Sunday, 21 September 2008

Week 24, Istanbul, Turkey

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,

Well we eventually made it out of Turkey after 9 weeks, however not without some self induced stupidity. Have you ever showed up at the airport a day before your flight? Probably not, but that’s what the Noble’s managed to do. Imagine our surprise, well better a day before rather than a day late.

Enough of that, we had a good week in Istanbul, we stayed at the Cordial Hotel in the Sultanamit district, which is the old city area and very central. It has a very European feel with the cobble stone streets. The public transport is very good as well with trams, trains buses and ferries all using the same ticketing system, how organised is that? Walking is easy as well as the weather has been kind to us as it’s been much cooler, even cold at night. As it is still Ramadan, where the locals fast during the daylight hours, it is almost impossible to get into a restaurant after dark, so we ate before dark. However one day I had the dodgy kebab experience and was laid up for a full day, stomach cramps, the full works, nasty. Once again, lucky it wasn’t the day before we left.

We did our share of sightseeing, Blue Mosque, St Sophia Museum, the palace, including the harem (pay extra), the Grand Bazaar. We ate at a restaurant with local music and a whirling dervish (will be in a video), how do they do that without falling over? The only thing we didn’t do was a Bosporus river cruise. We also caught the tram out to the city walls and found it very disappointing. The walls are there and are impressive however we found a carboot style market there, but found that it was really a place for vagrants to sell stolen goods, we felt very uncomfortable and couldn’t really get away quickly as there was a bottleneck where we had to climb up the walls to get in and out.

Well I’m now here in Bangkok and Louise is at home with her mum for a couple of weeks and will join me soon. I have met up with some friends here and they tell me it is a good time to be finding work here, so I’ll be doing interviews and looking for somewhere more permanent to stay over the next week or so.

All the best for now

Ric & Louise

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Week 23, Cappodocia, Turkey

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,

It has been great staying in our small apartment for the past six weeks. It has been a great base from which to explore to south west region of Turkey. We have made some great friends in the area that we were sad to farewell also. But on Monday we took off for Cappadocia. We stayed overnight on Terry’s boat on Sunday night and didn’t leave until 6pm on Monday as it is an overnight service from Marmaris to Cappodocia.

The overnight bus is not ideal but probably the best way to travel internally in Turkey. It saves you a nights’ accommodation and usually get you where you want with enough time to do a tour that day if you choose to. We chose to rest and have a walk around Urgup, which was the small town in Cappodocia that we stayed in.

On Wednesday we did a half day tour in the region which included lunch and a visit to one of the dozens of ancient underground cities that the area is famous for. The cities were underground refuges for early Christians escaping persecution of firstly the Romans and later Muslim armys. The cities were an underground labyrinth stretching up to 8 stories below ground and were cut into the soft rock of the area. Our tour only did about 4 stories below ground but that was uncomfortable for most people as some of the tunnels had to be crawled through. Afterwards we did an Onyx and turquoise factory and bit of panorama gazing. The landscape in this part of the world is remarkable and resembles the moon’s surface (not that we have been there yet).

Thursday was our biggest budget blowout yet (well per minute of entertainment). We got up at 5.30am to go Ballooning. The temperature in Cappadocia is much cooler that on the south west coast and 5.30am was freezing, naturally we had not packed for cold at all. However that was short lived as they fired up the flame for the balloons. There were 12 people per balloon plus the pilot and there must have been 30 or 40 balloons. The landscape is covered in these tall thin rock formations that the pilot flies between. We also fly close to other balloons and over the top and underneath them as well, such is the skill of the pilot. Words cannot describe this so please see photos and video for visual superlatives.

The balloon flight was only an hour but well worth it. The rest of the day was spent on an organised tour of other areas of the region. Our accommodation was in a cave hotel, the rooms dug out from the face of the cliff, very comfortable and cozy. The food in the area is plain but tasty, the special being lamb or goat casserole cooked in earthenware sealed jars in a wood fired oven. After our early start on Thursday, we had a rest day Friday before our 12 hour bus ride overnight, arriving in Istanbul on Saturday morning.

Once again, after a long bus ride we had an easy day Saturday looking around where we are staying and visiting the Grand Bazaar. I also found the only bar in Istanbul to show the Bledislow Cup final between Aus and NZ. The place was packed to the rafters with holiday makers of both persuasions, faces painted and wearing matching shirts. It was a great atmosphere and an excellent game of Rugby, unfortunately my team didn’t win, but well done to NZ, 28 -24.

Sunday is the busiest day in Turkey as it is usually their only day off, so we keep quiet today as well and do a tram trip and wander the streets...plenty to see. We will save the pay for attractions for mid week.

Well not long to go now, we leave Istanbul on Thursday evening, so I’ll be corresponding from Bangkok again from next week.

All the best for now

Ric & Louise

Monday, 8 September 2008

Week 22, Ephesus, Turkey

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,

Last Monday we had been out of Australia for 5 months, wow how time flies. We took off on another local journey this week to Ephesus and Pamukkale. We took the local busses again as it is the cheapest way to get around. It was about a 4 hour bus trip to the village of Selcuk the town out side of the Ancient city of Ephesus. We went to Ephesus as early as we could, but the tour busses were already there before us. It was crowded but we could still find spots that we found ourselves alone. The temperature has also been favourable as well, cooling down a couple of degrees.

The site is as spectacular as it is made out. We hired an audio guide and followed along behind some English speaking guides as well, so we got a good feel for the place. We visited Pompeii in 1989 and felt that Ephesus is well on par with that and the Library facade makes it that much better. We spent about four hours wandering around ending up at the25,000 seat amphitheatre. Outside the theatre a troop of actors acted out a small routine doing a gladiator battle and some juggling. Fun to watch.

The town of Selcuk is a small friendly town of 8,000 people mainly to service the tourist industry around Ephesus. We found an average hotel to stay in and the meals were reasonably priced around town. At the top end of town sits the ruins of St. Johns Basilica which is worth a look itself and it looks toward the top of the hill where a huge Citadel Fortress sits overlooking the town. No one could tell us what was in the citadel or why it was not open to the public, but is a very impressive site.

The following day we visited the museum where most of the statues from Ephesus, or what was left of them, were located. After that we went to a locomotive museum, billed as the biggest in Europe. There was 50 or more old steam trains from all over the world. It was a great attraction and no crowds, we were the only people there.

The next day it was Pamukkale, bus again and we meet a few Australians as well. Pamukkale was hotter and crowded as the narrow bit of rock that everybody traipses up and down to the calcium pool is very narrow. The pools themselves seem to be artificially built up, but it does give a good idea of how it may have once looked. The site that the pools lye in is the ancient city of Hierapolis amongst a lot of ruins. The water comes from a natural spring that come out of the ground warm and runs down the side of the mountain and the calcium in the water leaves a white calcium deposit on the rocks. There is also an amphitheatre here as well.

We travelled back to Orhaniye that evening. Friday night was another musical recital at the Greek church in the marina. This time a harpist, violin, cello and accordion player serenaded us. This week end is our last here in the flat, so we are busy packing up and getting ready to move on to Cappadocia on Monday.

All the best for now

Ric & Louise