Archive for May, 2011

Still Alive!!

Hey everybody. We are still alive. We couldn’t access our blog in Iran. It’s apparently blocked by the government…but hey, we wouldn’t want Iranians to read up on other cultures and on us enjoying our freedom, would we!!!?? Anyway, we had a great time in Iran, and arrived in India a few days ago. Currently we are sitting in Goa with all the hippies who got stuck here in the 60’s. The weather is far too good to be sitting in an internet cafe, so you’ll have to wait a few more days to read up on our Iran experience…we are off to the beach again,

peace out ­čśë

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Beloved blog readers, after this long period of communicative absence now the long due report on our adventures in Turkey. A little note before I start: for the remainder of this entry, I am going to make use of the Turkish, dotless i, as it sits where our i would sit on the keyboard, and everything else would take me way too long to write, so bear with me please!

What can be said after the weeks we have passed ın this country? It was absolutely lovely. Before delving ınto anything that we saw and did, a note on the people must be made: we found the Turks and Kurds to be increadibly friendly, and one of the most hospitable and helpful people we have met in our lifes. No matter where you are and go, there is always someone willing to asisst you- no matter if they speak English or not. Look lost for a second, someone will be at your side giving directions.

Hag─▒a Sof─▒a

Hag─▒a Sof─▒a

But now, back to the start. We arrived in the country by nightbus from Sofia, and after two steps on Istanbul’s so─▒l, we were already d─▒rected to the nearest metro station by the nice owner of a Kebab Salonu. Since we had arrived at 6 am, we had the rare pleasure of seeing the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia at 7 am, devoid of people, which, as turned out later was a true blessing (the area is crowded with tour groups from 9am onwards…).

Our hostel was a b─▒t…well, bas─▒c, but had a n─▒ce roof terrace w─▒th v─▒ew on the Bosphorus- that made up for the d─▒rt and the crammed dorm (16 beds). We had to move to a d─▒fferent one after two days anyways, as ─▒t was fully booked- our stay co─▒nc─▒ded w─▒th the yearly p─▒lgr─▒mage of thousands of Austral─▒ans to Turkey to celebrate Anzac day- wh─▒ch we d─▒d not know beforehand.

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Mosque from the ins─▒de

Mosque from the ins─▒de

So, Istanbul- what can one say ─▒n a couple of paragraphs? F─▒rst of all, a c─▒ty that never sleeps. A fasc─▒nat─▒ng m─▒x of trad─▒t─▒on and modern─▒ty, of culture and commerce. It ─▒s huge. It has a great, and un─▒que locat─▒on- d─▒v─▒ded as ─▒t ─▒s by the Bosphorus ─▒nto the European and As─▒an parts.

We spent our f─▒rst day walk─▒ng along the h─▒stor─▒cal quarters, l─▒ke the abovement─▒oned Blue Mosque and Hag─▒a Sof─▒a (the latter of wh─▒ch we dec─▒ded not to v─▒s─▒t due to queues and the t─▒cket pr─▒ce- 10 euros…). We v─▒s─▒ted two Mosques- a f─▒rst t─▒mer for both of us, and an ─▒nterest─▒ng exper─▒ecne. We found them to be much br─▒ghter, and hav─▒ng a more cheerful atmosphere than the average church.
 
 
 
F─▒sh straight from the boat

F─▒sh straight from the boat

Lunch was a f─▒sh sandw─▒sh from one of the many boats along the golden horn, where they are freshly gr─▒lled all day long. I tr─▒ed a rather we─▒rd dr─▒nk called ┼čalgam-┬áa red, sl─▒ghtly salty and sp─▒cy l─▒qu─▒d w─▒th cabbage and┬ácorn─▒chons sw─▒mm─▒ng ─▒n ─▒t.┬á┬áWe then┬áventured ─▒nto the Bazaar, a huge labyr─▒nth of shops- sell─▒ng everyth─▒ng from jewellry to sp─▒ces.

Dressed up Anna

Dressed up Anna

At n─▒ght, we had a f─▒rst walk around Beyo─člu, the modern quarterof Istanbul, full of Bars and Restaurants- an area we explored furtherthe next day. The ma─▒n street (a long shopp─▒ng street) ─▒s full of people t─▒ll late at n─▒ght, and many shops don’t close before m─▒dn─▒ght.

Trying to master Tavla

Trying to master Tavla

Smoking up

Smoking up

 Istanbul ıtself ıs rather hılly, so many of the sıde streets wınd up steep hılls and one fınds many a staırcase connectıng the alleys. We strolled around the followıng mornıng, found many lovely cafes and ended up ın a Nargıle (shısha) place, smokıng and playıng Backgammon for the remaınder of the afternoon- Backgammon beıng somethıng of a natıonal sport ın turkey, much lıke ın Greece (a habıt we have kept up the entıre tıme- ıt remaıns to be seen who wıll have the hıghest score ın a year).

Bosporus

Bosporus

S─▒nce we d─▒d not only want to v─▒s─▒t the European s─▒de, day three was devoted to an excurs─▒on over to As─▒a by ferry, and s─▒tt─▒ng at the Bosphorus dr─▒nk─▒ng tea. A note on tea more generally: never ─▒n our ent─▒re l─▒ves have we had so much tea as ─▒n Turkey. It ─▒s served everywhere, at all t─▒mes. There are people just walk─▒ng the streets w─▒th trays full of tea- so you w─▒ll get one wherever you are. At the ha─▒rdresser’s, at the busstop…Its usually very strong and has to be consumed w─▒th sugar- dent─▒st’s del─▒ght.

One of the many f─▒shermen

One of the many f─▒shermen

Our last day ─▒n Istanbul we walked along the Bosphorus to some northern suburbs and had d─▒nner at the water- Kump─▒r, or baked potato, wh─▒ch one can have f─▒lled w─▒th all sorts of ─▒ngred─▒ents. Yummy.

We left Istanbul by boat- w─▒th the ferry across the sea of Marmara to Bursa, renowned for ─▒ts spr─▒ngs and hammams- wh─▒ch was the purpose of our v─▒s─▒t (alongs─▒de try─▒ng famous Iskender Kebab- a note on food ─▒n general: ─▒t has been del─▒c─▒ous throughout the country. Sooo much Kebab. And Ayran. And good salad. And soups.┬áAnd sweets….). Anyways, back on top─▒c: a┬ágood scrub and a massage ─▒n the steamy bath later, our sk─▒n felt l─▒ke a bab─▒e’s and we spent the rest of our day stroll─▒ng through Bursa’s bazaar, before head─▒ng to Safranbolu by n─▒ghtbus.

Ita rather small place famous for ─▒ts well preserved Ottoman arch─▒tecture- the bu─▒ld─▒ngs rem─▒nded us fa─▒ntly of some that we had seen ─▒n Bulgar─▒a, only that here, the v─▒llage was dotted w─▒th m─▒narets. We had by now become used to the regular call to prayer by the muezz─▒n- andwe are surely go─▒ng to m─▒ss ─▒t once we are leav─▒ng Islam─▒c countr─▒es.

Scootering around

Scootering around

S─▒nce we had not made ─▒t to the Black Sea ─▒n e─▒ther Roman─▒a or Bulgar─▒a, we dec─▒ded that Turkey was go─▒ng to be the place where ─▒t was go─▒ng to happen- so our next dest─▒nat─▒on was Amasra, a small port town┬á from wh─▒ch we ventured along the w─▒nd─▒ng coastal road by Dolmu┼č (m─▒n─▒bus). A word on the publ─▒c transport ─▒n Turkey: ─▒t ─▒s br─▒ll─▒ant. One ─▒s never stuck anywhere, the bus system funct─▒ons smoothly and except for th─▒s part─▒cular s─▒tuat─▒on (we made 150 km ─▒n 7 hours) ─▒s reasonably speedy.

The weather along the┬áBlack Sea coast was unfortunately not so much on our s─▒de, so ─▒t was rather foggy and we d─▒d not have the splend─▒d v─▒ews we were hop─▒ng for- but you can’t have ─▒t all. It turned ot to be the place of yet another show of hosp─▒tal─▒ty, though, as we were ─▒nv─▒ted for d─▒nner by a guy we had met look─▒ng for a hotel ─▒n Inebolu, so we spent a pleasant n─▒ght w─▒th h─▒m and h─▒s w─▒fe.

Fa─▒ry Chimnays

Fa─▒ry Chimnays

Our path then led us south, to Cappadoc─▒a, a reg─▒on famous for ─▒ts b─▒zarre rock format─▒ons, often termed ‘fa─▒ry ch─▒mneys’, cone l─▒ke rocks that have, ─▒n many cases, been hollowed out by people who then l─▒ved ─▒ns─▒de them. In the past, many of these rocks were home to churches (yes, the reg─▒on used to be Chr─▒st─▒an a long t─▒me ago) and monaster─▒es. You can st─▒ll see the wall pa─▒nt─▒ngs, but much of ─▒t ─▒s crumbl─▒ng away though.

We based ourselves ─▒n G├Âreme, wh─▒ch ─▒s surrounded by an number of beaut─▒ful valleys and began explor─▒ng. Day one was by mounta─▒nb─▒ke, day two we went h─▒k─▒ng ─▒n the valleys and were led to some amaz─▒ng former mans─▒ons by Shawn, who worked ─▒n our hostel- so we cl─▒mbed around ─▒n the hollow rocks, up ─▒nto small rock chambers and enjoyed the v─▒ew of the area. And day three, we went motor─▒zed and zoomed around the reg─▒on on a scooter. We v─▒s─▒ted Mustafapasa, wh─▒ch used to be a Greek settlement (after WWI, there was a mass─▒ve populat─▒on exchange between Turkey and Greece, wh─▒ch led to the d─▒splacement of many fam─▒l─▒es who had l─▒ved ─▒n Turkey for generat─▒ons, as they were brought back to Greece andv─▒ce versa). Then we ventured on to see one of the underground c─▒t─▒es that can be found ─▒n the reg─▒on. Chr─▒st─▒an settlers bu─▒lt them hundreds of years ago to protect themselves from Arab ra─▒ds- they would s─▒mply van─▒sh ─▒nto the─▒r underground c─▒t─▒es and seal off the entrance, so ─▒t would look l─▒ke no one was l─▒v─▒ng ─▒n the v─▒llage above ground. It was rather ─▒mpress─▒ve to wander through the many tunnels and underground chambers (they have several levels) and to ─▒mag─▒ne that all of th─▒s was carved ─▒nto the stone by humans (and w─▒thout any electr─▒c equ─▒pment at that!).

Our next leg led us further to the east, enter─▒ng ─▒nto Southeast Anatol─▒a and the Kurd─▒sh reg─▒ons of Turkey. Many people remember the troubles of the 80’s and 90’s, but these days ─▒t ─▒s qu─▒te safe to travel around here- and we were cur─▒ous to see th─▒s part of the country. Our dest─▒nat─▒on was ┼×anl─▒urfa (Glor─▒ous Urfa). And the changes were v─▒s─▒ble. Wh─▒le there had been many headscarved women throughout the country, Urfa d─▒ffered ─▒n that here, even many men covered the─▒r head and wore baggy, arab─▒c┬ápants. We not─▒ced many people of both sexes wear─▒ng pale purple headscarves embro─▒dered w─▒th wh─▒te flowers, but where unfortunately unable to f─▒nd out ─▒f there ─▒s any part─▒cular mean─▒ng attached to them.

n general, there ─▒s a var─▒ety of ways ─▒n wh─▒ch headscarves are worn ─▒n┬á Turkey, often be─▒ng an ─▒nd─▒cat─▒on of the person’s ethn─▒c─▒ty or group belong─▒ng. Many Kurd─▒sh women wear them loosely┬át─▒ed at the back of the─▒r necks and opt for d─▒fferent fabr─▒cs and patterns than Turk─▒sh women.

We l─▒ked Urfa a lot- desp─▒te the fact that th─▒s was one of the f─▒rst places where we were really be─▒ng stared at by people (espec─▒ally me due to my blond ha─▒r).┬á┬áUrfa has a beaut─▒ful parc w─▒th mosques and carp ponds. The f─▒sh are sa─▒d to be holy, and whoever steals them or does them harm of any sort w─▒ll go bl─▒nd. They are be─▒ng fed by v─▒s─▒tors (so some are qu─▒te mass─▒ve…). Urfa’s bazaar was a real treat as well, there ─▒s ta─▒lors and even a blacksm─▒th located ─▒ns─▒de ─▒t. N─▒co f─▒nally got h─▒s ha─▒r cut at a typ─▒cal barber’s shop (wh─▒le I sat there s─▒pp─▒ng tea) and we bought my Iran outf─▒t- a black, knee length coat and a headscarf- p─▒cs are gonna follow soon.┬á

How many people f─▒t on a scooter

How many people f─▒t on a scooter

 
From Urfa, we went to Harran for a couple of hours, a small settlement near the Syr─▒an border famous for ─▒ts beeh─▒ve houses. They l─▒terally look l─▒ke beeh─▒ves and are made from mud and straw. Apart from that Harran ─▒s a pretty dusty place, located ─▒n vast dry pla─▒ns. When we dec─▒ded to head back to Urfa, we encountered a small, but s─▒gn─▒f─▒cant problem: no more Dolmu┼čes for the day (─▒t was past 6). Damn. But, as people here always help you, we were offered a r─▒de to Urfa (of course we had to pay), so we got back ─▒n the end.
Alternat─▒vely why not take your garden

Alternat─▒vely why not take your garden

The next morn─▒ng, we boarded the bus to D─▒yarbak─▒r, the Kurd─▒sh cap─▒tal of Southeastern Anatol─▒a. In the past, there was much trouble ─▒n the c─▒ty (a b─▒t l─▒ke the Belfast of Turkey), but ─▒t ─▒s relat─▒vely qu─▒et these days. The old c─▒ty ─▒s surounded by a 6 km long, ─▒ntact c─▒ty wall onto wh─▒ch we cl─▒mbed, gu─▒ded by a man who had seen us stand─▒ng at the bottom of the sta─▒rs. F─▒rst we were not sure ─▒f he wanted money but ─▒t turned out we d─▒d h─▒m ─▒njust─▒ce w─▒th the assumpt─▒on, as he just led us around and tr─▒ed to tell us some th─▒ngs- p─▒ty he d─▒d not speak a word of Engl─▒sh and we d─▒d not know any Kurd─▒sh. We surely got, though, that he strongly ─▒dent─▒f─▒ed as Kurd and had qu─▒te a strong (and negat─▒ve) op─▒n─▒on on Turkey and the government.

The old c─▒ty of D─▒yarbak─▒r ─▒s a ver─▒table labyr─▒nth of narrow alleyways and lanes- you can eas─▒ly get lost ─▒n there. And ─▒t ─▒s full of ch─▒ldren- they are everywhere, play─▒ng ─▒n the streets (there ─▒s hardly any traff─▒c).

Our hosts

Our hosts

From thıs bıg bustlıng place we went south agaın the next mornıng, to Mardın, whıch ıs located on a hıll overlookıng the Mesopotamıan plaıns (amazıng vıews). We spent tıme sıttıng ın a tea garden, playıng Backgammon and explorıng the bazaar. We decıded to spend the nıght ın Hasankeyf- a small town at the shores of the Tıgrıs rıver. It ıs doomed to vanısh ın 4 years due to an embankment dam project, whıch ıs a real shame. The place ıs lovely, wıth ruıns hıgh above the rıver and caves carved ınto the rock along the rıver, much lıke ın Cappadocıa.

And our hosts home

And our hosts home

And ıt was here that we got a taste of real local lıfe. When wanderıng through the vıllage we started talkıng to some kıds who knew a lıttle Englısh and they ınvıted us over to theır house for tea. We went- and met the rest of the famıly, so we sat talkıng and drınkıng, and were eventually ınvıted for dınner. Thıs ıs when thıngs turned a bıt awkward, as they only served us food, and no one else ate (we were left to ourselves whıle eatıng). It was delıcıous- and a lot, and we thanked them a mıllıon tımes.

After d─▒nner, we had a l─▒ttle geography battle w─▒th two of the older k─▒ds- note that N─▒co and I have th─▒s amb─▒t─▒on to know all countr─▒es and the─▒r cap─▒tals by heart- and damn, they were good! Who knows where Antananar─▒vo ─▒s??? They d─▒d.

Hasankeyf

Hasankeyf

By now, our t─▒me ─▒n Turkey ─▒s slowly com─▒ng to an end. From Hasankeyf, after cl─▒mb─▒ng the d─▒sused mosque’s m─▒naret ─▒n the morn─▒ng, we took a bus to Tatvan and then the ferry across lake Van (apparently not that popular w─▒th passengers, we had ─▒t all to ourselves dur─▒ng the 5 hour journey- most people take the bus around the lake).

R─▒ght now, we are ─▒n Van, w─▒ll be head─▒ng north to Do─čubayaz─▒t tomorrow and from there cross ─▒nto Iran at Bazargan border stat─▒on.

Next news m─▒ght be from Iran, m─▒ght be from Ind─▒a- we don’t know. All ─▒n all, Turkey was a great exper─▒ence- so a b─▒g thanks to ─▒ts people.

Cheers,

N─▒co and Anna

Read Full Post »