Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ending on a High

Fethiye, Faralya, Kabak, Göreme, Istanbul, TURKEY: 9 - 19 April 2012 From my base in Fethiye, where the sunny yacht-filled marina is overlooked by snow-capped mountains, I explored part of Turkey's south-west coast. I started with a half-day walk to see the eerie village of Kayaköy, which was abandoned by Greeks during the 1920s population exchange between the two countries. I then walked the first two days of the 500km long Lycian Way. It was a nice walk, with friendly places to stay that had delicious food and funky cabins.Even with the stunning coastal views on the track,I was happy with my decision to spend my third day relaxing on Kabak Beach rather than continuing to walk. From the coast, which in places is ruined by beach-and-beer package holiday-makers, I took an overnight bus inland to Cappadocia where, uniquely, having lots of tourists actually enhances a visit here. If you do a hot air balloon ride, that is. After spending two enjoyable days walking around the valleys surrounding Göreme, visiting churches inside rocks, and going down into underground towns, on my last morning I took to the air for my first time in a hot air balloon. The views were out of this world. The rock formations are truly incredible and seeing them from above, in a sky filled with hot air balloons, was great way to end my time in Turkey. Indeed, my three weeks in Turkey, a country full of very friendly, helpful people, where tea is in constant supply and turtles pop up where you least expect them, were a nice end to the fifteen months that I've spent away from Ireland during this stint of my travels.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Country for Old Men

Istanbul, Çanakkale, Bozcaada, Izmir, Selçuk, Pamukkale, TURKEY: 29 March - 9 April 2012

San Francisco, Lima, Sydney and now Istanbul - those are the places during my trip where I have met my friend Ciarán to begin a stint of travelling together. And of those cities, indeed out of all the cities that I've visited, Istanbul compares very favourably.
Its an amazing place, and having only spent three days there I feel that I barely scratched the surface.

In Istanbul I went to a barber for a shave. For just a couple of euro I got the full works, which unexpectedly included an eyebrow massage and having some of my hair burnt off with a lighter. Getting such a shave is an enjoyable and cheap experience that, unlike for us in Ireland, is common for men in Turkey. It seems to me that men here have it good. Everywhere we went we saw groups of men sitting around, drinking tea, chatting and playing cards or games like backgammon for hours during the day as well as the evenings. This was most evident on the small island of Bozcaada.
During our two days there, during which we cycled around the island and briefly braved the refreshing sea water for a dip, the town square was always occupied by old men hanging out with their mates.
Then when sitting aournd drinking tea becomes too stressful, men go to a hamam. When myself and Ciarán went to one such Turkish Bath in Izmir, it was both a relaxing and hilarious experience. After lying for awhile in the sauna on a large marble slab looking up at the domed ceiling, a smiling fat man, who like us was just wearing a short cloth towel, went to work on us. This involved a body scrub, a soapy massage and generally giving us a good clean. I felt like I was a small child when, after fully covering me in suds, with a hearty laugh he proceeded to give me a full 360 spin on the wet marble. All in all, a bizarre but good experience.

An aspect of travelling that I have enjoyed is learning parts of a country's history about which I previously knew little or nothing at all. I've read some excellent history books during my travels, including John Hemming's The Conquest of the Incas when I was in Peru, Robert Hughes' The Fatal Shore in Australia, and Michael MacLear's The Ten Thousand Day War in Vietnam.

In Turkey, after touring the Gallipoli peninsula,
I started reading about, among other things, why Turkey was involved in the First World War and why it was on Germany's side in Peter Hopkirk's On Secret Service East of Constantinople. Its a fascinating story. Indeed, Turkey has a fascinating history, stretching right back to ancient times, which we saw impressive evidence of at Ephesus.
Once home, I have along list of countries whose histories I want to read more about.

Speaking of going back to Ireland, when Ciarán returned to Izmir for his flight to Dublin, I hit for the south coast for ten days of solo travelling after which I too would take a flight to Ireland.