facial hair removal seriously here. Thankfully, nasal hairs do not appear to be culturally significant. Anyway, there are two major sites around the town, the Asclepion, one of the first healing arts centers of ancient times (Galen was born and practised here), and the Acropolis, the old city that stood atop the hill. The site is quite large and we got a better sense of the relationship of all structures (from the top of the hill you can still see remnants of the aquaduct system in the surrounding fields). This is a shot of the Temple of Trajan. The picture unfortunately doesn't do justice to the scale of the columns:
Continuing on to Selçuk, the gateway town to seeing the Roman city, Ephesus, which is the darling of the Turkish tour bus circuit. The site is undeniably massive and quite intact, giving you a sense of what daily city life may have been. However, the hordes of tourists and intense summer heat made the experience less than stellar. Hence, our choice for Ephesus photo of the week (we omitted the oft-photographed Library of Celsus):
Later that day, we escaped the heat by going to a nearby beach, frequented by locals and devoid of tourists. The next day we headed East about four hours to first stop at Afrodisias before ending up in Pamukkale. Afrodisias turned out to be our favorite ancient ruin. There were so many well-preserved structures, few tourists and the opportunity to see some incredible decorative art in the museum there. At most of the sites, all of the good stuff was taken by the Germans...or the British...or thieves. This is a shot of the 30,000 seat stadium that is amazingly intact and said to be one of the largest of its kind in the world.
There are two agora. The south one had a 200 meter long pool in the center that was partly excavated. Around the agora, the columns originally had these theatre masks decorating the perimeter.
Could this be Apollo? Let us know.
That night we arrived in Pamukkale, an ancient, as well as contemporary, tourist town. This town is known mostly for its travertine pools fed by springs from the top of the mountain. Sadly, due to overuse and a lack of protection the past few decades, they ain't what they used to be. There is much less water and the rocks are dirty from people's stinky little feet. In the old days, people could bathe and climb about the pools. Those photos are in every Turkish calendar in every kebap restaurant in the world. This photo does it some justice.
At the top of the walk past the travertine pools, is Hierapolis, an extensive Roman city built to take advantage of the thermal pools. The big tourist attraction is the Antique Pool, which has submerged columns and costs 18 euros to swim in along with 10,000 other tourists. Weird. We skipped it and opted for scorching heat and a hike through the necropolis among other areas. While Carina was exploring the extensive set of hillside graves, Will was vomiting his breakfast on the ancient stones, but still managed to get this shot of a sarcophagus (flesh eater) encased in the travertine.
After more barfing and followed by eventual recovery the next day, we set off due south towards the Mediterannean coast to the town of Fethiye. Here's a shot of the landscape on the way there:
Fethiye is one of the departure harbors for the twelve island cruise...which we thought we were going to get when we booked a boat. Let's just say thirteen Italians took over the boat and as they were only going for two nights, we eventually realized on day three that we were never going to go far from Fethiye. Despite this, and a captain who was rendered a sniveling baby after our mild criticism of his decision-making skills, we were able to experience a bit of what the cruise was all about...probably saw two the twelve islands and boy were they nice! Beautiful swimming, okay meals and a stinking hot cabin that made us retire nightly to the deck for cooler sleeping.
Returning to shore and our trusty Renault Symbol, we continued travelling east following the 'Turquoise Coast' to our destination of Cirali, a small beach town near Olympos. The coast was stunning and we got glimpse of some of the islands we missed on our cruise. This whole area was inhabited by the Lycians during the time when Turkey was made up of city states (post Hittite...i.e., old). We visited one Lycian site along the coast that had amazingly intact burial chambers built into the faces of cliffs. It also had an amphitheatre that was well-preserved.
In Cirali, we chilled for a couple of days. The swimming was great, but just so you're not too jealous you had to wear flip-flops to navigate the rocky beach.
One of the dishes that you see advertised by many roadside stops is gözleme. We finally tried this at a local lokanta. An older woman made them fresh in front of us. It's basically a kind of pancake that can be filled with cheese, meat, vegetables or honey or jam. Mm, mm, mm. By the way, almost every entree was delivered with a variation of the traditional tomato and cucumber salad.
Carrie, the woman who ran the hotel with her husband, told us that if we got up at sunrise, we might be able to see loggerhead turtles hatching from their sandy nests. Because they're endangered, a conservation group monitors the nests each morning during the hatching season and assists the hatchlings by clearing away sand for the ones who haven't made it out by sunrise. No other intervention is applied. We got lucky and saw a group instinctively make its way to the sea. It was one of the highlights. Thank God Carina convinced Will to get up at dawn.
The next portion of our trip centered on seeing villages and sites inland to the north and east. First stop, Konya, home of the mystical poet Rumi and the Sema (the whirling dervish ceremony). Here's a shot out of our hotel window overlooking the town's bazaar.
The Mevlana Museum used to be the center for the Mevlevi, the followers of Rumi. He is buried here and many pilgrims come here to see the site and to pray for his help.
You know what this is. Ataturk outlawed the order in the early part of last century as part of his secular reform of the country. Some of the orders managed to survive on a technicality, and so we were able to see a Sema--the rite of union with God. We found the experience to be magical despite its public context.
We too were shocked by the size of this Döner kebap. These things are everywhere in the country.
From Konya we drove over the vast Anatolian steppe on our way to Cappadocia. We stopped to get gas by accident at a station that only supplied diesel and LPG for the farmers. The attendant, Süleyman (the Magnificent) was incredibly hospitable and offered us çay and conversation. We exchanged picture taking and eventually sent him this photo. Nice guy. By the way, gas is most expensive in Turkey out of the European countries, it cost us approx. 100 dollars to fill the tank of our compact 4-cylinder sedan. Yikes. Kind of like California and the rest of the United States by now probably...too bad that Iraq thing didn't work out. Alaska anyone?
Anyway, on the way we stopped at a very large, old and intact Seljuk caravanserai (aka hans in urban sites). These are inns that were built approx. 30 kilometres or a day's camel travel along the Silk Route--where the animals and drivers could rest up and get food and trade.
Cappadocia, land of cave churches and houses, fairy chimneys and underground cities, was an incredible place and we realized we wanted to come back again because we only scratched the surface of the area. It was formed by volcanic ash that was later eroded by water and wind. The other nice thing about Cappadocia, or at least our inn, was that it was visited by our country's great liberal minds. While we where there, Sen. Chuck Schumer and his family were staying there. Totally low-key. The day we left, our hosts informed us that Howard Dean would be arriving. What is it about this place? The inn where we stayed, the Esbelli Evi, had the most wonderful staff, who were both observant and unobtrusive. The owner makes you feel like you're at home, and the setting is beautiful. Check it out, and go there: http://www.esbelli.com/.
Here are some pics around the area:
One day we drove to nearby Soğanli valley. We hiked around the valley to look at more cave churches and near the end we were befriended by a family who were there for a picnic. Their daughter hiked up the trail and said hello to us, her only words of English, and once we got down to the road Grandma came to get us for çay. We communicated with sign language, but it was sufficient to enjoy their hospitality and have the sense of what friendly, warm people they were. They offered us melon and apricots. From them we learned that you can crack open the pit of an apricot and get a tasty seed.
On our tour through Turkey we saw many of these colorful apartment complexes, part of the accelerated rate of development in an economy that's strong. Sprawl hits Turkey.
A photo of the landscape on our way to a town called Kahta:
Our destination of this drive was ultimately Nemrut Daği, a strange and amazing mountain-top burial site for Antiochus, described in the guide books as a megalomaniacal, pre-Roman king. The site was only discovered in 1881 and excavated in 1953. After arriving at the car park, you have to walk another twenty minutes to the top. The site consists of two large terraces facing east and west for the rising and setting sun. Each are filled with colossal heads that have fallen from their original places due to earthquake. We chose this special place to spend Big Headed Will's 44th birthday.
From Nemrut, we continued east across the Ataturk dam via car ferry:
...in route to this lovely hill village, Savur, unspoiled by tourism as of yet. We stayed at a lovely pension owned by the Özturk family which has been in the family over two hundred years. The house was essentially a hilltop mansion and we have since seen pictures of its rooms in different guides. The grandmother of the family was our favorite. She would often have whole conversations with us totally in Turkish. Plus we fell in love with their kitty kat, Minuş. Don't let LB and Buckle see this.
These are common sights while driving on the roads of Turkey:
While staying at Savur, we took a day trip to nearby Hasankeyf, a village above the Tigris. Its days are numbered because of a large-scale and controversial dam project which has already swallowed countless historical sites. Talk about your Waterbuster (http://www.waterbuster.org/). Down below you can see the ancient Roman bridge that used to span the river. We had lunch on an elevated platform while the river ran beneath us.
We now turned west again to see another hill top town called Mardin, known for its religious and cultural diversity. Despite being somewhat touristy, the architecture is lovely. We both liked it more an night when the air was cooler and the lights of the towns below in the Mesopotamian plain were lit up. It still has a working bazaar where we spent time drinking çay with a saddlemaker. Lots of bread shops, too.
Continuing west, we made our way to Gaziantep crossing the Euphrates. The city is know for its kebaps and baklava, which we sampled several times. It's all good!
These are dried vegetables that will be stuffed with rice and meat to make dolma, one of our favorite Turkish foods.
Had to include this one. This was taken at the city's Ethnography museum, essentially an old city mansion. As you can see, Elvis has not left the building. And apparently the mannequin's hands were so deformed they had to be hidden.
A highlight of Antep is its Mosaic Museum. Much of the collection was salvaged from nearby Zeugma, one of the sites that was flooded by damning. This shot is of the god and goddess of the Euphrates.
This one is probably the most famous, referred to as the 'gypsy girl,' although some contend that it is the likeness of Alexander the Great. You be the judge.
We're back in Istanbul for a few days before we leave for Luxor, Egypt. With amazing timing, Will suffered from a bout of the 'Sultan's Revenge' and was laid up in his hotel room while Carina bravely downloaded five zillion photos to this blog. Strangely when she returned, Will had made a mostly full recovery.