Thursday, 17 April 2014

East Turkey Road Trip Part 4 - The Tuzluca Episode

And we left the story where we were sat in a police station in Iğdır, on a national holiday, smiling politely at the policeman on duty in the hope that he would authorise our hire car to be released from car prison. There are four of us, sitting there. Our two Turkish friends are doing the talking - 'we're teachers in the area, we're on a road trip for Gençlik Bayramı and look, we've got foreign guests, too, and we need to get back to Patnos tonight in the hire car, and we've just been to Ishak Paşa Sarayı...' That sort of conversation. And everything's amiable - even if the police guy does look a tad bored with life; well it is a holiday, and he is at work.

And then the other police guy in the room beams. He's heard our friends say to the other policeman that we'd hoped to get to Ani, near Kars, today sometime. "Oh, don't miss out on the salt mines at Tuzluca," he says. We've never heard of them so he explains it's on the way to Kars. We nod and smile, all the time our heads pleading that the other guy will authorise the release of our car, otherwise, we're going nowhere... 

Tuzluca Salt Mines, East Turkey
Cave entrances on the approach to Tuzluca Salt Mines
The car's released, fines paid, profuse thank yous...and that's how we end up pulling off the main road from Iğdır to Kars into the little town of Tuzluca. One random comment from a policeman and here we are. First impressions...well we're intrigued from what we can see in the distance. The Tuzluca salt mines certainly look worth seeing. ('Tuz' means 'Salt' in Turkish so the whole town must exist because of these mines - apparently they've existed since Mediaeval times.)

We drive up the mine road and wonder if there must be a visitor centre of some description. Not sure why we think that as everything seems so ad hoc in these parts - and then we arrive at the entrance to the salt mine - and it is just an entrance to a salt mine. No payment desk, no guide...have we just arrived at a place of work and it just happens nobody has thought to stop us?
Tuzluca Salt Mines, East Turkey
Entrance to Tuzluca Salt Mines
Have we just arrived at a place of work and it just happens nobody has thought to stop us? Well, here's the entrance to the mine. We stop the cars, park them and get out and look at the entrance into the rock face; solid salt stalactites hanging from the rock faces at the entrance to many smaller openings. It's definitely impressive - nature at work - and obviously, it's being made use of. This is a huge mine, judging by the approach road we've just driven up.

So at this point, sensible readers, your mind might be saying to you, "Well obviously, everyone should leave. This is not a tourist sight. It's a place of work. No place for five young Turkish teachers and a pair of Brits." Well, that's what I'm thinking, anyway, while we're standing there...except we're with five young Turkish teachers (their profession is irrelevant - the fact is, we're following them). Let's just say the males amongst us (3 of them) look more gleeful at the sight of the cave/mine entrance than the females (4 of us) do. "Are there rats," one of the females asks. Who knows...
Tuzluca Salt Mines, East Turkey
A lorry leaves the Tuzluca mines
As we get deeper inside, curving around the huge, arched, carved entrance, a dumper truck passes us, heading towards daylight. Packed with salt, we assume. "Errrm, we're really not supposed to be here," says one of the female camp. "And there might be rats!"

At this point, I'm thinking there's no way we should be here. If this was just me and Barry, I'd have turned the car around way before the mine entrance; me being Mrs Sensible and everything...but here we are, and it's quite funny. Some of us, including me, are thinking how fascinating, weird, hilarious it is that we're all stood in a salt mine with cameras and ipads. Some are worried about potential rats - that's the least of my worries...and then one of our party gets even more curious, wants to know where that lorry has just come from, goes back outside and returns with his car! 
Tuzluca Salt Mines, East Turkey
Sometimes, further exploration is needed
It's not often we have people pics in this blog but here are our road trip buddies, in a salt mine in the east of Turkey...with a car! Should we have been here? Errrm, we'll guess not - but what are you gonna do? The car takes off and the sound of the engine disappears deep into the mine. We stay around this area - far enough away from the entrance for it to be dark, but close enough to make a run for it if needs be...well, you never know if a super rat is going to jump out!

We take photos of salt deposits on the walls of the cave, shout to each other, laugh...hope our other driver is okay after wandering off into that deep cave of darkness in his car to who knows where. Well, he returns after 15 minutes or so - any thoughts of traveller horror stories are put to bed. Resume normal positions. 
Tuzluca Salt Mines, East Turkey
Salty stalactites at Tuzluca salt mines
We go back outside, into the real world. And really, Barry and I genuinely cannot tell you if we were supposed to be here or not - but it was a part of our adventure on the roads of Eastern Turkey, nobody stopped any of us as we all wandered into the mine (the lorry driver didn't even give us a second glance) and well...look at it...of course it was worth seeing. The Tuzluca salt mines, even if it's just the exterior rock faces, are amazing.
  • The Tuzluca Salt Mines are on the road between Iğdır and Kars and can be seen here on our East Turkey Road Trip map at point E
  • One online video has given us a clue that tour buses do enter the mines so they are worth a detour
  • This post is the penultimate post in our East Turkey road trip series. In our next post, we head towards Kars and the Armenian ruins at Ani. Another ambition realised for us...

Monday, 14 April 2014

Return To King's Garden Restaurant, Fethiye. This Time We Ate...

The best laid plans... Yes, just over 12 months ago, we wrote a blog post about how we stopped for much needed refreshment at King's Garden Restaurant in Fethiye after we'd walked to the top of Fethiye Lycian rock tombs. The staff were just having a food break during their gardening activities and we were very kindly given some of their kısır to go with our drink - and very nice kısır it was, too. 

From that day, we fully intended to go back for a proper meal; we'd go over summer, we said. We'll take some friends up there, we said. We can go up there with my dad, we said. And summer came and went in its usual summery haze and we never made it. It doesn't matter, we can go over winter, we said. And all of a sudden, here we are in April. Well, we got there in the end - we had meal at King's Garden Restaurant last week.

View From King's Garden Restaurant, Fethiye, Turkey
Just one of the fab views of Fethiye from King's Garden
The sunset from King's Garden is one of its attractions and we'd love to show you a photo of that...but it was a stormy day when we went - no sun! However, the views of Fethiye alone are reason enough to get out the camera and take a few shots. 

But what of the food? No point going up to a restaurant to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Fethiye if the food spoils your evening. Well, you know we must have enjoyed it, otherwise we wouldn't be writing about it. There were three of us eating. Let's have a look at what we ate:

Hot And Cold Meze Dishes
Meze Dishes At King's Garden Restaurant, Fethiye, Turkey
Hot and cold meze dishes at King's Garden Restaurant
A classic case of ordering too much, eating too much bread with it...and then wishing you'd left just a tiny bit more room for your main meal. Not to worry, though, we managed. Between us, we shared a cold meze platter with Antep ezmesi, olives, olive oil, aubergine salad, yoghurts and a very tasty celeriac and yoghurt dip. 

Hot meze dishes included (and we're not just saying this) one of the best, if not the best, calamari dishes we've had in Turkey. So flavoursome and tender (bouncy calamari just does not cut it for us). We mentioned it to Salih, the owner. You could tell in his face he knows his restaurant's calamari is good. All in the marination process, apparently.

King prawns were served in a creamy garlic sauce - you can see here where the too-much-bread-situation arose. Prawns eaten, juice mopped! And then there were onion rings. Now, these weren't homemade but if you're an onion ring fan (we are), you'll know what they taste like and you'll know they're good.

The Meaty Mains

Main Meals, King's Garden Restaurant, Fethiye, Turkey
Main meals at King's Garden Restaurant
Sweet chilli chicken, pepper steak and chicken and mushroom in a creamy garlic sauce. All meals were served with lightly roasted vegetables and potatoes, as well as Turkish rice and broccoli. I had the sweet chilli chicken and can tell you it's got a bit of a kick as well as its sweetness. Yummy! And perfect for me as I don't like ordering a meal with 'chilli' in the title and then not being able to taste any chilli. Barry's steak was a decent sized slab, cooked medium and got the thumbs up, as did the chicken and mushroom. We usually sample each other's food but, to be honest, we'd all overdone it with the bread and stuck to concentrating on the appreciation of our own meals.
Fethiye Rooftops From King's Garden Restaurant
View of old Fethiye and the sea from King's Garden Restaurant
It was a leisurely meal - you get a good gap between each course - and we had a couple more drinks afterwards so it was getting late by the time we left. It's still cool at nights at this time of year so the windows are still in the restaurant. They're removed during the summer season but we quite like this photo through the window, over the rooftops of old Fethiye, over the bay to Çalış and reflections of the table lamps of the restaurant.

Next task: don't leave it another year before we return to King's Garden Restaurant. Maybe we can take our friends over summer...The best laid plans...

King's Garden Restaurant - Useful Information
  • King's Garden Restaurant is on 135 Sokak, Kesikkapı Mahallesi, just below the rock tombs in Fethiye.
  • For those of you who don't know King's Garden and are thinking it looks a bit of a climb, never fear because Salih - the owner - does a pick up service. He's got really good English so it's easy to arrange.
  • King's Garden are on Facebook and you can send them a message or call them to arrange a booking. Click this link to 'like' King's Garden on Facebook.
  • King's Garden, and lots of other restaurants and bars, feature on our Fethiye Eating & Drinking page.
Friday, 11 April 2014

East Turkey Road Trip Part 3 - Unexpected Adventure In Iğdır

So allow us to refer you back to the map of our East Turkey road trip. We started off at point A, Patnos, and drove Southwest to point B, Muradiye Waterfalls. In our last post, we then headed northwards to Doğubeyazıt so we could visit the amazing Ishak Paşa Sarayı. After that, it was decided we would press on northwards because, if we weren't too tired the day after, we would head even further north to Kars and the ruins at Ani. That needed an overnight rest stop in Iğdır (point D on our map) and that's where this little adventure continues.

Overnighting In Iğdır

Because it's always the places where you least expect it to, that adventure strikes. A simple sleep was all we wanted...
Iğdır, East Turkey
Iğdır town centre
We arrive in Iğdır to find a cosmopolitan town decked out in the usual flags and buntings to commemorate Gençlik Bayramı the following day. It was because of Gençlik Bayramı that our visit to Anıtkabir in Ankara, just a few days earlier, was affected. Well, little did we know, Gençlik Bayramı was once again going to play a part in this little travel story. 

We find a parking space, pay the warden and we all go off for a wander around town. The girls quickly disappear into the high street chain stores - two of them teaching in a small village - Doğansu - just outside Patnos. They're happy to be in 'town-centre-surroundings' once more. If you read this blog a lot, you'll know me and Barry are not the best shoppers in the world. We go off for a wander around the streets.
Storks In Iğdır, East Turkey
A stork in Iğdır 
The weather is positively balmy. As towns in this area of East Turkey go, Iğdır is an anomaly. Most towns and villages around these parts are at high altitudes. The winters are long and harsh and, while spring is definitely evident in the wild flowers and the thawing of the snow, there's still a wintery feel to the weather. However, Iğdır sits in a huge bowl on a plain. The temperatures are moderate and it's here where most of the salads, fruits and vegetables are grown for the region (Meat dishes prevail in the east due to the climate). Much of Iğdır's wealth comes from agriculture and the area is most famous for apricots and cotton.

We see a stork feeding her little one in a huge nest atop a building we don't take much notice of. Our friend is with us and she insists on another Barry&Julia photo in front of the building; stork in the background. This was to be our first Iğdır brush with the law. A policeman comes trotting over, stern-faced. "This is the governor's house, photographs are forbidden." 

Now, situations like this can go one of two ways. As you apologise - smiling, of course - the official remains stern while asking you to delete the photos and watching as you do so (this has happened to us in the past). The second way is what happens here. The official realises we're foreign and looks delighted by the fact we're in Iğdır. Our friend explains we're just looking at the stork and we didn't realise it was an official building and we're sorry.

"Ohhh, the stork." The official's face turns from officialdom to one of fatherly concern. "Yes, you can take photos of her. We're worried about her. Look at her feathers." We look up. She does look a bit bedraggled. "She was fine and then two days ago, it hailstoned. Really big hailstones. She's not been the same since. We're keeping an eye on her..."

Our friend chats more, explains who we are and why we're here; she explains who she is, where she's from, where she works...and he explains who he is and why he's here...and we stand next to our friend, smiling...we all share names, shake hands and bid fond farewells. That's Turkey for you. 
Scenes From Iğdır, East Turkey
Scenes from Iğdır
Iğdır proves interesting. You're as likely to see cars with Azerbaijani registration plates as you are Turkish ones. The central park area where the cafes and tea gardens are is named after former Azerbaijan president, Haydar Aliyev. When our friends stop someone to ask where our hotel is, they have to listen carefully to the reply. Azerbaijanis make up the largest proportion of Iğdır's population and, although the Azerbaijani and Turkish languages are related, the different accent forces our friends' concentration. There are pushbikes for rent - they've got very much a 'classic' look and you have a choice: you can either ride around on a Fenerbahçe bike or a Galatasaray bike. Pity the poor person who's a staunch supporter of any other team...maybe they just don't hire the bikes.
Ararat Mountain (Ağrı Dağı) From Iğdır, East Turkey
Ararat viewed from Iğdır
And of course there's Iğdır's extremely close proximity to Mount Ararat (Ağrı Dağı). The photo above was taken from the balcony of our room, early in the morning, and it was the closest we got to seeing the summit.

Why were we all up so early? Because after our wander around town the evening before, we returned to our car...except the car wasn't there. Enter Gençlik Bayramı and our second brush with the law in Iğdir. Our car was parked in the town square where the Gençlik Bayramı commemorations would be taking place. When our friends called the police, they kindly explained to us the car had been towed away and it was now impounded. Some of our group went off to the station to try and speak to someone. Try tomorrow was the answer they got.

Oh joy! So here we all are, early the following morning with one car between seven of us. The other car - our hire car - is locked up somewhere in Iğdır - and it's a national holiday - we don't know if the car will be released on a national holiday - and we need to have the hire car back in Patnos later this evening - and we're miles away from Patnos. None of us can even think about the rest of the road trip. We just need to get the car back. Lots of hovering, hands on hips, everyone trying not to blame the other one for the loss of the car (we had debated moving it the day before and decided to leave it where it was). 

It's decided four of us will go to find the police station - me and Barry will be two of the four people as I'm the driver...and we're foreign. There's always the hope the nice policeman will like foreigners...

Well, the road trip did indeed continue - with a bonus trip to somewhere else before Kars and Ani - and we'll tell you all about that bonus trip and how it came about, and our police station experience, in the next installment of our East Turkey road trip. 

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

East Turkey Road Trip Part 2 - Onwards To Ishak Paşa Sarayı

In our last blog post - part one of our east Turkey road trip - we took you to Muradiye Şelalesi (waterfalls) in the Van region. In today's post, we're heading north and back into the Ağrı region. We pass very close to the border with Iran and it's strange to see road signs reading, 'Doğubeyazıt,' 'Kars,' 'Iran.' Iran has always felt like one of those untouchable faraway countries, and now, here we are, sharing the road with lorries with Iranian number plates and being pointed to the direction of the border by a road sign. 

We ask our friend if she's ever been to the border. Yeah, it's just a load of lorries, is her reply. But that's what borders are isn't it? An exciting thought of being so close to another country - but the reality is, it's a big queue with lots of bureaucracy - especially for the lorry drivers of this world. Any thoughts of a detour are dismissed and we continue northwards to Doğübeyazıt.

Onwards To Ishak Paşa Sarayı

Because Doğubeyazıt is the small town that is the closest hub for our next sightseeing stop; Ishak Paşa Sarayı (Ishak Pasha Palace). Again, road signs for the palace are not immediately obvious but we know we need to head uphill so we choose the winding hilly road that leads out of town.
Near Ishak Paşa Palace, Doğubeyazıt, Ağrı, Turkey
Looking onwards from Ishak Paşa Sarayı
If you ever find yourself in this area of Turkey, please don't miss out on Ishak Paşa Sarayı. This place is scenic bliss. The photo above is taken from the car park in front of the palace and, as you can see, the road continues to wind uphill amongst rugged mountains. We know the views from further up this hill are even more breathtaking than the ones we can see behind us, but on this day, we're not allowed to go any further up the hill as a funeral is taking place.
Ishak Paşa Sarayı, Ağrı, Turkey
Ishak Paşa Sarayı
But this is the type of scenery that makes you feel small and insignificant and in awe of the world. This is the site we wanted to see; Ishak Paşa Sarayı. And we wanted to see it because of its location. We've seen so many photos of it sitting on the mountainside overlooking the plains and the town of Doğubeyazit below...and Ağrı Dağı (Mount Ararat) looming in the distance. Just amazing!

The real urge to see Ishak Paşa Sarayı came when we were watching the Nuri Bilgi Ceyaln film, İklimler (Climates), a few years ago. In the film, he takes a taxi in the snow to the palace to take some photos. If you know of Nuri Bilgi Ceylan, you'll know he's also a fantastic photographer, so you can just imagine this lonely mountain-top palace and the scenery beyond, covered with snow. It was one of those we've-got-to-go-there moments.
Ishak Paşa Sarayı, Doğubeyazıt, Turkey
So many photo opportunites
And now here we are. The camera goes into overdrive - our friends set about doing their various poses...and me and Barry slope away, managing to get away with just a few people pics. Inside the walls, the palace feels other-worldly. There was just a smattering of visitors on the day we were there so it was perfectly easy to lose yourself in the architecture. 

That 'other-worldliness' is lost a little with the crisp white-painted meeting hall and glass roof - but when it comes to restoration, these are the types of things that are always going to divide opinion. We love the modern glass bridge that goes through Hadrian's Gate in Antalya so why did I have a problem with the glass roof, here? Well, probably because all the images we've seen of Ishak Paşa Sarayı over the years are from the pre-glass roof era. I wanted those photos. Yes, everyone; selfish reasons. Apparently, the glass roof will protect the palace from the elements, thus preserving its existence. 
View of Ararat and Doğubeyazit from Ishak Paşa Sarayı, Turkey
View of Ararat and Doğubeyazit from Ishak Paşa Sarayı
We're all pretty mesmerised by this place...and eventually, we're all wandering around separately in our own little worlds. I spot a room which looks like it might have amazing views of the plains below. Well, yes it does, as you can see in the photo above. Mount Ararat wrapped in cloud in the distance, Doğubeyazıt down below, spring flowers creeping over the near mountainside...and a sheer drop! This room I am exploring exits straight from this ledge and a dizzying drop, hundreds of metres below. Maybe no one thought to put a barrier here, yet...

Safety ponders aside, this is my favourite memory of Ishak Paşa Sarayı. This was the scenery we came up here to see. Eventually, hunger beats us and we head off back down the hill into town and another unexpected treat - we stumble across a lokanta that recommends we try the local speciality, Doğubeyazıt Köftesi

Ishak Paşa Sarayı - More Information
  • Entrance to the palace is free to holders of the Müze Kart. If you don't have one, entrance fee in May 2013 was 5 TL
  • If you aren't driving, there is a dolmuş that comes up here from Doğubeyazıt. Taxis will also run you up here and wait for you for an arranged fee
  • The palace was completed in 1784 by Ishak Paşa - and architecture and art history enthusiasts will find a mixture of Mesopotamian, Anatolian and Persian styles
  • We mentioned above that the camera was in overdrive. There are just too many photos to choose from for this post so we've made a dedicated album with more photos of Ishak Paşa Sarayı and the interior, including architectural details. Click this link to view our Flickr album
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