Fairy Chimneys and Balloons


Morning view

Cappadocia is well-known inside and outside of Turkey as being a fantastic, magical landscape. Because of this, it is firmly on the tourist trail. Even so, I was instantly taken with every view of the “Fairy Chimney” rock formations that filled the valleys with all kinds of interesting shapes.

We woke the first morning to the sound of the gas flame heating the air of a hot air balloon and sure enough, it was passing right overhead! We quickly got out to watch to find that balloons had completely filled the horizon. Tourists up early to enjoy a unique view. To give you an idea of the popularity of this early morning trip, each basket holds 10-20 people.

The interesting rock shapes formed by an ancient volcano’s ash mixed with mud and then a long erosion process were amazing in themselves, but that wasn’t all. Elaborate homes and dovecotes (used to collect pigeon poop for fertilizer) were carved into the rocks. We saw interconnected rooms, stairs leading to second floors and churches with frescoes and crosses carved into roofs.

Of course, in town this meant that some hotels had taken full advantage of the unique setting to create ‘cave suites’ that were very appealing.

Click on the image below to take a visual tour through Cappadocia as seen from our eyes:


Fairy Chimneys

All’s well that ends well

The Road Ahead

As you can tell from the images Stephen put up, the damage was not minor. We had said, when setting out, that the guesses in our HOW FAR? contest were for one engine. We had a few minor problems up until this point: a wheel noise that magically disappeared despite of the misleading advice of Peugeot to the contrary, a loose exhaust that we had soldered in place in Serbia, and even a belt (pressurizing the power steering) that snapped on us. This time, though, the problem was a lot more serious. We feel like Veronique has just undergone bypass surgery and has been given a second lease on life. So, on August 24 when the van wouldn’t start, our numbers looked like this:

10,352 miles

10 countries

6 months, 1 week

Which means that those in first place are: IAN for mileage, DICK for number of countries, and ELEANOR for length of time. CONGRATULATIONS!

But it’s not over! We will continue to keep counting countries and distance and for those of you curious about how long we will last in our van-living travels.

A Brush With Disaster

Left Behind

Veronique had been having a bit of a tough time at the higher, cooler altitudes that Christina and I have been enjoying so much.  However, one morning in Goreme while we were coaxing her to life in the cool of dawn (with hot air balloons overhead), she made a crunching noise and our hearts sunk.  Veronique was clearly very sick.

We hitched into town and one of the chaps who rents cars and motorcycles called his mechanic from the neighboring town who agreed to meet us where we’d left Veronique (next to a beautiful canyon outside town) and to bring an electrician with him.  We caught a bus back out to Veronique and while we were waiting for the mechanics to show up I decided to draw out our experiences on this bit of paper.  I included it for the amusement factor, so imagine me acting out the various panels to the amusement of the two chaps that arrived.  Can you guess what Rakim means in Turkish?

My Notes


Anyway, after replacing a plug with a bad heating element with no change to Veronique’s interesting noises, a few more bits of the engine came off and we found that the timing belt wasn’t even turning.  This meant that Veronique needed some expensive ambulance (towtruck) support to get her over to the garage in the neighboring city.  Christina went with Veronique and I hitched back to Goreme to try and get some more mechanic recommendations from an English couple working as balloon pilots.  They confirmed that local Turkish mechanics were very good and would not likely rip us off despite our obvious helplessness with a broken vehicle and no command of the local language.  This made me feel marginally better that we might not be setting ourselves up for some seriously expensive mischief.

Spot the Crack?

<Two bus trips later and I walk into the garage where Christina, Ismail (our mechanic) and several helpers are all clustered around Veronique.  As I walk up, they part before me and my heart sinks for the second time today.  The top of the cylinder head was off and the camshaft was very obviously cracked in half.  Everyone talking at once and lots of fingers pointing added more troubles, two cracked gears in the timing assembly and a timing belt that looked like someone had taken a cheese grater to it.  This was a real low point and I was pretty sure that we and Veronique would be parting ways in the very near future.  Once the cylinder head was off, we could also see some sick looking valves, valve impact damage on the cylinders themselves, and a light dusting of broken camshaft bits in each cylinder.  Just wonderful.

Valves Banging Pistons

This would mean all sorts of hassle, since we had been stamped into Turkey with a vehicle we would have to dispose of her at a Turkish customs location which would obviously mean more expensive towing to the nearest international airport.  Next would be the disheartening business of figuring out what we could carry with us and figuring out a way (plane, train, or bus) to get back to England.  In short, a brutally abrupt end to our adventures.

After having a good long look at everything, our mechanic finally tallied up what it would likely cost to attempt to fix Veronique.  It went as follows:


  • 500 TL for parts, including a new camshaft, 2 gears, a belt, and various replacement gaskets
  • 400 TL labor (for Ismail)
  • 150 TL specialized off-site work on the valves (some were bent and others needed the heads regrinding)
  • 100 TL various fluids and parts to get Veronique all back together.

Oily Garage Hotel

This was a tough choice, we were looking at 600 Euros (nearly the book value of Veronique) and no assurance that any of it would help.  Seeing her guts strewn all over the garage floor, some broken, I have to admit I had no great faith that we’d ever get her rolling again.  After some soul searching and thinking about the ugly alternatives, we decided we would put her in Ismail’s hands and deal with the looming disaster if we were forced to.

That night, Ismail offered to let us sleep in Veronique once more (inside his garage!), and I was pretty sure this would be the last time.

Since some of the parts had to be trucked in from other cities, the next day Christina and I bussed it back to Goreme and started to investigate the various unpalatable options left to us if Veronique died on the operating table.  What buses and where, where was the nearest customs facility, contact details for various embassies etc. etc.  Late in the afternoon we got back to Ishmail’s garage with little notebooks (and minds) full of doom and gloom, and pockets full of the cash we’d agreed to cough up for Veronique’s treatment.

Guts All Over

The garage was a hive of activity when we arrived.  Apparently all the parts had actually arrived from various storehouses and everyone was busy attaching things.  Christina and I sat in the back of the garage to stay out of the way, and tried hard not to throttle the two (non-working) boys who set up stools about 10 feet away and just stared at us like we were zoo animals.  90 minutes later and most of Veronique had either gone back inside her (or been hidden) and they were asking for the keys to do a start test.  Everyone crowded around and after a few coughs and wheezes, Veronique was grumbling away once more!!!  After some rough translating and a bit of charades, Ishmail was making it clear that he expected the rest of Veronique (the manifold and various other tubes and wires) to go back together without too much difficulty and that she would roll the highways once more.

Ismail had clearly expected nothing else, and may just have been a bit offended by all the cheering and jumping around that was going on but it was difficult to contain ourselves after such a dramatic about-face in our apparent fortunes.  We got him and his boys to pose for these pictures with the promise to print them out and frame them for his wall, which went a long way to mollifying him.

As of today, four days later, Veronique is still grumbling along and we have high hopes that she’ll make it through the rest of our trip and back to England.

That sound you hear is me knocking wood.

Everyone Happy Again

The Boys

Unquenchable Turkish Picnic Spirit

The Turks seem fanatical about picnicking. It seems that anywhere, lovely or unlikely, can be instantly transformed into a picnic spot by laying out a blanket. Besides in public parks, where one would expect to find picnickers, we’ve seen people eating by the side of busy roads and even between parked cars. All the picnic observing opportunities have given me a good handle on the essentials of the Turkish picnic.

To give you a sense of the forethought and the flavour of what goes on, I’ve compiled a list of standard items that might not come immediately to a non-Turkish mind.

Like this, except with headscarves and mustaches

axe – for gathering firewood

firewood (sometimes)

small propane stove – in case no fire is possible, or just for a quick çay (Turkish tea)

blanket – to spread on the ground even when picnic tables are provided

newspaper (not for starting the fire, but to use as a table cloth to prepare food on, or to spread on the ground when you have no blanket to hand)

Water bottles (empty) – for filling at the nearby public water tap

Grill – to cook your meat on

Big kitchen knife – for carving up your 12 pound watermelon

Teapot and glasses – no meal is complete without a hot çay to finish things off, and you may as well drink it in the delicate tulip shaped glasses, and the accompanying saucers and teaspoons of course

Turkish Grandma – to make sure everything comes out right

With Ramadan (the muslim month of fasting) on, we thought the picnic season in Turkey was brought to an abrupt end. However, in Gazi Antep the other day, we were invited by a family breaking their fast in the city’s main park as the light was fading from the sky. There was no fire, but after the meal they offered us tea, and told us that no fires were allowed in the city park. Not to be deterred they had their gas stove running in the back of their car.

Ramadan in some ways accentuates the picnicking spirit. When the sundown call to prayer is heard, everyone stops and eats. Blankets are spread out in front of gas stations for the employee dinner, or little tables are set up outside shops so the shopkeeper and his family can break the fast together before going back to work. Turkish hospitality being what it is, we’ve actually been chased down twice now with food after we had politely refused a first offer to sit down and share a meal. They were not to be refused, grabbed some hot meaty bread, and pressed it into our hands.

Gazi Antep

Gazi Antep is the home of the Pistachio and the city is a gourmand’s dream, with a healthy restaurant and pastry shop culture. We had a delicious lamb kebab served on pureed eggplant and yoghurt that we’re still talking about and, of course, pistachio baklava! In the photos, you will also catch a glimpse of this refreshing salty yoghurt drink we’ve become crazy about called Ayran served like soup in a metal bowl with a spoon.

On our trip we’ve seen some amazing hints of Roman glory. The aqueduct in Segovia, Spain and the marble port in Split, Croatia leap immediately to mind. Now, in Gazi Antep, we ran into Roman prowess again. The mosaics that tiled the floors at the old city of Zeugma were fantastic! The life-like images made out of bits of stone were an astonishing display of skill. One of the great elements of the museum was that they had recreated some layouts to give you and idea of what it would have been like to live among the elaborately tiled floors. There was even a mosaic-tiled fountain floor, which I think is genius.

As the Romans do

We’ve had a bit of a time of it since coming down from the mountains to Mardin. The nights just don’t cool off. We gaze with longing at the local solution – sleeping outside. Many houses and even 24-hour gas station attendants seem to have this adult sized metal crib in their yards with a carpet thrown down where they retire to catch every whisper of breeze that passes by at night.

Turkey has a huge “greening the desert” project underway using water from the Euphrates to turn hot dry southern Turkey into cropland. As you can imagine, the countries downstream aren’t pleased about the heavy water usage.

Driving along and feeling very hot we noticed boys, and later adults, and even a few fully clothed women getting happily wet in the huge concrete open irrigation aqueducts. We were hot and sweaty and now we knew what to do. When in Rome…. We found ourselves a quiet corner and got in the water with a sigh of relief. The water was streaming along and we had to hold on at all times to stop from floating along. We got to wondering if the Romans ever used any of their aqueducts as creatively…

Aqueduct dip

Mardin

Mardin is a great desert town built on a hill looking out over the plains toward Syria. The whole town seemed to be in a baked sandy colour. It has become a hot spot for domestic tourism There were a couple strikingly-carved minarets, including one that had a spiral pattern carved into its surface.

One of my favourite finds was Sahmeran. A Kurdish mythological figure. A mermaid on land. Half woman, half snake. She was everywhere and very colourful. I was told that she can also be used as a ward against the evil eye.

Here’s a few more Mardin shots:

Mmmm Green Awesomeness

Pure Green Tart Goodness

These little babies look like regular pears, but they don’t have a flat bottom like the pears I’m familiar with.  They do, however, have this awesome ability to morph from a tart crisp flavor to soft and sweet.

This makes them absolutely perfect for Christina and I.  I like them green for their lovely tart crisp tastiness, she likes them yellow and sweet.  Every day we pull out a bag of them and sort out a few that are ‘Christina’ and a few that are ‘Awesome’.

They only cost about a euro or a euro fifty for a kilo!

Ancient Ani

Ani is the ruins of an old Armenian city, bordered on two sides by a gorge.  Conquered and reconquered. The central building flipped between mosque and church a number of times.

What is left is a good portion of the impressive outer wall and the ruins of a number of churches. Some with frescoes, some with decorative carvings, some with beautiful stone inlay of alternating stones.

Look out for the convent as safely out of the reach of city as it is possible to get while still being visible. And the church that was struck in half by lightning recently.

Results: The Invite

Out to GET ME

Now that you have all read about Turkish generosity in Christina’s post, let me tell you about how my eagerness to enjoy Turkish hospitality ended with me at the hospital!

Two of the dishes served to us at our friendly farmer’s house were hot sweet milk and cream.  Now the cream wasn’t for drinking, it was for dipping your bread in, I mean obviously, right?  That night and the following day, I had some truly interesting stomach cramps.  For those of you who are sci-fi fans, there is a great scene in Alien in the ship’s mess hall that pretty accurately describes my intestines reaction to the campylobacter I was gleefully dumping into it.  If you haven’t seen Alien, what the heck are you doing right now that is so important?

Anyway, three days of coke and biscuits later and I’m at the hospital (feeling a bit better) but with some pains lingering under my floating rib for which I’d like a kidney infection test.  There were a couple of cultural oddities involved in our hospital visit, which I’ll detail below:


  1. When we asked for directions in town, we get a volunteer who wants to drive in the van with us!
  2. When we get to the hotel, we finally arrive at a doctor’s station with a posse behind us.  Imagine a hospital with the usual crowd of souls doing various monotonous or painful things in the plentiful public areas in the typical hospital.  Now imagine they are cats and we walk through 75% of the hospital dragging a large sack of catnip.  Now you have a good mental image of my triumphal arrival in the room followed by a dozen or more desperately curious onlookers.
  3. Everyone crowds around while I explain that I have an ache under my rib and I’d like a urine test.  Mr. friendly doctor man doesn’t understand me.  Channeling my six year old self, I quickly sketch out a large penis peeing adroitly into a dainty cup (while everyone pushes forward for a look).  Mr. friendly doctor STILL DOESN’T UNDERSTAND ME.  At this point, with bladder near bursting I very nearly begin to channel my four year old self for some miming of what I really really need.  Thankfully, somebody (apparently channeling their six-year old self says a word in Turkish and Mr. friendly doctor man slaps his hand over my beautifully drawn cock and balls, blushes nicely through his natural color, and hands me a form to take to the next desk.
  4. After my quick urine test I return to Mr. friendly doctor man who smiles broadly and says everything is negative!  I confirm, ‘Negative?  No Problem?’.  He then does something which really ought to earn him a new moniker.  Mr. terrible meany man then mimes some turning around motions, to which I dutifully comply, and then he PUNCHES ME IN THE KIDNEY!!!

    This Will Sting a Bit...

Apparently doctors don’t get sued in Turkey.  I’m not sure what result he was expecting, but since I grunted and f linched in pain from his *surprise shot to the kidneys* which did NOT change his prognosis, I can only think that I was meant to fall screaming to the floor.

Sitting here now, kidneys recovering nicely from my ‘diagnostic’ tests, I can only wonder how some other Turkish medical tests go down.  I hear you can get a great deal on prostate exams….

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