Part 5- Boats, castles and lost cities

The morning of the 25th started in Antalya, and a quick trip to the Anatolian Archaeological museum. We had been scheduled to visit Monday, but it was closed that day. Hassan though it was worth delaying the day a bit. [And it was ! I could have spent another couple hours in there. -T.]

Nice display of 5000 years of pottery, showing development and changes in art over the centuries. The artistic content hit its peak during the classical Helenistic period, by Roman times production had changed to a much more commercial mass-production model, so adornment dropped. But at least more people had pots. Also quite surprising to see whimsical designs of 4500 year old pots.

I had not known that the region suffered a 500 year “dark age”, which was clearly evident in the quanity and quality of pottery. It lasted from about 1200 BC to 700 BC. If you know your history, 1200 BC is the time of the Trojan war. Yes, the “world war” of the classical world and the collapse of the Hittites seems to have pretty much messed up civilization to the point that it took 500 years to recover.

[There was stuff beside pottery, too, including some nifty ethnography displays, metalwork, more glassware, more stone carving and things — plus this sweet little ivory carving. Isn’t she neat ? They had repros in the shop (one of the few instances where the Turkish museum shops actually had something relevant), but they were sadly coarse in execution. -T.]

I'd like to be her friend.

From there is was off to Myra, a city of the Lycian League. It is most notable for its ornate rock-tombs, which in appearance are very reminiscent of the photos I have seen of Petra. There was also a nice Roman-era theater.

Lycian rock-cut tombs.

We were told a story of the famous stubborn character of the ancient Lycians. After the men of Xantos were killed in a battle by the attacking Persians, all the women, children and old men committed suicide rather than submit.

During our driving about we had noticed cars adorned with big Turkish flags, usually tied to the roof or bonnet. Hassan explained that these were young men about to leave for their mandatory military service. In Turkey it is a big celebration, and a source of pride and unity. Apparently towns limit you to only 4 people to “see you off” at the bus station, as most kids have dozens or hundreds of well-wishers along. We passed such a street party, and Hassan stopped the bus. The young keen kid came over to say hi, and tell us (through Hassan’s translation) that he was off to be a Gendarmes in Izmir. (Of course, those in the army start immediately counting the days until they are done! We met some later at a rest stop along the highway.)

[Where else in the world do people celebrate when they get drafted ? Pride in their military is a key part of Turkish identity. -T.]

The landscape along the south coast was quite hard, sun-baked limestone with small hardy trees and shrubs. The steep, rough terrain made the importance of the sea for transport easily evident.

As we drove along we were told about the Lycian League, and how each city derived its wealth from a different source. Myra, from the Myrtle tree. [I thought it was myrrh. -T.]

Next stop was the church of St Nicolas. He is the patron saint of Moscow, which is why the place is always full of Russian tourists [Like, Tokyo subway full. Hassan cleverly brought us there at lunchtime, so we had room to actually move around the place. -T.] trying to sneak around and light incense- which is against the rules. Old St Nic was the Bishop of the local town back in the day, and is now the patron saint of children (gifts from the church), young women (he provided donations to cover dowrys so they would not have to resort to prostitution) and pirates. Yes pirates. Seems old Nicolas was a clever chap. His was the only church that would allow the pirates that patrolled the coasts to come in and worship, all they had to do is pay a fee. And those fees of course went on to help the women and children. So yes, Christmas is a pirate holiday! Loot and plunder! Just give some to the kids, and everything is okay!

[If, like us, you have long sought the “official” connection between Christmas and pirates (without having to resort to consumerist metaphors), there you go. Santa Claus and pirates, linked from the beginning. -T.]

His tomb was supposed to have continuously oozed Myrrh (possibly loaded by the priests). In the 9th century local pirates broke in and stole his skeleton. [Because, you know, pirates. -T.]

From there it was off to a “glass bottomed” boat for lunch and a trip to the sunken city. This city dated to Lycian times, and a massive earthquake plunged the whole thing down 6 to 10 meters suddenly. We sailed over the harbor wall, which was visible, as were some amphorae on the bottom. The site has not yet been explored, so there is a strict “no stopping” rule for boats to try and keep scuba-scavengers from looting. Apparently the above-water structures were never harvested for their stone, as the city ended up with a “wrath of Neptune” reputation. Hassan said that some initial studies suggest that there may be structures 30-100 meters down, suggesting a lot of downward motion in the area.

Afterwards we went to the small village opposite the sunken city, a village only accessible by boat that the authorities have decided to evacuate/abandon as it is just too hard to provide services. [That, and they want to turn the whole place into an archeological reserve. -T.]

Not the best photo - hard to see what all is going on here. Kekova-Simena, the part still above water.

After our excursion we boarded the bus again and had a long ride [through Kas to Fethiye, in case you’re keeping track. -T.] to meet our bigger boat for the next phase. This was a “Gullet”, a lovely wooden boat. There are hundreds of them (thousands?) which ply the tourist trade during the summer months. [Every one hand-built and unique. -T.] We departed the harbor at sunset, and didn’t go far before the captain moored us for the night. I was the first one awake in the morning (by more than an hour). While there was no internet to surf, it was quite pleasant just sitting on the deck and watching the sun rise.

[The whole cruise part of the trip was a lovely relaxing break from the forced-march bus-excursion that some bits of the tour felt like at times. It was good to kick back. The crew was friendly, the food was great, and the cabins were comfy – small, but each one had an ensuite, which was totally unexpected. This is the part of the trip where it was made really clear what a fabulous group we had. There was no one in the whole group, not one, with whom I couldn’t happily sit down and chat for hours.

The crew were all related & the captain’s wife (who was also the cook) was delightfully independant and outspoken. We sadly didn’t have a whole lot of personal contact with local Turks (well, with local Turks who weren’t trying to sell us stuff, anyway), so Ushlan was one of the very few Turkish women we got to spend any time with. Hassan told us that she was a much better representative of Turkish women than the “scarf women” you’d mostly only see in the cities (especially Konya, which is very conservative). “Country women”, he says, “are much more practical.” -T.]

On Wednesday the 26th we started by going back ashore, where a minibus [The famous Turkish dolmush = “already stuffed”. We had this one to ourselves, though. -T] met us for the quick trip to the “abandoned village.” This had been a settlement of ~1500 buildings only 80 years ago. After the collapse of the Ottomans and the rise of the modern Turkish state, there was great conflict between the Greeks and the Turks, in the end millions (forced) migrated back and forth. Hassan told us of how the rebellion fomented by British agents at the end of the Ottomans (Lord Byron being one major villains in his story) caused ethnic strife and fighting that had not been a problem previously. While it accelerated the fall of the Ottomans, it also caused huge grief afterwards. This empty village was a testament to those problems.

[Part of the problem with this particular village, is that the Greeks who had lived here were all artisans — carpenters and the like, but the Turks they moved in to replace the Greeks were all farmers, who didn’t like living on the side of a mountain so far from their fields. So the Turks all left, and the whole place has been a ghost town all this time. It reminded me a lot of Jerome, in Arizona, and like Jerome, some of the houses have been moved back into and fixed up. There’s talk of restoring some of the churches and turning some of the houses into boutique accommodation. There’s a hiking trail that starts here that goes through several of the big Lycian sites. -T.]

It was really creepy. A few had been repaired and reoccupied, but the rest were just shells. It had a very post-apocalyptic feel. [Also, some fabulous pebble mosaics. –T.]

Looking out on the ruins. The ghost church

Afterwards we returned to the boat, and motored further along to a bay where other boats had pulled up, and people were swimming. We were once again visited by the ice-cream man. A bright entrepreneur uses a motorboat to speed around from tourist boat to tourist boat, he has a cooler full of magnum bars (ice cream). On a hot summer day it is very tempting! But the seller charges like a wounded bull. Not like you can go to a competitor out there, though.

In the cove we had a chance to swim, so I took my opportunity and dove into the relatively warm waters. Apparently local Turks won’t swim until much later in the season, when the Mediterranean is much, much warmer. The rest of the day was spent aboard the boat in an enjoyable flob.

The next day we motored over to different cove where we could take a nice little 3 hour hike over the hill. Some of us went ashore, others remained on the boat to flob. The cove was an ancient Lycian harbor, and the path the old road to the city.

The ones who elected to go walkies instead of slobbing around on the boat.

On the walk up we encountered a giant grasshopper, which reared up into a defensive position when threatened by the encroaching mammals.

[Things my camera is reasonably good at: zoom, action shots, low light shots. Things my camera is bad at: macro shots. For some reason, it WILL NOT focus on whatever you have put in the middle of the foreground, and will instead focus on whatever is behind it. Hence, all of the photos I took of this thing with Stephen’s hand next to it for scale have Stephen’s hand in focus and the bug all blurry, and this one is a top-down view so it’s all foreshortened. So you’ll just have to believe us when we tell you it was as long as my hand. Including my fingers, but not including its legs. And it was adorable the way it stood up and spread out all its legs to try and make itself look even bigger. -T.]

Bug! Will mess you up!

At the ruined Lycian city (mostly just random stones now, only a few structures remained) I was again filled with that slightly sad feeling when looking at something that was once a source of pride, and is now fallen into ruin. The wheel of history keep turning.

Another pile of rocks.  With Alan for scale.

[There was more stuff up there in the saddle besides ruins. There was this really freakin’ ancient cistern — we saw more of these elsewhere, same style — and there were some houses, too. We stopped at one of them, where we were served sage tea and gave crayons to the family’s eight year old daughter. …and got to admire the cutest baby donkey. (I did promise a baby donkey pic.) Her ears are a long as her head ! Squee ! -T.]

What holds up that roof, anyway? Awww...

On the far side, in a cove where the boat was waiting for us, we saw “Cleopatra’s Bath”, where Antony and Cleopatra were said to have stopped and bather. No academic study of the site yet. The place was awash, demonstrating how this area had also dropped a few meters over the centuries.

In the afternoon we briefly traveled by sail, but then the showers returned, and the sails were put away to keep them dry. The rest of the day was spent relaxing on the boat.

The next morning (Friday the 23rd) we had breakfast, then sailed into harbor where we met our bus.

Much of the day was spent driving, with a mid-day stop in Bodrum. This coastal town hosts a large crusader fortress, built primarily by the Templars Hospitallers. The town also has one of the wonders of the ancient world. Annoyingly, the shop did not have good photos or books on the castle, just generic Turkey ones.

[Yes. For a country as keen on tourist dollars as Turkey, the museum shops were by and large a bust — the same picture books, postcards, and cheap painted ceramics in every one. Bodrum castle is one of the best preserved Crusader castles in the east, and besides that is host to the incredible Museum of Underwater Archaeology, and the shop had postcards of Ephesus and tourist guides to Topkapi. Say what ? -T]

The castle held out a century after Constantinople fell. Was it the last Christian enclave on Asia Minor? [The castle itself was never taken — it was surrendered after the Ottomans took Rhodes in 1522. -T.]

Pretty little seaside fortification. Graffiti in the window seat. The English tower at Bodrum.

Within the castle were exhibits from the many ancient shipwrecks in the area (nasty currents + sharp rocks). Amphorae were the SEU of the ancient world (standardized containers), and you could see their design changes over the year, and how cargo ships were designed to efficiently carry them. There was a ~1600BC wreck that was interesting for its diverse mix of artifacts, showing how interconnected the ancient world was at the time.

There was a nice display of armor in one of the towers. Armor, on a rack, where you could poke it and everything. No annoying glass in the way. The combination of plate and chain was interesting, and said plenty about the types of fighting, and what injuries worried them most.

They also had a ancient glass exhibit, from a 1st century AD wreck. Lots of vessels that would have not looked out of place in a modern chemistry lab, lovely Erlenmeyer and volumetric flasks. We had the option of going to the Mausoleum (actually just the foundation- the stones were nicked to build the castle). [And any of those with classical carvings on them were later nicked by the English. -T.] This was the ancient wonder. Some went in, we didn’t. But I had the chance to drink my first “Turka Cola”. Har.

Yum!

Our hotel for the 2 nights in the region was quite interesting. Built by the daughter of the last Sultan (after she was allowed back into the country some years after the fall of the Ottomans). Built in the 60s the architecture was a bit dated, but it had a nice sense of old-money class. [And a very bored parrot. -T] The hotel Kismet.

Drinks on the terrace, at the Kismet in Kusadasi. The Kismet's resident parrot.

Next up, the big time of the ancient world- Effesus!

Part 4- Konya, Antalya

And thus the first big driving part of our trip began. We had been on a little large-van-sized minibus previously, but our comfort-minded companions complained, and requested a larger and more luxurious bus. Thus the 13 of us spent the rest of the trip on medium or large coaches, which provided wider seats, double seats for everyone, more leg room,and generally much more luxury. [Hassan was very keen that we should get a bus that had sufficient engine power — after the trip over the mountains to Antalya, we understood why — being able to maintain speed up hills means a faster trip means less time stuck on the bus and more time to actually see stuff. An extra hour means a lot when you’re packing in as much as this tour did, and there were a *ridiculous* number of traffic lights on the long strip of highway coming into Antalya. Hassan had at least once in the past managed to catch nearly all seventy-something of them red, and the experience clearly scarred him. -T.]

From Cappadocia we steered a course south by south west, heading towards the coast. First stop was Konya the ancient capital of the Seljuks, but more famous now for holding the tomb of Rumi (founder of Sufism). [Actually, the founder of the Mevlevi School of Sufism — there were and are other flavors. The Mevlevi School is one of the more famous, though, because they are the “Whirling Dervishes”. -T.]

Tam would have been happy enough for an “all Seljuk, all the time” part of the tour, as she is quite interested in the period. The way the tour (and local geography and archaeology) is structured, you end up seeing sites spanning thousands of years on any given day. While it does give a great sense of the scope and breadth of history in the place, it can make it rather difficult to build up a sense of internal continuity, and what each site meant in relation to its neighbors (was that last pile of stone we saw Hellenistic?, Byzantine?, Roman? Seljuk? Ottoman? Was it a contemporary neighbor to this pile of stone?)

The tomb of Rumi was quite spectacular, as you would expect from such a major religious figure. Within the main tomb were also some of the major followers/founders of the religious faction, in color-coded coffins (white and green) with the sufi “hat” design- the colors designed their rank and importance. Throughout the tomb were people who had come to worship, often through the simple act of reading his poetry within the tomb.

The Rumi Mausoleum in Konya

No photos were allowed within the tomb (arrgh!), but I did manage to find a good book full of photos of the artifacts within in the gift shop, but only in Turkish. Time to test the skill of Google Translate!

The long drive to Antalya took us over the Taurus mountains, which rise very suddenly from the plains in a manner reminiscent of NZ. How people got through those five or six bands of sharp-sided peaks and valleys in antiquity baffles me. It was quite the modern engineering project getting the road through one of the ancient “passes”. It does explain why crusader armies, after taking wrong turns or not listening to advice, found themselves trapped or ambushed in that harsh terrain.

[One aspect of the trip that I really appreciated, but which was nearly impossible to convey in a photo, is that we were there when everything was in bloom. There were wildflowers absolutely everywhere, including fields of those gorgeous classic red poppies, bougainvillea in the most eye-popping shades, fat globular thistly things, wild roses, pink and white oleander, passion-flowery flowers that weren’t actually passion-flowers, all kinds of stuff. We were totally lucky with the timing. Pomegranate looks like trees of orange carnations ! I think Stephen mentions elsewhere how very fertile is much of Anatolia. On the Med side of the Taurus mountains, it’s greenhouses as far as the eye can see, most of them full of tomatoes. -T.]

Our hotel in Antalya bears note. The Divan had the most fantastic views perched on the cliffs above the Mediterranean, each room had a sea view, and listening to the waves gentle sloshing agains the rocks through the night was very pleasant.

The view from our room in Antalya = there were mountains right down to the water in the other direction, but that photo didn't come out as nice.

We started the morning on Monday the 24th by driving back east to Perge. This was a large Roman-era city that has been partly excavated. We went into the sports arena, which was notable for being built on the flat, not against a hill to hold the stands (they were supported by lots of barrel vaults in stead). The field, in its day, could seat tens of thousands of spectators. Next door was a theater that was fenced off pending renovation. The main part of the tour was the large baths within the city, where the structures of the heating furnaces, water pipes, and pools was all still visible.

Most of Perge is overgrown with myrrh.  This is a corner of the baths.

The city had a large market (agora), and a interesting feature of a system of cascading pools down the main street to provide cooling during the brutal local summer. [A shaded shopping arcade with built-in air-conditioning, without electricity or fossil fuels… -T.]

After Perge it was a short drive to Aspendos. Remnants of the 18 km aqueduct remain, and we could see one of the 5-meter high water-tank pressure tower that were spaced regularly along the aqueduct to maintain pressure and defeat friction from the terra-cotta pipe.

Stephen.  With Aqueduct.

We drove around the Aspendos acropolis to the theater on the far side. This is in excellent shape, and is still used for classical performances today. There were some tourists singing beautifully in the acoustic “sweet spot”, which was a great demonstration of the wonderful acoustic design- even after the place was partly broken down and many bits had been altered or removed. The Seljuks did a bunch of renovations to the structure in the 13th century when using it as a military outpost (some of the Seljuk decorative features still visible), which is largely why it is so intact now.

[Stephen is writing this stuff without really knowing whether we have the photos to back him up. I don’t think the pics of the theatre are that awesome, really (or of the Antalya Old City, either), but I’ll stick them in anyway. The Only interesting thing about these two photos, really, is that they exist at all. The stage side of Roman theatres is usually the first part to fall down, and the photo of the *outside* of the theatre is interesting — despite it actually being not very attractive — because, really, how often do you see the outside of an intact Roman theatre building, Seljucized or otherwise ? -T.]

That's Alan and Bob, by the way, and also Chris and Hassan.  Stephen's parents are also both in this photo. More or less. Not much to look at from this side, is it ?

The drive back through Antalya showed how large and sprawling the city is. Over 1 million people now live there, largely clinging to the coast. Many resorts and hotels, all quite new. Sprawl, traffic flight, and hot tarmac. Twenty years ago, before it became a tourist destination, it had only a quarter of the current population.

The bus dropped us off on the far side of town and we walked back through the old city. The is in a sunken low portion of the coast, the geologic feature providing a bit of a harbor and hiding all the old town within.

The Old City is fashionable now, so they're sprucing it up.

We passed a military-only vacation resort. Apparently many of the big government employee groups (teachers, military) have their own resorts and guest houses, a perk to help balance their relatively low salaries.

Within the old city we saw an early Seljuk mosque, now a wreck, that they plan to restore. It was interesting as it used a byzantine-style barrel vault, not a done, making the architecture more like a Basilica.

carved capital in the Mosque with the Broken Minaret

In the afternoon Tam and my parents did the Turkish-bath offered by the hotel, I will let her report on how it was.

[I’m not sure how completely authentic our Turkish Bath experience was, since it didn’t involve a middle aged woman built like a linebacker (NZ translation: a rugby prop) dislocating our limbs, and that’s apparently a benchmark, but it *did* involve a lot of… “exfoliation” is perhaps too genteel a word, so we’ll just call it “vigorous scrubbing”. Followed by sluicing. The sluicing was very nice indeed. Then there was some massage. And if you want more detail than that, you’ll need to buy me a beer. -T.]

That evening Tam and I walked back to the old town to visit a shoe shop we had passed that afternoon. The fellow’s family has been making shoes for a long time, and they still make the classical Ottoman point-toed designs. A design that is very old. Meaning a great place to get hand-made leather period style shoes for a very reasonable price!

They didn't have these ones in my size.

Part 3- Cappadocia

After Istanbul we flew to the middle of Turkey. This involved a 6AM departure form the hotel so we could make our flight- thankfully no laggards that morning. The flight was mostly clear, so I managed to catch sight of the conga-line of ships making its way through the Bosphorus, and the many cargo ships parked along the coast. It also provided a nice view of the sprawl of Istanbul, and we caught sight of Ankara during the flight.

Look, kids, the Bosphorus!

Nevshehir airport in Cappadocia was opened up for our flight, and once we had passed through, the airport went back to sleep. At ~4000 feet Cappadocia is a much drier landscape, composed of volcanic ash (ignembrite?) ejected about 10,000 years ago from one of the two volcanos visible on the horizon. [Cappadocia is drier, yes, but all of Turkey is so much more lush than northern China was, it’s astounding. –T.]

Our first stop was to visit the “castle” [at Uchisar. -T.]. The eroding volcanic ash is what has left Cappadocia such a dramatic landscape. The “castle” was a large structure that had been used as a fort of millennia as the natural garrison point for the region. It was once part of a byzantine heliograph system that provided 3-hour communication between Jerusalem and Constantinople.

Uchisar

From there we made our way to the carved churches in Goreme. The oldest bits dated to the 9th century. Most of the faces had been defaced. The explanation given at the time blamed either iconoclasts or religious wars (christian/muslim). Another interesting theory is that the faces of the saints were chipped away to make magic/holy healing potions.

Many of the carved churches had partially collapsed over the years, leaving half-open structures.

Goreme One of the sweetest Marys I think I've seen Baby camel!  Also, proof I actually was on this trip.

Our hotel in Cappadocia was really cool. Built in 1962, it was carved into the rock above pigeon valley. Part of the hotel was in the hillside, and the rest was made from the stones of that hill. While the rooms are small by modern hotel standards, staying in vaulted stone rooms carved out of the living rock is really cool! The long halls were quite dark, and each light had a motion sensor, so a short section of the hall would be lit, but your destination further down was always wrapped in inky darkness. [They’d done a pretty good job updating the look of the hotel from its 60’s origins. But the “Cave Bar” on the lowest floor was still all groovy curves and pod-like booths: very cool! -T.]

The dinner spread in the hotel is also worth mentioning, as the chefs had far to much fun carving watermelons in artistic fashions, and there were more desert options than you could wave a stick at.

The hallway in hotel Kaya Flash melons Balloons over Pigeon Valley at dawn

The first evening (Friday the 21st) we took the option of attending a Sufi religious ceremony being held in a 12th/13th century caravanserai. The whirling dervishes.

There were six dancers, though the master kept his black (worldly) robes on the whole time, and merely observed the other dancers. There were three musicians (also in black), providing flute, strings and voice. The music by itself was unearthly and enchanting. The ecstatic nature of the dancing could be seen by the expressions on their faces. Half an hour of spinning, yet they remained stable. Afterwards Hassan arranged a private session where we (our group) could ask the master some questions.

[No photos allowed of the ceremony itself, but the Seljuk caravanserai made up for it. -T.]

Entrance to the caravanserai The arcade on the left, as you come in.  I think this is where the camels were stabled. The courtyard and fountain.

Saturday it was off to the underground city. For me, this was one of the best and most memorable portions of the trip. Later (in Georgia) we would see other underground cities and monasteries, but none were like the one in Cappadocia. This was a warren of tunnels, a 3-d maze winding deep into the earth. No straight lines. Everything had an organic feel to it. This seemed more a place carved by mole-men than by people. In one place we came across a vertical shaft, our lights could not see the bottom. They estimated the city we were exploring would have held two or three thousand people.

Tam and I would have been happy to explore for hours!

[I will spare you the dim, blurry photos taken in Kaymakli — Google “Cappadocia underground city” and you’ll find much better ones, from Kaymakli, which is where we went, and also the more famous Derinkuyu, and others. -T.]

There are apparently about 20 known such cities in the region, some dating back to the Hittites. They have found ancient tunnels linking some of the cities, tunnels going for 20-30 kilometers.

But the city did not make sense to me. If it was a place of hiding, why did it have internal doors to seal off sections (which speaks of active defense)? How would hiding be effective, it’s very easy for your opponent to “camp” any entrances, or simply steal all your agricultural wealth and leave. Need to read some of the archaeological evidence, and see if I agree with their conclusions.

Afterwards we were taken to a couple of sites where we could get panoramic views of the landscape, and see the “fairy chimneys.” These conical structures have a cap of harder basaltic rock which protects it from erosion. Many of these “hats” had been knocked off over the years to prevent the structures from animating at night and causing mischief. With wind whistling through these strange forms, many of which look like men and beasts, it is no wonder they gained a reputation for magic.

[Better photos from the balloon later. -T.]

From there it was off to the carpet factory and showroom. We learned a bit about the process, saw silk being extracted from silkworm chrysalis, were taught about natural dyes, etc. The women weavers (weaving carpets is work for women only) get paid by the knot, and a quick and skilled silk-on-silk weaver can make more and US$ 1,000 a month- which is often more than their husbands make.

We got a lecture on carpets, including tips for how to spot a polished cotton carpet that is being sold as silk. I think everyone on the tour got at least one carpet. This makes the carpet factory happy. It also made Hassan happy, as the factory gives him gift carpets every now and then if his tours buy enough. I think we earned him another carpet. (Especially those people on the tour who bought the beautiful- but very expensive- silk on silk carpets.)

Carpet weavers, doin' their thang

Then we were off to the potter (more crafts that tourists can buy). They wanted someone to throw a pot, and when nobody else moved, I eventually volunteered. My first thrown pot in 20+ years didn’t totally suck, at least.

Hassan only ever called this guy Einstein. And Stephen takes one for the team. Stephen's pot

Afterwards everyone was shopping, and I was wandering around bored. Somehow I found myself arm-wrestling the bored staff of the place. This produced many laughs. I guess I am one tourist they will remember. (And they had to bring out their strong man to beat me!)

Bored guys.

That evening was the option of a “Turkish Night”, but only Tam and I elected to go. This made us feel a bit guilty, as the driver had to haul us out and back, time I am sure he would rather have been sleeping or watching TV.

The “Turkish night” took place in a cave hall [as in, carved into/under a hill. -T], with multiple vaults radiating off a central stage. The place was filled with multiple busloads of Italian tourists. Very boisterous Italian tourists.

The Sufi “ceremony” portion of the show was a very different experience. They spun for 15 minutes, but the music was canned, and there was no sense of ecstasy from the dancers. I guess that is the difference between “real” and “tourist grade.” The main dance troupe had 5 men and 5 women. The men also did percussion bits. Through the night and a series of costume changes they danced us around the various folk traditions of Turkey.

The troupe The Azeri soloist

The solo dancer was an Azeri woman that Hassan had heard about. Her first set involved spinning, and spinning and spinning. We wondered if she was trained by the Sufi to manage that feat. Later she came out for a set of Oriental, and showed some amazing belly rolls. She was really good, to bad none of the photos really came out. I was glad I knew what I was looking at, so could see the skill she was displaying. And any trip to Turkey that does not involve at least one evening of quality dance is a trip wasted!

[I wish these guys had had a DVD. I’d have gotten a copy for me/us here in NZ, and a copy to send back to the Dancing Ladies in the States. They had a lot of neat moves that would have been *great* to steal. I’m sorry I couldn’t get a better photo of the Azeri chick. This particular dance, as Stephen describes, was entirely done at this stately spin. For the first part, she was making patterns with these four painted drums. Then she handed off the drums one by one to an assistant (still spinning) and did stuff with her arms and head and hair. Then she did stuff with the layers of her skirt — the two main layers were stitched together at the *hem*, and she untied the waistband of the top layer and lifted it over her head, so she became this sort of spinning top. Then she put it the layers back down and… more skirt work. Hard to describe. Her later piece was sort of a standard Orientale in a more tribal-style costume, to a piece of music we’va all danced to, though I can’t remember now exactly which one. She was good, though. -T.]

The next morning (the 23rd) we were up very early, a 4:15 wakeup call, and that after a late evening at the “Turkish Night.” But it was worth it, oh yes, for we were going hot-air ballooning!

The flight was fantastic. Spectacular. Wow. Our pilot was fun and funny, and spoke wonderful english. He has ballooned for years (had his Albuquerque belt buckle), though we discovered at the end that this was his fist commercial flight! That probably explains the middle-aged Turkish man on our flight, an inspector/certifier of some kind.

We were the first balloon up, which worked to our advantage (nearly 50 would go up). The early (pre-dawn) wind was good, and carried us in the right direction, right into the red rocks and canyons full of “fairy chimneys.” I am glad we had seen Cappadocia from the ground first, because otherwise it would have been anti-climatic after seeing it from the sky.

Now, my imagination of a balloon flight involved going up a few hundred feet, then drifting along looking at the patchwork landscape beneath. That was not our flight. At first he took us straight up, but as the wind pushed us slowly towards the red rocks, he let us descend. When we got amongst the valleys and hills he began “terrain following”, keeping us only a few meters above ground as the wind carried us up one side of a valley then down the other. The spectacular terrain was not simply below us, it was all around!

Up before dawn Sunrise over Red Valley Don't look now, but I think we're being followed... Down the far side of the ridge

We spotted a rabbit and two foxes from the air.

The descent on the far side involved the pilot trying to get us to a fallow field, while radio-talking with the team with van and trailer below, as they drove around trying to rendezvous with us. The goal is a fallow field, as the farmers get cranky when you crush crops. When we were close to the ground two ground crew ran up and grabbed the hanging ropes. With careful use of heat and venting, and pulling by the crew, he didn’t just land in the fallow field, no he landed the basket right onto the back of the trailer. Very skillful, very efficient! (We spotted a few balloons on the way back that were not having such successful landings.)

Dunno if you can see it, but the tether is across the road...

After breakfast we packed and hit the road. The bus-portion of the tour was starting. More on that in Part 4.

PS- sorry about the lack of photos. The PC with all the downloaded photos decided to have its power-supply fail. Replacement has been ordered, and it should be back up and running soon, and we will get the photos put back up into the posts.

Part 2- It's Istanbul (not Constantinople!)

On Tuesday the 18th we were up early, the previous day had been “long”, about 36 hours of day with the cross-Asia flight. Thankfully our body clocks were managing well.

After a fabulous breakfast buffet (Central Palace Hotel was the winner for breakfasts the entire trip) we hit the town about 8AM. We walked down Istiklal Caddesi, the pedestrian shopping street off Taksim Square, and got to Galata Tower. Lovely round tower, very tall. Probably a great view from the top. But it didn’t open until 9, so we decided to head onwards towards the Palace District (Topkapi) and the Archaeological Museum within.

Galata Tower They cook fish on these.

Istanbul is large. It is bigger than Seoul, with a population of 12.8 million, making it city #4 in the world. Thankfully all we had to do was walk across the bridge over the Golden Horn, and make our way through the old city to the palaces. No problem. Well, first there was a shopping district (the spice market bazaar) that had to be explored. [Actually, we went straight through the Egyptian Spice Bazaar and right out the other side. Most of what we were exploring were the streets of shops around and behind the bazaar, where the regular Turks shopped. Shops of kitchen wares, cheap shoes, haberdasheries, a whole street of hijab scarves… –T.]After winding our way about and generally uphill for awhile, we found ourselves next Istanbul University and a largish street with a street sign pointing us towards “Topkapi”.

So, following the street signs we walked. And walked. And walked. […a threeee hour tourrr….! –T.] Eventually, in the distance, an old wall was visible. As we got closer the horror sunk in, the wall was pointing outwards. We had just walked the entire length of the old city, and were now at the old outer city walls! [Confirmed by a helpful passing Turk, whom we waylaid into pointing out where we were on our map. –T] Turns out there are TWO Topkapi’s. One has the palaces, the other is a neighbourhood just outside the city wall. This is an important thing to know. At least we now have a good feel for just how large classical Constantinople was! (Topkapi means “cannon gate”. They had one at the palace, makes sense they had one at the outer walls, too.)

We took the tram back across town. It was inexpensive, modern, clean and efficient. We had lunch down at the palaces-end of the old city, [At a yummy cafe recommended by a fellow who would much rather have sold us a carpet, but who recognized the feral look of extreme hunger on our faces for what it was. –T.] then began our explorations of the Archaeology Museum. It provided many moments of recognizable famous pieces. There was a huge wealth of items, spanning many periods. I particularly like the Roman-era Stele (grave markers), which often had amusing or poignant epitaphs. There was a very touching ode to a beloved dog, and another written to honor the “intellectual charioteer”. (?)

His owner has buried the dog Parthenope, that he played with, in gratitude for this happiness. [Mutual] love is rewarding, like the one for this dog: Having been a friend to my owner, I have deserved this grave. Looking at this, find yourself a worthy friend who is both ready to love you while you are still alive and also will care for your body [when you die].

Artemis, just hangin', yo. White dragon from the Ishtar Gate in Babylon.  Yes, that Babylon.

After the museum our legs were tired, and our feet sore, so we caught the funicular tram back up the hill to Taksim Square. We met up with my newly-arrived parents for dinner, and then had an evening meeting with the tour group. There were 12 of us, plus Hassan the guide. All retirees except Tam and I.

The morning of Wednesday the 19th we learned that Hassan means it when it comes to punctuality. “Leave at 9AM” does not mean “start assembling at 9AM.” Good. I like punctuality. Less waiting around, more seeing the sights we are here to see.

First up was the Hippodrome, or at least the outline of where it once stood. Of the pillars and obelisks within the Hippodrome area I was most taken by the intertwined brass serpents from Delphi. It would really have liked to know more about its method of fabrication, as it was a large, old, and impressive work of metallurgy.

from the Oracle at Delphi, yes, that oracle

Then we went into the Blue Mosque, which was quite crowded due to a cruise-ship tour arriving simultaneously. This is still a working mosque, and people in the back were praying while we were there. We heard the tale of the enthusiastic young Sultan who dreamt of building the mosque, worked himself on its construction, and then was really depressed when the populace refused to use it in protest to the huge expenditure of money. The architect of the Blue Mosque went on to do the Taj Mahal. It was certainly beautiful. [The Sultan, however, died of depression. — T.]

The Blue Mosque, avec tourists Stepehn admiring the fancy ceiling

Next up, the Hagia Sophia. This one blew me away. The sheer size, and sense of space and majesty of it. Wow. Double wow. Yes, the art had been munted to various degrees by iconoclasts in the 9th century, but it is the building itself that awed me. I found the 6th century earthquake damage sensor really neat- panes of glass set in the stonework. Depending on which pane breaks, you know what direction the earthquake energy hit the building, and can thus repair/strengthen as needed. Plenty of work has been done over the centuries to repair and maintain it, the Ottoman-era iron bars connecting various bits being one of the more visible additions. [What they don’t tend to tell you is that most of it is paneled in the loudest slabs of colored marble — pinks and greens and golds. They’ve faded a *lot* in 1500 years, but they must have been eye-wateringly bright back in the day. –T.]

Built in 532 AD inside the Hagia Sophia John the Baptist

Next up, the Bascillica Cistern (also from 532, Justinian liked his projects) of which the most interesting bit was the Medussa heads used as recycled bits to prop up columns when they built the place. All the columns had been recycled from other places, a few were just a bit short, and needed to be propped up. There was also the “tears” column, which is of a very wacky style I have never seen before. And classics majors out there care to inform me what I am looking at?

Medusa.  Wonder where she came from before they reused her here? Seriously neato pillar

The final bit of the day was the Grand Bazaar, which is indeed a huge warren, with lots of tourist fare (unlike the local bazaar we had explored the day before). The most amazing shop was run by a Turkmen guy, and it was all Turkmen jewellery. You would need very deep pockets (expensive!), but amazing stuff.

Thursday the 20th we all met on time, and took the short bus trip over to Topkapi (the correct one) to tour the Ottoman-era palace. Upon entering the palace we were confronted by a familiar fragrance- blooming Cabbage Trees! Everyone loves interesting exotic species for their garden.

That's Galata Tower in the background, across the Golden Horn One of the pavilions in the palace.  Compare to the Korean palace earlier.

The palace was okay, but the treasures really stood out. The had some fun religious “relics” that were seized from the Mamluks in the 16th century including Moses’ Stick, the sword David used to kill Goliath, the Prophets Robe, etc. We also saw what were essentially the crown jewels of the Ottomans- not subtle at all! Everything was thickly and gaudily layered with gemstones, or carved directly from rock crystal. I was impressed by the large crystal and gold box piled high with enormous gemstones (mostly emeralds). Such a pile was quite the sight. The displays on the Kaftans could have been better, and better signage everywhere would have been appreciated.

After the spice Bazaar (which Tam and I had toured on our own on day 1 in Istanbul), where I was acting as a living mobile cane for Kerrie, a member of our group who had turned her ankle in Topkapi palace, we headed down to the golden horn to hop on a boat. We then had a 90 minute ride out across the golden horn, and up and down the Bosphorus a bit. Many, many waterfront Ottoman palaces from the 18th and 19th centuries, many now turned in US$ 4000/night super-luxury hotels. Lovely views of the old city , the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.

boats, from the boat

We went back through Taksim Square to get dinner, and there was a vast police presence. Armoured water-cannon vehicles, riot police all lined up with shields and helmets. And there, 50 meters away, a group of a few hundred University-age protesters was gathering. Apparently it is normal to have such a huge police presence for these pre-approved demonstrations, to make sure nothing happens. The police and protesters both seemed rather relaxed about the whole affair (though any actual protesting had not started yet when we went by).

(And finally, if you are wondering, the They Might be Giants Istanbul/Constantinople song was running through my head the whole time we were there.)

Got to bed early, as tomorrow was an early start for our flight to Cappadocia! But more on that in Part 3!

Finally, the one thing our market and street photos of Seoul that is deceiving is the lack of people. These shots were taken early in the morning, when Seoul is still very quiet. Try snapping the photo at 8 PM and the street would have been *solid* with people. Like, hard to make your way through them all solid. [Like, hard to get a photo of anything but the back of someone’s head solid. –T.]

Part 1 Photos

Some more notes from me (Tam).

Vanessa’s filly pooks her lips out exactly the way the alpacas do when they are having a good scratch:

A good scratch

Seoul is very large. I mean, *really* large. 10.3 million people, 5th largest city in the world large. It’s also very well swept, and rather noticably devoid of wildlife. I am mildly frustrated by the fact that all of my photos are of small, intimate spaces — alleys, old houses in the hanok district, individual floats in the parade. I can’t give you a feel for the giant metropolis-ness of the place. I’m not sure if that’s me and my subconscious choice of subjects attempting to make a big thing into bite-sized chunks, or if Seoul itself readily subdivides itself. There are huge steel and glass skyscapers and malls that you could get lost in for weeks, but there are also mazes of alleys stuffed with shops and restaurants. The alley our hotel was in was host to a bunch of printing presses. Around the corner was a street where every little shop for about three blocks sold tiles — just beyond them was a street of lighting fixtures, and around the corner from that were little hole-in-the-wall hardware shops. The courtyard where the pushcarts lived when they weren’t in use (from 2am to 11am, as far as we could tell) had a bit net strung over it to catch the baseballs from the batting range on the floor above.

In historical Seoul, the broad thoroughfares were where the nobility traveled. There were no laws preventing the common folk from using them, but they avoided them anyway: the regular people kept to the narrow parallel streets so they wouldn’t have to spend all their time bowing to every nobleman that went by. The real Seoul still lives in these smaller spaces.

This is the Palace of Shining Happiness. (As opposed to the Palace of Illustrious Virtue, a couple blocks away.)
It's good to be the king.  Or was.  Sometimes. Guarding the roof ridge

These were in the gardens near the National Museum — they used to have them outside the vilages. Aren’t they awesome ? I think Tawa needs one of these.
They used to put these outside the villages
Seoul seemed to be either empty (at eight in the morning on a Sunday), or absolutely elbow-to-elbow chokka.
Market Museums for everything? So tidy! Ginseng, and lots of it

Stephen is vastly relieved that I did not acquire one of the lovely and delicate tissue paper lotus lanterns and then try to transport it all over Anatolia and the Caucasus for the next month.
On the way to the parade Animatronic giant elephant lantern RAWR!

Part 1- Auckland, Seoul, and lots of airplanes

The trip started when we left on May 14th, but the first leg of the trip was easy, a short flight to Auckland. Due to the timing of our morning flight Saturday, we had to fly up the day before. Dave and Vanessa played host, and we had a fun time in the afternoon heading out to see Vanessa’s new(ish) foal. Curious but dubious baby horses can be rather cute!

Saturday morning we were taken to the airport early (thanks!), and boarded our plane to Seoul. Thankfully a new model 777, and while it was pretty full, watching 3 movies on the seat-back entertainment system helped pass the time (12 hours). The food was adequate at best. Perhaps the Korean food was better than the “western style” option we picked.

We arrived in the enormous Inchon Airport to be greeted by a barrage of western food outlets, from Dunkin Donuts to Baskin Robins Ice Cream. We just wanted to find out way to the hotel, which was in the middle of Seoul, which is enormous. After looking at the subway map and the number of train-changes required, we opted for the shuttle bus. Clean. Efficient, and well air-conditioned. We needed to overnight in Seoul due to the timing of the flights. We figured- “hey, we are in Seoul, why not spend an extra night and get a full day to tour around?”

Hotel Biz in Myeongdong was basic, but fine for the purpose, plus it came with a PC (free internet- but you have to figure out the keyboard in Korean) and water cooler in every room. And it was in the old part of town, and only a 20-30 minute walk to all the palaces and other neat stuff.

First up was Gyeongbokgung Palace. Strolling through Seoul at 8am on a Sunday morning revealed an empty city. An interesting experience- especially considering the transformation over the 12 hours that followed! The morning was spent exploring the palace (which gave many 12 Kingdoms flashbacks), and the National Folklore museum next door.

On the way back after lunch, the town had transformed. Roads blocked off, stages being built. Hey, did you know that today is the culmination of a long celebration/holiday, and that tonight there is a massive parade only 3 blocks from our hotel? Time for a rather memorable birthday for Tam! Who knew she and Budda have the same birthday!

Lunch was at a tasty hole-in-the-wall BBQ place. No shared language, we just pointed at the picture menu. Picture menus are important, especially when a plate of fresh, live (!) baby Octopi is one of the options! Don’t want to many surprises in our food. Tam did end up with surprise tentacle once, thinking it was a vegetable kimchi.

The afternoon activities includes all sorts of cultural song and dance performances all over the city. Buddists from all around the east, each demonstrating their own particular flavour.

In the evening there was the parade. The Illuminated Lantern parade, with oodles of giant lighted floats. It went for hours, and thousands of people, in large groups and carrying smaller lanterns, went by. Thankfully we managed to score seats. They had a section of pre-reserved seats for “foreign guests), some of whom did not show up. Empty seats look bad, so an organizer grabbed us and got us into those seats. For a 2-3 hour parade, that is very necessary. It was like half of Seoul was watching, and toher other half was in the parade.

A few reflections on Seoul
-It is a city of street vendors. Some with fixed stalls in long narrow alleys, other with mobile carts that come out at dusk and stay open very late into the night.
-Seoul, like Boston, has lots of Dunkin Donut stores, they too can be used as landmarks.
-Pharmacies have a particular style, with vast “walls” of colourful products. It reminded me very much of a Chinese medicine cabinet, with all the little drawers.
-Traffic is intense and dangerous. On the way out to the airport on Monday we passed a man who had been just hit by a bus, and was not looking very good.

Monday was a long, long day. We flew to Istanbul, and flying with the sun we had something like 26 hours of daylight. But we got to fly over all of Asia during the day. The 777 was an older model, so no modern in-flight entertainment. Thankfully most (66%) of the seats were empty, so we could both spread out and get window seats.

We flew up the Gansu corridor, between the Tien Shan and Altai mountains. Western China was stark, but signs of development were everywhere. Roads. Rail lines. And buildings with bright blue roofs here and there. (government? army?) Anywhere there was moisture coming out of the mountains, there were settlements. And somewhere in western china a weird structure of parallel lines on the ground. No road, not fire-breaks. It looked like a giant antenna array in its layout, running mainly E-W.

Once we crossed into eastern Kazakstan things changed. Roads and rail were rare, settlements moreso. Empty steppe. At one point, in the distance to the south, a black column of smoke rising miles into the air of a out-of-control oil well burning. I did manage to spot a Caravanserai in the steppe, with dirt trails converging from 6 directions on the walled compound, just visible far below.

Central Asia also has bright red lakes, much be the algae within. Very striking from the air.

By the time we passed the Caspian Sea and were over Russia the land had turned lovely verdant green. Very different from the brown of western China, or the brown-ochre of the steppe.

Upon landing in Attaturk airport in Istanbul we were met by the guide for the next leg of the trip, Hassan. Nice fellow, excellent English. He took us to the very swank Central Palace Hotel near Taksim Square. He gave us a quick tour of the square and the pedestrian street attached. We were a day early, everyone else was due to arrive tomorrow, so we had a day on our own to explore Istanbul. More about that in Part 2

We are back

The lack of posts over the last two months was not just the usual slackness on our part.

No, we embarked on the biggest and longest vacation we have ever done. Three countries, two continents, five weeks. We left May 14, and got back June 20th. Upon return I prompty fell ill from some plane-distributed illness, and my first week back became rather hazy. Then I shared the sickness with Tam, and her second week back was a loss.

But now we are both (semi)coherent, and it is time to try and blog the long and fantastic trip!