Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Welcome to Turkey!

I finished the last post in the Athens airport. When I checked in for our flight to Athens at Paros, we were for some reason given standby tickets. I was confused by that; I bought them months ago and they weren't the cheap tickets either. I think it was the foreigner tax. Anyway, there was no reason to worry much, there were only 11 people on the 30-something seat prop plane.

After a brief stop in Athens, we caught our flight to Izmir where we caught the train to Selcuk, our stop for the next two days. We rode through some really depressing looking 2 horse towns on the way so we were pleasantly surprised to find that Selcuk was a pretty little college city with lovely parks shaded by Roman aqueducts. Our hotel was in a residential side street that looked a little sketchy, but watching us wander around  local girl offered to help and pointed us in the right direction. And the hotel was actually quite lovely with a patio and pool in back.

We got dinner at a cheesy tourist spot that actually was quite good. I had my first lamb in a pot with veggies and yogurt dish (it's a common thing here right after the mince stuffed eggplant). Everything seems to involve eggplant and tomatoes. Steve is in hell. Well, he was in Greece too.

The next morning we walked to Ephesus! That amazing site so completely overrun by tourists you'll want to run screaming. Actually we walked there and arrived before opening. Waiting for them to open, we met some Canadian expats showing their friends around for the day and they assured us that we had a good half hour before the tour groups started showing up. And they were right. We had the place to ourselves (with the Canadians of course) for a good 30-45 minutes where we ran around and took incredible selfies of the library of Celsus with no one around! But then we had to get down to business and do our Rick Steves walking tour and the hordes began descending upon us.

I don't want to sound rude or insensitive but if you have serious problems with mobility because you are seriously obese, need a walker or wheelchair, or are one of those chicks who needs to wear platform flip flops everywhere,  then ancient ruins are probably not the right attraction for you. A good number of the hordes were coming off of a cruise ship and it was not pretty. The main path is along the original, well worn stone and marble path, and it is steep and slippery! It's actually easier to navigate uphill, but I can't imagine you could convince most of these folks to walk up a hill.

The highlight of the site for me was the exhibit showcasing the Roman era private houses that have been fairly recently excavated. Not only are they in great shape with intact frescoes and mosaics, but they are being restored and conserved in a far more modern and careful manner than the rest of the site. Also, private dwellings seldom survive like the temples and monuments, so it's an unusual peek into ancient private life. Well, life of the rich anyway. It was a separate admission ticket that none of the package tours included, and it was entirely shaded, so maybe that was really why it was my favorite.

We also managed to see the St. John basilica including the ancient castle on the top of the hill overlooking the city. So, all the sites here have some Christian significance. I don't get it because no one ever made me go to Sunday school and I declined to go voluntarily. So, I think Paul was nearly stoned at Ephesus for proselytizing, which the local makers of trinkets dedicated to the Greek/Roman goddess Artemis took as an affront. And John supposedly brought Mary here and they both lived out the rest of their days at Ephesus. (No mention though of George or Ringo.)

Lots of people come here to do religious pilgrimages. And we noticed something different. Almost all the Asian tourists were Korean. I've seen plenty of Chinese and Japanese tourists every place I've ever visited, but the mobs of Koreans is a first for me. Lots of Koreans are Catholic, so there is the pilgrimage draw for some. But also, one of the nicer Koreans we met told us there is currently a very popular television show in Korea that is set in Turkey and hence lots of young Koreans are coming to Turkey. Weird.

That night we had dinner at the hotel which was a set menu prepared by a local woman. It was pretty good but it was almost the same meal a friend prepared for us before we left on vacation. It involved the mince in eggplant dish. I really noticed that the dish resembles a vagina more than a little bit. I wonder if Turkish women are trying to send a message to their husbands with this one.

The next morning we caught a bus to Pamukkale. It was a really uncomfortable bus, but fortunately it was not such a long journey. We arrived and dropped our bags at our hotel. A lot of people seemed to be only staying the day and taking a bus out that night. We planned to catch an overnight bus the next night. The folks at our hotel were obviously accustomed to this and assured us we could sit in their lobby all day the next day and even swim in the pool and take a shower if we wanted. We headed up to the big draw of the city, and boy was it impressive.

Above Pamukkale is an enormous ancient city that was built upon a natural mineral hot spring. The water is highly calcified and as it bubbles out of the ground and over the ledges of this high spot, it creates striking white terraces. The site is strange because it feels like a water park with ruins. Hieropolis is the name of the ancient Roman city. This is one of the largest site I've ever seen. There's a theater, agora, temple, and sprawling necropolis (cemetery) just to start. Most of it has not been overly restored; the archaeological efforts have been  restrained, but still there is just so much there. In the middle is a large concession where you can bathe in the springs. Ancient columns have been left (or moved into?) in the pool for ambience and they call it "Cleopatra's Pool". It was a separate $20 admission, so we declined to bathe, but you can check it out for free and there are lots of cafes around the pool, so we did watch all flavors of foreigners take a dip over a beer. To exit the park, you walk down the terracing. The formations have been encouraged to form pools so it's not all that natural, but it was still great fun. And being in Turkey, you got to watch Saudi women in burqas descend next to Russians in speedos and Italians in skimpy bikinis.

Having finished the main attraction for Pamukkale, we booked a ride out to Aphrodidias the next day. It is so named because their patron deity was Aphrodite. This site is actually pretty magnificent. But I have to confess that by the time we got here I was pretty over ruins. Like Hieropolis, this site was very well preserved and none of the would be preservationists have done anything too damaging. In fact they were taking great pains to reassemble and stabilize the Roman baths (called Hadrian's baths here) and this is the only place I could really visualize what the baths must have looked like. The baths were very important to Roman life. By providing such a decadent respite from daily life to the citizens for almost no money, the Roman emperors probably bought the empire many more decades than it might have otherwise survived. Aphrodisias also has the most intact stadium and it hadn't really been preserved at all.

Returning to town we still had many hours until our bus left. We sat around and read as long as we could stand. Then we went into town and had a little food. We headed over and caught our bus, which came complete with snack and tea service. It was a long night.

We were rewarded for the discomfort when we arrived at our next destination which is a magical fairy land. Or at least looks like one. I will post all about Göreme and Cappadocia next when I have a chance. The surrounding area--most of central Turkey actually--totally looks like the Wild West and I'm not surprised they made a movie called, "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" a few years back.

Pictures: Efes by the pool at our hotel in Selçuk (yes, those are half liter bottles); the famous library of Celsus with NO tourists in front but us; the Selçuk Castle by night as seen from the patio at our hotel; walking down the travertine terraces at Pamukkale; ancient stadium at Aphrodisias; and entrance to the temple of Aphrodite.



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