Monday, September 22, 2008

18-20 September – Cappadocia (part 1), Turkey

Wow! Cappadocia is really bizarre, beautiful, friendly and fantastic. For millions of years, volcanoes have erupted and discharged tuff. The volcanic material hardened and became rock-like. Then erosion (wind and water) set in, transforming the rock into all sorts of shapes. And the local people helped by carving out their dwellings from the soft rock. Driving and walking around in Cappadocia is a wonderful experience. And it feels like you are on a different planet. Perhaps we are...

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16-17 September – Silk Road, Turkey

We will be following the Silk Road on and off during our journey to the east. During the 13th century, the Seljuk sultans built staging posts for the camel caravans which passed through Anatolia. The posts were built roughly a day’s travel apart (20-30 km). In Sultanhani, the largest such resting house is very impressive. It measures 40 by 80 meters and inside you can almost smell the camels of times past.

14-15 September – Pamukkale, Turkey

We admit to have been a bit skeptical about the Pamukkale hype promoted by tourist agencies. But we just loved the place! Walking up those snow white calcium shelves, discovering more natural wonders with every step, is a great experience. The children had a lot of fun (and veered a bit off the official path). At the top, the old Roman spa town of Hierapolis adds some more ruins to the excursion (we felt that our ruin quota was filled however). After watching the beautiful sunset, we returned down in the light of a full moon.

13 September – Afrodisias, Turkey

We did some nice off-roading around the ruins of Antiocheia before heading to the wonderful archaeological site of Afrodisias. People have lived here for at least 7000 years. From around 500 BC, the city was dedicated to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The ruins are very well preserved.

11-12 September – Ephesus and the Artemis Temple, Turkey

Ephesus was the capitol of Asia Minor during Roman times. At its peak it had 250,000 inhabitants (2000 years ago). The ruins are beautiful and partly restored. It is great to walk down the main street, on worn marble stones, and feel history all around you. Luckily the high season has ended and we often have the tourist sites to ourselves. The big theater could seat 25,000 spectators.

We also had a quick look at the Artemis Temple which was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Now, only one pillar remains of what was once a temple larger than the Parthenon in Athens. We sometimes feel that important ruins are neglected. But, there are probably so many old ruins in Turkey that the Turkish government just do not have enough resources.

10-11 September – Bergama, Turkey

Our next stop on the ”ruin trail” was Pergamum (Bergama). The city was very prominent 2000 years ago. It is situated beautifully on a hilltop. Old marble columns stand high against the deep blue sky. The 10,000 seat theater has been carved out from the side of the hill. We walked around and tried to imagine how the people lived in this city so many years ago.

Close to Bergama we also learnt the essentials of carpet making. Carpets are very important in the Turkish culture and it is really impressive to see the amount of work which is needed to create a good quality carpet. The kids love to visit places with a lot of carpets. They climb around and play games among the merchandise while their parents are drinking tea or Turkish coffee.

8-9 September – Troy, Turkey

The passage into Turkey via the Kipi border post was much smoother than expected.
Turkey is the 26th country so far during our journey and we have now driven close to 20,000 km since our departure from London at the end of March.

We drove down the Gallipoli peninsula, but avoided the many war memorials. A ferry took us across the Dardanelles strait to Canakkale. We sipped sweet, Turkish tea on deck and enjoyed the view. Now we are in Asia!

Our first real stop in Turkey was the ancient city of Troy. The city was founded around 3000 BC and many layers of civilization have been found by the archeologists during their excavations. Troy guarded the entrance to the Dardanelles strait and was a strategically very important city. Tourism is now increasing thanks to the Hollywood movie Troy.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

5-6 September – Greece

We have now arrived to Kavala in Greece where we are enjoying the facilities of a real camp site (shower!). The tour through the Balkans has been extremely interesting with a lot of impressions from this region which is hopefully leaving some of its turbulent and violent past behind.
In a couple of days’ time we will continue towards Turkey.

3-4 September – Macedonia

Well, the official name of the country should be ‘Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia’, but who wants to make things so complicated or call a country FYROM? Actually, Greece insists on this since the major part of the old territory of Macedonia (famous for Alexander the Great and his conquests) is situated in Greece, So, Macedonia is still to find an official name that is acceptable to Greece. That dispute will probably never end, and the world will refer to this young country as Macedonia, to the frustration of Greece.

Macedonia is lovely to visit. It has an ancient history, and the archaeological sites are many. We visited the town of Orhid, which sits on the shores of Lake Orhid. This area has been populated for some 8000 years and archaeologists have only started to uncover some of the historical treasures that lie hidden underground. The 2000 year old amphitheatre, discovered 20 years ago, is one example. And we were impressed by the mosaic floors of the 1700 year old churches, parts of which are still being uncovered and pieced together despite a lack of funds.

Outside Bitola, we visited another archaeological site, Heraclea Lyncestis, where a whole Macedonian-Roman city is being uncovered.

2-3 September – Kosovo

What a delight to be able to visit the world’s very youngest country so soon after its proclaimed independence. Recognized as an independent country by the world’s democracies only months ago, we were very pleased to be able to drive through Kosovo. What we saw made us relatively optimistic about the country’s future. There is building activity everywhere. In the many bustling markets, everything from vegetables to cars are changing hands. The official currency is Euro, and Kosovo is very focused on joining Europe. Young people are strolling around the beautiful town of Prizren, drinking coffee, chatting, smiling. Despite the Muslim faith of the majority in the Albanian community, the young women are wearing fashion clothes, not headscarves. But the conflict with Serbia is very present and manifested by the hundreds of KFOR peacekeeping vehicles seen everywhere (mainly manned by German troops in the areas we visited).

We celebrated Atlas’ first birthday with cake in a traditional café in Prizren. Our children’s blond hair created some commotion. Everybody wants to touch them, especially Tinna whose hair is almost white. The kids usually do not mind but that may change…

We tried to explain to the children that there has recently been a war in Kosovo, and Temba asked a lot of questions. Obviously, children think that war is quite stupid. If only all adults would feel the same way.

The grape harvesting season was in full swing and we stopped by the roadside to buy fresh grapes. The friendly Kosovars almost refused to accept money from us, since we only wanted a few bunches instead of the 25kg crates they were selling the grapes by.

We left Kosovo with a very positive feeling about this young country’s future despite all the terrible things that have happened here in the recent past.

1-2 September – Albania

We were charmed by Albania already at the border (and that is usually where many countries place the most terrible civil servants they can find). So we kind of ignored the fact that we were harassed by street children in the major northern town of Shkoder, and instead decided that we really like Albania. Not because the country is lacking a garbage collection system (resulting in terrible garbage dumps everywhere). Not because of the 700,000 concrete bunkers built to defend the country against the enemy (meaning the rest of the world except China, and meaning that there is one bunker for every five citizens). Not because of the language which we do not understand even one word of (except perhaps ‘tungjatjeta’ which means hello but is pronounced in an incomprehensible way). But because of the extremely friendly people who approached us wherever we stopped and tried their best to make us feel at home. We will especially remember the young girl who brought us, newly picked, black and green figs in the morning; and the three young men who wanted us to take pictures of them as they returned from a failed bird hunt; and the tractor driver who stopped to show off his Lamborghini tractor from the umpteenth century and let Temba sit on the bonnet as he demonstrated how to start the engine with a screwdriver. Albania is dirt poor and still seems caught in a time warp – a kind of hangover from the extreme communist regime the country endured during the last half century. Challenging times lie ahead for the friendly Albanians.
The ever present garbage - Albania
One of Hoxha's many bunkers - Albania
Young friends hunting for birds - Albania
Curious farmer - Albania
Life in the slow lane - Albania

31 August - 1 September – Montenegro

Being one of the world’s youngest countries, Montenegro is still trying to find its national identity. The official language is Serbian, but the people demanded independence from Serbia. The currency is Euro, but the country is not in the Euro zone. The Montenegrins themselves are in minority in this country of many disparate ethnic groups.
Montenegro means ‘black mountain’, and there are for sure a lot of dark mountains looming everywhere. Also, there are beautiful old walled towns along the coast which are a delight for future tourists. We enjoyed the town Kotor very much. It will become a mega-attraction for tourists in the coming years.

28-30 August – Croatia

We camped right on the beach and enjoyed Croatia’s sun and crystal clear sea.

We continued to the old city of Ragusa (today called Dubrovnik) in the very south of Croatia.

The next day, when shopping at Lidl, we ran into a family from Holland who have been travelling through Africa and the Middle East in a Land Rover for the last 17 months. They have three daughters aged 5, 9 and 11. The older girls are attending the World School program by correspondence. We were all delighted to meet each other and to see that there are other families travelling like we do. We decided to camp together in Dubrovnik and had a wonderful time, exchanging stories about our travels. The kids were very serious during their joint school session in the morning.

27 August – Austria

After crossing Germany we ended up in a beautiful camp site outside Graz in Austria. We set camp, and then all these naked people started showing up. It turned out we had entered a nudist camp site. Strange feeling to be surrounded by naked people who are watering their plants, barbecuing, chatting to each other about the weather, playing with their kids on the beach – with no clothes on. Nina and the kids had no problem with ridding their clothes for a while though.