Monday, May 21, 2007


We left İstanbul last week on an overnight train to Kayseri, followed by a bus to Göreme, which is in the heart of the Cappadocia (Kapadokya) region. All together it took 23 hours. In Cappadocia there are houses, churches, and even entire underground cities carved into the rocks. Early Christians carved out these rock villages 1000-1500 years ago. They took refuge in the underground cities whenever invaders came through and were able to stay there for up to 6 months. They painted intricate frescoes in the churches, which have, unfortunately, been badly damaged over time. The faces of most of the people have been chiseled out!

We did not arrange for accommodation in advance, and wandering around, we ran into Faruk, who recommended several places to stay as well as eat. We eventually chose one of these recommendations, Arif Pansiyon and stayed in a cave room way up on the top of a rock spire with a view of the entire town of Göreme. The mosque was very near and the minaret that broadcasts the prayer call was only slightly lower then our window, waking us up at 4:30 in the morning the first few days until we got used to it. Later that day we ran into Faruk again, and he took us on a crazy drive in a tiny 2 seater pickup with 4 of us squeezed in the front. Faruk's father shifted gears, pressed the gas, and honked the horn while Faruk manned the brakes as we tore around corners on a winding road. They asked Tim if he could shift, but he declined as he could barely move! It was pretty wild.

We met many neat people in Göreme and feel like we are slowly learning about life and culture in Turkey. The Turkish people have a wonderfully varied heritage as they are literally on the crossroads between East, West, North and South, near the birthplaces of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. They seem to be very adept at integrating all these cultural influences into a wonderfully vibrant and tolerant culture all their own. The people here are very entrepreneurial and work very hard, often at multiple jobs. One person might work as a guide, grow grapes, make wine, and have a little souvenir shop. Often people's business requires that they work from morning until night.

We have been told that there are less independent American travelers here since 9/11. They mostly come in large tours now. Tim and I don't feel any anti-American sentiment, although, understandably, there is anti-Bush sentiment. People seem to realize, though, that many of the American people disagree with our government's current policies as much as they do. We are definitely enjoying Turkey and would recommend travel here, but consider leaving your American flag t-shirts at home!

From Göreme, we took the shared taxi's, called dolmuş, to Kaymaklı to look at the underground city there. It was pretty amazing, 4 levels of interconnected tunnels and rooms, all able to be blocked off by rolling huge chock stones across the entrances. There were chapels, sleeping areas, kitchens, and wine making rooms. The town of Kaymaklı itself had virtually no tourists as most people visit on a tour bus that drops you off and picks you up in front of the underground city. Having taken the dolmuş, we were free to eat lunch in a local restaurant and walk around the town. As we walked, children ran up to us to practice their English and have their photo taken. Afterwards, they asked to see the image of themselves on the digital camera screen and then went off happy. Kaymaklı was also the first town we have been to in Türkiye (the Turkish name for this country) where we saw people hurrying towards the mosque at the prayer call. Thinking it would be a very interesting place to stay for a few days, we looked for a Pansiyon (guesthouse), but there were none in town.

Afterward we took a dolmuş to Uçhisar to look at the rock castle here and then attempted to walk through Pigeon Valley back to Göreme. We soon became blocked off by steep, washed out areas. There we met Hasan, who was relaxing in the valley drinking Turkish tea. Hasan led us along a maze of footpaths, through a long, narrow tunnel carved in the rock, up to a view point for photos, and back down into the valley past a pour off.

Another day we rented bicycles from Faruk's rental agency, Öz Cappadocia, and biked through back roads, visiting other valleys and carved rock dwellings. We met another man who showed us an extensive sixth century church and monastery. It was he who told us that Clinton was the best president. He then said Bush was the worst, and Iraq an absolute mess! I could not agree with him more!

We finally left Göreme last night on an overnight bus this time, which took about 12 hours to get us to Olympus.

View from the train

Frescoes in Dark Church at the Goreme open air museum. This was my best photo because for this one, I forgot to turn off the flash!

Exterior of some of the rock dwellings.

Rock formations looking towards fairy chimneys

View of Uçhisar and the upper pigeon valley from Uçhisar Castle.

Hasan at the view point he took us to.

Contemplating chicken, which I ate for the first time in about 9 years. I decided that if I tried to stick to a vegetarian diet while traveling I would at best miss out on a lot of good foods, and at worst, starve.

Making silk thread from silk worm cacoons at Carpedocia

No one goes to Turkey without buying a carpet! After exhausting shopping we finally chose ours at Carpedocia, where they had many unique designs of high quality.

Left to right: Tim, Faruk, Yarrow, Faruk's father.

Our room at Arif's is through the upper door in the rock. Following is the view at sunset from the deck of the Pansiyon.

Small girl in Goreme

Our recommendations to other travelers:
Öz Cappadocia - Car, scooter, motorcycle and bike rentals. Tours. Good recommendations and traveler help. Say Hi to Faruk for us if you are there!
Contact: Faruk
Carpedocia - carpet makers cooperative. Many unique and high quality designs.
Contact: Savaş
Arif Pansiyon - Normal and cave rooms-great views.
Contact: Arif
Dibek Cafe and Restaurant - Excellent traditional home cooked food in a beautiful historical building. Try the homemade wine!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Feeding the Pigeons: Istanbul

Istanbul is difficult to write about. It is steeped in the past, an exuberant mixture of tradition and progressiveness, religion and tolerance, friendliness and hospitality. The Turkish people are proud of their country. The bright red Turkish flag flys everywhere. The prayer call sounds five times a day, and while most people seem not to notice it, I can imagine that this shared experience creates a sense of unity unlike anything I know in the United States. Here, while genearally conservative, it seems that the way a woman dresses is between her and God. There are women in tank tops, those wearing all enveloping black chadors with only the eyes showing, and 'muslim chic' women with bright headscarves in beautiful designs and stylish fitted jackets and jeans. The people are friendly and hospitable. We arrive and a Turkish friend we have not actually met before takes us to a lovely dinner. We have problems buying train tickets, and a man who speaks English helps. After purchasing tickets, he shows us how to get to the other train station, tells us good places to visit, and recommends an inexpensive Turkish restaurant for lunch. All this is followed by his phone number in case we have any problems in Turkey. The taxi driver who takes us to the US embassy tells us how to take a bus back to our accomodations. Men give up their seats to women on the tram. The photos I chose to post show a small snapshot of daily life. A woman feeds the Pigeons. A man catches one and gives it to an enchanted girl who holds it for a while. Soon after taking the last photo the bird flew away.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Indian Visa Saga

I never knew it would be such an adventure to get an Indian visa! First off, let me say that Tim and I are really lazy! We don't want to get out of bed in the morning. So we missed getting our Indian Visa in London because they close at 1:00 and we did not make it to the embassy in time. We decided to try again first thing in Istanbul, a good idea because we plan on flying from here to India. So here is how the Visa saga goes:
Day one: we slept in and did not even try to go.
Day two: we slept in and raced there (about a two mile walk), arriving at 11:32. We rang the buzzer and were let in, only to be told that they close at 11:30 (yes, we missed by two minutes) and ushered back out.
Day three: we are doing a little better and arrived at 11:01. I was afraid that they might close at 11:00 that day! We were let in and filled out the forms but then we were told we had to go to the American embassy to get a visa request letter and a note verbal. Huh? What on earth are these documents? The US embassy is quite far away so we took a tram to the last stop and then hailed a cab to take us the rest of the way. What a wild ride! It was like being on a amusement park ride and I laughed the whole way. Of course, the nicely made seat covers cover up not only the seat but the seat belt as well. On reaching the US fortress on a hill, we found out that the documents needed were a $30 per person notarized statement, plus a typed statement dated 1995 from the US embassy telling the Indian embassy that no more documentation would be provided and that they should show more courtesy to US citizens applying for a visa by not requiring this documentation from them. Sure to piss someone off!
Day four: Yep, it pissed someone off! We brought our documents to the counter and the lady asked if we got the paperwork she asked us to get. Yes we did. She began reading it and then her expression changed. She told us to have a seat while she disappeared with our paperwork into a back room. After a while she reappeared and said "could you please bring this same paperwork back tomorrow?" "Sure we can" Tim and I replied with big smiles and then I asked her "is something wrong with the paperwork?". "No, just bring it back tomorrow" was the reply, no explanation, no clue as to the problem.
Day Five: Back to the Indian embassy to find out that the papers the US embassy charged us $60 for are worthless. What they apparently want is a nice little note from the embassy requesting a visa for us. The paper the US embassy gave us pretty much says that they will not provide this documentation. So it appears we are in the middle of some sort of diplomatic little tiff. The solution offered us is that we go in for an interview on Monday, and then wait 15 days for the visa. At least it sounds like we can still get one! And fortunately, we really like Turkey. We will post the conclusion of this adventure when it unfolds.
Day Six: Monday the 14th we returned for our interview. The main questions were "What are your occupations?" and "Why didn't you get your visa before you left the United States?". We were told that it will take at least two weeks for the Indian government to process our visa applications. This is because they do not have a comprehensive security database like the US government has. If the US government would play nice with the other embassies and write for its citizens a simple polite letter requesting that the other country issue a visa, there would have been minimal wait. We aren't sure, but there seems to be some kind of American superiority complex in this refusal to comply with other embassy's requests. We'll find out after the 28th if we have been approved for the Indian visa. Meanwhile, they let us keep our passports, which was a very nice gesture, so we are traveling the interior of Turkey.
Day Seven: Monday June 4th. We arrived promptly at the Indian embassy at 5pm to pickup our visas. Unfortunately, since they were nice enough to let us take our passports with us, we would have to leave them overnight and pickup the visas the next day. This delay would cost us another $120 in rush fees to get our Kyrgz Republic visas before we left Istanbul. Aren't visas fun???

Tuesday June 5th. Tim's birthday. His present was two visas from the Indian Embassy!

For all the hassle getting this particular visa, we relize that we are very fortunate as Americans to be able to obtain visas for most countries with relative ease. We were able to get our China and Pakistan visas quickly in New Delhi. People we've met from Turkey and India have much more difficulty obtaining visas for our country. Sometimes they cannnot get a visa at all. On that note, we won't complain any more about the minor visa annoyances we've had. We have learned that it is best to get visas in the USA before traveling, if possible.

Monday, May 7, 2007


We are currently in Istanbul and behind on the blog, so for London I will just post a few photos.

Kew Gardens-the Japanese Garden

Click on this one to enlarge-it's a really beautiful bird from Kew Gardens.

Hampton Court Palace

The kitchens at Hampton Court. I definitely recommend seeing this if you are in London. It was built around the 1500's.

Hampton court

River Thames

Tower Bridge in background.

I love these narrow streets. If you are following the blog you will probably see trillions of these before it's all said and done.

5 thousand year old Egyptian mummy in the British Museum. This museum is another must see.