Friday 26 January 2024

Lansdowne Plateau to Solsbury Hill

After the terrible weather of the last couple of weeks, we were pleased to get out into the countryside. After a bit of confusion about the route, we eventually landed upon a round trip from the Park and Ride on the Lansdowne Plateau to Solsbury Hill.

The Park and Ride is on the left, and the Hill on the right, a total of 12.5 kilometres. 

The route was beautifully marked out starting with a mown path through a nice flat field. Bath and it's surroundings are notoriously hilly and starting from one very high point meant that we soon had to drop down to a very low level. 

The sun was out all day making very long shadows across the landscape, as we carried on into the valley. 

All too soon we were on our way steeply up and on to Solsbury Hill. Peter Gabriel had a hit with a song of the same name, which I don't know, hopefully because I am a bit young for it. However, I looked up the lyrics in case it told me anything interesting about the area - unfortunately not, although it says that he saw an eagle there flying in the night, which I personally doubt.

It was very muddy getting up to the trig point and I had high hopes of panoramic views of the Bath skyline. I don't know why I thought that now, because once up there it seemed to be hidden around another hill and the sun was right in our eyes. 

On the way back we took a different, dryer route, still with the same changes in height and lovely views. 

Sunday 14 January 2024


 Bursa is the fourth biggest city in Turkey and was the capital of the Ottoman state. It also has the most colourful city sign ever seen. 

Our first attraction today was the Grand Mosque in the centre of the city. It was commissioned by the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid the first in 1399 to celebrate him winning a great battle. To celebrate the win he promised the people of Bursa that he would build 20 new mosques in the town, but his accountant warned him that he didn't have enough money to do this, so instead he built one big mosque with 20 domes. 

That seems quite a cop out to me, and it's not recorded what the locals thought at the time. 

It is a very attractive mosque though with particularly lovely calligraphy. 

It also has a very nice fountain in the centre, which is a completely unique feature. 

Then we went to visit the Mausoleum of the early Ottoman Sultans. This is an attractive building known as the green dome, however it is definitely all blue. 

Inside are tombs of past Sultans and also some smaller tombs of unfortunate relatives. 

Apparently when the existing Sultan died then one of his sons was chosen as the next Sultan. His first action on becoming the new Sultan was to kill all of his brothers, and if they had sons then to kill them too. 

With this shocking tale in mind, we then carried on with our journey back to Istanbul.

One final thing that I have wanted to mention for days, but didn't have room to before was the community dogs.  

Everywhere we went we saw lots of dogs and they all had a tag on their ear which shows that they are vaccinated. They are fed and fussed over by people in the community and by the tourists. 

They don't go inside people's homes and people don't keep them as pets, but they wander and laze about everywhere outside. They are very friendly and calm, and often quite fat from all of the treats that come their way.

Even I quite liked them, although I preferred to keep my distance. 

Saturday 13 January 2024

Pergamon and Troy

Today we went to the town of Pergamon to visit the Asclepsion, which was the most prestigious hospital in the ancient world.

It was said that they cured everyone in the hospital so no one ever died there, but it was actually a bit of a con because they assessed everyone at the hospital gates and wouldn't admit anyone that they couldn't cure, including all old people and pregnant women.

They had four main treatments, the first walking in bare feet along the grass in the photo above in the sunshine, the second was listening to music in the theatre, 

the third was drinking from a sacred well and the fourth doing the same exercises that the gladiators did. This was because the doctors had realised that the gladiators were fitter than the average Roman and I think that this would be the most helpful prescription.

They also had an underground isolation centre that looks like a scene from Star Trek, and 'beam me up Scottie' fame. Disappointingly I think that Darren is actually just standing under a air and light vent. 

Next we drove to the site of the ancient city of Troy. For hundreds of years the location of it was not known, but it was rediscovered in the 1870's by Heinrich Schliemann. The town was destroyed and rebuilt nine times during its 4,000 years of occupation, and Mr S desciphered the description given in the poems of Homer to help locate it.

It is said that he mainly looked for Troy to try and find buried treasure, and he actually achieved this aim and secretly took it away to Germany. However, at the end of World War Two, it was confiscated by the Russians and is now on display in Moscow.

The site itself is very basic as most of the original stones were taken over the centuries to build houses in the local villages, however those that are left are the perfect play area for red squirrels.

Obviously the most famous thing about Troy is the legend of the Trojan Horse. Nothing has been found to prove its existence, but there is a fantastic idealised Horse in the nearest town. 

This model was given to the town by the producer of a film about Helen of Troy, and the only certainty is that if it ever did exist, it certainly wouldn't look like this glorious beast. 

Friday 12 January 2024

Ephesus and other stories

We are gradually moving west across Turkey and our first stop today was the house where Jesus's mother Mary went to live and hide after the crucification.

Apparently a nun living in a monastery in Germany in the 1800's started having vivid dreams about Mary's houses location, which at that time was unknown. After telling everyone at the monastery about her dream in great detail, a journalist wrote a news story, but no one took it seriously. However, many years after her death an archeologist heard about the article, and searched exactly where she described and found the foundations of the house.

Is that the whole truth or not? I don't know, but it was very nice and peaceful building and it had a nice restaurant nearby.

It was a couple of miles from the ancient city of Ephesus, which was our main event of the day. 

Ephesus dates from about 500 bc and was a Greek town under the control of the Romans. It has three extremely famous buildings, the first of which is the library pictured above. 

The second is an enormous amphitheatre that could seat 25,000 people. 

We were very lucky as we arrived just at the same time as another tour group, and one of the tourists was an amazing singer who sang a beautiful song that could be heard around the whole amphitheatre. 

The third most famous building is the social toilets. Our guide says that they were communal, and people would gather to use the facilities and have a really good chat. 

Unfortunately the toilets are now roped off, but when we came here in 2008 I sat on the nearest toilet (obviously just for demonstration purposes) and Darren took my photo. 

Photo - October 2008 

The guide also told us that as the seats are made of marble then in the hot summer weather they would be nice and cool to sit on, but in the winter they would be freezing. He said that rich people used to pay someone to sit on the seat and warm it up before they then arrived to sit down.

Finally, we reached our hotel on the seafront at Kuşadası. The sun was just setting, and I managed to hold this pose for about half a second.

Thursday 11 January 2024

Pamukkale and a Caravanserai

We set off early on a very long drive today. We covered 422 miles with the first stop being at the Sultanhani Seljuk Caravanserai. 

It was built in 1229 and has just recently been beautifully restored. Basically a Caravanserai is a safe place for travellers and traders to stay overnight when travelling along the silk routes between the Far East and Constantinople.

The silk routes covered thousands of miles and roughly every 25 miles there was a Caravanserai, which was the distance that could be covered in one day.  There are spaces for the traders to sleep, for their animals to stay, for them to pray and to eat and drink, all safely within a fortified building.

After that our journey was far, far further than the ancient traders could manage, and by late afternoon we reached Pamukkale. 

I have had to consult Wikipedia yet again for more geological advice, or maybe this time it might be chemistry. Anyway, Pamukkale is the site of a carbonate mineral left by the flowing of a hot thermal spring. Dripping slowly down the mountainside the minerals form natural pools and mineral terraces.

From a distance it looks like a snow covered mountain rising up out of the green countryside. 

The water comes out of the spring at about 30 degrees centigrade and obviously that is a great temperature for a paddle. 

What they don't tell you is how slippery and sharp the rocks are on bare feet, and also if you sit down on it, how difficult it is to get the white salty stuff off your jeans. 

The site was discovered by ancient peoples, and a temple was built there over 2,000 years ago by the Greeks. It was eventually abandoned after about 1,000 years because of frequent earthquakes that damaged all of their buildings. Our guide talked at length about the occupants, but I think that our whole tour group just spent almost the whole allotted free time playing about in the water. 

Wednesday 10 January 2024

More fairy castles

Another day in Cappadocia. Cappadocia actually means land of the beautiful horse, however we haven't seen any at all, although we have seen lots of camels. Unofficially it is also called the land fairy castles, and we saw loads of those again today.

Our first stop was the Goreme Open Air Museum, which was a collection of rocks that had been hollowed out by Christians in the 12th and 13th century. Some of them were homes, but lots were churches with beautiful murals on the walls and ceilings. 

It was interesting and a good start to the day, with the not so pleasant surprise in one cave of seeing two skeletons in open coffins that were tastefully floodlit. 

Next we went to the Valley of the Imagination, where rocks are supposed to resemble animals. The camel was very good, but does need a bit of imagination. 

Darren climbed up next to it to add a bit of scale. 

The rocks are everywhere, stretching miles across the countryside and are fantastic things to see from every angle. 

Next on the agenda was the Valley of the Monks. In the olden days monks used to go to this valley and spend 40 days in the wilderness trying to find peace of mind. 

These 'fairy castles' are made of the same basalt and tufa rocks as yesterday, but the lines of the rocks are so much more noticeable here. Also further to the left this photo are stumps where the basalt rock has fallen off the top and the softer tufa is wearing quite quickly away, and to the right is more solid ground that has not yet started break up.

This collection of rocks was used as a monastery and our group all walked up the hill and round the back. 

This was the entrance to the building, although it is all gradually eroding, and some parts of it are quite dangerous. 

We all had a great time clambering up into the different rooms and exploring. 

You can really see in this photo how the rock had worn away and the little channel where people have walked for hundreds of years. 

Going back to the subject of rocks looking like animals, this is my own opinion, but I think that the rock on the left really looks like a rabbit and even has eyes, a nose and mouth. 

Tuesday 9 January 2024

Central Turkey and Cappadocia

Today we drove to the centre of Turkey and stopped at Tuz Lake. 

It wasn't looking at its most dramatic today, but apparently it is usually surrounded by two to three metres of snow at this time of the year, and some areas of it have flocks of flamingos. Today we had neither. 

As lakes go though, it is very interesting. Underneath it are huge layers of salt about 1,000 metres deep and during the winter rain water leeches salt up in to the lake - although I don't understand why.

It covers a huge area and is the second largest lake in Turkey, but the average water depth is only 30 centimetres (one foot). In the summer the lake dries to a thick salty crust that can be walked upon, and the salt is harvested for cosmetics.

After that we carried on driving to Cappadocia to see it's amazing rock formations. 

At the risk of trying to explain another geological fact that I don't really understand, the unusual rock shapes formed because a few million years ago the area was in the centre of a triangle of three volcanos that all erupted together. The lava spread layers of tufa rock which is soft and basalt rock which is hard. 

Over millions of years it eroded to make amazing shapes, with the basalt often making little hats on top of the soft tufa. 

We travelled round visiting different viewpoints and the above area is called the love valley. A couple of miles away is the hunter valley. 

This valley has wider rocks, lots of which used to be lived in and are now used as hotels. 

Our third stop was called pigeon valley, but I can't imagine why. 

This one had different coloured rocks with some quite pale cream, and others pink due to iron deposits in the rock, and some darker brown. 

Quite an amazing town has grown up in and on the hillside next to the pigeon valley. 

Finally we stopped off at a fancy hotel built in ancient caves where nearly 2,000 years ago Christians hid from the Romans, but today it was being used as a wedding venue.