May 2005
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Check out Weeks ending:  [14 May 05]  [28 May 05]

3 Weeks ending 14 May 05 (Bob)

Bus Tour of Eastern Turkey - In lieu of returning 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:

Dergah 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.

Citadel - 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 and cool. 

Bazaar - 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...

Old 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.

Harran - 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.

Birecik - 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.

Mt 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:

Hasankeyf - 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:

Church 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 above.

Dogubeyazit - 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 baggage.
  • 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.

Ishaz 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 - Being 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!

Amasya - 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:

Carpet 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, and Pamukkale.
  • 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.

2 Weeks 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 creature comforts.

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.
 

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