Thursday, April 30, 2015

Nevšehir - 38° 37' 57" N 34° 48' 28" E

We are enjoying our meals in Turkey, and not because they are fancy.  We are eating lentil soup, goat cheese, salad greens, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, stews, lamb, chicken, beef and fish that has been cooked over open fires, pita bread, olive oils ... all of it fresh, local-garden grown and FULL of flavour.  The tomatoes actually taste like tomatoes! We are eating peasant food, and it is likely the best thing that could be happening to us (nutritionally).

As marvellously affluent as Calgary is, there is little hope for the 100 Mile Diet being reality there.  We are presented with food that has had to come a long way to reach us (even in the organic, whole-foods shops).  Here, a 100 Metre Diet is a very real possibility. Being out in the fresh air, hiking and climbing certainly helps build a healthy appetite.  Strangely, we are filling up on the smaller portions and sleeping very well in our hole-in-the-wall hotel.

As yesterday ended up being a lovely, warm, blue sky day, we did an organized day trip to a hike near Aksaray, some 1000+ year old cave churches near Gökçe and the underground city at Derinkuyu. Seeing wall frescoes that have survived from before the Christian Crusades is impressive.

At one point, Kate and I had the little cave chapel to ourselves and so I decided to test the acoustics.  Trying to decide what would be appropriate to sing, I was able to recall the Latin lyrics of Ave Maria.  I must say that music and sound chamber came together to create a beautiful moment.  The underground city was hugely impressive to Kate's engineering acumen. 8th century peasant farmers created concealed dwellings under their villages and fields that reached down more than 50 metres, included provisions for water, food and livestock storage, ventilation, common cooking areas, defence (in the way of stone doors, hidden entrances and traps against invaders) and even a morgue, allowing the whole area's population to stay hidden for months at a time, if necessary.

We are also enjoying the "slow travel" aspect of our trip.  We are watching people appear at the hotel with less than 48 hours to "do" Cappadocia.  We have the luxury of reading a trashy novel for the afternoon if it suits us.

We are having a marvellous time.

Rural Turkish traffic jam

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cappadocia - 38° 38' 31" N 34° 39' 30 E

The moon is lighting a cloudless, starry night as I sit on a terrace of a hotel cut into a sandstone hoodoo.  The temperature is in the low teens, there are frogs, crickets and stray dogs providing a soundtrack.  I have a cold, strong beer and all is right in the world.

After our Gallipoli adventure, we spent two more days in the Old City in Istanbul, wandering through the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market in search of a 50th birthday prezzie for Kate; exploring the Taksim/Beyogiu districts; crowd watching in the streets; trying more of the local delicacies and watching the sun set on the Bosphorus from rooftop terraces. On our final day in old Constantinople, having mastered the local tram and Metro system, we made our way, local-style, to the Ataturk Airport and hopped a quick flight to Kayseri.

After a two-hour shuttle bus ride at limit-disregarding speeds, we arrived in Cappadocia at our hotel just as the sun was starting to set.  The whole place has a hippie, rock-climber-mountain-biker vibe to it, mixed with a Wild-West/Outback frontier feel.  The terrain is arid and barren, with weather-worn sandstone buttes all around.  Tall stalagmite-shaped stone sentinels stand in clusters, scattered all over the wide valley.  A huge mountain looms in the distance, making us feel like are on the edge of a very foreign place. The whole settlement (town seems like a really overpowered word) is merely a string of pensiones, eateries, trinket stands, rent-a-scooter kiosks and guided-tour booths that have accumulated next to the bus station in the bottom of the valley.  Göreme seems like it could be absorbed back into the arid landscape as soon as the backpacker guidebooks forget to include it in next year's edition.  We've arrived at the very start of tourist season.  Platoons of empty quad bikes line the dusty streets, anticipating the bus loads of twenty-something yahoos that will soon decend upon this place.  The owner of our little, ten room cave hotel tests his new patio speakers with Eurotrash remixes of 15 second snippets from '80s dance tunes (much to the annoyance of Kate and I, who are trying to supplement the warm afternoon sun and Efes with some rural Turkish ambiance).  The contradictions between what we've read and what we are initially seeing has piqued our curiosity as to what this place is about.  The best way to fathom this, we decide, is to go for a walk the next morning.

Göreme, the town we are in, is located at the end of a number of canyons that are filled with cave houses.  The people that originally lived here (from around 2,000 BC) found that the valleys held the heat and sheltered from the winds of this high (1,000m+ elevation) plateau and the sandstone was relatively soft enough to burrow into -hence the cave dwellings.  The dwellings were originally quite basic single, big room but now (yes, many are still occupied) are often more elaborate, multi-room, multi-level warrens with windows, electricity, even solar water heating systems (on the more modern ones) incongruently fastened to the rock.  The original area inhabitants (minus the solar panels) ended up farming and eking out an existence here ever since pre-Byzantine times.  The ruling parties and religions have changed (Byzantines, Ottomans, Turks, Jews, Christians, Muslims), but the people have remained the same ... until the tourists started coming.

The tourist draw centers around the geology (sandstone hoodoos), history (4,000 or more years of it) and the cave dwellings.  Walking through a few of the valleys, we were amazed by the number of almost-hidden windows, doorways, staircases and (yikes!) remainders of rooms that the walls had fallen away from.  Every turn through the valleys we hiked through brought a new vista of natural and man-made wonders.  The path we were following sometimes petered out to rapidly crumbling sandstone toeholds that would make veteran rock climbers think twice before proceeding.  Some of the trails were barely marked with weathered bits of spray paint barely visible on the worn walls of rock.  We weren't deterred though, as we spent the better part of the next two days tramping through valleys of towering, spire-like sandstone columns; through naturally-carved and human-enlarged tunnels; up rickety iron ladders to make our way through slices in the hills.  Sometimes when it seemed we were lost in a twisting maze that hadn't been traveled by humans for a thousand years, we would round a rock pillar and spot the next little garden, barely the size of a Calgary front yard, and beside it the entrance to cave, carved into the sandstone. It made for very entertaining hikes.

We are putting in (by our estimates) ten- to fifteen-kilometre hikes each day, somehow ending up on some village restaurant's terrace with a well-deserved beer in hand by the time the afternoon sun has staked a dominant position in the sky.

The next few days will include a tour of the underground city at Derinkuyu and a day at a Turkish bath.

I'm pretty sure we can find a week's worth of entertainment here.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Post-Gallipoli - 40° 58' 48" N 28° 48' 58" E

Cold, sleep-deprived, hungry, dehydrated, bored and COMPLETELY OVER being at Gallipoli - that was what all ten thousand of us were by about 11:45 am.  Imagine what we were like by 3 pm when they announced that they were finally starting to load busses for the six hour ride back to Istanbul.  That was NOTHING compared to our moods as we realized that it was taking them about seven minutes to round up the specific people to load a single bus of forty-two people.  Do the math.

By 7 pm, the temperature had dropped into the single digits. The one little coffee vendor had long since stopped selling ten-dollar thimbles-full of coffee, closed shop and headed up the peninsula. They began passing out emergency thermal blankets and were barely fending off the angry mobs. It's a good thing Aussies suffer in silence so stoically.

We really wouldn't have missed this ANZAC Day event, but we wouldn't have said 'no' to a chopper ride out of that place 15 minutes after the wrap-up (we are sure Charles and Harry had a few extra seats in the Skorsky).

A day of recuperation at the Diamond Royal may be in order.

Tony Abott, in an attempt to bolster his popularity, adds himself to someone's contact list.

Within handshaking distance of Prince Charles

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Gallipoli - 40° 21'0" N 26° 28'0" E

After meeting our tour in Istanbul at 11am, we finally arrived at the commemorative site at 1am following a long bus ride and extended waits at the six separate security checks.

The seating stands were full and real estate on the grassy areas in front of the presentation podium was tight.  We therefore parked ourselves on the edge of the road directly behind the media. With four and a half hours to wait until the dawn service, it was impossible to lie down and sleep - no matter, there was much to see until then.  There was a reflective programme and documentaries shown on massive display screens; performances by the military bands; cultural groups; the Terrace-All Hallows (Brisbane schools) choir and information videos on arrangements following the service.

The service itself was haunting.  All was dark until the master of ceremonies began recounting the preparations by both the Turks and the ANZACs, as lights gradually began to illuminate the waves lapping against the shore, helping us to imagine the peace of this cove before the battle.  As the service went on, the sky became brighter, the birds started chirping and the silhouettes of the rugged cliffs became visible.  Mesmerized by the account of the event, we hadn't even realized dawn had broke. The feeling for reverie was tangible through the whole crowd. It is horrific what happened in this very place one hundred years ago.

John Key (NZ PM) and Tony Abbot (Aussie PM) spoke beautifully but Prince Charles' reading was the highlight.  He was extraordinary and brought tears to many eyes. I guess he has a lot of practice! The Ode of Rememberence and the Last Post were spine-chillingly haunting. The sail-by of warships, about a dozen in total, was impressive. Perfectly lined up coming directly towards us, you could see their lights in the dark.  Then, they turned starboard and sailed across as a back drop as the sky lightened and their silhouettes receded.

The spot we picked had an advantage past the clear and unobstructed view. Following the service, we were interviewed by both Channel Ten and Sky News, ended up on the television and with our picture in the Sunday Telegraph in Sydney! The media crews had been there since 8am on 24th and had watched a lot of the security set-up. Talking to them let us know of the four or five teams of snipers in the bushes above the commemorative site and an 11km exclusion zone for all shipping.

After the service, we walked up to Lone Pine. Fully-armed soldiers in camouflage gear stood just off the path. Their bright blue berets and big smiles rendered them non-threatening but you wouldn't dare step off the path. They had camped out overnight as evidenced by their kits stashed in the bushes nearby.

Due to the tight security, we were unable to wander around and explore. Disappointing but we had anticipated this. We were able to visit Shell Green Cemetary. The Gallipoli cemeteries differ from others in that there is no individual headstone for every grave.  Less than one third of the bodies were identified therefore, only those have headstones.  The others are commemorated by a special memorial in each cemetary and their grave lies unmarked.  The cemeteries are are thus large, grassy areas with few headstones. They are beautiful but lack the gut-wrenching enormity of the fatalities experienced when visiting the cemeteries of France - until you see the hundreds upon hundreds of names listed on the memorials.

At Lone Pine, the VIP party, including Princes Charles and Harry, wandered around openly.  Such are the advantages of tight security and remote locations.  Sean got within a handshaking distance of both of them.

The Lone Pine service was for the Australians.  There was a service at Chunuk Bair for the New Zealanders and one at the 57th Regiment Monument for the Turks. Each service was restricted to each nationality. The service at Lone Pine was lovely, but a little repetitive after the Dawn Service.

Sean went into the whole event fully appreciating the Aussies' respect for ANZAC Day, but not understanding that it wasn't war and battle that were being glorified.  The presentations, speeches and readings underlined that very few wanted Australia to be part of that battle.
It was the mateship (a new word to Sean, specific to the Australian culture with a very solemn meaning) that caused those poor soldiers to throw themselves into a hopeless endeavour, and led to the commemoration of this awful moment in history.

We will remember them. Lest we forget.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Pre-Gallipoli - 41° 0'51" N 28° 58'41" E

With jet lag mostly conquered, we decided to get a broader view of the city by taking one of the "hop-on, hop-off" bus tours that circumnavigates the city.  Some intrepid travellers poo-poo these tourist-focused outfits.  I find that:
  • it is a good escape from the rain on soggy days
  • you get a much-needed seat if you've done some tramping already that day
  • they cover a lot of ground in a hurry and can help you get to a few of the more remote sights easily
  • you get a good directional orientation, an idea of scale, scope and notion of how the city is laid out 
  • the double-decker busses give you something other than "sidewalk" perspective - especially good for bridges that span continents
  • you are presented with some good information on the audio soundtrack (everybody gets to listen to a recorded, location-triggered commentary in their choice of languages through headphones at their seat)
We now know where the New Mosque (built 1589) is relative to the others; where the Galata Tower is (and better ways to see the views of the Bosphorus Strait); that there is a good-sized portion of this 4000+ year-old city that wasn't settled until about 100 years ago; why seeing the sea wall facing the Marmara Sea is better experienced on foot.  

As we are walking through the bustling streets, I am seeing so many of the shopkeepers standing outside their places of business, patiently waiting for customers, smoking, mesmerized by mobile phones (or a combination of the three).  They seem to have the wisdom that hurrying just brings heart attacks. They are patient with a truck driver that stops in the middle of traffic, window rolled down, to have a word or two with a friend that is cutting across the road.  The men's clothing has a rumpled formality to it as well, with dark colours on everyone except the tourists.  Smoking is widespread here, but for some reason, I'm not offended by it.  The empty buildings that are unabashedly visible don't seem derelict but instead waiting for the next refitting/century/empire.  The city knows it will exist and will tolerate the religions, ethnicities and cultures that are here until the next ones come along.  No single structure or detail of the city seems as important as the antiquity of this place.

Staying in the Old City was a good idea.  We are close to many of the things worth seeing - the Blue Mosque; the Aya Sophia; Gülhane Park; the Golden Horn; the Basilica Cistern.

Today is "get on a bus and start towards Galipoli" day.  We need to provision-up for what will likely be a day of long bus rides (6 hours each way), security checks, waiting for security checks and waiting for everyone behind you to clear the security check so we can all get to the next security check.  Kate will be amoungst her countrymen, so I'm sure entertainment will be provided.  As much as it will be tedious getting to it, I'm looking forward to the impact of the actual event (guaranteed to be moving).  We will be up all night to be in place (on the actual battle sight), so I'm sure that tomorrow, we will all need a good afternoon nap.

Entering the harem at the Topkapi Palace

The Blue Mosque

The ceiling catches your eye

Beautiful Arabic script

In the sultan´s room

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Still Istanbul

Tramped the tourist route through The Blue Mosque and Kate's pick of the sights - the Basilica Cistern. Both were remarkable. What you could do when you had a few thousand slaves at your disposal! We wandered the Spice Bazaar, drank beer in the sun and took a ferry to Asia.

Sean, using the universal language of flapping, gesturing and pointing, managed to buy a SD card/iPhone adapter to allow us to download photos from our camera. We will be able to post photos to the blog! But not today! We are off early to beat the line ups into Hagia Sophia...

Monday, April 20, 2015

Istanbul - 41° 0' 48" N 28° 57' 17" E

We arrived at our hotel after successfully negotiating the Istanbul train and tram system from the airport. Cheap, efficient and easy!

Aimless wandering followed through the streets breathing in the sights and sounds, sampling tasty local fare and orientating ourselves.  And with heavy hearts, we realized what we had forgotten - to get our "Gallipoli 100" t-shirts printed. There were mobs of Aussies swarming around tourist attractions flaunting their Gallipoli 100 Tour Mollymock SLSC and Gallipoli 100 Military Sites Tour jackets. And here, we didn't even bring a flag... And then, the realization, the feeling in the pit of our tummies was the result of sampling far too many different flavours of Turkish Delight not from the forgotten t-shirts. All is well!

Welcome to all the unfamılıar names!

<Lookıng out over the Golden Horn

Galata Tower

One of the quieter streets

Thursday, April 16, 2015

What to pack??

10 weeks away.  Hiking, diving, sailing, exploring capital cities and old ruins, lunching on sunny terraces in the Greek Islands and French vineyards and camping out overnight before the Dawn Service at Gallipoli.  What does one pack?

...we have managed to keep it to our 22 litre day packs, tipping the scales at about 5kg each!

Saturday, April 11, 2015