2011
03.01

TURKEY: TENTATIVE ITINERARY
Time: MI +7 or -17 hours

No Visa Needed. 33 Overnights (33 days)
Time Frame: Tuesday, March 1 through Saturday, April 2

Must see UNESCO + More (red).
Preferred Hotels (green)

Arrive Istanbul (4-6) by plane from Cairo (1)
Arrival 4:10 PM with TK 0691.
Hotel Peninsula.
Historical Istanbul (2+3+4) Mosques, Hagia Sophia, Kariye, Topkapi, Ferry, etc.
Excursion to Sina’s Mosque at Edirne by bus. 250 km. 4+ hours. (5)
Flex Day (6)

Transit Istanbul to Safranbolu (2) by bus. (7)
411 km. 7-8 hours.
Hotel Bastoncu Pansiyon.
Exploration of historical Ottoman city and houses at Safranbolu (8)

Transit Safranbolu via Karabuek to Ankara (3) by bus. (9)
230 km. 3+ hours.
Hotel Angora House.
One day at the Ankara Museum (10)
Flex day (11)

Transit from Ankara to Bogazkale (2) by bus. (12)
200 km. 3-5 hours plus transfer times.
Baskent Hotel.
Day excursion to  Hittite Site of Hattusa. (13)
Day excursion to  Hittite Site of Yazilikaya. (14)
Flex Day (15)

Transit from Bogazkale to Cappadocia/Goereme (5) by bus 5h+ (16)
235 km back roads. 5 hours minimum.
Kookaburra Pension in Geroeme.
Open door museums, landscape, Underground Cities and caves (17-18)
Hot Air Balloon Excursion? (19)
Flex Day (20)

Transit from Cappadocia to Kahta (Nemrud) preferably Karadut! (3) by bus. (21)
550 km. 10-12 hours plus transfer times.
Zeus Hotel.
Climb or drive to Mount Nemrut. (22)

Transit from Kahta to Divrigi (2) by bus and train combination or just by train? (23)
300 km. 6 hours minimum plus transfer – could be two days…
Hotel? Nothing on line.
Divrigi
Mosque and town (24)
Flex Day (25)

Transit from Divrigi to Trabzon (3) by train, plane, and bus combination? (26-27)
400 km. 10-12 hours back roads plus transfer times. Two days?
Hotel Ani.
Day at “hanging”, rock-cliff Sumela Monastery (28)
Byzantine churches and old town of Trabzon (29)

Transit from Trabzon to Denizli (Pamukkale) (3) by plane. (30)

Plan A: Fly back to Istanbul. Book flight!
Kervansary Pension.
Day at Salt-cliffs and Hierapolis. (31)

Plan B: If I am ahead of schedule by several days, drive up the cost and hit Ephesus, Pergamum, Troy, and Bursa on the way to Istanbul.

Transit from Pamukkale to Istanbul (1) by plane. (32)
Hotel Peninsula.
Mailing Day. Istanbul.(33)
Night off in transit to Iraq. (33/34)

Missing: Grecco-Roman West coast. Troy, South-West Mediterranean Towns.

Transit from Istanbul to Baghdad via plane (34)
April 2/3, Departure at 3:15 AM with TK 0802 from Istanbul International Airport

2011
03.01

SYNOPSIS:

From Cairo to Istanbul- a travel day.   A reflection on Egypt, its climate, and its people; the good and the bad.  The images are a variety of daily life scenes from Egypt including the environmental damage.

One last time I opened the computer and dusted away the fine layer of sand that had accumulated since the last time I closed it – dust in Egypt is omnipotent and omnipresent.  I wonder how it will affect the life span of my computer and my camera…  I also wonder how it affects the overall health of the Egyptians who live with it all their lives.  My one month cough was a clear indication that all is not well.

I am en route to Istanbul via plane.  Once before, coming from Luxor, had I passed through this thick layer of yellow as the plane ascended and flew into the blue sky.  Was I just not tuned into this 15 years ago when I was here before, or where things different then?  I remember vivid sun-rises and sun-sets in Luxor then.  In fact, it made so much sense to me how the ancient Egyptians could not help but worship the sun god that was so ever-present to them.    Where I live in rural Michigan, I only become aware of the sun after it is way up, and I hardly ever see it set unless I am near a lake or an ocean.  But in Egypt, if you were up on a roof-top terrace or any other elevation you could watch the sun rise from its first rays to its last; but no longer.

We had a few blue-sky days, but most of the time a thick layer of smog was hovering above the cities from Cairo to Aswan, even in the country-side.  The sun hardly broke through as the day progressed.  What I will remember from this trip is haze.  If you wonder about some of the blue sky in my pictures – don’t be fooled.  There is Photoshop or LIghtroom, which I use.  The contrast scale does wonders…

15 years ago there was trash, but what I observed this time was filth beyond belief and to a degree that I cannot fathom how people survive this.  There are water channels crisscrossing the countryside for irrigation.  These channels are universally used as garbage dumps.  On our way to the pyramids garbage piled up along a channel’s bank so high that it had formed a mountain next to it.  The loose garbage then falls into the river and accumulates until at the next bridge or obstacle, it piles up slowing down the water to a trickle.  The water is slimy and thick and visibility is a few inches deep at best.  At one spot a rotten donkey carcass floated in the channel and a few yards down a young girl was doing her laundry!

Yesterday morning at Pension Roma, a very distressed young girl came in for breakfast talking hysterically to the receptionist who in vain tried to calm her down.  When she finally slowed down sufficiently, we got her to tell us her story:  Yesterday evening, just as night fell around 6 PM, she was walking with a young Egyptian guy near the City of the Dead – a huge cemetery a few kilometers from the hotel.   The road is a four lane thoroughfare with lots of traffic but few if any pedestrian.  They stopped at a street corner when a Mitsubishi pulled up and two guys jumped out.  Within seconds, they both had a knife held to their throats and had to surrender her hand bag which contained her money, passport, camera and a few other items.  Likely within less than a minute, the two guys were back in their car speeding off.  A taxi driver witnessed the scene, took them in, and tried to follow the car – in vain.

After she related her story, the three other people in the room for breakfast also had stories to share:  Two of us, including me, lost cameras.  One other person had $200 swindled out of her.  But in each case, we had to agree, we had provided opportunities, we had let our guards down, and we were not following the strict security measures we all knew:  Passport goes into a body bag; money goes into a money belt, cash will never be left unlocked, or handed over to a stranger (no matter how much sweet talk there is!) and cameras or valuables will never be let out of sight in public and crowded areas!  These are things all travelers know.  None of us was a novice tourist.  Yet, all of us had been zapped.   This was distressing.

Compared to cities like New York or other cities of millions of inhabitants elsewhere in the world, I still think that Egypt has much fewer theft incidents and acts of violence.  What is more common and annoying on a daily basis is the haggling, the idea to quote low prices and then guilt-talk you at the end of the day into paying twice as much as agreed.  I wonder if this is something that can be changed in the “New Egypt”.  If government corruption will be tackled and eliminated, if living wages can be instigated, perhaps, this attitude can over time be eliminated as well?  It has come top down.  It will have to be tackled top down.  There is so much of the tribal honor system still in place.  But it simply does not apply to foreigners.

But enough of the bad!  There are people everywhere who will seize opportunities and will not shy away from dishonest or even violent behavior.  As a whole, Egypt is a safe country especially if you observe basic security rules.  Egyptians are hospitable, outgoing, friendly, and proud.  There is a lot of respect towards women and people are ever ready to help.  The “Welcome to Egypt” calls from total strangers extended to me repeatedly  will ring in my ear for a long time!

I have gained a lot of respect for the intellectuals in this county, particularly the few whom I met at Tahrir Square.  One man attached himself to me last night on my way home from the Metro.  “You should try one of these” – was a voice behind me as I passed a sweet potato roasting  oven.  “Shukran-la”, I answered, no thanks.  I did not even look back.  I did not want company.  But a minute later the same voice was right next to me handing me a sweet potato.  “Here, try it!”  OK then, I sighed.  The middle-aged man next to me asked what I thought about the New Egypt.  I congratulated him and his country to this revolution and he started to tell me about himself.  He was a medical doctor, spoke several languages and used to live in New York.  When the revolution started, he came to Egypt to join and now he will stay because according to him, these young people need guidance.  “They are ignorant”, he said.  “My son went to university, but does not know the capital of Cuba”.  He was full of enthusiasm and in obvious love for his country.  “The ex-pats need to come back!”  he exclaimed.  “Egypt needs them now”.   I could only agree.

A few blocks down, he apologetically parted.  He would have loved to talk more, but was on his way to an appointment.  He wanted nothing from me.  He just reached out with a welcome gesture of a sweet potato and a desire to talk to an obvious foreigner about his country.  Finally, Egyptians can breathe.  He said that and I have heard it before.  They are proud of this revolution and want recognition of that.  He gave me his card should I ever want to continue our conversation.  I am sorry I had to leave today.  I would have loved to talk to him more.

Egypt, as so many other places in the world, is a country much more complex than we hear about in the West.  Depending on our own political and social views we can twist and turn isolated incidents and portray them as general and universal truths.  For every truth out there, there is at least once “counter-truth”.  To do Egypt and its people justice we have to stop thinking of it in single-track terms.

I did not fall in love with Egypt as I have fallen in love with other places I visited.  But I deeply appreciate the unique opportunities I had during this trip.  I lost a week of travel time and my plan to visit Coptic monuments and Sinai completely fell by the wayside.  I saw nothing of Cairo except Tahrir Square.  But I lost nothing.  I got a glimpse into history as it unfolded.  I had the monuments of the Pharaohs to myself.  I know that I will never be able to go back to them as I have been spoiled for life!  Someday I would like to return and see Coptic and Islamic Egypt.  And I would like to see what the Egyptians will make of  this incredible chance.  It will take a generation to tell.  I am sure.

I will leave the goddess Maat behind.  She did well.  But she belongs to Egypt and much work is ahead of her and her people!

Good bye, Egypt.

2011
03.01

SYNOPSIS:

About my experience at the post office, about my trip to and from the Giza Plateau, and some observations about what’s up at the three big pyramids.    Good bye dinner with Mountain Man.

The main post office in Cairo was tugged into a side street off Opera Square near the hotel.  The night before, I had made the trip out there to check on the location since I did not want to drag my 8 kg box around in circles.  A very attractive young man helped me to find it.  It turned out that he was an Egyptian journalist who thinks that Mubarak is a good man…  Yes, these guys are still out there, do I dare say in increasing numbers?  Their line is that it wasn’t Mubarak who was bad, just his government.  I don’t know how they explain away all of his embezzlements though.  I heard the same thing again today at the Giza Pyramid entrance; both times, from very young people.  Go figure.

The package counter was in the last corner.  Thankfully, I was the only customer.  To process my one international and one domestic package took them a good half hour.  Several pieces of paper stapled together with carbon copy had to be filled out by me and copied into a big book by hand…  Where on earth do we live?!  The price for my international mail was more than my plane ticket from Luxor to Cairo and about as much as some people make in a whole month.  This is crazy.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that this package will make it home safely.  Several Tahrir Square souvenirs, high-end papyrus paintings, and canopic jar carvings are on their way.  In November, there will be an exhibition and talk at WCC – mark your calendar.  😉

I ran so late that I decided to splurge on a taxi out to Giza.  You would not believe the harassment you face as you approach the ticket office.  Thanks, Lonely Planet for the warnings!  I was ready.  Just as predicted, there were guys who used the opportunity of the taxi slowing down in traffic to jump in with me!  They proceeded to tell me about short-cuts, camel rides, fake ticket offices, and about the fact that my taxi was not allowed to go any further.  All B.S.  I yelled at them from my back seat “Out!”, pulled them at their collars, and  repeated my “out” cries until they were gone.  The taxi driver chuckled at me in obvious admiration over how I handled these hustlers, but he stayed out of this.  Of course, he got me right up to the newly developed visitor center with parking lot and ticket office.  No problem.

At the ticket counter there were several young guys who asked me where I was from:  America.  As usuall, a big smile follows and the response is:  “Obama – good!”  One person continued:  “Obama good – Mubarak bad.”  Another guy responded “Mubarak good!” and then they shouted at each other and we were just short of a fist fight!  I pressed on to the Giza plateau but was immediately approached by guys on camels and horsebacks and surrounded by peddlers with a wide range of ugly souvenirs.  One by one, I looked at them and said:  “Shukran la. Shukran la!  Shukran la!!”  No thanks.  Oh, you speak Arabic, was the response.  I walked away.  They followed.  So I turned around and used up the third of five Arabic words I know and one by one I did the same thing:  “Masalaam.  Masalaam!  Masalaam!!”  Good bye.  And again, I walked away.  I did not say a word of English and finally the message got through.  After that I was left relatively in peace.

I had no intentions on getting inside the pyramids or the boat museum.  I had seen all of these 15 years ago.  This time, I wanted to explore the layout of the Giza Plateau, and see what side structures there are.  But the area is so vast, that I only got a glimpse of it all.  But there are many more tombs, mastabas, and subsidiary pyramids than one usually thinks about.

The site was frequented by mainly Egyptian families and a lot of young couples.  This must be a famous rendezvous place.  The Egyptians climbed the pyramids, the mastabas, the tombs.  Police officers stood idly by.  If you try that as a foreign visitor, good luck!

There were a few Japanese, and one inappropriately dressed group of young Europeans.  Overall, this is still a very low number of visitors.   I circled the two smaller pyramids, and the sphinx, walked up and down both of the remaining causeways, but I fell short to complete the big pyramid.   The site closes at 4 PM.  Light conditions were horrible – the day was hazy and the sun came the wrong way.

The Sphinx makes me cringe.  The over-restoration of its front legs and behind is criminal but irreversible.  Cairo has encroached on the pyramids in unconscionable ways.  Right across the Sphinx is a KFC and a bazaar.  The sense of the pyramids towering in the distance, rising in the middle of the desert as seen from the Nile is completely lost.  My favorite spot was behind the smallest pyramid of Menkaure and  its three satellite queens pyramids.

The pyramids did not capture my heart 15 years ago and they left me lukewarm this time.  I am much more impressed and moved by the temples and tombs.  Nonetheless, they are overbearing and awe-inspiring evidence of man’s capabilities – notwithstanding what all those E.T. “specialists” say!

On the way back I treated myself to my last authentic Egyptian experience:  Public transportation home.  Without a clue where to go or what to do, I managed to ask my way around and get help from locals who caught on to the two words I used:  Metro-Cairo.  First, there was a walk, then a micro-bus, then a city bus, then a walk, then the metro and then a walk.  And I got home as efficiently as could be.  This is one of the beauties of Egypt.

I took Mountain Man out for a final good-bye dinner.  After we had said good-bye to each other three times already only to cross paths again, I joked with him:  There will only be dinner if we really won’t see each other anymore.  He is off to Jordan next.  I am off to Turkey.  Things looked promising.  But over dinner we discovered that most likely we will be in Israel at the same time again!  I guess, this wasn’t a good-bye dinner after all.  We got a good laugh out of that.

All the best to you, Mountain Man, wherever you will be.  See you in Israel.

Good night.