Sunday, June 12, 2011

Goodbye Europe - Hello Turkey

I have posted some pics of our fellow travellers and the Scenic Staff. A quick summary - We bussed to Salzburg in Austria for a walk around the old town and the backgrounds of Sound of Music in the sixties- a beautiful town with stunning palaces( with rose-gardens) and buildings. We then had 2 nights in Vienna – another stunning palace area and the loot, majesty and ostentatiousness of Empire – on our second day there we had a bus tour into Slovenia where we saw the effect of the neglect and depression of the communist past. The little town of Bratislava is the most prosperous part of this little country due to tourism but is obviously still struggling. On our last night in Vienna we had a magical concert in the Lichtenstein Palace – an 8 part classical orchestra supplemented by 2 opera singers and 2 ballet dancers – just gorgeous and beautifully done. In our last little town in Austria we avoided getting caught in a huge thunderstorm (unlike some of our travelling companions) which blew through quite quickly. Other than that the weather has been superb – 28 degrees and sunny most days in this part of Europe – unseasonably warm but we didn’t mind.
After more somewhat larger towns of Germany, Austria (with T shirts saying “Austria - no kangaroos”), and Slovenia we arrived in our last port of Budapest the capital of Hungary for our last 2 nights. This is a really beautiful town on the river – on one side (the hilly side) is Buda and on the other flat side is Pest. Buda has a huge castle compound dating back to the middle ages and earlier – however you can also see the impact of WW2 with bullet marks in some of the walls. We walked this area and then went to the huge local market (built in 1896) where we had lunch with the locals on stools at one of the stalls – lots of local colour as well as tourist junk. We walked back to the ship for the last night – we had a Hungarian dance troupe and band and F dressed in a very strange combination. After dinner, the captain took the ship up and down the river for some stunning night photos.
The next morning we left our friends and our Scenic Spaceship and flew to Izmir in Western Turkey (via Istanbul) and then a car transfer to Jimmy’s Place in Selcuk. Our room was very large and on the fourth floor with a somewhat antiquated lift. Thursday was a full day tour of the Ephesus region with a dozen others. We started at the top of the mountain at Mary’s House (Mary Magdalene is thought to have lived here above Ephesus in her later life – it’s obviously an important shrine for Catholics), next was a walk down through the ruins of Ephesus to the old harbour (now inland by several kilometres). Ephesus was a large town of 250000 at its peak and so many of the ruins are still there – you get a real sense of the prosperousness and culture of the biblical and later periods. The Theatres and the Library were the most impressive – although the Colosseum was also pretty impressive – big enough to seat 23000 for gladiator and lion battles etc. We also visited the local Museum of artefacts from Ephesus. The most depressing was the Temple of Artemis (One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), all that was left was some blocks in a dismal swamp. We saw a modelling of leather jackets and a demonstration of carpet weaving - in both cases we got the hard sell and managed to resist although the displays of carpets were just amazing - R was much more excited by the display of ancient BMW motorcycles as well as old cars - impressive and yes he took photos of them all . We ate a sumptuous, mainly vegetarian meal with dozens of other tourists from all over the world. After many hours we were released from our excellent guide and delivered back to our hotel for a quick drink, followed by an evening photo walk around the town followed by dinner. The small town had lots of eateries and shops all wanting to sell us goods but not being pressured about it – many of the older men were in the square playing checkers and chess or table tennis – not so many women about. The call to prayer has become a marker of time for us in this secular country where only about 20% are practising Muslims although 99% call themselves Muslim – a bit like Australia really. We also were treated to loudspeakers on cars promoting political parties as the national election is this weekend.
On Friday we were dropped at the Izmir airport for the flight to Kayseri on Pegasus Air (the Virgin of Turkey) and again a 70 minute transfer to our cave hotel accommodation in Ushisar in the middle of Cappadocia. Our hollowed out, rock cave suite is 14 by 5 paces, it is totally dark at night with only 2 small windows at one end and outside is a cave sunken lounge area, the doorway has a tunnel to another lounge atrium. The hotel (Taka Ev) is small with only 4 rooms for rent and the owner Morat and his partner can’t do enough for us (they have a free washing machine) . For this part of the trip we went upmarket and had our own tour guide for a day in his comfy car. Capadoccia is the central region of Anatolia (Turkey) and was the central point of both the Silk Road from China and the Royal/Kings road from Arabia/India/Egypt etc – so it was very important for trade etc. In the early 2nd – 5th centuries many Christians came to this area and hollowed out caves in the huge rock formations left by millions of years of volcanic activity. They carved out churches, monasteries, nunneries as well as houses with eating and sleeping quarters. In summer the temperatures here are in the 20’s and in winter they get snow most of the time so it couldn’t have been an easy life. Later generations of Ottomans wiped these towns out and the caves were largely unused but are now a national park with people allowed to live in some of them – it’s a huge area and takes your breath away with the beauty of the formations and the colours and shapes of the rocks – ranging from white to pink, brown, and pale green, (No black lava here, unlike Samoa). Lunch was at an upmarket Turkish restaurant with all the trim and was delicious – like most meals here we had too much to eat. After walking and ducking our heads (only for the doorways) for many hours, and visiting Churches, monasteries, refectories, houses and pigeon coups (for the guano) we returned with lots of digital images and some local pottery ( you may get to see these treasures if they make it back intact). Towns we visited around were Uchisar, Goreme, Zelve, Avanos (lunch), and Urgup.
Sunday – Today has been a rest day, walked up to the Castle (another huge rock with lots of carved out areas for living etc) which is the summit of the town and the highest point in the area, lunched in the town square gardens. Some people get a little claustrophobic sleeping in the caves, they sure are quiet although we can hear the rumble of the cars sometimes on the street 12 meters above. We really loved this part of Turkey and it is totally different form the Western side, so we can’t wait it see what Istanbul is like.
From Cappodocia (Thirty-one days on the Frog & Toad) Pics to follow

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