117 miles, 13 mph average27 Feb 09Day 1
Izmir, Ephesus & the Menderes Valley

To travel though Aegean Turkey is to travel through time to explore 5000 years of Greek, Roman and Ottoman history, and I arrived early at Ephesus, one of the greatest cities of ruins in the world, on the old Roman Road and I had the place to myself. This to me is the true definition of luxury travel, to be able to soak in the world of columns and mosaics totally at peace. Built by the Greeks a thousand years before Christ then revitalised by Alexander the Great's successor Lysinachus, it became one of the Roman's most important ports before the harbour silted up (today its 5km from the sea), and the resultant marshes created a home for malarial mosquitoes. However, it retained its status as a centre of learning and nowadays what remains of the Library of Celsus is an iconic image of ancient Turkish culture. Whilst the buildings are in remarkable condition, only 15% of the site has been thoroughly excavated, but all that remains of the Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) is a solitary column.

This column I found highly symbolic. Why? Well, if you're not into a history lesson, skip this section! You'll remember back in Milan we met Constantine the Roman emperor who found God? Until this time Christians were being thrown to the lions on a regular basis, but their bravery in the face of death was winning converts all over the empire. One of these new converts was Constantine's mother, and the emperor could hardly permit her persecution, could he? Now, a state sponsored religion that threatened the populace with an afterlife in Hell if they didn't behave themselves, and one that could brand enemies of the state as enemies of God, could be a very handy political tool indeed. St Paul used Ephesus as a base from which to spread the word of God, and was known to have made himself somewhat unpopular with the local craftsmen who made and sold statuettes of Artemis in the temple. The temple was the focal point of pagan rituals, sacrifices and all that flew in the face of the new religious order, so its destruction was condoned and Constantine's successors even carted off some of the marble to build a new centre of worship - The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (or Constantinople as it was then known). This new eastern Roman Empire was to become known as Byzantinium, and this official takeover of the fledgling faith is sometimes regarded as one of the worst things to have ever happened to Christianity.

Time to head for the hills! I followed the green and fertile Menderes River valley east and inland where the river nourishes fields of fruit trees and cotton along its broad alluvial plain, whilst its twists and turns gives us the modern word 'meander'. The road surface was hellishly rough (like most in Turkey), being comprised of large loose chippings that the bike simply refused to maintain momentum on. It was 100 miles of gradual gradient gaining only 300m but with a head wind that fairly knocked the stuffing out of me. As the day drew to a close I was down to about one mouse-power but my spirits were lifted when I passed steaming streams flowing down from hot springs in the mountains and felt the sun on my back casting a long shadow on the road ahead. I underestimated the distance left to ride and it was pitch dark for two hours by the time I reached Pamukkale for the night.

A couple of helpful lads that had been loitering in the street sorted me out with accommodation. A small flat with under-floor heating and a giant tub fed by free hot water from the thermal springs. All for the princely sum of £10.

92 miles, 11 mph average28 Feb 09Day 2
Hierapolis, Pamukkale & The Mountains

I rolled into the remains of the Hellenistic spa town of Hierapolis before dawn and, as I was the only visitor, the ticket office guard nodded approval at my request to ride through the ruins. I was laughing out loud as I pedalled along thinking that I was probably the only cyclist ever to be so privileged, even though the Roman tombs lining the road were a bit spooky.

Hierapolis built its wealth on the wool and textile industry (cotton is still Turkey's biggest export) but was destroyed by an earthquake in AD60. Twenty years later the city was rebuilt, and soon after visited by the apostle St.Philip who met a rather grizzly end here being first crucified then taken down and pelted with rocks just in case.

The ancient town sits above the startlingly white travertine terraces at Pamukkale (meaning 'cotton castle' in Turkish) and the terraces are formed when hot spring water loses carbon dioxide as it flows down the slopes, and deposits steps of brilliant white calcium carbonate (limestone).

I'd like to tell you what Denizli looked like but the whole city was enveloped in smog. It's a harsh winter in the mountains and the people burn wood, coal and any rubbish they can find to keep warm. The roads are lined with all sorts of litter but discarded plastic bottles seems to make up the most of it, and these bottles make excellent fuel even though their incineration results in a toxic brown fug. Denizli is a major producer of Turkey's famous carpets woven of wool from the shaggy mountain sheep, but there were sadly no flying carpets available to take me up over the snowy mountain passes of the Golgeli, where the winds build up layers of ice on the trees. First came Kazikbeli Gecidi at 1155m, then Comaklibeli which at 1460m is higher than Ben Nevis, between which the road dropped away to the windswept high plains of the Burdur.

A light sprinkle of snow dusted over me, and the frozen ground slid under my tyres. As the evening drew in, my legs were becoming weary from all the climbing and I stopped at the welcome sight of a traditional iron stove. Mutton was being roasted on a spit outside and a plate was placed on top of a metal bowl of embers to keep the meat hot.

100 miles, 17 mph average1 Mar 09Day 3
Lycia & Antalya to Side

The landscape stood frozen in time and ice when I left the Korkuteli hotel in Lycia as I was still over 1000 meters above the sea. The sun sparkled off the snow and even though I was only 50km from the holiday city of Antalya it was -5 degrees centigrade and almost cold enough to freeze the river.

Ancient Lycia was an independent federation of 19 cities in the mountains of southwest Turkey. The Lycian League was the first federation in the world to be based on democratic principles, some of which later inspired the American Constitution.

I descended through sleepy villages but still had one more pass to climb before the drop towards the coast. Guarding the mountain pass is Termessos in the Gulluk Dag national park. So formidable were the city's defences that when Alexander the Great came to conquer he decided it would be safer to by-pass the city altogether and probably took the route through the steep gorge that the main road now follows. The ruins at Termessos were cut off due to the snow but the beautiful forests are the last refuge of the Anatolian lynx, and are renowned for wild goats, deer and butterflies. I didn't see any deer or lynx but a solitary eagle scowled at me as I passed and swept off indignantly as soon as I went for my camera.

I'd become used to dealing with the aggressively territorial sheep dogs in the mountains. These are not your eager to please collies by the way; the mountain sheep dogs are savage monsters of volatile temperament. Flashing my headlight, blowing my whistle or even throwing stones usually gave me enough time to clear off out of their space, but the locals had also warned me about packs of hungry wolves that might cause a spot of bother.

Ataturk himself, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, greeted me into the sea-level warmth of Antalya. He launched a programme of revolutionary social and political reform to modernise Turkey succeeding the Ottoman Empire that had crumbled following WW1. These reforms included the emancipation of women, the abolition of Islamic institutions and the introduction of Western legal codes, dress, calendar and alphabet, replacing the Arabic script with a Latin one. Since WW2 Turkey has been the only predominantly Muslim country to embrace democracy and as my visit coincided with their general election I could see first hand just how highly prized the Turks treat their political freedom. Even in the smallest villages party vans prowl the streets blaring out music that seems to bear no particular political message, and rallies are held at weekends.

There is heated debate about the wearing of the traditional Muslim headscarf in Turkey. Amazingly women cannot cover their heads if they wish to attend university or work in any public office. Younger women and those in the cities tended to wear western dress but in the countryside it was almost exclusively the headscarf and baggy pantaloons that were worn.

At one point I found myself riding along a road lined with flag waving supporters, flanked by armed police. A couple of rooftop army snipers completed the scene. However, the road was empty and as the people had been stood around for hours they took the opportunity to cheer on my progress. I'd become used to an almost celebrity status throughout Turkey as visiting European cyclists do seem to be something of a novelty, but this was like riding up the Champs Elysés on the final stage of the Tour de France. The mystery was solved when the cavalcade of the visiting parliamentary minister roared down the hill toward me.

Just to the north of Antalya I popped into the remains of the Hellenistic city of Perge that has been uninhabited since the 7th century. I propped the bike up against the walls of the stadium and had a sunny picnic of boiled eggs and mixed nuts. Another 30 miles down the road I crossed the Euromedion River on the restored 7th century bridge and was standing in the Roman amphitheatre at Aspendos. It has astonishing acoustics and is still used for concerts and operas today, although I'm not too sure how well my croaky rendition of 'Jerusalem' went down.

I rounded the day off in Side where I was met by Mike & Barbara, old friends from Cornwall who now spend most of their retirement in Turkey.

93 miles, 12 mph average2 Mar 09Day 4
Mediterranean Turkey

Mike & Barbara looked after me royally and we spent a lovely evening in a local restaurant, whilst they told me everything I'd need to know about the road ahead and how to survive in rural Turkey. So great is their local knowledge and the grip they have on the means of getting by as ex-pats, that we joked they should write a book on the subject. As they had found an amusing way of getting pork into the pig-free country we agreed the book should be entitled 'The Bacon Smugglers'.

That morning Barbara fixed me up with a feast of a full English breakfast (with bacon) and Mike set an amazing pace (for a man who will be 70 later this year) along the scenic route out of Side. Side - translated from olde worlde Turkish as 'pomegranate' - has a fine set of Roman remains and we left via the Vespasian Arch and seafront temple of Apollo.

Prior to the order imposed by Roman rule the town was the haunt of slave traders and was the last refuge of Mediterranean pirates chased here by Pompey's fleets. Once he had destroyed the pirate's ships and strongholds, he spared their lives and set them up as farmers and tradesmen.

The Romans prized this coast for its shipbuilding timber but thirty years later Anthony gave away this hard won province and its pine forests to Cleopatra (there weren't too many trees in Egypt). Naturally the loss was unpopular back in Rome and only went to compound his fall from grace.

The first 50 miles of the day heading east was one homogenised urbanisation of holiday hotels of the all-inclusive genre that suck the life out of the local economy and whose guests only see the outside of the resort to be coached out to the nearest tourist attraction. At Gazipasa the countryside won over and I was back in a land of lemon trees, banana plantations and broad fields planted with sweetcorn, strawberries and spuds.

Then I started to climb. The road seemed to ascend forever and I began to wonder if I'd turned inland by accident as I was surely climbing a mountain. Its illegal to posses a map of closer scale than 1:500,000 in Turkey - years of turbulence and invasion have left them a little paranoid - so I was never quite sure if I was on the right road. An hour later I emerged at the top, 410m above the sea. To put that in perspective that's as high as Cornwall's highest mountain Brown Willy, and yet I was within just 3 miles of the sea as along this coast the Taurus Mountains plunge straight down into the sea from peaks to rival the Alps. Amongst the usual gadgets a mobile phone carries these days mine even has an altimeter, so I put my techno-geek anorak on and recorded all of these climbs.

The climb had almost done for me, so I rode down a steep track to what looked like a perfect hotel. Square and modern, perched right on the cliff. It turned out to be a boarding school and my sudden appearance led to a gaggle of curious boys surrounding me in moments. The teacher gave me directions to a 'pansayon' a few miles away, but of course my pride wouldn't let me push the bike back up that track and as soon I was out of sight I fell into a gasping heap.

The guesthouse wasn't hard to find and I was shown to a room with twin beds adorned in pink 'Barbie' bedspreads. Nice. Straight to the shower room across the corridor and no worries about forgetting to pick up a towel, as there were no cars parked outside so I must have place to myself. The shower itself had a interesting wiring arrangement consisting of an open plug socket that had the base chipped away to allow the 3kW cable to run to the shower's heater. The open socket had been stuffed with toilet paper in lieu of insulation and the lights flickered as soon as I turned the water on. I was out of there after a very rudimentary swill and on emerging from the bathroom my naked form was greeted with a shriek from the lady of the house. I hadn't figured out that 'staying with the family' meant just that. This was their bathroom too and my bedroom was in between the two older brother's rooms. Dinner that night was a quite delicious lamb casserole but conducted in abject silence.

93 miles, 12 mph average3 Mar 09Day 5
The Eastern Mediterranean

During the 11th century the crusader armies marched along this coast on their way to wrest the Holy Land from Muslim control. They built castles all along the coast, including that at the southerly point of Anamur. When the Arabs took Cyprus the castle became vulnerable, was abandoned and never resettled so remains in such good condition that it is often used as a film set. Some of the Arab victories can be attributed to the way in which they had refined Chinese saltpetre (used until that time only in fireworks) to make the first military explosives, not powerful enough to blow up castle walls but enough to put the fear of Allah into a visiting Crusader.

The further east I travelled the more remote and sparsely populated the land became. The region took on a Middle Eastern flavour and strong spices laced the air in the colourful bazaars. The hills came one after another, with climbs regularly topping 500m before plunging back down to a fishing cove at sea level. Living in Cornwall, I'm used to hills, but I've never before encountered climbs of such steep incline and duration, but the views were staggeringly beautiful and more than compensated for the exhaustion. What goes up
must come down and the scintillating descents had me laughing out loud as I swept into each plunging valley. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves ... (slide show opens in new window)

By the time I reached the village of Buyukiceli, the magic century i.e. 100 miles had eluded me yet again, but I'd had enough and was lucky to find a little resort of chalets still closed for the winter. The two caretakers took care of me and invited me into the kitchen to see what they had left over in their pots. Four dishes of mixed, spiced meat and vegetables along with some rice and macaroni were served up and we had one of the those sign language conversations before I made my excuses and retired to my hut for the night.

I'd tried to learn some Turkish before my arrival but it just seems to be one of those languages that escapes me. It's a phonetic language and some written words have familiar European roots, such as otogar meaning bus station i.e. oto, like auto and gar like the French gare. Even my garbled attempt at thank-you - 'teh shek kewr eh deh reem' - was just too long and met with blank looks. The only thing that met with any comprehension was my Borat-esque 'Yak-shee mesh' which doesn't quite mean good evening, but seemed to pass.

110 miles, 15 mph average4 Mar 09Day 6

That morning the hills kept on coming, and the road wasn't without its hazards. Whilst I queued for the road to be cleared, the driver next to me slurped back his Coke and casually cast the can out of his window. In my shock at his attitude I shouted "hey" pointing at the can. He looked back at me totally bewildered at why anyone should give a toss about one more piece of detritus marring such a fabulously aesthetic land. If the Turks don't change their attitude soon they will bury themselves in crap. Either that or I'll start a company to collect the millions of pounds worth of aluminium that line the roads and make my fortune. So there!

One overzealous overloaded lorry driver decided to adopt a unique method of inspecting his tyres. He was unharmed and seemed quite cool about the whole thing, being more concerned about getting his cargo stacked in a neat pile beside the road.

At Silifke I crossed the well-guarded Goksu River. Not far from here whilst attempting to cross the river at a gorge further upstream the crusading emperor Barbarossa was drowned.

This whole coast was punctuated with ruins and castles and at Kanlidvane I came across the 'Place of Blood'. It was into this 60ft chasm , with its undated carvings that prisoners of war and criminals used to be thrown to their deaths.

At Kizkalesi the road finally flattened towards the coastal plain that was once guarded by twin castles on the mainland and one on an offshore island. At the base of the onshore castle walls you can still see the original Byzantine amphibious attack-pedaloes.

The road through Mersin and beyond was singularly unpleasant, as although the name of the town refers to the myrtle shrub that is so prevalent in this region, its now part of the industrial heartland of the country. Pollution, litter and overcrowding are the norm. Much of the town's population is a rag-tag mixture of Kurds and Armenians housed here after being displaced by ethnic fighting in their homes further east. This was the entry to PKK territory - the Kurds that have resorted to terrorism due to frustration at their lack of political representation.

I did battle with the heavy traffic for a further 20 miles before calling it a day at Tarsus. Tarsus is best known as birthplace of St Paul and he returned following his conversion to spread the Gospel throughout the eastern Med. The theoretical remains of his house can be visited and is seen as a place of Christian pilgrimage, as is the church that bears his name but this is in fact 18th century Armenian and nothing directly to do with St Paul.

Cleopatra's arch is also nothing to do with the Egyptian queen - its just a gate in the city's old walls, but a romantic notion nonetheless. After Julius Caesar's assassination, the Roman Empire was split into three and ruled by Mark Anthony, Octavian and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. Anthony ruled the eastern empire including Macedonia, Asia Minor (Turkey & Syria) and Egypt. The three leaders formed a pact to hunt down the armies of Caesar's assassins, but Egypt refused to take part. Thus Cleopatra was summoned to meet Anthony at Tarsus, making a grand entrance dressed up like Aphrodite in her golden boat with silver oars and purple sails. She must have made quite an impression as the bewitched Anthony followed her back to Egypt, ultimately costing himself an empire in the name of love.

Its not possible to find the exact point of Anthony and Cleopatra's meeting today as the river was prone to flood the town when the winter snows melted, so emperor Justinian ordered the diversion of its course around the city, through a graveyard that now forms a waterfall, and constructed a new bridge that would be the only possible eastern entry point to the city and an ideal point at which to collect taxes. Nice work you'd think, but the resultant marshes from the diverted river turned malarial and wiped out half the town within two years. You can almost hear the ghosts of the locals declare, "What did the Romans ever do for us!"

73 miles, 17 mph average5 Mar 09Day 7
Into the Holy Land

Adana's wealth has been built on the fertile silts washed down from the Taurus mountains and at the very heart of the city (Turkey's fourth largest) is Hadrian's second century bridge crossing the Seyhan River, and even though it spans more than 300 metres it is still in use today. The locals will tell you its 400 meters long.

Facing the bridge is what I'd regard as the most impressive building I have ever seen. The Albert Hall would easily fit inside the Sabanci Mosque. It has six minarets (two more than the permitted norm), is finished in the most immaculate sand coloured marble, and the craftsmanship inside is nothing short of breathtaking. You don't have to be Kevin McCloud, or a subscriber to any particular faith to be moved by this kind of architecture.

My cycling shoes were getting a bit worn and the recessed metal cleats that fit the pedals were now standing proud so whenever I walked in them I'd slip and slide all over the place. I stood out in a crowd as it was, standing a good foot taller than the average Turk and wearing funky coloured cycling clothes I really didn't need the extra attention my awkward gait was attracting, so I headed down to the market where I found the world's most highly qualified cobbler. Professor Doctor Usta was a man of great skill (if somewhat dubious qualifications) and he soon spotted the problem and rebuilt the soles whilst I sipped a hot sweet tea.

There seemed little point rejoining the trucks on the highway and as there was no alternative road through 30 miles of industrial wasteland, I hopped on a bus to Osimanye. The Turks rely on their buses, as private car ownership is rare (a family might have a pick-up or a motorbike) and the land too mountainous for trains, so they enjoy an excellent service. The local dolmus mini busses ply their trade in the towns and immaculate intercity coaches will waft you along for miles in air-conditioned comfort with complimentary drinks for just a few quid. My celebrity status returned at the otogar and the two drivers made sure I was well catered for with the bike taking pride of place in the luggage compartment. I thought I'd use an idle moment on board to apply some cream to various insect bites that were itching like mad. The tube had become blocked and after I moaned and struggled with it a while, the tube suddenly ruptured, splattering me and my fellow passengers two seats away. Two women scurried off to sit further away from me. It didn't look good. I had become the anti-celeb.

Some miles to the east of Osimanye, in what used to be known as Mesopotamia, is the birthplace of Al Battani. Never heard of him? Probably so, but this ancient astronomer and mathematician, was the first to develop trigonometry, accurately calculating one solar year to within 22 seconds and figuring out the inclination of the earth's axis (he already knew the earth was spherical). All this in the 9th century, paving the way for Copernicus to introduce the concept that the earth was not the centre of the solar system more than 600 years later. He was one of many Arabic scholars to work in the great Islamic centres of learning in Damascus and Baghdad, but whose works were destroyed or forgotten in ensuing wars and conquests. Algebra, is of course an Arabic word, so now you know why the west is often at loggerheads with Arabic nations, its not religion or oil, its just revenge for double maths every Wednesday afternoon. The modern version of chess, parachutes, distillation, crankshafts, surgical instruments and inoculations can all trace their origins to Islamic roots. The handwritten works of these scholars and the messages of the Qur'an itself could not compete with the printed Latin books and bibles being produced in Europe - it would be like pigeon post trying to compete with e-mail today. The classic Latin alphabet has just 23 characters, whilst Arabic has 28, but each letter can have up to four forms and a myriad of ligatures, accents and dots that must be accurately copied to make sense, hence the great technical difficulty in its mechanical reproduction.

At Toprakkale's castle I turned south through endless orange groves in search of the aqueduct that marks the site of the village of Issus. It was here in November 333 BC, that Alexander defeated the Persian emperor Darius the Third. Although outnumbered by more than double, Alexander's military genius allowed him to trick the 600,000 Persians into thinking he was attacking from the seaward side, but in fact he led an elite cavalry unit upstream to a surprise attack on Darius' bodyguards, leading to panic as the emperor took flight. The Battle of Issus was a decisive Macedonian victory and it marked the beginning of the end for Persian power in the region.

At Yakacik there is the Sokollu Mehmet Pasha complex, partly built for Muslims heading for Mecca on the Haj. It's complete with Mosque, accommodation, hammam (baths) and a large castle signifying just how real the threat of attack must have been. I had a free, guided tour from Mustafa who had popped in to use the loo. Mustafa was home on holiday from Berlin where he runs a kebab shop, and he spoke the kind of German that I find easier to understand than that of someone for whom it is the mother tongue.

On the way out of Yakacik, Khan yelled 'Hello my friend', from his family's riverside restaurant. Khan's greeting wasn't the usual sales pitch; he just wanted to practice his English and adamantly refused any money as he insisted I stay whilst he prepared fresh orange juice (such a treat in a land of abundant oranges yet where an orange drink usually means sickly cordial or fizzy chemical pop), a salad dressed in the best olive oil and lemon juice and chicken kebabs cooked over open charcoal. He'd had to leave school at 12 to work with his family and now, as the head, needed to learn English in order to secure a job in a tourist restaurant in Bodrum this season.

A more earnest and eager pupil there cannot be, but he faces a real uphill struggle as he cannot afford a computer (nor has he had the opportunity to learn how to use one) or any of the multi media aids we would take for granted when learning a foreign tongue. He has just a few books and a dictionary. I stayed until it was almost dark and wished him all the good luck in the world. He'll need it.

Back on the highway, I hit Iskenderun at rush hour, using my whistle and flashing LEDs to part the traffic like Moses parting the Red Sea. Turkey is a land of genuine fake watches and funny names, like the obsequious air conditioning company Arselic. But one burger joint seemed to embrace all of these qualities. The Turkish people have a great sense of humour but one thing I cant get to grips with is the arbitrary sense of pricing. The first hotel I came to was a bit grotty and never worth the 50 lira price tag (about £20) even though he'd already discounted it from 70. When I said the room wasn't to my liking the price fell again to 35, by the time I was out on the street the guy was chasing me down the road offering 20. I'm sure it's just their way of doing things and not rank dishonesty.

Iskenderun wasn't being kind to me as the next hotel claimed to be full. It was quite posh but clearly empty and maybe the receptionist didn't fancy a weary biker sullying his immaculate lobby. The next had a porter ousting me and the bike from the foyer as if we had the plague. They just don't like bikes in hotels here. Finally I found a place with a cellar lockup for the wheels and a shower that was more than the tepid trickle that had been the norm throughout my journey.

63 miles, 17 mph average6 Mar 09Day 8
Further into the Holy Land

I thought it was going to be easy today so I started late, rode along the prom admiring the Ataturk statue and flags that grace every town in Turkey and started to climb the Amanus mountains. Just a short nip over the hills and I'm done.

A fierce wind had blown up over night and wouldn't it be my luck for it to be full in my face. As the road wound its way upward the blasts came from the side with such ferocity that on more than one occasion I found myself in the gutter. Back into the headwind actually seemed like a better option than being blown clear off the mountain! By about halfway I dropped to a new all time record pace of 2 mph. At this rate it was going to take all day to make the 20-mile climb. I swear I saw a pair of geriatric snails overtake me. Finally the 740m Belen Pass known also as the Gates of Syria came into view, I turned south out of the wind and descended along the Orontes river valley to Antakya.

Antakya is better known under its ancient name of Antioch. Once the third largest city in the Roman Empire, it was devastated by earthquakes in the 6th century and subsequently conquered by the Arabs. 400 years later the Crusaders lay siege for seven months, after which they stormed the walled city massacring men, women and children alike. Contrary to what you might have been told in Sunday School, the knights were not at all a gentlemanly bunch, widespread torture and even cannibalism has been recorded by both sides, and attacks like these still leave a deep rooted suspicion of western powers.

One reason for the Crusaders' calling by was that the city is regarded as one of the birthplaces of Christianity. St Peter used a grotto in the cliffs above the city as his 'mission control' - the reward for his efforts would be to be promoted to the position of Heaven's Bouncer at the pearly gates. The cave is now a church and is regarded as the oldest Christian church in the world. It seemed remarkable to me that although the city has been Islamic for many centuries now, Christian relics have been preserved alongside those of the Muslims.

As it was my last night in Turkey I treated myself to a night in a traditional hotel dating back to the time when this area was a part of French Syria. The town is still culturally and linguistically a blend of Arabic and Turkish. Its just 20 or so miles from the Syrian border, yet amongst the hustle and bustle there are still oases of calm to be found.

My last day also coincided with the Islamic holiday of Milad un Nabi. This is the birth date of the Prophet Muhammad who was born in 570 AD and since the Islamic calendar is 354 days long, the date is pushed back 11 days each year. Muslims celebrate this occasion by holding functions and gatherings to remember and celebrate the advent of the birth and teachings of Muhammad.

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