A Travellerspoint blog

Butterfly Valley and traversing the Turkish Med

Stunning coast, crystal clear waters, freezing temperatures!

sunny 20 °C

We decided to drive up the coast from Fethiye, to find Butterfly Valley, an apparently isolated beach only accessible by boat, or by car plus a hike. Boats weren't running at this time of year, so we piled into the Turkeymobile and zoomed as best we could along the coast, with a huge drop to the ocean beside us. We stopped a couple of times to take in the beautiful Mediterranean - cerulean blue and crystal clear.

We arrived at a really steep canyon with beautiful turquoise water below, which was Butterfly Valley. We followed our nose along the roads and came to a cluster of houses and pensions clinging to the side of the cliffs. We were here. The friendly locals at a pension pointed us towards the 'path' down to the valley, which were merely red spraypainted dots on rocks. "Only follow the red dots" we were instructed, advice we stuck to, having read about tourists who perished while straying off the marked trail. We were about 200m above the valley, with a lush-looking meadow and some fields at the bottom.

Our descent was hair-raising, to say the least as we climbed down the treacherous rocks - a combination of loose scree, some rock-climbing (literally), switch-back turns and some very big drops. In places the track was no more than a goat track, with some ropes to assist the descent. We found it difficult walking down in our walking shoes, and poor Lisa only had her jandals on! (Mind you they were all-terrain jandals!). After about 45 minutes we hit the valley floor and headed through the fields towards the beach, passing lodgings along the way, wooden huts. Lucky for us we arrived just in time for lunch, so we admired the grey-stoned beach and dipped our toes in the cold, clear water. Lunch was a communal, serve-yourself affair. We munched on salad, lentil soup and spaghetti and watched the bohemiem guests simultaneously eat and dance on the stony ground to the booming music.

The climb back up was a hot and tricky affair, but we made up back up and thirstily necked water and Fanta at the pension cafe at the top, marvelling at the German travellers who climbed up with bulging backpacks! We drove back to Fethiye and stopped at the Greek ruins of Kayakoy, which were about 2,000 abandoned and derelict stone ruins from the period of resettlement in the 1920s. We also stopped small town called Ölüdeniz, which was closed for the winter but typically, full of English pubs for the tourists who flock to the coast in summer.

The next day after breakfast Lisa tried to organise a boat trip for us, which was a lot harder than it sound, being a shoulder season, and even the hotel staff struggled to find operators for us. Luckily one was found, which was a 12-island cruise and was departing in ten minutes. We headed straight there and onboard in time. The tour was fantastic, the water and views amazing. We pulled into several sheltered bays to amble off the boat and also dive into the water... which was heart-attack-inducing icy! Jac had forgotten her togs so apologised to the rest of the boat for swimming in her undies and t-shirt... of course that day she happened to be wearing her most daggy grey ones! The day was spent swimming (and screaming), chilling out in the sun, listening to music and drinking lots of Efes. Hilarously, we spied another boat, seemingly full of teenagers, who were all on the hull in formation, practising a Macarena-esque dance to some Europop. After a brilliant, relaxing day on the water we pulled back into Fethiye harbour, said goodbye to our new friends and walked back to our hotel for more drinks served by Sean Connery.

A deserted patch of gorgeous beach
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Jac and Chalky
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Jac and Lisa overlooking Butterfly Valley
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Butterfly Valley - a treacherous climb down
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Heading down... slowly!
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Butterfly Valley
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Looking at the cliffs we'd climb back up
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Empty Kayakoy
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Chalky, Jac and Lisa on the boat
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The perfect water
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Grinning despite the scream-inducing icy water!
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Chalky goes to try the rope swing
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All chilled out
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Fethiye harbour
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Posted by JacChalky 05.07.2010 19:59 Archived in Turkey Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Mugla, Eski Datça & Fethiye

More cute villages and a gorgeous harbour town

sunny 22 °C
View Jac and Chalky's Excellent Adventure on JacChalky's travel map.

After saying goodbye to rustic Herakleia, we set off for Fethiye, a popular coastal stop. Thanks to Lisa's organisation (how nice to hand the reins over to someone else for a change) stopped at the small villages of Mugla and Eski Datça, staying in Datça overnight.

We stopped at what we thought was the centre of the town (our guidebook had us looking for hills to drive up, but we found none) and left our Turkeymobile in a carpark. We found the local fruit and vegetable market, housed in a large, open, corrugated iron structure. Again, the brightly-coloured produce on offer had our mouths watering. There was an adjacent fish market, where the workers happily insisted on posing in our photos and asked us to send us copies. Our tummies rumbled so we stopped at a local eatery for lunch, perusing the simmering vats of eggplant, liver, chicken and vegetables. Team that with rice and we had a very satisfying, hearty lunch, accompanied with obligatory fresh bread.

Back on the road, we had a fair bit of driving ahead of us, along the Reşadiye Penninsula, through Marmaris, and we arrived in the tiny, narrow-streeted village of Eski Datça by 7pm. Unfortunately, pretty much the entire village was closed for winter, so we drove to bigger, nearby Datça. Again we encounted a very quiet, closed-for-winter seaside town and we only found one accomodation option open. The town was typical of seaside towns popular on the tourist trail - it was small on charm and big on relying on water to provide its atmosphere. Many of the hotels weren't very However we were very pleased to see it had a kitchen (a home-cooked meal for once!). We scoured the shops that were open for dinner (a big vegetable stir-fry, vitamin and fibre goodness!) and Jac and Lisa settled into a bottle of cheap Turkish red, and Chalky kept pace with Efes.

The next morning we bade farewell to sleeping Datça and poked our nose around cobbled Eski Datça. We tried to find the Mayor's Residence, which was supposed to be quite a nice house, but failed in our attempt, then asked a local only to discover it was closed as a closed thing. It was a nice walk around the small village, peering into the windows of the stone buildings, and people's spring gardens. We found a jewellery shop which had an affectionate stray cat hanging outside, and Lisa found a beautiful turquoise and silver ring. Up the road a bit we stopped at the 'Olive Farm' for some tapenade and olives then hopped back into our trusty steed to drive the length of the penninsula again.

We pulled into Köyceğiz, a small, lakeside town for lunch, and arrived in Fethiye by 4pm. We drove around some of the pensions and poked our heads in, but they looked pretty basic and tiny. One pension's owner, a friendly man, said he saw us in a neighbouring place and with a smile on his face warned us there were 'bad women' there. We looked imploringly at this, and he went on to elaborate that it was a brothel! A dishonest attempt to sway our choice or a genuine description? Either way, we headed away to check out other places. A few bucks more and we found a really nice harbourside hotel and settled in. The owner, Hussein "Call me Sean Connery", made sure we had drinks strong enough to pull faces at, and we had a relaxing (well, merry) time sitting in the sun by the water. We met Bill, and English guy, who was meeting his teenage daughter who was apparently spending his money touring around Turkey.

That evening we all hopped on a dolmuş into the town, to the fish market for dinner. It was a unique set-up - a square of fishmongers hawking their catch in the centre, with restaurants surrounding the square, who would cook your fish any way you wished for only 5 lira. We all bought different fish and negotiated freebies with the restaurants. Delicious! Even Jac's fish which was apparently 'unique to the area' but just tasted like seabass, which as we all know could be anything! We washed our fish dinner down with several bottles of white wine, then attempted to windily amble/stumble home.

Mugla
Lisa at Mugla's produce market
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Husband and wife fruit stall owners
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Friendly fishmongers
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Tasty local lunch
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Eski Datça
Quaint Eski Datça
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Lisa buying jewellery and making friends
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Fethiye
'They say I look like Sean Connery': the hotel owner
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At the Fish Market
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Hmmm, what to have for dinner?
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Jac, Lisa and Bill
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Delicious dinner all for TL5 each
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Jac, Lisa and our waiter... check out the styling!
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Posted by JacChalky 05.07.2010 17:01 Archived in Turkey Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Tire, Herakleia and Lake Bafa

More quaint and picturesque villages

sunny 20 °C
View Jac and Chalky's Excellent Adventure on JacChalky's travel map.

Leaving Selçuk behind we delved into the Aegean heartland, to a small nearby town called Tire, at the bottom of the Bozdağler Mountains, which boasts a thriving weekly market. We arrived at the bustling market, and thankfully managed to find a park. The market was heaving with stalls selling deliciously juicy-looking fruit, brightly polished vegetables and colourful clothes. Women sat on the curbs and pavements, wearing white headscarves, with fresh leafy greens for sale in front of them, chatting away and probably catching up on the week's gossip.

We had a wander through the market, stopping to taste and buy olives, strawberries, figs and cheese. We also tried to find the Tahtakale neighbourhood, which was meant to have felt-makers, but unfortunately didn't find any. We did have some local guys point us up some outdoor stairs when we asked directions, and we stood there shaking our head, repeating that we wanted to find Tahtakale, but they kept nodding, smiling and pointing. It turned out they were only playing a joke, as it was simply a prayer room that we clearly wouldn't be going into.

We drove onto Lake Bafa to find a pension for the night, stopping to snap the reflections on the water as the sun set. We found a pension overlooking the lake, run by a friendly Dutch woman and her adorable cocker spaniel. then tucked into the red wine, our olives, cheese and figs from the markets of Tire on our balcony.

The ruins of Herakleia ad Latmos was in the rustic village of Kapıkırı, nestled by Lake Bafa. The village was very quaint, with dogs chasing cats chasing chickens, and men leading their donkeys. There was a ticket office where we paid 3TL (NZ$3) to enter. It was on the mountains looming over Kapıkırı that according to Greek mythology, that Endymion fell into his eternal sleep. We drove through the very narrow streets, wondering how we'd turn around, and left the car to explore. A local woman, Zena, asked us if we wanted her to show us tombs and a Christian fresco. We followed her on a almost hour-long trek through the village hills, past roaming donkeys, colourful spring flowers, old Roman walls and huge smooth boulders. The view over the village, the ruined Byzantine castle and lake were terrific. We saw the fresco that Zena had been talking about - still brightly coloured, albeit worn away by the years (and perhaps by anti-Christians, due to the faces all being scratched off). It was fantastic, seeing this ancient fresco, in a small, open cave that we'd walked to. No ticket booths, no fences, and no other tourists.

On the way down, Zena kept saying something that sounded like "Showush showus", which we took to mean 'slowly slowly' or 'be careful' as we descended treacherously slippery rocks. She invited us back to her house for tea, where we met her pretty teenage daughter and big, bouncy newborn baby boy. She showed us her handicrafts, scarves, tablecloths, and also knitted gloves and hats, made by her daughter. We sipped tea and shared our peanut bars with Zena and her daughter before we warmly thanked her and bid her farewell.

Tire

Fruit stall
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Juicy fruit at Tire's Tuesday market
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Local women selling vegetables
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Grammaphone on wheels
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Got cold feet?
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Colourful formalwear
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Box of fluffy chicks
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The mosque
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Local women selling vegetables
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Lake Bafa and Kapıkırı

Headed to the village of Kapıkırı
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Chalky and Lisa admiring the view with Zena
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A local lady selling scarves
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The view on our walk
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Jac and Lisa pass a Roman wall
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An exposed tomb
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Bright spring flowers
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Fantastic views of Lake Bafa, and the Byzantine castle in the distance
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Makeshift cattle fence
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The Byzantine fresco
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Zena admires the fresco
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Jac, Lisa and Chalky
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Zena, her daughter and big baby boy
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Lake Bafa
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Posted by JacChalky 22.05.2010 21:40 Archived in Turkey Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Cumalıkızık, Selçuk and Ephesus

Cute Turkish towns and Roman ruins

sunny 22 °C
View Jac and Chalky's Excellent Adventure on JacChalky's travel map.

Road trip! After a bit of hassle trying to rent a car in Istanbul (not returning it to Istanbul would be eeexpensive!) we set off for our driving trip around the Aegean coast. We hopped on a car ferry to Bursa, then made our way to the small village of Cumalıkızık 16kms away. Armed with only our guidebook and with a few sign-language enquiry stops, we found this quiet village.

Picturesque Cumalıkızık is full of preserved early Ottoman rural architecture, and we drove around its cobbled, narrow streets, hoping not to meet a tractor or another car head on. We finally found a place to park and stopped for coffee in the village shop, where the women were pleased to accomodate us, and busied themselves lighting the stove and showing us their knitting. The schoolbell rang, and soon the tiny shop was swarming with young kids, stuffing themselves with baked bread and biscuits, and eagerly introducing themselves to us. After practising 'what is your name?' and 'my name is...' in Turkish with the boisterous youngsters, we then spent some time wandering around the town and looking at the traditional buildings - some brightly painted, some peacefully crumbling.

We farewelled this quaint mountain village and next drove on to Selçuk, following the signs to Izmir, which took up most of the day. Chalky was at the wheel and found no trouble with the 'stick to the right' rule, while Lisa and Jac played DJ. Arriving in Selçuk in the late afternoon, we tried to find a place to stay. Selçuk on first sight, seemed to be a dull-looking town, with one pension (hotel) stuck in the middle of a drab street near mechanics and tyre-repair shops, in the western part of the town. However, as soon we headed to the east, the character immediately changed to small, cute streets, and inviting pensions. Our friend Mish had recommended Homeros Pension, which was a charming and cosy wee place. Happy with both the area and our lodgings, we unpacked our car and settled in. We met "Mama", who was the owner's Mum, who let us peek into her kitchen to see (and taste!) what was on the menu tonight. After wandering the town for a bit (and trying in vain to find a mini-USB to iPod connector for the car stereo) we bought some Turkish red and settled down to getting to know some fellow travellers, including a retired American couple who were sailing the world for five years... wow!

The next day we went to Ephesus, which was once a great trading city and the centre for the cult of Cybele, the Anatolian fertility goddess. We'd privately joked before Lisa arrived that when joined us, and wanted to see Roman ruins, we'd tell her, "Yeah... we might just go to the movies and meet you afterwards", having reached our saturation point after the epic sites of Jerash, Bosra, Apamea and Palymera. However on the day we summoned our enthusiasm and took the view that 'more is more', and headed to what is described by our guidebook as the best-preserved classical city in the eastern Mediterranean.

And it was an excellent site. Once we did the usual obligatory-walk-through-souvenir-stalls-to-get-the-entrance/exit, we walked around sunny Ephesus for a good couple of hours, climbed the seats of the Odeum, poked our heads into the communal Roman men's toilets, and gazed up at the impressive Library of Celsus, which held 12,000 scrolls in niches in its walls. Interestingly, the library was built to look bigger than it was, with a convex base of the facade, and central columns and capitals were taller and larger than those at the ends. Also a highlight of Ephesus was the Great Theatre, which could hold 25,000 people. Now that gives Aotea Centre a run for its money!

Cumalıkızık

The small village shop
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The gregarious school boys and café lady

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Selçuk

Storks atop a house
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Jac and Lisa
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More storks
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Dinner in our Pension
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Ephesus

Chalky and Jac
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Lisa
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The Odeum
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Library of Celsus
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Gladiator carvings
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Jac and Lisa stop for a bit of cardio on the walk back
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Posted by JacChalky 01.05.2010 01:30 Archived in Turkey Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Gallipoli

We will remember them, lest we forget

overcast 5 °C
View Jac and Chalky's Excellent Adventure on JacChalky's travel map.

It was a very early start for us (well, after four months of no alarms), with a 6.30am pick-up. However our toes started tapping 20 minutes later, when our street in Sultanahmet was still empty. Jac went to the travel agency, and found a young guy sleeping inside. As luck would have it, as soon as she roused him out to the chilly morning, our bus arrived! It was a minivan, packed with 9 other tourist and their luggage squeezed amongst us.

The Gallipoli penninsula itself (these days Gelibolu) is about 4 1/2 hours south by road, and it was a long and at sometimes hair-raising ride, no thanks to our driver!

We finally arrived in Eceabat on the eastern side of the penninsula about 11am, which is right on the banks of the Dardanelles strait - it was the capture of this body of water that was vital to the Gallipoli campaign. We had about an hour and a half before our tour actually began (couldn't we have slept in?!) so we took a walk along the water. We were unprepared for the change in weather overnight from sunny to icy cold, and our ears started to hurt from the whipping wind. Thus our first port of call was a shop to buy beanies and a scarf. After trawling the only half-open town we found a lingerie shop of all things, that sold them. We quickly put on our black beanies (very apt, considering) and then walked around an open air museum of battlefield memorabilia... we were getting a feel for it by now.

Our tour guide was an affable Brit, Graeme, who'd been in Turkey for about 20 years: "Ran out of money to go back," he jokingly informed us. There were a dozen of us, and interestingly only us, and a pair of Aussies were from ANZAC lands. The first stop was the small war museum at Kapa Tepe (Gaba Tepe in a lot of books). Kapa Tepe was an objective of the ANZACs, however never taken. The small museum is high on a ridge overlooking ANZAC Cove and Suvla Bay to the north. Inside, aside from some telling photographs, the display was sparse, but chilling. Uniforms of the various allied troops that were at Gallipoli (English, French, some Indian as well as the ANZACs of course), old shells, mess tins, swords, bayonets etc... the usual museum stuff... but also some poignant reminders of the real war: a Turkish skull with bullet still embedded mid forehead... a boot with foot bones still inside... bloodstained tunics... boys' letters home to their Mums. Very sombre and very moving.

We next went right down on the water, on the ANZAC side of the penninsula, at the Hell's Spit cemetery. We were told a lot of the cemeteries, and there are 31 of them at Gallipoli, contain remains that were reinterred by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in the 1920's, in an effort to consolidate the remains. The cemetery, like all the ones we saw, was beautifully maintained, with clipped lawns, and, being spring here, with flowers blooming everywhere. Despite being a cold, windy day, it was incredibly peaceful, with a flat sea... We wondered at how such a peaceful spot could have seen such carnage. Hell's Spit cemetery contains the grave of Simpson... of Simpson and his Donkey fame: the young Aussie who on the first day of the landings found and used a donkey to transport the wounded from the front lines back to the beaches for treatment. Sadly he was killed only days into the campaign, but became a legend in the process. We were also delighted to learn Simpson's role was taken over by a Kiwi lad called Henderson.

A minute along the coast road and we were at ANZAC Cove itself. We stopped at the southern end of the cove, to look over the entire landing site. A few years ago the Turks put a road along the coast, cutting off half the iconic hill at the northern end, and flattening a large portion of the old seashore (there was an uproar when it happened). Coastal erosion also meant the road is a sheer 10m above the beach. Standing there, and looking from shore, up all the way to ridgetops, we were in awe. Its almost had to get your head around the fact that young men were leaping off boats, and being ordered to run up almost vertical dirt cliffs. Again, it was hard to reconcile a calm wintery sea scene with bullets flying and bombs falling...

At the northern end of the Cove, we stopped at Ari Burnu, where the ANZAC day commemorations used to be held. It was another cemetery, and had a massive stone memorial with these words from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (the ANZACs nemesis at Gallipoli - and later to become the leader, and founder of Modern Turkey):

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives;
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johhnies
and the Mehmets to us
where they lie side by side
here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers,
who sent their sons from far away countries,
wipe away your tears;
your sons are now lying in our bosom
and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well"

We then had the opportunity to take a walk on the beach at ANZAC Cove, remarkably, alone. With not another soul in sight we took a stroll along the grey, stony shore. 95 years on, there is not a single item, landmark, or sign, that this was the sight of such horror and carnage... nor that it was the base of operations for a 9 month campaign.

Walking north, further around from ANZAC Cove, we passed the remains of two jetties built of concrete. On North Beach some of the famous landmarks became visible... The "Sphinx": a rocky outcrop that reminded the troops, fresh from Egypt, of the other Sphinx, and Plugge's Plateau. Higher up, we could see Chanuk Bair, where NZ's memorial stood. Our stroll took us to the site of the modern ANZAC commemorations, with a work crew already putting up the stands for this year's ANZAC Day, still a whole month away.

Next stop, Lone Pine Cemetery, and the Australian Memorial (again, workcrews in action). It was poignant not only for it's commanding view over the south of the penninsula, but also for its dozens upon dozens of headstones bearing the words "Believed to be buried here". The vast majority of the soldiers killed on the ANZAC side were left where they fell until around 3 years after the end of WW1... fully 6 years on... and so were unidentifiable in a lot of cases. This cemetery also contains the remains of the youngest ANZAC to fall, a 14 yr old Aussie lad. Again, the cemetery was probably all the more moving for the obvious care with which it is maintained, and the spring flowers poking through between the graves.

Just up the road we had our first opportunity to visit the trenches, which were remarkably still quite clear and deep despite 95 years of being left as-is. They are nowadays about 4 feet deep. The sealed road at this point carves through no-man's land, with the ANZAC trenches on the left (western) side, and the Turkish trenches on the right. As you can imagine, all visitor interest is in the ANZAC trenches, and the left side of the road is quite open and accessible. You can actually walk through the trenches: see the dugouts, even tunnels remaining intact (one in fact still goes under the road almost to the Turk trenches), and you can follow the front line, back into reserve trenches et.. The Turkish side was predominantly overgrown and from all accounts almost not worth visiting (we didn't). From this vantage point up on the 'second ridge', you can get a sense of perspective: the distance to the beach, and the terrible terrain... This is the extent of the ANZAC push... it's a terrible thought when you realise that in 9 months our boys only got less than a couple of kilometres inland!!

The Turkish memorial looked a relatively new affair, as it was built in the 90's, compared to the ANZAC cemeteries and memorials which all date from the 20's. It was only after the construction of the Turkish memorial (they lost some 90,000 troops during the campaign) that the actual mass graves of the Turkish soldiers were discovered. The gravestones simply read "Mehmet son of Ahmed", for example, as the Turks did not have surnames until after Atatürk took the reins of the country. At this site, the trenches were literally only the width of the road - 8 meters - apart.

We also visited "The Nek", which, if you have seen the movie Gallipoli is the setting of the infamous scene where three waves of 150 Australian Lighthorsemen were ordered over the top of their trenches, straight into Turkish fire (which include machine gun fire). They were sent over a distance of no more than 60 meters (trench to trench) and a width of about 40m, with sheer drops on each side. Seeing the site itself almost brought tears to our eyes. The entire plateau is smaller than half a rugby field. There are only about 8 gravestones here... and more than 360 unidentifiable Aussie lads buried beneath the grass (again, they were unable to be buried until after the war).

The last stop for the day is the New Zealand memorial at Chunuk Bair. From here we could see the ultimate objective of the campaign, the Dardenelle Straits. This is as far as any of the troops got. The Kiwis took enormous losses to take this high ground, and kept it until relieved by the Brits, who days later were decimated by Kemal and his troops. It was freezing cold and windy as hell at this point, as we took a stroll past the wall of NZ names, dozens of them, and gazed over the entire Gallipoli battleground...

It was hard to imagine, having seen the terrain, that young Aussies and Kiwis (and of course Brits, Scots, Irish - the Irish PM was coincidently there laying a foundation stone for the Irish memorial) managed to not only get ashore, but survive in dirt holes for 9 months. Most of the gravestones were of young men, no more than 22 or 23 most of them. It was for them, a chance to see the world, have an adventure...

Monument to the Turkish effort in Ecebat
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Hells Spit - one of the many headstones on the land
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An old army pill box
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ANZAC Cove
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Graham, our guide explaining the camps on the cove
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Mustafa Kemal's words to his once enemies
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Beach at ANZAC Cove
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Reading about the battle with 'The Sphinx' overhead
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Lone Pine - Australia's memorial

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Chalky in the trenches
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A trench tunnel
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Jac by a monument to Turkish soldiers
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At Chunuk Bair, the NZ Memorial
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Posted by JacChalky 30.04.2010 05:52 Archived in Turkey Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Turkey - Istanbul

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam

sunny 15 °C
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In Turkey, do they just call it 'delight''?

As soon as we set foot in Istanbul we were impressed. Impressed with the efficient trams, impressed with the funicular (Banks, are you reading this?) and impressed with the modern, cosmopolitan feel. Istanbul was definitely east meets west.

We had five days to see the city and the must-visit-for-all-Kiwis, Gallipoli, before Jac's friend Lisa joined us for two weeks from London. Looking at our guidebook, the list of sights in Istanbul were overwhelming, and Jac ended up earmarking everything... which defeated the whole purpose of earmarking.

First on our list was the grand Topkapi Palace, which dates back to the 1400s. The palace was huge and almost entirely decorated in opulent mosaics. Among the various rooms, we visited the Harem, which turned out to be not for purposes salacious as we thought, but was actually the imperial family quarters. Slave girls were present, but only as ladies-in-waiting, not as slinky gold bikinied temptresses as we'd imagined. Unfortunately the highlight of the Palace, the Treasury was shut so we spent the rest of the time simply wandering the huge, hall-like rooms and snapped away like the studious tourists we were.

We next visited The Blue Mosque, which was built by a sultan to rival the nearby Orthodox Christian church, Aya Sofya. It boasts the largest courtyard of all Ottoman mosques and decorated in tens of thousands of blue tiles. It truly was grand, although didn't look as bright blue as we expected inside. More of a browny-blue. Still were thankful that us non-Muslims were allowed to view this magnificient mosque, albeit in the presence of some 200-other tourists all jostling for photographic position.

We crossed the square to Aya Sofya, which was definitely the highlight of Istanbul for us. It was built in 1st century as part of a Roman Emperor's quest to restore the Empire's geatness. In the 1400s however, the Muslims took over and it was converted into a mosque. Aya Sofya was stunning. As we entered the huge Imperial Door the sight of the soaring interior was impressive (sorry, have you had enough superlatives?). Giant black and gold discs with Arabic calligraphy flanked the apse, part of the church's conversion to a mosque. What was pleasing was that the Christian mosaics throughout the church remained, rather than destroyed by the faith's mortal enemy. As we looked up we could see four angels painted around the main dome, and we overheard a guide saying that their faces had been previously covered up by metal sheets and one had just been revealed for the first time ever. We walked around the church in awe at the grandeur of this famous building.

How many leather bags and ceramics can one buy in the Grand Bazaar? Answer: Quite a few, particularly if you're on a haggling roll. The Grand Bazaar was a lot more shiny and modern than expected, after the souqs we'd wandered through previously. It boasts more than 4.000 shops and is somewhat of a maze, we discovered. Again we were astonished at how the shop owners would immediately call out "Kiwi" or "Aussie Aussie" to us in an effort to get our attention and step inside their carpet/ceramic/copper/leather/jewellry shop. It must be because we look like world-class rugby players or something. That or sheep shearers.

We must say that the real bonus of Istanbul for us was Lisa's arrival! She joined us after catching the red-eye and only getting two hours of sleep, then hit the sightseeing with us, then went on to go hopping hip Beyoğlu's bars with us! Most people would nod off once martinis and wine were added to the jetlag equation, but not our Lisa!

We froze our way along the Bosphorus river on a boat cruise, strolled through Gülhane Park to see the just-blooming tulips (bit of trivia: cultivated tulips originate from Turkey, not Amsterdam) and visited the atmospheric Basilica Cistern. To quote our guidebook, when those Byzantine emporers built something, they certainly did it properly. It was built in the 1st century and used to store water. However gradually it was forgotten until the 1500s when an antiquities researcher was told by locals they could 'miraculously' source water and fish from below their basement floors. However upon discovery the Ottomans didn't appreciate the elegant cistern and used it dump stuff, even corpses.

Sadly, it was time to farewell Istanbul. We hired a car, reiterated the need to stick to the right, and unarmed with maps (maps, schmaps!) set off for the Aegean sea.

Topkapi Palace

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The Blue Mosque

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Chalky among the throng of tourists
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Jac in the Blue Mosque
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Aya Sofya

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The recently uncovered Angels on the ceiling
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Chalky tries out the weeping column
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Jac in Aya Sofia
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One of the many Christian mosaics
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Wandering Istanbul

Inside the Grand Bazaar
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Chalky unladen with souvenirs... so far
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Ottoman souvenirs
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Towers of Turkish treats
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Chalky making friends with the kebab man
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Galata Bridge to Beyoğlu
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Fishermen on Galata Bridge
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Traffic jam in the underpass
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In the Spice Market
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The Spiral Column and Obelisk of Theodosius
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Colourful Turkish headwear
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A Van Cat, unique to the eastern town its named after, and famous for being a feline David Bowie
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Lisa arrives! Drinks in a rooftop bar in Beyoğlu
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Storks' nests in Gülhane Park
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Tulips beginning to bloom
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Basilica Cistern
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Us in the Cistern
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Sultanahmet by night
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Aya Sofia by night
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Posted by JacChalky 27.04.2010 02:56 Archived in Turkey Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Cyprus - The Turkish North

You say potato, I say potato...

sunny 20 °C
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Our next stop was the capital of Cyprus, Nicosia, which is a city that is interestingly split into two by a 'Green Line', a demilitarized zone maintained by the UN, and splits the Greek south of the city, from the Turkish north. We stayed in the Greek south, which is also known as Lefkoşa by the Turks, but crossed the border several times on foot. We had to get stamps from both sides of the border, which was administered on pieces of paper by officials in small portable white offices . The Green Line was only about 100m wide, but contained empty dilapidated buildings that were off-limits due to booby traps that still exist inside.

The Greek half of Nicosia was very modern, and had a high street that resembled many British ones, with Topshop and McDonalds along the street. Entering the Turkish north however, was like entering a completely new country. The currency was different (although euros still accepted) but the streets resembled those you'd find in a Middle Eastern country - less shiny and and polished, but more characterful. Suprisingly, a lot of the shops had fake merchandise for sale, from bags to shoes and shirts, and even more surprisingly the copied merchandise were outstanding in their quality. Even Jac, a devoted luxury brand lover, found it difficult to spot the flaws!

Back in the Greek side for the night, we were woken by church bells the next morning, which felt strange after three or so months having a muezzin do the honours. We took a minibus to Kyrenia (Girne) on the north coast of Turkish Cyprus, which was a quick 30-minute drive over the mountain range, one that had a huge Turkish Cypriot flag painted on its side, that was overlooking Greek Nicosia. It almost felt like defiant declaration to the Greeks, reminding them that the north was the domain of the Turks. Interestingly, the north, known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, is a state not recognized by any country in the world, except Turkey.

Kyrenia was a charming small cobbled town, which had beautiful harbour, brimming with boats, lined with cafés and restaurants, and watched over by the old Girne Castle. The water was really clear and blue, and you could see mainland Turkey, it being as close as the South Island is to Wellington. Walking the harbour in the sun, we realised we'd spent a little too long in the south.

After a day in Kyrenia we hired a car through our hotel and decided to drive to Golden Bay, which is on the far north-eastern peninsula of Cyprus and apparently was the beach to visit in Cyprus according to our guidebook. Inhabited by feral donkeys, Golden Bay is also where turtles can be spotted at the right time of year hatching and making their pilgrimage to the sea. Our hired car turned out to be a small 'Maruti', which looked like it'd seen better times and only had 800cc's worth of grunt. Armed with only a general map of Cyprus, rather than the region, we set off. The route looked straightfoward enough: follow the north coast road all the way, cross over the ranges and then continue east until we hit Golden Beach. Simple. Fastforward 15 minutes later out of Kyrenia, we had already crossed the range but signs and our bearings told us were heading back towards Nicosia. Oops. We turned off at a road that looked like it headed back towards the north coast, which it did... but first took us over some more mountains. The roads turned rough, pot-holed and in places only suitable for a 4WD. We passed lots of locals picnicing along the road, who were probably wondering why we were driving a tiny clapped out car on the roads.

We finally descended through a very old olive grove, with gnarled trees on huge, old trunks, and onto the elusive coastal road. The rest of our drive didn't improve in terms of bumpiness. The road turned so rough that at one point we turned inland as the car threatened to rattle to pieces, but only to get lost in a small village and being pointed back to the 'goat track' by amused old men, who we stopped to signlanguage-ask for directions.

Finally, after five hours of driving what was probably a very indirect route, we arrived at Golden Beach! We could only stay for 20 minutes though, knowing it would take us almost just as long to drive back, and we didn't want to be fording the mountains in the dark. The stretch of sand seemed to stretch along the coast forever and was beautifully golden. Jac tried her best to spot some feral donkeys, hoping to find one that had say, red eyes and dripping fangs.... but to no avail.

Nicosia/Lefkoşa

Easter hits the Nicosia/Lefkoşa 'border'
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The old Municipal Market
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Produce market
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Mona Lisa, patron of this fruit shop
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Wandering through Turkish side of Nicosia
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Northern Cyprus' and Turkey's flags
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Northern Cyprus' flag looms over both Turkish and Greek sides from the mountain
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Chalky on his Greek namesake street in Greek Nicosia
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Girne (Kyrenia)

Walking along the harbour
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Chalky looking for 'fush'
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Girne Castle
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Chalky still hoping to spot some fish
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The streets of Kyrenia
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Sweet stretch taxi
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Driving the north coast to Golden beach

Our 800cc Maruti that got put through its paces
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Heading up the mountains
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A turquoise bay
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A very old olive tree amidst the yellow wild flowers
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Stopping in a gorgeous bay
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Dur! It's the Wild Donkey Protection area
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At last we spy Golden Beach!
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Chalky on the boardwalk towards the beach/i]
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[i]Happy to finally be there after 5 hours of driving
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Jac on Golden Beach
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There are feral donkeys in them hills
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Posted by JacChalky 27.04.2010 02:52 Archived in Cyprus Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

Cyprus - The Greek South

Driving around the island with the Med as our backdrop

sunny 20 °C
View Jac and Chalky's Excellent Adventure on JacChalky's travel map.

Cyprus, Cyprus, Cyprus... What a sunny and aquamarine island thee is. We landed in Larnaca airport very early in the morning after a 45-minute flight from Beirut (a 45-minute flight that we had to get up at 4:30am for.. painful!). We arrived at our waterfront hotel, which we'd booked via email, and were pleased to encounter a spacious room with a balcony, kitchen and good views of the water. The "but"? The whole hotel was in the process of being swathed in building mesh and scaffolding for exterior maintenance. We still had a view, albeit a meshy one. Jac managed to haggle the rate down 15% as a result, but we were secretly pleased to have a kitchen to make our own food in. Steak! Pasta! Chalky's Mexican Chicken! After three terrific months in the Middle East, we'd unfortnately grown tired of rotisserie chicken, skewered meat, flatbread and a lack of vegetables.

We chilled out in Larnaca for five days, wandered the town and seafront and practised our meagre Greek. We also ummed and ahhed over whether to buy some of the many huge shells on sale and subsequently encourage the destruction of our world's waters for the sake of our mantlepieces (but hey, it turns out the EU has recently banned any more shell dredging so we're just getting rid of old stock!). We spent a lot of time in a Greek Cypriot restaurant adjacent to our hotel, as we discovered that after scaffolding prep comes drilling. A lot of hours of very noisy drilling. However it gave us plenty of time to catch up on our very-overdue blog and also sample many European wines. Including one, "Oneipa", which was a wallet-saving €1.80, and a tasty wee number considering its grape variety went unmentioned except to say it was the "Product of several EU countries". Hmmmm, liquid left over in the catch-pan from numerous wine-producers all over Europe, all collected, combined and bottled especially for hard-up afficionados like us!

We decided to hire a car and drive around the Greek south, as the entire island was only about 300kms wide (if that) in the south. Also they drove on the 'correct' side of the road, which was a bonus. We decided to drive to Lemmasos, which was only about an hour away. We drove the slower, scenic coastal roads rather than the highway, and tried to veer off several times to the beachfront, but a lot of the turn-offs were to residential areas only. Lemassos was a little bigger than Larnaca, a little less charming in our opinion, and very tourist-orientated. Still, the walk along the waterfront was pleasant, with the grass verges hosting art structures. And the town also had a café with the best salads we've ever had.

Next was Paphos, but on the way we stopped at Aphrodite's beach, which was stunning, with clear water and smooth pebbles all shades of grey and eggshell white. Not far away was Paphos itself, which our guidebook described a bit like "...being in Britian although it only got sunnier". Which... was a pretty harsh (if kind of truthful) critique! Actually the three towns we visited were pretty touristy and catered to British tastes, with English breakfasts; fish and chips with mushy peas; and Guinness advertised - fair enough given it's one of the playground of vacationing Brits. Still, the beautiful harbours, buzzing boardwalk and gorgeous shoreline more than made up for it! Paphos had hosted some Roman ruins and also the remains of a castle. Both of which we struggled to rouse interest for, given the sights we'd seen in the Middle East (!) so we spent our time doing long walks along the water.

We decided to drive to the mountainous region Troodos, which pretty much in the centre of island and hosts several UNESCO World Heritage Byzantine churches. These churches were built between the 11th and 15th centuries, as a result of the repression and discrimination of the Orthodox Greek Cypriots by the French Catholic Lusignan dynasty. Tired of paying homage to a Latin Catholic administration, Greek clerics, along with artisans and builders, quietly retreated to the mountains and built private churches. The churches are remarkable for their frescoed interior, which are apparently unique in their clarity, detail and preservation of their colours. Some frescoes resemble ecclesiastical cartoon strips, to perhaps teach illiterate peasants of the time the rudiments of the gospels.

The drive up to Troodos was fairly easy, although long and windy, however once in the region it turned a little rough for our little hatchback. The peak of Troodos itself resembles an alpine village, and Mount Olympus can be spotted, if only by the giant golf-ball-shaped sattelite that sits atop. We only managed to visit two churches, as they were fairly spread out and the routes weren't direct between each. Oh and also because the one that we drove two hours to reach was closed, which Jac had failed to read in the guidebook! The first church we saw was Archangelos Mihail church, in the village of Pedoulas (which coincidentally was on the other side of the mountain to the closed one). It was more of a small barn than a church, and had a large, steeply-inclined gabled roof, which was meant to adapt to heavy snow. Inside, the richly-painted frescoes showed the Archangel Michael, the sacrifice of Abraham and a unique baptism scene where a naked Christ emerges from the River Jordan, with fish swimming at his feet.

The second church we visited was Panagia Forviotissa (also known as Asinou), which like Archangelos Mihail, was built in the 1400s, but interestingly, contain frescoes that span several artistic generations. Unfortunately the caretaker wouldn't allow photos (but Jac sneakily snapped a few) and we couldn't stay long, as a huge coach-full of German tourists arrived and flooded the tiny church. So after about 8 hours of driving (we kid you not!) we only saw two churches for an average of 10 minutes each, but it was so worth the effort.

All up we were in southern Cyprus for a very chilled out fortnight. We had a lot of time up our sleeve, as we had a good three weeks before we had to be in Istanbul to meet up with Jac's friend Lisa, who was joining us from London for two weeks. We returned to Larnaca after Paphos to return the car before heading to the Turkish North.

Larnaca

Giant clam dredged up for sale
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Agios Lazaros Church, built over the tomb of Lazarus
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The view from our hotel room, before the scaffolding reached our side of the building (insert deafening drilling noises here)
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Papawhatoplis street?
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A local fishing boat
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Near the harbour
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Lemmasos

Stony beach on the way to Lemmasos
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Chalky along the waterfront
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Lemmasos' art along the waterfront parks
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Taxis in Cyprus are unlike ones at home
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The best salad in the world!
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Aphrodite's beach

En route to Aphrodite's beach
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Chalky and the Med
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The beautifully clear Med
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Aphrodite's beach from above
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The scenic stony beach
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Us on the beach
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Troodos

Road hazard ahead!
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Driving up and up to Cyprus' tallest point
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Archangelos Mihail church
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Interesting baptism scene with Christ emerging out of River Jordan
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Panagia Forviotissa (Asinou)
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Cypriot scenery

Cheesy driving photo
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Old olive groves alongside the highway
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Epsilon Xi Omicron...
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Our time in Cyprus wasn't a particularly dry one...

Ouzo kept right next to the pure alcohol
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Oneipa wine... the product of 'several EU countries'
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Raising a glass for St Paddy's day
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Chalky tackles the one litre monster (back up beer in hand)
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Jac manages to mix ice cream sundae and house white
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Blogging with the help of some ouzo
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Posted by JacChalky 25.04.2010 10:40 Archived in Cyprus Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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