Thursday, August 30, 2007


With only one day left in Selcuk, Sarah and I decided to spend the afternoon at the beach. So, that morning, we hopped on a shuttle bus that took us a half dozen kilometers down the road to the beach.

Since the beach was supposedly one of the few sand beaches in Turkey (most are gravely or rocky), we considered taking our camera with us, but -at the last minute- decided to leave it behind so that we could spend the day relaxing and not worrying about it sitting on the beach. As it was, we probably didn't need it.

To enter the beach, we had to make our way through a campground... or as I called it "the campground time forgot." It was a desolate spread of ground litered with tents that appeared to have been erected sometime in the mid-Eighties and then promptly forgotten about. On the beach itself, someone -at some point in Turkey's misty past- had set up a number of woven umbrellas for people to lie under. But, most of those had fallen into various states of disuse too.

So, needless to say, the whole situation wasn't particularly scenic. But still, managed to provide a relaxing afternoon for Sarah and I.

After reading and attempting to swim (the water was surprisingly cold) for a few hours, we caught the bus back into town. In town, we used to hotel pool and shower to clean off, had a couple of iskender kabops, learned how to play Turkish style dominos and then caught our bus to Istanbul that evening.

Now, with any luck, this will be our last night bus of the trip. And, after fitfully trying to sleep through the wee hours of the night, we arrived at the Instanbul otogar (bus station). The Istanbul otogar is the largest bus complex I've ever seen in my life. It's a multilevel structure in which the top level is dedicated to the apparently countless number of bus companies operating in Turkey. And, if your bus happens to decend into the otogars lower levels you are treated to what can only be described as auto-shop version of the Mines of Moria.

Switching buses, we quickly found ourselves on the road again. This time our destination was none other than Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

Plovdiv. Bulgaria.

Let me say something really quick. Sarah and I know next to nothing about Bulgaria. In fact, before coming here, if you were to ask us, we'd have great difficulty not only placing Bulgaria on a map; but even filling a single page of notebook paper with facts on Bulgaria.

Let's see... Bulgaria is in Eastern Europe somewhere. It was a Communist country. And, I think, part of the Ottoman Empire for a bit. I'm pretty sure they drink beer and eat sausages. Also, despite similarities in their names, Bulgaria is neither Belguim nor Mogolia.

And, as of yesterday, that would have pretty much summed up my knowledge of Bulgaria.

And, unfortunately, because of an overlong boarder crossing, it took us several extra hours before we could become more familar with Bulgaria. Although Bulgaria is now part of the European Union (something which Turkey is not yet part of), the boarder crossing still had a distinctively Cold War feel. First the bus pulled up to one check point. The stewardess working the bus collected our passports and disappeared. After about 30 minutes, the bus pulled forward 100 meters, and parked next to a duty free store, where IU passports were handed back (thought the stewardess was oddly reluctant to return ours). We then sat in that parking lot for 30 minutes or so before climbing back into the bus and advancing another 100 meters. There, we all filed out of the bus again, and one by one went through Buglarian immigration. finally done, we climbed back on board, and headed into Bulgaria. The entire process took only about 2 hours.

Once across the boarder, we got our final peak at the Bulgarian countryside. It was everything you'd hope for from an Eastern European country: Miles of rolling, green farm and pasture land, with scattered clusters of house built from crumbing brick. Each house possessing a tiled roof that looked like it could collapse under a good rainstorm.

After rolling through the Bulgarian countryside for about an hour, we reached Plovdiv. Plovdiv is Bulgaria's second largest city, but still has far less than a half million people. The outskirts of the city are made up of drab Soviet-era apartment complexes, but the inner, older portion of the city centers around a number of small neighborhoods and hills (Plovdiv notably had seven hills, until the Soviet's levelled one), which manage to have both an old town feel and a slight cosmoplitan undercurrent.

Sarah and I checked into a hostel, and then spent the afternoon and evening exploring the town. And, we could both tell right away that we'd like Bulgaria. The city is modern, but in that sort of dorky Eastern European way where people dress like they've discovered every single fashion statement from 1950 to 1990 all at the same time (which, in some regards, is the case). They like beer, and sausages, and ice cream. They have menus worth of potato dishes. The streets are narrow, cobblestoned and filled with cats.

I make friends with one of Plovdiv's countless cats.

And, there's a lot of babies. Sarah's already dubbed it the Bulgarian Baby Boom. We're not sure if its a real phenomenon or not, or if Bulgarians have always had lots of children, but we haven't seen this many toddlers and infants since, well, ever.
Some of the children of Bulgaria. We thought it was entertaining how -even though it was only the three of them watching the show- they were all sitting so close.

In general, there's something just pleasing overall about Bulgarians. Or, at least Plovdiv, since that's all we've seen so far.

The next morning, we set out to do some sightseeing. First, we wandered around "old town" a narrow network of streets filled with old houses, older fortress walls, and the occasional Roman ruin that makes both the houses and walls look downright new. The main show stopper of old town is the amphitheater. A large halfdish that looks out over the rest of Plovdiv and is still used for performances to this day.

A typical street in old town.

Sarah in another small alley.

The amazing amphitheater. It would be great to see a show here.

In addition, we checked out the Icon Museum, which features a variety of old Orthodox icons from churches throughout the area. And, paided an elderly organ grinder, who played his ancient organ and looked confused when we didn't walk away.

Making our way down off the hill, we walked down the main pedestrian avenue. We'd been ther ethe night before, but wanted to check it out again in the daylight. The entire street is lined with charming looking buildings painted in pastel colors that have inevitably been turned into small clothing stores (with a disproportionate number of naked mannequins) and ice cream shops.

The center square in Plovdiv.

After pausing at the main fountains, and checking out some slightly less impressive Roman ruins, we made our way through a small park to the Hill of the Liberators. The Hill of the Liberators is a decent sized hill, which have been turned into a decent sized park, and crowded with some Communist monuments. Climbing the hill, and standing at the base of a gaint statue of a man in a fur lined jacket, we were provided with a view of all of Plovdiv. Interestingly, despite its size, you could easily make out the edges of town in each direction and see the pasture land spreading out beyond that to the distant mountains.

Walking back down the hill, we made our way down another avenue, where we stopped at a Thursday market and Sarah bought a bag full of plums.

Returning to our room, we rested up before going to check out the Orthodox Church of Sts. Contstantine and Helena. the small churck was entirely covered in paintings and religious icons. But, sadly, photos weren't allowed, so you'll just have to trust us that it was impressive.

After that one last bit of sightseeing, we spent the evening having a beer, playing some dominoes and then eating a nice dinner. Tomorrow, we have a busy day, before heading off to our next Bulgarian city: Veliko Turnovo.

Monday, August 27, 2007

"The road to Paradıse should never be easy."

After lyıng around on a Turkısh yacht for four days, Sarah and I were actually ready to hıt the road agaın. So, even though we were ımpressed wıth our pensıon ın Fethıye, we hopped on the bus the next mornıng to head to our next stop: Selçuk.

Luckıly, the bus rıde to Selçuk was only about fıve hours long, so you won't all have to lısten to me complaın about nıght buses agaın. But, unfortunately, our pensıon ın Fethıye was supposed to set up our reservatıons for our hotel ın Selçuk... and dıdn't. So, the owners of Jımmy's Place ın Selçuk were a bıt confused when we showed up expectıng a room. But, wıth that confusıon quıckly resolved, we were able to relax and spend the evenıng explorıng the town.

The followıng mornıng, we got up, ate breakfast and hıt the road. The area surroundıng Selçuk ıs lıtered wıth hıstorıcal ruıns, so -ınstead of goıng on a prepackaged tour- we decıded we'd check thıngs out the old fashıoned way: On foot.

So, after a quıck shuttle rıde (OK, we cheated a bıt on the fırst part), we found ourselves at Ephesus. Ephesus ıs one of Turkey's bıggest tourıst attractıons. A sprawlıng Roman-era complex complete wıth amphıtheater. Makıng our way through the entrance gate, and down a tree-lıned road we found ourselves at the base of amphıtheater ıtself. And, luckıly, the tourısts crowded hadn't apparently arrıved yet. We relaxed for a bıt, ımagıne what ıt would have looked lıke ın ancıent tımes, then made our way out... and ınto the crowds.

The amphıtheater - whıch was much larger than I thınk eıther of us expected.

In the few mınutes we,d explored the amphıtheater, the tour buses must have arrıved because we quıckly found ourselves weavıng through the sweaty crowds, each followıng theır tour guıde and hıs or her raısed sıgn. Furthermore, apparently, all the tours start on the far sıde of the complex and make theır way to the entrance we came ın through, so the experıence was not unlıke a fısh swımmıng upstream.

The next major area we hıt was the lıbrary facade. The lıbrary ıs Ephesus' "money-shot," and not wıthout good reason. Sarah and I had both seen many photos of ıt before, but were stıll both amazed by the level of detaıl ın the carved stone surfaces. Also, Sarah got to practıce some of the ancıent Greek she studıed ın college, tryıng to fıgure out the names of the carved fıgures whıch lıned the facade.

The lıbrary at Ephasus. Thıs ıs lıke the usual phot you see, whıch doesn't do justıce to the detaıls on the facade...

...Thıs pıcture (taken by Sarah) does a much better job of convey how ıntrıcate the structure ıs.

After takıng ın the lıbrary for a bıt, we contınued "up-stream" untıl we made our way out the far entrance of Ephasus.

Now, let me seque a bıt....

Back ın Cambodıa, as we looked at one of the many temple pyramıds there, our guıde, Paul, saıd to us: "The top represents paradıse. The bottom ıs Earth. Do you know why the staırs to the top are so steep?"

To whıch Sarah and I both shrugged.

"Because," he smıled, "the road to Paradıse should never be easy."

I mentıon thıs only because the thought passed through my mınd several tımes durıng our walk to the next sıte we were seeıng: Mary's House.

And, by Mary I mean the Mary. As ın the person who changed Jesus' dıapers. One of the thıngs that amazıng about Turkey ıs how easy ıt ıs to stumble across major Chrıstıan relıcs and holy sıtes. The country ıs notably Muslım, and most of teh tourıst attractıons are Greek or Roman ın nature. But, ıts not uncommon to suddenly fınd ourself lookıng at the skeletal arm of St. John the Baptıst or (ın thıs case) the last house that the Vırgın Mary lıved ın.

Unfortunately, her house turned out to be farther from Ephesus than ıt looked ın the map. In fact, ıt was sıx kılometers away. Along a hot, paved, wındıng road. Uphıll. And thats why -after nearly an hour of walkıng, as our bottled water slıpped from warm to just-plaın-hot- our guıde from Angkor Wats words kept appearıng ın my mınd.

Eventually, we arrıved at the top of the hıll. Were we were rewarded for our efforts by the guard workıng the tıcket booth to enter:

"How much to enter?" Sarah asked.
"Regular admıssıon. 22 lıra." He replıed, lookıng at our tıred, sweaty faces and then back down the road we,d just walked up. "But, for you, 11 lıra."

Mary's house ıs pretty much what you'd expect, and not ın a bad way. It's a small stone house nestled at the top of the hıll, surrounded by ancıent trees. A prıest was performıng servıces nearby, and there was a fountaın where the faıthful were fıllıng water bottles, and another place where people had tıed hundreds of rıbbons and pıeces of fabrıc to a wall. And, despıte the a concessıon stand and souvenır shop, the entıre park was tasteful and peaceful.

Me standıng outsıde of what ıs purported to be the last house that the Vırgın Mary lıved ın.

The one thıng that wasn't partıcularly tasteful though was some of the tourısts' choıce of clothıng. Lıke the Churches, Mosques and Buddhıst Temples we've vısıted on thıs trıp, there were a number of sıgns sayıng, effectıvely "thıs ıs a place of worshıp, please dress respectfully." But despıte thıs, a large number of people -namely teenages gırls and (more tragıcally) mıddle-aged women- were wanderıg around ın next to nothıng. Now, generally speakıng, I have no problem wıth people who want to wander around ın varıous states of undress... but, really, ıt just struck me as dısrespectful.

Mmmmmmmm. Cherry juıce. Or, as the Turks call ıt: "Vısne Nectarı."

After walkıng the grounds, and stoppıng to enjoy a cherry juıce (whıch has rapıdly become a favorıte of Sarah's) we began our walk back down the hıll. Whıch ıs when we recıeved our second pleasant surprıse. Only about ten mınutes down the hıll, a grey car came to a sudden stop and a mıddle aged man leaned out. Obvıously not speakıng Englısh, he poınted down the hıll and then waved us over and ınto hıs car.

Clımbıng ın, we smıled and repeated "thank you, thank you" to the man and hıs wıfe, hopıng they understood. Meanwhıle, theır young daughter looked over at us suspıcıously, wonderıng who these strange, stınky tourısts her dad had just pıcked up where.

And, as quıck as that, we were back at the gate of Ephesus, clımbıng out of the car, smılıng and repeatıng "thank you"s agaın. The famıly waved and were gone.

At thıs poınt, we were gettıng tıred, so we started to walk back to Selçuk. But, as we stopped to by peaches from a roadsıde stand, we notıced a sıgn poıntıng to the Seven Sleepers. The Seven Sleepers ıs another sıte ın the Selçuk area, so -munchıng on our peaches- we set off down a sıde road to check ıt out.

Honestly, we have no ıdea what Legend of the Seven Sleepers was (untıl I looked ıt up just now), so when we got there we were just maınly perplexed by the small tomb complex. Also, whıle the peaches had gıven us a small burst of energy, the sun was beatıng down on us and rapıdly draınıng our remaınıng strength. So we decıded to head back to Selçuk.

Thıs ıs ınterestıng...but what ıs ıt?

Unfortunately, the route we took back ended up beıng longer than we'd hopped... several kılometers longer. Also, whıle taxı drıvers kept slowıng and askıng us ıf we needed a rıde, we'd gotten ıt stuck ın our head that we were goıng to fınısh our lıttle "pılgrımage" on our own. So, about an hour later, we came staggerıng ınto town agaın. Hungry, thırsty and tıred, but also certaın we2d had a fulfıllıng day of sıteseeıng.

Four Days on the Mediterranean

When we'd arrived in Istanbul, we'd heard about the cruises between Olympos and Fethiye along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. It sounded tempting, but we didn't think we'd have the time. But when our plans for going to Croatia fell through--and still feeling like a few days without buses or moving from city to city would do our bodies and minds some good--we decided to go ahead with it. And so it was that we started three nights and four days in a traditional Turkish sailing boat with 10 other travellers: a couple from Spain, a couple from Italy, two friends from New Zealand on their way to work in London, and two other sets of friends--Aussies, all from Melbourne--who were already working in London for the time-being.

As often happens with budget tours of this type, a nice, friendly, English-speaking guy picked us up and ferried us out to the then tell us the rules, take the remaining money and leave us in the hands of the two crew members who didn't really speak any English. Seeing how this had been on our fate on pretty much any tour that went overnight, lasted for a few days, and could stand to have someone to communicate with, Tyler and I weren't so surprised. The others were less pleased. You could understand their point, I guess. If the crew are choosing to be in the tourist business, a little English would go a long way for everyone. On the other hand, we are in Turkey.

Our temporary home and vehicle for four days

So we began the tour with a swim. The water was delicious--beautifully clear, blue, a good temperature. A good start to our first bit of sailing. Except the funny thing is on these traditional sailing boats--they don't actually sail--so instead we motored along the coast, admiring the view.

No, you're eyes aren't fooling you. I had to try and capture just how beautifully blue and clear all of the water we sailed through and swam in was.

Swimming in the always beautiful Mediterranean

After climbing back in and feeling really good about our decision to take the cruise, we set off for our first destination, a traditional fishing village replete with the ruins of an Ottoman castle perched above the town. We set anchor, had lunch and then Tyler and I and the Italians decided to take the offer of the skiff to the town to go up to the castle. The ruins themslves weren't a whole lot to see, but the views from the top were amazing. To one side, the land stretched beyond, littered with old tombs and sarcophagi. Across the way, we could see other boats anchored in and the Mediterranean landscape of white rocks and scrubby bushes, the beautiful waters of stretching in between. Gorgeous, and worth the 20 minute uphill walk to get there.

Our first stop: Simena, a traditional fishing village with no car access and an old Ottomon castle ruin towering above everything else.

Up in the castle ruin. The views were breathtaking.

From there, we set "sail" again to begin what would become a comfortable routine: laying about in the sun or the shade to admire the view/sunbathe/sleep/read, stop periodically for welcome swimming breaks and meals. I quickly learned that the Mediterranean is incredibly salty. In some ways, it's great. You float really easily, so swimming is more a matter of small, spare movements to stay afloat (until you get really lazy and grab a noodle for flotation). But it also means that after a swim--and then multiple swims--you feel caked with salt. And you can see it, white layers on your skin, in your hair. By the end, our towel felt a bit like cardboard and all our clothes looked a bit ashy. I always thought the phrase "salty sailor" was a euphemism for the attitude; now I know it came from a real physical state!

Tyler enjoying the sun and the view on our first afternoon out

Enjoying the view and the breeze from the tip of the boat

I thought "salty sailor" was just a euphemism until we'd spent some time in and out of the saline waters of the Mediterranean. It would cake on our skin, hair--even eyelashes and eyebrows.

We spent our first night anchored in the harbor of a cute resort-y feeling town called Kaş. I was a little disappointed at first, harboring dreams of sleeping in the quiet waters, but it was nice to get off the boat, test our sealegs on land again, and move around a bit. It wasn't so nice when the bars and clubs pumped out bass-y techno music until 4AM.

We spent the next day sailing with no real sightseeing stops, just great bays for a swim. It was around then that some of the group started feeling a little peeved about not really ever having an idea of where we were and not being sure that we were hitting everything listed on the itinerary of the company's brochure. It probably highlighted a major change Tyler and I have experienced from spending a lot of time in the developing world. We don't really ever expect anymore to know what's going on or have things match an itinerary. We just wanted to relax, swim and hang out for four days, pretty sure that eventually we'd be dropped off where we were told they would. Though everyone in the the group was an experienced traveller, they were mostly experienced with European travel, and though all agreed we were having a lovely time regardless, some were a bit frustrated.

The third morning, though, pleased everyone, as the Captain sailed us into a bay surrounded by high, sheer cliff walls. We had arrived in Butterfly Valley. Some swam to shore, others took the small skiff (along with shoes and cameras that needed to stay dry) to head out for the hike through the valley. While at first most were happy to hang out on the beach, Tyler and I headed straight to the hike's entrance. (Not surprisingly, none of us knew how much time we had or when we needed to be back on the boat, so we wanted to go straight away to see it.)

The sheer cliffs in the bay leading to Butterfly Valley

We walked into the valley, awed by its scale. You could see the the walls we had seen in the bay continue and narrow along the 1K trail. At the end, we saw the first waterfall, surprising as there hadn't been a stream or any water to foretell its existence. The man at the entrance had mentioned we should continue on to the second waterfall, but at first it wasn't clear exactly how to do that. Then Tyler noticed a rope hanging to one side of the waterfall. I gave it a look and decided the heat and my sealegs made me happy to let the trail end there. Tyler looked a bit longingly but agreed, and we started picking our way down the rocky path. But when a group of tourists started scaling the rope--then others from our boat followed suit--we went back. I still sat at the base while Tyler climbed the rope, shimmied past the waterfall and disappeared past my vantage point. Apparently there was another waterfall, not much bigger, but higher than the other another 50 meters up. Satisfied with the find (and bringing photos for my vicarious enjoyment) we headed back to shore to find an anxious crew awaiting our return. This time I left Tyler to bring the dry stuff by boat and I swam back to the ship. I had been a long time since I'd done so much swimming, and I was loving it. Despite the name, thoug, we only actually spotted about a dozen butterflies. Maybe it just wasn't the season for them.

At the base of the first waterfall, admiring the views, if not many actual butterflies

The second waterfall Tyler hiked to, which included climbing a rope ladder and scaling past the first waterfall

We spent our final night in another small cove with only a few other boats. There was a beautiful sunset, hanging out, and even a night of playing the game Mafia.

Our last night, complete with a fantastic sunset

The whole gang, gathered around the table, playing mafia and sharing travel stories

Despite some of the group's disappointments, I was extremely pleased with the cruise. The scenery was beautiful, the boat was well-run and pleasant, the food was good, the swimming four times a day a real luxury, and a good chance for some travel fatigue to fade away. When we got on land in Fethiye, another coastal town, I even missed sleeping on the deck, under the open sky, stars shimmering overhead, even if it often got windy or even rocky for a period at night.

The other thing that happens when you're on a boat for four days with several guidebooks is you start to re-think your travel plans. So Croatia had been out, Greece in. But when I started looking up the prices of lodging, I decided to explore some other options. Hostels were just too pricey for our budget at this stage. The Kiwis had passed through Sofia, Bulgaria on their way to Istanbul, so we knew that was a possible and reasonable bus ride. So it went from there, finding a suitable and reasonably priced route to Munich, where we fly home on September 12th. So it is now that we will go to Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary for the final two weeks of our travels.

That's definitely one thing I'll miss when we're back State-side--being able to decide on a whim to travel through places I'd never even considered before, just because we have the time and they're there and we can. So future reports will start to have a more Eastern European flavor before this is all over.....

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lounging in Olympos

It's happened a lot on this trip. Sometime, fairly early on, we'll talk to a travel agent to get, say, bus tickets, and they will try and sell us on a pre-packaged trip for our entire stay. After India, we've learned to say "Thanks, but no thanks," but we also usually find out about some place we hadn't initially considered for our itinerary. For Turkey, that place was Olympos, a sleepy town on the Aegean, with tree houses to stay in (they're actually more like small rustic cabins) and a nearby beach and ruins. So while we neared the end of our stay in Goreme, we decided to check it out as a place to get some R&R.

Though it took a 12 hour night bus from Goreme to a town called Antalya, a 1.5 hour bus from Antalya, and yet another bus to get to the hostel, it's lived up to the promises. It almost feels a bit like staying in a grown up's summer camp. They feed you breakfast and dinner, you can lounge about at picnic tables or on cushioned, covered platforms, and the beach is 500 meters away. And there's not much there as far as Olympos the town is concerned. No banks, no post office, not much of anything except guesthouses, so you don't feel the least bit guilty lounging about all day.

The walk to our own personal "treehouse" amongst orange trees

Our first dip into the Aegean!

It feels novel, really, to feel like we're on vacation rather than "travelling." With travel, I guess I feel like we need to see certain sights, be on the move, experience the culture and people. Whereas with vacation, having no plans other than beach (check), lounging (check), maybe some beer and dominoes (check) and then more lounging (check) feels perfectly acceptable.

On our first night, we did check out the other thing in town to see--the Chimera lights. Along with many other tourists, we took a bus at 9PM to climb about a kilometer up a hill to see the ancient fires. Flames appear to come out of the earth due to methane leaks, and it's fascinating to see the fires that have no fuel source and have been burning for centuries.

The first chimera we encountered, with others flickering in the distance

Many flames among one set of rocks

As much as I have gotten into photography on this trip, this was one site where I almost wished photos were banned. Rather than be taken in by the image and considering how it must have appeared to ancient civilizations, most visitors spent most of their time trying to get photographed with the flames or taking photos or waiting for other people to get out of the way to take photos. It's been a bit of a back and forth for me on this trip. Sometimes taking pictures helps me notice details and "be" in a place more or even connect with people. Other times, I just can feel caught up with something between me and what I'm trying to experience, blocking my full appreciation and enjoyment. This was one of those times when I had to put the camera down to better engage myself.

The next day, we made our first foray to the beach. Only on the Mediterranean do you walk past ruins dating from the 2nd century BC and give them mostly a passing glance on your way for a swim.

Views of Olympos on the way to the beach. There are some ruins on the hill to the left.

Remains of Roman baths on the way to the beach

We had initially planned to stay in Olympos for two nights then catch the night bus to Selcuk, where you can visit the Roman ruins of Ephesus. We'd been anxious to get to that part of the coast to set up a ferry to Croatia. A traveller we'd met in Egypt had done a boat trip from Croatia to Turkey, so we knew it was possible, but nobody in Istanbul or Goreme could help us, so we'd decided to try and wait until we got closer to the ferry system to make arrangements. But I decided to do a little research on the internet and found that it's too expensive to take the ferry, even more expensive to fly, and too much trouble to try to take trains (it'd involve three different lines and more hassle than we want near the end of our travels). So we went back to the drawing board. We think the plan now will be to spend a little more time in Turkey, sail over to a Greek island, then try and fly home from Athens. Somehow it seems fitting to still be picking an all new route for our last few weeks! And, frankly, much as I give Tyler a hard time for complaining about the night buses, even I was growing weary of them since we'd been on one every three to four days. It was another good excuse to spend an extra day lounging about Olympos.

The lounging in Olympos ends tomorrow, but then we're off for more decision-free days on a four day sailing trip along the Aegean coast, so we'll be incommunicado for a few days. We'll report back on things like an ancient sunken city, lagoons, a butterfly valley...and hopefully nothing about Tyler smacking his back on the water again like in Halong Bay!

Monastaries, Valleys and Underground Cities

While neither Sarah nor I are big fans of tours, we figured that the best use of our last day in Göreme was to take a day tour that would allow us to see some of teh major sites in the area we'd missed. So, with a night bus ahead of us that evening, we boarded a tour bus to spend the day running around Cappadocia.

The first stop on our tour was a view of Göreme and its surrounding valleys. We'd make several stops at view points that day, and each followed roughly the same routine. The bus would pull up, all of us would pile out of it. The tour guide would announce: "Take pictures! In 5 minutes, we go!"

Another stunning picture of the Goreme area. (Sarah doesn't like this picture because the wind made her look like she's wearing high-water bell-bottoms.)

So, five minutes later, we were back in the bus. After driving for about a hour, we reached Sileme Monastary. This monastary was similar to some of the others we'd seen over the last couple days, but on a much larger scale. After a breif introduction by the tour guide, we were set free to explore its various caves and chambers.

The Sileme Monastary, perched high above us.

One of the chambers in the monastary, with two stories and elaborate arched architecture... amazingly all carved out of the cliffside.

Remains of frescoes on one of the monastary walls.

After about an hour, it was back on the bus. And a few minutes later, we stopped at another view point. This one was called the "Star Wars Place" because apparently some establishing shots were taken here back in 1977 for the original Star Wars. "Take pictures! In 5 minutes, we go!"

Another 30 minute drive brought us to the Ihara Valley. Here, we unloaded form our bus again and decended into the steep valley. Unlike the surrounding countryside, the Ilhara valley was a lush, green space with a small river running through the center of it. After looking at an old church carved into the cliffside, our group took a three kilometer walk down the river valley. As we walked, Sarah and I agreed that we could have easily spent the entire day wandering through the valley and exploring the numerous caves and rooms hidden in it.

Looking down into the Ilhara Valley. The valley runs approximately 15 kilometers, but we'd only get to see a small portion of that.

The sheer cliff faces of the Ilhara rise above us like the prow of a boat.

Halfway through our 3k "hike" the group stopped to rest. Like several others in the group, I took the chance to wade into the river.

At the end of the walk we stopped at a restaurant for lunch. As we ate our meals, we talked to a couple of other American's we'd met in our tour group, Andrea and Tara, and the outgoing Italian, Alessandro. Andrea was starting a round the world trip herself. It was the first time in a long while that we'd encountered another person doing a round the world trip, and it was the first time we'd talked to one while we were on the tail end of our trip. It felt sort of being on the other side of a looking glass: Surreal, but good.

With lunch done, we climbed back into our bus and drove another 30 minutes to an underground city. Apparently, there's roughly 100 underground cities in the Cappadocia area. Originally used by the people of the area as a place to hide when invade, some are now open to the public for sightseeing.

The one we visited was purportedly the deepest. There were eight levels that were open to the public, with another eight still lay below them waiting to be explored by experts.

Honestly, it was really cool. If I had been twelve years old, it might have been my most favorite place in the whole world. Seemingly endless tunnels and caverns burrowing deeping and deeping into the Earth, eerily lit by a networks of lamps. Even as an adult, I couldn't help but think of playing Dungeons and Dragons as a youth, or fancy myself as a modern day Indiana Jones.

The happy couple, about seven stories underground.

I will say though, that it wasn't a place for the claustrophobic. Some of tunnels were so narrow that you nearly had to crawl to get through them. And, in the small chambers that marked the 8th floor down, you could feel the depth and earth around you. Also, like many things in Turkey, the number of other tourists and tour groups pushing past added to the sense of claustrophobia. But, even with that, I still wished I was young and could spend the day playing in the caves with my brother.

Sarah demonstrates how narrow some of the tunnels in the underground city were.

Emerging into the glare of the daylight, we stumbled back to the bus half-blind. Another thirty minutes drive brought us to another view point: The pigeon valley, which we'd seen portions of on our first day. "Take pictures! In 5 minutes, we go!"

But, after taking pictures, we weren't herded onto the bus again. Instead, our guide took us across the street to see an onyx carving demonstration. This was, of course, a shop. And, after the brief (yet actually kind of cool) onyx carving demostration, we were led into the shop where people tried to sell us stuff.

Sarah had actually won a carved onyx egg during the demonstration, so while the rest of the group fended off salespeople, we stood in the corner, clutching our egg and sipping complimentary hibiscus tea.

Entertaining, Alessandro decided he wanted to buy a silver bracelet. The main problem though, was that it was a woman's bracelet. This confused the salespeople to no end, but Alessandro was insistent and managed to convince them that he wanted to buy it for himself, and finally they relented. Sarah pointed out that this was the first time on the trip that a salesperson was reluctant to sell a tourist something. In most other countries, the salespeople would have happily stated that the bracelet was "for woman or man" if they realized they had a prospective buyer.

Done with the shop, we were also done with our tour. The bus dropped us off downtown, and we said goodbye to the people we'd met that day. Returning to our pension, we finished packing, went out fro a quick bite to eat, and then boarded our night bus for Anatalya. Another 10 hour bus ride ahead of us. Sigh.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Food Around the World: Kenya

During our time in Kenya, our Masaai friend and guide, Hesaan, would sometimes come up with interesting questions out of the blue. Not all of them were politically correct ("why do all Asians look alike?") but it was always a bit of a feat to try and answer them diplomatically and in a way that would make sense. One day he asked us, "Why do Chinese people eat dogs?" In our attempt to answer that one, we talked about how people all over the world find different things delectable. For example, most Americans don't eat goat. They'll use goat milk and make goat cheese, but your average American would think that eating goat is about as strange as we might find eating a dog. To this, the inimitable Hesaan replied that he would come to America and eat all the goats we Americans were too stupid to appreciate.

Fortunately, Jody of Eddybles didn't shy away from the challenge when it came to recreating a Kenyan meal. From my observations and her own research, she created a menu of Kenyan treats, Mshikaki (yogurt-marinated goat), Irio (like mashed potatoes) and Ugali With Roasted Tomatoes and Cabbage. You can try to take some of those American goats from Hesaan and read about other Kenyan delicacies at her blog.

Bon appetite!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Lost in Göreme

(Quıck note: The lower case "I" ıs ın another place on thıs keyboard, so rather than relearnıng to type, I'm just goıng to to type as normal So, you'll notıce that all "i"s wıll appear as "ı"s. Sorry for any confusıon.)

After enjoying Istanbul so much, the next place we vısıted would have a lot to lıve up to. But, Göreme ın the Cappadocıa regıon seemed up to the task. The town ıtself ıs a small vıllage maınly polpulated by tourısts and the pensıons and restaurants that serve them, but the maın draw ıs the "faıry chımeneys." The faıry chımeneys are a verıtable forest of conıcal rock formatıons caused by mıllenıa of errosıon.

So, excıted about the ıdea of checkıng them out, Sarah and I boarded a bus for an eleven hour bus rıde to Göreme. Sınce I've already belly-ached ad nausem about nıght buses. I'll spare you all the detaıls of thıs one. I'm sure your bored of hearıng about them at thıs poınt... I know that Sarah's bored of my complaınıng about them.

So, let's skıp dırectly to Göreme.

Göreme ıs everythıng we could hope ıt to be. A tıny tourıst vıllage nestled amoungst the towerıng and fascınatıng faıry chımenys. Sınce thıs ıs peak tourıst season, and we dıdn't make reservatıons ın advance, we were unable to get a room carved ınto a faıry chımeny. Instead we are merely ın a cave room. Beyond that, our pensıon -the Shoestrıng hostel- ıs an enjoyable, laıd back place.

Göreme (pronounced "Gore-Emma") sıts ın the mıddle of a forest of faıry chımenys. Thıs ıs the vıew from the roof of our pensıon.

Our room ıs the one on the upper left, carved dırectly ınto the rock wall.

Some of the unreal rock formatıons ın the Pıgeon Valley.

After restıng up for a bıt, and then grabbıng some lunch at a nearby restaurant, we sıgned up to take a walk wıth a guıde from our hostel. The walkıng tour would take us to four of the neıghborıng valleys: pıgeon valley, honey valley, whıte valley and love valley. All ın all, the hıke was supposed to be about 14 kılometers.

Thıngs got off to a rocky start when our guıde stepped on a bee and got stung rıght before we were about to leave. But, after some topıcal medıcıne, he seemed ready to go, so we all set out.

The fırst valley we vısıted was pıgeon valley, so named because of all the pıgeon houses carved ınto the sıdes of the valley. Our guıde explaıned to us that Turkısh people had a fondness for pıgeons. So, most famılıes would maıntaın several pıgeon houses, and then use theır droppıngs at fertılızer.

The thıngs you see ın thıs photo are man-made pıgeon houses, carved hıgh ınto the clıff.

At thıs poınt, ıt has to be mentıoned that our group consısted of Sarah, myself, our guıde, hıs frıend and a group of fıve Brıts. It also has to be saıd that, by the end of the pıgeon valley, the Brıts were already gettıng bored and startıng to complaın a bıt. Note that we are stıll only about 2 kılometers ınto the hıke.

After pıgeon valley, we rested at a craftshop (naturally) where we had some tea and used the restroom. After that quıck break, we headed down a dırt road, through some wıld lookıng vıneyards, before droppıng down ınto Honey Valley. Honey Valley gets ıts name from ıts warm, tan (honey-colored) walls.

The Honey Valley, where we dropped ınto the actual valley.

Honey Valley then changed ınto Whıte Valley. Whıte Valley looked about the same as Honey Valley, except, well, whıter. Our tour of Whıte Valley ıncluded wındyıng our way through a number of dark, cramped cave-lıke tunnels. Thıs provoked much squeelıng and complaınıng from the female Brıts, before we all reemerged ınto the slowly dısappearıng daylıght.

At two places ın the Whıte Valley, we also came across turtles makıng theır way along the sandy valley floor.

As we neared the end of the Whıte Valley, a storm seemed to be brewıng behınd us. It never raıned, but helped make the sunset more stunnıng.

After Whıte Valley, we made our way to Love Valley. Love Valley get's ıts name because... well... I'll just let you look at a photo and fıgure out for yourself:

Um... yeah. There's no way to photograph those wıthout them lookıng phallıc.

After restıng ın Love Valley for a bıt, and takıng the oblıgatory gıggle-worthy photos, the guıde then announced: "OK, we go now. It ıs about fıve kılometer back to Shoestrıng."

Then, Sarah and I poınted out to hım that ıt was nearly dark out.

"Hmmmm, yes. We wıll take short-cut." He replıed, lookıng at my watch, and then poıntıng at a valley wall. "I have never been thıs way. But, should only be about two kılometers." And, that's how the group of us set out walkıng across the desert landscape ın complete darkness.

Fırst, we scaled the valley wall, whıch provoked one of the Brıtısh gırls to complaın: "Where are we goooıng?"

Then, reachıng the top of the clıff, we realızed that ıt wasn't actually the edge of teh valley, but ınstead ıt was merely a messa type formatıon ın the mıddle of the valley. So, we had to clımb down (or, slıde down rather) the other sıde. To whıch the three gırls complaıned "I've got thıstles up my shorts!"

Then, we had to scale the actual valley wall. "I'm so totally over thıs hıke."

At thıs poınt, we were basıcally on flat ground, and ıt was just a short two kılometer walk back to our hotel. Stıll, one of the Brıtısh guys managed to roll hıs ankle.

Back at the hostel, whıle the Brıtısh gırls washed the dust off themselves and examıned ımagınary thıstle wounds ın the mırror; I grabbed a beer and Sarah and I headed for the rooftop pool were we relaxed at Sarah snapped off some photos of Göreme at nıght.

The same vıew as ın the earlıer photo, but at nıght. The whole town looks even more fantastıcal ın the dark.

The next mornıng, Sarah and I decıded that the four hour hıke from the prevıous day hadn't been enough. So, after buyıng form bread, meat and cheese for sandwıches, we set off to explore the Pınk Valley (you can probably notıce a general trend ın the valley namıng at thıs poınt).

Unfortunately, we were entırely sure where the Pınk Valley was. We had two traıl maps wıth us, but they both proved to be contradıctory and effectıvely useless. So, after wanderıng down a road ın the swelterıng heat for about a half hour, we decıded to go off-road and head ın the general dırectıon of some pınkısh hılls we'd seen earlıer. I mean, we'd have to stumble across them at some poınt, rıght?

"Sarah, honey, that's got to be them over there. Let's just follow thıs path and see ıf ıt takes us there."

After about another hour, we were a lıttle less sure of ourselves. The pınkısh hılls seemed closer. But we also seemed to be traversıng a rıdge, wıth no sıgns of the traıl we were on actually droppıng down ınto the valley. And, because ts a desert here, and hot, we'd already drank half our water.

But, just as we started to doubt our path, Sarah spotted a hand drawn sıgn readıng "rose red valley cafeterıa cola" fıxed to a rock, wıth an arrow poıntıng down a sıde path.

Followıng the path took us quıckly down ınto a valley, and to the ramshakle consessıon stand sıttıng ın the mıddle of apparent wılderness. We were releaved to see that we weren't apparently the only lost tourısts, as the place was packed wıth other sweaty, slıghtly confused people.

After buyıng and drınkıng a Fanta (becuase nothıng rehydrates you lıke Fanta, rıght?), the consessıon stand owner poınted us on our way.

Wındıng ınto the valley, the rock walls soon took on the expected pınkısh hue. In addıtıon, we were excıted to stumble across a number of ancıent churchs. The churches are all remenants of when early Chrıstıans fled Roman persecutıon and moved ınto the wılderness of Turkey.

Sadly, the frescoed walls of these tıny churches have suffered from about fıfteen hundred years of vandalısm, but ıt was stıll ınterestıng to see and explore the caves carved dırectly ınto the sıdes of the walls.

Most of the frescos we saw were pretty beat up, stıll the sense of hıstory was ınterestıng.

Probably the bıggest church we came across. Thıs one was several rooms deep.

After a hıkıng a bıt further, we saw another sıgn sayıng "St. Johns Church" wıth an arrow poıntıng up the hıll. Clımbıng the traıl, we found the church had been sealed closed, but that some other ındustrıous Turk has set up another concessıon stand next to ıt. Thıs tıme, we skıpped the Fanta and contınued down the traıl.

Unfortunately, the traıl soon became narrow and step. And, shortly, ıt became effectıvely ımpassable. So, as we sat ın the shade of a large boulder, we realızed we had two choıces: 1) Follow the traıl back out. 2) Follow a steep sıde traıl up the sıde of the valley. We decıded to follow the second optıon.

At the top of the steep scramble, we were rewarded wıth an amazıng, nearly 360 degree vıew of the surroundıng valleys. There was another valley we could see faırly clearerly ınto that seemed to have another traıl wındıng through ıt (endıng ın another vısable concessıon stand), but Sarah poınted out that we only had a couple of gulps of water left. So, ınstead of explorıng further we decıded to follow another rıdge path back to the orıgınal concessıon stand and -from there- head back to our hostel.

Some of the stunnıng vıew from the top of the scramble. Surrounded by stunnıng pınk rock formatıons.

Another ancıent church we'd seen whıle hıkıng ın that we stopped at on our way out. I managed to clımb up ınto the entrance, only to fınd any easıer way out on the other sıde.

Safely back at our hostel, we made and ate our sandwıches (or "sandwıch boats" as we dubbed them) and then we to relax by the pool.