Monday, December 31, 2007

Turkey Göreme

We then went to the Göreme Open Air Museum, still at Cappadocia. There we saw several churches carved out by monks more than a thousand years ago. I lost count of how many churches we went to but there must be at least 7.

Let me see, there was the Church of St. Basil, The Apple Church, The Church of Santa Barbara, St. Onuphrius and some others whose name I cannot remember now.

St. Basil was the special one for me at least. He was the guy who wrote the Catholic 'Prayer for a Deeper Sense of Fellowship with All Living Things'. It goes like this:

"O God, grant us a deeper sense of fellowship with all living this, our little brothers and sisters to whom in common with us you have given this earth as home. We recall with regret that in the past we have acted high-handedly and cruelly in exercising our domain over them. Thus, the voice of the earth which should have risen to you in song has turned into a groan of travail. May we realize that all these creatures also live for themselves and for you - not for us alone. They too love the goodness of life, as we do, and serve you better in their way than we do in ours. Amen."

We were not allowed to use flash to take photos of the church's interior, and becaue I could not figure out how to switch my digicam's flash, I just the outsides. Here I show you some.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Turkey (Kaymakli Underground City)

We visited the Kaymaklı Underground City. It is this huge underground city that the ancients dug underground. The ground they dug should not be imagined like the one we have in singapore though. This one is made of rocks that are strong enough to hold the structures but soft enough to dig using anything sharp. I think even a pen can carve out a room if you are given enough time.

Only four of the 8 floors are opened to tourists. There are ventilation shafts to ensure that fresh air can get it. There are even underground stables, a church, toilets, kitchens, and bedrooms of course.

This picture below shows a stable. See how they have carved a place for the horse to eat grass, hay or whatever they feed their horses with?

This photo below shows how deep the tunnels can bring the inhabitants of these caves into the earth below. The labyrinth also allowed them to hide from the people that might want to hurt them.

The photos below shows a church. How did we know it was a church? They left signs all over. The picture on the right shows a cross. Can you spot it?

The grindstone below is used to grind grains into flour. I took these shots in the kitchen.

This is a huge heavy stone that they use to block some strategic entrances within the city so that their pursuers could not get them.

Last, but certainly not the least important... toilets! I really do not know if they just leave it there or what, for they did not have any flushing system.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Turkey - Caravanseray

At the end of day, we got into our tour bus once again and headed off to the area of capadochia. During the journey, our tour guide said something about giving us a surprise. What happened was that he brought us to this old 'caravanseray'. The caravanseray is not the surprise though, as it was part of the itenary. More about the surprise later.

During ancient times, long before globalization, when there were no planes, no large container cargo ships plying the sea routes wrecking damage to the environment and poorer countries with their conspicuous consumption, there was this famous route called the silkroad.

The silk road was not a road made of silk, my dear students, but a famous path where goods from the east was carried to the west to be sold and vice versa. These goods were carried on camels, who could travel long distance. For safety reasons, these traders and their camels travel in large groups called caravans.

These caravans look out for safe places to spend the night, refuel their camels and themselves with water and food and sheltered themselves, their camels and their goods from bandits and the weather.

The Ottomans and many other nations recognise the economic importance of these caravans and therefore made safe stop-overs for them. In the Ottoman Empire, these camel hotels are called 'caravanserays'. As you can see from the above photo, the Muslims were very proud craftsmen and are aesthetically inclined people, so even a camel resting place were nicely crafted.

It was behind one of the two caravanserays that we visited was the real surprise. A huge crater with super black water can be seen. According to the guide, it was a volcanic crater. I can just imagine the camels giong down here to drink. It was a nice surprise. As a geography student, I truly appreciate this humungous geomorphological feature. I don't think it is a volcanic crater though. It looks like either a mined quarry or an meteorite hit landscape. I need to check this out with my geog lecturer.

After that, we continued to travel to cappadochia. More of that later.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Temple of Artemis

From Ephesus, we went to see one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In case you don't know what the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World are, let me list them for you:

The Great Pyramid of Egypt
2. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
3. The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
4. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
5. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
6. The Colossus of Rhodes
7. The Lighthouse of Alexandria

I went to number 4, The Temple of Artemis. From the photos, you can see that not much is left. In fact only one and one third of a pillar is left, out of a huge temple. How did it get to be like this? The temple was built probably around 800 BC. It was said that the temple took 120 years to be built. It was destroyed on one day, July 21, 356 BC by one madman by the name of Herostratus.

He wanted to be famous so much that he decided to burn down the temple. Today we call such need to be famous, as 'herostratic fame'. The ancient people there was so angry that they decided to remove not write his name in history records so as to not make his plan successful. They suceeded, well almost. One historian did recorded it and that's how we now know who this madman is.

The same night the temple was burned, Alexander the Great was born. Some ancient people believed that was why the god Artemis could not save her own temple.She was too busy helping Alexander's delivery.

The Youtube video below shows how it might have looked like and how it is now.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Turkey (Hierapolis)

Just beside the hot springs of Pamukkale, is Hierapolis. Because of the belief that the springs could cure sicknesses, many sick people came here with the dream of getting better. Many of these dreams did not come true. We know this because there is a large necropolis (a large cemetery or burial place) in Hierapolis. The word 'necropolis' literally means, "City of the Dead".

Hierapolis ancient ruins can still be seen here. Huge blocks of rocks made up the still visible public baths, library and even gymnasium. One of these ancient buildings have even been transformed into an archaeological museum that tourists can enter.

According to the experts, at its best times, Hierapolis grew to have about 100,000 inhabitants (a big deal in ancient times) and many were wealthy. At some points in its history, it was also multi racial and multi religious. There were signs that there were Jews here. There was also a Christian church. Philip the Apostle was said to have spent the last years of his life here. He was also said to have been crucified and his body was buried here.

All these ancient ruins made me think: Will our modern civilizations one day be ruined like this only to have future more generations discovered them and made into a tourist attraction? It sounds preposterous I know, but I bet the inhabitants of Hierapolis, especially when it was thriving, with wonderful stone buildings, towers, libraries and thriving streets would have brushed away similar suggestions by saying that that thought too was preposterous.

At the rate mankind is wrecking havoc to the environment and weathers that are becoming more and more unstable, I think that thought might just be possible.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Turkey (Pamukale)

On day 4, we headed very early in the morning to a unique geographical feature in Turkey, the Pamukale, or 'Cotton-Castle' in Turk.

As we approach the site , we could see a long white cliff face along the mountain. At first we thought it was snow but the tour guide said it was not. It was actually white travertine terraces.

Pamukale is one of the most extraordinary natural wonders in in the world! I did Physical Geography in uni and so geomorphological activities excites me. Somehow, the natural volcanic spring underneath produced water so rich in calcite that as the hot water evaporated, it deposits calcium carbonate, which is white, onto the slopes. What I do noy understand is why it created large bath tub shapes, as if purposelly asking for us to take a deep within these very comfortably warm waters.

The government of Turkey no longer allows anybody to do that now and we have cops or gendarme that patrols the slopes. This is of course understood as Pamukale has been designated as one of the World's Heritage Site by UNESCO. A heritage site confered this title is considered by the international community to be extremely valuable and must be preserved for future generations of humanity.

This is only the third World Heritage Site I've been to, with the first site being the ancient ruins of Ayuthya in Thailand and the second just a few days ago in Ephesus.
We are allowed to get into the pools without shoes and that we did of course. At first, the water that touched my feet was so cold, that it almost instantaneously gave me a bad cramp! But as I walk nearer where the warmer water pools were, it became better.

Historians have discovered that many people during ancient time actually came here from all over the known world, including Roman Kings and other VIPs, to soak in these pools as they believe that the water as healing properties. This, I assumed, contributed to the economy of Hierapolis, which I will talk about in a later blog entry.

This healing property might not be just superstitious. I do not think the warm water from the springs (about 35 degrees celcius) is responsible for the reported positive effects on rheumatism, hyper-tension and any other form of diseases. Scientists has confirmed that there is some radio active gasses that escapes from the volcanic activity below. Or it could just simply be psychological. It is becuase of these healing properties that these pools have even been called as 'Sacred Pools' by the ancients.

My kids of course enjoyed themselves and so did their parents!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Turkey (Ephesus)

When I woke up, the and looked out of the window, the scenery that greeted my eyes was just magnificent. In the dark when we arrived the night before, I didn't know that the hotel was just beside a beautiful bay.

So I went out and with my digicam, took shots of the bay slowly being lighted up by the rising sun. The air was crisp and still cold. It will remain cold the whole day.

We then went on the bus and headed for the House Of Virgin Mary at the top of the "Bulbul" mountain near Ephesus. The cold air made my batteries go berserk. Three quarters of the time, my digicam showed 'low batt'. That was why I could not take any shots up there.

The very small house where Mary, mother of Jesus, had supposedly spent her last days was one of the highlights of my trip. There was a natural spring there and to many Catholics, the water that comes from the spring was supposed to be holy water. I cupped my hands to take some and wipped my face with it, much to the disagreement of some Muslims that were in my group. I really am not sure why I did that. Perhaps, it was just because I was so happy.

I supposed they forgot that Mary is a figure recognised to be special by not just Christians, but also Muslims. So is Jesus and Moses and many others. If Mary was really here, then I feel blessed, as a Muslim, to be able to visit her last place of dwelling.

It was after that when we went down the hill to visit the ancient ruins of Ephesus. Ephesus was a port that used to be the most important commercial centre in ancient times. It became later a religious centre of the early Christianity.

Ephesus was the stage of many important events that has helped shaped the history of mankind. It has been attacked by countless armies: the Cimmerians, the Lydians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Ottomans. Many important people have stayed here: from great poets to philosophers to geographers, from great artists to important physicians. The list of names of these famous ancient people are too many for me to list down on this blog entry.

To be able to stand exactly where many great people have stood, were born, and have lived is somewhat magical. I know all this does not make any sense but to me, it just does. To be able to touch the very same marble and stone pillars that they did, made the huge chunk of my savings spent on this trip, just worth every cent of it.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Turkey Day 2 Part 2

Oops forgot...

Before we checked into our seaside hotel, we stopped at this cool shop that sold yummy Turkish Delights and tasty apple tea. They gave us samples of course to tempt us to spend our turkish liras (1 YTL = 1.20 S$).

We were of course tempted and bought boxes of Turkish Delights and box of Turkish Tea. It reminded me of how the Winter Queen tempted one of the boy to be a traitor in the Chronicles of Narnia using Turkish Delight.
Anyway, I'm still munching away on them as I type this.

Turkey Day 2

We were all wrapped up with snow attire. My heart was pounding. After 36 years on this Earth, finally I'm going to touch, hear, feel, taste and see real snow. What was magical was that I'm going to do all this with the people I love: My wife and kids.

The view from below was already spectacular. All 30 of us from the tour group cramped into the cable car as it jerks it way slowly up the summit.

The view from the cable car was already spectacular. As we move from below the snowline and enter into the snowzone, all I wanted to do was shout, "Thank you, God!" All the geography lessons I had in university came flashing into my mind.

Snow zones, of course, depends on the temperature. The higher the latitude and/or the higer the altitude, the colder it gets, the more probable snow can exists. Since Uludag is 2453m higher than the sea level, this plays snows a lot.

The snowfields of Mt Uludag were spectacular! Mt Uludag is the Turkish name for Mt Olympus, yes, the same Olympus in Greek Mythology that we covered in P5. I did not meet any Zeus or Hera but it was still heavenly. My kids and I did everything we thought we could: snowmen, a snowfort, snow angels. The only thing we didn't have time for was skiing.

I will remember this moment as one of the most magical moments in my life. Second, if not on par, perhaps only to the time I snorkelled at the Maldives and manta rays swam below us.Quickly, I learned, this time first hand, the mechanics of snow. It melts quickly as it hits warm areas of your clothings. Therefore you should get water proof everything if you can: coats, shoes, etc, etc.

My kids and I had a snowball fight. The snow ball disintegrates on impact so it does not hurt, unless you put a stone or rock inside it that is. The extra clothings also protects you from the impact so it was safe fun.
After that, we drove through the beautiful Turkish countryside to Kusadasi to our next hotel.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Turkey Day 1

The plane touched down at about 5 in the morning. It was a rainy day in Istanbul. The temperature was about 8 degrees celsius. It was super cold! It is the type that when you talked, you can see your breath like as if you are smoking.

Met our Turkish guide and we quickly got into a huge tour bus that drove us around Istanbul to bring us to this hotel to eat a typical Turkish breakfast. It was weird. The tea (cay in Turkish) tasted weird, the coffee tasted weird and there were lots and lots of olives in all different styles.

After that, we went to the Blue Mosque (see pic on the right). It is also known as Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It is called the Blue Mosque because it is covered on the inside with about 20, 000 beautiful blue-tinged tiles. It is one of two mosques in Turkey that has six tall minarets that seemed to hold the skies and clouds above it. Four of these minarets had three balconies while the other two had only two balconies. These are where the muezzin traditionally used to go up on one of them to call Muslims to prayer, five times a day. Now no longer done because they now have microphones and speakers. Also, the mosque looks more like a museum/tourist attraction now than a place for prayer.

Still, the magnificent architecture and rich cultural history was a wonderful way to start our tour of Turkey. The Central Dome of the Blue Mosque is supported by four marble columns. I think the marble are polished so often that it shines brilliantly. The one I took a photo of here on the left shows one that is so shiny, that it looks like as if it is made of a metallic substance as light is reflected from it. This main dome is about 34 to 35 meters in diameter and is about 34 to 35 meters high from the ground. The dome, like all the other smaller domes, is filled with beautifully crafted tiles, skillful calligraphy, and interesting stained-glass windows.

I was told by the guide that even Pope Benedict XVI visited this mosque on November 2006, and prayed here silently in a gesture to bring peace between the major religions.

After that, we went to the Byzantine's Hippodrome of Constantinople, which sits between The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The feeling of standing at the heart of ancient Constantinople's political and sporting life was magical. In the middle of it was two very large and tall obelisks. The Obelisks shows the influence of Roman times, as shown on the picture on the right. One of them, the Obelisk of Theodosius is now more than 3500 years old and was brought here by the Emperor Theodosius at around 390 AD. There was also a fountain that Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany built in 1901 as a gift to the Sultan of Ottoman and his people.

We then went to Hagia Sophia. The name came from the Greeks, which means Holy Wisdom. It was formerly a cathedral, then a mosque but now a museum. Its construction was completed more than 1500 years ago. When the Turks conquered Constantinople, it became the main mosque of the Muslim Empire and other mosques in the empire copied its designed. It was Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey that converted it into a Museum as it is now.
Interestingly, there is a huge marble staircase that brings visitors to the second floor where you can see other ancient relics and even tombs of dead but important figures in history.
Later, we went to the another mosque, The Grand Mosque and finally Kuza Han (Sılk market). The temperature ıs sooo cold. about 10 degrees celsıus even in the morning, and ıt wıll get worse.

I'm now waıtıng for the bus to go to the snow fıelds of mount uludag. Hopefully the road allows us to reach the place. ıf snow ıs too heavy, we mıght not be able to go. my famıly and İ are now all wrapped up ın long johns, sweaters and jackets.

More about thıs when I reach back home. I am not sure ıf there are any more ınternet access after thıs. Bye!