The Remnants of an Empire

The Reception in Old Town

The Reception in Old Town


Venice was quite the operation back in the day. They had ships and everything. Here’s a brief history to get you up to speed if you’re not up to snuff on your Medieval powerhouses. The Venetians started out as a profitable little part of the Byzantine Empire, then the alpha dog in the region, but thanks to maritime operations and prime real estate (location, location, location) grew in strength and influence and only a few centuries in they sacked Constantinople, decimating their former masters, a blow from which the Byzantines would never really recover. The Venetians also stole these fine fellows four from the future Istanbul and put them on display in the finest drawing room in Europe, as Napoleon was wont to say.

The Venetian Empire lasted approximately a millennium. It was, by any stretch of the imagination, a good run. Lots of highs, plenty of lows. They fought in the Crusades. They ruled the seas. They battled the Ottomans for centuries, slowly declining in military influence as the years wore on, ultimately succumbing to the advances of Napoleon just before the dawn of the 19th century. And now it’s reduced to an irresistible tourist trap with great gelato that slowly sinks into the lagoon from whence it came. This feels like a metaphor for something, but maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Anyway, part of the empire’s conquests included the Dalmatian City-States, which includes the Bay of Kotor in modern Montenegro. The impressive fortifications the Venetians established are a sight to behold, but they don’t deserve all the credit. There were previous versions of the defensive line high above the bay stretching all the way back to the Illyrians in classical antiquity. The walls, which stretch about 3 miles in length, are still in visible if not quite working order high upon the cliffs gazing down upon the old walled city, which bears a striking resemblance to the old walled fortress of Dubrovnik, which is no big surprise, but with notably better food inside.

The ruins rising up to the sky

The ruins rising up to the sky


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Kotor is gorgeous. If you get away from Old Town it starts to become more the sort of small city you might expect to find in Montenegro, but still, just stepping off the plane it was a panorama of mountains and mist as far as the eye can see.
The view from the tarmac

The view from the tarmac


We stayed in Old Town, which made for a fun/easy trip since the walled city is the tourist highlight. The narrow passages, open courtyards, impressive architecture and historical sites all make for excellent wandering. It’s super touristy, yes, no question at all about that, but like Venice, it’s so good even the visitors can’t screw it up.
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The San Giovanni castel is at the very top of the upper town walls, way up high, and it would have been cool to set foot in it and take in the view. We gave it a go, despite the steep climb and intermittent but heavy rain that day. There is a long, winding path up to the top. We hiked up to the Church of our Lady of Health, which marks the halfway point, but made it no further. There was an intense downpour, and all us tourists on the way up and down huddled together in what little shelter the exterior of the church offered. The English speaking portion of the group exchanged a few stories and Ferda spent the time playing with a stray dog, which made me very nervous and the puppy very happy. The stone/rock/dirt/imaginary path leading to the very top was literally flooded and it was borderline impassable. We might have been able to make it, but this way there’s an easy excuse to come back and visit again. Ferda took a couple photos when the rain momentarily abated before we hiked back down.
I did twenty goofy poses and this was the best one.

I did twenty goofy poses and this was the best one.


We had a few days to roam around before catching a bus to Podgorica. Kotor is the perfect place for idle tourism, virtually everything is interesting and/or beautiful to look at. Stunning views and a great meal here, impressive architecture and a cappuccino there.

Ferda had recently finished a couple new designs, so we went out to take some photos on our last night with Kotor as the backdrop before heading out of town.
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Handmade by Ferda Emecen

Handmade by Ferda Emecen

LAX – SEA – AMS – IST

Seattle

Seattle


I have amassed a pretty respectable number of frequent flyer miles over the years and decided to take them out of mothballs and use 60,000 in exchange for a ticket to Istanbul. I’ve spent precious little time in Istanbul in the summertime, and by precious little I mean none. This was a wrong that needing righting. The only downside was the only flight available from Delta included a seven-hour layover in Seattle followed by another seven-hour layover in Amsterdam. Still, no reason to sit in an airport when reliable public transportation can provide me all manner of entertainment. I’d start with a Sunday afternoon baseball game, move on to a favorite restaurant and close it out with a visit to an antiquated relic of the 19th century.
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Intruders

Celebration in Sarajevo

Celebration in Sarajevo


It was roughly twenty years ago that Bosnian Serbs, with arms and the direct support of the Serbian military and government, laid siege to Sarajevo for almost three years. It was part of a Serbian nationalistic effort to lay total waste to an entire people through organized rape and murder. I have no vested interest in Balkan politics save for a general concern over the state of humanity and/or flooding disasters, but as an exercise in short-term memory, holding grudges and skewed perception it’s hard to beat. I still can’t help but think about Serbian atrocities whenever I watch Novak Djokovic play tennis.

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The Ancient World and Enemies Lists

The Temple of Zeus in the Ancient City of Euromos

The Temple of Zeus in the Ancient City of Euromos


Halicarnassus, better known as Bodrum, was the birthplace of unofficial first historian Herodotus. I found the city intriguing as a tourist destination for the origin story alone, but others appreciate this modern-day resort town in southwestern Turkey more for the vacationer’s paradise it has evolved into. It’s nestled against the Aegean, with stunning vistas, calm blue water, sun, sand, culinary delights (provided you enjoy seafood) and numerous historical treasures.
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“I drank what?”

There are cameras in museums?

There are cameras in museums?


To my untrained non-Peloponnesian eye, save for the superb and cheap souvlaki/gyros sandwiches everywhere, the Greek financial crisis has not made anything in Athens more affordable for tourists, but despite the heavy price tag for a trip to the birthplace of western civilization, I ventured forth in search of answers to the eternal questions put forth by the philosophers of old.
"I drank what?"

“I drank what?”


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The Footsteps of Giants

The Oracle Will See You Now.

The Oracle Will See You Now.


In 331 B.C., Alexander III of Macedonia journeyed from a new city on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, a city that would soon give rise to one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, and which three-hundred years later would provide the last gasp refuge for Mark Antony and Cleopatra against the onslaught of the first Roman emperor, Augustus.

Modestly dubbed Alexandria by the conqueror of the known world, he walked through roughly 300 miles of barren desert from the city to the Siwa oasis, home of the Oracle of Amun, who promptly (one can only assume it was prompt, what with the conquerer of the known world showing up on your doorstep in the middle of the Sahara desert) informed Alexander he was the son of Zeus, a child of the Gods, helping to solidify his rule in Egypt. And providing a bit of an ego boost, I would imagine.

No simple task given the failure roughly two-hundred years earlier by the King of Persia, Cambyses the Second, son of Cyrus the Great and predecessor to Darius I, who himself gained fame by beginning a campaign of retribution against the Greek armies of Athens and Sparta, among others, and who died before the ultimate defeat his empire suffered not long after led to the rapid Hellenization of the world and much, much later to this:

Anyway, Cambyses II took his own palm reading from the oracle badly (history is unclear on exactly why the temple needed to be razed to the ground, but my money says the oracle made gentle, good-natured fun of Cambyses the Second’s name and lineage, and there was, as the ancients were often wont to do, a bit of an overreaction) and sent an army of 50,000 men to destroy the temple. To a man, they were lost in the swirling sand storms, becoming a legend, a historical question mark that passed through the ages and also led much, much later to this, if a little indirectly:


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Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Cappadocia

Cappadocia


Traveling when you’re sick is the worst. I spent a few minutes trying to think of a good metaphor for the experience, and the best I could come up with is that tourism while ill is like trying to enjoy a movie while on a roller coaster, which makes a lot of sense to me, given how sick I get on roller coasters, but largely fails to impress in the grammar department.

Regardless of Strunk and White’s opinion on the aforementioned, I came down with the flu two days before leaving Istanbul for Cappadocia, but there was no way I was missing out on one of the great natural wonders of the world.

Goreme

Goreme


Having said that, this was one of the lamest trips ever. I did very little. I saw precious little. I somehow managed to still have some fun in between the frequent bouts of fatigue/blahness, but most of that was reserved for playing tavla while being stalked by a vicious demon cat.
Vicious Demon Cat

Vicious Demon Cat


Somehow, Ferda manages to tame Vicious Demon Cat

Somehow, Ferda manages to tame Vicious Demon Cat


Ferda and I flew from Istanbul to Nevsehir airport, which is in Central Anatolia, aka the middle of Turkey, aka the middle of nowhere. A forty-minute shuttle ride to our hotel in Goreme, one of the largest towns in the Cappadocia region, and the first step was to lie down and rest. Super lame, but super necessary, what with me being a delicate flower and all.
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Split and the Tyranny of Pretty

Ferda contemplates the fall of the Roman Empire.

Ferda ruminates on the end of the Roman Empire.


Split is that bizarre animal that defies every attempt at singular categorization. The city on the coast of the Adriatic is almost hideously ugly at times, a shocking surprise coming after the uniformly lovely Dubrovnik, and almost every view that didn’t include the sea during the bus ride in was ruined with some factory or Soviet-era architectural relic that was continuing to fight the good fight against the tyranny of pretty.
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Yes, it’s a dump. But in a good way. Sort of.

Skopje

Skopje


Skopje is a bit of a dump. There has to be a more delicate way to describe a city with some of the most impressive statues I’ve ever seen, great food, a huge and hugely impressive old bazaar and uniformly friendly people save for one jerky cab driver who overcharged me and then got pissy when I brought the subject to his attention because I was an American and could easily afford it, but when push comes to shove, sometimes the simplest terms are the best at conveying the reality before us.
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