Magna Carta

One of my plan while coming to England this time was to go checkout Stonehenge that is considered a major wonder. So, with some help from Rav, yesterday, I booked a round trip train ticket to the city of Salisbury (South-West of England) for today.

From Rav’s place in Southall to Salisbury train station, it took around 3 1/2 hours taking the bus from his place to the tube station, tube to Waterloo station and train from Waterloo to Salisbury. 7 hours spent traveling might look a lot to many people but I guess it does not anymore to me. It is only half the time it took me to go from Adana to Antalya or Selcuk to Goreme by bus in Turkey! And since the train is way more comfortable, it ended up feeling like I spent the day on the couch at home reading a good book except that in place of the TV, I had a great landscape scrolling in front of me :).

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Anyway, I arrived in Salisbury a bit after noon and bought a round-trip ticket to Stonehenge. It is an interesting place and I liked to listen to the free audio-guide that is providing a lot of information about what the historians and archeologs know of the place. It is difficult to get a good grasp of the place though since in my opinion, one cannot get close enough to the circle and stones. Also, some roads have been built very close by making the place less impressive than it could be. Fortunately, the British government has started a program to cover one of the road and remove the other in order to return the site to its former state: lost in the middle of the plain. Actually, to be perfect, it would need to be surrounded by a forest. In this case, Stonehenge would really look surreal.

As you can have guessed by now, I was not that impressed. A bit disappointed actually. I think the hype killed it but it is still worth a look though :).

I took the bus back to Salisbury and since it was only 3PM, I thought I would walk around the city and maybe look for the cathedral Rav had advised me to checkout. I really liked walking around the city. It is very charming. Exactly the architectural style I associate with an old British college town. I could definitely live in downtown Salisbury :).

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I finally found the cathedral at around 5PM and decided to take a look. It has a very interesting architecture. Walking inside while the service was on added to the spirituality of the place.

Eventually, I stumbled on something I was not expecting. In the very nice library, I had the opportunity to checkout a copy of the Magna Carta (Great Chapter). I did not remember much about it from school but the very nice lady that was guarding it provided me with a booklet full of information. It was really interesting to read the translation and learn more about its influence on other countries’ constitution including the American constitution.

It actually brought back fond memories of when younger, I was studying the preparation of the Estates-General in 1989 (Event that led to the French revolution, my second favorite historical subject after ancient civilizations). At this occasion, the citizens of France had drafted a list of demands to the king that are very interesting since they show the concerns of the time. While not as broad, the Magna Carta still gives a good feel for the concerns of the barons in early XIIth century in England.

Anyway, I digress. Enough to say it was a good surprise and this made my day :).

All in all, a very good day-trip. And I even have some pictures to share thanks to Rav that lent me his camera.

On other news, my backpack is still missing. I tried to call the mishandled luggage line of BA all day but I cannot get through :(. Rav’s brother that works for BA told me over 20 000 bags had been mishandled and BA was recruiting volunteers from other departments to help. Hopefully, I get some news soon.

Turkish Buses

There are a lot of things to say about Turkish buses.

First, there are a lot of things that I find very cool.

  • Smoking is forbidden. Might sound like something normal but not here in Turkey where it might be the only place where smoking is forbidden. Of course, the rule is that it is forbidden for everybody except the driver so it could still be annoying if he did smoke but thankfully, I never got close to one that was smoking in the bus.
  • Talking on a cellphone is also forbidden. It is not strictly enforced but this rule allows you to stop loud mouths that think they are alone in the bus. I never witnessed such an occasion but someone told me the story of an obnoxious woman that was yelling on her phone and was immediately shut by the driver.
  • Most of the buses don’t have toilets or they have been locked so that nobody can use them. Of course, if you really need to pee then it might be a problem but at least nobody dreads getting seat 28 (just in front of the toilets door) anymore. So being seated in the back of the bus is not such a bad proposition anymore since you only have to endure the other passenger body and feet odor!
  • There is always a steward to take care of things. This includes providing you all you can drink cold mineral water, a dose of hand sanitizer from time to time and a drink at least once per trip. They also go around spraying some air-freshener focusing on the back of the bus where bad odors tend to accumulate.

Then there are some annoying but acceptable things.

  • Air conditioning sucks at the back of the bus or sometimes does not work at all. Other times, it seems like they turn it on and off making one go from cold to hot to cold to hot..
  • Turkey is so large that it always seems like the next place you want to go is a 10+ hour ride from where you are right now. Basically, it takes forever to get anywhere. Also, while the bus usually leaves on time from its first stop, it always gets later and later on the schedule as it gets closer to your destination. Strange paradox, maybe we should call agent Sculley for that one!
  • Drivers have the tendency to do stupid stuff like baking up on a highway ramp for more than 500 meters or going through red lights.

But the one thing that is driving me nuts is that whatever your ticket destination reads, the bus will eventually drop you wherever the driver or the steward pleases. It happened to Stewart, Charlie and I when we went from Camakkale to Selcuk and it happened again to me today on my way to Goreme.

Every time I buy a ticket, I specifically ask if I will be dropped at the right destination and I get an affirmative answer. And every time, I get asked to get off the bus at the wrong place. And Every time I get into an argument with the steward who just drops my bag off the baggage compartment and leaves without letting me argue much. Well, it is not like I can argue much with him since I do not speak Turkish and he usually does not understand English. And finally, every time, it requires some extra work to locate another local bus to get to my final destination. I do not mind much this situation when I know about it beforehand. But if I bought a ticket for somewhere, I expect to get dropped where my ticket says and not 20 miles away!

The thing that makes me feel better is that it looks like this happens to the locals as well! I know, saying this is low but you find comfort where you can in these situations ;).

Wonderful Cappadocia

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At 6AM, the first things you notice when you arrive in Goreme (in the heart of the Cappadocia region) are the tens of balloons hoovering over the city and the valley. It is so much magical that I have decided to follow the advice of many people I have met on my trip and go for a ride before leaving from here.

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The second thing you notice, and you cannot really miss it, are the hundreds of houses carved in rock mushrooms spotted with doors and windows around which the town has developed, albeit in a more traditional architectural style.

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And as Petra should not be reduced to the Treasury (what you saw in Indiana Jones), Cappadocia is not just Goreme but a very large region with great landscape, interesting architecture and a very interesting history. Cool rock formations, fairy chimneys, cave houses, churches and even whole villages carved in the mountain, underground cities, valleys and canyons are scattered over the region and offer countless hours of exploration for hikers and sightseers.

Some tourists think it can be visited in one day. That is true you can see a lot in a day but you are merely brushing the surface if you do so. This place definitely deserves more time.

But as a start, the day tour providing an overview of the region is perfect and it is what I did today with Stewart that I had joined as planned this morning at the hotel. He had booked the tour yesterday evening and I just tagged along ;).

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The most interesting part of the tour was definitely when we explored the largest underground city. It is eight floor deep! It has very narrow passageways equipped with large rolling stones that were used to shut close the city in time of raid.

It is quite mind boggling to learn that the two first floors were dug by the Hittites around the XIIth century BC and that the city was extended by the Christians that used it to protect themselves against the Romans and then against the Army of Islam. There were up to 30 of these underground cities! And the one we visited was linked to another main one by a 9kms tunnel!

An added value to keep in mind is that joining an organized tour is always a good way to meet other backpackers that just arrived in town too. I have kicked myself for not doing it more often earlier in my trip – especially in Egypt but I guess I was also more courageous then 8). Of course, it sometimes does not work out and you do not meet anybody you get along with.

This time though, it worked out quite well and we met a bunch of nice people: Jess and Hana (Aussies), Sandy (Kiwi) and Sivan (Israeli). Jess and Hana are leaving tomorrow so we just hung out tonight. We had dinner and found a cool pub called Flintstones Cave. Like most, make it all, of the Aussies I have met on this trip, they worked in England for a while as part of a long trip.

Cappadocia seems like a wonderful place to linger and explore, I plan on staying for several days.

Arc-En-Ciel

Today was a strange day. A day where you see things that are all related to the point where you start to wonder if something is going on. Of course, it could only be a coincidence. Or maybe worse, a worldwide machination in which you are only a puppet! Or if you think like me, you decide it is a simple case of subconscious selectivity in which your subconsciousness starts bringing up to your consciousness, everything it catches along a main theme.

And for today, the theme was War!

It actually kind of started yesterday when I arrived in Camakkale from Istanbul with Stewart (Ausie) and Charlie (American) (We met in Istanbul and are going the same way for a while so we decided to travel together).

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In the evening, as we were walking along the shore, we ended in front of a replica of the Trojan Horse that was used for the movie Troy released last year. While known universally as a symbol of treachery and/or ingenuity, the first goal of the Trojan Horse was still to facilitate invasion and the killing of people.

The horse is here because Camakkale is an important tourist base to visit the old site of Troy. There is actually not much to see on the site so I decided to pass and concentrate on the other important tourist site located close to Camakkale: the Galipoli battlefields.

This morning, as I was coming down to the breakfast area, I got stopped by the TV showing images of Beirut airport on fire after Israeli planes had bombed it the night before. Israel has decided to extend the war with Hezbollah on the whole Lebanese territory. I really felt sad as I was watching, because I got quite attached to Beirut and the Lebanese people during my stay there earlier in my trip. I don’t want to get political and the situation is very complex but I do not get the global punishment here or how we went from 3 kidnappings to a full scale army engagement!

My sincere sympathies to all Lebanese and Israeli people that are trapped in this situation.

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To tell the truth, I did not feel like doing anything after that. But for today we had planned a tour of the battlefields and memorials of Galipoli. I got interested in this event of WWI after I read the book “Bird Without Wings” that Luc gave me as a gift me before I left for my trip. Thanks Luc! The book gives a full overview of WWI in Turkey including the battles in Galipoli, so I wanted to learn more about it and also why this event is so important to the Ausies and Kiwis.

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The tour went very well and was very informative with the guide (TJ, seemingly an expert on the matter) giving us a lot of information about the events in question. The tour is mostly about visiting cemeteries and memorials as well as restored trenches. It turns out the book is very well documented as it accurately covers a large part of what TJ said.

I think it was too much for me and I felt quite saddened by it the whole day.

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But as we were crossing the Dardanelles on a ferry back to Camakkale, an apparition really cheered me up. A one in a million chance for it to happen. Crossing in front of the ferry, I noticed a green boat with a rainbow on its side. After a closer look, I was sure it was the Rainbow Warrior.

As the saying goes: After the rain, the rainbow. And what a rainbow it was!

[*Arc-En-Ciel means Rainbow in French]

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

After visiting the two other important monuments of Istanbul yesterday, I decided to visit the most important today. The Topkapi palace used to be the Sultan’s residence and administrative center for almost 400 years from 1465 to 1853.

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I woke up early and got there at the opening because I wanted to see the Harem. The Harem can only be seen on a tour and hence, there are a limited numbers of tickets sold each day. I arrived so early that I got on the first tour :). It was interesting walking along the corridors where the women of harem and the Eunuchs used to live hidden from the world.

I then resumed my self guided tour of the impressive palace and went on from one surprise to another.

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The palace architecture and the monuments are already worth the visit in themselves. I really liked the Council hall and the chamber of petitions that are so richly decorated in order to impress whoever came to the palace. The group of monuments located in the North-West part of the palace overlooking the golden horn, is also part of my favorites. But the most impressive part of the visit is definitely the several expositions housed in the palace making it a De facto museum rivaling many great museums in the world by the importance and richness of the artifacts exposed.

The treasury was very interesting. It seems like it is the most visited too as I had to get in line to enter the first room and then had to follow along in order to get a chance to see each artifact for some seconds as the tourists behind me were waiting to get their own five seconds of viewing time. While I was getting gently pressured to move forward, I remembered my visit of the Crown Jewels in London where they installed treadmills on both sides of the display cases in order to streamline the flow of visitors. I was glad it was not the case here. Not sure I would be able to walk against the mill this time! 😉

The exposition of the Holy relics was a complete surprise for me as I had not realized before how important was the position of the Sultan in the Islamic world. I really liked the model of the Holy rock as it reminded me of my trip to Jerusalem. Even though I am not religious, it was very interesting to see all the objects related to Mohamed if only from a historical perspective. One thing that troubled me a little is the fact that many of these relics are swords. Not really what you expect when thinking about holy relics.

All in all, I spent 5 1/2 hours strolling around the palace with the tour book and audio guide in hands to check out everything there was to see.

I think it was one of the days that I got a bit out of control with respect to picture taking. I was definitely far from the oath I took at the beginning of the trip to not take too many pictures. Maybe I will need to go in therapy when I am back in the states! 

I had also planned to visit the museum afterwards but since it was already past 3PM and the museum closes at 5PM, I decided to postpone it for another day. I was not able to absorb anything else anyway so it was an easy decision.

Later the evening was not that cultural with France being beaten by Italy in the World Cup final. I had found a French flag and was trying to exhilarate the mostly pro-French crowd assembled at the hotel café, but unfortunately it did not help at the end. Well, next time ;).