Kars, the End of the Road

Kars Castle.© Sharon Lundahl

After another midnight bus trip–this time from black sea port Trabzon through the mountains of northern Turkey, we arrived through desolate, tree-less high plateau steppes to Kars, a frontier town near Armenia which has harsh winters with  up to 40-feet of snow.

Ancient Cathedral in Ani near Kars. © s@mbo@flickr

The word “kars” means “snow” in Turkish.  Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s nobel-prize novelist, based his best-seller “Snow” in Kars.  The people in Kars are descended from the Karsaks, a Turkic tribe that came from the Caucasus in the the 2nd century B.C.

Kars has saved many of its pastel-colored stone buildings built during the Russian occupation from 1877 to 1921, and often reminded us visually of our time in the former Soviet Union.  The older Russian-era town with its picket fences and square grid streets contrasted with the newer, more modern Turkish parts of town.

Kars Castle, overlooking the whole town

At a Music School in Kars, Turkey

At a Music School in Kars. © Sharon Lundahl

from its mountain top, was actually built by Armenians before the Moslem conquest.  An exquisitely restored 12th century Armenian-built stone “Church of the 12 Apostles”  is now an active mosque.  The Russians gained this northeast part of Turkey by conquest during the Crimean War, and the Czar even built his family a ski lodge here.  Russia’s new Bolshevik leaders Lenin and Trotsky, however,–in a “singularly stupid moment” — gave Kars and the province back to Ataturk in 1921, in an effort to win his friendship.

Woman in Kars, Turkey

Although all the people we met were helpful and friendly, only one local spoke English; he was the young owner of a music and book store.  He explained that he had been a tour guide, and tourism had pretty much closed down after the beginning of the “Kurdish troubles”.  There is plenty to see in Kars, including produce markets with the famous two-foot-in-diameter Kars cabbages, but we found very little in the way of handicrafts that are so plentiful in other parts of Turkey.

The real reason for visiting

Turkish Man. © Sharon Lundahl

Kars is to travel 28 miles to the Armenian border in the shadow of Mount Ararat to see the ruins of Ani, one of the most impressive sights in Turkey.

At the height of its golden age in the 10th century, Ani had 100,000 people and rivaled Constantinople in glory and power.  The Armenians and Byzantines, each supporting a different brand of Christianity,  bickered and fought between themselves, enabling the Moslems to conquer first one and then the other.

Sharon at Ani. © Fred Lundahl

A huge earthquake in 1310 destroyed the city, including its monumental churches and mosques, a few of which were rebuilt only to suffer near destruction in later disasters.   Spending a day in its strangely quiet, abandoned ruins (seeing only a few other tourists) made us think about how civilizations come and go.

The name Ani came from Anahit, an ancient Persian goddess identified with Aphrodite, one of the chief deities of the pre-Christian Armenians. Among the dozen or so structures remaining inside the mile square massive walls, in addition to churches and mosques, were both a synagogue and a zoroastrian fire temple–testament to the diversity that once thrived here.

The Only English Speaker We Met in Kars! © Sharon Lundahl

On the somber drive back to Kars, we were reminded of a more recent conflict in this cradle of civilization: the Armenian-Turkish conflict of the early 20th century.  While we usually hear about the genocide of Turks killing Armenians in Turkish-majority areas, out here in what was once an Armenian-majority area, we came across a small monument on the highway commemorating the massacre of  the entire population of Turks in a small town by their Armenian neighbors.    In our travels, we are constantly being reminded by sights such as this that our “understanding” of historical events is often too simplistic.

Ruins at Ani. © Sharon Lundahl

 

 

Slightly Seedy Trabzon

Trabzon on the Black Sea Coast. © David Farrer_flickr

Is Trabzon on the Black Sea Coast a seedy Turkish-Russian port town or is it Turkey’s “most cosmopolitan, ever-changing city” as its tourist brochure states?   It is probably both.  At night,  it seems to earn its reputation as the Turkish center of the “Natasha trade”, where women from nearby former-Soviet countries work  on an “ad hoc” basis.  Trabzon is the Black Sea’s busiest port, and business is booming… both in the port itself, filled with ships from Russia and the Ukraine, and in the dozens of cheap hotels that line the Port area.

Turk in Trabzon.© Sharon Lundahl

In daylight, Trabzon  is at its best in the modern, busy main square jammed with people, sidewalk cafes, modern shops and surrounded by noisy traffic.  You can see both women in conservative  headscarves and girls in short dresses.   Everyone in Trabzon is VERY proud of its local football (soccer) team;  it is one of two teams outside Istanbul to ever have won the Turkish national league.

Pretty Turkish Girl. © Sharon Lundahl

Trabzon was founded (as Trebizond) in the eighth century BC.

When the ancient Greeks first arrived, they reported shocking stories of the Mosynoecians, “practitioners of open-air fornication who resided in wooden castles.”  We didn’t see any of these folks.  For centuries after the founding of Trabzon, it formed the easternmost limit of the Western World.  During the Byzantine period, silk road caravans found their way here.

Conservative ladies. © Sharon Lundahl

Trabzon’s best days followed the crusaders sacking Constantinople in 1204, when the fleeing Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus I made it the seat of his new empire with his great riches.

The city lasted as a Byzantine outpost for a century after the Ottomans took Constantinople but then inevitably declined.  The Russians fought over the city in both the Crimean War and WW One and damaged the city when they captured it in 1916.

After visiting the lovely Aya Sofya Museum (originally another Hagia Sophia church), we found the most beautiful sight near Trabzon was the Sumela Monastery.  About 34 miles south of Trabzon, it is a

Shop Ladies in Trabzon. © Sharon Lundahl

wonderful site at 3700 feet (1,000 feet above a river) in a forest on the side of a cliff.  The monastery was built by Emperor Anastasius in the 5th century AD, and some of it has been restored. It was too remote to be made into a mosque and actually had Greek monks in residence until 1923.  The bus leaves you off for a ten-minute climb up the cliff, and after you walk for 45 minutes straight down from the monastery on the stairs and paths.

Overall, in Trabzon we saw a bustling and peaceful port.  People were very friendly, but no one spoke English.  Luckily our room cleaner was an Azeri woman from Baku, and we were able to communicate with her in Russian.  We saw no other foreign tourists, other than at the monastery.

Sumela Monastery in Turkey

Sumela Monastery. rward2008_flickr

Amasra on the Black Sea

Amasra, Turkey

Amasra on the Black Sea Coast. © Sharon Lundahl

Amasra is called the prettiest port on the Black Sea coast of Turkey.  Even though this is a touristic center for Turks in summer months, foreign visitors are uncommon.  During our October visit it was quiet, peaceful and beautiful…and tourist-less.

Girl in Amasra, Turkey

Girl in Amasra. © Sharon Lundahl

We got the idea to visit Amasra from a customer visiting our shop who had loved the place.

Our small hotel, “Kusna Pension”, cost all of $ 45.00 a night and was located right on the water, high overlooking the rocky shore and fishing boats. Our room was simple and clean, and the view was incredibly beautiful.

The name of the city in ancient times was ‘Seamos’, which means sesame.

The first rulers of the city were said to be the legendary Amazon women warriors.

Flower Pots in Shoes

Flower Pots in Shoes. © Sharon Lundahl

The town has a unique combination of natural harbors for ships overlooked by rocky outcrops perfect for protective fortresses.

The Byzantine Emperors actually rented the whole place out to the Italians from Genoa for a century or two when Genoa was the Mediterranean super-power.  The Ottomans, as they conquered the Byzantine Empire piece by piece in the 1400’s actually took Amasra from its Genoa renters without a fight.

Market in Amasra. © Sharon Lundahl

Ever the tradesmen, the Genoese figured out that it didn’t really matter to whom they paid rent  and quickly switched from  sending their rent checks to the Byzantines to sending the checks to the Ottomans, who were happy enough to let the Christian Italians continue to manage the trade of the town as long as they didn’t mind the Ottomans turning all the existing Byzantine churches into mosques.

We visited the museum, which contained Hellenistic, roman, Byzantine, Genoese and Ottoman artifacts found in the area.

The very old Fatih Mosque near our B&B was once a Byzantine 9th century church.  It was turned into a mosque by Fatih Sultan Mehmet when he conquered Amasra in 1460.

Turkish School Children

Turkish School Children. © Sharon Lundahl

The Midnight Bus to Safranbolu

Turkey Safranbolu

Old Town of Safranbolu. © Sharon Lundahl

A customer visiting our shop, Music for the Eyes, hearing we were going to Turkey again, said that their favorite place outside of Istanbul was the little restored Ottoman village of Safranbolu, near the Black Sea coast.

Safranbolu turkey

Fred and Turkish Metalworker. © Sharon Lundahl

Always looking for new places to visit in Turkey, we took the midnight bus to Safranbolu .   Already tired at 12 PM, we got on the wrong bus twice.  Luckily the Turks are great, so that even though no one spoke English, they carried our suitcases and directed us to the right seats on the right bus.  The trip was quite nice, but Sharon didn’t much like the Eastern-style bathrooms at the rest stops, which were your basic hole-in-the-floor models.

Display in Safranbolu Museum

Display in Safranbolu Museum.© Sharon Lundahl

The bus arrived at the town square 45 minutes early, and it was not yet dawn.  We woke up the surprisingly pleasant B & B owners, and were shown to our wonderful room with a wooden carved ceiling.

Safranbolu takes its name from the saffron flower and top-quality saffron produced there.  The usable part of saffron is the seeds of the flowers;  80 thousand

Safranbolu museum

Safranbolu Museum. © Sharon Lundahl

flowers produce only 1/2 kilo of saffron.

The town of Safranbolu dates back to 3000 BC .  The Gasgas, Hittites, Sumerians, Lydians, Persians, Greek, Romans, Seljuks and the Ottomans have all ruled in Safranbolu.

Its old city is famous for its half-timbered buildings with their tile roofs and overhanging second storeys.  These traditional wooden houses are beautifully preserved, and Safranbolu has been declared an UNESCO world heritage site.

Shopping in Safranbolu.© Sharon Lundahl

It is also built on an interesting geological structure which joins three separate canyons…and contributes to the beauty of the city.  We spent our days wandering around and exploring; the city was so well preserved that it felt like an open-air museum.  The only tourists we saw during our visit were young Chinese, traveling in groups on a Chinese holiday.

One of the most interesting shops on the metal-workers’ street was that of a friendly Turk who was proud of the fact that he had exhibited his work in at the University of Maine in the Hudson Museum in an exhibit of Turkish metalworkers.

Safranbolu Turkey

Turkish Metalworker's Shop. © Sharon Lundahl

Old Istanbul (Stamboul)

Turkey Istanbul Topkapi Palace Aya Sofia

Topkapi Palace and Aya Sofia. © Sharon Lundahl

Istanbul is one of the world’s truly great cities…and our favorite tourist destination.  As it contains thousands of years of history–and 20 million people–it is impossible to capture in a few words.

Ali Hashimi and Fred Istanbul Noah's Ark

Ali Hashimi and Fred. © Sharon Lundahl

Istanbul has Byzantine walls and churches, Ottoman mosques and palaces, and modern buildings.  It sits where Europe meets Asia.  It has been important long before 330 AD when Constantine the Great chose it as his capital of the Roman Empire.

Turkey Istanbul Shopping

Shevaun Shopping. © Sharon Lundahl

We spent a day cruising on the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn with our traveling partners Keith and Shevaun in the new boat of our old Turkish friend, Ali Hashimi.  Ali owns our favorite rug store in Turkey, “Noah’s Ark” and has just renovated an old mansion into a new boutique hotel in Stamboul, also called “Noah’s Ark”.

The shop and the hotel are in Sultanahmet,

Istanbul Turkey

Store in Istanbul. © Sharon Lundahl

all within walking distance of the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar and (Fred’s favorite building in the world), The Aya Sofia.

In addition to the mosques, palaces and hamams (Turkish baths), we love the 19th century timber-built houses of Istanbul, some of which were built along the shores of the Bosphorus for the nobility and foreign ambassadors, and others in the

Istanbul Turkey Ottoman Timber House

Ottoman Timber House. © Sharon Lundahl

city.  In those days, overhanging eaves and windows with grills let women look out on the street without being observed.

For a good book that captures the atmosphere of the old city,  we recommend reading  “The Janissary Tree” by Jason Goodwin, set in the Ottoman empire’s declining days in the 1830’s.

I love shopping in Istanbul, so we came back with a treasure trove of silver and precious stone necklaces, as well as bags of bargain finds from the flea markets.  Fred went crazy buying hats of all kinds, and new rugs are being shipped to our store in Langley.

Sufi Musical Instruments Istanbul Turkey

Shopping for Musical Instruments. © Sharon Lundahl

Conference on Oriental Carpets

Dealers' Show at ICOC in Stockholm

Dealers' Show. © Sharon Lundahl

In June 2011, Sharon and Fred traveled to Stockholm, Sweden to attend the twelfth International Conference on Oriental Carpets (ICOC).  This was was the third ICOC that we have attended, having enjoyed our experience in Istanbul and Washington DC.

Suzani at ICOC in Stockholm

Uzbek Suzani. © Sharon Lundahl

The ICOC, although it always contains a “Dealers’ Fair” where you can purchase outstanding (and high-priced) antique carpets, is primarily an academic conference at which scholars from all over the world present their latest research into various topics relating to hand-knotted carpets and flat-weave rugs from around the world.

Zollanvari booth in Stockholm

Zollanvari Booth at ICOC. Sharon Lundahl

Each ICOC venue provides a large helping of presentations on local regional textiles , as well as visits for conference participants to local museums and other locations where antique textiles can be viewed.

Some of the ICOC lectures given at the Stockholm Convention Center outside of town

swedish sheep

Swedish Sheep. © katchooo_flickr

were quite esoteric and had titles such as “Notes on Ornamental Decore Genesis and Semantics of Samarkand Suzani Embroidery” and “Some Comparisons of Techniques of Dovetail Tapestry and Interlocked Tapestry in Scania Textiles.”  Despite the daunting titles, most of the lectures were quite interesting and illustrated to us a number of textiles we previously knew little about.

While it would seem to make sense to hold such a Conference in Turkey, well known for carpets, having the ICOC in Stockholm seemed little less a natural choice…until we got there.

Dealers Row at ICOC in Stockholm

Dealers Row at ICOC. © Sharon Lundahl

Both in lectures, as well as museums and galleries, we were able to view an amazing array of Scandinavian textiles.  Remembering that rugs come from wool and wool comes from sheep…and there are a lot of sheep in Scandinavia…we saw old weavings, to include both knotted rugs and flatweave “kilims”.  They were of stunning beauty (and price, when you could find one to purchase).

Dealers' Show at ICOC in Stockholm

Dealers' show. © Sharon Lundahl

These were not the Riya rugs you can buy at IKEA, but very finely-woven folk art of the 19th century made with as much skill and artistry as any rug woven in Turkey or Iran.

Although we departed without buying anything for our own collection or for sale in our shop, we will always have fond memories of beautiful folk weavings from Scandinavia.  The next ICOC will be in two years in Budapest.  We’ll be there!

Swedish Pieces in Dealers' Row. © Sharon Lundahl

Sweden, 50 Years Later

Stockholm at Night

Stockholm at Night. © TheCleopatra_flickr

Visiting Sweden 50 years later, I found it to be greener, more multi-cultural and socialist and WAY more expensive.

My parents lived in Sweden in the mid 1960’s.  As a visiting college freshman, I remember cheap trains, youth hostels, and pretty blond girls in skirts on bikes.  I also remember telling friends back home in school about seeing “forbidden” films, like “I Am Curious Yellow”–which was banned in America.

Changing of the Guard. © Sharon Lundahl

Visiting Stockholm in June 2011 for the International conference on Oriental Carpets (ICOC), my first impressions were that the city looked much the same.  Then the differences began to register.  First, we noticed that “I Am Curious Yellow” was now playing on prime-time TV.  Next, we noticed that there is no Passport Control at the airport.  You just walked from the plane to Baggage Claim and onto the street.

Swedish Girl in Stockholm

Swedish Girl. © Jon Aslund_flickr

Prices had soared, and the fast train into town, taxis and hotels were pretty costly.  Being in the EU (but not the EURO currency zone) had enabled the economy to prosper.  Having appropriately regulated their banks, the Swedes had been quite well insulated from global economic problems.

Sweden is on the cutting edge of “Green Energy” with huge wind, solar and tidal energy programs sponsored by government/private cooperative programs.  Stockholm, named the first Green Capital in 2010, plans to be fossil-fuel-free by 2050.

And now there are the bikes, the BIKES!

Bicycle Parking Stockholm

Bicycle Parking. © itchy_flickr

The numbers now are huge…there are thousands, tens of thousands of them, in commuter lots at train stations and hundreds of bike lots around town.  These are not fancy new mountain bikes or 20-speed racing bikes.  The vast majority are old-fashioned 3-speed types with skirt protectors and handlebar baskets.  Oddly enough, no one seemed to wear bike helmets, then or now.  It was odd to see such a modern place with thousands of commuters riding bare-headed on old-fashioned bikes.

Fifty years of multi-culturalism has changed the mix of people you see on the street.  There are lots more dark-haired, dark-skinned immigrants of all kinds.   Famous Swedes include the chef Markus Samuelsson, an Ethiopian adopted at an early age by a Swedish couple…and now cooks on New York television!

Sweden remains on the forefront of social engineering.  A Swedish friend described his business meetings where everyone scrupulously avoids deference to seniority and decisions are always made by consensus of the entire group.  He also pointed out that the Swedish military and police do not wear visible markings of rank on their tunic.

Map of Stockholm Sweden

Map of Stockholm. © kevins_adventure_flickr

Iceland is Great!

Aurora Borealis in Iceland

Aurora Borealis in Iceland. © Arnar Valdimarsson_flickr

When we make our return trip to Iceland, there are many things we don’t want to miss.

Within a week or less, you can explore  geysers, waterfalls, geothermal hot springs, boiling mud pools, bird sanctuaries and more!  We also want to have more time in Reykjavik, the world’s northernmost capital.

Fred in Reykjavik © Sharon Lundahl

Iceland is a very young country, geologically speaking.   Its creation, which continues today, began less than 20 million years ago.  Volcanic eruptions on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean created a mountain extending above sea level, which is the island of Iceland.  That is why the volcanic character of Iceland results in so many unusual beautiful natural sites which you can visit and explore with a camera.  You can see volcanoes, mountains of pumice, fields of volcanic ash, lava fields and craters.

Icelandic Girls © Sharon Lundahl

As Iceland is far north, you can also see interaction between volcanic activity and water or ice.  Visit Kverkfjöll, where hot springs rising beneath the Vatnajökull glacier have made beautiful ice caves.  Ten per cent of Iceland is covered with glaciers, which are naturally white.  When volcanic ash has fallen you will see black or layers of white and black.  When the glaciers retreat, you can see fantastic lakes with floating icebergs such as the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon.

Puffin on the Látrabjarg Cliffs, Iceland

Puffin on the Látrabjarg Cliffs. © Kendrickhang_flickr

As Iceland is very young, there are few insect species and only a small number of wild mammals, most of which were introduced by man.  Bird species are increasing, as the birds discover Iceland.  You can’t miss a visit to the northern birds such as the puffing and the ptarmigan.

The legendary first settler, Ingolfur Arnarson, in about 874 AD,named the settlement Reykjavik (“Smoky Bay”) because he saw misty geo-thermal steam rising from the ground.

Húsavík is the major whale watching spot,

Húsavík, for Whale Watching. © Pet_r_flickr

Today it is a major source of energy, as this pollution-free energy source heats homes and outdoor swimming pools throughout the city.

Visit Reykjavik in the spring for their Arts Festival or in the fall for the Airwaves Music festival.  We also want to see a performance in the new Reykjavik concert and Conference Center.  If you like to stay up late, summer brings 24-hour daylight.

Take a swim and a steam in the beautiful Blue Lagoon!

Blue Lagoon Iceland

The Blue Lagoon. © Peter Nijenhuis_flickr

Vikings + Irish = Iceland

Iceland

Iceland. © Arjen Toet_flickr

In about the year 900 some Vikings grabbed a bunch of Irish lasses and emigrated to the island of Iceland, where they started an unusual country on a big lava rock.

We stopped there recently on our way to an international rug conference in Stockholm, about which we will write later.

Icelandic Language Reykjavik

Icelandic Language on Sign © Sharon Lundahl

The Icelanders kept their Viking language to this day, which is very strange.  Icelandic is so similar to what those Vikings spoke that most of their ancient literature can be read by modern people.  It’s fun to check out the interesting long street names, such as Skólavör∂ustígur Street.

The country is about the size of Kentucky, with a population of only 300,000.  About 160,00 people  live in the capital of Reykjavik, which has no buildings higher than four stories.  It’s fun to walk the streets; with its colorful houses and friendly people, Reykjavik is like  a big village.

Colorful houses in Reykjavik © Sharon Lundahl

In spite of Iceland being a very very small country, we were impressed by the creative and artistic ability of the Icelandic people.  The local shops are full of great design, such as silver and lava jewelry, and unusual and beautiful clothing.

Iceland is one of the places where the earth’s crust is thinnest.   In Iceland it can be just a few kilometers thick, while in most of Europe it is 40 to 60 km thick.

Fred in Iceland © Sharon Lundahl

Volcano eruptions are common, although not usually as big as the one a year ago which paralyzed air traffic and stranded travelers all over Europe.   There is an Icelandic word to describe the darkness after the eruption when ash blocks out the sun, stars and lights; it is “oskumyrkur” which translates to “ash darkness”.

There is too much to say about our impressions of Iceland in this one article, so the next will be: Things to See and Do in Iceland!

Young Icelanders

Young Icelanders © Sharon Lundahl

A Good Story from Afghanistan

Lapis Lazuli Afghanistan Tribal Jewelry

Asadullah Working with Lapis © Peer Nazar

It is great to share actual pictures of young Afghans working to process lapis lazuli stones in Balkh Province.  Asadullah is from Qultaq Village in Dawlat Abad and is 20 years old.  This hard-working young man is drilling tiny 2mm micro lapis beads.  He has been working for two years and earns the equivalent of $ 7,000 U.S. per year.

Lapis Lazuli Worker Afghanistan Tribal Jewelry

Hait Murad Cutting Micro Beads © Peer Nazar

Hait Murad, another ethnic Turkmen lapis worker from the same village, is 25 years old.  He has been working for 10 years and earns the equivalent of $ 10,000 U.S. per year.  Notice his Afghan “mosque hat” made in Pakistan.

In their village, there is no main power, so they use this generator to provide power

Afghanistan Lapis lazuli Balkh Province

Electricity for the Workshop © Peer Nazar

for their drills and light to work.

There are only 15 people employed in this area, so these young Afghans feed and support large extended families.

Peer Nazar, the Afghan merchant who sends me their lapis beads to sell in our store, says that conditions are better now; there is no tribal war or terrorism, and there is peace in their area.

A Sharpener Powered by a Bicycle © Peer Nazar

The young men invented this sharpener using a bicycle for power and to sew.

What is amazing is that these Turkmen people have carved out a life for themselves in this village with no assistance and no leadership.  They carried the lapis lazuli stones from the mines in Badakhshan and set up the processing facility by themselves.

It is even more serendipitous that we have made contact with these people through Peer Nazar and are able to sell their beads in Langley, Washington.

Lapis Lazuli Tribal Jewelry Afghanistan

Abdul Rehman and M. Qayoom Grinding Beads © Peer Nazar