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Posts tagged ‘road trip’

Driving Arizona


Our plan to make a Canyon loop of Grand, Bryce and Zion for our road trip was defeated by an impending “Storm of a Decade.”  Even after suffering the cold icy rain and a white-out day at the Grand Canyon, Todd and I still kept checking the weather as we fled the storm to see if we could somehow loop back and make it to one of the canyon national parks after the storm passed.  Eventually we realized that just driving through Arizona made for a great road trip, and dropped the idea of chasing winter by heading back north.  Instead, we fully embraced that we’d make the worst storm chasers ever.


So, Arizona.  Wow! I have a newfound appreciation for the beauty of the state.  I spent the last several years driving across Arizona on my way to or from California, with the only notable stop in Yuma, a city few would describe as picturesque.  Even after hearing all about Arizona from my best friend, who grew up and attended college there, I just never really got it.  Now, after spending a week and a half on its state roads, in its national parks, and around its historic towns, I am duly impressed!


Heading south from the Grand Canyon we got off the main road and looped back behind the San Francisco mountains through a ponderosa pine forest and valleys covered with snow.  We mostly had the road to ourselves to pull over and take pictures whenever, although the wind and cold mostly kept us bundled inside of the RV.

We drove through the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert National Parks to take in more of Arizona’s natural beauty.  I was shocked to see a tropical illustration with alligators and other riparian species on front of the park brochure, but millions of years ago, northern Arizona was a lush jungle.  Now the petrified trees remain to give us hints of the story.  It was difficult to imagine that the current arid landscape was once hot and balmy, and even more challenging to accept that the petrified trees lived 2.15 million years ago!  The signs remarked on the theme of the constant presence of change – what a lesson.


As we headed south towards the Mexican border, we passed through the Salt River Canyon, a beautiful drive where the agave was sprouting on the hillsides and the setting sun highlighted the golden cliffs along the river.


Further south, we saw saguaro everywhere!  What an amazing plant.  It only grows about an inch a year, so many of them of are hundreds of years old.  Although there were many in the classic two arms outstretched towards the heavens shape, there were also plenty to get the imagination rolling – it’s like watching clouds in the skies.  Long tall skinny ones, short little chubby ones, arms ready to punch, arms swaying in the sun, one growing a head, one lopsided, some many breasted Artemis types and some with so much outgrowth their silhouettes resemble regular trees.

In Bisbee, we toured the Copper Queen Mining Museum and sampled the local beer and baked goods then managed to hold onto our wallets as we walked through some of the town’s galleries.    Because we had a kid in the stroller we couldn’t explore all of the hills and staircases, but we’ll definitely be back again.


On our way out of Arizona, we drove by a double rainbow – surely a blessing for our trip.

Surrendering to the Weather at the Grand Canyon

We arrived at the Grand Canyon National Park on a cold rainy night and immediately went to our campsite.  So the next morning, we woke up and trudged with great enthusiasm through even more cold rain to the Visitor’s Center.  The posted weather report said that it would rain all day, so we spent quite a bit of time checking out all of the informative exhibits while we were inside and dry, despite the flickering lights from the Center’s malfunctioning solar panels.

I was determined not to waste the day, despite the weather!  So we got back in the RV and started driving the Canyon’s Rim.  At first, we saw absolutely nothing.  Just a whole bunch of white fog, or gray rain.  Occasionally a rock wall would poke through the fog, but nothing that took your breath away, which is the generally expected reaction to seeing the Grand Canyon.

I finally gave up on trying to see anything, so we spent hours doing laundry, taking showers, lunching at the lodge, and trying to pass the time.

Around 5 pm, Todd looked out of the front window and reported some blue in the sky! I ran to the front and found a few patches of bright light in the sky – sun!  So we got back on the road to try and catch one of the famous Grand Canyon sunsets.  We were so excited to actually see any part of the canyon that we kept pulling over at random spots to catch a glimpse of the beautiful golden peaks atop the pink and red walls.  We eventually arrived at Mojave Point, where I took my favorite shot:


And here are some other, less glorious sunset images, including us messing around. It was so cold and windy that we could only take a few minutes at a time on the edge with the baby.  She was a trooper and just smiled as she snuggled into us to get away from the cold and wind.

Before we left the park, we tried to spend a morning hiking the rim of the Grand Canyon.  Once again, we were defeated by weather.  Even though sweet Josephine was all bundled up, our SoCal baby was not at all happy with cold wind and occasional rain drop on the 0.7 mile walk from the Visitor’s Center to the Geology Museum.


One bundled up SoCal baby

Her constant whimpering made it difficult for me to really soak in the views as I was distracted by trying to make her more comfortable.

Still, it was amazing!  The size alone is a lot to take in – 18 miles long and a mile deep.  You can’t see all of it from any one point on the rim, although I think next time I’m at the park I’ll look into helicopter tours for a new perspective.   There is very little vegetation in the canyon so you just see one formation then another, and your eyes scan up and down the rock faces.  I felt like I was an overused zoom lens, looking out to see it all then focusing on a tiny point, over and over again.

Here are a few views:


Despite the weather it was truly awe-inspiring to see the Grand Canyon, and I think it joined the ranks of Yosemite – a park that I will visit again and again.

Out with a bust on the Black Sea Coast

We were stuck in the mud.  In our sandals and flip flops, we were walking around the car in the middle of nowhere, Turkey, looking for sticks.  This was the fourth calamity we faced on the not-quite-a-road that we were were taking to get back down to the Coast after a nefarious waypoint brought us to a tiny village at the top of a mountain. 

As usual, we followed the sense of wanderlust and freedom that we shared as two sisters driving driving along the Black Sea.  We blocked out reason and followed the same GPS that got us lost, stuck, or provided lovely 10 hour detours so many times before. 

When we checked out of the hotel in Sinop in the morning, I glanced at a map that showed that there was a road that rounded the peninsula. As someone who hates backtracking, I asked the clerk if we could take it all the way back to the main coast highway.  The scenery as we exited Sinop was probably the best of the day: green hills falling into a calm Black Sea with wildflowers and cows dotting the bucolic land.

Beyond evaluating how to best enjoy the scenery as we left Sinop, neither of us thought to look at a map to determine the route to Amasra, our next destination.  So as we left the city, we just kept turning in the direction we thought would take us nearest to the coast.  After one coast road ended in a beautiful seaside park, we put a waypoint on the GPS near where we thought the coast highway would be.  We traveled on a road covered in wet asphalt, which we could smell forming layers on the car’s exterior and undercarriage.  Then we ended up in a small town with serpentine one-way streets and picked up a stalker van full of Turkish teenagers throwing empty beer cans out the window.  I was actually happy to make lots of odd turns in the city, if only to lose the van full of drunk teens. 

Exiting this weird town, we followed narrower and narrower dirt roads up a mountain.  Although we could clearly see the sea, we couldn’t make out a road between the one we were on and the shore.  Maybe there wasn’t even a Black Sea Highway in these parts.

After cross-checking the GPS and Google Maps, we found a road a little closer to the coast and decided to take a 2 km connector to get there.  The connector was a village road, where we had to go very slowly in order to avoid the rocks and ditches, or stop altogether to coax a donkey out of the way.


donkey: a Turkish style roadblock

We finally turned onto our chosen road, which we planned to take for 13 km and then meet up with the highway that we were already desperately craving.  At first it seemed fine, but as we advanced the road quality deteriorated.  First, we had to open a cattle gate guarded by this weird mannequin:

IMG_4756Then we had to avoid mud puddles and ditches and drive around the far outside of a creek that had collapsed the other edge of the road.  The road material went from asphalt to gravel to dirt to a nice grassy surface, with plants growing to about knee-height in the middle.  After the grass were the mud spots, which I managed to avoid for a while.  We finally reached the point, however, where we could no longer drive around the mud and wedged ourselves right in the middle of it.

At first we tried putting the car in neutral and pushing, which is a pretty foolish plan until you get stuck in the mud in the middle of nowhere. Then we tried using sticks to shovel the mud away from the stuck tire, which is about as stupid as trying to push the car.  Emily and I walked around the car the a few times and sized up our surrounding without much communicating.  Finally, she started collecting sticks and breaking them up into foot-long pieces.  I was out of ideas, so I just started gathering all the sticks I could find.  Finally, I asked her why we were breaking sticks.

Her plan was to place the sticks as traction behind all of the tires, and then back out of the mud.   As it was the only plan we had, it was genius!  After about 5 more minutes of breaking sticks, we started to arrange them behind all of the tires.  I got back behind the wheel and put the top back down so I could quickly respond to her directions.  The crack of every stick was agony.  Would our escape plan only pitch the car further into the mud? 

The sticks saved us, and I backed up another half kilometer or so until there was an almost clearing where I could execute a 20 point turn and get us the hell off of this non-road.  At this point, driving miles upon miles on wet asphalt would be heaven. 

We drove past all of the now-familiar mud puddles, took the far edge of the creek that collapsed the road, and passed the weird dummy by the gate and the donkey roadblock.  Back through the villages and onto the wet asphalt road.  This time, we happily followed the rest of the traffic, and found the actual highway that would take us all the way to Amasra.

The Lonely Plant said the road from Amasra to Sinop was like driving the Pacific Coast Highway in California.  I was so excited for a beautiful coastal road with cliffs and amazing scenery.  Instead, we found ourselves on several more dirt or gravel roads and faced hours upon hours of relentless switchbacks.  Although every once in a while there was an amazing view, for the most part the road was relentlessly curvy and graded.  Driving here required full concentration.  As the hours passed, we became less interested in seeing a scenic historic city and instead started to crave any hotel anywhere. 

I finally found a hotel that had alcohol and wifi right on the coast in Side, about an hour east of Amasra.  The best moment of the day was when we found jumbo Efes bottles in the mini-bar of our room!

sunset from our hotel dinner

sunset from our hotel dinner

I can’t say enough about Hotel Yali on the Black Sea Coast.  It’s comfortable and friendly.  And if you can’t make it all the way from Sinop to Amasra or vice versa, it’s a completely okay place to stop for the night.

On our way to Istanbul the next day, we tried to get the car washed at a filling station.  After about ten minutes with a power hose, the guy gave up.

So, moral of the story: look at map when planning your drive in Turkey.  This is a lesson that I just can’t seem to learn.  The flipside: arm yourself with endless optimism, and even when stuck in the mud on the Black Sea coast, you’ll feel confident that somehow, someway, it will all work out, as it always does. 

Driving the Black Sea Coast: Sumela, Trabzon, and Sinop


the view of the mountains in Altindere National Park

After about a week of relative isolation in the mountains, Emily and I were not prepared for the tourist invasion at the Sumela Monastery.  As we drove into the park, located south of Trabzon, we felt accosted by the crowds.  Bodies occupied every space available on the roads, and the quality of the road in the Black Sea Region had not altered in the park.  On the way up the mountain, we stopped or backed up many times at curves in order up to allow another car to pass on the narrow windy road.  Eventually a park ranger ordered us to turn off the road and park up on a gravel hill.  We would be hiking the next kilometer into the monastery.  Even though the path was crowded and we had to pass through some strong body odor clouds along the way, I enjoyed the walk into the monastery more than the monastery itself.  I think after two years of living in Turkey, I may be at the end of my interest in ruins and religious sites.  I keep visiting, through, because these sites always seem to be located in beautiful places, and now I go for the scenery.


look at the edge of the mountain, by the treeline, for the monastery clinging to the cliff

look at the edge of the mountain, by the treeline, for the monastery clinging to the cliff

Even though I’ve got the old stuff fatigue, I’ll give a quick history of the Sumela Monastery, which is known as one of the several Churches of the Virgin Mary (Meryema) in Turkey.  This one was founded in 386 AD by the Romans, and restored several times over the centuries by them, including a huge restoration and enlargement by the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century.  When the Ottomans captured the Trabzon region, the sultan protected the monastery.  The monastery was funded by the Greek Orthodox church.  It was taken by the Russians with their capture of Trabzon in the early 1900s and then abandoned in 1923 after the Greek/Turkish population exchange.  Until it was abandoned, it served as a holy place for Orthodox priests and a pilgramage site for the faithful.  It’s current state is a tourist attraction.  Here are a few pictures:

After the monastery we drove back north for a night’s stay in Trabzon.  Along the way, we stopped at many local roadside shops and helped support the economy.  Emily, an amateur beekeeper, was impressed with all of the hives we had seen in the mountains, so we stopped and bought some honey.  Along with the typical wildflower variety, we got chestnut honey, a much darker and richer variety.  The guys told us to use it as medicine, a cure for whatever the ailment.  We also got a pasa table (yep, like the ones in the harem) and some Black Sea style ponchos.

In Trabzon we couldn’t get to our hotel.  The Prime Minister was speaking in the central square, and most of the roads near the center were closed.  We spent about an hour trying to circumvent the blockade, then finally gave up and found a parking lot in a shopping area.  After sampling a local bakery (Trabzon bakers are famous all over Turkey), we found a bazaar and picked up some copper wares.  I wanted to buy everything in the shop but held myself to a Turkish coffee pot and a fish pan.  That night, we walked to the water for a pontoon restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet, but were disappointed to find that they no longer had meze (just green salad) and did not serve alcohol.  So, we walked back into the city and found a pub, where we got our much deserved beer on a hot summer night.  It was definitely the right choice, as we also got a highly entertaining waiter who kept bringing us extas, including a small sample size of beer with our check.  Score!

Before we left for Sinop, we spent the morning buying silver.  Trabzon’s signature is a light-colored woven silver thread.  You can get it in huge flashy pieces, rings, bracelets, or cute little silver knots.  We stocked up on gifts for friends and a few for ourselves, of course.  Besides the shopping, we didn’t see much else of Trabzon.  However, the friendliness and excitement of the copper sellers, the silversmiths, and our wait still left us with a good feeling about the city. 

One of our easiest drives of the road trip was from Trabzon to Sinop.  We were mostly along the Black Sea Highway, which is a four lane fast highway with no cops enforcing speed limits.  We didn’t have any problems until we faced our usual GPS location/actual location conflict when we were actually in Sinop and trying to find our hotel.  Thankfully we could rely on old-fashioned technology of parking and looking down the coast to see that our hotel was most likely on the other side of the peninsula.  When we finally found the hotel, we were rewarded with a great sunset from the comfort of our room:

I wish I had taken pictures of the amazing linen shop we visited in Sinop.  It’s in an old medresah (religious school) that’s been converted into a local crafts bazaar.  The owner-weaver sources linen thread (flax) from all over the Black Sea Region, and then weaves home items, clothes, and bags, and jewelry right in her shop.  I think we were both too focused on figuring out what to buy instead of tourist mode.  After shopping we made our way to the water and Emily got an introduction to a typical Turkish fish dinner.  Instead of sitting down with a menu and waiter service, you’re kind of accosted as soon as you enter.  The host shows you the meze, which you choose as you look into the refrigerated case.  Then you discuss the fish options, and then the drinks.  After all of this verbal picking and choosing is done, you finally get to sit down and relax.  I’m so used to this procedure that I didn’t even realize that it was a different system until Emily pointed it out.  I guess it is kind of weird to make a bunch of decisions in rapid-fire before you even get the comfort of a seat. 

Since we were by the sea on a sunny morning, we took advantage of the hotel’s seawater pool to soak up some sun before we hit the road again.  It was also nice to look back east along the coast, and see how far we had come.



Chilling in Camlihemsin


Hoşgeldiniz means Welcome

It was about 10 p.m. on the Friday the 13th and we had just driven straight through the tiny town of Çamlihemşin without seeing a single sign for our hotel.  We did see an Efes Shop, Turkey’s equivalent of an ABC store, and stopped there only to learn that it was closed and we would get no drinks tonight.  We had driven all the way from the other side of the Kaçkar Mountains, up to the Black Sea Coast, and then back down into the mountains.  It had been a very long day.

So instead of bravely driving around and trying to find it on our own in the darkness, we broke down rather quickly and just called the hotel for directions.  They said we should have taken the road right before the town, driven up the mountain, and then parked after we saw the big truck on the right, you know, after a few curves.  In daylight, we would have seen the sign, but now we were just looking for a big Toyota and counting curves.  

Amazingly, we found it, only to start our next task: hiking through the woods to find our lodge.  The voice on the phone said to just keep walking on the path until you find lights of the main house.  It will seem like you’re in the middle of the woods and can’t possibly be in the right place, they said, but just keep walking, and you’ll get there.


the path to our hotel, which we walked on in the pitch black

Sure enough, it felt like we weren’t in the right place.  I was tempted to call again to make sure we were walking down the right path through the woods in the middle of the night, but Emily seemed confident that we on track, so we kept walking.  We were sharing the headlight I laughingly threw in the bag as I scrambled to pack the week before without a clue that it would actually be so useful. 

After about 15 minutes, we indeed arrived at the lit up house in the middle of the woods.  After being introduced to the family running the place and a few woofers, they brought out a late dinner for us.  Although I was sort of annoyed about the difficulty of finding the place and hike in on the dark unlit path, after one bite of food I completely relaxed.  Ekodanitap, our hotel for the weekend, gets rave reviews for its food, and even with this cold, late dinner we joined the chorus.  We had some kind of soup, an amazingly delicious fresh salad and stuffed peppers.  Everything was seasoned and cooked perfectly and just what we needed. 

After dinner we went to our bungalow and crashed.  The innkeeper had upsold us from a treehouse to a bungalow, as he thought the tree wasn’t really suitable for two people (althought that’s not what the website said).  However, we were so tired that we just went for the bungalow and walked up the steep hill to crash for the night.

We had plans to go on a long hike the next day, but as it was the day after hours of exhausting driving we ended up just chilling at the lodge.  Since we had morning sun on our balcony and a view of the mountains all day, with the sounds of the river rushing by, lounging was a good choice.

our view all day

our view all day

We did manage a walk into the village to check out some of the local architecture.  Çamlihemşin is an Armenian village of a small cultural sect, the Hemşin.  Everybody is incredibly friendly and warm.  Here’s some of the local buildings:

At night, we met the the other lodgers.  Two guys from Istanbul brought one of their sons for a rafting weekend on the Tortum River, which they said was phenomenal.  A music group, Patlika, was staying there to provide entertainment after dinner.  And the WOOF Turkey manager was there with a seed expert friend to start a hike through the Kaçkars.  Because it’s the only place everybody eats side by side at the main house, it’s a pretty social area. We all got to know each other.  From the band, I even learned why Emily and I couldn’t drive through the mountains the day before.

The band’s name was Patika.  I have a habit of asking the meaning of names in Turkey, since there’s almost always a meaning and maybe even a story behind it.  Patika was no exception.  It’s a hiking road through the mountains.  The band is based on the Black Sea coast and sings classic Turkish songs as well as those of the Laz (Black Sea) and Hemşin people.  They played all night while all of the guests kept themselves lubricated with raki.  

U-Turn in the Kaçkars


As we left Erzurum, we planned to drive through Kaçkar National Park, from its southwest to the northeast side. We found a neat eco-hotel on the other side and had made a reservation, which in our minds locked us on this path. According to google maps, the trip should have taken five hours or so. We would admire the view, drink spring water, and take lots of great pictures, all while covering distance in good time on our road trip.

The road north from Erzurum quickly changed from a highway to a windy two-lane mountain road, but as we were in Eastern Turkey and had grown quite used to its variety of roads, we barely noticed the difference. We had the beautiful alpine-like Tortum Lake on our right side for a long spot, and then drove along its feeder river for most of the day.

We stopped to check out the Tortum Falls along the way.


We knew we had to drive northeast, and since we were headed in a basically northerly direction, we generally just chose to turn left at every fork in the road. Occasionally we stopped while a road was being repaved, or a bulldozer very methodically moved dirt around on a pass. At this point the road was not so much paved as flattened dirt, with lots of rocks and potholes. In a word, it was punishing.



To get through without busting the car up, we had to watch the road very carefully and swerve to avoid boulders and puddles while keeping the car from falling off of the road’s edge. A few oncoming cars provided some breaks as inevitably one of us had to back up to let the other car pass. We made something like 15-20 kilometers per hour for a few hours. Each of us drove sections while the other admired the view and tried to snap pictures. Occasionally we caught glimpses of the snow covered peaks as we went around a bend.



At some point the TomTom, our navigation system, told us to turn around. We had printed the route on google maps, and I had the directions spooled up on my iPhone, so we felt certain that there was a way through the mountains to the other side. As we passed villages, we smiled and waved at the folks milling around, as if to say, “We’re headed into the mountains on a great adventure.”

We had lunch along the creek, across the road near an old concrete bridge.  The river was so loud that it was difficult to hear much of anything, and we got so lost in the scenery that we weren’t sure if any cars had passed while we were lounging.


Finally, we reached then entrance to the national park and felt that we had basically made it. Of course the road in the national park would go all the way through to the other side. We stopped to check out the map post at the entrance, but since it just detailed various hikes that you could take, we found it thoroughly confusing. We also talked to a beekeeper at the entrance, who said it would take at least 5 hours to get to Camlihemşin, our destination. He advised that we turn around and take the northerly coastal route.  I checked my google maps on my phone again, but the route and directions had disappeared, and I no longer had cellular service.  Since we were already on this journey, we decided to just keep going.



Kaçkar National Park is difficult to get to, and inside it we only saw signs of local life: villages comprised of a dozen or so clustered houses and an occasional store. However, it is absolutely stunning, which is probably directly connected to the few visitors it receives. Imagine beautiful green pastures and valleys with snowy peaks and a rapidly moving river right down the middle. If you’re brave enough for the road, or smart and just take a bus/minibus combination to get there, it’s definitely worth a visit.


Of course, our visit involved peering out at the vistas combined with a constant nagging concern that we weren’t going to get “there.” As we ascended into the mountains, the road narrowed and the intense beauty of the place increased. At each village we passed, we noticed heads slowly turning to watch us pass, but again, we just smiled and waved. “Nothing to see here, folks, just a couple of girls driving up into the mountains.”


At the highest village, we passed a few houses, pensions, and then a small village-style cul-de-sac with houses divided by tiny narrow alleys ended the road. Although we looked up each one, there was no way a car could fit through any of them, not even a Mini Cooper. We had reached the end of the road, with no option but to turn back.  We were a bit let down at this point, and didn’t even bother to take pictures.

On the way back down the same terrible road we passed the same sites, the same bulldozers pushing dirt around on the pass.   We were conflicted the feelings of the defeat of not making it, the thrill of an adventure, even if our stubborness and stupidity caused it, and the joy of being in the midst of such beauty. Sure, we weren’t going to get to our destination for another 5 or 6 hours, and we had to drive all the way up to the coast and then all the way back into the mountains, but no matter. We went to the Kaçkars and didn’t get stuck or break the car. Yay!



Head Stones and Fresh Air on Mount Nemrut


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.

Back to Blogging

Hey, remember me?

I’m that girl who used to write about living in Turkey and traveling all over the place.

As much as I really enjoyed sharing my adventures, this summer writing the blog while traveling with family and friends became the excess baggage that I tossed when I decided instead to maximize the time with friends and family.

So now I’m back, and I’m going to start detailing the trip from where I left off: paragliding off of Babadag, all the way to Spain and back – it really was an epic summer of travelling!

As I go through stories and what I remember from all the stops along the way, I’ll be peppering my tales with bits and pieces from life in Ankara.  Even if I managed to write daily, I don’t think I’d be able to keep up with all the surprises that I encounter here, even after living in Turkey for over a year – it really is a fascinating country!

While I get the next post together, here’s a teaser of what’s to come:

Not All Roads Are Paved, and Other Lessons I Learned While Driving Through the Balkans

  1. NOT ALL ROADS ARE PAVED.  And it’s really a better idea to stay on paved roads.  I actually learned this when I broke my transmission high in Turkey’s Taurus Mountains, but some lessons you have to “learn” over and over.  In many countries that we visited, especially Albania and Romania, “paved” meant that somewhere along the route, there was some paving.  The rest of the roads are covered in rocks, gravel, or dirt – amazingly, we didn’t get a single flat tire.
  2. YOUR GPS WILL NOT GET YOU THERE.  My TomTom was much more reliable in EU countries (Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria) and near useless everywhere else.  After crossing the border from Serbia into Romania, we were shocked to see even goat trails delineated on the screen when in Belgrade, the capital, only one road was marked.
  3. SO BRING A MAP OR THREE.  And look at it before you hit the road.  Otherwise you’ll be doing a lot of second-guessing, like we did, of where we actually were in relation to where we were going.  Frequently stopping and asking directions provides for adventures, but running into cold faces and no English can get a bit frustrating.  We finally came up with a formula of the TomTom and a couple of downloaded google maps on the ipad.  I also downloaded the google maps to my phone, so that once we hit our next destination we could see exactly where we were courtesy of cell tower triangulation.
  4. YOU HAVE TO PASS THROUGH CROATIA TO GET EVERYWHERE.  Because of it’s boomerang shape, Croatia is on the way to lots of other countries.  When we were driving from Sarajevo to Belgrade, we passed through a border checkpoint that we didn’t even know we’d go through (why you need to look at a map before you head out).  We thought it was Hungary, for whatever reason, until I finally recognized the Republik Hrvatska flag as we passed Customs.
  5. KNOW WHAT THE LOCAL CURRENCY IS and what it’s worth in relation to your native money before you hit the ATM.  If you didn’t do this, then go for one of the middle set amount buttons, and hope for the best.  We forgot to do this in almost every country, and ended up cash poor when it came to lunch.
  6. IF YOU’RE HUNGRY AND YOU SEE FOOD, JUMP ON IT.  In the most eastern countries, most establishments only served drinks and toast.  I guess everybody eats at home.  As much fun as it is to wander the streets and happen upon a great cafe, this is not so easy in Romania and Serbia, where we walked for hours looking for food more nutritious than bread.  Have an idea of where the food is before you head out to eat.
  7. THE BALKANS ARE BEAUTIFUL.  Despite the near-constant uncertainties and spells of being absolutely lost, the countries of the Balkans are great to drive through.  Most vistas are absolutely breath-taking!

Now with pictures: Friendship and War in Sarajevo –

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One of my classes last semester covered politics in the Balkans, and I was particularly fascinated by the break-up wars of the former Yugoslavia.  I wrote a term paper on the post-war situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and was excited to get back (after spending about 12 hours there last fall) and see how much of a discrepancy there was between my research and the actual situation in Sarajevo.

After we met our apartment host at the Holiday Inn (a huge yellow can’t miss building built for the 1984 Olympics) the problems I wrote about became apparent.  The route from the landmark hotel to our apartment should have been really fast, except that there was a protest by the Parliament building which forced us to take a more confusing, roundabout route.  The Bosnians were protesting the government’s failure to assign national identity numbers to newborns for the last six months.  The situation came to a head when a baby requiring urgent medical treatment in Italy couldn’t leave the country because it didn’t have a passport.  The numbers weren’t issued because of disagreement between the Bosnian entity and the Repbulik Srpska (the two major legal entities that comprise the country of BH) about how to assign the numbers.  So while the politicians failed to reach a compromise, the demonstrations grew larger.  My paper argued that the constitution’s primary focus on ethnic representation almost guaranteed an ineffective government incapable of ruling.  Unfortunately, tons of small issues like the identity numbers show that this is still the case.

After showing us the ins and outs of the apartment  our host brought us up to some hills above the city so we could learn the overall layout.  We also got some of his perspective of the war and the current political state.  He’s a Bosniak, but prefers not to mention his identity.  This, as well as a desire to move past the war and get on with life, was prevalent amongst all of the younger people that we met.

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There are so many reminders in the city of the war (from 1992-1995, mostly while I was in high school) throughout the city that it takes real fortitude and optimism to move forward.  The Holiday Inn, where we met our host, is also where the war started.  Serbian politicos staying there started firing from its roof on Bosniaks demonstrating for independence.

The main road running through Sarajevo was called Sniper’s Alley, since the Serbs controlled the hills on one side and would try to pick off people.  One guy joked that Bosnians drive so fast and crazily now because during the siege, their lives depended on it!

We ate dinner at the Sarajevo Brewery, where the beer and food is especially good.  The dark brew is only sold at the brewery and definitely worth a stop!  During the siege, the brewery was the only facility that produced drinking water.  Otherwise, Sarajevo residents risked sniper fire to get water from springs or dug through underground pipes to find a viable tap.


a really big veal shank at the Sarajevo brewery

“Sarajevo roses” mark spots where three or more people were murdered during the siege.  Red paint fills bullet holes and shell craters on the city’s sidewalks, buildings, and roads to memorialize the victims.  Last year, to commemorate the 20th anniversary, over 11000 red chairs, representing every man, woman or child killed, were lined up on one of the main streets.  As a visitor to Sarajevo, the war is fascinating, but I can imagine that for a resident its constant reminders become tiresome.

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look on the sidewalk – a few roses

I really admired our guide to the Airport Tunnel for her ability to relive the war experience on a daily basis for tourists like us.  Along with giving us the basic history of the war, she pointed out the sites along the way from Old Town to the tunnel museum.  On the way back, she freely answered all of our groups’ questions about living through the war.  I asked about daily life under the siege.  As a child, she attended school in the basement of the apartment building.  Over the years, she was able to carry bigger and bigger bottles of water up the many flights of stairs to her family’s apartment.  When she and her mother finally escaped the siege through the tunnel, she carried a heavy pack on her back the whole way.

Although we only walked through about 20 meters of the tunnel, with the help of the artifacts at the museum, and a video of footage from the war, we got a real feel for the siege.  It was 1425 days – longer than the siege on Leningrad in WWII.  The people lived without water, gas, or electricity and under constant threat of sniper attack.  To go through the tunnel, you had to obtain permission from the military or civilian authorities, which sometimes took up to six months.  And even if you managed to get out of Sarajevo, the tunnel was only the first step.  Next you had to somehow get through the mountains in the middle of the night, and on to Montenegro or Croatia (when it wasn’t fighting its own skirmishes).

The best part of our stay in Sarajevo, however, was hanging out with my amazing friend Maja.  I met her in Turkish class in Ankara last summer and loved her contagious playfulness and spirit.  She took us to her friend’s cafe, out for cevap (very similiar to Turkish kebab), and for the best chicken sandwich in the world (this was my second tasting, and I can confirm that it’s still amazing!).  On our last night we joined her and her friends at a cafe to watch the Bosnia-Latvia football match (that’s soccer for my American friends).  At first, the mood was tense as nobody knew what would happen, but elation quickly set in as Bosnia scored goal after goal for a final score of 5-0!  With each goal scored, the whole cafe celebrated, and we heard people up and down the street singing and carrying on.  I just shook my head with my awesome new hat, courtesy of Maja.

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