Turkey

We entered Turkey from Batumi, Georgia. There was no problem at all with Immigration & Customs, Turkey being a major tourist destination for travellers of the world, thanks to its rich history and beautiful landscape. Turkey is an Islamic country being so obvious with countless mosques with minarets — that looked like rockets on their launch pads — dotting the skyline as you drive along their splendid roads and highways. Indeed the drive along the south coast of the Black Sea to Trabzon was very pleasant.

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I had strange mixed feelings upon entering Turkey; a feeling of relief that I had survived the tough journey over mountains and deserts through several strange countries that I only had heard of in geography and history books; and a feeling of gladness that I took on this journey and it was quite unlike what those Silk Road travellers of old would have endured; a feeling of admiration for this progressive Islamic country with the impressive glorious empire of the Ottomans to boast of; and a feeling of awe and inspiration to travel to other places on this beautiful earth.

At Trabzon I had the opportunity to perform the Maghrib prayers at a mosque near the hotel. As expected only old people made up the congregation. The women also took the opportunity to buy fresh provisions for our camping at Tokat the next day. Two small incidents happened at Tokat. One was Sh Abas’ car had bearing failures and the other an inter-personal one. This time a couple of elders from the group decided not to camp; instead they went off to stay at a hotel in town. I should have joined them actually because the campsite wasn’t that well maintained since the showers and toilets didn’t work with obvious signs of vandalism. I was just too glad to leave for Ankara the next morning of 28 Sept.

We didn’t do much in Ankara apart from visiting the Museum of Anatolian civilization. The museum as described by Wikipedia “is housed in an Ottoman building, has a number of exhibits of Anatolian archaeology. They start with the Paleolithic era, and continue chronologically through the Neolithic, Early Bronze, Assyrian trading colonies, Hittite, Phrygian, Urartian, Greek, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuq and Ottoman periods. There is also an extensive collection of artifacts from the excavations at Karain, Çatalhöyük, Hacılar, Canhasan, Beyce Sultan, Alacahöyük, Kültepe, Acemhöyük, Boğazköy (Gordion), Pazarlı, Altıntepe, Adilcevaz and Patnos as well as examples of several periods.” I found the Hittite exhibits fascinating indicative of how civilized they were in the period 1750-1200 BC and the later Hittite period 1200-700 BC.

Istanbul

Istanbul is a transcontinental city, straddling the Bosphorus — one of the world’s busiest waterways — in northwestern Turkey, between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Its commercial and historical center lies in Europe, while a third of its population lives in Asia.[Wikipedia]

We arrived in Istanbul on 29 Sep feeling rather elated crossing the bridge connecting Asia and Europe across the Bosphorus. It was late afternoon and traffic was rather heavy, as expected in any big city. We promptly made our way to our hotel for a two nights stay. My nieces’s husband, Akay Viran — who is Turkish — also happened to be around in Istanbul this time, since he was bringing in his mega yacht for some maintenance (not his yacht actually, he was just the highly paid captain.) Akay took Zaki and I for dinner and to talk about our trip and his exploits.

With Akay

With Akay

Proton Wira in Istanbul

Proton Wira in Istanbul

He worked for some billionaire, the job was quite easy but he had to be on standby most of the time to be at his master’s beck and call. He travels the world and would love to do an overland trip. He tried to be with his wife and kids back in Malaysia but could hardly do so with this job; unlike his previous job as a container ship captain. On the way to dinner, I was quite intrigued to see a Proton Wira, Malaysia’s national car, parked on the pavement. Wow, Malaysian industry has made it to Turkey.

The next day we visited the five “must see” tourist sites in Istanbul namely: the blue mosque, the Ayasofia, the cistern, the Topkapi and the Grand Bazaar. Of the lot I was most impressed with the Ayasofia.

Blue mosque

Blue mosque

Ayasofia

Ayasofia

Medusa's head in the Cistern

Medusa’s head in the Cistern

Topkapi

Topkapi

The Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar

I was impressed with the Ayasofia aka Hagia Sophia because of its transformation from a church to a mosque and finally to a museum. It’s amazing that the contents inside the building especially the christian paintings and frescoes are well preserved and not destroyed when it became a mosque. Instead these paintings/frescoes were just hidden by large Islamic calligraphy; even the cross on the entrance door was ingeniously converted into an arrow. Such display of Islamic tolerance and respect for history and the arts is something that we should appreciate; otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to understand our past.

Christ on the dome

Mary with Christ on the dome

The cross became an arrow

The cross became an arrow

Islamic calligraphy hides christian paintings

Islamic calligraphy hides christian paintings

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Georgia

After a good rest at Sheki we drove on to Tbilisi Georgia soon after breakfast. It was quite a pleasant drive with many stops to enjoy the scenery and for photography.

Georgia is a very Christian country (84% orthodox Christians) with the balance made up of Azeris and Armenians. It was, however, ruled by the Arabs from AD 645 and later by the Seljuk Turks in the early 12th Century.

Georgia had its Golden Age in the 12th and 13th Century.  But subsequently Georgia came under Mongol and Tamerlane attacks, severely weakening the Christian kingdom.  Thus the Persians and Ottoman Turks also had their days over Georgia.  In December 1800 Georgia was formally incorporated into the Russian Empire.  However, in 1918 it declared independence in the midst of the Russian Civil War. But in February 1921 the Red Army attacked Georgia and brought it into the USSR. Joseph Stalin, an ethnic Georgian, later became a prominent Bolshevik personality of the USSR.

Georgia attained full independence from the Soviet Union on April 9, 1991.

Why is Georgia named thus?  Probably because most of its kings were named George.

Tbilisi

We drove into Tbilisi rather late on 23 Sep, on account of a mishap on the road. The Quattro girls’ car broke down with a major engine/transmission problem. It was confirmed by the workshop at Tbilisi that it was not drivable and had to be trucked to Istanbul for shipping back to Malaysia. The girls then decided not to continue with the journey ie leave the convoy at Tbilisi and make their own way back to Malaysia.

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Tbilisi is a beautiful capital city of Georgia with quite a lot of history to show considering that it was host to the Arabs, Mongols, Tamerlane, Persian, Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman Turks and latterly the Russians/Soviets. We had two days in Tbilisi and made full use of the opportunity.

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My Rotary friends led by President Levon Barikian came a-calling in the morning with his RC Tbilisi members. They then invited me (with Sh Abas and Zaki) to a dinner that night. It’s nice being a Rotarian; you have instant friends all over the world. The next morning we left for Gori — but didn’t stay the night — just to see the Stalin Museum.

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From Gori we drove on to Batumi, a resort city on the Black Sea coast and gateway to Turkey. We stayed at the Hotel Oasis which happened to have Georgia’s Miss World aspirants staying there and rehearsing for the contest. They were a most welcome sight; and most of us made a beeline for the swimming pool knowing full well that they would be showing off there.

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That night we were guests of the DG of Tourism, Province of Ajaria at a dinner with a cultural show thrown in. And in the morning we were off to Turkey.

Azerbaijan

We arrived Baku airport around 3:00 am and was cleared Immigration & Customs around 4:00 am.  The guys who came across the Caspian Sea by that cargo ship were there to pick us up in five cars; the rest went to the hotel by coach. At the hotel, I didn’t bother with food; just took a hot shower and off to bed.  I was up at 7:00 am, had a quick breakfast and at 8:30 am had to meet the Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Baku.

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Exchanging gifts

Exchanging club banners

We didn’t have much time for socialising since we had to make a move to the Caucasus wef 10:00 am.  But it was nice of President Bakhtiyar Akhundov of RC Baku and his Rotarian colleagues to come to see me at such an early hour in the morning.  Had it not been for the ‘ferry fiasco’ (see Turkmenistan story) we would have a much leisurely pace to socialise with RC Baku.

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From Baku we crossed the Caucasus mountains towards Tblisi in Georgia.  It was a very comfortable journey unlike our experiences in western Tibet.  The mountain roads were good and it was quite cool.  The next stop was a small town called Sheki and we had the pleasure of staying in a caravanserai.  This sturdy building has been duly renovated and fitted with modern amenities. But the look and feel was there, complete with the traditional tea room. It was very pleasant.

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Sheki aka Shaki has many other names based on its ancient history dating back some 2,700 years (according to Wikipedia.)  Now it’s a quint little town of population around 63,000 souls, mostly Muslims. It’s situated in northern Azerbaijan quite close to the Russian border.