Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ankara - Bolu, Turkiye

Fri 31/1/14
Ankara – Bolu

Journey today:
Urgup - Kaymakli: 32km (32 mins)
Kaymakli - Kapadokya Tesisleri : 221km (2 hrs 30 mins)
Kapadokya Tesisleri - Ankara: 94.5km (1 hr 7 mins)
Ankara - Bolu: 206km (2 hrs 6 mins)
Total journey: 554km (6hrs 15 mins)

Urgup - Kaymakli - Kapadokya Tesisleri - Ankara - Bolu

Before proceeding to Bolu, we stopped by at yet another factory- this time a jewellery factory, Hanem art centre which specialized in turqoise stone, a blue-to-green mineral hydrous phospate of copper and aluminium. (from wikipedia) Other stones are available here as well such as jade, emerald, ruby, zircon and topaz. I didn't buy any, just looked around, and playing with fat cats in the premise. Yes, fat cats are abundant all around Turkey. And they are friendly too.

We then visited the Kamaykli Underground City, also a Unesco Heritage Site, grouped together under #357 Goreme National Park and Rock Sites of Cappadocia, Turkiye. Not all in the tour group ventured into the underground city, including my mom because they had knee or back problems. We had to bend down to pass through the tiny tunnels; some parts we had to almost crawl. Although narrow, I thought the Cu Chi tunnel in Ho Chi Minh is even narrower

From wikipedia: The ancient name was Enegup. The houses in the village are constructed around the nearly one hundred tunnels of the underground city. The tunnels are still used today as storage areas, stables, and cellars. A stable is located on the first floor. The second floor is a church. The church level also contains some living spaces. The third floor contains storage places, wine or oil presses, and kitchens.

Wine cellar
Living room

Kaymakli Underground City

From Kaymakli, we continued our journey to Ankara. On the way to Ankara, we passed by one of the largest salt lake in the world with a surface area of 1600km2 and 32.9% salinity – Tuz Lake or Tuz Golu in Turkish. Three mines operating in the lake produce 63% of the salt consumed in Turkey.

Tuz salt lake, just by the road

Today we stopped by at Kapadokya Tesisleri restaurant for lunch. Food was healthy – chicken cooked in olive oil with vegetables, but the taste was just so-so (because it was too healthy haha). We then performed our solat at the masjid next door at Emin Aga Camii.

Tesisleri restaurant

healthy chicken with vegetable in olive oil. I like the frying pan!

Emin Aga Camii

We arrived Ankara, the capital of Turkey since 1923 after the fall of the Ottoman empire at about 2.40pm. With the inception of Republic of Turkey, its founder ofMustafa Kemal Attaturk, moved it from Istanbul. Its name originated from Ankyra, which means anchor in Greek.

The only place we visited in Ankara was Mustafa Kemal Attaturk's mausoleum. From wikipedia, he was born Mustafa. Kemal, meaning Perfection or Maturity was given to him by his teacher, in admiration of his capability and maturity. He was was a Turkish army officer during World War I. Following the defeat of the Ottoman empire in World War I, he led the Turkish war of independence. He transformed the former Ottoman Empire into a modern, secular and democratic nation-state. Some revered him, some opposed him. There were also assasination plots against him. He passed away in 1938. His mausoleum, Antkabir, consists of four main parts: the Road of Lions (pedestrian walkway), the Ceremonial Plaza, the Hall of Honor (location of Atatürk's tomb) and the Peace Park that surrounds the monument.

We had to go through security checks prior to entering. There were also guards outside the hall who stood still like statues. We were impressed by their steadfastness. We managed to witness the changing of guard as well. Although it was a working day on Friday, there were so many people visiting the mausoleum, and taking pictures of the exhibits of Mustafa Kemal (although picture taking is not allowed in the exhibition hall). Clearly, many Turks revered him. 

Ankara Attaturk Mausoleum

that's a real guard, not a statue

Guard changing post

We were then ready to move on spend the night in Bolu, from which I read is a an attractive forested mountain countryside and I was expecting to take some pictures of the snowy mountains. Unfortunately, Burak told us we would be mdeparting very early in the morning at 6.45am before daylight in order to arrive Istanbul early and avoid the traffic jam. I tried to ask for a delay of 30 minutes for picture taking in daylight, but to no avail. Furthermore, we were told by our Malaysian guide Aisyah that there is a lake and nice garden behind our hotel. This made me further disappointed. I guess this is what you have to accept when travelling in an organized group tour.

When we arrived in Bolu, it was already dark at 6.45pm. So no chance of outdoor picture taking of the lovely mountain resort sigh. We would be departing early tomorrow morning, so no chance then also. After dinner that night, we ventured around in Koru hotel where we were staying, a nice English cottage style hotel with heated indoor swimming pool. That's it- I'm going to bring my swim suit no matter where I go from now on, regardless if I feel I have time or not. 

lovely Koru Otel
indoor pool

Koru room

traces of snow at first daylight the next day

there's supposed to be a lovely garden behind there. Pity we weren't given time to explore


Thursday, March 06, 2014

Cappadocia, Turkiye

Thur 30/1/14


Happy Chinese New Year from the skies of Cappadocia! What a way to commemorate CNY!

Journey today:
Urgup - Goreme : 10km (18 mins)
Goreme - Pasabag: 5km (7 mins)
Pasabag - Avanos : 3km (5 mins)
Avanos - Guvercinlik: 13km (20 mins)
Guvercinlik - Urgup (back to hotel)
Urgup - Uchisar: 15km (19 mins)
Total journey (1 way): 46km

Urgup - Goreme - Pasabag - Avanos - Guvercinlik - Uchisar

The hot air balloon tour was optional and not included in the package. It cost USD220 for the 1 hour ride with breakfast. We woke up early at 5am to be picked up by the hot air balloon company – Royal Balloon at 5.50am. My mom did not join me as she had vertigo. We had our early breakfast of bread, eggs and tea at the Royal Balloon Royal Stone House in Goreme. It was too early to eat that much anyway

early breakfast

We proceeded to our basket – 24 of us fitted into 4 sections of the basket. I thought it was too crowded putting 6 person per section, we could hardly move or turn. Fortunately, the breathtaking view from above more than made up for the tight spot that we were in, literally. The unique landscape of Cappadocia is a Unesco World Heritage site listed under #357 - Goreme National Park and Rock Sites of Cappadocia

the basket

firing up

From wikipedia and wikitravel:
Cappadocia covers an area approximately 400 km east–west and 250 km north–south. Due to its inland location and high altitude, Cappadocia has a markedly continental climate, with hot dry summers and cold snowy winters.

The unusual rock formation was a result of the eroding rains and winds of thousands of years of the level, lava-covered plain located between the volcanic mountains Erciyes, Melendiz and Hasan as well as its troglodyte dwellings carved out of the rock and cities dug out into the underground. The rivers, flood water running down the hillsides of valleys and strong winds eroded the geological formations consisting of tuff from volcanic eruption on the plateau formed with tuff layers, thus creating bizarre shapes called fairy Chimneys.

Here is the summary of the cities of Capadoccia region with its attractions:
Ürgüp — The biggest town and heart of Cappadocia. Our Hotel Dinler is here
Göreme — Cave Houses built into the Fairy Chimneys.
Uçhisar — The highest point of the region with it's natural rock castle.
Avanos — Pottery town which is divided into two by the longest river of Turkey (Kızılırmak).
Ortahisar — A small village famous with it's rock castle.
Mustafapaşa — Old Greek village

This is also a good summary of Cappadocia

Here is a Top 10 list of valleys in Cappadocia where you can also trek

Enjoy the scenic view of the Cappadocia landscape from up above!

houses carved into rocks

We celebrated the end of our balloon ride with the toast of orange juice (no champagne for our group) and silver medal giving ceremony. It was a cute gesture.

Overall, it was a greatly enjoyable experience. If you go to Cappadocia, I suggest you to experience the hot air balloon ride, although the cost is expensive. But the price is worth the money.

However, I have a few gripes on our hot air balloon operator - Royal Balloon - although the pilot is experienced in his manouvres, controlling the balloon movements and elevation, but:
  1. He and his assistant did not provide explanation to us on the landscapes that we were seeing, how they were formed such way and the historical background of the area. Perhaps the company is selective in providing its pilots and assistants, as I've read on tripadvisor (prior to my travel to Turkiye) that those on the forum cited a good experience with Royal. 
  2. Too many of us were fitted in one basket - 24 of us. We were in a tight space, we could hardly move around and not comfortable. Plus, it was safety concern as we exceeded the capacity- Royal Queen Flight max capacity is 20 persons (5 persons per section of the basket). See their pledge to customers here.
Please please please ensure you are not placed in an over capacity basket and ask for a pilot who could give a good explanation of the beautiful landscape of Cappadocia. I had to resort to Mr Google. I don't have the option to choose the balloon operator as well as it was provided by Poto Travel.

We arrived back at the hotel at 830am and had another round of breakfast before proceeding to our tour of Cappadocia today. First stop was the Carpet factory nearby our hotel in Uygup. We were shown a demo of carpet weaving. Although the hand made carpets were beautiful, I didn't buy any as they were expensive. Even the prayer mat could fetch up to RM800.

hand woven carpets on display

Carpet show

Next agenda was enjoyable for us – Turkish ice cream eating by the roadside stall overlooking the Uchisar village and Pasabag valley. Then we descended upon the valley for an up close view and photography session. Again, we were given such a short time – only 30 mins! Only the 3 of us ventured around the valley while the rest of the group browsed the shops for souvenirs. We enjoyed the view of the surreal luna-esque landscape which, according to Burak were on of the shooting locations of the Star Wars movie. There were also churches carved into the rocks of the faicry chimneys. During the time when Christians were hiding from the Romans and Ottomans.

Fairy Chimneys at Pasabag valley

It was then time for lunch at the Uranus Sarikaya cave restaurant – it was a truly unique experience, dining in the caves. We were entertained by live Turkish traditional music performance of the Qanun while dining. According to Wikipedia, Qanun used in Turkey have 26 courses of strings, with three strings per course. It is played on the lap by plucking the strings with two tortoise-shell picks, one in each hand, or by the fingernails. The food was just OK, but the ambience more than made up for it.

Facade of Uranus Sarikaya cave restaurant. No sarikaya found here though
Passage to the dining hall
Our dining table

Playing the Qanun

Main dish of rice and grilled fish

From the cave restaurant, we moved on to the lovely town of Avanos to watch a demonstration of pottery making, but not before stopping for solat at the Merkez Yeni Camii by the lovely river with chubby ducks happily swimming. The city was simply lovely! We had a bit of time to take some pictures before going to the pottery factory. I didn't buy anything here, but I was particularly impressed with the pottery which glowed in the dark – they had some special paint on them. Oh, I loved the factory itself as well, as it was located in the caves with an underground section which were interconnected with a labyrinth of tunnels.

Merkez Yeni Camii

chubby ducks

Lovely river at Avanos
Making pottery
painting pottery
Pottery galore

glow in the dark pottery

Then it was another round of photography session of the unique houses carved in rocks at Pigeon Valley (Guvercinlik). The villagers also kept animals in the rock enclosures.

cave house / animal enclosures at Uchisar
We finished off early today with a round of shopping of the local apricot chocolate and halva. I liked the halva which have peanuts in it, but ironically, according to Burak, halva are served during the mourning of a person's passing. Probably to lessen the burden of the surviving family with something sweet.

By 6pm, we were back at the hotel to have dinner (not so yummy, unfortunately. I had to rate the food at the 5 star Dinler hotel as the lowest ranking of our gourmet experience in Turkey). At 7.30pm, those who opted to watch the Cappadocia Night Show of Folklore and Belly Dance performance were whisked to the Yasir Baba restaurant about 20 mins away. We paid USD60 for the 1 hour performance (excluding breaks in between for the performers to change their costumes), which also included soft drinks, water and nuts. Non Muslims were served with alcoholic drinks as well.

Yasir Baba restaurant

The show was fun, it started with the Sufi dance of the whirling dervishes, then some folklore dance – a pair getting married, fire dance and the highlight of it all – the belly dance. I perked up when the belly dancer made her entrance from above (yes from a capsule descending from the ceiling, such an entrance!). She was flawless with the gyrating moves, long flowy skirt and high heels, never once tripping over (yes I was worried). Some of the men in our group didn't want to go because of the sexy belly dance moves – but for me, I thought it was mild – nothing erotic, just showcasing her synchronized body moves to the traditional music.

whirling dervishes

traditional dance
coming down from capsule

belly dancer

We reached back to our hotel at 10.30pm and called it a day. Tomorrow would be another long journey heading to Ankara.