Friday, May 31, 2013

Off the Tourist Trail – Hittite Ruins and the Black Sea



24 to 29 May, 2013 – Boğazkale, Hattuşa,Yazılıkaya, Ankara, Safranbolu, Amasra, İnebolu, Sipon, Afyon – (Turkey)

While we do appreciate the lack of crowds that some sights get, it is rather Ironic that we also feel sad that they don't get more visitors, as some of the things that are overlooked by the majority definitely deserve greater attention than they currently get.

For example, the former capital of the Hittite empire, Hattuşa, was devoid of visitors for most of the time we were there. And we did spend quite some time, as we walked the 5 or so kilometre circuit through the main ruins. A couple of tour buses were coming in as we were heading to the gate to leave, and they passed us on the main road soon thereafter. It must have been a very quick visit with only one or two stops – very disappointing for such a place. However, we did enjoy the feeling of having it all to ourselves.

The museum was also well worth a visit, especially combined with a visit to the museum in Ankara the next day, as Ankara's museum holds many Hittite pieces. And while hieroglyphic carvings at Hattuşa indicated a link to the Egyptian empire, some of the tablets found provide fascinating insight in to the connection between the two cultures. There are diplomatic treaties, as well as personal letters from the wife of the Pharaoh of Egypt to the wife of the Hittite Emperor. The cuneiform writing is beautiful to look at closely.

Procession of Hittite Gods
Procession of Hittite Gods
The Hittites had over 1,000 gods. Here are some of them, from the Hittite religious site of Yazılıkaya, near Hattuşa. Lots of gods means a lot of temples, too. After defensive walls with gates and towers, the ruins of Hattuşa are largely dominated by the stone foundations of temples.


Cuneiform Writing
Cuneiform Writing
Hittite writing on a clay tablet, found in the city of Hattuşa. Now in the Ankara Archaeology Museum.


Hiring a car for a couple of days meant we could scoot around the Black Sea coast at our own pace, visiting cute towns that are generally the domain of domestic tourists. It was also an opportunity to appreciate the en-route scenery. It is amazing how differently you look at things through the windscreen of a car as compared to the side window of a bus...

Safranbolu
Safranbolu
The mosque and hamam (bath house) of Safranbolu, with some examples of Ottoman period houses. Here, those houses are generally restored and in fine condition, although there are exceptions, and a handful are in quite the state of disrepair.


Pretty Little Amasra
Pretty Little Amasra
Amasra, on the Black Sea coast, looking across its small protected harbour.


Sunset on the Black Sea
Sunset on the Black Sea
From our balcony in İnebolu.


Sea Jelly
Sea Jelly
Walking along the water front of Sinop on the Turkish Black Sea coast, we were quite surprised at the very large number of sea jellies. They did not appear to be the friendliest of creatures, with some dangerous looking tentacles that potentially packed quite the sting.


On our way west, we stopped at Afyon, a convenient town to break the long journey to the Aegean coast. This may possibly be the last out-of-the-way place we visit for this trip.

Afyon Citadel
Afyon Citadel
Looking from our room to the fantastic citadel of Afyonkarahisar.


The City of Afyonkarahisar
The City of Afyonkarahisar
View from the citadel.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

99 Luftballoons



17 to 23 May, 2013 – Konya, Aksaray, Ihlara, Göreme – (Turkey)

Roll up! Roll up! The circus is beginning.

The crush of tourists is the same, regardless of their origin or their reason. It is stifling in the small rooms, and overwhelming outside. Crowds bring a whole new slant to visits. You cringe at the lack of due respect shown; you are horrified by the cheek of deliberate and blatant misconduct; you feel stifled by the restrictions that such highly visited sites require; and there is always the entertainment that can be extracted from people watching, especially with the high number of unusual interactions that occur.

After having the tourist sites of eastern Turkey to ourselves – okay, that is quite the exaggeration. We were sometimes the only tourists, and although there were often others, they have always been in quite low numbers. This is partly geographical, with many tourists not going to the eastern part of the country, particularly near the Syrian border with the continued unrest there, and it is partly seasonal, as we are technically in the tourist shoulder season. We knew things would change as we headed west and as the weeks roll by.

Suddenly, though, we arrived at Konya. Significantly more international tourists than we have encountered this trip. However, the overwhelming numbers there were domestic tourists, with a good helping of Iranians, I believe, for good measure. Konya is the religious heartland for the brotherhood called the Mevlevi, a form of Islam, better known to westerners as the Whirling Dervishes. This aforementioned majority of tourists visit as a kind of pilgrimage, to pay homage at the tomb of Celaleddin Rumi, who was given the title of Mevlâna (Our Guide). The rest visit to get some insight in to that man and his ideas and philosophies. Almost all come to see a sema, where the dervishes whirl. Not a performance, not a dance, but a religious ceremony of intensity and reverence.

And after Konya, we went to Cappadocia, probably the most visited sight in Turkey for foreigners. Even though there are many towns, valleys, and individual sites that together make up Cappadocia, this seems to help very little in the dispersion of those foreigners. In some areas, we felt like we should be playing “Spot the Local”.

So, back to the problems. Lack of respect? How about the people who walked out of the dervish ceremony, after 15 minutes, or the larger number who cleared out during the final minutes while the dancers were yet to finish their rituals. Or the foreigners in the mosque wearing shorts, and ladies without their heads covered, oblivious to the fact that they are committing such faux pas. Deliberate and blatant misconduct? People taking three or four photos after being asked by an official to put a camera away. Adults, who should know better, sneaking a touch of something precious and delicate when they think nobody is looking. Stifling restrictions? Having time restrictions placed on us inside monastic churches in Göreme museum was maddening. Really, we understand they need to give everyone a chance, but three minutes to enjoy the frescoes within each church does not make for a relaxed visit. In one church, the official turned the lights off to get people to move on (and this was despite the fact that there was hardly anyone waiting to come in! And as for people watching? The most entertainment comes from hearing people who “know” something talking total crap. Closely followed by loud visitors trying to extract information from locals who try their best, but don't magically understand the question because it is repeated 3 times, louder each time.

Special mention needs to be made of the trio, out the front of the shrine for the Mevlâna, discussing openly and loudly the horrors of female circumcision, with scores of reverent pilgrims milling within earshot. Sorry, no prize for guessing country of origin.

As for feeling like one of many, the winning moment was close to sunrise, as our hot air balloon took to the skies, just one of around 100 that do so every morning. Did you know that was what Nena was singing about back in 1983?

However, of course, there are reasons these places are so popular. And there are great experiences to be found. You can sometimes ignore the people around you and appreciate just how impressive the sights are, sometimes making your jaw drop. When you try, you can find alternatives that the majority bypass, such as a lesser visited valley, perhaps, or a cafe that is in a back street and not the main drag. Getting up early puts you amongst rock formations at 7:00, by yourself, hours before the first bus tour arrives. Mental discipline helps you to keep your cool when you know things could and should be different. So, don't get me wrong, we had a great week in this part of Turkey. Enjoy the pics, because they are of the good things, the stuff worth remembering, and the hopefully the sort of images that may inspire others to visit.

Mevlevi Follower
Mevlevi Follower
Mevlevi, a form of Islam, where the spinning is a ritual symbolising union with God. Different postures taken up during the whirling represent different aspects of their journey, such as receiving blessings and communicating them to earth. These are the Whirling Dervishes.


Dervishes Whirl
Dervishes Whirl
The spinning is slower than you might at first imagine; after all, they are religious adherents, not choreographed dancers. Still, the skirts spun out and filled the floor as a couple of dozen dervishes, each only aware of their own space and motion, together formed a single constellation of revolving bodies. Given the number of spins they make, I was surprised they did not collapse in dizzy heaps.


The Turkish Tower of Pisa
The Turkish Tower of Pisa
The crooked minaret of Aksaray, built in 1236, now leaning at 27 degrees.


Kokar Kilise
Kokar Kilise
Frescoes in Kokar Kilise, or Fragrant Church, in the Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia.


Ihlara Valley Panorama
Ihlara Valley Panorama
Some caves are visible in the rock wall in the right part of the picture.


Spring Is Here
Spring Is Here
Wildflowers abound.


River and Caves
River and Caves
In the lower part of the Ihlara Valley, towards Selime. The majority of tourists do not walk through this part of the valley, but there are still caves to be seen, and the scenery is stunning.


Waiting to Fall
Waiting to Fall
A huge wedge of rock has slipped, and sits precariously on a ledge.


View
View
Terrace view from our hotel in Göreme, Cappadocia. “Fairy chimneys” poke out from between the buildings, many used as shops, hotels, or houses.


Fairy Chimneys
Fairy Chimneys
Some of the great rock formations in Pasabagi, Cappadocia, not far from Göreme.


Police Station
Police Station
A police station in a fairy chimney rock formtion, Cappadocia.


Cappadocia Rock Formations
Cappadocia Rock Formations
Between Paşabaği and Zelve, Cappadocia.


Jo in Cappadocia
Jo in Cappadocia
Devrent Valley.


Both Wearing Our Helmets
Both Wearing Our Helmets
We were on our (rented) motorbike when we came across this great tortoise crossing the road.


Across the Valley
Across the Valley
In Soğanli, looking over to the Hidden Church and the Domed Church, both carved out of rock formations typical of Cappadocia.


A Rolling Door
A Rolling Door
Like something out of a movie, the underground cities of Cappadocia had heavy stone doors that could be rolled across the tunnels at various strategic locations.  This one was in Derinkuyu.


Late Afternoon
Late Afternoon
Looking out from Uçisar over to Göreme and the Rose Valley, Cappadocia.


Taking Off
Taking Off
Sunrise balloon flight, just lifting off.


Looking Down To Cappadocia
Looking Down To Cappadocia
Another balloon below us glides past the rock formations.


Balloon View Over Göreme
Balloon View Over Göreme
The town of Göreme, complete with fairy chimneys.


Looking Out and Up
Looking Out and Up
As we get a close-up of some of the rock formations, we look out and up at some of the other balloons. Somewhere around 100 balloons were up and about at that time. As I said, Nena may not have known it at the time, but they were apparently singing about Cappadocia.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Far Eastern Turkey



3 to 17 May, 2013 – Trabzon, Kars, Doğubayazıt, Van, Diyarbakır, Hasankeyf, Mardin, Şanlıurfa, Harran, Kahta, Nemrut Dağı, Gaziantep, Antakya – (Turkey)

While it certainly was sad to say goodbye to the Caucasus region, a few hours in Turkey with cheap leather jackets for sale, Turkish rugs, kebabs, and baklava, and we cheered up a lot.

Oh, the tea. I have never been a tea drinker, only occasionally imbibing a cup. Here, I am consuming 3, 4, or more each and every day. It is cheap and ubiquitously available, and often provided free. Waiting for bus? How about a çay. Buying something? Here's a çay while we negotiate. Eating a meal? Çay. Not eating? Çay. Walking past? Come in and have a çay.

So, we have had a great start to Turkey, spending the first weeks in the eastern part; skirting along the Black Sea (sounds exotic, doesn't it); along the border of Georgia (oh, just left there); down past Armenia (ooh, just there, a few kilometres away, only 3 weeks ago); nearly back in to Nakhchivan region of Azerbaijan (ah, can you believe, that was 2 months ago that we were just over there); close to Iran (well, that's on the list, gotta get there one day soon); sort of past Iraq (intriguing); Syria so close you could almost touch it (hmm, steer clear for a while); and finally toward the Mediterranean (3 years ago looking the other way from Northern Cyprus).

And we have stacked on some amazing sights on the way. Lucky there is still plenty of walking involved to stop the stacking on of kilos, too.

That means there are a lot of photos in this update, and we have tried to be really selective. That's what happens when it is two weeks between updates.

Olive Heaven
Olive Heaven
OK, so I'm not an olive sort of person, but even I was impressed by this shop.


Sumela Monastery
Sumela Monastery
Clinging to the cliff, Sumela Monastery near Trabzon also boasts some beautiful frescoes. However, it is the setting which is an undeniable highlight.


Trabzon's Aya Sofya
Trabzon's Aya Sofya
A vertical panorama inside the former Church of the Divine Wisdom, now the Aya Sofya Museum, in Trabzon, showing the floor mosaic work as well as the light and spacious dome.


Cathedral at Ani
Cathedral at Ani
Ani was once the capital of Armenia. After changing hands a few times, it was abandoned and fell in to ruins after 1319. This cathedral was built between 987 and 1010. It fluctuated between being a church and a mosque, depending on the ruling powers of the time. The remains of the city are spread over a large area, which now is predominantly grassy rolling mounds with more than a dozen significant ruins dotting the landscape.


Really, We Didn't Know!
Really, We Didn't Know!
The sign marking the military zone was rusting, and had turned around to an angle meaning we did not see it when we walked past. It was only on our return that we realised we were in a no-go zone. I do think if they were serious about it, they should put up a fence, or at least some obvious signage!


İshak Paşa Palace
İshak Paşa Palace
This is near Doğubayazıt, nick-named “doggie biscuit”, close to the border of Iran. The sky cleared up for about twenty minutes between downpours, allowing some outdoor viewing and photography.


Akdamar Island on Lake Van
Akdamar Island on Lake Van
A cloud mimics the shape of the island below it. The church of Akdamar is visible on the island.


Armenian Carvings
Armenian Carvings
These beautiful reliefs dating from the 10th century, adorn the outside of the church of Akdamar, on an island on Lake Van, Turkey.


A Turkish Van Cat
A Turkish Van Cat
Turkish Van cats often have different coloured eyes. For this breed of cats, having white fur or even white markings against other colours is genetically linked to them possibly having one or both eyes blue (blue eyes in cats have received no colour pigmentation). White cats with two blue eyes are also deaf, but these, where the one eye remains blue and the other attains a colour (yellow or green seemed common) are not. They generally appeared to be curious and social, and like most cats, thrive on attention and affection.


Another Turkish Van Cat
Another Turkish Van Cat
Notice that this cat's blue eye is her right eye, while the previous photo showed a cat with the left eye blue.


Hasankeyf
Hasankeyf
The importance that Hasankeyf once held can be gauged by the size this bridge must have had, dating from a period before Ottoman rule. Strategically, with the extremely sheer cliffs and fortifications thereon, and the easily defended cave city (not visible in this photo), it was surely a city in a place to control, or at a minimum monitor, the flow of traffic up and down the Tigris River. A precariously positioned watch tower can be seen, looking ready to topple off the cliff top.


Cave City of Hasankeyf
Cave City of Hasankeyf
A view to the caves of Hasankeyf.


Cliff Top Structure, Hasnkeyf
Cliff Top Structure, Hasnkeyf
Whoever placed the first stones of the walls must have had nerves of steel, particularly given the age of the building and the probable entire lack of safety measures that would have been in place back then. A fantastic example of some fine engineering skills, considering the entire walls would have been built from the inside.


Stork Nest Atop a Minaret, Hasankeyf
Stork Nest Atop a Minaret, Hasankeyf

City Walls of Diyarbakır
City Walls of Diyarbakır
At over six kilometres, the city walls of Diyarbakır are said to be the second in extent in the world, only beaten by the Great Wall of China. They are made from basalt, and are certainly impressive.


View Over Mesopotamia
View Over Mesopotamia
From Mardin, looking over the plains of Mesopotamia to Syria. Sitting out and taking çay seems to be the most significant pass-time here.


Sacred Carp, Şanlıurfa
Sacred Carp, Şanlıurfa
It is said that anyone who should harm one of the fish swimming in the pools of Gölbaşı, Şanlıurfa, will go blind. They swim, they get fed, they grow fat, and they breed. Tough life.


Looking Down To Şanlıurfa
Looking Down To Şanlıurfa
The Mevlid-i Halil mosque in the area known as Dergah dominates in the foreground. Looking over the pleasant older areas of Şanlıurfa. Next to the mosque is the cave where it is believed that Abraham (or İbrahim) was born. Job also spent time here.


A Dromedary and Beehive Houses, Harran
A Dromedary and Beehive Houses, Harran
Harran is believed to be the oldest continually inhabited place on earth. It gets a few mentions in Genesis, although little more than in passing. Although the beehive style of houses is believed to have been in use here for more than a millennium, most examples are quite recent with the oldest examples being about 200 years old.


Statues of Nemrut Dağı
Statues of Nemrut Dağı
The statues of Nemrut Dağı, on the eastern terrace, with their heads lined up in front of their respective bodies. Behind them is a funerary mound, a pile of stones brought to the mountain top to cover an unknown number of tombs.


Eastern Terrace Heads of Nemrut Dağı
Eastern Terrace Heads of Nemrut Dağı

Jo Comforts A Fallen Head
Jo Comforts A Fallen Head
Maybe some affection will bring a smile to that forlorn face.


One of the Western Terrace Heads, Nemrut Dağı
One of the Western Terrace Heads, Nemrut Dağı

Beautiful Relief Carving
Beautiful Relief Carving
At Eski Kale, near Kahta, this fabulous carving stands showing King Mithridates shaking hands with a god, Heracles.


Castle and Bridge
Castle and Bridge
The Seljuk bridge over the Kahta river. Although there is a new bridge not far away, it is still possible to drive over this beautiful old bridge. The remains of the castle Yeni Kale of Eski Kahta top the mountains behind.


Cendere Bridge
Cendere Bridge
Fantastic Roman bridge, build in the 2nd century A.D. Driving is not allowed on this one.


Mosaic of Oceanos and Tethys
Mosaic of Oceanos and Tethys
Some of the mosaics we are encountering in this part of Turkey are so superb that they look like tapestries. This mosaic was in the bottom of a shallow pool in a Roman house. It was relocated to this museum in Gaziantep when the site where it was found was flooded by the waters of a new dam, about 20 years ago.


Gypsy Girl
Gypsy Girl
This beautiful section of a mosaic was nicknamed Gypsy Girl because of her hair and earrings. The eyes are the sort which follow you around the room, although they seemed to follow Jo more than me. The rest of the mosaic was stolen from the original location, but this section was missed by the thieves, and it is considered a masterpiece of mosaic art.


The Antakya Sarcophagus
The Antakya Sarcophagus
This beautiful marble sarcophagus is the prize of the Hatay Archaeology Museum. Incredibly ornate and detailed, with very little damage, it was found with the remains of two adults and a young female, and with a small amount of jewellery and a handful of coins.


Mosaic of Psyche and Eros
Mosaic of Psyche and Eros