Archive for September, 2010

Strange landscapes in Cappadocia

The fairytale landscape of Cappadocia

We left Aleppo at 5:00 a.m. to begin our marathon trip to the Cappadocia region of Turkey. Three buses, one border, and 14.5 hours later, we arrived in the town of Gor√∂me just as the sun sank below the horizon. We were truly feeling the time crunch now — with only 16 days left to go before our ship sails for home from Southampton in the UK, we’d decided to visit Cappadocia instead of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. I guess we’ll save that for next time! The Cappadocia region was just too much of a draw for us. The pictures looked otherworldly, and it sounded more than anything like a very relaxing destination. Cappadocia is famous for it’s rock-tower landscape, which really has to be seen to be believed. Hundreds of spires of stone stand defiantly against the sky in every direction, and many of them are carved out with old cave dwellings or rock churches. We checked and re-checked our schedule, and decided we could afford two nights in Gor√∂me. We checked into Flintstone’s Hostel, which (like many of the hotels and hostels in the town) had several of it’s rooms built into caves. Our cosy cave had a window, which was nice, but more importantly it had a large, comfortable, clean bed. We collapsed into it and didn’t move again until morning.

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Reflections on the Middle East

My Middle East includes Egypt, Jordan and Syria because those are the countries we went through. Turkey doesn’t really make this list for reasons I’ll describe in my next post.

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25,000 visits!

This morning our little website has reached a big milestone — wewander.ca has now been visited more than 25,000 times since it went live last year. Wow! Thanks everyone for checking up on us! It’s great to know that so many friends, family and other travelers are keeping tabs on us as we go.

Dreaming of denim

Ok, so we’re falling behind with our posts. We’re in Vienna but we’re writing about Aleppo. We know this. Our travels are happening at such breakneck speed at the mo’. We’re still visiting some fantastic places, but our minds are part here and part at home. We’re pretty excited to be on our way back to Canada. That’s good, right? Hopefully, if all goes smoothly and there’s no hurricane blowing up the coast of Nova Scotia early October, we’ll be back in Ottawa on the 9th.

We have a top five list of ‘things we miss about home’, not including people. People is a given, we miss all our friends and family. We both can’t wait to sip a cold Lugtread Ale, savour a delicious Works burger, and see our cat Metric. I know this sounds crazy, but I’m soooo looking forward to wearing a pair of jeans again. It’s been nearly 16 months of wearing one pair of black quick-dry pants. Mark too, although he won’t be writing about his denim dreams. We are so lucky to have options.

Until Ottawa, we have many places to go and lots of writing to go. Be patient and stay tuned. Thanks!

Aleppo

President in mosaics

Aleppo is Syria’s second centre, and like Damascus it also claims to be world’s oldest continually-inhabited city. With the city’s modernization and congested street traffic, it’s kind of hard to believe. But the signs are there. Although nothing much to look at from the outside, the hostel we stayed at must have been over 300 years old — and it was located in the new town! A short walk away was the ancient citadel (12th century AD) and the Great Mosque (Al-Jamaa Zacharia) from the 7th century AD. Most other traces that date back a few more thousand years are now long gone. To me, Damascus felt more ancient, with ancient Roman ruins scattered throughout the city. But that’s just my opinion — I’ll leave the experts to argue over which claim is more correct.

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Oh no! (cont’d)

The day after we dropped off the van, the Toyota garage rang Toon in Palmyra. Bad news: aside from whatever problem was causing the engine to overheat, Vyv needed a new cylinder block. With a quick band-aid solution, they suspected Toon might be able to drive a few thousand kilometers on the old cylinder block. Considering a new cylinder block would cost 100,000 Syrian Dinars (ouch!), he decided to take the risk. They said that the van wouldn’t be ready for two more days, mostly because of the shortened working ours imposed by Ramadan. We kept our fingers crossed and waited.

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Roman Ruins in Syria

Palmyra

With the yellow van laid up in Homs for servicing, the three of us took a bus to Palmyra to visit the ruins there while waiting for news from the garage. Luckily for us, Homs happens to be kind of a central hub in Syria, and our plans to visit Krak des Chevaliers and Palmyra would have taken us through there anyways. It was even on the way back and up to Aleppo. Besides, if you have to wait anyways, what better way to kill some time than by visiting a famous, enormous, and ancient collection of Roman ruins?

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Oh no!

Vyv the van

After leaving the Krak des Chevaliers, we noticed Vyv’s engine was really starting to heat up. (Btw, Vyv is the name for the van since her license plate contains the letters VYV). We pulled over and tried to cool it down, but to no avail. The closest town was Homs, only a few kilometers away. We made it to Homs, maintaining a steady rpm, where she could get checked out by a mechanic in the morning.

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Krak des Chevaliers

Krak des Chevaliers

While in Jordan, we visited the ruins of two old Crusader Castles: Shobak Castle and Karak Castle. While both were fascinating in their own right, they were only appetizers before the main course in Syria: Krak des Chevaliers. This is the best preserved Crusader military castle in the world, and it dates back to just after 1000 AD. Crouching agressively on the top of a 650 metre hill in western Syria, it commands a stunning panoramic view of the countryside in all directions. The location is at the only historical crossroads between Antakya in Turkey and Beirut in Lebanon, and was a position of strategic importance during the Crusades. We only had time to make a stopover at the castle on our way to Palmyra, but it was worth the detour.

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Monastery in the Desert

Mar Musa Monastery

While staying in Damascus, we met another traveler who had just come from the nearby Mar Musa Monastery, where she had spent the night. None of us had ever heard of the monastery, but we were intrigued by her story, so we decided to leave Damascus one night earlier than planned in order to check it out. We discovered that Mar Musa Monastery, or Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi (literally The Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian) is a one thousand year old monastery tucked in the barren hills about two hours north of Damascus. It is still an active monastery, although it had been all but abandoned for several centuries before being reactivated in the 1990s. Driving there was an uninspiring event — the landscape is desolate and littered with garbage from the nearby townships. But at the last moment, we pulled off of the main road and a small cleft in the hills came into view, along with about 350 steps winding their way upwards to a small collection of buildings crouched on the cliffs above. We parked the van and sweated our way up the stairs, with no idea what was in store for us.

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