Team VA's Wonderings

Thursday, January 31, 2008


Day 11
There is really mountainous terrain very near the coast in Turkey, it took us a lot longer to make the journey that the mere distances would have suggested. My Marie Celeste hostel was deserted, so being offered breakfast was never going to happen (I’m sure the bloke pocketed the 10 lira I paid for the bed). The Metro buses had tended to stop every two hours or so, so I wasn’t too concerned that my snack supplies were all but exhausted. I’d be munching on Pide or something similar before long. Wouldn’t I? After 6 and a half hours on the bus, I was still some way from renouncing vegetarianism and thinking my fellow passengers looked tasty, but it was becoming a matter of time. Lunch at 4.00 did seem Mediterranean with knobs on. Rather killed my appetite for the tasty local coking in the hostel later. It took an hour of traffic and passenger chaos to travel the 4 km from the Otogar into the Old Town of Antalya, but more friendly local help got me to the church on time. About 5 pointed me in the direction (all straight down, it’s on your right) when I was walking to the hostel. I couldn’t really be bothered to explore in the dark and I knew there wasn’t so much to see in town, so I arranged a trip to Aspendos and Perge for Sunday (more Roman ruins) and did the last post.

Day 12
In the morning I found the Aussie girls I’d been to Gallipoli with had stalked me so cunningly that they’d arrived in the same hostel 24 hours earlier-they’re repeating the trick by heading to Goreme tonight. They confirmed today would be plenty of time to see Antalya and I was going to head off when one of the hostel guys said the agency had called and could I change my tour. I didn’t really want to, but I was the only one who wanted to head to the ruins. When I saw of the photos of the sunken city and the crazy tombs in the wall tour they were offering instead, I realised that I had chosen poorly, so agreed to it and got a bus ticket to Goreme and the crazy Cappadocian landscapes while I was at it.

The sights of Antalya are as follows: 2 minarets, a couple of Roman gates, a (none too exciting) clock tower, a museum of pottery and scenes from Ottoman life and the views:

Views win I reckon. The place has real character and a good feel to it, I enjoyed walking around through the narrow mazey streets with the old building on either of side of me (and yes I realise this shows no consistency of emotion to Bodrum). I guess the place has charisma.

I reckon anyone who has lived in Oxford will have had the thought, why don’t they just repair all the roads at once? Instead the simpletons (I believe council is their preferred name) dig up a road for months, give you two minutes of normality and then dig up another one, then another and so on. Just do it all once, cause chaos and get it out of the way. It’s what they’re doing in Antalya. Although here most of the traffic is on foot.

Day 13
With an early start, I was too early for breakfast, which I figured was fair enough. Yesterday I had been promised a sandwich to keep me going; in the end I and the others 4 from the hostel received a bag with a tip top cheese sarnie, an orange and a bottle of water. They really are some very nice people (this place was about £12.50 for 2 nights inc breakfast and free wireless).

The one bad thing about today is we’re looking at about 6 hours in the people carrier thing, then I get dropped off at the Ottogar for 11 hours on the night bus. I wasn’t thinking about that at when we set off on the boat for the sunken city at Kekova.

Earthquake hit the Roman city and it was a bit parky to swim and look at the submerged bits, but there were some parts on the island to snap at.

In Myra we visited the church of St Nicholas. It has some marvellous frescoes that they’re working on restoring

and has also managed to spawn a toursity feel from an old friend.

After lunch and Alvaro’s birthday

(check my healthy lunch in the background) it was off to the day’s crowning glory. Here’s a taster

Check this

They also had a 12,000 seater theatre. The crazy Petraesque stuff is tombs, all have been broken into. Around many of the sights are plentiful evidence of the importance of farming to Turkey. There is plenty of orange production as well as whole areas of greenhouses growing tomatoes and so on, much of it for export. I can’t think of another country where I’ve seen tractors being sold, in numbers, in city centres.

No avoiding it this time, night bus. I think it’ll be the only one. I am whacked tho: nice bloke from San Fran was in my dorm last night and I reckon we talked till 2; had to leave at 7 this morning and the crew on the underwater city trip were good value so no sleep there either. Maybe, just maybe, I can kick the night bus curse.

Day 14
It’s fair to say that I’ve had worse. The early part of the bus trip I spent sat next to a nice lad, who strongly felt that Turkey’s proposed entry to the EU would be a mistake and that they would lose their culture as a result. I found myself rather flummoxed as to what entry to the EU would actually mean (aside from Turkey having to stop charging people £10 to enter the country). The bus wasn’t too full, so I was able to move to a double seat and get some kip.

I had to wait an hour in chilly Nevsehir to get a shuttle the few kms to Goreme; I passed it with a very nice travel agent in his warm office-drinking tea, chatting and not buying any of his tours.

I had decided to spend the ¾ of a day left to me after checking into the dorm of my cave hostel

walking around the local sights including the Goreme open air museum. A combination of volcanic eruption and erosion has created some bizarre landscape features, while people have buried into the rock walls to create numerous rooms and churches. The open air museum focuses on the latter. The majority of the ‘buildings’ are churches, quite small ones at that

The frescoes are very nearly as impressive as feel of the place is unreal.

Once again it was impossible to prevent my thought turning to Indy and Petra.

Tombs were placed in the highest parts to be closer to God

After the open air museum I set off in search of Fairy Chimneys. I think these are they

I think, because these seemed to be in the right sort of spot for where I thought I was on the map. Given I spent most of the two hours off roading, they might very well be something else. As I slipped around, taking chunks out of the earth and sliding down slopes I hoped the Turks didn’t fine tourists for environment destruction in the same way as the Aussies. I was on no recognised trail, which was made clear when the only marks in the snow were large paw prints. I had some distant memory that the area had lynx or something. With the rock walls towering over me, I was certainly in grave danger of being stalked, jumped and eaten-had I been in a movie.

As I walked my thoughts kept turning to the morrow. I had decided to go on a tour to the Ilhara valley-since it was something like a 200km round trip and included a stop at an 8 level underground city, this seemed a no brainer. What was taxing was the hot air balloon. Cappadocia is one of the places in the world to go hot air ballooning. It was quite easy to combine this with the Ilhara valley as the balloons set off at 6.30 a.m. (a lie in compared to the summer’s 5.15) so that you catch sunrise over the rock formations. At 105 Euro, it was also something of a bargain for ballooning. The mention of being 3,000 feet up had made me a little nervous. I texted Stanners as I knew she’d done it and looked around at the variety of the colours while I walked

thinking that the light wasn’t especially good, although the dusting of snow gave the area an icing sugar appeal. I was dithering and not sure what to do. Then the snow came properly and rendered any of my decision making irrelevant

In fact the weather made quite an impact on my plans. On Monday night I went down to book a bus ticket for Wednesday morning-although the journey to Antakya is quite long I wanted to do it by day to see the landscape. However, the only company that ran a day bus said they had no seats till Friday. This seemed odd as there weren’t a lot of people about. Not wishing to hang around that long, I reluctantly booked a night bus for Tuesday night. With the snows of Monday night and Tuesday day, all the buses for Tuesday were cancelled, so I rearranged the bus for Wednesday night. On Wednesday, the road to Kayseri was still closed by snow. I managed to find a lunchtime bus that was running to Adana, from where I was told there were loads of buses to Antakya. I even managed to persuade the night bus company to give me my money back. My problems were slight compared to those trying to get out to catch flights and once weekly trains.

Day 15
When all the buses are cancelled, you can bet 200km round trip tours are going to get cancelled. But what to do? I’d done the local stuff. I certainly wasn’t walking beyond that immediate vicinity in what was essentially a blizzard. Many are those who would have chilled out by the fire with a book and had a look at the BBC website. But me? Well, I decided to go on a more local organised tour. With the only company crazy enough to still be running. In truth it was pretty silly-conditions were appalling. It must have been -5 to -10 before the wind chill. We couldn’t walk much, the snow was half way to my knee on average: after the first stop this meant my jeans were soaking. Later they were simply frozen solid. Still, I had walking boots while most of the others had trainers, so I wasn’t the only one. I’m really not exaggerating how bad it was

We were meant to climb up to this castle

We did manage to climb a ladder to get into this church

Ordinarily it wouldn’t have been my kind of thing as the trip included a trip to a potters and a winery, but it was just so ridiculous that it fostered a great spirit. Well until the last stop when it was too cold and wet to be funny any more. We also visited a formation that looked remarkably like a camel, covered in snow. At this stage my camera went on strike-I could see its point. It took a good hour for feeling to return to all of my body and I’m not sure my hat will ever be dry.

Given how much I missed out, I shall have to return to Cappadocia. In the summer I think. It would combine nicely with a trip to Mt Nemrut, where they have the heads of statues that look like something out of Lord of the Rings.

Day 16
This was the archetypical travel day. When I woke up I was catching a bus at 8.30 in the evening, after spending an hour running round bus companies changing that plan, I threw my junk in my bag and started the Odyssey to Antakya. As this took 4 different buses this gave me many opportunities for getting juiced on the bus. This is where one of the stewards, with surprisingly frequency, comes round and squirts some lemony stuff in your hands for you to freshen them up. Everyone takes it, so on the occasions I have declined, you get some odd looks. I even saw one bloke smear it lightly across his hands and then run it through his hair. I wonder if we’ll get that in Syria. Unless the exchange rate in Syria has changed dramatically, then an hour’s flight from Aleppo to Damascus cost £9.50. It looks ridiculously cheap and that’s also the word I’ve heard.

Day 17
Antakya has an embarrassment of names: formerly known as Antioch and referred to as Hatay by the locals. Despite these riches, I was surprised and relieved to find the tourist information office-being without a map in a city of 140,000 in which one of the sights was ‘3km west of the centre’ was the kind of challenge I could do without. The LP’s half column on the city had been just enough to entice me into making this my final stop in Turkey. The other 4 tourists who arrived with me at 9.30 in the very dead city centre went straight onto Syria; I was happy to have enough time not to be doing so and was even happier when a hotel a minute’s walk from the bus station gave me a room for 20 lira.

The LP has two sights and the tourist office revealed no more. It would be fair to say that the wealth of other parts of Turkey has not spread down here. Antakya is part of a parcel of land that used to be in Syria until France gave it to the Turks in an attempt to gain their neutrality in WW2. The vibe is different here, maybe it is Syrian. In some ways I hope not as I caught some blighter trying to pinch my camera out of my back pack as I walked towards St Peter’s church. Antioch was quite a den of iniquity, perhaps that’s why Peter came here for some preaching

The Church is not that old, but it is positioned to mark where the Christians first met. Barnabus, Paul and Peter all spent time here, so it quite a significant spot. There’s not much else to mark that in smoky, run down Antakya. The other magnet here is the Archaeology museum, which has some blinding mosaics.

So the time has come to say Tesekkur Ederim to Turkey and Marhaba to Syria. As long as my bus doesn’t get snowed in tomorrow morning.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Lost in Wonder

Day 8
First night in Bergama I was the only one in, last night there were 12 of us and a right UN it was too. In the end I got stuck chatting over breakfast this morning and I didn’t get away quite as quickly as I had hoped. Still I made quite good time on the 3 buses it took to get me to Ephesus and I managed to look around town.

I had been a good boy and headed to the museum in Bergama before breakfast (and anyone stirring, including the German). Once again signs warned me ‘Antiquities cannot be taken out of Turkey’-all sites and musea seem to say this. Does that mean I can take a bust to the park for lunch, just not across the border? It might refer to the ancient coins I’ve been offered. Apparently they’re worthless in Turkey, but in the UK they’d…and then the pitch concludes with a whistle. Think of it, something so valuable that you couldn’t even imagine the wealth, all you could do is whistle. So far I’ve resisted the temptations to throw all my clothes away and fill my bags with these one way tickets to a millionaire’s life. I must be mad.

Anyway, the museum was pretty good and had a number of interesting pieces, including quite a lot of headless statues. Most noticeable was what wasn’t there. If you ever go to Berlin, look out for this.

This is the temple of Zeus that was part of the Acropolis in Pergamon (let’s use the alternative spelling today). The kindly German archaeologist who worked on the site half inched it. Still, there’s some worse steeling I read about, but more of that anon.

You have to like a place that has marking on the map for ‘Aquaducts’ and they have some quite creditable remnants. I hadn’t realised quite how biblical it is in Selcuk. St. Paul lived here: he can’t have been too sociable though, as he wrote his ‘Epistle to the Ephesians’, rather than just talking to them. I guess he dropped by as St. John was living here with the Virgin Mary (sounds like the start of a Da Vinci Code sequel). It was here that John wrote Revelation, which I read when studying Durer and I remember as cracking read. If you like End of the World type stuff. So it’s only appropriate that he had Basilica built here in his honour. And a pretty bloody big honour it was too. Here’s the way in

They’d have made it bigger if the site could have supported anything more massive. As it is they settled, in the 6th century, for what would today be the 7th biggest cathedral in the world-110m by 140. A 14th century earthquake knocked it down and locals pilfered a lot of the ruins, but it’s still a great maze to wander round.

It feels a little like walking across a building plan as there are very few remaining dividing walls. Or to put it another way, I felt like Joey getting into his map. They’ve made a number of attempts with models and drawing to show what is and what was:

All this overlooks the Mosque of Isa Bey Cami, which is also a fair size and took a pounding from both the quaking earth and local builders. In the morning in Bergama I’d read about tombstones on which turbans denoted the status of the interred. Here they had some

The main event here is of course Ephesus: I’ve already lost count of the number of people who’ve told me it’s better than Pergamon. On the way back from Ephesus tomorrow I shall be visiting the Temple of Artemis. The Temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World and in my anoraky Nick Hornby style of travelling this has made me think about the list of 7 ancient wonders.

1. The Temple of Artemis, Selcuk (right here, right now)
2. The Mausoleum of Helicarnassus, Bodrum (my next stop)
3. Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Iraq (give that one a miss)
4. Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt (going there)
5. Pyramids of Giza, mark me up for that one
6. Statue of Zeus, Olympia, Greece
7. Colossus of Rhodes, Greece. Quite near by actually, but won’t be fitting it in.

Aside from the pyramids the other 6 exist is spheres somewhere between near mythical and a pile of ruins, however I shall visit the three sites as well as the pyramids. So with Petra, by the time I finish this trip I’ll have visited 4 ancient wonders and 5 of the new ones, and all but one in the last 12 months. Well, I haven’t had many stats thus far. Which reminds me I should raise my bat; Turkey is country no 50.

As I’ve just indicated there’s not a lot I shall actually see at the Temple of Artemis-just one column is upright. In some small part this is because the locals treated it as B&Q-the stone has been used in the mosque and basilica in Selcuk as well as Aya Sofya back in Istanbul. Guess where else you can find some? Go on. Yup, the good old British Museum. I sometimes wonder why I bothered leaving England, the whole bloody world is in the British Museum. And we’re not giving any of it back.

Day 9
So what can I say about Ephesus? A lot and probably far too much. So I think a few facts and some photos will best serve the purpose. Beginning at the end, Ephesus was hit by 3 earthquakes in 15 years in the 4th century. That set it on the road to being destroyed, abandoned and then attacked by the archaeologists. For the Romans it was the Bank and then Capital of Asia Minor. A city of a quarter of a million, which must have been massive for the time, Ephesus had the public and private buildings to reflect its wealth, size and influence. The tourist board are claiming its the best preserved city outside of Pompeii (I guess they don’t count Rome). Whatever else it may, it is worth visiting Turkey just to see Ephesus. So what’s it all look like then?

This is the Odeon, which means little theatre. This one seats 1,500. We’ll see why it’s little later.

The Fountain of Pollio and the Temple of Domitian.

An invader.

The Fountain of Trajan.

Clever shape the arch, no need for mortar.

The Temple of Hadrian.

The public toilets. You can see where Eavis gets the idea for Glasto. Normally all this would be breathtaking, amazing and all the rest. But then Ephesus has 2 of the most wonderful buildings I’ve seen.

The Library of Celsus and The 25,000 Grand Theatre. The library strikes me as a warm up of sorts for Petra.

In the 60s they excavated some of the dwellings, although the fabric was quite damaged, mosaics and frescoes have somehow survived in goodly numbers.

Had to get in a rather precarious position for that last one. And there’s plenty more to excavate.

They did have slaves the Romans, but they did do things in style.

The hostel gave me a lift up to Ephesus, but I walked back. Firstly past the grotto of the 7 sleepers.

This isn’t much to look at, but it is the site of quite a legend. The seven, who I believe had no affiliation to Blake, hid in the caves and were walled in. When the walls came down in an earthquake 2 centuries later, the 7 emerged (very Indiana Jones). The best bit is that no one saw them; they were ‘discovered’ when they tried to get something to eat. They were arrested for proffering dodgy money! Eventually it was determined the money was old rather forged and the legend was born.

I also discovered that Turkish pancakes are to be strongly recommended.

My last 2 stops on the way back were the Temple of Artemis and the museum. After the grotto I managed to cut through an orange orchard and a graveyard to get to the Wonder. Like me, you’ll have to use your imagination.

I think I’ve got the buses sorted to get me to Bodrum tomorrow and the next wonder (this is getting a bit Dan Cruickshank) and then onto Antalya. Time will tell.

Day 10
You can hear the tourists-‘I love Bodrum, it’s go so much character. It’s a maze of streets you can just lose yourself in.’ Of course if I wanted to get bloody lost I’d leave the map behind, ignore the street signs or just get drunk.

I got lost in Bodrum.

Three times.

Map was crap. Street signs were rubbish. Navigator was dreadful. All of which contributed to me not liking Bodrum.

Give me some credit, it takes more than getting lost. I am very glad it is out of season. My hostel is above a British Bar (where some really tuneless karaoke is going on), down the street a Scottish pub has closed down. You can get a fry up. The food’s double the price of all the other places I’ve been since Istanbul and isn’t as good. There’s club bragging if you haven’t been there, you haven’t been to Bodrum. It’s rather touristy shall we say. Still, this was always a one night stand and I’m glad to have seen the Mausoleum’s remains and had a bit of an idea, so worth the slight detour and overpriced lunch.

The Mausoleum of Helicarnassus was built in 353BC. Rather depressingly it was still intact, although buried, in the 16th century when some French tore great lumps out of it to reinforce the castle from impending Ottoman attack.

The French promptly lost, which makes it worse in my mind. Of the 6 deceased wonders of the ancient world, I reckon this one came closest to joining the pyramids in the 21st century (interestingly the pyramids are the oldest of the 7).

In the Mausoleum was buried…..Mausolus. Although I think I wrecked the spelling there, you can see what happened-he built the mother of all burial spots and got a whole genre of building named after him. Old Mausolus was a bit up himself, so he’d have loved that. When asked for the reasons why he was constructing something so, well, ludicrous in his memory, he partly justified it by saying ‘I was handsome and tall’. Well of course.

There a lot more to see here than at the temple of Artemis, not in terms of ruins, but there’s a little museum with some history and reconstructions. It seems a bit odd that some decent effort has been made, while just a 3 hour bus ride away there are goats grazing round Artemis and no more information than a sign.

All of this set me to wondering how brilliant it would be if someone recreated the 6 alongside the sites of their respective ruins. If I had Bill Gates’ money…….well, hopefully I’d spend it the way he has, but it’s a nice thought.

And if you can’t make it to Bodrum, fear not. There’s some Mausoleum in the British Museum.

The castle is meant to be the main sight here,

which also hosts the few other sights. I was disappointed as the Museum of Underwater Archaeology turned out to be a museum of items found underwater and now on display in the dry. I’d interpreted the title in the same way as many 6 year olds before me.

While it is fascinating that there was sea bound trade going on in 4,000 BC, think about that, there is only so much you can do with what you rescued. What they were trading was food, wine oil and so on. As a result the vast majority of what you can see are amphora. They can get a bit samey. It’s a little cheap to say they’ve made a museum out of a bunch of 6,000 year old Tesco delivery boats sunk to the bottom of the sea, but……

There really are an awful lot of Koreans here. At Ephesus there are signs in Turkish, English and Korean. From what I can tell, all the oriental folk, which must 80-90% of the tourists, are Korean. Perhaps they’re here now to avoid the sort of people that come to Bodrum in high season. The locals don’t seem all that happy about it-I’ve had several saying to me that the Koreans are cheap, mean and the like. Seems they’re not big spenders. All the Koreans I’ve met have been lovely and tremendously polite. I was chatting to a guy last night who wanted some tips on the rest of Europe. We nattered for 10 mins or so. And then he presented me with a keyring with a Korean drum on. His friend asked me if I knew the Korean drums. I told her I remembered them from the opening ceremony of the Seoul Olympics. She was very impressed, remarking it was 20 years ago. I was thinking it’s only 5 Games. Well they had only just met me and we hadn’t got onto the history of the Masters or Roger Federer.

I hope there won’t be a repeat of the police roadblocks and passport checks on tomorrow’s bus. We were stopped twice on the way down here. I do wonder what or who they’re hoping to find. I may have been lucky to get through the first one as I emerged from my iPod with a ‘what the hell do you want?’ look on my face before realising the bloke in uniform was probably asking for my passport. They do still seem to have a lot of army here: I’ve seen bases everywhere and there’s a recruiting station in Bodrum with an armed guard and a sign saying ‘military installation, keep out’. Must make the recruitment side of things a bit tricky. Maybe they shout at people on the street.

8 hours to Antalya tomorrow, after my record on night buses, I decided to blow the day and travel in daylight. I’ll probably sleep the whole way now……