Blog of the trip to Turkey, Malta, Cyprus

Pictures of Malta, Cyprus, Turkey

Europe March 2011
Sunday, March 6, 2011, 02:36 PM
Italy, Malta, Cyprus, Turkey

Wednesday, March 9, 2011, 02:34 PM
Northern Italy for a few days to get organized

Torino & Milano, Itasly
Saturday, March 12, 2011, 05:55 AM
Italy feels like a dying country. Not only people are depressed and depressing, but the infrastructure is rapidly deteriorating. Not fun at all. Compared with the mood in the Far East (where i was in november), this is the exact opposite.

Saturday, March 12, 2011, 12:57 PM

Perrault's leaning towers at Rho

Gtrafton's Bocconi University

Monday, March 14, 2011, 03:37 PM
Malta is the 133rd country i have visited in my life.
Malta is just a tiny island in the middle of the Mediterranean but it boasts some of the oldest ruins in the world, notably the oldest free-standing structure in the world: Ggantija.

Tomorrow i should have my own pictures of it. Today i saw Hagar Qim and Mnjdra, which are also 5000 years old. Less famous than Stonehenge, but way older.

They share many features with Stonehenge, which convinced me that Stonehenge is simply the pillars of a similar temple that was built of more primitive materials. An additional treat is that the temples overlook the sea. I took a short hike and i must admit the coast compares with California, except that here there is no fog.
Malta is as close as it gets to Libya and a couple of times i heard jets fly over the ancient ruins. Quite a contrast.
Malta was invaded by just about every people that ruled in the Mediterranean so it has infinite layers of history. It also has 300 churches, which must be a world record. It is also unique in that it was not ruled by a state but by knights (a leftover from the Crusades).

No visa required for USA and European passports
Bus from airport to Valletta E0.50
Bus from airport to temples: E0.50, 20 minutes
Bus from temples to Valletta: E1.20, 40 minutes
Entrance to temples (Hagar Qim and neighbor): E9
Entrance to Ggantija E5
Archeological Museum in Valletta E5
There is a ticket for all sites but it's E30
A sightseeing bus can be used to tour the island (hop on hop off in several places)
Granny's Inn in Sliema E18
Comfort Inn in Sliema E28 with bath
Difficult to find accommodation in Valletta. Sliema is better for restaurants anyway. It's a ten-minute ferry ride from Valletta.
Dinner prices are similar to Italy's (expensive)
Internet E1.50 per hour
Unfriendly and/or incompetent tourist office

Gozo, Malta
Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 02:13 PM
Rented a bicycle and went to Ggantija to see the oldest free-standing structure in the world (5000-6000 years old). Awe inspiring.
Then i biked to the coast and hiked along the coast to the Azure Window. The coast is quite dramatic and reminded me of a sunny version of Pt Reyes (or, if you are Maltese, Pt Reyes is a foggy version of Gozo island)
Gozo is the mythical island where Ulysses got stranded for seven years, seduced by the gorgeous Calypso.
The contrast between Calypso (the sexy feminist) and Penelope (Ulysses' wife who waited for him faithfully until he returned) has always fascinated me.
Anyway this was the end of the coastal excursion:

and this is what lies beyond the sign (not shown all the people who started following me)

Bus 452 to Gozo ferry E1.20 (1h)
Ferry E5
Bus 25 to Victoria E0.50
Xargha is 2kms from the roundabout at the entrance of Victoria
The bike shop is at the terminus in Victoria
Waiting for buses in Gozo is a massive waste of time
Biking from Victoria to Azure Windows is 20 minutes and en route one can also visit the Ta Pinu sanctuary.
Guesthouses seem to be a lot cheaper in Gozo than in Malta proper

Larnaka, Cyprus
Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 02:21 PM
Cyprus is the 34th country that i have visited in my life.
Cyprus is the second stage of my tour of prehistoric Europe. Cyprus is way bigger than Malta so also a bigger logistical problem.
Cyprus is a divided island: the north is under Turkish control and the south is an independent country that is even a member of the European Union.
Best food so far: bread.
Second best food: ice cream.
Choirokotia is a neolithic site from 7000 BC
İ was the only tourist. Admittedly it is not very easy to reach.
You cannot help wondering about life in these small villages. İ doubt much was going on inside these small huts.
Most likely people were spending their lives in the nearby fields. Children were playing where the adults were working.
And childhood probably lasted only until 5 or 6. I have pictures of children in Burma carrying loads of bricks.
Women were probably pregnant at 11 or 12, and life expectancy was probably 30.
You stare at the ruins and you wonder how many generations do i have to go back to find an ancestor who lived in that age?
And, still, there was one... in fact, there were many...

Money: euro
No visa required
Excellent tourist information office at the airport
Bus from Larnaka airport to Larnaka town 1E
Youth Hostel E20 (single room)

Arrival in Turkey
Sunday, March 20, 2011, 04:29 PM
I missed the ferry from Cyprus to Turkey. Idiots miss ferries.
Thankfully there is a flight that will serve the same purpose, but obviously a plane is not as romantic as a ferry.
I am gambling that the weather will improve rapidly. As of today, Mt Nemrut and the whole of East Turkey are under snow.
Nemrut is the big prize. It would make more sense to go west, but my heart tells me to go east and see the things that most tourists don't see.

Fly Cyprus - Adana 97 TL
Adana airport to bus station 15 TL
Bus Adana - Urfa 25 TL

Urfa, Turkey
Monday, March 21, 2011, 04:31 PM
Reached Urfa, near the border with Syria. Golbasi is one of the most impressive squares i've seen: pools, gardens, mosques, the castle...
In one hour i reached Harran, which is now only a desolate shepherd's village at the border with Syria, but used to be a major city state for thousands of years.
Not much is left to photograph. THe main attraction for tourists are the conical houses (something similar can be found in Puglia)
I "hired" a 12 year old boy as a guide. He spoke enough English to take me where i wanted to go. His family has 14 children. His father is 60 and just had another child from (i think) his second wife.
Whether life is simpler or more complicated for them rests to be debated.
Then off to Kahta, the base for exploring Mt Nemrut... still uncertain whether the road is open or not. Tourist information is virtually nonexistent.
I'm the only tourist around anyway (Urfa is a big city with lots of hotels, but mostly religious pilgrims and traders).
Prices for food and accommodation keep going down. On the other hand finding food and accommodation is getting harder (if you are vegetarian).

Hotel in Urfa: Ipek Palais 40 TL
Vegetarian dishes: corba soup and kasarly pide (cheese pizza)
Bus Urfa- Harran 4 TL 1 hour and back
From the Harran "bus station" walk straight towards the visible Aleppo Gate and keep going straight coasting the border post to the left.
Bus Urfa-Adyaman 10 TL 2 hours

Nemrut, Turkey
Monday, March 21, 2011, 04:43 PM
It was bad weather on Mt Nemrut. It is still winter. after all. I
managed to see the east terrace which has the same heads as the other
side. I lost the camera twice to the wind. Luckily the snow stopped the
fall and the camera just got a bit wet.
I was not the only tourist on the mountain: i was the only
person. Even the ranger station was abandoned.
On the way back i took the longer route that winds its way down some
majestic canyons and passes by Mithridates' capital of pre-Roman times
and the "new castle", a Mamluk fort of the 13th century perched atop a
steep ravine.

Hotel in Kahta: Pension Kommagene 30 TL
Transportation to Nemrut and nearby ancient sites 120 TL
Kahta to Trabzon/Trebisong bus 55 TL

Trebisond, Turkey
Tuesday, March 22, 2011, 04:46 PM
After a bus ride of 19 hours, i reached the northern coast of Turkey in
Trabzon/Trebisond. The city is a bit disappointing compared with its
medieval raputation, but the Sumela monastery and the church Aya Sofia
(both of Byzantine time) are worth the massive detour. Tonight i will
be in a bus again to reach Hattusa, the capital of the Hittite empire.
I need to travel overnight in order to speed up the pace. The weather
unfortunately is getting very cold (below zero at night everywhere i
want to go next).

Language is a major problem. This is the first time in several years that i find myself in a place where nobody speaks any of the languages that i know.
However, people are extremely friendly. They physically walk me to the places where i want to go (all i can say is "where is...")
Maybe it is more important that the people are friendly than they speak your language.
The bus system is incredibly efficient. I have rarely waited for more than 20 minutes between one bus and the next one.
Buses are comfortable and never crowded. Most of them have tv, headsets, etc.

Bus Kahta-Trabzon 55 TL 19 hours
Trabzon to Sumela monastery: 50 TL roundtrip 8 TL entrance ticket
Trabzon to Aya Sofia 3 TL 3 TL entrance ticket
Bus Trabzon to Sunguryu (near Ankara) to reach Bogazkale (the last town
before the ruins of Hattusa) 40 TL

Goreme, Turkey
Thursday, March 24, 2011, 04:48 PM
I reached Bogazkale from Surgulum to visit the Hittite capital of 3500 years ago: Hattusa. Not a single bus going there (nor any other human vehicle) so i had to hire someone to take me there. The guardian came to open the gate and we drove inside. It is a huge city that has been abandoned for thousands of years. Of course only the walls are left but it's still an imposing sight. It is very reminiscent of Machu Picchu in Peru, except that it is 3000 years older.
I still haven't met a single foreigner. I only heard of two kiwis who did Nemrut the day before me (hopefully with better weather).
My passion for climbing all the stairs and hills is beginning to take a toll on my legs in a country rich with castles, fortresses perched on steep ravines, minarets and ancient capitals on top of mountains.
We were done in 3 hours. Then i tried to reach Kappadokia. I just succeeded, after changing countless buses and waiting in countless cold bus stations. Stamina and determination did it.
Transportation is generally amazingly good, even in small villages (except for ancient ruins that lie far away from inhabited towns).
People are still very friendly even in more touristy places than East Turkey (i am slowly moving west). And very hospitable.
Now i am in Goreme, the most famous of the towns of Kappadokia.
I got the most picturesque pension in town. The rooms are old caves, surrounded by otherworldly rock formations.
I met the first foreigner: a tough German girl traveling alone. But still dinner by myself because i have so many notes, meditations, poems and photos to organize.
Also, an impressive number of people speak English here (finding the right buses to get here was another story).
Tomorrow i will need to rent a bicycle to see all the things i want to see: at least two of the villages (one is this one), one of the valleys, one of the underground cities and one "castle" (a famous rock formation).
I look outside and this village is truly surreal.
Alas, freezing cold.

Bus Trabzon-Surgulum 10 hours 40 TL
Buses Surgulum-Bogazkale-Surgulum 63 TL
Hattusa entrance 5 TL
Buses Surgulum-Kirikkale-Kayseri-Goreme 40 TL 6 hours (make sure you take a bus to Goreme and not just to Nersehir - only a few lines get to Goreme itself)
Paradise Cave Hotel 35 TL with bath +
S&S Restaurant 9TL for set veggie dinner +

Goreme, Turkey
Thursday, March 24, 2011, 04:50 PM
I rented a bike and (on a sunny albeit freezing day) biked around Kappadokia's landscape of mushrooms and chimneys ridden with ancient cave dwellings, rock-cut churches and even two underground cities.
I also did a couple of short hikes through the canyons.
I started with Goreme's fabled "Open Air Museum", which is a group of Byzantine churches cut in the rock. People who think these are masterpieces should definitely visit Lalibela in Ethiopia. More impressive was the underground city of Kaymakli, a maze of narrow low tunnels that extends eight stories underground.
They were built already in the 7thc BC. Anyway, the main attraction is the landscape. Alas the towns are getting modernized very rapidly.
I am clearly back into touristy territory: there were two tour groups in Goreme, everybody speaks English and the bus system is even better than before.

Goreme Open Air Museum TL23
Bike rental TL12
Kaymakl underground city TL 15
Bus Goreme-Kaymakli-Goreme TL 10
Paradise Cave Hotelk TL35
Set veggie dinner at S&S Restaurant TL 12
Internet TL2 for one hour

Antalya, Turkey
Thursday, March 24, 2011, 04:52 PM
After one last hike in Kapadokya, i headed for Konya. Near Konya i reached Catal Huyuk, that is the oldest town
we discovered so far. It was inhabited about 8800 years ago. The houses are built one against the other, without streets or doors.
To get in, you have to find the guardian. Entrance is free. He shows you to the two sites of excavations. No English spoken.
There is a small museum (hopefully these are copies of the original artifacts because they are not guarded).
The site is located far from civilization so the one thing you remember is the silence.
Tonight another night bus to change region: heading for the coast, ancient Lycia.
General comments on Turkey.
High standards of morality, honesty and hospitality.
German-style discipline and punctuality.
Travel in Turkey is mainly by bus. The bus station is the equivalent of the airport in the USA: usually located outside town, lots of companies, boarding gates, etc. Minus the check=in bullshit.

Bus Goreme-Konya 25TL, 3 hours
City bus from Otogar to Eska Garaj 2TL 20 minutes
Bus from Eska Garaj to Churma and back 3.50 TL x 2 45'
Taxi to/from Catal Huyuk 30 TL 15'
Overnight bus from Konya to Antalya 25 TL 5 hours

Didim, Turkey
Saturday, March 26, 2011, 04:56 PM
Pamukkale has a lunar landscape of traverine stone (white like snow)
and petrified waterfall and pools built by the Romans.
The ancient city was Hierapolis and the ruins are extensive but not very impressive.
A long bus ride took me to Afrodisias, that was the capital of this Roman province.
The ruins here are in better state.
Aphrodite was both the goddess of promiscuous love and the goddess of pure love. I see it as a civil war between two conceptions of love that was eventually won by the Christians, the advocates of the latter. Aphrodite was the mother of Eros, Harmonia and Hermaphroditos... of all possible forms of love. The Greeks did not take sides.
Returning to Greek and Roman times after the time travel into older civilizations feels a bit irrational.

Bus Antalya - Demre 15 TL 3h and walk 30 minutes
Entrance to Myra TL10
Bus Demre-Fethiye TL17 3.5h
then dolmus to nearest town and walk 4kms to Tlos
Fethiye Pamakkule 25 TL 3h
HotelKervenserey 35TL
Entrance to Hierapolis 10TL
Bus Pamukkale - Geyre 140 km 30TL 1.5h
Entrance to Afrodisias 8TL
Bus Pamukkale to Soke 23TL 3.5h
Taxi to Altinkum's hotel 15TL
Hotel Temple 35TL (wildly discounted rate because this is a three-star hotel)

Ephesos, Turkey
Monday, March 28, 2011, 05:00 PM
Ephesos was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. Far from being the best preserved classical city (as my Lonely Planet claims),
it is a bunch of broken pillars and dilapidated arches (and one building). History buffs like me can see it in less than two hours.
Lots of tourists because it is widely advertised and easily reached from Istanbul.
The temple of Apollon in Didyma was far more interesting and six centuries older (4th c BC)

Bus from Didim to Soke to Efes 20TL 2hours and then walk for 1 km
Entrance to Ephesos 20TL
Bus from Efes to Bergama via Izmir 16TL 3 hours and the bus station of Bergama is very far from Bergama
Gobi Pension in Bergama 35TL

Bergama, Turkey
Tuesday, March 29, 2011, 05:03 PM
Bergama was one of the many cities that allied with Rome in Asia. Both the Akropolis and the Asklepion date from the 2nd century AD. The Akropolis is wildly overpriced for a place that only has two visible structures: the temple of Trajan and the theater. However, the theater is truly an engineering marvel: carved inside a steep ravine. At the base there was the temple of Zeus that is now at the museum in Berlin.
The Asklepion is more interesting, if nothing else because it's not the usual Roman city: it was a sanctuary to the god of health. It has circular structures and underground passages. Today it is also an idyllic place with wildflowers, turtles,
toads and iguanas.
Both require a good walk from downtown and most tourists probably just take a taxi. Along the way to the Akropol there is a colossal dilapidated Christian basilica that used to be a temple to Isis.
I had to skip Troy because it was too difficult to reach and it has little to offer: just walls.

Bergama: Akropol TL 20 Cablecar TL8, Asklepion TL 15
Bus Bergama-Canakkale 25TL 4h but the turnoff for Troya is 37 kms before Canakkale and then walk 5 kms
Bus Canakkale-Edirne 30TL 3.5 hours
Edirne: Hotel Anil 30 TL no bath

Wednesday, March 30, 2011, 05:06 PM
I missed Troya because of late bus connections, but there was very little to see anyway. I headed straight for Edirne, in Europe, across the strait of the Dardanelles. The atmosphere is immediately different. Alas, mostly it is disappointing: worse services, higher prices (the euro is suddenly the de facto currency instead of the Turkish lira) and more aggressive attitudes. And it is difficult again to find anyone who speaks a word of English.
Edirne has Sinan's masterpiece. Sinan was the greatest Ottoman architect, mostly famous for the Blue Mosque of Istanbul. But the one he built in Edirne might be his real apex.

Bus Edirne to Istanbul 20 TL 3 hours or less
Filthy hotel that does not deserve to be mentioned.

Istanbul, Turkey
Thursday, March 31, 2011, 05:11 PM
Istanbul used to be my favorite European city.

Unfortunately, it has converted to the euro and it has become expensive. Worse: people have become greedy and aggressive. You can't literally walk around downtown anymore. You are constantly approached by people who want to sell you something. For the first time in this trip i had to sleep in a dormitory bed because single rooms were too expensive. The area south of the Blue Mosque used to be popular with us backpackers but i guess we spread the secret a bit too much and now it has become a touristy area packed with clueless affluent tourists. Difficult to have a decent meal for less than 10 euros (15 dollars)

Now i can draw my own map of the main sites in Turkey:

Final thoughts on Turkey.
Turkey is a colossal museum of ancient civilizations. It was occupied and invaded by all sorts of civilizations. Luckily, most of them did not destroy the previous one, so we can still view the remains.
The current occupier is Turkey, a republic that was the first Islamic country to try and limit the influence of Islam. It is probably a model for all the other Islamic countries of the Middle East who are going through their own republican revolutions in 2011.
It is therefore the most "westernized" and modernized of Islamic countries.
It is impressive how existentially simple the Turkish people are. They are content with (and highly disciplied in) their simple routines and social roles while clad in Western clothes and administered by a Western infrastructure.
The economic boom of Turkey (whose economy is rapidly catching up with the snail economies of Western Europe) proves that progress can coexist with Islam (although a tamed version of it), with overpopulation (Istanbul is the largest metropolis in Europe and one of the largest in the world) and with scant natural resources.
It also proves that history makes sense: Turkey is the descendant of the Ottoman empire, and the Ottoman Empire was one of the world's powers at the time of the British and French empires. It is simply coming back after a century of adjustment.
Turkey is much freer than China but Turkey too limits the freedom of expression. All websites that mention the Armenian genocide are blocked, including my Turkey's schools seem very efficient at brainwashing the young generation with a very biased view of history. Luckily for the West, that view is mostly anti-Ottoman. Turkey is therefore another case of imperfect democracy that delivers more than the canonical democracies of Western Europe.

Metro bus line to Istanbul has a free shuttle to the Aksaray tram station. You have to wait quite a bit for the shuttle and the shuttle ride is quite long, so the transfer can easily take one hour. From Aksaray it's about 20 minutes by tram to the Blue Mosque square 1.75 TL.
Budget Hostel south of the Blue Mosque 15TL dormitory bed.
Walking up the Galata Tower costs 20TL.
To go to the airport you can take the tram 1.75TL to Zeytinburnu and then the subway M1 to the airport 1.75 TL in about one hour total.

Friday, April 1, 2011, 03:45 AM
End of my trip through the Mediterranean and return to Western bullshit in all its glory.
The highlights of the Mediterranean trip were the ruins of ancient civilizations (even before civilization was born): Catal Huyuk in Turkey (the first town), the megalithic monuments of Malta, the Hittite capital Hattusa (the Hittites being the first Indo-European civilization), and lots of cities and sanctuaries that were contemporary with Greek and Roman civilizations (the rock-cut tombs of Lycia, the giant heads of Nemrut, etc).
The landscape of Turkey is sometimes unique, neither European nor Middle-Eastern. Kapadokya is the most famous example, but i also liked the desolation of the border with Syria.
I met very few tourists until i reached the western coast of Anatolia, which is highly touristy.
Pictures of the whole trip:

Pictures of Malta, Cyprus, Turkey

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