Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dream vacations

It's HOT in Boston right now - we're having an honest to God heat wave. Any sensible person would be getting out of town, and fast, but my vacation savings account (yes, I have a savings account just for vacations) and my time off balance are both at record lows right now, so here's a list of places I'd like to be going, though I have no prospects of actually getting there.


My sister and her husband went skiing in Portillo, Chile on their honeymoon last year:

photo by nessfc on flickr

Oh, that looks lovely. And I haven't been skiing in seven or eight years!


I'm not saying you shouldn't go to Iceland in March - I had a great time in Iceland in March. But I think that I would enjoy it even more right now. They're going to have highs in the 50s (F) all week. We're going to have highs in the 90s all week. And there are views like this:

photo by strawberrymaya on flickr

Back in March I was in the very spot where this photo was taken, but all I saw was fog and snow. Alas.


I love Maine. I have loads of family in Maine. If I had the vacation time I could go up to Maine right now and take a dip in the freezing cold ocean off a rocky Midcoast beach; I could lie in a hammock next to a lake; I could take a boat out to one of the islands in Casco Bay; and there might very well be an aunt or grandmother around who I could mooch a delicious meal or two off of; but it is too much to think of. Here are some photos of Maine.

photo by jkbashkin on flickr

photo by dana_moos on flickr


I bet it's cool up in the mountains right now. And relaxing. Bhutan is somewhere I'd like to go but I expect I never will go, because it is so expensive and so inconvenient. That's part of what makes me want to go - not exclusivity for exclusivity's sake, but the fact that it's an extraordinarily beautiful part of the world where tourism's impact is low. And I mean look at this:

photo by jmhullot on flickr

It makes me want to convert to Buddhism on the spot!

OK, enough fantasies for today. It's nearly time for me to head outside into the 90 degree heat and sweat my way home. Good times.

(Many thanks to the photographers whose photos I've used here and to all those who post to flickr using Creative Commons licenses!)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Athens, belatedly, and Madrid

Hi! I never got around to writing about Athens.

I had heard that Athens was really only worth spending a day or so in, and indeed I ended up only spending a day or so there (about a day and a half, really, and actually a lot of that was in my hotel room). This is probably overly dismissive, but you can definitely see some very cool things in one day in Athens.

I arrived in Athens via overnight ferry from Rhodes. This was actually quite nice. I shelled out a little extra money so that I had a bed in a shared cabin - it was somewhere between a floating hostel and going on a cruise with a couple of complete strangers! But it was fairly quiet and though I didn't fall asleep immediately, once I did I slept like a baby - right through my iPod alarm. Oops!

The ferry arrived around 6AM, then I got lost trying to find the metro station, and wandered around for what felt like hours but was probably about 20 minutes, and eventually I found a tram stop and a nice woman waiting for the tram told me to get on and ride it to the metro station. Though of course I did not have a ticket, since this tram stop did not sell tickets. But I didn't get caught, so there. I buy a bus and subway pass at home every month and usually don't get nearly my money's worth out of it, so I will absolve myself of that particular sin. If they had put up a sign that said where the metro station was, I wouldn't have had to fare-jump their tram, so there!

My hotel in Athens was in Omonia, which is apparently kind of a sketchy red-light district. I figured I would be tired and going to bed early anyhow, so who cared if there were drug deals and prostitution going on outside in the middle of the night - I intended to be in bed by about 10PM. In the morning, it was a little on the gritty side but nothing to send me screaming. And the hotel itself did not seem prostitute-infested (it was a Best Western, for what that's worth).

Once I was checked in to my hotel, I went to the Acropolis. This was pretty good! I considered hiring a guide for a tour, but they seemed to vary dramatically in quality, so I ended up just eavesdropping on other people's guides. I really only needed to spend an hour or so here, which was good - by 10:30AM or so it was crowded to the point of uncomfortableness. When they tell you to get to the Acropolis early, they mean it!

Here's the amphitheater at the Acropolis, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. This is where such exciting events as "Yanni: Live at the Acropolis" and the 1973 Miss Universe Pageant were held. Seriously, though, it's lovely. And the seats have cushions!

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This is before it got crowded:

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The Parthenon - seriously impressive:

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Even with the scaffolding and hordes of tourists:

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I also visited a few other ancient sites - with your 12 euro Acropolis ticket, you also get admission to six other ancient sites in Athens (I only made it to three). Here's a photo of a frieze in the Ancient Agora:

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I also visited two museums, the Cycladic Art Museum, which was not a big museum but had some lovely art from the prehistoric Cyclades. The people of the Cyclades (islands which include modern-day Santorini and Naxos) made these ritual figurines that I found incredibly appealing.

This is a very large version of the classic figurine (maybe four or five feet tall, near life-size):

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They carved these figures over and over. To me they look quite modern, but maybe I just misunderstand the prehistoric Cycladeans. I thought the figures were absolutely lovely, and considered buying one of the reproductions in the gift shop but they were pretty pricey.

And here's a less-typical figure they call "The Cup-Bearer" - I love this guy:

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Later in the afternoon, I went to the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, which was delightful! I spent a couple of hours in the prehistorical section - featuring more Cycladic art, Neolithic art, and gorgeous Mycenean gold, before I realized that there must be a lot more to the museum that I hadn't seen yet. Between my feet being exhausted and the museum getting ready to close, I was only able to spend an hour or so in the rest of the museum, but I wasn't all that upset - for whatever reason, the prehistoric stuff is closer to my heart than the classical Greek and Roman stuff. Maybe I need to re-read my Odyssey.

One funny thing happened when I was in the Archaeological Museum - in a room of Neolithic pottery, an American tourist was asking the guard what was the oldest thing in the room, and the guard helpfully pointed out a jar dating to 6000 BCE. Then she kept asking the guard, "Why does this label say 14056 then?" and the guard didn't seem to understand and I was right there so I explained that the 14056 was an inventory number or something, and didn't actually mean anything.

Then we got in a discussion about human evolution in which I had to explain that Lucy the fossil was actually millions of years old, not thousands like this pottery, and that the people who made this pottery were genetically almost the same as us and if you gave them a bath and a haircut and taught them modern language and culture, you'd hardly be able to tell them apart from any other person, but Lucy was a creepy little ape-lady who wouldn't pass for human with any amount of shaving and instruction. And then she said she wasn't sure if she believed in all that, and I said I was on vacation from my work in a museum anyhow and we both moved on.

It was a lovely museum and I would love to visit it again someday. And on the way home, I saw a political demonstration (nonviolent), for the PASOK party. There was a lot of political advertising up all over Athens and Rhodes, as the European elections were being held that weekend I think. Video of political leaders speaking languages I don't understand always seems sinister to me - something about the motions and cadences of a crowd-pleasing oration deprived of their meaning turns me right off. Oliver Sacks wrote about a group of aphasics (people who do not understand speech) laughing uproariously at Ronald Reagan's speeches, but to me political speech devoid of content is more creepy than hilarious. (This is all terribly unfair of me, I know!)

I flew home through Madrid and stayed one night there, but I didn't take any photos. I visited the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia which I loved! Their showpiece is Picasso's famous Guernica, but they don't just show you Guernica - they also have loads of sketches and studies Picasso did in planning the painting, and actual photographs of the canvas at various points in the painting process. Excellent exhibit.

I also spent a good twenty minutes watching the Buster Keaton film "One Week" at the Reina Sofia. It was hilarious! I laughed out loud more than once. Honestly, I think I kind of missed the point of the exhibition it was part of, but whatever, it was a pleasure to sit in a dark room and watch that movie.

After the museum I had a fried calamari sandwich and a beer at a sandwich/tapas place near the museum. Delicious! And I got an olive and a mussel on a tiny plate to tide me over while they made my sandwich. The next morning before my flight I had churros and coffee for breakfast. I definitely want to get back to Madrid. Churros for breakfast!

All in all it was a great trip. It will be a while before I can get away for that long again, and I don't really have any vacation plans on the horizon, which is odd for me (I'd been planning on going to Turkey for about two years!), but we'll see what comes next. I've been doing a lot of staycationing - visiting tourist areas in and near my own city - and I've enjoyed it lots.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Solo travel to Turkey - one woman's experience

A brief diversion from an account of my trip to talk about a few things people have been asking me about (in real life, not on the internet, but hey, maybe someone out there will get some use out of this).

I know that before I came to Turkey I wondered a lot about what it would be like to travel there on my own, as a woman - whether it would be safe, whether I would be extraordinarily conspicuous, etc. I have friends and acquaintances, male and female, who had traveled to Turkey in pairs and small groups, but I didn't know anyone who'd gone to Turkey on their own, male or female. None of my friends who'd been to Turkey urged me to go on my own (one of the things about traveling solo is that your friends don't necessarily learn a lot about your travel style!), but none of them said, "God, no, don't do it!" So, I took to the internet to hear what other women trave ling alone had thought about Turkey. I found a lot of encouraging firsthand stories, a few people who had been miserable, and some news and guidebook accounts of actual crimes and other horror stories.

But you know, I think by the time I started looking at other women's stories, I'd already made up my mind to go. So if you're a woman (or a man) who's already decided to go to Turkey on your own, go ahead and read this post for lots of reassurance and a few caveats and cautionary tales.

Now, for starters, solo travel is not for everyone, period. Some people don't like traveling alone, and I think this is largely a personal temperment issue. Solo travel in general and its challenges and rewards is probably worth a whole blog entry of its own (which I may even write at some point!), so for now I'll just talk about Turkey specifically.

Lots of people have asked me if I felt safe in Turkey, and overall I would say yes. I acknowledge that the risk of being affected by a terrorist attack is probably higher than in the US or Western Europe, though still extremely unlikely. As far as crimes against my person (attack, robbery, rape, whatever), I can 100% say that I never once felt that I was at risk of bodily harm from another person. I did get lost more than once, and that was unsettling and a bit scary, but realistically I do not think I was in any actual danger (other than the danger of needing to take an expensive taxi ride to get where I needed to go!).

I was appropriately cautious; I did not stay out very late, I kept to well-populated areas, especially at night, I did not drink to excess or use any mind-altering substances, and I was vigilant about what was going on around me. I'm a reasonably street-smart person - I used to work in an inner-city hospital complex until midnight, then take the bus home, and I never came to any grief there - and I used my own good judgement.

The time I was most scared, and probably in the most actual danger, was when I got lost in the scrub forest in Kas. This was my own fault for wandering off the trail, and I would have been in just as much danger if not more if I'd been in the mountains of my native New England (in Kas, I at least had a great mobile phone signal, which you can't count on in the White Mountains!). Even then, though, because I'd taken appropriate precautions, the risk I ran was pretty small - I had a mobile phone that I could use to call for help if necessary, I had a whistle, a flashlight, a small first-aid kit, food (dried fruit) and water, and I had good long-sleeve, long-trouser, synthetic hiking clothes. I might have really annoyed my hotel and the local police if I'd had to call for help, but there was never really any risk that I wouldn't be able to get out!

I would say that as far as physical danger goes, you can greatly reduce the amount of risk you run by observing a healthy level of caution, being prepared, and thinking things through. Also, if you know you're prepared, you'll feel a lot more comfortable! (Just don't get too comfortable and stop observing your healthy level of caution...)

A couple of people have asked me about food safety - I didn't drink tap water, but I wasn't particularly careful otherwise, and I felt 100% fine. I ate raw fruit and vegetables without worrying about whether they'd been peeled or how they'd been washed, and a lot of the food was served lukewarm, which I know are all the red flags you're supposed to avoid, but I never had any problem. I do have a stomach of steel, though; I've never had food poisoning that I can remember, and I seem to be able to eat whatever I want, whenever I want, with basically no ill effects (besides weight gain). I think the cure for IBS is lurking somewhere in my digestive tract (OK, gross image; we'll move on now). Obviously if you have a more sensitive stomach you might want to ease into things and be more cautious.

Enough about danger - let's move on to "hassle". In the touristy parts of Turkey that I visited, people (and by people I mean men, actually) are constantly asking you, "Where are you from?" and "What is your name?" and "Are you lost?" I found it a little bit exhausting, just because there are so many of them; individually they're no more annoying than many Save the Children and Greenpeace canvassers I've encountered at home. Mostly I was able to ignore them or develop a sense of humor about it - when I ignored one guy who asked me where I was from he said, "Are you Japanese?" and I said, "Yes, konnichiwa!" which he thought was pretty funny. And I just had to bust out laughing when one guy asked me "Are you lost?" while I was standing directly in front of the Aya Sofya! I don't think it would be possible to be less lost anywhere in Turkey - it's surely the most famous and recognizable landmark in the country.

Constant questioning aside, I did feel very observed on occasion. More than once when I was wandering around in Istanbul I would suddenly find myself in a bustling street (just beyond a touristy area) that was full of men, with no women at all besides myself. It was disconcerting! I don't recall ever finding myself in that situation in North America or Western Europe. It certainly made me feel like I stuck out. In Ankara, also, I felt like people were paying me more attention than I would have liked. But what can you do? I did try to maintain a low profile in terms of my appearance, but I was clearly not Turkish, and clearly a tourist.

I did run into one scam (um, one scam that I noticed, anyway), at the Nevsehir bus station - as described in many other travelers' reports and in all the guidebooks, people at Nevsehir bus station will try to scam you into taking their taxis and private transfers to Goreme and Urgup, rather than the bus company transfer included with your bus ticket. Be prepared and don't fall for it. Make sure you buy a through bus ticket to your final destination, and if you do have to transfer make sure you find the real transfer bus (it will be the one without a bunch of guys trying to talk you in to taking it!).

Another question people have asked me is "What did you wear?" and "What do women wear in Turkey?" I wore long sleeves with highish necklines most of the time, but this was actually as much for sun protection as it was for modesty (I am of the Pink race). I was traveling light, so I brought one pair of (quick-drying, nylon) trousers and one skirt (likewise a wringable, comfy breathable polyester knit) and some long-sleeve shirts. I also brought a couple of t-shirts (and I didn't feel conspicuous in these, either) and a couple of sweaters (almost completely unnecessary - should have left them home!).

As for what how other women dressed, I saw people wearing just about any old thing you've ever seen on anyone - Western and East Asian tourists in tank tops, shorts, beach caftan coverups, jeans, t-shirts, sundresses, a kameez top from a salwar kameez with no trousers underneath (my personal favorite), and other tourists, pilgrims, and local women in various kinds of Muslim traditional dress from long sleeves and ankle-length skirts right on up to women in niqab/black face veils. All over Turkey I saw lots of women in headscarves and lots of women with bare heads. In Cappadocia I saw lots of women in traditional salvar trousers (I can't find any good pictures but basically they have as much fabric as a skirt and a very low crotch, well below the knee; I wish I'd taken photos but I hate asking people if I can take their photos). I saw lots of women wearing variations on these drop-crotch trousers in Greece and Madrid, and I remember seeing those kinds of trousers on The Sartorialist (a fashion blog). I guess I should have bought some - I'd be tres chic! But I'm not sure tres chic is really the way to go in Boston. We're simple people; frumpy and content to stay that way.

The last thing I should mention is the Turkish language. People didn't speak as much English as I expected; not that I have any right to complain about this, as I am pretty monolingual myself. But I didn't do much to prepare myself at all. I wish I'd at least brought a proper phrasebook, rather than relying on the abbreviated one in the back of the Lonely Planet guide. Turkish mostly just washed right over me. I think by the end of two weeks I knew maybe 15 words of Turkish, five of which I've now forgotten two weeks later (I definitely knew the word for "ten" at one point, but that's gone). My favorite Turkish word was "feribot" which, disappointingly, is just pronounced the like "ferryboat", not like some kind of exotic robotic ferry system.

One consequence of the language barrier was that it could be a bit lonely (constant "Where you from?" and "Are you lost?" queries aside). I only spoke with one or two Turkish women the whole trip; almost all of the women I spoke to were either expats living in Turkey or other tourists/travelers. This was a language thing and a cultural thing - my impression was that at least in the tourist industry the men were more likely to hold the public-facing jobs, and the women were more often working behind the scenes; women don't need to speak English to do these jobs, so they don't know English, and so even when I did interact with the Turkish women working at the hotels and restaurants I visited, we couldn't really talk (though some of them were incredibly friendly).

Anyway, to sum up: There are some dangers and annoyances in Turkey, as in anyplace worth going, but I found them completely manageable and worth it. If you can ignore a charity canvasser or a panhandler, you can ignore a Turkish carpet salesman (and the carpet salesman will be a lot more polite than either the canvasser or the panhandler). Read Turkey Travel Planner and a guidebook or two or three before you go to give you an idea of what to expect. Think through a couple of worst-case scenarios (worst-case scenarios aren't as scary to think about if you're prepared for them). Even if you're uncomfortable in one part of Turkey there's probably someplace else that will be a perfect fit for you (it's a big country, and it offers a diversity of tourism experiences). Solo travel in Turkey can be loads of fun; it's probably not for everyone but it was great for me, and if you think it sounds good, go for it!

Monday, June 15, 2009

More Rhodes

I did eventually venture out of the Old Town in Rhodes, and went to what you might call the Actually Much Older town, i.e. the Acropolis of Rhodes.

Rhodes and Athens 007

This is the ancient city of Rhodes. There were three other ancient acropolises on the island of Rhodes, but I did not make it out of Rhodes Town, I'm sorry to say. There's also a stadium there:

Rhodes and Athens 004

Wikipedia says that "acropolis" literally means "city on the edge" (edge in the sense of extremity). I like the idea of a "city on the edge" even if the translation maybe has some layers of meaning that the original version might not. Unsurprisingly, ancient people liked to build their cities up high, where it was easy to defend them. Then the actually living city of Rhodes built up around the acropolis, and the part of the city near the harbor ended up being the more important part.

I also went to several more museums in Rhodes, and I think my favorite was the decorative arts museum. It was all everyday objects like pottery, bedsheets, cabinets, and that sort of thing. It was small, but I really liked the stuff in it. Here's one of my favorite pieces, a jug with a beautiful young lady with a unibrow on it:

Rhodes and Athens 031

So much of the stuff here was just simple and charming and lovely; I took loads of pictures mostly with the idea of eventually stealing the motifs for as-yet-unconceived-of art and craft projects.

I also took the Wall Walk, which, as you might guess, is a walk around the city walls. This was cool, even though it was raining a little bit (it did not rain much while I was in Turkey and Greece. It was lovely).

Rhodes rooftops:

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When I was up there I noticed loads of solar hot water heaters and satellite dishes, but they're not so obvious in the photos.

I took a Blue Star ferry overnight from Rhodes to Athens. I got a berth in a four-berth cabin - it's cheaper than getting a private cabin, but more comfortable than sitting up all night on the brightly-lit areas above decks! It was a little noisy, but I got a several good hours of sleep and didn't wake up until they played the "coming in to Athens, time to get off the boat" announcement (at six AM, ay-yi-yi).

I then proceeded to leave my iPod on the boat and spend a good hour wandering around Pireas, lost, but the iPod was old and had something wrong with the screen, and eventually some locals took pity on me and dragged me onto a tram that took me to the metro, so all was well. Next entry: Athens!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Goodbye Turkey, Hello Greece

So, yesterday morning I was checking out of my hotel, planning to take the bus to Marmaris and then take the ferry to Rhodes in Greece from there. But when I asked Marie at the hotel if she could help me book the ferry she was like, don't go to Marmaris! You can go via Kastelorizo instead and it will be cheaper and more fun and more comfortable! But you have to leave right this second! So she hurriedly checked me out, got me and my luggage on a scooter down to the harbor for a boat to Kastelorizo, and called to make sure there was indeed a way for me to get from that island to my final destination of Rhodes.

I went on an excursion boat to Kastelorizo, which is an interesting place in a sleepy kind of way. You might say that it's boring, but for interesting reasons.

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Kastellorizo has been occupied by basically any entity that has ever occupied an island in the Mediterranean. It is currently part of Greece, and before wwII it had something like 15,000 residents; after bombings, fires, and assorted other geopolitical difficulties, it currently has a population of about 250. There are a lot of ruined buildings:

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Part of the problem is they can't have such strong ties (trade and otherwise) with the towns on the Turkish mainland as they once did. One interesting consequence of this population loss is that, in order to maintain sovereignty to an island that is actually much closer geographically to Turkey than to any other part of Greece, the Greek government basically pays people to live on Kastelorizo (which is also known in Greek as Megisti, and to Turks as Meis). And it subsidizes travel between Kastelorizo and other Greek islands, which is how I ended up on the afternoon flight to Rhodes (I paid 26 euros for the flight!). Here's the airport*:

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Here's the plane, just landed from Rhodes:

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Here's the baggage claim area:

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Anyway, so we all got on the Olympic Airlines plane (maybe 25 of us) for a 25 minute flight to Rhodes. The flight attendant gave us all drinks and snacks and everything, just as if it were a real flight! Then we landed in Rhodes and picked up our luggage from a real luggage claim.

Now, at this point, because I had not been planning to come to Rhodes for another day, I had no hotel reservation and no real idea of how I was supposed to get from the airport to any place that I would want to stay. A difficulty. I saw a sign for a bus stop and there were some kids waiting at the bus stop and the bus timetable said a bus would be by soon, so I waited for the bus, and took it into Rhodes Town. Then I still had no idea where to go so I wandered for a bit until I found a tourist information office. A nice young man in the tourist office called a pension for me and got me a room, and while we waited for the pension owner to show up to take me to the room he showed me on a map all the places I should go while I was in Rhodes. Given that I had no idea what I was doing at any step in the process, I think it turned out very well!

And Rhodes - I love it! The old town, where I am staying, is just about the most romantic thing I've ever seen (or at least it was at first; I've gotten lost in it several times since and now it seems to be equal parts romantic and irritating). But seriously, it is great:

Winding passageways:
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A laundromat called Hobby of Laundry for some reason:

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Rhodes Old Town is super-touristy - almost all of the businesses are souvenir shops or restaurants (and not particularly good souvenir shops or restaurants, either) - but it's still wonderful. I really like it here. Today I went to a couple of museums, which didn't allow me to take pictures, and then I got lost, stuck in the fortifications of the city:

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I walked three-quarters of the way around the city stuck between those two walls.

Anyway, tomorrow a lot of museums and things are closed so I think I'm going to do some open-air activities, and maybe even go to the beach!

*I think Kastelorizo airport is smaller than Beverly Municipal Airport, the airport in my backyard growing up; Beverly has three runways, and Kastelorizo only has the one.


I took the bus to Kas, which is kind of a long trip from Selcuk (that's why I spent the extra day in Selcuk, because I couldn't quite bring myself to spend another 7 hours on the bus after just getting in).

The bus was smaller than the one I took to Cappadocia from Ankara, but also less full, so it was more comfortable in the end. I had to take one bus to Fethiye, then change for another one to Kas; it was supposed to be about five hours to Fethiye and then another two-plus hours to Kas. It ended up taking even longer, though - our bus needed maintenance halfway through our journey so we had to sit around at a highway rest area for an hour and a half. Fortunately there were some companionable people on the bus - a Canadian family with two tween/teen kids who had been travelling for almost a year and were getting ready to go home, and a nice English couple. So we hung out and got to know each other a bit, though I've now forgotten all of their names. Alas. Here's the rest stop:

Bus 1 003

Anyway, the bus change went smoothly, and I decided to just walk to my hotel from the bus station because it seemed pretty close, and I only got a little bit lost, and the hotel was lovely, with a beautiful terrace and excellent breakfasts and BBQ dinners. I really love Turkish food. So simple, and so tasty. And the vegetables are so good - so fresh and delicious! The tomatoes in Turkey have me really excited for July and August in New England. Tomato time! I don't seem to have any photos of the hotel or the hotel terrace, which is too bad because it was a lovely place and I hung out there a lot; met some nice people there, too, not least the hotel staff who were all 100% charming.

My first day in Kas I went for a walk to Liman Agzi, which is a beach that's only accessible by water or by walking. I had a little guidebook to show me the way but it was actually very well waymarked because this is a very popular hike. On my way there I got invited in for tea by a woman who then asked me to ask my family to help support her mentally disabled son, and gave me gifts to encourage me to do so. Which was kind of uncomfortable and embarassing, but oh well! She was very nice.

Anyhow, the beach was beautiful:

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And then on the hike back you pass some Lycian tombs:

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The Lycians were a mysterious people who lived in the southeastern part of Turkey and buried people in these cliff tombs, dug into cliff faces with sort of shelves for the bodies to lay on. They also built sarcophagi once the cliff tomb fad passed, and these are all over the place in this part of Turkey. I went on a kayak trip and saw some in the water:

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The kayak trip was great. First we went to a nice little beach for swimming:

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Then we went on to paddle near the sunken city of Kekova, a Lycian city that got dumped into the ocean by an earthquake hundreds and hundreds of years ago. I don't have any pictures from when we're paddling because I'm scared to get my camera wet.

I spent four days and five nights in Kas; I think one of those days I just kind of pootled around, shopped for souvenirs, went to see the Antiphellos ruins (a Greek amphitheater right around the corner from my hotel):

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I went for another hike on my last full day in Kas, which was a bit disastrous - I tried to follow another hike from the same book as the first one, but the land seemed to bear no relationship to the directions in the book. So, like an idiot, rather than just turn around and go back, I decided to try and cut across to another path that I knew was probably not far away. It wasn't all that far away, but I ended up hacking my way through pricker bushes and scrambling down rocks, and scratched up my arms and ripped a hole in my trousers. I had my mobile phone and a whistle and things like that if I had really been seriously lost, but it was stupid to put myself in that situation in the first place and I'm embarassed that I did it - you would think I would have learned something in Girl Scouts, backpacking class, etc., but apparently not. But no harm done, except to the trousers. When I did eventually rejoin the path, I followed it back to Liman Agzi, and this time I took the taxi boat back (even though it was an exorbitant 10 TL!).

Next post: My precipitous departure from Kas!


OK, so my last post was about Cappadocia and how wonderful it was to take a balloon ride there! Which still stands, but apparently the other day one of the longest and best-established balloon companies in Cappadocia, Kapadokya Balloons, had a fatal accident. There were two balloons involved (not clear if they were both from the same company or what) and the basket on the upper balloon tore the lower balloon, which then fell several hundred meters. A British tourist was killed. How awful, and how scary. I am selfishly glad this happened after I took my balloon ride, otherwise I might have talked myself out of doing it. I hope the Turkish equivalent of the FAA or whoever is in charge of something like this gets to the bottom of it and figures out a way to prevent anything like it from happening in the future (just as a wild guess I wonder if 45 balloons aloft in an area only a few kilometers square all in one hour may be too many; maybe they need to spread out more, or send up fewer balloons, or something. But I'm no balloonologist).

Anyway, after Cappadocia, I flew to Selcuk (in a plane, not a balloon). I ended up spending three nights there, which was one night too many. For me, there was really only one day worth of stuff to do in Selcuk - the ancient city of Ephesus, the ruined Temple of Artemis, the Ephesus Museum and the ruined St. John Basilica all fit handily into one day for me, and then I just sat around and did nothing the second day. I thought on the second day maybe I would go to the beach or take the bus to a nearby village that is supposed to be cute, but I couldn't quite delazify myself so I just hung around Selcuk and read. Which, really, there are worse things I could do with my time. It was nice.

Anyways, Ephesus! The best-preserved classical city in Turkey, and one of the best-preserved classical cities anywhere; you may remember Ephesus from such holy books as the Letter to the Ephesians - this is who St. Paul was writing to. Ephesus was a prosperous port town with a population of 250,000 in its heyday and became the capitol of the Roman province of Asia Minor. However, the river on which the port was located changed course, the port dried up, and so did Ephesus. Here's what it looks like today:

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Still very busy as you see! There were thousands and thousands of people at Selcuk when I went. I went right in the middle of the day, against the advice of the guidebooks, and it was as hot and crowded as the guidebooks said. All that white stone reflects the light something fierce - it reminded me of being in Washington, DC a little bit, in that there were tourists and white marble everywhere. Some of the tourists come on cruise ships that dock at nearby Kusadasi, some come from Selcuk where I stayed, some come from further afield. It all adds up, apparently, because there were loads of people there.

Here's the library, which I am contractually obligated to take a particular interest in:

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They stored thousands of scrolls there - seems like that would be even more of a hassle than storing books, and storing books is hard enough! But I guess books hadn't been invented yet? I should look it up.

Anyway, part of the reason Ephesus was so important was that it was a center for the worship of Cybele/Artemis/Diana/whatever other names she went by. Here is what's left of her temple, which was once one of the Seven Wonders of the World:

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Just one column left out of, I believe, 127 original columns (note the stork nest on top of the column). There are also some foundation pool deals.

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The Ephesus Museum was pretty nice - It's mostly stuff that has been recovered from digs at or near the city - statues, parts of statues, etc.:

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My favorite was the pipes, though:

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I love ancient technology!

Then I went to the Basilica of St. John, where John, the author of the eponymous Gospel, is supposed to be buried. There's pretty good evidence, as I understand it, that John did in fact spend time in and around Ephesus; the Virgin Mary is also legendarily said to have come to Ephesus to spend her last days but that's less well backed-up as I understand it. Ephesus was an important early Christian site (as you might guess from the Letters), and this basilica was built by Justinian, who also had the Aya Sofya built, over a fourth-century tomb that supposedly held John's body (what John, a contemporary of Jesus, would be doing in a fourth-century tomb is not explained).

It's a very lovely place, though:

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It's located right up at the top of a hill and gets nice breezes. It was basically completely ruined but has been extensively restored. I especially liked the cross-shaped walk-in baptismal font:

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Anyway, as I say, I spent the next day pootling around the pension where I was staying and sitting in parks reading books. It was nice and vacationy, but I really rather would have spent that day in Cappadocia, where I'd come from, or Kas, where I was headed to. Next entry: Kas!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I've been throwing a lot of updates up all of a sudden! I had some stored up from when I was in Istanbul. I'm writing this one to post the same day as I finish it, but I'm still talking about stuff I did a few days ago. Anyway, if anything's confusing, just go back a couple of entries, but you're smart folks.

Anyway, Cappadocia! I stayed in Goreme, which is kind of backpacker central in this region. But for all that, it did have some charm. I've seen a lot of people online and in the guidebooks say that Goreme is spoiled and you should stay in Urgup or Uchisar instead. And a guy I ran into on a path said that I should have stayed in Cavusin (his village). My feeling is, none of these places are perfect. Yes, there are a lot of tourists in Goreme, but I didn't feel like there were any fewer in Urgup (didn't visit Uchisar). And while Cavusin may be a charming example of a Cappadocian village (and it is), it's a lot less convenient, there are only a couple of pensions to stay in, and there aren't any restaurants or ATMs or long-distance buses. So I think Goreme was a perfectly OK place to stay.

My hotel, the Local Cave House:

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In most ways, this place was great! Friendly, non-pushy staff, big rooms IN ACTUAL CAVES carved from the rock (people in this part of Turkey traditionally lived in caves - they're naturally cool in summer, sturdy, etc., and the rock is soft enough to carve out a cave without lots of fancy tools, a pool (although I never went in it)... and then there was the bathroom. Ew. Not a good bathroom. I recognize that ventilation is going to be a difficulty in a cave kind of situation, but this thing was seriously DANK. Something ought to be done, preferably involving industrial-size fans and several gallons of KILZ. Anyway, we shall forget about the bathroom (I very nearly forgot about it by the end of my three-night stay, though when I first arrived I was seriously grossed out).

Another nice thing about the hotel was that it was just up the street from the Goreme Open-Air Museum. The Goreme Open-Air Museum consists of a bunch of churches and other buildings from a Byzantine monastery. These are all carved into the rock! Monks living in caves in Central Anatolia... that's the true hermit lifestyle. These guys knew what they were doing. Many of the churches have frescoes in them, and some of these are incredibly well-preserved:

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These are from a church called the Dark Church, because it was basically windowless. That's why the frescoes in this particular church are still in such great shape. The Dark Church also has frescoes very high up the walls, which was lucky because when Iconoclasm became the new thing to do, they defaced the features of all the figures (I believe these were Byzantine iconoclasts - the Istanbul churches were defaced when they were converted into mosques, for similar reasons). But the iconoclasts apparently forgot to bring a ladder, so all the faces above six feet high or so are largely intact.

My favorite church I visited was not in the Open-Air Museum, it was the Aynali (Mirror) Church, off the road from the Open-Air Museum to Ortahisar. This museum didn't have such fancy frescoes, but it did have Suleyman the caretaker, who was fabulous! He said I was the only person to have come so far that day (it wasn't quite lunchtime, so there was still hope). He gave me tea and told my about how he had recently had a brain tumor removed, and he showed me how he played music on his extra chair:

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I have video of this, but it's not uploading to flickr and YouTube is banned in Turkey.

The church also had seriously creepy tunnels. Not for the claustrophobic.

I basically just wandered around while I was in Cappadocia. I didn't see all the sites you're supposed to see; I missed the Underground Cities and Ihlara Canyon. I did see people working at their traditional job of storing citrus fruit in caves in Ortahisar:

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Not really that exciting, but I had read about it in the guidebook and I was like, "What does that even mean?" I'll tell you what it means: it means they store citrus fruit in caves.

I did go to some of the valleys that are famous for their rock formations. Rose Valley:

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And Love Valley, where I forgot to bring my camera. I do have a few photos on my phone but no good way to get them off the phone right now.

My last day, I took a balloon ride, my first! 45 balloons take off on any given morning in Cappadocia. Each balloon holds 10-20 (or even, in one case, 30) people. I flew with Goreme Balloons (cheaper through my hotel than if I'd booked direct - another reason to tolerate the bathroom cave).

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I ended up changing around my schedule at this point because I didn't want to take an overnight bus. Overnight travel has been making me extremely cranky on this trip, so I decided to avoid it and fly to Izmir instead of taking on overnight bus to Fethiye. I think it was mostly a good choice, although I ended up spending too much time in Selcuk. It was a restful kind of too much time, though. More on that soon.