Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Turkey by Train

I'm crazy about trains. I have been all my life and my daughter Maya was too. Even as a toddler she would get excited and say "Choo Choo, Choo Choo," whenever the Roaring Camp train would pass by our house, and we would run out to wave at the tourists. She was crazy about Thomas the Tank Engine. While most Americans rarely travel by train, little Maya, Daniel and I took the train to DC for her first Christmas. And when she was two years old I got us a month pass on Amtrak so we went up to Seattle, Montana and Pennsylvania by train.

So when I heard that Turkey has trains, I decided I would leave my friends with the rented van, and strike off on my own by train. My new friend Gwenn also likes trains, so she decided to join me. We've been having a great time, first on a 5-hour trip from Kars to Erzurum, where we spent a day. Then we took the 20-hour overnight train to Ankara where we're staying in Phyllis' apartment while she and Marna are still exploring northeastern Turkey. Phyllis wasn't very encouraging about the quality of train travel in Turkey, but Gwenn and I were pleasantly surprised. The train is comfortable, scenic, and very reasonable priced.

View from the train. Notice the Turkish crescent and star on the windows. Very cool.

Hurrying to catch the train

Passing idyllic settings and quaint towns

At first we had the whole train car to ourselves. More passengers boarded as we rode from Kars to Erzurum, but it never even got half full.

More passengers boarding the train.

We passed beautiful old bridges along the way.

Most of the Turkish train stations are painted yellow, my favorite color.

We even got some great views of some castles. This one was at Hasankale. Kale means "castle" in Turkish.

And of course every village had at least one mosque with its towering minarets.
Much of Turkey is agricultural. It reminded me of California's Joaquin Valley.

Turkey's emblem reminds me of Cat Steven's song "The Boy with the Moon and Star on his Head."

There it is again, like seeing red, white and blue all over the US.

The bathrooms on the train were quite clean, but try squatting on a rocking train.

Gwenn took 600 pix on our two train trips.

Okay, so I liked the window etching.

The train follows the Euphrates River for hours and hours. So breathtaking.

I was impressed at the renovation of the train tracks. The ride was really smooth.

The Euphrates again.

More track improvement.

The food in the dining car was great and not expensive.

We had a lentil soup.

And we shared a chicken kebab dinner. Yum!

If you ever travel in Turkey, be sure to do some of your exploring by train!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bitlis, Turkey on the way to Lake Van

Bitlis is a small town of about 62,000 inhabitants about 20 km west of Lake Van in eastern Turkey. Bitlis Castle sits on a hilltop overlooking the pre-medieval village, alongside the Bitlis River which flows into the lake. We stopped by on our way to Tatvan and Van, just for a half hour or so. It is also famous for their local honey, which my friends bought samples of. I tried to hike up into the castle, but the gate was locked. Bitlis also features five minarets, which is a lot for a town of its size.



During Ramadan the men hang out more, waiting for time to eat in the evening

I miss my bike. Of course, mine isn't as decorative as this one.

I love these shorty brooms.

Pottery, made from river clay, is common in Bitlis, Turkey

Michelle, Gwenn and Phyllis exploring the town of Bitlis

The castle overlooks the town of Bitlis

View of historic Bitlis, Turkey

Bitlis castle

Cotton dealer

One of five minarets in tiny Bitlis

Mostly the Turkish men play backgammon, but I'm not sure what this game is.

Young shoe repairmen

The castle walls above the town of Bitlis.

Smart internet cafe, as opposed to a stupid internet cafe?

I guess the heavy eyebrows make these mannequins Turkish. They are wearing red, white and blue though.

The gate to enter the castle was closed, but I could hike around it a little.

View from the backside of the castle in Bitlis, Turkey.

In general, the museums and tourist sites in Turkey have explanations in English as well as Turkish. This says that the castle was possibly built under the orders of Alexander the Gread [sic].

The Bitlis River is not much more than a creek, at least in the summer.

In Turkey it seems that anything goes, dress-wise, probably depending on the decision of the family or the husband. The woman to the left has the typical look of her generation. The woman on the right is the minority in Turkey. And many of the young girls look like they just stepped off of the streets of Manhattan.

Bitlis cemetery on a hilltop above the town.

Diyarbakir, Turkey

We stayed in Diyarbakir for two nights, which seemed like a luxury after packing up and moving every day from town to town in southern Turkey. It reminded me of the old movie from the 1960s called "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium," about Americans traveling by tour bus through Europe, capitol city to capitol city, trying to see everything in one week.

The "ogretmenevi," as the teacher's hostels are called, was filled when we arrived late in the afternoon in Diyarbakir. So we checked out a 4-star hotel nearby. Our driver Rafet had some kind of connection there and we ended up getting a room for us four women, and a spare room for Rafet for $115 altogether. But the best part was the pool, considering the temperatures were 110 degrees at midday, and the best breakfast buffet so far.

Gwenn and I went out one evening walking through the old walled city, taking pictures of the people. I felt like the Pied Piper when the kids started following us around. The next morning I got up at sunrise and climbed on top of the old wall to walk around the perimeter of the ancient city, and took more photos. I also went swimming both days we were there.

The city walls were originally built in the 4th century AD, and were modified several times after that. It was built on a cliff above the Tigris River. This gave good protection to the villagers who lived inside the walls.

Breakfast at the 4-star hotel. I passed on the bread and French fries. At least they were warm here.

I'm also not crazy about had-boiled eggs, but I loved the grilled eggplant.

Here's my breakfast, pool-side. That's cherry cider, not wine, by the way.

Me, Michelle and Phyllis in the pool.

Gwenn and I walked around the old city and found people who liked to have their photos taken.

Diyarbakir is famous for their large, sweet watermelons.

Making friends inside the walled city.

More friends

I can't remember what was so funny, but it must have been a good one.

Looking at the old walled city from the outside.

A show shiner. They all have these very ornate shoe shine kits in Turkey.

This old guy was great. Not only did he agree to let Gwenn and me photograph him, but he very proudly showed us his ID photos of himself as a young man.

I climbed up the city wall while Gwenn peered up from below.

Like I said, the kids were curious about us and enjoying hanging out.

Happy boys

This little guy didn't want his picture taken at first. You can see he's being a bit held down. But his smile was precious.

Gwenn and the same ladies who were waiting for Iftar, which means breakfast in Arabic. In Turkey it means the hour when the people can break the fast during a month of Ramadan.

While most of the women are at home cooking the big feast each evening, many men hang out in the parks and rest until the food is ready.

Many nap in the parks too.

Not everybody wanted their photo taken.

These two asked me to take their picture

The men can be very affectionate with each other in public, but not men and women together.

More kids.

This beautiful little girl wasn't so sure about having her picture taken.

 Many of the people thanked me for taking their picture.

She was very sweet.

I forget how long this couple told us they had been married.

There are bakeries everyone. This is the traditional bread of Ramadan.

Following the tourists around. That's what they call us here in Turkey.

Adorable happy kids.

Most of the people in Diyarbakir are Kurds. Some people told me I look Kurdish. That's a real compliment. You can see how beautiful the people are.

The next morning at 6  a.m. I took a walk on the ancient city walls.

There were places where weapons could be pointed at attacking enemies.

I saw a lot of families sleeping on the roofs to avoid the blazing heat.

The newer city outside the walls.

This couple hadn't gotten up yet.

Diyarbakir has a beautiful park all along the inside of the wall.

Once you're up on the wall there are few steps to get down.

I didn't trust these two, so I made a beeline for the steps down.

I stood near these maintenace workers until the two young men gave up and left.

The man on the left has worry beads in his hand. That's pretty common.