Posts Tagged ‘Summer Break’

Summer Trip Pt. 7: Turkey 4

Friday, August 24th, 2012

The last two stops on my summer trip were Safranbolu and Ankara. Safranbolu is a city north of Ankara which is revered for its well-preserved Ottoman houses. It is scenicly located at the intersection of three valleys, and the houses of the old town picturesquely cling to the steep hillsides around these valleys. Entering Safranbolu from Ankara, however, nothing of that is visible: Safranbolu is a prospering town with a modern city center, and the old town needs to be searched for behind the modern part of town first. Then, however, it is really a very pretty and relaxed town. In contrast to many of the other destinations on my trip, Safranbolu seems to be a destination primarily for Turkish tourists, not so much for international visitors. This means that the city is somewhat more authentic (and prices are lower). Apart from looking at the beautifully restored Ottoman houses, Safranbolu does not offer that many sights or activities other than climbing to some of the hills around the old town. An interesting sensation is hearing the muezzin calls from these hills, echoing and reverbating from all sides of the valley.

The very last stop was Ankara, Turkey’s capital. Ankara does not provide nearly as many sights and historic buildings as İstanbul (which I visited three years ago and thus skipped on this trip), but it is nevertheless an interesting city. The shops and cafes in the Kızılay area were nice to to shop around, relax and read a book, and the citadel provided interesting views over the whole city (even though the historic buildings were really run-down and the whole area looked like it could use a bit of paint). The most impressive sight, however, was the massive mausoleum of Kemal Atatürk. This leader of Turkey’s struggle for independence after the first World War, long-time president and major reformer is really worshipped in Turkey (including portraits in shops everywhere and lots of paraphernilia, going so far as young men sporting his signature tattooed across their arms). The massive mausoleum, with a gigantic 40-ton marble sarcophagus and an accompanying Atatürk and Independence Museum is one incarnation of this worshipping. Given the descriptions of his achievements in the museum, however, this worshipping seems to be justified.

Now, after seven weeks of traveling, my summer trip is over. I have just come back to Germany, where I will pack a few things for the colder climate in France, because I will spend P4, which starts next week, on the “original” INSEAD campus in Fontainebleau. While I am a bit sad that the nice summer trip is over, I am also looking forward to going back to school and meeting all the other students again and hear their internship or travel stories from the summer!

Pictures will follow at a later point in time.

Summer Trip Pt. 6: Turkey 3

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

My last stop on the Mediterranean coast was Antalya. Antalya is a much larger city than most of the other recent stops had been, and so it has a refreshing non-touristiness outside of the main tourist district of the old town. I staid in a beautiful pension situated in an old Ottoman house in the middle of the old town. Antalya felt even hotter than the other coastal cities, because it was really humid, so I did some more things inside to escape the heat: I visited the beautiful Antalya Museum, which has both historic and ethnographic exhibits, and a fantastic audio guide. Also, I went to a Hamam and got a traditional Turkish bath, including being washed, massaged, and repeatedly splashed with warm or cold water by the Turkish bather – quite an experience!

From Antalya, I took a plane to Ankara and from there a bus to Ürgüp in Cappadocia. Cappadocia is revered for its beautiful rock landscape, formed by a volcanic eruption several thousands of years ago. The rocks make for a scenery that looks like a foreign planet in a Science Fiction movie. It is stunning how this country has so many exceptional natural sights. In addition to the natural beauty, many of the rocks contain homesteads and churches carved in the rocks. I went to see many of them at the Göreme Open Air museum – especially the wall frescoes in the dimly lit rock churches I found very fascinating. In the evening of the same day, I went to Mustafapaşa, a small former Greek town, which is pretty but rather unspectacular.

On the last day in Cappadocia, I went for a hike through the Devrent Valley, which is situated north of Ürgüp and boasts a lot of very strange, otherworldly rock formations. The rocks vary from giant mushrooms to wavy patterns to whole fields of cylindrical rocks that look as if a once great city had molten.

The next step on the travel route is Safranbolu, an old Ottoman town, and then as the last stop Ankara.

Some pictures follow.


Summer Trip Pt. 5: Turkey 2

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

After Rhodes, I headed back to Turkey, specifically to Fethiye. Fethiye itself is a somewhat bigger town on the Mediterranean coast, with a rather big marina. The town itself is not very interesting, except for an old amphitheater there is not much “old town” left – the area called “old town” on the maps is more a collection of overpriced restaurants and bars. However, there are quite a few interesting things to see in the surroundings, and the city itself has its charm as well: one example of that is the fish market. On the fish market, you can buy fresh fish and other seafood from stalls in the middle of the market, and then you can head to one of the restaurants surrounding the market stalls which will fry or grill the fish for a relatively small fee and provide bread and salad on the side – a really inexpensive, fresh and delicious seafood dinner!

Above the town, there are some Lycian tombs carved into the rocks some 2400 years ago – quite an impressive sight, with a very nice view over the natural harbour of Fethiye. Further up in the mountains, about 9 km from Fethiye (which I hiked, sweating quite a lot at constantly over 30°C), lies the “Ghost Town” of Kayaköy. As part of the resolution of the Turkish-Greek conflict in the Turkish War of Independence (1926), Turkey and Greece exchanged some parts of their population: Orthodox Greeks moved from Turkey to Greece, and Muslim Turks moved from Greece to Turkey. Because of the disparities in numbers and other factors, Kayaköy, which was formerly a Greek settlement of ~4000 houses, was abandoned and is now virtually uninhabited – only a few restaurants catering to tourists remain. It is quite interesting, how in not even a hundred years a town can decay: Many houses have completely collapsed, and the buildings that are best preserved are the churches and chapels of the town – presumably because they had stone (as opposed to wooden) roofs, which made them structurally much more stable.

Another day trip from Fethiye took me to Saklıkent Gorge, which was really another quite fascinating natural site. The gorge is quite literally a deep crack in the mountain, which is so narrow that even the hot August sun can’t fully heat it up. It is flooded by water, which contains so many minerals and mud particles that it is quite opaque. To walk through the gorge, you have to constantly wade in knee-deep, cold water, which was extremely refreshing in this heat.

The next stop after Fethiye was Kaş, further to the east along the Mediterranean coast. Kaş is a nice little town, and very laid-back. It has a nice little harbour, with many small restaurants, some of which serve really amazing Meze (small dishes) – albeit at quite touristy prices. From Kaş, I went to Patara, which has an incredibly large and nice sandy beach, and took a boat tour to the “sunken city” close to Kekova. Here, the ancient city of Simena was destroyed in the second century AD by a devastating earthquake, and some parts of the city are now located below the surface of the sea – our boat had little windows in the bottom so that you could look down into the amazingly clear water, and see parts of houses and lots of amphorae on the ground. Also, there were plenty of opportunities to swim from the boat (not among the ruins though).

After Kaş, I went to Çıralı, which is basically a big collection of hotels and pensions close to the beach, but offers another quite amazing natural phenomenon: The eternal flame of Chimaera. On the mountains above Çıralı, the rocks emit gases which combust upon contact with the air. The flames can be seen from the sea by night and have been used by seafarers for navigation. The fire has been burning for at least 2500 years, and is said to be the origin of the greek myth of the Chimaera, which was a monstrous fire-breathing creature. I walked up the steep, rocky path to the flames after sunset, and was quite impressed by the phenomenon, especially considering that some 2500 years ago Greeks and Romans looked at these same flames coming out of the rock and tried to make sense of them.

I now have reached Antalya, the last stop on the Mediterranean coast. After Antalya, I will fly to Ankara and move on to Cappadocia from there.

Some pictures follow.

Summer Trip Pt. 3 and 4: Photos

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

Here are the promised photos for Pt. 3 and Pt. 4 of my summer trip: Turkey and Greece (Rhodes).

Summer Trip Pt. 4: Rhodes

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

As a short detour from the Turkish coast, I took a ferry to the Greek island of Rhodes (Ρόδος). This also meant for the third time on the trip getting close to s site of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, after the Artemis Temple (Ephesus), the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (Bodrum) now the Colossus of Rhodes. However, given that of the first two only foundations remain, and the third one is completely non-existing, I didn’t bother to visit any of them so far.

Rhodes is quite a large island, with the major town of Rhodes city located at the northern tip. Rhodes town has a large and rather well-preserved walled old town, but especially the main roads in the north are extremely touristy, with one shop selling generic souvenir fare or overpriced fast food next to the other. The quiter streets further south, however, are really nice.

I spent five days in Rhodes, so it was more of a breather and time to relax and swim – even more so given that (thanks to hotel bonus points from consultant times) I spent my nights there in a luxury resort with private beach and four pools. The days I used to explore the town or the island on a rented scooter. In Rhodes town itself, I most notably went to the Palace of Grand Masters (free entry for EU students, yay!).

One of the days, I went to the Valley of Butterflies and Lindos. The highly praised Valley of Butterflies was a complete disappointment – there were lots of butterflies around, but even more people. Since there was only one narrow path going through the valley, one was always in a large queue of people shoving each other through the forest – this is not what I imagine a peaceful nature experience to be like. The town of Lindos in the southeast is quite picturesque, with a large acropolis overlooking the white town. However, it is also packed with tourists.

Another day, I went a bit more off the beaten path (if there is anything unbeaten on Rhodes at all) and went down the west coast to Ancient Kamiros and Kritinia Castle. Both of these had the advantage of being much less overrun by tourists (i.e., the tour buses of package and cruise tourists don’t seem to go there, so it’s only individual tourists). Ancient Kamiros was a Greek town, which was completely re-build in ~200 BC after an earthquake, but later abandoned by its inhabitants. It is quite beautifully located on a hillside above the sea shore, and it is quite nice to walk through the ruins of the city. While it is not quite as marbly, big and impressive as Ephesus, it is still quite an interesting sight and was definitely worth the visit. Kritinia Castle is located relatively far down south on the west coast of Rhodes island, and is located on top of a huge rocky cliff overlooking island and sea. The castle itself lies in ruins, but the look from up there is awesome, even more so given that there are hardly any tourists there, and the entrance is free.

Today, I will explore Rhodes town some more and go to the the Kalithea springs, which are located on the east coast close to Rhodes town. After Rhodes, I will go back to Turkey, first to Fetihye, and then continuing further to the east in the direction of Antalya.

Pictures will follow at a later point.

Summer Trip Pt. 3: Turkey 1

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

My first stop in Turkey, after flying from Sofia to Izmir via Istanbul, was Selçuk. Selçuk is the city which is closest to the ruins of ancient Ephesus, and is a rather quiet and relaxed place: Old men seem to be sitting in front of tea houses all day, playing Rummikub, Backgammon, or Chess. However, it was also a very nice place to stay, eat at one of the numerous restaurants. and visit Ephesus and the mountain village of Sirince.

Ephesus was clearly a very interesting sights, albeit overrun by large tourist groups. After extensive excavations and reconstructions, the layout of the city which used to be the capital of the Roman province of Asia Minor and in its heydays had over 200,000 inhabitants, can be clearly seen and foundations or facades of some of the most important buildings from temples and tombs to shops, residential houses and fountains for water supply give a quite clear impression how the city used to look like when it was still in use. Most impressive was the huge theater with a capacity of 20,000 people, in which apostle Paul is said to have given a speech to the Artemis-worshiping Ephesans.

Another excursion from Selçuk was the little mountain village of Sirince, which is supposedly a typical representation of how villages in the area used to look like. While it is a cute little town, it is also quite touristy and shops along all streets are selling local wine, soaps, spices and handicrafts to tourists. Also, it was again so hot that walking through the village was quite exhausting, so I returned early and went for a swim in the Aegaean sea instead – the beach close to Selçuk is nice, but the water is quite muddy and it is thus not the nicest place for swimming – but there will be more places to come 🙂

Next up on the itinerary was Pamukkale, with its absolutely stunning white travertines (mineral deposits from water flowing down the mountain from the springs on top of it). While Pamukkale surely is a quite touristy site, it is nevertheless extremely beautiful and extraordinary, walking up the almost snow white mountain (Pamukkale means “cotton castle” after the white color of the mountain), the path covered by water flowing down, which has over the years has formed pools and very interesting interference patterns out of calcium carbonate on the ground. On top of the mountain, some remains of the ancient Roman city of Hierapolis can be visited, which was located there due to the healing properties of the mineral springs. The probably best preserved building is a giant hillside amphitheater.

The next stop in Turkey was Bodrum on the coast. It was described as a very touristy and party type place in the guidebook, but the town was a positive surprise. In the daytime, it is a rather laid-back place, with white houses and a nice coastline. In the old castle, it has a museum of underwater archeology, which displays archeological finds recovered from the sea, such as amphorae, tools, coins and jewelry, goods such as glassware, and even the remains of entire boats. While the museum itself was probably not the most interesting archeological museum I have ever seen, its location in the old castle is quite unique and made it well worth a visit.

Pictures will follow at a later point.

Summer Trip Pt. 2: Bulgaria

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

After the Western Balkans, an intermediate stop in my itinerary was Bulgaria, before going on to Turkey. After an overnight bus journey (with my name printed in cyrillic letters on it!) from Ohrid, I arrived in Sofia, where I stayed for four nights, with a day trip to the Rila Monastery, which is a two hours drive from Sofia in the mountains.

Sofia itself proved to be nice, even though on the first two days (admittedly, a weekend) it seemed as though the city was fast asleep. The city has some nice buildings and churches to offer, which mostly date from after the late 19th century, when Sofia became Bulgaria’s capital (even though the city had existed for much longer, it was only a small town by then). However, there are also some very old buildings such as the church St. Sofia, which gave the city its name.

Rila Monastery is a UNESCO world heritage site, which is beautifully and secludedly located in the middle of the mountains. It is beautifully restored and has a quite unique appearance, with lots of black-and-white or red-and-white striped arches and walls, and beautiful mural paintings (some of which look like ancient comics).

Today, I left Bulgaria by plane for Turkey, and I have just arrived in Selçuc. I will remain in Turkey, first along the coast, and later in the middle of the country, for the rest of my summer trip (until end-August).

Some pictures follow.

Summer Trip Pt. 1: Western Balkans

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

While I haven’t covered everything from P3 yet in blog posts, I want to give at least an update on my current travels before it takes me another few weeks until I can find some time to blog again… P3 ended on 28 June, and after exams I flew to France first since I am going to spend P4 after the summer break there, and I wanted to drop some of my luggage there so that I don’t have to travel with all my stuff over the whole summer.

My summer trip then started in the Western Balkans (i.e., former Yugoslavia). The first place I visited was Zagreb, which proved to be a much nicer city than I had imagined. The location at a cultural crossroads are quite visible in Zagreb, with local food with influences from Hungary (in fiery Gulash soups), Turkey (in Kebabs and other grilled meat) and Italy (in pasta and seafood dishes). Zagreb has a really nice, hilly old town with some nice churches and old buildings.

From Zagreb, I moved to Zadar on the Adriatic coast. Zadar is touristy, but not one of the main tourist drags. It has a quite charming old town and some unusual attractions such as a “sea organ”, which powered by the movement of the waves creates sounds using pipes in the pavement of the promenade along the coast. Also, I used the chance to go for my first swim in the Adriatic for the summer.

The next stop was Split, which is one of the really touristy spots along the Croatian coast. However, the city is really charming even with lots of tourists. The old town is centered around and in the former palace of Roman emperor Diocletian, which is spectacularly located along the coast behind Split’s harbor. Not much of the original palace remains to this day, but what especially in the middle ages the inhabitants of the city built inside the walls of the palace is a dazzling array of little alleyways, with cafés and restaurants at every corner, and it is real fun to just get lost in the maze for a while and discover ever new places.

From Split, I took a brief 2-day detour to Bosnia-Herzegovina, namely to Sarajevo. While it took a good eight hours bus ride to get there and back, it was certainly worth it. Not only is the city beautifully located within a valley and surrounded by forest-clad mountains, but also is the changeful history of the city very visible everywhere. From the old Turkish quarter, which seamlessly gives way to late 18th-century Austrian architecture, to the bridge where the assassination of Austrian prince Franz Ferdinand triggered the first World War, the city is rich in evidence to its importance as a multicultural center at the boundary of Europe and the East. The more recent history, namely the 1992-1995 siege of Sarajevo by Serbian forces, is even more present: Many houses are riddled by bullet holes, and in some places you can still see the so-called “Sarajevo Roses” – places where artillery shells hit the pavement, killing people and leaving a whole in the ground have been filled with red-colored concrete. Another stunning experience was visiting the Tunnel Museum, which shows how the Bosnians transported supplies and weapons into the city under siege through an 800m tunnel below the airport, which was controlled by UN troops and thus neutral in the conflict. Today’s Sarajevo is again a friendly and rather multicultural place, even though some of the atrocities of the recent past can of course not be easily forgotten and thus some distance is still present between the different ethnic groups.

After Sarajevo, the next stop back in Croatia was Dubrovnik, which is the second major tourist city on the coast. Even though its old town, which is surrounded by impressive city walls (which are accessible by foot) is certainly beautiful, the amount of tourists, especially large tour groups from cruise ships, make walking through the city rather painful. The city is definitely a must-visit in the area, but should (in my opinion) also be left again as quickly as possible.

The next destination, however, was really one of the highlights of the trip so far: Korcula island off the Croatian Adriatic coast between Split and Dubrovnik was really wonderful. Korcula has a nice little old town, which with its city fortifications and narrow steep streets is a bit like a mini Dubrovnik, but much sleepier. There are certainly some tourists there, but the whole atmosphere is much more relaxed. Also, because the island is a good 50 kilometers long, the visitors spread out much more and it feels less busy. The scenery on Korcula is amazing: The island is forested and extremely hilly (the highest hills are more than 500m high), and the surrounding Adriatic sea is amazingly clear, blue to green and generated lots of moments of pure astonishement. The island is too big and hilly (and the weather was too hot) to go to all interesting places by bike, but a rented scooter did the job instead and it was certainly fun to ride it around the island, jump into the amazing water from small jetties and pebbly beaches where no one else was anywhere near…

The next stop (after another night in Dubrovnik) was Kotor in Montenegro. Kotor is located at a quite beautiful bay of the Adriatic, but after having seen the waters around Korcula, the bay unfortunately couldn’t impress me that much anymore. Kotor’s old town is a really nice place, and while it is a bit smaller than the ones of Split and Dubrovnik, it has certainly a similar appeal. Most impressive about Kotor are the fortifications (walls and towers) which climb up the steep mountain behind the old town. You can climb them (1400 steps over 1200m), but given that it was constantly around 35°C, I did not dare to undertake that. An interesting excursion from Kotor took me to Budva on the Adriatic coast – which seems to be a focal point mainly for rich Russians who either park their yacht in the marina or flock into the huge hotel blocks and on the pebbly beaches… certainly an interesting sight, but surely not my kind of vacation.

The last stop in former Yugoslavia and also one of the nicest ones was Ohrid in Macedonia, which took a long and cumbersome overnight bus journey with two border crossings (one into Kosovo and one into Macedonia) to get to. Ohrid is both the name of a town and the lake, which is located at 700m above sea level and therefore was refreshingly cooler than the coast (still around 30°C though). The lake is really beautiful, surrounded by mountains, and also the town itself, with a fortress overlooking the old town. A very nice day trip took me on a boat cruise across the lake to the monastery of St. Naum, which is really pleasently located at the lakeside. In addition to all the scenic beauty, however, Macedonia was definitely one of the highlights because of the friendliness and hospitality of the people. Not only the guest house owner, but also many people I encountered, went out of their ways to help, which really made a difference.

Some pictures follow.

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