Trojans, Romans, Ruins and Wrecks

Trip Start Jun 03, 2010
Trip End May 28, 2011

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Where I stayed
Ada Camping

Flag of Turkey  , Balikesir,
Thursday, October 7, 2010

October 4, 2010

Well, today marks our fourth month away… we have done one third of our trip! Amazing! Poland, the Baltics, St. Petersburg, Scandinavia, Czech Republic, Vienna, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo, and then Istanbul. So many adventures.

But I still can't help but feel overwhelmed at the history of this innocent and tiny little campground on the edge of the Dardenelles where we are the only campers, grilling our lamb chops and sipping our wine.

This is the narrow strait, maybe 30 kilometres long and a few hundred metres wide, which is the only water access, via the Sea of Marmara, to Istanbul and ultimately to the Black Sea, Russia, the Ukraine, Central Asia and the ancient riches of the orient, and today, to the modern riches of Georgian and Kurdistanian oil and gas. This innocent little piece of water looks so much like the simple straits we are familiar with between Vancouver island’s east coast and the Gulf Islands, yet this bit of water 10 metres away from me has seen the likes of Odysseus, Athenian navies, Alexander the Great, Roman emperors and their navies, probably Saint Paul and other biblical characters, the infamy of the Crusaders, Byzantine navies, the Turks and Ottomans. Just over the hills to the northwest are the infamous battlefields of Gallipoli where Ataturk and his forces held off the Aussies and the Kiwis in WW I in one of the greatest slaughters of military history, and a few kilometers to the south is the ancient ruins of Troy.

OK… let’s get back to earth! We left Istanbul this morning around 9:30 am. We were able to follow a much more pleasant exit route from the city, along the waterfront Kennedy Caddesi, past the airport, and then along Hwy 100 and 110 skirting the north coast of the Sea of Marmara, past the campground at Semiazkum that we stayed on our way in to Istanbul, then down to the Gallipoli Peninsula. It was a full day of driving after our four day stopover in Istanbul, but it does feel goos to be back in the van.

The driving was mostly through interior northern Turkish kind of towns, nothing special at all, the highway was mostly four lane, and easy going, passing through towns which were busy with mini-busses, bustling shops and business type hotels, a few fields and occasional tractors or horses drawing wagonloads of produce to the towns. Pat drove for the first time in a few weeks… generally Bill has driven because he enjoys it, and Pat does not like busy traffic or tough shifting in hilly country… but the traffic was so light and simple today that it gave her a chance behind the wheel, and Bill a chance to relax.

Over dinner this evening we had a conversation regarding the pros and cons of supermarket shopping here versus the traditional produce markets. Pat finds the big supermarkets (called Hipermarkets here in Turkey) to be simpler, even though far less "romantic". The prices are pretty good, everything is in one shop, and it is easier to grab just small portions of fruits and veggies without the pressure to buy bigger portions. That said, the traditional produce markets certainly have the best sausages, cheeses, and the freshest veggies and fruits. Usually while on the road we shop in the supermarkets unless we happen upon a particularly interesting little local market.

We also were chatting about hotels versus the van for overnighting. For us, the van is our home, and we just love it. It is actually more roomy in some ways than our hotel room in Istanbul… it has two double beds instead of one queen bed, it has more storage space, it has a fridge and stove, and when the bottom bed is folded away, it has almost more floor space. Well, yeah, it doesn’t have a toilet or shower, but the facilities a few steps away are more roomy than the hotel facilities. The hotel in Istanbul was certainly worth it though, as it was so nice to be in the city, and able to come and go so easily.

Tomorrow we will likely take in the Gallipoli sites, then ferry across the Dardenelles to really begin our Aegean coast  explorations.

October 5

As planned, we did drive around the Gallibolou sites (Gallipoli), starting with the interpretive pavilion, then on to the town of Alcitepe and its war museum, then picnic lunch at a war cemetary at a peaceful spot in the middle of the combat zone. Today, the whole area is National Park, but that does not stop it from being a pretty agricultural zone, with herds of goats and herds of sheep crossing the roads, and Alticepe being a very rural little town with men sitting around at the cafes, tractors carting produce, dusty roads and low buildings. The museum wasn’t much, a private collection of old shell fragments, rusty old bayonet blades and rusty old grenades.

The cemetary was a bit more moving, with gravestones of a hundred or so Brits and Aussies, as young as 17 years old, and as old as 50. All tolled, over 140,000 men lost their lives in this futile ten month campaign, the brainchild of one Winston Churchill..

As interesting was the story of the naval battles that occurred in the Dardenelles in March of 1915. As I write, we are overlooking the area of the straits where about 20 British and French ships were turned back by the Turkish guns on shore, and a half dozen ships.

After the battlefield tour, we caught the little 20 minute ferry across the narrowest part of the strait to Carrakale. We didn’t linger there, but headed southwest toward Troy.

We read of a Campground near the village of Guzelyeh, on the waterfront just short of Troy, so we took that turnoff. We never did find the campground, so we ended up at a little freecamping spot. We actually stopped around 3:30 on a little road down to the beach, alongside some villas and 4 star hotels. It all looked fine until the woman who seemed to own the neighbouring villa showed up, and a fair bit of foot traffic rambled by us. So we moved along a kilometer or so to the lovely little spot under some pine trees, and just on the other side of the road from the Dardenelles, with a glorious view of the straits and sunset through the pine trees. It looks like this might have been an official campground at one time, but long since abandoned. The drawback is that there is garbage strewn all around us, but mostly plastic stuff, and nothing stinky, so, for the price (zilch) that’s fine by us!

October 6, 2010

Four set of ruins in one day! Our first stop was Troy. Yup, THE Troy! It is a very interesting site, even without the incredible historical connections, as it is actually 9 defineable layers of civilization, beginning in the bronze age around 2500 BC. It’s greatest period was around the 7th layer, which is the supposed time of the Trojan Wars, and the events and characters of the Iliad. The 8th and 9th layers lead up into Roman civilization. Interestingly, the Romans view Troy as their heritage, as the Trojan, Aeneas was believed to have escaped the Trojan War, fled to Rome, and become the progenitor of the Roman emperors. Incredible to think of such as Agammenon, Achilles, Aeneas, Alexander et al treading on the same stones as we were. Given the lateness of the season, there were not huge numbers of tourists, maybe two groups of Americans,  a Japanese group, and a group that appeared to be Turkish. One of the English speaking guides was very good, so we hung around close to that group.

Shortly after Troy, we diverted westward off of the main highway south, onto a secondary route nearer the waterfront. So glad we did! It was a smaller road, lumpy and pot-holed at times, twisty at times, and down to one lane at times, but far more interesting as we wove our way through small dusty towns with men at the cafes (Yes, only men), more tractors than cars, fields with women picking tomatoes and beans, (yes, only women…. the men were too busy at the cafes), and dodging sheep, cows and goats.

We came to the site of what appeared to be a ruins, called Alexandria Troas. It was only us there, and a man who appeared to be the guard… but a sign saying admission free. It was pretty clear right away that he was offering to be our guide. We were a bit hesitant, but he was friendly enough, so we took him up on it. We’re glad we did, because he showed us much more than we would have found. This ruins, looking like nothing more than a few exposed walls in the fields, turned out to be quite a huge complex, with a theatre, markets, school, roads and houses. Not much has been uncovered, but he was able to show us some of the diggings. We gave him 10 Lire ($6) after about 45 minutes… he seemed happy and so were we. By the way, he didn’t speak a word of English, but he did manage to convey quite a bit.

So, then on to the next one… some German campers had told us about the town of Gulpinar (Chryse) having some ruins, but we didn’t know what to expect. Again, it was a surprise… just a little Turkish town, no tourists or anything, but we followed the signs and found a semi-official kind of site… here was a guy selling tickets for 5 Lire each. It turned out to be a Roman Temple to Appolon (Apollo?). It was only discovered in the 1970s, so still undergoing excavations, but there were columns, capitals, marble everywhere, as well as some rooms, floors and walls. It seems this whole area was one big settlement.

We picked up some free food along the way. At one point we saw a nice tomatoe on the road. I said to Pat, if we see another one, let's pick it up. Sure enough, a few kilometres later, there on the road, a nice juicy, only slightly bruised tomatoe.... screech, stop, and an great addition to the evening's spaghetti sauce. At the Chryse site there were Pomegranites falling off the trees and being left to rot. We hated to see them go to waste....

The same German couple told us of a restaurant at a secluded little beach village down near Assos, called Sirvice. They had a great meal, and then free camping. So we headed down and found the little waterfront place, but no-one home. What was there was the 4th “ruin” of the day, a very recently beached small freighter, just about 50 metres offshore from the restaurant.

We set up camp on the road out front of the restaurant and watched the goings on on the boat while we prepared supper.

Just as we were eating, and old man showed up from the restaurant. We tried to figure out if he wanted some money for the camping, or if he wanted us to move into the yard or what. Really couldn’t figure it out. We soon noticed that there was light and activity in the restaurant by now, but we had already eaten! There was a younger man there who was a tiny bit easier to communicate with, and he pretty well asked us to move into his yard, and just buy some Cay (tea) or coffee to pay for the campground, which we did. He only wanted to charge me 1 lire for two cups of tea and the camping! I insisted on paying 5 lire, which is still only $3 or so. I guess that is what they mean by bartering in Turkey???

October 7, 2010

Another day of wonder. We climbed the long hill out os Sirvice, noticing the glorious views in the background, and the stone and brush shepherds huts in the foreground. The early part of the drive, to Assos, was rough and curving little road, through tiny villages, through sheep flocks and goat herds.

We didn’t really know what to expect as we approached Assos, but we did see some towers up on a hill, and then a heavy cobble stoned road up into the town. We skirted the town at first, and found ourselves on a one lane cobbled road clinging to a hillside, and descending to what appeared to be beach resorts far below.

As we began the descent, we came upon ancient walls, and soon saw a huge roman amphitheatre on our right. We stopped to check out the gate, thinking it may be closed, as no-one else was anywhere near. The turnstile was open, so in we went. What a magical place! This beautiful amphitheatre, made of reddish soft local stone, was nestled into the steep hillside below the town of Assos, and overlooking one of the most beautiful vistas in the world. Just imagine, 3000 people of antiquity, sitting in this amphitheatre to watch gladiators slay each other, and the beautiful straits and island of Lesbos beyond it all. The ruin was partially reconstructed, and partially authentic, which was useful to the imagination. We scrambled up to the top of the amphitheatre, and then higher to what was the agora (main square) of the Roman city, the baths, and the markets. This part of the ruins was unreconstructed, so it was just the two of us, no touts, no guards, no other tourists, scrambling on this steep hillside amongst helter-skelter blocks of stone and marble which once was a great Roman town.

Checking the posted map on the way back down, we realized that the main tourist site was around the other side, up and through the town of Assos to the Athena acropolis perched on the very top of this high promontory… so, hopped in the van, and swung around the back and into the town. The town was typical hilltown, with steep narrow cobbled streets. We parked near some cafes, and given the hour, entered the first one for  Kahve. Much to our delight, the Kahve, which is like a sweetened espresso, very small, very strong, very thick, came in little esspesso mugs, but encased in carved silver little covered carafes (see photo), It was the first time we had this stuff sweetened, and it makes it much more palatable!

After coffee we hiked up to the acropolis. This time, as we were in the town, we did have to run a gauntlet of shops and booths hawking tourist trinkets as well as some fairly decent looking knitted goods, spices and olive oil. Msny of the booths were closed due to th season, but there were still a half dozen traditionally dressed and expectedly stooped old gypsy looking women knitting away. No high pressure here!

The acropolis itself was remarkable at one time, and will be gain, as it is being rebuilt. As it is, it was still very interesting, with toppled columns strewn around our feet. Its location is the “selling point” being perched right at the top of this gorgeous promontory overlooking the straits and the island of Lesbos.

From Assos, we carried on along the secondary (meaning rough and lumpy), then main highway around the bay and toward Ayvalik. We definitely left the primitive country behind, and are back into modern civilization, with gas stations, supermarkets, and more conventional campgrounds.

This evening we are in a lovely campground called Ada Camping, just near the town of Ayvalik. We didn’t check out the town yet, as we wanted to get here to get some laundry done. They did not have washing machines, and were going to charge us 15 Lire to do it for us, so we did it by hand. We have done this a few times, and are getting into a nice tag team practice, with Pat washing and Bill wringing.

There are only two other camper pairs here. One couple arrived just as we did, in a Land Rover heavy duty “Discovery” model with Netherlands plates. Turns out they are about mid-forties or so, and traveling on their way to Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, so we chatted about the plans and complication of our prospective trips.

The other couple are a young couple, in their early thirties, traveling in a 1982 Volkswagen “Joker”, which is the same model as ours… but older, and theirs is a pop-top Diesel as opposed to our high-top Gasoline model. Lots of fun for Bill to chat with them, of course. They were Swiss, and his father had bought the van new in 1982. Parents have moved on to a newer model, and this young couple have been travelling in the old one for 6 months or so, through the Ukraine and Baltics, then over to France, Spain and Portugal. No idea where either of these two couples gets the resources to do such travel at their age, but more power to them!

The weather has changed… it has been decent, though not swimmingly so, all through Turkey. This evening though, has become very windy, and darned cold. We sprung out winter coats for the first time this evening. There was a bit of rain last night, but none yet today.
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billybob on

What an amazing couple of days. You're now getting to see why we loved Turkey so much! We talk about our daily "turkish experience". Sounds like you're getting a few extra per day.

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