Astounding Formations - Cappadocia is an area of sandstone formations that have eroded in many wonderous shapes, similar to Meteora in Greece and many formations like this that we saw in Australia. It was a school holiday when we visited and children were everywhere, climbing all over the formations while their parents took pictures. The so-called 'Fairy Chimneys' were the most interesting of the formations. We were lucky to find Kaya Camping, a great caravan park, only 2 kilometers from the Goreme Open Air Museum where one can see these pinnacles.
Underground Cities - Around 4000 BCE people started to burrow into the soft sandstone in this part of Turkey, and soon had developed entire cities in the ground. Some were houses in the cliffs like the ones in the photo to the left. but others were were 6-8 levels cities dug into the flat ground, basically invisible from the surface. They would provide for ventilation, water supplies, drainage, sleeping, churches, and storage - only food had to be cultivated on the surface and brought below. By the 8th century AD they had abandoned these cities -only to be rediscovered in the 20th century by accident. So far thirty have been found, but countless others may exist under the Turkish plateaus.
Encounter with Turkey's Finest - As we left Cappadocia we drove through Nevasehir, passed a 'Radar' sign, slowed down - but not enough. The Police explained in Turkish that we had exceeded the speed limit and requested a $50 fine. Bob argued, implied (incorrectly and improperly) that they were trying to rip us off and they offered to take us to the Tourist Information Center so that charges could be explained. In the end they got their $50 (94 kph in an 80 kph zone) and we shook hands and walked away with our receipt. They were very courteous and professional at all times, and were just doing their duty.
Ankara - missed opportunity - The capital of Turkey promised to be an interesting experience - however!! We arrived in the afternoon and could find no caravan parks, so we parked on a scenic overlook with good views of the Ataturk Memorial. This turned out to be the meeting place for lovers, drinkers, and perhaps worse - they kept us awake until midnight and on edge all night. The next day we tried to find the Archeological Museum, but signage failed us and we gave up - heading out of town at 0900 unable to find any place to park; next stop: Istanbul.
Istanbul - crossroads of Asia and Europe - Friends from the sailing yacht Okura had recommended that we use the Atakoy Marina as our base while in Istanbul, so on arrival we checked in and an email had smoothed the way. The General Manager kindly took time out of his busy day (a boat show as in progress and a yachting rally started in 3 days) and welcomed us, and had one of his people find us a spot to park for the next 3 days while we explored Istanbul. The marina was a very professional operation with a uniformed staff, tight security, and well-protected berths. We had a wonderful sea-front spot in their back parking lot.
Leaving Turkey - and entering East Europe - We spent our last night in a caravan park in Edirne, a small border town near to crossings to Bulgaria and Greece. Up early, we headed for the border to find a 10KM queue of trucks awaiting clearance to cross the border. We are not sure which side of the border produced the hold-up, we followed cars and bypassed them all, going through 4 checkpoints on the way out in about 30 minutes.
Bulgaria - The entry to Bulgaria was what we expected from an ex-Communist country, slow, lots of stops, and only a few smiles. After that, it got better - 2 lane roads made going a little slow, but the scenery was interesting. As we approached a range of hills a bright glint of gold attracted our attention and we drove into a small village to find:
Romania - Another ex-Communist country that found itself independent after the 1989 break-up of the USSR, this one has had a little more trouble getting its act together. The roads were bad, and bypasses around cities were abysmal. We had decided to make tracks for the capital and found ourselves on its 'beltway', a 2-lane rutted road otherwise occupied with tractor-trailers, horse and donkey-drawn carts, and a few cars. We followed this for 30KM, turned in the direction we thought the caravan park should be and drove smack into a McDonald's!!!. Refreshed, and assured there were no caravan parks around, we headed towards the airport, and settled into a hotel parking lot - paying them 10 Euros for the privilege of parking in their parking lot and using their toilets. After we found an electrical plug, it wasn't too bad.
Hungary - Entry into Hungary, which was our entry into the European Union, was uneventful, in fact it seemed too easy - and they did not stamp our passports which seemed strange. But never mind, north we drove over flat farm lands and good roads that were well-sign posted. Our one stop in Hungary was the capital city of Budapest - one of the cities on our list of 'must-sees'. We stayed two days and managed to squeeze in:
Vienna, Austria - On our previous trip through Austria we had crossed from north to south without seeing the big cities. This time we vowed to correct this oversight. Every vivid description we had ever heard about Vienna paled in comparison to reality. A beautiful city with a palace for every taste, music for every ear, and an easy-to-master transportation system collaborate to make this a wonderful visitor's destination. We were overwhelmed for choices and decided on:
Salzburg -The true Sound Of Music country, initially we bypassed the town to settle in the beautiful Bergesgaden mountains, a section of the Alps 20 miles south of Salzburg. Our campsite had wonderful views of the snow-capped ski areas and a clear lake at the base of the mountains beckoned, but we had to press on the our date in Finland with friends we had met in NZ.
Germany - We sped through Germany from south to north with a 2-day stop in Potsdam to bike around the town and take care of chores. Our destination was Rostock, the port on the Baltic that would be our means for reaching Scandinavia. We took the Superfast Ferry that zipped us at 26 knots through the night so that we covered 800 miles (2+ days of travel) in less than 1 day.
Finland - One of our major destinations for this Spring, we plan to visit Ilona and Jaska, Finnish cruising friends that we met in New Zealand when we arrived there in 1994. They had moved on in '98 when we did, but completed their circumnavigation a year later, while we were still dawdling in Australia. We are really looking forward to visiting this country of the 'mid-night sun'.
Finland - This has been a wonderful surprise. Despite all of the glowing reports that our friends Ilona and Jaska had given us over the years, we have found it even prettier than they described it. We are beginning at the best time of year in Finland as the trees put on a new coat, the flowers come out, sailboats dot the Baltic Sea and inland lakes (despite the 10-15ēC temperatures), and multitudes of people walk and bike the many pathways. Our highlights of the week?
Visit with Ilona and Jaska -It was great to catch up with them after 6 years - they left NZ the same time as we did, but did not tarry, and were back in Finland by 2000. We traded sea stories, went for walks in the parks of Espoo (their hometown), visited an exhibition of art by Gallen-Kallela, gawked at old schooners in Helsinki, met their daughter Hilka, and generally had a wonderful time.
The Sauna - Jaska built the sauna in their beautiful home (and many others since that is his profession), so we were introduced to it early in our visit. With a population of 5 million people, and a reported 3 million saunas in the country, one does not have to go far to find one. The process includes:
Helsinki - The capital of Finland is a collection of islands, peninsulas, and bridges glued together to make Finland's largest city. Several buildings are tall, but for the most part the city is scaled well for people, low government buildings, a few high cathedrals, busy waterfront, and many restaurants. The Finlandia Center was designed by a famous Finnish architect and is a very attractive white structure. We accompanied Ilona and Jaska to a concert at the Center one evening, and they performed several very interesting pieces, one new one with the composer in attendance.
Porvoo - This is a quaint town along the Baltic shore, with old wooden houses and churches. We, like many other tourists, enjoyed the warm weather with a cappuccino on the deck of a floating restaurant. Of course, we had to take photos of the picturesque waterfront.