Karakaya Rock Climbing (Sivrihisar, Eskişehir)

On Friday morning I left Antalya by bus to spend the weekend climbing in Karakaya with Ateş and Pınar.  The journey started with a ride from home in the bucket of Kürşat’s cargo bicycle.  He had no trouble navigating the narrow neighbourhood streets carrying both me and my large backpack.  I think the bike is a Turkish knockoff of a Dutch design, but unfortunately the Turkish company went bankrupt.  There’s not enough demand for these things in Turkey.

Kürşat brought me to the service bus like this by bryandkeith on flickr

It was a six-hour bus ride to Sivrihisar where I stocked up on food, filled my water bottles, and took a dolmuş on the main road toward Eskişehir.  I was dropped on the highway, a 2-3 km walk to the village and the camping area.  There’s a small yeşillik (park-like area with trees) next to the crags that is great for camping.  I was surprised to be the only one camping there on a Friday night.  Unlike in Antalya, it was cool enough to get a comfortable sleep.
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Visa run to Kazbegi

In April of this year (2014) Turkey passed a new law, changing how foreigners get and extend visas.  The extension process is more complicated and more expensive than before, and at the beginning no one seemed to know what they were doing — how really to implement the new law.  It’s just an excuse, but instead of dealing with the bureaucracy, I decided to go to Georgia and see if I could simply get another tourist visa when I reentered Turkey.

The real goal was to climb Mt. Kazbegi (Kazbek), a peak that I admired with my parents from Steppantsminda two years ago.

DSCN0279 by bryandkeith on flickr

I left Antalya on Saturday morning and arrived in Tblisi the following afternoon (it’s a full 30-hour trip in spite of what the bus companies tell you) after the last marshrutka of the day had left for Steppantsminda.  I found a Russian heading to Russia (Steppantsminda isn’t far before the border) with extra room in his car.  Off we went in the pouring rain into the mountains.  When he wasn’t talking on the phone or chatting animatedly with the only other passenger, he was drinking water, smoking cigarettes, or messing around with the radio.  In the dark and the rain on the narrow, steep, curvy mountain road, he squeezed between the edge and big trucks with one hand on the wheel and I guess at least one eye on the road, once again confirming my thought that the most dangerous thing about mountaineering is getting to the trailhead.

I started walking about noon the following day from ~1700m.  Seven and a half hours later I made it to the Bethlemi Hut (former Met. Station; ~3600m), wet, cold, a bit tired.  It had rained off and on on the way up and then heavily once I got on the glacier.  Occasionally the clouds would lift enough to see where I was going.  After three days of bad weather, rumour had it that the following day would be nice.  Coming straight from sea level to 3600m I didn’t feel great, but I knew not to miss a good weather opportunity on Kazbegi.

I woke up at 2 the next morning to a heavy snowfall.  I checked again at 3:30 — still snowing, and the wind had picked up.  I decided to go back to bed, an excellent choice.  Once again, no one summitted that day.  I spent hours that day eating, reading, and sleeping.  As I improved, the weather did as well, and by 10pm it was the first cloudless sky I’d seen in Georgia.  I woke up at 2am, and not only were there still no clouds, but the wind had died as well!  A quick breakfast and I was on my way.

Just a couple minutes after I had passed all the groups that had started before me, two guys caught up with me.  It was Alex and Bardek, the Poles I had shared the room at the hut with.  We enjoyed the sunrise as we slowly curved our way around (illegally through Russia!) to the northern approach to the summit.  At about 4500m the tracks I’d been following ended.  The Poles again caught me at about 4600m and took over the trail-breaking for a bit.  Joined by a strong Russian guy a bit later, it was the four of us who broke the trail the rest of the way to the summit.

A bit before the final slightly steeper section those guys, ahead of me, chose a poor route.  I protested, but the decision had already been made when I caught them.  Straight up they were concerned of crevasses.  On their route I was concerned of avalanche danger.  I left them, went straight up, and was smiling on the summit about five minutes before they showed up.  The other groups that day followed my route up, and we all used it on the way down as well.  What they thought were crevasses were just some wind-blown snow formations.

I walked from 5000m all the way down to the village that same day with Alex and Bartek.  By noon the summit was socked in again, and it was probably snowing up there.  Just like on the way up we had rain off and on on the descent.  That 3300m descent was the longest one-day descent I’ve done, and I had the unfortunate opportunity to experience first-hand what shin-bite (or shin-bang?) is.  A month later I have pink scars on my shins, but they feel fine, ready for the next adventure.

Two days later (after a fun half-day in Tblisi) I was back at the border with Turkey.  Not only did I have no trouble with the visa, but no one questioned my four litres of chacha, Georgia’s high octane distilled spirit.  At one-sixth the cost of Turkey’s cheapest rakı, it’s, well, a bargain, you get what you pay for.
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Auto-touring southwestern Turkey with my parents

For my parents’ last week in Turkey, we rented a car and did a little road trip west of Antalya.  I planned the itinerary, so it included more ruins than most people can handle in a week — Arıkanda, Myra, Xanthos, Patara, Aphrodisias, Hierapolis.  Try to keep all those straight, and we had just visited Termessos and Aspendos the week before.  Since they’re my parents, they didn’t complain, and my Mom even kept good enough notes to pass the test at the end of the week.  Most of these are Likian (Lycian) sites so rock-cut tombs were once again a highlight.

It wasn’t all old rocks, however.  Ferda joined us for the first half when we returned to Adrasan, one of our favourite beach places.  Then we had two nights at the restored stone houses in Beymelek with Osman and his family.  Ferda took the dolmuş back to Antalya from there so she could go back to work.  My parents and I continued on to Gelemiş, visited the beach and beautiful sand dunes there, and I returned to Denizli for the second time to show my parents Pamukkale, Kaklık Cave, and Salda Lake.  It seemed like a good and varied itinerary to me even with all the ruins.

The place we stayed in Adrasan has tables set in the middle of the small stream in the summer.  Usually you’re sitting above the water, but for fun (and photos) one small table is actually in the stream.  Just a 5-10 minute walk away is the beach and bay.

DSCN8947 by bryandkeith on flickr

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A couple sites near Antalya, Termessos and Aspendos

My parents spent about a week of their three weeks in Turkey, in Antalya, staying in Kaleiçi, the fun, old part of the city.  We did some of the usual touristy things here such as enjoying the views of the mountains across the bay, admiring heaps of Roman statues (mostly from Perge) at the archaeological museum, and, a first for me, checking out the small Kaleiçi Museum.  That museum houses some old photos of Antalya and also a small, restored church.  Upstairs in the church was a super display of photos from 1860s Turkey of all sorts of street sellers — ice cream, carpets, milk, eggs — everything used to be sold right on the street.  There were even cotton fluffers, and one of the most interesting to me were the people who buried (or covered?) the snow in the mountains in the winter to keep it from melting.  Then in the summer they’d take the snow from the mountains to the city, cut it, and sell it for people to use in their ice boxes!  It’s a good little museum, and I’ve already been back for a second visit.

Of course we enjoyed some good meals.  One day we enjoyed quick pizzas and beers next to the picturesque yacht marina at my friend Ahmet’s place.  We had a fish and rakı dinner at Volkan Hamsici next to the stadium — one of the places that Ferda and I have been to a few times.  And check out this spread that Tülin and Ferda put together for us one night:

DSCN8910 by bryandkeith on flickr

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A quick taste of İstanbul

After spending over two years in Turkey, I’ve finally spent a little time in İstanbul.  Julie and I did visit this city for a couple days in 1998, but as I recall, we spent more time dealing with visas for Syria than visiting tourist sites.

İstanbul is a huge city, with 14,000,000 people, up there with London and Lagos according to wikipedia.  And of course it has an incredible history.  As the DK Eyewitness Travel guidebook says, “for almost a thousand years, Constantinople was the richest city in Christendom.”  Following that was almost 500 years as capital of the opulent Ottoman Empire.  In the week that I spent with my parents here at the beginning of last month, we hit some of the most famous tourist sites, but I feel like we barely scratched the surface.

DSCN8478 by bryandkeith on flickr

Ferda and I flew on a Friday afternoon from Antalya and met my parents at the airport after their long, direct flight from Los Angeles.  They were on, apparently, Turkish Airlines’ longest non-stop flight.  We didn’t have our days specifically scheduled.  We only knew that the US State Department and others were recommending staying away from Taksim Square and Gezi Park during my parents’ first day in the city because that was the one-year anniversary of the Gezi Park protests.

Since the weather was good, we decided for a Bosporus boat tour that day to the Sakıp Sabancı Museum.  We took the light rail to the Kabataş docks and there learned that because of the police crackdown on expected protests return transportation would be shut down.  What to do?  We considered a bunch of options and in the end decided to head straight to Taksim to see what all the fuss was about!

Mom kept wondering why, on their very first day in Turkey, we were doing the only thing that they were specifically advised not to do.  It was a bit ironic, I suppose.  Taksim, it turns out, is a rather ugly concrete square surrounded by unimpressive buildings.  We visited a couple nearby churches, walked down the crowded pedestrian-only İstiklal Caddesi, and ended up at the top of Galata Külesi (tower) toward the end of the day when the police started their crackdown.
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