Turkey: Back to Istanbul & one for the road…

Old cameras at the hotel. Nothing special, Arca Swiss LF camera, and no exotics to nick.
Last night in Istanbul

11 September 2009:
Arrived back in Istanbul from Adana around 1600hrs today. From sunny Adana, I came back to a cloudy Istanbul. I have Kodachrome loaded in my Leica ready to shoot but it was never meant to be. By the time I got to the hotel, it was starting to drizzle a little, the sky grey as usual. News on the way indicated heavy flooding in parts of Istanbul, not in old town for sure. But I’m happy enough to have almost two weeks of sun, so this last day of less than perfect light is not going to be an issue.

On the last day I have here, it will be used to explore places I left out in the first few days. First off, to Eminonu docks to have a fish sandwich. I didn’t really miss this one earlier, if you recall, but the fish sandwich is so good here, I will need to have one last one before I leave. Recognised this time, the fish in question is Mackerel, so this is not for the people who hate fishy smell. It’s basically pan fried mackerel with salad in bread. Simple and good. Then its off by bus to Balat as I still have some more credit left in my transport key fob. Walking around and shooting the other side of the Golden Horn, this place looks a lot quieter than Eminonu or Sultanahmet. Right after, at Ayvansaray Iskelesi, a ferry took me back to Eminonu before sun was down. Originally I had plans to go back to Harem to take another set of sunset photos but cloud cover was so thick it was going from light to dark without the amber transition in the sky, so plan scrapped and decided to spend some time at Rustem Pasa Mosque.

On the way to Eminonu...

Bosphorus Car Ferry

No, no the fish sandwich I'm after...

Locals (I guess) looking at a passenger Bosphorus ferry, Galata tower in the far background...

Ayvansaray Ferry Terminal in Balat

Continue reading “Turkey: Back to Istanbul & one for the road…”

Turkey: Antakya

Antakya, Hatay
... Nice looking plant I shot somewhere in Hatay

View of the Mediterranean from Cevlik

8 September 2009:

This place goes by many names. Officially it is known as Antakya, but people here call it Hatay (name of the region Antakya is in), and in ancient times it is also known as Antioch. And the last reason, Antioch, is why I’m here in the first place. With a name this famous, it is not difficult to imagine how much history this place has. Not to mention that Antakya is located just next to Syria, just in case I feel like jumping over to the other country.

A river runs through the center of Antakya, nay, a dirty river....

Downtown Antakya

More downtown Antakya

The overnight bus from Kayseri stopped almost everywhere along the way, and leaving at midnight, we arrived in Hatay almost at 8am. I counted Ningde, Adana and Iskenderun. Could have been more but I was trying to get some sleep as well. As the bus pulls into the Hatay otogar a few km out of the city, many touts come up asking if we were going to Aleppo, Syria. The bus company should have a servis bus to go to the city. Mine did but the bastard didn’t want to go to the city center and made me walk 2km. Cursed him to lowest depth of Hades.

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Turkey: Cappadocia Day 3

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Cappadocia

6 September 2009:
The plan today will be to cover the south-western part of Cappadocia, visiting some underground cities which the Christians lived while escaping the invading Seljuks. Right after will be the Ihlara valley, dotted with rock cut churches. Quite obviously the church will be just the same as the others I have seen in Cappadocia so far so the interest is more in the scenery. I plan to rush through it and not walk the whole valley.

After a heavy breakfast made of olives, goat cheese (like the french chevre) and bread, it’s time to start the day before 10am. Will drive past Uchisar and its hill top castle hewn out of a rocky hill and pass Pigeon Valley lookout point. You know the view here is good when you see tour buses. Valley on the right, and the ancient city of Uchisar in the background. And true to its name, there are pigeons around.

Pigeon Valley, with Uchisar Castle in the background

I don’t plan to stop too long at all the interesting spots. Soon I’d go southwards, passing highway 330, Kavak and on the way to Kaymakli through Cardak. The views are of rolling plains, a pleasant drive in the morning. The road is not too wide, enough for 2 lanes to and fro. With the windows wound down, the smell of garlic permeates the air. There are sacks of garlic fresh off the field on the roadside. No, it didn’t come across my mind to nick one. But this is a nice drive, about 40km to go.

Eventually I hit the main north-south road connecting Nevsehir and Kaymakli. It is still farming area here but soon I’d hit Kaymakli. Signs abound pointing to the underground city there, but right at the same spot I branch off to the right towards the satellite town Ozluce, with a lot less tour buses. As quickly as Kaymakli started, once I turned right I was in the open fields again and it is possible to see Ozluce in the distance.

1107hrs: Typing this out at Ozluce Underground City next to the village of the same name, minus the ‘underground’ part obviously. The place is right inside the village, follow the signs and you will not get lost. This one definitely looks out of the way for the tour groups that prefer the other 2 more popular underground cities, Derinkuyu and Kaymakli.

I drive the only car parked at the small shaded area. A guy comes up and ushers me into a small little stone house numbered 18. Inside is a small room with nice carpet strewn sofa and old farming tools and an old pair of leather shoe hanging on the wall. Naturally a good place to let go a barrage of B&W film on. I asked the guy how long to do the whole place and he says 10 something in part sign language. Can’t be hours so I guess must be minutes. Hope it is not 10 storeys of caves to explore. Stairs go down about a floor underground and first thing you come across is a medium sized chamber with a wheel as a door to block the entrance. There is a well as air ventilation shaft and potteries all over the place. The tunnel is lit with 60W incandescent bulbs requiring ISO1600 to shoot properly. At 400 I was able to do half second with my Ricoh. A few passages leads away from the main chamber and I follow it until it winds a little too much. I am the only one here and GPS don’t work so I thing better to play safe and not get too far. The air is cool here, easily 20C or slightly below when it is scorching hot outside. Nice. I will rest here for a while. The caves here look like they are dug out of clay, none of the rocky or crumbly caves which most churches I have seen in the last 2 days were made of.

On the way into Ozluce

Ozluce: Small farming village

I wonder where it is....

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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…