A Travellerspoint blog

Exploring Caves and Underground Cities


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After another overnight bus trip I arrived in Cappadocia an area famed for its cities both underground and made up of caves. This is supposedly one of the very unique places in the world to visit and a must on anyone’s itinerary. Upon arriving there I was greeted by snow of all things, whilst it was quite cold it did serve to make the valley look quite pretty.

The other attraction here is the accomodation options and I was determined to take the opportunity to stay in one of the caves on offer. This turned out to be quite easy and to my suprise not only was the hostel full (something I am not at all use to) but it was also gas heated provided a very warm and cozy feel. Definitely worth it even just for the fact that you can say you slept in a cave in Turkey!

Knowing my first day would be wasted otherwise I decided to do a group tour taking in the major sites of the area. The first port of call was the eight level underground Hittite city of Derinkuyu. The Hittites were famous for their defenses and this city is no different with several mill stones set up to block off enemy advances as well tunnels leading nowhere to allow extra time for the Hittites to retreat to safe areas. This combined with internal wells to avoid poisoning from outside and food stores to thwart siege warfare helped to protect this city from attack. The city was so well set up that it provided an underground school, a chapel and permanent wine supply to allow for the inhabitants to survive there for a long duration.

Next it was off to walk through the picturesque Ihlara valley and its Byzantine cave churches. The churches are carved out quite nicely and still contain frescos from their early days despite being well abandoned. As well as this the valley contains houses, storage areas and pigeon houses all carved out from the rock face. After the valley we visited the multi leveled cathederal of Selime, which is certainly one of the biggest above ground carved structures.
With another group trip not inspiring me I decided that I would rent a bike and check out some of the nearby areas myself. It was about this point that I realized that although the region was mainly flat it did consist of long gradual inclines on declines, sadly the city I was staying Goreme is at the top of the valley. This meant that the ride home was very difficult but still a nice peaceful excursion. The nearby cities offer plenty of views of the fairy chimneys which have become the symbol of the area. As interesting as they are its hard to argue that god didn’t create them whilst he had the sense of humour of an adolescent boy.

With another overnight bus trip not quite inspiring me I decided to take another day here and hike amongst some of the many valleys on offer. My path took me through the Rose valley breaking at the Goreme open air museum, then through the Zemi valley before finishing by hiking through the Pegion valley. Whilst there was nothing incredible to see in the valleys, just more caves, chimneys and pigeon houses it was nice to get away from the tour groups again which seem never ending here. The open air museum is once again well preserved cave churches including early Christian frescos and is definitely worth the visit. The site is actually quite large and takes in four churches, three chapels and a monastery. Next its one last overnight bus back to Istanbul in time to take a flight to Egypt my last country and first in the continent of Africa taking me to six continents overall.

Posted by rhinoc 07:28 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Natural Wonders & Ancient Cities

Pamukkale & Ephesus

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After ending the year with a respectful tour to Gallipoli I started the new year of with an overnight bus ride to Selcuk. Near Selcuk lies two things I wanted to see the ancient city of Ephesus and the natural wonder of Pamukkale. Arriving here I found my hostel (ANZ Guesthouse) with a typically Turkish feel, the owner ran the hostel, the carpet store and a kebab store. Very Turkish! He was however a great guy and almost falls over himself to help you out and make sure you get to do everything that you want.

The ancient city of Ephesus is supposedly the largest collection of roman ruins in the Mediterranean and is wiute well persevered putting anything that I saw in Greece to shame. Depending on which historian you subscribe to the city was founded somewhere between the 10th and 6th centuries BC and has outlived many empires during its glory days. During the Roman Empire it was the second biggest city after Rome. Nowadays the most impressive ruins that have been restored include the library, the stadium, the temple of Hadrian and the theatre, the latter believed to the largest in the ancient world holding 44,000 people. Now to put that into perspective approximately 2200 years ago the Romans had a theatre that seated more people than Subiaco oval – surely that is reason alone to get something done! The stadium here is also massive with a capacity believed to be around 25,000 (i.e. bigger than the WACA – really Perth is not stacking up so well). The library entrance is completely rebuilt and provides a very grand entrance to deceive for its relatively small size but all in all quite nice. The temple of Hadrian is marked by the gate which is almost perfectly restored carries with it caricatures of the emperor’s responsible for its building and repairs. The entire site runs down two streets and is approximately 3km’s in length and provides a good idea of how things would have looked in its glory days. This was definitely worth the visit despite some of the worst weather you could imagine with cats and dogs coming in sideways due to the wind, rendering both the audio and literary guides useless, still no cold is the main thing.

The town site here is also home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Temple of Artemis. This giant temple was first built around 2600 years in honour of the god Artemis, twin of Apollo. The temple is said to have been approximately 115m long and 55m wide making it about three times the size of the Parthenon. The temple was first destroyed in 356 BC by a an named Herostratus, purely to ensure his name was associated with history (this is also where the term herostratic fame comes from). Incredibly on this same night Alexander the Great was born and after coming to power and learning of the temples destruction on that night he offered to help pay for the restoration. The Ephesians refused apparently saying that one god could not help another god! The temple was later restored after his death only to be destroyed by the Goths again in the 2nd century. The temple was rebuilt again and suffered its final faint when apparently St John was praying to exercise its demons and the temple half collapsed around him, this was the signal that converted the Ephesians to christianity and the remains of the temple were used to build St john’s basilica also now near the town. Sadly all that remains today is some foundations and one pillar that I cannot say confidently hasn’t been reconstructed just for its significance.

The next day it was off to Pamukkale which was about 3 hours drive by bus which is not ideal but the place itself I was very much looking forward to visiting as in every photo I had seen it looked simply amazing. Some places just can’t be described and this is another one of those and something that certainly didn’t disappoint, definitely one of the top 5 things I have been lucky enough to see.

The name means cotton castle a reference to the precipitated calcium carbonate terraces that form here as the salt saturated water flows over them and cools down. The water then cascades down these terraces and provides a very magical setting. The water in the pools is a very nice 33 °C and despite the rain and wind I couldn’t resist having a dip in the supposed therapeutic waters.

With such a gorgeous setting it’s no surprise that the Romans decided to found a city here, Hierapolis in the 2nd century BC. With the therapeutic baths ever present the city quickly became a centre for healing. Due to the high earthquake activity in the area the ruins were completely destroyed however they are now in the process of being restored. The restoration is being undertaken by both Italian and Turkish teams working in competition (no idea why) rather than together on the operation. To date part of the wall, the Greek style theatre and Domitian gate have been nicely restored.

Due to the long bus trip here we didn’t have much time to walk around the ruins but after seeing ruins through Greece and Turkey the terraced baths were by far the best attraction for me. Next its off to Cappadocia to check out the caves and underground cities there.

Posted by rhinoc 08:50 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Lest We Forget


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[My apologies for the delay in getting this up but you will soon see why, a very significant place for me to visit and it is hard to tell half the story]

After ignoring the warnings of the touts in Istanbul I ventured off with another guy called Trav (which strangely caused people a surprising amount of confusion) headed for Gallipoli. We had eventually managed to find a place there that was willing to let us do what we wanted without the associated extras. When we arrived we found our hostel which we guessed would be targeted at Aussies & Kiwis, well it was super over the top targeted at them. The guys there simply loved Australia and as you can imagine the bar was covered in all the tacky Australian memorabilia which combined with the John Farnham blaring over the speakers was almost a little much but it was amusing.

Why was I here you may well ask, well after visiting memorials around the world to various coutries and battles it was time for me to visit and pay my respect to Australia's most significant memorial site at Gallipoli. This site is significant both for the number of lives lost here but also for being where the ANZAC forces forged their international reputation for their courage, bravery, mateship and professionalism. Whilst this is not the main reason most people visit Turkey this is an essential part of any itinerary for any Australian or New Zealander.
We took off on this tour with our driver who is as well as being a guide also happened to be a nearly retired tank driver in the Turkish military. Thus he was able to add his military experience and knowledge into the tour. He was a very passionate guy that loved his country, his job (just don’t mention the Iraq war) and Australians very much and was quick to assure us that there was no bad blood between the ANZACS and the Turks, even when they were fighting. Indeed in Turkey they respect the ANZAC traditions and that respect combined with Commonwealth funding has seen the area turned into a national park with little unnaturally changed from the fateful campaign except the memorials and a road added. This is nice and also preserves some absolutely stunning coast line that is comparable to the Australian coast and would almost certainly have been turned into resorts otherwise, for this I have a lot of respect for the Turkish government. As a further symbol of respect beside ANZAC cove lies a memorial from Ataturk declaring that all the soldiers that lost their lives rest in peace in a friendly country, that there is no difference between the Johnnies (ANZACS) and the Mehmets (Turkish) and that they have become sons of this country too. A very nice message and one that is placed as to be significant but also not to take away from the memorial at ANZAC cove.

The primary goal of the campaign was to capture the strategic port in the Dardanelles and therefore open up a shipping route through the Bosphorous into the Black sea to their allies Russia. The first stop on our tour was the now called “Brighton Beach” the name changed to correspond with the Allied name for the beach. This is the beach where the landing was supposed to take place and presented a nice flat beach that would be ideal to set up a beach head and difficult to defend. In fact the only a couple of hundred Turkish troops and 8km would have stood between them and their goal of capturing the port. One could argue that things would have gone very differently had the landing actually occurred here.

Instead current wasn’t taken into account and the landing took place at what is now known as Anzac Cove only some 4km down the beach. Here a couple of hundred Turks also waited but this time elevated on hills of approx 250m in height, perfect for a sniper. This advantage proved crucial and not only did it provide for a difficult landing but also provided time for Turkish reinforcements to arrive and defend the area. This advantage proved too great to overcome and despite the best efforts only about 1 km was gained. Here at Anzac Cove is the major memorial to ANZAC troops and is very simple and elegant (a nice change from some of the hideous soviet monuments that I have seen). The memorial gives allows you to capture the feeling of the area and also imagine the battle unfolding. Taking the time to walk around here it is impossible not to feel both a great sense of pride in being Australian but also a deep sorrow at such a waste of lives (over 8700 Australian men in the 10 month battle) on such a pointless task.

The national park here contains 31 allied cemeteries and again I must give a credit to the Turkish government for the way they are all maintained. The next site we visited was the Lone Pine cemetery, the place where the most headstones to Australian soldiers lay. The cemetery is known as Lone Pine for the one solitary pine tree that grows there. One pine tree existed there before the battle took place and as a mark of respect one single pine is grown there, using the seed of the old one to symbolize that the memory of the men that lost their lives will also live on.
Next drove along the road that now lays where once no man’s land stood, the area between the two trenches. Amazingly only 8m separated the two trenches in what pretty much remained the battle line for the remainder of the campaign. Bayonet raids were ofcourse conducted from one side to other with little success. Incredibly under between the Turkish and Australian armies they managed to dig about 32km of trenches into these hills – its hard to believe that it didn’t all collapse in fact! Here there is also a cemetery called Jolly Johnsons cemetery.

Amongst the fighting the two sides built up a healthy respect for one another and through this respect some great stories took place, which our guide was desperate for us to appreciate. The first story (for some sembelence of fluency) talks about how the allies were well supplied with chocolates and cigarettes and under supplied for water. With respect between the two forces developing Johnson during a ceasefire called out to the Turkish forces and threw over some chocolate and cigarettes, a few minutes later the Turkish forces called out his name and threw back some water. This started what became an exchange of gifts/supplies during ceasefires between the armies. The armies managed to agree on ceasefires quite often and the two most famous examples are for Christmas and boxing day where the allies played their famous cricket game and also to allow the Turksih soldiers to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Another famous story tells of the bravery of a Turkish soldier to put up a white flag and collect an Australian man who lay screaming in no man’s land and deliver him to the Australian trenches, as you would expect no shots were fired until he resumed his position.

Next we were off to see the most significant Turkish memorial at Chunuk Bair which remember the men who gave their lives after they ran out of bullets to provide time for reinforcements. Once again this memorial is understated and includes a small cemetery, a mosque and some comments of respect from Australian soldiers. It also includes the statue of the oldest Turksih veteran who opened the memorial and his granddaughter. We then checked out Ataturk’s headquarters which at the top of the highest hill allowed him to see out over the four areas of the peninsula and therefore all the battles. A very good point strategically and it certainly allowed him to dictate things, here they have preserved his bunker and erected a state in his honour next to the Turkish flag. Here also lies the most significant New Zealand monument.

The museum is also quite nice to visit and whilst not being all that big has a nice scattering of exhibits from the area. Probably the nicest thing in the museum is the photo of the oldest surviving veterans from both Australia and Turkey shaking hands as they opened the museum. All in all a great tour and certainly a must for any Australian or New Zealander when coming to Turkey as well as being a great advertisement for the Turkish government and their efforts to preserve the site.

Staying at a small town of little more than 5000 people didn’t really promise a great new years eve but that’s not everything and we were mainly here for the battlefields anyway. We did however do our best and we headed to the Boomerang bar (as I said very much marketed at aussies and kiwis). The owner here was a great guy and even handed us a plate of the family dinner but with no one there we decided to try our luck at Canakkale. There was a lot more people over there and we made it to the main square to hear the count down and watch the people celebrate, oddly almost immediately they all headed home. Still all in all a great way to round out the year that was 2009 for me, one in which I have seen so many places that I had always wanted to visit. Hopefully 2010 continues in this vein.

Happy New Year everyone!

Posted by rhinoc 13:51 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

I'm not selling anything....but you want to buy a rug?


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Wow! What can I say about this city other than it is both incredible and infuriating at the same time with the seemingly endless number of touts hassling you for anything and everything. After the initial annoyance however they do provide some comic relief with the different strategies that the use. The best lines that I can remember were, “You buy postcards, they are cheaper today than yesterday”, “I’m not selling anything I am a tourist like you from America but would you like to go to a rug shop?” and all offering their own umbrella/jackets once it started raining with the sales pitch of “is very good - is like new” - annoying at first but ultimately very amusing.

The look of the city is really quite magical with the way you approach it from the airport watching as one mosque appears and then another and then another something really is quite special about it. Also watching the sunset over the top of almost endless mosques dominating the highest points of the city is quite something to behold and one of those things that words and photos fall short in describing. The two main mosques, the so called blue mosque and the ayra sofia were simply quite amazing and we were lucky enough to be staying between the two giving us a good map home and an enjoyable walk home especially when they were lit up and night. The best views however of the mosques were seen from our boat trip ride down the Bosphorous which with a continent on each side was quite awesome. This also provided some really good views of the sun setting over the top of the fortress on the asian side of the city.

The basilica cistern was created underneath the city by the roman’s with water taken from several aqueducts, and was really quite impressive as you got to see underneath the city and the previous empire marks. The cistern itself was huge and really quite tranquil despite the mass of tourists in there and this was by far my favourite “sight” of the city. The palace was also quite impressive and offers a good insight into the ottoman empire with what seems like endless rooms full of relics obtained from different campaigns around the world. It also contains what they market as the biggest diamond in the world which was needless to say pretty big - roughly the size of my fist!

I also figured I would have to visit the grand bazaar and it is hard not to be impressed with the sheer size of it when you are there. It seems so great to have all the gold shops here and all the rug shops there however when you want to leave you realise how big and disorientating it really is. Out of my three times there I didn’t manage to walk out the exit that I wanted to once but I did curiously keep finding the same exit point. Very disorientating especially as it is fully enclosed, definitely worth a visit and surprisingly in a welcome change you aren’t hassled inside until you show an interest in something.

Istanbul seems to have a good nightlife there but many people I talked to had either had or met people who had been scammed by tout and or taxi driver alike. But with common sense hopefully on our side a few of us from the hostel heading out and took in a sheesha bar (flavoured tobacco from a pipe) and also the live music and nightlife around taksim square. We didn’t have any problems and its quite a nice relaxing nightlife with a beer, a sheehsa pipe and what seems to be a battle of the live music acts across the narrow streets. The great thing is also the endless supply of kebab stores that are willing to make you any kind of kebab at any time of the day, not great for the diet but its hard to walk past 30 or 40 stores and not get a craving for one eventually. The guy I was hanging around with often remarked that he was eating because he had seen that many kebabs that even though he wasn’t hungry he wanted one!

With one eye on seeing the rest of Turkey and another eye on the calendar I decided i would leave Istanbul before new years rather than spend longer here with no real new years plans in place at the hostel. Lonely planet suggests that the endless travel agencies make it easy to travel throughout Turkey. This isn’t strictly true as they will pretty much do and say anything to get you to end up on their package tour regardless of what you actually want to do. After half a day of trying to organize something I found another guy that wanted to head off to the Gallipoli battlefields and despite the warnings of the travel agencies we got there just fine without them and decided to avoid the travel agencies from now on and organize what we could ourselves.

Posted by rhinoc 09:31 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Inertia is a bitch


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Travelling without a plan is very susceptible to the concept of inertia as when you are travelling you keep moving and when you stop it takes a while to get moving again. After cruising happily through both Romania and Bulgaria on my rough journey towards a white christmas somewhere near Vienna I arrived in Budapest and ended up staying here for Christmas instead. This blog could really be very long but I will gloss over some bits to keep it short(ish).

So why so long in Budapest you may well ask, well the answer to that my friends is that I found a cool little hostel called the Loft where even though initially I was the only guest (a common theme lately) the staff made it difficult (and in Gez’s case almost impossible) to leave. The hostel itself is more akin to crashing at a mates place and brings with it a very relaxed feel that makes it a very comfortable place to stay in Budapest and also saw me elevated to clayton’s staff after less than a week. So with some friends around and the weather looking promising I stayed in Budapest preparing for my first (hopefully) white christmas. Sadly after the week before Christmas was filled with snow the temperature rose unseasonably during Christmas week meaning no snow and just a bit of rain but oh well can’t have everything can you!

Whilst there wasn't any snow Gez (bless her heart) drew a frosted snowman in the window to atleast make it seem a little snowy which was a lovely touch. As opposed to my normal tradition of eating a big lunch and then snacking and lazing through the day we decided to cook up a big dinner, although this almost turned into a Boxing day breakfast as it took so long cook. It turns out that the oven we had there was adequate most of the time but when you have four chooks, a bucket load of veggies and Yorkshire pudding to cook it takes a while but it was in the end well worth all the effort.

Budapest the city is also a cool place that has a very interesting history with my favourite bit being the fact that they changed the date of settlement to coincide with when their 1000 year expo grounds were actually completed. This coupled with the fact that they owe much of their written history to an anonymous author meaning the statue in his (or I guess equally possible her) honour is very vague and amused me plenty. The expo grounds also showcase all the different architectural influences in Hungary and are thus an interesting place to walk around however it now predicatably is a museum. This area also contains the monument to Heroes Square which despite its grand nature is quite an elegant monument representing the various kings of Hungary and the seven founding tribes as well as the soldiers that have died for their freedom. Besides this the city has a lot of very random statues (such as the princess dressed as a prince statue) as they needed to replace the soviet statues that they removed from after liberation from the soviets although they oddly fell in love with the “lady of peace” statue and would not let it be removed. The city also has a nice parliament and fisherman’s bastion area that is an extension of the church on castle hill. The castle on the hill is quite plain and rather predictably (atleast in Budapest) has been turned into a not one but two museums. The national palace is largely unnoteworthy apart from the one guard that patrols the area who looks desperately lonely and begging for someone to talk to him. They also have some Christmas markets in the main square but other than being a good source of cheap food there wasn’t much on offer although I did see a good acrobatics show done with puppets once that was amusing – there are however better Christmas markets.

Hungary suffered the fate of being on the losing side in WWI and as a result they conceded a large amount of territory, curiously also losing some to Austria their former allies and partners in the Austro-Hungarian empire. After a short run as a democracy the country was occupied firstly by the germans despite Hungary resisting late into the war and then the Russians who hung around for four decades despite the best efforts of the students in the 1956 uprising. This uprising was met by the brute force of the Russian army with tanks rolling in to persuade the protestors to disperse despite the use of Molotov cocktails to halt their progress.

Budapest is crazy about their museums and they have a way of turning everything into one. The best two that I went to were the terror museum and the labyrinth museum . The terror museum tells the story of Hungarians struggles against the communist regime that was in place and is full of information and some really detailed rooms, oddly in a very Hungarian way the museum starts on the third floor and works its way down finishing in the basement. The labyrinth museum is very good as it is setup in the cave system under the castle district which has about eight different areas allowing you to get lost for a few hours. The art there is all carved out of the walls and consists of among other things soldiers guarding the doors which give it quite an eerie feel about it. There is also a continuously running red wine fountain (presumably for when the caves were used as refuge during the war, and hey lets face it everyone has needs). The final and best room though is a completely dark room where your aim is to find the one ray of sunlight coming from above (a task more difficult when there was no sun for a week!) that marks the exit. It also tries to create an atmosphere by getting you to follow a guide wire to a very bright light before delving in to the darkness that messes with your visibility and perception such that giant pillars and walls seem to arrive only when you are millimeters in front of them – all in all pretty cool.

Budapest is ofcourse famous for its baths and I spent a day checking out the baths that were used in the movie Red Heat all those years ago. The baths themselves are really quite good but after a couple of hours it does get a fraction on the boring side but the baths of various temperatures up to 45 degree water were a nice change from the sub zero weather outside.

Budapest also has a really good night scene with a lot of very cool pubs and plenty of places offering live music regularly. By far my favourite of these was a so called “ruins pub” which came about because the building was about to be destroyed but the students started hanging out there and drinking and as a result they decided to turn it into a bar. This one comes complete with chairs fashioned out of bath tubs, pummel horses, crates and an old VW bonnet for example. As I said I could continue for a long time but I will leave it here to keep it readable all in all Budapest is a cool city to visit!

Posted by rhinoc 00:17 Archived in Hungary Comments (0)

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