Tag Archives: Turkey

People Along the Way

One of the joys of this trip has been the people I have met along the way.

Tour group dressed to enter the Holy Shrine in Mushad, Iran

Tour group dressed to enter the Holy Shrine in Mushad, Iran

First of course there were those on the tour from Beijing to Istanbul, 6 women and one man from Australia, all of a certain age but from variety of backgrounds and a very wide range of social and political views. Our guide was a young Russian woman who had grown up in Kyrgyzstan because her grandparents had been sent there as part of Stalin’s gulag. Continue reading

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Bosphorus Express

Istanbul Station

Istanbul Station


I am now on part 2 of my trip, DIY Orient Express, Istanbul to Vienna.

Orient Express Restaurant Istanbul Station

Orient Express Restaurant Istanbul Station


Dress code is not what it used to be.

We left Istanbul at 10 pm by bus due to track work to the border. We reached the border at 2 am and then had 2 hours at border re passports etc. Then I and about 15 others board train which left at 4 pm. I had booked a 2nd class sleeper which was to have 3 female occupants however I was the only one in my compartment. Train is 3 carriages including one sleeper with me and about 7 others and person who kept announcing ‘ I am shaffer conductor.’ He was wearing shorts, loose shirt and sandals. Compartment had 3 beds with white sheets, doona and pillow. Continue reading

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The Silk Road

I have now arrived in Istanbul after a journey of 45 days from Beijing. It seemed quite daunting at the beginning but went very smoothly and was so well organised that we just followed along.

Blue Mosque Istanbul

Blue Mosque Istanbul

What are the common threads I wonder.

The first which came to mind are mulberry trees, there are mulberry trees all the way, we have eaten white mulberries from Beijing to Istanbul.

Sitting beneath the shade of a mulberry tree in Bukhara.

Sitting beneath the shade of a mulberry tree in Bukhara.

Markets/bazaars. Bazaars seem to be a thriving centre in each of the cities, selling fresh and dried food, spices, and goods of all descriptions. The word ‘traders’ is used which seem to suggest so much more than ‘shopkeeper’. Many of the foodstuffs sold in these bazaars are the same as has always been sold however much of the other items may now very well, I was going to say, made else where ie watches, mobile phones, clothes etc. but I guess bazaars have always sold goods from elsewhere.

They have all been very crowded and busy. We went to the Muslim night market in Xian, mostly a food market which has been ‘tidied up’ in recent years. Then markets all the way to the miles of bazaar in Isfaban and then the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul now a mecca for tourists but with some traders who have been there for generations.

Islam is practiced from Xian to Istanbul. We visited the mosque in Xian and then mosques all the way to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Some of the countries are secular states which forbid the Call for Prayer such as Uzbekistan.

Marble mosque in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Marble mosque in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan


Food Kebabs first appeared to us as street food in Xian China and were very common food through to Istanbul.

Kebab

Kebab

Bread was an essential part of every meal from Turpan. The shape of the bread varied from place to place but large loaves or baskets of bread were provided as soon as we sat down. For us use to a small dinner roll it was much too much bread.

Bread in the market at Osh

Bread in the market at Osh


Cheese appeared on the breakfast table from Turpan to Istanbul. It is soft fresh sheep’s cheese as these people were nomads.
Sheep cheese wrapped in goat skin in the Spice Market Istanbul

Sheep cheese wrapped in goat skin in the Spice Market Istanbul


Tea was the main drink along the entire journey.
Tea House in Beijing

Tea House in Beijing

Life was difficult for coffee drinkers until we got to Bukhara where the number of tourists meant cafes sold lattes.
Tea growing near Rize Turkey on slopes near the Black Sea

Tea growing near Rize Turkey on slopes near the Black Sea

The Road
We travelled by train and mini van. In China the stations were full of men who seemed to be travelling to work in distant locations.
The roads were all sealed, except for the 200km to the border between China and Krygizstan which is under construction and the Military Road from Tbilisi to the Russian border which was a detour for us to see the monastery. Some roads needed much work such as between Samarkand and Bukhara. The road from the Turkish border to Istanbul was a divided 4 lane highway.
We saw long lines of trucks waiting to cross some borders, especially entering and leaving China.

However we also shared the road with donkey carts, cows grazing, sheep and cattle being driven, and small tractors pulling carts carrying the whole family or goods.

Sheep being driven along a main highway in Uzbekistan

Sheep being driven along a main highway in Uzbekistan

Other sights in the towns were different for us.

So all in all an extraordinary journey and much easier than most imagine.

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Georgia

Not on your mind but the country the size of Denmark, with a population of 5 million, and said to have been the originator of wine in 6000 BC. A tradition they still seem to be keeping.

The first thing one notices when entering Georgia is that the road is full of boy racers who take little notice of speed limit signs, pass on blind corners and totally ignore pedestrian crossings of which there are many. This is very different from Armenia.

The capital, Tbilisi has a population of 1.5 million. The old town is being revived with cafes in the narrow streets blocked off to traffic, the old timber houses are protected and new buildings designed by international architects are being added to the bank of the river.

Pedestrian bridge and new theatre  as part of a river bank redevelopment

Pedestrian bridge and new theatre as part of a river bank redevelopment

Neighbours

Georgia was part of the Soviet Union until 1991. It has borders with Armenia, Turkey, the Black Sea, Russia and Azerbaijan. In 2008 there was a war with South Ossetia which seems to be a rectangle shaped region with 3 sides bordering Georgia and one side as a border with Russia. South Ossetia wanted independence, supported by Russia. This is still unresolved. Georgia has close ties with the United States, the border with Russia is closed for Georgians but trucks from Armenia go to Russia via Georgia.

Georgia has lots of churches and mountains. We stayed in a ski village Gudaei about 1 hour 30 minutes from the capital with our driver.
We went along a terrifying unsealed road which was being repaired and had drops at the side for ever. This road was also used by trucks from Armenia to Russia.
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We went to the village of Gergeti which is 25 km from the Russian border to see the Gergeti Trinity Church, one of the most important Churches/monasteries in Georgia.

Village of Gergeti

Village of Gergeti

Snow must cut off the village in the winter. It is 87 Km to the capital of North Ossetia in Russia and 187 km to Tbilisi however since the border with Russia has been closed they are unable to access their houses, and supplies from Russia.

View from Gergeti

View from Gergeti

This road trip was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. Our intrepid guide turned pale when our van had to pass a bus.

There is still a monument from the past to recall the relationship with Russia.

Monument  on the relationship between Georgia and Russia - from a previous time.

Monument on the relationship between Georgia and Russia – from a previous time.

The mural shows Russia as the fond mother with Georgia in her arms as a small child.

There was an elderly woman selling the usual handscrafts and dried fruit sweets here packing up while a young man in a late model BMW waited for her.

A couple of enduring memories of Georgia was the number of elderly, mostly women begging and the number of elderly people, again mostly women bent double. The guide said there was a very high unemployment rate and men were seeking work in Greece and Italy. We saw lots of men waiting by the side of the road waiting for day hire.

Cows on the road

Cows on the road

Another common sight was cows on the road, often being driven and mostly just grazing even on the side of major highways.

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Yerevan Armenia

Yerevan is the capital of Armenia with a population of 1.2 million. We stayed in a soviet era hotel, somewhat down at heel, about 20 minutes from the centre of the city. It had a view of the Presidential Palace from some windows. These windows had signs stating ‘No Photographs’. Our window had a view of Mount Ararat, a symbol of Armenian nationalism that just happens to be in Turkey.

We mostly visited historic sites outside the city but we did have a great guided tour of the History Museum and a much too long tour of the Museum of Ancient Manuscripts.

Malkhas Jazz Club

Malkhas Jazz Club

I went to the Malkhas Jazz Club and heard the terrific Levon Malkhasyan play.

We also attended the Opera and saw a performance of the Armenian opera Anush.

Altar built near the Yerevan Cathedral for the Mass said by the Armenian Patriarch and Pope John Paul II

Altar built near the Yerevan Cathedral for the Mass said by the Armenian Patriarch and Pope John Paul II

We visited the Roman ruins which date back to the 3rd century AD.

Roman temple

Roman temple

After the Roman temple a demonstration of traditional bread making.

Then lunch in the garden.

Lunch in a garden

Lunch in a garden

A visit to a ruin of 7th century church with Mount Ararat in the background.

Zvartnots 7th century church with Mount Ararat

Zvartnots 7th century church with Mount Ararat

One of the less pleasant sites of Yerevan, and other cities of Armenia, Georgia, and Uzbekistan are the large number of Soviet blocks of flats.

Soviet built flats in Yerevan

Soviet built flats in Yerevan

These were built in Khrushchev time as a temporary measure to cope with a housing shortage. They are still very much a part of many cities, many are very run down and some look very unsafe.

I really liked being in Armenia perhaps because it was more familiar to me than the other countries we had visited. I could cope with the traffic which seemed to travel at reasonable speed and generally obey the road rules, there were no police checks, there was open access to the internet and I knew a little of its history.

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Armenia

We walked across the bridge between Iran and Armenia pulling our suitcases and removing our headscarves. There was a duty free shop full of alcohol and a young women who worked there in a very short dress.

The Armenian guide immediately made a joke about having barbecue pork for lunch which we did with Armenian beer.

The narrow steep valley was the same
But in Armenia there were cows instead of sheep as in Iran.

Meghri Pass 2450 m above sea level.

Meghri Pass 2450 m above sea level.

Facts and Figures

Armenia is now 75% mountains. The population of Armenia is 3 million with a diaspora of 12 million. You are quickly told that it was the first country to adopt Christianity in the 3rd century, that the design for the churches of Europe originated in Armenia and that much of Armenia’s land is now controlled by other countries especially Turkey.

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Churches and monasteries on hilltops and rocky outcrops are very much part of the landscape and history.

Church
Sisian Plateau has possibly the oldest settled area at 4000 BC.

Carahunge Armenia's Stonehenge

Carahunge Armenia’s Stonehenge

About 200km from Yerevan, near the Sisian River, stands Carahunge – a seven-hectare astronomical observatory complex consisting of 204 stones, ‘sitting on the hill like soldiers, huddled in formation’. Referred to as ‘Armenia’s Stonehenge’,

For more information download… Carahunge

Armenian Cross

Armenian Cross

Neighbours
Armenia was part of the Soviet Union until 1991. It has since had a war with Azerbaijan over disputed territory, there is now a cease fire. Armenians require visas to enter this territory. The border with Turkey is closed because Turkey refuses to acknowledge the Armenian genocide in 1915-17.
Armenia has close ties with Russia. Russia helps manage the border with Iran, has a nuclear power plant in Armenia which is staffed by Armenians and supplies natural gas to Armenia. The guide used the word Armenian “independence” in inverted commas.

There are many deserted Soviet factories in Armenia which ceased to operate when the Soviets withdrew which was also the time of the war.

Monument to the 1.5 million Armenians killed in the genocide by Turkey.

Monument to the 1.5 million Armenians killed in the genocide by Turkey.

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