Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Unplanned and Unprepared, 24 Hours in Edinburgh and how an App saved my life

My plane landed on Edinburgh airport at 10.00am on Tuesday morning, I was supposed to stay for six hours before boarding a flight to Istanbul.  My plan seemed simple enough, take any transport out of airport, go to the National Gallery, look at art, look at the scenery of the city, get back to the airport, and take plane to Istanbul. 

As it turned out, it didn't exactly work out the way I had planned... I had been so busy prior to my departure that, I did no research about Edinburgh or even how to get into the city. The only preparation was to send out a question via twitter to see if anyone had any suggestions... they all came back with the same answer - the National Gallery! Well, the National Gallery it was then. When I boarded the plane, I asked nice lady with the Scottish accent sitting next to me if she was from Edinburgh and how I could get to the National Gallery from the airport. She was traveling with her family who lived outside of the city but after they a brief deliberation, they told me there were busses that took you to city center. As it turned out, there were also signs in the airport pointing the way to the bus that went to city center - Bus number 100, leaving from stop 19. So simple. 

I exchanged my money at the airport and got a ridiculous exchange rate Pius commission where I only got £28 for $60, but now I had money to get on the bus, which cost only £7 return (round trip). I was told to get off at George Street and ask for directions, so I told the driver I had to get off at George Street. The bus ride which takes about 40 minutes (give or take 10 minutes) is itself a lovely ride. Once off the bus, the National Gallery was practically around the corner. 

What first struck me about Edinburgh was the intensity of its green... The grass had an emerald-like hue that lived upto what I had dreamed of Scotland to be. Then there was the architecture that made the whole city feel like a set for a historic, costume drama. And, once you get into the city center, there is the castle that you see from everywhere. I am really big on views, so I just loved the prospect of seeing a castle sitting atop a hill commanding the whole city. 

And then there was the art...

The National Galleries of Scotland are a series of buildings all housing a different collection which I did not get a chance to explore. I headed straight to the Scottish National Gallery to see their National Art Collection which encompasses works from early Renaissance to 19th century. 

Each room contained countless masterpieces displayed tastefully. The Collection was so impressive, I couldn't help but wonder who put it together.

A respected art history scholar once told me that if you are interested in art, you are shaped for life by your "home museum", which made me wonder about the people whose "home museum' was the Scottish National Gallery. 

Vincent Van Gogh, Head of a Peasant Woman, 1885

Vincent Van Gogh, Olive Trees, 1889

How would the perception of someone seeing Van Gogh's Head of a Peasant Woman and Olive Trees differ from someone who is formed by seeing Starry Night or Sunflowers? 

Paul Gauguin at the Scottish National Gallery
The Vision of the Sermon                 Martinique Landscape.        Three Tahitians       

Just as I was leaving the galleries I saw the postcard of John Singer Sargent's Lady Agnew of Lochnaw and couldn't believe I had missed it. So, I asked the very nice gentleman at the information booth if the painting was on display. This was the beginning of a wonderful conversation... 

John Singer Sargent, Lady Agnes of Lochnaw, 1892

The gentleman informed me that I had not missed the painting since it was actually on display at the temporary exhibit, American Impressionsim, A New Vision, 1880-1900. Then we got into a lively conversation about American heiresses marrying titled lords and money, prestige, saving estates with large fortunes and impeccable manners... He told me stories of going to visit his American great-aunt who had married an English Lord and eating cucumber sandwiches at her London flat where she received callers. I was mesmerized. If only I had more time...

I had to run out of the museum to catch m bus back to the airport. Unfortunately no amount of running was going to get me on that plane, since thinking that my flight was at 6, I arrived at the airport at 3.30. But it turned out that my flight was at 16.00 (which is actually 4pm) and by getting stuck at security, I completely lost my chance of getting home that day.

United Airlines rebooked my flight to the next day and my only prospect was to find a hotel room for the night. The ground crew for Turkish Airlines were very nice and helpful, they let me use their phones to call United Airlines (since United didn't have any more flights, everyone had left already) and then they called the airport Hilton to get me their special price - £286! Luckily I had the Hotel Tonight app on my phone and was able to find a room at Tune Hotel Haymarket for just $97 in a matter of minutes. The hotel room was tiny but ideal since it was literally right next to the bus stop where I got off from Bus number 100. 

I bought myself another return ticket to city center and headed back to Edinburgh once again. I was planning to exchange money in town this time but ran into a problem, I hadn't anticipated. By the time I checked in at the hotel and was back outside it was around 6, and all the places that exchange currency were closed. I started walking towards city center (Princes Street) where all the historic sites and gardens that provide great views of the castle. Lucilky I am not afraid to talk to strangers and I askd a young lady sitting on a park bench if she knew where I could exchange money. She told me I probably could at Debenhams on Princes street but they closed at 6.30 or 7.00 pm... It was 6.35, time to move!

I made it to Debenhams in enough time and exchanged $60 for £33 this time. After this little excitement all I had time and energy to do was to just wander around the streets from Princes street towards Haymarket and my hotel. I had no map and no idea of where I was so I just stuck to the streets that ran parallel to the Main Street that the buses used - this assured I couldn't get lost. 

I went into the pub right across from my hotel and had their drink and diner special for £9 - Fish and chips and Nicholson's Pale Ale. I am not a big fish and chips person but this was truly amazing and after drinking the smooth beer recommended by the bartender, I decided that for years it was not beer that I hated but American beer that I hated. 

After waking up,to this view in the morning, emboldened by my experience from the night before, I decided to try a Scottish breakfast, haggis and all... I was pleasantly surprised, although I didn't care for the blood pudding, haggis was not that bad... It actually tasted kind of familiar. I think it reminded me of some of my parents' hometown delicacies from Kilis. 

My recommendations for a trip to the unknown is to just relax and go with the flow. Talk to people on the street, on the bus, listen to them, you may find out some interesting facts, hear some fascinating stories. Try their local delicacies, ask them about the ingredients, how it was prepared. And be prepared for any eventuality when you are leaving the house - if I didn't know about Hotel Tonight app, this trip,would have ended up being a major expense.  Although unplanned and in a way unwelcome, my Edinburgh adventure turned out to be quite nice. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Olympos, Lycia city that was home of Clician Pirates

Cirali Beach
Ever since I had heard about white peacocks roaming its hills, I had been dreaming of visiting Olympos. My friends who had visited had told me about the restaurants that lined the shore line and its beautiful beaches but what they had forgotten to mention was how the blue of the Mediterranean was perfectly complimented by the surrounding majestic mountains. In the end, peacock or no peacock, the ancient city of Olympos was a magical adventure. 

Beach at Cirali with Olympos in the background
We arrived at our hotel in Cirali, late at night, having driven from Phaselis, which is half an hour north of Olympos.  Cirali is the little village situated right next to the ancient city. The area is very popular with families as well as students due to its a little out of the way location and reasonably priced pensions and tree-houses.  We stayed at Hotel Odile that provided clean accommodations with a great variety of options from regular hotel rooms to poolside, private bungalows. One of the best parts of Cirali is the unique and easy access it provides to the ancient city of Olympos. 

Northern Castle? (Acropolis Hill)
Although we had been told about the close proximity, being afraid of the heat, we made the mistake of driving which ended up being a half hour journey that involved going back on the highway and then driving down winding mountain roads. To my utter disbelief, when I walked down the beach the next morning, it took me only fifteen minutes to get there. You just have to make sure to have the proper foot-gear that should be light enough to take off easily (when you have to cross the river) while being sturdy enough to walk on rocky, wild terrain. 

North Town, Church

I found the most striking feature of Olympos to be its natural beauty. The euphoria of walking among ancient ruins in an almost virgin landscape is accompanied with the musical echoes of water as it travels downstream towards the sea. While looking at Akcay creek that runs down the middle, dividing the North and South part of town, one can discern the topography of the area much better.

Since we arrived by car, we started our exploration on the North side of town. As with many other ancient cities in a Turkey, Olympos has a multi-layered history, starting in 2000BC, with the infamous band of pirates known as the 'Lukas' gaining importance in the region; their name is thought to have evolved into 'Lycia' giving the region  it's name.  

North town, Main Street, Medieval Wall
In 600BC Lycia came under the rule of Persians till it was 'freed' by Alexander the Great in 344BC and subsequently came under the dominion of Alexander's Generals. It is assumed that the lower Olympos must have been the harbor of the Hellenistic settlement on Mount Musa, a 568 meter mountain to the south of Olympos that was considered to be sacred due to its proximity to God. There are ancient roads that connect Olympos to the mountain. 

North Town
Lycia was 'freed' by the Romans this time, in 167BC. Olympos was home to Cliccian brigands who were plaguing the Eastern Mediterranean. Considering the topography and how ships are though to have come all the way from the sea into the city using the creek, it must have been the perfect location for them. Pirate- chief Zeniketes who is thought to be from the area, ruled Olympos for almost 20 years till 77BC when Rome sent Servilius Vatia to get a grip on the situation. 

Akcay (Olympos) Creek that runs down the middle of the port city.  
According to Strabo Olympos was one of the 6 cities of the Lycian league with 3 votes, representing East Lycia.  Archaeological evidence points to a lot of building activity during the rule Romans but the city suffered two major earthquakes in 141 and 120 AD. 

Monumental Portal of Roman Temple, 2nd century AD
The excavations of what has been identified as the Roman Temple have revealed a statute base with an inscription honoring Emperor Marcus Aerilius. This portal was incorporated into a complex of structures including 'Church A' with different functions. 

The ruins near the 5th -6th century Church
5th-6th century Religious Structure
The exact function of the structures is not known but what has been identified as 'Area A' encompasses a 5th-6th Century Church as well as the monumental portal of the Roman Temple.

North Town, Area A, Religious Complex, Middle Ages
During the Byzantine empire, the bishop of Olympos, Aristocritus attended the councils in Ephesos and Constantinople. There is a structure that is labeled as Building with Mosaics which is situated in an area used as a necropolis during Hellenistic and Roman times; the 5th - 6th century structure is suggested to have been the Bishop's residence. 

Building with Mosaics, Bishop's Residence?

While taking the path leading to the Building with Mosaics walking on the wooden bridge and rickety passes over the canal with wild, rushing water can be very exciting as well as a cooling relief from the summer heat. Following the signs for the Monumental Tomb takes visitors on a cool and exciting journey, first to the the Tomb of Lyciarch, a chamber with three sarcophagi positioned on a platform above ground and then to the the Sarcophagus of Antimachos.  The Monumental Tomb belongs to Lyciarch (head of the Lycian League) Marcus Aerilius Archepolis and his family. The Garland sarcophagus is imported from Prokennesos (Marmara Adasi) and according to the inscription they date to the 2nd half of 3rd century AD. 

Monumental Tomb, Tomb of Lyciarch Marcus Aerilius Archepolis and family, 2nd half of 3rd century AD
The Sarcophagus of Antimachos, 2nd century AD, has the Lycian type lid with a relief of a pseudo-door, representing the symbolic door to Hades carved on the short end, and the tree of life, a motif that had been used in Anatolia for centuries, in the corner. 

Sarcophagus of Antimachos
After exploring the tombs in the North Necropolis and the Building with Mosaics, visitors get back on the path next to the creek leading towards the sea.  There used to be a bridge that connected the two sides of the ancient city in Hellenistic times, it is still possible to see one of the supports on this side of the creek. 

Support for the bridge that went across Olympos Creek
A little further down, right before one reaches the sea are the Harbor Monumental Tombs, the most remarkable of which is the Sarcophagus of Captain Eudemos. A relief of a ship and the inscription "I, Eudemos, know from my captain ship, the way between the waves from one Pontos to the other..." reveals the identity of its owner. 

Sarcophagus of Captain Eudemos, Roman
Monumental Harbor Tombs

Monumental Harbour tombs were placed in vaulted structures
The Monumental Harbor Tombs are the last stop on the north side of the city before reaching the sea. This is a perfect time to sit on the beach and go for a swim in the cool,waters of the Mediterranean since you can't cross over to the southern part of the city without getting your feet wet anyway.

The Beach on the Northern side of the city of Olympos
The cities medieval past is still hidden in the Acropolis on the northern side and the Southern castle or 'Ceneviz Castle'. According to scholars the way the structures have been built with walls starting at the sea level and the towers facing the mountains as opposed to the sea front, it is highly unlikely these were made as fortifications. It has been suggested that they were probably the buildings of a religious community like a monastery. 

Trekking through the brush and broken structures on the southern part of the city
When we decided to go back to our starting point following the 'path' on the Southern side of the city our visit took on a very adventurous bend. As it turned out,my here was no path, none that we could find anyway. We ran into random individuals or little groups that we questioned about the path who told us "Yes there is a path, it's just a little overgrown." They seemed the types who were very comfortable in nature and probably locals - in my opinion, you need a machete to find the path. 

We ran into some ruins that had been labeled as a Roman bath.

As we made our way further and further into the wild, overgrown ruins of Olympus, walking (hopping over) crumbled buildings, trying not to sprain our ankle became a top priority. But we were determined to find the Theater that was labeled on the map.

Theater, Roman
We finally found the remains of the Roman theater which had probably collapsed in the earthquake of 141AD. Since a Lyciarch lived in the city, they must have restored it at some point but there were other earthquakes that must have been the cause of the ruins we found here. 

Outside the Theater, Roman
One of the most interesting things about the theater is it's location next to the necropolis; it has been suggested that they may have used the necropolis as a backdrop. The theater is supposed to be similar to the one in Phaselis. 

View of the Creek from the trail on southern side of the city.

Sarcophagus of Alcestis
After the Theater, the rough terrain turned into a manageable trail that ran through the Southern Necropolis. Although there were the impressive, Lycian type of sarcophagus, the majority of the graves were one or two level Roman type vaulted tombs which is attributed to the influence of the Roman soldiers quartered here after the 2nd century AD.

Row upon row of tombs on the South Necropolis

It seems the Southern Necropolis was used in Byzantine times as well. 
At the end of the trail, there was one more hurdle we had to overcome in order to get back to our car, we had to cross the creek which, although dry in most places, did not have a dry path to cross over to the other side. I had to hop, skip and jump over stones and then climb over a wire fence before I could leave the ancient site. With many bruises and scratches, I came back to 'civilization' feeling like a champion - This was the most amazing experience! 

There is a great bookshop for the ancient site with lots of useful, relevant books including (quite impressively) Strabo's Geographica. Although I ended up buying some very unique gifts (ancient theater mask magnets anyone?) my own memories, photos and vine videos will be the best reminders of this fabulous adventure. 

I had not seen any white peacocks roaming the ancient site... although when I took a walk down the beach to take another look at the ancient city that had so mesmerized me, I did see two on the lawn of a hotel situated right next to the site. What I did find in Olympos was a great reminder of how nature contributes to the charm of Olympos. Check out the sign about Caretta Carettas above! 

Our Itinerary and Information


Hotel Odile
Cirali Mahallesi, Ulupinar Koyu, 07980
Cirali/Kemer Antalya

Ulupinar Koyu (Village)

There is a village, Ulupinar on the road between Phaselis and Olympos which has many restaurants built on top of waterfalls. They usually have a big menu with a variety that can appeal to diverse tastes. These are really worth taking a look if not for the food than to see what appeals to Turkish people as far as enjoying food, nature and views all at the same time. 

Olympos Orenyeri (Archaeological Site)
Summer: 9.00am- 7.00pm (Apr-Oct)
Winter: 8.00am-5.00pm (Nov- Mar)
Entrance Fee 5TL


Homer Kitabevi, Olympos: A Pirate's Town in Lycia, an archaeological guide, Homer Kitabevi ve Yayincilik Ltd. Sti, Istanbul, 2006