A Travellerspoint blog

Turkey

Istanbul

Photos of Turkey

“I-stan-bul … Con-stan-tin-ople! I-stan-bul … Con-stan-tin-ople!” The city of two names, two continents, two millennia of history and perhaps the best tune ever recorded was my last destination in the Muslim world (although I suppose Pauline Hanson would contend that I will find Australian suburbia to be alarmingly different when I return home). Not that the religious identity of Istanbul is entirely apparent. The culture and fashion of the city is Western to the core and only smatterings of women wear the chorda or other forms of conservative attire. Istanbul’s appearance is distinctly Southern European, except mosques instead of churches dominate the skyline. Despite a population of over fifteen million people and the consequent crowds in its central areas, the busyness in Istanbul is relatively “ordered” (in contrast to Cairo); which surely indicates that the city is developed. “Constantinople” reflects this inherent European character and is thus the more appropriate name for this sprawling metropolis. “Istanbul” conveys falsely that the city is an exotic destination with a Middle Eastern atmosphere, located at the juncture of where the East meets the West. Whoever advertises the city to tourists stubbornly refuses to recognise that the latter point is obsolete, as Jerusalem holds that coveted status (with Istanbul now firmly in the West). Nevertheless, Istanbul boasts remarkable architecture, history and culture, which makes it undoubtedly one of the most fascinating cities… in Europe.

The people of Istanbul reputedly claim that their city is the “greatest in the world”. This egotistical assertion is perhaps justifiable considering it was arguably the most important city in the Europe-Near East region for over a thousand years. Constantinople was founded in 330 AD by Emperor Constantine to serve as the new capital of the Roman Empire (the “New Rome”). As the empire collapsed and classical knowledge disappeared in the West, Constantinople remained the centre of the surviving East Roman (Byzantine) Empire. The Byzantine Empire was the most powerful state in Europe until the rise of the Carolingian dynasty in France the ninth century. Even then, Constantinople continued to be the economic and cultural centre of Europe until the late Middle Ages. The Conquest of 1453 by the Ottoman Turks finally destroyed the last vestiges of the Roman Empire (nearly a thousand years after the fall of Rome). However, this outcome did not deplete Constantinople’s significance as it became the capital of the Ottoman Empire, the strongest imperial entity in Europe until the seventeenth century. The city’s status deteriorated as the empire fragmented and eventually collapsed. With the establishment of the Turkish Republic in the 1920s, the capital was relocated to Ankara away from the perceived imperial decadence of Istanbul. Nevertheless, Istanbul is still the largest city and economic capital of Turkey.

Istanbul is renowned for its idiosyncratic geographical anomaly of straddling two continents (perhaps the same people that advertise the city to tourists invented the fictitious concept of Europe and Asia being separate continents). However, the constituent areas of interest are situated on the European side, so I did not bother to cross the Bosphorus and visit Asia (especially since I had just spent two weeks in Anatolia anyway). Istanbul’s historic zone in Europe is separated by the Golden Horde, which is a body of water that protrudes perpendicularly from the Bosphorus into the continent for several kilometres. South of the mouth of Golden Horde is the Sultanahmet district, where the imperial palaces and old city walls were situated during both Byzantine and Ottoman eras. On the opposite banks of the Golden Horde is another historical neighbourhood, Galata. Up the slopes behind Galata is the cosmopolitan centre of modern Istanbul and Taksim Square. The inexpensive ferry cruises along the Bosphorus are an outstanding way to appreciate the layout and especially the scale of Istanbul. The scenery away from the central areas was rather similar to Sydney Harbour, with green suburbs full of luxurious mansions.

Vestiges of Rome’s imperial history are found throughout the Italian capital, so I anticipated similar circumstances in Istanbul. I was surprised to discover relatively few remnants of the Byzantine epoch, although two outstanding structures survive that testify to the advancement of Byzantine engineering. The Hagia Sophia was constructed in the sixth century and was considered to be the greatest church in Christendom until the Conquest in 1453, when it was converted into a mosque. Ataturk aptly decided to secularise the complex and transformed it into a museum in the 1930s. Despite its initial purpose as the centrepiece church of Eastern Orthodoxy, the building externally has the appearance of a (aesthetically unrefined) mosque, partly because of the minarets but also because the dome looks vaguely similar to the domes of Ottoman mosques. Within the Hagia Sophia, levels are structurally supported by classical columns and the walls are covered in exquisite golden mosaics. The remarkable dome appears to be ethereally floating above the cavernous space of the interior. It was the last major dome constructed in Europe for nearly 900 years. The Basilica Cistern was another glorious edifice from the Byzantine era. The Cistern is a peaceful oasis located below the busy Sultanahmet streets. The above surface is supported by over three hundred symmetrically arranged columns and some of them consist of decorative motifs including depictions of medusa. When I visited, there was clear water at two feet in depth above paved ground and bizarrely massive carp also.

The Ottoman heritage of Istanbul is more prominent, especially in the Sultanahmet district. I visited the imperial residence of the Ottoman dynasty, Topkapi Palace, which occupies a point overlooking the Golden Horde, the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmaris. The complex consists of several grandiose courtyards and terraces with views of the surrounding waters. The palace exhibits the quintessential Ottoman architectural motif, with buildings and arcades featuring a series of shallow (geometrically inaccurate) domes. The harem is the palace’s signature area, where the sultans’ wives and concubines lived, schemed, bitched, murdered and generally conspired to deteriorate the Empire’s strength. The walls of the halls are opulently decorated and completely covered with Iznik tiles that are usually blue and white. The Grand Bazaar was established by the revered sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the sixteenth century as a covered marketplace where commerce could be conducted without weather interferences. The layout is surprisingly easy to navigate and the complex actually feels more like a modern shopping mall than a Middle Eastern bazaar. Throughout the Sultanahmet district are medersas, cemeteries (with attached teahouses) and fortifications that allude to the Ottoman era.

The plethora of beautiful mosques throughout the city is the most appealing aspect of Istanbul. The waterfront along the Golden Horde provides an intoxicating view of the hills of Sultanahmet that are dotted with serene mosques. Since Istanbul was not conquered by Muslim rulers until 1453, the city’s mosques are relatively new. Consequently, the architecture of Ottoman mosques in Istanbul contrasts substantially with the mosques I visited in the Arab world. I visited the Blue Mosque, the Suliyemaniye Mosque, the Yeni Mosque and several others, though since they were quite similar I will clump discussion about them together. Mosques in North Africa generally consist of a strict rectangular layout that is dominated by a courtyard preceding the prayer hall. While the rectangular configuration is maintained in Ottoman designs, the prayer halls are instead located at the centre of the complex; which thus reduces the size and significance of the constituent courtyard. Ottoman mosques feature identical and slender minarets in each corner of the complex, whereas in North Africa the mosques often have one monolithic minaret or a variety of styles. The prayer halls are monumentalised externally (prayer halls in the Arab world are quite austere externally) and usually feature one huge dome and several smaller domes. The colossal dome at the centre of an Ottoman mosque creates a vast space inside. The interior surfaces are covered in blue and white tiles, the floors are carpeted and ornate lanterns light already bright spaces. Inside an Ottoman mosque, the ground is of uniform height and the design is not intended to glorify a particular area, like an altar is in a Christian church. The space thus conveys equality between worshippers and those that lead the prayer. The prayer halls of mosques were relaxing places to rest, contemplate and observe.

The central and cosmopolitan areas of modern Istanbul are located on the northern side of the Golden Horde. The Galata district is immediately opposite Sultanahmet and it has a distinctly Southern European appearance and aura. Colourful and partly dilapidated apartment buildings lead up to the iconic Galata tower; a medieval structure located on the highpoint in the area. The main thoroughfare in Istanbul, Istiklal Avenue, begins near Galata Tower and winds along the ridge of Beyoglu district to Taksim Square. The pedestrianized road is permanently packed with Turks and tourists and trendy restaurant and bar areas sprout from Istiklal Avenue. I stayed in Beyoglu for two nights and thought this was the liveliest and most interesting district in Istanbul (Sultanahmet is a soulless tourist zone).

I completed the Australian pilgrimage to the Gallipoli Peninsula on an expensive day-tour from Istanbul (I decided it was morally unacceptable to worry about the cost), which is approximately five hours away. It was necessary to have a tour guide explaining the stories of each battlefield and area of interest; otherwise it would be very difficult to appreciate the significance of each site. We visited “Brighton Beach”, which was the intended landing destination for the ANZACs and is now an idyllic holiday destination in modern Turkey. The beach is strewn with bunkers that were built during World War Two in case of an attack (Turkey was a neutral nation for most of the war). The landscape further up the coast was exactly as I expected: peeble beaches, turquoise water, rocky hills and relatively arid land except for the pine cover. We stopped at many Australian, Kiwi and Turkish cemeteries and it was harrowing to see long repetitive rows of the same gravestone typology. We visited ANZAC cove and the surprisingly small and unassuming area where the dawn service is conducted (just a lawn paddock beside the coast).

Istanbul was hardly an explosive gastronomic destination. After a brief interlude in the South East of Turkey, I returned to a city of mediocre Turkish restaurants. Fortunately though, Istanbul boasts a vibrant street-food scene which is how I obtained most of my sustenance. I enjoyed the flaky and oily tubular filo pastries known as boreks (different to the boreks available at the Vic Market) which are filled with sheep’s cheese. Underneath Galata Bridge and along the Galata waterfront are dozens of seafood restaurants and small grill eateries. I visited the area on multiple occasions and had a flavoursome mackerel sandwich (ubiquitously popular) and a plate of fried sardines and watercress. I sampled the delicious spicy lentil soup known as Chorba, which is found on menus throughout the country. I ate a fantastic pastry that was similar to churros and soaked in honey with pistachio shavings. One of Istanbul’s highlights is to wander through the chaotic and colourful Spice Market, located near Galata Bridge. The market is brimming with various incarnations of Turkish delight, many of which feature nuts, nougat or fruit within. I indulged in these charming delicacies many times.

Since most of the metropolitan area straddles the European continent, Istanbul is eligible for “Liam’s favourite cities in Europe” ranking system. Istanbul boasts some outstanding architectural wonders and magnificent coastal views courtesy of its unique geography. The beautiful Ottoman mosques are the city’s best attribute and distinguish Istanbul from other European cities. Istanbul is consequently deserving of a high ranking. However, the city does not compare visually to Paris or Florence, the monuments are less abundant than in Rome, the culture is not as electric as Barcelona, its remarkable history is poorly portrayed (unlike Berlin) and it cannot compete overall with London.

1. Rome
2. Paris
3. London
4. Barcelona
5. Florence
6. Berlin
7. Istanbul
8. Munich
9. Porto
10. Amsterdam
11. Prague
12. Venice
13. Vienna
14. Lisbon
15. Copenhagen
16. Turin
17. Granada
18. Seville
19. Lyon
20. Madrid
21. Naples
22. Brussels
23. Palermo

Coincidentally, my visit to Istanbul transpired three weeks prior to the 125th IOC session where the host city for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games will be determined. Many of you will be aware that I am manically obsessed with all things Olympic, including the bidding processes to stage the Games. Circumstances this year have obviously precluded me from following the race as intensely as usual, but I am still interested in the outcome especially since I have now visited each of the candidate cities (Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul). Tokyo is my preference to host, but my fundamental hope is simply for Madrid to be unsuccessful. I think Madrid is the least appealing major city in Western Europe and it would be an abhorrent decision by the IOC to return the Games to a relatively insignificant country with only six editions since their first. Istanbul represents an exciting new frontier for the Olympic movement as it would potentially be the first Muslim-majority city to host an Olympics. Istanbul is certainly capable of staging the Games and is a worthy candidate as one of the world’s greatest cities. However, the economic disparity and repression of the Kurdish community in the South-East of Turkey compels me not to support the Istanbul 2020 campaign. Tokyo is the biggest city on the planet with over 35 million residents, yet the insatiable technological advancement of the Japanese capital has established the megalopolis as a highly efficient and ordered urban environment free of chaotic crowds. It’s a phenomenal place to experience, a city of cities, and after a sufficient gap of 56 years since the previous Tokyo Olympics, it is an appropriate destination for the 2020 Games. Tokyo is also compatible with Australian television audiences.
So with September upon us (happy birthday Liam),

Go Tokyo!

Go Rudd!

And GO HAWKS!!!!!

Liam

Photos of Turkey

Posted by Liamps 14:08 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

South-East Turkey

Turkey photos

For some reason I wasn’t able to “click” with Turkey during my first ten days in the country. Sure, the natural attractions I visited in the western parts of the country were phenomenal to see (Mediterranean coast, Pamukkale, Cappadocia), but I was not intrigued by the culture of the towns. I travelled to Turkey eagerly expecting to return to a Middle Eastern society, but disappointingly stayed in European-like towns tailored specifically for tourists. This dramatically changed when I travelled to the South-East. Cappadocia is roughly located in the centre of Anatolia, but it is the extreme Eastern frontier of the mass tourist zone. By crossing this boundary and entering the South-East of Turkey, the foreigner drops the stymied classification of “tourist” and becomes a genuine “traveller”. Not because the foreigner recklessly ignores the warnings (about safety and interest) Turks make about the South-East, but because the foreigner has the fortitude to recognise the fictitious nature of governmental propaganda about the region. The “traveller” discovers a region rich in history, beautiful architecture, excellent food and friendly and curious people. The Turks are notoriously a racist bunch and stigmatize (and repress) the Kurds and Arabs. The Kurds and Arabs are the constituent ethnic groups that populate the South-East, which is thus why this region is so scorned. I’m eternally pleased to have ignored “why would you want to go there?” exclamations by Turks as thoroughly enjoyed this tourist free and distinctly Middle-Eastern region.

The ancient and religiously significant city of Sanliurfa was my first destination in South-East Turkey. The biblical name of Urfa was adjusted in the 1980s to mean “glorious Urfa”. When I mentioned I was visiting the city, several Turks in the west of the country commented to me, “Urfa… hmmm… there’s not much to see there”. Evidently they had never visited Urfa or were too prejudicial to appreciate its glory. The Old Town of Urfa is quintessentially Middle Eastern, with narrow and winding streets, old and crumbling buildings and small mosques dotted through the urban fabric. The bazaars of Urfa are sprawling, chaotic and brimming with products for the locals (instead of tourist trash like in Marrakech or Tunis, which is more fascinating for the “traveller”). At the centre of the city is a beautiful park surrounded by splendid mosques built centuries before the Ottoman era (and are thus architecturally distinct to mosques typically found in the west of the country). The park’s constituent attraction is the Pool of the Sacred Fish, where Muslims feed the supposedly holy fish for good-luck. Muslims believe that Abraham (born in Urfa (apparently)) was thrown into the fire by Nimrod there. The ruin of a citadel built during antiquity is located on a peak that overlooks the park and provides sweeping views of the city. I stayed at a brilliant hostel which occupied a historic building with a courtyard, which was pleasant to escape to in the forty degree afternoons.

I joined a tour operated by the hostel to Mt Nemrut and the surrounding area. Our whimsical sixty-four year-old driver was reputedly a former wrestler (despite his current frailty) and repeatedly encouraged us to say “Thank-you driver! Thank-you driver!” World Heritage-listed Mt Nemrut is located in an isolated and mountainous area of Central Anatolia. Over two thousand years ago, a local king ordered the construction of immense statues depicting deities on eastern and western terraces of the mountain. The creation was influenced artistically by Greek and Persian civilisations. The statues’ heads have since been separated from their bodies but they nevertheless survive almost unblemished. The peak of Mt Nemrut is an artificially formed pile of rubble, where it is hypothesized members of the royal family are buried. The rubble was not be visually stimulating, but I was staggered by how the formation could be built two millennia ago in such a remote and inaccessible location. En route back to Urfa, we passed glorious mountainous scenery, river floodplains and (reconstructed) Roman bridges. We stopped at the Euphrates River to swim, but discovered that the water was icy cold despite the blistering conditions. Probably the most memorable incident of the day occurred when visited the massive infrastructure project of the Ataturk Dam. The know-it-all American archaeologist on the tour replied to my question of “When was this built?” (i.e. what decade?), with perhaps the stupidest serious answer that I have ever heard uttered: “by the Romans”.

Harran is supposedly one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world, although there are innumerable towns in the Middle East that make such a claim. I visited Harran on a daytrip from Urfa with an uncle and nephew pair from Washington State, who were travelling around the globe in a westerly direction (without flights). I opted for politeness by refraining to point out that their description of “circumnavigating” the globe was incorrect, since they were not crossing the equator. We were amazed to pass areas of heavy irrigation on the road to Harran, considering the scorching hot and apparently arid climate. The kindly American uncle was quite enthusiastic to be visiting the biblical town of Harran because it was the birthplace of Abraham or Job or Rachel or someone or some story of that ilk. We saw the archaeological ruins of Harran that were situated on a mound overlooking the surrounding plains. I was most impressed by the colossal ruins of a seventh century mosque as the 33m tall minaret and monumental arched entrance still survive. Throughout (relatively) modern Harran are mud-brick buildings with beehive shaped roofs that were constructed in the last two hundred years.

Diyarbakir is the largest Kurdish city in Turkey and is thus also the centre of Kurdish political activism. Possibly due to its turbulent history and stigmatised reputation for petty crimes, few tourists visit this intriguing city. I travelled to Diyarbakir with a German couple (Julian and Rose) and a Norwegian (Martin) who were all bound for Iran. We found the central area of Diyarbakir to be substantially more developed and liberal than anticipated. The main boulevard is reminiscent architecturally of Europe, a vibrant café culture exists and few people wear conservative attire. The historical areas of Diyarbakir are notable for the structural usage of black basalt stone that give the city a unique and dark appearance. We explored the narrow alleys of the Old Town and discovered beautiful mosques and several historic Armenian Orthodox churches. The city was formerly home to a large Armenian population, from which the deputy mayor always came from. The horrific genocide of Armenians in Anatolia during World War One decimated the community and left the churches abandoned. In the past three decades however, the churches have been reoccupied and restored. The interiors are quite beguiling and different to typical Western churches, particularly because of the black basalt. We walked along the colossal basalt city walls and suddenly entered an area of evident poverty. The buildings were dilapidated or collapsing, there were piles of rubbish everywhere and it felt like a potentially unsavoury neighbourhood. This was rather harrowing to see considering its proximity to the aforementioned main street. The Kurdish people in Diyarbakir were incredibly friendly, eager to talk to us and were passionate about their Kurdish identity.

The quaint town of Mardin was unfortunately my last destination in the Middle East for the trip (I heard that ignorant sigh of relief Mum). The aesthetical Old Town straddles the slopes of a small mountain and overlooks the apparent endlessness of the Mesopotamian plains. The layout of Mardin is defined by the main thoroughfare, Cumhariyet Caddesi, which runs along the mountainside at a uniform height. Bazaars and residential areas spread either uphill or downhill from Cumhariyet Caddesi. Structures in Mardin are composed of light orange-coloured rock and consequently the town is visually contrasting to Diyarbakir. Mardin boasts a litany of beautiful old buildings including mosques, mansions and medersas; and there is no monumental architecture to dominate the harmonic scenery. A crumbling fortress occupies the peak above Mardin, but is currently within a military base. The inexplicable absence of cheap accommodation compelled Norwegian Martin (who I was still travelling with) and I to stay at a boutique hotel in a restored historic building, which boasted mesmerising panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes’ interminable flatness.

The food in South-East Turkey was sensational and shamed the mediocre fare available in the western parts of the country. As I toured around the region, I eagerly gorged on fresh fruits including figs, watermelons and honey melons. I also developed an obsession for sirmit, which are rings of crunchy bread (probably not the correct phrase) that are coated in sesame seeds. The outstanding guesthouse I stayed at in Sanliurfa expanded upon the typical Turkish breakfast of egg, tomato, cucumber, sheep cheese (like feta), olives and yoghurt by providing fried cheese scrolls (like spring rolls with feta)and a buttery egg and pepper dish that was served in a pan. The wretched fluffy white bread was conspicuously absent in favour of a type of flat bread baked during the day. Countless varieties of kebabs are ubiquitously available throughout Turkey, but I thought the quality, cost and size was substantially better in the South-East. In the bazaars of Sanliurfa, spicy mixtures of mincemeat, tomatoes and onions are cooked on vast hotplates and served in pita bread (known inventively as the Urfa kebab). I sampled chicken kebab (chicken skewers), spicy beef kebab (beef skewers) and “vegetarian” kebab (skewer of eggplant chunks and mincemeat) at the bustling tiny grill-houses of the Sanliurfa bazaar. Accompanying the meat and flat bread were plates of onion, grilled green peppers (usually mild but some were astronomically hot), parsley, mint, lemons and finely-chopped tomato salad with pomegranate molasses. The four of us in Diyarbakir ate at a fantastic secluded courtyard-restaurant, where our meals where they generously provided piles of complimentary sides. I had Adana kebabs, which are spicy mincemeat mixtures grilled on skewers, and a drink of Aryan that was superb because it was freshly churned. I had an amazing dish in Mardin that I have tragically forgotten the name and have limited idea of what it was. It was loosely similar to a Chinese dumpling, but with bread-like encasing and Middle-Eastern flavoured filling. I gleefully indulged in ultra-sweet Middle Eastern pastries, including exceptional pistachio baklava, kunafa and a walnut “thing”. Since juice is so cheap in Turkey and with the weather usually exceeding 35 degrees in the South-East, I was regularly drinking one litre cartons; pomegranate and apricot were my favourite flavours.

The South-East of Turkey satisfied my desire to sample Middle Eastern culture for one last occasion on this trip. The Turkish government and populace in the west of the country appear to have successfully engineered a fictitious portrayal of the South-East as a dangerous region that holds minimal interest for foreign tourists. While this unfortunately constrains economic development for the Kurdish and Arabic residents, it does mean that visitors enjoy a relative isolated and fascinating region undisturbed by mass tourism.

That’s all for now,

Liam

Turkey photos

Posted by Liamps 13:37 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Cappadocia

Photos of Turkey

There are few sights as extraordinary as Uluru, but the bizarre scenery of Cappadocia certainly deserves to be considered alongside it. Cappadocia is a region in central Anatolia (Asian Turkey) that is famed for the “fairy-chimney” rock formations that cover the landscape. I was unable to gauge exactly why they have been given that moniker, although I suppose it is appropriate terminology since they do look rather fanciful. The approach to Cappadocia is through a monotonous and austere landscape, so it was quite unbelievable to round a hill and suddenly be confronted with the sight of tens of thousands of these whimsical landmarks. The region consists of small mountains that provide spectacular panoramas of the setting and many valleys that are brimming with the fairy-chimneys. Many of the rock formations have had caves carved into them by settlers in the region across thousands of years. This further enhances the mystical appearance of the landscape as it looks like a naturalistic and empty city where elves or dwarves may have lived (reading The Hobbit at the time probably influenced that impression).

Goreme is where the tourists stay and despite the purpose of its existence, it is still a rather charming town. Goreme is located at the terminus of several valleys and is thus surrounded by cliffs with unusual shapes. Fairy-chimney rock formations are scattered throughout Goreme and many are used as residences or for business purposes. Sean notified me of a medical theory that suggests there could be a correlation between sleeping in these caves and obtaining a particular type of cancer (due to exposure of a substance in the rock). Interestingly, Sean said that when he stayed in one of the cave hotels nearly a decade ago (and years before this theory), he felt sickly and had an urgent feeling to leave. Fortunately, I was not inhibited by such qualms as I stayed in a detached building with a pool I lounged around regularly [often I write sentences that make me laugh but wonder whether other people are laughing too…]. Numerous tours and activities can be arranged from Goreme, but I was sufficiently satisfied to explore the surrounding countryside for four days as there are (dangerously) countless of paths ambling through the fascinating landscape.

The Goreme Open-Air Museum appears to be an unremarkable area filled with yet more fairy-chimneys. But hidden within at least a dozen of the chimneys are Byzantine churches. They were created as early as the second century by Christians escaping persecution; but I do not profess to know who the persecutors were because I can’t actually remember! I suspect the Romans would be the correct answer, but I don’t understand why they would be called “Byzantine” churches then. Anywho (is that not a word? I always thought of “anywho” as a slightly pompous alternative to “anyhow”, but Word is saying its not permitted), the exterior of the churches are not indicative of the internal usage as they appear to be regular fairy-chimneys with holes in the walls (as if that’s a regular image). However, inside several of the churches are vividly coloured frescoes that cover the walls and were created nearly nineteen hundred years ago. They exhibit astonishing detail and the survival of the colouring is incredible.

While the churches were awesome to see, it was the beguiling natural landscape of Cappadocia that I was most encapsulated by. The most impressive scenery I saw was from hiking to Uchisar and back through Pigeon Valley, which was my favourite experience in Cappadocia. At the back of Goreme town, I walked along a path which curved around the monolithic fairy chimneys and gradually ascended the valley slopes. The landscape seemed to be barren and dry, yet I passed sub-plots of agriculture growing fruit trees and grape vines. The path disappeared on the chalk white slopes, which forced me to scramble up a steep section to reach a wide ridge the main road runs along. This afforded unbelievable views of Goreme and the surrounding mountains. I followed the main road to the town of Uchisar, which features the characteristic “castle” hewn into the rock of the highest point in the area. At the summit I was able to compare the flat monotony of the landscape on one side with the tens of thousands of surreal rock formations on the other. The trail from Uchisar to Goreme through Pigeon Valley should take theoretically less than eighty minutes. However, the infinite of trails crisscrossing one another in the valley are supplemented only by one sign at each endpoint. Consequently, I was required to guess which paths to take and regularly found myself at precarious edges. Despite the difficulties, it was nice to hike through a secluded area so close to a major tourist town. Pigeon Valley is named for the thousands of pigeon holes carved into the fairy-chimneys. It is filled with these rock formations, huge trees and yellow grasses. After dwelling on scenes from 127 hours and realizing that walking through thick dry grass was not such a wonderful idea since there are probably snakes in Anatolia, I successfully made it back to Goreme.

I met Carmine from Adelaide on my third day in Cappadocia. We walked along the highway to the small town of Cavusin, where we found another castle hewn from the rock. My interest in exploring the tunnels and caves of the castle waned earlier than Carmine’s, so I went for tea at an empty café. After five minutes, I saw a squad of old men gradually creeping toward me on the road. They sat on the seats arranged to overlook the road (the neighbourhood watch) and we briefly conversed without a common language. They managed to understand that I’m from Australia, while I was able to decipher they were from the town we were sitting in. After these demonstrations of extreme intelligence, Carmine returned and continued on toward another open-air museum. En route, we accidentally entered a “secret garden” where the caretaker treated us to fresh lemonade for free. The open-air museum featured fairy-chimneys with old churches, a mosque, workshops and houses carved from them, but no elaborate frescoes.

Turkish bread and dip are integral components of Liam Stevens’ diet in Melbourne. Hopefully you can appreciate my abject horror then when I discovered that both are rather difficult to obtain in Turkey. In three weeks, I ate proper Turkish bread only once at an upmarket tourist restaurant in Goreme, where it was freshly baked and delicious. At restaurants, customers are unfortunately served massive baskets of cheap white bread. The bountiful lists of dips on menus at Turkish restaurants in Australia were conspicuously absent from menus in Turkey, with only the most boring option of cacik available (yoghurt with cucumber, lacks the zing of tzatziki). In Goreme, I sampled the Cappadocian specialty of stew cooked in a clay-pot. I concluded that the dish’s popularity must stem purely from the theatrical performance of cracking the pot to serve, because the stew itself was rather flavourless. I had an insipid chicken kebab which consisted of a stingy portion of meat, paper-like bread, few fillings and no sauce; which is evidently the standard composition in Turkey. Please withhold your sympathetic thoughts however because there were several culinary delights in Cappadocia. I had a delicious mezze plate of marinated eggplant, potato salad, cacik, beans and marinated sheep’s cheese. Another favourite was zucchini stuffed with rice and mincemeat, which was served with tomato sauce and yoghurt. The best dishes I ate though were in non-tourist bakeries in the small towns I hiked to from Goreme. On both occasions I enjoyed fantastic serves of pide. Pide is similar to very flat Turkish bread with topping (mine featured mincemeat, tomato, peppers and chilli) which is baked in a wood-fired oven and eaten with fresh parsley and lemon juice.

Cappadocia epitomized my increasing realization that there are Australians everywhere, everywhere and absolutely everywhere. Unfathomably, the majority (i.e. more than 50%) of tourists in Cappadocia seemed to be from Down Under; and yet this was during the European and North American holiday seasons. While this represented an abnormally large number, I have nevertheless found that the nationality encountered most frequently on the road has been Australian. There are more Australian travellers than American travellers, if we exclude destinations like Paris, Rome and Venice. More Australians than Canadians. More Australians than French. More than Germans, more than Brazilians, more than Kiwis (thank goodness). How is this possible? No hold on a moment, stop gawking on about how Australians are such wonderful travellers and exclaiming how amazing it is to find Australians everywhere and anywhere, and seriously ponder how this is possible. Pondered yet? No doubt if you have completed that exercise faithfully, you will have reached the conclusion that it is quite literally impossible for a nation of 23 million. Thus this can only mean there has been a massive government conspiracy, for whatever reason, and the population censuses have been factually falsified. Our population is perhaps closer to 100 million and Melbourne and Sydney probably have 40 million residents each rather than 4 million. I am aware that this does not correlate to the published proportion of Australians living in the nation’s only two cities of notoriety, but since foreigners (in developing countries) ALWAYS ask Australians “Melbourne or Sydney?”, surely that implies that all travellers they meet and thus a very large proportion of Australians come from Melbourne or Sydney. We never realise that the published census results are way off the mark because at least three-quarters of the population are overseas at any given moment. So now we know. Most readers of this blog live in the biggest city on the planet.

The landscapes of Cappadocia are incredibly unique and its difficult to comprehend that such rock formations could exist naturally. While I was writing this entry, I thought that it was rather futile to provide a worded description because you really need to peruse through the photo section (and comment admiringly about my photographic skills with a scratched camera lens) to understand the scenery. Cappadocia was an unforgettable area to visit and the definite highlight of Turkey.

That’s all for now,

Liam

I happened to read my first proper entry of the trip today (Cape Town) and was mortified by the language. I was also envious of how I managed to limit it to 1000 words.

Photos of Turkey

Posted by Liamps 13:24 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Turkish Mediterranean Coast

Turkey photos.

In the spirit of Mark Latham saying a repulsive comment for the umpteenth time (unfortunately travelling on the other side of the planet has failed to deter my attentiveness to the farcical circus that is an Australian federal election), I am making a pledge to bring my blog entries up-to-date for the umpteenth time. Consequently, I will attempt to write this entry in a jiffy; although we probably have differing interpretations about what duration constitutes the term “a jiffy”. Nevertheless, this goal will be achieved by adopting a strategy of uncomfortably short and direct sentences, without bombastic expositions of emotive and ultimately frivolous language. Ulm was the concluding destination of my third European sojourn this year. I flew from Stuttgart in Southern Germany to Antalya in Southern Turkey. Readers may or may not have hypothesised accurately that this initiated travel sequence Turkey. Antalya guidebook description conveyed boringness. Therefore, travel continued immediately after flight to Olympos. Arrival at 7:00am at “backpacker-haven”. Imperial visit lasted for two days. Journey continued along Mediterranean Coast to Fethiye [Lonely Planet asserts said coast among most beautiful on Earth. Justifiable claim]. Two nights. Yearning for cultural experience culminated in premature departure from region. Readers should withdraw their inevitable disapproval of this format and imagine if politicians spoke like this. Vote 1 Stevens in 2013: The leader who cuts the crap.

Olympos is a beach hamlet that exists purely for independent travellers. It is located in a valley off the main highway from Antalya, which establishes the charade of its isolationism. The unblemished landscape of the area consists of arid and rocky mountains that are draped in verdant pine trees (quit your judgemental commentary, I am aware that that could be interpreted as an oxymoron). The structural composition of Olympos is just a dirt road and dozens of essentially identical pensions. Each pension features a plethora of wooden bungalows and tree-houses that are inexpensive to sleep in, and shaded outdoor dining and chill-out areas at the front. Visitors must pay an entrance fee to access the beach (I was equally outraged Peter), although the four hundred metre route from the village to the beach does pass through Ancient Lycian ruins. Since Olympos is situated within a protected area, there are no large-scale developments and the beachfront is completely naturalistic. The pine-covered valleys terminate at the pebble-stone beach and the pristine blue water of the Mediterranean. There were no detectable currents in the water when I was there, which made it exceptionally easy to swim through. While the beach was usually quite crowded, I was able to escape the hordes by swimming around the rocky coves and exploring the secluded bays. Olympos occupied a beautiful setting and the seawater was very pleasant, but ultimately I was not in the mood to chillax so I needed to move on.

I caught a bus that traversed the winding road along the Mediterranean coast to Fethiye. The scenery of the coastal drive was phenomenal, with orange-hued mountains dramatically descending into the impossibly turquoise sea. After passing magnificent stretches of beaches for six hours, I was tremendously disappointed to discover their absence in Fethiye. The town at least boasted pleasant marinas and beautiful views over the expansive Fethiye Bay, though these were poor substitutions for an accessible beach since I had dreamt of swimming throughout the oppressively humid bus journey. Nevertheless, I opted not to collapse into despair and instead explored Fethiye. The town was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake during the twentieth century, so it understandably lacks architectural treasures. However, the ancient ruins on the slopes above Fethiye did survive, which creates a spectacular background to the modern town. The harbour is packed with wooden Turkish yachts and lined with numerous restaurants and bars. The constituent industry of Fethiye is tourism and there are an abundance of lamentable British package tourists, yet the charm of the area has not been extinguished.

There was a fantastic communal atmosphere at the small (and rather dingy) hostel I stayed at in Fethiye. On my first night, we celebrated Kiwi Julie’s birthday with chocolate gateaux and vodka, although I was obviously teetotaling. I met Australian Carmine from Adelaide there and his trip will be substantially longer than mine. He introduced me to backgammon which I had never actually played; but needless to say I immediately mastered the game. He also gave me The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared , which was the first book I have completed since VCE that was not from the epic series of A Song of Fire and Ice. As the title suggests, the book is about a centenarian’s escape from a retirement home and his mysterious disappearance. It also explores the extraordinary episodes throughout his life in which he randomly encountered virtually all the major political figures of the twentieth century despite being politically ambivalent himself. I have no desire to transform this blog into a book-review forum and I do not profess to be a literary expert, but I thought it was absolutely hilarious. So someone at home better read it now!

As you may have deduced, the town of Fethiye was not particularly (or at all) interesting so I was compelled to join an all-day cruise of Fethiye Bay with Carmine. The voyage was on one of the aforementioned Turkish wooden yachts and was an inexpensive and brilliant method to see part of this coastal area. The yacht sailed passed the jagged coves of the bay and moored at several islands, each for nearly an hour, where we were able to swim and jump from the boat. The mesmerising blue water was incredibly clear although there were scant few fish to see. It was a very enjoyable day, aside from encountering a wretched package tourist British woman who thought she and her husband were entitled to prime seats and mattresses on the deck. Fortunately there was a happy ending though, as a Korean girl spilt beer on one mattress, Carmine accidentally fell asleep on the other and a Latino woman sat directly beside her and started fagging away. All of which made her appear grievously irritated, which renewed my faith in karma.

Turkey has been among the most disappointing countries I have visited this year from a culinary perspective. Turkish restaurants in Melbourne produce substantially better cuisine than the fare available in Turkey, while the delicious doner kebabs ubiquitously found throughout Europe are sorely missed also. I found that quality dishes were still available at upmarket restaurants, but for Australian prices which are not exactly conducive to a backpacker’s budget. I was however tempted to attend one of these establishments and enjoyed one of the best dips I have ever tasted. It was a creamy eggplant dip that was smothered in slightly burnt butter; an ingenious addition. I also had Iskender kebab, which consists of doner kebab covered in tomato-based sauce, yoghurt and burnt butter and usually served on a sizzling plate. Dinner was included at the pension I stayed at in Olympos, but most of the dishes were fairly standard since it was a buffet. The highlights were roasted vegetables mixed with yoghurt and pilaf rice (the Turks certainly know how to cook delicious rice). On the boat cruise, I indulged in piles of Turkey’s wonderful variety of potato salad, which is flavoured with Middle Eastern spices and parsley instead of a wet sauce. I sampled the celebrated but ultimately overrated Turkish pancakes known as gozleme. Old women can be seen everywhere (in tourist areas) cooking these thin pancakes on large circular hotplates that they fill with white cheese and parsley. Aryan is the national drink in Turkey and consists of just yoghurt and water and the container variety is only palatable when eaten with spicy food.

Turkey’s Mediterranean coast is excessively beautiful and it was obviously fantastic to have the opportunity to swim in mid-thirties weather. But I was unable to “click” with the region and didn’t feel like I was experiencing an “exotic” culture. Perhaps I travelled through the region with unreasonable expectations that it would be similar to the Middle East and instead found it developed and quite European, with too many undesirable British package tourists.

That’s all for now,

Liam

Actually, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that there is more!

Between visiting the Turkish Mediterranean coast and the extraordinary landscapes of Cappadocia, I travelled to the inland site of Pamukkale, with its ethereal travertines and ancient ruins. While Pamukkale is undisputedly a phenomenal attraction to see, it does not qualify for an individual blog entry. It also has minimal correlation with the above topic and the next entry; which is why it is stuck in limbo with a description here.

The natural site of Pamukkale is located around four hours from the Mediterranean coast. It is famous for the remarkable white travertines that occupy the lower slope of a mountain. From the dusty tourist village, visitors ascend terraces of carbonate minerals without shoes. Spring water flows over the surfaces and forms exquisite flat pools of turquoise pool. The beguiling scenery almost looks Antarctic and aesthetically contradicts the barren Anatolian plains it overlooks. Above the travertines are the ruins of an ancient Roman town, Hierapolis, as the hot springs have been used as a spa since the second century BC. I visited another ancient Roman ancient city near Pamukkale, Aphrodisias. Aside from an exceptionally well-preserved stadium, it was rather disappointing. I cannot be bothered going (evidenced by the sacrileges usage of that abysmally plain word) into details about this topic so peruse the photos instead.

Turkey photos.

Posted by Liamps 12:42 Archived in Turkey Comments (1)

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