ending 14 May 05 (Bob)
Bus Tour of Eastern Turkey - In lieu of
to Spain for the Spring, we decided to hop buses and see a little
more of this enchanting country. What we saw was a glimpse
into what Turkey may have been 20-50 years ago, with a blend of 20th
century technology thrown in for good measure. We planned to be away
2-3 weeks, travel on buses, and stay at inexpensive accommodations -
we achieved all goals and loved the trip. The Turkish people
continue to be some of the friendliest and most generous that we
have seen in our travels. Buses ranged from excellent to
mediocre and hotels from excellent to downright grubby. We
skirted the Mediterranean at the beginning of the trip, but mostly rode through dry mountainous terrain, irrigated valleys, and past
snow-capped mountains as snow-melt filled the
rivers. Overall we really enjoyed the trip! Below is a
town-by-town synopsis of our travels.
Antalya - A day-trip
along the coast from Marmaris brought us back to where we spent last
Winter and a rendezvous with friends on Spirit of Delft. The
center of town had changed as the main highway now had underpasses
to move the traffic along much better.
Anamur - A small
agricultural town and the southernmost point of Turkey, our Lonely
Planet described an interesting hotel so we set out to find it.
Jammed into an after-school dolmus, the driver stopped and pointed
us towards a trail that lead to the beachfront. The hotel had
seen better days, but our room was newly painted, the hosts were
extra friendly, and we had a view of the blue Mediterranean.
We wish we could have stayed several days and highly recommend the
Unluselek (Strand) Hotel.
Sanliurfa - One of
the most interesting cities on our tour, Urfa (as it is
known) has a 3500 year old citadel overlooking it and has been
occupied by Hurrites, Hittites, Egyptian pharaohs, Assyrians,
Alexander The Great, and numerous other empires. Legend has it
that the prophet Abraham was born in a cave in Urfa, and was
protected by God when the Assyrian king Nimrod tried to kill him.
The city was more traditional than we were used to - many women
shopped and walked in the parks in chadors, although few wore veils. Among its highlights:
mosque and Gölbasi
park - Because of the Abraham legends, these areas are
pilgrimage destinations for many Muslims and are beautiful and
peaceful places with gardens, pools, and walking paths. We
walked the length of the park several times and it was always
bustling with families and children, some pious pilgrims to a
holy site, others out for a day in the sunshine. We heard
several languages and it seemed that many visitors may have been
from Syria, a short drive to the south.
- Overlooking the city, this old fort has defensive walls,
Romans columns, and a commanding view of the mosques, parks, and
city below it. We walked up several hundred steps to
enjoy a wonderful view of the city. The walk down was
through a steep enclosed stairway, tough on the knees but nice
- Near the Abraham cave is the covered bazaar, a selling and
meeting place for city residents. Shops sold all manner of
shoes, clothes, meat, tools, hardware and anything needed for
the household. A few shops catered to the few tourists
that reach this far East in Turkey, but mostly it was for the
locals. One man, making drums from sheep-hide called us
into his shop and offered us a cup of çay (Turkish tea).
We chatted with a very limited vocabulary, and walked out with a
lambskin - for what, we are not sure yet...
Houses - As in any old city, there were bound to be old
houses - again our trusty Lonely Planet led the way. The
busy sounds of the traffic gave way to cobblestone alleys and
houses with overhanging balconies, mosques, shops, and a
Cultural Center. A young man guided us through an art
exhibit and we backtracked from several dead ends before finding
our way out again.
Finding a beer -
More difficult than we imagined! In most cities we
had visited so far, bars and restaurants were common but as we
traveled further into Eastern Turkey, bars became fewer and more
discreet. In Sanliurfa there appeared to be one city block
that housed five bars and the ubiquitous Efes sign was
welcome at the end of a long day of walking.
- Mentioned in the Genesis book of the Bible, Harran was a home
of Abraham and has been populated for millenia. About 20
kilometers from the Syrian border, it is famous for
beehive-shaped houses and a fortification with a tower reputed
to be standing during Jesus' time. The houses and tower are now
tourist curiosities and the locals act as guides and sell their
crafts to visitors. They were quite friendly despite the
hoards of tourists that travel through this small village.
- About 75 km west of Sanliurfa the Euphrates flows south
to Syria and beyond to Iraq. This famous river, along with
the Tigris we visited later, are the stuff that filled our
Ancient History books as they irrigated Mesopotamia, the
bread-basket of the world during the Babylonian and Assyrian
times. In more modern times, the river's flow has been
tamed by the Ataturk Dam that now controls its flow out of
Turkey. As an "Oh, by the way" attraction, Birecik
has a Bald Ibis breeding station, protecting a small
colony of this almost-extinct bird.
Nemrut - The real highlight of the area, this mountain was
selected by king Antiochus I Epiphanes around 30 BC as the
location for his tomb. The top of the mountain is covered
with a 200' conical mound of small rocks and platforms with
statues of gods and king Antiochus. The picture at left
shows one of the statues and the mound of rocks behind it. To
the right, Judi puts the heads in perspective and the row of
statue bases is lined up behind her.
Batman - We never
thought of Turkey as an oil producer, but as we approached Batman we
started to see wildcat derricks and nodding oil pumpers. It
all came together in Batman as we rode by a large oil and natural
gas refinery. The city was relatively modern, lots of Internet
cafes and shops, and a very nice hotel. Our main reason for
stopping was to visit:
- Perched on cliffs overlooking the Tigris river, cave
dwellings, graveyards, and a mosque have fantastic views and
many of them are still occupied. After a crowded dolmus
ride from Batman we wandered through the ruins for several hours
exploring caves and ruins while we shared the hillside with
goats and sheep. Life hasn't changed much in recent years
- we watched boys racing donkeys down to the river to load up
with containers of water and bring them back up the steep hills
to their stone homes.
Tatvan - As modern as
Batman was, we felt that we had gone through a 50-year timewarp when
we reached Tatvan. Located on the western shore of beautiful
Lake Van, Tatvan was a drab town with hundreds of men in dark
clothes strolling the streets and an almost absence of women.
There appeared to be no industry or agricultural base
and many men appeared to be under-employed. The Kurdish
influence was noticeable here as men sported lavender head scarves,
typical Kurdish attire. The waterfront was
desolate and undeveloped, but persistance won when we found a car
dealer who would rent us a car to visit:
of the Holy Cross - The boundary between Armenia and Turkey
has shifted over the years, and near the
south shore of Lake Van is an Armenian church built in the 10th
century known as
Akdamar. While we snapped away, a group of Armenian
descendents from Boston arrived and conducted a memorial
service. The stone carvings and church are remarkably well
preserved considering their age and the island was covered in
flowering trees. For more information, follow the link
This was as far East as we went, a dusty frontier town on the old
Silk Road and now the main crossing point between Turkey and Iran.
The journey was interesting; a three-leg trip in mini-buses:
- Along the beautiful north shore of Lake Van,
snow-capped mountains to our south.
- A bus switch in Ecris where the bus driver
'kidnapped' Judi and Debi while Bob and Marcus were looking for
snacks; actually he drove off twice trolling the town for more
passengers before he would leave. Judi considered dragging
out her Pepper Spray to convince him to return post-haste, but
fortunately it was tied on the roof with all of the other
- A second bus switch in Caldiran, a wide spot
in the road populated mostly by mini-buses and mud and then a
ride through mountains of lava ash that looked like it had been
deposited in the last few hundred years
The town was unremarkable but with all the traffic
to and from Iran it was more cosmopolitan and finding a beer was no
problem. We engaged Sahli, a local guide to take us to:
Mt Ararat -
Famous as the legendary landing place of Noah's Ark, it is a
dormant volcano with a beautiful covering of snow. The
snow was too deep to drive or climb, but from the city it was
stunning. We visited a village at the base of the mountain
and met a family with beautiful young ladies. Not
surprisingly they were selling handicrafts and posed for us in
front of this famous mountain.
Pasa Palace - A beautiful palace dating from the 1500's, it
has a great view of Dogubeyazit and the valley beyond. It
has courtyards, central heating, Turkish bath, a harem, and
praying areas for the sultan.
Noah's Ark -
near Mt Ararat, we could not pass up the chance to visit the
most recently established site of Noah's Ark landing. A
'ship-like' object seen from air has been diagnosed as having
wood ribs, iron fasteners, and other attributes similar to the
Ark. Judi's reaction was that it was 'food for thought',
Bob's was not that positive.
Lunch in Iran (not) - Sahli told us he
had to pay a bribe to get us 100' across the Iranian border to
have lunch, without going through the formalities of Immigration
and Customs. Arriving at a rusty gate beside the minefields that
separate Turkey from Iran, the guards said there were
high-ranking Turkish military officers around today and we could
not pass - probably just as well!
We had planned to visit Kars, site of an old Armenian capital but
since it would take 3-4 days to get permits and visit, we changed
plans to travel to Amasya, highly recommended by Marcus and Debi.
A 12-hour slow bus ride w/o air-conditioning through rubble-like,
uninhabited mountains to Sivas and then 5 hours to Amasya proved to
be worthwhile as this was the prettiest town we have seen in Turkey.
Ancient Pontic tombs carved into the hillsides, well-maintained
houses on the water-front, spotless streets, and a castle
overlooking the city as it hugs the river conspire to make this a
wonderful place to unwind from 2 weeks in more rustic surroundings
Capadoccia - This
was our second visit, the last one was May
2004, and we enjoyed short walks and wandering through the
streets of Goreme and tasting the local fare rather than rushing
around and taking pictures. Since home decorating was on
Judi's mind, this led to:
Mania - Our Walnut House hotel host pointed us to the Sultan
House, a friend/carpet dealer, and for 5 hours we received
another lesson about Turkish carpets, viewed his goods, compared
prices and quality, scattered carpets and kilims all over the
floor, drank tea, and haggled. In the end we walked out
with 2 carpets, 3 kilims and left Mehmet a happy man (we think).
The sample pictures do not do them justice, they are beautiful -
now all we need is a place to display them.
Traveling by Bus in Turkey - Having spent 3
weeks crisscrossing Turkey we have accumulated some thoughts:
- Big is Best - The big interstate buses
(usually Mercedes Benz) are fast and comfortable, Agri Tur
was an exception with only 2 rest stops in 12 hours, no
air-conditioning, and speeds of 50 kpm rather than 80.
Normally they are cleaner than any Greyhound you would see in
the US and they serve bottled water, tea, coffee, and sometimes
snacks. Our favorite lines are Varan, Kent,
- Small is friendly - The minivan and
dolmus provide more local color and surprises (when we failed to
get off at one rest stop they brought us tea, with a smile)
although they can be crowded or stand-room only.
- Booking - One rarely has to book
ahead, although booking for the next day may get you a better
selection of seats.
- Smoking - Smoking on buses is
prohibited, BUT the driver is allowed to smoke "so he won't
fall asleep" and occasionally the steward or relief driver
feel they are also privileged. To minimize second-hand smoke we
sit at least 4 rows behind the driver and at least 4 rows from
the back of the bus if possible.
- Cheap - Costs are nominal - $18/person
for 10-hour ride is normal.
- Otogar - When booking to a city or
town, make sure it goes to the 'otogar' or bus station; it helps
to have them write that on your ticket to help your case if they
try to drop you off along a highway. Often the driver does
not want to go to the otogar if he doesn't have a pickup since
they charge him and it takes longer.
- Hotels - We tried phoning ahead, but
usually it was difficult to communicate and they wanted higher
prices. We found it was better to show up and negotiate.
Most hotels have posted prices since foreigners feel more
comfortable paying a posted price. In reality all hotels
negotiated down and we never paid the asking price. We
paid approximately $22-25 (40 YTL) for most hotels, more for a
riverfront view in Amasya.
- City Transport - All towns and cities
have dolmus mini-vans that can get one around town for about $1;
they normally have a terminal or stop near the otogar.
ending 28 May 05 (Bob)
Preparing to Cruise the Med - We planned on
1 week, but it has taken 2 weeks to get ready to move after our
trip. Besides the routine checks, provisioning and fluid
filling we were delayed a little bit by:
- Running backstays - during Bob's
routine trip up and down the masts to check all of the rigging
he noted one of the swages was cracked, so we hired Hood Sails
to make two new running backstays for the mizzen. These
are the last two pieces of rigging on the boat to be replaced.
- Medical - Medical checks on Bob, all
is well but we had to wait a couple of days for the feedback.
- Canvas - A few containers had escaped
Judi's 'canvas blitz' in February, so now our water and fuel
containers are well-protected from the sun.
- Inertia - It is comfortable in the
marina with friends, restaurants, Internet access and other
We plan to pull out of the marina at the end of
this week, cruise and anchor locally for a few days, and then set
out to explore more of Turkey and Greece.
Catching up with old Friends - The new
batch of cruisers are catching up with us, which really means that
we have to get underway, For example:
- Silver Girl - Yesterday we replied to
a call for information from a yacht and they turned out to be
acquaintances from New Zealand, last seen in 1998 while they
were designing their yacht. It came together beautifully,
and they have caught up with us, accompanied by 7-year old
James, last seen as a small swelling on Ivonne in New Zealand.
- Quarterdeck - While chatting with
Terry and Ivonne, a call from the dock revealed Sandra and Paul,
a couple first met in the Caribbean and last seen in Thailand
who had just arrived from an uneventful trip up the Red Sea.
We shared an evening of sea stories while munching on Sandra's
wonderful chili as we quaffed wine and beer.