Monday, 30 November 2009, Australia
I made a decision recently, that I want to write an update for the web page to describe our short visit to Turkey, and our stopover in Malaysia, before the 4 month anniversary of our arrival back in Australia. I feel like the record of our epic journey is incomplete without it. Since that arrival was on August 2, I am determined to get it done!
We were in Turkey for only 18 days, as our main reason for going there was to visit our friends, Jürgen and Betty (I'll try hard not to confuse you referring to two different Juergens along the way!). Our arrival in Istanbul on a Monday afternoon was somewhat rushed. Istanbul is a city with its feet in 2 continents - Europe and Asia - West and East - separated by the Bosphorous Strait. There are 2 main airports, one on each side, but the one we arrived at was on the European side and our friends live on the Asian side. We had left Berlin 45 minutes late and, when we arrived, we had to buy a visa, enter the country, collect our luggage, and find a bank for local currency before we could take a taxi to the ferry, which would bring us to the Asian side. In the end we were only half an hour later than we were expected to be. The reason for the hurry and associated stress was that we had tickets to see Santana that evening and didn't want to miss him!
Istanbul is one of the largest cities in the world and the traffic is terrible. It is almost impossible to plan to be somewhere at a particular time. And, to exacerbate this problem, one of the bridges joining east and west is partly closed for road works. For this reason, it made more sense for us to take the ferry, and our friend Jürgen met us at the terminal on the Asian side. He took us by taxi back to their apartment to find Betty in bed with back problems. Reluctantly we left her there and were off again almost immediately, heading for the concert venue - which was on the European side! Taxi - ferry - taxi again, and when we were within a kilometre or two of the venue we got caught in a traffic jam. We got out of the car and almost ran down a very steep hill to reach our destination. We were a little late but the concert was great. Standing in a crowd of Turkish people of all ages, totally immersed in the music, and I suddenly thought, "I'm in Turkey". It had all happened too fast to really take it in properly.
When the concert finished we had to walk some distance from the venue before we found a taxi to take us home - over the bridge this time. We were exhausted, but what a day: Berlin to Istanbul - Europe to Asia - back to Europe again to Santana - the return to Asia, and a fabulous apartment with an incredible roof terrace, presenting a view over Istanbul, under a full moon. We were just not used to this sort of hectic pace, but sitting there under the night sky, sipping a glass of wine, we were happy for the experience.
In the next few days I fell in love with Istanbul - and the feeling grew to include all the parts of Turkey we experienced. Predictably, Tuesday was a rest day except for walking around the area where our friends lived, to shop for necessities. But on Wednesday we went by ferry once again to the European side to visit Sultanahmet - Old Istanbul. The ferry system is fabulous. I never tired of the trips across the Bosphorous with the beautiful views of the city from the water. It is in Sultanahmet that you find the Aya Sofia (this was originally Sancta Sofia (Latin) or the Church of the Divine Wisdom - it was the greatest church in all Christendom from 537 until 1453, when it was conquered and turned into a mosque - then Ataturk decided in the 1930s that it should be a museum, so that there would be no arguments about it in his new Turkish republic) and the amazing Blue Mosque, which is still a working mosque. We visited both of these stunning buildings, and then spent the rest of the day wandering through the Grand Bazaar, relishing the sounds, smells and colour of the experience. The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world.
Thursday saw us leaving Istanbul in a rented car, travelling south, in order to get a small taste of the country. Our friends gave us many helpful suggestions, and Juergen had visited Turkey in the past, so had some places on his list that he wanted to re-visit. We left Istanbul by car ferry for Yalova. Our goal, this first day on the road again, was Cumalikizik, a small village near Bursa, on the slopes of Uludağ. It seemed like a fairly simple target, but it didn't turn out that way. We took a very roundabout route - Juergen would say we were lost! - but eventually we drove into this very old village well after dark. Once we found the correct turnoff, the village was not so hard to find, but it was extremely difficult to manoeuvre the narrow, cobbled streets in the dark. According to our guide book, there were only two pensions in the village. We found the first, when a helpful local actually walked in front of our car to lead us to it through the labyrinth. Unfortunately it was locked up for the night and, despite shouting, knocking and tooting the horn, no-one responded. This meant retracing our steps - not an easy task without our guide - to find the second one. It was not only open, but a hive of activity. We got a room, and then went to the restaurant where we finally got a beer. It was hot and we were really exhausted, and we had expected to have a much less complicated first day.
When we woke (unusually late) on Friday, we were really pleased that we had persevered to find the village the evening before. After breakfast, we walked around the town, whose traditional houses are excellent examples of early Ottoman rural architecture. The ground floors are constructed of stone, upstairs wattle and daub, and some of them are painted in bright colours. This village was used to film a popular Turkish soap opera, which has increased the number of visitors, but it doesn't appear to have been spoilt by the attention - yet. From there we detoured a little to the north again to visit the town of Iznik, on the eastern end of the lake bearing the same name.
To reach Iznik, we drove through a hilly landscape with olive groves taking up most of the arable land. Nicaea, which is important in the historical development of the Christian faith, is the original name of Iznik. It is a walled town, with large chunks of the walls and some of the gates (or part thereof) still standing. As well as the ancient walls, we saw the local Aya Sofia, the Green Mosque (Yesil Camii), and the Murat Hamami (baths). The women's section of the baths has been converted into a tile workshop and shop, so the portion remaining must be used by men and women at alternate time. Iznik is famous for its blue tiles and other ceramic work.
A short detour to Çavdarhisar on our way to Uşak was the plan for Saturday. Sometimes we didn't find the route we had planned from our map, but we did find what we were looking for. It was a pleasant drive through the mountains, with forests and farmland and lots of sunflowers. Çavdarhisar, which is only a tiny village, has some very impressive Roman ruins including a theatre, stadium, baths, and the beautifully preserved Zeus temple, with the most amazing underground vault. It is constructed from marble and delightfully cool down there, which was a welcome respite from the heat of the sun outside. We keep thinking we have seen so many ruins during this journey that they must be really good to impress us - we were really impressed.
We drove on to Uşak where we hoped to stay at the converted Caravanserai - Otel Dülgeroǧlu - and visit a museum the next day. We couldn't find the hotel but found the museum. Here we had another great experience of the friendliness and helpfulness of the Turkish people. Nobody spoke any English, and we certainly don't speak any Turkish, but eventually they understood what we wanted when we showed them our guide book, and called the hotel. An employee came to the museum by bike and led us to the hotel. It is very grand, although the rooms are small. It was renovated a few years ago but it hasn't fundamentally changed in design since it opened in the late 1800s. It was quite expensive but they gave us a small discount and promised a quiet night. They must have overlooked the bar directly under our room, which played loud music until the early hours!
After a particularly good Turkish style breakfast, with white sheep cheese, fresh tomatoes, black olives, and the best coffee since leaving Istanbul, we wandered around the town a bit before making our way back to the Museum. The Archaeological Museum of Uşak is famous because it houses the Karun Treasure. This is a collection of 7th century BC Lydian artefacts, which originated from the area around this town. They found their way to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art by suspect means and, after a long legal battle, were returned to Turkey in 1993. We thought we had checked the Sunday opening times, but when we arrived we still had to wait an hour for the museum to re-open after lunch break. There was plenty to look at in the grounds, which are packed with artefacts that obviously aren't important enough to lock away inside. I am sure there are museums all over the world that would give a lot to have just one or two of these pieces in their collections! The inside collection is impressive, but small. A little more than half an hour was needed and we were on our way to our next destination - Pamukkale, to see the limestone terraces [Wiki link] formed by water from hot mineral springs.
Juergen had visited Pamukkale exactly 20 years ago and was very interested to see how the area might have changed. He had described it to me when we visited the Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park, because the formations look very similar. We had heard that the pools in the terraces had little water left and were in a sorry state, but were very relieved to find that they are actually in much better condition than expected. This is because the Turkish government has finally put limitations in place to protect and rehabilitate the site. We were still able to walk up the white mountain, across the terraces, with our feet in the water, and see this superb structure close up. We walked up in the late afternoon and the light was perfect. We stayed in the Beyaz Kale (Weiss Burg Pension), which provided a very tasty, vegetarian, home cooked meal that we enjoyed immensely after our climb up and down the terraces.
Continuation on > Page 2 > !