Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mongolia | Birthday of Chingis Khan

Here in Mongolia the New Moon occurred this morning at 1:47 a.m. That makes today the first day of the first month of winter according to the Lunar Calendar. Thus today is the day officially recognised as the Birthday of Chingis Khan (Genghis Khan, etc.) This is the 853rd anniversary of his birth. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Turkey | Cappadocia | Güzelyurt

After viewing the Super Bloodmoon in Göreme I wandered off to the town of Güzelyurt, thirty-five miles to the southwest. Güzelyurt, as you probably know, was once the home of Gregory of Nazianzus, a.k.a. Gregory the Theologian (c. 329–390), who is credited, along with St. Basil of Kayseri, with laying the theological foundations of the Greek Orthodox Church. Gregory himself was largely responsible for formulating the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—that continues to befuddle the less enlightened right down to the present Day. 

Güzelyurt (roughly translated as “beautiful home”), population about 3,750, could hardly be more different than Göreme. While Göreme supposedly has a permanent population of only 2000, it has some 370 hotels, guesthouses, and hostels (many of the employees of the hotels, restaurants, shops, etc. live in nearby towns). It is an international tourism hub teeming with visitors of every stripe. Güzelyurt, on the other hand, is a laid back old-fashioned Turkish town that appears to have not a single restaurant or shop that caters specifically to tourists. There are a dozen or so hotels, most of them occupying old Greek mansions or cave dwellings, but they have their own restaurants where their clientele eat. I saw a couple of Russians, a couple of Germans, and a group of Chinese, but I would say ninety per cent of the tourists are from other parts of Turkey.
The main street of laid back Güzelyurt (click on photos for enlargements)
The town square. This photo was taken early in the morning. Later the tables are filled with local tea-coolers. 
My hotel
Another view of my hotel
Patio of my hotel
My hotel from the bottom of the canyon
The town is centered around Monastery Valley, a high-walled valley—or a low walled canyon—about 3.4 miles long. The extinct volcanic cone of 10,722-foot Mount Hasan, the second highest mountain of central Anatolia, looms fifteen miles off to the southwest. During the time of the Roman Empire the settlement was known as Karballa and in Seljuq times as Gelveri. The town was inhabited mostly by Greeks until 1924 when the Greek population was deported to Greece where they founded a town known as Nea Karvali. Turks deported from Greece moved into the town but not enough to fill all the homes. The abandoned ruins of many Greek-era buildings can still be seen. The town was not given the Turkish name of Güzelyurt until the 1960s. The current town is determined to retain its traditional character. By law local stone must be used in the construction of all new buildings, and new buildings must conform to traditional styles of architecture. 
Lower part of the Monastery Valley
Quiet streets of Güzelyurt
 Quiet streets of Güzelyurt
Quiet streets of Güzelyurt
Old Greek building
The canyon walls are riddled with cave dwellings 
Another view of the canyon wall
The original church associated with Gregory of Nazianzus was built around 385 a.d. In 1835 the church was remodeled and enlarged. After Turkish people moved into the town it was converted into a mosque. 
The Church of St. Gregory, now a mosque
The Church of St. Gregory
The Church of St. Gregory

St. Gregory
Inside of the Church of St. Gregory, which now functions as a mosque
There are said to be ruins of twenty-eight cave churches in Monastery Valley, plus two underground cities and hundreds of cave dwellings. 
The Sivisli Church, one of the twenty-eight cave churches in the Monastery Valley. It is not known when it was built. 
Interior of the Sivisli Cave Church. It was carved out of the living rock. 
Now-faded wall paintings in the Sivisli Church
Opening to cave dwellings and underground city
One of the entrances to an underground city
Another entrance to an underground city
First floor room in the underground city
Room in the underground city
Tunnel leading to lower rooms in the underground city. The passageway is at most four feet high. Given my height and the precarious state of my back I was unable to negotiate it. There were dozens if not hundreds of these underground cities in Cappadocia, some of which housed several thousand people. This is one of the smaller ones.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Turkey | Cappadocia | Ürgüp | Göreme | Super Bloodmoon

From Göreme I wandered over to Ürgüp, five miles to the east. A town of about 18,000, Ürgüp has a reputation of attracting a more up-scale clientele than Göreme. There are plenty of chi-chi boutique hotels but I finally found a fairly modest but extremely comfortable guesthouse ran by a friendly young couple. “Welcome to our home,” they said, and it actually sounded as if they meant it. My room was an actual cave lined with stone. 
 My hotel in Ürgüp (click on photos for enlargement)
 My hotel was on a quiet back street, but the downtown square was just a three minute walk away.
 Downtown square of Ürgüp, with Temenni Hill beyond. The mausoleum of Kilicharslan IV can be seen on the summit.
Mausoleum on the top of Temenni Hill. 
A signpost appears to indicate that this is the tomb of Seljuqs of Rum ruler Kilicharslan IV, who fled to Ürgüp after the Mongols captured much of Cappodocia in 1243. He hid in the caves here until Seljuqs who had sided with the Mongols tracked him down and killed him. Considered a hero by local people for his resistance to the Mongol invasion, he was entombed here on Temenni Hill. The signpost explaining this episode was very muddled however. I tried to get more information at the town museum, but no one there spoke English. The signpost also stated that temenni is a Sumerian word “sacred area, sacrificial area, or prayer area,” which if true is intriguing indeed. Were there actually Sumerians in this area? 
 Downtown Ürgüp from the top of Temenni Hill
Behind Teminni Hill is a massif known as Berekut Burgut, or Ürgüp castle. The massif is riddled with cave dwellings. 
 Many of the old cave houses in Ürgüp are still occupied.
 Lovely old Greek house, now abandoned. Many Greeks lived in Ürgüp until they were deported to Greece is the 1920s.
I eventually wandering back to Göreme, which I had decided was the most auspicious place to watch the September 28th Super Moon and Lunar Eclipse.
 Cave hotel where I stayed in Göreme
While waiting for the Super Bloodmoon I wandering around the outskirts of Göreme
 Fairy chimneys in the Pigeon Valley southwest of Göreme
 Yusuf Koch Cave Church in near the entrance to Pigeon Valley. It was carved out of a fairy chimney in the 11th century.
Thousand year-old wall painting in the interior of the Yusuf Koch Church. I think this is St. Stefanos, but I am not sure. 
I also wandered around the Zemi Valley just east of Göreme.
 Rock formations in the Zemi Valley
  Rock formations and cave dwellings in the Zemi Valley
  Rock formations in the Zemi Valley
 The Nadir Cave Church in the Zemi Valley, built in the 11th century
 Interior of the Nadir Church
The morning of September 28 I climbed to the top of the ridge behind my hotel to watch the Super Moon and Lunar Eclipse. About two dozen other people were already present when I got there. The eclipse began at 4:07 and by 4:10 there was an obvious crescent-shaped chunk out of the top of the moon. As we were watching the eclipse progress I suddenly noticed what looked like a small circle of blue lights hovering in the sky to the southwest. It bobbed back and forth in several directions for a minute or so, and plunged with amazing speed below the ridge line. “What the hell was that?!?” blurted out some guy in the dark. A woman with a flashlight ran over to the edge of the cliffs and looked down into the town of Göreme, where the object appeared to have dropped. “I don’t see a thing,” she shouted, “what happened to it?” Another woman muttered, “Jesus Christ! That was spooky!” I have no idea was the object was, nor will I speculate. Meanwhile the eclipse was progressing. The moon was totally eclipsed at 5:50, by which time it is was just a faint red smudge in the sky. By 6:10, twenty minutes before the actual sunrise, the eastern horizon lightened and the smudge disappeared completely. 

Thus ended the September 28 lunar eclipse, the fourth in a series of lunar eclipses known as a Lunar Tetrad. A Lunar Tetrad occurs when there are four total eclipses in a row with no partial lunar eclipses in between; also, between each of the eclipses there are six full moons. If both conditions are met, we have a Lunar Tetrad.

The four eclipses of the current Lunar Tetrad are as follows:
Total lunar eclipse: April 15
Total lunar eclipse: October 8
Total lunar eclipse: April 4
Total lunar eclipse: September 27-28

Lunar tetrads are relatively rare. There will be eight on them in the 21st century (2001–2100) but there none during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. From the year 1 a.d to 2100 a.d. there will be a total of sixty-two. 

What has Christian Eschatologists in an uproar is that the current tetrad, the one ending on September 27/28, coincides with two Jewish holidays, Passover and  the Feast of Tabernacles. The April 2014 and the April 2015 eclipses coincided with the Feast of Passover. The October 2014 and September 2015 total lunar eclipses align with the Feast of Tabernacles. This has happened eight times during the Christian Era:

1. 162-163 C.E. 
2. 795-796 C.E.
3. 842-843 C.E.
4. 860-861 C.E.
5. 1493-1494 C.E.
6. 1949-1950 C.E.
7. 1967-1968 C.E.
8. 2014-2015 C.E.

Bible Thumper John Hagee and other proponents of the Blood Moon Prophecy maintain that some earth-shattering event occurs when a Lunar Tetrad coincides with Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles. Usually these events involve  in some way the Jewish people and/or the Nation of Israel. Blurb from his book:
Over the last 500 years, blood-red moons have fallen on the first day of Passover three separate times. These occurrences were connected to some of the most significant days in Jewish history: 1492 (the final year of the Spanish Inquisition when Jews were expelled from Spain), 1948 (statehood for Israel and the War of Independence) and 1967 (the Six-Day War). Every heavenly body is controlled by the unseen hand of God, which signals coming events to humanity. There are no solar or lunar accidents. The next series of four blood moons occurs at Passover and Sukkot in 2014 and 2015 . . . Christians must understand these signs and what they bode both for Israel and the world. Joel 2 and Acts 2 both state: "And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness [eclipse] and the moon into blood [eclipse] before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes."
I am not a proponent of Christian (or Jewish) Eschatology, but I must say the current situation in the Mid East, with the United States, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia all arming different factions in Syria, could escalate into something truly frightening (if it hasn’t already). Is the 25th King of Shambhala about to mount his Red Horse?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Earth | Super Moon | Lunar Eclipse

Update: Mormons have now jumped on the eschatological bandwagon: “They predict the full moon Sept. 28 is the next sign the world is ending.” See Why Some Mormons Are Preparing For Doomsday. OK, that does it. I am maxing out all eight of my credit cards before September 28.

I guess most of you are making plans to observe the Supermoon / Lunar Eclipse coming up on September 28. As you know, that night the moon will be only 221,753 miles from earth, the closest it gets during all of 2015. The average distance of the moon from the earth is 238,000 miles. The moon will not get this close to earth again until November 14, 2016. It will appear 30 percent brighter and 14 percent larger than normal. But the Supermoon alone is not the big deal. The big deal is that there will also be a total lunar eclipse the same night. A Supermoon and a lunar eclipse at the same time is a rare event. It happened only four times in the twentieth century: in 1910, 1928, 1948, and 1982. It will not a happen again until 2033.
Size of average Supermoon compared with size of average Micromoon (moon at its furthest distance from earth). 
During a lunar eclipse the moon turns red, resulting in a so-called Blood Moon. Blood Moons have always titillated Eschatologists. This one is no different. Most of them are quoting the Bible. 
Joel 2:31: “And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.”  
Acts 2:20: “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” 
Revelation 6:12: “ . . . and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood.”
For more on the Blood Moon / End of the World Scenario see John Hagee’s Four Blood Moons: Something Is About to Change

Monday, September 14, 2015

Turkey | Cappadocia | Göreme | Balloon Flight

Whenever I strike up a conversation with anyone in Göreme, the first question they ask is, “have you taken a balloon ride?” l quickly discovered that balloon rides are the main reason people come here. I talked to three people, two women and a man in their mid-twenties from Belgium, who had flown to Istanbul in the morning and then taken the 5:10 p.m. flight to Kayseri. From the Kayseri airport they took a bus to Göreme, where they stayed the night. They got up the next morning at 4:30 for a balloon flight and after the balloon flight went on the so-called Red Tour of the Cappadocia region, leaving Göreme at 9:30 a.m. and returning at 6:30 p.m. Then they took  the bus back to Kayseri, where they caught the 11:00 p.m. flight back to Istanbul. They planned to stay two days in Istanbul for a little shopping and sight-seeing and then fly back to Belgium. They claimed that the entire trip was planned around the balloon flight. Seeing as how everyone else was taking balloon rides it seemed downright churlish of me to come to Göreme and not take one myself. So I signed up for a flight.

There must be at least fifteen or twenty companies offering balloon flights in Göreme and competition between the various operators is fierce. I shopped around for a discount and, oddly enough, found one with a company that I later discovered is one of the most highly regarded in the region. The companies have this thing organized to the T. They pick you up at your hotel at 4:30 in the morning and whisk you to their offices, where a buffet breakfast is served. Then you are driven in a van to the take-off point, which apparently varies according to the winds that day. My company had two balloons taking off that morning, one with a 8-person gondola and one with a 16-person gondola. I had been told the 8-person gondola offered more space to maneuver for photos and a generally less crowded experience, but it also cost more. I signed up for the balloon with the 16-person gondola. As it turned out, there were only ten people in the gondola, so we actually had more space per person than the people in the 8-person gondola, which was full. On my ride were people from Turkey, France, Italy, China, and Korea.

Our pilot said he had no control over the direction the balloon took. We simply had to go with the prevailing breezes. But at different altitudes the breezes blew in different directions, so we could control our flight path somewhat by changing altitude. First we started out fairly low and drifted north-northeast over the village of Çavuşin, at the western end of the Red Valley. 
Our takeoff point. Several other companies were using the same site (click on photos for enlargements).
Drifting off towards Çavuşin, with the cliffs lining the Red Valley in the distance.
Drifting off towards Çavuşin
The village of Çavuşin.
Cave dwellings in the cliffs above Çavuşin
Cliffs over the village of Çavuşin.
Then we rose in altitude to catch the slight wind to the southwest. Soon we were approaching the village of Uchisar. 
Village of Uchisar in the distance
Village of Uchisar
Then we dropped in altitude and again drifted to the north, above the Love Valley.
The Love Valley
Actually I had walked to Love Valley from Göreme two days before.
Love Valley from ground level
Love Valley  from ground level
 Love Valley from ground level
Another view of Love Valley
Then we drifted over the White Valley
White Valley
Approaching our landing site
Before taking off the pilot had given us instruction on what to do in case of a hard landing. In the event it was not necessary. You could have put a full cup on coffee on the railing of the gondola before takeoff and not spilled a drop on the entire flight, including the landing.
The pilot landed the gondola directly on the blue trailer.
Happy ballooners preparing for the traditional post-flight champagne toast.