A Travellerspoint blog

October 2011

When in Rome...

Out of the fridge and into the fire!

sunny 22 °C

Turkey turned unseasonably cold the moment we left and there was talk of snow in the mountains. However, Rome has certainly been a hotspot. The weather is perfect, but the rioters have been warming things up with flaming police cars and Molotov cocktails. Luckily, we couldn't afford the ritzy hotels in the heart of the chaos so booked a reasonably priced 4 star joint in a quiet neghbourhood where ordinary people are more worried about paying the rent than smashing shop windows and pinching stuff.
We missed the excitement - but you can't have everything.
We did get to do Saint Angelo's Castle, the Vatican and St. Peter's without any trouble...
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and we had a great visit to the Sistine Chapel...
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This is not the ceiling in the chapel itself as the Italian spoilsports wouldn't let us take pictures. But the rest of the place is just brimming with fabulous murals, statues and tapestries. These Romans certainly know a thing or two about interior decorating.
Rome may not have been built in a day but because we lost a day to the riots we crammed the rest into a morning. And it wasn't difficult. We started at the Palazio Venezia and the Vittorio Emanuele Monument...
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...skipped through the Pantheon, (just a load of dead old kings really), and threw a few coins in the Trevi Fountain...
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...we climbed the Spanish Steps, (and got free hugs from these senoritas)...
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...and ambled through the Roman Forum, (imagining Brutus sticking the knife into Caesar), and then ended up here at the Colosseum...
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And so to lunch in one of hundreds of pavement cafes...
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Phew - a bit exhausting. But we've both been here several times so we know the ropes. So stay with us for a whirlwind tour of Italy. Next stop, Perugia - capital of Umbria.
PS. We thought the food in Turkey was terrific - but then we came to Italy!
Ciao for now.

Posted by Hawkson 13:08 Archived in Vatican City Comments (5)

Turkey - Highly Recommended by Blissful Adventures

sunny 24 °C

If anywhere in the world deserves an 'A' for effort and an 'A+' for having what it takes, it is Turkey. So the next time you're brassed off with the weather and looking for somewhere offering a lot more than sun, sea and sand, head to this fascinating country and meet some of these lovely people at the grand bazaar in Istanbul...
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You can also rub shoulders with some great characters from the past. This is the multi-breasted Roman goddess Artemis, in Selcuk - looking as weirdly voluptuous as she did 2,000 years ago...
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Turkey must have more ancient Roman artifacts than Rome itself, including these wonderful mosaics in Ephesus...
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But Turkey doesn't dwell in the past. It is a thoroughly modern country with great hotels and resorts, excellent public transit, and attractive towns with an abundance of pedestrianized streets. As for the roads: there is a vast network of modern 4 lane highways rivalling the best in the world - and at least 75% of Turkish drivers stop at red traffic lights!
Unlike most of the countries we visit, Turkey is almost hassle free. We saw far fewer panhandlers in the whole of Turkey than in downtown Vancouver and as for the infamous carpet salesmen - you've got more chance of being hassled by the carpet salesman in Sears than in Istanbul - (and that is saying something).

Some people think that Turkish coffee is plain awful, but we didn't think it was as good as that. Realizing that 99.9735% of non-Turks think their coffee stinks, they now call Nescafe 'ground coffee' and sell instant cappuccinos to unsuspecting tourists for $5 a cup.
As for Turkish tea? If you really want to experience Turkish tea without forking out a couple of grand to go to Istanbul, then here's the recipe: Take a couple of cheap tea-bags and gently stew them in water for an hour or so, let sit overnight and re-heat in the microwave the next morning....mmmm - delicious? Tea is often offered free - one sip and you'll know why. However, the wide range of natural herbal teas have been both interesting and refreshing - especially the ubiquitous apple tea. Here's a selection of herbal teas at Istanbul's ancient spice market.
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The food on the other hand is quite superb and relatively inexpensive. And then there are the figs, dates, melons, and a whole host of wonderful fresh fruits...
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And if you like flowers...
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Turkey really does have something for everyone and we highly recommend it. "Gule-Gule" as they say here, "Goodbye." Turkey will always stay in our memories and we will certainly come back - in the meantime we left our shadows alongside those who have inhabited this intriguing land since time immemorial.

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Posted by Hawkson 22:06 Archived in Turkey Comments (4)

Making Mole Hills out of Mountains

semi-overcast 23 °C

The Cappadocia region in the heart of Turkey is one of the weirdest places on earth - that's why we are here. Just look at this crazy landscape...
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We thought that the flaming mountain of Olympos and the warm glacial pistes of Pamulkalle were pretty unusual, but we could hardly believe our eyes when we saw these huge phalli, called fairy chimneys, sprouting out of the ground. But then we discovered that entire skyscrapers had been created inside some of the biggest ones...
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while others had been turned into cute little cottages...
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Two-thousand years ago this entire area was engulfed in a thick layer of volcanic ash. As the ash was eroded it left these phallic pillars of soft rock that the early Christians realised would make terrific churches and homes, so they began tunneling and eventually transformed the whole place into a giant Swiss cheese.
Between the 4th and 11th century AD the Christians were constantly harassed by the Romans, Persians and Muslims, so they turned their tunneling skills to the rocks beneath their feet and burrowed great cities up to 100 metres underground. More than 10,000 people lived in the largest of these subterranean cities whenever there was risk of attack. We went deep underground to see these amazing places but wouldn't recommend the experience for anyone even slightly claustrophobic...
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Cappadocia is a fascinating place full of history and mystery and it would be easy to spend a few weeks here. Although it is becoming a tourist mecca, daily life carries on unchanged for the farmers and their families as they gather this year's harvest of melons and grapes. We can only wonder what they must think of the thousands of foreigners who travel from around the globe to gawp at the homes their ancestors carved into every available lump of rock. These are high up on a cliff face...
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....or to pay big bucks to stay in a hotel room made out of Uncle Mustafa's old home...
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Some Cappadocians still live in houses hewn out of the fairy chimneys and rock faces - perhaps to escape the onslaught of tourists.

Posted by Hawkson 11:11 Archived in Turkey Comments (2)

Confessions of a Devious Photographer

This is just for Roy and other technically minded people

semi-overcast 24 °C

Well spotted R&B, (see blog comments re: When it Rains...It Pours). Why are there no other tourists in our pictures?
We could tell you that we painstakingly photoshop them out; or that we're not really travelling at all but we are hiding at home and we just pinch the pictures off the internet - it is possible. However, the truth is much simpler.
Almost everywhere we have been in Turkey has been very busy - sometimes packed with tourists. Here's an example - the beach at Fethiye...
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But the majority of tourists stay at all-inclusive resorts, or travel with an organised bus tour or on a cruise ship. We, on the other hand are seasoned soloists and early-birds. And so, by the time the package tour crowd has got up, had breakfast, waited for the inevitable layabout and been shepherded aboard a tour bus, we've already spent a couple of hours solitary sightseeing, wandering deserted streets or swimming off a pristine beach - and getting some nice clear shots. For instance: we were completely alone on the river in Dalyan at 7am, but by 9 am there was a constant parade of boats packed with snap-happy holidaymakers at the same spot...
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Another ploy to avoid the crowds is to visit lesser known places; places that are just too remote for a day trip from the big resorts or cruise ship ports.
Most often it is a combination of timing, opportunity, optical illusion, editing and luck. We never take guided tours - we read up beforehand and get all the information we want from brochures and signs - so while most people are tightly clumped around tour guides we are free to roam. So, by timing our shots between tour groups, we often make it appear that we are alone when in fact there are hundreds of people just ahead and behind us. And then there is the sheep syndrome; tourists generally follow the crowd. We, on the other hand, always seek a different path and consequently get views that others miss. We also create many of our 'people-free' shots by optical illusion. There are often numerous tourists in the scene, but by carefully choosing the foreground it is possible to hide them behind trees, rocks and structures. And often when you see one of us in close-up in the foreground it is to disguise the fact that a particularly pesky bunch of tourists is in the frame. Here a entire bus-load of French tourists were being lectured to the left of this tunnel entrance that I used as a screen...
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And then - the editing. By careful selection and cropping of shots we are usually able to 'clean' the picture of unwanted people. Here we have cut out some strays on the left and used the pillar on the right to hide an entire guided tour....
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Finally - luck. Sometimes we just spot a split-second when there is a gap in the crowd.and we get a picture like this...
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Who would believe that we were having lunch at a busy waterfront restaurant?

Posted by Hawkson 22:17 Archived in Turkey Comments (2)

When it Rains.. It Pours

sunny 25 °C

Thanksgiving is over and so is the weather. There were were sailing serenely along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey under a perfectly blue sky when,,, Wham! We ran into a storm of biblical proportions and wished we had hired an Ark instead of a Renault. Garbage cans,trees and hydro poles were flung into our path, the turquoise sea turned to slate and threw itself viciously at the cliffs, roads turned into rivers and ancient villages were dislodged from their mountainside perches. We plodded on, but had to skip a couple of historic sites in order to keep dry and maintain our schedule. However, we've been to so many fascinating places on this trip that we could open a Turkish travel agency. Afrodisias is a ruined Roman city that rivals Ephesus, but isn't so well known because of its remoteness. Its claim to fame is this incredible stadium...
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It is vast and seated more than 30,000 people a couple of millennium ago. Afrodisias is also known for its magnificent marble sculptures and this beautiful temple of Aphrodite...
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And, of course, it had a theatre. Here is James trying a little Shakespeare on a stage that was already 1,500 years old when the Bard was born...
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But the most splendid theatre in the Roman Empire of Asia Minor is in Aspendos. Aspendos was a great city 500 years BC, but the Romans built this incredible twenty-thousand seater at the end of the first century AD.
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The theatre is so perfectly preserved that concerts and performances are still staged here, and it is so acoustically perfect that it is possible to hear a stage whisper in the back row of the upper gallery - we know,we tried it.

Fortunately the storms had passed by the time we reached the airport in Izmir and flew off on the next leg of our tour - this time to see one of the most unforgettable and unmissable sights in the world. Here's just a taster...
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Posted by Hawkson 02:02 Archived in Turkey Comments (3)

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