Hi, I'm back, and as promised, here's a little summary of what happened.
The first four days I spent in Istanbul and had despite the conference some time to visit Pera museum, Istanbul Modern museum, Chora church, church of the Bulgars and walk a bit in Fener and around Golden Horn. Since I was staying next to the Taksim square, I decided to leave the "must sees" to the end of the trip.
From Istanbul I took an airplane to Diyarbakir, got a car from there and started south. The aim was to visit Deyrul Zaferan and Mor Gabriel monasteries. I got the idea from reading William Dalrymple's "From the Holy Mountain". Deyrul Zaferan is nicely restored, but in the nineties it was still an operating monastery, while now it is just a museum. Mor Gabriel, on the other hand, is still functioning. Since I got there late in the afternoon, I had very little time there, but I witnessed the evening ceremony, which I guess, is held in Aramaic language (the language that Jesus spoke). Two old men with gray beards were singing with a bunch of young boys and it was beautiful. Both of these monasteries belong to the Syrian orthodox church. The cities Mardin and Midyat on the way looked nice, I stopped in Mardin for a fresh pomegrenade juice.
For the night I managed to get to Hasankeyf, which is a nice village on the banks of the Tigris river. There's only one basic motel and while waiting for somebody to arrive there, I got to know lots of locals, including a restorant owner. So I had dinner afterward next to the dark river. Next morning I had some time to look around, there's a castle and some ruins, where a tomb is still standing (Zeynelbey türbesi).
I continued east, towards lake Van. Didn't find the way to Nemrut Dagi unfortunately (not the one with the giant heads), but visited seljuk tombs in Ahlat. Amazing place, really. Nice views to the lake as well, all the way.
For the night I reached Dogubeyazit, visited the Ishak Pasha palace the following morning and for my surprice discovered some Estonian-language information there. It seems that the first one to climb Mt Ararat was a professor from the Tartu University, named Friedrich Parrot, in 1829. I countinued north, along Iranian and Armenian borders, and since the area seemed to be heavely guarded, I dropped the idea to look for the Beshkilise ruins somewhere near Kars. So I went to Ani instead - picturesque ruins of ancient Armenian capital, which was badly damaged in an earthquick somewhere in the 14th century. The four hours before sunset were clearly not enough for me there. Sun sets really early, at least this time of the year.
Next day I drove around the Cildir lake, visited Seytan kalesi (Devil's castle), where there are very impressive mountains. The weather was clouded, so it looked like a suitable place where devil could reside. Nice views countinued on the way to Tbeti church. Before reaching Yusufeli for the night, I stopped to climb to Porta monastery. I'm not sure, if I found it or it was just a stone looking like a house. The views from the were nice, though.
From Yusufeli I went to see Dörtkilise church near Tekkale. Luckily, there was a sign to mark the place of the ruins, otherwise I'd probably missed it, because the ruins are high above the road and on this narrow mountain road you tend to keep your eyes fixed on the
road and the holes in it.
From Tekkale I drove to Erzurum, visiting Tortum waterfall and Öshkvank church on the way. Well, in October there of course was not much water in the waterfall, but I got to see the colorful rock, which is probably hidden behind water in the spring.
Ulu mosque in Erzurum was the first mosque I visited in Turkey. A nice peaceful place. And Erzurum Evleri restaurant is a nice place to eat. In Erzurum I parted with my car and flew back to Istanbul.
The final two days were for seeing the Blue mosque and Aya Sofia. Blue mosque is beautiful, but it kind of felt a bit too crowded after eastern Turkey. It was also annoying to see these thousands of plastic bags thrown away there every day. And probably after visiting Iran, it is not so easy for a mosque to impress me... Since it was raining, I went underground and saw the Basilica cistern and after that visited Cemberlitas hamam. The last one was an interesting experience. Very touristic, but still interesting.
There was still time for me to visit some more places, so I opted for Sülemanyie mosque and Rüstem Pasha mosque. Rüstem Pasha is very nice, but Sülemanyie was unfortunately closed for renovating. After a "compulsory" visit to Spice bazaar and Grand bazaar, I'm home again. Safe and sound.
I can recommend Saruhan hotel in Istanbul, nice family-run place.
Some general remarks, in case someone is planning to to something similar, because it wasn't easy to find information about the region in the internet:
- the roads are mostly very good and there was only little traffic, so driving is easy. Small roads between villages are not so good and very narrow, of course.
- gas is expensive.
- there aren't many signs around, especially if you're looking some not so often visited place. While you can get lost with Lonely Planet, the descriptions from RoughGuides, that I used, were very accurate. The map I managed to buy from Istanbul, wasn't of much help (it was a 1:1 200 000 map, LP maps are better). It can be tricky to find your way out of a town
- English is not spoken everywhere, I helped me a lot to know some Turkish (learned some before the trip from www.turkishclass.com and other similar websites).
- most of the places were empty of people, but there is still garbage everywere. It's not only Turkey, of course... And lots of "modern additions" to ruins.
- although nothing serious happened, I probably would not do it again and I'm not sure, if I'd recommend a similar trip for another solo woman traveller. Turkey was the first place in the world where I didn't feel safe (exept for South Africa) and I have travelled some places before and not always with a companion. Most people were friendly and nice, but not everything I experienced, was equally nice (and I do not wear revealing and/or thight clothing, while travelling, also I tried not to go to eateries where I spotted only men etc).
There are some pictures in my blog and on my flickr-account (http://www.flickr.com/photos/nipitiri/sets...57622636139497/
), if anyone's interested.