Tag Archives: travels

Aezani – The Temple of Zeus and a ‘Lost World’

I suspect that most people drive through Çavdarhisar and barely notice; it is, after all, a pretty nondescript dot on the map on the road to or from Kütahya about 60km southwest of that town. If you take the time, turn off the main road, and follow the signs for about 1 km you’ll arrive at the site of the Roman city of Aezani.

Cybele

Aezani is spread out over a vast area each side of the road, but it is the Temple of Zeus built by Hadrian in 125 AD that dominates the site. Said to be the finest surviving example this temple to the ‘God of Gods’ is truly impressive with an immense underground vault or sanctuary dedicated to Cybele whose well preserved bust stands at the foot of the temple mound.

Imposing as Aezani is, it is not what fascinates me and draws me back from time to time. My interest lies in the ‘village’ of Çavdarhisar that lies between the main road and the historic site. As you arrive at the site, roads either side of the river lead to a ‘lost world’ of village life and scenes – rather than try and describe this world to you I’ll let my inadequate views through my battered old SLR lead you into this world. Perhaps, like me, you will be drawn back again and again . .

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

 

window detail

Goosey Goosey Gander . .
the yard

their life in ruins . .
old Roman bridge
mosaic floor found under a cow shed in village
sarcophagous water trough
ruins from ruins

Over Easy?

Ohhh! This feels so good – being home, I mean. Sun; blue skies; fresh air; no noise; neighbours who smile; Spring flowers; no traffic; chopping firewood while a robin serenades me; sleeping in my own bed; the sharp, affectionate attention of our 9kg (you read that right) ‘SAS badged’ moggy; and above and beyond all these – J! Yes! I’m glad to be back.

Weighed against the pleasures of being here are the pleasures of spending time with those I’ve left back there in the olive-drabness of Blighty. Daughter, grandsons, older sister and other relatives – between them they made this a memorable visit, crammed full of good things. I’ll not be quite so reluctant to run the gauntlet again of the ‘Jobswurfs’, Gestapo apparatchiks and general, all-round arse’oles that constitutes the corps of less-than-civil servants that seem drawn to airports (and me in particular) like ghouls to the Rue Morgue!

Turkey may lack English bitter beer and Stilton cheese, but it has everything else that this particular ‘Boffer’ needs to call it home; and at risk of being a total bore I’m going to say it again – it feels so good to be home!

Oh! and the title ‘Over Easy’? A small tribute to EasyJet and their cheerful cabin crew who made the flight back a really relaxing experience. That Airbus A320 might not have had reclining seats (not a bad idea when your nose is a bare 12 inches from the seat in front) but when only 10% of them are occupied there’s plenty of room to stretch out across the row and get your head down!

Alan Fenn, back home in Turkey

İznik; Tiles and Tranquility

The tourism Mecca of Dalyan lies just 10 minutes down the road from Okçular. Dalyan is steeped in history and is set on a canvas of outstanding natural beauty with a beautiful lake on its doorstep.

İznik lies just south of İstanbul, about 2 days drive from Okçular (we always take the scenic route over the mountains). İznik too is steeped in history and sits at the edge of a large and beautiful lake.

There the similarities end; Dalyan town itself is bereft of charm; there is little to appeal to the eye with concrete villas set in their 500 cubic metre plots. The tea garden trees are dying, everywhere is paved with blocks that radiate the sun’s heat and graceful, old eucalyptus trees, which may not have been native but gave welcome dappled shade and ‘texture’ to the town centre were cut down and ghastly, out of place palm were planted.

In contrast, İznik feels and looks like a Turkish town; İznik has retained its trees and İznik has not fallen into the trap of paving everything in sight. The promenade area is grassed with little man-made promontaries and islands reaching into the lake. The whole feel of the town is of quiet gentility.

J and I have just returned from a trip to the province of Karabük in the north of the country. On the way home we diverted to spend a little time in İznik and we were both taken with the place – it is a really nice town.

Originally named Nicaea by the Greeks, it served as the interim capital city of the Byzantine Empire between 1204 and 1261, following the 4th Crusade in 1204, until the recapture of Constantinople by the Byzantines in 1261. Much of the original defensive walls still stand along with 2 imposing gates. The city and national authorities are carrying out restorations of old mosques, churches and hamams to the highest aesthetic standards using real craftsmen to do the jobs.

With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the town lost a great degree of its importance, but later became a major centre with the creation of a local faïence pottery-making industry in the 17th century (known as the İznik Çini, Çin meaning China in Turkish – Chinese porcelain stood in great favour with the Sultans.) İznik tiles were used to decorate many of the mosques in İstanbul designed by Mimar Sinan. Attempts to recreate the perfection and colours of the early pottery glazes have proved elusive. As an aside, one of my prized possessions is an original İznik bowl; although slightly chipped the (hazardous) cobalt blue of the glaze can be found in no pieces other than these originals.

I like İznik; it makes a great staging post for exploring the area or as a stop-over to or from İstanbul. Its true value is as a gentle, relaxing place to spend time replenishing the inner self, wandering back streets, searching out the surprises (see below) and enjoying the finest catfish kebap to be found anywhere in Turkey.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

old hamam restoration

the quality of restoration is oustanding

the mighty northern Istanbul gate

the scary sight that awaits those entering the Istanbul gate

would you want to mix it with these jokers?

the southern gate

. . can you work out what this is?

admit it, you’re amazed to see it’s an electricity sub-station

the back view of the triumphal march

part of the extensive defenses

. . . and yet more

We’re On The Road Again

First off; sorry about the ‘ghost post’. There you were, so excited to have another scintillating post to oooh! and aaah! over . . and nothing! Put it down to sticky fingers!

Anyway, A & J are on their way (again). Whither our way? Who can say – roughly upwards

'A'

towards the top of the map; left and right a bit as the fancy takes us. A stop here and there – we’ll see – and so will you if we find a loose network to hack in to. I’ll have my trusty VINN but why use up my Gigabytes!

Hadi Bye Bye! A&J

. . and 'J'

ps it’s a funny old thing with tramps and  Google – ask for a ‘Tramp’ or ‘Gentleman of the Road’ and you get a fair selection. Ask for a ‘Lady Tramp’ or a ‘Lady of the Road’ and you end up with a selection of sexy, tattooed trollops or two loveable cartoon dogs! Technology – I just don’t get it!

sorry . . this is 'J'

 

 

The Theory and Practice of Democracy

Isparta Province and the area around about has long been a favourite for J and me; we seem to get drawn back to the mountains, valleys, lakes and rivers most years. When journeying back home from wherever we’ll choose to stop-over regardless of the fact that we could be back in Okçular in a few hours.

I remember on our first visit to the province being amazed by the almost cult-like aura that surrounded the name of former President Süleyman Demirel – an Isparta boy made good. As you drive through there can be no doubt that he is revered as you pass the Süleyman Demirel Airport, followed by the Süleyman Demirel Forest on the right and the Süleyman Demirel Botanic Park on the left; the drive into town takes you along Süleyman Demirel Bulvarı where you pass the Süleyman Demirel University and then, on the way out of town, there is the Süleyman Demirel Children’s Clinic; we have often stayed at the Süleyman Demirel University’s Mavi Göl Training Hotel. Around Turkey, including Muğla, there are further roads and hospitals named after him; an astonishing tribute to an astonishing career in civil engineering (he was Director General of DSI, the state water authority, at age 30) and politics (he became Turkey’s second democratically elected and youngest ever Prime Minister at age 40) and served two terms as President. Affectionately known as ‘Baba’ (Father), ‘Çoban Sülü’ (The Shepherd Sülü (Süleyman)) or humorously as ‘Spartacus’ after his city Isparta, he is writ large in Turkish political life.

Anyway, we thought we had clocked every possible permutation with his name attached until, quite by chance on a back road as we passed a small, nondescript and rather shabby village called İslamköy, we spied this sign.

My first, rather cynical thought was that democracy had had its day and had been confined to a dusty display cabinet (or the dustbin of history) in this museum; whatever, we had to find out.

This is the home village of the Demirel family and what we discovered was an astonishing complex of buildings, funded by the Demirel Foundation (Vakıf), that included the Democracy Museum (closed), library (closed), a gift shop and cafeteria (closed), a grand mosque dedicated to Demirel’s grandmother and numerous other buildings, the whole surrounded by a wall with a gateway fit for a chateau; everywhere green lawns, flower beds, magnificent trees and water. The total contrast from the scene outside was staggering with decrepit, tumbledown buildings and dusty streets everywhere you looked.

Pride in the achievements of one of your own sons is commendable but I cannot help but wonder how the quality of the lives of local people might have been enhanced had some or all of the money been spent on social and community projects, in other words on people – after all, isn’t that what ‘democracy’ is supposed to be about?

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Compare and . .
. . contrast

.

The South East; the story begins

I’ve already said that this blog will be a bit like tripping in the ‘Tardis'; time and space (and sometimes a few memories) warped as we zip backwards and forwards. Here we go on the first of those journeys; back two years to April 2009 . . .

So, here we are; April 1st and day 3 of this trip. We’ve arrived in Mardin, our base for the next couple of days. The town is quite a sight as you drive in perched, as it is, high on its pinnacle of rock (1325 mts) and crowned by its mighty fortress. The fortress would be a great place to view the surrounding countryside; except you can’t because the military use the place to keep an eye on us (and the Syrians who are just a few miles away!).

We’ve found one of those wonderful butik, as we say in Turkey, hotels; this one has also had Prince Charles as a guest but that hasn’t stopped the fixtures falling off the walls or the shower from flooding the toilet/bathroom! The building is a really nice restoration of a very typical Mardin stone house; all tunnels, arched ceilings and cast iron window grills. The porter is an enormously tall fellow whose “uniform” is the local men’s fashion – baggy trousers that friend Gordon once irreverently described as . . .  (nope, I’m not going there!), waistcoat with the whole topped off with one of those very Turkish peaked caps. And the place has wi-fi!

This evening we had an aimless wander about, as you do when you’re a tourist, “Ohhing” and “Ahhing” at the sights and views and attracting the attention of all the school kids who want to practice their English. Later, sitting in a tea garden taking in the

magical minaret

view towards Syria through the dust clouds and watching the antics of the Tumbler Pigeons and thousands of swallows as the sun set behind one of the most beautiful carved stone minarets you can imagine was memorable.

Janet’s just sent for the man to come and mop out the toilet!

Turkey is the Land of Unbelievable Coincidences, but let’s see if you can top this; on our wander about we were looking for a likely place to eat and there was another wonderful restoration that was a hotel that advertised its restaurant. We decided to give it a whirl and were led down steps and along (arched) passageways to the restaurant that was in what was probably the cellars of the old house – very tasteful, very nice! Our young waiter

who's following whom?

settled us in and then summoned his colleague who could speak English. He, of course, wanted to know where we came from, “Muğla” said we, “do you know it?” “Of course,” said he “where in Muğla?” “Near Ortaca, do you know Ortaca?” “Of course,” said he “I worked at the Ley Ley restaurant, do you know it?” Can you believe this? I’m not making it up! We’ve just traveled 1340 odd kilometers, picked a restaurant at random and the waiter (eventually) remembers me as the guy who spends 2/3rds of his life hunched over his computer using the Ley Ley Restaurant’s free wi-fi! Naughty weekend? Forget it!

Anyway, back to the bit about getting here; the first stage was to Alanya where we stayed in a modern hotel overlooking the harbour in the old part of town. Modern Alanya is ghastly but the old part around the castle is much more attractive. We had hoped to stay at a restoration up in the castle but that place wasn’t open and didn’t look as though it would. A great shame as it really is grand up there. Day two found us in Gaziantep having driven some of the finest coastal cum mountain roads in Turkey; the views were stunning! It made crawling along behind giant trucks a real pleasure. Eventually we forsook the normal roads for the motorway (the object being to get over here reasonably quickly and then do the meandering on the way back). For those of you not familiar with Turkish Otoyols let me tell you, they are fantastic! I mean really fantastic!They are engineering marvels of the highest order; they are cheap to use and they are largely empty – so empty that one

a crowded motorway in SW Turkey

wonders what induces anyone to continue building them. Be that as it may, they are a drivers delight although sharp wits and constant concentration are required. Why is that, I hear you ask, if they do be empty? Well, it goes like this; you are bombing along for mile after empty mile at a legal 120 or so kph. In the distance you perceive a couple of trucks, you move into the middle lane in good time. Just as you come up to the lumbering behemoths the back one pulls out, without warning, to overtake. Now, no truck driver in Turkey worth his salt is going to take up just one lane and no Turk with Istanbul number plates on his black Merc or BMW is going to drop his speed from 200+kph as he screams up the outside lane; these guys know that putting their headlights on clears any passage, they certainly cleared mine a few times I can tell you!

And so here we are, back where I started; tomorrow the pace of things moves down a gear or two. We will probably take a run over to Hasankeyf which is about two hours from here in a roughly Northeasterly direction and lies on the banks of the mighty Euphrates River – I’ll tell you about that another day.

Addendum

One thing I can say about this “Butik Otel”, the bed is very nice; I’m not sure what Janet thinks yet, she’s still waiting for the warm water to come through for her shower! In the two previous places the beds were like lying on planks and watching me getting out of them in the morning was (Janet is happy this morning; she’s just done a rendition of “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life – de dum – de dum de dum de dum”) Geriatric Ward the Sequel!

Gaziantep old town is very nice and well worth a bit more time; the magnificent castle was closed because of the renovations which are on a vast scale and very well carried out. All around the castle the area has been restored (there’s still much to do) and little businesses

Usta Metal-Basher

The South East Days 4 & 5

A pleasant and relaxing sojourn to Hasankeyf about 2 hours away through this remarkable geology; so dry and dusty and crumbly yet there are loads of areas of bright green and fruit/nut tree orchards galore. There are plenty of river valleys supplying water the most expansive of which is the Tigris where Hasankeyf is situated. It’s a remarkable site spread out over a large area; there is evidence of thousands of cave houses (and that’s

Hasankeyf from the other side

only those that are left in evidence after much of the facades have collapsed over time). Picture in your mind a deep cleft running back from the huge valley of the Tigris; the sides are inundated with cave houses and once great buildings are dotted around the cliff tops. Under the castle are dozens of huge water cisterns and secret tunnels and stairways to escape/hide from assailants. There are two wonderfully carved stone minarets and some odds and sods remain of the palace. The whole of this remarkable site, like many others in Turkey and around the world, is under threat from yet another discredited dam. Anyone who takes the time to find out knows that rivers carry sediment (especially those like the Tigris) and dams stop water flow and allow sediment to settle out. Sediment relentlessly fills up dam and in short order dam is useless. People are displaced, good farm land destroyed but money is in the pockets of the greedy and selfish. The huge Seven Gorges Dam project in China is already in trouble before it is fully functional with cracks and collapses – how many millions displaced and for what?

Hasankeyf town is a pretty depressing place generally with a large concrete bridge to carry the main road over the Tigris. Having seen the underside of the bridge close up, how bits of the supporting structure moved and opened up, I was not feeling 100% confident as we crossed over to get a view from the other side. On the upside the government is building a wide new road into the place, no doubt with the intent to facilitate evacuation when the time comes!!

On the drive back we diverted away from the more commonly used roads to find the little town of Savur; it was worth it with loads of fine traditional stone house alongside some beautifully built “reproductions” – there were also plenty of concrete nasties but enough of those. We squeezed the car up some pretty precipitous and narrow lanes before parking up and climbing up to what remains of the castle. We enjoyed the view as our brains were slowly fried by the micro waves from the Turk Telekom communication towers! On the way up we found white violets! Don’t yet know if that is a ‘Eureka!’ moment as my ref books are in the car and I’m not getting dressed to fetch them. We’ve had a few fine “spots” of flowering plants along the route today; some will no doubt get a label but with the limited range of my ref books many will remain just beautiful photos to be enjoyed.

Found a truly fantastic place to eat this evening; simple food prepared and presented so well that it really deserves to be described as exceptional, this was some of the finest food either of us have ever tasted. And no touristic prices to take the edge off the experience!

Tomorrow we head back to Şanliurfa; Urfa, the birthplace of Abraham and site of numerous miracles if the stories are to be believed; there is even a cave under the castle that claims to have a hair from the Prophet so something for everyone of you believers out there. We also have some fish to feed, of which more later.

What I didn’t mention was the state of the road from Şanliurfa to Mardin; most of you know that Janet and I push our faithful Doblo (with an accent) up and down all sorts of mountain tracks and goat paths so when I tell you that this has to be the very worst road in Turkey you know I mean the worst! After juddering along for half an hour everyone becomes convinced that the road is better on the other side, so we all move over which leads to some pretty spectacular driving antics when something comes the other way or a bit of overtaking is undertaken!! Tomorrow we have all this to look forward to in reverse (dis)order.

Day 5

As it happened, the other side of the road was better and the powers that be had been out filling in a lot of the potholes and there seemed to be less traffic going back, which begs the question; if it’s all going and not coming – where has it all gone?

There has been a lot of police and jandarma about because of some heavy violence following the local elections; we stopped for petrol near a small town and chatted to the guys there who told us that four people had been murdered there. Beggers belief! Having said that we have only been stopped once so far which was today; there was a great deal of headlight flashing going on and suddenly we were hauled over with a whole bunch of other drivers under the menace of two eight-wheeled armoured vehicles armed with 14.5mm heavy machine guns and surrounded by loads of tooled-up jandarma. We’re lucky, I s’pose, because we stick out like sore thumbs; we seem to have a big neon sign on our heads saying “Yabanci”and a nice young regular soldier was soon at our window practicing his English and then sending us on our way rejoicing.

Our copies of Lonely Planet and Rough Guide are about 12-15 years out of date and Urfa has grown a tad since they rolled off the press. We eventually found our way around the

The Old Vali's Konak Hotel - very nice!

road system and are ensconced in what was once the provincial governor’s mansion; it is a beautiful stone “palace”, beautifully restored and furnished with a beautiful price tag, but hey! how many times do we live? Anyway, as socialists we believe in doing away with money so we’re setting an example and starting with ours!

Just want to backtrack for a moment; before we left Mardin we had a wander around a different part of the old town and found a newly restored mosque and medrassa. Our luck was good because just as we turned up so did the guardian, a youngish chap who was happy to give us a personal tour. He was a mine of information and sound philosophy as he waxed lyrical about the beauty of Islamic art and design, mathematics and the diversity of faiths in the area (Islam, Orthodox, Catholic, etc). As we arrived at the prayer rooms he indicated for us to remove our shoes and the tour and our education continued. Part way round I noticed the butt of a 9mm automatic sticking out of his waistband which caused me to reflect upon a culture that has you take your shoes off at the door but isn’t bothered about firearms. But then what do we know of the dangers of being a mosque guardian in a place like Mardin?

Christ! Our hotel has a live folk music evening; it feels like we’re sharing the platform with them!

After a light vegetarian lunch to help purge some of the Class 1 protein from our systems we set out to find the world renowned Pool of Abraham. It was just a few hundred mts from our hotel and is quite a sight/site. There are several very old mosques and medrassas and acres of connected pools the whole set in beautifully kept gardens. The area bulged with visitors and the pools bulged with millions (not joking) of very large carp that assume that anyone who happens by is going to feed

gagging for it!

them and follow you thrashing about at the surface with their great gaping mouths opening and closing. I think that if you fell in you’d likely be gummed to death!

This is such a culturally diverse place; the mixture of Turkish with Arabic and a little modern Western dress is something to behold. People speak Turkish, Kurdish and Arabic or a combination. The ladies in particular are very colourful.

The covered bazaar is extensive and a normal working as opposed to a touristic place. Janet bought a few of the local purple scarves that are worn by men and women alike.

The castle here is also under restoration but we determined to climb up there for the view; having puffed our way up the restored stairway to the restored gatehouse we were confronted by the pay kiosk and a “Jobsworth”. The sign said entrance was free to over 65s and Janet is ever one to save a few lira; out came her ikamet which gives her age. Jobsworth was not impressed; “It’s only for Turks” he said, “And this is an official Turkish identity card. I want my free admission.” She got it! I can’t wait to be an Old Aged Pensioner too so I can get my free admissions.

Blimey the music is loud but seriously good. That zourna gets right into your guts.

Tomorrow we head out for Harrun near the Syrian border which promises to be very interesting. It’s incredibly ancient with beehive shaped mud houses. Speaking of ancient, Urfa claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited place on the planet. “Not many people know that.” says Michael Caine, or was that Michael Able?

It’s been very interesting sitting with young Kurds and talking politics – local and global, over a glass of tea. The differences between people are so superficial yet they cause many problems when left to the machinations of the powerful elites.

The South East Day 6

Our day began with two things, one salubrious the other highly salubrious; I’ll leave you to work out which is which.

First, comes our breakfast . . . what a spread! Everything and then some, well presented and in such quantity that 2/3rds had to be left. There was an interesting looking red-ish “substance” that we were assured was jam made from berries; jam my arse! it was a violently hot pepper spread that would have brought tears to the eyes of even a hardened Mexican chilli connoisseur. On the other hand there was a huge bowl of clotted cream that has probably taken several years off our lives but was worth every lost second!

Second there is the delicate matter of the “bum-washing” faucet on these here Turkish toilets; most of you know what I’m talking about. They are a splendidly refreshing thing on a hot, sticky day but have always to be approached with a fair degree of caution; a moments inattention can be catastrophic! The nozzle will likely be pointing anywhere other than the expected target and is usually aimed at the gap between pan and seat. Many a chap’s sense of self-worth has been utterly destroyed when he stood up and discovered his trousers had been the recipient of several pints of water. So, you can imagine our surprise and utter delight when we discovered that at this up-market establishment the water has been warmed to a comfortable temperature and we all know that a warm wash is better for the environment, delicate fabrics and delicate nether regions!

Anyway, we’re off to Harran today, about 35-40kms South of here. Negotiating the traffic in the narrow streets of the old town was better than expected it being early-ish on a Saturday morning. There were some heavy black clouds about and a little rain but by the time we got there it was clear enough. The village is a bit of a hodge-podge of old beehive shaped buildings and shoddy concrete with no trees or grass to break up the dusty streets. The land around is fertile and very productive these days thanks to the GAP dam projects.

We drove around to the back of the site and found the remains of the castle and it was here that the chap in a car who had been pursuing us finally caught us up along with a hoard of scruffy little tow-rags who were touting for business/alms for the needy. The young guy was very personable, spoke good English and guaranteed to keep the youthful descendants of Genghis Khan off our backs . . . he got the job! Actually, the kids aren’t the descendants of any rampaging Mongol, they speak Arabic by choice and the kids learn Turkish as their second language at school.

Our new guide gave us a good tour around and included some old beehive houses that he and his brothers had renovated and turned into an enterprise. We now have photos of us dressed up in Arab gear and looking and feeling very silly.

Having done Harran, our guide proposed that he should take us to some little visited sites that are mentioned in our guide books but are a devil to find . . we decided to give it a whirl and it was a very good decision. He took us to a huge underground quarry where

Can you see J? and this IS underground!

stone for much of the ancient buildings of Harran was hewn; its like standing inside a whole bunch of inter-connected cathedrals. There were underground dwellings at another place and what’s left of the temple of Sin (Moon God/ess). You can feel the age of these places as you stand and imagine how it would once have been. Harran has the remains of the oldest university in the world that stood until the Mongols wandered through the area; how the once mighty have fallen!

That said, the locals are a pretty contented lot; there is now plenty of prosperity from farming, tourism adds a bit more and we were assured that there is little to cause discontent. Our guide was indignant at the antics of some of the kids who carry on the begging traditions of their predecessors. Our visit was capped off by an invite to a simple lunch at our guides family home; all in all a very nice day. Oh! And lots of new flowers to photograph that I won’t bore you with.

On the drive back to Urfa we ran into an almighty thunderstorm and downpour; the whole city was awash. Vehicles were stalled at every inconvenient place and with no one giving an inch the place was grid-locked with blaring horns, pedestrians wading knee-deep across the streets and police standing around waiting – presumably for a riot to break out! Wade into that lot and get things moving? No chance!.

Once the rain cleared up we were able to get out and explore the oldest part of town . . . not much to write home about with a few bits of old houses left amidst a heap of ghastly concrete from the 40s and 50s. Several nice looking mosques, though.

We arrived back to another night of live folk music which is pretty much ok; it’s a bit like being back-stage in one of the dressing rooms listening to the gig in the distance. I’m not sure if it’s the zourna getting into my gut or I’ve eaten too much kofte . . . must go on a veggie diet when we get home!

The South East Days 7 & 8

From (Sanli)Urfa we took the easy way on the motorway to (Gazi)Antep before turning off on the road South directly to the Syrian border; the usual nightmare of trying to negotiate city roads where works are endemic and signs are an endangered species was not forthcoming . . . Antep was a dream to get through with clear signs many with English spellings. Bravo!

The drive towards the border and then the run West parallel to it was uneventful but very enjoyable because it is lovely countryside. There were rivers and valleys and vast “orchards” of well-tended, very old olive trees; the trunks of these venerable old things are a sight to behold; they look as if someone has sat there and plaited/woven each one into intricate shapes and designs.

Once we began to head South once again in the direction of Antakya (Antioc) we were on the look out for some sort of eating place; it was a forlorn hope . . . Hiç(h); nothing. We survived on a camel-driver’s diet of dates and walnuts until the big town. What do Hatay folk do when out and about?

We had good luck with a hotel, clean, reasonable and right next door to the bazaar area. A pleasant wander through the back streets of the old town included finding a sort of adult education centre in a nicely restored courtyard house. Guided tour by the guardian followed by tea with him and some ladies under the yard tree. Then he whisked us off to visit a finely restored mosque cum shrine to some pre-Christian sage whose shrunken remains are a source of devotions by many. After all that it was time to sit down for an authentic Antakyan kunefye a delicious cheese-filled pudding topped with maraş(h) icecream; is your mouth watering? It should be!

As we sat there we thought it would be fun to ring a young fellow from this province who, whilst working at the Ley Ley Restaurant, acted as our interpreter and general supporter when we were fighting to stop the quarry; he has worked in Bodrum for several years now. When he answered we asked him where he thought we were (using street sounds over the phone), he was stunned when we told him, why? because  he was in his village just outside of town for a visit. He’d not long left where we were sitting having just booked his coach ticket for the next day, amazing or what! 35 minutes later, following a lunatic motorbike race to town, he was guiding us to his mother’s house where we were now expected as honoured guests. We knew about his mum, she speaks Arabic (as do most of the locals hereabouts) and very limited Turkish. We were greeted like long lost relatives, taken on a village tour, in part to show us off to neighbours before being sat down to a memorable meal that included roast chicken. I mean, how did she get all that prepared and still come for a walk? (‘cos she’s a woman . . . W-O-M-A-N . . . I’ll say it . . de dah de dah) Anyway, eventually we started making noises to get back to our hotel; blimey! much wailing and gnashing of teeth. We must stay the night; it’s early (after 10); etc. Then we had to be given plants dug up from the garden, then more plants . . . What a struggle we westerners have with this kind of hospitality and generosity, our genes just can’t handle it. East is East etc. Wonderful, wonderful people.

You’ll recall that I waxed lyrical about that very civilised “bum washer” in the previous missive; well, here’s the truth of the situation. Because it was weekend the hotel had a lot more guests and naturally the water supply gets a lot more through put, showers etc. As a consequence when our civilised faucet was turned on there were agonised shrieks and much hopping about and cursing because what came out was a blast of near super-heated steam, plus the water tank was gently murmuring. You guessed it, the plumber had hooked up the toilet to the hot water system and this in a hotel that exhorts us to keep our towels an extra day to save the planet!

Day 8

Today has been interesting and enjoyable. We set out to find a famous grotto and failed, so we journeyed on to the coast to find a “genteelly decaying” seaside town of Samandağ, that is reportedly, much favoured by Turks and Syrian visitors, before then going another few kms to explore a bit of Roman engineering. First the town; we’ve both traveled around a bit and neither of us could believe the filth and collapsed infrastructure. This has to be the dirtiest and worst town in Turkey and close to the top of the league internationally. The neglect started at the edge of the town and continued to the boundary the other side; mud and garbage strewn everywhere, pot holes a caver would die for, and some probably have! The population is 40,000, the people are well dressed in modern western type clothes, why do they put up with this sort of thing? Where has all the grant money from central government gone? We can guess!

We eventually got through the place (we were being overtaken by donkeys, pot holes, remember?) and found our Roman site of special engineering interest. 2000 years ago the locals were asking that good old “Life of Bryan” question “What have the Romans ever done for us?” They were hacked off because the local river was a bit of a hooly and kept washing the town and half the inhabitants away. So the local governor decided on a bit of “Hearts and Minds” instead of sending in the troops again (they were a bit stretched anyway dealing with the Intifada in Palestine. He had his engineers cut a gorge and tunnel through the mountain to divert the river away and then dam the original valley. It’s an amazing feat and we had a good time exploring the whole length which is not what tourists normally do it being dark, slippery and as I found a bit painful when you step where there is no floor and find yourself clinging grimly to the edge. Whatever, we also found an amazing complex of inter-connecting burial chambers and loads of interesting flowers, especially at the other end of the tunnel where few feet have trod these past 1999 years! Found a restaurant with a view, had a really good, spicy chicken meal whilst holding down tables and chairs and plates etc during some pretty violent blasts of wind. In the street it was like being in a sand blasting machine!

From here we took to the mountains, more flowers, an amazing wind farm and a lone village/farming chap looking for a lift to where we were going. He pointed out all sorts of good stuff, had us divert to a beautiful mountain top lake and guided us to our destination which we’d assumed would be a village but was a Turkish town of the type we love. The whole area is sooo green and because it butts up to Syria and the local profession of choice is smuggling it crawls with police, army and customs. We drank coffee, bought locally made lokum (Turkish delight) from the maker’s very own hands, drove to the border post to make the “Jobsworth” suspicious, got stopped (very politely) by the police, and then drove our hitch-hiker home to his village with the medicine he’d got for his daughter. Drank tea, declined very nicely the invitation to stay, gave them a box of lokum, accepted a bag of home grown, home made bulgur, handed them a bag of oranges (coals to Newcastle) and made our way back to base knowing this had been a very good day’s experience.

At the hotel we decided to eat in so went to the restaurant upstairs; we were surprised to be the only customers but the chap took our order and then went and got it as a take-away from the restaurant down stairs somewhere!  He even served the salad up in the plastic take-away trays and then charged us TL25, we’d had a similar but far superior meal for lunch for TL10, enterprising or what?

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

The South East Day 9

So then, here we are; the end of a relaxing day of just ambling about the area. We started by going to visit what is claimed to be the very first Christian church, a cave not very far from here, where St Peter is supposed to have been so dismayed by the excesses and moral turpitude of the locals he thought he’d better set about giving them a few hang-ups and guilt complexes. When you think about it, he did that all right! Anyway, we got to the site, which is in fact a place of regular weekly worship and pilgrimage only to be confronted by three security guards and an entrance fee of TL8 each. Seems that the Turks have gone back to their old practice of excusing Christians, Jews and sundry assorted Atheists (I insist on having a capital too) from military service but then screwing a bit of extra tax out of them for the national coffers. And what a scam the place is as well, little more than scrape in the cliff face; the trickle of holy water that (they say) once ran into a baptismal pool (hole in the floor about the size of a pudding basin) has dried up because of an earthquake (Oh yeah!). On the upside there was the “Throne of St Peter” (circa 1923) and we were given three free leaflets. Oh! and Janet found a very nice Roman Snail that happily posed on her hand for a photo.

From here we drove around the back of the mountain and through the road works up to the top for  some spectacular views of the city and several vast mountain removal projects that pass as quarries. Again there is a positive side to that, there are a couple of villages in the next valley that are going to have a great view at some stage!

There’s the remains of a castle up there set amidst the forest with a sea of flowers awash in an ocean of rubbish . . . such a shame. There are rows of rubbish bins but no one bothers to empty them and the wind is strong and perpetual judging by the way the trees are all lying nearly parallel to the ground so the litter is everywhere. Hunting for flowers Janet found some nice fossils of shells and sea urchins. A bit further down I was delighted to find a couple of different Bee Orchids.

We returned to the town to explore the covered bazaar which is ramshackle and chaotic but much more fun than Sainsburys. We had a wonderful lunch in a tiny but very busy “hole-in-the-wall” place down one of the back alleys; the hulking great owners were delighted when Janet complimented them on the food they were making. They set about giving a “How to get more out of chickpeas” presentation that entertained us and the gathering locals who were interested in what the foreigners were interested in. Finally back to the hotel to rediscover what we have both missed so far on this trip . . . an afternoon nap!

Tomorrow we set out for home having covered much of what we wanted to. We’re both looking forward to some familiar ground, the attentions of our faithful animals and we hang on to the hope that there will still be some wisteria blossom left! This may be the last submission in this series depending on how the journey home pans out. (That last a quote from the late Capt. Titus Oates)