One of the first things we noticed in Tbilisi was protesters all along their main road which goes in front of the parliament building. The protest mainly consisted of these “cells” that were set up on the streets labeled “cell 543” for example. They were maybe 5 by 5 foot boxes wrapped in cellophane. People were sleeping in them. However, when we were walking by them I noticed how few people seemed to inhabit the area. So on we went to Ian’s place. Ian served in Peace Corps Kazakhstan and visiting him for a bit was his former site-mate Jessica. So we went to dinner with Jessica and inquired about the cells. The protest was to get their president to leave office. However, there is no opposition party with viable candidates and they are not willing to meet and talk to the incumbent president. Even more infuriating we found out that these protests are sponsored by Russia and whoever sleeps in the aforementioned cells gets 20 lira a day. Now in Georgia 20 lira a day is not bad, I barley spent that and I was on vacation. So that’s the summary on the protests.
The next morning I took Jill to all the main sites in Tbilisi that I had already seen but she hadn’t. It was fun to see them again in the summer since it was winter when I had last gone. We also wandered a bit and saw some great new sites and parts of Tbilisi. We also did the Turkish bathhouse, a first for Jill, she was very brave. We ate great food and had the most amazing ice cream everyday. On May 26th we had tickets to Batumi on the night train. We arrive on time and find our coupe and begin to wait. About 5 minutes before we were scheduled to leave we heard a mass of people approaching. All of a sudden there were THOUSANDS of people walking alongside the train. The media was covering the event; there were lots of camera and bright lights. The people were knocking on the train… this lasted over a half hour. We found out later that they all walked to the parliament building. At the time we had no idea what was going on but the train wasn’t leaving as we just figured it was because they were alarmed by the mass of people. So we sat and waited. Then people started getting off the train and we had no idea why. No one speaks Azeri or English and we obviously don’t speak Russian or Georgian so we continued to sit. About 3 hours later the train still hadn’t left and a train worker came to our coupe and pantomimed “train no go.” So we went to the beginning of the train to find that about 15 protesters decided to sit on the tracks. So we had to find our way back to Ians at 1am because of 15 hooligans. There were rumors that this protest would be duplicated all throughout the country and transportation stopped completely. That never happened; the only transportation stopped was my train.
So the next morning we woke up early and took a 6 hour marshutka to Batumi. It was nice because we got to see Georgia’s countryside but it was uncomfortable and long as all marshutka rides are. We continued on to the Turkeys’ border. Since we lost a day we were moving forward with our travels. As Americans we were treated very well at the checkpoint and were able to get through relatively quickly and a ride to the nearest city, Hopa. At this point it was late and we decided to stay in Hopa for the night. There is not much in Hopa. We ate, went to an internet café, and checked out the black sea.
The next morning we were up early and off to Cappadocia. The planned rout to Cappadocia we planned on was not the most efficient we were told. After much negotiation we ended up on an overnight bus leaving at noon. However, the upside was we would wake up in Cappadocia. The bus was a nice big bus but nothing can prepare someone for 18hours on a bus; especially after being on a marshutka all day the day before. The bus stopped a lot picking up people and taking breaks and for gas. Every 20 minutes we stopped for the first 8 hours. It was insane. Also, there were boys being taken to military service so when we picked them up their entire families would be there to see them off. Then when we left, they would all hop in their cars and follow us to the end of town, honking all the way. Just when you thought it was over we would pick up another boy and it would start all over again.
We got to Cappadocia!! I had pre-picked a hostel (in turkey they are called pensions) called the Shoestring. Here we would stay in rooms carved out of a mountain aka caves! A little info for your brain: “The Cappadocia region is largely underlain by sedimentary rocks formed in lakes and streams, and ignimbrite deposits erupted from ancient volcanoes approximately 9 to 3 million years ago (late Miocene to Pliocene epochs). The rocks of Cappadocia near Göreme eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars and minaret-like forms. The volcanic deposits are soft rocks that the people of the villages at the heart of the Cappadocia Region carved out to form houses, churches, monasteries. Göreme became a monastic center between 300—1200 AD. First period settlement in Göreme reaches to the Roman period from Christianity. Yusuf Koç, Ortahane, Durmus Kadir and Bezirhane churches in Göreme, houses and churches carved into rocks till to Uzundere, Bağıldere and Zemi Valley carries the mystical side of history today.” From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cappad
Cappadocia is spectacular! We booked a tour for the south area and I booked my hot air balloon ride both for the next day. So we decided to walk around Goreme, the area where our pension was, and find ourselves a hike. We walked about an hour until we found the entrance to Rose Valley. As we began to head down the mountain Jill tripped on some rocks and sprained her ankle. We had no idea how bad this was going to be but she couldn’t walk so I assisted her back to the road and we had some locals call a taxi. By the time we got back to the pension her foot was very swollen. We decided to relax, use the free internet, ice, elevate and wrap her foot. Neither of us had had any real sleep and my morning started at 4am the next day. Also, the pension was having a Turkish barbeque in the main area so we decided to eat there.
The hot air balloon ride; quite possibly my favorite part of the entire trip! It’s really hard to explain the experience. As we were slowly floating in the air I had a spectacular view of a unique landscape, tons of other hot air balloons, and a sunrise. All I could do is take pictures and be quiet just taking it all in. So then I went back to the pension for breakfast and to be picked up for our day tour. We began with the Derinkuyu underground city. I liken these tunnels to ant tunnels!! They went about 3 levels deep, they were connected by narrow tunnels, but it was in fact a complete city. I REALLY enjoyed this as well. We had a tour guide telling us about all the history which I loved. I had taken a lot of pictures but later in the journey they were eaten by a computer virus. Jill has some pictures, but I am super disappointed I can’t show you my vision of this amazing place.
On we went to the Ihlara Canyon, which was a beautiful site to hike. Jill was a champ and totally kept up. We had lunch in the valley and then back in the van. Our next stop was, I think, a last minute add-on. We were told it was the set of the original Star Wars movie. I’ll admit the landscape did look like a distant planet. These pictures were lost as well. Continuing on we went to Selime a mountain carved palace and church. The end of the tour they took us to an jewelry store which showed us how they carve and shape onyx. They then proceeded to try and sell us jewelry. We were strong and didn’t buy anything and instead got a mountain top view of Rose Valley. This was a very long day and we were beat! It was the best day of the vacation for me!
The next day we decided to hike pigeon valley. This was not a great idea for Jill. I thought it was going to be an easy hike. It turned out to be a very steep and narrow trail, when there was a trail. We got lost… but I don’t see how anyone could find there way through it without a guide. Luckily, we found an old man who lived in the valley and was tending to his garden with his 10 dogs and 10 cats. We didn’t understand him, nor him us, but he proceeded to lead us out. He walked with us for I’d say over an hour until we were near an area where we could get out. I thought the entire thing was a hilarious adventure. I’m sure Jill would tell a completely different story. I did hear her say “pigeon valley can suck my ass” about 897449867 times. So we went back to the pension and took care of her foot. At this point we knew we did not want to take the bus back from Istanbul to Batumi so while we had free internet we booked a flight. We also found out that our couch surfer in Izmir was not going to be able to host us. So we changed plans a bit and were headed on a night bus to Seljuk, just south of Izmir, also on the Aegean Sea.
The main site for in Seljuk was one of the Seven Wonders of the World in ancient times, the Temple of Artemis. This was a famous place of pilgrimage for centuries. Anatolia has always had a fertility goddess: Mita to the Phrygians, Cybele (or Kybele) to many other Anatolian peoples, Artemis to the Greeks and Diana to the Romans. I really enjoyed this stop, Jill kept telling me “more piles of rocks, come on kat!” What can I say, I love history. We also visited the 6th century basilica of St. John the Apostle, İsa Bey Mosque built by the Seljuk Turks in 1375, the cave of the seven sleepers and the Grand Fortress. Towards the end of the day we went to the beach and dipped our feet in the Aegean Sea. We also did some shopping around the more modern area of town.
The next morning we were off to Bergama, just north of Izmir, which was a tiny town. We had limited time so I had to choose 1 outta 2 archeological sites, as a compromise to Jill, to visit. I chose the Asclepion (Asklepieion) of Pergamum (now Bergama) which was perhaps the world's most famous ancient medical center founded by a man named Archias, the Asclepion of Pergamum became famous under Galen (131-210 AD), a local physician who pursued his medical studies in Greece and Alexandria (Egypt) before settling here as doctor to Pergamum's gladiators. Starting around 300 BC, the cult of Asclepius became increasingly popular. Pilgrims flocked to Asclepieia to be healed. They slept overnight and reported their dreams to a priest the following day. He prescribed a cure, often a visit to the baths, the theatre or a gymnasium. I really enjoyed this site as well… I could strongly feel good energy there.
Next stop, Istanbul!! We took a night bus into Istanbul and arrived at 5am in the main bus station out of town. We were determined not to be ripped off by a taxi so we walked out of the station asking people were we could find a bus into town. Much Ado later we found a bus that started running at 6am. We took that bus to another bus station were we were instructed to get on a second bus. We were headed to my friend Marina’s hotel. Marina was visiting with her mom and we agreed to stash our stuff at their hotel and spend the day together. The second bus dropped us off in the area of Marina’s hotel and we then wandered around asking people for another hour. We finally found it at about 8am. With hindsight I wish we would have overpaid are taxi to take us directly there! Regardless, we had breakfast with Marina and Barbara (Marina’s mom) and made plans for the day. As we were eating it began to rain. Still, we head out to the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. The Blue Mosque was quite a site, really an extravagant and unique space. The Hagia Sophia was really crowded and expensive to go into so we decided to get outta the rain my going to the Grand Bazaar. This was a few hours of listening to really interesting sales approaches and bargaining for some good buys. We all tired of it at about the same time and to our delight the rain had stopped.
Marina, Barbara and I decided to check out the fish Market as Jill took a nap at their hotel. Barbara is a marine biologist so for me to be able to go to a fish market and ask her questions was really fun and cool. We also walked along the water and found the fishermen fishing. After our little excursion we went back to pick up Jill, grab our stuff, and check into our pension. We had a nice dinner with Marina and Barbara and parted ways. They were renting a car the next morning to drive down towards Troy.
The next morning Jill and I decided we would take a fairy ride to see the sites on both Istanbul’s Asian and European sides. The fairy ride was about and hour and a half both ways with a stop at a touristy island for a few hours. The fairy itself was very relaxing and we got to see a lot of great sites. There was a tour group by where we were sitting so we eaves dropped and got to hear all about the history of the area and sites we were seeing. When we returned I convinced Jill to eat on the ?? bridge where there are lots of great fish restaurants. On our way back to the pension we stumbled upon a music festival in an ampere theater. There were Turkish singers with a live band. A group of young local guys got up and started dancing in the middle of the area traditional Turkish style. This was pretty awesome to get to be part of.
The next day we decided to do Lonely Planets walking tour of Istanbul. I had done this with Kelly in Tbilisi at new years and really enjoyed it so I convinced Jill we should give it a shot. It turned out to be very interesting and generally a success. However, I thought I could find our way back from were we started taking a different route and got us lost. We did stumble on the ancient aqueduct which I liked. We ended up walking around a different more “real” side of Istanbul for a few hours. When we found our way back we went to the new mosque and the Spice Bazaar. When we got back to the pension we met this really rad British guy that was staying at our pension and ended up spending the evening out on the town with him.
The next morning we were off to the airport, back to Batumi. We arrived safely and went to go buy our tickets on the night train that night to Tbilisi. We walked around town to a park and sat on the rock beach. We ate some delicious Georgian food at a small local restaurant. And while waiting for our train bumped into some Azerbaijan PCV’s also traveling on our night train back to Tbilisi and were able to get our tickets changed so we shared the same coupe.
Back in Tbilisi the plan was to relax, do laundry in Ian’s washer and dryer and I was determined to get a Georgian Tattoo. This is my first time speaking of this to all my friends and family back home! So you, my blog readers, have the inside scoop!! I got a Georgian tattoo that says in Georgian script “magic is everywhere.” There are pictures below!
We went to the Georgian Peace Corps office and met the staff and country director. Everyone was really nice and the office was really big and amazing. Jill had the doctor look at her foot and ended up getting x-rays. It was just a sprain and she will be ok. We hung out with some more Azerbaijan PCV’s on vacation and had a great relaxing time before we had to get back to Azerbaijan on June 10th.
I got back into country and went straight to Mingetchavier to pick up Mo. We were both really happy to see each other. I visited with the Ming folks for a day before I headed back to Goycay. So that’s it! I’m home and about to be really busy during my last 3 months of service. If you read this entire blog I applaud you as it is the world’s longest blog post I think!
Love you all sooooo very much,
Disclaimer: “The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.”