Sunday, July 26, 2015

Alaçatı - A Turkish Jewel

Currently, I've been travelling around Italy for a little less than a month now, and it's been lovely to see so many new faces along the way. One thing that almost everyone I've met has in common is that when I mention that I live in Turkey, they seem to draw a relative blank as what that actually must be like, or at least offer me a puzzling look. The most common reaction is a raised eyebrow accompanied by the question, "why?"

Unfortunately, much of the press about Turkey tends to be negative, which is understandable in one sense, but unfair in another. It's unfair as many of the joys and pleasures of Turkey are well hidden behind the headlines about protests, unrest and violence. It's vitally important that those issues are brought to the international stage, but it's also important to make the international community aware that Turkey has ever so much to offer, and many places worth visiting and experiencing.



Without question, Alaçatı is a town that's worth visiting, and not just if you live in relatively nearby Istanbul like myself. This Aegean town, on the western coast of the provence of Izmir, is a quaint, charming place that allows you to quickly forget about the chaos of whatever city you left to get there (this is a particularly inviting thought when you live in Istanbul.) It has been famous throughout Turkey and surrounding countries for over a century due to that aforementioned charm, which is largely due to its beautiful architecture, narrow cobblestoned streets, quality food, as well as nearby vineyards. More recently, it has reinvented itself as a wind and kitesurfing capital, something I hope to go back and investigate for myself.

The town itself has an interesting history and feeling. Like many places in this area, Alaçatı had a large Greek population at one point, though not after the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which led to the massive population exchange between the Greeks and Turks. Turks came over across the Aegean to continue the legacy of the town, much of which was built by the Greeks. Today, Alaçatı is pouring with Turkish hospitality, and its proximity to a slew of desirable beaches make it a top destination. Nearby Çeşme can be reached by a short bus and is gaining popularity by the day, especially among Istanbul's Turkish elite. While certainly not part of the Turkish elite, we did spend some time there as well while soaking up plenty of sun and enjoying the refreshing water.

The list of places I've been so far in Turkey isn't exactly exhaustive just yet, but I can safely say that Alaçatı currently reigns supreme as my favourite Turkish town. Bri and I went with some of our best pals, Anjali and Jamie, and it really couldn't have been a better visit.

The good news is that the historical significance of the town is well recognized in Turkey, and its stone houses are in the plans to be preserved for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, any new buildings have to adhere to the town's architectural style - a style well worth protecting.












The allure of a place like Alaçatı is that every street seems worth stopping on, if only for a quick cup of Turkish çay. The list of things to see isn't exactly expansive, which forces you to take notice of all that doesn't normally make it into a guide book. You look for warm conversations, blooming flowers and climbing vines, a seat cushion with an intricate pattern, or a local restaurant with inviting smells. Sometimes it's far too easy to forgot about the things that are perhaps most worth remembering, and, in Alaçatı, you'll find them.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

China, The Lost Photos: Part 2 (Tibet)

Welcome to part two of the Lost Photo Series, which, thus far, has only touched upon my experiences in Beijing. The simple premise of these posts is the re-discovery of a selection of photos that I thought I had lost altogether. All the photos are from a trip to China in 2009 taken by a naive and not particularly well traveled teenager, also known as myself. 

It's been an interesting experience going through these old photos. For one, I'm a much different photographer now who focuses on different things (with a much better camera!). At this time, I think I merely wanted to capture that I was there, and now I look to capture why I'm there. Luckily, I was able to sift through the electronic stack of photos, and find a few that I think are worth sharing. 

This isn't chronological, but this is the part two that I want. The photos below capture the road trip we took from Langzhou, southwest towards and into Tibet. Again, I was with two of my close compadres, Lawrence and Mike. The green, jutted mountains were like none I had ever seen. 

At this point in my life, it was all new for me, and there's something rather special about that now that I think about it.


Once into Tibet, we headed for a Tibetan monastery, which was several hours past the border (one that is rather disputed.) The monastery was still very much active, which is why I hesitated to go too trigger happy on the camera, especially in areas where prayers and the like were ongoing.





There was an ornate room near the back of the monastery with gorgeous sculptures. However, what was different about these sculptures was that they were made of cheese. That's right. They were made this way to represent the impermanence and mortality of man. Every year, they tear them down and rebuild them as a meditative exercise. If for some reason I didn't believe it was cheese, the smell was convincing enough, though, admittedly, it wasn't altogether unpleasant.




Driving across the countryside of Tibet was something I won't soon forget, especially the variance in landscape. The road was rocky, in utter disrepair, but the views on either side of that road captured my full attention. There were stray cats fighting in small towns, green and yellow checkered fields, young boys running in front of old buildings, and nomadic peoples roaming at the foot of towering mountains. And this, of course, is an incomplete picture - It's only what I saw with my own eyes during that time period. There is so much more that I can only hope to see another time.





We had the opportunity during our time in Tibet to visit a monastery well off the beaten path. It was a monastery headed up by a Tibetan monk who was in some way connected to Lawrence's family, something we were very fortunate for. He was a kind-hearted man who readily welcomed us into the fold. I remember recalling that he seemed so at peace with himself and his surroundings. He took the time to bless us, and invited us to take part in some Tibetan Buddhist rituals. I became much more engaged and interested in Buddhism when I was living in Korea (2011-2012), and I thought back to this moment as the start of something. At the time, I'm sure I didn't know that, but maybe I felt it. 







These photos were indeed lost for a period of time, but the memories never were. However, In finding them, I also rekindled the memories, which has been a lovely experience. 

Stay tuned for more parts of the Lost Photos Series on the horizon. When? I'm not sure, as I'll be on the road come Monday, but in due time. In the meantime, I'll aim to keep creating more memories. 

Until next time, friends. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

China, The Lost Photos: Part 1 (Beijing)

I was young, a relatively inexperienced traveller, had little to no money, still wore baggy clothes, was combatting the plagues of acne, didn't even have a camera, was in the midst of university, and was 18 years old. So, naturally, I bought a camera and went to China.

I had travelled, yes, but nothing like China. A conversation over a beer with my friend Lawrence in Kingston, Ontario turned into a more or less spontaneous plane ride to Beijing, and was it ever a good choice. Even better, one of my best friends at the time, Mike, decided to hop on board.

This was 2009, long before the time of religious posting of photos and the surge of Instagram. As such, I never did really got around to really sharing them. To be honest, I forgot about them entirely, and, I figure, six years late is better than never.

I'm calling this series, The Lost Photos, because I've only just found them. You can expect a few more parts on the horizon. Alas, there's not all that many, but this is how I experienced Beijing.

I can't get over how young I look. It's a wonder I survived.

Touched down, and I took out the "new" camera. I tried to take about a million photos while in China.

It looked important so I took a photo. It turned out to be the Opera House.

I didn't know what to expect - this, though, I expected.

Young, naive, and sweaty outside the Forbidden City

Mao himself

Enjoying those semi-permanent grey Beijing skies.  
Mocking ancient turtle, a sign of my maturity at the time. Actually, I might still do that.




When Yao was still relevant. 

The Olympics weren't that far gone at the time. 



Bonding abroad with Mike and Lawrence. 

Ming Tombs

Seemed about right. 


Not sure why I took a photo of this. It's a restaurant?

Staying at the Star River condos thanks to Lawrence. He had some lovely connections.

Star River condos

Shockingly, domestic Chinese planes don't have much legroom. 
The next stop was Langzhou, then there were more stops along the horizon. You'll find them in the upcoming posts, so stay tuned. China was a good place to start my passion for travel, and, luckily, I've got the pictures to prove it.

再见