Middle East, July 2000

Becky and I travelled to Istanbul, Turkey, in July 2000 to meet Jenn and Dave MacLachlan as they worked their way around the world. We joined their adventures through Turkey, into Syria, Jordan, and eventually into Egypt, then left them after 4 weeks to explore more of the hot sands as we went to see moist England.

All text and photos © 2004 Peter Newbury.

Welcome to Istanbul
Arrived 11pm-ish, managed to tourist our way into a taxi and off to the hostel where we met Jenn and Dave (our trusty world traveling companions) and fell into bed! Up the next morning to breakfast on a bright beautiful sunshiny patio, then a wander of the streets. We visited the Sultan's palace and looked into Europe from Asia, saw the Hagia Sophia (largest Christian church when built, and subsequently the largest mosque when converted), the Blue Mosque, and much more ranging from Roman to modern.

Turkish lad balancing breakfast, Istanbul, Turkey Looking into Europe from Asia [Sultans palace], Istanbul, Turkey The Hagia Sophia conversion, Istanbul, Turkey Blue Mosque in evening, Istanbul, Turkey

There is little attention paid to the environment in this part of the world. That feeling carried thought the Middle East to varying degrees. A small history lesson... guess which obelisk is older... Egyptians build really lasting stuff! Medieval craftsmanship... well, the stones are still there.

Hmmm... pollution controls? Istanbul, Turkey Which obelisk is older? Istanbul, Turkey

Next morning, ('after a night' is pretty standard for our jaunt; we didn't stay in many places more than a night.) We moved West into 'Europe' and down the Sea of Marmara's north-west coast to a rather famous WWI memorial... Galipoli. The tales here are rather the same as those of other trench warfare, but the evidence hasn't been covered by new buildings or buried. High impact museum and grounds showing clothes, equipment, chunk of corroded machine-gun shells the size of a watermelon, and to demonstrate the 'solid steel ceiling', several examples of bullets that collided in midair and stuck together... The tree in this photo grew from a seed taken from the last tree left standing between the opposing trenches.

Lone Tree memorial at Galipoli, Turkey

After re-crossing the straight, we traveled down the Mediterranean coast and back to the Roman Empire. There we saw strange and wonderful sights, and even some Roman ruins (including a healing center, the Asklepion) perched high on a hill near Bergama...

Senator Dave, near Bergama, Turkey Acroplis, near Bergama, Turkey

We were slowing getting the bus system figured out, and managed to catch a bus south through Izmir and on to Selcuk. After starting to enjoy small towns, Izmir was HUGE! Happy to pass through and not stay! The Middle East is definitely the land of the patio... especially when the views are tremendous. Selcuk is a lazy (but hot) 3km walk from Ephesus, a nicely preserved Roman township...

View from Selcuk hostel breakfast patio, Selcuk, Turkey Ephesus library, near Selcuk, Turkey Peter and Beck at Ephesus, near Selcuk, Turkey

Onward and eastward to Pamukkale, where the calcium rich waters attracted Roman bathers. Rampant tourism has closed the pools to bathers, but people (minus footwear) can walk on the calcium deposits and enjoy running streams. Above the snow-like travertine (calcium laden areas), a pool and Roman township ruins attracted more tours. Interestingly enough, the pool area was highly touristy, yet the ruins were quite empty. Again, the travertine saw long trails of people, but the township of Pamukkale mostly heard the roar of tour buses climbing the hills and relatively few adventurers like ourselves. For such a large attraction, the township was quiet and the roads suited for local traffic, instead of the burgeoning tourist business and endless road signs seen so much in North America. Ice cream, it appears, is an international language, especially when it comes from Alaska!

A little bit of Alaska in Pamukkale, Turkey Travertine at Pamukkale, Turkey

Peter took it in his head to shave his head... completely! No pictures till a Goreme, though. After a stressful and frustrating ticket mishap with the bus (bargaining is the mainstay of life in the Middle East, and lying through your teeth to sell a ticket is completely acceptable! We were told there were only 6 seats left on the only night bus to Goreme from Pamukkale... We purchased the ticket in Selcuk from a Pamukkale Bus Company booth with the thought it would keep our schedule going through Pamukkale. As it happens, the bus didn't leave from Pamukkale, and the Pamukkale Bus Company booth in Pamukkale didn't actually represent the Pamukkale bus company, it just happened to sell tickets with that logo and be the stop for those buses. Hmmmm... The bus actually left from Denizli, but the 'Pamukkale Bus Company' transport, which would have cost, didn't get to Denizli until an hour AFTER our bus left Denizli. After much badgering, stomping, and general frustration, transport was provided free of charge to Denizli in time to catch our bus. We became much more wary after that (and still got burned later!))...

For people coming from the land of 6 hour drives to get halfway across a narrow province, the Middle East is the land of short trips. Turkey was middling size, and a nice transition to the Syria/Jordan 1-ish hour trips between major townships. The night bus from Denizli dropped us off in Goreme at a wicked 4am. We actually did a tourist-type thing in Goreme and signed up for a mini-van tour around Capedocia (apparently stands for 'Land of the White Horses' though we didn't see any white horses, only a gray camel and lots of mules!). Many eons ago, 2 volcanoes erupted in the neighborhood and deposited a thick layer of soft ash that slowly hardened into rock. Somewhere across the ages, people realized that the valleys worn into the soft rock by water could be put to use as homes. Some beleaguered folks, tired of generations of various invaders, went to the extent of digging an 8 level, 80-metre deep 'city' with impressive defenses. Our tour covered the major sites of the area, but far from everything. Definitely a place to visit again!

Goreme township, Turkey Goreme rock houses, Turkey Valley walk near Goreme, Turkey Shaved head, near Goreme, Turkey

At the end of the river valley, we lunched and wandered into a little village known as Aslan (Turkish for lion... ever read CS Lewis' 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' series?). Jenn was accosted by a little lad and promptly dragged into a house for tea and photos (taken by Jenn and Dave).

Jenn visiting with the little lad. Aslan Village, near Goreme, Turkey

At this point, we were noticing that every town had some sort of mosque, even if it was a small room with the necessary spire and loudspeakers attached. The first few days the 'music' had been annoying, after a while, it was amusing to listen to the different wailers.

The tour continued with a stop by the Valley of the Fairy Towers. The 'mushroom-shaped' towers evoked a few snorts of laughter, especially when many carvings of a Turkish male fertility god were being hawked near the gates.

Beck in the eye of the beholder, near Goreme, Turkey Peter plugging a leak, near Goreme, Turkey Mushroom towers, near Goreme, Turkey

After a pause in a pottery store (met an old man who had been making pottery for at least 50-odd years and watched him work a foot powered wheel) we returned to Goreme in time for sunset. That night, we had a wonderful 'class' in rug manufacture. All the different styles, materials... and all with no pressure to buy! As the Middle East is famous for its rugs (salesmen), finding one relaxed enough to not 'be your best friend' and give you a 'special price' was a joy.

Stature of foot powered wheel, near Goreme, Turkey Sunset vista over Gerome, Turkey Sunset over Gerome, Turkey

Next morning was a tour through a nearby open-air museum including a few excellent carved churches with painted roofs, we climbed on a bus to Nevsehir, though Adana, and on to Antakya. Buses are the lifeblood of travel... as are tractors?

Tractor parked at Goreme Open-Air Museum, Turkey Turkish family moving via bus, Adana, Turkey