Sunday, September 30, 2018

Ancient Ephesus and a Modern Concert

OK, so we've left Turkey, and still so much to talk about! We're now relaxing in Split, Croatia, where we'll be for the month of October. Time to catch up! Let's jump in the Way-Back machine and look at what we've been doing...

We’re currently (19 Sept) in the town of Selçuk, in south-western Turkey. It’s lively, and yet has a laid-back relaxed feel to it — maybe like a beach town only without the beach. (That’s about 10 km away.)

"Our" restaurant in Selcuk -- pleasant!
The big attraction here is not the sea but the ruins. This is the closest living town to Ephesus, a widely-known world heritage site that was once a magnificent city of some quarter-million people. That was about two thousand years ago, though. Julius Caesar may have walked its streets; Paul of Tarsus did, and famously got thrown out of town by the silversmiths and icon makers. They rightly assumed that his message of one true God would destroy their very lucrative business in making and selling of charms for Artemis and the many other household gods that were popular at the time. So yeah, Paul left and continued his preaching through writing; his Epistle to the Ephesians made it into the Bible.

Artemis the Great, originally found at Ephesus, but we saw her at the museum in Selcuk

But the harbor silted up and people moved elsewhere, abandoning the city to centuries of neglect. Now, after decades of excavation removing several meters of dirt and rubble, and considerable reconstruction, we can begin to sense what a magnificent place it was.

A view of the Library of Celcus
Nike, goddess of victory 
It takes a lot of imagination to replace crumbling stone walls with broad marble buildings, but it is still a thrill to be there and walk in the footsteps of historic figures. (Possibly even the Virgin Mary; reportedly she lived there but was asked to leave -- she was considered "unlucky" because, like Paul, she was bad for business. The house where she apparently spent her final years is up in the hills a few miles away.)

House of the Virgin Mary, where she is assumed to have passed her final years

No photos were allowed of the inside, but here's a photo of the photo of the inside

Perhaps the most impressive structure is the Grand Theater, built into the hillside facing the harbor with a capacity of 25,000 spectators. And one thing we did not have to imagine was this stadium (half-) filled with 12,000 cheering fans, because we were there to see it!

As we arrived to our hotel on Selçuk we noticed a huge banner on the building right opposite announcing a series of evening concert and opera performances in the Grand Theater: the First Annual Concert and Opera Festival! And the last performance was the day we would be visiting Ephesus (or Efes, in Turkish).

We started our day with a visit to Mary’s House. Afterwards, our driver left us at the upper entrance to Efes and we spent a rather exhausting 2-1/2 hours walking the streets of this ancient city, and visiting the “Terrace Houses”, a fairly recent, on-going excavation of rich folks homes rising just above the main thoroughfare. We could have stayed longer if we’d started earlier, but it was now hot and we were tired. We met our driver at the bottom and went straight back to our hotel. We wanted to be well rested for the event that night!

On-going excavations of the Terrace Houses

These were the homes of the rich and well-known of Ephesus, so no expense was spared in decoration

By asking around at our hotel and tourist offices we got our tickets at a good price {25 Turkish Lira, about $4 USD!), and learned there was a free shuttle to the event (although there were multiple stories as to the exact pick-up point). We waited, tentatively, in front of the city hall and were gratified to see others show up, looking about hesitatingly, cushions in hand (we’d been warned those stone seats were hard). Soon the bus arrived and we all piled in. We met two German women living in Turkey, and we pumped them with the usual questions: Why did you come here? How? Was it hard to get the long-stay visa? Do you go back? But it was a short trip and within 15 minutes we were stuck in traffic on the road leading into Efes.

The sun set while we were on the bus, waiting through traffic; we arrived at the site 8 PM just as the gates opened. We all flowed in, in a huge mass, and soon were climbing the steep ancient steps to the seats. Arriving early was a mixed blessing: we got good seats near the stage, and were able to watch as the sky over the distant ocean faded to black. We also had to wait in those hard seats for an hour as people continuously poured in. By the time the musicians filed into the orchestra pit nearly every available seat was occupied (although the upper half of the stadium has yet to be restored, and so is fenced off).

The Grand Theater during the day. Just imagine it filled with people!

And later that same night!

View from the theater out towards the ocean (that used to be closer), along the Harbor Road

Concert goers arriving on the Harbor Road

The performance itself was extraordinary. Carmina Burana, by Carl Orff, is Incredibly dramatic, and was the perfect complement to the drama of the venue. (I really enjoyed watching the guy on that massive kettle drum attack it with his simple but precisely-timed strokes; he clearly enjoyed his work!) There was a full orchestra, plus a chorus of 60 that filled the back of the huge stage, leaving plenty of room for the 40 or so dancers.

The Theater ready for the evening concert
Nearing capacity under the blue stage lighting

Spectators fill the seats as the sky darkens
Love those big drums!
I shot some video of the concert. Here are excerpts from the dance and opera:

I’ve been to a number of outdoor festivals, and have often been frustrated by my fellow spectators who insist on discussing last week’s barbecue (or whatever) as world-class musicians play right in front of them. This night there was none of that. During the entire, intense hour of the performance I heard nothing more than a few muffled coughs. We all recognized and respected the enormity of this project, restoring and revitalizing this extraordinary performance space. Plus, the talent and precision of the dancers, singers, and musicians was beyond reproach. All in all a truly memorable occasion!!

A full orchestra with a chorus of 60!

The precision dance moves were amazing

Final bows at the end of the concert 
Ah, but then we had to leave, and we were far from the exit. But everyone flowed smoothly, and we were soon on the wide marble walk heading to the parking lot, where we figured we’d find the bus that brought us. Probably.

Finding the bus wasn’t hard; it was pretty big. It was also pretty full, so we jammed ourselves in. Some kind young folks gave up their seats for us (I’m not used to that, but I sure appreciate it!) I find the Turks wonderful people, but they are not the most patient and disciplined of drivers, which is to say cars were parked all over the place. It took quite a while before the bus could even move, and then much longer to inch slowly towards the highway, jammed in with the good citizens of Selçuk, all of us abuzz with the remarkable experience we’d just had.

The next morning we were enjoying the balcony of our hotel room, looking at the three-story poster of the First Annual International Efes Concert and Opera Festival, mounted on the museum building right across from our hotel. Since the last performance was the one we had just attended, workers were ready to remove the poster. Paula no sooner pulled out her camera to capture this poster than a man appeared to take it down! He gracefully waited a moment, and then down it came, done until next year. And we looked at each other, and thought of the magical night, and asked ourselves, did that really happen? Another ephemeral event...
View from our hotel balcony. Down comes the poster that started it all!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Battle for Gallipoli

What do you know about Gallipoli? Probably not much more than I did: a battle in WWI; the British did some stupid things; a lot of brave soldiers were killed; a defeat for the Allies. Oh, and Turkey was involved in some way.

As part of our “Aegean Tour” we visited the ancient cities of Pergamon and Troy, plus the Turkish region of Gallipoli. And learned perhaps more than we wanted to know about the last place (if a little knowledge really is a dangerous thing, by now we’re pretty safe).

Gallipoli is a peninsula in modern day Turkey; Istanbul is located at its northern end. Between its east coast and the mainland is the strait known as the Dardanelles (aka the Hellespont, for history buffs). During The First World Wa Turkey did not exist, it was part of the Ottoman Empire, which was neutral at the start of the war. England was allied with Russia and France (for once!)  against Germany and the Austria-Hungary Habsburg Empire. To aid Russia, England wanted access to the warm-water ports of the Black Sea, which were only accessible through the Dardanelles and past Istanbul. England (in the person of Winston Churchill) did a dreadful job of wooing the Ottomans, who ended up siding with Germany.

The territory (from
But England still wanted access to the Black Sea, which meant gaining control of Constantinople, so it sent a naval fleet up through the Dardanelles. The Ottomans were totally ready for them, and with sea mines and shore batteries gave England a big black eye.

ANZAC Cove, where the Allied forces landed on 25 March 1915 (at 4:30 in the morning, as our guide kept insisting)

England moved to plan B, which was a land assault on the Gallipoli peninsula. Using troops from the Commonwealth — the still-impressive remains of its once-vast empire — Britain landed troops on the western shore in May of 1915 and moved inland. Things did not go as they’d hoped: the Turkish army was well prepared and things bogged down for months, in the dreary trench warfare for which WWI is so (in)famous. In August New Zealand soldiers pushed heroically forward and took the high ground, only to be pushed back a couple of days later. With no further progress but many deaths through illness, thirst, hunger , and eventually freezing cold, the British finally called it quits in December and staged a magnificent retreat, withdrawing 100,000 men from the peninsula in a month with no combat casualties.

Looking north to Suvia Cove on the west coast, the second invasion site
Allied trenches, half filled in 100 years later (and these trenches are why Aussie soldiers are called "diggers"!)
This Plan B was carried out by troops primarily from Australia and New Zealand, along with some Indians and a few Gurkhas (from Nepal). This combined force came to be known as the Australian-New Zealand Army Corps, or ANZAC, a name also applied to the area over which the battle were fought (the central part of the Gallipoli Peninsula ).

One of many memorial sites on the peninsula commemorating the fallen Allied soldiers

This event — the battle for Gallipoli — and the valor shown by the ANZAC soldiers in the face of incredible hardships is a source of great pride for the people of Australia and New Zealand, and is celebrated in both countries every year with a memorial at dawn. It’s worth noting that only three of the 18 people on this tour were not from one of these two countries. And one of the Kiwis told us that the Gallipoli Campaign was presented as a Big Deal in school. New Zealand (and Australia) has a short history (well, the White people’s part is short) and unlike our own short history , they have no glorious Revolution or devastating Civil War to talk about. And it was clear this tour targeted ANZAC aficionados. 

We visited all three landing sites, all major battlefields, and every graveyard / memorial (every tombstone is marked “ it is believed [insert name here] is buried in this graveyard,” No one knows where anybody is, really.) it’s clear the Aussies and Kiwis take these areas very seriously, as part of their national heritage. What’s particularly interesting is that the Turks take it very seriously, too. They have gone to great lengths to preserve and protect the sites, and to honor the ANZAC forces. Of course, it was a great victory for the Turks and widely celebrated by them, too. It’s fair to say they were magnanimous in victory.

Ottoman soldier helping a wounded "digger" (Australian)
Another aspect of this campaign for the Turks was the emergence of one of their generals, Mustafa Kemal, today known as Ataturk. As head of the 19th Division, one of the two Ottoman divisions on the Peninsula, he drove the New Zealanders off the hill and neutralized the Allied forces until they finally withdrew. From this success as a military leader Ataturk created the modern Turkish state.

Ataturk is very widely loved in Turkey. His picture is everywhere, steely-eyed and charismatic. He can be compared to George Washington as Father of his Country, if George Washington were also a pop star like, oh, say George Clooney or Ricky Martin.

Mustafa Kemal, Commander of the 19th Division of the Ottoman troops, now known as Ataturk, father of modern Turkey
Ataturk seems to me to actually be quite a guy, showing wisdom and compassion in setting up this new country. He recognized the importance of keeping religion out of governance. To avoid a fundamentalist theocratic (“rule by the religious”) he built safeguards into the constitution. separating mosque and state. So even though 99% of the population is Muslim, Turkey remains a secular state (so far).

Near ANZAC Cove, site of the initial invasion by Allied forces, is this monument to those who fell in the battle. It is a quote attributed to Ataturk in 1934, and says, in part, "You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace, after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."

Such concillitory sentiments are all to rare today!

The steely gaze of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Sunday, September 23, 2018

What happened to the blog?

It seems the travel blog is on hold while we are doing some travel. Seriously, in the last few weeks we’ve been moving fast and encountering stories faster than they can be told.

Since leaving London at the end of August we’ve spent four days in Prague, five in Vienna, three in Goreme in Cappadocia, Turkey (where we had a hot air balloon ride! ! !), two in Konya , a couple near Ephesus , had a tour of Troy and Pergamon, and one of Gallipoli. Now we’re in Istanbul for six days. From here we fly to Split, Croatia, and a peaceful month in that quiet city on the gorgeous Dalmatian Coast.

Then, maybe, we’ll get caught up.

So, greetings from Turkey! We are staying in a family-run pension located near the Hagia Sophia museum and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. We arrived late at night (that trip has its own story) and found our way up to the rooftop terrace. OMG, there we were, with the Blue Mosque, illuminated, not far in one direction and Hagia Sophia not far in the other. And there, looking south across the Bosporus, we saw the twinkling lights of Asia. Oh, it’s Istanbul, of course, because for over a millennium Constantinople, now called Istanbul, has been the crossroads between East and West. But we’re in Europe, and that part is in Asia!

We have really, really enjoyed Turkey. Incredibly friendly people, amazing landscapes, cradle-of-civilization type ancient ruins – and currently, an excellent exchange rate — make it a great place to be. Oh, and the food! Amazing variety and always fresh. Cucumbers and tomatoes for breakfast? Yes, and olives, bread, homemade fruit jam, and fresh yogurt. Eggs. And every place we’ve stayed included breakfast with the room. It’s a life I can get used too!

So for now here are a few photos to keep things going until next week, when we can stop being tourists and have some time to sort out and catch up.
Hot-air balloons at dawn, viewed from our guesthouse on our first morning in Goreme, Cappadocia

View from our balloon -- fantastic!

Some ruin at Ephesus

The Celcius Library, poster ruin for Ephesus. Pretty fabulous!

Seeing the whirling dervishes in Konya, where Rumi lived, taught, and died, was an unforgettable experience
Across the Bosphorus: here's lookin' at you, Asia!
The Blue Mosque in Istanbul
Hagia Sophia museum, nighttime

The spice market: just a taste, a soupçon, of the color and bustle of that market!

Next up: Split, Croatia (and lots of catching up!)

Saturday, September 1, 2018

London, Part 3 (And Last!)

             Little Venice, Again
We were charmed by this area the first time we found it, and vowed to come back. We did, to take the canal boat trip to Camden Locks, a few miles up the canal. Our ride was narrated by a woman who clearly had a great love of the canals and the life that they enabled. We learned that the canals were built in the early 19th century (and some earlier!) to provide transportation for goods, and the boats – like the one we were riding in, some 76 feet long – were towed by horses. One horse, anyway (one horsepower!), that followed a tow path along one side of the canal. At bridges and tunnels we were shown grooves worn in stone and iron from the tow ropes.

Groves in this cast iron bridge support are from years of tow ropes

             The canals were slowly replaced by railroads, and by trucks and roads. Many were filled in; now there is a serious effort to renovate and rebuild the canals for recreational use. As we drifted slowly along (we traveled the 2.3 miles in 45 minutes) our guide pointed out that we were in full nature, with trees and plants, birds and wildlife, in the heart of London! Our route took us past the gardens of some very exclusive houses in St. John’s Wood and past the edge of Regent’s Park and the London Zoo.
Pricy homes along the canal (as in tens of millions...)
There are many ways to enjoy the canals!

             We eventually arrived at Camden Locks in Camden Town, a rare dual lock. (Locks are necessary because the route of the canal changes elevation on its way to the Thames.) The double locks attest to the high traffic in this area, back in the day. And, back in the day, Camden Town was a major transshipment point, where goods were moved from boat (never call them barges!!) to road and rail, with horses playing a major role (if hauling heavy wagons can be considered play!).

A boat being locked down (lowered through the locks)
             Horses were so important that stables were built, eventually housing over 200 animals, and a horse hospital. Today they are all gone, of course, and the brick buildings have been repurposed as… wait for it… a shopping center! Well, a market, quite famous today, with many individual stalls selling all manner of artistic and, occasionally, useful items. (Paula bought a hat!)

Former stables and horse hospital -- note the ramp to the upper level

"Steam punk" theme inside one of the market buildings (impressive, what the Victorians did with cast iron!)
Horse stables re-purposed as all-weather market stalls

             We headed a block or so into town and had a fine lunch at the Elephant Head, a traditional English pub. While these places may seem to be a bit of a cliché – or a holdover – to modern Brits, we like them, and seek them out for a nice meal or a refreshing pint.

The Elephant Head in Camden Town
Amy Winehouse, Camden native, gets her own statue at the market
The dual locks at Camden. Green stuff on the water is duck weed, an invasive plant encouraged by the hot summer.
             Done with the market and lunch, we walked towards home, climbing Primrose Hill. We admired the view of the city skyline, constantly changing with new and continually more extraordinary buildings, and punctuated by countless construction cranes. Then we found a quiet spot on the grass and admired the clouds passing. Eventually, we walked down the hill and caught a bus for home.

The skyline of London from Primrose Hill

To see more of our canal trip, click here to see the video.


             Return to Battersea
In a previous blog I talked of our “discovery” of the Battersea Power Plant. We wanted to go back and visit this park on the far side of the river, initially opened in 1858 (since the power station was built in the 1930s we can establish that the power station took its name from the park…). We rode the bus, getting off at the south end of the bridge, and walked through the new residential / commercial development that takes its name from the massive brick power station. It’s quite an impressive development! High-end apartments with fantastic views, private gym and restaurants, public markets and stores, gathering and performance spaces, and interesting art intended to engage the public with the project.

A mini-cafe at the project fence.

Kinda trippy art decorates the construction fence
Me, ready to beam up.

             We followed the road around the power plant, hoping to pass back in front of it along the river to get to the park. Ah, but the river walk is closed until construction is complete (there will ultimately be a park between the river and the re-built plant), and we didn’t want to retrace our steps to get to Battersea Park (the 1858 one). Instead, we followed the river downstream to the Vauxhall Bridge and crossed over, heading up towards Westminster.

The Vauxhall Bridge, looking downstream. Is that rain??

An interesting apartment complex on the South Bank.

Detail of Vauxhall Bridge. St. George, I think that is.
             We had no clear plan, but we’ve learned that it’s necessary to walk only a short ways in London to discover something interesting. Before long we came upon the White Swan, a pub we’d seen from the bus a time or two, and went in to see what it was like. We were met by a friendly young bartender who immediately began describing the refurbishment the bar had just undergone. Two hundred sixty years old, the place was, and dark and dingy. They’d raised the ceiling, uncovering massive beams, and scraped off the thick sticky black paint from the outside, revealing an impressive marble doorway.

The White Swan Public House, Vauxhall Bridge Road
             After this enthusiastic conversation we ordered a couple of pints and settled in for a while, and soon met a couple of locals. Of course, some like the new look of the pub, and some feel it’s been ruined. But the conversations were engaging. (One thing about being from California: it gives people the impression we’re interesting – everybody wants to hear about it!) And before we left, we found the rain squall that had been forming, and worried us as we crossed the bridge earlier, had passed through, and we had dry weather all the way home.

By the time you read this we will have left the UK, on our way to Prague, Vienna, and Turkey. We are already nostalgic for our garret flat in Notting Hill; for our adopted neighborhood; and for all the possibilities of London!