Saturday 30 April 2011

Cappadocia, Turkey

The area of Cappadocia is a large region that is most easily reached by Kayseri airport (or train station if you have the time). These days most travellers fly in, thanks to the cheapness provided by Pegausus and Andolu jet airlines, and it is only 1.25 hours from Istanbul through flying, whereas by train it can take at least 10 if things go a hundred percent.

After we arrived here we explored the town of Kayseri, which like the rest of Turkish cities, is open late. It was amazing to see how modern and clean and spacious Kayseri is. There are a wide variety of shops and malls to get to even as late at 9:30 pm. During our other evenings here, we also go to taste the local dish of Manti, which is a pasta like dish with a meaty filling, that you eat with yoghurt. We also go to enjoy a traditional Ottoman Tea House, where we drank an extremely lovely drink made from orchids called Sahlab/Salep. If you get the chance (as we did) driving up Mount Erciyes, provides an amazing view. At night the view over the city is very pretty with all the lights (Kayseri has a population of almost a million). But the actual mountain is very interesting with its minor domes and huge size (3916 m), and you can drive up as far as 2200m which is very impressive. There is a lake that was frozen over and interesting alpine birds. It is a good way to spend a half day if you have it to spare (in ski season I am sure its great with a very good chairlift taking you up much higher).

The actual reason of heading to Kayseri was not to explore the above, but to enjoy the wonders of Cappadocia which refers to a geological monument. This area has a lot to offer in sites from the cultural aspects of people living in these magnificent rock formations to the actual rock formations formed through erosion and the amazing tephra soil. The soil here is quite interesting as the different tephra layers has provided the extreme differences seen over the area in formation and colour. It is hard to explain the different aspects of this area, so rather then writing a book on it I will summarise the key areas of must see from our point of view.

One of our favourite areas (2 TL entry) was the Red Valley. Here you could spend days if you had the time. The chimney like domes that are here vary in colour, with white, pink and yellow and the colours in between them. It is hard to describe in words the wonder as you are walking around here. Every so often there is an opening in the rock where in the past someone had started digging or did successfully to build a home. The homes in this area are now modernised (at least close to the carpark) into more touristy things like a winery. But there are also remains of churches as in other areas.

Another partciuarly amazing thing in the area is not the Goreme open museum (you can actually see quite a bit of it without paying to get in) but the relatively unknown Soganli Valley (also 2 TL entry). For the majority of the time that we were there, we had the place to ourselves. Here, are the best perserved rock churches with mostly original artwork from Byzantine times.  Sadly the artwork is being destroyed by stupid tourists putting graffiti over it, but you can still see a lot of it. Like most places in Cappadocia there are houses or group villages gouged into the rock, and it was amazing to see the tunnelling not only in the rock outcrops but leading back into the hills.

The underground city at Derinkuyu was amazing (15 TL entry)! There was extensive tunneling of which you can actually only get into a small percentage of the overall complex. There are many of these underground cities all over Cappadocia but this is one of the larger ones. There are communal halls, churches and living areas, as well as little side places which once housed induvidual families. You get completely disorientated with the constant turns and stairways up and down. One of the main airshafts was a good 30m deep and we didn't even get down to the level of the bottom of it totally.

Uchasir, is a very interesting area to get the postcard pictures of the different types of formations, as well as, Turkish village in one setting. The best part of this town is the Pigeon Valley (just outside) which if you can get away from the throngs of tourists provides an excellent view over the towns massive pinnacle, village, and surrounding "fairy domes". And as the name suggests it is full of pigeons (most of this is probably due to people feeding them these days), as well as, sparrows. There is a great little cafe that provides a great view and good Turkish tea.

The best way to see the many different sites is by car. You can get around with buses but they are not relguar and dont take you to the random little places and you cannot stop when you see something amazing. As you drive along, there is literally something around every corner that is worth stopping and absorbing if you can. There are also tours but they are crowded, noisy and annoying. If you ever go to this area, pay what seems at first the little bit extra as its worth it to have a car.

Sunday 10 April 2011

Life in Frydek-Mistek, Czech Republic

Despite the first month of my time in this part of Czech Republic being completely ruined by being almost immobile thanks to my ankle, its not too bad here. Unlike the other parts of Czech, as a forienger you get to experience what it is like to really live as a Czech person. Frydek-Mistek is a town in Northern Moravia, that exists due to a number of factories nearby the biggest being a car plant. People here are lucky in that it is very close to the Beskydy mountains (which are really big hills or baby mountains). The Beskydy mountains are very nice to walk through and are predominantly covered in spruce forests, however in spring some wild flowers appear. 

Near F-M there are also some lakes, which I didn't get to explore this time but have enjoyed on previous occassions (whilst visiting the in-laws when we lived in Brno). As with a lot of Czech countryside areas, there are numerous bike trails that show you different things and nature as you explore them. 

F-M actually used to be two separate towns that were on either side of a river, and as with Buda and Pest (hence the name budapest), they joined together to become one town. From appearances Frydek appears to be the posher half, as it has the chateau or castle sitting above the banks of the river. This castle is quite interesting to look explore and these days is predominantly a museum, or a place for chamber music recitals. Frydek town square is also interesting with its traditional Czech building styles present, it is larger than Misteks, however personally Misteks is more interesting. Mistek town square is small and quite and has a covered arched walkway that is really enjoyable on the hotter days to sit under. 

Nearby to F-M are a number of interesting little villages and sites to see, whcih makes F-M also a good point to use a base if you have a car or are using the bus system. An example is Stramberk. This cute village has part of a ruined castle at the top of the hill, and rebuilt in 1902 a replacement lookout tower for the one that was destroyed. You can go to the top of this tower today which gives you great views over the countryside and onto the Beskydy mountains. In the past this place used to be important for religious pilgramages, and the old houses built to support that are still standing today and agreat example of architecture from that period. Another interesting thing is the baking tradition to make Stramberk ears. When the turkish left the area, they left behind a bag of Christian ears, which these days they imitate in respect to those that fought against the turks. The ears are yummy.

Saturday 9 April 2011

Isle Mallorca, Spain

Palma de Mallorca

We arrived late into Palma to stay at Roc Linda hotel, which is a far cry from the 3 stars it claims, but it does the job for the cheapest price in the area (we stayed here 2 nights). The next day we headed out to see the sights surrounding the main city on the island. The main sight to see in Palma is the cathedral, built out of a lovely brown stone that matches all the old buildings beside it in old town. Inside isn’t anything that amazing but the view onto it from the sea front is quite spectacular.

After enjoying the view from here we headed onto the Castell de Bellever, which in the low season is free (2 Euros otherwise). The castle doesn’t have too much to offer but the views from the mountain top onto the city are worth the trip up there. The castle is circular in nature and the inner courtyard is reminiscent of a very small bull ring.

Playa de Palma isn’t what all the German and English tourists (they were a HUGE majority here of tourist nationalities), make it out to be. Considering the places that we went to afterwards, the beach is dirty, the water is gross, and its very crowded (apparently during high season you have to literally fight for a space on the beach).  But we headed in for a freezing dip and soaked in a bit of the sun. At night the road along here is packed with the crazy cyclists back from a day scaring drivers, some with interesting war wounds. It is a nice place for a dinner if you can find a quiet spot.

Mountains of Mallorca

The eastern part of the island is full of mountains which make for amazing scenery and beautiful (but difficult to get to) hidden coves. We stopped at many places along the way but my favourite were San Elm and Sa Calobra. San Elm had an incredible beach that I wish we had swum in. The water is extremely clear and you can see a variety of fishes. It also has a view onto Dragona Island, which is a national park that is quite pretty. Sa Calobra, has an engineering marvel to get to it. The road you have to drive on to get there is very windy and takes you up and down a lot.  There is even a figure 8 at one point. But once you get over the hurdle of the sheer cliffs beside you as you are driving along you arrive to park at what seems at first rather disappointing area. From here you have to walk the remainder of the way, even through some tunnels to get to a gap in the mountains to a pebbled beach with amazing blue green water and lots of rocks to explore. Unfortunately it was too cold to stay in too long to explore them properly but in the summer it would be very nice (although crowded). Another great thing about this place is that the gap in the rock leads onto a gorge that has a great walk going back into a swallow filled area. There are also a number of wild goats in the area. This would be a lovely place to walk properly and camp in if you got the bus to the area (there are a number of buses that come from various points).

Separately we also went back with our host to explore the towns of Valldemossa, Banyalbufar, and Deia. Valldemossa, is just outside of Palma, and has unfortunately been found by tourists, so the prices for everything have gone up. The village is very pretty with cobbled streets and is set upon a terraced hillside. Deia to me was not as interesting but has some very interesting smells from the plant life in the area. It is set in a bit more of a dramatic position with massive cliffs backing the city. Banyalbufar is a very small village, but the rock formations here are similar to the pancake rocks in New Zealand, and it also has a great cove with a waterfall to swim in if you were brave.

Northern Mallorca

We had two nights in Port Alcudia, which has a great lagoon and beaches. But the main focus of our stay here was to explore the northern tip of the island. The lighthouse at Cape Formentor is the largest on the island and a great place to have lunch. If the weather is good (which it usually is) you can see onto the island of Menorca. The road to get there is also very interesting, like Sa Calobra, very windy and up and down. The cliffs here are also a great view.

The other main thing to enjoy in this area is the beach Formentor. It is supposed to be the most beautiful beach in Mallorca, and it is very nice. The water is quite shallow so its not as freezing (maybe a degree warmer) and there are pine trees growing right onto the beach, so you can shade yourself a bit from the very bright sun, which gives the water its wonderful shimmer and colours. Would definitely recommend this place if you have the time to stop for a while.

Eastern Mallorca

Our last days in Mallorca we spent exploring the much flatter lands of the Eastern side of the Island. We stayed a night in Manacor which is apparently the ugliest city in Mallorca, but I didn’t think it was too bad. It does have a very nice clock tower and a couple of good buildings but it doesn’t really have the appeal of other places. But it is a very useful base to explore this part of Mallorca.

We had our only negative experience in Mallorca in the caves of Porto Cristo (the light ones). Do not go here. Mass tourism and greed has actually destroyed this beautiful caves with the cutting of stalactites and mites to provide slightly better view of further back ones, and the constant leaving of the lights on all the time has caused a very thick layer of algae and other photosynthetic plants to grow on the caves walls, stopping all growth. These caves are dead and have just been used to destruction by the people “owning” them. They are obsessed with audiovisual displays on the caves walls which have been smoothed to make them better viewing. Horrible. In contrast to these horrible caves are some much better ones, also in Porto Cristo (del drach). The tour is actually cheaper here which is an added bonus, and much better. These caves have been well looked after and are still growing. They are also interesting in that seawater wells up within them despite not having a direct opening to the ocean. The karsts are much larger here and the cathedral is impressive. There is also a music concert with live musicians on a boat that goes along an inner lake, which you then get to go on. Much better cave tour.

Apart from the caves, the Eastern part of the island also has some great beaches, although the water is much choppier here. Salinnes is a good place to visit as you can see the other island Cabrera and has some interesting geology. However the mountains and northern parts of Mallorca are much more interesting than the South and Eastern in all honesty.

Friday 8 April 2011

Brief Bratislava

Due to the timing of buses, trains and flights, we had a bit of time to explore the capital city of Slovakia. Bratislava is a very clean city, I loved this about it the first time I came here when I was studying in Budapest. Nothing too much has changed, there are a few new buildings but its still a “little big city”. It is a great place to set yourself to explore Slovakia and other major cities as its very close to Vienna, Budapest and Brno. Within the city there are a lot of gardens, as until recent history (late 18th century) a third of the city was actually still royal gardens belonging to Bratislava castle. This time we didn’t explore Bratislava castle, but it sits high upon a hill overlooking the whole city. These days its mainly a museum with various exhibitions. The stare mestro or old town is still a great place to explore. There are cute statues to play with and the buildings are kept in good condition so there is  quite a bit of interesting architecture.

Another great place to just relax and explore in the sun, is the Danube. This famous river meanders its way through Europe and several major cities, Bratislava being one of them. Along the Danube is a great walk and lots of places to just sit and watch the water traffic go by. Good coffees and ice cream.