Turkey

Turkey

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  • Day8

    After dinner yesterday, I wandered into town, where there was a street carnival atmosphere with everyone celebrating Ramadan. The main road had been blocked off to traffic, buskers and stages were set up on the promenade on the south bank of the river, with the old town, tombs and citadel lit up in the most glorious garish colours imaginable. It was great, and I was out till after midnight watching the passing parade, taking photos, eating Turkish ice cream and enjoying being a bit part of the celebrations.

    Kids playing on the playground across from my hotel kept me awake until well past any reasonable child's, or my, bedtime and so I was a bit groggy and sleep deprived this morning. After another fantastic breakfast spread I headed to the Pontic tombs, trying to get there before it got too hot. Monumental and hard to miss from anywhere in town, these massive tombs are carved deep into the cliff face and were built for the kings of the short lived Pontic civilisation before they were wiped out by the Romans after, ill advisedly, executing 1000 Roman citizens in a single day. I kept making my way up until I reached the castle at the top, which has been built and rebuilt by successive empires and civilisations since at least 3000BC. There's not a lot to see and what is there is mostly modern reconstructions, but it does provide mind boggling views over Amasya and the surrounding countryside.

    Next I visited the excellent Amasya museum, who's prized collection of six mummies from the 13th century provide a suitably gruesome centrepiece and its major draw card. After a lunch of local dumplings (like small ravioli and yogurt) the weather started closing in for the predicted afternoon storms, so I headed back to the hotel for some well needed travel planning and admin. Maybe I had too much time to think during the storm, but my simple plan to map out the next leg along the black coast ended with booked flights to continental Europe.

    I have been getting more and more unsettled about the prospect of being alone with no one to talk to for another month. I have yet to meet another western traveller and that prospect is only getting more remote the further I go on my planned route, much of which is through the remote and vast areas in the south. Combined with my lack of Turkish and the locals lack of English, this was presenting a daunting prospect. After looking at options and weighing up the benefits and costs, I have booked flights in around 10 days, which will give mean I can still see the Black Sea highlights, for a detour to Romania and Hungary for a couple of weeks before heading back east to Iran to meet Hannah on 6 July. Solo travelling in isolated areas is, without doubt, a great experience, but I can't deny that I am already excited at the prospect of hostel's and being able to share stories, meals and a drink with fellow travellers.

    Tonight I had dinner in my hotel again, not only because the rain was still belting down, but also because it was seriously good the night before and the hotel owner/cook was a seriously engaging man who appeared to be taking quite a liking too me. Tonight he gave me the full service, a true Ramadan feast consisting of salad, chickpea soup (seriously good), roasted vegetables, slow cooked lamb, rice, bread, baklava, fruit and yogurt. It was excellent, topped off by, I think, being announced as the guest of honour (well he stood up, pointed at me and said something that included Australia to general applause).
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  • Day15

    As I've headed further east along the black seas the landscape has gotten progressively more dramatic. The Kraçak mountains were for a long time the impenetrable divide separating what is now Georgia from Turkey and allowed a number of isolated and unique societies to continue uninterrupted by the outside world until very recently, the major ethnic subgroup being the Laz who still speak their own language, which is closest to Georgian. It is still a significant effort to get into the mountains proper, with rudimentary roads and even worse public transport connections, but I was determined to see some of it so headed to the highest permanent settlement in the mountains, Ayder. A name I knew only too well from the bottled water sold throughout the country claiming provenance.

    The drive from the coast up into the mountains was spectacular, the road following raging mountain streams at the bottom of towering valleys. Small settlements and well manicured tea plantations (this area feeds the insatiable domestic demand for tea) clung to the edges of almost vertical slopes and the stream was crossed at regular intervals by impressive arched foot bridges. As we rose up above the valleys, the land opened up (a little) to provide space for alpine meadows dotted with dairy cows. Ayder itself is at 1400 metres and bears an uncanny resemblance to the Swiss alps, not just in terms of the geography, climate and fauna, but in terms of housing and food. The traditional houses look exactly like Swiss chalets and a local delicacy is a Turkish version of fondue, muhlama a molten mix of cheese, corn flour and butter eaten with chunks of bread (delicious!). It is also one of the wettest places in Turkey, and true to form, it was wet and cold.

    It took most of the day just getting there and back, but was well worth it and a total departure from the scenery I had gotten used too or could have expected from Turkey. I would have loved to have gone deeper, but alas time waits for no man and with a plan to catch in three days from Trabzon it was time to move on.

    On the way back to Trabzon and while waiting for a bus on the coast road I heard singing from over the cliff down towards the beach. Looking over the edge I could see a large group of people in white gathered in a small cove, intrigued I clambered down and was surprised to find myself watching a group of Christians doing baptisms. Not really thinking I got my camera out and started taking photos. This was noticed immediately and before I knew it I was surrounded by some very angry Turks. Once it became clear that I didn't speak english, one of them started demanding in broken english to know who I was, where I was from and why I was taking pictures. Never before has my time as an alter boy and my years in a Catholic primary school been so useful, as I was able to convince them not only that I myself was a Christian (illegitimate, but I am confirmed so it counts), but able to join them in reciting the Lord's Prayer (which they all new in english). By the end I was welcomed as a 'brother' and given an insight into the paranoia and fear of religious minorities in the present 'secular' Turkish state. Back in Trabzon I was sure to once again join in on a communal table to share in the daily Ramadan evening meal to ensure the powers that be didn't doubt my loyalties or intentions.
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  • Day17

    One of my main reasons for coming to Trabzon was to visit the Sumela monastery, but it came apparent soon after arriving that this was going to be impossible, due to the Monastery still being closed for renovations that have been ongoing since 2015, information that was conspicuously absent from my research on the internet prior to arriving. So with another day up my sleeve and no set plans, I decided to succumb and book on a day tour to Uzungoel, one of the very few tours being advertised around town. I was quickly reminded why I hate organised tours so much, being packed onto a minibus and having the majority of the day wasted being dragged to kitsch knife shops, tea 'factories' and sweet shops (all information of course delivered in Turkish) until eventually given a precious few moments of 'free time' at the actual site I had paid to see and experience.

    Uzungoel is back up in the Kraçak mountains, a natural lake formed following a landslide a few hundred years ago blocked off a stream in a steep mountain valley. It is now a favourite domestic (and Gulf states apparently based on the amount of arabic signs around) attraction and the poor little valley is now crammed with a proliferation of hotels, spas and fair ground rides. Despite this it is a beautiful spot and walking out of town, it wasn't long before I was amongst corn crops, ancient wooden houses and little old ladies gossiping in groups while they sorted and payed out to dry some unidentified leafy greens. The views back down the valley were pretty good too, with the green slopes, the lake and the imposing mosque making quite the scene.

    Back in town that night, there was time for one last Ramadan feast before an early night ready for a 5am flight the next morning to Budapest. So that's it for my, foreshortened, tour of eastern Turkey. I have a few minor regrets about not pushing on with the original plans and missing out on the 4 day national celebration of the end of Ramadan in a weeks time, but those regrets are nothing compared the the excitement at the prospect of my new plans for Hungary and Romania. Turkey has had some real highlights, and number one on that list is the food. It was without exception, exceptional! I have never eaten so consistently well for so long, and can't think of one bad meal. It was notably better than the food I had a few years ago on the more touristy trail further west, from the quality of the raw products to the surprising diversity of dishes.

    Blame it on my cultural ignorance, but I had no idea that I would be travelling during Ramadan. While it provided some memorable experiences, especially over shared evening meals, it was, on balance, a major pain in the arse. I won't miss the 3am alarm clock waking everyone up to eat breakfast before day break, the difficulty finding somewhere to have a drink, the closed attractions or even the difficulty in finding places to serve me lunch in the more conservative towns. It also made me very conscious of the importance pubs and alcohol play in meeting people and making connections as a solo traveller, whether its the fact that these are the places fellow travellers congregate, through to the opportunities it allows for mixing and striking up conversations with locals. For all its faults, there is no doubt about the power alcohol as a social lubricant. This time tomorrow I plan on being in a Budapest ruin bar, my favourite bar scene in the world, testing my theory out, and I'm excited.
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  • Day14

    Another long day on buses brought me to Giresun, named after the Greek word for cherries and reputedly the source of the first cherry tree to be exported to Rome. It had been fine all day, but within 30 minutes of arriving it, of course, began pelting down and didn't let up all afternoon, which put paid to any plans for sightseeing, which was a pity as what I had seen on arriving looked promising, with a large town square with the ubiquitous Ataturk statue, and a wide and steep pedestrian boulevard packed with locals heading directly up the hill side toward the towns Citadel perched imposingly on the top of an imposing mountain top directly behind town.

    Quickly getting cabin fever, I took advantage of a small break in the weather to find somewhere for a drink and found, what could be, Turkey's dodgiest dive bar, hidden down the back of a mall, filled with degenerates escaping the burden of Ramadan via drinking, smoking and horse racing. The resident 'bookie' doing a roaring trade. It certainly wasn't salubrious, but the beer was cheap and the scene provided a distraction from the weather for a time.

    The rain let off by this morning, so I managed to have a walk around town, up to the Citadel and down to the towns museum, built in an impressive cathedral, a reminder that the town was majority Christian until as recently as 1923.
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  • Day6

    Today was a good day. For the first time on this trip I truely recaptured the joy of travelling, making my own path and enjoying the moment. All because I stayed a day longer than I should have in this Turkish backwater and spent the day aimlessly exploring, getting lost both physically and mentally and feeling all the better for it.

    Having explored Hattusa yesterday I had considered cancelling my booking and heading on, but eventually decided that, at the very least, Bogazkale was peaceful and I could use a quiet day to get over the remainder of my jet lag and rest. That is not what happened, instead I headed to Yazilikaya, a 3km walk out of town and the location of the largest Hittite rock engravings site. The site itself is divided between and main chamber of rather eroded engravings of processions of Hittite gods and a smaller enclosure, which is accessed via a narrow passage and is a memorial to one of the Hittites greatest kings, Šuppiluliuma II. The site itself is located high above the surrounding countryside and provides magnificent views, which I enjoyed over a couple of glasses of cay, eventually joined by a Kiwi who is married to a Turk and lives in a small village a few villages over and had decided to come to Hattusi to get 'away', or so she said. Anyway, it was great to have a conversation in english and so I heard all about her life, starting from her doing the hippy trail back in the 70's to falling into a job at UNESCO, being burnt out through the oil for food program in Iraq, living in Bordeaux, meeting and marrying a Turkish mayor and now finding living in the middle of the Turkish countryside.

    By the time I finished my cay, it was only midday and, as it was a glorious day, instead of heading back to town, I kept walking further into the countryside. I had a vague idea of heading into the valley I had seen from the Kings castle the day before, which was behind Hattusa and so headed in that direction. I first followed the road and eventually found a foot path heading down the valley so followed that through overgrown scrub, until eventually I could hear running water and found a small waterfall where I stopped and sat for a while in the still afternoon sun. Instead of walking back to the main road, I figured I could follow the valley back to town, so I followed the creek, until I couldn't go any further and climbed back up to the top of the valley, where I followed emerged in endless wheat fields and amazing views over Bogazkale and Hattusa. Even though I could see the village I still got hopelessly lost and eventually had to cut through Hattusa itself through a hole in the security fence I imagine the Shepard had cut to find my way back to town.

    At multiple times throughout the day I found myself involuntarily smiling as I realised where I was, what I was doing and the amazing privilege it was to be in this place at this time and having the unexpected time of my life.
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  • Day7

    Long travel day today, it took me 3 buses and a taxi and 6 hours to get from Bogazkale to Amaysa, which meant I didn't arrive until late afternoon. After finding my hotel, which is in a refurbished ottoman house and amazing for $25 a night, I went out for a late afternoon stroll around the town. It is getting noticeably hotter as I make my way towards the coast and, being the middle of Ramadan, the town was particularly sleepy, but very beautiful built along a bend of the river between to rocky outcrops. Above the town are a collection of Pontic tombs carved into the cliff faces, which I will explore tomorrow.

    Back at the hotel, it appears, once again, that I am the only guest, but the plus side is it appears to be a very popular local resultant, being fully booked out tonight for Ramadan feast, which I am currently waiting patiently to begin. The owner took me for a tour of the kitchen, which looks and smells amazing! Heaps of lamb, kofte, vegetables and bread being prepared over charcoal fires. I left him with instructions to bring me his özel (speciality) and so I'm salivating in anticipation.
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  • Day16

    Today I decided to take it easy as my foot had been giving me a lot of trouble over the past 48 hours and needed a break and I was in need of some rest after a fairly intense couple of weeks travelling, so I had a fairly easy day looking around Trabzon. As with everywhere else in this part of the world, the human history of Trabzon goes back at least 5000 years, but came into its own, and got its name, from the Greek's, Trabzon meaning table and referring to the high plateau on which it is settled. Today it is the largest city on the Black Sea coast and, unlike a lot of places, has retained enough of its past to provide at least some sense of its history. In many ways I found it to be a small slice of Istanbul, complete with its very own Hagia Sofia, a warren like Bazaar district and a cosmopolitan feel far removed from the rest of Turkey.

    The bazaar district is a series of pedestrianised streets centred around one of the oldest and incredibly beautiful covered market buildings in Turkey, which is three floors in height, and a caravanserai, where I stopped for a beard trim in a barber shop. The area was packed with Saturday shoppers, purchasing everything and anything you could imagine from tiny shop fronts in the labyrinth of laneways and alleys. Trabzon's Hagia Sofia is an impressive Byzantine cathedral built on a rise overlooking the Black Sea. Built in the 13th century, it has had a troubled past with changing hands between religions, being used as a hospital and war depot, before being restored and made into a museum in the 1960's, the restorations included uncovering the original and well preserved frescos. However, in 2013 the main hall of the church was converted to a mosque following a long legal battle and is now in a slightly uncomfortable position of being both a functioning mosque and museum. The biggest impact for visitors has been that the most impressive frescos and inlaid stonework in the main hall have been covered by a tent like structure and the frescos in the public areas which are within arms reach are badly damaged, but those that remain are incredibly impressive and give a sense of the impressive sight that must have greeted pilgrims in the 1300's.
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  • Day28

    The Brad Pitt storyline is not accurate!

    This morning was an early one. We made our way across the Dardanelles on a ferry to Troy. We were super early so we got some time to sleep in the coach or at least I did anyway. Troy was pretty cool. They've found 9 different levels, so 9 different cities built on top of each other.

    The ruins were cool and our guide was extremely knowledgeable which was awesome. We toured the ruins failed and learned how Holywoods version wasn't completely accurate.

    Then we were back on the coach and were till about 8pm at night. Not much else really went on. The traffic in Istanbul was crazy so we had to pull over so our driver didn't go over his hours. Everyone played games and had a lot of fun on the side of the road which was pretty cool.

    Once we made it to the hotel. It was a quick dinner and then we were off to explore Istanbul by night. I got my snaps of the blue mosque at night and then headed back to the hotel. Yes the hotel not the campsite!

    I think it was the best shower I've ever had in my life.
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  • Day2

    32 hours after leaving one capital city I found myself bleary eyed and standing in the middle of another a world away. Much like the much maligned Canberra, Ankara isn't on the top of most tourists wish list, and my first impressions certainly weren't convincing - endless sprawl and featureless developments.

    The airport bus dropped me off 2kms from my accommodation and, feeling like I needed to stretch my legs, I thought I'd walk not realising that the 2kms were from the base to the top of the highest hill in Ankara. Feeling like I'd need a bit of comfort to get over jet lag, I'd booked into a nice looking small guesthouse in a restored ottoman house in the centre of the Ankara citadel. While the walk was strenuous, it did give me an opportunity to get a better sense of the cities old town centre and the cities geography as I made my way through victory square, through the citadel park, under the ancient walls and found myself in the familiar cobble lined narrow maze that makes up so many old town centres in this part of the world. Of course I got horribly lost trying to find my hotel, making far too many wrong turns into dead ends, making it only too obvious how effective the street design is at confusing invading armies and clueless backpackers.

    Eventually, however, I found my accommodation, dumped my bags and was back out with no plan, but to find some delicious Turkish delights of the grilled meats variety. Just outside the citadel walls I found a likely looking place, with a couple of groups of locals sitting out front, sat down, nodded dumbly at the waiters verbal cues and my trust/ignorance was rewarded with a delicious kofté kebab, ayran and tea from a passing cay boy. Feeling recharged, I went for an explore of the streets, eventually finding steps up to the citadel walls, providing views over the city in all its, not so, glorious sprawl.

    I know Ankara isn't really isn't on the tourist route, but I was immediately struck by the lack of western tourists, a complete change from my experience through western and central turkey in 2014. Combined with the lack of English spoken and my uselessness with the Turkish language, if this is any indication of what's ahead, I'm in for a fairly lonely trip through eastern turkey.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of Turkey, Türkei, Turkey, Turkye, Tɛɛki, ቱርክ, Turquía, تركيا, ܛܘܪܩܝܐ, Türkiya, Турцыя, Турция, Turiki, তুরস্ক, ཏུརཀི།, Turkia, Turska, Turquia, Turecko, Турци, Twrci, Tyrkiet, Tırkiya, Tɛki nutome, Τουρκία, Turkujo, Türgi, ترکیه, Turkii, Turkki, Turkaland, Turquie, Turkije, An Tuirc, તુર્કસ્તાન, Turkiyya, תורכיה, तुर्की, Turkowska, Törökország, Թուրքիա, Turchia, Tyrkland, トルコ共和国, თურქეთი, Uturuki, Түркия, Tyrkia, ទួរគី, ಟರ್ಕಿ, 터키, तुर्किये, تورکیا, Turki, Turcia, Tierkei, Ttake, Törkieë, Tiliki, ຕຸນກີ, Turkija, Tuluki, Turcija, Torkia, Турција, തുര്‍ക്കി, တူရကီ, Thekhi, Törkie, टर्की, Turtchie, Turkanmua, ତୁର୍କୀ, Турк, Turkiya, Turkie, Turcja, Turkya, Tirchia, Turukiya, Turchìa, Durka, Turukïi, තුර්කිය, Turčija, Turkiga, Turqia, Турска, Turkiet, துருக்கி, టర్కీ, ประเทศตุรกี, Türkiýe, Toake, Türkiye, Төркия, تۈركىيە جۇمھۇرىيىتى, Туреччина, ترکی, Thổ Nhĩ Kỳ, Türkän, טערקיי, Orílẹ́ède Tọọki, 土耳其, i-Turkey

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