In the time since I last saw you…

Oh it’s been an absolute aaaage, hasn’t it. I mean, what kind of blogger doesn’t actually blog?

Well let me apologise from the outset. I’ve been rather busy.

In the time since I last saw you I’ve got married, bought a house, had three kids, put two through college and thrown the last one out because they seem hell bent on some kind of creative career, upgraded the jacuzzi out the back, and moved both my parents into appropriately remote assisted care facilities (can’t you just hear them both gasping with indignation right now).

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s been that short trip through Kurdistan on the East Turkey border, a few intermittently grinding weeks in Iran, an unplanned jaunt through the Syrian-soaked hills of Northern Lebanon and Beirut, 29 hours of my life in Dubai that I’ll never get back and two days in Kabul. Is it any wonder that so little writing has been done?

Consider this the beginning of a rectification program. It’s likely to be long and somewhat arduous, not least because as I sit in bed facing the heavy steel blast covers blocking the window out to what would otherwise be a lovely view of the compound garden on a bright crisp winters morning in Kabul, the resident cat is hell bent on sprawling over my arms, and subsequently, the keyboard. I think she wants food.

Can somebody please feed the cat, it’s too cold to get out of bed. And I wouldn’t mind some pancakes for breakfast. You scoff, but there’s a chef on call here. This is not what I expected in Afghanistan. Although as a seasoned expat journo recently commented about the corruption, nepotism and general excess increasingly on display, “The arse end of wars are always seriously f—ed up”.

Right, shall we begin…?

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That’s right, contraband internet and a night on the shisha…again

Dont panic (for the thousands of you that clearly were)…. We’re in the heart of Iran, nine days into our government imposed detox – no booze, very little coffee but a hellava lot of sugar. Oh yes, replace one addiction with the other, what an excellent plan.

It’s nearly 11pm and we’ve snuck into a friends internet cafe (which they’ve opened up especially for the crazy Aussies), using the proxy to scoot round the bans on facebook and the blog – there will be many posts to come, but you’ll have to hold onto your hats until I get to Dubai when the keyboards are easier to use and I dont have to listen to old J-Lo tracks while im writing (J-Lo? Of course I love her. Of course).

Off to the desert for a few days at the end of the week, leaving Esfahan and its dry river bed behind.

It was the Young Americans

First things first: this post requires a spot of background music. Turn the volume up, have a bit of a reminisce (for the over fifties), and read on.

This is Diyarbarkir airport. Try to contain your excitement.

diyarbarkir airport

It turned out to be the setting for what I’ve learned is a not unusual quandry for the ridiculously disorganised, as we are. How to get from A to B (B being in this case a really old town on a hill about 75 minutes from Diyarbakir) without having to schlep our gear through 900 transport changes.

After all of 120 seconds perusing the carpark for divine inspiration in the form of a minibus marked ‘Town Centre and Onwards to Mardin’, a decision was reached with much arm twisting (ie none), to hire a car. All previous commitments to work harder at tightening our budget, and memories of the last disasterous car-hire day, were thwarted by the irridesent glow of the Europecar sign back inside the arrivals terminal.

Unfortunately, Europecar guy had disappeared for the day.

Fortunately, we happened upon two young(ish) Americans, A and T, languishing on the tiled floor also waiting for Phantom Europecar Guy (PEG) to upgrade their work rental car.

After about five minutes chatting, the declaration came that they had nothing better to do than drive us to Mardin, and go back and find PEG another day. SUCH FUN! When does that ever happen in real life? We later learned we were about the first english speaking girls they’d seen in the city for months, and that Diyarbarkir doesnt really have all that much to keep one entertained on one’s day off, if you’ve already seen its really really old and long city wall and eaten your weight in (what might actually be the world’s best) Baklava.

It’s difficult to describe the following hour’s car trip and our subsequent dinner with them back in Diyarbakir the next night, except to say we laughed so hard my abs were sore. That wouldn’t have been a problem for A, if an accidental revelation that he’s partial to pumping out a solid 720 situps throughout the working day is anything to go by. SEVENHUNDREDANDTWENTY. That has got to be bad for your health.

Memorable quotes of the night include being very politely told to leave Suluklu Han (a popular local wine bar) with the following:

Man at table next door “Ah, excuse me, normally we have two glasses of wine. You all have had four I think? You are laughing all very much hard.”

Correct, yes, although the boys might have had five. 

On the phenomenon of red-headed Kurdish locals in Mardin:

Claire “It’s incredible, I couldnt get over how many of them there were. We saw heaps”
A “Really? How many?”
KV “There were two”
Claire “I’m sure I saw three.”

On why I knew the two other tourists in town were Scandinavian:

KV “They weren’t Scandnavian. They didnt have blonde hair.

Claire “Yes they were.

KV “No they werent, they were Turkish tourists.

Claire “Um, no they definitely werent Turkish, I couldnt understand what they were saying.”

How many languages other than English do I speak? yes, that’s right, none.

Suffice it to say, our two days with the Young Americans will go down in the history books. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves to explain how the night progresses, except to note that as we drifted off to sleep in our hotel to the stench of chemical bleach from the hallway and burning plastic from outside the window, KV fell out of bed.

I haven’t seen anyone do that since the days of security rails on bunk beds. KV maintains the bed was on a distinct slope. I didn’t seem to have the same problem with my bed. I also hold my shisha better, not that that’s got anything to do with it…Much.

20131024_224246 Kurdish hospitality: when you knock over the first shisha while doing a questionable yoga pose, sending hot coals all over the 20,000 year old carpets and scream with laughter while spilling sweet red wine served in champagne glasses, instead of kicking you out, they move you to a back room, bring a bigger shish pipe and the owner comes out with his drum. Yes, they know how to do it well.

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Dont believe a word she says…

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Just one more piece of baklava, i’ve only had eleven so far…IMG_2043Undisputed shisha master Stewart… IMG_2096

Feigning excitement at the jewellery sales room owned by the coffee house manager and conveniently located next door. Get the white guys drunk then sell them jewellery, yes, good plan.

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#aptdescription

mardin 008

Makes me laugh every time.

KV had been saying all week in Istanbul that she had seen this cute little bookshop that had english books we could stock up with before proceeding into the wilds of (internet-less) Iran.

When we actually stopped at said bookshop, I found Le Voyage de Dag.

As for the rest of the english language selection, let’s just say I’m discouraging KV from buying me books for Christmas or birthday presents from here on in.

And yes, Healing WIthin isn’t about mental clarity – it’s colon care. Probably exactly what we’ll need in Iran.

mardin 009

Google, you have stolen my brain

I want it back.

The necessity of surviving without a permanent internet connection has led to some damning realisations about how ludicrously useless we are at remembering things, without Uncle Google. Most hotels have free wifi, but during the day out and about on the so-not-information-highways, you’re on your own. No GPS, no IMDb, no wikipedia.

Sitting at lunch in Uchasar, we got to talking about movies, somehow. To be honest,  KV and I have just conferred and neither can remember how we actually got to discussing Love Actually, further proof of systemic brain theft.

I maintain that we were discussing Gravity, and how we should see it in 3D even if it requires listening to a Turkish dubbed soundreel. KV made some reference to how the only other space movie she thinks of when Gravity is mentioned is that one Julia Roberts was in – when she was playing the superstar Anna Scott, in Notting Hill (long lunch to discuss the tricky issues).

anna scottSubsequent to that Love Actually was mentioned, whereby agreement was reached that neither could recall the full plot depite having seen it about 1,710,000 times each.

A decision was made, not taken lightly, that the wifi password would not be procured from the current hotelier until we had the plot down pat. Try it now, you think it’s easy, but it’s not. I’ll give you ten minutes, then come back and have a look at our flow charts, which we resorted to after half a bottle of wine and a couple of gin and tonics.

Obviously KV is the natural lawyer of the two of us: note the structured, systematic reasoning evident in her paper. Mine…it’s, um, creative.

Here’s my diary entry from that fateful day, 26 hours after we made the decision to work it out ourselves and not use Uncle Google.

Krissy just burned my choc-vanilla cake/toast, which we are devouring in place of going outside, walking. This is despite being in Cappadocia, the most famous of Turkey’s hiking regions and home to unique, incredible and marvelous experiences involving fairy chimneys.

To use our time productively while we laze inside, we have determined to work out the cast and relationships of everyone in Love Actually. It’s about ageing, concerns with fading memory and overreliance on Google. So fuck you, Google. Between us, we’ve seen this move about ten times. We will remember. And damned if im missing out on the internet. Here goes:

Turkey beach to cappadoccia 161Turkey beach to cappadoccia 162KV summaryIn case you’re wondering, here are some clues

Oh and dont forget these guys, we did…john and judy

A mule, two donkeys and the Turkish turnip belt

This is a picture of the mule.

camera cappadocia to istanbul 004

The two donkeys were in the car.

Not content with using the cheap, infinitely efficient, clean and stress free public transport system, a decision was made to burn some cash on what looked to be a ten year old silver, manual, four door, diesel Renault, hired out by our mate Ask Kemal*.
Pick which one I was driving…
audi R8renaultmclarenThe critical word in all this is “manual”. Many of you will be familiar with my delerious love of getting behind the wheel of a super car, all of which these days have clutchless gear boxes. I can’t drive a proper manual. Well, turns out I can, but with rather a few hicupps and a couple of corners taken in *erm fourth gear. Saves switching down.
To my credit the gearstick was on the wrong side of the car, and we were driving on what felt a lot like the wrong side of the road – particularly when traversing three lane roundabouts at large intersections. Oh and we were driving with the Turks, who take road rules about as seriously as they take American tourists – ie, not very.

Look, no-one died. So it basically worked out fine. Ask Kemal may need to replace his gearbox though.

(Neither KV or I could work out for some time how to get the damned thing in reverse, so the two guards in the ticket box at the Cappadocia airport car park – dont ask – got their money’s worth watching us put the car in neutral and use sheer willpower to urge it to roll backwards, on flat ground, so we could do a 119 point turn out of our car space to finally exit the parking lot.)

We came across old mate on his mule after leaving the airport destined for the Ihlara Valley about seven hours into what was meant to be a ninety minute road trip.

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You can’t see it in the pic but he was grinning like a madman, belting back down the road after he’d been to visit the men hanging out at the large red truck in the turnip field. It’s difficult to know whether he was grinning at two white girls in an old Renault, clearly lost in backroads no tourist has ever seen, driving on the one day of rest (being Friday) of the most holiest of holy weeks in the muslim calendar, or whether in fact it wasnt a grin, but a grimace. Let’s just say the saddle padding he had on that animal looked minimal.

Either way, it made my day. KV was less impressed. I think she was sick of being in the car, driving down roads lined with huge piles of rocks, which actually turned out – we think – to be turnips. The conversation went something like this:

Claire – “I wonder what all these farmers and trucks are doing? It looks like they’re ploughing and sifting the paddock for rocks. It’s pretty rocky. They’re big piles of rocks

KV – “Why would they be loading them into trucks?

“I dunno. This is rural Turkey. Could be anything. Maybe it’s for landsacaping in Istanbul?

“No its sweet potatoes (you idiot).

“No way. Thats not a sweet potato, its the wrong size….I think they’re parsnips.

“Ah, aren’t parsnips kind of long with a pointy bit at the end?

(pause)

“They’re turnips. Oh my god it’s piles and piles of turnips. We’re in the Turnip Belt of Turkey.”

“But I havent seen a turnip yet in Turkey. What are they using them for?

“Probably selling them to Germany. Germans love turnips.

(Do they? Do they really? Long road trips lost in turkey are entirely the right time for uninformed sweeping statements, as you will learn. Also, when you’ve been travelling together for more than a week, this is what constitutes an inisightful, probing conversation).

* Ask Kemal was recommended to us while staying in Uchisar as ‘the go-to guy” for car hire. Turns out he was actually the James Packer of Uchisar (owning three out of the seven shops around main street, and aspiring to build an 82 storied casino in his own likeness…wait, now I’m confusing the two).
We found Kemal whiling away the day on a somewhat dilapidated white outdoor chair in front of his dusty corner store. Locating him was easy, in the main street was an empty shopfront and a massive sign saying “Ask Kemal”, and an arrow pointing towards the corner store.
Finding our way around Cappadocia in a rental car was an entirely different story. All i can say is CIA haters be damned – if we didnt have GPS on the trusty Samsung, KV and I would likely have evaporated into the rural ether amongst the goats, the donkeys, the turkeys (turkeys in Turkey, funniest thing I saw all week), and the 9000 farming men who mostly all did double takes as we drove past. A couple of the really old guys didnt bother, but Im guessing they just had mobility issues.

Wedding dresses part II: something a little more tasteful; then tasty

Yes you may well laugh at the plethora of evening gowns and wedding dresses in shop windows which are clearly designed to turn any self-respecting Turkish girl into Sydney’s next best transvestite (Miranda Hart and that purple dress, we’re looking at you).

MHTransvestite

Credit where credit is due, based on the one example of an actual wedding we’ve spotted, it’s not always about hot air and synthetic material:

Day zero

Day zero

As far as meringues go, this one’s not too bad. The wedding party was spotted wandering around the corner at the Mevlana Museum in Konya. Incidentally, they’re having their piccies taken outside the huge-mongous mosque that KV casually wandered into, under the (remarkably shortlived) mistaken belief it was where the Whirling Dervishes were going to perform. Yes, I was amused, from a distance.

The Mevlana is meant to be the second best museum in all of Turkey, which is an excellent piece of trivia to have, had we known it some time earlier than 10pm the night before we flew out. Lucky for us, instead of a day at the museum, we took the Lonley Planet’s suggestion to visit Konya’s tile museum, which it promised us was simply fabluous.

Oh yes, it was a joy. And by joy I mean Lonley Planet really needs to reassess its markers of what constitutes exciting.

This, on the other hand was exciting.

turkey cappadocia to istanbul 045

150g of a special breed of lamb – judging by the landscape around Konya, it would be lamb that was good at living either in old Hitite rock caves, or somewhere on the barren, treeless, flat, windy and cold plains between Cappadocia and Konya. I digress.

It’s lamb, done in what’s called a Tandir kebab. Big piece of wholemeal bread, and meat. They bring a whole onion first, to be used as a palette cleanser. Bite of the onion, mouthful of kebab. The Turks take it so seriously that I saw one man in his mid forties, obviously treating his mother to an afternoon kebab, pick up the plate of onion, sniff it, then send it back to the kitchen.

What I would like to know is, how does anyone sniff an onion without (a) bringing tears to their eyes, (b) losing sight of what’s really important in life or (c) booking an appointment to get their OCD-meds upgraded. Honestly, an onion is an onion. Or so i thought.

This tandir place also had two jugs of liquid, one clearly identified via the highly technical sniff test (yes i sniff liquid but not onions) as cider vinegar. The other, KV rightly pointed out, was remarkably similar to pineapple cordial, but with a touch more of the ol’ dishwashing liquid about it. If anyone can identify what said yellow liquid is used for, speak up.

And while we’re on the subject of food – just in case you thought the sausages from a few days ago were an anomaly, look (look!) what I found when we got lost driving in the anatolyan back blocks… you’ll have to peer closely I was too scared to get any nearer the house, they had geese. As an aside, these sausages are excellent, tastes like they’ve been laced with cumin and maybe a bit of paprika, they’re softer than chorizo and nowhere near as salty, which is a blessing.

Oh and you can accidentally drop pieces of them in your satchel while you’re having lunch and pull them out two days later still fully formed. Nice work turkey.

Tra daaaaaa. More sausages.

Tra daaaaaa. More sausages.