Empires Come, Empires Go

The church on the cliff in Amasra, Turkey, on the Black Sea coast, was built in the early AD’s, then destroyed, rebuilt, then turned into a mosque, then back into a church, saw medieval castle walls rise around it and crumble away, and then turned into a mosque again.

Turkey’s Black Sea coast has patiently waited out the rise and fall of empires and civilizations, tribes and armies and kings and generals slaughtering and assimilating each other for control of heaven on earth ports, Amasra chief among them.
The Amazons, Phoenicians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans have all come and gone.
Today, for the few months of summer anyway, Amasra is a coveted refuge away from the realities of Turkish life (few foreigners seem to holiday here), with a thriving industry of fish restaurants and beach chair renters, and UNESCO World Heritage medieval ruins.
If only I had more than two days.





A Good Place to Get Stranded

The minibus from Rize, Turkey got me to Camlihensin, and in that wonderful little mountain town in the Firtina valley I jumped in a van whose driver was apparently accepting money for rides. (The music selection on the radio was all his, I soon discovered)
Finally, I made it to the day’s destination, the Middle Ages era castle Zil Kale, first a defense and lookout post for the Black Sea towns for eastern threats, later an important point along the trade route further west into today’s Turkey.



The trip from the coast south into the Kackars mountain range of northern Turkey would have been worth it in itself, but the castle was fantastic.
My next destination was the village of Ayder, further to the east in the mountains. This didn’t seem too over ambitious on the map, but doubts arose when there were no buses from the castle back to the main road, 13 kilometers down a cliff side road.
Luckily, two friendly local Turkish fellows found this strange lost American curious enough that they crammed me the back seat along with their fishing gear, a few watermelons from a mountainside farm, and a pile of freshly caught river fish.



To my surprise the driver broke out in fantastic English, explaining that he lived in southern Georgia, USA for about ten years at some point.

“I didn’t have a green card or anything, I was jus working in some Turkish restaurant there. But no one helped me out,” he trailed off, leaving me to assume he came home before he would have liked. “America is the greatest country on earth,” he concluded.

I made it to Ayder, an admittedly gorgeous valley town, but it has become such a tourist trap as to make it unpleasant, unfortunately.


The town, with its majestic waterfall and full service hot springs spa, has for some reason become a favorite among tourists from the Middle East, many of the women and girls slowly swaying up the cobblestoned streets of Ayden in full black Burkas. The minibus back to Rize, my own “base camp,” was me and one large Saudi man, his three wives and seven children.

The Turks In Turkey

That is Ted. That is not a Turk. But it is in Turkey. Istanbul.
The cliche “east meets west” romanticization is in fact quite accurate, Persian rugs draped across Byzantine era stone rooms that now house Italian cafes.


Istanbul isn’t all Byzantine churches and ottoman mosques, though there’s plenty of that.




There’s also classy restaurants on the Bosporus or in Nevizade, modern art museums and hipster bars.




Urban Renewal, Beijing Style

Out with the old, in with the new most often happens in a sudden and shatteringly disruptive sort of way in Beijing, with lifetimes of memories of place wiped out in an afternoon, quickly replaced by something new that fairly effectively makes reminiscing about what used to be there seem fairly pointless.

The GuLou neighborhood renewal carries on
The GuLou neighborhood renewal carries on

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A few weeks ago, one of my favorite little coffee shops in Beijing’s old town sat in the curve of the small hutong road as it turned to go around GuLou, the Drum Tower. The wifi was fast, the shelves were full of quirky books and magazines, and there was always a French fellow (who claimed to be a math professor teaching at a prestigious Beijing university) teaching French language to Chinese college kids.  The last time I went back, a team of (de)construction workers, likely migrant labor from Hubei or Hebei or Henan province, had already made quick work of the place.

The anxiety, or more often resignation, of the locals, is that the whole neighborhood will be completely transformed, the old buildings and old little shops, bars, and homes where so many memories have been made will be forgotten and Beijing will have yet another “traditional” hutong commercial street, done up in a sort of Disney-ish version of what a colorful old Beijing street may have been imagined.

Museums in China










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I love museums. History museums, art museums, (in China) Revolution museums. And in a country very concerned about writing the past in order to explain the present, museums are in abundance in China. I have been especially struck, impressed, by the art museums I have found. Beijing is full of all sorts, traditional, modern, imperial, minority.




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