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A Night in Erzurum

Once again Turkey treated us to a variety of roads as we drove from Mt. Nemrut northeast to Erzurum.  The city is on a steppe near a bunch of mountains and is most famous for its nearby ski resort, Palondoken.  Since it was summer, we didn’t see any snow, although it wasn’t really warm either.

Although we had read that Erzurum was a hip university town, neither of us was that impressed with the place.  We went to the Taşhane (jewelry bazaar) in search of its most famous product, black amber.  Everything just looked like black onyx, however, and was a little too embellished and glitzy for our taste.

We did check out a few of the old Selcuk buildings.  My favorite was the Yakutiye medresah (religious school) with its neat column.  This school was actually built by the Mongols in 1362, but it follows typical Selcuk style.  If you look closely at the minaret, it’s covered with small coloful tiles.

Because we got a little lost and then hungry for dinner, we never found the Main Mosque, which is supposed to have impressive views of the city and surrounding scenery from its citadel.  Instead we checked out another mosque, the Lala Mustafapasa, which was built in 1562.  Here’s a view from it’s porch.  I didn’t take any pictures inside because there were actually a lot of people praying.

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By far the most memorable part of our night in Erzurum was dinner.  The one place we knew to serve alcohol was inexplicably closed, so we ended up at a place called Erzurum Houses.  It’s a block of old Ottoman style houses that were bought up by a developer, combined, and then decorated in an overkill style with kilims, cushions, and antique stuff covering most surfaces.  Instead of dining rooms, there are nooks all over the place, so it’s pretty neat to check out every corner before you pick your perch.  I can’t say much for the food, and I’m sure if they served better stuff or drinks, they’d make a killing.  If you can lounge around all night just drinking tea, however, this would be your place.

Head Stones and Fresh Air on Mount Nemrut

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Mt. Nemrut is one of those places that’s all about the journey, not the destination.  Sure, it’s pretty cool to stumble upon some 2000 year old mausoleum at the top of the mountain, where an assembly of throned figures with their stone heads laying at their feet await you. But the truth is that you would never stumble across this place, or the top of any other mountain, without actually trying to get there.

For my sister and me, the trip started in Cappadochia, and Mt. Nemrut was a pit stop on our track to head further east into Turkey.  At some point on this leg, Emily remarked that most of Turkey is mountainous, and I think that my posts for the next week or so will definitely demonstrate this.  So, for all of you friends that still think I live in a desesrt full of camels,  get ready to see some big green mountains!

 

 

the view!

the view!

Because our ultimate destination was northwest Turkey, we decided to stay on the northern side of Mt. Nemrut.  The national park is still pretty new.  You approach it from the north or south face of the mountain but can’t drive between as there is no accessible road to pass over.  Either way, you have to drive all the way up the mountain and hike a bit more to see the jewel at the top.

The drive up the mountain is a bit harrowing with all the pinturns and steep drops but absolutely gorgeous .  Although my car seemed a little tired and perhaps overheated by the time we got to the park, I think it was well worth the drive.

The Road:

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Once you get to the top of the mountain you see the stone ruins and then what?

We had heard that sunrise and sunsest were spectacular, so we decided to hang around for a couple of hours to wait for the view.  We had a snack, hiked to the other side and back, and then just found some rocks to chill on away from the growing mass of tourists. Emily made wildflower crowns while I played with my camera settings.

Finally the sun started dropping and we headed back to the peak.  There were people everywhere and they had all taken the plum viewing spots. We didn’t spend much time with the masses, but still managed to get a few shots of the setting sun.  Even more impressive, for me, was the view to the eastern side of the mountain.  The sky was pink with rain descending from the cloud layer and smoke reaching up.  I really wanted to stay and savor the beautiful sky, but the wind picked up so much that it was difficult to stand up straight.

Hotel options are limited on both sides of Mt. Nemrut.  We stayed at the Guneş Hotel which got pretty bad reviews on TripAdvisor but is located directly across from the park entrance.  Our room was bare bones and uncomfortably pink but the food was decent.  They even accomodated a vegetarian with a hot meal, which rarely happens in Turkey.  The downside was that at 4 a.m. the staff banged, unsolicited, on every room door to wake up the guests for the sunrise trip to the mountain.  We weren’t interested and tried to roll over and ignore the noise, but they kept pounding on the door until I actually got out of bed to inform them.

Sunrise, Sunset in Cappadochia

One of the great things about vacations is that you find time to see and enjoy the sunrise and the sunset.  As a kid going to the beach, we always got up early on one day of our vacation to watch the sun rise over the ocean.  Of course, we also always went for donuts after the event, which may have been our mom’s subtle bribe.

After a beautiful sky on our hike in Cappadochia, we were rewarded with an amazing sunset on our way back to the hotel.  In one of those special minutes where everything is pink and golden, we pulled off the the road to take pictures of the rock formations on the edge of Uchisar.

As usually happens, we found the true beauty in something unexpected: the shadow of a random flower clump on a brown shed near where we parked.  So I actually forgot to take pictures of the rocks!

 

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We did get a few pics from our hotel of the sky:

The next morning we got up early for the best activities in Cappadochia: a balloon ride.  Because the scenery is so diverse, I think that when in Cappadochia it is actually worth the 100 euros for an hour in the sky, even if for a second time (it was my sister’s first balloon ride).  Even though it’s an early start, the whole process is exciting, starting with filling the balloon:

Besides checking out the rock spires and other balloons, we used our birds-eye view to figure where we walked the day before on our roundabout hike through the valleys and how we got so off track.

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Along with the great vistas, we got some balloon lingo from our pilot.  For instance, a balloon kiss:

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A threesome:

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We both agreed that this one was the prettiest in the sky:

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Emily is building her portfolio as a yoga teacher.  Here she is in an impromptu dancer’s pose while the balloon was deflating.

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A Hike in Cappadochia’s Main Valley

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For the first few days of our Eastern Turkey Road Trip, Emily and I stopped in Cappadochia.  We stayed in Uchisar, which is outside of Göreme, the main tourist area.  Uchisar is one of the three fortresses that you can see rising from the plains around Cappadochia, especially when you’re in a hot air balloon.  Here it is bathed in the morning sun:

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We decided to do a day hike in the Red Valley.  I’ve always been confused about the name of this valley.  I basically know where it is, and know that it’s easy to get to from the Panorama Parking Lot.  But when I was setting up a hike for the Girl Scouts last month, we had difficulty discerning the Red Valley from the Rose Valley and the Cavusin area.  As Emily and I found out, it’s all the same place!  In our quest to go off-trail, and then trying to get back on any trail, we traversed the entire valley.  Let’s just say it involved a lot of climbing soft rock faces, and several butt-slides to get ourselves back down.

Here’s what we saw along the way:

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And of course, hikes are always awesome for spotting interesting bits of nature.  We saw most of these, especially the butterflies, when we were following a creekbed in our hopes to find the trail again.

 

Cumalıkızık: A Walk Through a Traditional Turkish Village

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Although I’m always happy to see ruins and restored mosques and churches, my favorite sightseeing activity in Turkey is a village walk.  Here, in the tiny streets and courtyards, you see the daily lives of village Turks.  Most are involved in agriculture in some way, and the harvest is usually right on display.  Either with people drying nuts on tarps, shucking beans, or making jams out of the day’s picked fruits.  Usually, you can sample and buy all of this stuff as you wander through the village.

 

Cumalıkızık is just such a place.  It’s both run-down and partially restored, with evidence of efforts to keep up with the projects in some corners and of complete neglect in others.

 

It’s also home to one of the smallest streets in the world, Cin Alley, where you have to be pretty narrow just to get through!

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Big Trees in Ottoman Bursa

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Bursa is located at the foot of Uludağ, or Great Mountain.  I was impressed by how green it is!  Along with giant trees, the city has plants and flowers all over the place.  It’s great to walk around or just hang out. They even have a register of the big trees, which I found pretty impressive for a Turkish city.  Of course, now that I’m back in Ankara, I have to admit that we actually have a lot of green stuff here too.  I tend to forget that it’s actually a pretty decent place to live.

My favorite part of the city was the Koza Han, which is currently the silk bazaar.  It’s a beautifully constructed building from the 1490s with arches, courtyards and gardens.  Now you can buy all kinds of things, or just stop for a tea and enjoy the surroundings.  I didn’t have enough time to find my perfect silk souvenir, so I’ll definitely be back!

Right next to the Koza Han is the Grand Mosque, or Ulu Cami, which was built in the late 1300s.  It was ordered by Sultan Beyazid I and built mostly in the Selcuk style.  After the sultan won the battle of Nicopolis, he vowed to build 20 mosques.  The treasury didn’t quite support that, so instead he built a huge mosque with 20 domes and 2 minarets.  It has a lot of neat interior features, including a fountain right in the center, a highly decorated mihrab, and a minbar with a carved wooden display of the planetary system as it was known in the 14th century.

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the fountain at the center of Ulu Cami in Bursa

The two minarets are shown below.  It’s very difficult to get a picture of the outside of the mosque since it’s bordered by the Koza Han and other shops on all sides!  To see the domes, look at the center of the right third of the first picture in this post.  You’ll see the Koza Han, and behind it the 20 domes of the Ulu Cami.

And some of the interior features:

As one of the Ottoman’s original capitals, Bursa has a lot of tombs from the families patriarchs.  Here’s the Green Tomb, where Celebi SultanMehmed and some of his relatives were interred.  All of its walls are covered in tiles, making it truly unique.

Next to the Green Tomb is, no surprise, the Green Mosque.  This is a small, peaceful mosque and was definitely my favorite.  Along with the main hall, there area several small rooms on either side with nice niches that seem perfect for quiet reflection.  I even checked one out myself!

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The Green Mosque

Next was the tomb of Orhan Gazi, the sultan who conquered Bursa.  It’s also incredibly ornate, and built on the grounds of a Byzantine Monastery that overlooks the entire city.

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I mentioned how much I loved walking around Bursa.  Here are some of the random scenes from the city:

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