Monday, January 18, 2021

TURKEY: EPHESUS AND SIGHTS AROUND SELKUK, by Caroline Arnold at The Intrepid Tourist

The Ancient Greek City of Ephesus, Temple of Hadrianus

WEEK 3: 52 Places to Go

Until I visited Turkey, I never realized the breadth of the ancient Greek and Roman empires.  A little over a year ago, after spending a week in Istanbul for a writer’s workshop, I signed up for an add-on tour of Ephesus and other sights in Selkuk, plus a trip to the ancient city of Hierapolis and thermal baths of Pamukkele.  We flew from Istanbul to Izmir (the ancient Greek city of Smyrna) and boarded a bus from there to Selkuk, about an hour’s scenic ride along a river valley to the south. There we spent two and a half days, jam packed with sightseeing.

View of Selkuk from the path to the Cave of the Seven Sleepers on Mount Pion
Our first day included a visit to the Temple of Artemis, the caves of the Seven Sleepers, the Ephesus Museum (where many of the sculptures from the the ancient city are displayed), the House of the Virgin Mary (said to be the final resting place of Mary the mother of Jesus), and finally, a tour of the ancient city of Ephesus itself, which is just two kilometers outside the city.  Our English speaking guide narrated as we went.  Here are some selected photos from our first day:
Statue on grounds of the House of the Virgin Mary
Beginning of the mile-long ancient road through the city of Ephesus.  We walked from from parking lot at the top of the hill, down through the city to what had been the ancient port, now silted in, passing the remains of temples, fountains, public baths and lavatories, amphiteaters, a library and more along the way.
Facade of the Library of Celcus at Ephesus.  It initally housed 12,000 books.  The first human settlements at Ephesus were around 6,000 B.C. and it gradually grew into a city/state.  Alexander the Great conquered Ephesus in 304 B.C.  In the Augustan period of the Roman Empire, Ephesus was one of the most important cities of Roman Asia.  The library was built after the death of Celcus, the Roman Governor of Asia Minor, who died in 114 A.D.
Ephesus Museum in Selkuk.  Sculpture from one of the fountains at Ephesus.  In ancient times three rivers provided water at the rate of 100 liters per second.  Water was used for public baths and lavatories, fountains, and for daily use.
Ephesus, upper amphitheater, the Odeion, with the Stoa Basileios (the Royal Walk) to the left.
Mosaic floor, Ephesus

A report of our excursion to Pamukkele will be in a future post (8/12/2013).
Other posts on Turkey:

8/18/2014 Ephesus Turkey, Guest Post by Kathryn Mohrman
4/8/2013  Room With a View
8/27/2012  Ephesus: Temple of Artemis
8/20/2012  Letter from Istanbul
8/6/2012  Istanbul: A Food Lover's Delight
5/28/2012  Istanbul:  Museum of Innocence

All text and photos copyright Caroline Arnold.

Monday, January 11, 2021

SEPTEMBER IN SARDINIA, Part I: Ancient Crossroads of the Mediterranean, by Caroline Arnold at The Intrepid Tourist

Su Nuraxi:  Bronze Age tower and village built about 1500 B.C.

WEEK 2: 52 Places to Go

Grazing sheep, olive groves, and ancient vineyards stretched on either side of the road as we drove through the rolling Sardinian countryside.  Then, as we rounded a curve, the ruins of a huge, beehive-shaped tower loomed over the landscape.  We had arrived at Su Nuraxi, the remains of a neolithic settlement that had been a center of Sardinian life more than 3000 years ago.  Huge stone towers, called nuraghi, are unique to Sardinia and give the Bronze Age culture that built them its name. The Sardinian landscape is littered with Nuraghic ruins (more than 7,000 sites have been documented) as well as the remains of Etruscan, Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, and other civilizations that have put their stamp on the island.  The richness of Sardinia's ancient history was one of the reasons we wanted to visit.
My husband and I spent a week in Sardinia in September of 2011, visiting ancient ruins, hiking in the mountains and along the coast, going to museums, birdwatching, and enjoying the rich and delicious Sardinian cuisine.  With blue skies and comfortable temperatures (in the 70's), it had all the elements of a ideal vacation.

Cagliari, the Provincial Capital

Cagliari: Gate to the Citadel, location of Museum of Archeology
Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean (after Sicily). We arrived in Cagliari, the capital, in the southern part of the island. After a night at the Holiday Inn, chosen because it was near the airport and theoretically easy to get to (we got hopelessly lost trying to find it), we headed for the center of town to visit the museums in the Citadella, or citadel, the old fortified part of the city at the top of the hill above the port.  The Archeology Museum in Cagliari is the largest and most complete collection of ancient artifacts on the island.  With four floors chock full of pottery, masks, clay, bronze and iron figures, jewelry, projectile points, mosaics and more, representing Sardinia from prehistoric times through the Roman period, it was the perfect introduction to the mix of cultural influences that have created Sardinia and a clue to the wealth of ancient artifacts that have been found there.  Luckily, the introductory panels in each room, which often included maps and diagrams, were in both Italian and English.
Archeology Museum: Wrestlers, Bronze Age figures for votive offering
Sardinia has been part of modern Italy since 1861 and Italian is the official language. Children learn to speak Italian in school, but their first language is Sardi, a Latin-based language, but with words and word forms from earlier times and other cultures. Before the trip, I took a short course in Italian for travelers.  It helped a LOT because, with few exceptions, most people do not speak English in Sardinia.  If they do speak another language other than Sardi or Italian, it is most likely to be French. (The island of Corsica, which is French, is directly north of Sardinia.)

Agriturismo–Farm Stays in Italy
Throughout Sardinia and the Italian countryside, you see signs offering Agriturismo, which is basically a bed and breakfast stay at a working farm.  For our second night, we stayed at Su Boschettu, a typical agriturismo hotel about an hour’s drive from Cagliari, located in the midst of an olive grove.  It also offered dinner, advertising that everything on the menu was organic and locally grown.  The first course, antipasti, included the typical Sardinian green olives (perhaps from their own orchard), which have a delicious, slightly sharp, nutty taste, and the classic crisp Sardinian flat bread, carasau, brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, and toasted.  (Throughout our stay in Sardinia, every meal began with olives and carasau.)
The bread and olives also came with a roasted eggplant dish, sauteed onions and cabbage, and a type of seafood ceviche.  This could have been enough, but was followed by ravioli filled with ricotta (the primi piatti) and salad with a plate of cold meats– sausage, duck and ribs–  (the secundi piatti).  Dessert was fruit, grapes and super-sweet melon, and a small cup of thick Italian coffee.  (I always asked for caffe decaffienato because, at full strength, I knew that the coffee would definitely keep me awake all night.)  We went to bed stuffed, leaving our window open to the fresh country air and perfect silence.

View of the village of  Pauli Arbarei from Su Boschettu

Su Nuraxi–A World Heritage Site

View from the walkway at the top of the Su Nuraxi Tower; stone walls were built without mortar
Our destination the next morning was the town of Barumini and the ancient site of Su Nuraxi, a UNESCO World Heritage site. At Su Nuraxi one can see the ruins of a large central tower, surrounded by four smaller towers and the remains of a large village.  It is the largest and most complete Nuraghic excavation in Sardinia.  From about 1500 BC onwards, villages were built around the tower-fortresses called nuraghi (Northern Sardinians call them nuraghes, Southern Sardinian call them nuraxis, plurals of nuraghe and nuraxi respectively), which were often reinforced and enlarged with battlements. The boundaries of tribal territories were guarded by smaller lookout nuraghi erected on strategic hills commanding a view of other territories.

Nuraghic model of a tower showing the flared upper story

We bought our tickets for the tour of Su Nuraxi (the only way to visit the site), and although the tour was supposed to be only in Italian, the guide generously translated everything into English for us and several other English speaking tourists.  We followed our guide up the stairs of a scaffold on the outside of the tower so we could descend the steep stone steps within the wall to the inner courtyard to enter the lower rooms and see the well. (Many nuraghi were built around wells.  Water has always been a valuable resource in Sardinia.) Only two levels of the tower remain, but originally it rose to 65 feet! Given the size of the huge stone blocks used for building, one has to marvel at the engineering.
Our ticket also got us in to several museums in Barumini.  One displayed artifacts discovered in the excavation of Su Nuraxi; another displayed farm implements and Sardinian cultural items, including the many different forms of Sardinian bread; and another explained the making and playing of a flute-like instrument called  launeddas.

Maps and Guidebooks: We relied on our Michelin map to get us around Sardinia.  You can order it online.  Our main guidebooks for sites, hotels, restaurants, etc., were the Lonely Planet Sardinia and Rough Guide Sardinia.  We also made good use of Sardinia: Car Tours and Walks by Andreas Stieglitz, which has very specific instructions for walks and driving routes.

(Look for Sardinia Part II:  The Supramonte and Sardinia Part III: Giants' Tombs, Sassari, and Sinis Peninsula posted October 24 and 31, 2011.) 

All text and photos copyright of Caroline Arnold.

Cagliari, Sardinia, view from below the Citadel

Monday, January 4, 2021

CHICHEN ITZA: At the Heart of Mexico's Ancient Mayan World, by Caroline Arnold at The Intrepid Tourist

Chichen Itza, El Castillo


The ancient city of Chichen Itza, with its towering pyramid, 13 ball courts, many temples, giant market, and numerous other buildings, is the most famous and best restored of the many Maya ruins in the Yucatan. Once a thriving religious and political center, Chichen Itza was abandoned in the 14th century.  On a trip to Mexico in July, I visited the ruins with my family. As we explored, we could only imagine what it was like in ancient Mayan times.

Chichen Itza, ruins of the observatory as seen from the Mayaland Hotel
We stayed at the historic Mayaland Hotel, surrounded by lush gardens and adjacent to the archeological site. From the window outside our room we viewed the back of the ancient observatory, which, after dark, was lit up with a beam of light, making a dramatic vista.  Shortly after we arrived that afternoon, even though it was raining lightly and it was the end of the day, we decided to visit the ruins. Inside the compound, we were almost completely alone except for a few vendors packing up their wares.  With the light rain and waning light it all felt rather ethereal.  We returned to the hotel for a light meal before going to a planetarium show called Mayan Skies–a useful introduction to Mayan history and culture and a glimpse into the incredible knowledge the Mayas had of astronomy.

Ancient gate to Chichen Itza
All the tourist books strongly advise visiting Chichen Itza early to avoid the crowds, so we set our alarm to be up for breakfast at 7:15 so we could go in when it opened at 8:00.  We arranged for a guide and were impressed by his dramatic telling the story of the Maya and the building of the city.  When we asked, he said his first language was Mayan, then Spanish and English.  He also spoke German and French!

Ceremonial structure at the top of El Castillo
Our guide emphasized several times the even though the pyramid is called El Castillo, the Spanish word for castle, it is NOT a castle but a ceremonial center.  He pointed out the importance of numbers in the structure, 91 steps up each of the four sides plus one large step at the top to make 365 representing one year. (In the past, tourists could climb to the top, but that is no longer allowed, partly for safety and partly to preserve the monument). In Mayan times, every 51 years an extra 13 days were inserted into the calendar and used for a celebration and to make up for the missing leap years.

Feathered serpent head at entry to ball court
On one side of the pyramid, huge serpent heads frame the first step and it appears that a large serpent is sliding down the sides of the stairway.  The building is designed so that on the spring and fall equinoxes, the shadows of the corner blocks ripple along the stairway edge making it appear as if the serpent is alive.  Everywhere in the complex we saw images of feathered serpents, jaguars, and harpy eagles.

Stone ring, ball court, Chichen Itza
We were particularly intrigued with the huge ball court where players had to hit the ball--with their hips, and also with a wooden bat--through large stone circles mounted on the walls of each side. We were told that ball courts of various sizes and designs have been found throughout Mexico and Central America and that rules varied–from games for fun to games where  the captain of the losing team was beheaded.  Some rather grisly stone murals of beheaded players lined the side of the ball court. Outside the ball court was a platform (filled with grass and iguanas sunning themselves) supported by a stone wall decorated with carvings of skulls.

Sacred Well, Chichen Itza
We proceeded with the guide to another ruin (which he characterized as the Pentagon of the Mayas) and to the rows of columns that had supported the roof for a large marketplace.  We had one last stop with our guide at the ruins of the observatory and then had time to wander on our own. We followed a long pathway lined with vendors to the cenote (a sinkhole filled with water) known as the Sacred Well. Wells and caves had a special significance in Mayan culture as entries into the underworld. The name Chichen Itza (pronounced with the emphasis on the last syllable) comes from three Mayan words meaning “the mouth of the well of the Itza”.  From the railing at the top, we watched birds with long blue tail feathers (turquoise-browed motmots) swooping over the water.

Platform decorated with carvings of skulls

After several hours exploring the ruins the day had grown warm and tour buses had arrived.  It was time to leave. We walked back to our hotel and jumped in the pool to cool off.  We had gotten a taste of the incredible richness of Mayan culture. It made us want to learn much more.
Note: In 2007 Chichen Itza was placed at the top of the list of the New 7 Wonders of the World, a poll of famous monuments initiated in the millennium.  Other monuments on the list are Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janiero, the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, Petra, the Taj Mahal, and the Colosseum in Rome–all worthy of anyone’s “bucket” list.

You can also read about our trip to the Yucatan in my 8/19/2013 post, Mexican Food in the Yucatan, and my 8/5/2013 post, Akumal, Mexico: Place of the Sea Turtles. 

All text and photos copyright Caroline Arnold.

Monday, December 28, 2020

BRIONES REGIONAL PARK, LAFAYETTE, CA: Open Space Perfect for a Family Outing, by Caroline Arnold at The Intrepid Tourist

Briones Regional Park, Bear Creek Staging Area, Lafayette, CA

On the Thanksgiving weekend, when we were in Oakland, we enjoyed a family hike and picnic at Briones Regional Park, a large (6,117-acre) open space that is part of the East Bay Regional Park District system. It was a beautiful sunny day, perfect to be outdoors. 

Cottonwood tree, invaded by mistletoe

 Briones Regional Park consists of picnic and play areas as well as trails traversing rolling hills and oak woodlands. From Oakland, we exited the 24 Freeway at Orinda, then drove through a series of hills before turning in at the Bear Creek staging area. We found the parking lots nearly filled but we didn't see very many people. We wore masks and the trails are wide enough that when we did pass other hikers, we could do so at a distance.

Signs at the entrance to the trails inform hikers that the park is a dual use area–both for people and for cattle grazing. In fact, shortly after we began our hike we encountered a cow and her calf at the side of the trail, but they paid little attention to us as we walked by.

Acorn woodpecker in flight.

We followed the mostly level trail to the Maud Whalen fenced picnic area, where we had our lunch. The trees at the edge of the field were full of noisy woodpeckers and we watched them dart out into the air, apparently catching insects, before returning to the trees. High overhead a pair of hawks soared on the updrafts.

Thistles gone to seed.

Two years ago we did a similar hike at Briones in early summer, when wildflowers were in bloom and birds were nesting. On this trip in late fall, the grass had turned golden brown and flowers gone to seed. 

California Buckeye tree.

At several places in the park we noticed bare trees covered with large round fruits, suspended like Christmas balls. Those that had fallen to the ground had cracked open, revealing a nut-like interior. We wondered why wild animals hadn’t eaten them. Then I found out why–they are poisonous. The trees are California buckeyes (Aesculus californica). Native American tribes, including the Pomo, Yokut, and LuiseƱo, used the poisonous nuts and seeds to stupefy schools of fish in small streams to make them easier to catch. The bark, leaves, and fruits contain the neurotoxic glycoside aesculin, which causes hemolysis of red blood cells. Buckeye wood also makes a good fireboard for a bow drill or hand drill. Native groups occasionally used the plant as a food supply; after boiling and leaching the toxin out of the seeds or nut meats for several days, they could be ground into a flour or meal similar to that made from acorns. 

Cattle along the side of the trail.

Our hike was not long--a total of a little over two miles. But it was refreshing to be in the open air and get some exercise at a time when most of us are confined to our homes day after day. 

Thanks to Matt Arnold for the first and fourth photos. 

All text and photos, copyright Caroline Arnold.

Entrance to Bear Creek Staging Area, Briones Regional Park


Monday, December 21, 2020

HAPPY HOLIDAYS from Caroline Arnold at The Intrepid Tourist

Christmas window display at Alpine Village, Torrance, CA

On this shortest day of the year, I send you best wishes for a


Monday, December 14, 2020

ALEXANDER CALDER SCULPTURES at SFMOMA, San Francisco, CA, by Caroline Arnold at The Intrepid Tourist

Fish Bowl by Alexander Calder at SFMOMA
Making a mobile is not only an exercise in creating visual balance, but actual physical balance of the various elements. The all-time master of the mobile is Alexander Calder and at the San Francisco Museum of Art (SFMOMA) there is a large room is dedicated to his work.
A year and a half ago I went to SFMOMA to see the spectacular retrospective exhibit Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again (now ended) and on my way I was sidetracked in the large room where works of Alexander Calder are displayed. I returned to see them again on a more recent visit in December 2019.
Mobiles by Alexander Calder

Large mobiles hang from the ceiling, their colorful flat shapes seeming to float in mid-air as the wires slowly rotated. Outside on the rooftop patio are a number of Calder’s large stabiles, lurking like large beasts enjoying the sun. But my favorite is a small piece–a wire fish bowl, complete with a snail and its spiral shell inching up the side of the bowl. It is like a 3-D drawing, using black wire instead of a pencil to define the shapes.
I once made a mobile in one of my art classes in college, using  found materials (tiny blocks of wood and other scraps I found at a construction site.) I discovered that it is not so easy to achieve the exact perfect balance when hanging the various wires! Which makes me admire the beauty and execution of Calder’s work even more.

Note: SFMOMA has been closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Check out their website for information on when they will reopen as well as forvideos and articles from around the museum that will give you food for thought, a reason to smile, or a moment of connection.

All text and photos, copyright Caroline Arnold. 

Entrance to SFMOMA 

Monday, December 7, 2020

HIKING ALONG THE SILTCOOS RIVER ON THE OREGON COAST Guest Post by Caroline Hatton at The Intrepid Tourist

The Siltcoos River looping toward its estuary on the Oregon Coast

My friend and fellow children’s book author Caroline Hatton took the photos in this post in September 2020 when she enjoyed this free outdoor activity. 

From Eugene, Oregon, driving an hour west through scenic farmland and forest, across the Oregon Coast Range and along the Siuslaw River, leads to the town of Florence, a tourist destination on the Pacific Coast. My husband and I took refuge there in September 2020, because the devastating Holiday Farm Fire started devouring the forest east of Eugene, smoke choked the city for about ten days, and Florence was the nearest spot with clean air. We stayed a few nights to go on hikes every day--beach hikes and dune hikes and hikes in forests around inland lakes. My favorite was the Siltcoos River Hike because it presented me with the prettiest views, the largest variety of bodies of water, and an unforgettable, natural work of art. 

The Siltcoos Lagoon

From the trailhead, we walked around the 0.7-mile (over 1 km) Lagoon Trail loop first, thinking early morning might be our best chance to see birds. The loop follows the inside shore of a U-shaped lake formed when a bend of the Siltcoos River was cut off (an oxbow lake), not by a natural phenomenon, but by the construction of today’s road. To stay quiet for a better chance to see wildlife, we tiptoed on the sections of the trail that are boardwalks over water. But the only animals we saw were painted on panels presenting information about the ecosystem. 

For example, the Nutria (Myocastor coypus) is a big swamp rat once imported from South America for its fur, now an invasive species out of control. I didn’t see any at the lagoon, but I remembered seeing some that had invaded France for the same reasons, one in a pond outside Paris and another one in a marsh in Camargue in the south. There as here, the dirty rats have the last laugh. 

The Waxmyrtle Trail

After completing the lagoon loop, we took the 2.1-mile (~3.4 km) Waxmyrtle Trail, named after a plant abundant in the area, to the Siltcoos River mouth. The trail runs in the shade of shore pines, well above the calm river, so the water looked intensely blue on the clear day I was there, and the view (in the top photo above) extended to the estuary and ocean horizon.

Moose in Waxmyrtle Marsh? No, a log.

After descending into soft sand and emerging from the woods, I stopped along Waxmyrtle Marsh to look at nature’s watercolors and was startled to see a Moose bathing among the grasses. Was I on the verge of moose-size fame, the first to report a sighting in this part of Oregon? Alas, the Moose was still as a statue, because it was a statue, a dead log. I marveled at nature’s artwork and wondered, how did such a big log get there, far from any live tree? And how long would it last before one piece broke off and the Moose disappeared forever? 

The Pacific Ocean as seen from where the trail emerges from the dunes onto the beach.

The trail through the dunes reached Wax Myrtle Beach. 

Wildlife seen only on this sign: a Seal and a Sea Lion. Do not disturb!

More wildlife sightings awaited me: a Seal and a Sea Lion—pictures on a sign that prohibits approaching or disturbing the beasts. 

The 111 sign: my way back.

From the beach, I looked back and noted the number on the sign at my access point, to recognize my way back: 111, not 110 or 112! This was one of the numbered markers along the Oregon coast that were designed to identify locations in case of emergency, so rescuers can reach victims quicker. 

Looking from the beach, up the Siltcoos River meandering out of treesy dunes.

The Siltcoos River mouth at the Pacific Ocean.

On the deserted beach, we walked north to the river mouth, wide, shallow, and indistinct, its edges a blur of sand ripples holding sky blue puddles. During the nesting season (March 15 to September 15) of the Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus), dogs are not allowed on the beach, humans must stay on the wet sand or in their boats on the river, and the part of the trail along the estuary is closed. 

But on September 20 when I was there, visitors had left colorful kayaks on dry sand while exploring around. The river itself is the ~6-mile (almost ~11 km) canoe and kayak Siltcoos River Canoe Trail. Rentals are normally available at the Siltcoos Lake Resort. I wondered whether my kayaking, wildlife-loving friends Paul and Kathy had been there, done that. After all, the area is a favorite with birdwatchers and many mammals live there: coyote, raccoon, river otter, beaver, mink, and even black bear. 

Walking back the same way we came, I noticed deer tracks on the beach, straight out of the dunes toward the ocean, beyond the seaweed, broken shells, and crab claws left by the falling tide. Why did the deer go to the beach? To nibble on crunchy seaweed like humans munch on kale chips? Or for a lick of salt water, as a mineral supplement? 

When we got back to the sign labeled 111, the distant buzz of a dune buggy punctured the peace and quiet, motivating us to get away, even though ATVs couldn’t get near us because they are not allowed near the river mouth. Otherwise we passed only one group of three others lounging on beach chairs at the access point. To reduce Covid contagion risk, we snapped face masks on and stayed more than six feet away. 

We saved the Chief Tsiltcoos Trail loop, 0.8 miles (~1.3 km) through dune thickets, for another time. This group of easy trails is close enough to Eugene to be an attractive destination for a day trip. And when Covid conditions permit, exploring Historic Old Town Florence and its art galleries, breweries, and restaurants will add to the fun.

All text and photos, copyright Caroline Arnold.