Aegean Trip 2001

Another in the random series of travels.

April 2001

This is spring break for us, and this past weekend was a 3-day weekend due to Children’s Day on April 23. R. was able to get the time away, so we went on a little trip—and of course I will tell you all about it now.

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First of all, we decided to go to the Aegean. In one day we went from the Black Sea (which I see every day from my home), along the Bosporus, past the Marmara Sea, across the Dardenelles, and over to the Aegean. Pretty amazing! The countryside is beautiful these days, as there are lush green fields interspersed with freshly tilled brown fields, laid like a quilt over the hills. Along the road and in the fields were yellow flowers, perhaps mustard, and many red poppies. They are called “gelincek cicegi”, which means bride’s flowers. Once I saw a “leylek”, which is a tall black and white crane. We passed over some of the plains of Thrace and over some of the small hills and mountains. Just over the summit of one mountain, we stopped for lunch at a charming place that overlooked a bay. The restaurant was built of wood and all the furniture was wooden, so it was very rustic. We had their specialty, which was meat that was cut into a slab with a knife (as opposed to a machine) and then pounded to tenderize it. We had it with a “shepherd’s salad” of tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions, with yogurt so think we could eat it with a fork, and with good dense bread. Very healthy and satisfying. And what a wonderful view! Even with a gray overcast sky, we could see the water and some small islands not far off shore. Soon after that, we experienced something strange—muddy rain! All weekend we saw cars that had obviously been caught in it. R. was worried, as the last time he had experienced rain like that was in 1986 after Chernobyl. However, the news never did talk about a meltdown anywhere, and later I found out it was connected to a big sandstorm in Africa. img802

geliboluAs we got to the Dardanelles Straits, we came to Gelipolu, which most of you know was Gallipoli. There are probably 25 or 30 special cemeteries in that area, filled with the bodies of the hundreds of thousands of dead from the bloody fight in 1914 and 1915. Winston Churchill decided that it would be a good idea to take the Dardanelles and then Istanbul and thus control that whole waterway. Not such a good idea! The Turks fought much more fiercely than he expected—after all, it was their land—and he finally called it off. We did not visit any of those cemeteries, as I did not like the feeling of so much death around, in spite of the fact that they honour all the soldiers, Turk, Aussie, New Zealanders, and so on. The fields were lushly green, but interrupted once in a while with old concrete bunkers. R. told me that even now farmers occasionally till up bones from soldiers who fell in that conflict.

At Ecebeat we crossed to the Asian side on the ferry. We were the very last car on, so we were trapped in the car, since there was little room on either side. Thank goodness it was only a 20-minute trip! We passed though Cannakkale, which has been of strategic importance for thousands of years. Apparently Alexander the Great crossed over to it by having his men line up boats across the strait and using them as a sort of bridge. I’m sure the place was much more beautiful then. Right now the town is not that nice, lots of the same concrete building one can see all over Turkey. However, on one forested hill there is a big “15 Mart, 1915” carved on the hillside to commemorate the end of that conflict. On the other side of the strait, there is a short poem inscribed on the hill, which basically reminds travelers to think of the people who died there. Actually, to add a somewhat cynical note, that whole area makes tourist dollars from the Australians and New Zealanders in particular who travel there. I talked to a couple of Australian men on the ferry who had come because, as one man said, “It was a defining moment for our country”. One man’s grandfather had fought there, survived and was sent to France, where he was gassed and subsequently died not long after he returned to Australia. It brings home that part of history to talk to someone related to it.


Leaving all that behind, we headed south. All the way from Istanbul and on down the coast we saw herds of sheep or goats or cows, tended by their solitary herders. As we got into more rural areas we saw sheep dotting the hillsides or even right beside the highway. The shepherds would have a stick and possibly a small rolled up raincoat and that was about it. In the old old days they wore a heavy felt sort of cape in bad weather, but the modern ones are certainly more portable. Occasionally two herds would be close by and I suppose the shepherds would chat a bit then, but what would they talk about? The weather? How green was their valley? Or hill?

kaz dagi villas

Near the sea and near some towns, the beautiful green hills were also dotted with “holiday villages” or summer homes. Many of these were under construction, and a lot of them were like row houses. To me it seems strange to leave the city to live cheek by jowl, but I suppose it is a more efficient use of land. I asked what they would cost, and they generally cost about $30-40,000. A long way to come for you, but perhaps for a retirement home, eh?

kaz dagi

R. had heard about some place up on Kaz Dagi (Goose Mountain), so we drove up and up and up this mountain. The road got narrower and bumpier as we went. We passed some very small poor villages, where the people stared at us, Istanbulites lost in the woods. We also passed many more herds of sheep and cows, some donkeys grazing on the roadside, and even a herd of horses in the forest at the top. The forest was beautiful, with relatively tall trees, little underbrush, and some steep chasms with rocky creeks. Our end point was a “tatil koy”, a vacation village, which consisted of about 100 finished and unfinished houses, mostly row houses. Two men were there, who invited us in for tea and told us about this village. It is run by a cooperative which of course hopes to make money from it one day. There was a swimming pool, a central recreation building, and little else. Cell phones don’t work up there, as it is too far from the base stations, and even regular phone lines have not been hooked up. They did have the television on—tuned to BBC World! All they could get, apparently. They said there was a place to go to ride horses, perhaps the ones we saw. They also said that in ancient times there was a monastery up there, but even the ruins are gone now. I suppose people who go there for a vacation would enjoy not being tuned into the world, but I was not in a rush to go back there.

By the time we got back down off the mountain, it was starting to get dark. We called the hotels in Assos, but they were full, so we called one in Ayvalik, and drove the 131 km to get there. That hotel was quite big and full of people. It was “yarim pansyon”, which meant that for about the $25 cost of the room we also got a buffet dinner and breakfast. During the dinner there was even a guy playing music and singing, so some people were dancing. We walked out on the beach a little bit afterwards, but it was really windy and fairly cool, so it was a short one.

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After breakfast the next morning, R. took me to Ali Bey Island, also called Cunda (Junta) Island, because in the 70s during a military coup in Greece, a lot of the Greek intelligentsia moved there. In fact, it was an old Greek town before that, which is where we went, after passing through a large settlement of summer homes. The Greek area was charming. Old Greek homes are different from Turkish homes, as they do not have the overhanging alcove on the second floor and tended to be made of stone rather than wood. The doors and windows are different too; for example, the doors generally have a pointed area above them. One house we walked by had two years written on it, one in stone, 1887, and one in metal, 1889.

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We also visited St Nicholas Orthodox Church, which is literally a shell now. An old woman in the courtyard unlocked the door and let us go in, pointing out the various paintings, largely defaced now. The columns had huge cracks in them, as the church was quite damaged by an earthquake in the 40s. By then it had been abandoned, as the Greeks had left in the 20s when the Greek/Turkish population exchange took place. We walked a little bit more through the cobbled streets, looking at houses and beautiful flowers draped over the walls, and had tea on the seaside.

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From there we drove to Behramkale, which is above Assos. There is an old castle there and a temple to Athena, of course in ruins. There were a lot of pieces of columns lying around and we were speculating that perhaps there was a recent attempt to put them back together, as some of the ones on the ground had metal in them and some were hollow. There was a terrific view from up there of the beautiful blue sea and the green green hills. There was also evidence of sheep or goats having grazed there– well fertilized stones! It was really windy up there too. The village of Behramkale is very very old, with several stone houses and steep cobblestoned streets. The local residents were out hawking their wares, which consisted of almonds, a base for making a soup called tarhana (yogurt base), homemade olive oil, olives, and olive soap, and oregano and thyme. I bought some soap and R. bought some oil, olives, and lemon thyme for me. On the road down from the castle we passed on old woman who was followed by a little lamb. I didn’t ask if her name was Mary or if she was going to school! R. talked to her and we petted the lamb. It was about 2 weeks old and she was still bottle-feeding it. I am sure it is destined for someone’s dinner table sometime. Once again we stopped for tea in a little place in the middle of the town. Our table was an ancient piece of stone, perhaps a lintel from a doorway, and we had a great view of the town and the valley.


We then drove down down down into Assos itself. On the way we passed the ruins of where Aristotle once taught. He also married someone from there. St Paul also visited there and then left for another Greek town down the coast. We passed the theatre and some other jumbled up ruins, some houses, and who knows what else. It was quite a steep hill, so I’m glad we were in a car. We found a place to park, which was a miracle, and went into the town. It really doesn’t consist of much other than some hotels that look very old but are only 10 to 40 years old, some outdoor cafes along the waterfront, and a few houses. There is a small harbour there lined with fishing boats. We had a lovely lunch by the sea, fish of course!

By then it was mid afternoon, so we wended our way up the hill and across the green hills back to the main highway. We then drove to Cannakkale, where we found a sort of utilitarian hotel on the water. There were a lot of Aussies and Kiwis walking around—I could tell they were tourists. A lot of them were older, retirement age. We walked along the waterfront for a while and found the municipal sports center, where the Galatasaray futbol match was on bigscreen TV. R. is a GS fan, so we had to go in to watch it. It was a cultural experience for me, as there were no women and certainly no foreigners in there. We just stayed until halftime, when Galatasaray was ahead by 2 points, and walked on. We found a restaurant that had it on and watched GS win the game as we drank raki and ate some mezes (appetizers).

The next morning we took the ferry back across to the European side and bid adieu to Asia. Once again we passed lovely hills and herds of sheep, and even as we got into Istanbul saw more sheep with their shepherds. To finish off the trip, that evening at home I saw a beautiful double rainbow in the valley just outside my windows. Perfect!

A couple of current events to mention, in case you were wondering. First the economic crisis is continuing, but things seem to be calming down. As usual the people who are hurt the most are the ones who have the least. The value of the dollar doubled, so the lira is not going very far. Prices are going up; for example, gas has gone up 30% in the last month and the government has raised prices on sugar and bread. You may have seen some protests on CNN—the workers are really hurting with their salaries, which are now worth about $200 or $300/month. Not much to live on, especially when prices are going up. The govt imported a Turkish man, Kemal Dervis, who worked for the World Bank, and he is supposed to be the saviour. Good luck to him!

The other thing is the Chechen hostage taking at the Swiss Hotel. They are trying to get attention towards the situation in Chechnya, which actually kind of backfired, as now Russia is kind of mad at Turkey. No one was hurt in the incident. One interesting thing is that the leader of the group apologized, as he said he knew Turkey was in a hard situation and they did not want to hurt anyone, but just wanted to make a statement. Interesting, huh?!


Yes, folks, more random travels and blogs to follow!


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