Blue Heaven

oldest-chewing-gumIt’s more than two years ago since that class travel and blogging act Natalie Sayın sent me a photograph attached to a ‘what’s this?’ Now, Natalie has some seriously good camera skills, but this pic looked like a lump of ancient, peppermint flavoured chewing gum stuck on a rock! (I know about these things and att a photo of the oldest bit of chewing gum ever found – it’s from Finland and is about 5000 years old complete with Neolithic teeth marks!)

(saved from Archers blog and first posted July 2014)

Anyway, Nat’s photo looked a bit like a Carpathian Blue Slug – Bielzia coerulans, a creature that is supposed to live up to its name and stay in the Carpathian Mountains where it is described as endemic. I sent a copy of the photo and location to my good mate Murat who has made such creatures the study and passion of a lifetime. He also works out of the Dept. of Malacology at Harvard University, it’s safe to assume that he knows about these things!

Such was our joint excitement at Natalie’s find that we decided to mount a field trip to the area between Çamlıhemşim and the Ayder plateau to see if we couldn’t find some more ‘lumps of chewing gum’.

We were expecting to do a lot of scrabbling about under rocks and bushes before we got a result – if we got a result at all! It didn’t quite work out as expected. Shortly after we picked Murat up from the airport and brought him to our hotel the four of us, Murat and E, J and I went for a leg-stretch to explore Çamlıhemşim. With a population of 1500 and one street it didn’t take long! The town sits in a bit of a ravine – it’s vertical rock face; retaining wall; narrow street; row of shops/houses; river; vertical rock face!

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photo by ESR

We stopped to admire a flowering shrub growing out of the retaining wall when Murat said ‘Hey, look at this!’ and there they were – Blue Slugs – adults and juveniles! So much for the intrepid search for an elusive species that shouldn’t be there. Considering how easily these creatures were spotted it is astonishing that they have never been previously recorded outside of their range in the Carpathians from southern Poland to Romania!

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Carpathian Blue Slug – Bielzia coerulans adult (top) and juvenile (below) isn’t the colour wonderful?

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Later, we tracked down the route that Natalie had taken when she saw that first ‘lump of chewing gum’. The walk to Tar Deresi Şelalesi (waterfall) is a very pleasurable one and the waterfall itself is spectacular.

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aren’t they amazing!

Natalie had said that she saw her slug near to the waterfall and right on cue two were spotted and photographed. We saw a couple more near some rubbish bins in Çamlıhemşim but although we spent time searching other likely and unlikely places that was the extent of our finds. We spent the rest of our time exploring winding back roads, soaking in hot springs, eating fine village and roadside food and enjoying being together in a still beautiful part of Turkey.

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J and me and E
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this was for the dog (seriously) – it tasted great! (pic by ESR)

finally, something completely different

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Alan in Okçular

A Little Light Relief

. . from all the crap that is going on in the world. A reminder that there is still beauty to be found . . if we look closely enough! Taken this morning in my garden in Okçular.

(as relevant today as it was when first posted on Archers July 2014)

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Robber Fly

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Rhino Beetle – Oryctes nasicornis

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I know, I should get out more often! As it happens, J and I are off to hunt for Blue Slugs in the Kaçkar Mountains in a few days – now that is something for me to get my teeth into!

Alan, soon to be somewhere else for a while!

Durul Bakan – Artiste Extraordinaire

Durul Bakan is indeed an extraordinary artist-sculptor. J and I first stumbled, quite literally, across his work some little while back on one of our regular trips to the Lisinia Project. Outside the barn a huge, graceful eagle was under construction from bits and bobs of Ardıç/Juniper trees. We were stunned at the power of the piece.

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Of the sculptor there was no sign but by the time we made our next visit the magnificent finished piece was in place to greet us as we drove through the entrance to the project.

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With each new visit, either by ourselves or with family or friends, astonishingly beautiful additions had been made to the menagerie. From a Eurasian Lynx to a magnificent Ibex (wild goat) to . .

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Eurasian Lynx
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Ibex

In the past couple of weeks we’ve had the pleasure of having, first, Numero Uno Daughter Anita and then dear friend Ahmet and his wife Muge for visits. The Lisinia Project is a must-do visit and so it was that on the last call-in I was delighted to find the artist Durul Bakan busy at work on a new piece. We have only ever interacted via social media so getting this chance to press the flesh and look each other in the eye was a real bonus.

The new piece was intriguing because it looked a bit like a giant horse with a mouth full of tiger’s teeth! Questions were soon being answered with the aid of technology.

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Apparently, back in seventeen hundred and something or other, a lone Frenchman was wandering about in the general area. He claimed to have seen this monstrous creature with his own eyes and drew a picture.

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The guy’s name was Paul Lucas and he wrote a lot of books in his time. Personally I think he’d been on the rakı because he described the creature as a giant ‘hyena’ and called it Datura stramonium, which was all a bit of wishful thinking because no-one had ever seen it before and no-one has seen it since. Until now that is because it is being resurrected under the hands of Durul Bey – I can tell you that J and I are really looking forward to our next visit.

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explaining the improbable

Durul then insisted on dropping everything to give our party an escorted trip around the project. Recently the project has been expanding its facilities to provide exhibition space and visitor area where healthy food, drinks and the projects wonderful organic products can be purchased to support the whole caboodle. Waiting to take pride of place are many of Durul’s latest creations. The way the pieces of wood are chosen to follow and mimic the muscle structure of each creature is uncanny – a bit of imagination (or a glass or two with lunch) could have you believing that at any moment they’ll spring into motion.

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J with deer and shark
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complete with all his accoutrements – the detail is amazing

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So, there you have just a small sample of this amazing artist and his amazing creations – a taster that I hope will encourage you to visit and support the Lisinia Project.  As for me, I’m dreaming of commissioning Durul to create something that would look great atop the cairn in our garden hide-away.

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Now that really would be something to write home about!

Alan up in the mountains.

Iran Life – Zein-o-din Caravanserai

In the blisteringly hot months from early June to the end of August, J and I tend to hibernate. We emerge early to get any jobs done in the relative cool before the sun melts over the mountains and then vanish back indoors like rats down a drainpipe!

Such behaviour is not conducive to having anything to blog about apart from the grim state of the world, a review of ‘The Untold History Of The United States’ or how difficult the last Sodutoo puzzle was! Thank goodness for our Iran trip – it means I have a seemingly bottomless pit of tales to bore you with for the next few weeks!

(rescued from Archers and first posted July 2014)

Scheherazade.tifWhen we left Kerman we headed north west in the direction of Yazd, this is the main highway from the great port at Bandar Abbas to Tehran and it was here that we were gob-smacked to see a Tesco artic truck in full company colours! Anyway, a two day camel ride, or about 60 kms out of Yazd, set back from the road is a place right out of the tales of Scheherazade’s (or Shahrzãd in Persian) Thousand and One Nights.

Our destination for one night was the beautifully restored Zein-o-din Cararvanserai. Taken over by an extended family of Iranian Baluchis it is a testament to sensitivity and a commitment to ‘doing it right’. Such is the quality and authenticity of their ‘resurrection’ that the caravanserai was granted a UNESCO award in 2005. Restoration took more than three years and some 13,000 pumice stones were used to scour centuries of grime from the walls and arched roof. The building has been returned to near original condition.

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There it sits, great walls of adobe blending in with the surrounding desert; its mighty doors capable of providing security for the countless merchants and their camel trains that once trekked the route now polluted by the convoys of trucks that thunder by a few hundred metres away.

Walk inside and you are greeted warmly by the staff . . and by the loudness of silence! A refuge then and a refuge now!

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the sound of silence

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The accommodation is interesting – arrive early enough and you could have a room leading directly off the circular, central courtyard. Otherwise, like J and me, you will be led into the great curved chamber that once housed the trains of animals and merchandise. Here there are raised and curtained platforms that offer total visual privacy and good comfort. What they don’t offer is freedom from the unbelievably bad mannered who roll back late at night bellowing and shouting at each other – if you stay here, and I really do recommend it, then you could use some earplugs just in case!

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Toilet and shower facilities are communal but very modern and sparkling clean. The restaurant is a delight of exotic proportions and excellent regional food which also comes in exotic proportions! Each evening the young lads of the family doff their waitering and receptioning mode, step into their Baluchi warrior mode and put on a show of traditional martial dance. It is an inspiring exhibition of the battle training folk dances that speaks volumes about the fearsome reputation of the Baluch who are spread across southern Iran and Pakistan.

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Baluch war dance

Back to a little more history of the place – it was built more than 400 years ago and was part of a network of 999 such hostels built on the orders of Shah Abbas I to promote trade. One of only two circular caravanserais (the other is near Esfahan and is largely destroyed) Zein-o-din now stands as a unique, living monument to the importance of the fabled Silk Road trade route.

At dawn and dusk, deserts are transformed into things of intense beauty as light and shadow, colours and hues swirl and blend – the effects are often truly magical. These are times to make your way to the roof of the caravanserai, face towards the mountains and drink in the intoxicating mix.

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Firebird

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Iran’s tourism is beginning to boom, if you intend to visit the unique Zein-o-din Caravanserai, you would do well to book in good time.

Alan in Okçular

Iran Life – What A Relief

Persia and Persepolis – two sides of the same coin. You cannot think of one without the other! (this post has been saved from Archers and first appeared in June 2014)

shahJ was there in autumn of 1978, just a few months before the revolution that overthrew the despotic regime of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his queen, Farah Diba. In 1971 Persepolis was used as a backdrop for the celebrations of the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great. Whilst most Iranians lived in poverty, crushed under the heels of the hated, US-trained, SAVAK  secret police, the Pahlavis squandered an estimated $200,000,000 (at 1971 values) on this recreation of the grandeur of a once-great empire. J, was performing at a festival organised by the Shah’s sister and, I hasten to add, was not paid what I consider she is worth and neither did she get a sip of the Château Lafite Rothschild 1945 champers that had flowed so freely seven years earlier! She has wanted to go back ever since.

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1971 – the ‘tent city’ created around the ‘Field of Cloth of Gold’ theme

Anyway, let’s get back to the touristy bit. Persepolis, I have to say, is a pretty impressive place. If one has just a modicum of imagination it is impossible not to gasp at the size and grandeur of this monument to ancient imperial might.

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an aide to a modicum of imagination

There is a mass of information and photos available online so I’m going to concentrate on one particular angle that blew me away – the staggeringly detailed relief work that gave a real insight into the scale and complexity of the empire. That these amazing monuments to the power and reach of Cyrus and the skill and artistry of the masons have survived in such pristine condition is a miracle. If you plan to visit Iran before you die, and you should (visit, that is), then Persepolis is a must.

J and I had the benefit of having a young archaeology student by the name of Vahil as our guide – he was wonderfully enthusiastic, very knowledgeable about his subject and good looking to boot, or so J informed me.

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J and guide Vahil with the iconic monumental entrance behind
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the ‘Gate Of All Lands’
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the Armenian delegation – prominent partners of the Persians
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Median (military) nobleman
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astonishing detail from a scabbard
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J pointing out the Ethiopian delegation bearing gifts

The reliefs you are looking at are carved into a type of black basalt rock that is incredibly hard – I imagine it is difficult to work but has resulted in a durability that has sustained them for 2500 years. UNESCO World Heritage status ‘rules’ forbid anything other than brushing away the dirt of centuries. There are, however, one or two places where part of the carving has been polished back to how it would have looked in Cyrus’ time. The Armenian delegation above is an example.

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the iconic lion attacking a bull theme that appears in many places
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old Persian cuneiform script
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Cyrus’ elite troops, the Immortals
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finally, a few kilometres away lie the Tombs of the Kings (WikiCommons)

So, ‘What a relief’ I hear you say, ‘that’s the end of that!’

Alan in Okçular

Iran Life – Needles In Haystacks

This is a story that epitomises why J and I avoid group travel and prefer to wander off from any designated path or route – why exploring ‘off the beaten track’ is so much fun and far more enriching than following the person with the coloured flag or umbrella or t-shirt around the same old tired touristic sites!

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As I posted earlier, the flight to Mashad near the eastern border was a real disappointment. The 120km road trip to Neishabour in Khorassan-Razavi Province to the tomb and shrine of the great Omer Kayham and an adjacent shrine to yet another pious nonentity was a real non-event and all we wanted to do was get away from the place. Our guide was deeply concerned that this part of our tour was such a disappointment – ‘What can I do to make it better?’ I’d vaguely remembered a sign along the road that pointed off to a ‘wooden mosque’ – let’s go there I said. It took a bit of driving around in circles, but eventually we found the road and drove the 10km or so to the site.

It was a delight, especially after all the past (and still to come) disappointment surrounding Mashad. Named Choubin Village (choubin means wooden), the place is a large compound full of trees, flowers, running water and bird song – a haven. Scattered around were wooden or adobe constructions – all of them simple, home-spun and all of them a delight to the eye.

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The wooden mosque and library, in particular, were a pleasure to be in and explore. The village is the brainchild of an engineer by the name of Mojtahedi and is said to be earthquake-proof. It is certainly  constructed using unique principles of web-like lattices. Compared with the wonders of Iranian construction and design; from amazing mosques and religious buildings to fabulous gardens, qanats, wind-towers and adobe palaces, Choubin Village is a very modest, under-stated affair. That said, in many ways, it out-shone many places for its quirkiness and the  peaceful atmosphere and beautiful birdsong.

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the library
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a selfie
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library interior
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farm buildings and water tower
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new adobe lodging places under construction
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symbolism?
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it’s a working farm as well
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another glimpse of the delightful interior of the Wooden Mosque of Choubin Village

A few shining needles from the disappointing Mashad haystack!

Alan in Okçular

Urgent and Important

Urgent and important – sometimes there just isn’t enough time (or inclination) to deal with both. To do another ‘Iran Life’ post (urgent – well, sort of) or bog off for a couple of days head-rest (important)? To clean up the workshop after building Gülay’s exercise machine (again, sort of urgent when you consider the state it was in) . .

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don’t look!

(rescued from Archers first posted June 2014)

. . or go walk a mountain with a friend, photograph some flowers (even though I forgot my main camera); eat fresh-caught trout in a village restaurant in the mountains; visit an amazing eco-project and generally chill?

Sod the urgent, we said . . let’s do the important!

So, off we went to Burdur which is a rather unlikely place to escape to, even if it is for only a couple of days. Actually, the town and province is now home to a certain ranking bureaucrat of our acquaintance and visiting him is not just a pleasure, it is always an interesting experience. We had often said to ourselves that we really ought to go and explore the ‘other side’ of Burdur lake and the mountains and so it was that with a little ‘official’ guidance we spent the day doing just that.

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Lisinia Project – general view towards Burdur Lake
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looking towards the wildlife rehab area

We started at the Lisinia Project, a private initiative founded by veterinarian Öztürk Sarıca and manned by a team of enthusiastic volunteers. The project aims to resurrect the barren soil of the area and return it to full, organic production. So far they are doing a great job! Using organic foods, herbs, etc they research and demonstrate the links with processed foods and artificial fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides to cancer and other diseases. As a vet, Öztürk also takes in injured and sick animals and birds and treats them, either readying them for release or providing a permanent home. From an over-friendly wild pig to injured raptors to a stork with an artificial leg – from organic herbs and fruits to organic rose essence, you can find it here. We loved the place and we will be going back. Here’s a link to learn more.

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rose essence distillation plant
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smelling the roses
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Aargh, Jim lad! (stork with artificial leg)
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this little piggy stayed home!

From Lisinia we clambered a small, rocky hill overlooking the lake – a chance to blow the cobwebs away, photograph the view and enjoy the relationship between J and our bureaucratic ‘son’.

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view to Burdur

Then it was off, up the big mountain for a long way on roads that do not appear on maps or Tom-Tom devices! J and I love villages and village people, a fact well known to our host. Eventually, the track ran out at a smallholding cum fish farm cum very basic restaurant – the sort we love – no frills, no fancy waiters trying to be witty and no fancy prices! Salad made from veg pulled from the garden and fried trout that had been looking forward to a future ten minutes earlier! No GMO, no added hormones, no nasty chemicals – trust me, there is no finer meal than that!

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the restaurant at the end of the universe

We set off for an after-luncheon walk but were rained off by the same storms that flooded parts of Denizli and Aydin, although we only caught the edge of it. So, a lot more tea and coffee was drunk and much talking and dossing about done. Later, we moved back to the city side of the lake and climbed the mountain there. J and our host made it to the top and I got to within a few hundred metres – with so many photos of flowers to be taken, a few hundred metres was not a bad price to pay. Anyway, they used the tracks whilst I was scrambling about in the rough – well, that’s my excuse. A few pics because I know you love this stuff!

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balancing bug Burdur

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Russian Marbled White – Melanargia russiae far from its home in the east

Finally, in order to ensure that the important didn’t get in the way of the urgent, we detoured to a certain winery of our knowledge and filled the car with cases of the finest to restock J’s decidedly bare cellar. Now that really does smack of efficiency – combining the urgent and the important with the essential!

Alan in Okçular

ps workshop’s done too – forty winks before the boss breezes in and catches me – fat chance!

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