Thursday, 18 August 2011

Istanbul and homeward bound

Wednesday 17th August: Istanbul
To make the most of our last full day of sightseeing we jumped on the tram outside the door of the Hotel and headed for the end of the line and the Dolmabahce Palace. This is known locally as the 'new palace' as it takes over from the Topkapi Palace and was built in the mid 1800s: there is no resemblance between the style of Topkapi and this palace at all. Despite having been built by one of the last Sultans there was no sign of any ottoman design. He clearly wanted to compete with european palaces and this was very Baroque and just as ornate as Versailles.
Clearly no expense was spared ( which might explain why the peasants revolted and a Republic was formed in 1923!). It consisted of a high wall around some large stately buildings (with more than 625 rooms) and a beautiful garden. Inside there were chandeliers of all shapes and sizes, intricate parquetry floors and rugs, gold-framed giant mirrors, trompe d'oeuil ceilings( or however you spell that!), painted domes, ornate ornaments and rooms of huge proportions. Artists from France and Italy had been employed and lots of the china, porcelain, clocks etc imported from elsewhere. They'd gone to town with huge pillars of 'marble everywhere but in fact they were all false - made from plaster or stones and stucco. One of the chandeliers weighed 4 and half tons: they clean it every 6 years and it takes two months to clean each piece and reassemble it. What a job! And all this to house one Sultan, his wives, concubines and slaves - no wonder the peasants revolted!
We were only allowed to view it on a tour and wearing very attractive plastic overshoes so we wouldn't hurt the floor coverings. We weren't even allowed to touch the bannisters on the way up the grand staircases. We revived ourselves with some turkish coffee and decided to use the funicular railway to get to the top of the nearest hill to see the Taksim monument. Yes, even Ewan agreed to get a lift up the hill so we could then walk down rather than the opposite. The walk was through a huge shopping boulevard ( four Starbucks and two Gloria Jeans) but eventually ended in some tiny steep cobblestoned streets full of music shops. Clutching two new pairs of shoes we finally emerged at the Galata Bridge again.
A quick whiz through the Spice Market, and some purchasing of jewellery, and we were home again. After we had a go at packing our bags to see how much space we had left, we set off for our last evening meal in Turkey. We decided we would go to a standard kebap house for a typical turkish meal. The restaurant was next to a Mosque so there were a few people waititng for the call to prayers at 8.15pm before they started to eat and drink. A young couple next to us had their food and drinks sitting on the table in front of them for about 15 minutes, but didn't have any of it until the call started and then they ate very sedately. Such willpower after 16 hours of no food or drink of any kind!
We wandered along the foreshore for the last time and had a coffee and some fresh baklava before making our last purchases and retiring for the night.

Thursday18th August: Istanbul to Melbourne
Erin and I had missed out on seeing the Basilica Cistern which was only a few minutes walk away so we went there at 9.00am: our last historic site before heading for the Airport and home.
It is an underground cistern used to store clean water for use in the city by the Romans. Huge pillars supporting brick domed roof and with only shallow water in it now. Enough for lots of fish to live in though, some of them enormous! The pillars are all lit now and it feels damp with drops of water falling from the roof, due to condensation I guess.

Medusa's  head supporting a pillar in the water
 Even here the pillars were carved and there were a couple of pillars supported by huge statues of Medusa's head so very intriguing. It was lovely and cool and quite eerie. We were reluctant to go outside to the heat and humidity, but we were due to get back to the Hotel and catch a taxi to the Airport.
So it was farewell to Istanbul and Turkey for us. I'm writing this at Singapore Airport at 1.00am Turkey time and soon we will be on the final leg of our journey home.
We have had an amazing two months of travelling through southern Africa and Turkey, but as often happens, travel makes you appreciate not only the wonders of the world out there , but also the joy of your own home and country.
I'm looking forward to seeing Lauren at the Arrivals gate tonight and it will be wonderful to have our family back together again for the first time since January.
Thank you for reading this blog: I'm sorry it was so boring in parts, and the spelling and grammar suffered when I was tired, but I look forward to reading it and remembering what a great trip we had in the years to come.
Bon voyage!!!! May all your travels bring you as much joy and wonder as we have experienced from ours.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Istanbul.......

Tuesday 16th August: Istanbul
Today's major event was a visit to the Haga Sophia which is now classified as a Museum. It started it's life well before the Blue Mosque as a Christian church in the 6th century before becoming a mosque in Ottoman times in the 15th Century, surviving a few earthquakes and finally being declared a Museum by good old Ataturk in 1932.
As it is closed every Monday we assumed that there would be lots of visitors today so again we queued up early. It is a huge and very spectacular building with both christian and islamic features. There were finely detailed golden mosaics of Jesus, Mary (sittiing alongside the Emperor of the times and his wife) with beautiful angels and lots of crosses. But there were also huge islamic discs with the names of prophets in gold, prayer areas with separate areas for women as in Muslim mosques. But most of all there were enormous domes with gold and rich colours everywhere, either painted or mosaics. The buiding has been in a constant state of renovation/repair for centuries it seems, but it is still very beautiful. We walked up a spiral marble ramp to reach the balcony which runs around the inside walls and gave us an even better view of the workmanship involved.
Whilst Erin and I fastidiously followed the audio guide like the perfect tourists we are, Ewan just wandered around and eventually headed off for the Archealogical Museum on his own. The good news is that it has over a million works , none of whch Erin and I were desperate to see as we felt we had done quite enough Museums for one trip! Having visited most of the sites where these pieces have come from we didn't really feel a desperate urge to go with him. Of course Ewan thought it was fascinating, and he also visited the Museum of Muslim Art too! He's now a total authority on muslm carpet designs and tiles - very useful I'm sure.
After a couple of hours absorbing the beauty of the Haga Sophia, and battling the tour groups, Erin and I set off for that other Holy Grail - the shopping centre.
I always find it fascintaing to go to markets, supermarkets and shopping centres to see how the locals live. We discovered that most turkish supermarkets have a baklava and turkish delight counter rather than a bakery, for example. We decided to go to an outlet shopping centre called Olivium, by suburban train. It also proved to be the place where most of the leather jackets and coats are made, as we saw some of the basement sweat shops as we wandered around. I wasn't tempted as most of the designs were way over the top and most of them seemed to be made for small tourists, not my size!

The first part of the adventure was to get there via the suburban train, not an easy exercise when faced with the least helpful ticket seller we have come across. She totally ignored us but managed to sell a token for the train to a turkish girl who was behind us : very annoying! We haven't encountered that behaviour before: most people have gone out of their way to help us. No customer service prizes for her!!! Finally, after we became a bit more assertive, she glumly sold us the tokens we needed to get on to the station and board a train. The only problem was that although the platforms were numbered they didn't indiacte anywhere which train was going to our destination. Finally Erin asked the guy at the train station cafe and he happily pointed us in the right direction. So off we sped along the coast for 6 stations. Strollin gpast the leatherr shops we reached the shopping centre and spent a couple of hours shoppping.
We came to the following conclusions:
1. If we'd needed a raincoat there was a choice of hundreds. The Muslim women wear black ankle length raincoats in winter and in summer wear beige or pale colours instead. They are for the fashion-consciuos women so there are lots of variation on a theme: pintucks, buttons, belts, some frills and every style imaginable. They have long sleeves, high collars and reach the ankles so thay they cover as much of the body as possible.
2. Turkish women are a lot shorter than we are: Erin tried on a few dresses which looked like tops on her as they were clearly designed for someone a lot shorter. She did buy a couple of tops though, and very cheap.
3. There was one bigger ladies shop, and clearly if you are a bigger lady you are supposed to wear everyhting very long and wide. Couldn't find anyhting I would wear.
4. All of the tops have long sleeves, except for a few t-shirts and singlets:absolutely nothing has three-quarters sleeves at all: this is again due to Muslim customs.
It was all fascinating though and we rewarded ourselves with a treat : a cup of fruit and white chocolate, from the food court. Back to the train station (where a young guy told us he'd never seen a tourist before!).
Here's our packets of spices on the counter
Then we headed for the Spice Bazaar, just to do some more authentic tourist shopping. It makes you very hungry as there are endless stalls with huge baskets of spices, dates, nuts, dried fruit, turkish delight as well as the usual souvenirs and an assortment of everything else. We bought lots of spices for presents and the guy vacuum sealed each packet on the spot so we could get them through Customs. So there'll be some nice meals from them I'm hoping. After a look around we headed back to put our aching feet up for a while.
When we had recovered we set off for one of the 'self-service' restaurants nearby. This doesn't mean that they are cheap, but you can select your meal from a huge array of hot and cold dishes, or they will grill any kebab you fancy. After eating aubergine sald, yougurt dip, creamed spinach, roasted red peppers, garden salad, stuffed aubergines, grilled chicken and lamb chops, we staggered home (some of us cursing the fact that we didn't leave room for any baklava or rice pudding or halva or.......).

Self-service cafeteria food: delicious!




Istanbul trams







Wednesday 17th August: Istanbul

To make the most of our last full day of sightseeing we jumped on the tram outside the door of the Hotel and headed for the end of the line and the Dolmabahce Palace. This is known locally as the 'new palace' as it takes over from the Topkapi Palce and was bulit in the mid 1800s: there is no resemblance between the style of Topkapi and this palace at all. Despite having been built by one of the last Sultans there was no ottoman design used. The closest Baroque design I have seen was Versailles and clearly no expense was spared ( which might explain why the peasants revolted and a Republic was formed in 1923!). It consisted of a high wall around some large stately buildings (with more than 625 rooms) and a beautiful garden. Inside there were chandeliers of all shapes and sizes, intricate parquetry floors and rugs, gold-framed giant mirrors, trompe d'loeuil ceilings( or however you spell that!), painted domes, ornate ornaments and rooms of huge proportions. Artists from France and Italy had been employed and lots of the china, porcelain, clocks etc imported from elsewhere. They'd gone to town with huge pillars of 'marble everywhere but in fact they were all false - made from plaster or stones and stucco. One of the chandeliers weighed 4 and half tons: they clean it every 6 years and it takes two months to clean each piece and reassemble it. What a job! And all this to house one Sultan, his wives, concubines and slaves - no wonder the peasants revolted!
We were only allowed to view it on a tour and wearing very attractive plastic overshoes so we wouldn't hurt the floor coverings. We weren't even allowed to touch the bannisters on the way up the grand staircases. We revived ourselves with some turkish coffee and decided to use the funicular railway to get to the top of the nearest hill to see the Taksim monument. Yes, even Ewan agreed to get a lift up the hill so we could then walk down rather than the opposite. The walk was through a huge shopping boulevard ( four Starbucks and two Gloria Jeans) but eventually ended in some tiny steep cobblestoned streets full of music shops. Clutching two new pairs of shoes we finally emerged at the Galata Bridge again.
A quick whiz through the Spice Market, and some purchasing of jewellery, and we were home again.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Exploring exotic Istanbul

Sunday 14th August: Selcuk to Istanbul
Today we had a day of travelling and the last move before we head for home next Thursday.
We all had a sleep in, much to Erin's delight, and then headed for the Selcuk train station in the hope that we could get a train directly to Izmir Airport. This involved wheeling our luggae over lovely cobblestones and praying that the wheels wouldn't fall off!
Surprisingly there was noone at the Train station to sell us a ticket...or so we thought. One of the local ladies arrrived and when she couldn't see anyone in the Ticket Office yelled a lot until someone appeared. We bought our tickets for a whole 4 Lira each (about $2.40) which was a good deal as we were 80 kilometres from the Airport. Only a few carriages on the train but very nice, although we didn't get a seat. We were delighted when we arrived at the door to the Airport 45 minutes later. With a couple of hours to spare before our Pegasus Airlines flight to Istanbul we read our books and observed the other passsengers: always an interesting pastime in a foreign country.
The flight also took about 45 minutes and before long we were in a taxi hurtling through the back lanes of the old part of Istanbul. You may have noticed that we always seem to end up in the old parts of many of the cities we have visited, but they are the most interesting. Istanbul has a population of 8.8 million in the city, and if you count the surrounding area the population is estimated at 13 million, which is a bit scary when you add in tourists too. We could have ended up miles away from the ancient historical things we wanted to see if we'd gone to the suburbs that's for sure.
The Old City Viva Hotel is in a very central location and is on the Tram line, the only one they have in Istanbul so that will be very handy if we can work out how to buy a ticket of course!
We decided to have a bit of a wander around, sticking close to the Tram line so we could find our way home. We ended up at the Galata Bridge where there is a whole level of the bridge taken up by restaurants devoted to Bahlik Ekmek: fish sandwiches.Tthey consist of a small whole fish ( minus head) cut in half and grilled, in a bread roll with salad. It seemed as if half of Istanbul had decided to get one for dinner as there were people everywhere. Lots of touts tried to persuade us to take a boat trip on the Bosphurus in tiny boats. In the end we decided bigger was better and paid 12 Lira ( about $7.20) for a 90 minute trip on a large ferry boat. It was very stable - phew! - and gave a great view of the the mosques and palaces we are hoping to see. Of course just as the sun was setting, and the perfect picture of the mosques at sunset emerged, the batteries in the camera were exhausted so that was that! Oh well, we'll have to buy a postcard!
There were a couple of waiters selling fresh orange juice, tea, and other treats which we appreciated as it was getting late. Once we were back on terra firma we wove our way through the crowds, the various food stalls selling roasted chestnuts, pink pickles (?!) corn, doner kebab, icecream and of course, Bahlik Ekmek. Finally we found a restaurant with great doner kebab and had dinner. With lots of planning needed to make the most of our few days in this city we headed for the Hotel and had an early night in anticipation of big things to come on the morrow.
Monday 15th August: Istanbul
After consulting the trusty Lonely Planet guide about what was open and when, we headed off early for a ten-minute walk to reach the Topkapi Palace at 8.30am. This turned out to be a good move as the ticket office opened at 9.00am and Ewan was third in his queue with lots of people queued up behind. It also meant we could get the tickets to the Harem early too.
Let me explain - Topkapi Palace is a huge palace which was originally built for the reigning Sultan in the 15th Century and was rebuilt or expanded through the reign of various Sultans until 1839. It's a huge complex with superb views over the sea, gardens surrounding all of the buildings form various eras. We were intrigued by a building which housed the personal efffects of the Prophet Mohammed, including a handkerchief, hairs from his beard and a footprint.
There was the walking stick that Moses is supposed to have used to part the seas too.These are all considered sacred objects of course so we were creful about our reactions to them! The buildings are stunning with beautiful traditional blue tiles, stained glass and lots of gold. They had left a small section where they had renovated any of the paint or tiles so you could see the difference. The Harem for the Sultan's 300-500 concubines was marble, tiles, beautiful domes and painted walls . It's tricky to work out how often they might see the Sultan if there were so many of them! The Sultan's mother and black guards from North Africa, who had been castrated, kept them in line apparently. Fun job!
We spent nearly 3 hours wandering through the whole complex as there were pools, terraces, a parliament, a hospital and a treasury. The Treasury had some amazing jewelled boxes, rings, swords all covered in emeralds, rubies, diamonds and gold. They were so ornate they were barely able to be used for their original purpose. Ewan commented that he understood where Franco Cozzo got his style from!!
After a cold juice to help us revive we headed for the Blue Mosque. Erin and I were dressed in long pants and more modest tops so that we could go inside, as it is a functioning mosque. For those visitors whose shoulders and legs weren't covered they provided blue scarves to serve as skirts or tops. We arrived in time to have a look around before prayers at 12.30 when all visitors had to leave.
When we walked in we were amazed at the height of the roof, the number of domes and the thousands of tiles used to decorate it. Erin commented that it was hard to take it all in. I tried to photograph it but it is impossible to get a real sense of the beauty and size of it. In muslim mosques there are no paintings or statues of animals or people so they can be very bare., however the tiles here and the designs were very intricate, with the predominant colour being blue, as the name suggests. Ewan was impressed by the 17th century engineering that was required to construct a building of this size.
Erin and I suitably attired for mosque-visiting
We wandered around the Sultanahmet area passing various tombs and smaller mosques. Eventually we found a restaurant that was self-service: you point and they put it on a plate for you: stuffed eggplants, creamed spinach, fresh beans, turkish shepherds pie ( !) and other delicacies. Delicious!
Fortiified by the food we decided we could face the challenge of the Grand Bazaar for which Istanbul is famous. After a few minutes Ewan decided he would enjoy it more without tagging around with us ( and vice versa!) so we agreed to meet at the Hotel later. He soon tired of the millions of shops in the Bazaar and wandered off to check out yet more mosques and old buildings. Erin and I set off with great intentions and great concentration, which was needed to not get hopelessly lost! It wasn't as chaotic as I anticipated but there were so many shops it was overwhelming. I htink we were asked "Where are you from ?" at least a hundred times by hopeful shop keepers. I did get lured into a leather shop and tried on a few jackets, but when Erin glanced at the price tag on one that I did like, we beat a hasty retreat: it was worth well over a thousand dollars! My bartering skills are not good enough to reduce that to a reasonable price! We did manage to buy some lovely silk scarves and a pair of turkish floppy pants for Erin, but that wore us out completely so we decided to face the challenge of the tram to get back to the Hotel. It was actually very simple - you find the token machine, insert two lira which gets you a red plastic token, insert that into the gate to enter the tram stop and then you wait for the train. The first one that arrived was so full, despite having four carriages, that we couldn't squeeze in. Fortunately the next one was better and we managed to find the right stop to disembark. They are very impressive, and very frequent, so we will be using them over the next few days.
We collpased in a heap until Ewan arrived with stories of fabulous buildings and a box of fresh baklava. Yum! It's clear that I should have been born turkish because the women here, as they get older, just wear loose baggy pants and grow wider: there's something to be said for that approach to ageing!
Finally we dragged ourselves to the lane at the back of the Hotel and had dinner and then home for an early night to prepare us for another day of non-stop action.
Fishermen on the Galata Bridge
catching very small fish!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The grandeur of an ancient city - Ephesus

Saturday 13 th August: Selcuk and Ephesus ( or Efes as the Turks call it, which is also the name of their favourite beer)
Let me give you a word of advice about visiting well-known ruins on a Saturday in summer: try to re-schedule!
I've decided that tourists are a dangerous species. They cluster together trying to hear every word  their guide utters to extol the virtues of the ruins, and are oblivious to anyone else. The Japanese tend to carry umbrellas to block out the sun, but in doing so nearly decapitate or poke out the eyes of other tourists.  The babble of  languages almost drowned out the sound on our audio guides as the tour guides talk very loudly and confidently. They rely on their 'group' keeping close to them. You can see the anxiety in the eyes of tourists when they lose sight of their group: the scanning of masses of fellow tourists faces and the look of relief when they spot a familiar face at last. Usually it's because they stop to take a photo or their footwear is inappropriate (what would posess a person to wear high heels to tramp around ruins!) so they can't keep up, The coast is not far from Ephesus so busloads of beachgoers arrive for a few hours dressed in their beachgear and then retreat to the beach. Those of us dressed in sensible clothes seem rather out of place! The winner of 'The Sight of the Day' competition went to an American family consisting of Dad, Asian wife, frail Asian grandfather and some kids, one of whom was in a pusher. The Dad gave the pusher to the Grandfather to hold on to, then held on to the back of the old man's trousers and then they set off down the hill along a marble street. When the Dad caught my eye, I must have looked a bit astonished as he grinned and said "We're all good!" I wasn't so sure - I wonder if they made it to the bottom of the hill intact!
The library for which Ephesus is famous
1800 year old water pipes that still work
Ephesus is certainly worth seeing and even with lots of visitors is still a remarkable city. It's a great example of how people lived in earlly AD as it consists of townhouses, marble streets, ancient latrines, wells and fountains, drainage channels, gymnasiums/schools, an ampitheatre that seats 24,000 people, an agora or parliament and a reconstructed two-storey library. In lots of these ancient ruins the town planning is very impressive. The residents have sewerage and waste systems, easy access to clean water as well as heating, and hot and cold water for some who could afford it. There was still a clear delineation between the wealthy and the poor, who were often slaves, but life could be fairly comfortable. Sections of this city, which housed 2-300,00 people, are gone but there are a couple of marble boulevardes with the remains of buildings either side which gives you a real sense of city life.
We spent a few hours wandering around and then caught a dolmus or local minibus back to town, where the weekly market was in progress. Ewan found just the piece of hose he needed to repair the vacuum cleaner at home, but decided he couldn't fit it into his bag! We bought, figs, peaches and honey bread for a picnic in the park, before going to the Museum. As usual some of the statues etc from Ephesus were in the Museum so it's interesting to see them even though they aren't in their original location and are better-protected in museum conditions.
Finally we staggered back to the room for a snooze and a rest. The drums and calls to prayer had been very close the night before ( and Lauren rang at 4am for some reason!!) so we needed a nap before heading out for Kebap for dinner. We found more of the old aqueduct and discovered the cafe end of town and the railway station. We set off for Istanbul tomorrow - our last move before home- so we might try to catch the train to the Izmir Airport where we have a flight booked. Could be interesting!

Ruins ruins and more ruins: off to Ephesus

Friday 12th August: Fethiye to Selcuk
The Search for the One Lira Icecream Cone. Travellers assess the joys of a town or village using different measures - the food, the wine, the views, the ruins, the shopping and so on. Ewan has one clear measure and this is it: Can you purchase one scoop of ice cream/gelati in a waffle cone for the princely sum of one Lira or not?! Ewan's final judgement about Fethiye was that he had had enough of it as 3 Lira was outrageous!
So today we ventured forth to experience the bus network for which Turkey is famous. Everyone we've met raves about the buses and we have seen very flash versions everywhere we've been.

So to get from Fethiye to Selcuk we started on one of the big new buses.Erin was pleased to see that every seat had its own TV screen, but her joy was rather short-lived when she realised that every channel was in Turkish of course. I discovered the Music Videos section and spent some time updating my musical knowledge watching Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Britney Spears. Eventualy I became rather tired of half-naked women gyrating around, so I reverted to reading my book - sometimes I sound just like my mother!
The buses have a 'busboy' with a very smart bowtie who checks tickets and wheels a trolley of FREE drinks and snacks up and down the aisle at regular intervals. We had no idea what the snacks actually were but ended up with cake, wholemeal biscuits and pretzels, so all good. The bus travelled inland form the coast but eevery now and then we caught a glimpse of blue water. We called in at a number of towns to collect and deliver people but just before stopping at one there was a whole lot of instructions from the driver in fast Turkish of course. As we understood only one word: 'besh' which is 5 we figured it meant that there was a 5 minute stop so Erin and I went to the loo. When we returned everyone was waiting for us and the door closed the minute we leapt aboard. Ewan did comment that the man who had been sitting next to him had left, and just as the bus pulled out he came running towards the bus waving his arms. It's the quick and the dead here! He leapt aboard and away we went After 4 hours we arrrived at Aydin and transferred into a minibus, which fortunately stuck to the highway and delivered us to Selcuk in 45 minutes.
Selcuk's major claim to fame is that it is where Ephesus is: one of the best preserved Roman cities in Turkey, so we're preparing for that tomorrow. Fortunately, the Homeros Pension and Guesthouse wasn't far from the bus station in the old part of town. It's very quaint with a rooftop terrace and laden with every turkish rug and ornament possible: slightly kitsch but cute.
After a day of sitting in buses we set off to get our bearings, starting with the Basilica of St John, which was built around the tomb of John the Apostle in the 4th Century AD and then expanded in the 6th Century. Apparently he lived here with the Virgin Mary for some years, although there seems to be some variations about the accuracy of information. Apparently this is on the Holy Sites tours, but we didn't see any busloads of tourists today. It was supposed to be enormous in its day and there is a lot of it left, with some reconstruction, so we spent a while wandering around.
When we paid the entry fee we noticed a sign saying that the Castle was closed. Erin and I were devastated as the Castle was a Citadel on a hill behind the Basilica. However we found ourselves wandering in that direction after checking out an ancient mosque and an aqueduct. A young french girl and a local man were discussing the possibility of doing an illegal tour through a hole in the fence so of course Ewan joined them.
Not to be thwarted by officialdom he ignored the signs and the locked gate and followed them up the hill to inspect the Castle. Meanwhile Erin and I rested and watched a menagerie of people and animals - horses, roosters, chickens - going about their daily business. When Ewan returned he confirmed all of our expectations about how fabulous it was and showed us lots of photos he'd taken on his phone so we didn't miss anything - how thoughtful he is!
Dinner at the Pension after a drink on the rooftop terrace completed the day. .

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Fethiye: seafood and a gorgeous gorge

Wednesday 10th August: Fethiye
After a final swim , snorkel and another great brakfast - french toast no less! - we sailed through seas like a mill pond to return to Fethiye. After bidding everyone a fond farewell - how many times do you kiss the cheek of a french person?? - we staggered back to the Hotel - the Yildirim Guesthouse - to shower, collect our luggage and generally prepare for an afetrnoon of getting to know Fethiye.
We noticed, with great delight on Ewan's part, and great horror on ours, that Fethiye too has a Citadel. There was the essential Turkish flag flying on top of a sheer cliff with some Crusader fort ruins for good measure. Great!! We did want to see the tombs that Fethiye is famous for, so after some negotiations, as follows, we headed upwards from the town. The negotiations included the phrases " Don't come if you're going to complain" and "If we don't get there don't be mean to us" as examples of the fine art of negotiation we have perfected this trip.
We were delighted to see that the tombs didn't really require a huge amount of climbing and they were in reasonable condition and very interesting. I have yet to understand the motivation to bury people in rock tombs in the sides of cliffs: maybe it's to minimise the chance of them being robbed. Who knows. These were dated at 350 BC so they've survived well.
In Lycian times ( 450 BC) the local heroes and wealthy nobleman were buried, much more conveniently, in huge stone sarcophagi, which are dotted around the town. They have been left in their original place and civilisation has occurred around them, even to the point of building roads around them..
A couple of sarcphagi in a park
One of the important eating experiences in Fethiye is eating seafood fresh from the sea and the best place is the fish market in the centre of town. Unlike our markets there is a a central market area with restaurants arranged around the outside. You buy the seafood you fancy and take it to one of the restaurants. For 6 Lira (about $3.60). the restaurant cooks the seafood, and provides wood-fired bread rolls, fresh green salad and garlic butter. We tried the calamari, sea bass and sea bream, all of which was very nice. There were some local cats wandering around and the vendors occaisionally tossed them a fish: they seemed very content.
There seems to be lots of poms here, and we had to laugh when a family arrived and the daughter ( about 12 years old) took one look and said "I don't like fish!" at which point the moher said" Smile for the photo and that's all there is!". Oh the joy of family travel!
Thursday 11th August: Fethiye
We decided we would be brave and head to a gorge outside Fethiye on one of the local minibuses or dolmus. We had investigated the location of the Otogar or bus park and managed to get aboard the right bus for the 45 minute trip. Well......it was supposed to take 45 minutes! It turned out to be a multipurpose bus - not only did it transport people waiting at the bus stop or at the side of the road, it also collected people from obscure little villages away from the highway and transported various other bits and pieces - a huge stack of tolet paper, car spare parts and one small boy! On the way back we stopped at a house in a village and a man came rushing out quickly buttoning up his fly and doing up his belt! There's a story there! Consequently it took more than one and a half hours each way instaed of 45 minutes, but fascinating trips they were..
Saklikent is famous for its narrow granite gorge which, at this time of the year, can be walked if you are happy to get wet to the top of your thighs as you wade through the river. Dressed in our best sandals and shorts we were prepared - especially with the assistance of a canyon guide - to make it through. The first section is a wooden walkway above the river which leads to some steps down into the rocky floor of the gorge and the fast-flowing river. The water isn't deep but we had to hold hands to avoid being swept away, and to try and keep the bags and camera dry. Once we were in the gorge we just walked for 1.5 kilometres in mostly ankle deep water over smooth granite rocks and stones.When we came to an impassable waterfall we turned around and walked back. It was very spectacular and in the sections where there were pools and large rocks, quite demanding.
To recuperate we had some gozleme ( filled pancakes) for lunch sitting at a restaurant which juts into the river: very relaxing.
After another long trip back - this time in wet shorts- we were relieved to get back and have a siesta before wandering around town and eventually having dinner.. The temperature was in the high 30's so it didn't take long for us to dry out fortunately.

Too many choices!
The turkish delight shop

Fabulous spices and peppers

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Bobbing around in the blue of the Mediterranean

Sunday 7th August - Tuesday 9th August : Fethiye and the Mediterranean
I'm sitting on the back deck of the 35 metre boat, the Ros, as it bobs up and down in a small cove not far from the coast of Turkey. I think a lack of interest in more ruins was evident when Erin and I were discussing with Ewan what was next on our schedule! We were helped along by a woman in our hotel in Goreme who had just done one of these boat trips and highly recommended it. It wasn't as expensive as we anticipated, so here we are having booked into the 3 nights/four days island-hopping cruise..
Last Sunday we rose at 5.30am (much to Erin's horror) and drove to Fethiye through a winding mountain pass. Fethiye is a small port famous for the boat trips that commence or end there. After delivering Frankie the Ford Focus back to Avis we wandered around looking for the boat. ( Actually the Ford Focus had become the Focu - as the 's' had mysteriously disappeared- but we noticed that a number of similar cars had become Focu too so there's a mystery!)
The Ros
The Ros is owned by Ros, an Australian from Hobart, in partnership with Amit, who captains the boat and looks as if he never sets foot on dry land. He apparently has been at sea for the last 103 days, as this is the high season for tourists like us. It accomodates 18 people on board including Sunny who is the cook and general roustabaout. We booked into a bunk room with only 2 beds, because Ros assured us that everyone sleeps on deck, which we so hvaing three beds wasn't necessary.
As we pulled away from the port I was disappointed to see that the water was green, but very soon it had become the most amazing deep blue colour, not like Anglesea or Port Phillip Bay. It's also exceptionally clear so despite the fact that it is very deep in places, you can see every stone on the bottom and fish swimming around without even bothering to find a snorkel and mask. Ewan and Erin did lots of snorkeling to check the fish out at close range.
So we are a motley group: quite a few Australians, but a Canadian French family, a French judge , a French med student and boyfriend, an American couple on honeymoon and so on. It's fascinating to talk to people from different places about their lives and their travels.
How have we spent the last few days stuck on the boat I hear you ask????? Well it's been a frenetic pace and far too many challenging decisions to be made. Will I throw myself in the water now or read my book? Does anyone know when dinner is on? Do I need a cold wine or some paech juice now? Would a G and T be better? Should I go snorkelling around the cove? And so on.
The beautiful blue of the Mediterranean
Our first plunge into the Mediterranean was a surprise as the water is warm and very salty so you can float and swim with ease: consequently we seem to spend a lot of time bobbing around in water chatting. You don't have to work hard to stay afloat because of the salt so if you want to actually exercise you have to make yourself do a few strokes to burn up a few calories!
Which brings me to the food which has been fabulous: Amit actually has a recipe book which we will definitely buy as he is a trained chef, as well as a dive master, marriage celebrant, Captain and heaven knows what else. The local rose has been a huge hit too!
We have spent the last few days island-hopping usually changing spots a couple of times a day and ending in a secluded and very sheltered cove so that we can all sleep. We have stopped at Butterfly Valley which was full of day tourists and at Oludeniz, where some of our lot went tandem paragliding strating at the top of a mountain with sheer cliffs next to the beach and floating down to the beach itself. It is apparently the highest paragliding experinece anywhere at 1960 metres! You'll be very surprised to hear that I didn't volunteer! It is quite an experience watching the coloured parachutes drift slowly down, and occaisionally doing spirals, from such a height.
The only downside is that when we hit the open sea between coves it gets pretty rough so a few peple including me have been sea sick. But captain Amit gives out the magic seasickness pills, and although they make you drowsy, after you've had a nap you feel a million dollars. I've had them twice and Erin once, but Ewan hasn't been queasy at all.
It has been a very relaxing enjoyable few days. Ewan and Erin have been snorkelling and spotting all sorts of fish and we've spent hours flaoting around. You don't have to do anything at all if you don't want to so it's just heaven. The islands are full of interesting ruins. The most energetic activity has been a walk to the top of a rock hill, which Ewan did whilst Erin and I went for yet another swim!
We've seen lots of boats that are just travelling around for the summer enjoying the blue water, the sea breeze and the warm weather. It will be hard to disembark tomorrow!
Sleeping on deck: very comfy!
Sunset from one of the coves where we spent the night

Shining white Pamukkale

Thursday 4th August: Egirdir
Another lot of drumming through the night, which Ewan managed to sleep through - unbelievable! Apparently they are to wake everyone up so they can eat before the fasting for Ramadan commences at 4am.
Over breakfast we had a conversation with an American girl who is bike riding around Turkey alone, having brought her bike with her. She and Ewan decided to go for a ride together to a place called Acsun, which Ewan can describe. She is very fit : does lots of cycling, rock-climbing, snow boarding etc - should be interesting for Ewan.
Erin and I were on a mission to post back some warm woollies we don't need and two bloody vuvuzelas that she bought in Cape Town and are cluttering up her bag. Fortunately the friendly guy in the Post office saw us as a mercy mission and found a box, used half a roll of tape and organised the whole deal, although the cost was rather astronomical.
Erin negotiating the purchase of some
of the local peaches:
delicious!
Our next stop was the weekly market where the stalls had overflowed from the Market Square into the streets and lanes beyond. We had a great time wandering around and buying some treats and the makings for a picnic. The stall holders were happy to do charades with us so we could get what we wanted, and to have their pictures taken. Our minimal knowlwdge of numbers came in handy a few times but I'm sure, as there were few tourists, that we were a source of entertainment to all. There were no local handcrafts at all, but endless stalls of long baggy pants that the elderly ladies wear here in sombre colours, lots of scarves and socks, and men selling ladies underwear! We were rather intrigued to find a stall selling swimwear which provided head to toe swimming outfits for Muslim women, including lycra scarves, dresses and leggings in pastel colours. We bought olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers ( that were not chili hot: that was interesting miming!), crumbly goat's cheese, fresh bread, turkish delight (of course!), pistachios, peaches ( twice the size of ours and very juicy), tiny crunchy pears, local apples (not very nice) AND the largest nectarines I've ever seen - about twice the size of the peaches. Not a bad morning's work!
After a reviving cup of chai (tea) at the local cafe we took all of our purchases back to the Hostel, made a picnic and Erin and I set off for a stroll along the Causeway out into the lake We found a grassy Park with lots of shade and settled down for lunch and a long read of our books. Very relaxing!
As we headed back to the Hostel Ewan appeared at the bike shop looking rather hot, and drenched in water which he'd poured over himself: The temperature was in the 30's but I think his level of fitness wasn't what it was when he left home. After a swim we wandered back to the Causeway and had dinner on the banks of the lake, enjoying the cool breeze.
Friday 5th August: Ergidir to Pamukkale
After another night of drums and call to prayer we packed up and headed out of the mountains towards Pamukkale in the south. It's one of those places EVERY tourist in Turkey goes, so we were no exception.
The reconstructed Nymphaeum at Sagalossus
On the way we stopped off to visit some ruins: no surprise when Ewan is planning the agenda! I have to say these were fantastic and very absorbing. The place is called Sagalossos and it's a ruined ancient city backed by sheer rock at the top of a huge mountain where snow lies for most of the year. For 2-3 months each year Belgian archaelogists and their menagerie of experts excavate there. We had the good luck to have one of the Belgian historians guide us around for free, to show us the work they have done. The site dates back to the 12 th century BC and despite its seeming isolation at the top of the Mountain it was an important city in Hellenistic and Roman times. Even Alexander the Great came through. It wasn't used after a massive earthquake in the 7th Century. Water from natural streams trickles through and the view from the top of the Ak Dag (White Mountain) was remarkable.
Unfortunately there were no archaelogists at work as they were having a long weekend but there was plenty of evidence of their work. The Belgians have used sponsors funding to reconstruct some parts of the buildings using the actual stone that was excavated onsite. It was very exciting to see a 'Nymphaeum' with columns, statues and a natural spring providing freezing cold drinkable water straight from the mountain. The problem with a lot of ruins is that they are ruined!! So you have to use a lot of imagination to recreate what they actually were. So it was fascinating to see how it would have looked (and today when we went to Hierapolis there was a ruined nymphaeum and we knew exactly how it should look).
Eventually we covered the rest of the kilometres to Pamukkale, after driving very carefully down the narrow winding road from Sagalossos. We encountered the usual maniacs overtaking on blind curves but managed to arrive safely, only to be horrified at the heat when we jumped out of our air-conditioned car! After having a swim at the Hotel in a slightly dubious pool we wandered around the tiny town and had dinner at our hotel. The mistake we made was to walk around with our copy of The Lonely Planet as 3 of the restauranteurs looking for business made sure we knew they were mentioned in it and one even had a banner saying 'Recommended by Lonely Planet' hanging in the breeze!
Saturday 6th August: Pamukkale
Not snow: white travertine!
To avoid the crowds we didn't dilly dally and we started the trek from the south gate to the top of the travertine mountain with very few others. As we approached the top we realised that the Tour busses go to the top and let the tourists wander down the hill. So we had to weave our way through increasing numbers of people.
Pamukkale will be forever in my mind because of two things:
1. For those of you who have no idea about Pamukkale it is a mountain of white travertine marble that has natural springs running down it forming beautifual aqua pools. It's supposed to rejuvenate and heal any problems you might have. It was a wonderful experience walking barefoot up the shining white travertine with water from warm thermal springs running over your feet and then paddling in aqua pools of slightly milky water. Nothing like I've ever seen elsewhere.
2. We were also amazed at the number of grossly overweight middle-aged and elderly women in skimpy bikinis posing for photos taken by men in speedos that were far too small for the size of their bellies.( Pictures to follow!)
Too far away to appreciate the size of this woman ....
and the size of her bikini!
And why do people have to strike such odd poses for photos???!
Erin and I had a lovely time commenting on them and their choice of bathers! Made me feel slim and sylph-like which I certainly am not!
At the top of the travertine mountain you put your shoes back on and wander around an ancient Roman site called Hierapolis, some of which is quite intact. It really stretched our imagination as most of what once was a large city is just piles of stone. The exception was an old Roman baths which had been turned into a Museum, and a huge amphitheatre which could seat 13,000 people. The marble seats are all still in place and the actual theatre stage is being reconstructed by the Italians.
One might ask why every other European country is helping restore Turkish history and one would be spot on the money, as we have seen very little investment from the Turkish government at the historic sites we've visited. One of the more cynical replies from the Belgian historian, was that as the current ruling party is strongly Muslim they are not interested in spending money unearthing Greek Roman or Christian Era sites, but who knows the real answer??!!

Roman ampitheatre at Hierapolis
In the heat our imaginations could no longer conjure up the entire city - in fact mine could only imagine a cold icy drink! - so we set off down the travertine mountain, encountering even more outrageous and skimpy bathing costumes and headed for the quiet of the Hotel.
We spent the afternoon sorting out our bags as we are off early to Fethiye on the coast tomorrow. We are going to catch a boat for a three night tour drifting around the Mediterranean. There will be no blogs for a few days whilst we recuperate from all of the hectic travelling. Bon Voyage to us!!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Lakeside at Egirdir

Tuesday 2nd August: Goreme to Egirdir

The view from our room
 Sadly we farewelled the crew at the cave hotel and headed south for the Lake district, and hopefully some cooler temperatures.
More wheatfields, sunflowers, tractors and incomplete highways. A few instantaneous decisions made about which side of a divided highway we should be on! And plenty of Ataturk statues to admire.
We've now decided that Turkey must supply most of Europe with wheat as there seems to be endless expanses of it in central Turkey. Gradually we travelled towards more mountainous country with rocky mountains twice the height of our Alps and totally deserted. Apparently there is plenty of snow for skiing in Winter, and as we made our way through some very impressive passes cut into the sheer rock faces, we saw plenty of signs warning us about ice and suggesting we carry chains. Huge orchards dotted the landscape as we approached the Lake so we're looking forward to sampling the peaches, apricots, apples and strawberries that the the area is famous for.
After a few hours of travelling ( during which we practised our numbers in Turkish in preparation for some serious shopping) we arrived in Egirdir. It's a town of almost 20,000 people located around the lakeside between Lake Egirdir, the second largest lake in Turkey and the sheer cliffs of the mountains. The water is a beautiful aquamarine colour that changes all of the time. We had booked into a mosest pension called Lale Pension on the shores of the lake, and when we were shown the room we have 'the penthouse': the top floor of a four storey building with great views of the lake.
The best feature is that you can swim in the lake, so we found our bathers in the bottom of our bags and plunged in. The water is warmer than Anglesea and we really appreciated the fact that you can swim without fear of hippos and crocodiles! The only downside is that there is no sand and you have to keep your thongs ( or flip-flops as Erin calls them now after being in SA) on to avoid the rocks and pebbles. It was our first swim since we left home so we've been in a couple of times, and today we followed a swim with a sit on one of the Hostel terraces reading our books and relaxing: it's a hard life!
We walked out a causeway which is no wider than a road, but stretche sout into the middle of the lake. We had the local lake bass for dinner at a lakeside restaurant and enjoyed the breeze. It was quite a novelty as there was no breeze to relieve the heat of Goreme so we are very impressed with the cooler temperatures and the breeze. Apparently the local delicacy is freshwater crayfish so we'll keep an eye out for that!
Clearly Ramadan is going to limit the choices in food so we 're going to employ Moira's strategy for ordering food in Namibia - not wasting time perusing a menu but just asking what they actually DO have. It must be very challenging for Muslims to operate restaurants during Ramadan so I guess they limit the choices so they can spend less time preparing food whilst they are fasting. Many of the restaurants and cafes here appear to be closed. It won't be a problem I'm sure: no danger of us starving!
I was woken at about 4am in the morning by someone walking the street and drumming very loudly. It seemed to commence at the local Mosque which is in the next street, so I think it was to remind locals that the fasting was about to commence. The other two didn't hear a thing: half their luck!
Wednesday 3rd August: Egirdir
Ewan is keen to go on a bike ride so we went exploring in the car to see if we could find a route that didn't involve too much steep uphill. It is a challenge finding our way around as Gloria, the GPS, which has the " Streets of Turkey software, doesn't appear to know anything about country roads, so she's been relegated to the glove box in disgrace. The maps provided by the Tourism Ministry have lots of information about every citadel,sport and attraction available, but not much about the actual roads. Needless to say, with our total lack of understanding of Turkish road signs we became hopelessly lost in the middle of the moutains - all very picturesque of course. We ended up in a rocky village where the only inhabitants appeared to be a 10 year old boy and a herd of black goats, neither of whom were much help! Given that we weren't in a 4WD and we had seen no other vehicles for some kilometres we decided to retrace our steps. This gully was very interesting - over decades the rocks had been cleared from the flat sections and they had been recently ploughed for spring sowing. The rocks had been used as the primary building material to construct fences, houses, sheds and roads.
Ewan needed to rest up for his bike ride tomorrow so we had a swim and relax, before strolling into town for more local fish, stuffed eggplant and peppers and more delicacies. there was a young Korean girl wandering around on her own so we adopted her for dinner. She had been to Greece and Turkey travelling on her own, which must be challenging. She seemed pleased to spend some time with us and we walked her back to her hostel, just near ours.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Up, Up and away in Goreme


Monday 1st August: Goreme (popn.2000 plus tourists)
It seems that it is absolutely compulsory to do a balloon flight whilst in Goreme. There are 17 balloon companies, they fly about 320 days of the year with an average of 40-45 balloons per day and they have baskets that carry from 10-35 people so it's really big business!
After much consideration we decided we should go, despite the cost. The young guy Cemal, who runs the Hotel with his family, is a balloon pilot so we 'negotiated' with him, almost to the point where I thought we would end up with free steak knives. Today was the day and much to Erin's consternation we had to be ready to be picked up at 4.30am. We were piled into a mini bus, which picked up some other tourists from different hotels on the way and were deposited at the Atmosfer Balloons office. The only movement in town was fleets of minibuses collecting people. We were horrified to see literally hundreds of people waiting at the office to go on balloon flights too! And that was only one of the companies available. As we drove off to the Balloon Launch Area there were buses and half-inflated balloons everywhere. We only had 10 people in our balloon, which was great. We all clambered in, got the safety talk ( "do not leave the balloon at any time until told to do so"- very funny!) With some gas being expelled into the balloon and various ropes to guide it's departure, we finally floated off the ground into the wide blue yonder! For the first few minutes we kept an eye on all of the other balloons taking off at the same time, some of them so close they were touching each other. You can see from the photos how fabulous the view is as the sun comes up so I won't rattle on. For an hour we floated at various heights, from so close to the ground that Cemal picked some apricots from a local farmer's tree, and so high that we were more than 1000 metres above Goreme, and 2000 meteres above sea level.
It was my first time in a balloon and I have to admit I wasn't sure if I would get airsick as I do in small planes, but It was just great: very smooth and quiet ( except for the theme song from Titanic which Cemal played after he told us that the balloon was named the TItanic! You'll note he didn't tell us that before we left the ground!).
He had radio contact with the other balloon pilots and with the ground crew who had a trailer for the balloon and a minbus for us. We managed to land on the trailer which I thought was rather remarkable. Erin was anointed co-pilot and had to pull on a long rope which opened the top of the balloon to helpit to deflate. Then we had a glass of champagne and cherry juice, some cake and were presented with our certificates, whilst the ground crew tried to squeeze the balloon back into its bag. eventually all of he females had to sit on it to help compress it: Erin first!
By the time we returned to the Hotel it was 7.30am and we were exhausted : Erin and I fell asleep for a few hours but Ewan walked into town for a coffee, looked up the sports results etc and eventually fell asleep. We decided that we would have lunch in town, then go for a drive rather than walk in the heat again.
One of the key reasons for the town being so quiet is that Ramadan started today for all of the Muslims. Turkey is predominantly a Muslim country so most of the population will be following Ramadan. They fast from 4.00am until 8pm every day for a month. They are also not allowed to drink anything even water, which in this heat which must be very risky for some: we've been drinking litres every day!. People who are frail or are unwell can bend the rules but anyone who is healthy is expected to follow them. There are a lot of vineyards here and it seems many of the Muslims do drink alcohol during the year: when they are asked about the number of vineyards, they just laugh and shrug their shoulders. As with their dress there seems to be varying levels of piety. In some places everything basically closes down during this month, but there is enough diversity here for most restaurants to be open: the waitress at the Borek cafe where we had lunch is from Iran and is enroute to migrate to Canada as a refugee.
Before I forget I have to apologise for the stupid text being so narrow on the blog and when I insert photos ( which takes forever!) the text is even more difficult to read. Can't seem to alter it at all unfortunately. It is almost impossible to insert photos where you want them to go so if they seem a bit hit and miss just overlook that - and the spelling too

Gorgeous Goreme!





Goreme landscape
Friday 29th July - Amasya to Goreme


The view from the car
 For hundreds of kilometres we drove south through the wheatbelt of Turkey to reach Goreme.
The roads varied from super highways to country roads, with a huge amount of roadworks in progress, but only a minimal amount of the new work actually completed. Ewan did a great job of staying on the right side of the road, which is very challenging when you negotiate roundabouts. Of course Erin and I are invaluable assistants in keeping him not only on the straight and narrow, but also on the RIGHT side of the road. There was some muttering about back seat drivers, but I'm sure he appreciates our assistance - well, most of the time.(Mum, he did mention something about me turning into you, but I'm sure he meant it as a compliment! - no he didn't:ES )
We are convinced that the Turks make a point of ignoring road rules and speed limits at all times. Every day we have been on the road, at least twice we have been faced with someone heading for us on our side of the road whilst overtaking. I think it might be a test of their manhood to only overtake on blind corners. As we travelled from Amasya there were huge numbers of tractors, often pulling one or two trailers loaded with grain, bales of hay and people, or all of the above.
We stopped at several large service staions for sustenance along the way, and the last one had its own mosque - not a big feature of Australian service stations.
As we approached Goreme the endless rolling hills, mountains, fields of hay, green valleys and market gardens ceased, and were replaced by the amazing limestone cliffs and formations for which the Cappodocia Region is famous (and which has earnt it a World Heritage listing).
Cappodocia is an enormous region with an endless variety of natural formations above the ground, and many man-made formations created within the limestone, both above and below ground.
We eventually found our hotel - the Dervish Cave House - and discovered that our large hotel room is built out of the local stone on the side of one of these limestone 'fairy chimneys' whilst our bathroom is actually situated in the limestone, so it stays very cool. Our room has a huge Mulberry tree at the door full of ripe mulberries, and there is a grassed terrace overlooking Goreme for us to breakfast on, and to enjoy when the evenings cool down.Very nice. It's a one minute walk into town, so we wandered around trying to get our bearings. Apparently there aer only three families who still live in houses that are caves in the limestone : all of the others have been bought out and turned into hotels. There is supposed to be a limit on creating any more cave hotels, but, as happens everywhere, if you know the right people or have enough money, well........
The first thing we noticed are the TOURISTS!!! We have only spoken to about 5 Australians since we arrived in Turkey and have seen very few tourists anywhere. But this is the place! Every evening at about 7pm huge modern buses pull up and deposit one lot of backpackers, then fill up with another load on overnight trips to Istanbul or elsewhere. There seems to be representation from every country and we have come across a few Aussies. One of the cafes advertises it's coffee by saying it is made by a barista trained in Melbourne. The village atmosphere is maintained by lots of locals as well, thank heavens - mostly older men sitting around drinking tea and playing card and board games.
There are lots of tourist craft shops too of course but I was thrilled to find the Bookshop which has English books to trade and buy! Fabulous! ( Sorry Lauren, was that as boring as me rattling on about the laundry???!!) And once we had located the Turkish Delight shop ( recommended by Grazyna) we were very happy travellers.
Saturday 30th July and Sunday 31st July: Goreme
For the last 2 days we have excelled our previous performances in seeing as much as we can. The list includes:
- Tramping around various valleys to admire the limestone formations : they are different in every valley and have some imaginative names. Yesterday we went quite a few kms to Ilhara Valley which followed a winding river and was very green. In other valleys the limestone is quite pink, and less frequently, yellow.
-Many of the little windows cut into the limestone are pigeon houses and you can see the birds disappearing into the rock face.
- With a young turkish boy (who is training to be a primary teacher) as a guide, we visited a family whose house was partly in a cave.We were ushered into the living room which was very cool by an older woman who gave us tea. She had some English and we had a great time chatting: it turned out she was "nearly 60 " and we thought she was in her 70's! It's a hard life here. She had the usual photo of Ataturk and a very old photo of turkish soldiers in WW1 which Ewan thought was interesting. She had been a carpet maker as most women were in this area. The stables for the 3 cattle were in a cave and the house was surrounded by market gardens and fruit trees, including a hige walnut tree.
- Churches: there are hundreds of churches and monasteries built during the 4th to the 11th century within the limestone to protect the early Christians. They are in various stages of decay or have been effected by vandalism. However, many are beautifully painted and surprisingly intact.
- We visited Kaymakli, one of the largest of the 200 underground cities n the area, many of them waiting to be excavated. It was a rabbit warren of small tunnels and 'rooms' directly accessible from each of the old stone houses above. They were used in times of attack and had been carefully designed to allow for 'comfortable' living when it was unsafe to be above ground. They had ventilation shafts, stables near the entrance so the animals could be let out during the day, smoke flues which allowed the smoke to escape away from the city and this one was 45 metres underground with lots of different levels. Everything had been carved out of the limestone by unfortunate slaves.It wasn't as claustrophobic as the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam, but you still wouldn't want to spend to long in there!
- The Goreme Open Air Museum had examples of all of these structures and explanations about their development so it was very interesting.
- And of course anything that is high has to be used as a citadel or a castle so we staggered up the stiars to the top of the Uchisar castle ( Kalesi). The views were stupendous, and so was the surprise on Ewan's face when he realised Erin and I had made it to the top!

The major achievement from all of this sightseeing was that it has been a minimum of 37 degrees celsius every day, so timing (and water bottles, sunscreen and hats!) is everything! It does cool down a little late in the day and doesn't get dark until 9pm so there is plenty of time to see everything. We have been having siestas to cope in the middle of the day, but you do seem to acclimatise eventually. Goreme has about 20cms of snow in winter too, so quite a variation in seasons.
The food here has been delicious; it has a Pide restaurant with 12 different sorts of pide (Turkish bread with filling). It's also famous for one-use clay pots full of slow-cooked stew, ususally lamb, tomatoes , eggplant, onions, herbs etc.. The opening at the top where the ingredients are added is covered by dough and the whole pot is cooked in a slow oven. The pots are scored around the midde and snapped off when the meal is ready. Delicious!
Of course we have also enjoyed the turkish delight, baklava, rice pudding, smoothies and ice cream to counteract the heat!
 
 

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Amasya is amazing!

Thursday 28th July: Amasya
With the forecast predicting temperatures in the mid-30's, we headed off early to do the essential attractions in Amasya. ( OK - I have to admit that I'm only mentioning the weather because I hear it's foul in Melbourne!).
One of the tombs in the rock above a mosque
First stop was the Tombs of the Pontic Kings; apparently carved into the sheer limestone cliffs as early as 4BC! Why the kings thought it was a good idea is beyond me, but they have been places of cult worship and eventually used as prisons. Not a lot are accessible but it was worth it for the view.

Then we headed for the Citadel or Kale: everywhere we go there seems to be Citadels so that any approaching enemies can be dissuaded from invading before they get too close. The one here is truly stupendous and the views were just spectacular (after I'd stopped puffing and panting after climbing a million stairs!) We managed to persuade Ewan that we didn't need to walk from the river to the top, and that is was acceptable to drive up most of the way- thank heavens.
The old part of the city is gradually being overwhelmed by large apartment blocks which seem to be the latest architectural fad across all of Turkey: they seem to have all been designed by the same person with slight colour varaitions. In Amasya they are in alarming locations clinging to steep hillsides. After I took plenty of photos, Ewan went off exploring and Erin and I practiced our appalling turkish on various families heading for the top.
We decided to have roasted corn and yet another icecream for lunch, whilst enjoying the cool of the riverbank. The corn was tougher than ours but the ice cream was great. Our new best friends at the ice cream shop were happy to see us again! Two scoops in a fresh waffle cone costs the princely sum of 1T Lira - about 60 cents Australian. Lots more flavours to try yet!

Next we headed for a Hammam or Turkish Baths, which was quite an adventure I can tell you!
We went to the oldest one in town - built in the 13th century, and restored in the 16th. Some are only for women or men at different times of the day, so we rather hesitantly stuck our heads in the door, but were encouraged to come in.
We were given a cubicle with 3 beds and no door to undress in, and a piece of cotton material the size of a sarong, to cover whatever we wanted to cover. Then we were escorted into a large room constructed entirely of marble with water troughs and pannikins for throwing water over ourselves. This was the steam room and it was hot! Within a few minutes we were all bright pink and sweating profusely: it's designed to get rid of all those impurities lurking under your skin apparently. Then a small muscly turkish guy came and took me into a small room with a marble bed and a seat next to an old stone water trough. He sat me down and I had to decide whether I would remove my cloth. I thought he had probably washed and massaged lots of fat turkish ladies before so what the heck! He took out a glove which was like a scourer and proceeded to scrub my entire body with lots of soap and using the scourer to get rid of all of the dead skin. We were all horrified about the amount he managed to scour from our supposedly clean skins! Then he lay me on the marble slab and massaged me for about 30 minutes with lots of soapy water. He was a great masseur and worked at trying to get all of our muscles pliant and relaxed. When we compared notes later he had adapted the massage to suit our various aches and pains.
Meanwhile Ewan and Erin were still sweltering away in the steam room. I emerged and Erin was next, then Ewan. I was met by a man with a dry sarong and then he escorted me back to the room we had changed in, and wrapped me in lots of towels and propped me up on one of the beds with a cup of Chai (tea) to await the others. I felt sparkling clean and very relaxed! We seemed to be there for hours and it cost the princely sum of 20 Turkish Lira per person: about $12 AUS each. Ewan gave the masseur a big tip as the charge for that was only $3.00 each!
There are lost of touristy Hammams around but this one seemed to be very authentic as various locals wandered in. We decided we'd need to try a few just for the sake of comparison!
After a siesta we strolled into town and used our latest acquisition - a Turkish-English dictionary - to try and order some food. We did surprisingly well and had a great meal. Noone here speaks english at all so it's a bit challenging having a conversation and ordering food.The rest of the time we mime and point a lot, which is how we managed to buy 3 varieties of baklava: delicious!

Amasya here we come!

Wednesday 27th July: Bogazkale to Amasya

Frankie the Ford Focus and Erin outside the Hotel
 After the water came on during the night we showered (more successfully this time) and did a short tour of the Bogazgale Museum before heading for the town of Amasya, about 150kms away.
Ewan managed to drive without incident through fields of grain being harvested, green valleys, market gardens and endless hills which slowly increased to daunting rocky mountain ranges. Amasya is in a river valley so the town is wedged between sheer rock faces and steep mountains, and a wide river. It is a town which is the summer holiday spot for Turks, but few other tourists.
We located our tiny hotel ( with 6 rooms ) in the old part of town, but it's actually brand new, although built in the old style. The temperature was increasing into the high 30's so we decided to wander along the river, have some lunch and stay as cool as possible. We did find a cute museum about the various Ottoman sultans from the area, so that kept us cool for a while (although we decided that 2 Museums per day was our limit! ).
On our way back to the hotel we noticed a group of women working hard despite the heat, under the shade of a tree opposite our Hotel. One of them saw me watching them and beckoned me over . They were kneading, rolling and cooking dough to make crisp pita bread on an open fire. I said hello in my best turkish and was given some of the bread to try, from a huge pile thay had produced. I'm not sure how they tolerated the heat of the fire as I couldn't stand near it. I took some photos of them and then showed them and there were lots of giggles. They all wore headscarves and long dresses with their arms completely covered as befits thier Muslim religion, as do most of the older women here. The younger ones are also covered but in light colours and brighter headscarves. On eof the younger ones gave me an email address so we'll send the photos. I'm hoping to see them again so I can take some closeups to send them too.
We did the holiday thing and wandered along the promenadeand ate Doner kebab at an open air restaurant for dinner. Ewan and Erin had another icecream form their favourite ice cream shop, where a young boy had been employed to make waffle cones endlessly - what a job!We were hoping to have a look at the main Mosque but we weren't in acceptable dress as we didn't have long skirts: T-shirts and shorts don't make the grade for Mosque visits.
It is really a lovely city with trees and grass along the public areas, lots of footbridges all lit up at night and lots of people just wandering around enjoying the cool of the evening.