04.07.2011 - 11.07.2011 33 °C
Leaving Istanbul was a lot easier than predicted and before we knew it we were on the motorway. Although we did have to reverse out of a toll gate because we didn’t have the swipe card, duh, which some sympathetic soul ended up giving us just to get us out of his way. We were headed for the town of Safranbolu. Guess what it is famous for? If you guessed Saffron you would be right and ‘bolu’ means many, so many saffron. Safranbolu is another UNESCO listed location because it still has its original village of ottoman houses. This was the reason we were going, to look at old houses. Anyway we arrived at our accommodation, Guney Konak, a family run B & B type thing in, yeah you guessed it, an ottoman house. The mother couldn’t speak any English and Dad wasn’t much better so the fourteen year old son, who learns English in school, became our go to man.
We headed down the hill to the original village and bought some saffron body spray and had a tour through an original ottoman, nothing too exciting but a really pretty and relaxing place to visit. When we arrived back at Guney Konak (good name isn’t it) the family was sitting out the side eating fresh picked cherries off their own tree and beckoned quite enthusiastically for us to join them, so we did. Unfortunately they couldn’t speak English and we obviously don’t speak Turkish, although we are learning a little every day, so it became slightly awkward, just a lot of smiling and nodding and pointing, especially at the cherries. Suddenly out of the door came Mammamatelli (or something like that, we ended up calling him Big Mama) a Turkish optometrist from Ankara who lives at Guney Konak during the week for his one year secondment to Safranbolu. He translated for us and was full of information about Turkey, including what are those crumbed ball things we see people eating? Anyway he offered to buy us some of the best ice-cream in town so off we went. Turkish ice-cream is completely different to any ice-cream we have eaten, it is chewy.
One night in Safranbolu was all we had scheduled and then it was two nights in Amasya, about a six hour drive away. Amasya is famous for its apples AND tombs built into the rock cliffs overlooking the city. The tombs were built by the Pontic Kings and were built in the 4th Century BC. The Kings wanted people to be able to worship them after they had died, how lovely. Anyway they are located in the rock face of the mountains and are pretty amazing. To think that this was done so long ago and they are still intact boggles the mind. At night they are lit up and look quite spectacular.
We had organised two nights in Amasya so that we would be available to watch Game Three of the 2011 State of Origin. Unfortunately due to technical hitches we couldn’t watch it but Boon was kind enough to message us through score updates. Needless to say there was one happy and one not so happy camper by the end of the game. Go You Mighty Maroons!!! One thing we have noticed about Turkey is how incredibly friendly everyone is. It would be fair to say it is the friendliest place we have been so far. In Amasya, we were walking along the river and saw a statue of a (questionable) kangaroo so Adam wanted some silly photos. Next minute a young girl (20ish) comes along and drags us back to her stall to give us some tea. Then she proceeds to grab the camera and make us pose in a million different spots to snap some piccies of us. After that she runs across the street to the bakery and buys us a bread muffin thing that was super tasty. We tried to offer her money for it but she wouldn’t accept it. Then later in the day we stopped at another street vendor, selling nuts, for some footy snacks. We bought 3 lira worth of peanuts (aus$1.80) and then before we knew it we were sitting on stools drinking more tea and using lots of hand gestures to communicate with our new friend Mehmet.
The next town on the itinerary was Goreme (Gu rem mee) in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. This region is a result of ancient volcanic activity and then subsequent erosion wearing away parts of the rock to create a landscape seen nowhere else. The erosion has caused the rocks to create shapes known as ‘fairy chimneys’. If you haven’t heard of it please look it up on the net, it is truly remarkable. The locals have set up house in these ‘cave houses’ where the rocks have been carved out and made into dwellings. Our hotel was in one of these and although quiet dark was great fun. To see everything here requires a bit of driving as most of the sights are reasonably spread out. There is the open air museum which is the location of ten churches carved out of the rocks by Byzantine Monks. There are frescos on these walls older than our country dating from the 5th Century. It really is a hard place to describe but amongst the dust and the dirt is this overwhelming sense of just how amazing the planet and Mother Nature is. Unfortunately, the way the Turks treat their environment, come 20-50 years I doubt it will still look the way it does.
Hot air ballooning was another hot ticket item and boy were we excited. A 4am rise was in order before a luscious breakfast and then jamming 17 people in a wicker basket. It was fantastic. Hot air ballooning is big business in Cappadocia and there were no less than fifty balloons in the air. They do this every day of the year. It is a magical experience; floating about 2500 feet in the air with the only noise the gas burners helping us to rise even higher. Then the slow descent among the valleys and the treetops, to see this amazing landscape from such a vantage point gave us a whole new appreciation for its beauty and the absolute uniqueness of it.
Another item on our agenda was Kaymakli where there is an underground city started by the Hittites in 5th Century AD. Holey Moley! Now when you think of an underground city you probably think of skinny tunnels and tiny alcoves, well this was nothing like that. Seven storeys underground started by the Hittites and then continued by the Christians when they were hiding from the Arabs. Think of a tree trunk and then all these stairs, tunnels, rooms, chambers all running off it like branches. They had ventilation systems, kitchens and even places to tether their animals. It was set up so they could live down there for months at a time and even had defensive measures set up such as rolling stones to block off doorways. We splurged for a tour guide, Mustafa a little old Turkish man, for this one and were very glad we did. Adam actually admitted to a bit of a man crush after we got back to the car.
The days were scorching hot and the whole muslim consideration to dress went out the window, comfort overruled religion. No god would want anyone to be that uncomfortable. However what is interesting is even in 40 degree heat you still have the muslim women in their jeans ,long shirts and then their trench coats over the top, and of course the headpiece. Another sad thing we have noticed is their total lack of care for their environment. Not a second thought is given to throwing things out of car windows, dropping cigarette butts as they walk along or in one case tossing an empty water bottle into a river. This final case has an interesting story to it though.
We headed, on Mustafa’s recommendation, to the Ilhara Valley and Selime (apparently Star Wars was filmed there) to look at the cave formations and the lush river and valley in this desert environment. Selime was great, climbing rocks to look through two storey century old cathedrals, we felt like big kids. When we arrived at Ilhara we had to descend about 100 steps down to the valley, along with every man and his rug. You can walk alongside the small river (stream?) as a bit of a nature walk. We had been walking no longer than ten minutes when we spotted a young girl (muslim) toss her empty water bottle into the river after walking five metres past a bin. Well we were all over her like a rash. After watching for weeks the Turks treat their whole environment like a garbage tip we snapped. (Most of you will find this next bit extremely out of character for both of us being the calm, placid, reserved people we are)
Calling out to her in our angriest voices ‘Hey, There’s a bin right there!!!’ ‘Unbelievable you people!’ came out of our mouths and then Adam’s gem was ‘It’s not even my country and I treat it better than you’ while shaking his head. So angry were we, we didn’t even care we were getting stared out (and possibly targeted?). She cowered in between her friends and hopefully will think twice before doing it again. That is what we see every hour of the day, absolute carelessness and disregard for their own space. They are simply totally ignorant and uneducated to the detrimental effect they are having, not to mention the aesthetics. Heading to the coast we can only hope that more care will be shown there and there will be no repeats of Montenegro.
We are into the second half of our six month adventure and will soon be traipsing the Gallipoli Peninsula, can’t wait.
PS The Baklava is really good!!