The Monthly Newsletter of Chelmsford YHA Local Group
It comes as part and parcel of living with Dave that you have to have a certain fondness for Monty Python. I guess it’s largely a guy thing, as I ended up being the only girl on Robert’s theatre trip to Spamalot.
For the ininitiated, Spamalot is based on the Python film “The Holy Grail”, which is in turn loosely based on Arthurian legend. It’s essentially an excuse for grown men to arse about on stage with some scantily clad women (don’t remember those from the film!) and generally have a good time.
Being essentially a boys day out, there was a certain amount of drinking involved and we started early with a visit to a little bar Nigel knew of just off Soho Square for a Guiness or two. Thus hydrated we moved on to lunch as we found a Thai all-you-can-eat buffet just round the corner. Keen to get our moneys worth, we may have overdone it a little and it was not without some effort that we dragged our distended stomachs up the road. Outside the theatre, we met up with the last members of our party as Chris Strellis and Dave J & friends joined us. Robert handed out the tickets and we went inside. Located in the cheap seats, we climbed and climbed (wishing we’d indulged less in the thai buffet) and eventually found our seats up in the high circle, just a few inches from the ceiling. Not a spot to pick if you suffer from vertigo.
The show was brilliant, everything I’d expected and having resisted the temptation of some killer bunny slippers or a “Fetchez la Vache” t-shirt, we topped up with some beers before heading to an Indian restaurant for some more nosh. In fact looking back it was pretty much a day of eating with a couple of hours break at the theatre.
Wednesday Evening All
A huge number of us gathered and loitered with intent in the car park at Police HQ. Soon we were approached by two officials: “Ello, Ello, Ello” they said before introducing themselves to us as our guides for the evening. They took us first to the Force Information Room, referred to as FIR by those in the know, where we had a fascinating insight into how calls from the public are dealt with, both emergencies and less urgent matters. As it was a Wednesday evening, FIR was not the buzzing hub of activity it usually is on Friday or Saturday nights but we saw how, from specially designed space-age chairs, staff help and assist the Essex public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all under the direction of a Police Inspector. Our guides related several stories, from how police computers can provide immediate and invaluable information to officers on patrol, to how daft people phone 999 to ask the most ridiculous questions. For example, a woman dialled 999 to ask the police to remove a spider from her house as she was terrified of them and a man called to ask for advice on what to do after his wife got on the wrong bus!
After FIR we were all led into the bowels of Police HQ to the Police Museum. Set up in 1991 and benefiting from Lottery Funding in 2005, the museum details the history of Essex Police from 1840 to the present day. We were given a brief look into the mock Victorian Cell – complete with ‘prisoner’ and ‘original’ smell (yuk!). We were then told stories around the history of policing in Essex with demonstrations of uniforms, head gear, truncheons and handcuffs. Clive had a clear case for police brutality after being shackled in ‘cuffs for most of the evening but was finally released when we were all given some time to wander around the exhibits and chat to our guides.
I would like to say an enormous thank you to all who turned up, especially those from as far away as Australia (sorry for the continual Oz ‘jokes’ guys) and thanks to all who parted with their pennies at the museum shop. The museum relies on donations and they were most gratefully received.
Last October I spent nine days on holiday in Turkey, exploring the volcanic area of Cappadocia and would like to share my adventures with you. The tour was booked through Explore and was my first trip with them, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. However I needn’t of worried as my room mate for the holiday, Dave (we get everywhere!!), was a seasoned “Explorer” with about 25 trips in the last three years.
On arrival at Istanbul, we were met by our local tour guide, Ersin, who was a godsend for the whole trip. This was to be his penultimate trip as he was going to live and work with his wife in Scotland. After a very nice meal at a local restaurant (I skipped on the ram’s testicles and brain salad) we wandered down to the Galata bridge, passing a whole host of street vendors selling everything from fish butties (a great cheap snack) to fake designer specs. The bridge was amazing, not for its architecture but for the amount of anglers fishing on it. The poor fish didn’t have a chance as this was fishing on a mass scale. I could only see small tiddlers being caught and could only presume that the bigger ones had long since been hooked. There was a little bit of jostling for the best pitches but due to its popularity there was supposedly a booking system which ran throughout the night.
Next day we had a chance to explore the city. In the morning I visited the Santa Sophia and Blue mosques. Santa Sophia was constructed by Emperor Justinian in 548 as an effort to restore the greatness of the Roman Empire which was going through hard times. When Mehmet II took Istanbul in 1453 the church was immediately converted into a mosque. As a result the inside is a mixture of different religions with wonderful Christian murals and Ottoman chandeliers. The central dome is an amazing feat of architecture, constructed of special hollow bricks made in Rhodes. The pillars holding the dome up are in the surrounding walls giving a feeling that the whole thing will collapse at any moment.. The Blue mosque was built by Ahmet I between 1606-1616 as a rival to Santa Sophia. The layout is classical Ottoman design, the exterior being particularly stunning. Massive visible pillars hold up the central dome, a less elegant but sturdier solution to Santa Sophia. The “blue” of the mosque’s name comes from the thousands of Iznik tiles which line the walls.
In the afternoon I wandered along to the Topkapi palace. Unfortunately it being a Sunday afternoon it seemed that everybody in Istanbul had also descended! The palace kitchens housed a huge collection of Chinese celadon porcelain and many of the rooms were beautifully Iznik tiled. The gardens gave wonderful views overlooking the Bosphorous. The Suite of the Felicitous Cloak was particularly interesting, housing many artefacts attributed to Mohammed, surprisingly his cloak, battle standard, swords, beard hair, a letter in his own handwriting and even his footprint. The burly security guards in this room was ample testament to the value given to these items. In fact, the security seemed lighter around the 86 carat Spoonmaker’s diamond housed in the Imperial treasury.
In the evening we took the ferry along the Bosphorous to the railway station. It was great to watch the sunset over the domes of the many mosques whilst munching on one of those fish butties. We made good time for our overnight train to Konya. Unfortunately a businessman wasn’t quite as lucky, managing to fling his brief case onto the rapidly departing train but couldn’t make it himself. Hope he was okay.
The train journey for me was uneventful as I plied myself with some local raki and slept soundly. Konya has a strong Muslim influence and a fairly conservative outlook. In fact when Turkey was declared a republic in 1923 there was lot of unrest in Konya. As a result Ataturk sent a party down to the city to round up the ringleaders and have them publicly executed in the town square to quell the unrest. We didn’t stop in Konya. Norri our driver for the rest of the tour, picked us up and we headed for a caravanserai at Sultanhani. It has a wonderful carved portal with large rooms for the various goods and huge stable at the back. Next we drove to Selime in the Ihlara valley to start our first walk. This was once a favourite retreat of Byzantine monks and has dozens of painted churches carved from the rock . The valley was formed by primeval earthquakes and has small garden cultures which would have provided for the colonies making them self sufficient. The churches themselves had wonderful painted frescoes dating from the 9th century.
The next day we walked further in the Ihlara valley and then drove to an underground city at Kaymakli. The earliest portions of this complex have been dated to Hittite times, some 4000 years ago. In times of peace the local people lived and farmed above ground but when they were threatened they took to their troglodyte dwellings. The city was on about 8 levels and felt very claustrophobic, reminding me of being inside a submarine that I had visited in Darling harbour, Sydney. The chambers contained storage jars, communal kitchens, stables and deep wells. Cooking must have been a particular problem as the smoke had to be restricted, in case the enemy on the surface discovered its source. We arrived at Uchisar for lunch. This town is dominated by the Kale, a tall rock outcrop riddled with tunnels and windows giving a wonderful view at the top of the surrounding area. In the afternoon we walked along Dovecote valley, where the rockface was riddled with holes cut to attract birds. These consisted of tiny holes, with a larger room containing roosts, some of which had been exposed by erosion. A tunnel would link the room to the outside, which was accessed by ladders from the rock face. The droppings would be collected and used as valuable fertiliser.
The following day we walked in the Akvadi (White) valley, renowned for its fairy chimneys. Three volcanoes erupted 10 million years ago, spreading ash all over the region, which hardened into a soft porous stone called tufa. Boudlers of hard stone, caught in the tufa and then exposed by erosion, protected the tufa directly beneath from further erosion. The result is a column or cone of tufa with a boulder on top called a fairy chimney, many of them amusingly phallic in nature.
The next day we walked through the Gomede valley, renowned for its wine due to its fine fertile volcanic soil. Due to the time of our tour there wasn’t much fruit about but we still managed to find some grapes and apples to eat. In the afternoon we travelled to Mustafapasa, a wonderful village with old stone carved houses and rock cut churches.
The next day was spent in the little visited Pancarlik valley. Passing through a remote village we were greeted by lots of school children waving from the windows of the school which really brightened up our spirits, as it was the only day with rain. After a long walk in the afternoon and the sighting of an eagle, we visited a traditional Turkish haman in which I was thoroughly steamed and completely exfoliated on a marble slab.
The final day started in Carvusin and in the morning involved a walk up Bozdag mountain, about 350 m high. At the beginning of the walk we managed to acquire two companions, a couple of local dogs. They must have done this walk many times before, even chasing away a mountain hare on the way up. At the top of the mountain we were greeted to amazing views of the whole volcanic area and many of the valleys which we had visited. A wonderful lunch was taken in an 8th century church with the warden kindly providing us with cups of Turkish tea. In the afternoon we visited a local town, Avanos, well known for its red clay pottery. I had a go at making a pot in the old Hittite style. This was really hard work as it consisted of pushing the wheel with your left foot, whilst trying to mould the pot with your hands. In the shop I bought a pot for my mum but couldn’t bring myself to give her my efforts!! Some of the pottery was superb, having many thousands of details, hand painted by master craftsman from no stencil. In the evening we visited a local restaurant to sample the local dish, a casserole cooked in an earthenware jar. The waiter would bring a hammer to the table and you could crack open the top of the jar.
The next day we flew to Istanbul for the flight home. This was my first visit to Turkey and I had a wonderful time. The people were very warm and friendly, stunning geography and incredible history and I hope to return soon.
Please send any comments on these pages to Dave Plummer