Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Visiting Kas, again

Kas! You know I love Kas -- I've talked about it endlessly, here and here and here. So it should come as no surprise that we wrapped up our July trip around Turkey in our most favorite spot. :)

On previous trips, we'd stayed in a hotel or pension in town, but this time, we decided to shake things up a little, and we rented an apartment on the peninsula for a week. Overall, we enjoyed it -- the peninsula is really quiet and we had a spectacular view of the Mediterranean and the Greek island of Kastellorizo from the balcony. The only negative (if it's really a negative) is that the peninsula houses are deceptively far from town, probably 20-25 minutes from the farthest point. That means you need a car -- it was fine for us as Cagatay's uncle let us borrow his but might not be all that practical as a visitor (unless you were going to do self-guided day trips to places like Saklikent Gorge, St. Nicholas Church in Demre and ancient ruins like Patara and Tlos, where you'd need a rental car anyway).

Our view from the apartment:

Local friends:

Driving along the peninsula:

We originally planned to do some sightseeing, like finally make it to Saklikent Gorge, but in the end, we didn't do much besides hang out at the beach with Cagatay's family, enjoy the view from our balcony, and eat. What can I say, we were exhausted from packing up for America and traveling around for a few weeks. But doing nothing is lovely -- Kas is such a great town to just wander around in.

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Visiting Troy

The main reason that we stayed in Canakkale was to make the trek out to the archaeological ruins of Troy. It was something that I'd wanted to do for quite awhile, but I'd skipped it on my original backpacking trip around Turkey because rumor had it that there's not a lot to see. (Consider this sentence from the Lonely Planet Turkey guide: "It has to be said, if it wasn't for the name -- and its legendary associations -- almost nobody would visit this place.") We'd put it off until our last month in Turkey, but it was still something I really, really wanted to do before we moved away, and I'd even read Homer's The Iliad in the spring to prepare. :)

Getting to Troy is a little complicated. We went the do-it-yourself route, using Lonely Planet's advice to take the dolmus (minibus) from the depot under the bridge that spans the river (the bridge is on Ataturk Caddesi, and the depot is on the north side of the bridge -- it's easier to find than it sounds). We stopped by the afternoon before, and the guy told Cagatay that the bus left at 8am. It turned out that wasn't true, and the next morning, the guy denied he'd ever said that (which was weird, considering they're both native Turkish speakers). It was only later that we found a posted bus schedule, hidden the first time by the dolmus -- I'll post a photo of the one that we found mid-July, but I would recommend trying to find it yourself to make sure it's still the same schedule. (Click on the photo to see a larger, more readable version.)

All three signs are the same -- the first column (Cannakale'den) shows the times the dolmus leaves from Canakkale, and the second column (Truvadan) shows the times the dolmus leaves from Troy. The note at the bottom is irrelevant to our purposes. The bus drops you off right at the entry to the archaeological site, so that part's pretty easy.

The only other options for getting to Troy on your own are to rent a car or to pay for a VERY expensive taxi. You could also join a group tour, one that would most likely take in both the Troy ruins and the Gallipoli battlefields -- and while we eventually made it to Troy and everything after that was fine, in retrospect, perhaps we should have gone that route.

Anyway, so we finally made it to Troy, albeit it on a later bus. Troy! It's not Turkey's greatest archaeological site, not by far, but I still thought it was pretty awesome. We bought a guidebook at the official on-site souvenir shop before we started out (Troia/Wilusa guidebook by Manfred O. Korfmann), but it turned out the informational signs at Troy are very good and had the exact same information.

Homer's Troy is thought to be Troy VI, the sixth settlement built on the site. According to a diorama next to the giant Trojan horse in Canakkale, this is what Troy looked like then:

According to the Iliad, the Trojans mostly stayed within their city walls while the Achaeans camped outside, besieging them for 10 long years. Troy was and is located a little bit inland, so when things get going in year 10 in the Iliad, the armies fight on the wide plain between the city and the Achaeans' ships. It's a little hard to envision on the ground, of course, which is why I loved this photo of the ruins of Troy that we saw in Canakkale's archaeological museum:

When we were there, it was a clear day, and from Troy, we could even see across the water to a couple of the Gallipoli monuments, vague and hazy but there. It's one of the things I most love about Turkey, the constant reminder of all the important things that have happened over the ages on this same stretch of land. C'mon, we trampled the same ground as Achilles and Odysseus and Helen! It kinda blows my mind. (Okay, I know what you're thinking, Homer cribbed heavily from other, older legends and his characters were a product of that, but regardless if the likes of Achilles, Odysseus, Helen and the rest actually existed, this area of the world is where these stories were born, and that's still awesome.)

Anyway, so the first thing you see when you get to the archaeological site is, perhaps appropriately, the walls of Troy VI, and thus the walls that defended the Trojans from those pesky Achaeans. There are very few structures remaining at Troy, and it's arguably the most notable:

Then, up and around the bend, you come to the site of Athena's Temple, where there's absolutely nothing left but a few bits of masonry on the ground. But some of the carvings were fun -- we thought one looked like Yoda, another like Lego blocks.

The short version of Troy's history as an archaeological site is that for a long time, most people believed that The Odyssey and The Iliad were not true stories but legends and so didn't think that Troy existed. But in the 1800s (and the late 1700s, for that matter), all things ancient Greek and Roman were in vogue in Western Europe, and so there were some who went in search of Troy anyway, notably German businessman Herman Schliemann, who began working at the site in 1871. 

But Schliemann's methods were roughshod and apparently he was more interested in finding notable artifacts than properly excavating the site. He believed that Homer's Troy was the bottom level of the site and so carelessly dug through the other layers -- the first area he worked in was this 40-meter-wide trench, now called Schliemann's Trench, which ended up exposing a city wall of Troy I, from the Early Bronze Age, plus the foundation of several houses from that period. To be honest, I'm not sure which is which in the photo:

Nearby, Schliemann also found a hoard of gold artifacts (later named Priam's Treasure), and because he found them in a burnt layer next to an impressively large ramp, he believed that he had found Homer's Troy and the famous Scaean Gate. However, it was later established by other archaeologists that these bits belonged to Troy II. According to the guidebook, the treasure was found at the site of the small tree on the left; the ramp is coming up from the right, and the gates would have been at the top. There's a cool 3-D reconstruction comparing the gate from then to now at this University of Cincinnati/University of Tubingen website dedicated to Troy.

There's also a small amphitheater from Troy IX, but probably our biggest highlight after Schliemann's area was meeting one of the local residents:

Probably my biggest disappointment with Troy was that, while the signs mentioned that Schliemann's ramp was NOT the Scaean Gate, nothing ever talked about where it might have been. It's arguably the most recognizable bit of Homer's Troy -- Priam and the other elders of the city watch the battle from there, Priam and Helen bond there, Hector tells Achilles he is fated to die there -- so I decided to make my own guess. The last thing you see as you walk around the archaeological site is the pathway that would have led to Troy VI, which the guidebook says "must have been the main gate in this period." Sounds like the Scaean Gate to me. :)

The last thing you really see is -- or the first thing, depending on how you go about it -- is the wooden Trojan horse, built in 1975 by Izzet Senemoglu. While I preferred to style of Canakkale's horse, this one was much more climbable!

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Visiting Canakkale

After our week on the island of Gokceada, we headed south to the harbor town of Canakkale, gateway to the Troy ruins and the Gallipoli battlefields. I hadn't stopped there on my original backpacking tour of Turkey because there's not a lot to see and do in town, but I thought Canakkale was AMAZING.

I suppose too, at this point, I have different standards now when we visit Turkish cities -- instead of focusing solely on the touristic attractions, the question always at the forefront of my brain is, could I live here? Because I really do love Turkey, I just never particularly enjoyed living in Istanbul, the city being so chaotic and impersonal and aggressive. But Canakkale, oh Canakkale...we could totally live there. It's a large enough city that you could likely find work -- which is the main issue with living in Kas, my favorite Turkish town -- but small enough that its residents still seemed to be embracing a more laid-back, pleasures-of-life lifestyle. Plus, you could actually cross the road without taking your life into your hands!

After settling into the hotel, we headed to Canakkale's archaeological museum on the outskirts of town. We ran into a woman who told us it was the greatest museum she'd ever been to, but I found it a little disappointing. It was fairly small, and like a lot of Turkey's museums, the exhibits were poorly labeled, so you rarely knew what you were looking at. It's not a must-see by any means, but I did find these ancient safety pins from the Troy archaeological site to be pretty cool:

The Canakkale museum also had a couple of gold laurel wreaths on display. The tag said they were from the Dardanos Tumulus and dated to the 4th century BC. It's kind of amazing that something so delicate survived, isn't it?

Later in the afternoon, we wandered around the harbor area. Our first stop was the Trojan Horse set piece that was used in the Brad Pitt Troy movie. According to, Troy was filmed mainly in Malta (and not at all in Turkey), so I'm not sure how the horse ended up in Canakkale, but according to the sign, it's lived at the harbor since September 2004. It's impressively intricate, no?

A little further down, as we strolled along the deliciously wide waterfront (further proof of the pleasures-of-life lifestyle -- space for everyone!), we came across a large mosaic inlaid in the cement that depicted a section of the Piri Reis map. Piri Reis was a late-15th century/early-16th century Ottoman admiral and cartographer, likely born in Canakkale, who is best known today for his book of navigation and a specific 1513 map on gazelle skin that is the oldest (one of the oldest?) to show the Americas. UNESCO declared 2013 the Year of Piri Reis, coinciding with the 500th anniversary of the map, so Piri Reis has become a fairly popular figure in Istanbul this year. (I am still completely gutted that I missed the exhibition of the map earlier this year at Topkapi Palace, since they almost never bring it out for display. Like, I think I read it hadn't been out in like 15 years.)

After sitting and enjoying the sunset, we wandered by the 1897-built clock tower at the other end of the harbor...

And we ended up finding the Nusret minelaying ship from World War I. Cagatay was pretty excited (I'd only heard about it like a month before), but it turns out that the Nusret ship in Canakkale is only a replica of the 1915 ship (which I found out today). The Nusret was a vital part of the Ottoman victory during the Gallipoli campaign, halting the British and French from moving up the Dardanelles and forcing them to land on the Gallipoli peninsula.

We ended our evening with food. We weren't terribly hungry, so first we sampled Canakkale's famous cheese dessert, peynir helvasi, at Husmenoglu. I've always been a little wary of Turkish desserts and their ingredients (cheese, really?), but this one was pretty awesome. (The photo is from Cagatay's Instagram feed -- check him out!)

Then we went to the nearby McDonalds for a snack and enjoyed the amazing view from the rooftop terrace. A McDonalds with a serene rooftop terrace...see, another one of Canakkale's pleasures-of-life thing. :)

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Visiting Gokceada

After we moved out of our apartment at the end of June, we took a month-long trip around Turkey, and our first stop was the island of Gokceada. I'm not really sure why we decided to go, but my sister-in-law's husband's mother offered us her house, so off we went!

There's not a lot to Gokceada, but it's a lovely little place to hang out for a week or so. The island -- formerly known as Imbros -- has been inhabited long enough to have been mentioned by Homer in the Iliad, but today, the main activities are hanging out at the beach, wandering around after a meal at one of the small restaurants, and checking out the local wildlife (mainly sheep). There may be other things to do on other parts of the island (like visit Turkey's westernmost point), but the bus only goes to four spots on the eastern side, so we weren't able to do a lot of exploring. (Plus, admittedly, it was really, really hot when we were there. We spent a lot of time in the shade.)

Our vacation there was pretty relaxed. Probably the highlight of the trip for me was the couple of evenings we spent on the balcony barbecuing on the mangal as the sun went down. It was Ramadan while we were there, and for the first time, I heard the cannon shot at sunset announcing the breaking of the day's fast. (In Istanbul, I never even knew it was supposed to happen -- did it happen? Is it too loud to hear it in the city? I'd also never known there was a drummer who went around alerting everyone to the pre-dawn meal, but we also heard that in something like 4am. But I digress...)

Toward the end of our week, we had dinner up above Kalekoy, at Yakamoz. I'd highly recommend it -- great food, great sunset views. Up to that point, we'd spent all of our evenings in Gokceada town, which is where the house was and which was always totally dead at night. Turns out, Kalekoy is hopping at night -- there was a small crafty market, live music and a TON of people walking around.

 We also spent one day at Kefalos/Aydincik beach, which is popular with windsurfers and kite-surfers. The wind there was roaring and, surprisingly, there was sand on the beach, a very rare find in Turkey.

That's all for now...baaa-bye! :)

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Visiting Safranbolu

Why, hello there! It's me again, and I thought I'd share some long-overdue photos from the summer...

All the way back in June, we spent nearly a week in the Turkish capital of Ankara, with a fabulous overnight in Safranbolu, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I was a little unsure whether I'd like Safranbolu -- there's not a lot to do but admire the exterior of the restored historic houses -- but it was absolutely charming, a wonderfully laid-back afternoon and evening. I'm not much of a foodie, but omg, we also ate the single greatest meal I've had in Turkey, an amazing baked rice-cheese-pine nut appetizer and kofte in a tomato sauce, and when I can figure out the name of the restaurant, I will add it here. :) [Update: The restaurant was Kadioglu Sehzade Sofrasi, and it's just to the right of where the top photo was taken.]

We stayed at Selvili Kosk, a restored Ottoman house in the historic quarter of Carsi. The place was nearly empty (probably because Safranbolu was nearly empty mid-week) and it felt like we had the whole house to ourselves -- and we had an amazing bedroom upstairs, with high ceilings and the traditional closet bathroom, with the toilet in one cupboard and a (modern) shower in the other.

Safranbolu has a couple of museums to visit, but the only one we went into was Kaymakamlar Muze Evi, another restored house, but this one complete with mannequins. It was interesting enough for 20 minutes, but I mention it because of the photo below, that of the whirling closet. According to the sign, it was used by the ladies of the house, who were segregated in times past, to serve food and drink to foreign visitors without being seen.

But for the most part, we just wandered around Safranbolu enjoying the ambiance. It was just exceptionally lovely.

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