Turkey: Prologue

28 August 2009:
Typing this on the flight from Singapore to Istanbul.

Trips with a historical slant can be stale for those who prefer to ignore the significance of places beyond its heyday. I have a feeling that most parts of my upcoming 2 week trip will be of interest to only a small minority. I have spent almost 3 months reading Edward Gibbon’s excellent “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, referencing wikipedia and making notes on google maps, charting the locations as I go along. Luckily for me, most of the action towards the end of the Roman Empire centers around present-day Turkey.

The focal point of course is on Constantinople, also known today as Istanbul, where Emperor Constantine decided to establish the first Christian kingdom, arguably because he decided to side with the growing popularity of a new religion. Sacked a few times by passing crusaders and finally falling to the giant cannon of Sultan Mehmet II of the Muslim Ottomans less than a thousand years later. In Istanbul I would expect the signs of history to be more obvious, but it would be a challenge to find the remains of the wall where the muslims breached the city wall.

Planning to stay 3 days in Istanbul. As for the rest of the trip, the rough planning is as follows:

After Istanbul, and using it as a hub, I will do two day trips. First of it will be to Hadrianople – present day Edirne – next to the Greek border. This is where the Ottomans set up their capital and headquarters before heading out to conquer Constantinople. I expect the city to be bland,with history hidden behind a modern facade, tourists passing through, oblivious to the role this city played in the founding of present day Turkey about 700 years ago. A day trip out of Istanbul should be sufficient.

Then there’s Nicaea – present day Iznik – where a bunch of church elders held a meeting a bit more than a thousand years ago and decided on the Nicene Creed, a story setting the relationship between the key figures of today’s Christian church doctrine. All other conflicting views were banished, and purged. Iznik is famous for the tiles that graced many Ottoman monuments in Turkey. Again, I’m expecting a ruin or two but nothing more than the pleasure of getting GPS coordinates in a city steeped in historical significance. If time permits, perhaps Iskander Kebab in Bursa not too far from Iznik before returning to Istanbul.

To save time, I plan to then take a flight down to Nevsehir, in Cappadocia. A bus from the capital would take too long, losing up to a whole day to get to the heart of Turkey. At Urgup, I have made advanced booking on a rental car which will be with me the whole trip in Cappadocia while I try to cover the whole area in 3 days. It is probably ambitious to do so with public transportation, so we shall see. Distances seem quite short so I shouldn’t have to use up tanks of petrol everyday.

Planning to spend 3-4 days there depending on my mood. Cappadocia would be the landscaping part of the trip, and my DSLR and a couple choice lenses and tripod will come with me for this purpose.

The next few day post-Cappadocia is unclear at this moment. Will probably make it up as I go along. One possibility is to go to Kayseri, hanging around the most muslim city of my trip, and taking the overnight train down to Adana to have a kebap, and finally down to Antakya (ancient name: Antioch). The second plan is to skip Kayseri, but since I’m not in the mood to apply for a Syrian visa, not sure what I will do in the 3-4 days down south in Antakya. Will worry later. All I know is that I have to be in Adana at a certain time the day before the flight back so that I can catch a domestic flight from Adana back to Istanbul, where I will spend another night before leaving Turkey.

Total duration: two weeks. This will be during Ramadan season, so I’m prepared to fast if I have to, eating breakfast and dinner only.

Equipment wise, I have the standard blogging machine, my Nokia E71 that will double as an alarm clock as it has the most irritating ring of all, and tripling as a GPS backup since it has google maps allowing me to have an eye up in the sky if required. Primary GPS is my trusty 10 year old Garmin eTrex Vista loaded with world map for this part of the planet. For the first time, I will bring a PCM sound recorder to get ambient sounds into my archives, honours going to the Sony PCM D50 recorder. A trip is not a trip without cameras, of course . I will have the usual 3 cameras. People shots will be made with a Leica M6 Classic and just one lens, a 35mm Summicron ASPH which should be versatile enough for close up action. Bringing 20 rolls of film, Kodak Tri-X, Chinese-made ERA100 and Fuji Neopan1600. Not forgetting a single roll of Kodachrome, just in case. DSLR for landscapes with a rugged-ish Nikon D300. Lenses that will come along: 12-24mm f4 AFS, 10.5mm f2.8, 28-70mm f2.8 AFS and my favourite all-round lens: Micro-Nikkor 105mm f4 AI. All Nikkors. Point and shoot honours will go to a Ricoh GR Digital in a belt holster for quick grab shots. A light Gitzo 1531T travel tripod and RRS BH25 tripod head comes along. All these goes into a Kinesis  Journeyman bag configured for half gears and half clothes. A Kinesis M550 multipurpose bag serves as a day and accessory pack when I need to move fast.

Enough on the equipment. This setup allows me to move fast and to jump on buses and planes without any big bulk. It’s heavy for sure, but nothing big plate of kebab at the day cannot soothe. And so it begins…

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Cycling to Port of Shanghai at Waigaoqiao (58km)

My Felt F1X at Jinqiao, Pudong

Woke up today to a great day, and for Shanghai this means cloudless day (there’s almost always some kind of haze over the city) and at least being able to see a shadow. My usual tennis session has been cancelled, and how can I waste such a nice day. First thing that sprung to mind is to attempt what I wanted to do since I arrived here, to reach the Yangzi River, or at least close, by cycling.

Reaching destination, almost time to turn back...

Google maps showed that the best and safest way is to get over to Pudong and then cycling on Yang Gao Rd as there is a bicycle lane on each side of the road. There are normally some slow bicycles, but as motorcycles also use the same lane, there’s always a way to bypass the slow pokes especially when you cruise at 25kmph to 30kmph.

Continue reading “Cycling to Port of Shanghai at Waigaoqiao (58km)”

Mount Fuji and Western Honshu, Japan (Part 3)

Sunset over Syojiko in Matsue
26 December 2009 (Matsue, Tottori): It is not fun to wake up to the sound of rain outside. This happened today, so I decided to sleep in. For japanese breakfast, Yoshitaka-san I just realised is their name, made grilled Kare fish and rice. A little bottle of yakult yogurt tops it all off.

Took a kilometre walk to Matsue-jo castle this morning, passing by the lake for another crack at shooting the little island by the art museum. Again it started to rain little hailstones. On the way across the main bridge, the hail storm intensified and mixed with a little snow. Once that quickly cleared, the sun was out in full force.

Matsue-jo Outer wall & moat

Matsue-jo is on top of a hill. It is just after a large hospital, and you know you are there when you see a hill and a moat going around the area. The entrance of the castle is on top of the hill, accessible by going up a few flight of stairs. A cub baseball team was training on the grounds the morning I was there. Made to run up the staircase.

Matsue-jo

Matsue-jo requires an entrance fee to get in, and if you are a foreigner, it is 280Y and half the original price local pay. It must be a limited time promotion. There is nothin special about the garden although it is a nice little stroll and has nice views being perched on top of a hill. To enter the castle it is necessary to remove shoes and there are ample lockers with locks to store them too bad they are not made for shoes sized 11 or more. I had to get creative to fit my shoes into the locker. There are about 5-6 storeys in this castle and the interior has a rustic feel to it. It is quite clear they did replace some wood here but generally the original interior stayed intact. The most interesting part for me is how they take a bunch of wooden pillars and staples them together with a giant piece of steel brace to form a larger pillar. The wood is darkish in colour and on the outside the mortar is all bright white, which kills the exposure on my camera, you have pure white and black wood, so impossible to get details in both. Back to the interior, on the first floor is the storage area and this is where they store the original building materials when they are renovated, and also a really deep well to get water in times of a siege. Second floor is a museum with a nice collection of samurai costumes and hats. The other floors are empty which explains why I lost count of the floors after the third.

Continue reading “Mount Fuji and Western Honshu, Japan (Part 3)”

Mount Fuji and Western Honshu, Japan (Part 2)

23 Dec 2008 (Tokyo, Hiroshima): Long shinkansen ride today. First a Hikari train from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka and then the next train on the same platform to Hiroshima, arriving just shy of noon. 4 hours in all to travel almost to the southern tip of Honshu. Grabbed a bag of sandwiches and bottled tea at Tokyo station 10 minutes before the departure, and true to Japanese rail’s obsession with timeliness, we left at 7:03am. Only complaint I had during the trip was that the heating in the train was set to a balmy 27C at least, making it sweaty in a jacket. Kind of betraying the fact that it is below 10C outside. The only thing it is conducive to is the type of short naps that gives you splitting headache when you wake up.
Shinkansen! It is always exciting to be taking the bullet train, no matter how many times you have been on it.

JR Hiroshima Station

Arrived on time in Hiroshima and right away I booked the train for tomorrow to Matsue. I let their super computer system choose the best path but will leave after lunch. Should make it to Matsue before sunset.

Time then to get on the JR line to Miyajima-guchi station to look for my hostel for the night. Will drop my things there before going roaming streets of Hiroshima till night time. Miyajima is an island that is quite popular, possibly just because of a floating Torii gate. Since the moon will be up during the morning tomorrow, I have decided the plan would be Hiroshima today, and if I get high tide tomorrow morning, I can catch the first ferry across to Miyajima to shoot the gate in the morning.

Continue reading “Mount Fuji and Western Honshu, Japan (Part 2)”

Mount Fuji and Western Honshu, Japan (Part 1)

Mount Fuji from Kawaguchiko
Somehow the end of the year season is now becoming a global holiday. In places where Christmas is not normally celebrated, you have lighting and large trees, especially in areas of commercial interests and where shoppers like to feel like they have an excuse to shop more than they usually do. I don’t celebrate Christmas other than accepting gifts. Somehow I don’t think I will get anything from anyone this year. Self-pity aside, one thing I do during the end of the year season, is NOT be in my country of residence, always preferring to be out travelling during this holiday. Last year it was the toture up Huashan in Xian province, China. And this year in 2008, thanks to free ticket courtesy of the airmiles I have collected on Cathay Pacific, this year the destination is Japan.

With the Japan Rail Pass, trains are now affordable, especially when the trip involves long distance train rides on the excellent Japanese bullet trains and jumping from train to train everyday. Anyone who has been to Japan knows that travel by rail, for any kind of long distance travel there can get quite expensive. The Japan Rail Pass brings flat rate rail fares for multiples of 7 days up to 21 days. For long distances like Tokyo-Hiroshima, a Rail Pass for a week cost less than a return ticket for the same destination. For my case, a return ticket to Hiroshima from Tokyo Station is roughly 18,000Y one way reserved seat while a Rail Pass is 28,000Y for 7 days. Only difference is that with the Rail Pass you cannot use the Nozomi express trains. But not a big issue. So I proceeded to purchase the pass in Shanghai, and generally any of the Japanese airlines like ANA or JAL will sell them. You buy a document the size of an airline ticket way back when they still use paper tickets, and exchange it for the Rail Pass when you arrive in Tokyo. As far as I know, it is not possible to buy the thing when you arrive in Japan. So plan ahead.

Continue reading “Mount Fuji and Western Honshu, Japan (Part 1)”

Travels: Hong Kong Outlying Lamma Island, Hong Kong

Fujifilm GA645i
I have been to Hong Kong many times but always to either side of the harbour and whenever the flight circles the islands I would be wondering what it will be like hiking on one of those barren hills. No more wondering. Going this weekend. However, instead of going all rambo this weekend, why not start with the largest and possibly most popular of them all, Lamma island. And thinking if I have time,a to do another one. Getting there seems to be easy enough. in short, MTR to Central, walk to the Central Piers next to Two IFC, and pier 4. I will start at Yung Shue Wan, where apparently everyone will go as well looking at people crowding at the entrance to the pier. One way ticket cost 14.5 HKD and octopus card works here. And it seems the crowd only starts going into the holding area 10 minutes from boarding time and the ferry only holds 370 souls.

Ferry ride takes somewhere between 20 to 30 minutes. I didn’t time it. Feels like the same type of fast ferry that connects hong kong with macau. The boat lands right at Yung Shue Wan village, and although there are normal village shops, most of them are restaurants, shall I say, catering to tourists flooding the village.

Fujifilm GA645i

15 minutes hike out of town and the crowd starts to thin down, on the trail to Sok Kwu Wan. It starts in the forests with farmer’s lodges everywhere and before long I start to get to the bald and barren hills with trails along the hill side. There are a couple of pavilions en route, doubling as a rain shelter. I’m now typing this out at one (N22.20922, E114.12299). Today started with heavy cloud cover, and surely as the forecast said it would, periods of sunlight could be seen. And I had to forget my sunblock lotion!

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Cycling in Shanghai…

After a few months off my bicycle, and because of the long long boring weekend in Shanghai, I decided to go out cycling in my playground, Pudong in Shanghai. Definitely had to dust off significant amount of cobwebs on my modified Felt F1X converted into a pseudo road-bike, and a little bit of voodoo with the weather.
Weather looked cloudy today Monday, but the rain looked sporadic from my apartment’s 31st floor window, and could see that in the direction of Pudong, it was starting to clear up at 1pm. At 2pm I was out the door with the bicycle and attached to the handle bar was a Garmin eTrex GPS just in case I get lost in one of the wide avenues in Pudong and my Polar S625X.

The GPS was set on the info screen where I had altimeter, odometer, moving time and all sorts of average speed. I didn’t want to have the map on so that I dont attract too much attention. The Polar S625X was displaying calories burnt and cadence. Usually I have speed on it instead of energy burnt but since I have that on the GPS, there was no need for redundant data.

My typical route consists of riding eastwards towards the Huangpu river, catch a ferry across (1.3RMB one way for bicycle) and then find my way to the main Century boulevard (I think that’s what they call it). There’s a cycle path next to it where you can do a constant 25-30kmph if you’re up to it. I went till a certain distance and had to turn back because of the drizzle (damn weather!).

GPS plots overlay on GoogleEarth Shanghai

And below on the Polar Pro Trainer data plots, you can see that the red lines are the heart rate (top) and the speed (bottom). For the second half of it, the level is a little lower, and that was because the road was starting to get wet and I did not want to get any mud marks on my back, and some parts of the road are tiled up and slippery. Not sure what was on the builder’s mind!!!

Polar Pro Trainer data collected

And finally, an exercise summary for the afternoon. Started at 2:11pm, rode for 3hrs and 3 minutes and burnt 1860kcal. Nice. Had a nice big dinner tonight to make up for the energy burnt.

Polar Pro Trainer exercise summary

Bicycle Configuration:

  • Felt F1X Cyclocross fitted with full 2006 Shimano Ultegra set
  • American Classic CR420 medium profile wheels
  • Michelin Pro Race 2 tires
  • Garmin eTrex Vista GPS
  • Polar S625X Heart Rate Monitor with speed and cadence sensors