Monday, September 26, 2011

Chimera: Eternal Flames in Cirali near Olympos, Turkey

Cirali, Turkey's beach is about 3 or 4 kilometers long on the Mediterranean Sea. The water is clear and perfect swimming temperature. At the south end lies the ruins of Olympos, where people worshipped Hephaestrus, the fire god. Walk to the north end of the beach and up the hill (3.75TL entry fee) to see why. The Chimera, the eternal flames.

We arrived after sunset, while there was still enough light to walk up the wide, rocky path without flashlights,(which one can rent at the entrance). Under natural light, the path is pretty good, with a lot of tall steps that might challenge short legs. It took more care to walk down after dark.

At the top, sure enough, there's a rocky slope with little fires scattered up the hillside. Some barely burn; others blast out pretty well, providing heat to those nearby. Although I comprehend how natural gas could seep out of rock, I do not understand the source of ignition that could keep these fires burning for thousands of years.

Tips for travelers: Both roads lead to the entrance. For fun, bring marshmallows. My iPhone 4 with the flashlight app provided enough light to get back down the hill. It also shot better photographs than the my Nikon Coolpix, and this video too:

The places are ruined.

Why do busloads of tourists from all over the world visit ruins and pose for photographs like idiots (see above)? I don't know, but here are my thoughts upon visiting Ephesus, Aphrodesius and Olympos.

Ephesus was a great world city, with a population of 250,000. Like many ancient sites, it has the great sports stadium and a smaller odeon for civic debates. In that respect, nothing has changed: more people enjoy sports than debates. Because of St Paul's visit in about 52 A.D. and his writings, Christians enjoy walking the same streets of stone. Ephesus's main street was what struck me most.

The great library facade (pictured at top with the tourist), dominates the street, but what we found most interesting was the "Terrace Homes," which were the equivalent of New York Co-ops on Central Park: Lifestyles of the rich and long dead. Work continues on restoring the marble walls and mosiac floors. Some of the brick walls, covered with plaster, still have the paintings. The delicacy of the art and the taste of the owners survives these millenia later.

Aphrodesius has no great harbor to account for its founding and growth, which was more modest than Ephesus. It did have the temple of Aphrodite. Celebratory orgies might have been enough to attract and keep people there, at least until the Christians shut down that stuff after 500 A.D. The temple is not much to look at these days, but the three stadiums: sport, civics and theater, are in terrific shape. The museum at Aphrodesius displays gorgeous marble sculpture. The skill and delicacy of the work amazes. Earthquakes caused the fall of Aphrodesius and Ephesus. No FEMA to help rebuild.

Olympos lies just off a pleasant and partially sheltered beach on the Mediterranean Sea. Freshwater streams flow through the site (pictured above), which is overgrown. It would make for a beautiful hike even without the ruins, but the ruins make it look like something out of Indiana Jones. Pirates had much to do with the fall of Olympos.

My thoughts upon seeing formerly great cities and considering rise and fall of civilizations include the importance of wise & beneficent leadership and how necessary it is to deter pirates and invaders. It seems as though people have not changed over time in terms of appreciation of art and archeticture, the desire to build or plunder, and devotion to beliefs. We, in the United States, have less appreciation for the grand sweep of history than those who step over fallen granite columns for their Sunday on the beach, as they do here in Cirali, Turkey, site of Olympos.

More photos here.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Driving Rental Cars In Turkey

Driving in foreign countries can be enjoyable, interesting, challenging, and, we wonder, whether it can lead to an Interpol arrest warrant.

We've twice rented a car so far on this visit in Turkey. The rental process, itself, differed greatly from what we experience in U.S. airports. Both times, a person met us as we walked out of the terminal with the car. One time, we dropped the guy off. This second time, we drove to the cramped manufactured structure several kilometers away at a big gas station where we had to conduct business outside because there was no room inside.

Almira rentals provided us a car that is kind of a beater. Well, it IS a beater: worn seats, not the best tires, and a chipped windshield. When it rained, we learned that the windshield wipers need replacing. Although we had a pre-arranged deal, it was in Euros. But they could not take a credit card for Euros and wanted to charge us in Turkish Lira at an exchange rate that we questioned. Eventually, we negotiated a cash dollar exchange rate we liked better.

We've noticed that some of the street signs seem to be aspirational. People sometimes roll right through stop signs or turn right against the no right turn sign. In fact the right turn violation we witnessed occurred directly in front of a “Polis” car, which ignored it. A couple of times, on not-busy divided highways, we've seen people drive against the traffic on the shoulder, saving miles and gas compared to if they actually drove the correct direction and made a u-turn.

Driving is a great way to get off the beaten path and see great expanses of the country. Turkey has very diverse lands. Today, we drove through broad valleys with high hillsides covered in olive trees and conifers. Yesterday, we stayed at a place that looked like it was set in the Tuscany hillsides, with terraced hillsides covered with fruit and olive orchards.

Unfortunately, we do not always comprehend the local practices. In the little town of Urgup, we parked near the main square. When we returned, we had a slip that looked like a parking charge or ticket for 13.00 TL, about $9. When we turned the car in, we asked the guy about it, and he seemed to indicate it was no problem. (Although we're not always sure that those with whom we speak fully comprehend what we are asking.) Yesterday, when we approached the toll road on ramp, we took the side that, APPEARED to have a booth. But it was just a machine for people who had the frequent use cards, which we did not have. We figured we'd have some explaining to do when it was time to exit. When we reached the next big toll area, again, there was no obvious place to go and no people in booths. After slowing down to try to figure out best option, and hoping no truck would slam into our beatermobile, we went through the place with no wooden barrier. The siren shot off, but only momentarily. Dutifully, we pulled off to see if someone would approach so we could start our explaining. When no one appeared, we drove off. We'll see if a camera got the license and will trace to us. Fortunately, we did not pay by credit card, so, perhaps, the crappy rental car business will not be able to charge us.

I assume Interpol does not deal with parking violations and stealing a few miles on a toll road. So, we can focus, instead, on dealing with the traffic and the side streets. One narrow lane last evening provided some entertainment. It was very steep and paved with slate. Allyson got about half way up when gravity exerted more force than beatermobile, with its tires could counter, kind of like trying to climb an icy hill. But we survived that and a later place where she did about a 10-point turn to get on our way.

Part of the fun of traveling are the little unexpected adventures in between the hoped-for highlights.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Layers in Cappadocia

Cappadocia is all about layers. Layers of rock and layers of history stretching back thousands of years. The region is known for its striking landscape and the people who made their homes under ground and within the rock faces and fairy chimineys.

Dueling volcanos many miles apart laid different types of sediment and rock over the millenia, with the hardest, the basalt, on top. Erosion of the softer stone underneath creates, in places, conical towers or even formations that look like columns with a basalt cap protecting the softer"tufa" layer underneath from the rain. Just about everywhere you turn, the cliff faces look like a swiss cheese of holes, some rectangular, some rounded. In towns, some of the dug-out places are still in use. Often, a later layer of civilization is evidenced by cut stone buildings in ruins that blend forward to concrete and contemporary buildings that could be in a city or suburb.

Let's go back to the Hittites, some 4,000 years ago, who built an underground city instead of a fortress. After the Hittites, left, others found the two-level deep development and expanded it to seven levels. Need a shelf? Carve one out of the wall. Need a place to make wine? Dig a shaft to drop grapes from ground level, dig out a crushing bin with a hole leading to a collecting area for the juice. Want communication? Dig out tubes to shout down.

Goreme is the big tourist cite for cave dwelling, mostly because there's a concentration of ancient churches dug out of the hillsides. The painted depictions of crosses, Jesus, St. Gabriel and others can still be seen. But, the "open air museum" is a bit too much, with tour busses dumping loads of international visitors.

Even along a river walk, we stopped to look into a dug out little church.

More impressive to me than Goreme was a cave monestary at Selime. The kitchen had this huge room a high ceiling tapered to a chimney to exhaust the smoke. Also carved in the kitchen (and in many places around the area) are "pigeon houses." Gotta love it. People valued pigeons for communication, fertilizer and as a food source. Maybe if people in cities developed better recipes for squab, they could get rid of their pigeon problems.

More photos here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sunrise over Cappadocia

We awakened at 4:30 a.m. to catch the van, that took us to the check in center, to catch another van, to get to the take off point for the balloon ride. Ballooning is a huge business here in Cappadocia, which is a good thing. That's because it's more fun and dramatic to see dozens of balloons in the air than just your own.

We thoroughly enjoyed our trip, which was with Atmosfer Balloons and with pilot Fatih Yilman. See more photos here.

Tips for travellers: If you have a choice, get in the balloon with the smaller basket and be the last one in. You want be on the outside for the least obstructions by other passengers. Also, earplugs are useful in case you end up under the blasting burner.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Istanbul Biennial

The inspiration for Istanbul's 12th Biennial is a modernist and policital work of a Cuban Puerto Rican artist. So, the works here are modern and political and ultra-leftist.
The media ranged from drawings, to video, to wood craft, to this representation of shotgun wave. One image that I found particularly compelling is Chelini's "Self with Better Half." Here, Chelini depicts how church tithing and oppression can drain the life out of a man, leaving him a mere shadow of the young man with dreams of conquest who he once was, and, instead, clinging desperately to his family.
One more picture for fun.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Istanbul v. U.S. Domes: You be the judge.

I'd say that is a look of skepticism on Allyson's face as we approach Hagia Sophia, and rightly so. Sophie, as I call her, is billed as this great dome, greatest on the face of God's good earth. But the evidence proves that the greatest domes are in the United States of America.

Let's compare, for example, Cowboy's Stadium in Texas, which is still part of the United States, despite the overwhelming opinion of those of us in Oregon, who wonder how peoples with such different political views can both be Americans. Jerry Jones built Cowboy's stadium, so we'll call it Jerry's dome.

Sophie's dome is tall. So big that our blessed Statute of Liberty could do jumping jacks inside. But Jerry's dome is taller, with a much bigger area underneath. Jerry's dome is retractable, but not Sophie's. Jerry's dome has air conditioning. Sophie's dome? Nope. You can buy a cold beer in the Texas dome, but you can't even find a water fountain within Sophie, although there is a little store outside. No food inside Sophie's dome; not even a $9 hotdog; no public toilets, either.

Sophie's defenders point out that Sophie's place has some old mosaics. I would concede that true fact. But here's the rest of that mosaic story. The mosaics are beat up. And other parts of the old church were defaced by the Sultans who turned it into a mosque. But more to the point of U.S. superiority, Jerry has something better than static depictions of a few images, he's got a humongo jumbotron that has ever-changing mosaics that that show football replays. Take that, Sophie.

Local Byzantine chauvinists, when confronted with this evidence, will start whining about "apples-to-apples" comparisons: Emperor Justinian built the Sophie Dome in 537 A.D. These fanatical local patriots started putting down United States by asking, "What have you Americans got from the year 537? Oooh, a sandal woven of grass. I'm so impressed." (I don't think they really were impressed. I think they were disrespecting our historical record of leading sustainable lives for 10,000 years or more.)

I responded, "Did you hear me whining about bad officiating when Oregon lost to Auburn?" The blank stare on the face of the locals made me think they did not understand my reference to the 2011 College Football National Championship, which highlights their parochialism. So I had to return the subject to domes, "Even the Detroit Lions play in a superior dome in Michigan." Again, they shook their heads, as if I were the one who could not accept the facts.

Anyway, I come to a foreign country to try to be a personal Ambassador and build bridges to foreign peoples, but all I find are local cheerleaders who stubbornly cling to preconceived notions of their own superiority. Oh well, tomorrow is another day.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Istanbul, Night One

In 1453, Sultan Mehmed II used a 50-day siege and had to blast through walls to get here. Four hundred years of Ottoman rule created most of the eye candy for Mark Twain’s visit in the 1860s. After arriving by ship from Athens during his grand tour, Twain remarked upon the “handsomest city we have seen,” with its dense array of homes, gardens, domes and countless minarets arising from water’s edge. We arrived from Amsterdam on a Boeing 737-800, looking down upon the Europe-Asia nexus where over 13 million live. 20 hours after leaving our home, we arrived at the Sarnic Premier Hotel, with its peak-a-boo view of the Blue Mosque, in old Stamboul.

Of course, James Bond was in Istambul, spying on the Russians from the underground cistern, built in the 6th century. In 1987, it opened to public view. Here's the view.

This eastern part of the Roman empire lasted centuries after the fall of Rome. Among its other public works projects was St. Sophia Church, which became a mosque, and is now a museum, also built in the 6th century.

Cruise ships still park on the Bosphorous, which divides Europe and Asia, and from which Mark Twain offered his thought on the view. (His thoughts on the city, itself, were not as complimentary.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Screen Door Restaurant Review

Restaurant: Screen Door

Type of Food: Southern

Date: 9/8/2011

In 6 words or fewer: Southern Meets Portland

Screen Door on Urbanspoon

Review: The Menu offers up a challenge, "How to I choose among the several good items?" So, my default at Screen Door is the Screen Door Plate, which allows the diner to select three items from the "sides" menu or the "local organics" menu plus cornbread. For $13.95, that's a good deal.

The "Local Organics" menu is why I say this is Southern meets Portland. The cooks get whatever is fresh that day and make something from it. For example, squash was in season, and squash appeared in the Summer Vegetable Saute. So, one can avoid fried foods if necessary, and eat, for example, the Black Mission Fig and Pluot Salad. But then, why eat at a southern food restaurant if you do not get something that is fried?

The cocktail menu is also very good. It includes Southern favorites plus other cocktails, which hit the spot on a hot summer night.

The atmosphere is busy and loud. The clientele ranges from middle-aged men, to young people with guaged ears and tatoos, to families. A good cross-section of Portland patronizes Screen Door because this restaurant offers good food at reasonable prices. You will not leave feeling hungry.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

University Days and Floating the McKenzie

Positive continuity and change, is how I'd sum up my thoughts on our overnight visit to Eugene, Oregon and the University of Oregon. The occasion was Allyson's 15-year reunion of her law school class. We started at the new, clean, and comfortable law school, directly across the street from Historic Hayward Field, the soul of USA's Track and Field.

About 22 people from various classes (not just Allyson's class) showed by 9:30 for a rafting trip down the McKenzie River. People came from Florida, California, and Colorado, among other places. Everyone was very pleasant, open and seemed comfortable in their own skins. I thought to myself that this is the reward for all of us going through the rigors of an education and then playing by the rules. We all were able to enjoy a Friday, around pleasant people, in a peaceful spot, excited about what was to come that day.

We drove upriver about 45 minutes and loaded onto 4 rafts. No wet suits, no helmets. The McKenzie at Fin Rock and below is no White Salmon River. Mostly, it’s a gentle float, where people can just enjoy conversation, the clean rushing water, and trees. This is the part of the Oregon people think of when they think of Oregon: Hills covered by green conifers covering hills cut through with and cold rushing water. An occasional splash of 50-degree water felt good on this 94-degree day. The McKenzie is where Herbert Hoover would come to recharge his batteries as he caught the daily limit of 75 trout. This is where the logging industry helped build this state and pay for the Universities. (Thank goodness Phil Night of Nike graduated from Oregon, because that's who pays for the university now.)

We returned to the school around 4:30, hustled to our hotel and cleaned up for the reception and banquet in the evening. Among the crowd was the class of 1961 for their 50th. 10 of 22 graduates were honored with the "Order if the Emerald," which, I guess, means you graduated, lived another 50 years, and showed up. Many of the men had distinguished careers. (Remember, I said "men.") It was a full room, and I found lawyers I knew to talk to, in addition to our friends from Allyson's class.

Following the banquet with all classes, the groups broke up into their own classes, and 16 women from the class of 1996 met in the law student lounge at the law school. (One man attended the dinner, but he went home to his wife and children.) 1996 was the first class when women outnumbered men. The 1961 graduates formed a fraternity – the 1996 grads formed a sorority. Continuity and change.

As an undergraduate, I was a bit bemused by middle-aged and older alumni who would put on Stanford gear and show up for games. On Saturday, I was happy to join alumni and other fans to fill Autzen Stadium to kick off the home season with a blowout featuring many big plays. Here's the first touchdown of the home season.

The University of Oregon is a happy place to be. The kids seem optimistic and energized. It’s hard not to recognize the personalities from my time at college. The faculty and staff are upbeat, intelligent and pleasant to be around. The campus is gorgeous, where the classic old brick buildings exist down the wooded paths from the new $200 million basketball stadium and alumni center.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Marco's Cafe - Review

Restaurant: Marco's Cafe

Type of Food: American

Date: 9/8/2011

In 6 words or fewer: As if your Aunt could cook.
Marco's Cafe and Espresso Bar on Urbanspoon
Review: Marco's cafe is a great neighborhood restaurant, which we've enjoyed for years. Located in Multnomah Village, Marco's is homey, with waitresses who feel more like a favorite aunt than a hipster.

It's bedrock is a very strong & long breakfast menu, from which you may order all day. It ranges from simple ham and eggs, to a selection of benedicts, french toast, to Andouille & Asparagus Omlette. The menu is not as adventurous as Tasty & Sons, but there's something for everyone.

Marco's lunch and dinner menus also start with basics, but offer more. It boasts a number of different salads, including this one:
  • dried Bing cherries, golden beets, avocado, tomato, red onion, almonds and asiago cheese atop mixed greens, topped with citrus, shallot and asiago vinaigrette dressing.

Look for the specials for dinner. In fact. you my look for them on line here. The specials are consistently well prepared.

Bottom Line: Marco's Cafe is a well-run restaurant. I've been coming back to Marco's for 20 years for the good food, good prices, friendly staff.

Justa Pasta Review

Restaurant: Justa Pasta

Type of Food: Italian

Date: 9/2/2011

In 6 words or fewer: Relax and mangia.
Justa Pasta on Urbanspoon
Review: Justa Pasta is a great little place to relax with a glass of wine and some fresh pasta.

The format is very casual. Get in line at the cash register, review the regular printed menu and the chalkboard daily specials for food and wine. If you want water, get it yourself on the way to your table. Once seated, you are treated as you would be in a regular restaurant.

The place has two cozy rooms indoors and tables outdoors on summer nights.

We went there because we wanted tasty comfort food without any scene. It had been a long week, and I just wanted to eat and relax with my wife.

On this night, the chalkboard menu offered wild king salmon and chicken parmesan, among other things. I took the chicken parmesan, and it hit the spot. The sauce had a little kick to it, but there was nothing extraordinary about the food.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Gorge Boating & Much Gratitude

Sunday, I counted my blessings.

I have a family; I live in a beautiful place; the weather is great; and no loved ones are suffering.

Ken & Ann invited us for a boat cruise. After three tries, Ken found a boat ramp that had parking on this perfect holiday weekend. From Camas, past Crown Point to a little spot where we anchored, snacked, and Scout (the flying dog) could take care of business.

There was a time last spring when I grieved prematurely over the probable loss of joyful days on a river with Ken. (See, this post.). It only makes a day like yesterday so much sweeter.

When we returned to Ken & Ann's house, it was still warm after dark, an unusual occurrence up here. So, we enjoyed our moist & tasty grilled kabobs and ridiculously-fresh, orange-colored, farmers-market tomatoes outside at 9:00 p.m.

When they called with the invitation, I was slogging away in my home office, feeling run down. Getting on the water, thinking of all the good things in my life, I returned home energized and grateful. (Some snapshots here.)