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Saturday, October 25, 2003

Cappadocia - Central Anatolia
Mumbai, India

In Goreme, we checked into our room at the Local Cave House and joined the huge crowd to watch the England vs Turkey football match at the pub. It was an exciting game, though the score was 0-0. The night was very chilly; thank goodness for the warm down comforter that was at the hotel.

Sunday morning, we were driven back to Urgup before joining a new group for the tour of lower Cappadocia. Here, we join up again with Arthur, who was with us on our tour to Mt. Nemrut. Arthur lives in Istanbul now, but has traveled and lived through so many countries, that we enjoyed listening to his stories and viewpoints.

Our first stop was to take pictures of three fairy chimneys (rock formations from volcanic activity). Then we were taken to see the amazing Kaymakli Underground city. Wow – the city was 8 levels deep, though we could only access the first four. The rooms were spacious, there were holes dug on the walls for storage, and round holes on the ground to hold the bottles (wine?). The corridors connecting the rooms were very narrow (to make it harder for the enemy to get through) though the ventilation shafts were both long and wide (they double as wells since water was found at the bottom). Winston and I were very impressed with the architecture of these dwellings; there are over 2000 of such construction in this area; the underground all connect to the houses on top.

Our next stop was the Ihlara Valley, where we savoured in the wonderful trek at the bottom of the valley. The air smelt fresh, the sound of river ringing in our eyes, and blue skies and green trees brought us very close to nature. It was also neat to see some of the thousands of churches carved into the side of the valley.

After a 4km walk, we enjoyed lunch by the river. The next wonderful stop was at Selime, where we scrambled around the caves of the monastery. This presents evidence of trologdyte lifestyle, just as they ones we saw in Matmata, Tunisia (there caves were dug out from underneath where else this is above ground). It was also interesting to see the tandoor style of cooking used here; big holes dug into the ground. On the way back to Goreme, we stopped by the Agzikarahan Keravanserai, a very intact building along the spice road. It was remarkably similar to the one we saw a few days ago outside Kayseri. The final stop that day was at an onyx factory in Avanos. We watched a master at work carving an egg out of a block of onyx, but didn’t buy anything.

It was too late for sunset pictures by the time we got back to Goreme. We forgot that since Goreme lies deep in a valley, the sun sets so much earlier than usual. Still, our nice caretaker at the hotel drove us to the top of the city, on a peak where lovers go, to get a view of what was left of the sun.

In the evening, we had a nice dinner at the Local Restaurant (same management as the hotel) and then went shopping. I guess it’s more correct to say I went shopping, while Winston went back to the hotel to edit our pictures on the laptop. I bumped into the two Korean girls, who were also shopping. That was a very nice treat. Na-Young is traveling by herself for 6 months; she is off to the Middle East soon. Mi-Sun majors in Turkish, and has already spent 3 months in Istanbul. It’s amazing to hear her speak!

Our last day in Cappadocia, Monday, October 13th, we kept telling ourselves how beautiful it was here, and how we can’t wait to return. Next time, we would want to spend a week here. After breakfast, we were picked up for our final day of tour. We started off with Pasabagi, where there were fascinating stone formations. They were even more dramatic set against the deep blue sky. Wow. Next we went to Dervent Valley, where all we see were fairy chimneys after fairy chimneys. Indeed, this geological miracle never ceased to maze us. Just as we were leaving, we saw Maryse, the other French lady from our Mt. Nemrut trip. She was out walking around and it was such a nice surprise to see her again.

Our next stop, the Valley of Imagination, where stones of all shapes and sizes were naturally formed. Erosion is still occurring, and we could really feel the different hardness of the rocks. The soft stuff were definitely easy to peel; we can see how people could carve out all those cave dwellings though it’s a wonder that it was strong enough to support the weight of the people.

Avanos is a city famous for pottery and ceramics. We sat through two demonstrations; the goods for sale were indeed beautiful but prices were outrageous. After lunch, we enjoyed walking through Pigeon Valley (lots of little holes carved on the side of caves and hills for birds) and around Uchisar Castle. Uchisar is the highest point in Cappadocia, and gave us a great view of the area.

Our final stop was the Goreme Open-Air Museum, a place protected by UNESCO; there are hundreds of churches in each of the caves; some with very elaborate frescoes inside. We also saw several refractories; it was neat to see the tables and seats cut out from the rocks. They look just like it was depicted in the pictures of the Last Supper.

Since we had miss sunset the previous day, our guide, Bekir, arranged to drop us off at the Rose Valley, known as the best place for sunset in Cappadocia. Arthur decided to join us rather than sit at the tour office for a few hours and we enjoyed his company. As the ‘happy hour for photography’ approached, we left Arthur to walk deeper into the valley so that we could get the best light on the rocks. Sure enough, Winston had a fabulous time taking pictures, especially when pinks and oranges sprayed the surrounding clifts. The sunset itself was also quite spectacular, and spread a layer of bright orange and red along the silhouette of the mountain range nearby.

We got a ride to the main road, where we waited for several minutes before boarding a minibus back to Urgup. Arthur was also going back to Istanbul on the same bus, so and Elizabeth had shown up at the Rock Valley Tour office to say goodbye. The four of us had a nice dinner at a restaurant nearby, then it was time to say Au Revoir.

Back in Istanbul at 9am, we checked back at the Hotel Peninsula and I went shopping!! Istanbul is a great place to shop, especially once you know the going rates of the goods. In the afternoon, Winston and I headed back to Taksim and the Indian Consulate General’s office. Considering how long it has taken us to get our visa approved, we were very thrilled to get our passports back, with the sticker inside which lets us visit India. Whew. We enjoyed our last Turkish meal in a busy restaurant and talked about ‘the next time’.

While I packed my bag, Winston went to visit Arthur at the Park Hotel nearby. Arthur has written several books, and he has given me his book on Chiapas, Mexico to read. Thanks Arthur! Rochelle and I were there in February of this year, so I look forward to reading about a familiar place. We had to leave at 4:15am the next morning as our flight to San Francisco was at 6am. Our shuttle bus drove VERY fast to the airport; we had no problems checking in.

Winston’s already blogged about meeting up with Nancy and Harriet in San Francisco, and the beautiful wedding in San Diego so I won’t say much here. It sure was nice to be in S. California; everything was clean, and predictable. A bit weird to have to cross the picket line at Vons to get toothpaste, but hey, that’s a cultural experience too J Can’t wait to see the wedding website Stacy; I’m sure you’ll get one up when you get back from your honeymoon.

It has taken us a while to get our Turkey adventures written down, but we have been busy. With the daily tours, long bus rides, then long plane rides back and forth to San Diego, now we finally can enjoy a bit of free time. Needless to say, 2 days of jet lag is enough, so today, we will get on our feet and explore Mumbai. It is Diwali Festival, and we’re going to get in the midst of it.

Mt. Nemrut Excursion - Southeast Anatolia
Mumbai, India

Thursday, October 9th, we arrived in Urgup, and hung around Rock Valley Tours’ office before being picked up for our 3 day tour. With Zeynal, our guide, and 7 other fellow travelers (2 Turks, 2 Koreans, 2 French, 1 American), we had a great time exchanging stories. Our first visit, was to see the old black city walls of Kayseri. Since we were traveling through the middle of two important historic trade routes (silk and spice), there was much to see. We walked into a karavanserai, which is one of the buildings set up to house the merchants and their goods. There were many constructed along the two main trade roads, some were free for Muslims, other were privately owned (i.e. everyone had to pay regardless of religion). The ones set up by the sultan were all similar; there were rooms for summer, rooms for winter, rooms for the animals, and a mosque. In some of the bigger ones, there was also a hamman (to clean themselves).

A next stop was to see a bunch of bronze heads of previous leaders of Anatolia. It was a bit surprising to see one of Attila the Hun, but there he was, along with the other Huns who were early conquerors. After lunch, we stopped in on the city of Kahramanmaras, famous for their handmade ice cream. The ice cream is thick enough to be hung outside; indeed, we had to eat with a knife and fork. It was quite yummy.

We arrived at Kahta, after traveling for 550km. Here we retired at the Hotel Bardakci. In the morning, we were woken up at 3:30am, and by 4am, left the hotel for our trip to Mt. Nemrut. It was very windy and cold on the mountain; I had to wear several layers of clothes; thank goodness for long johns, fleece, toque and gloves! It was a short walk in the dark up the mountain. The Mt. Nemrut is known for the big statues that sit up top; the peak of this mountain is actually artificially made; it was a tumulus for the King (a big mound of dirt and rocks). On the eastern side of the mountain, where we waited for the sun to rise, were five statues (the king, queen, and 3 gods). On the western side, were much larger heads (fallen from their bodies) along with frescoes showing scenes from the kingdom. The sky was bright blue by the time we descended.

On the way back to Kahta, we stopped to look at an ancient roman bridge (still in use), the burial ground for the female royal members and an old city up high on a mountain. After breakfast, we packed up our bags and headed south to visit Ataturk Dam. It was quite bit, though it was sad to see the monument there honoring the young lads (late teens to mid twenties) who had died during its construction. We checked into the Hotel Bakay in San Urfa in the early afternoon and went out for a walk.

First, we visited the area called Golbasi, preserved to honour the prophet Abraham (Ibrahim, to the muslims). There were two pools full of carps; these pools were considered holy as they were believed to have been form when God turned the fire into water. King Nemrut had Abraham thrown down from the citadel to remove him as a threat to his kingdown but the prophet was saved. The fish were supposed to be the coals that were in the fire. The second pool is attributed to the King’s daughter, who was in love with Abraham. When she saw Abraham being thrown down, she also jumped in (because she could not live without him). Many people come to feed these fish; they believe it brings them good luck.

In this area is also the cave where Prophet Abraham was hidden after he was born (to protect him from being killed by King Nemrut). It is considered a very holy place, and there were separate entrances for women and men. I had to get a body cover up (no legs or arms shown) to get in; there is a picture of me looking like a hobo (not very flattering) as the outfit was HUGE on me. There were many people inside crying, praying and reading the quran when I went it. It was hot and stuffy, so I got back out pretty quickly.

We walked through the bazaar for a while. It was fun to see all the wares for sale. Prices are very good here; it’s too bad that we couldn’t really bring much home. We did enjoy getting fresh and preserved fruits though. Urfa is very close to the Syrian border, and is considered a very holy city in Turkey. In fact, we could see many Iranian muslims there (they were dressed in solid black), Kurds and Arabic Turks.

The next morning, we drove down to Harran, just 16km north of the Syrian border. Here, they have unique beehive houses. It was interesting walking through a large home; though each room has its own beehive chimney, they were all interconnected to form bedrooms, kitchen, etc. Winston and I were wandering through the castle when we saw a bunch of kids playing on the street below us. We waved, and they waved back, so we thought we would try to get close to them. When we go there, several of the boys wanted “one milyon” (equivalent to our $1); of course, we firmly told them no. A young girl tried to see me a Harran guidebook but I told her “la shukran” – no thank you, in Arabic. I knew she would understand that since our guide told us that most of these people still speak Arabic, not Turkish. She repeated what I said and laughed. She let me put a sticker on her chest and hung around ordering the other kids not to bother us too much. I started to give out stickers to the other children; there were a dozen or more of them. Winston happily took pictures while they crowded around me asking for more. It was fun, though the kids were a bit on the dirty side. After Harran, we had a long drive back to Goreme (about 750km). We drove through the Taurus mountains, watching a beautiful sunset.

South and West Turkey
Mumbai, India

Here's a 3 part recap on our adventure through Turkey, divided into regions (South and West, SE Anatolia and Central Anatolia).

On October 2nd, we were picked up by a shuttle bus to go to the otogar. At 10km away, it took us close to one hour to drive to the bus station due to the busy roads of Istanbul. The otogar here is probably the biggest we have ever seen; on two levels, the complex resembles an international airport. There were hundreds of buses all over the place.

Our overnight bus to Pamukkale was quite comfortable, though who can really get much sleep on something that stops every couple of hours. The bus system in Turkey is actually quite good, probably the most efficient out of any other place we’ve visited. Drinks and snacks (usually cakes or crackers) were served; on long hauls, there were 2 drivers, and always a conductor who also handles the baggage and provide the onboard service.

We arrived in Pamukkale after transferring to another bus in Nazilli, then picked up in Denizli to join the others for our tour. Our first stop was the red waters at Karayahi. Here we were more interested in watching the local men and women soak their feet in the hot mineral water. The locals believe that drinking and dipping cleanses one’s system for better health. The water was definitely very warm; more than 40 degrees celcius.

Next we went to visit Hierapolis, the ancient spa city. Here, there were ruins of roman baths, a theatre, temples, and many tombs of all shapes and sizes in the necropolis. Since the people believed the healing powers of the water, many of the sick came here for their final days. There used to be large hotels up here a few years ago, but the excessive use of the natural water has deteriorated the natural limestone travertine pools in the area; thus with UNESCOs biding, the government ordered those hotels demolished. Today, there is only one pool left that is open to the public for day swimming.

The white pools made by the calcium deposits of the water are amazing; certainly something very unique in this world. From far away, the white looks like snow. In some of the pools, the colour of the water was turquoise blue, very pretty. Our guide brought us to an area that was open to the public, and we enjoyed dipping our feet in the pools, as well as wading through the warm water gushing out of the side of the mountain. On the way down from the mountain, we walked along a path in between the pools. We had to go barefoot here, and in some parts, it was quite painful walking on gravel.

After our quick day tour here, we went to back to the bus station at Denizli for our bus ride to Antalya, down in the Western Mediterranean. Since we arrived late in the evening, we didn’t really get to see much of the city though we enjoyed chatting with the folks at the hotel ATA.K. The waiter there was trying to convert me into a Galatasary fan, though I told him that I am more in favour of Besiktas. It was fun. Antalya has an international airport, and many tourists from Germany and Russia fly directly here, bypassing Istanbul. According to our guide, 50% of the tourists here are Russians, 45% Germans, and 5% others (like us).

On Saturday morning, the 4th, we were picked up by Nirvana Tours, for our long day trip along the coast. The scenery was indeed beautiful, with the beautiful azure of the Mediterranean and white cliffs hanging along the edge. We reached the town of Myra where we visited the Lycian rock tombs. The tombs were from the 5th century BC, and the front were carved such that they look like houses. It was very impressive. The ruins from the theatre nearby were quite special. Since this was a real theatre, as opposed to one that showed gladiator fights, all the motifs around the theatre were carved with faces and masks. There were laughs and smiles for comedies, and sad faces for tragedies.

We took a quick look at the Church of St. Nicholas (he was bishop here in Myra until his death). I did not know that Santa Claus came from Turkey. His skeleton was buried in this church, but several centuries ago, he was moved to Italy (stolen, as the Turkish would say). We had lunch at Papa Noel’s Restaurant, which was a huge buffet of mouthwatering Turkish food. Yummy. We enjoyed chatting with Michael and Diane from Sydney.

After lunch, we boarded a wooden boat which led us out into the Mediterranean. Passing through the old city of Simena where there were more Lycian tombs, we sailed pass Kekova, a sunken city. Most of the city has fallen, but we could still see parts of the walls that were cut out of the rocks. We docked for 30mins so we took the opportunity for a swim. The water was very pleasant, temperature wise, though quite salty.

On the way back to Myra, we stopped on the side of the road and boarded a minibus that was on the way to Fethiye. Two and a half hours later, we were the only ones left by the time we drove into the otogar. Here we were picked up and driven to the Oykun Hotel along with Larry and Carolyn from the states. The next morning, the four of us were picked up for our tour of the surrounding area. First we stopped at Tlos, a Lycian settlement. Then we had lunch at Yayapark, and area where spring water gushed out everywhere along the side of the mountain. We enjoyed a buffet lunch lounging on traditional wooden platforms and cushions.

After lunch, we spent 45 mins at a carpet cooperative, where they showed us all about the production of Turkish carpets. The highlight of this tour was a trek through the Saklikent Gorge. We were warned that the water would be cold and we would get wet. Yikes, not only was the water freezing cold, it also reached to mid-hip high (since I’m so short). It was definitely a memorable experience to be wandering through the gorge floor. The walls were so high that sometime I could not see the top. The valley floor was an interesting mix of river rocks, and muddy clay. We walked for about 1km in the water before we had to turn back.

That evening, Carolyn, Winston and I walked along the beach of Chalis, taking pictures of the sunset. The beach was full of pebbles; no sand. The weather was pleasant and we had a good time waving to the locals picnicking on the beach.

On Monday, October 6th, we took the bus up to Selcuk, an interesting backpacker town next to Ephesus. We stayed at the Pinar Hotel, which is just a short walk from the otogar and town center. It was fun walking through the few blocks of restaurants and shops. We enjoyed tantuni doners and soup for dinner. In the morning, we were picked up for our tour of Pirene, Miletus and Didymus. These three ancient sites were very interesting. At Pirene, we were fascinated by the Greek construction; so much of it still stand and one can imagine the grandeur so many centuries ago. One of the neat thing here are the theatre lounge chairs; made out of marble, the noble/royalty could sit in comfort while enjoying the show. Of course, we all took turns sitting on them.

At Miletus, we were amazed at the huge theatre there, the remains of the baths as well as the fancy dressing rooms for the rich. The Temple of Apollo at Didymus was amazing; the columns were very tall (25m, if I remembered correctly) and architecture superb. There were drawings on site to show us what the entire complex looked like when it was fully functioning. Wow.

We spent the evening learning about carpets from Ludwina at a store. The next morning, Wednesday, the 8th, we had a free day to explore Ephesus. The site is very large, full of marble ruins, and tourists. The day was warm, with the Aegean Sea just a few kilometers away. Of course the highlight here is the Library of Celsus. Let me warn you about marble; it’s slippery when it’s been well used! I fell down the stairs coming out of the library, but no worries, the only thing affected was my embarrassment.

That evening, we took an overnight bus (13.5 hrs) to Urgup. What follows next, is our wonderful 5 day adventure through Cappadocia.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Ack.. Jet Lag!!
Mumbai, India

OK, how many of you sleep till 2:30 in the afternoon? I did!! And Winston, well, let's just say he's still sleeping. I think it's going to take us a while to get adjusted to this time zone. On Sunday, we were in San Diego. Monday night, we arrived in Munich, 9 hours ahead. Then on Wednesday night, we arrived in India, which is 12.5 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time.

Our flight here was pleasant, though I must say we have been spoilt travelling in business class on the past 3 long hauls. In a packed economy class (95% of the travellers were Indians), with a flight time of 7 hours, it wasn't too bad. Lufthansa served 2 meals, both with Asian vegetarian (ie. Indian) options which were yummy.

We are currently at the Best Western Emerald at Juhu Beach, which is in Northern Mumbai (did you know that Bombay was renamed in 1995?). IF (depending on our jet lag) we can get up on time tomorrow morning, we'll probably head downtown and find a place to stay there. We arrived in India just in time for the Diwali festival, which begins today, and lasts for 5 days! We were told that it is equivalent to xmas holidays in N. America. It is called the festival of lights, and people wear new clothes, and give each other gifts. Reading the newspaper, it seems as if they also buy a lot of jewellery during this festival. We are definitely looking forward to witnessing some of the festivities in downtown Mumbai this weekend.

We'll get online again when we get downtown. In the meantime, take care everyone, and stay dry (those at home in Vancouver and Seattle).

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

What Time Zone Are We In???
Munich, Germany

Ok, so so much for having much time to update you on what's been happening for the last three weeks. Since our last blog, we have flown from Istanbul to Frankfurt to San Francisco to San Diego, spend a wonderful three days in San Diego, then flew from there to Los Angeles to Frankfurt to Munich. We've been here for a day, and now are about to fly back to Frankfurt, and then continue heading east to Mumbai, India.

I'm not going to try blogging about Turkey right now, because our experiences there really warrant a good few hours of attention. I'm about halfway through developing the Turkey pictures though, so hopefully will be able to get those posted in India. Please be patient, we will have some Turkey material up here as soon as we can. (I keep saying that, don't I.)

The last few days, while we seemingly spent most of them on airplanes, were certainly memorable though, and are a neat little chapter in our travel log. Leaving Turkey was bitter-sweet, as we were disappointed to be leaving such an incredible country, but we were also excited about attending Stacy and Betsy's wedding. The flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco was fairly miserable for me, as I was unfortunately hit with another bout of diarrhea... an airplane is not really the most comfortable place to be when you are in need of a toilet every hour or so.

Remember Nancy and Harriet? Well, we were really excited to meet up with them in San Francisco, where they picked us up and took us to a Chinese restaurant in Milbrae to satisfy our Asian food craving. Of course, I didn't really have the appetite to eat much, but it was interesting to note that the only other time that I was suffering from such bowel discomfort was in Fes, Morocco, ALSO in the near presence of Nancy and Harriet. We hypothesized that there was something suspicious about this diarrhea-travel buddy coincidence... still not sure what, hmmm... Anyway, it was great to see them again and we had a blast recalling the escapades in Morocco that we shared together. Harriet's brother Warren also joined us, and we were relieved to discover that the world did not implode when we met, seeing as he was apparently my alter ego.

The wedding in San Diego was fantastic, and it was really a special treat to be able to spend some time with Stacy and Betsy and their families. Indeed, we felt like temporary Kuchta-Ackroyd's for a while... everyone we met were really great people. Of course, hanging out with the boys was really fun too, and it was good to see all the ex-TIPsters again, especially all the kids from the Jensen's, Stebbins', and Alexander's. Stacy spent a good chunk of time driving us around helping us with errands; restocking on some supplies, getting camera gear, shopping at REI. Wasn't he supposed to be getting ready for a wedding? The wedding itself was beautiful, and everything went really smoothly; great job planning Betsy! :) We really felt we made some new friends as well as rekindling some old friendships; we were sad to say goodbye to everyone on the Sunday barbeque.

Thanks to Tim for letting me crash at his place, and to Rosie for letting Jen crash and taking us to the airport, it was good to catch up with you guys! Our San Diego visit was a bit surreal, as I had just a bit of "reverse culture-shock" on the first day at least; everything was so big and clean, relative to what we had been used to. This visit just about marked the one-third point of our trip, and we found ourselves doing a bit of evaluating on the progress of our trip so far; I will try to capture those thoughts in a column sometime soon.

Congrats again to Stacy and Betsy: hope you guys have a fantastic honeymoon in SE Asia, we'll be looking forward to hearing about your recommendations in Thailand, Cambodia, and Singapore!

My bowels had pretty much recovered by this point, and I enjoyed the flight back to Frankfurt much more than the one three days earlier. We hopped down to Munich to spend a day and a half with our old friends Aimee and Karsten who we haven't seen for almost four years. It was a great reunion, but our visit was perhaps a bit too short... we talked late into the night for two nights in a row. Jen and I had both been to Munich before, but that was over a decade ago for both of us; although our visit was short, it was definitely sweet.

So, we're now leaving "Western Civ" for the subcontinent of India. We're looking forward to the experience, and are pretty sure that all the stories and warnings and recommendations we've received won't prepare us for the dramatic realities of that country. We haven't really come up with a plan yet, but hopefully one will develop soon after we hit the ground.

Wish us luck, 'cause I think we might need it!


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