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…

Pictures from Sichuan/Guangxi Trip

Coming back from those two provinces, I ended up with 12 rolls of film, 1200 pictures from the DSLR and 1500 pictures from the point and shoot. As you can imagine it takes a long long long time to sort and categorize them and delete the junk shots. I have spent a week developing the rolls of film, and I can only go thru 200 pictures a night maximum for the DSLR as they are all shot in RAW NEF format and needs some kind of adjustments in Lightroom. 
So bear with me for a moment. I will put up the pictures on the postings and will announce on Twitter or Jaiku once I get them ready. Post processing sucks. But there are some nice pictures there!!!

This will also mark the start of me putting watermarks with copyright logo on the pictures, even though they are all small. Read about how pictures are reused without permission and just wanted to be sure I’m protected as much as possible.

Planning to label the posts with the following:
– *Incomplete* means I have not started on it yet
– *Partial* means that I have loaded pictures from some but not all my cameras yet. Soon to have more pictures coming up.

Travels: Sichuan Province Part 2, Mount Siguniang, China

View of the tallest of 4 Siguniangs from Rilong's Changping Gou village
The plan for this trip is a week long trip, including a 3 day trek up to see Siguniang Shan and a day in one other valley in the area around the town of Rilong. Then on the way back to Chengdu, it’s a night over at Danba to see the old villages on the mountain side. Expecting to spend 6 days for this leg, and the backpack is full to the brim, including a full camelbak filled with day long supply of Nongfu spring water, which seems to be on sale everywhere in this country.

Siguniang shan is surrounded by 3 valleys. The most accessible one is Shuangqiao gou where there is a tourist bus herding tourists, the next would be Changping gou where most treks up the mountain start but Changping gou also has its own trek path on the valley floor that requires a bus ride to get to, and Haizi gou, where you will have to trek its slopes to reach base camp for those who are planning to go up Siguniang shan.

9 November 2008, Chengdu to Rilong: The first bus from Chengdu to Xiaojing leaves at 6:25 am. From there, I will have to take a taxi to Rilong. From what I have heard, the direct bus to Rilong does not run anymore from Chadianzi Station here in Chengdu because the route passes by Wenchuan which was the place worst hit by this year’s large earthquake in this region. So longer trip. On the map, Xiaojing looks not further than 300 km but today’s bus trip is expected to take 8 hours. Gasp!

Continue reading “Travels: Sichuan Province Part 2, Mount Siguniang, China”

Travels: Okutama, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan

View from Okutama Dam (Ricoh GR Digital)
Okutama is an area of wilderness in Tokyo prefecture, lodged on the western end of it, looks close to Tokyo but according to schedules, takes almost the same amount time to get to as Nikko. The plan would be to hike from the train station to the lake and then back. Figured 4-5hrs hike to get there.

Okutama Forest  (Leica M2 + Summicron 35mm ASPH)

Traveling light today. Only cameras are the Ricoh, which comes along with me everywhere and a Leica M2 with 35mm Summicron ASPH lens. Weather is 50% chance of rain, which in my experience means sure chance of a drizzle. Whether or not it will get me wet is another story. This trip sees my old GPS tagging along, fresh from its stint in New Zealand last week and a newly charged battery to boot. Shouldn’t have the urge to buy overpriced batteries anymore.

Something about this pile caught my eye, has to be the neoprene suit  (Leica M2 + Summicron 35mm ASPH)

0804hrs: On the Chuo rapid line to Tachikawa station before switching to a train that hopefully ends up at Okutama. This rapid train seems to stop at Musashi-Kagonei. A swith will be required to get to Tachikawa.

I should be going to Okutama now (Ricoh GR Digital)

0844hrs: Train change at Tachikawa. Surprisingly large train station this. Chuo line is on platforms 3-6 and Ome line that goes to Okutama in on platform 1-2. Only problem for me is that the first train i see on the platform goes towards Okutama but stops short in Kabe. looks like another stop is in order here.

Continue reading “Travels: Okutama, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan”

Travels: Kirifuri Kougen: Tochigi Prefecture, Japan

Noon at the Kirifuri Highland
When you look at the map of Nikko, there are 3 major attractions. There’s Nikko town proper, with all its UNESCO temples where the majority of tourists are dropped, then to the west there’s Lake Chuzenji and the Onsen at the end of the road, including Senjogahara, which I did in the last trip… and finally there’s the east with Kirifuri highlands. And a visit is not over till I’ve gone to Kirifuri, which is the destination this week. Mountains, forests, valleys & cows!

Its a similar early morning sight. I am having a McGriddles at the McDonalds at Asakusa in the alley near to the Tobu railway station, waiting for the Tobu Sightseeing Center to open its doors at 7:45am to buy the 4400yen All Nikko Pass. The current expectation is that this will not be as impressive as the latter but the only way to find out would be to go and have a look.

Tobu-Nikko Train Stationmaster's office (Leica M6, 50mm Summicron)

While having my McGriddles, it looks as though the bus ride to Kirifuri Kogen will be cheaper to go a-la-carte rather than a full All Nikko pass. A bus ride to Kirifuri cost just about 650 yen according to the web. Making the quick decision to jump on the next available train to Nikko without waiting for the sightseeing centre to open. Looks like I don’t need the All-Nikko pass this time.  Again, cheapest ticket is the 2hr train to Tobu Nikko at 1320yen. The limited express trains costs double as they have reserved seats and possibly half an hour quicker. They seem to call these limited express and the services have names like Kegon and Kinu. For me, I can spend 30 minutes extra. Everything is routine now for me with the Tobu station at Asakusa. This is my third time here. Buy ticket, go to platform 5 and board the first 2 trains away from the station entrance. Remember, the other train cars get left behind on the way to Tobu Nikko.

Continue reading “Travels: Kirifuri Kougen: Tochigi Prefecture, Japan”