Western Middle East - Summer 2006
Stacey and I spent most of our six-week stay in Turkey assisting an archeological expedition, which was conducting a survey and excavation project at Aphrodisias, a well-preserved Greco-Roman city. Our primary function was development of maps using GIS software and GPS equipment. We also used collected data for analysis, predicting possible locations for ancient structures such as aqueducts, fortifications, and iron mines.
During our time off, we visited a few tourist sites. Pamukkale (“cotton castle” in Turkish) is a mountain of unusual, but picturesque travertine pools fed by a calcium-rich hot spring. Ephesus, another Greco-Roman city, had some nicely preserved structures, as did Heraopolis. Istanbul was awesome! Having spent close to a week there in total, we got a good feel for the bustling city. Izmir and Selçuk were both charming. We escaped to Kusadasi for a two-day unwind on the Aegean sea. Several Sundays were spent at Karacasu (market day), the closest large town near Aphrodisias - many cheap dönner kebabs were consumed!
We had specially planned to arrive in Egypt in order to overlap with my best friend, Hesham, who was visiting family in Cairo. We stomped all around the capital for five days, peeling off one day to visit the Pyramids at Giza and Saqqara as well as the ancient capital of Memphis. All fantastic sites! We took an overnight train to Luxor, where we spent a few nights touring the amazing sites – Luxor Temple, The Valley of the Kings (and all the awesome tombs), The Temple of Hatshepsut, The Ramesseum, Deir al-Medina, Medinat Habu, and The Valley of the Queens. We also haggled ourselves a sail up the Nile on a felucca (small boat) one afternoon. Our next stop was Hurghada, a rather nondescript but lively city on the Red Sea. The following day we departed for Sharm el-Sheikh on the tip of the Sinai Peninsula, crossing the Red Sea by ferry. We spent one day relaxing on the beach and another snorkeling the colorful coral reefs, among the best in the world. Next stop: Dahab - Hands down the cutest resort town of the trip. Our hotel balcony overlooked the Red Sea and the shore of Saudi Arabia. International food helped add some variety to our Egyptian diet. Using Dahab as a base, we visited the famed Mt. Sinai for a spectacular sunrise, did a camel trek, and snorkeled some pretty reefs. We departed for the Israeli border by bus.
Our time in Israel was short. We arrived July 13th, a day after Lebanon first fired rockets into Israel. July 14th saw the start of a multi-week rocket bombardment of Haifa. Israel responded by attacking Beirut, and the war was in full swing. Although we felt safe, it was apparent the conflict could escalate considerably. If Syria or Iran joined the war, our travel options could become limited instantly. Ultimately, we departed Israel after only five days. However, during our short tour, we did see quite a bit. We enjoyed an evening in Eilat, a fun city at the southern tip of Israel, before traveling by bus northward, past the Dead Sea, to Jerusalem. We spent most of our remaining time touring the city and soaking up the sites and sounds.
Having drastically cut our time in Israel, we had more than two weeks to explore Cyprus, a Mediterranean island about half the size of New Jersey. The island is separated in two; Turkish forces occupy the northern one-third of the island, which, despite legal games and international wrangling, is essentially a separate country. A UN force maintains a buffer zone between the two. Cross-border excursions can be problematic, and you have to return to the south by 5pm the same day. Without a car, our only option to explore the north was to cross the border by foot when we visited the capital city, Nicosia, infamous for being the last divided capital in the world. Traveling mainly by bus, we hit every city in the south: Larnaka, Lemesos, Paphos and Agia Napa. We camped in Polis for the better part of a week. A rented 50cc moped allowed us to explore of the rugged Akamas Peninsula and some inland wineries. From Lemesos, we took a day trip to the Troodos Mountains for a glimpse at Mt. Olympus. We also hit the ruins of ancient Kourion.
To Russia with love! We stayed with Stacey’s family who gave us the grand tour. Moscow with its red square was cool, but St. Petersburg was spectacular, arguably one of the prettiest cities in the world. We were treated to an overnight boat excursion up the Neva River to the Valaam Monastery. We also visited the family’s holiday cabin on the bank of Chudskoye Lake, the largest in Europe. Lots of fishing and cards, and even some traditional mushroom picking. Stacey’s grandfather prepared a memorable Russian banya (sauna), including the traditional birch branches used for beating. I was taught how to drink vodka, and consumed healthy quantities. I was also prepared many traditional foods, including caviar (both alone and in pancake variety). Big thanks to the entire Kuznetsov family for an unforgettable stay.
|© Chris Harrison|