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A taste of Slovenia

Maribor


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The end of a full day in Maribor, Slovenia. I arrived here yesterday after almost a whole day of travel; one Flixbus from Bregenz to Munich, then another one for six-and-a-half hours from there to here.

The following is a series of moments, impressions and experiences from the last two days.

The beauty of the frozen Bavarian landscape muffled in snow; long stretches where every branch and every leaf of every last tree and bush looked as if it had been dipped in snow or heavy frost. Snow as far as my eye could see...

The Old Vine of Maribor; the oldest vine in the world to still bear fruit, it has been producing grapes for 400 years, and even now these grapes produce about 25 litres of red wine per year. The Old Vine grows next to the River Drava, where apparently timber rafting was a big industry in bygone years.

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The streets of Maribor. The colourful buildings with crumbling plaster reminded me a bit of Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

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I can see some Slavic similarity between Slovenian and Bulgarian, though they're not that close. I've recognised a few isolated words; the words for great (as in big), water, honey, milk, ice cream, pancakes, street, bridge, town, Monday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday all only have a letter or two different, or in a couple of cases are identical.

Standing in the peaceful silence of the beautiful incense-scented cathedral, the only person there apart from a nun who I didn't know was there for quite a while because she was mostly hidden in an almost-screened-off side chapel.

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Maribor Regional Museum, contained within the old city castle. Highlights of the permanent collection included a set of painted fascia boards of beehives, medieval weapons, a mammoth tusk and huge wicker clogs worn by firefighters.

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There was also a great temporary exhibition on the flowering of classical concerts and other cultural offerings in Maribor in the 18th - 19th centuries (apparently Maribor was second only to Vienna, in a cultural sense, at this time). Highlights of this exhibition were the collection of historical musical instruments and the room where Liszt played one of his first international concerts.

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Tucking into some Styrian specialities for lunch - a delicious 'game ragout' which came with local Styrian potato noodles on top, plus 'grits pudding' - sounds unappetising but it was lovely; a bit like thick rice pudding but a type of very small grain instead of rice, with blueberry preserve and another type of preserve I've forgotten on top.

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Posted by 3Traveller 07:50 Archived in Slovenia Tagged snow museum buses slovenia bulgarian explorations natural_wonder maribor styrian_cuisine Comments (1)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Pamukkale and Ancient Hierapolis

Pamukkale, Ancient Hierapolis and Selçuk


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Day trip today to the dazzling white hot spring terraces of Pamukkale and the ancient site of Hierapolis.

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It turned out to be one of the busiest days of the year - a feast day for the end of Ramadan, all historic and tourist sites in the country were free entry for Turkish nationals. The place was packed, but I was still very glad we'd come. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a reason, after all - it is both spectacular, otherworldly and historically significant. I remembered seeing pictures of the terraces somewhere years and years ago (in childhood or teenage years), without knowing where they were or what they were called, and being transfixed. I imagined what a wonderful thing it would be to visit such a magical place.... it was only recently, when I was in Bulgaria and reading about Turkey, that I came across pictures of Pamukkale again and things clicked into place... here was my magical landscape again; this time a reality to visit!

We walked round Hierapolis first, a very open site with fantastic views of the landscape reaching up to mountains in the distance. Hierapolis was an ancient city within the Classical region of Phrygia. There were remarkably few people here considering the huge amounts around the mineral terraces next door. Very peaceful and pleasant, highlights being a restored theatre and the Nymphaeum Temple.

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The terraces themselves - well, what can I say! The stretches of white calcium carbonate reminded me (and surely most other people) of a glacier; the pools of light turquoise water, filled from hot springs and clouded with minerals, were a sight to behold. So surreal! First of all we walked around, looking at all the terraces people aren't allowed to touch...

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...before moving along to the ones which people are allowed to paddle and bathe in. I wished I had a swimming costume available so I could bathe, but as neither Dave nor I had any swimming stuff with us, we made do with a paddle. I saw one guy walk out of a pool with white mineral silt spread all over his face, chest and arms. Not a bad place to give yourself a facepack!

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It was an exceedingly hot day and by the time we had to leave the terraces we had finished the drinks we'd brought with us. We were so thirsty that although the drinks at the stands outside the exit were expensive, I had no choice but to buy a couple there.

Back in Selçuk in the evening, we had another delicious dinner next to the Roman aqueduct. We returned to the restaurant we'd eaten at the day before yesterday - the owner recognised us from before and was really friendly. While we ate we watched the storks on the aqueduct and noted all the cats and kittens that were wandering around the tables. One table near us had six or seven of them!

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After dinner we walked around the base of the aqueduct, hoping to get a photo of one or more of the storks taking flight from the nests on top, but with no luck. We also admired the view of the Basilica of St John on the hill on the other side of town.

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Posted by 3Traveller 06:38 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey dave storks selcuk pamukkale natural_wonder hierapolis roman_remains unesco_world_heritage_site thermal_baths extreme_weather Comments (0)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Göreme Open Air Museum

Cappadocia


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Edit from March 2019: There wasn't enough room in the title, but the UNESCO Site is actually called 'Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia'. The open air museum is only part of it.

After our second breakfast we began our tour of the local area. To do this we joined up with a tour run by a local travel agent and organised for us by our hotel; usually we prefer travelling independently, but decided to give an organised tour a go this time.

We visited two sets of rock formations first- climbed around and admired some 'fairy chimneys' and some shaped like other things- for example a camel, a hand, two whirling dervishes, the Virgin Mary with her arms crossed.

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There were some fantastic views of the Devnent Valley and the wider Cappadocian landscape - all creamy and pinkish stone, olive trees, small fields of pumpkin plants, vineyards... Some of the rock formations had dwellings in them, now empty; two had been churches.

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At the first one I had an accident - I walked into the end of an olive branch, which scratched my forehead quite badly. Not much blood at all though luckily. The scratches stung like mad for a while but don't hurt at all any more. They are however embarrassingly very visible.

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In the nearby town of Ürgüp we were given a tour of a government-run Turkish carpet workshop - it was interesting to see some weavers at work, a man getting silk threads from cocoons of the silkworm and hear a bit about the process of making the rugs.

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It did however end with half an hour of sales techniques being tried on us, which we could have done without. After showing us round, the main guy herded us all into a big showroom, gave us tea, coffee or the local spirit and talked about carpets while other guys showed them to us. Then he gave an order, stepped aside and a crowd of salesmen all came in and nabbed us sitting targets... Cue awkwardness all round. There were some absolutely gorgeous rugs, but quite rightly (given how incredibly long each one takes to be made by hand) they were all extremely expensive, so we didn't get any. I don't think anyone actually bought anything.

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Lunch was very good - a collection of various salads and hot dishes, with some lovely puddings; fruit jellies, syrupy batter balls, fruit and a delicious chocolate blancmange-type thing. The view we got from the terrace outside was fabulous, too. We saw man-made door-shaped holes in cliffs and rock formations in the distance- apparently these were pigeon houses! Like dovecotes I suppose.

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We were also shown round a pottery workshop, saw a pot being thrown and painters painting plates by hand in traditional patterns. This time we weren't given the hard sell, which was good, but we still didn't buy anything because even the smallest thing was too expensive.

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We also saw a historic fortress very dramatically set within one giant rock formation, but people aren't allowed to climb it for safety reasons. So we only looked from afar.

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Last up was the place I most wanted to see; the Göreme Open Air Museum, a collection of rock-hewn churches. It's part of the Göreme Valley, itself part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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I loved the creamy curves of the stone, and the frescoes within.

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One of them, the church of St Barbara, had some very enigmatic, simple red frescoes which looked almost like Aboriginal Australian rock paintings. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pictures inside.

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I also loved the small but excellent exhibition of photos of Cappadocia taken from hot air balloons, which was in another of the churches.

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I did have another accident here though - this time I stepped into a hole and bashed my shin against the edge of the metal grille. The grille was supposed to cover a whole hole where a grave had once been, but stopped short. This is the chapel where it happened;

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For dinner that evening we went a café recommended in my guidebook; I had a delicious spiral vegetable- stuffed pastry thingy with tomato sauce and yoghurt, and Dave had a tuna salad. I had a chocolate and caramel Turkish ice cream to follow, but Dave didn't have anything.

Posted by 3Traveller 02:16 Archived in Turkey Tagged art cappadocia turkey museum dave fortifications natural_wonder unesco_world_heritage_site turkish_cuisine Comments (1)

The Stone Forest (Pobiti Kamani)

The Stone Forest (Pobiti Kamani)


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This morning we went on an excursion to a wonderful set of geological formations about 18km from Varna; Pobiti Kamani, the Stone Forest. My sister Kate visited it a week ago and went into ecstasies about it, so we simply had to go too. It was just as fantastic as I expected!

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Despite what its name indicates, Pobiti Kamani is not actually a petrified forest. It consists of groups of light grey, rugged stone columns rising out of the sand, some several metres tall, some a bit shorter. Most are hollow; some have fallen over and broken into smaller sections, so you can see all the way through them.

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There have been differing theories over the years about how the columns came to be; one is that they are sand and limestone concretions, left standing after the softer sedimentary rock around them gradually weathered away over a period of millennia. The most recent (and most scientifically backed) one is that they are the result of a 'bubbling reef', methane gas seeps in ancient seas about 50 million years ago in the Lower Eocene period.

There were only about two other couples there, so we mostly had the site to ourselves. We spent ages wandering around, taking in the stone columns, white sand, hillocks, sunshine, birdsong, blossoming trees and general sense of peace and calm. I was so, so glad we came here. I couldn't help but think that if this was in the UK, it would be packed!

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The peace and calm was marvellous, but Dave still managed to have a minor but ironic accident. In the main part of the site there is a stone circle which is supposed to bring people luck; Dave went in and then the moment he stepped out of it again, he stepped on something sharp - in bare feet! He had taken his shoes off to enter the circle. Quite minor luckily, with no blood. He was able to carry on walking after a couple of minutes.

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On our way out we passed a small cave and then bought postcards and fridge magnets from the little shop at the entrance.

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The man there had sold us the tickets at the start, and now he kindly ordered a taxi for us - my Bulgarian is not great face to face, so I didn't want to risk it on the phone!

Posted by 3Traveller 01:12 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged coast dave bulgaria black_sea natural_wonder Comments (0)

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