The Invite

Talk about generosity. The Turks have everyone outdone. They take generosity to a whole new level. We’ve been offered numerous cups of çay, and it seems that any time we are near an eating family we are offered food. In Turkey, the next question after “Where are you from?” is “Would you like some of what I’m having?”

High plains

At the crest of the hills we’d been exploring was an amazing landscape. As we crested a big hill, with lots of stops to keep the engine cool, we arrived on this big high plain at an altitude of over 1700 m. Flat, grassy and treeless as far as you could see with only the hint mountains in the distance.

Driving along we see farmers working in their hay fields and Stephen decides to stop and ask about how everything works, and soon he is throwing hay around with a pitchfork and I’m steering the horse, much to the amusement of our new friends.

Hay there!

Next thing we know we are being offered food, of course. Dried salty cheese that seems like a good invention to outlast a day in the fields in the sun. This time we are prepared for generosity and pull out a melon we’d bought to add to the impromptu picnic.

We seem to get on famously, in spite of the lack of English and we’re invited for dinner at his house that evening. Our directions consist of the name of the town in the distance that has been pointed out to us and the name of our host. And amazingly, that is all we need.

That evening we show up as promised and slowly introduced ourselves to the rest of the family and got a bit of a gendered tour – Stephen off with our host for a garden and yard tour, and I with our hostess to see and help separate fresh milk into cream and milk for cheese making.

What comes next? Dinner preparations. A rooster is selected from among those running around the yard, and suddenly I’m helping with the plucking. My English pheasant plucking lessons made me feel a bit more confident.

The family

We had a great time sharing food and miming, drawing, and laughing our way through conversations. We did get some extra help; two of the kids had started learning just a bit of English in school and there was a mini English-Turkish dictionary lying around that saw a lot of use that night.  It was a great evening. And I am still amazed at the generosity and friendliness that sparked our host to invite us to share his family’s home and food.

Click on the PicLens viewer below to see a few more shots of our evening’s adventures:

The Boatbuilders of Kurucasile

Beginning and Finishing

While scooting along the north coast of Turkey, the Black Sea coast, we arrived at Kuracasile and found out where all the handmade wooden fishing boats were coming from.  As we walked towards the harbour, we ran across several boat skeletons of various sizes in various lumber yards.  At the Harbor itself, we walked into one of the largest operations which had a group of tired but friendly boat builders sitting and drinking tea outside.  They waved us over so we were only too pleased to get up and close to their work and maybe try a bit of international charades.


Keel Comparison

They apparently specialized in a small small fishing vessel with a decent sized cabin, since they had this same boat in various degrees of completeness staged all over their workshop area.  This was ideal, giving us a great look at what goes into the guts of one of these boats as well as what the finished product might look like.










Rickety Supports

The keel and the ribs of the hull are apparently where the turning bits of wood into boats starts.  The whole enchilada, with all its carefully measured curved surfaces, is delicately balanced on a network of wooden struts to keep all the pieces upright and in position.  It all looks very rickety and prone to fall over if curious tourists decide to start prodding or accidentally kick out one of the stilts, so we did our walking around and pointing with a bit of care.








The nearly finished product looks quite comfortable, if perhaps a might heavy due to all the wood being used. Note all the handy cabinets and storage area in front.  If you look closely you can se e that the bottom is clad in flat flexible sheets, but the wood in the area near the rail has been nicely fastened to the boat using small wooden dowels to minimize use of metal.








The Inside

The boat builders say that a wooden fishing boat takes about four weeks to make and costs approximately five thousand euros, if you are in the market for one of these handmade beauties.

While scooting along the north coast of Turkey, the Black Sea coast, we arrived at Kuracasile and found out where all the handmade wooden fishing boats were coming from.  As we walked towards the harbour, we ran across several boat skeletons of various sizes in various lumber yards.  At the Harbor itself, we walked into one of the largest operations which had a group of tired but friendly boat builders sitting and drinking tea outside.  They waved us over so we were only too pleased to get up and close to their work and maybe try a bit of international charades.

Leaps and Bounds

For those of you paying close attention, you will have noticed that we’re behind in announcing our current HOW FAR? contest leaders. Since the last announcement we whizzed through Bulgaria and crossed into Turkey, and have added considerably to our mileage, having driven all the way to the easternmost edge of Turkey next to the Armenian border. The current contest headliners are Dick for his guess of 10 countries, and Nick for his guess of 9000 miles.

I would like to mention Tricia’s guess of 9 countries, Martin’s guess of 7,500 miles and then, Romey’s guess of 8,500 miles that all had their time, but slipped under the radar until now.

Festival atmosphere

We’ve had the luck to be in the area just around festival time. This past weekend we spent a day at two different festivals in different towns. The Meydancik festival was way up on the mountain above the town. We were continuously worried about the poor road quality causing poor Véronique our van to rattle away. Overheating up the switchbacks was also a concern. We did make it in one piece in the end.

It seems that the festivals are highly regarded; we heard lots of good things about it before we arrived and it seems that many people come back from jobs/life in the city to participate and visit with friends and family. We did our fair share of people watching and had fun noticing the differences in style that gave away the urbanites back in town connecting with their roots.

The big highlight was the folk dancing which everyone seems to be into. Once the musicians started up, the dance floor kept expanding to accommodate more people. The dancing takes place is a big circle with everyone holding pinkies. It goes STEP-STEP-STEP-KICK forward, then four steps back. And it speeds up and everyone’s moves get more effusive as the song progresses. We do have videos, but with the youtube ban in Turkey, they can only be tantalizing promises for the moment…

Don’t forget to look out for a glimpse of a Turkish redhead among the dancers. We’ve been seeing a fair number along the road.

By the second festival, in Ardahan I could no longer sit and watch. I was adopted by a Turkish girl in pink, Esra, and we went into the dancing fray together.

Both of the festivals allowed people to camp out, and the Turks seemed to take camping very seriously, tranporting huge loads of cushions as bedding and whole kitchens, it seemed, in spite of the kepaps and doners for sale. We benefitted by getting to try some freshly made fried pide bread from some generous cooks as we explored the festival. We also stumbled upon a bagpipe – apparently a typically Georgian style which isn’t that surprising considering we’re closer to Georgia than to Istanbul at the moment.

We owe a big thank you to Gursel Aydemir and his family who took us around Ardahan and shared the festival with us.

The King!

Even the Motorcycle

Too Cool for School

While traveling along the Black Sea coast along the North edge of Turkey, we took a few dips to try and cool off from the hot August sun.  After one such dip we ran across this character and realized that we were not so cool after all :-(.

I’m not sure if I’ve heard any of his music blaring from any speakers (Turks like their music L O U D), but this chap’s stature was generating a fair bit of excitement down on the boardwalk.  I’ve tentatively dubbed him the ‘Turkish Elvis’.  Its clear from the display that he is way cooler than I will ever be.

Hillscapes

We found the hills and have been captivated by the landscape right next to the Georgian border. Between the towns of Artvin and Ardahan is a stunning landscape of high altitude grazing pastures, called yaylalar set in the hills, and a national park called the Sahara – it couldn’t be more different!

I hope you enjoy feasting your eyes as much as we did.

Up into the hills

Admittedly this is a bit out of order. We still need to fill you in on our trip along the Black Sea coastline that we followed from Istanbul. Since then, we decided to head into the hills in the north-east corner of Turkey to find a new landscape and cooler nights at least.

Here are some pictures from a town called Ardanuc with the historic ruins of a castle perched high on the hills on a natural cliff-face that was magnificent and impressive. We spent the night under its shadow and climbed up the next morning.

I’ve also included photos of a small hiking path, just outside of Ardanuc that leads you into the bottom of a fantastic gorge.

Çay and Tasty snacks

Çay (pronounced chai), or tea, is the popular drink here in Turkey, drunk without milk, in delicate vase-shaped glasses made of glass, always served on a saucer, with sugar to sweeten it. While wandering around Istanbul, we saw numerous trays of tea carried off to be delivered to various shopkeepers, and empty chai glasses left out for collection. We’ve been enjoying learned to drink from these dainty glasses.

There were plenty of snacks on offer in the streets of Istanbul and from BBQ’d corn to sesame studded rings of bread to freshly squeezed orange juice, we’ve sampled a number of them. One great snack that we found very refreshing in the hot weather was a differently shaped cucumber that is peeled on the spot and sprinkled with salt.

My favourite, so far, of the ambulatory street vendors has to be the cold drinks man we found wandering through the bazaar streets, carrying basically a huge teapot attached to his back. When you order a drink, he would pull out a cup and bend over and the juice would pour out of the long spout with a flourish. There was a video taken that I’d love to share, but youtube is blocked in Turkey because of a Greek video that insults Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey (!!!), so our video will have to wait.

Bulgarian Roads: Always a Hard Sell

Half an Ad for Tea Rock

My computer was arguing with a local Internet Cafe, so this post is a little out of order.  We crossed Bulgaria just before Turkey…


We rushed across Bulgaria mostly because of some rumors we encountered regarding car-thieves and dodgy driving conditions.  Our plan was pretty much to cross the Serbian-Bulgarian border and rush past Sofia on the way to the Turkish border.  We didn’t even stop to get any local Bulgarian currency!  After an uneventful night at a small border town, we crossed into Turkey the next day.

Wardrobe malfunction at highway speeds.

Bulgaria doesn’t have a reputation for high quality roads, so we knew we were in for an interesting drive.  However, after spent a full day driving across Bulgaria, I have a sneaky suspicion that this reputation has two very different ingredients:


  • The size, quality, and distribution of potholes on the major highways was awe-inspiring
  • Roadside advertising was very eye-catching.

What was she selling?

The first point was to be expected on a country with patchy support for its infrastructure.  The normally impressive potholes were supplemented by huge patches where a road crew had dug up stretches of the road that weren’t up to standard and then apparently decided to take the rest of the week off.  At one point on a three-laned highway, we watched in nervous anticipation as tractor trailers swerved and dived across all three lanes for miles as if driving in some huge death-defying rally in order to avoid damage to wheels and tires.  Cars weaved between the trucks like small skittish dogs around the feet of galloping horses.

Keep those eyes on the road!

The second point made the whole driving experience a bit like a concentration test.  Take tired, lonely truckers who haven’t been home for a while.  Give them a demanding task like high speed navigation of a tractor trailer around the maze of potholes, unmarked road construction, and random cars dodging at a variety of speeds around them.  Finally, while all synapses are firing at max and hand-eye coordination has peaked, start flashing highly sexual imagery at them!



Souvlaki, Tea, or Me?

Billboards in Bulgaria are the most suggestive public advertisements I’ve seen anywhere.  Sure, sex sells, and since its no secret most of the world sports scantily clad women pitching products that don’t typically need a bikini to operate.   Therefore it did take a while for us to cotton on to the extent to which Bulgarian companies are willing to go to entice us to buy products such as car radios and double glazed windows.  Actually it was the car radio billboard near Sofia with a completely nude woman (tastefully?) draped over an enlarged car radio that first started to tip us off that the Bulgarians were perhaps stretching the point a little.  Nailing the point home was when we were looking for a bit of shade to eat our lunch and ran into the following sign painted by the local Greek restaurant.  Fully a third of the billboards we saw featured partially unclad women, but the outrageous camera angle on the bedroombeach ad got our vote for most tasteless.

I’m sorry that the pictures are not very good quality, but we were moving quickly and so snapped these while on the move.

We rushed across Bulgaria mostly because of some rumors we encountered regarding car-thieves and dodgy driving conditions.  Our plan was pretty much to cross the Serbian-Bulgarian border and rush past Sofia on the way to the Turkish border.  We didn’t even stop to get any local Bulgarian currency!  After an uneventful night at a small border town, we crossed into Turkey the next day.

Istanbul

I really enjoyed Istanbul. It was a great city, full of things to see. It is the kind of city where it would take weeks to exhaust the entertainment of just wandering the streets because of the wealth of unfamiliar elements to take in and enjoy.

Arriving in Turkey, it really feels that we’ve crossed a line. There were differences between Serbia and Croatia, but they were both Balkan countries, so there was also continuity. In Istanbul, when we asked about parking options, we were told not to worry. The way he put it, all we had to do was approach a hostel and say: “I have a car, what can I do?” and everything would resolve itself. Amazing how, with the right emphasis, this simple phrase turned into an almost metaphysical question.

An Istanbullu phenomenon is the tourist gauntlet. The tourist gauntlet, for those of you not familiar, can occur on any street where there is a concentration of shops or restaurants normally catering to tourists. As you walk down this street minding your own business, the restaurant hosts and shopkeepers start up conversations and try to entice you into taking whatever they are offering, all in English. They cleverly listened on our conversations to discover our language of choice. And also took their cues from our conversations with other shopkeepers. The end result is that you feel like you are being passed from one establishment to another down the street. The best line I heard while we were in Istanbul was “Is it my turn today?” It is this sales approach, especially when it comes to Turkish carpets, that has led some places to encourage Western tourists by posting a “Hassle Free” sign in their window. We even found the phrase built into a name.

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar was indeed grand. Stretching out over a huge area with everything for sale. We spent a long time wandering through, just absorbing.

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