Georgia, the country, is just physically gorgeous. Enjoy this drone photo tour at theatlantic.com.
More photos here at EarthPhotos.com, including this one, of the 14th century Trinity Church (Tsminda Sameba) and Mt. Kazbek, in the clouds.
This is a fateful week for the beleaguered Turks. Next weekend Turkey will vote in a referendum on whether to extend significant new powers to President Erdogan. With war on its borders, terror in its biggest cities, a tourism industry in collapse, a tenuous agreement with the rest of Europe over refugees, spats with individual EU governments ginned up for electoral advantage, an astounding 40,000 jailed after the attempted coup last year, well, Turkey has no shortage of challenges.
In spite of it all, Istanbul remains one of the world’s five greatest cities (In no particular order, mine are Istanbul, Hong Kong, Paris, Sydney, San Fransisco. Yours?) So I’d like to reprise a few fan photos of Istanbul in the good old days. Click them to make them bigger. And there are hundreds more photos from Turkey here, in the Turkey Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.
Outside the Grand Bazaar. Through that gate and down in the bazaar, march in and get yourself thoroughly lost. Wander for half a day. I once asked around for the Afghan section and came away with three fine pakols, tailored to my head size, from a milliner from Kandahar.
Again, the Galata Tower in the center back. Ferries like these ply the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus over to Asia, carrying commuters to work at dawn.
The fabled Haydarpasha Train Station in Kadaköy, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. On arrival from London via the Orient Express, from here well heeled tourists could travel on to Ankara, then Kars, then Baghdad and Teheran.
Day labor at the break of dawn. Happening every day in the Grand Bazaar.
The Blue Mosque.
This is seven photos stitched into a 180 degree panorama. Each photo consists in turn of seven exposures combined into an HDR image. We are looking west into the Golden Horn at dawn, the Bosphorus Strait at our backs. See each end of the Galata Bridge on the far left and right.
Here is the Ortakoy Mosque in a trendy part of town some way up the Bosphorus on the European shore, the bridge behind leading to Asia, on the far side.
And Taksim Square, foreground. Gezi Park, a green space and the focus of the protests a couple of years ago, is just below and behind this vantage point. From here you can see past the Golden Horn and out into the Sea of Marmara. From this vantage point the Bosphorus, to the east, is just off to the left.
Here is the fabled Golden Horn, with the Galata Tower across the way. The Bosphorus is out of the frame on the right, the Sea of Marmara behind the photo and the Black Sea at the end of the Bosphorus at two o’clock from here.
Many authors seem to believe they won't be taken seriously unless their work is laden with ponderous history. When well written, like in some of my suggestions below, that's worthwhile. When it's not, it's the reason tons of books are returned to the shelf half-finished.
In Where the West Ends, Mr. Totten mostly allows a cursory sketch of the past to suffice. I suspect that satisfies armchair travelers. Then he gets on with the travel writing I like best, what it feels like to get up from that chair and actually go to a place, and what it's like, personally, to be there.
Should Mr. Totten's book pique your interest, here are some suggestions for deeper reading:
– Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War by Thomas de Waal
– Azerbaijan Diary by Thomas Goltz
– Georgia Diary by Thomas Goltz
– Towers of Stone: The Battle of Wills in Chechnya by Wojciech Jagielski
– Bread and Ashes: A Walk Through the Mountains of Georgia by Tony Anderson
– Rebel Land: Unravelling the Riddle of History in a Turkish Town by Christopher de Bellaigue
– In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs: A Memoir of Iran by Christopher de Bellaigue
– Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup by Christopher de Bellaigue
– Black Sea by Neil Ascherson
– The Black Sea: A History by Charles King
And here, in five installments, are excerpts from Common Sense and Whiskey, the book, about our trip through the southern Caucasus:
Here is Chapter Fifteen of Common Sense and Whiskey, the book, a very short trip through Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Track down previous chapters here. Click the photos to make them bigger. More photos and additional commentary are available at A Common Sense and Whiskey Companion. And here's the Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia Galleries at EarthPhotos.com. Order the entire book for $9.99 at Amazon.com, at BN.com, or the Kindle version (just $4.99).
The Wien Flughafen stood disturbingly deserted at night, all the shops stocked like Christmas, but you couldn’t play with the toys. They glittered and blinked coquettishly behind glass doors pulled shut.
Our old buddy Austrian Airlines left Vienna on a beeline toward Budapest, then Timisoara, Bucharest, Constanta, over the Black Sea to Trabzon and on into Yerevan, all of it in blackness below. The flight tracking screen showed our destination tucked right in between Grozny and Baghdad: “Local time in Jerewan 4:31 a.m.”
Austrian’s corporate color scheme was brilliant red, the national color, and the cabin crew was dressed red hat to sensible (but red) shoes. Fetching, I thought.
Taxiing out (“We are number one for takeoff”), a wail arose behind us. A woman screamed “Go back, go back and check!” Crimson crew rushed to her and kneeled and huddled round our distraught Armenian. One of them came back forward and PA’d their apologies, “Dis is not Azerbaijan, ve know dis.”
The safety announcements were recorded, and they were for the wrong destination. This woman wasn’t by God going to Baku. Azerbaijan’s border with Armenia had been shut tight for fifteen years.
Lawrence Sheets covered the demise of the former Soviet Union for NPR. He writes his memoir in a brisk, non-academic style that's just right for the interested lay person. It's a quick read; Took me only a weekend and Monday. He includes what must be all his greatest hits, his quick trip to Afghanistan, a trip to Sakhalin Island in the Russian far east, visiting the Chernobyl exclusion zone, but I'm particularly drawn to his Caucasus reporting.
He makes my modest story on the southern Caucasus, recounted in CS&W, appear callow, and I appreciate him for it. It's exciting to get background on some of the places we visited a few years after he did, in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia (even a tiny place we visited, Dzoroget in Armenia, athough he visited under entirely different circumstances). His coverage of Abkhazia's succession from Georgia is admittedly maybe not general interest, but I loved it.
He reported that little war along with his friend and fellow reporter Thomas Goltz, who has written his own books, and if you read their accounts alongside each other, you get a real, exciting sense of what went on at that fraying edge of the Soviet empire.
Similarly, you can read Sheets on Armenia alongside Christopher de Bellaigue's Rebel Land, (earlier post) which is set just across Armenia's western border in Turkey, for a richer understanding of the Armenian genocide question, and Sheets on Armenia alongside Thomas de Waal's richly reported Black Garden (that's what "Karabakh" means), which is set just across Armenia's eastern border in Azerbaijan for a better understanding of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Go ahead and polish off your expertise about the southern Caucasus with:
– Bread and Ashes by Tony Anderson. Travels in Georgia.
Also in the region, see
– Towers of Stone by Wojciech Jagielski, reporter for the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza,
– The Man who Tried to Save the World by Scott Anderson, about aid worker Fred Cuny in the north Caucasus,
– Chienne de Guerre by Anna Nivat, incredibly brave war reporting from Chechnya,
– Beslan: The Tragedy of School Number 1 by Timothy Phillips on the nightmare in North Ossetia,
– Thomas Goltz's other books Azerbaijan Diary and Chechnya Diary,
– Thomas de Waal's other book The Caucasus: An Introduction,
– and Christopher de Bellaigue's In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs , a memoir of Iran. de Bellaigue writes beautifully, and after all, Iran borders Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh.
Finally, to stay up to date, there's the International Crisis Group's North and South Caucasus reporting. (Lawrence Sheets is ICG Project Director for the South Caucasus these days) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Caucasus section.
I've added Justyna Mielnikiewicz to the category Photographers, with Respect in the sidebar, below right. When you have a few minutes, please go see her work. Her bio says she began her career in Poland before moving to Tbilisi. Our photos of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan don't match the grit, the real, I-live-here feel of hers.