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It’s time for me to say goodbye to Europe and hello to the United States. I’m sitting in the Marseille airport waiting to board a flight to Amsterdam where I have a layover before heading to Atlanta. I haven’t been able to upload photos from my camera to my computer since I got to Albania (and I couldn’t find an electronics store that sold the right equipment), so I have tons of posts just waiting for their photos. (My iPhone photos just aren’t good enough to go ahead and post everything.) There’s a lot more of my trip you will see soon. In Albania, I will post about my visits to Kruja, Durres, and the breathtaking southern beaches and Llogora Pass. After that, there’s my stay in Polignano a Mare in the Puglia region of Italy, a surprise afternoon visit to Rome, as well as four days in Nice and Avignon in France. Until then, I have to share my favorite photo of the whole trip, which I took this past Sunday in the old city area of Nice:

I saw this guy in Nice. His cat calmly sat on top his backpack while he conversed with this couple (who had their dog on top of their table), and then he hopped on his scooter and rode off, while the cat just sat there like this was perfectly normal.

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Mount Dajti

Mount Dajti is the mountain close to Tirana. Tirana itself is very flat, but the mountain is not far at all. Just on the edge of town, you can take the Dajti Ekspres, a gondola lift/cable car ride up to an area near the top. Up at the top, there is a hotel with a café, some restaurants, and hiking trails. The ride itself is quite long and is a great way to see the scenery, while once you reach the top, you have a nice view of Tirana. When I visited, the view was very hazy because it was quite hot and had not rained recently. This means my pictures of the view aren’t so great, so it’s hard to properly convey the experience here. It’s a great trip that can be done in an afternoon, and I highly recommend it as part of a visit to Tirana, since the city itself does not offer many experiential activities.

Heading up the mountain in the cable car you have great views, but the photo opportunity is not so great since most of the windows are scratched up with graffiti.

View of Tirana from the overlook point at Mount Dajti

I had the great fortune of being able to stop in Fushe Kruje to see this amazing statue. It was one of my funnier moments in Albania, as my driver was convinced that I was taking the photos because I was so proud to see my former American President preserved in bronze in this country. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was having a laugh!

George W. Bush in Fushe Kruje, Albania

Tirana, Albania

I finally arrived in Tirana on July 1, and I started my internship on July 4. I had a huge backlog of posts to write and upload from my Turkey vacation. Internet was not readily available in Turkey, and when there was wireless, it was often so slow there was no point in trying to use it. Now, that I’ve finally gotten caught up, I find myself just starting to post about Tirana on my 3-week anniversary of arriving here! So, the basics of Tirana are that I have a nice studio apartment on the 7th floor of a building that (thankfully) has an elevator. Of course, the two times the power was out when I was coming/going were not very fun–imagine walking up the stairs in the pitch dark because neither elevator nor lights are working. I also have air conditioning, which is good because it has been as hot as my home in Georgia here! It’s 10-minute walk to work or to the center of the city, and I also live very close to an open market, so overall it’s a very good location. There’s more to come about my life in Tirana soon, but in the meantime here are some photos I took during the first week.

The view from my balcony

The same view, but at sunset this time

The "river," is more of a stream, but still nice.

If you stick your head out my balcony window and look to the left, you can see Mount Dajti!

Ephesus, an ancient Roman city near Kusadasi, and just outside Selcuk, was quite an experience. Because of its size and level of preservation, the city is a main tourist attraction in the area, with many cruise ship passengers taking a day trip to the site from the port at Kusadasi. Despite the hordes, it was enjoyable and impressive to see. There are two entrances to Ephesus, and for the most part the sights are laid out in a linear fashion, so the entrances are more or less at either end of the city. It’s built on a hill, so if you park at the top entrance, you can walk downhill through the city and then take a taxi back up to your car. I suppose you could walk back up the hill to your car, but it was hot and the taxi seemed like a better plan. Inside the city, you can also visit a covered section of terrace houses that are well-preserved and under continuing excavation. You have to pay an extra entrance fee to see this part of the city, but it’s worth the price because there are many interesting murals and floor mosaics. There is an extremely large theatre at the lower end of the city, but it is impressive mostly for its size. There is a lot of unsightly concrete and metal fences around this part of the site, making it not so photogenic—the much smaller, but ornate and tourist-free theatre at Priene was much better. Probably the most impressive single section of Ephesus is the library; the façade is more or less intact and it is really amazing to see. It does help to enter the site at the top because then you see the library near the end, so you build up to the best part of the city rather than starting out strong and getting less interesting as you go!

The hordes of tourists

Inside the Terrace Houses

One of the intricate floor mosaics in the Terrace Houses

In addition to Ephesus, the Selçuk area also is the site of the Temple of Artemis, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Unfortunately, there isn’t much left of the temple at all. One lone column stands in the middle of a marshy area, where you can see traces of stone foundation and some fallen bits of column—that’s it. As with the parts of ancient aqueduct which are strewn throughout Selçuk, the last column is topped by a stork nest. It’s both interesting and sad to see how the ancient architecture has just been incorporated into the fabric of the town—it is surprising to turn a corner and come across a bit of aqueduct, but they also seem to be completely unprotected and as such may not be around for long.

The library at Ephesus is shown here. Unfortunately, most of my photos turned out overexposed (the sun was blinding and my camera settings were off), but this is what we salvaged with a little editing.

Part of an aqueduct in Selcuk

The lone standing column at the Temple of Artemis

The deserted former Greek town of Eski Doganbey can be found at the edge of the Dilek National Park, near the park museum. When the Turkish Republic became a state in the 1920s, Turkey and Greece conducted population exchanges, and the Greek-speaking, Orthodox residents of many coastal areas of Turkey were virtually expelled from their homes. I’m sure that’s only one side of the tragedy, since there must have been many Turks living in Greece who were sent to live in Turkey, whether they liked it or not.

Entering the gate into the city, you find restored houses and a quaint stone street.

The staff at our guesthouse told us about Eski Doganbey, and said it was on the way to Priene. It turned out to be near Priene, though not at all on the way to it—in fact, it was quite out of the way! Still, we were excited to go find a place that was off the beaten path. My hunch after seeing it is that it’s not really so far off the beaten path, but our guide book didn’t discuss it, so that was close enough for us. We found the town to be not completely deserted—though not a living person was visible, some of the houses were clearly inhabited and had (functioning) cars in their driveways, though we didn’t actually see their residents. Since the town seemed partially inhabited, we weren’t entirely certain if we had found the right spot. We found a park map so we stopped to take a look and were soon greeted by the caretaker of the park museum, along with a little girl who accompanied him. Unsure of what to do, we followed the man (who spoke about two words of English) into the museum and let him show us around. The museum was mostly filled with stuffed forms of the local wildlife; it was educational if also a little gruesome, since I don’t really care to see dead animals. They had a dolphin skeleton, which was pretty neat, as well as a telescope which the caretaker set up for us so we could look out at the estuary. After our visit, the caretaker confirmed that the surrounding village was, in fact, Eski Doganbey, and he showed us the gate where we could enter and walk around. Many of the houses have been fixed up and are now in perfect condition, but even though we saw a couple people, it still had an eerily quiet and deserted feeling about the town.

The Dilek National Park is on a peninsula, the end of which is a restricted area under the control of the jandarma, a sort of military police. To get to the area of the park with beaches for swimming, we had to go to the other side of the peninsula from where we were at the museum. In order to do this, we had to drive way out of the way to get there, since the middle of the peninsula only contains mountain hiking trails, but no way to cross over in a car. Once we finally arrived on the other side, we headed to the last beach, which our guidebook informed us was the nicest of the four beach areas. It was getting a little late at this point, and the Aegean is freezing cold, so we waded around but again chose not to swim. Probably the highlight of the beach was the wild boars that went wandering around the parking area late in the day.

The beach at Dilek National Park

Watch out for the wild boars!

Priene

I was quite excited about our first visit to an ancient Greek ruin, and Priene really met all our expectations. First, it’s not packed with tourists like Ephesus, so you are able to experience and contemplate the antiquity around you without feeling like you are at Disneyland. This might seem trivial, but it really makes a difference in how you experience an historic site. Also, it doesn’t hurt that you are able to take photos without any other tourists in the background! I think part of why this changes the experience is that you feel like you are discovering something—even though you paid an admission charge and you know it has all been discovered and catalogued—because you are experiencing it more or less by yourself.

Inside the Byzantine Church

The second reason why Priene was amazing is because it is set on a rocky hillside overlooking a plain, so the feeling of being high up and able to see very far adds to its allure. What is interesting is the huge valley which Priene overlooks used to be covered by the sea, and Priene itself used to be a port city in its heyday. This explains a lot of questions a visitor might have about why people would build a city on such a steep and rocky mountainside! It’s funny to walk around and think that this city once sat just above sea level, when now it seems so high up.

Broken columns at the Sanctuary of Athena

Exploring the "backstage" area of the theatre

Front row seat at the theatre

The city has been well excavated, with the most impressive parts of the ruins (in my opinion) being the Temple of Athena, a Byzantine Church (much newer than a lot of it, but you can’t really tell by looking) and the theatre. Most of what you see in the city is from the 4th century BCE, so that is really, really old! In the Temple of Athena, five of the columns have been reconstructed and stand upright, while the rest are scattered around in disks, like the pieces of a child’s construction playset. A really, really big child, I suppose. This is the most breathtaking part of this ancient city, because as you walk amongst the temple ruins you have the best view of the surrounding valley below you, and of the mountain that rises above you. The theatre is very well-preserved, and even features special seats in the front row where the most important people must have set. In all, Priene was a really interesting place to explore, and though smaller and less magnificent than Ephesus, we found it more enjoyable because of its atmosphere.

The columns at the Temple of Athena

Looking out over the plain that used to be the sea