Category Archives: Archaeology

Xpujil, Becán and Chicanná

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The next day Diane from the lodge drove us into the little town of Xpujil.  There are ruins of some mostly domestic Maya buildings opposite the school and we started out there.  We then walked up to the main site at Xpujil which we had almost to ourselves.  We spent some time exploring the ruins and watching the wildlife.  The area is a bit low on wildlife as, however, we did see the very impressive bat falcon at the main site at Xpujil which was probably why the plaza was devoid of other birds, and we had frequent sightings of small green parrots flitting in and out of the bushes beside the road.

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We then walked back to the town and caught a taxi to Becan.  That saved us about 10 km walk.  Becan is a wonderful site with many structures and a moat.  It was certainly Hilary’s favourite site to date (and one of the best overall).  Again, we had it almost to ourselves – there were two other people there and they were not obtrusive.

We walked along to Chicanná which is on the way back to the lodge.  Another wonderful site including some monstrous doorways where you step into the maw of the house of the serpent mouth.  Regrettably we didn’t get a really good picture showing the teeth!

That was a very full day with lots of walking between and within the sites.  We got back to Rio Bec Dreams very ready for a shower, a sit by the bamboo to watch the jays and a few cold beers.

Next day we made our way to Palenque – a big favourite of ours…

Flying into Mexico

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I think it’s about time I began to write this as we have now been home well over a month….

On 12th January this year we flew from Izmir to Stansted.  There was snow on the ground on the way to Adnan Menderes.  Our flight was direct and trouble-free and we had booked our National Express bus from Stansted to Luton where we planned to stay with family.  We arrived in Luton in a blizzard that, although short-lived, coincided with our getting off the coach and into a taxi for the short ride to Ashley’s mother’s house.  Next day we went to London to spend time with my family and, Saturday 14th we flew from Gatwick to Cancun.

A ten hour flight is never the best way to spend a day but we had excellent service on our flight with Virgin Atlantic.  The flight was not full and we had a row of 4 seats to ourselves.  The seat back entertainment system was excellent and varied (we watched the first episode of Westworld, amongst other things), the food was fine, there was free alcohol in moderation and the staff were helpful and friendly.  We landed in Cancun and got through immigration feeling reasonably relaxed, then a taxi to our hotel near the bus station.

The hotel was OK and the staff were sweet.  We had a problem with the aircon which was fixed almost instantly.  It felt very late at night though, in Cancun, it was early, so we didn’t do a lot.  We took a stroll to the local square.  This was not the touristy part of Cancun, so it was full of locals enjoying Saturday night.  There were folk dancers and stalls selling street food, balloons and that kind of thing.  I particularly remember the bats.  There were lots of them, large ones (probably fruit bats of some sort) hanging from one of the trees in the zocolo like black handkerchiefs.

We had a few beers in the bar attached to the hotel.  I got bitten.  Lots.  One of the worst mosquito attacks I experienced in the whole 5 weeks we were in the tropics.

Valladolid1Next morning we wandered around, back to a square where we listened to birds and watched those brave enough to show themselves in a crowded area.  Basically we were waiting for a bus to take us to Valladolid.  An easy ride (first class bus, it had movies, including one about Turkey).

I really like Valladolid.  It’s not too touristy, though it does have some pleasant pensions and a couple of decent restaurants.  It has a cenote where we watched loud tourists and a family of black vultures.  It has a lovely, green square full of ground doves and… grackles.  I really do like grackles.  And, of course, it’s convenient for Cichen Itza.

There had been some debate around whether to go to Chichen Itza.  Ashley has been several times, I had only been once.  It was the first Mayan site I visited and I wanted to refresh my memory.  We went on a collective (the Mexican equivalent of a Dolumuş).  We saw a mot mot sitting on a wire on the way, though the vehicle was pretty full and it was hard to see much from the window.  The first thing we saw upon arrival was the queue.  Although we had arrived quite early, the crowds are such that there is a 20 minute queue just to pay to get into the site.

Sadly, from my point of view, they allow people to set up souvenier stalls inside the site itself.  I suppose that is better than having them wander around accosting tourists, but it does little for the atmosphere.  Also they sell these vile noisemakers which are supposed to imitate jaguars (I think they sound more like howler monkeys) and, unsurprisingly, these are very popular with children.

Nothing can really spoil Chichen Itza.  The site is large and most tourists go to a very limited part of it (I think that a lot of the tour buses don’t allow you time to get around the whole site, particularly not if you like to take your sites slowly).  There are two cenotes, both of them very beautiful (though I do have my favourite).  There are some wonderful reliefs.  And we spent quite a long time standing on one of the slightly out of the way paths watching a mot mot hunt butterflies.  Well, mostly it was sitting pretty still so Ashely got some good shots.

 

Back to Valladolid for dinner (yes we did get the cochinita pibil) and a bit of sleep before catching the 5 a.m. bus to Chetumal……

Next Stop – Methoni

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Our next stop was Methoni.  We visited there, briefly, in 2013.  This time we went the pretty way, over Mount Taygetos which must be one of the best bike rides in the world.  Scenery is spectacular but we were a bit concerned by the darkening skies.  Which opened.  Fortunately whilst we were fairly near to a village where we took a rain break for a Freddo Espresso.  We managed to get to Methoni without getting seriously wet and checked into the hotel on the beach.  This meant we could use the sun loungers and umbrellas without incurring extra costs but, sadly, it wasn’t really beach weather whilst we were there.  The storm broke as we reached our room.

sparrrow-on-nutsMethoni is a quiet, seaside village – which gains much (but not all) its income from tourism.  It also has a spectacular Venetian castle which, this time, we managed to visit.  In fact we spent an entire morning in there.  Apart from the castle we spent our time making friends with the local wildlife in a pleasant bar and eating some excellent  meals.

 

On to Mystra

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Our next stop was Mystra.  We rode there the pretty way, via Leonido, stopping off in Cosmas for lunch Lunch in Cosmaswith a spectacular view…    Some Italian bikers had the same idea so there was quite a crowd enjoying mountain sausage, chips and village bread.

Mystra did not disappoint.  It’s an almost intact Byzantine city with many churches containing frescoes, a palace, a working monastery and plenty of interesting wildlife.  The village itself is small and friendly, containing a number of small hotels and a sprinkling of restaurants.  I think a lot of people just visit for the day from larger tourist centres.

After we arrived we walked up to the entrance to the site (there are two entrances because, if you only use the lower entrance, there is quite a lot of walking involved) where we saw some lattice brown butterflies on a tree stump.lattice-brown-1

Next day we explored the site itself.  It took all day.  Like many sites in Greece, the information boards scattered around give you a very good idea of what life must have been like when Byzantine Mystra was a living city.  We were lucky to avoid the rainstorm that happened in the evening as the surfaces inside the Byzantine city are very, very slippery when wet!

Apart from the lattice browns, I think I shall save the wildlife for a separate post as Mystra is very, very photogenic.

 

 

Eski Foça

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The Sunday before we went to the UK for a week, we went walking again with Zirve dağcılık.  This time we went to Eski Foça which is a couple of hours drive from Selçuk.  It was a mixed group and not everyone did the walking, though the walking was not particularly long or difficult.  It was, primarily, a social and archaeological trip.

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We started out by walking up to and almost completely ruined acropolis then on to the windmills which dominate the town’s skyline.  Quite steep going and more difficult on the way down.  The area has been in continuous occupation since the time of the Hittites and most of the monumental stones have been reused several times.  This makes for a fascinating site, but one that is difficult to make sense of.

At the bottom of the hill are the scant remains of what must once have been an impressive theater.  There are pot shards lying all around – though it can be hard to tell which are ancient and which were dropped by picnicers last week.  Most of the chorus area was occupied by sheep.

After all this vigorous exercise it was time for lunch.  Lunch was fish, eaten on the harbour which is well supplied with fish restaurants.  We ate with quite a large group.  The balık ekmek was a bit greasy but the calamaris (and the views) were excellent!

After lunch we were taken on a tour of the recent dig (there is an Athena Temple, or the remains thereof, near to the school) and the citadel by one of the working archaeologists.  He was very interesting but rather softly spoken.  There is not much left of the Athena Temple or the agora which is nearby.  Most of the stone was taken by later occupants for other projects.  Bits of it can be seen in the walls of the citadel.  The walk around the citadel is enchanting.  It has been restored in such a way that the various ‘layers’ of building are easy to identify.  Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman.  It is also monumentally huge.  We didn’t get a good photograph of the citadel walls from outside.  The picture below is of what remains of the temple (and the agora).  You can see bits of the citadel wall from the inside.

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After the citadel tour we went for a brisk walk around the English Peninsula before joining up with the rest of the group for some excellent ice cream to sustain us on the long ride home.

The second leg – Çıralı, Patara and Saklikent

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We left Eğidir after breakfast and headed South past Lake Kovada.  This road has now been made (we’ve got covered in tar on it in previous years) and is quite spectacular.  It must be one of the best bike rides in the world though it is quite technical in places.

After winding above crevasses and through wonderful gorges full of pines, it comes out on the main road to Antalya.  Which is not quite so interesting.  Having passed through Antalya we broke our journey in Çıralı, which was enough riding for the day.  We’ve written about Çıralı before.  There was nothing much there the first time we visited but it’s become quite ‘developed’.  Still beautiful, but packed with hotels and restaurants.

We stayed in a pleasant hotel with love birds and grey parrots in cages in the garden.  We had an evening meal and left after breakfast the next morning.

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We rode on to Patara, or, rather the village of Gelemiş.  We have stayed there quite a few times before and have our favourite Pansyion where we are recognised, welcomed and given our usual room.  We walked down through the dunes and back along the beach.  All of which we have done before.  All of which is spectacular.

Next day we headed for Saklikent Gorge…  That’s for walking.  Or wading.  Depending on the time of year.  This time we got the time of year right and were able to walk all the way.  It was crowded, but still mindblowingly beautiful.

And, finally, the archaeological site at Pattara.  This was not our first visit but the archaelogists and restoration people have been working very hard.

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We stood and watched this lintel being lowered carefully into its proper place.

Finally came the long ride home….  But this was a trip worth repeating!

Eğidir and Sagalassos

 

Lake Egidir

In mid-September we set out on what was to be our last ‘big’ roadtrip of the year.  Well, the last on our own (we did go to a biker party on Lesvos which involved quite a bit of riding).

We set off from Selçuk and got to Eğidir in one day.  It’s a longish trip – a good six hours riding.  The weather was fine and we stayed in the same hotel we’ve stayed in previously.  The owners seemed pleased to see us and every year we are able to talk to the more and more as our Turkish improves.

We always enjoy Eğidir – we’ve been every September since we moved to Turkey.  It’s a lovely, relaxing little town with beautiful scenery and very little European tourism (and what there is, is mostly just passing through).

This year we decided to return to Sagalassos – one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Turkey (in our opinion).  I think we have written about it in this blog before.  It is described as a ‘tourist site’ but we think it is too far off the beaten track to attract many tourists.  We had the huge site almost to ourselves.

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Occupation of the area dates back to Hittite times.  Sagalassos was one of the richest cities in Pisidia when conquered by Alexander the Great.  It subsequently came under Roman rule and the Emporer Hadrian took it as a Centre of his personal Cult.

Sagalassos-P3The setting is spectacular but we did notice a few changes since our first visit (in 2012).  The building work that we thought might be for a cable car turned out to be for a smart new visitors centre (empty and largely shut during our visit).  The rock tombs are now accessible and interesting.  The archaeologists on site seem to be doing a really good job, but then they are fortunate, Sagalassos is up the side of a mountain, too remote for the stone to have been plundered or recycled, so most remains present.  Also remarkable is that two of the fountains still work, in September after the dry of the long hot summer water was flowing from natural springs.

The setting is wonderful with views of mountains to the south, and we saw quite a few bee eaters just past the carpark on the way out.

It’s impossible to choose just a few pictures so we shall leave you with a gallery.

Our First Trip to Samos

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In early August we took a trip to the UK to visit friends and family.  Then, at the end of the month, we decided to take a trip to Samos.  That’s really easy from here.  A half hour on the dolmuş to Kuşadası then a stroll to the ferry.  Very straightforward.  The ferry out was very crowded with locals taking a weekend break.

Samos08Our ferry docked in Pythagorio where we got some breakfast and hired a quad bike.  We rode the quad bike to Kokkara and started to look for our hotel.  It was not very easy to find.  And, whilst we were trying to find it, the quad bike stopped and refused to be restarted.  We found the hotel on foot and the proprietor allowed us to use his phone to contact the hire shop.  They sent out a mechanic who swiftly gave us a remedial lesson in how to start the quad…

Our hotel was lovely with a glorious garden, interesting plants and a very welcoming family.

We spent the next couple of days buzzing round the island on the bike.  Everywhere we stopped there were spectacular views and all the food was delicious!

We found a congenial bar in Kokkari itself – we went there for breakfast every day Samos01and, in the early evenings, we were able to dive straight into the water and climb out again for a cold beer and snack.  Kokkari is quite touristy – lively but not noisy.  It’s a pretty little town with plenty of bars, restaurants and shops selling the sorts of things that tourists like to buy.

But, for us, maybe the best of all was the Hera temple at Pythagario.  It is a truly stunning site and quite huge.  We particularly liked the monumental feet!

A lot of people just go to Samos for the shopping – there are items you can buy there that you can’t get in Turkey (pork products) and alcohol is a lot cheaper, but we didn’t bother too much with that (well, we did not neglect to use our duty free allowance).  We got on the quad and explored.  This blog is called our first trip to Samos because we fully intend to go again!

Walking round Sardis

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On Sunday we went walking with Zirve Mountaineering and Extreme Sports Club again.  This time numbers were more to our taste – 26 of us all together, including a very knowledgeable guide.  We were happy to be able to understand nearly everything he told us about the site.  He did speak good English, but the information was given to the group in Turkish.  It was an early start and a two hour drive to the village of Sart where we stopped for breakfast.  Parts of the ancient site are in that village.  We wandered around the gymnasium and synagogue area.  The synagogue was particularly impressive – huge, built in Roman times, it has some amazing mosaics, on the floor and mounted on some of the remaining walls.

The gymnasium has been quite heavily restored but one of the things we found most fascinating about it is the sculpted heads mounted on the capitals of the columns at the front of the building.  We have not seen anything like that before and we did manage to get a picture of one of them.

Sardis was an important city for more than 1,500 years.  It was, at various points, Lydian, Persian, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine.

Our minibus drove us up to the Artemesion.  Much better preserved than the more famous temple near Ephesus (the one we can walk to, the one that was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the one that is almost completely tumbled down but a great place for wildlife).  The temple has seen very little modern restoration, although there is a church at one end (built when Christianity became the official religion in the area).  The columns are of various dates (and some were ‘restored’ in Roman times) but they are properly tapered to give a good perspective.

Following our visit to the Temple we climbed up to the acropolis.  All that remains of the acropolis is Byzantine and most of that has fallen down the hillside, not least because the entire hill seems to be made of sand and sandstone.   We stopped for a tea break in a sheltered part of the acropolis walls.  Although the weather was overcast, the worst of the rain held off till late afternoon and we got some amazing views.

On the way back we stopped off first at the Kazak Centre where we ate Sutlaç, then on to Karabel where there is a wonderful Hittite relief cut into the rock.  There were more, unfortunately destroyed when the road was widened.

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Exploring Rhodes Town

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The first thing we noticed about Rhodes town was that it was shut.  There were a few shops and cafes open just after we arrived but we think they had opened for day trippers as they closed early in the evening and didn’t reopen for three days.  Yes, it was Easter in some parts of the world, but it was a full week before Orthodox Easter so that can’t have been the reason.

This would have been difficult if we had gone to Rhodes to go shopping or hang out in more than one or two cafes.  As things were, though, we had the historic centre, if not to ourselves, at least without the crowds we have seen there in summer.

In Rhodes town it is hard to focus on any one thing – you’re completely surrounded by the medieval city.  It is there wherever you look.  We walked up to the Acropolis on the first afternoon then back down, around the moat and through the old streets.

We were fortunate in that, although not many restaurants were open, we managed to avoid the aggressively marketed tourist joint in the middle of town and found a couple of excellent places catering to the local population.  One particular recommendation would be the Megiston somewhere in the maze of the old city.