Winding roads and winding down

Less than a week to go. Yes, really. I’m asking myself where the summer went…are you?

Illustration-wise, it feels like I’m just getting into gear. Inevitably, the nice stuff starts arriving from the field just as we start thinking about wrapping up. It sometimes leaves me in a bind, trying to get the objects drawn before they’re carted off to the museum or locked in our depot – but the good news is that each object bestows a new piece of information. There’s been quite some excitement over recent pottery finds that are narrowing the dating on certain areas of excavation. It’s like assembling a strip of edge pieces for a jig-saw puzzle:  now there are anchors. That’s the way I understand it with my non-archaeological brain, at least.

Enough of last minute panics, though – I have a whole week to build up to that! I was going to tell you about my vacation, wasn’t I?

The eastern part of Turkey tends not to be visited too frequently by westerners, and during a Turkish holiday we were a distinct minority. Our first stop was the pilgrimage site of Şanlıurfa – in Muslim tradition the birthplace of Abraham. The park that embraces the holy site was thronged with visitors from all over the East – many in colourful and exotic traditional dress. It’s a tradition in the Şeker Bayram to give candy to children – and to one’s elders. At one point in the afternoon a group of school-age children mobbed our party, eager to share their treats with the ‘yabanci’ – foreigners. Or were they trying to get to me, the elder? We tried out our Turkish, they their English, and it was a happy exchange – but we had to shake them off eventually to find food. Urfa hosts a wonderful bazaar at it’s centre – but everything was closed for Bayram. Fortunately, we swung through on our return trip for some shopping.

Gobekli Tepe

From Urfa we made a brief stop at Göbeklı Tepe. It’s too important a site to gloss over – so treat yourself to some in depth info by visiting the website. I was here last year, some of you know, but it’s just as impressive a second-time. Work is still under way to get the site under a year-round cover to protect the sculptures from the elements. Meanwhile, some of the more impressively carved columns are crated to preserve them. It detracts from the effect, perhaps, but it’s necessary.

The road from there led us north toward Nemrut Dağ. Along the way we stopped at a tea garden overlooking the Ataturk dam across the Euphrates – an impressive view. The landscape grew gradually more arid as we traveled from the pistachio orchards surrounding Antep and Urfa to the flat plain. I was reminded of southern Alberta and Drumheller as we approached Nemrut – the Euphrates has carved out features similar to those badlands. I even saw a hoodoo or two. On the horizon a blue tinged mass began to grow. Not too imposing at first, growing as we neared and soon rising above us. The road began to twist and turn accommodating the slope of the foothills and finally taking us into the shadow of the jutting peaks, I was reminded of the gates of Mordor as our bus motored along a narrow canyon below the gaping mouths of dark caverns.

Morning at the Caravansaray

Rounding a hill, a lovely pastoral valley stretched between peaks. There was still a way to go, but the winding turns took us to the head of the valley and our hotel – a solidly built stone haven – traditional looking from without but modern and tastefully designed within. Working solar-heated showers and a pool – not so heated. A home cooked dinner awaited on the terrace. And later – comfortable beds.

IMG_8154 copyMorning was relaxed – late breakfast, time to kick back and amuse ourselves. I walked up the hill in front of the hotel to sketch – you’ve seen the result in an earlier post. When both the sketch and I started to bake in early morning sun, I headed for the pool with my travel mates. It was numbingly cold – but refreshing! The hotel staff prepared lunch for us and then we were off by minivan to explore the surrounds. Nemrut Dağ was our ultimate destination – but not until sunset. There was much to see before then, all of which seems to have required travel on heart-stopping mountain…well, roads seems to be an overstatement. After the initial outing, I tried to place myself in the middle of the van for the remainder of the day. The view was just fine from there, without continual awareness of the precipitous drop at each hair-pin curve.

We climbed to the ancient  ruins at Arsameia, walked across a Roman bridge, admired a medieval castle astride a narrow peak and looked out over the Euphrates valley from an ancient tomb at Karakuş. Finally, evening took us to Mount Nemrut and the throngs of people undertaking the long march to the peak where King Antiochus, ruler of Commagene built his monumental tomb in the first century BC. It’s an arduous climb – but if you take your time (I did) you get there. At the peak are two ‘terraces’ – one facing the rising sun, one the setting and thus those being the times most people make the climb. Each terrace holds the remnants of colossal statues – coloured warmly by the vanishing sun. I circulated, photographed, drank in the spectacular view of mountains extending into blue mist like waves lapping at the foot of the mount. Then our group found a perch amongst the crowds to await the last rays. We wound our way down to the van in twilight and homeward along the now-dark and seemingly less treacherous (!) road to our hotel.

Last rays

I’ll wrap it there – we’re only half-way through the account, but this is already lengthy, and Halfeti deserves more than a concluding paragraph. Anyway, the morning’s power outrage is done and I have work waiting! Stay tuned for further adventures…