11 September 2009:
Arrived back in Istanbul from Adana around 1600hrs today. From sunny Adana, I came back to a cloudy Istanbul. I have Kodachrome loaded in my Leica ready to shoot but it was never meant to be. By the time I got to the hotel, it was starting to drizzle a little, the sky grey as usual. News on the way indicated heavy flooding in parts of Istanbul, not in old town for sure. But I'm happy enough to have almost two weeks of sun, so this last day of less than perfect light is not going to be an issue.
On the last day I have here, it will be used to explore places I left out in the first few days. First off, to Eminonu docks to have a fish sandwich. I didn't really miss this one earlier, if you recall, but the fish sandwich is so good here, I will need to have one last one before I leave. Recognised this time, the fish in question is Mackerel, so this is not for the people who hate fishy smell. It's basically pan fried mackerel with salad in bread. Simple and good. Then its off by bus to Balat as I still have some more credit left in my transport key fob. Walking around and shooting the other side of the Golden Horn, this place looks a lot quieter than Eminonu or Sultanahmet. Right after, at Ayvansaray Iskelesi, a ferry took me back to Eminonu before sun was down. Originally I had plans to go back to Harem to take another set of sunset photos but cloud cover was so thick it was going from light to dark without the amber transition in the sky, so plan scrapped and decided to spend some time at Rustem Pasa Mosque.
12 September 2009:
And on the last day, a trip to the Grand Bazaar in the center of town is in order. What a better thing to do than to visit the bazaar before it is really open and tourists visit. 7am is a good time. And just to make things interesting, today is exclusively film only. And here are the photos:
And a few more of downtown Sultanahmet before heading off to the airport...
I have been advised that there is nothing to see in Adana. I confess, the only reason I plan to stop by Adana is to catch a flight back to Istanbul, and to try out Adana Kebab at the source. Other cities may make the meanest Adana kebab, but I want to have it in Adana to strike another item off my to-do list. Adana also happens to have one of the most regular flights to Istanbul from this region. Being quite close to Antakya, I should be able to travel here and have enough of the day left to move around.
10 September 2009:
Spending most of this morning napping in the two and half hour bus from Antakya. It could have been faster if not for the bus stopping at every otogar along the way.
1338hrs: Been a long travelling day. Made the questionable decision to leave the otogar at Adana, go downtown and look for the hotel to drop my bag first before heading out for a day trip to nearby Tarsus.
Why Tarsus? Adana is a big city, in fact one of the biggest in this region. I don't know if there's a big attraction in Adana other than the big American air base at Incirlik. Tarsus is a historic town, at least historic enough for me to have heard of it, and sure as hell beats wandering around a city with more than a million inhabitants like Adana on a hot summer afternoon. The way from the Adana otogar to the city center is not too convenient. There is no free shuttle bus from my bus company, so I took a public transport instead, bus 117, and they happened to start a kilometer away from the place I wanted to stay. The noon sun was no making things too comfortable.
In Turkey, a statue of Ataturk seems to symbolize the center of the city and this is also where I found a small boutique hotel to drop my stuff. After a little asking around in simple english, catching bus 140 to the otogar, hoping to catch the Tarsus bus at the right time. While travelling, I try not to remain too idle waiting hours for a bus. However, taking a bus here is not that easy. The names on the front windscreen of the buses here are quite confusing. There seem to be just a couple of final destinations, from the looks of it. A surefire way to catch the right bus to the Otogar from the Centrum of Adana seems to be either bus 120 or 140. Strangely, public buses to the otogar seems to be always driven by women. The driver on the bus I took has heavy make-up and is quite presentable. Passengers are all staring at her when they get on the bus, so that means that this is an exception!
1409hrs: And we're off in a minibus at the otogar bound for Tarsus. Strangely the driver's attendant asked us to leave the van and walk 100m outside the otogar before we were supposed to leave and join the minibus outside. (ed: I would find out why later, I think they are trying to keep as much of the ticket fare for themselves!) And this guy drives faaast. 3.5TL for the fare. Bus is not full, myself, a lady and her daughter, and a mufti. And two backup drivers. This place is strange!
1454hrs: Drop off point in Tarsus is right next to Cleopatra's gate. Confirmed by my GPS. This minibus goes all the way to Mersin if I got the message right. The return path is on the otherside of the Cleopatra's gate, I presume as the bus returns from Mersin. Nothing cleopatra-y about this gate, just one of the gates forming the old city wall of Tarsus. The assumption is that since it is one of the major gates of old Tarsus, since Cleopatra came here (where she met Anthony), she must have passed through it. Part of it looks renovated but there is a little bit sticking out that still has some carving left. I'd say less than 10%.
1509hrs: At an excavated site next to the tourist information booth. The sign says old city, but what it is is a plot of land, with excavations 6m deep showing a section of an old Roman road. There are some base of buildings clearly shown besides the road, and on the slopes there are some columns peeking out of the dirt, quite obvious if you dig some more there will be more to be found. The tourist information booth marks the entrance and for once, it is free.
Right next to the old roas is St Paul's well. I'm suspicious about it. Could have been anyone's well. Even more suspicious if you consider that something more than 2000 years old has to be 6-8m or more below current ground level, and this one is right at ground level. Plus there are some building base left over, covered in glass top. Unless his house was the only one that happened to be found, I am a skeptic. And there is a gate charge of 3TL to go in. Was hesitant, rather spend the money on baklava at a local pastanesi, but maybe it is an order from heaven to eat less today. So I relented and donated 3TL to the Turkish tourism council. Here's a tip for the scrooge in you, you don't really need to pay the entrance fee to see the well, it is possible to see it from the gate, and going in just gives you the pleasure to peep into the glass covered floor, which is worth skipping.
There are a few other ruins around the town but they are all in bad shape. There's the remains of a roman bath, but seriously only part of the wall is remaining. And there is a roman temple, but no one knew to which of the hundreds of Roman gods/goddesses it is dedicated too. I walked around town from one attraction to another in the hot sun.
Tarsus is a small town, big enough to have statues and a town hall, but has the feel of a small rural town. Stalls are selling red coloured Salgam all over the place. And lemonade. Apart for a roman highway about 20km out of Tarsus, the sights in the town can be covered in an hour or two, and then it is time to head back to Adana.
There is a small section of the town that reminds me of the houses in old Antakya, but not quite. The balconies are smaller and the road/alley is wider.
1616hrs: Done with this place, and on my way back to Adana, and hopefully grab a taste of the famous Adana kebab. Tarsus is possibly being my final adventure for this trip in Turkey as I will be heading back to Istanbul tomorrow morning.
Along the way back to Adana in the mini bus, we met with a police roadblock, and the bus attendant quickly whip out his receipt book and were busy scribbling some thing and gave it to everyone, then it occurs to me that they are supposed to issue receipts, possibly for tax reasons, and of the traffic police stops them, they will check that everyone has a receipt. So far, my 2 days of dolmus hopping, I have never received a receipt! Then it struck my mind that the guards manning the gates at the otogar probably either checks for receipt/tickets or charges a percentage commission, so on order to maximize profit, we were told to walk to the main road so that the dolmus could leave empty and circumvent whatever they rules or taxes were! Interesting. But the trip was cheap enough so I don't complain and surely if there's a way to keep costs low, I'd be all for it!
Back to Adana, dinner was at a place close to the hotel as I'm not in the mood for more long walks. Again, started off with hummus and of course, adana kebab, how can I miss having it in Adana? The waiter brought 3 sets of side dish. First was the, now standard, fresh parsley and lemon wedges. Second, a plate of salad, as side so no topping. And third a plate of bread, pita style. First dish was an appetizer of pastries, one was the square pizza thingy I recognized from yesterday's lunch with chilli flakes, and accompanied by pastry with melted goat cheese. Then not too long after, hummus came in a hot stone plate with cheese on top of it and ample olive oil. I finished it quickly as I didn't have a proper lunch yet. Then the kebab came. Just a skewer of spiced and minced lamb, with some thin durum-like bread under and over it. That with grilled tomatoes and green chillis. Forgot another side dish, sliced shallots with chilli flakes and shredded parsley to go with the kebab. And finished it with a complimentary house cake oozing with honey. Drank a cup of cay at the end and ayran during the meal. If it sounded a portion and a half, that's because it is. I'm typing this a few hours later and I'm still full from dinner! Again, will fast tomorrow!
11 September 2009:
My last day in Adana and set the alarm to go off early. Was still dark so I went back to sleep till 7 am. Then it was time to pack the Leica M6 and take a walk to the roman stone bridge 1km away from here and see what the morning life is like. There are only mini buses or dolmus on the street, and some pedestrians. The area I live is close to fabric merchants and some shops are already open this early, but they make up less than 10% of all shops. The sunlight comes at an oblique angle, so on the way to the bridge eastwards, it was possible to shoot silhouetted shots and coming back properly exposed pictures, except for a little long shadows here and there.
Had a productive shooting session and managed to mmake it back for a turkish breakfast. After an hour packing and checking emails, time to go to the airport. Adana airport is small, 2 small buildings, one domestic and the other international. There is only 1 hall, both for checking and waiting. It's one of those airports where the planes park just outside the waiting lounge and the idea is you walk up to the plane. Like a big house.
I didn't spend too much time in Adana city center. Didn't see anything worth looking at. So this is only a food trip, mainly. There are other towns near Adana with a lot more history or popularity. As usual, I don't like big cities too much.
This place goes by many names. Officially it is known as Antakya, but people here call it Hatay (name of the region Antakya is in), and in ancient times it is also known as Antioch. And the last reason, Antioch, is why I'm here in the first place. With a name this famous, it is not difficult to imagine how much history this place has. Not to mention that Antakya is located just next to Syria, just in case I feel like jumping over to the other country.
The overnight bus from Kayseri stopped almost everywhere along the way, and leaving at midnight, we arrived in Hatay almost at 8am. I counted Ningde, Adana and Iskenderun. Could have been more but I was trying to get some sleep as well. As the bus pulls into the Hatay otogar a few km out of the city, many touts come up asking if we were going to Aleppo, Syria. The bus company should have a servis bus to go to the city. Mine did but the bastard didn't want to go to the city center and made me walk 2km. Cursed him to lowest depth of Hades.
Totally dead when I got to the hotel so time for a shower and a quick nap. Which I did. 10am came and I was out looking for breakfast and indulged myself in a large 2 orders for brunch.
Hatay is divided by a dirty river with low flow and just about anything you can imagine floating on it. I swear one day there will be dead bodies floating down this river. Imagining what it was like in the old days. Maybe a nice mountain stream and a roman stone arched bridge?
1130hrs: Antakya Archeology Museum, the first stop. 8TL gets you in. At first the entrance is anything but impressive, till you reach the first room. In short, countless mosaics from archeological sites near Antakya/Hatay, namely Daphne. And the other impressive collection, at least to me is the coin collection that spans the early Roman empire, to the Byzantines, and to the Ottoman. I don't believe they missed n emperor or sultan. That IS one amazing collection if there was one. The mosaics are nice too, but they should have called this the Antakya Mosaics Museum plus a little more. Definitely worth the visit and the entrance fee.
On the way to see the working places of worship in town, stopped by a juice shop. The guy asked about the Leica M6 I have in my hand and soon we were talking about Kiev and Yashica cameras. Showed me b&w prints of Antakya/Hatay in the 20s and later years. One building remain recognizable but everything else is different now. Then he showed me the way to the backlanes to experience the old streets of Antioch during the old days. Not a good time to take photos now but will be back another time when the light is better.
Couldn't take it any further, lack of sleep on the way here is taking its toll. Would be better if I go back to the hotel and get an hour of microsleeping and then proceed out the city to see the first church or St Peter. Right after I will walk back to old Antakya and shoot some b&w photos of the tight lanes and the balconied houses.
1626hrs: Had my nap, and walked a few kilometers out the city and turned right up to the lower slopes of a mountain past some small workshops. It is properly signposted so you will never get lost. Eventually I get to St Peter's cave church, entrance fee 8TL with a lot less to see than the same amount charged at the Archeology Museum.
It was probably a real cave back then, unlike those carved churches I saw everyday in Cappadocia. But successive regimes have added to it. The crusaders added a wall and built a narthex inside while taking care of Antioch, quite apparent when in the church. The Catholic church added some stone furnitures and added a statue of St Peter on top in a hole in the wall. I could have thought it was Zeus or one of the pagan gods if not for the description. And a previous pope even went to declare that this place is holy and is fit for pilgrimage, according to the description.
But it is good to be reading all about it back in school and now being in Antioch. Just have to add a little imagination and see how they went about their chores avoiding the Roman forces. Have to remember at that time Christianity was just another outlawed cult. This cave church even has an emergency escape, which is lighted, but I guess people at that time were much smaller than contemporary Homo Modernus, so I will not attempt to lodge myself in the escape hatch. No idea where it leads to anyway.
On the way out, a street seller told me to climb the hill to see more stuff. And he sent his eldest son along. So we went up some steep shortcuts and met 2 turkish couples who speaks a little english. First sight was the exit of the emergency tunnel I saw in the church. And it is at least 50m higher than the cave church! the path is steep and it is easy to fall down the mountain if not careful. The group told me to follow them and we walked a little downhill to a sculpture of Mary, said one, and the girl said it is Hades. Looks more Mary-ish to me, but I need to research this one later as it looks older than the church.
Went back down to town with the group and we chatted a little. A guy is a short film maker and his girlfriend is a sculptor and they are from another city, in Antakya for a holiday. We walked to the old parts of the city on sundown and parted as I wanted to explore the side streets of Antakya/Hatay. As the sun is almost disappearing over the horizon, good that I was just down to my last frame of Tri-X, so I loaded in a roll of Neopan 1600 and started going into Oguzlar Caddesi, which goes uphill.
1842hrs: Passing by Kantara Camii, this is where I get to see the friendly nature of Antakyans. People on the streets willingly asked to have their photos taken, kids fighting to be in the frame as well. Even old men chatting on the streets asked me to take their photos. On top of that, the small crooked lanes, along with architecture where houses have covered balconies that stretches over the lanes makes it look interesting, even more so as the buildings are never even. Some houses have doors opened to look in and some have comfortable courtyards with sofas where the family just gathered and relaxed.
1905hrs: On the way back to the Merkez centre of the city, I passed by a pide bakery. This turkish pizza looks like real pizza but instead of being a circular shaped dough, this is shaped like an eye. Of course forgetting the pupil. This shop in the back streets still cook it is a big brick oven, and while I was looking at them making it, the old boss came up and gave me a pide to take away. I tried to refuse, but I believe it might not be good to refuse a musliman's hospitality, I offered to pay, but its free. And to make things worst, he even cut it for me and took out a tomato and sliced it right there at the bakery for me to break fast with them. So I did, listening to the father-son team talking. I was told, in turkish, by the old man that he was an arab and moved over from Syria. Soon, a neighbour came by and offered everyone Turkish coffee. Didn't really expect all these. The pide was a bit too much of a mouthful, so when I couldn't finish, they even packed it to go for me. We said our goodbyes and offered million thanks, and I was on my way for a little walk after a full dinner. Should have done the fasting today!
Not too much more to do tonight but to return to the hotel for a nice shower and early sleep. The hotel doesn't have wifi internet, but that is ok. A day without checking my email will not be a disaster.
9 September 2009:
Slept for more than 9 hours last night. Fresh from that, at 8am it is time to explore the outskirts of Antakya. First off, breakfast as the hotel does not supply any. It is an issue as most shops only cater to the lunch crowd, so had to settle for a pistachio bar from the petrol station. Right after its a minibus to Samandag and then a little walk down the road for another minibus, this time to Cevlik.
0949hrs: Finally got to Cevlik, right here by the Mediterranean sea. I believe this is my first time at the Med, at least in the last decade. Cevlik used to be the port of Antioch. If it really was, now it doesn't seem that way. Just a row of seaside restaurants that are mostly closed backed by a mountain. The beach sand is dark brown in colour and very dirty with plastic artifacts from today all over the place.
The reason to come here is the Vespasianus-Titus diversion tunnel. Not difficult to find as it is signposted when the right turn comes up just before Cevlik. Along the way up the hill to the tunnel, there is a signboard explaning the old city of Seleuceia Pieria. I don't see too much of the city standing other than the signboard and indications of its old city wall.
1020hrs: 3TL gets you into the tunnel area. Having tea and sesame crusted bread offered by the 2 old men guarding and manning the entrance. They speak only Turkish so we don't talk much. They even gave me a bread wrapped in newspaper to bring on my trip, and an offer to fill my small mineral water bottle with real 'mineral' water.
The tunnel so far looks like a big drain cut into the rock. Some sections so far is about a few storeys deep, as I follow the outdoor path above the tunnel.
1053hrs: I am taking a very slow walk, not that it is far to walk. Am now at the Besikli Cave Tomb Monument. According to the signs here, this is where the leaders of Seleuceia Piera are buried. The complex does look big but I do not intend to explore the insides of an ancient burial cave, vacant or not.
1124hrs: While walking a little further from the necropolis, I stumbled upon the ruins of Seleuceia Piera. Nothing but the base of the buildings are left and they are arranged in terrace on the slope of a hill. Looks like someone recently burnt the undergrowth so the base is quite distinct. Look for blocks of stone arranged geometrically. It has a nice view of the plains and the Mediterranean sea. It is now apparent that the tunnel/drain was carved out to divert water away from the town. Like a big ancient monsoon drain for the town. I am the only person here today, and my GPS is alive and well and blogging at the ruins. Wondering if I should take a bite out of the bread I was given.
1228hrs: Took a slow walk back to Cevlik and had some time at the empty beach. A storm seems to be closing in from the sea, so time to head back to Antakya. Refilled a bottle of water and small can of promagranate juice, plentiful here. A dolmus minibus awaits me at the town's sole bus stop and it is time to head back.
Along the way, we passed bare but concrete houses and most of them have a few tanks of water perched on top of its roof, looking like water storage tank and another one for hot water, judging from the solar panels. There are small farms everywhere, and the dolmus travels a little faster than jogging speed. I'm sure he is waiting for passengers to pile up and get to Samandag with a little more than me in the bus. I'm enjoying the ride.
1342hrs: Back in Antakya. Think it it time for a light meal. Stopped at a local fast food restaurant and ordered some aubergines plus a small local pie (the name sounds like Kaitas) and salad side. In all restaurants here in Antakya, you get an additional side side of mint leaves, green chillis and lemon wedges. Not sure what you go with them, but love those fresh mint leaves, which I completely demolished during the course of a meal. And a cup of Ayran completes the late lunch.
Weather is getting cloudy, with signs of cumulus, the type that generates a storm. Since it is still early, contemplating checking out Harbiye, ancient Daphne where most of the mosaics in the museum yesterday are coming from. I have seen dolmuses that goes there in one of the streets near here yesterday. I'll go have a look. Too early to call it a day. Just 1426hrs.
1450hrs: Boarded a crap smog spewing morris-like dolmus to Harbiye on Kartulus Caddesi going southwards. GPS goes on tracking the whole route. Shouldn't be too far this one.
1518hrs: Arrived in Harbiye. The dolmus goes up an incline most of the way, passing 2-3 storey houses along the way. Wouldn't say these are posh houses. Eventually the bus will turn a sharp right and right after a valley will show up on the left. The dolmus then goes all the way to the end of the road at a small hydroelectric plant and a hotel-restaurant by that same name.
The path down the slope is quite obviously touristic. Stalls line both sides, and wide enough for 2 cars to go down its dirt track. But all restaurants here and a pitiful little stream that is being crafted into a waterfall, diverted into restaurants so some tables are placed in the inch deep flow. Nothing to see here. If the mosaiced city is here, it is not easy to find it.
On the way back on the same dolmus system, the bus would go up the hill close to St Peter's cave church, and the view at the top of the mountain is good. The sun was shining directly at the city and mountain so shooting it then would be a total shadowy shot, so I just looked. Eventually it stops at a Dolmus station with many buses going all over the place. I logged the coordinates into my GPS for the next time.
1931hrs: My last night in Antakya and I will eat big tonight at Anadolu Restaurant. Ordered hummus and eggplant meze for starters and chicken skewer (tavuk sis) for hot dish. And the hummus was amazing, after the cold dishes I was already stuffed. And the usual sideplate of mint leaves, and lemon was there, this time plus fresh parsley leaves, which i stick into the mouth every here and then. Full like crazy, dont think I can move after, so I will finish it off with a cup of cay to end it. I was joking when I started this paragraph about eating big but I may have outdone myself this time. Well done Antakya. I shall fast tomorrow.
10 September 2009:
0813hrs: Out of the hotel after having to look for the receptionist and wake him up on the couch. Half awake, he calculated correctly my room fare for the 2 nights. Then time to catch bus 17 to the Otogar. It stops at the kebab shop at the end of Istiklal Caddesi close to the popular bridge in the city center. Stops at a bus station that heads South and cost 1TL. Ah well, details. And soon in 15 mins of slow crawl while the driver chats with a passenger and texts on his mobile, I'm at the otogar, having a cay.
Will be taking the 9am bus to Kayseri, but stopping at Adana today, and leaving this area for Istanbul tomorrow afternoon, nearing the end of my trip.
I have come to like Antakya. Not a place to stay for long for sure, it's a medium sized town with the occassional syrian car driving around. They tend to love the nice cars there, and saw a few, ironically, American SUVs. Think the Turks drive crazy? I think the Syrians are crazier. Here too, everyone thinks I am Japanese, but if you don't ignore them, they can be extremely friendly. Twice I was invited to join them for a meal with complete strangers. I attribute this to islamic teaching, but I guess there is a little bit of this habit for arabs more than other muslims. For example, you never get complete strangers being so inviting in Malaysia. I would keep away from gangs of youth calling out for you, however. Just common sense and laws of probability.
History wise, this place is just amazing. I'm sure there are other areas in Turkey that are better, Istanbul being one of them, but everyone has Istanbul in their itinerary. Antioch, the great principality of Antioch, however is one of those places where it takes some imagination to recognize the splendour of this place. Cevlik, for example, the ruins there plus the Vespasian and Titus tunnel... It takes a few hours hike along the tunnel and along the ruins of the town to know what this place was like a millennium ago. Had a feeling of the place which I didn't have before I started, partly due to the fact I didn't know about the place before. Harbiye is a place that is a little more difficult to imagine, but still, putting the mosaics in the museum and the location is still possible. Antioch itself is no different, the old city still stands, and walking around it gives an idea what life is like during it's heyday.
After Cappadocia, in the interest of making use of whatever time I have here in Turkey, I thought it was not too smart to be spending the whole day travelling. So next to the region of Nevsehir, is a large city called Kayseri which I could get to in a few hours, and if I am lucky, I can catch an overnight bus to Antakya all the way down south.
7 September 2009:
Kayseri is also called Caesarea in ancient times before the arabs conquered it. I suppose this is the famous Caesarea that I have heard about. No idea what is there but no harm checking it out to know (Ed: Apparently it is not, there is another Caesarea in Israel). Most people I've spoken to in Cappadocia were amazed I was going there as it has nothing to see there.
1100hrs: Right on the dot, the bus starts leaving Urgup's otogar for Kayseri. Fare: 6TL. The next bus to Kayseri is in 2 hours after lunch so it is perfect that I'm here at this time. The bus indicates that it goes to Nevsehir but I was assured it goes where I thought it was going. Along the way out of Urgup it stops to pick up passengers, and soon it is full, about 30+ passengers as my quick estimate puts it. As it passes the local police station, a policeman comes on board to check, possibly visual profiling, but I, being the only asian looking person, was not checked in detail. And in less than 10 mins we are on the road into the Cappadocian desert, dodging the occasional farmer's donkey and tractor carts that takes up a whole lane on the road. This highway has 2 lanes and bidirectional, and rather devoid of any vehicles, meaning that the bus driver could drive as fast as he wants. Landscape are craggy hills, valleys with poplar trees and farms. Seems like there are plenty of pumpkin farms around. My GPS registers our speed at less than 90kmph.
1216hrs: Arrived at Kayseri Otogar after an hour on the highway. The otogar is made up of a few buildings in the outskirts of Kayseri city and one of the building houses the ticket booths. Saw one with a midnight bus to Hatay/Antakya so I took a sleeping berth, so I think, for 40TL which is about the most expensive bus trip thus far, but it saves the hotel expense so, could be worth it. The girl at the counter thought I was Japanese again, and I learnt from her Turkish for 'hello' is 'merhabah' (similar to arabic I thinks) and 'goodbye' is 'gule gule' which I see a lot while driving in the Cappadocian countryside in the last 3 days. This otogar looks modern and has plenty of shops. I see left luggage service too, which I will use to deposit my bags till tonight, and make a trip to Kayseri's merkezi (town centre)!
I don't remember which bus number I took, but the stopping point was at Ataturk Boulevard, indicated by the GPS on my phone. This city looks a little more modern compared to the Cappadocian tourist towns, and a short walk later I am at Kursunlu Mosque, a small little place overlooking a park with the statue of Mimar Sinan. After a little investigation later on, I realised that the architect's birthplace is in Agirnas, not too far from Kayseri. However it is probably too difficult for me to walk Kayseri and also to visit this place.
The center of the city is characterized by a large Mimar Sinan Park. That is where the statue is located, and Kursunlu Mosque is on its southern perimeter. On the south east perimeter is a Hilton, one of the first I've seen this trip. And just in the park is a Madrasah whose name I seem to have forgetten, and did not manage to type down. On a hot day, a walk in the park in the shade is just something I need, but there are not too many trees here.
1456hrs: Having late light lunch at a restaurant on the second floor overlooking the Kayseri Citadel and next to the tourist agency. Since it is ramadan season, I'm the only customer today. The time is not exactly lunchtime either. Having the Kayserian speciality, Pastirma, the original pastrami. The dish I ordered: cured bacon, cooked in paper/aluminium wrapping, tomato slices, lemon slice, and parsley. Goes with ekmek bread. Extremely good I tell you.
1600hrs: 20 minutes before prayer time and I am at Hunat Hatun mosque. Seljuk architecture is a little flatter and does not have the massive domes a-la Aya Sofia. The entrances are the same with the high arch and double door and the half dome with stalagtites hanging off it, but the interiors are a lot less space-y compared to ottoman. This is because the massive domes in Ottoman Sinan-inspired mosques allow for large pillarless halls.
Anyway, when entering the mosque, I was asked by the caretaker, an old man who speaks french, to freely take photos inside while a quran recital goes on. So we chatted a little bit in French before I asked for permission to have a portrait of him taken.
Outside and across the main road from Hunat Mosque, I come across the main bazaar, almost as big as the one in Istanbul. Shops on the outside mostly sell spices, what looked like chilli powder and curry, and plenty of tomato paste. Other shops sell pastrami and other dried meat and sausages. Strangely Kayseri only. Other places don't have this.
Between the bazaar and Ulu Mosque is Vezir Hani, a caravanserai in the city. This part of town looks older and my Leica M6 comes out to play here. And around the corner is the city's citadel that forms the center of the city. The existing wall is what you expect a castle wall to look like. The inside of the citadel looks like a market, but I skipped the inside, preferring to have a look at the other mosques around this area.
1701hrs: Taking refuge inside Ulu Mosque, another with Seljuk styling and almost 900 years old. But in the courtyard where the water taps are, the bricks in the arches are Ottoman looking. According to the sign in front of the mosque, some of the pillars in this building is recycled from roman buildings around Kayseri. So here I am sitting inside the mosque after the 1620hr prayer time, checking out the architecture of this mosque. There is a stairs leading down from the entrance. Style of the interior is very much like Hunat Mosque earlier. What is apparently is that these Seljuk era buildings are less spacious and displaces less air as the ceilling is lower. As Ottoman domes are almost 10 storeys high, or higher, Seljuk ceillings and domes are less than half of that. Architecturally it looks like a box.
1824hrs: Walking down Talas Caddesi and passed Alaca Tomb in the middle of the road. At the junction, turned right into Yogunburc Caddesi and came upon a small bus station with mini buses with a strange model Deustch. They all seem to go to Gultepe, and the drivers are friendly, in an intimidating way, but nothing preventing me to ask them for a portrait of friends in front of their money-earner.
Then it is a walk back Talas Caddesi past an old Ottoman house that is called Gupgupoglu Konagi and a house where Ataturk used to stay when he was in Kayseri. Neither were open when I was there as it is coming close to 7pm. Close to the citadel, I joined the citizens in waiting for the prayers to go off before breaking fast and eating. What most do is to order their fast food and just chat till the prayers start, then in a few minutess they are all out the door, a whole day waiting for this moment to eat. Of course I had a light lunch today, don't think I could have gone through the day walking Kayseri while fasting.
As it was getting dark, would be a good idea to return to the otogar and wait for my midnight bus to Hatay. The Turkish map I loaded to my Nokia E71 is quite useful. I had the coordinates of the otogar locked this afternoon and all I have to do is to leave the phone close enough to the window and watch my red dot get closer to the otogar. 200m away I just press the bell. At the otogar, I tried out the internet cafe there. Cost 2TL for an hour and while the Turkish keyboard is QWERTY, the 'i' seems different. In the usual position is an 'i' with the dot missing. That caused me not to be able to get into some websites that required the conventional alphabetic 'i'. Even after an hour of internet, there is still 2 hours to run, so time for some turkish tea, cay. I doubt 2 hours at the otogar could be eventful, so it should be time to sign off, here in the most islamic city after Konya, and coincidentally both with strong Seljukian influences.
Contrary to what most people say, Kayseri is not too bad. Sure there is the occasional racist here, probably not used to seeing foreigners who don't look like them. My ipod and sound isolating earbuds go on in crowded places so I can legitimately ignore them. The only english speaking guy tries to lure me into his shop, and you've guessed it, to look at carpets. Surprisingly, the friendliest people here ended up as a latent image on my Kodak Tri-X negatives for posterity. I get to practise my French with the caretaker of Hunat Camii, and the cured beef, Pastirma is surprisingly good. I don't know if I will be back here again. Surely I have not finished yet, there's Agirnas outside Kayseri, famous being the birthplace of the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, and best of all, there are houses there with his style of design. Too bad it is 30 km out of Kayseri and require nimble bus hoppery to get there, not impossible though. To guage how good this place is, I just wandered the city center and I went through a little more than a roll of film. The DSLR stays in the bag. I like Kayseri, in a special way. Bring the ignorance earplugs if you dont look local, and enjoy the city and revell in its Seljukian heritage and a lone Ottoman Sinan-designed mosque.
Tomorrow I will be in Hatay/Antakya, ancient name Antioch of the biblical fame, playground of St Paul.
6 September 2009:
The plan today will be to cover the south-western part of Cappadocia, visiting some underground cities which the Christians lived while escaping the invading Seljuks. Right after will be the Ihlara valley, dotted with rock cut churches. Quite obviously the church will be just the same as the others I have seen in Cappadocia so far so the interest is more in the scenery. I plan to rush through it and not walk the whole valley.
After a heavy breakfast made of olives, goat cheese (like the french chevre) and bread, it's time to start the day before 10am. Will drive past Uchisar and its hill top castle hewn out of a rocky hill and pass Pigeon Valley lookout point. You know the view here is good when you see tour buses. Valley on the right, and the ancient city of Uchisar in the background. And true to its name, there are pigeons around.
I don't plan to stop too long at all the interesting spots. Soon I'd go southwards, passing highway 330, Kavak and on the way to Kaymakli through Cardak. The views are of rolling plains, a pleasant drive in the morning. The road is not too wide, enough for 2 lanes to and fro. With the windows wound down, the smell of garlic permeates the air. There are sacks of garlic fresh off the field on the roadside. No, it didn't come across my mind to nick one. But this is a nice drive, about 40km to go.
Eventually I hit the main north-south road connecting Nevsehir and Kaymakli. It is still farming area here but soon I'd hit Kaymakli. Signs abound pointing to the underground city there, but right at the same spot I branch off to the right towards the satellite town Ozluce, with a lot less tour buses. As quickly as Kaymakli started, once I turned right I was in the open fields again and it is possible to see Ozluce in the distance.
1107hrs: Typing this out at Ozluce Underground City next to the village of the same name, minus the 'underground' part obviously. The place is right inside the village, follow the signs and you will not get lost. This one definitely looks out of the way for the tour groups that prefer the other 2 more popular underground cities, Derinkuyu and Kaymakli.
I drive the only car parked at the small shaded area. A guy comes up and ushers me into a small little stone house numbered 18. Inside is a small room with nice carpet strewn sofa and old farming tools and an old pair of leather shoe hanging on the wall. Naturally a good place to let go a barrage of B&W film on. I asked the guy how long to do the whole place and he says 10 something in part sign language. Can't be hours so I guess must be minutes. Hope it is not 10 storeys of caves to explore. Stairs go down about a floor underground and first thing you come across is a medium sized chamber with a wheel as a door to block the entrance. There is a well as air ventilation shaft and potteries all over the place. The tunnel is lit with 60W incandescent bulbs requiring ISO1600 to shoot properly. At 400 I was able to do half second with my Ricoh. A few passages leads away from the main chamber and I follow it until it winds a little too much. I am the only one here and GPS don't work so I thing better to play safe and not get too far. The air is cool here, easily 20C or slightly below when it is scorching hot outside. Nice. I will rest here for a while. The caves here look like they are dug out of clay, none of the rocky or crumbly caves which most churches I have seen in the last 2 days were made of.
On the way out, I had a chicken-duck, or Japanese-Latin type conversation with the caretaker, after donating some electricity and cay money to him. He sure looks like he could do with some. So if I heard right, Ozluce is 4 levels deep, probably mostly accessible, but I visited only one, should give me enough idea of the whole city-cave thingy. Spent some time chatting to him about the farm tools that adorn the wall of his lodge that is also part of the cave entrance. Right next to it is a little room that used to be the stable on ground level when people go into the cave. No idea what the old entrance looked like though it has to be a hole in the ground.
A short drive out to the main road I'm at Kaymakli again. I cannot afford to see multiple underground cities that cost 15TL each! I see many tour bus parked at this one so I decided to head off to the next and biggest underground city. Thus a drive to Derinkuyu which also has the deepest underground city in this area.
1202hrs: At Derinkuyu, after following the signposts in the small town, parking is 2TL and entrance 15TL, you can tell this is a tourist enterprise in the highest order. The underground city (aka Yeralti Sehri apparently in Turkish) entrance is also more elaborate than the crappy surrounding city. Its like going to a mansion in the middle of a slum. Rightly so, tour buses are all over the place.
After a few minutes tapping out the coordinate of the place and updating this blog plus checking out a well that is supposed to be a ventilation shaft for the subterranean city, I start my way into a little door and stairs downwards.
Bloody hell right after going town, got stuck behind a large Korean tour group explaining away the functions of the chamber we are in while blocking off the whole passageway!
No idea where I am going but the idea is to head lower and lower till I hit the bottom of this 'deep well' city, as it is called. I will not remember what is what anyway, and at least I know they live, eat, shit and store things there. Managed to escape the Koreans in a large chamber.
1219hrs: Now about 4 levels down and stuck at a one way direction stairs deep down due to a large group of Spanish tourists on the way up. The stairs are one lane only, and most of them are not exactly fit i.e. fat, so not possible to squeeze through 2 abreast. There are old ones, young ones and slow and fast ones, as I say 'Ola' to them as they passed. Has to be 60 of them coming past! I shall spend my time blogging this underground. Good it is not hot down here.
And before I know it right at the bottom of the city, I bumped in to the Koreans again. Since I'm destined to follow a Korean tour this time, might as well just follow them. There are also arrows indicating the direction to go. Guessing that red arrows are for down, and blue for exit direction, since I see more red than blue so far. This cave is a lot bigger than Ozluce but I think some of it is cordoned off. There is no where it will fit the thousands that it is supposed to if what I have seen so far is the whole thing. At the bottom I measured 1332m with my Suunto Observer and at the ticket booth, it was 1364m, so only 30m down the well almost at the bottom. Walking between rooms is not fun at all, having to crouch down as I am 6 feet tall. Some staircase tunnels run tens of meters and sometimes my small backpack scratches the roof of the tunnel as I walk quasimodo style.
But it is good to back in the open after a half an hour down there.
1300hrs: Back in the car at Derinkuyu. Having a drink and an almond bar for my semi-fasting lunch. The tour groups are gone for lunch now, the Koreans just leaving before me.
I'm heading off to Ihlara Valley now, not too far away, another 50km or so according to my not-to-scale map. Good to know no more underground city along the way, in fact, I'm sure there are more but I have seen the mother of all underground cities, so there.
To tell you the truth, if I was living back in the Byzantine times, I'd rather convert to Islam than to have to live in these tunnels.
1352hrs: Arrived in Ihlara village after almost an hour in the plains from Derinkuyu, passing a crater lake and Guzelyurt on my left. Took a slow drive. At Guzelyurt, it was possible to see the gorges the town was build on top of. Same when entering Ihlara village, rock cut abodes and churches in the dark red rocks are visible from the road, all in a narrow valley. I park at the entrance to the village at a square where old muslim men are gathering around tables, 2-6 each, just chatting and counting prayer beads. Unfortunately stopped too early and nothing tourist will enjoy here in the village center, I move on farther away.
1424hrs: Reached the tourist center which is a few kilometers out of the village center. Entrance fee is this time 5TL to enter the valley floor and the view here is amazing. No one comes to collect parking fee so I try to play dumb.
Ihlara valley is narrow, I'm guessing with my duffmeter that it is 100m-ish across and goes straight down about 75m. Obviously the only way down is by a knee busting set of stairs. It starts from the ticket booth and gets to the valley floor in no time. Good that the bottom is flat and has tree shade, and a pleasing stream running through it. Not to clean though so my DSLR stays in the bag at the valley floor.
Visited Agacalti Church and Yiyanli church but they look absolutely the same as the other churches, all the same. I think I might have seen too many churches cut into rocks. They all look the same. I think I need to mention the word 'same' many times to drive it across.
Time to head back to the car and do the shortcut trip to Belisirma in my car. None of those hiking thing today. Once I hike to Belisirma I will need to hike back to get my car. Unfortunately when I got back to the car park the attendant was there to rightly claim his 2TL parking fee.
The drive through Belisirma is quite interesting. I go downhill winding my way down to the river down below the cliffs and soon coming to a car park full of tour buses again. According to the map there should be a bridge and soon I find it hidden away with a tight left turn by the side of the stream.
After crossing the stream, I get to the other side of Belisirma which is like a messed up poor farming village. There are no road signs here and for the most part of the way, the road is uphill on the first gear only and if you get lost looking for your way out of the valley, I don't blame you.
1553hrs: After leaving the Ihlara valley, I decided to check out Guzelyurt. As I entered the town perched on top of the hill, I see signs for an underground city and a monastery. Sounds familiar. Decide that I have had enough of both. U-turned and back tracked but a left turn on the way towards Ihlara and Aksaray caught my eye. At the end of it is Guzelyurt Golet, which I assume is an old monastery or church. The views here of the valley, lake and Guzelyurt town is amazing.
1635hrs: On the way out to Aksaray, I decided to run through Selime town, at the end of Ihlara valley. There is nothing special about the town, though it is below a hill with many eroded and interesting conical shapes and naturally, someone has carved rooms out of it.
1702hrs: Hit the highway and turned right towards Nevsehir. Just after I got on 330, a caravanserai called Agzikarahan calls out to me. This highway used to be the highway for travelling caravans, thinking it must be part of the silk road but citations needed. So a caravanserai is what you think it is. An ancient hotel for travelling caravans. If you recall, I was at one called Saruhan yesterday.
They are all designed about the same, rectangular in shape, grandish entrance with the carved inversed dome like the ones adorning Ottoman era mosques I have visited so far.
This one, however, is closed, door locked with chain and lock. And a whole gang of village kids comes upon me practising their english. First they ask for photo, and after noticing I have no digital preview to show them as I shot them with my Leica M6, the elder of the lot wanted to give me their address to mail the photo. I obliged, and soon the others are asking for free bicycles, for my camera and so on. Good luck, I turn my ignorance skills. Can't do too much here as the caravanserai is closed.
Soon back on the highway eastwards, direction Acigol, Nevsehir and hoping to make it to Uchisar castle in time for sunset. Along the way, spotted two more caravanserai, the first on the left, newly restored, but I missed the left turn. The second, also on the left is in ruins and there is a scaffold indicating it is being rebuilt. It is not too difficult to spot caravanserais, look for the rectangular stone building and the features on the arched entrance.
After leaving Acigol, got stopped by the police doing spot checks. Quite obvious they were looking for a certain person and a foreigner like me gets waved past. I did stop my car and when the policeman noticed my GPS he asked if it was a GPRS (sic). Not wanting to extend my stop I just said yes. Before long we were chatting about the spots I passed today, and I showed my cookie crumbs on my Garmin GPS to him.
1838hrs: Made it to Uchisar Castle, waiting for the sun to set. The door closes at 7pm so I probably don't have time to see the sun going below the horizon, based on the timing from the last 2 evenings, sun setting a little past 7pm here. The castle is an interesting piece of work, and an entrance fee of 3TL is charged. It started off as a rock hill and ages of digging out cave compartments means and it becomes an anthill of sorts. Several flight of stairs later and I'm at the top, being careful not to step off the edge. There is a nice panoramic view of Cappadocia here, but nothing perfect due to the evening shadows meaning there will be spots of utter blackness when shot with a DSLR.
Watched my last sunset in Cappadocia from here, tomorrow I will leave this place and return the rental car. Has been a long drive today, but not too many strenuous walk or climbs, so that is good. Dinner tonight has to be a pottery kebab which this place is supposedly known for. And ending the night with sweet baklava and a glass of Cappadocian red wine.
Tomorrow, I will spend the day in a big city, Kayseri.
Every tourist here in Istanbul seem to have Cappadocia on their itinerary. I overheard many talking about their plans. I'm no different, but instead of a package tour, I plan to go with a rental car. Price of petrol seems quite steep here, but the plan is set and the wheels are in motion. Hoping to be able to get out to the countyside early in the morning before the sun rises and before sunset, so a car will be useful. I will be flying into Nevsehir, not too many flights per week, and then transfer to Urgup to pick up my car and drive to Goreme for the night. Goreme will be my base for this trip.
Cappadocia is, of course, famous for 2 things I am aware of. First are the cappadocian horses, which I don't expect to see this trip, and second the rock cut churches where the first christian cultists practised their religion in the early years, away from the eyes of their Roman masters.
4 September 2009:
0728hrs: Airport pickup at my hotel in Istanbul. This is one of those shuttle that picks up a bunch of people in different hotels. Cost 10TL so it is cheap. This morning is not a good day for the driver as all the passengers are late out of their hotel except for me. The driver and I exchanged complaints about late passengers while we waited. You could guess what kind of passengers. Follow your stereotypical instincts.
1143hrs: Arrived in Nevsehir after a standard flight. Nothing special to report about. The landscape on the way didn't look too spectacular and the place looks dotted with many small villages. I can imagine driving to those places looking for high ground for a better view.
Nevsehir airport is quite far away from the city. Nothing much here, just an airport in the middle of nowhere. On arrival, I get picked up by a shuttle I booked online and next destination Urgup. The minivan zips through some desert and a town or two. Towns here look like typical eastern european mid sized cities, with a small town center and everything else is made up of standard issue apartment buildings made to be utilitarian rather to look good. Realised I was talking about Nevsehir! Nothing to see here, so we go past it on the way to Urgup.
Nothing special about Urgup either, but the city center looks more tourist friendly than the previous one. This is where I pick up my rental car. This time I get a sedan Renault Clio 1.4 but before it sounds like a car of the year, the one I got is a wreck, or half way to becoming so. There are knocks all over, and I swear it looks like this car is made of fiberglass. The knocks looks like it is. The cigarette lighter is not working, not a showstopped but I will have issues with my GPS power if this is the case. And even for a rental car company as big as National, this one gets delivered with no fuel in the tank! All I get is a tip on the nearest petrol kiosk on the way out to Goreme.
Goreme is easy enough to find. Just follow the sign that says Goreme Open Air Museum. Next stop, check into Kelebek Hotel. I have the coordinates in my GPS but still it took some time to look for it. Not too easy considering it is perched on top of a hill. Nice views from here. I get to have a cave single room that apparently used to be a small chapel during the early Christian times. Along the way to Goreme I passed the open air museum and the whole landscape is dotted with little caves carved into rock. The stone here is flaky, which explains why it doesn't take too much effort to hack one out. But thinking about it, if the early settlers here all have chapels, and at time Christianity was banned, this place starts to sound like a 4th century cult compound!
Did I mentioned this hotel is nice? I dont have time to check it out, left my things and packed for the afternoon outing.
1416hrs: Took the short drive over to the Open Air Museum. Car park charges 3TL for parking fee and the entrance charges are 15TL for main entrance and 8TL extra for Karanlik Kilise. In summary this is an area where there are many early churches carved into the rock, some with frescoes, some with slightly modern painted walls and ceilings. Needless to say, the extra entrance fee into the Karanlik Kilise means that this is the one with the best preserved paintings. Most of the faces have been chipped off except for the ones up high. Not too high so I guess they got midgets to hack it. Easy, old frescoes dont have images and are mostly red in coloured, some iron oxide based pigment. New ones are more colourful. The churches are next to each other, which makes me wonder who gets to go to which. And they get higher and higher, meaning that there is a slope to climb. The whole trip took two and a half hours for me. And that is hanging around waiting for tour groups to pass before I go in.
1658hrs: Done with the Open Air Museum and the sun is still out in full force. I spot the start of a trail so instead of going back to Goreme to a boring evening I decided to turn my GPS on and start trekking. The foot path is not just one and sometimes the whole area is full of it, so understandably it is easy to get lost. But where I am there are the loud whirl of tour buses so I will never get lost. Not like I can cover more than a kilometer or two in this terrain. After a few minutes I get to a cliff, but the landscape here is unique. I am at Rose Valley and the rocks are eroded to rounded cones here. Very surreal (if not for the plants growing all over the place). The camera comes out although it is close to impossible to balance myself with a DSLR around my neck. It could have been much better when the sun is much lower, close to sunset but no way I will wait 2 hours for that. I go on and before long I'm back at the car park. On the way back to the hotel I noticed a dirt track to my right that seems to go right into Rose Valley. I follow it for a kilometer or two and there are lookout points with rock structures that are like the ones that Goreme is famous for. By now the sun is starting to cast a slight hint of an orange glow, which is great! I stopped a couple times for the photoshoot and getting dust all over my bag and gears.
Now for the terrain, this part of Cappadocia is no where near flat. There are slopes. The stone that makes up all the structures here crumble easily. In fact it is entirely possible to pry a rock out of the block if you want to. With a finger. The path are mainly sandy, which makes walking up a slope that much difficult. Even more difficult considering I have a bag hanging on my right, left hand holding a lens bag, and a camera around my neck. Got to move with bent knee for the stability I need. And you have to be careful for sudden cliffs than drop tens of meter into the abyss. Not idea what is down there and no plan to find out either.
When 7pm came it was clear why this called the Rose Valley. The setting sun casts a red hue onto the whitish rocks. However I don't plan to stay here for too long after dusk. A short drive back and its time to stock up on the water, which all goes into the car boot and dinner consisting of Moussaka and pitta bread. Nice and light. 12.50TL for the meal in a restaurant.
Then it is time to call the day. Will have to do some research on what to do tomorrow now that I managed to get Goreme out of the way.
5 September 2009:
This is a driving day. So the plan is this, I will cover all the places around Goreme that can be done by car (be surprised, rental cars do go to many places!). Off the main plan, at least Devrent Valley, then a caravanserai where travellers stop to rest during the Seljuk era, then swing down back to Urgup, down to Mustafapasa and down to Soganli to see more rock cut churches.
Before 0500hrs: Have no idea what time it is, but the morning prayers woke me up. My cave room is nice, fell asleep right away last night without thinking about it being haunted by earlier versions of Christian theology, if they believe in bad spirits then.
A quick nap,and I woke up again, this time seeing balloons being inflated down in the valley outside Goreme. There has to be at least 20 of them, quite popular even considering the price they charge for it. An earlier 2 balloons rose first and were brought towards east, and it is possible to see the others keeping the altitude low and drifting westwards. The sun is about to rise, and I don't know, watching sunrise from a balloon? Other than being romantically enticing, it is probably interesting in the sense it's another way to watch sunrise. I've seen sunrise while cruising in an aircraft, and its the same sun. Without being a spoil sport, I drove at 6am off to a point outside Goreme but was disappointed. All silhouette, wrong direction. Will have to return in the evening then. Time to go back to sleep.
1003hrs: And the driving day starts. The sun is out in full force, almost a sunny f16 day. Oh, and this morning, wondering whats wrong with my M6 meter, I changed the battery and lo and behold it is sunny f16 accurate again. This means that up till now I have been overexposing by up to a stop. No worries, will develop it accordingly.
The good thing about driving is that I could stop anywhere I feel like stopping. I could just run off into the desert to look for the right shot. The plants in this desert around Goreme are the dry type, sometimes looking more like dry grass. It has one irritating thing about it. It propagates by seeds with spikes, and they do get just about everywhere I dont want it to be in. Like between your shoe and socks, so every step hurts. And it takes effort to pry it loose. Makes me try not to wander off the path too much. Started the drive out of Goreme up pass Cavusin and turned right towards Zelve.
There is another outdoor museum, similar to the one in Goreme, but I will give this one a miss.
Next stop: Devrent Valley. In a small area cramped with tour buses, differential erosion in the valley caused a high concentration of pinnacles, much more than the other areas per square km. It is possible to walk between them, following paths. This is nothing very personal at all, you share the walk with countless tourists, but still not as busy as Goreme Open Air Museum. The bright sun and dark shadows make it impossible to shoot too much with my DSLR, so I make this my stroll. It is possible to branch off the road to Goreme to the left and have a view of the valley from an elevated position. The area is not too big, hence the high concentration of cones, and in less than half hour, I'm back at the car.
Its time to swing up north again along a road to Avanos filled with potholes. At the outskirt of Avanos I follow a sign pointing towards Saruhan caravanserai, my first.
Saruhan is a caravanserai by its own in the middle of farm area and with a highway passing right in front of it. This one has been renovated and hosts dinner functions and evening whirling dervish dance. There is a small entrance fee charged to go in and entering the nice door with arch designed similar to most mosques I have been to in Turkey so far, I am in an open courtyard with resting area and covered rooms. It is possible to visit the venue of the dervish dance, which is in a cosy place on the inside,a square platform surrounded by seats. The roof is accessible via stone steps and there is a small mosque above the entrance. I was expecting caravanserai to be shabby wooden structures, not expecting this relative luxury. Must have been nice to rest here in ancient times while on the trade route.
Then it is time to backtrack towards Avanos, and then past Urgup to the south. After exiting Urgup, saw a sign indicating a church.
1223hrs: The road turns off the main road and a few km later, I am at Sarica Church, cut into the rock on a hill. There is an old man in a little inverted V shelter talking on his mobile. As I walked towards the church he came towards me, and I guessed it means there is an entrance fee. I paid a few TL and was issued a ticket. He then walked down with me and opened the gate into a door in the cliff face, and turned on the lights and explained where to go in Turkish. There are signboards and explanation panels inside, along with an award from the EU commission of something. The church has frescoes as usual, and this one is relatively bigger than the ones I have seen in the Open Air Museum yesterday.
On the way out the old man told me to explore the other churches carved into the rocks on the open valley floor but I told him it is too hot. What ensues is quite interesting. I dont understand Turkish but he mentioned he is 76 years old and he goes to all the churches everyday. So we chatted, hoping each other knew what the other was saying and in the hot afternoon sun. After taking a few photos of the old man, we waved goodbye and he walked me to the car before going back to his small shelter to wait for the next tourist.
There is another church down the road, but decided to continue down south. Passed Mustafapasa, an interesting town. There are many greek sounding places when I ram right into the city center looking for the way out south. There are churches to be explored and greek houses. And the city center had buildings made out of the same sand coloured stones so it looks very uniform and pleasing to the eye. Before long, and a few loops in town, found my way out of town, towards Cemil, Taskinpasa and Sahinefendi.
After Sahinefendi, the road climbs out of the valley floor hugging the cliff face till it reaches the top of the cliff. There are many warehouses carved into the rocks at the top on the right and left of the road and it is clear that these are modern, the doors and locks speaks plenty.
The way to Guzeloz are all high up on a plateau, with farms on both side, very different from the earlier route before Sahinefendi. A few km later, the road drops down to the valley floor again and passed Guzeloz, a small agricultural town. Taking the road leading to Kayseri.
1418hrs: Soganli. The road to Soganli branches off the the right. Soon I am in a valley surrounded by tall eroded cliffs that are vertical on the top. The view is beautiful, nothing that can be captured in photos, just something to experience. This small town is poor.
Before hitting the ticket office, there is already a church on the road which required some climbing up rocks on worn steps.
After ticket office and paying the small entrance charge, I was explained to go in with my car, which is a good thing as I was not sure I am in a mood for ong walks. Turned left first and drove all the way to the end: Tahtali Kilise awaits me. This one required crossing a small wooden bridge and a climb up a small slope.
Then on the way out where I came in, the first church I skipped earlier is Church with Deer (Geyikli Kilise). No idea what deer, didn't see one on the frescoes.
Then time to make my way to the churches on the right of the entance. First on right: Karabas Kilise, then Yilani Kilise at the end. the next few churches are on a hill with footpath leading up to it. Up the hill, first church is the Domed church (Kubbeli Kilise) and after that, one called Hidden church. It is hidden alright. All these are set in the Soganli Valley, with strange rock structures everywhere.
It is a nice walk if not for the sun. On the top of cliff, it is possible to see little holes cut into the rock at impossible height, mostly with white markings on the door. This place used to be a burial necropolis in ancient times, has to be the Roman empire.
A good hour or more later, backtrack along the cookie crumbs back to Urgup, passing through Mustafapasa again to take sone town photos.
1755hrs: Back around Goreme, and decided to catch the sunset at rose valley sunset point. This area is really for the sunset only, apart from being the trail head for rose valley. There is an entrance fee for cars at 1TL per person.
1940hrs: Back in Goreme after sunset. Been a long day today. Been through a large area and diversity of sights. First was the Cappadocian landscape as told by tour brochures, then explored my first Caravanserai. On the way to Soganli, passed a few old style villages where agriculture is the main staple. And ending with sunset among the cones in the sunset point just outside Urgup.
Tomorrow, my last day in Cappadocia, I will drive down to Ihlara Valley and on the way, visit some of the underground cities that the early christians lived in to escape from the invaders.
Iznik (Nicaea) is another one of those town that I HAVE to pass through in Turkey. It is here, 1700 years ago that the first ecumenical council took place that produced a Nicene creed, for non Catholic, I summarize by saying this is where a group of men decided what the relationship between all the main characters in the religion is. Of course they say its by divine order but lets just leave that there. Iznik is also known for its ceramic industry during the Ottoman empire days. Just about everywhere I went so far, the most elaborate mosques or palace is adorned with tiles from Iznik. If I get just 1 type of souvenir, it has to be ceramic tiles from Iznik.
0800hrs: After taking the early morning train from Cankaturan this morning, I am now on board the massive car ferry at Yenikapi docks that crosses the Marmara sea. Seats are assigned, so this is not a intra city ferry styled boat. Even outdoor seats are numbered. Too bad I got assigned the indoor seats.
0915hrs: Arrival in Yalova. The ferry took a little more than an hour only. Not too bad. The plan today, hatched during the boat ride is quite hectic. It involves a trip to bursa for the Iskander Kebab lunch, then a bus to Iznik for 3 hours there before going back to Yalova for the IDO ferry back to Istanbul Yenikapi. It might change of course.
Just after getting off the ferry at Yalova, there are large buses waiting and the familiar 'Bursa' being shouted indicated to me this has to be the quickest way to my Iskander Kebab lunch. I hop on without question, after taking GPS coordinate of the docks of course and hoping to plot the drive to the big city. The trip on the bus costs only 9TL, and this is not a shabby dolmus or servis bus, mind you. Even comes with a cup of mineral water served by a steward in office clothes.
Yalova is not too far from Istanbul, guessing around 40km straight line. In fact, on a slightly foggy day like today, it is possible to see Istanbul in the horizon at the Yalova waterfront. I'm quite sure it is a layer of smog, been living in Shanghai long enough to tell the difference between smog and fog. The bus goes right through the town of Yalova, nothing special to report. Just like any other small town so far.
1035hrs: Just arrived at Bursa Otogar. No idea where it is, but for sure outside the city. And, like in Istanbul, there is an Ikea just next to the otogar. Bus 38 goes to the city center and you have to buy a paper credit-card sized ticket at the counter for 2TL flat rate. The guy at the counter says 38 goes to Ataturk Caddesi. Closer to lunch!
1120hrs: Not all the restaurants here are open due to Ramadan season, but the Iskander kebab place is, thank goodness. Ordered a portion at 16TL and a bottle of water. This place has an oldish look to it, but looks renovated too. Definitely not older than 20 years though it is said the shop existed long before that. Doesn't matter, it's the food that matters. There are only 3 tourists here due to the fasting season.
The Iskander Kebab is soso. Ok it's nice, but not the most heavenly dish on the face of the earth. The shop that claims to be the first only serves one dish, not even salad. What it is is lamb slices on top of diced pitta bread and topped with secret sauce. alright, nothing secret about it, it's a whole cup of melted butter. 2 slices of tomatoes, 2 grilled chillis and a large scoop of yoghurt complete the dish. As it sounded, this is one dish thay will strike out a few years off your lifespan if you are going to die of heart attack. Once in a lifetime dish, literally.
1217hrs: Right after lunch, back into bus 38 on the downslope and 2TL BuCART and 30 minutes later, I'm back at the Bursa otogar inside a minibus bound for Iznik, the second stop of the day. Paid 7.5TL for the trip that starts moving when the bus is full. It seats 15 so I do not have to wait too long. The sun is out in full force again today and I will skip mosques as I am wearing a pair of bermuda shorts and quick dry coolmax shirt. Time to take GPS plots and go get a nap. Along the way, I was able to see the route the bus is taking. It goes past Orhangazi and then swings along the south coast of the Iznik Lake. This is a large area growing olives. In fact, I think I've never seen an olive tree before and this place is just full of it. I'm quite sure I will be able to find a lot of olive based food here, hopefully not just for breakfast.
1351hrs: Wandering the streets of Iznik after getting dropped off at the otogar. This place is more rural than I expected. There are almost no tourists here at least on the same bus. I'm sure there will be some biblical tourists if I look hard enough in the town center. I boot up my google maps on the phone and observed that there are a few points of interest in the town. However, quick impression tells me that this place is a major farming town. Has to do with the olive tress that I saw along the way. First stop is an ancient byzantine Church but it has turned into a rubbish dump and nothing more to look at other than some bricks still left. Nothing much to see here. Had a short chat to a guy walking around taking electricity meter readings with a terminal linked by GSM signal to a central station. All he has to do is to punch in the reading and it updates a central database. Not too backward!
Back tracking towards the Iznik lake, there is a Roman Amphitheatre. Seems to be fenced off but no problem getting into the ruins. The only thing that suggests a theatre is the shape of the mess that's left.
1506hrs: Continuing down the street towards the west and into the sun, I quickly pass the ancient city walls. It is crumbling but parts of it along with the many fortified low towers are still visible. Not high enough to take a nice photo of it and reasonably overgrown with plants. It runs right through a residential area, so it is difficult to know where you are going as there are many small lanes.
Just as I was reaching the lakeside, passed by a workshop run by the Iznik Foundation. They do sell tiles made in the same way as ancient times, so how can I resist? Picked up one from the Ottoman era and another from earlier Seljuk design, got the lady there to write down where the design was copied from. The workshop is quite easy to spot, there are clay and ceramic working materials outside and the showroom is not too big but the sign board does indicated what it is. They take credit card but hey, if the difference is more than 30% between credit card and cash due to VAT and whatever, then I'll pay cash. Didn't expect a slab of standard sized tile to cost 200TL! Thought it was outrageously priced but since I'm here and no intention to buy the stereotypical turkish carpet, why not.
1536hrs: At a Downtown pastanesi having 4 Baklavas. This thing is just sinful in a dessert way. It looks as though it is a few layers of pastry only but I'm sure the bottom half of the thumb sized thing is pure sugar. Next time 2 will be enough.
I think my trip to Iznik is almost over. Walked down the main street eastwards and passed an Aya Sofia museum that cost 3TL for entrance but this one looks like a guardhouse to the other Sofia in Istanbul. No comparison. It might have been even a ticketing booth to the mother of Aya Sofias.
Iznik looks to be an agricultural town. People here drive tractors pulling carts. There are many shops selling agricutal miracle chemicals or fertilizers. Most restaurants are closed during the fasting month, which is right now. No chance for me to try out the fish kebap here. Fish from Iznik lake. Kids on the street, shall I say brats, have probably seen a foreigner before so they follow me around. But even the, can't stand the hot sun it seems.
1620hrs: Back at Iznik's otogar, the small square serviced by small minibuses. Most buses are bound for Bursa, the big city near by. One seem to go to Orhangazi, wherever that is, but wait, that sounds like the town that is just on the western edge of Iznik Lake directly opposite of where Iznik is. I will go to Yalova to take the late evening ferry back to Yenikapi pier in Istanbul. The bus leaves at 5pm, I reckon it leaves intentionally at this time to match up with the 1830hrs IDO fast ferry to Istanbul. Has to be - so I am set without too much worry about aligning the timing for bus and ferry. Fare for the bus trip is 7.50TL and should take an hour according to my GPS map. Unfortunately there is not too much legroom in the minibus, and regretting not wearing my 5.11 tactical cargo pants with padded knee area as I'm wedged right up against the front of my seat. It has been a hot day today, so another nap is in order.
1808hrs: Like clockwork, I'm at the Yalova pier. Now I know where Orhangazi is. That is the town on the west bank of Iznik lake where the road branches off to Bursa and Iznik. Thanks to the GPS plots. There are two ticketing booths for IDO, the one outside looks like an advanced booking booth, they wouldn't sell me tickets. Had to go into the terminal to buy my 13TL trip to Yenikapi docks back to Istanbul.
Been a good day. Got to do some walking but a lot less than Edirne. I wasn't too interested in Bursa but got there just for lunch. Iznik is historically and theologically important town but it is nothing like its former self. An agricultural town today, it looks like they are trying to revive the tiles and porcelain skills that this town used to known for. Tiles from major historical buildings that I have seen so far in Edirne and Istanbul are adorned with tiles from Iznik. But no sign of where the Council met to debate out the Nicene Creed. My guess would be at a location within the city walls that doesn't exist anymore. Doubt it was at Iznik's Aya Sofia. I could image that the proclamation, the winners and losers would go to the theater and celebrate or sulk away and reflect at the banks of the lake. It's entirely possible of course. Wasn't documented in the books that I have read so far.
And I've made the only shopping of my trip so far, and possibly ever. Two tiles from Iznik. Not cheap, but at least they don't cut corners and do follow the design and fabrication process from the era they are supposed to represent. I skip through the tiles with slightly more modern designs. Find that the older styles with plants a lot more appealing than geometrical shaped islamic designs. The high silica content used in the making of the tiles make them heavier than most other tiles that are found in standard shops.
This is a culinary and historical trip. Summarizing this on the way back to Istanbul. It requires certain amount of imagination when you do a trip like this when there is no perfectly preserved structures to send the obvious into the mind. A run-of-the-mill tourist would have gotten bored here in Bursa and Iznik. I'm happy to be able to come here. Irritating kids aside, everyone here has been very welcoming. They wave back when waved at. And I have my Iznik ceramic to remind me of this place. Not entirely picturesque place, so I have not shot too many pictures, mostly with the point and shoot, possibly half a roll of Tri-X and 2 DSLR frames.
Tomorrow, a flight to Nevsehir. Time to get out of the city and out into the desert.
Edirne, in Thrace, is a city with plenty of history. In Edward Gibbon's tome on the fall of the Roman Empire, this is where the Ottoman's Mehmet II launched his attack that took over Constantinople around 1300AD. Historic place, which means I will need a GPS waypoint of this place.
2 September 2009:
It is an early morning for a daytrip to Edirne (Adrianople or Hadrianopolis), and the position of my new hotel allows me to take the first tram that passes Sultanahmet station on the way to the Otogar after a change of trains. Hope to grab my sleep later on the bus as the trip should take some time. If you recall, I booked this bus ticket in advance from the Istanbul Otogar on Monday and will be travelling with Ulusoy bus company on the 0800hrs bus. The trip should take around 2 hours. Left the hotel before 7am and at this time, Sultanahmet is totally dead. Nothing except sanitation workers sweeping up rubbish on the street from the night before. Lucky the tram starts moving at 6am. It looks like a blue sky day but I will be careful. Going with a small backpack with a spare lens, waterproof jacket and my all-important iPod. All cameras are coming along and I expect a long day of walking and aimless wandering in Edirne.
0715hrs: I have done this public transportation routine before. Tram to Metro station Aksaray and straight on to the Otogar from there. Just hoping to get there with enough time to have a light breakfast this morning. It's always good to have a feel of the area before a tight schedule so that muscle memory takes over.
Nothing special here, boarded the bus like clockwork, and proceeded to the all important nap.
1106hrs: Arrived in Edirne. The bus stops at the Otogar outside the city. Right next to the bus is a smaller shuttle bus which brings the passengers to wherever you want to go in Edirne. This type of town planning makes sense, but what happens if the bus is full and the shuttle bus is just carrying a third of the capacity of a large coach bus?
Eventually this trip took more than 2 hours from Istanbul to Edirne. It seems that the buses here do not travel so fast, so a little more time is required from what was expected earlier.
The shuttle bus would bring us to the bus stop next to Selimiye Mosque. Once I got there, thought that a 7pm return bus ticket is in order right now, and is a good time to return so I bought tickets right then to make sure I have an aim at the end of today. This mosque is quite visibly the most elaborate one in Edirne, another of Mimar Sinan's creation and the center of most tourist visits to this city I'm sure. I spend 30 minutes inside while shooting some macro closeups. The architecture of this mosque is unmistakably Ottoman in nature.
1243hrs: Took me some time to find my orientation here in Edirne. The place is rural, but in an outpost kind of way. Lunchtime now at Altinsis Sarayi consisting of Beyti Kebap, Cay and salad portion. No meat it seems. Everywhere you go they ask if you want coke, fanta or one of those soft drinks. Tea for me. They grill stuff in wood and charcoal fire oven so it has to be good. No Ramadan here as far as I can see! I am supposed to fast today but since I didn't have breakfast yet, I suppose I can compromise. Super hot day today and it's noon now so time to cool down in the shops.
1400hrs: Right outside a town square, I find a tourist office and enquired how to get to the Sarayi palace complex. Was recommended to take a minibus for 1TL and I noticed on the map that it passes through Sultan Beyazid II complex as well, so why not make an unscheduled stop there.
The bus winds through a rural area where the scene looks more Balkans with horse pulled carts and cows on the street. And all of a sudden I stop at a big beautiful Ottoman building complex complete with domes and minarets. The first stop is a medical museum for 10TL. I didn't plan to come here, but just so happen that the bus that I took passes by here. The plan is then to have a look at the complex and then walk back to the town center about 5km away in the hot sun, while going through a few other sights along the way.
This complex is medium in size. Definitely very well kept and renovated. To the right of the entrance, where tickets are bought, is the mental asylum where they started to treat patients with soothing music and so on, unlike the western world at that time that treats mentally ill patients as being possessed by the devil and thus should be... tortured like in the movie Exorcist! There are all these exhibits here on the medicine and cure of its time and some of them are quite impressive, but not impressive enough for me to remember most of it once I leave the room! That says something about my capacity to remember nowadays. There is also an outpatient department, where the audio for the slideshow below was recorded, and the central water fountain is surrounded by consultation rooms. Patients would hang around outside the rooms and wait for their turn, not unlike what happens today when we visit the our general practitioner. This place is worth a visit, even considering the dodgy bus ride outside the city in a clockwise loop.
1519hrs: After the medical museum, I walked eastwards past a dilapidated mosque that is being renovated. It is quite obviously part of the Beyazid II complex of buildings. Looks like the workmen are polishing up the stones that make up the exterior, and whatever they're doing with it, the interiors are still open to the outside, and it is a fully functioning mosque.
About 2 km further eastwards I arrive at the Edirne Palace after going pass a rural surrounding and old women in headscarves asking for money, at least that is what it sounded like with their palms outstretched. It was so hot they were not even willing to get out and walk for the money. Back at the Edirne Palace, I imagined that here before the conquest of Constantinople - this was the capital of the Ottoman empire where the Sultan stayed. Not much of the place is still standing, a ruined structure or two. I am now standing next to the entrance, in a shade, typing this out before spending some time imagining this place 700 years ago.
Surrounding this area, there are ruins and at least one of them being restored as I walked pass. Close by is Kirkpinar Stadium, where once a year in Summer the oil wrestling tournament takes place, amidst farm animals wandering all over the place. Today the stadium is eerily quiet. Around the stadium there are metal statues of wrestling champions, I would guess. The temperature today is freaking hot. I wouldn't say it is 40 Centigrade, but I think we are not too far from there. I have a few more km more to go according to my GPS. Direction back to the center of Edirne, hoping to pass Uc Serefeli Mosque, which is said to be the inspiration for the Selimiye mosque.
1605hrs: On my way back to Huriyet Meydani in the heart of Edirne. Still full from the mega lunch. Crossed the river along a stone bridge and I am now in a more urban area compared to the last posting. Taking refuge at Beylerbeyi Camii Mosque (1429AD). Mosques are a nice place to relax as it is generally quiet and cool in the hot sun. The only annoying thing here are the poor kids asking for money. Fine if they carry my 5kg of gear, but they will not get a cent from me and encouraging them to make begging a professional career. Everyone is always asking for something or selling something here. I rate this place as poor, wealthwise. Strange small mosque this one. Some poor kids chatting, a turk couple romancing outside the temple door with turkish music playing on their phone and 20m away a girl chats on her mobile and have been doing so for the last half hour.
Just a while after, I'm at Uc Serefeli Mosque, with each minarets different from the other. I'm not sure which is bigger between this one and Selimiye. The Uc Serefeli is definitely not a small building. Strange it does not show on most maps with its name. Not as famous as its newer brother I guess.
1712hrs: Having dessert at a local Pastanesi at the town square and a box of Seftari Nectari, or what looks like a peach. No idea the dessert but they always seem to come in sets of 4. The one I chose is white in colour and seems to be made of nut, and damn nice as well. Cost only 2.5TL for a set plus the drink. Happy camper.
On the way back to the shuttle drop off point (it is now 1700hrs anyway), I pass by Huriyet Meydani, and stopped for a little dessert at a normal looking shop which they call a pastaleri, which I take to mean pastry. They don't sell tea here which is very un-Turkish.
1745hrs: Right next to Huriyet Meydani is another mosque, Eski Camii, which translates to The Old Mosque. The architecture of this one is definitely different from the Sinan-era mosques. Instead of a large dome this one is made up of 3x3 smaller ones with 4 pillars arranged in a square inside the mosque. Very geometric in architecture, I'd guess that this is more Seljukian architectural style. Large arabic writing cover the lower wall before transitioning into red coloured blocks alternated with patterned blocks on the arches. The motifs on the dome is very different from the other mosques in the area. Very refreshing. And like other mosque, every donation comes with a receipt near the entrance. Makes for great souvenir, and at least the money is put to good use.
1819hrs: Back at the bus station where I was left in the morning. Has been a long but interesting day so far. While waiting for the servis bus, I get to have a nice view of Selimaye Camii right in front of me. If this mosque has not been renovated then I'd say it is a true masterpiece.
To recap a long day is not easy, but easier when you're still living the same day and memories are fresh. I'd say that Edirne is not a rich town, but moderate in size. I can imagine during its heyday, big cities don't reach millions inpopulation. In a way, perhaps Edirne never grew past its prime in terms of size. Not all monuments are preserved, but there are signs of rebuilding on whats left, take the Edirne Palace for example. I came at the wrong time else I'd be able to catch some oil wrestling. People living here are a mix of turks (the turkish look ala Istanbul) and some older people look like they came from the Balkans. Bulgaria and Greece is just across the border so that could explain why. I swear for a while in the countryside at Sultan Beyazit II's complex, I thought I was in Bosnia for a while. There are beggars everywhere. Walking in the countryside and old women open their windows asking for money, the hand signal for money is not too difficult, and rather universal: rub index finger and the thumb together. So poor it is. But culturally, I'm happy enough to see some of the structures that made up Hadrianopolis during the Byzantine and Ottoman times. Mission accomplished!
Next up tomorrow: Iznik/Nicaea, of which the religious Christians among you should have heard about.
1 September 2009:
Today is a mixture of sightseeing and chores. One of the plan of this trip was to switch hotels in Istanbul. The idea is not to experience all the hotels in the vicinity of Sultanahmet, but rather, to move around to get a different vantage point of all the landmarks of the city. It is possible, within some tolerance, to determine if a hotel terrace has a good view in Google Earth. Sometimes it works, sometimes there is a building in the way. So it only makes sense that I stay in 3-4 hotels during this trip. The next two days I will be taking day trips out of Istanbul, so it is only making sense that I move to a hotel that allows me to move around to the otogar or the ferry pier easily early in the morning.
0852hrs: Paid 170TL for the hotel and on my way to Aya Sofia for this morning's trip. It is starting to rain so it is no fun. It did rain overnight, wet roads and all visible this morning. My window was opened all night long and I was lucky not to drench out the whole room. Woke up early in the morning by the morning Fajr prayer calls from countless mosques in the area. In my state of early morning concussion, I was still able to find my audio recorder in the darkness and recorder the prayer wars between mosques. I wouldn't politically call it 'fighting' but it does seem like there is a small element of rivalry there. But overall the plan for this trip to Istanbul has turned out well, walked the city when the weather was fine in the last few days and just as the weather turned bad, I've only got the interiors of Aya Sofia left to go through today. Plus some time wasting walkabouts this afternoon.
0901hrs: Queue for Aya Sofia is already relatively long despite the rain, and mainly made up of private tour groups with special tickets ready. On the way in the entrance is strewn (not exactly true, there are some elements of orderly arrangement) with pieces of the old building that was supposed to be here before the current one was build. I spent a little more time than the tour groups checking all the pieces out , architecturally it seems rather roman, carved marble slabs, columns and arches are all over the place. But if the previous temple was all stone, I wonder how it got burnt down.
I don't think I have to mention everything that is inside Aya Sofia, every book out there describes it in much more detail than I could in a single post. One thing is for sure, this is one big, elaborate and impressive building. The marbles look as though they have been chosen for their pattern, and they are arranged so that the patterns repeat somewhat, done by cutting it into two and putting the two newly exposed surfaces next to each other, so they look like mirror reflections. Very nicely done if I may. First time I've seen it arranged like this.
Some of the arches and column dont look very even, appparently due to a rush job while fitting out the building. Columns are not mathematically straight either. But it's good timing as I happen to watch a Discovery Channel documentary on the building the night I was supposed to leave for Istanbul!
Grand as it is, Aya Sofia is also under renovation, with 13 storey scaffolding right under the main dome obscuring the size of the place. I'd say that the Ottomans were lucky that the church was built in an orientation that approximates the direction of Mecca, so that the devotees only have to skew it a few positive degrees, not more. Or else the interiors would have been a mess.
1116hrs: Out of Aya Sofia. Spent a reasonably good amount of time looking closely at just about everything while trying to avoid the rude tour groups trying to do a rush job of visiting the venue and steam rolling everyone down. It is still drizzling but I will have to switch hotel at noon.
1315hrs: At the train track going to Sirkeci, hoping to scout the vicinity of Galata bridge and see if there is a late cruise trip. If it is not available, then it will be walking Beyoglu for the afternoon. We'll see how things goes, no real plan except to roam the areas of the Halic for the rest of the day.
1340hrs: At Enimonu docks looking at Beyoglu and the Bosphorus ferries. This is a busy place. Once the ferry leaves another one arrives to take its place. Not all are full to the brim like sardine cans, but still busy nonetheless. Each pier is its own little terminal. Tickets is by the usual Jeton token. 1 token will get you across the Bosphorus. But I will not go yet at this moment. Continued walking towards the Galata bridge, having a 4TL fish sandwish along the way. The sandwich is tasty good stuff but I think I got part of the gills of the mackerel fillet along with all the bones that are clearly not for consumption. As Turkey is not a clean place, I guess it is possible to just throw away fish bones anywhere on the street.
Galata Bridge: what can I say. Was expecting something like the Tower bridge in London or one of the elaborate bridges across the Seine, at least Bir Hakeim, but no, this is as boring as it gets. Causeway style most of the way with restaurants lodged between the water and road deck and a little bridge in the middle for low river boats to pass. Above on the road deck, anglers line the bridge with their wooden contraption to keep the rods held and locked to the railing.
Walked across to Beyoglu end of Galata Bridge, and time for a little snack. Fish soup, bread and some more of the Turkish Tea should complete my tea time meal. There is an area selling hardware and tools and that is where I find this small shop selling soup.
1612hrs: Managed to find my way up to Galata tower by the furnicular tram and then short 100m walk downhill. The walk passes through small cobblestoned streets with many music shops. Now sitting by the tower while my Garmin is having much difficulty locking onto satellite signals. No photo opportunities here as the light is coming from the wrong angles. Time to go back down to the waterfront and walk across Ataturk Bridge back to Eminonu to catch a ferry to Asia.
1804hrs: After a long walk back, now at Eminonu-Karakoy pier. Wanted to go to Uskudar but got on the wrong ferry instead, but not an issue, there is a nice view of mosques at Sultanahmet here. The ferry stops at Haydarpasa, where there is a train station before hitting Kadikoy. However, here in Kadikoy I realised the line of sight to the sun setting is not too ideal for a sunset photo. Not too much time left, and I will have to quickly look for a bus to Uskudar. The timetable at the pier seems to suggest that ferries run till close to midnight so I should be safe as far as the idea of getting stuck in Asia is concerned. Good that I managed to get an Akbil stored value key fob today. Allows me to travel without the need to dish out coins or look for a token booth.
The bus slowly meanders its way all the way to Uskudar next to the ferry docks. After checking the pier timetable to be sure there is a boat back after my photoshoot, its time to fast walk the coastline all the way towards Harem till I find the best spot for the shoot. Did what a lazy photographer would do, sitting down on a bench while shooting. For this session, a tripod will be required, which I deployed while homeless kids asking for money, thinking all asian looking people are rich Japanese. They don't understand English, so its time to practice my insults on them. Didn't work so I tried the cock-stare, as Singaporeans call it. That worked.
The sun sets behind Galata tower, was hoping for it to go behind the tower but it seems to miss it by just a bit. Suleymaniye Camii is on the left, not as nice as the Galata tower as it is too far from the setting sun, but still a good shoot. Met a local photographer during the shoot. We talked photography while waiting between sun setting and the dusk glow setting in.
2054hrs: On board the SH Fatih on the way back to Golden Horn and eventually back to the hotel. Been a long day today, pretty eventful, no mosques, but more of a landscaping day. Sitting on the deck on the right side to have a nice view of European side of Istanbul. The boat is not too full on the way back. Very tired by now, and tomorrow a day trip to Edirne.
0850hrs: Early morning today. Out of the hotel and out to take the tram. Line T1 passes right outside the hotel in Sultanahmet, 3 minutes walking at the most. Was hoping to pick up the Akbil stored value key fob thingy but the ticket office was closed. And the only place selling the tokens required was a corner coffee shop. The sun is out in full force, and when the tram arrived, it was hot as a sauna inside. Evidently the airconditioning stopped working today. Or this is as typical as airconditioning in europe, which is most of the time, not working as well as it should. Which is very unfortunate as I've never boarded a tram and drip wet in sweat while inside. Anyway, destination is Yusufpasa and then transfering to Metro line M1 at Aksaray and going to the Istanbul Otogar.
The interchange at tram stop Yusufpasa requires leaving the station and passing an old mosque, Murat Pasa Camii (1493AD) with old islamic tombstones that look big enough to be middle age european tomb stones. Anyway, 100m is all it takes to walk over to the Aksaray metro station. Another token is required.
Metro M1 is not that bad. Was expecting filthy and oily smelling european equivalent. Its somewhere between that and a modern asian metro train. I'd say it is half dodgy. Coloured bright orange, just to state its utilitarian existence. Either that or it is made so that people can tell they're in a Metro and not just some tiled up boring government building. Good news is that a tram token (jeton) also works here at the turnstiles. They look the same anyway, which leads me to the simplified conclusion that the tram and metro has the same owner/operator. Kuala Lumpur: learn from this!
0950hrs: At the Otogar. The metro drops you off in the inside center of a circle of I-have-no-idea-how-many bus companies. Without counting, I'd say at least a hundred of them. Some flashy and posh, others bare and budget. The system here is good. Walk to the front of the shop, buy tickets, then go out the back and board the bus. I started asking around a few and was recommended to go to Metro or Ulusoy company for Edirne. So it seems not all companies go everywhere. Ulusoy looks like a big one, hence it shall be my carrier of choice. Ticket to Edirne cost me 20TL leaving on Wednesday 2 September and returning the same day. I can't decide on the return time, so will buy it when I get there. Was assured by the people at the Ulusoy counter that they usually have some space left (apparently Turks don't buy things way in advance).
1006hrs: On my way to Topkapi-Ulubatli M1 Metro stop, right at the old city walls. This is the inner wall, on the map there are two layers of protective walls. The Topkapi section seems familiar, would even go on to speculate that's where the last Byzantine emperor got killed when Mehmet II broke through the walls, but need big time citation for that. And somehow I'm thinking that it could be on the outer wall where this took place 700 years ago. Planning to walk down south to the Cannon part of the wall, where the tram station is. This is probably where the Ottomans got through by pounding it with a giant cannon made by the eastern european mercenaries. History galore!
1026hrs: Standing outside the city walls at Topkapi-Ulubalti. Light isn't too good so the DSLR stays in the bag. The wall here looks like it is two layer thick, the outer wall, could be pole vaulted by an olympian for sure but the second requires superman. The wall meanders up and down following the contour of the hills, still very imposing in this time and age. Amazing. Some parts are crumbling and others are renovated, but one of my favourite city walls so far. Love it. I've read about the invasion of the Ottomans and how they broke through the wall and now I'm here looking at it.
1116hrs: Walked on to the tram line and took it back towards Sultanahmet. Missed the Aksaray tram stop and got off at Laleli Universite, the next stop. Good too as I stumbled upon the Laleli Mosque, a small but still interesting looking mosque. Its a working mosque so I try not to enter this one even though I came prepared with trousers.
Lunch will be early today. Its noon and I think I need to refuel. Simple lunch of kofte meatballs in sandwich garnished with bell peppers and strangely they stuff fries into the sandwich too. Not too filling, giving some room for another meal around teatime later on.
A little walk later and I'm at the grand arches of Emperor Valens' Aqueduct. Didn't expect to hit this thingy. And from here, one can see another part of Istanbul behind the aqueduct. I tried a few lenses to see which one works. Right after I fell for the oldest trick in a conman's book, targeting a traveller's compassion. A shoeshine guy comes, drops his brush and when you pick it up he offers a free scrub, when you accept it, he goes on talking about sick baby etc and asks for donation. When I took out my wallet he sees a wad of cash and dips his hands into it. Quick reflexes pulls it back, realises all these story is a whole load of crock, if he was desperate, rudeness is a reason to get nothing. One lesson. Never speak to anyone on the streets of Istanbul. Bastards. Would have beaten up the guy next time he comes up to me. Asshole.
Still a long way to walk today. I have barely begun. Took time off having turkish tea cay at Sehzade Mehmed Sofrasi in Sehzadebasi Camii, a nice restaurant in the courtyard of an mosque. Probably old but not too sure. Tried to order figs for dessert but since it is Ramadan, they only have some pudding for dessert. No pudding. But since this is Ramadan, the manager didn't want to accept payment for the tea. Can't do much more than to thank him profusely. Restoring my faith in humanity for a while.
1330hrs: Spent some time hanging around Sehzade Mehmet Mosque (1543AD), a nice looking mosque built by Mimar Sinan, my second one on this trip. It takes up quite a large tract of real estate to the west of the Bazaar area of Istanbul.
After a little stroll throught the backlanes, got to Suleymaniye Camii (1557AD), another domed mosque Ottoman-style. But not before getting stopped by people hoping to appear in my photos. This mosque has more tourists that the usual mosque which suggests it is popular among the Lonely Planet carrying tourists. I walked around the courtyard looking for a good vantage point to take a snap or two.
Right behind the mosque is the tomb of Sultan Suleyman, bigger than most tombs of course, and apparently a super Sultan during the heyday of the Ottoman era. I'll have to read up on this after the trip. Two other sultans are buried under a rotunda with a constant dose of burnt incense filling the air. The Sultan's wife and daughter are buried in there as well, but smaller grave. Other than taking off your shoes, no other formalities when the room. There are old women praying inside the room as well.
The inside of the mosque is mainly under renovation and only a small right wing of the mosque was open for prayers and visiting, so it is difficult to know what the popularity of this is all about. After finishing my roll of tri-x I visited the second floor balcony, which by the way, looked like an exceptionally peaceful place to hang around with women reading the quran. Took a couple of shots underexposed by a stop to give it the look I want. Too bad the rest of this mosque is not opened at this moment. Did I mention this mosque is another of Mimar Sinan's design?
1541hrs: Now at Beyazit Camii after going around the perimeter of Istanbul university. Its located on a largish square overlooking the main entrance of Istanbul University. By now all the Ottoman era mosques start to look the same. Spent a few minutes inside. There should be three more hours of sunshine today and with a freshly loaded M6 with ERA100, it's time to take a walk down the main Divan Yolu Caddesi back to Sultanahmet.
1601hrs: Grand Bazaar... This the type of place I want to avoid. Big and popular and really nothing I really want to buy. The kind of place where tourists make nice prey. It was not as tight and shady as I thought it was, what a waste as I had another roll of Tri-X ready to shoot some grainy B&W but it doesn't look as great as I expected. Took some pictures with the ERA100 and recorded a sound clip or two, and very quickly I was out of the Grand Bazaar and walking the road back.
1617hrs: Atik Ali Pasa Mosque (1496AD) is another mosque on the circuit but I will not take off my shoes for this one. I have seen a mosque too many now for today. Time to continue down Divan Yolu. Along the way, you get to pass graves of notable people, and the interesting bit for me is a monument called the Cemberlitas, erected when Constantinople was the capital of the Roman empire around 300AD. All I got to see is a noticeboard saying it is so and a large scafolding covering the whole column. Looking right at the Camberlitas is a juice shop so its time for me to load up some vitamins. Went for promegranate plus orange, which is sour-ish and acid-y as hell. Paid 5TL for that combo which is made with juice only and nothing added to it. Great!
A little while more down the road is another cemetery with a building containing the grave of some old Ottoman Sultan. Nah, enough of those as well.
1706hrs: Now this is a revelation. Next to the well known Basilica Cistern, is Binbirdirek Cistern, notably smaller by a bit, but is mostly dry and, when I was there, contains an art gallery and a restaurant. 10TL is the entrance fee and includes a cup of coffee or tea at the cafe inside. Background music is present here and the lighting is slightly brighter than the Basilica Cistern and none of those red accent lights - it is possible to see in better detail the whole cistern. I skip the free drinks and it is time for a quick dinner.
1721hrs: Figured that since one of the shop last night had very long queue for its Kofte, it is time for me to eat there. Shop is called Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi. Inside looked like time was stuck at the 1930s, waiters with aprons, and smart clothing. I ordered Ayran (some yoghurt drink similar to the indian lassi), a portion of Kofte which comes with preserved green chilli, and a pilaf of rice. Best damn kofte I have ever tried (though my lifetime tally is just 2).
1830hrs: Had some time left today, so took the train hugging the coast to Yenikapi Docks to get tickets for Thursday's trip. The trains are old and it looks like only thugs and gangsters take this train. It's possible to force the door open so you get all these thugs sticking half their body outside the train door. But it also helps them to get off the train a few seconds earlier by jumping off it before the train stops.
At Yenikapi, bought a boat ticket for going to Yalova on the third of September. There seems to be boat trips all the way to Bursa, which I might use on the return trip. 13TL for the ticket, not too bad.
Buying tickets for ferries are not that difficult at Yenikapi. I had to go through xray and other security apparatuses though, something I'm not too keen on going through all the time with all the film in my hand carry bag. But there is no choice.
Few minutes later, I'm back on the TCCD hoping to get to the waterfront overlooking Anatolia to see the evening glow before the sun sets.
1941hrs: Watching the sun setting on the European side of the Bosphorus. There are hills on this side, so around 1915hrs the Anatolian side will bask in orange glow and suddenly it becomes normal again when the sun dips below the hills. At this moment, it is still bright but that is all, no more spectacular colours. Took a picture of the houses on the other side before sitting down to type this in while the feeling of staring at the Bosphorus outside the old Constantinople city wall is still fresh. Did a 10 min recording of ambient sound while waiting for the skies to turn dark as darkness sets in. The ferry boats chugs along and once in a while, an oil tanker from the Black Sea comes along.
And during this Ramadan month, Sultanahmet Square comes alive with plenty of food stall, band performances, traditional dances and the whole place is just packed with people the whole month. They break fast on the grass in the park, mostly large families eating together. Tourists get to see all these show of culture in one small location.