Silk Road 2


mi ruta de la seda » 2010 » February

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2010
02.26

 

http://www.vimeo.com/9755928

Quick video about the Pilat dune in the west of france. I´ll also find some of the highest dunes in the world in Iran and China, in the Taklamakan dessert.

The music is from 2 french girls, Cocoroise. Shrill and smooth at the same time.

I´ll  write you soon about Italy, there are amazing things here and my cold has nearly gone so I´m more energetic.

Fernando

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2010
02.25

My stay  in France was quick but interesting, just four days to see two big cities, but that’s the way I wanted it. France borders with Spain so even I visited some new places I’ve been in France before so I know the element of surprise wouldn’t be big. Moreover France is not a cheap country so I wanted to stay there just time enough to see the 2 cities on my itinerary.
I started in Bordeaux visiting Sainte Croix, taking the pictures I posted last week. The reason for going to Bordeaux was nothing to do with the silk route, simply it was a city I wanted to go for a long time so I added it to my route. The first city with a connection to the Silk route is Rome and the distance between Rome and Burgos is 1817 kilometers, so I had to stop somewhere!

 
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One of it’s corners.

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One of it’s streets.

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One of it’s squares.

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Downtown you also find modern surprises such as the Tribunal of Great Instance by Richard Rogers, the guy who projected the Pompidou center in París.

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The cathedral square with long lights from the ground.

Bordeaux is settled by the Garona river near the sea, as I love rivers for my kayaking I always take notice of river details. It’s the river that comes down from the ski resort in the Pyrenees that I visited before starting the trip. There’s another river that comes down from that ski resort also, but that falls into the Spanish side of the mountains, the Noguera Pallares, the most famous rafting river in Spain. The Garona is huge in Bordeaux, there are even transatlantic ships stopping here once in a while. I failed to take a picture to the river so you’ll have to imagine it…

Cristina took me out on the last night in the city, we met in the cafeteria of the Utopia cinema, an old converted church with stone walls and gothic arches. It was a pity not being able to see the actual cinema rooms as they use the rest of the church structure.
Dinner was, under my request, in a creperie, the chicest in town. La fromentine, a place owned by a middle aged woman so eccentric that she has decorated the place with cows, all kinds; pictures, paintings, figures, objects with cows colors and any other thing that resembles a cow in any way… now that I’m thinking about it, there was a black and white dalmata figure in the entrance… that woman is not right.

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Traditionally crepes are taken with cider, so that’s what I had with my cheese and salmon crepe that tasted amazing as well as the chocolate one I had for dessert. The non-sweet crepes are usually done with buckwheat flour, therefore the darker colour.

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Cows, do you see it!

One of the most interesting things of my trip will be to see the many differences from western to eastern, see how the cultures, faces, languages, customs, cities, landscapes all change, however there’s no need to go that far, the first thing you realize when going from Spain to France is the silence, the streets have less noise, the crowded noise in the bars hardly exists, it is as if people would walk in a stealthy way and as if the conversations would take place with the volume turned down. Probably I noticed it more because I was in Bordeaux as most of the centre is pedestrianized, in Marseilles the cars came back and added some more noise to the environment. Moreover, Marseilles is kind of a different city in France as the French people say, it’s Mediterranean climate makes it have more life in the streets making it a more lively city.

Marseilles captured my curiosity years ago, I’d seen it from one of those daily ferries that goes to Corsica and it looked good.

 Marseilles could be described as an ugly city with pretty things, it has a lot of that kind of coastal high-rises that no one understands why they were allowed to be built. It’s not really a place that deserves a visit per se, however it does not have the criminality that made it famous in the 70’s after the oil crisis when unemployment and the crime rate raised together. Here are some pictures so you can decide yourself if you like it.

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Picture just arriving at the train station. 

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Most of the streets in the historic center has no trafic or very little.

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has the biggest port in France(and the third largest in Europe) for having such a port, also has the highest immigration rate of the country. The building on the right is the latest building finished by Zaha Hadid in the huge container port. In Rome I´ll go to visit the one that will be her latest finished one. The musseum of 21st cenetury art!

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 The oldest city in France. One of the alleys in the hill.

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Marsei is the oldest city on the country. in the pictuer a ferry getting into the new port. The two fortres used to deffend the entrance of the new old port.

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  The old port.

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I love light houses, all ways take pictures to them even if they are tiny as this one.

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Experimental building by the swiss architect Le Corbusier from 1952.

And France went by, I visited places I liked, I had crepes and drank Orangina that are always my “must do” when I go to france. I’m happy for not having skipped France and gone straight into Italy.
There’s just one thing to tell you about France. Pilat, the highest dune in Europe, but that’s something that you’ll have to wait 2 days to view.

Hope you’ve like the story for today, I have a horrible cold with headache and nose blocked so I don’t feel very inspired

Write to you soon
Fernando

2010
02.18

http://www.vimeo.com/9544151

I´ve uploaded the video to Vimeo but I’m not sure if it can be seen very well, it´s supposed to be in High Definition, but I can see it with bumps, may be due to the connection I’m using, please, let me know well you can see it.

In the video I´m wrong, , Notwist are German, the Norwegians are Röyksoop, I´m also hooked on them.

Apart from what is in the video in Burgos I was all day from one place to another meeting people and doing things for the trip. I tried to avoid placing a picture about the famous (it´s famous in Spain, get in Google if you want more pictures there are many, more than enough) Burgos cathedral, but one day walking by San Pablo bridge I saw this sunset and I had to take the picture.

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On the right the theather “principal” and the river, with a lot more water than normally, the Arlanzón.

To complete the topics the second most famous ‘thing’ in Burgos is the black pudding. I skip Burgos cheese as it´s tasteless and tastes like tofu and I don´t like either.

Not that long ago I was at dinner with some American friends talking about food that can be disgusting and black pudding  was in all the conversations. The thing is that I kept thinking about it and I’ve seen black pudding in other countries, for example before the trip, I saw it in Ireland, they have two kinds that are used in the traditional Irish breakfast. I searched in Wikipedia and found that black pudding, or similar, exists in at least 24 countries, and the list did not include Ireland. May be that it´s not such a disgusting thing. Wikipedia didn´t list France either, but I’m pretty sure they have it, I’m going to see if it´s in the menu for dinner in a restaurant.

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Can´t be more typical!

That tapa(in the picture) was the last one I had in spain. That night at 3.16 am, I got onto the train that took me across the first border.  Being 3.16 and being totally sleepy I found it hard to sleep, as a powerful emotion kept me awake for awhile, as the train was leaving Burgos and gaining speed, finally the accumulated lack of sleep removed the smug smile on my face and the ‘Iron Horse’ took me at its pleasure along its rambling rails to my first port of call Burdeos. Leaving was a relief after the last few busy weeks, for you to get an idea, during the 6 weeks of 2010 before leaving I´ve slept in 9 different places, so the uncomfortable train seats became the most relaxing place in the world.

And to finisht the day´s chronicle , here you have my first pictures in Bordeaux inside Sainte Croix, with the super sunny day this is what i saw inside.

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I haven´t modified the color in the computer, otherwhise there wouldn´t be any interest, this is what I saw.

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I can imagine how cathedrals could impress people when they were just built and people lived in one floor modest houses.

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Me.

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Red.

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Column in orange.

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One of the pictures I like the most.

See you soon.

Fernando

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2010
02.14

The trip begins very shortly. This last week I´ve been non stop with an endless to-do list. The most difficult has been to meet everybody but I´ve nearly achieved that and I´m happy about it.

My sister has been the person that I´ve spent more time with, we decided to go for a trip to spend time together so we went skiing to Baqueira, that is the Spanish ski resort that has better snow quality and that’s where we went.

During the trip, totally excited, I tried to explain the feeling you have when skiing in virgin snow, especially in powder, I was not very sure if I made Ana understood what I meant… In summary  for me it is the smoothest feeling I could think of, something like being over a spongy cloud. In one of our funny conversations we came to the conclusion that caressing a cat was very smooth also even though you only use your hand. On the way back Ana understood the explanation by herself, we had incredible luck, it snowed a lot and the snow was perfect powder, here are some pictures that explain this better than me.

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After four days of snow, this is what we saw when waking up.

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Me snowboarding out of piste.

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Ana as photographer from the lift. I love the pictures.

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This slope didn´t have a lift, you had to walk 200 meters by the road.

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Ana skiing as she liks. faaaaaaast.

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OK, i confess. I falled after the turn.

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Down Luis Arias double back diamond piste.

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Last day and the last time we ski, the lifts were already stopped, nobody on the slopes any more. The last day has always to be taken advantage of, plus normally there’s not that much snow. On the left Ana, on the right Laura, both speeding at my request. They were my perfect models!!

In the last post I promised some pictures, I´ll start with a picture from the Tate Modern Gallery in London, it´s about an exhibitiion I loved. The very high ceiling of the gallery was covered in metal material, the background had half a yellow circle and they created fog, with me in the picture, this is the blur result.

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Al took the picture.

The second are pictures of the Calatrava bridge just opened in Dublin. In fact it is as beautiful as any other from Calatrava, surprisingly the colour is white, hehe.DSC_2584 (628x430)

A curious thing is that the bridge was constructed in Holland and it was brought to the Liffy river by boat, where it was set up.

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It´s located in the renewed docklands area, surrounded by modern buildings, all together looks amazing.  It´s not far from the harbour entrance to the city. Here the plan was to build two skyscrapers on the banks of the river, one was going to be the U2 building designed by Foster with a recording studio on top, the other was going to be by Zaha Hadid, but seems that the plan is stopped now, what a pity.

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I was taking pictures for a while so the night came.

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I took this picture with my cell phone a day they where testing the bridge. ¡it turns to let the boats go through!

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This  is simply a picture I felt like publishing here. I love this corner with the sticks moving the lights at night.

To finish, a little summary about what I’ve been preparing, there are still 1000 things to do, but these are the important ones, enough to depart:

  • Backpack, without doubt the bag I´ve thought about more in all my life.
  • Renew my Spanish ID. It was falling apart  and I afraid I would have problems at the borders, recently in an airport I sweated to be allowed Through.
  • International driving license, needed to drive outside of the EU. Getting it is just paperwork, showing the normal driving license and paying 9.49. It is a little book with the driving license in several languages

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  • Vaccinations. I´ve got vaccinated for typhoid as it  had expired, apart from this I haven´t needed anything else, I already have the A and B hepatitis and the tetanus. I also have the meningitis from a trip I did to India, good to have it for food in dodgy conditions.
  • Glasses. Review them to be sure I´ll be fine during the trip.
  • Dentist. Routine review that may have saved my trip!!!! My dentist found a deep cavity, he was pretty sure it would have given me issues on the trip. I´m happy to have gone to the dentist, I don´t really like the idea of being in an Uzbequistan village with an inflamed mouth like a fugu fish while a local dentist pulls the tooth out with a rusty pliers.
  • Prepare money, cards and other stuff.
  • Prepare my kitesurf, whitewhater kayak and skiing equipment. It´s possible that some of my friends will visit during the trip to do our sports in special locations so I needed to leave all prepared
  • Laptop, I´ve bought a small 12” to be able to write and prepare the pictures for the blog. An Asus EEE1012.
  • First aid kit. It even scares me to see so many medicines that i´ve never used.
  • MY FIRST VISA STAMP! I show you a picture of the Syrian visa, really happy to have the first sticker.

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And I keep doing things every day non stop.

I have a little surprise for my next entry.

See you soon

Fernando

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Silk Road : La Historia de un gran viaje , en Sound Cloud .


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Silk Road 3


mi ruta de la seda » 2010 » March

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2010

03.26

http://www.vimeo.com/10456528I didn’t want to dirty the video with too much explanation so I tell you a bit more here in text. The sea organ is unique, the first and only in the world. “A salute to the sun” is a 25 meter circunfrence that captures the sun as a solar pannel. Very unique as well, both has been done by Croatian artists. I spent a lot of time enjoying them.

Some pictures of the place, I think it deserves pictures not only video.

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Moments I´m sure I´ll remember at the end of my trip.

 

To destroy the beauty of the pictures in the post my good friend Morís has done a counter-video of my Acqua Alta video I did in Venice, I’m not saying my opinion I add it here and you decide by yourself. I have to thank him for adding the subtitles on my request so it can be understood by all the readers.

http://www.vimeo.com/10325970

I always tell you about the soundtrack, in this case I don´t know the music, I don’t recognize the band, I have no clue where my friend has gotten the music from, Probably Morís has taken a random cassete from a dusty cassete bag bag and he’s Ripper it into MP3 for the video but that doesn’t makes sense… If he tells me who’s the music from I’ll write it here as documentation…

See you soon from an island.

Fernando

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2010

03.25

Train is ten minutes late, it is one of those times that you come running and while waiting you think the effort to arrive on time is a waste of time, recording Metelkova for the previous post took me a bit longer than expected. I want to sleep but I can’t because the landscape next to the Sava river along with the Slovenian mountains is too good.

After two hours of landscape the trains stops,  by the window I can read Slovenja, I’m at the border, I get ready, bring my passport out to give it to the Croatian border police, a big young, serious guy. I give it to him smiling as if I have to convince him to let me in. He brings a magnifying glass out of his pocket. After a while examining it he returns it to me and I feel a bit of satisfaction.

I like Zagreb, I get the tram that goes everywhere, reminiscences of Yugoslavia. It´s a pleasant city, but not too beautiful, the austro-hugarian buildings here are not too impressive however there are hundreds of cool bars, and the people are incredibly helpful. Can be a good place to go for a stag party.

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I get into the Naïve museum, there are landscapes as the ones in Dragon Ball and this woman with her cat, don’t miss the onion on the right side.

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I spend a while taking pictures of Dolac market, I’ve always like countryside people in the city, there are no weird products and in the end this is a similar climate to Spain, I see a lot of Mediterranean products.

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After buying some fruit I buy a piece of smoked cheese, very smoked cheese, super smoked cheese, having that cheese in my mouth is like putting my tongue in an neighborhood bar ashtray.

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I want to buy some Turbo-folk, I’m curious, it is a mix between traditional music and modern rhythm, it started as a joke or criticism and became a Balkan hit after Yugoslavia, has some nationalistic undertones. It’s obvious that the shop assistant of long hair, goatee and hidden piercing doesn’t like the style of music, but he helped me to choose it.

I also ask him for current music, he get’s happier, for being a country of four million people they have a huge music scene. He explains to me each of the Cds on the shelf. There’s a woman that is like Dido but more instrumental, a guy inspired by Tom Waits, one that is supposed to be similar to Moby but if you hear it you fall asleep, a girl that sounds like Dolores O’Riordan(The Cramberries), REM support band that Peter Bucks has said are amazing, he shows me the first CDS of a guy that recorded during the Yugoslav era and that due to copyright problems of the country you couldn’t buy before, he’s excited about the idea, and many other Cds of suggestive covers and incomprehensible tittles. There are also compilation CDs with Yugoslav hits from different decades. I buy the one that Peter Bucks likes, I trust him, also buy old hits that. Music is very cheap here.

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From the city itself I just have two pictures, a panoramic view from the top and one of Kapol square where it seems everything happens, every minute there’s a tram arriving. The rest is not very photogenic, so I go to the coast. The most modern sculpture in Zagreb, the musician was there for three nights I walked by, however after running the ball over him I’m not sure if he’s been able to play again. I used to play well.

I wait three hours for my rented car in Hemingway’s café, the most modern place in town, high heels, porches at the door, gel in thinning hair, shirts with crocodiles and sun glasses with big letters, the music is very good, the wifi is fast and free and the tea is nearly the same price as in other places. I write and read.

Cool, in two hours I’ll be in Rejica(read Reica, the j sometimes is an “I” and the other just goes with it with no pronunciation). When I thought I’d be in Rejica I’m not even half the way, the snow, my Smart with small wheels and no chains in the trunk make my trip hell, the 60km/h winds don’t help much, I arrive super tired.

 

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Rejika is interesting as is a normal non touristy city, the port is the most important in Croatia and the buildings are prettier than in Zagreb. Keeps snowing, I see snow over the sea for the first time and decide not to move. I eat recently fished octopus. There’s a European chess championship, in my hostel there’s a German player, he tells me a lot about chess, very interesting, I find him funny.

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With the sun I go to Rovinj on the west, the Istria peninsula(love the name) I enjoy the center with marble stoned alleys, it’s very quiet, I walk slowly by this charming place.

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Finally sun, no hat and no jacket! I have breakfast in the street, I’m a bit cold but I want the sun to fill me with energy. Today I’ve Slept Alone in a hostel for 200 people.

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The sixth biggest coliseum in the world, it’s wonderfully conserved and being next to the sea is strange, I never imagine roman buildings by the sea, maybe because they are not like that in those roman films I don’t like.

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It is possible to walk under the coliseum where the gladiators relaxed after killing their adversaries, the nicest thing to see is this amphora.

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I get a boat to one of the islands in Brijuni National park where Tito used to expend half of the year inviting state heads. This is the biggest island on the park and I wouldn’t call it a natural park, it’s not wild at all, it still has government buildings and kind of an run down zoo it also has interesting roman ruins but all quite artificial, there’s a 1600 year old olive tree that still produces olives and these cows that are endemic of Istria.

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Continuing to the south I stop by the Plitvice Natural park where 16 lakes are connected by waterfalls and where I want to stay all day to breath in the nature and maybe if I have infinite luck, see a Lynx. But  nature itself changes my plans the snow is blocking the paths and after a short walk I’ve seen it all, it’s nice but not impressive, the Japanese in front of me love it but I know in Japan you have nicer things. They have huge mountains there.

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From the waterfalls I go to Zadar, a city I like and I’ll recommend to anyone asking me about Croatia. There’s an afternoon with clear sky and I can see the still Adriatic islands while the sun sets.

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What is this? This is a shot of the next video.

See you soon.

Fernando

2010

03.21

In 1993 the the Slovenian headquarters of the Yugoslav National Army were squatted, now they have a different look than when the army was using them.

http://www.vimeo.com/10326632

Sorry about the editing mistakes, I´ve got some problems with it and haven´t been able to polish it too much.

Metelkova is totally unexpected, an ex-Yugoslav country with something like that? If you have the feeling of wanting to know more, here is their web page. Metelkova was really near to my prison hostel so I stopped by every day to have a drink and take a look.

The music in the video is from Autechre, an English band who composed the music which was called IDM(Intelligent Dance Music) in the early 90s. The song is the first one on the Incunabula CD, a CD that when I heard it first time surprised me as much as seeing Metelkova.

With the video I finished my trip to Slovenia, the train I took just after recording the last scene took me to Zagreb in Croatia. The first new country on my trip!!! Also the first time I crossed a border on a train where they stopped for passport control.

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2010

03.17

The car rental company owner was a fan of Spain, he liked Almodóvar, Bigas Luna, Azucar Moreno and El Duo Dinámico, what an image of Spain he may have!!! It was fun talking with him, he even knew sentences of films and pieces of Lyrics, a fan.

He rented me the cheapest car in town 35 Euro picking you up at home. I’m driving again much sooner than what I expected, It’s good, I feel like driving. Being such a tiny country in a day you can even go to the most remote place or even being close to cross to Germany by mistake…

My first stop was the Julian Alps, named by Julius Caesar when he conquered them over 2.000 years ago. This was fundamental to the roman empire commerce as during the time most of it was done by land and this opened the routes to the east which was incredibly important for the silk commerce, the roman empire achieved a great deal of richness due to this successful time of commerce.

P3042005 (628x354)This is Triglav national park that surrounds the mountain with the same name(the highest in the country at 2854 meters), I don’t stop seeing snow and busy forests. It’s probably here where all those bears are living!

P3042011 (628x353)The snow doesn’t’t let me go through Trbiž pass to the Soca river but I don’t mind too much, there are things I want to see in this area. I stopped by this ski resort on the way, there were many. The dog ran away, he may be shy about having his photograph taken.

P3042016 (628x354)The second stop and the place I wanted to visit the most is Bled village, one place that seems to have been done for postcards. Would be difficult to do it so beautiful on purpose, it has it all, a castle, a lake, an island, a church with a sharp roof and mountains in the background.

  P3042025 (628x352)Nice view from the castle.

P3042022 (628x354)This picture does not really add much, but I like it.

P3042034 (628x354)In summer the castle restaurant opens a terrace tha has to be superb! It´s run by the Bled cuisine school in.

P3042050 (628x351)Surrounding the lake and seing the castle in an impossible rock.

P3042045 (628x352) Part of the lake was froze. Nearby Bohim lake offers amazib views as well, i liked it too.

P3042051 (628x351)This wooden walk was created in the 18th century and has been maintained since. A peaceful corner in the world.

P3042061 (628x354)This  is how Slovenian churches are.

Here finishes my short visit to Slovenia, a small country with helpful people and a curious recent history, it was the first country to leave Yugoslavia with a just 10 day war and 66 people dead.

If you want to see magnificent landscapes in a country that is easy to move around, this is the place. Perfect for quiet nature and relax.

P3021794 (628x354)Slovenian stew and how my table looks like normally; map, computer and the guide books. One of the places I had dinner in Ljubljana served me black pudding as part of a traditional assorted dish.

The stew was just 4.20 Euros as Slovenia entered into the Euro in 2007. Before that they had the Tollar for a limited period of time since they left Yugoslavia in 1991. I guess everybody wanted to move to the Euro just to get rid of such a silly name.. Tollar??? Probably a spoonerism of Dollar.

P3052142 (628x353)Waiting to get clients in the taxi.

P3052164 (628x353)Nice slogan.

So I say goodbye with the phrase Ljubljana’s mayor said when they gained independence on June 25th 1991. “Tonight dreams are allowed. Tomorrow is a new day”.

Slovenia’s video is nearly ready, I’ll update as soon as I have it ready.

Fernando

2010

03.16

With the word “castle” images of walls, towers with battlements and a lot of stone comes into your mind, maybe that’s why Predjama surprises so much because it has nothing of that, well, also because it’s just beautiful. One of the most dramatic places I’ve seen in my life, a castle built in an empty space on a cliff and it’s so hidden that you don’t see it until you are less than 100 meters away. However I’m sure you won’t be able to imagine it until you see it, so here you have some pictures.

P3031912 (628x353)As the title says, absolutely dramatic.

P3031916 (628x353)Who had the idea?

P3031922 (628x354)From here it is even more impressive.

P3031937 (628x353)This is one of the most important erosional cave systems in Europe, 9km from the castle the postjonia caves can be visited where a unique animal lives, it has bones, can live up to 100 years and spend years without food and still it’s not known how they reproduce.

P3031940 (628x354)From the windows the view can be seen better.

P3031945 (628x354) A nativity scene! But it’s march… may be a Slovenian tradition.

P3031946 (628x354) The castle shield.

 

P3031951 (628x353)The dungeons are closed to visitors.

P3031972 (628x353)Returning back in the traing reviewing the pictures and taking notes of my impressions.

Even the place was so unique and beautiful it was hard for me to enjoy the day. At 8.30 in the morning I received a text; a friend had drowned in the river. I’ve been kayaking 14 years, you know it’s a possibility and it’s something you take into account every time you paddle, this is why we take as much precautionary measures as possible. David is the first person that I’ve lost in the river. He was not a very close friend but he was a person I’ve shared good moments with; we had explored amazing rivers in the Pyrenees mountains, enjoyed good food in Galicia where he was from, had a laugh out at night and shared stories, he was a great person that now only remains in our memories

It was a difficult day in which every river I crossed filled my head with thoughts and memories.

Fernando

2010

03.15

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The grafitti speaks for itself.

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But…?

The situation is easy to imagine, after a long trip you normally feel like going out to wind down. Once out, why not have a drink? You get a beer or two and being more tired than what you thought, the alcohol affects you. It’s not difficult either that in a crowded bar someone hits you on the side when walking out and that with your two beers you throw a ‘dirty’ look. If you are unlucky and that person hasn’t like your look the situation may finish with some bar furniture broken and some “policizja” agents inviting you to go with them.

The other option, and the one I chose, is to sleep in a former prison turned into hostel. Celica Hostel is that, the possibility of sleeping in jail without the inconvenience of being beaten up and knowing that you can leave when you want.

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The hostel is also a restaurant, art gallery and cultural centre.

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Each cell has been designed by a different artist, mine was  117.

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The current bars.

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 Over the terrace some of the windows with the old bars.

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Chillout is where you can smoke a water pipe.

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They played for four hours.

Crossing the border from Italy has no mystery, slovenia is part of the EU(in 2004, it was the first ex yugoslav country) and there´s not really a frontier and there´s no need to show a passport. A few years ago I came to kayak in the stunning Soca river(I´ve found a good gallery of this world class all kayaking river that you may want to check), Slovenia was not in the EU and you had to stop in the frontier with that bit of nervousness that is produced getting into a country which was ex Yugoslavia. I remember a big uniformed man with an over “busy” mustache requesting the passports under incredibly heavy rain. Fortunately all was fine, but even at a frontier it is unavoidable to be a bit expectation-nervous.

Slovenia is a tiny country completely full of mountains and forests full of emotional landscapes so unspoilt that even being in the heart of europe it is the country in the world with highest density of bears. My idea was visiting the capital and a few sights around, and being so small I decided to stay in the capital Lubjliana for the few days.

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Zmajsky Most, Dragon´s Bridge. This little dragon has managed to attract the attention of every person that visits the city and has become one of Ljubliana´s simbol.

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It’s said that whe a virgin crosses the bridge it liftes his tail, but I don´t relieve it.

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Panoramic view from castle tower. All sorrounded by mountain.

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The townhall the three titans fountain representing the three rivers of Carnolia: the Sava, Kraka and Ljublianica.

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The triple bridge, and the wierd thing is that it has three Bridges one after the other, you can see the side bridges in the side of the picture.

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Late afternoon in the Ljublianica river that crosses the city, on the sides: cafes, restaurants and terraces. One of them has the terrace just under a Ljublianica bridge making it a superb place for a drink if you decide to ejoy the night in Ljubliana which is very lively with it’s 55.000 students. There are cafes with terraces all over, that even being only 2 degrees, are full all day!!!!

After the Venice video that took so long to prepare, this week I´m going to change the way of posting a little bit, I´m going to do 4 smaller posts of slovenia, hope they are easier for you to read as well as easier for me to prepare.

Ah! After quite a few days and even with the water and humidity of Venice, my cold went away!

See you soon.

Fernando

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Silk Road 4


mi ruta de la seda » 2010 » April

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2010

04.28

Moraça is more than a river for Montenegrins, here there was a great battle against the Ottoman empire where Montenegro became famous for having brave people while defeating the Turks. Also nationalism and independent identity grew in the region making it become an independent country with just 600.000 people. Me as a kayaker enjoyed what Moraça means today and I’ve  produced a video for you to see it.

http://www.vimeo.com/11308068

No to the Moraca Dam!

This place is so pretty and it may be destroyed by several dams to produce electricity. Not being an expert I don’t understand the need too well, in Montenegro an aluminium process plant exists consuming 40% of the electricity. This plant is closing in 4 years and the first dam is supposed to be completed in 7.

The soundtrack is totally local. The first song. similar to the previous video, I don’t know who its from. When we stopped to look at the river Aitor found the CD on the side of the road, somebody has probably thrown it away, it said “MIX”, we tried to play it and it worked so it’s been the soundtrack of our trip.

The second song is from Bozidar Djukic, the song tells the true story of Montenegro 30 years ago when two men killed a little girl. The day the judge found the two men guilty the father took a gun from his jacket and killed them in court. Vladam gave me the song, the barman from a bar who I became friendly with and apart from swapping some Montenegrin and Spanish music he listed out all the tennis and football players from around the world.

See you in the next video in Durmitor national park.

Fernando

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2010

04.27

http://www.vimeo.com/11258486Here is the first Montenegro video, yes, the first one as I have decided to only post videos of this country. It´s a general video of the places I´ve liked the most. As I don´t have comments for all the places, here is the list of what´s in the video in the order it appears.

  • Podgorica, the capital that does not really have things to see and I´ve ended up showing the Pink Panter.
  • The Skadar lake.
  • An Ortodox church, with no benches as they attend mass standing up.
  • Sveti Stefa, the little village by the sea.
  • Kotor city its fortress and its bay.
  • Snow covered Lovcen mountain,  I´ve spelt it incorrectly in the video but don´t tell anybody.
  • Moracha and Tara canyons, they really deserve more so I´ve done a specific video for them.
  • Durmitor National Park with its mountains and farmers.
  • Ostrog monastery carved in the rock similar to Predjama castle in Slovenia.
  • And finally  Piva canyon with its tunnels recorded from the car.

As I have had friends visiting I´ve been able to do some kayaking including the Tara canyon, the deepest in Europe, looking forward to seeing it.

See you in the next video.

Fernando

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2010

04.20

My time in Bosnia Herzegovina has had three phases and I want to tell you about them. I’m sorry for writing so much about Bosnia, but there have been to many things in my head not to tell them.

First phase.

The Romans needed 150 years to conquer them, the Turks another 150 to conquer the city of Jajce. Bosnia is a tough country and this is how it’s been during their entire history. This made me think that they have gotten over the war, I imagined a country wanting to be free and independent again. Free of wars and with a future. I arrived to Bosnia Herzegovina with an open mind but looking for this.

Second phase.

I learned more things about the country and it was not very encouraging. Dayton agreement finished the war 15 years ago and seems nothing has changed since, separated schools, changing governments that look after their own people, cities divided by a river, I saw separation everywhere and a country with a very fragile framework, the ministers are multiplied by 3, giving 140 ministers, imagine the expense and the paperwork.

I also learned how the war was created with TV reports frightening everybody “they come for us”…

Also, how one side or the other got villages involved in the war that had nothing to do with it, getting people who were living in peace to join the war by fighting with their neighbours.

I´ve met NGOs who told me how history is taught in schools without trying to unite the people and I was not liking it at all. I was thinking that even there were people trying to do help, if one day the peace forces would leave everything would collapse and the war would return in the exact same way.

The video is about the first and second phase:

http://www.vimeo.com/11072785

As I say in the video, I don’t like it, it’s a stereotypical image that doesn’t tell what Bosnia is now, it doesn’t show the cafes with people talking, the streets with shops and pedestrians, and the tranquility of the landscapes or about the villages with history.The video is shit but I’ve posted it as it has been part of my thinking process.

Third phase.

I changed my way of thinking again. 15 years seems to be a lot of time but it’s not(Bosnia is like a small child and we don’t ask kids for too much) and there’s alot been done during this time, the normality that one feels in a city is extraordinary, the cities have been reconstructed, this is a huge step.

Bureaucracy is one of the biggest problems but NATO is focusing their efforts on solving it.

Nobody wants to come back to war, they say that if there’s work there won’t be problems and cultures are starting to mix. Mostar the divided city has started joint budgets, the ambulance service for example. There are mixed kinder-gardens, it seems the 15 years are crossing some wounds.

All this has made me come back to something similar to my first phase, I’ve had a great time in Bosnia Herzegovina and I’m sure Sarajevo is going to become a popular destination to spend a weekend as Prague, Barcelona or Edinburgh with the bonus of seeing the city of the war and the mix of cultures that no other european city has. Also as not that many people have come, it gives an exploratory feeling that you don’t have in London or Rome.

I recommend you coming, moving is easy, cheap, there’s a lot of people that speak in English and transportation is not expensive. It will need some more effort to move around but you’ll be rewarded, be sure.

This is why I regret about the video, It would have been more enriching if I recorded a video of the new and beautiful rather than the old and hurt.

During my time here I’ve also learnt about the trade and merchant scene in Bosnia. The crossroads of cultures also meant a merchant hub and cities like Disoko, Jajce Travnik Gorazde and Livno swapped goods from east and west.

There also was a small community of Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492 settled in several towns bringing their delicate crafts onto the scene.

To finalize, if any of you have interest on some videos on Sarajevo during the siege, here you have some:

- First part of a documentary of people living their normal lifes

- Second part.

- Shooting to civilians. Take notice of the backgroun; clean streets, supermarkets, normal lights…

Ah!! A comment for guys about Croatia, and I don’t mean to be sexist. I give you a reason for not liking Croatians… they invented the tie!!!

See you soon

Fernando

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2010

04.16

Sorry, this entry is only available in Español.

2010

04.14

Alfonso, a friend from Burgos, worked in the army during the reconstrucion work in Bosnia. It sounded like going to hell at that time. He said that Bosnia was really pretty, he was there twice, one of them was constructing a bridge. What makes Bosnia stunning is the environment, the landscapes with mountains.

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In Bosnia it´s said that if a person is born on a snowy day that person will have a long and healthy life.

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Here the walk started. Although they have a lot of great places including Linx and Bears, just 0,6% of the country is protected, the average in europe is 7%.

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The majority of things that I wanted to see on the mountains were not accesible due to the snow, so one day we went snowshoeing.

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I did the trip with Dermot who arrived from Dublin for a few days to visit me, Sarajevo and Dubrovnik. Normally snow would be a novel event for Dermot as Dublin doesn’t get too much snow. But as you saw from my earlier post Dublin had a lot of snow this year so it almost felt like home to him!

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Down in the canyon there was a river.

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A Sheppard settlement for summer.

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We went for the hike with Green Visions company, they have some very interesting excursions and they try to combine them with supporting the communities they work in. They are a very professional company but our guide was a little cocky and he told us we did not have appropriate footwear. Even though we were wearing GORE-TEX! However it´s alway funny to have somebody to make jokes of.

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An interesting mosque, I initially thought it was a silo.

Bosnia and Herzegovina still have a lot of land mines, there are places even near Sarajevo that still have many. Setting them up is very easy but the effort to remove them is very difficult and expensive. If in doubt you can always ask a local to know if it safe.

A country with landmines does not mean that you cannot step off the asphalt. The mine areas are known and there are maps available. However it´s a problem for toursim development. Luckily, until now no tourist has had an accident with a land mine.

In Sarajevo you can go to the Mine Action Center(MAC) for a mini training course about land mines, however, when in doubt, the best thing is to ask the locals.

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No need to commetn.

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 Once back in Sarajevo we went for dinner with Tom, an interesting man who works as a consultant developing tourism strategies in different countries. We asked for the local dish in the restaurant which was next to the restaurant that Bill Clinton dined in. The dish was beef with some creamy cheese inside and if you cut it wrong it sprayed all over as in the picture. I also have a video of it that will probably put in the next video.

 

Something totally unrelated to the post… While travelling from Croatia to Bosnia I started to think of a Christmas tale.

As we approach Christmas I’ll develop the story and post it here.

Soon writting about Mostar

Fernando

2010

04.13

For any European of my age(and I guess for most westerners), names like Bosnia, Sarajevo, Kosovo or Mostar are names repeated in the news, we used to hear them on the sofa while we watched projectiles impacting houses and blue helmets in reinforced white vehicles around desolated cities. 18 years after the war started I want to see what all those names meant, see those cities and if possible get to understand that war a little bit.

Bosnia Herzegovina represents part of what my trip is, not for being on the silk route itself, but for being a crossroads between east and west, the mosques and churches in the same city for centuries living together, western customs and Muslims customs. The map could be folded by Sarajevo and Mostar and we´d have West on one side and East on the other.

I´ve compiled some pictures to complete the previous posts, let´s see if you imagined something like this.

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Baščaršija mosque and under it a street full of normality. this is the most surprising thing in Sarajevo, the amount of normality in the streets. People having a walk or drinking something in a terrace enjoying a sunny afternoon in April.

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Oslobodjenja Square in which men play chess, I guess it’s a socialist influence, but it’s just a vague supposition.

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Four months it took them to build it. It is the tunnel that joined the siege city with the rest of the Bosnian territory. It went under the NATO controlled airport. The tunnel provided basic weapons to defend the city. It was also used to get food in. The Serbs tried to destroy it but they didn’t dare to touch NATO territory, this is why it survived the entire siege.

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As I was saying the other day Sarajevo is surrounded by mountains and this is what made the snipers a key piece in the war.

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On the left the rebuilt parliament building. On the right, the mustard coloured Holiday Inn, where the journalists stayed.

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The Miljacka river crossing the city after the rain, therefore the colour. Just next to this place is where Franz Ferdinand was killed starting the first world war.

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This picture tries to show how normal the city is. If it wouldn’t be for the mosques it could be any other European city. Also there’s very little amount of women wearing a scarf. As a Spanish journalist I met said, they have high hills and plunging neckline Muslims, and the majority want to keep it that way. Sarajevo has cathedrals, mosques and synagogues next to each other, I like it.

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Sarajevo is totally surrounded by mountains, green mountains with colourful houses. In the picture an Austro-Hungarian building that has mount Izmir in the background, there are places that when you look around you see 3 different mountains pointing at you.

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Every time I see the word sniper I imagine a concentrated eye looking through a scope. Dropping a bomb from a plane is “easy” you click a button and a few seconds later you hear an explosion, but in the eye of the sniper the face of the person to be killed is reflected while the sniper is concentrated, young or old, man or woman, blond or dark hair, scared or not. What are the memories of these people after their work? Fixed memories of images where you have been concentrated?

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Sarajevo Library that was bombed in which 600.000 books where burned, now it’s being rebuilt. How could those bombs sound? there was no electricity or gas, there was no noise in the streets as a recently snowed city. The bombs and shots had to sound even louder.

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I’ve never got into an Islamic cemetery before. the tombs are so white and this one, on a mount in Sarajevo had good views of the city.

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This shape over a tomb means that the person has visited meca(the precept hajj).

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Faded over time a Sarajevo rose, but with the same meaning, someone died here. Apart from the Bosnians that died here 320 blue helmets died as well.

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Sarajevo has trams and trolleybuses. Doesn’t it seem a totally normal city? Sorry for insisting, but this is like it is, this war wasn’t´ in a dessert or surrounded by palm trees. Sarajevo youngsters used to watch MTV and wear the same brands as we did. Maybe that’s why its more impressionable, because it seems it can happened any where and that makes you feel vulnerable, an unconfortable feeling.

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A picture to reduce the drama. Eggs comes in tens not in dozens, probably for tradition, but ¿why are condoms sold in dozens?

In the previous post I talked you about the book ”The most beautiful word”. Even I talked quite a lot about it I haven’t spoilt the plot in case anyone want’s to read it.

Talking about books I have another recommendation. “The Fixer. A story from Sarajevo” from Joe Sacco, a comic creator that has other comics like “Palestine”. A bit of a different approach to understand a place. Goiko is a bit like the character in the comic.

I’ve had a haircut and getting a bus to Mostar by the Neretva river as Gemma did with her son.

See you soon.

Fernando

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Silk Road 5


mi ruta de la seda » 2010 » May

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2010

05.31

When an Albanian greets you feel his strong hand of thick fingers shaking your hand. In other places maybe you leave and nobody has shaken your hand. In Albania every day someone comes to say hello, someone wants to say “hi”, “how are you” or just being sure you don’t need any help. This is why I leave the country knowing what an Albanian shake of the hand feels like.

That extreme hospitality may come from the Kanun, an ancient set of rules on how to behave that in ancient time placed a lot of importance on guests. Because Albania is an ancient race, fairly remote, coming from the Illyrians, maybe they were the first Europeans. That’s how their language is, remote as it’s mountains. It surprises that we are similar to them, even by our standards it could be said that they are backwards, but that’s a good thing and a bad thing. We don’t have that hospitality, we have become more advanced, independent, we share less and we are more egoistical, when somebody talks to us we think they want something.

In one of those furgons I learned that if you have a hiccup it means that someone is thinking of you.

Jeff, an English guy I met near Theth was cooking outside at night on his burner while camping that night, someone from the village saw him and invited him to come to his place to sleep. In Spain if they see you they’ll try to get you out of there or just call police directly.

 

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It’s a country that still suffers absurdly from the Enver Hoxha regime but also there are many differences, the X5, Cayannes and even Ferraris that you see in the cities are a big contrast to the countryside where the fields are ploughed with horses. During communist times people were not allowed to buy a car so now they drive even to go for bread similar to 18 year olds who have just got their licence.

Enver Hoxha left the country in a weird state. Imagine that any of you or the people you know would have the power and the craziness to dump on a country your restlessness, fears, admirations and frustrations. But that’s what happens to a country under a dictatorship. The personality of a person envelopes the country and the reaction of the people to the imposition!

Capitalism arrived with extreme force. In 1997 the financial system collapsed with pyramid investment like Madoff in the US or in Spain with Forum Filatélico or as in Ireland with Seanie Fitzpatrick and Anglo Irish Bank! Maybe the west could have learned a lesson from the Albanian crisis if we had paid attention.

But capitalism has brought some good things as well, people that visited Albania a few years ago remember the noise of generators in the afternoons, that doesn’t exist any more or the cyber cafés where all the screens now have Facebook, wouldn’t work. Somewhere has to be the 500 million users of the site.

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The market in Korca was great, you can buy a lot of cassettes…. Also nearby here a man was lighting up charcoal with a hair drier.

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A rural society but who isn’t surprised by the countryside people in your own country? However young girls dress like Lady Gaga and the men like men in Spain, a jacket maybe a tie, maybe a jumper, but for sure the collar and cuffs worn out.

 

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A really unique place to play. In Roman times Albania was highly important as it’s the closest place to the Italic peninsula. From Durres was the “Via Egnatia”, a merchant route direct to Thessaloniki and Istanbul, first grand stop of the silk.

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Some “dress code” in the mosque. However the Becktaism is a variant of Islam that is quite relaxed, it is a similar style to Christianity as practiced in western countries. It’s widely practiced in Albania. On the other hand, in some traditional places they still have arranged marriages. [Correction provided by Erion Elmasllari that have found the blog. The sighn says “Do not kiss the stone. God does not permit adoration of stones and walls” ]

“Do not kiss the stone.
God does not permit adoration of stones and walls”

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Promise, the last Theth picture.

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Edi Rama, the one who painted the buildings, lost the last elections and now he’s protesting in the middle of the city claiming a re-count of the votes is required. Part of the way to democracy, the right to protest.

 

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This is what an Othodox cathedral looks like.

 

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It is very surprising how safe the country is.

Something amazingly surprising is that they say “yes” like Indians do, moving the head similar to when we say no but in a wobilly way. It’s very confusing. I heard it once called the “the 8”.  Ana and me have been practicing, but we are horrible doing it.

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A less important handicap, the roads are so abrupt that even with a full windscreen the blue bags that the sick people request would keep flying through the bus.

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A very popular cheese from the north. Other traditional dishes are liver, heart, tongue. In my memory will remain that salad of spicy beans. There are a lot of Mediterranean products, melon and ham are eaten.

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The great thing of sleeping in a 3 Euro place is the price, the bad is that you sleep in a room in such a state.

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I like communist statues; dynamic, warriorish, impressive. The stain in the lens is now clean.

Those who ask me for a suggestion on where to go! Until now the most interesting I’ve found is Bosnia Herzegovina and Albania as they are the places that are going to change more and seeing how they are now is extremely interesting.

This maybe a dangerous recommendation, not everybody should come here. One must come with no pretensions, the travelers’ that come here are not demanding. The light may go, water can stop running or the bus may never run, and in the end this is good. If we get what we have at home the country changes and it would stop being interesting. Please if you come take this into account.

I´m finally been able to leave Albania, I loved it, I was trapped but now I’m in Greece seeing things that are surprising me, but before telling you about Greece I have to post a video of something very special I did with Ana on our last day.

Soon more about the trip.

Fernando

2010

05.26

This part of the trip starts with a luxurious companion! My sister Ana! Travelling with people is not easy, if you go on a tour and the bus takes you to every place, it’s OK, otherwise making the 100 daily decisions and having everybody happy is rare. I have only 4 people I can travel 100% fine with, people I’d go to the end of the world with, so having Ana here is just amazing.

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Ana having a Burek, a pastry filled up with cheese, spinach, meat.. they are everywhere in the Balkans, in each country  a bit different, the ones in Albania are very delicate mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

We started in Tirana, Ana arrived to the Mother Theresa of Calcutta airport who was not christened Theresa and was not from Calcutta! The city with is chaos, it’s very pleasant and it has a few things to see in the city and the Blloku neighbourhood has lot’s of cosy cafes, varied restaurants, ultra modern bars and Ibiza style discos.

As a note Blloku was restricted during communist years, it was only the elite were granted access, where Enver used to live.

Outside of the centre there are many streets without a name, about 70%. This is quite a big problem for progress, how do you send a fine, a notification from court, the annual school report, information campaigns, catalogues that are sent from companies to retailers and another 1000 other things, not being able to get or send post is a pain in the ass. Fortunately now they are working on it, however if you go to Tirana ensure you bring a printed map of where your hotel is.

Downtown a lot of English is spoken, there are a lot of companies that are beginning to consider Albania as a potential market, Italy are doing a modern style invasion with their products but also there are a lot of NGOs, one night I met by coincidence one of the only four Spanish guys that are working in the city, I met him in a bar with a soccer table, something very Spanish.

Tirana is a city that is evolving fast but still has a long way to go. It has to be the power house for a country with 16% unemployment and according to the statistics there is 25% living below the poverty line, however Tirana and Albania as a whole is not Ethiopia and everywhere you can find whatever commodity you need. Even in Tirana you also see skyscrapers being built, colourful Smart cars and teenagers with braces in their smiles and also there are some beggars on the street.

 

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Skanderbeg square as it’s being totally renovated. Skanderbeg is still today the national hero, in the 15th century he defeated thousands of Turks not once but three times having a smaller army than them. They still talk about him with respect and admiration.

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Communist mural in Skanderbeg Square. Look at the woman in the middle!!

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Inside Ethem Beg mosque. The guy hovering the carpet went out of my view so I couldn’t photograph him. As a communist country athiesm was very much promoted, there was even an athiest museum highlighting the advantages of having no religion. Albania even declared itself athiest officially, the only country that has ever done it.

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UFO university… what was the founder thinking of!

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This kind of building was an designed Enver Hoxha’s daughter in law. Even it’s called the piramid it has the shape of the eagle as in the flag but this can only be seen from the air.

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On the way to the south a stop to eat, the best part of the meal, this kind of stew done in the oven with greens and cheese.

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Men playing domino, in any park, anywhere you find them like that for hours.

We arrived to Durres, a recommended spot in all the guide books, a place where we left horrified. It’s the typical coastal city, disorganized, concrete architecture, dirty beaches and over polluted sea. It might be interesting if you just want to sunbath not looking at the water and the going area with tons of bars to drink as much as you can, otherwise not. We don’t recommend it.

We went further to the south, to Dhërmit .

When leaving communism, Albania was like a kid in a candy shop, there were new options open to it and they were not sure which to do first, so they did a little of everything which led to some initial confusion. Urban development is an example, especially since it’s using all the money from the more than a million emigrants to build houses in a very disorganized way. The coast has been particularly hurt and it’s something that long term they’ll regret. We also had to run away from Vlora as it´s a place with horrible architecture.

But we knew there were pretty beaches and with Dhërmit we were right. It’s low season so the beach was for us and for the two German bikers that were 2km away. Isolation and a beach. We stayed in a little hotel overlooking the blue sea eating fresh fish caught by the owner. Absolutelly stunning that mouth melting octopus we had, the softest ever.

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Here more to the south, near Saranda. Our last base to explore the southern coast just before getting into Greece, where the Adriatic sea joins the Ionian fighting to see which is more beautiful.

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The clear blue water was screaming at us to come and dive.

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Horses resting.

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A walk in the pebble beach, the ones I like without getting sand dirty.

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More to the South you do have sand beaches and here you can swim to the Island.

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For a baby.

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Other detail.

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I want a fireplace like this!

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The last stop was Gjrokastra, the second UNESCO heritage city in Albania. A very hilly city. A fomous writer once wrote that you could touch the top of a mosque on one street while walking on another!

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Butrint and Apolonian have ruins from several centuries, I¨m not going to get into the detail, but the best thing of it is walking near them alone.

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The blue eye. A spring that releases 8 cubic meters of water per second. Restricted to the normal people during communist years.

With this I finish my trip to Albania. I am organising some of my notes and I´ll be back soon.

Fernando

2010

05.21

The video is about two things that are Albanian surprises, one in the entire country and the other in the capital, check out the video for more.

http://www.vimeo.com/11921375

If the download goes slow, disable HD, it should download faster.
The music is from CCCP, the song is called Big Dinamo, it is the only one I could think with a communist feelin in my CD collection.

The bunker thing in Albania is something that I had read but this didn’t gave me any idea of the scale of this phenomenon. When I saw the first one I felt lucky to see one! Wow, they are real and I’ve seen one, how cool! When I saw 4 or 5 I said… maybe I can see 50 during my trip. I’m going to count them up! When I had seen 37 I decided that counting the bunkers would drive me crazy so I decided to do the video instead.

Enver Hoxha is probably the most paranoid, delirious, illogical and stupid “dictator”(I haven’t seen this word used in anything I’ve read about him) ever and Albania had the bad luck of having him for 40 years until IT finally died in 1985.

Before leaving you this friday I want to show you some pictures of a train trip.

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 Train is very cheap 136 lekes is a Euro for four hours in the train. It´s also very slow.

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 A present I had in the train, some onions. I was offered some raki, here the raki is everywhere.

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Some decoration.
 
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Looks like tirana buildings colours.
  
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 Rusty color in the sunset.
 
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Train doesn´t connect with other counts, during Enver´s times people coudnt leave the country. As a curiosity in Yugoslavia people was free to leave the country if they wish.
 
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 Going south to the blue waters of the coast.

I have a blister in my left small foot finger, the perfect excuse to rest for two days.

Will post something else about Albania soon.

Fernando

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2010

05.20

I’m happy today! It’s not that other days i’m not happy, but i’m especially happy now. I’ve found a company to kayak with in Iran! And that has made me happy because Iran has wierd landscapes, mars-like landscapes that I want to see from the kayak.

Continuing with the post of the day… After watching Theth’s video my friend Victor asked me if I had felt like Heidi’s hidden brother. Leaving Theth wasn’t easy, I felt like staying and at the same time I wanted to go and see other things, go to the south, see the coast and do that bus trip over the mountains the book promised was so beautiful. A few days later I regreted, I should have stayed longer. It’s possibly the most genuine place I’ve ever been in my life, an authentic place with simple people and clean looks, a place where the kindness, the simplicity and the hospitality of the people shudder. A genuine place, that there are less every time.

Even though we normally prefer to see and visit new places, I want to to go back to Theth sometime, something of me has been left in Theth and I’ve liked it.

But coming back can be a difficult enterprise as I’ll have to come back soon or it will have “developed”. the roads would become asphalt and instead of minibuses,  buses will come with tourists that will go to inhale pure air and expire stress. An that expired stress will remain there.

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Isn’t it a creative way to block a broken window?

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These girls are part of one of the families that live in the valley all year. The parents are blonde as well. I was invited to a raki and practiced some Albanian with the father reading the guide book, what a complicated language! During the second world war the Nazis considered Albanians as kind of an Aryan race because of their looks.

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For the Grandads in the area, living up to 100 years is not strange. Still far for this one.

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Little local beans. It´s funny, in the supposedly advanced world people buy organic food at an extra cost while here organic is the normal thing. By the way who gave that name of “organic”?

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The house I was in.

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It´s kind of an oven, under the rounded metal thing the rice is cooking, on top the charcoal. In order to maintain the charcoal on top there’s a ring to hold them.

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Going to the south this is what I eat, spicy sausages from the east part of the country.

There is a project, the Balkan Peace Park that wants to protect this mountain area plus the continuing area in Kosovo and Montenegro as well, it would be great if it works because as it’s not a globalized place, the habits have not changed much and nearly all they use are local products, the plastic that dirties everything in the country is nearly non-existent here, a happiness for the eyes.

There was a family of photographers, the Marubi that took pictures of this area in at the end of 19 century and the beginning of the 20th century. Check some of the pictures here.

After Theth I went to Berat, an ottoman city, it was recently included in the endless UNESCO list.

We stayed in a traditional ottoman house, you don’t have many opportunities for this! It was the best accommodation option in town and cost 30 euro with eggs for breakfast.

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The diriver and it´s car, it may soon become a classic.

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When you get into a taxi and the driver offers you raki you hesitate if remaining in the taxi is a good idea but, why not, trying a home made raki?

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I kayaked the Osumi canyon, a very easy river but beautiful. I joined a rafting trip from the company Outdoor Albania.

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The houses under the castle.

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Buying cigaretts.

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The river I paddled goes by the village.

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There’s a hostel in Berat where the English owners have  produced flavored raki, the lemon one is similar to limocello.

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The countriside is more organized and developed than what I expected.

By now I’m skipping Tirana, the capital and engine of the country has not been in the blog yet. I’ve loved it, but wont tell you about it until the next video.

Ah, My friend Aitor has uploaded his Montenegro pictures, if you liked my pictures sure you’ll like his more, he’s a better photographer than me. Here you have them.

See you soon

Fernando

2010

05.17

I don´t want to tell you anything about Theth until you see the images.

http://www.vimeo.com/11798877

If it loads slow you can swith HD off.

The main song is from the French band Air, form their debut album Moon Safari that in general is a bit tasteless. At the beginning of the video there are a few seconds of Björk “Hidden place”.

See you soon.

Fernando

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2010

05.13

When the alarm clock rings at 5.30 am you feel like leaving the trip for the next day , but being lazy can´t exist when travelling, the best thing is not to think, stand up and get ready to leave.

After the two hour bus ride I arrived at the ferry. A ferry not for tourists but for the locals to move around. Everybody seemed to try to get in and out at the same time while the rain, that had not stopped all morning, was making them wet. I jump onto the ferry and while avoiding sacks, bags and kids I find my window with views.  I didn´t ask for the seventh time what time was the ferry returning.

When I paid the guy that seemed to control all is when he informed that I was sleeping in Fireza that night, he took it for granted as when giving the multiplying board results. I asked and it was confirmed, there was no ferry back.

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I had money to eat and sleep so it was not that bad staying, the only thing is that I had no idea how Fireza was, my immediate future was uncertain.

The boss invited me to go to the upper compartment where he was giving orders to the captain and chatting with his friends while having a feast eating raw sausages and Jonnie Walker, they offered me both things and for not rejecting their hospitability I had some Jonnie Walker from the bottle, but at 10am It doesn’t go down very well. In Albania people drink home made raki, the local alcohol so the whisky is quite extraordinary, these were the wealthy people of the village. Two women were talking non stop in a corner, Albanians talk a lot.

I don’t know how many people grabbed my cheeks to say hello on the way, I was just trying to simile while my face was being moved with hospitality.

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In the 66km the boat was making a few stops in places where you couldn´t see anything, just a man with a donkey waiting for family and goods.

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When it stopped raining I went for a walk. A man called me from a bar to invite me for some coffee and raki with his friends, they didn’t talk any English or Italian, nor me any Albanian but we were communicating with a mix of words, some made up. They didn’t wanted to let me go, we talked about our work, the raki, Albania, Spain… and many other things. The most talkative one(in the picture his friend), was Muslim , the other ones to make the easy joke were saying “Bin Laden”, he was saying that Albanian Muslims are not like that. I think they also introduced me to the mayor.

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The valley school, one of the very few good Enver Hoxam legacies, 98% of the people are schooled.

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“Hello, how are you?” They love coming up to you to see if you reply back.

I haven’t see any foreigner in a few days, in Fireza I’m the only foreigner.

Next day in the port, waiting for the ferry a man came to me, he was the owner of the port and had a great english so we talked for a while until the ferry departed 30 minutes late.

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On the way back I got straight into the VIP area with the captain and his friends, there was the Jonnie Walker left over, not too much, they offered me some but at 7 a.m… I don´t feel like it even if I´ve been partying all night.

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Leaving the gorge.

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Very little rain today.

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They come  to say hello and with some conversation if language permits.

I came back to Shkodra with the feeling of having been much further than what the map said and wanting more so I went to Theth, the most remote valley in Albania. The video is nearly ready and I hope to have it for tomorrow.

See you soon.

Fernando

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Silk Road 6


mi ruta de la seda » 2010 » June

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2010

06.28

 

Topkapi, Santa Sofía, Dombabache palace Sultanamet,Grand Bazzar, Galata Tower…. Yes Istanbul is full of places to visit and in each trip to Istanbul a long list of very known placces come up, but Istanbul is also a place to get lost, to walk and to find your favorite corners, here is a neighbourhood were I´ve spent some time, it´s not hidden, it´s not far, is just a matter of crossing a few streets and getting into it. And for not being afraid of uphill streets! The area is partly in Bethane and partly in Beyoglu. A way to visit it is to get off the tram in Bethane and walk up by Boğazkesen street.

Maybe you can see one or two less mosques and have an eclectic afternoon walking here.

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However before starting hiking up you can visit the Istanbul Modern museum. It´s very surprising. There was a black and white video that looked very like Spain in post war times, the interior of the houses and the way people dressed could be the same, also as it had no sound it gave an even more impression. Don´t forget to take a look at the special library downstairs and have a tea or even a meal in the cafe-restaurant, I have to warn you that it´s pricy.

This neighbourhood seems quiet but the activity never stops, it´s just a few steps from the ultra busy and vibrant Taksim and Istiklal ( If you get Preciados street in Madrid and multiply it by eight, this is it) but it´s totally different. Sit in a terrace for 30 minutes and watch the people and you´ll see what I mean. If you walk around you can find neat cafes, intellectuals smoking a pipe(not water pipe), yellow Vespas, second hand book and vinyl shops, old 2010 Audrie Hepburn calendar, shops with white macs on the counter, Graffiti, stickers looking like computer game aliens, Some of the most bohemian Hotels in town, historic hammans, the Italian embassy, older women covered in black, more art galleries, boutique hotels, traditional restaurants, modern restaurants decorated by designers, pharmacies selling Cialis, Viagra and Yasmin, Tex Mex restaurants where a Freddy Mercury-like-moustache-waiter serves you, alleys finishing in restaurants with pianos, Electro jazz in every corner and toyshops with ginger cats.

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Not everything in Turkey is handcrafted rugs. A gallery had an exhibition with paintings that had women in burka and another covered with just transparent ropes. The neighbourhood is full of art galleries, some very modern some less. If you are into it, they can provide you with a map of all the galleries around.

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One of the exhibits was about Vietnam, a reproduction of the bomb “little boy” and a huge book made in leather with over 30 pages telling the story. The pages were 1.8 meters tall!!! It´s interesting seeing how they do an exhibition about Vietnam, in the western world nobody bothers to complain or talk or even think about it any more. One of the artists took the time to show it all to us even though it was the last day of the exhibition.

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Hike up, look at the buildings, enjoy the corners.

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Old warehouses reconverted into cafes with different music.

One of the things I´ve liked the most is that the area has a good balance between locals and tourists. Being so close to Taksim it is surprising that in some places beer is not sold, we don´t have to forget that Islam doesn’t like alcohol, and in some restaurants they buy beer next door to bring it to you hidden in napkins. The reason that Islam doesn’t like alcohol is because the Coran says “don’t harm yourself” and alcohol harms our bodies, it makes sense even though most Turks smokes. If you fancy a beer, maybe you can try to find “Sota” restaurant at the end of an alley.

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Some graffiti and the street dogs that are everywhere.

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Some spanish in this gaffiti, didn´t make sense to me.

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This one is not yellow.

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It´s full of second hand shops with furniture, old radios, old tvs or whatever you may want. My friend Alvaro bought a brand new Smeg fridge with the same look, but in a green colour.

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This tells me you cand find ANYTHING.

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Also with all kinds of old cinema equipment. I wonder what wierd shops I missed around here.

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I prefer my backpack. One day I should talk about it.

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The sticker can be called “the nuclear scream”.

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Old vinyls for modern Djs. You could buy vinyls in perfect condition and at a great price.

In my walks around Istanbul I found a book called “SILK”. I’ve bought it and I´m readong it while waiting for the Iranian visa.  It tells the story of silk from the time it was discovered to modern times and in every country. Next post I’ll be telling you some of what I´m learning.

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Why not finish the post with  a nice sunset picture? From the cafe of Istanbul Modern. If you come here and like the view head to Tomtom hotel(nothing to do with the navigator) and you´ll have a super view of the city. It´s just in front of the Italian embasy.

I have to say that I had some help to find this area, I met Carlos and Isma one day in a terrace having lunch and they told me about some shops with old stuff so, I went, liked it and then moved to a hostel in the area.

Write to you soon

Fernando

2010

06.25

This post has been delayed a week, I’ve got a killer torticollis that has taken my willingness to do things. Now I’m nearly fine and I’ve been able to finish it and move a little bit. Here it is:

Last week it was four months since I left on my trip. The time goes quickly. Until now all has gone great(apart from the torticollis) and all has been quite easy. From now, all becomes a bit more complicated, after Turkey there’s no alphabet like ours and that makes things harder. Also I leave the Mediterranean and the culture changes quite a lot. That’s also why the most interesting part is coming..

I’m not sure how I’ve been able to make it, but for the 2 packs of razors I brought with me I’ve just used one. Four months, four razors, I think I’ve shaved less than what I thought.

I’m in Istanbul, the Eurasian city, as my trip. The Bosporus separates me from Asia. It’s the only city in the world that is between two continents. I love Istanbul but I want to cross, continue the trip, keep seeing things, changing to another country, another language, another currency…. But this has to be done step by step, now it’s time to enjoy Istanbul.

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On the left Europe, on the right Asia.

Turkish visa has no complications just pay 15 Euro at the border which most nationalities don’t even have to pay. The bad part was going through the Greek and Turkish passport control at 3am, with the Cyprus conflict they both annoy the other country a little bit at the border.

From Turkey all the countries also require visa. I got the Syria one in Madrid and with the Iran one I started the process a while ago, but, It’s been authorized! So I’m happy as I’ll be able to collect it on Monday.

For Jordan, Armenia and Georgia the visa can be got on the border so I just have to manage another 4 visas until the end of the trip and I have already started with the Turkmenistan one so I’m doing quite well.

It still seems I’m not far, there’s only one hour difference with Spain and the plugs have been the same since I left. Well, the faces are changing. Until Montenegro people looked the same as in Spain, totally familiar faces, even in Albania most of the people would look unnoticed in a street in Zamora.  In Greece people looked different, they looked like… Greeks! Curly hairs, eyes like… Greeks!, why describing them. You can see how they look looking at my guide in the video. In Turkey a lot of people have a darker colour on their face and the factions are different also. Things are changing. Cool!

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Even Street cats get to change, they look more Persian with longer hair. Iran has a border with Turkey.

I don’t know why it’s come to my mind that when I was a kid I didn’t really like this thing of travelling, I think the main reason was the food, I hated eating in different places than home, the food that I was not used to. Now I’m looking forward to see the food in every place. Once my mom would not allow me to eat for a full day. There was rice for lunch and I didn’t want to eat it, so she told me that until I’d eat one grain I wouldn’t eat anything else. Now I love rice and I don’t even remember if I ate that one. I think I didn’t.

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The Blue Mosque. Behind the fountain you can see the one of the buses that provides the place with thousands of tourists a day.

As I’ve been a few days waiting for the Iran Visa approval I’ve taken some time to improve the web, I’m going to tell you what I’ve done because I think the people working in IT may find this interesting.

There are 37 posts and 15 videos. I’m getting to do the minimum postings per week as I wanted. Each week and month I have more visits. This last month I’ve got over 1500 which is an achievement for me.

Here are some of the changes I’ve been doing:

- Enhancement on navigation for users and search engines.

- Videos Uploaded to YouTube.

- Change in the layout to display bigger pictures which is not very normal in blogs around the web.

- Picture tagging to improve photo search by search engines.

- Iphone(and similar) plugging to have a friendly display.

- More SEO(Search Engine Optimization) to be display in searches. Change the structures of Tags, Labels and Permalinks.

- Use of Google Sitemap for search engines. Also now Google receives an update when the page changes.

- Similar posts are displayed when a single post is viewed.

Two more pictures to finish the post. Next time I’ll talk to you about the neighbourhood I´ve liked the most.

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On a boat.

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Crossing Galata bridge by tram. There´s always a mosque in view.

Ah, for healing the torticollis I’ve used up the Tiger balm that the owner of the Korean Barbecue, were I used to eat with my work friends on Thursday, gave me the day I told her I was leaving. I love that ointment. The Korean Barbecue mmmm the best tempura in town!.

Fernando

2010

06.18

When I organized the trip I found Greece between Albania and Turkey, I didn´t know how to do it. I had two options, go to Greece and not spending too much time here or staying two months seeing everything. I decided the first option. Greece is a very interesting country and full of incredible things but I couldn´t give it too much time. Moreover Greece is expensive in comparison with other countries on the trip so I decided to spend around 10 days there.

I planned a simple route by the north. Starting in the less know Zagoria region and then going by Meteora(pictures here), After that I´d continue to the east to Thesalóniki from where I´d go to Turkey.

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Church near Arta.  Zagoria region is far, with a small population and the roads are not very good, that´s why it´s more isolated and has some special flavour.

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Detail of the roof.

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Bridge of the Kallaritikos river where I kayaked. Here is the video. Maybe those brown bears that still live in the region have crossed over many times?

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They were amazing. I generally don’t like too much “the visual guides”, in this case it was quite nice, however it did not talk much about what is not seen as they were as heavy as iron.

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A very nice new long bridge that connects Peloponeso peninsular with the main land on the way to Athens.

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Yes, I like bridges. Picture from the bus…

The plan changed a bit, Ana was returning home from Athens. We were not excited about the idea of going to Athens as everybody talks about Athens as a chaotic, noisy and uninteresting city. With such low expectations, of course, We’ve loved it!. We had no intention of going to all the sights, we didn’t think it was worth it, we enjoyed the walks between the sights and the cafes and the café culture Greeks have. There are thousands of terraces that are perfect to stay a while people watching, like those orthodox priests coming back from grocery shopping. Also my new blister made us relax and take it easy. The good thing of having another blister is that with the translation I’ve learned the word in English, probably it was in one English class that I was not paying attention.

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Leftovers of the anti-crisis protest or anti- crisis counter measures or anti-system. Victim: a bank.

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The guy from the hostel showed me in the map all the streets they normally use, he said in his country they never break anything.

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¡How beautiful is the Acropolis! I miss Zagoria.

In Greece it is unavoidable read about the Greek gods. What has surprised me the most is that they were contrary to the “current” gods. Yes, for example, the Christian god is benevolent and understanding, but Greek gods were capricious, egoistical, chaotic, frivolous, bloodthirsty, despots, revengeful and temperamental, what now we say son of a bitch.

Reading Greek mythology is a mix between south American telenovela, Tarantino film and a constant orgy, so it’s not strange that Greeks were scared of them. It is possible that this made them create philosophy, maybe with these horrible gods in which they were not finding support or protection or explanation or hope for what happened after death, the Greeks had to set out a logical way of what would happen latter, of what they were. They had no Genesis to explain or heaven to wrap them up.

Thanks to those evil gods the ancient Greeks revolutionized thinking and now our society is like it is maybe due to them.

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Reading about the Greek thinking it surprises me the differences they had about classes. Now that separation would seem at least xenophobic, even in the reality our society it maintains it in a way.

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More food, but, is this Greek? Or ottoman-Turk? Or maybe from Armenia? I’ll tell you once I arrive to Armenia. The vine leaves are stuffed with rice, a bit of olive oil on top and a sauce to finish it.

A Greek figure that I like is the Oraculo. Going there to ask about your future to a Pithonise(fortune teller) half drugged saying ambiguous things with no real meaning had to be a real show. Who’d have a time machine to witness it. We visited the Dodoni Oracle.

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I like looking into the urban magazines that are now everywhere, even in this case, with Greece it’s impossible to get absolutely anything with unreadable letters. I loved this little girl.

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Quite a typical picture, but it’s so photogenic that I had to post it.

And Ana left, there was only one more stop, Thessaloniki. A city that suffered a big change in 1923 as a Greece pact with Turkey and Bulgaria an interchange of population to adjust to the new ethnic borders and make them more pure. There were hundreds of thousands of Turks and Bulgarians from Greece and at the same time nearly 800.000 Greeks arrived to mother nation Greece even though they had never stepped over it.

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Greek streets have two sounds. The sound of Backgammon dices and the orthodox rosary that don’t stop moving. But, ¿what is the difference between the orthodox Christians and the catholic? There are a lot of differences, but I’m not going to name them, I’m only going to tell you why there was a definitive separation. The cause was an interpretation of where the Holy Spirit came from: Rome says that he comes from the Father and the Son, for the orthodox, the Holy Spirit is generated directly from the father, same as the son. The other difference that was important in it’s moment is that for westerns the unity of the 3 people comes give by it’s holy nature, while for orient, the unities is assumed by the father. Really, they did well separating, because with so many differences….

Greece still keeps a lot of things for me, I haven’t seen anything about the Peloponnese, neither the marvellous islands with white villages and blue windows or Rodas or…. I’ll come one one day to see all this and to hike up Olympus.

I finish Greece, I have to go. It’s night time, owned by Nix good. I get into the night bus for 9 hours, I’ll be in Istanbul after the sunset.

See you soon.

Fernando

2010

06.13

Feeling special is something that gives us happiness. It happens to me once in a while in the river. I’m floating in the middle of the water, it can bee the most open valley or the darkest canyon and without thinking about it, a private feeling invades me and nobody around me realises it.

Probably in an unconscious way this is one of the things that makes me like the river so much and why it has me hooked.

With kayaking you reach many places that can’t be reached in any other way. The more difficult or remote the places are the more they return to you, well, like anything else in life, the more difficult it is the more it gives back.

When you are in the middle of a river going down you are in total contact with nature, in the most changing element. You forget the feeling of floating to find your way between currents and rocks. In situations, in one of those difficult rivers, in the limit of your possibilities, you arrive to a place where the river has narrowed multiplying it strength, the inclination gives the water even more speed and the walls compress it making it immensely powerful, maybe hostile. Putting the paddle in the water is like grabbing a moving truck that has no intention of stopping. Those are moments in which instinctively you concentrate completely so as not to fail.

Moreover the river creates a special noise, it does not let you hear anything, seems it erases all around. It leaves you alone with it, seems nothing else exists. It makes you feel meaningless, it minimizes you with it strength, without asking it returns you some of the humbleness that consumerism and technology has stolen.

Later, when you arrive to the bridge or the green place where the take out is, you look back into your thoughts, the images fixed with the water strength and the noise. You realize that the river has finished, that you’ve done it, maybe a bit of a survival feeling, of success. You feel great and happy, but not forgetting the meaninglessness you felt before.

Kayaking Aoos river on the last day I had this feeling of “being special”. I didn’t feel like bringing the camera out to get a picture or to do video. I didn’t felt like talking, it was not needed, it was a memory for me, but today I’ve felt like describing it and writing about it.

I’ve kayaked 4 days in Greece, I really wanted to kayak in the Greek mountains, Greece is full of mountains(the divine Olympus is nearly 3.000 meter high). I’ve done some rivers that were not very difficult but were a lot of fun. Here is a short video, I don’t want to bore non kayakers.

As I was alone I asked for guidding to Brain Waves, the kayak company in greede. Spyros make me feel like if I was kayaking with my friends.

http://www.vimeo.com/12506575

If it downloads slow, please click HD.

I ask myself why today I’ve decided to philosophize about the river, maybe because I´m in Greece and after so much reading about it`s philosophic past I’ve been enveloped by the idea of “wanting to know” ( as philosophers said) and I’ve wanted to explain myself as to why I like rivers.

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This is how philosophy is, naked thoughts, as this trunk that one day was an elegant tree and now the river has stripped it.

I’ll soon talk to you about what I’ve seen in the rest of Greece, as I’ve already arrived to Istanbul. I’ve talked today about the rivers because about Greece I don’t know what to say, the classic philosophical past, the present crisis, the intriguing Orthodox church as we saw in Meteora, the unknown north or the Ottoman past.

I’ll decide it in a couple of days and tell you

//

2010

06.07

If we stay one more day?

It’s a pleasure travelling with no rush, enjoying each day, each moment, with out thinking what will come later, because later can be tomorrow or in three days. That’s how my trip was, I arrived in Athens just in time to get the flight back. My flight left me in Tirana, and, as you have seen trapped us.

The arrival to Greece was in a bus with super loud Albanian music hour by hour, I thought we would never arrive.

Our first destination was Ioanina, a city with a name as beautiful as it’s interior. It was our transit city where we rented a car to go to see “Meteora”.

That name really attracted us unavoidably, in the Tesalia flatlands 30 million years ago, under the sea, rocks were formed, pinnacles of sandstone and when the water receded the pinnacles were exposed to the open air.

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Fog was giving additional mysticism because when we’d spot a pinnacle we didn’t know it would have a monastery until we were close.

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The second day we had some better weather. Those pinnacles, some over 500 meters high and in the XIV century some orthodox monasteries were built on top, at one time there were even 24.

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Each one on top of one of those rocks “SUSPENDED in the air” with no connection to the earth.  To live happy, let’s live high in the sky, and this is how it really looks, rocks in the air, monasteries SUSPENDED in the sky, as the monks said: “getting closer to God”.

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The image was appealing, and with it in our heads we had started the trip. We hoped to find it after each turn… but Meteora didn’t come.  Finally when we arrived  we soon decided  that we had to stay one more day!

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Monks allow visitors to their monasteries. Now there are only 6 left,  4 monks and 2 nuns.

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They are all Byzantine and, due to our ignorance about the Orthodox church, all was much more attractive, the little churches painted from top to bottom with biblical images and bright colours. The monks themselves with their over long grey beards, their hats and all dressed in black. The views from each monastery looking to the others, ruins in some pinnacles that used to be something and now nearly nothing left.

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Sometimes watching the ruins is more thrilling, seems more abstract, more unreal, further back in time.

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Sunset, so we leave until the following day.

Our hotel, in Kastraki village, was run by a Greek family, mother and son, they couldn’t be nicer, they had a garden full of hammocks. We spent the sunset there, gazing, this time from under, the majestic pinnacles, saving them forever in our heads, and being able to remember them anytime we wished.

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Now there are no rope baskets, neither nets suspended where they would put goods or monks inside, but there are still wood cable cars hanging from cables. Now you can find stairs and when it rains it creates small waterfalls that makes it difficult to climb up. On the left in the picture you can see the cabin where the old hanging net used to be.

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The landscape itself is worth a visit even without the monasteries.

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Inside one of the monasteries.

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This piece of wood is hit to call for playing.

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Nobody knows very well how the monks built their monasteries there in the XIV century. How were they able to bring the stones and other materials up there,  even how could they get themselves up.

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After a sudden stop so as not to run over the this Greek turtel we decided it was too beautiful to leave a crazy Greek driver or tourist kill it so we moved it to the side of the road.

We didn´t care about getting totally wet and it was difficult to leave the pinnacles. But finally we found our way back to the real world to put our feet on the ground… We would have stayed “one more day”.

Ana

2010

06.05

Greek stories will have to wait a little longer. I have had to stop on the way to recap after 75 days in the Balkans.

I’ve crossed Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albanian, an area of the world with an exciting recent history that aroused my emotions and that offered a lot to discover. I’ve lived part of it’s history, hike to snow covered mountains, motorcycled around an island, kayaked down rivers with isolated canyons, driven on impossible roads, I’ve gotten into valleys I’ve never wanted to leave and still when I close my eyes I see that night when thousands of fireflies hovered not realizing the menacing thunderstorm that was in the background.

I’ve also seen it’s cities; fortified, monumental, forgotten, cosmopolitan, reconstructed, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, communist, chaotic, European, glamorous, old and modern. There’s such a variety that crowds you. In them I’ve seen the beginning of the change from west in a way that sometimes disorientated me.

These memories make me happy with my decision to visit the Balkans and not start my silk road journey as is traditionally written “From Istanbul to Xiam”.

My Balkan experience has been all the more special because of it’s people. They don’t see you as a stranger but as a guest and they really show you what the word “hospitality” means.

Although I’ve seen many places where I would love to stay longer I must continue to the countries with Ancient Civilizations and much more history,  Greece, Turkey, Iran, the Caucasus, central Asia. I keep walking east with a different perspective after my Balkan experience.

Fernando

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Silk Road 8


mi ruta de la seda » 2010 » July

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2010

07.26

A very quick post to tell you what Bosra is. I don’t have much time working as sub-guide. It is a challenge making a “father” feel good in a Muslim country and it requires nearly all my energy so I can’t spend that much time in the blog.

Coming back to Bosra, which is the topic of the day. There was a moment in Turkey I was a bit bored of Roman ruins and I was very close to not go and see “another“ ruins in Syria. The curiosity convinced me and I’m glad I did it. It would have been a pity missing Bosra. The further I go from Rome, the more Roman settlements I visit, the more I realize how impressively powerful the empire was. In February I was in Rome, it’s July and I still walk in it’s territory, this was the roman region of Arabia and Bosra was its capital in the 2nd century.

Siria - Syria - Damasco - Damascus - Bosra - Roma - Rome - onmysilkroad.com - P7168843

The main reason to come here is to see the theatre , it would be nearly impossible to be preserved any better. It’s only two hours driving south of Damascus nearly at the border with Jordan. The theatre has the peculiarity that it’s done with Basalt, a very strong volcanic rock of the area, that gives it the dark colour.

Siria - Syria - Damasco - Damascus - Bosra - Roma - Rome - onmysilkroad.com - P7168869

The city next to it is also built on basalt and has all the things the Roman cities have, the public baths, the agora, the columns… There are two enormous cisterns that received the water by an underground aqueduct from the mountains 30 kilometres away.

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The desert covered the the city in sand for centuries making possible the great conservation of 70 years ago when it was found. The sand preserved the ruins from the weather and humans leaving them as they are now. Saladin fortified the theatre defending the city from the crusades and Mongols.

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Church on the way back to Damascus, our base. Also in basalt and prepared for a wedding.

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What a better way to finish the day than tasting the local bear? The truth? It’s pretty bad. The most similar to a real beer is the Lebanese one. Lebanon also has good red wine. Well Lebanon must be a very cool country everybody here talks about how great it is. I’ll have to leave it for another trip though.

The next post will be about Damascus. The city that once was the most important in Islam when religion was at its height. We’ll see what we find!

See you soon.

Fernando

2010

07.24

I’ve been in Maalula, north of Damascus. Here Aramaic is still spoken, and it sounds so remote I want you to hear it, is like hearing an echo of a language that star Ted 3000 years ago and that has been sounding until now.

Click to hear a pray in Aramaic language: Arameo(may be slow).

The first day my Father was in Damascus we went to the National Museum, we took a guide that spoke in Spanish and the museum was the right place to start. We went through all the Syrian history from the beginning to the end and we had a contest on how much we would see in Damascus and the country for the remaining the days.

The most fascinating objects  are the ones that have something written in Aramaic. Seems unbelievable that there is still something of a language that is so old, the language that Jesus Christ spoke.

From these fascinating and intriguing objects, the much more amazing thing is a six centimetre stone on which is written the first alphabet ever. It is the first time that instead of writing sounds “ce”, “be”, “to”… that consonants have been independent from the vowels. Whoever did it had to be an extremely intelligent person to be able to abstract the sounds and divide them, in one side the consonants and in other the vowels, then complete the sounds of the consonants.  I’ve been impressed thinking on the proccess it took to reach this.

About the Arameic, there has been created an Aramaic Institute, until now it’s a language passed from generation to generation in a speaking way by the Maalula people and other villages. In the Institute they want to teach how it’s written so it’s not lost.

I think it wont get lost, it has proved that it is a survivor.

I leave you today so you can come back to the modern world, try not to think that anything we do is difficult that it will last 3000 years or that is as important as inventing the alphabet.

See you soon.

Fernando

2010

07.21

Syria is giving me wonderful surprises every day. People are amazing, they say hello, they ask, they tell you, they make you feel good. As soon as I say I´m spanish they all congratulate me about the world cup, they like football a lot, even though it seems impossible they have a lot of Spanish flags everywhere. They are very happy to have Spain winning instead of Germany or Holland. Being Spanish is quite good for travelling, people usually likes us.

It was not easy leaving Aleppo but the dead cities aroused an intense interest to which I couldn’t say no. To arrive there is no public transport  so you have to find a taxi for half a day to go. From the one who likes them with a passion for a while there are around 600 settlements, from isolated monuments to full cities. I visited four of them and was lucky to find two “friends of the day” in the hotel to share the taxi and not going alone. Here are the pictures.

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In the city of Al-Bara there are funeral tombs, the one in the picture is the best preserved one.

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Greg on top of a wall overlooking the horizon, the city seems it never finishes. It’s eerie walking between the houses, walls and the olive trees, we are totally alone discovering what is in each building, in each corner. The reason why they were abandoned is not clear, seems that the trading routes changed and the population moved away gradually leaving this isolated landscape.

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In the shade it’s 40 degrees.

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The name of dead cities is not totally right, there are some people still living in them.

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Clothes drying is an unmistakable symbol of life.

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Jedara and Ruweiha are two cities that are together and they are some of the biggest. In the background the Byzantine church of the 5th century, it’s used nowadays for living.

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Goat.

The last city we saw was Serjilla, one of the best preserved and most prepared for tourism with explanation panels. Some houses have two floors created building an arch inside the house to hold the second floor, I liked the idea.

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The next stop was Hama where I went to see the water Norias.

http://www.vimeo.com/13508349

Orontes means revel river as it’s the only one in the area that goes from south to north, it in fact starts in Lebanon mountains where there’s even a ski resort.

For the Zaragoza Expo I’ve been told they constructed one, now I want to go and see it as they brought the same people to build it that maintain the ones in Hama.

As soon as I click the publish button I’m going to the airport to collect my father, he’s coming a few days for visiting. Hope the flight is not delayed.

See you soon

Fernando

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2010

07.14

I can finally post a video, the last two I tried to do looked horrible so I haven’t posted them. I recorded one of them with Ana about an Oraculum in Greece and the second was about my backpack so after a lot of time I’m very happy to edit a video and post it here.

The video was totally improved, I arrived there and liked the activity so much that I thought capturing it in pictures would have lost the meaning of constant movement. Different to the Istanbul bazaar there’s nearly no tourism, I only saw four foreigners in four hours. It’s a local market with no souvenirs with Syrians buying Syrian things.

http://www.vimeo.com/13336938

The music is Turkish because I still have no Syrian music, they are Burhan öcal & Pete Namlook.

I’m going to tell you quickly my last steps in Turkey as I went through Antakya, one of those names that sounds so biblical and you don’t know what to expect.

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I knew there wouldn’t be much from what I had read, and in fact apart from the centre of little alleys the rest is quite ugly. In the picture an alley downtown.

What I’ve liked the most is the mix of culture, I tell you; in the guide books you read that Antakya is one of those places where Christians, Muslims and Jews have always been living together in peace, bla bla bla….and when I read this I think that it sounds beautiful but with those things I always think that it’s something written in the books but that there is no way to feel it in the city.

In Antakya this is more tangible than in other places. Apart from the fact that you can see mosques, churches and a synagogue, the interesting thing is that when somebody stops you in the street to talk(yes, it’s very normal) after giving a cordial welcome they tell you the same, that here they are all mixed and happy and tell it proudly. It’s comforting that there are places in the world that co-living exists.

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To finish feeling what the books says I stayed that night in the HOSPEDERÍA of the Christian church. They are old houses where you can sleep. There were some musicians preparing an event of songs for peace in the cave-church of Saint Peter. There was a very good atmosphere around, it was like sleeping in a music school where music of any instrument could start at any moment as well as a chorus starts singing. I was planning my trip to Syria for a couple of days.

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Religious symbols of all religions. Barbara showed me the place, she´s been there 38 years and broadcasts peacefulness.

Also staying in the place was a German, Jens, an anthropologist working for an American university he was doing a study of the integration of religions. As he had an interest in the silk route we were talking for a while. An interesting guy.

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Antakya museum is one of the most important in the world regarding mosaics, It has a lot of pieces from the II and III century.

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The day of the canticles. One of the songs was in Spanish so during rehearshal I read it in Spanish so they would know the right pronunciation.

The last night I made a stop in Odeon, a café that I’d spotted in one of my walks around Antioch. A chatty Turk came to talk with me, he was a biologist, specialized in butterflies and he worked for the university. He made 1000 Euro a month, that let’s you do a lot of things in Turkey. I proposed playing Backgammon with him, he was the champion of his town and as that’s the application I use the most in my phone, I decided that was the perfect person to try my game.

We started with a very sad 0-2 to him as he set up the board in the opposite way my phone does and I was a bit disoriented at the beginning, after a little while we were 4-2 to me. When the owner of the place came to chat with us the board was mysteriously closed and moved to a corner as if nobody had ever played it. The owner was a very nice guy, he had been travelling all around the world selling gold and now he was taking his time to enjoy live in a relaxed way.

Next day to cross the border with Syria I got a shared taxi, it’s a bit more expensive than the bus but I keep checking where my passport is exactly. It also takes a few less hours as the arrangements for 50 passports in a bus takes a while.

By the road I saw men and women harvesting potatoes, the harvest seems to be much earlier than in Spain, there were a lot of cereal crops already reaped in pieces of land that the dessert has not taken. A few more potato fields and the wire fencing and the watch towers announced the border. Once more I felt the excitement that I have when I’m taking my passport out of my pocket to cross a border.

See you soon.

Fernando

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2010

07.09

I leave the Aegean sea where Kudasai goes by the coast to Syria. The first place I stop is Dalyan on the shores of Dalian river where the Kaunos ruins can found, a Carian settlement of 10th century B.C.

Here the tourists smell mosquito repellent, seems to be the perfect habitat, that’s why in ancient times this was a malarian zone. The foreigners blamed the figs as they were very common in the area. Near Dalyan is Iztuszu beach that is protected due to the turtles that come to lay the eggs in it’s sand, they are massive up to 130 Kg.

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To go to the ruins you have to cross by boat, in the picture is a boat woman.

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I explored Kaunos surrounded by lizards and yellow winged grasshoppers. In th entrance loud disco music was playing, as the ruins were so big I left the sound behind me very quickly, but while walking in the ruins I could hear the call to pray from a nearby mosque. That was the soundtrack.

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Thistle, new word for me. Loved the colour.

Next day I had breakfast in the terrace overlooking the tombs in the cliff, the oleanders‘ smell. I prepare the things to go to the Dalaman river, the reason why I’ve come here. I like the river company, they were a mix of guides from Costa Rica, Turkey, Nepal and Ukraine. They managed the safety in the river very well so I paddled very comfortably. The kayak they let me was really bad but as the river wasn’t difficult it gave the day a bit more of emotion.

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The guides were apologizing for the colour of the water, normally is a wonderful blue but due to the previous days rain it got cloudy. I like rivers with this colour.

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I suppose that she has not thought that if she falls into the water the skirt can cover her face making it difficult to breathe, but each one get’s into the river as they desire.

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Doing the last class IV rapid I rolled, in the last picture it can be seen how I’m getting ready to roll back up with the paddle aligned with the kayak.

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The next stop was Kas, in the middle of the turquoise coast. It’s a very charming village with bougavillas, ottoman houses, a centre with no cars and a seaside with amazing colour to explore by boat. To complete the image the mountains border the coast and a bit more inland they are as high as 3000 meters.

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There are Lician tombs in the village.

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In the morning I go to the port to get a boat to go by the coast and to see some of the ruins of the area. This excursion cost like 20 Euro to spend the day in the boat and you get food.

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Kekova is a gorgeous submerged city, the earthquakes of the second century sank it. It’s forbidden to stop the boats or swim.

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We stopped in Ucagiz village that is on an island.

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I didn’t wanted to pay the entrance to the little castle so I went around to see what could I see and I found this Lician tomb just for me.

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 Turkey has two types of vipers. The ottoman(didn’t make a big effort to get the name…) is very poisonous.

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The picture is a bit too burnt, but at least you see how the place was.

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I bought tea from him and after the picture he gave me a granddad kiss. He cultivated the tea himself.

On the boat I met a French woman, she loved Turkey having been here 20 times she had travelled all over the world including Afghanistan 40 years ago, she had also travelled all around Africa providing aid when she was young, she was my friend of the day. We were talking about Greece and Turkey rivalry. They really dislike each other, for example the Greeks still call Istanbul, Constantinople in some maps.

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On the way back to Kas after a good day. Apart from the memories of the ruins what I’ve liked the most has been diving. There were not too many fish but diving in the silence of the blue water while the rays of light penetrate the surface is just blissful.

My last visit through the coast is Antalya. More otoman houses, this time on the top of the hill overlooking the sea. All the coast is packed with tourists, I expected this from the places nearby Ephesus but it spreads all along the coast.

Here are the Taurus mountains, the country has 70% of the territory covered with mountains and near the city a part is protected as the Kopruli national park. I went kayaking in the river but it was a mistake, there were hundreds of rafts and literally thousands of clients, have never ever seen anything like that, instead of seeing the river you’d see rafts and rafts. A huge mistake, I had to make an effort to enjoy, there was zero contact with nature.

 

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 Antalya has an spectacular museum with items compiled from the ruins around. Here is the sarcophagus room.

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 The face on the left is the one I liked the most. In fact I only put pictures of museums to pretend that they are interesting.

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I eat a gozleme, something like a creppe. By the time I want to take it a picture I´ve finished it!

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The sunset from Antalya with Olympus mountains in front(nothing to do with Greece) It would have been a better choice to stay here as it’s quieter as it’s further from the  International airport.

The next post will be a video from Syria. Yes a video after a while!!

See you soon

Fernando

2010

07.08

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This is Pamukkale. With a million visitors a year it is one of the attractions of Turkey. During the 80s it become so overly touristic that was close to being destroyed it but some hotels were demolished and even it though it is a bit damaged it is still worth visiting. Quite a few years ago it was quite a common destination as honeymooners from Spain.

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Before visiting Pamukkale we went to the Hierapolis. Founded by Eumeus II in the year 190 BC on top of the mountain. The thermal waters became famous during the roman empire and the city grew until some earthquakes destroyed it and it was abandoned. In the picture one of the city doors with thick walls of a few meters. I liked the city as much or more than Pamukkale.

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You can’t miss the Necropolis. It also has a very important amphitheatre for 12.000 people that is in great state but as I’ve already shown you a few so I’m changing it for some wonderful tombs.

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The necropolis continues a few kilometres to the north. There was a lot of people coming here to be healed but seems some of them came a bit too late. Derya was asked the previous day, probably by an American tourist, “Why did Romans make so many ruins”?.

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Tombs in the calcium area. Rest in peace.

Before going to the travertines(name given to the terraces) we had a bath in the “Antique Pool”, thermal water with columns in the ground. It was good for the remains of my killer tourticullis. When the torticullis was at its worst I was thinking  “Seems impossible that a head is so heavy”.

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General view of the travertine formed by calcium carbonate.

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There are areas where the calcium is not very thick and doesn’t look that white. 

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After the travertines you can see the valley where the village is nowadays.

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It’s absolutely packed with Russians, must be a very famous place there, maybe because it looks like snow but you can be in a fuzzy bikini. If you are a Russian girl you can’t leave the place without a hundred pictures posing. By the way, Russia is the only country that like turkey spans two continents.

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Pamukkale means “cotton castle”. Cleopatra is supposed to have come here.

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Me and the water sliding down the wall depositing the calcium.

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There is a section of travertines that is open and you can walk barefoot and bath.

 

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The wind was blowing.

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 Other view.

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On the way back we saw a few villages with bottles on top of the roofs. If you have daughters in of marrying age, this is the tradition. A bit later we stopped to get a couple of wild sunflower plants for Andrés and Derya and at the last stop to see a hidden Roman aqueduct that is conserved really well.

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To finish the day we had a seabass cooked in salt in the newest restaurant of Kudasai. The price was less than 20 Euros. I have to say that the seabass was much better than the Spanish omelette I cooked the previous day. Cooked with crisps instead of potatoes following the recipe of the famous Spanish cook Arguiñano.

My next stop is Dalaman river. It’s said it is one of the most beautiful in Turkey!

See you soon.

Fernando

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Silk Road 7


mi ruta de la seda » 2010 » August

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201008.31

I have to pay a pending debt with you. A few weeks ago I said that when leaving Turkey I’d talk about their entrance into Europe. I’ve was about to try and skiver it to see if you realised but finally here I am telling you something about It.
The question is; Is Turkey prepared to get into Europe? My answer is nearly. And I think that’s what it means “enter” Europe, if they were ready, they would already be members. I’ve talked with many travellers about this topic and all agree that they are very close, people that has been in Romania say that it’s a lot poorer and they are already in the union, so, being 100% ready seems not to be the key point.
The entrance of Turkey has a few faces, on one side you expand into a huge market of over 70 million people, on the other you have a competitor, and this is one of the important topics, by 2020 it’ll be the country with the largest population having more euro-representatives, this will make other countries like Germany and France to loose some power in the union.
Turkey has made enormous improvements relating to human rights, and even though it is used as excuse(Kurds and Cyprus issues) it seems this is not a point of decision to get in or not to get in.
Seems there is only one point open, religion. This is the topic that the non experts focus their discussions on. Does Europe want a Muslim country? To clarify here, the first is that it is a secular country, the second is that yes, it has a Muslim majority. But religion is lived in a “light”, moderated way same as the rest of Europe lives religion. Also religion is loosing strength from the point of view that youngsters don’t pay that much attention to it and practice it less.
What should we do with this country hungry of europeanization? The easy and comfortable solution is to say that we are different and that we can’t get together, each one in it’s own way. If we don’t understand each other, why see each other?
The difficult solution is to understand each other, looking for the common things(It’s a Mediterranean country having a lot in common with other European countries) and search for the common cultures. Yes, I say try because maybe even accepting them, even stepping forward to understanding the big differences can be to much and we can coexist making true that it’s impossible and it’s better we live apart, in this way at least we’d know for sure, we had tried.
Both options have advantages and disadvantages. Even we live in a globalize world at the end each individual, each country in this case needs to identify itself with a similar entity. If Europe rejects Turkey it will search for other “friends” and this may be the most important topic, from the first time I came to Turkey six years ago the country has improved dramatically growing at 11% every year, it’s a country that self provides food, is building highways every where and you can breath modernization, if it continues getting better at this pace it will become a power and if we are not it’s “friend” it has other pretenders. With it’s geopolitical situation it has plenty to choose from. It can be-friend Russia, which seems it is again extending it’s tentacles, not only to it’s lost ex-republics but also to new countries. It can join Iran, Iraq and Syria, with the religious bind, the bad part for Europe here is that a neighbour country may become more radical Muslim wich wouldn´t be good. As a last option it could fall under Chinese hands that tries to grow in all direction. Any of these partnerships means that Europe would not grow while it’s competitors would, and that’s one of the reasons why the European Union exists, to be competitive. Seems that the only “player” that doesn´t want to grow is Europe, meaning that incomparison it would become even smaller.
Not being someone’s friend means nearly being an enemy. Europe now has an energy dependence over Russia via the pipeline that brings gas from the middle east and central Asia. The new pipeline Nabucco that goes via Turkish ground would eliminate that dependency from Russia, well only if we are Turkish “friends“.
If Ataturk had lived longer they probably would be in Europe but as he didn’t the debate is still open. When Spain entered the EU we were much less ready than what Turkey is now. Turkey is making very big efforts to get closer to Europe, but any day they’ll get tired, each time Europe rejects them it’s a humiliation and one day they’ll accept an offer from the other side of the world.
At the same time there are people who think ‘How can anyone want to enter the European Union now with all the problems going on in it? Turkey asked to enter in 1956 and until very recently their request has not been formally accepted. Croatia, the other country with an approved request, seems to be less interested to enter every time because of the delay in the EU answer.
This may reflect that Europe is in crisis, maybe helped by the economical crisis, maybe because it is time to doubt and find itself. England proposes a free commerce model in which countries like Turkey would fit. France and Germany, the countries that have put more effort historically into the EU idea, aim for a more complete union, in more aspects than the economical, a more “beautiful” union that Europe seems not to assimilate. Maybe it’s already too heterogeneous between northern Europe, southern Europe and eastern Europe.
If you are thinking that I’m avoiding a Yes or No answer you are right, I don’t know enough about economics, macro economics and history to give an answer but I wanted to show you another point of view not just adding a Muslim country or not.
Maybe we just need to make the effort of understanding, maybe it’s good to be cautious, the typical European position. Maybe Europe needs to know what she wants, or it will be like getting a musician for a music group before knowing if the group is going to play jazz or rap.
Maybe it’s not the moment, maybe it’s not the ideal partner, but the world is not ideal. Maybe admitting them is not the best, but maybe it’s better than not admitting them. Or not.
Robert Schuman, the proclaimed Father of Europe, said 60 years ago: “Europe will not be made at once, nor according to a single master plan of construction. It will be built by concrete achievements, which create de facto dependence, mutual interests and the desire for common action.”
I have to pay a pending debt with you. A few weeks ago I said that when leaving Turkey I’d talk about their entrance into Europe. I’ve was about to try and skiver it to see if you realised but finally here I am telling you something about It.
The question is; Is Turkey prepared to get into Europe? My answer is nearly. And I think that’s what it means “enter” Europe, if they were ready, they would already be members. I’ve talked with many travellers about this topic and all agree that they are very close, people that has been in Romania say that it’s a lot poorer and they are already in the union, so, being 100% ready seems not to be the key point.
The entrance of Turkey has a few faces, on one side you expand into a huge market of over 70 million people, on the other you have a competitor, and this is one of the important topics, by 2020 it’ll be the country with the largest population having more euro-representatives, this will make other countries like Germany and France to loose some power in the union.
Turkey has made enormous improvements relating to human rights, and even though it is used as excuse(Kurds and Cyprus issues) it seems this is not a point of decision to get in or not to get in.
Seems there is only one point open, religion. This is the topic that the non experts focus their discussions on. Does Europe want a Muslim country? To clarify here, the first is that it is a secular country, the second is that yes, it has a Muslim majority. But religion is lived in a “light”, moderated way same as the rest of Europe lives religion. Also religion is loosing strength from the point of view that youngsters don’t pay that much attention to it and practice it less.
What should we do with this country hungry of europeanization? The easy and comfortable solution is to say that we are different and that we can’t get together, each one in it’s own way. If we don’t understand each other, why see each other?
The difficult solution is to understand each other, looking for the common things(It’s a Mediterranean country having a lot in common with other European countries) and search for the common cultures. Yes, I say try because maybe even accepting them, even stepping forward to understanding the big differences can be to much and we can coexist making true that it’s impossible and it’s better we live apart, in this way at least we’d know for sure, we had tried.
Both options have advantages and disadvantages. Even we live in a globalize world at the end each individual, each country in this case needs to identify itself with a similar entity. If Europe rejects Turkey it will search for other “friends” and this may be the most important topic, from the first time I came to Turkey six years ago the country has improved dramatically growing at 11% every year, it’s a country that self provides food, is building highways every where and you can breath modernization, if it continues getting better at this pace it will become a power and if we are not it’s “friend” it has other pretenders. With it’s geopolitical situation it has plenty to choose from. It can be-friend Russia, which seems it is again extending it’s tentacles, not only to it’s lost ex-republics but also to new countries. It can join Iran, Iraq and Syria, with the religious bind, the bad part for Europe here is that a neighbour country may become more radical Muslim wich wouldn´t be good. As a last option it could fall under Chinese hands that tries to grow in all direction. Any of these partnerships means that Europe would not grow while it’s competitors would, and that’s one of the reasons why the European Union exists, to be competitive. Seems that the only “player” that doesn´t want to grow is Europe, meaning that incomparison it would become even smaller.
Not being someone’s friend means nearly being an enemy. Europe now has an energy dependence over Russia via the pipeline that brings gas from the middle east and central Asia. The new pipeline Nabucco that goes via Turkish ground would eliminate that dependency from Russia, well only if we are Turkish “friends“.
If Ataturk had lived longer they probably would be in Europe but as he didn’t the debate is still open. When Spain entered the EU we were much less ready than what Turkey is now. Turkey is making very big efforts to get closer to Europe, but any day they’ll get tired, each time Europe rejects them it’s a humiliation and one day they’ll accept an offer from the other side of the world.
At the same time there are people who think ‘How can anyone want to enter the European Union now with all the problems going on in it? Turkey asked to enter in 1956 and until very recently their request has not been formally accepted. Croatia, the other country with an approved request, seems to be less interested to enter every time because of the delay in the EU answer.
This may reflect that Europe is in crisis, maybe helped by the economical crisis, maybe because it is time to doubt and find itself. England proposes a free commerce model in which countries like Turkey would fit. France and Germany, the countries that have put more effort historically into the EU idea, aim for a more complete union, in more aspects than the economical, a more “beautiful” union that Europe seems not to assimilate. Maybe it’s already too heterogeneous between northern Europe, southern Europe and eastern Europe.
If you are thinking that I’m avoiding a Yes or No answer you are right, I don’t know enough about economics, macro economics and history to give an answer but I wanted to show you another point of view not just adding a Muslim country or not.
Maybe we just need to make the effort of understanding, maybe it’s good to be cautious, the typical European position. Maybe Europe needs to know what she wants, or it will be like getting a musician for a music group before knowing if the group is going to play jazz or rap.
Maybe it’s not the moment, maybe it’s not the ideal partner, but the world is not ideal. Maybe admitting them is not the best, but maybe it’s better than not admitting them. Or not.
Robert Schuman, the proclaimed Father of Europe, said 60 years ago: “Europe will not be made at once, nor according to a single master plan of construction. It will be built by concrete achievements, which create de facto dependence, mutual interests and the desire for common action.”
Fernando
Fernando

I have to pay a pending debt with you. A few weeks ago I said that when leaving Turkey I’d talk about their entrance into Europe. I’ve was about to try and skiver it to see if you realised but finally here I am telling you something about It.

The question is; Is Turkey prepared to get into Europe? My answer is nearly. And I think that’s what it means “enter” Europe, if they were ready, they would already be members. I’ve talked with many travellers about this topic and all agree that they are very close, people that has been in Romania say that it’s a lot poorer and they are already in the union, so, being 100% ready seems not to be the key point.

The entrance of Turkey has a few faces, on one side you expand into a huge market of over 70 million people, on the other you have a competitor, and this is one of the important topics, by 2020 it’ll be the country with the largest population having more euro-representatives, this will make other countries like Germany and France to loose some power in the union.

Turkey has made enormous improvements relating to human rights, and even though it is used as excuse(Kurds and Cyprus issues) it seems this is not a point of decision to get in or not to get in.

Seems there is only one point open, religion. This is the topic that the non experts focus their discussions on. Does Europe want a Muslim country? To clarify here, the first is that it is a secular country, the second is that yes, it has a Muslim majority. But religion is lived in a “light”, moderated way same as the rest of Europe lives religion. Also religion is loosing strength from the point of view that youngsters don’t pay that much attention to it and practice it less.

What should we do with this country hungry of europeanization? The easy and comfortable solution is to say that we are different and that we can’t get together, each one in it’s own way. If we don’t understand each other, why see each other?

The difficult solution is to understand each other, looking for the common things(It’s a Mediterranean country having a lot in common with other European countries) and search for the common cultures. Yes, I say try because maybe even accepting them, even stepping forward to understanding the big differences can be to much and we can coexist making true that it’s impossible and it’s better we live apart, in this way at least we’d know for sure, we had tried.

Both options have advantages and disadvantages. Even we live in a globalize world at the end each individual, each country in this case needs to identify itself with a similar entity. If Europe rejects Turkey it will search for other “friends” and this may be the most important topic, from the first time I came to Turkey six years ago the country has improved dramatically growing at 11% every year, it’s a country that self provides food, is building highways every where and you can breath modernization, if it continues getting better at this pace it will become a power and if we are not it’s “friend” it has other pretenders. With it’s geopolitical situation it has plenty to choose from.

It can be-friend Russia, which seems it is again extending it’s tentacles, not only to it’s lost ex-republics but also to new countries. It can join Iran, Iraq and Syria, with the religious bind, the bad part for Europe here is that a neighbour country may become more radical Muslim wich wouldn´t be good. As a last option it could fall under Chinese hands that tries to grow in all direction. Any of these partnerships means that Europe would not grow while it’s competitors would, and that’s one of the reasons why the European Union exists, to be competitive. Seems that the only “player” that doesn´t want to grow is Europe, meaning that incomparison it would become even smaller.

Not being someone’s friend means nearly being an enemy. Europe now has an energy dependence over Russia via the pipeline that brings gas from the middle east and central Asia. The new pipeline Nabucco that goes via Turkish ground would eliminate that dependency from Russia, well only if we are Turkish “friends“.

If Ataturk had lived longer(he had a very pro European thinking, made Turkey a secular country, changed the calendar to the same as Europe, stopped using the Arab writing, changed the dressing to European, allowed women to vote and be voted…) they probably would be in Europe but as he didn’t the debate is still open. When Spain entered the EU we were much less ready than what Turkey is now. Turkey is making very big efforts to get closer to Europe, but any day they’ll get tired, each time Europe rejects them it’s a humiliation and one day they’ll accept an offer from the other side of the world.

At the same time there are people who think ‘How can anyone want to enter the European Union now with all the problems going on in it? Turkey asked to enter in 1956 and until very recently their request has not been formally accepted. Croatia, the other country with an approved request, seems to be less interested to enter every time because of the delay in the EU answer.

This may reflect that Europe is in crisis, maybe helped by the economical crisis, maybe because it is time to doubt and find itself. England proposes a free commerce model in which countries like Turkey would fit. France and Germany, the countries that have put more effort historically into the EU idea, aim for a more complete union, in more aspects than the economical, a more “beautiful” union that Europe seems not to assimilate. Maybe it’s already too heterogeneous between northern Europe, southern Europe and eastern Europe.

If you are thinking that I’m avoiding a Yes or No answer you are right, I don’t know enough about economics, macro economics and history to give an answer but I wanted to show you another point of view not just adding a Muslim country or not.

Maybe we just need to make the effort of understanding, maybe it’s good to be cautious, the typical European position. Maybe Europe needs to know what she wants, or it will be like getting a musician for a music group before knowing if the group is going to play jazz or rap.

Maybe it’s not the moment, maybe it’s not the ideal partner, but the world is not ideal. Maybe admitting them is not the best, but maybe it’s better than not admitting them. Or not.

Robert Schuman, the proclaimed Father of Europe, said 60 years ago: “Europe will not be made at once, nor according to a single master plan of construction. It will be built by concrete achievements, which create de facto dependence, mutual interests and the desire for common action.”

Fernando

201008.25

Why the old Armenian capital is in Turkish land is something I’ll tell you once I’m in
Turkey, it’s not that I want to create mystery. It’s that I haven’t read about it yet and I

Why the old Armenian capital is in Turkey is something I’ll tell you once I’m in Turkey, it’s not that I want to create a mystery. It’s that I haven’t read about it yet and I want to read about it in Armenia.

Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey, overivew, areminan capital

It’s magical, old and captivating. I saw it with an Italian accent, I came with a couple I met on the bus from Erzurum.

Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey - Overview

The pictures speak for themselves.

Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey - Inscriptions

Old Armenian inscriptions.

Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey - half church

One of the most striking buildings, and half of a church…

Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey, river

Between 100.000 and 200.000 people lived here at its prime, rivaling in importance with cities like Bagdad, Cairo or Constantinople. Ani was the first stop on the silk road after the Caucasus. In ancient times, as now, the cities with large commerce end up being the most important ones.

Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey, georgian church, canyon

Fortunately some of the buildings are restored or are being restored. They look slightly too new or otherwise you can see others that are falling apart day by day.

Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey, ruin

Like this one.

Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey, cathedral

The interior of the cathedral

Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey, caravanseray, caravansaire, silk road, ruta seda, silk route

A caravansaries, a caravan stop. The name is a bit strange but it’s how I’ve read it in several books.

Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey, canyon

Ani is nearly surrounded by a natural moat, these are the canyons that surround it.

Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey, canyon view

It would be amazing kayaking down this river seeing Ani over the canyon but it’s quite likely you receive some shoots from the Armenian or Turk soldiers that take care of the border. It’s a closed border.

Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey, border

Until very recently the site was closed, even now a part of the enclave is closed.

Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey, armenian capital,Church

It’s been very nice being in a country that, even you don’t understand the language, you understand the alphabet. If you see a bus, you can know if it’s yours without asking someone. From now until I’m back all the places will have an alphabet that I won’t understand.

Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey, plant

Unique ambience. Melancholic maybe.

Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey, fallen ruin

It’s not clear why Ani was abandoned making it a bit more eerie. It’s one of those mysteries of history. Maybe the frequent earthquakes? Maybe the big Tamerlane’s plunder in 1239?

Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey, view

I stop in Kars, it is the best place to visit Ani from and to cross the border to Georgia. I try to buy a Muslim hat. The man in the store is very talkative, he tells me in Turk in 20 minutes how his religion is. It’s a religious objects so I couldn’t expect some proselytism . I see that he does it with good intentions so I find it nice. I think the hat I want is not suitable for non-believers. He brings out another box with simpler hats and he tells me to choose from a white or a grey one, I like the gray one. I’d prefer the blue one I’ve seen on the old guy in the coffee place, but seems I don’t have that option. The shopkeeper gives me a gift of the hat with an enormous smile in his face. I say thanks for the hat and for inviting me to belong to his religion. I go to eat another kebab.

Reading about history there are new “actors”. Still I’m not where Persians were, but in Kars there has been a heavy Russian influence, you can see in the layout of the streets much more organized than in other Turkish cities, and in old times Ani had Azeri influence, from Azetbaijan.
Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey - pow
Going by the road is a total delight, the landscape is gentle, rolling mountains covered in mild coloured green grass, farmers collecting the grass with old plows or with tractors that look like toys from the distance. The animals cross the road wherever they want and the clouds moves slow and smooth.

Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey, honey

In a shop I try honey, very well known from the area.

Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey - Cheese

And cheese, with the name if you have forgotten where have you bought it.

Ani, Kars, Turquía, Turkey, castle

Kars has an impressive castle that dominates the city. Here it is getting dark. Tomorrow I cross to Georgia.

I wait for my bus to the Georgian border, the muhaidin calls for pray once more, a dog barks to him. I have another tea in the “saloon” that is full of men. My last Turkish moments.

I leave the Asian Turkey, this Anantolia that has kept me little by little, I think it’s been a total of five weeks and now is time to leave it behind. I go to the Caucasus, my first ex- Soviet place. Gooood!

Write to you soon.

Fernando

201008.24

Another bus marathon, 22 hours. I thought on getting off in  Diyarbakir, the centre of Kurd culture in Turkey, but when I crossed it by bus I found it a tasteless places, with no men in BOBMBACHOS pants, so I continued north in another uncomfortable bus for seven hours.

Erzurum, Turquía, Turkey, Symbol, Seljuk

At 5:33 in the morning I arrived in Erzurum. It’s cold! Erzurum is 2000 meters high, the sun has just risen and my flipflopped feet transmit the cold sensation through my dorsal spine, my arms say the same. Cold still exists, I had even thought it was a fictitious feeling, and I really mean it, it was a sensation I started to doubt I’d remember.

Erzurum, Turquía, Turkey, Citadel

The Palondeken ski resort is on the hill you see in the picture, they say it has incredible powder snow. Skiing is getting popular between the people that can afford it and they are extending the place. Seems it’s the best ski resort out of the 12 ointhe country, it even has sky jumps.

Erzurum, Turquía, Turkey, Seljuk

I arrive alone, Matt, after our days in Iraq has continued with his plan, he’s gone back to Syria. I stop two days to rest out of the heat and get updated with the blog, read a little bit and replace my sunglasses, an extra reason to have stopped in a place with a ski resort I imagined that they had more to offer, as a Syrian must be happy to have my cooool white sunglasses. I’m glad they were so scratched I sometimes didn’t wear them and preferred to be hit by the sun in my eyes, so the loss is not that bad.

Erzurum, Turquía, Turkey, Cag Kebab

A Cag Kebab, typical from the region, done on wood not in those heaters we see in Europe. I remembered this kebab from the time I went though Erzurum six years back. I’d lie if I’d tell you this didn’t help me make up my mind to stop here and not in another place. The table mat is a real Kilim

Erzurum, Turquía, Turkey, Mosque

What is that thing of the 40.000 camels? Erzurum was a stop on the silk road, for you to have an idea it had 40.000 camels crossing it every year until the XIX century.

Erzurum, Turquía, Turkey, Mosque, Seljuk

Seljuk style mosque, as you see the minarets are not thin and high as we are used to seeing, they are more fortified, more mountain style. This is the special style of all Erzurum buildings.

Erzurum, Turquía, Turkey, citadel, truck

Here the Roman, Turk, Arab, Mongol, Armenian and Russian empires have passed through.

Erzurum, Turquía, Turkey, Sunset

The city has a soviet atmosphere, it’s well structured with big avenues. There are a lot of students and even though it’s supposed to be very conservative I haven’t had that feeling.

Erzurum, Turquía, Turkey,  Dur, stop

It’s the highest Turkish capital, so the cold is warranted.

Erzurum, Turquía, Turkey, Otogar

There is just one more Turkish stop, the old Armenian Capital.

Erzurum, Turquía, Turkey, donkey

It´s a very rural area.

Erzurum, Turquía, Turkey, ducks

Very… Ducks crossing the road.

To the Otogar to get another Bus. See you soon.

Fernnado

201008.20

Once we step out of the car we started attracting looks; two guys stopped walking, his friends came near by, the shop assistants came out, a car drives slowly with the driver looking through the window. I look to the other side of the road and all the men that are in the café drinking tea and smoking water pipes are starring at us. This is what I imagined from Iraq before coming, that two tourists would stand out. In Dohuk we were not rising so much interest, it´s a place very near by the border and many people come here for a day to check the place, but now we are in a tiny village, a street with some shops and cafes at the side. The man that brought us here does not continue to Choman so we need to keep hitchhiking, there are more than 40 people looking at us.

Iraq, Irak, soldier, soldado, Balak Force

The last lift to Choman was done by a guy that was a soldier, he showed us the ID to make us understand. He drives in a crazy way.

Iraq, Irak, kudistan, food, comida, familia, family

Finally Choman! As soon as we arrive our Dutch-Kurdish family offers us a place to sleep, a shower and… AN AMAZING DINNER… Mmmmmmm. Dolma, the dish of this part of the world I like the most. I intend to learn how to cook it once I´m back in Spain. I call them our Kurdish family but in fact we know them for three minutes from the day before and they´ve open their house to us completely.

Iraq, Irak, kudistan, Choman

They take us to see the villages around Choman, here there´s a forest with all kinds of trees, including the Mullberry of leaves which are eaten by the silk worm. With the heat it seams impossible that any vegetation survives.

Iraq, Irak, kudistan, iran border, fromtera iraní

We get close to the Iranian border, in Haj Omran, the last kilometres we see some little tents in blue plastic, we are told that they are to brew alcohol to send it to Iran. WAIT! In Iran it´s forbidden to drink, How are they going to send alcohol there?… I don´t understand it.

Iraq, Irak, kudistan, donkey, burro, man, hombre, vestido, dress, kurd

Man with traditional kurd dress. I love his belt, it´s just a few metres long and a piece of clothing that he twists around his waist. They all smile, they all reply back with a smile. People are surprisingly calm and nice. There are very few people that talk English and that makes communication difficult but they do as much as possible to help.

Iraq, Irak, kudistan, iran, border, frontera, irán

I kind of think on crossing to Iran from here but I want to go by Georgia and Armenia before getting into Iran and also I´d have to change all the planning and visa for Turkmenistan and it´s a pain.

Iraq, Irak, kudistan, iran, irán, cookies, galletas

We try some Iranian cookies that are sold in a shop near the border. They are delicious enough to make them a reason to visit the country.

Iraq, Irak, kudistan, musico, music

We stop on the way to see how this man plays a typical instrument, he lives in this tent in a very humble way.

Iraq, Irak, kudistan, traditional music, musica tradicional

He seems to be in pain.

Waiting for dinner we go out to the terrace, there are ton´s of relatives to say hello to each other and to tell their stories, I think I shake hands with 40 people. The neighbours are also in their terrace, two young girls dressed very colourfully, one had some English, she said “hello”, luckily we had Avin(one of the daughters), that was the translator. After some questions about our trip they ask a question which is quite normal in this side of the world. “What religion do you follow?”, The first time I was asked “Are you chirstian?” was in Sarajevo by an ex-heroin addict from Montenegro, it that moment the question surprised me, now I´m used to hear this question.

Without agreement Matt and I replied; “None, I´m atheist” Arvin translated the answer. The neighbours were astonished, mouth half open, dilatated pupils and facial paralysis. They had the same face I´d have if I´d meet the Saddam Hussein, an alien, the Yetti or Jesus Christ himself. Astonished, they didn´t breath, they were pale. Never in their lives was a non believer in front of them, moreover, they´d never thought that there would be someone like that. They had met people from other religions, mainly Christians, someone not being muslim was not a problem for them but someone that had no religion, that didn´t have a god…

To help them recover their breath I told them that I was raised a catholic, I was baptised, made my first communion dressed as a little sailor(dind´t tell them this bit) and that I even got confirmation, but religion and I took different ways so we got distance in between. Matt said that in Australia it´s normal not been raised under a religion and that simply he does not believe in it. On of them the most talkative, had recovered her colour and asked “and… how do you do it?” jajajjaja, I can imagine what´s going through her head, “the may be kind of devils?” I think that she does not know how we guide ourselves in life.

Curiously Matt and I have similar Ideas. I start saying that you don´t need a religion to be a good person, that I was educated in a way that I know how to differenciate between good and bad. This sounds obvious but, normally, it calms people that if you don´t have a religion you are a lost soul.

The conversation continued for a while, we had a translator and we wanted them to understand our point of view. I think we made them understand that we were good people and that the same as they do good things to go to heaven, we think doing good things in life will attract good thing and being honest with yourself you´ll probably let you have a happy life. Who makes me start explaining this things in the blog? I just can hope that it does not sound too simplified.

Iraq, Irak, kudistan, traditional dressing, trajes, women, mujer

After having some more Kurdish delights for dinner made by the mother some women came to talk with us, some relatives and friends from our host family.

Iraq, Irak, kudistan, mujeres, familia, women, family

We were asked about our country while they tell us things about their lives. We talk about religion, travelling and what we like from here. You can see the video “Made in Iraq II”. They had heard about our no-religion and they were curious to see us and ask.

It´s warm, we all sleep in the terrace, with the breeze the heat is supported better. Next day they take us to a village in the area and we then head to Arbil.

Soon from the capital city.

Fernando

201008.20

We are going to Erbil. It’s warm, warmer than other days!!! The taxis are modern but they hardly ever put the air conditioning on. I guess that if they don’t use it at 48 degrees then they don’t use it, and its because they probably could save money. The windows are down, normally even if it´s super warm the air refreshes you, it hit’s the sweat and you feel a bit fresh. Here that doens’t happened, the air hits my cheeks; it burns them, it hit’s on my arm; my skin get’s dry, it hit’s on my knee; it roasts it. My lower back is free between my pants and my t-shirt, instead of feeling cold I feel an intense, dry heat. The feeling is similar to being inside a hairdryer. I imagine naked rolling in snow.

I think on the story of the family that so kindly has host us. When Saddam Hussein started his anti-Kurd policy there were international organizations working in Iraq. Apparently some of then didn’t have the right papers to work there legally even they were helping. Saddam said that he’d kill the people that was illegal in the country and the people that collaborated with them. This was the case of the father of the family, he got his family and his things and went to Turkey, Greece and finished in Holland.
They have a house in Choman, the father seem happy to visit his home, they come here every two years for a month with all the family. Now they face the challenge of immigrants with his sons. His sons have been raised in a western country, the older daughters talk good Kurdish, they remember their childhood here and they feel the place as theirs, however they have grow in Holland practically all their lifes, including their teenager years. For the younger son this is probably more strange “something from his parents”. The cultural difference is big, the way of life, of dress, the food, the young way of entertainment… After this years out of Iraq they are not totally seen as Iraqis as they don’t live there, and in the west they are immigrants, they are in between two worlds, on one side they have more cultural heritage because they know two ways of life, on the other they don’t have a clear home.

I think about the story of the family that so kindly  hosted us. When Saddam Hussein started his anti-Kurd policy there were international organizations working in Iraq. Apparently some of then didn’t have the right papers to work there legally even though they were helping. Saddam said that he’d kill the people that were illegal in the country and the people that collaborated with them. This was the case of the father of the family, he got his family and his things and went to Turkey, Greece and finished in Holland.

They have a house in Choman, the father seemed happy to visit his home, they come here every two years for a month with all the family. Now they face the challenge of immigration with his sons. His sons have been raised in a western country, the older daughters talk good Kurdish, they remember their childhood here and they feel the place as theirs, however they have lived in Holland practically all their lifes, including their teenager years. For the younger son this is probably more strange “something from his parents”. The cultural difference is big, the way of life, of dress, the food, the young way of entertainment… After these years out of Iraq they are not totally seen as Iraqis as they don’t live there, and in the west they are immigrants, they are in between two worlds, on one side they have more cultural heritage because they know two ways of life, on the other they don’t have a clear home.

Iraq, Irak, kudistan, Arbil, capital

Arbil is one of the warmest places in Iraq. We are told it’s 50 degrees but we don’t find a thermometer to ratify it. I’ve been hours with my hands wet in sweat, my fingers are wrinkled and the snots have become dry and hard hurting my nose. If I take a pen from my bag it burns, same with the coins or whatever you touch, all burn.

Iraq, Irak, kudistan, man, hombre, vestido, dress

A man in Kurdish dressing. Love it! When the trip finishes I’ll have to do a list of all the things I say I love.

Iraq, Irak, money, dinero, billete, note, bank of Iraq (800x451)

No coins, all notes.

I finish “The Alchemist”, the book that brought me here. I like it(another “love it” for the list), the idea of omens, of understanding the language of the world and of talking with the wind. If I ever meet the French girl that recommended it I’ll say thank you.

Iraq, Irak, kudistan, Meca

Walking by Erbil’s souk I see this drawing of Mecca. You can also buy a replica of the Kaaba, the black square stone which is the holiest place for Islam and which towards all of them pray.

Iraq, Irak, kudistan, bus

We try to get a bus to come back to the border, but there are none. We get another shared taxi. We just see buses to Mosul, but every time “Mosul” comes up there’s someone coming to inform us not to go, like that man that took his hand through his neck making the noise of sliting it. To be sure we have the right information we call Berashi as a phone-translator, this must be the tenth time we call him.

Iraq, Irak, kudistan, arbil, capital, man, dress, vestido

Arbil is another place that claims to have been inhabited for a long time, the citadel. It’s UNESCO heritage.

Iraq, Irak, kudistan, baghdad, bagdad

With Mosul, Baghdad and Kirkuk are the most dangerous cities of Iraq, what probably means in the world.

In the taxi I think once more about these last days, the hospitality that they have after having had such a hard life. The country worth going, the best: the people. Definitely summer is not the time to come and visit, too dry and too war, the landscapes has lost the green they have in spring and sometimes you are more worried of not dying of dehydration than of enjoying what you are doing but it’s been very interesting to learn about the Kurds and their history, as they say “the other Iraq”.

I hope the Iraqi Kurdistan keeps being a peaceful and as nice a place as it’s now, they are doing fine, they have had a few years of stability. They don’t have it easy, today USA troops have left the country while there are cities in which people die constantly and they are surrounded by countries where the Kurds are not that free. In February 2008, for example, Turkey bombed the north of the Iraqi Kurdistan claiming that PKK was using it as a base for terrorist actions in Turkey.

The PKK is a political party/terrorist group pro Kurdish. They mainly act in Turkey where there’s a population of 14 million Kurds that until the year 2002 had forbidden the talk of Kurd in schools or having TVs and Radios in Kurd language. Turkey has loosened its laws in this aspect to get closer to Europe.

I come back to Turkey, to the Kurd zone, knowing more of its culture. I hope it’s not that warm.

See you soon.

Fernando

201008.19

Here you have the second part of the Iraq video. As in the other one, there is some  unconnected content plus I’ve broken one of my style rules, that is not to cut the same take. I forget myself because of the heat I wasn’t able to do more, and being Iraq, sounds so peculiar that the mistakes are forgotten.

http://www.vimeo.com/14249430

Matt, thanks for being my camera man!!! I remind you his web, he’s got some more videos about Iraq: leavemehere.wordpress.com

In the next post i’ll tell you a bit more about what was that q&a session with all those women.

I love the label “Made in Iraq” there’s probably not many products with that label, there are fruit and vegetables, but nothing like that “family sauce” that had a non very definable taste.

Before finishing the post I’d like to tell you a bit more of what this thing of the Kurdish Iraq is.The Kurdish Iraq is the northern region of Iraq. Since 1970 it has a great deal of independence as the “Autonomous State of Kurdistan” was created.

Since then it has self managed having as a capital the city of Erbil. Saddam Hussein made all possible moves under his hand to wipe out the Kurds until 1991 when the governments of US and England took action, declared the area as a non fly zone(to avoid attacks) and gave more independence to the Kurdish Iraq having a totally independent government from Baghdad. It really works as a different state with it’s own flag and national anthem.

Politically it’s been able to keep peace having two different political parties.

If you want to know more or see a map, just get into this link from Wikipedia.

Hope you’ve find it interesting.

Fernando

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Categorías: Uncategorized | Etiquetas: , , , ,

Silk Road 9


mi ruta de la seda » 2010 » September

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2010

09.30

Paddling has always taken me to marvellous and remote places. This time it’s a lost corner of Iran that does not appear in travel books. I’ve come here because a few years ago I saw some pictures of Iranian rivers and since then those images had got stuck into my mind, with the absolute intention of coming one day, so here I am, in the Armand river. may be the best white-water river in Iran.
Even it’s an ideal river, it’s so remote that no many kayakers come, it’s a river where rafting is done but that kayak is not very popular yet, in fact in all the country there are less than ten white-water kayaks so some of the rapids have not been kayak before by anyone. Yes, that’s it a first descent, one of the things that a kayaker can wish more, being the first person running a rapid.
In the countries that there are more kayakers, the first descent are simply or are so difficult that nobody has dare running them, or so lost that nobody has found then. For example, this spring some kayakers in Spain has done the first descent of the Ausin river Pyrenees, which is quite rare as there are not many rivers to discover.
In our case it’s simply such a far away place from the big cities and as there is not many people kayaking that nobody has kayak it all leaving it to Heydar and mi.
For not boring the non kayakers, the video is more a video about the river, it’s landscape and people. I hope you like it. don’t expect difficult rapids it’s just grade IV. Here you have the video, tomorrow I’ll publish some pictures.
REVISAR NOMBRE HEIDAR
The music is Iranian, this time I haven’t used traditional music and I’ve used rap music. For a long time I wanted to get some Persian rap and for the video it’s great. The first song is from Hichkas, one of the best rappers. The second, when Heydar is going by the long rapid in high speed, is from Cheshma roo mam(at least that’s what the name of the song says).
If  anyone wants, the river can be done in raft, and in spring with more water it has to be great for it. The company Iran Rafting prepare trips, they are the people that has provided my the kayak and guiding and are real professionals.
Uploading this video has been a total pain, I’ve gone internet café by internet café(here called CafeNet) to try and upload the 170 megabits. Between the blocked pages and the speed it constantly cut and after three days trying you finally have it available in YouTube.
More tomorrow.
Fernando
Remar siempre me ha llevado a sitios maravillosos y remotos. Esta vez me ha llevado a una esquina perdida de Irán que no aparece en ninguna de las guías de viajes que he visto. La razón se llama Armand, quizá el mejor río iraní para las aguas bravas.
De momento os pongo el video, mañana os pongo alguna foto. Más que un video de piragüismo es un video sobre el río y su paisaje, aunque también remamos un poco, espero que os guste.
La música es rap persa que conseguí de Heidar y su hermano, hay una escena musical muy interesante y reivindicativa.La primera canción es de Hichkas, uno de los mejores raperos, con Namayande, Quf y Eshragh. La segunda, cuando sale Heidar bajando un rápido largo atriple velocidad es

Paddling has always taken me to marvellous and remote places. This time it’s a lost corner of Iran that does not appear in travel books. I’ve come here because a few years ago I saw some pictures of Iranian rivers and since then those images had got stuck into my mind, with the absolute intention of coming one day, so here I am, in the Armand river. may be the best white-water river in Iran.

Even it’s an ideal river, it’s so remote that no many kayakers come, it’s a river where rafting is done but that kayak is not very popular yet, in fact in all the country there are less than ten white-water kayaks so some of the rapids have not been kayak before by anyone. Yes, that’s it a first descent, one of the things that a kayaker can wish more, being the first person running a rapid.

In the countries that there are more kayakers, the first descent are simply or are so difficult that nobody has dare running them, or so lost that nobody has found then. For example, this spring some kayakers in Spain has done the first descent of the Aurín river Pyrenees, which is quite rare as there are not many rivers to discover.

In our case it’s simply such a far away place from the big cities and as there is not many people kayaking that nobody has kayak it all leaving it to Heidar and mi.

For not boring the non kayakers, the video is more a video about the river, it’s landscape and people. I hope you like it. don’t expect difficult rapids it’s just grade IV. Here you have the video, tomorrow I’ll publish some pictures.

http://www.vimeo.com/15449365

The music is Iranian, this time I haven’t used traditional music and I’ve used rap music. For a long time I wanted to get some Persian rap and for the video it’s great. The first song is from Hichkas, one of the best rappers. The second, when Heidar is going by the long rapid in high speed, is from Cheshma roo mam(at least that’s what the name of the song says).

If  anyone wants, the river can be done in raft, and in spring with more water it has to be great for it. The company Iran Rafting prepare trips, they are the people that has provided my the kayak and guiding and are real professionals.

Uploading this video has been a total pain, I’ve gone internet café by internet café(here called CafeNet) to try and upload the 170 megabits. Between the blocked pages and the speed it constantly cut and after three days trying you finally have it available in YouTube.

More tomorrow.

Fernando

//

2010

09.25

P9021763 Iran

I won’t get the next bus that has this banner.

Sleeping nine hours in a night bus may not be good. I was frozen and got a cold because the artic cold of the bus was like a NASA designed test to check the human resistance to cold. I have a running nose and my thigh is sore, but I’m in Esfahan. And it’s ramadam.

It’s not a surprise, I knew that my three weeks in Iran, were on ramadam, but due to days It was unavoidable, moreover, I had a curiosity to live a ramadam in a Muslim country. During half a second I thought on following it, during the other half of the second I insulted me. It’s summer and it’s way too warm for not drinking water.
Esfaham is a lot more touristic than what Jolfa and Tabriz were so people look at me lessr, or at least, with less surprise face. Even thought they also stop to say hello, ask me if I need something or welcome to their country. Eight people stop me during they day because I don’t count the ones that just say “Hi”.

It’s not a surprise, I knew that my three weeks in Iran, were on ramadam, but due to days It was unavoidable, moreover, I was curious to live during ramadam in a Muslim country. During half a second I thought on following it, during the other half of the second it insulted me. It’s summer and it’s way too warm for not drinking water.

Esfaham is a lot more touristic than Jolfa and Tabriz were so people look at me less, or at least, with a less of a surprised face. Even thought they also stop to say hello, ask me if I need something or welcome to their country. Eight people stop me during they day and I don’t count the ones that just say “Hi”.

P8301613  Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan

I go around the Imam square where you can see more of the buildings that make the city a masterpiece of Iran, what was the jewel of ancient Persia.

P8301578  Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan

In 1047 the Seljuk made Isfahan the capital. If you remember about Erzurum, the Seljuk were the ones that constructed most of the monuments there. The empire covered from the west of current turkey to the very west of china. so you can see how big their empire was. After the Seljuk the Monguls completed decorating Esfahan as it is today.

P8301585  Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan

Inside Imam mosque.

P8301599  Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan

The palace of Chehel Sotu. Byron said; “Isfahan among those rarer places, like Athens or Rome, which are the common refreshment for humanity”

P8301566  Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan

In the Imam square you can rent a bicycle for free to see the city, even with the way Iranians drive, riding a bicycle is an extreme sport.

P8301564  Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan

When they pray they put these stones between the ground and the forehead.

P8301559  Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan

In the Imam mosque, the most wonderful of Isfahan. The are several days in ramadam where the congretagion go to pray all night. The patio is usually empty but it’s full of rugs and sun stoppers, the picture of a perfect mosque get’s spoilt.

P8301617  Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan

Can’t be clearer. “Down with USA”.

P8261180  Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan

From top of the palace.

A guy sitting on the grass says hello. He’s got an unusual face and awakes my curiosity, I sit next to him. He’s got a Spanish book in his crossed legs and we talk in Spanish a little bit., he’s been studying for a short time and he manages well. We change into English to talk more comfortably. He turns out to be Afghan. In Irán there are a lot of them, they are the cheap labourers and the ones that do the more mundane jobs, the ones that the Iranians don’t want, they mainly work in construction.

He tells me that it doesn’t matter if you are an engineer, they don’t let you work in anything else. He tried to work as tailor but got caught and he got a fine, I guess he was whiped but I don’t ask. He makes a synopsis of what happens in his country, he’s 21 and knows the story of his country perfectly, he talks with a matureness and clearness that impresses. He says that his people are tired, that nobody was able to invade them before but now they are tired of fighting, that if they wouldn’t be tired the story would be different and they would not be invaded. He says it’s the first time that the etnics are divided. He’d like to go back to his country but there is no job, there is war.

We go back to the language thing as it’s less tragic. As it’s difficult for him to find books in Spanish I give him my e-mail, I tell him to send me his mail and I’ll send him some books. I haven’t received it yet, but I’d love to send them to him.

P8251133  Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan

The buildings are great, seems to be taken from Aladdin, but the light was horrible so I’ve edited the colour so the pictures look a bit more like what it was.

P8251113 Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan

Coram verse that was hanging from the fences of many government buildings.

I’m hungry but everything is closed, so I go to a hotel. The restaurants in hotels, bus stations, airports and others are open. Travellers are excused from ramadam as well as kids, sick people and pregnant women. On the way a man that looks like Javier Bardem says hello.

- Hello, Where are you from?

- Spain.

Rest of string of common questions. What are you doing here? Where have you been?…

- Where are you going?

- [In low volume voice] I’m looking for a place to eat. [Nobody understands but I find it funny talking like this.]

- You can talk in a normal voice, In Iran it’s no problem. You are a foreigner, you are travelling and you can eat. If you want I can take you to a place were you can buy food and the you come to my workshop and eat there and relax.

-….OK!

- It is nearby, it’s a typical food, aubergine paste with curry.

- Sounds good [I thought curry was only indian]

- The bazaar is quiet now being ramadam. My job is to restore an old nomad rugs. My father restores furniture and my mother paints. I’m told I look like Javier Bardem.

- Yes I had already realized [wow, he knows!]

- And like a French comedian that is already dead.

- I’m not very into French comedians, sorry, but they are normally kind of a bit tasteless…

We continue like that for a while until we buy the food in an open place in a main street, they only serve food to take away. He takes me to the workshop, brings out a spoon from somewhere that I use to eat not looking too much into it. He goes to do something and lets me there between the rugs. I make a video as the situation is peculiar.

The curry paste is very good but a bit heavy, takes me a while to eat it. When I finish he takes me for a tour around the Bazar-e Bozorg that is over a mile long.

P8251122  Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan

He shows me this man that paints the fabrics with a printing technique, after painting them he washes them in the river so the colour is permanent. He’s got a certificate indicating that his traditional way to do it is cultural world heritage.

P8251121  Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan

We stop in a workshop where different herbs and other things are grinded for tints.

P8251123  Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan

This pink colour is achieved boiling pomegranate powder in milk.

After a while we say goodbye, I tell him thanks for helping me eating something good and I continue my way. I go a mosque that is closed because it’s ramadam and the schedules change in a way that there is no way to know. I chat with a guy that sells rugs. He’s nice, we talk about sex, women, Spain, Islam and he invites me for a tea. I tell him that there is no absolute way he’s going to sell me a rug and he tells me that it doesn’t matter.

It’s hot outside and in the shop it’s cooler. Two other Spaniards are inside talking with the other seller that has very good Spanish. We have the tea, the seller teases us as much as he wants, he’s got a girlfriend in Barcelona and he doesn’t stop joking. He tells us that Esfahan people have the fame of being mean and that it’s said that they don’t buy eggs because you through away the shell(and they don’t like throwing things away). I think he finds it funnier than us, maybe because we are all from Spain and we understabnd the stingy thing.

I promises to buy a carpet from him if he’s got one with a Pokemon, he laughs and offers me a nomad one.

Two hours later I go with the Spanish guys to see the bridges of Esfahan.

P8251153  Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan

Iranians are the picnic kings. Give them two square meters of grass and they’ll bring out the mat, some food an the teapot. This women invite us to have something but we had to wait a few minutes for the sunset, we are in ramadam.

P8251146  Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan

From the distance this looks quite like south east Asia.

P8251154  Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan

Getting dark.

P8251155  Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan

It looks perfect from the distance, doesn’t it?

Esfahan was known for the teahouses in the river and in the bridges, it was a place to meet people and to relax. Many have closed now, it doesn’t seem to be a very proper place, young people can look to each other and smoke a water pipe. There are less and less and as it’s ramadam they are closed until the night. I miss some of Isfahan.

On the bus coming back to the hostel I talk with an Iranian man that lives in Scotland. He’s been living there a few years. He studied there and got married to a Scottish woman, they lived in Iran for a few years but they came back to Inverness. He thinks his sons will have more opportunities in Europe. I ask him I he practices ramadam. He tells me that it’s stupid, that he of course doesn’t do it, that not eating and drinking for 15 hours in summer doesn’t make sense.

Apparently after ramadam there are a lot of liver and kidney illnesses coming up and that its  not drinking under 40 degrees has no medical logic. He tells me that many people do not do it(which I had already realized) that people are bored of politics saying one thing making no sense and doing another. It’s the bad thing of joining religion and politics, when politics go wrong, religions suffer. He pays my bus and we say goodbye.

The day finished, I met so many people that I didn’t even see half of what I wanted so I had to come back to do the same route the next day.

Next day when it was mearing lunch time I bought some bread in another bakery with an irresistible smell. Even tourists can eat, it’s not very nice to eat in front of people that are fasting so I hid in an alley to eat. The can and I eat the bread on the sly.

Later on, I met Heydar, my new Iranian kayak buddy. We had dinner and I slept in his house as next day we were going to the river.  Yuuuupiiiiii!

P8301636  Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan

I spend the last day of Isfahan with Heydar’s family. A total pleasure being with such a charming family.

The next post will be a video about the Armand river.

Fernando

2010

09.21

Radical Islamists and dangerous killer terrorists. We travel with our prejudices. And the Iranians one as “the badies” is one of them. But Iranians are famous for something else, the one they have had for centuries, of being the most hospitable people ever on the earth s’surface. Because of their nomad past, part due to their merchant past, or for being cosmopolitan before New York existed. Iran is a country that during generations they’ve taken foreigners as a treasure brought from Allah.

Even last few years, maybe 20, or even lees, 10 years, have not changed this rooted tradition or changed the soul of Iranians in a sudden way. The outside policies of the government, doesn’t necessary have to match with the psyche of the normal people. I hope to find kind people, honest, generous, and over all, hospitable. I want to talk with the people to see if my image of Iran coincides with  the truth.

After crossing the border, with nothing special to highlight, I take a taxi to Jolfa. It costs me 10 dollars, a bit expensive, but I want to stop on the way to see something so its worth it for me. The Iranian phone company wishes me “A memorable stay”. I’m in the Aras river valley and I like the landscape.

P8220830 Iran, Aras

The pictures doesn’t show the truth of the landscape.

The taxi driver tells me his name, it sounds like “Cerda”(Spanish for female pig), it’s easy to remember, I repeat his name often, I find it funny. He likes takewando and he talks really good English, he’s got a Peugeot similar to the 407, he’s paid 1000 dollars for it, I’d wish he had only had 500, because he takes me at 140 kilometres per hour in the bends and I’m not very comfortable with it. To complete my sickness Cerda asks me about what music I want to listen to, Iranian or European. I tell Cerda that he should play what he prefers. He tells me he likes European and after hitting “play” horrible electronic music that would have been prohibited in the “bakalo route“(early 90’s drug oriented route of discos with repetitive music) for being too repetitive.

P8220840 Iran, Aras

We stop in a village with adobe houses, on the ground you can find ceramic pieces. My ears and stomach rests.

P8220846 Iran, Aras

In case any time you have wondered how they know where Mecca is when they are not in their places, here is the answer.

I meet three Turkish in the hotel and we go for dinner together. As it’s early we go for a walk around the little village. An army pick up stops next to us, we continue with our conversation and our jokes. The guy in the right seat, which is the man with a higher rank talks to us, I understand no word, but the Turks get to talk with him. Seems that the guy wants to know if we are illegal, it has all the logic in the world, I must be the only blond person in the world, I have a blue backpack and a camera hanging from my shoulder, the ideal way to be unnoticed if you cross the border.

We are told to go to the pick-up. He goes to the headquarters. They ask for our passport that is in the hotel, I realize immediately it’s the first time in all my trip I’ve left the passport in a hotel. They talk with my new Turkish friends for a good while. The guy that drove the pick-up laughs a lot when the colonel, or whatever he is, is not looking. He realizes how absurd the situation is. The colonel get’s in the headquarters and we wait outside talking with the rest of the soldiers, they are doing compulsory army time and they are bored as hell so to talk with a foreigner is the best thing they’ve done in weeks.

A border policeman sees us thought the gate door. He stops to talk with the idiot general. He goes to get our passports and takes us out of there, he excuses us and takes us to the restaurant we wanted to go to. All the of this has taken over an hour, it has not given me any nervousness as I was seeing it so absolutely absurd that I knew it was a matter of time, one of the Turks says he’s suffered a bit, he’s a judies and Ahmadineyad(believe it or not I’ve spelled it properly at the first time) doesn’t like them too much.

The chicken kebab taste is good and my idea of Iranians still has not changed.

P8230853 Iran, Aras, caravanserai

I stop in the Khajanazar caravanseray, here there’s a view from the outside with the Aras river mountains in the sides. I try to see some wild goats, but I see none all the way. The next canyon is more red than the Colorado canyon.

P8230848 Iran, Aras, caravanserai

Inside you can see the different compartments that used to be rented to the travellers and the holes where the horses or camels were held.

P8230908 Iran, Aras, Stephanous

Before continuing I come back to the Aras river valley. I stop in the 10th century St Stephanous church, it became part of UNESCO in 2008. In Iran there’s quite a community of Armenian Christians and there is a cathedral in Tehran.

P8230911 Iran, Aras, Stephanous

Plant with kind of meaty fruits, I found it curious.

I get a shared taxi in the direction of Tabriz, as there’s a seat left we go around the center a few times to see if we find another passenger to leave. The driver shouts “Tabriz, Tabriz” from the window. I, to his total surprise, help him shouting “Tabriz, Tabriz”. Neither of us is lucky for a while.

Tabriz has given me an instant rejection, another middle east city, that noise, that chaotic traffic that doesn’t let you cross the roads, the monotonous colour of the construction, so many people… Georgia and Armenia were more organized, cleaner. I need to adapt again to this, but bit by bit. I don’t feel like staying here, and decide to stay here to see the two things I want to see of the city and go to a small village to sleep. I leave my backpack in the tourist information office and go to the Kabud mosque.

In the street three different people stop me to say hello and welcome me to their country. One of them tells me that his government doesn’t let them have the freedom that if we have in my country.

I’m surprised, girls have the scarf, all, it’s compulsory by law, but they have it more in the back than normal. You can see they have a head,  some even have their hair loose on the back and it shows out under the the scarf. In Syria and Jordan you don’t see this.

 

 

P8230950 Iran, north, norte, Tabriz

I go to see the Kabud(blue) mosque, an earthquake destroyed the work of 25 years that it took to decorate this in an intricate type with blue tiles. At the exit a young says hello. He talks fantastic English, he tells me that tomorrow he’s nothing to do, that we can meet and he’ll show me the city. It’s summer, he’s bored and in that way he practices English. Unfortunately this time I can’t change my plans I have to meet people in Esfahan to go paddling.

P8230932 Iran, north, norte, Tabriz

I see the Azeri museum, it has not much but in the ground floor there are some modern bronze statues, somehow tragic but cool.

P8230957 Iran, north, norte, Tabriz

I go to the bakery, the smell of bread has been in the air for 100 meters. I try to buy bread done here, but they don’t let me. The man gives it to me, also some sweets. He asks me to send him the picture so I’m going to do it as soon as I finish the post or I’ll forget it.

P8230994 Iran, north, norte, Tabriz

Tabriz bazaar has come to be part of UNESCO this last year, so I go around.

P8230986 Iran, north, norte, Tabriz

It’s quite an old one and very well preserved. It’s lunch time and there’s not many people.

P8241059 Iran, Kandovan

I go to Kandovan, a place similar to Cappadocia. By the time I left Tabriz I was adjusted to it, but continue with the plan of sleeping in a village anyway

P8241028 Iran, Kandovan

Some chimeis are still used as houses.

P8241088 Iran, Kandovan

This is my room of the day. The carpet and that’s it. I’m going to sleep on a Persian carpet!

I eat in a restaurant with a half Iranian, Azeri family but that they live in Tbilisi, I didn’t have it very clear. The father is Iranian, but he tells me he can’t leave here (because he doesn’t like it). I talk with them for two hours, the older girl has good English, she tells me that she doesn’t like wearing the scarf, the mother is resigned, but doesn’t like it too much. They ask me tons of things and they invite me for dinner.

P8241035 Iran, Kandovan

In Kandovan they have a basic life.

P8241074 Iran, Kandovan

Seems people don’t like tourists too much here, I think they are bored of people coming to take pictures of them. I’m as discreet as I can and I leave early. When I was already leaving this man offered to get into his house.

P8241084 Iran, Kandovan

Some spices.

P8241087 Iran, Kandovan

Donkeys and non-black chadors.

P8241110 Iran, sunset road

With this I go to the centre of the country, to Esfahan, the city that promises being the most beautiful of Iran. The city of the sunset colours and I get ready to sleep. It’s been a long day.

See you soon.

Fernando

2010

09.18

I just have three days to cross the country, I want to spend three weeks in Iran and my Iranian visa gives me 24 days, doing a proper visit to Armenia will have to be done some other time. I’ve done a simplified list of what I want to see: Yerevan, Ararat mountain and one of the monasteries on a mountain cliff.

I start in Yerevan, seems that I go from capital to capital. It’s not bad, but not too interesting, could be a good place to live for a while but not to visit, I’m not very excited.

P8200729 Armenia - Yerevan

It’s flag. Here the buildings are done in grand style with rows of columns and huge arches.

P8200738 Armenia - Yerevan

I buy from a man with a lot of golden teeth the coolest ice-cream, I don’t feel like eating it at all but had to try it and take a picture with it, in the back a Lada car.

P8210750 Armenia - Yerevan

A bible in a hotel is something that doesn’t surprise anyone, but in a hostel a bible per bed is something that everybody in the hostel was surprised about. It’s one of the most Christian countries in the world, there are lots of churches and crosses everywhere, the drivers cross themselves every minute, Christianity came in the year 40 and stayed.

P8200748 Armenia - Yerevan

Different from the Georgia, and nearly as alien, this alphabet was invented by Mesrop Mashtots in 405 AD. I’m in the market, smells fruit and bread.

P8210759 Armenia - Yerevan

Soviet memories, some yearn for it, during two days in Yerevan I’ve felt how this missing feeling is still alive. Mendeleev, the Russian president, has come for a visit and the city has taken to it. Never in any place have I seen so many police in the street, every 30 meters there was a police car making sure all was in order, shouting over the speakers for parked cars to move. The places for the visit were surrounded by police and hundreds of Russian flags decorated the city.

P8210751 Armenia - Yerevan

The English poet Byron said: “There is no other land in the world so full of wonders as the land of Armenians”. He obviously said that before this street was built, an attempt at doing a luxurious fifth avenue with Armani shop included. The flats aren’t less than a million Euro. It could be a Gotham recreation, Batman’s city. In a country full of needs having destroy a neighbourhood of old houses to build houses for Armenian emigrants that come here a week a year doesn’t makes sense to me.

P8220786 Armenia - Yerevan

I have a collection of signals of “High voltage. Dead danger”.

As tomorrow I cross to Iran and there alcohol is prohibited, I go for a beer with Ferran, the Spanish guy I met in Tbilisi the other day, I’ve met him here again.

Next day I wake up early, before leaving I want to get money out of the cash machine. In Iran foreign credit cards dont work, so I need to have enough money. I already have, but want some extra 400 euros just in case. I get dizzy, I try to get money out of the ATMs and it’s like it does not recognize my credit cards. My backpack is heavy, it was supposed to be easy, getting money on the way to the bus, I had taken money with no problems the day I arrived.

I look for a place they call my bank, they say the cards are supposed to be fine but they have no record of me having put it in an ATM. Maybe they be de-magnet? That’s bad! Finally, with no faith, I try to get money out of another ATM and it works. I get my money, change it to dollars and go to search for the bus. It’s late, I don’t think now I’ll have time to arrive in Iran, I’m hungry, I’m sweaty and kind of in a bad mood.

I wait to see if the taxi fills up, to kill time I play Backgammon in the cell phone, I loose three games 5-0, diabolic machine, so much technology for nothing, it could realize I’m a bit down and let me win.

P8210760 Armenia - Yerevan

I ask the taxi driver to stop for a moment, I want to enjoy the view. We go near where the oldest shoe has been found a few months ago, In case you didn’t heard about it here you have a link. These are lands where at the time had some of the most advanced civilizations and part of the progress and invention have continued to our times.

P8210765 Armenia - Yerevan

Finally I see the Ararat mountain at 5165 meters, a symbol of Armenia. It’s said that Noah’s arch got suck here after the flood, Genesis says it. In clear days you can see it form Yerevan but I had to wait to go south to see it. I was dying to see it.

Werner, a Belgian guy I met in Sarajevo told me that the view was better from Armenia than from Turkey, I like this volcanic panorama. It’s a bit strange that such a sacred symbol for Armenias is in the country next to it, moreover because the border is closed, but history is like this, seems that Stalin divided Armenia in a few pieces and Armenia lost quite a lot of it’s former territory with Ararat mountain becoming Turkish. Ani the old Armenian capital is in turkey as well but this was lost nearly 10 centuries ago.

It’s a country with a complicated situation, Turkey doesn’t want to open the border on the west and in the east, the border with Azerbaijan is also closed. The independence of Nagorno Karabah caused a bloody war. If we change the names of the leaders and ethnics, history is repeated from what I found in the Balkans.

P8210782 Armenia - Yerevan

My taxi companion, kind of cocky, they were offering vodka to the driver on the left.

P8210781 Armenia - Yerevan

A drink they have, It’s like Bitter Kas, but it’s not bitter, it’s very sweet and the color is different, conclusion, it has nothing to do with Bitter Kas.

P8220793 Armenia - Yerevan

Fence on the border.

P8220797 Armenia - Yerevan

I spend the last day at a mountain pass in the pass way of the Marshrutka, with my backpack as a seat. When I arrive I take a self-portrait.

The ambiance is sordid, the landscape arid, the ground dirty, the fence spiky, the taxi drivers are bored from not having clients. I change some money and cross walking this no mans land, I cross the Aras river bridge that divides the Caucasus from the Middle East.

As you see I haven’t seen much, from my list of three things the monastery is left but as I’m so eager to cross to Iran I don’t mind. I have to move, again I get into the axis of evil.

See you soon.

Fernando

2010

09.16

A few days ago it was my birthday. I was born in on September 11th. I had always liked the day, September is a beautiful month, with cooling weather and with beautiful light because the sun is already fading. Moreover I like the name, SEPTEMBER, sounds good.

In 2001 seems the date got dirty, I was eating with my parents in a Thai restaurant, Thai Gardens, in Madrid, the curry in coconut milk hottest of the menu was making my eyes cry as I had to blow my nose while I was drinking water to cool down the heat. A short Argentinean man that was eating with two very pretty girls told us, he had been told by phone, it was a bit late and only our two tables were left. We didn’t pay too much attention to what he said, he seemed a bit inventive.

One hour later, in a puzzle shop where my sister wanted to buy one, the shop-keeper invited us to go into the back part of the shop, and in that little rounded TV in the corner we saw time and again how the planes crashed into the towers and how the towers collapsed.

Each person has his story, where were they when they realized. Mine was at my birthday with Thai curry flavour.

I had left work early to eat with my family but meanwhile my co-workers were in the office. They got to know about it and they were watching TV on the Internet.

Waited to watch it, instead of going home, they were eating the pastries that I had taken in the morning. An ex-co-worker reminded me for years “watching the twin towers and eating your pastries”, as it was my first year at work, I bought an awful lot of them so as not to be short so they had them for a while.

If when I was 12 I’d have been told that in 20 years I’d have my birthday in Tehran I’d probably had put a face of  Where is that?, but here I’ve finished, not going out of the house all day until 8 pm to go for a walk and an ice-cream. As you see I’m a bit delayed in the blog, I have to tell you about Armenia and I’m already in Iran, but I didn’t want to write too much about Iran being here, maybe I’m too cautious, but…

I haven’t had presents either, except maybe the one given to myself. In a few days I’m going to Turkmenistan, the eight days there are going to be more than 1000 euros, so I prefer to see it as a present, but I’ll tell you why this cost when I write about the country.

Ah, I’ve got another surprise present. The Kanu Magazine, a prestigious white-water magazine from Germany, has published one of my pictures from Montenegro in double page. Aitor had a contact, he sent the pictures and they’ve published a picture from each of us. Here you have it.

Tara Montenegro Kanu Magazine

With my name in the footer. I’m proud.

Here is the link to their page. It worth walking 50 minutes under the sun up to the bridge and back to the river to get the picture.

So even happier with my trip and my blog. From the trip there is less left, from the blog I’m happy because practicing it takes less effort to write and I think it’s better quality. After nine years writing documents explaining alternatives in a practical and objective form and documents with instructions step by step, writing a narration is a bit difficult, I have had to un-square my head.

There’s very little to tell you before arriving to where I’m living in Iran… which is great.

I leave you, this was going to be a short thing to tell you about my far away birthday and it’s become an enormous text.

See you soon!

Fernando

2010

09.14

Had to happend somewhere…. can’t connect my laptop and some characters have been changed by the computer in internet cafe, mainly in the Spanish version, hope it’s not too annoying to read….[I've already corrected it, but leave it as history.]

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8089954 (800x449)

The musical tastes of drivers here are very varied, this one has played Jean Michelle Jarre while driving as fast as he could. I’m going to Tbilisi, to see what’s there. The bus is cool, but it is not the one I got, a pity!

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8130549 (800x450)

On the mountains we let cows cross everywhere, we see bees getting out of their coloured houses and conifer forests, now, in the main road that crosses the country I just see ex-soviet abandoned factories. When the USSR fell also the economical structure fell, and even today it has not recovered totally.

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8150570 (800x450)

I was not liking Tbilisi too mucho, I was walking through Rustaveli(a Georgian writer) street and I was just seeing buildings like the Opera House, the parliament, the academy of arts, the palace of  ”idon’tknowwhat”, the street was a typical soviet one owithexaggerated proportions and being Sunday; empty. I find an insipid place.

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8150571 (800x436)

They are making big efforts to open up internationally, here is an example, in English so visitors have it clear. Looking at their internal policy there are still a whole lot of things to do, but I guess we have to look at this as one step.

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8150575 (800x450)

I go to eat in a good restaurant, it’s the good thing of being in a cheap country. I have views of the river, elaborated food and I spend 15 Euro. As a starter I ask for lentils done in this pot. As a main dish I ask for pork which I find tastier than ever as I’ve been two months not eating it in Muslim countries. I have to confess that I’ve been close to get into a Sushi restaurant as I miss some Japanese food.

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8150582 (800x450)

Local beer. It rains, I have to wait until it stops, what can i do?

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8150619 (800x450)

Kala neighbourhood, the historical area. Things change, the alleys give me more than the street made by a ruler. The city climbs up the hill with buildings made of timber and balconies all over.

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8150620 (800x449)

I get into every alley, in the main streets there are a lot of restored buildings but I want to see the old ones as they used to be.

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8150622 (800x449)

I take pictures of the halls.

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8150628 (800x451)

Of the doors.

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8150630 (800x450)

Of the stairs.

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8150593 (800x451)

One of the streets is fully restored and with cool cafes. I sit down to prepare some of the post. Battery finishes, that means I’ve been three hours! I close the computer happy for having a draft of the post and I continue walking rested.

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8160690 (800x451)

The area is very nice, they’ve respected their own architecture mixing it with a varied architecture of western style, It’s a pleasure being here.

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8150606 (800x450)

Here the crosses don’t neccesarily have perpendicular arms.

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8150636 (800x450)

Tbilisi is on the same latitude as Rome, Barcelona, Boston or Chicago, but I find it like New Orleans, it’s also true I’ve never been there so maybe it does not look like it that much.

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8150645 (800x437)

I would have preferred a sunset with more colours for this typical picture.

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8150657 (800x450)

The carrot soup is more normal but on the right the aubergine filled up with nuts is a very Georgian dish.

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8160661 (800x451)

Cool car.

I stay in a hostel called Dodo, It’s a good place with Internet and a rope to hang the washed clothes. The second day the power goes, I ask a girl that works there and she says; “no, it’s not broken, it’s the Russians that are bombing us”. I like the black humour of recent history.

Here I meet Ferran, a Catalonian guy that is travelling in the Caucasus, he tells me that he works in Teheran so he invites me to his place. I hope to overlap days with him there, I’d love to visit the city with someone living in it.

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8160663 (800x450)

A more twisted balcony than others.

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8160687 (800x450)

A bridge that takes you to the area where the cool cafes are.

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8160668 (800x450)

We may see it as an old fashion message, but here they are re-living all the cultural movements in fast forward, next to it there was a painting about Parkour(a movement that is kind of like the skate people jumping and doing tricks in the urban morphology but just with sport shoes).

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8160697 (800x450)

What an scary dentist!

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8160700 (800x450)

Roofs of the Tbilisi baths. It’s name comes from here, hot water, there are 30 springs.

Georgia - Tiblisi - P8150605 (800x450)

Silhouette of a Georgian church and the antenna of the city. I’d have personally installed something more discrete but here they even light it up at night like a Christmas tree.

And I leave the country where Stalin was born, where the wheel was invented(here and Mesopotamia) and where the centauries myth was raised(as was the first place where a man riding a horse was seen for the first time). During Soviet times they had four million visitors a years, now it’s a lot less because in our heads war and conflict still resound with it even it’s a totally peaceful land, I think it’s people are bored of war, like most of the places I’ve visited that have had a recent war.

I’ve felt good here, I’ve eaten well and I’ve seen a lot of interesting things. Once more I’d would have stayed longer. With the trip to Svaneti I’ve been two days more than what I initially planned and as I’ve accumulated so many extra days during the trip, the three weeks I wanted to spend in Armenia are going to be three days only.

Soon from Armenia.

Fernando

//
//

 

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