Day 11 Phaselis, Aspendos, and Perga

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When we first arrived last night at the Khan Hotel in Antalya, our initial thought was to skip all extra trips and spend time right in town, exploring the city and hanging out in our wonderful suite with the view. But we also wanted to actually see the place, Perga, where the amazing sculptures came from, so we signed up for the extra afternoon tour of Aspendos and Perga.
The morning was gorgeous, clear and beautiful with sunlight on the Bey Mountains (part of the Taurus Range) to the west and we knew it would be a great day to be traveling along the Mediterranean. After our standard breakfast of olives, bread, cheese, yogurt and honey for me and hard boiled egg and cereal for Mo, we boarded the bus for the drive west along the coast. Antalya is interesting in that it really is a fairly new city in spite of the ancient history of the Old Town portion and the innumerable ruins from the Hellenistic and Roman periods that surround the city in both directions. Most of the buildings in the major part of town however, are dated from the 50’s when western tourists discovered the magnificent climate, beautiful seas and beaches, and mountains. It makes for a rather boring city with canyons of cement cubes and streets without much character, especially compared to the creative chaos of Istanbul.
As we drove west along the beaches the mountains loomed up larger than life, with huge cliffs dropping right to the Mediterranean.
Approaching our first ruin of the day, the ancient Lycian town of Phaselis, we drove through thick forests of red pine with wide vistas of the sea and mountains, and open roads with no traffic, which was especially nice since they came close to the HWY 1 roads along the Big Sur coast of California.
Phaselis was established by the Greeks from the island of Rhodes as early as the 7th century, fell to the Persians and then later to Alexander the Great after he defeated the Persions. The city was in Egyptian hands for a short time, but after 160 BCE it became part of the Lycian culture that was actually under Roman rule. Because of its 3 beautiful harbors, rich timber resources, and fresh water sources it was a target for pirates repeatedly throughout its history, with losses during the Byzantine period and then as late as the 11th century when it ceased to be an important port and eventually vanished entirely.

The ruins themselves are not especially exciting, a great remnant of a Roman aqueduct, some large baths, and a truly beautiful theater are the standouts, but the setting is probably the most beautiful in all of Turkey. The harbors are especially gorgeous, with crystal water, sandy and rocky beaches surrounded by forests and Mt Olympus, one of 22 such named mountains in Greece and Turkey, rising to more than 7,000 feet above the sea.

Our visit was leisurely, with time to put our feet in the Mediterranean, hike up to the top of the theater, and take lots of photos of the amazing mountains and lovely forest. It was warm and sunny, and one of only two capri days for Mo and I on our trip. Interesting tidbit regarding the decline of the city had to do with the fresh water marshes that still exist nearby. Malaria was one of the scourges of this lovely climate by the sea with plenty of fresh water, so between pirates and illness it faded away into history.

Winding our way back along the coast and to Antalya, we were conflicted in our choice to go on the afternoon tour and at the last moment I very nearly jumped the bus in order to have time to explore the bustling city and wander the streets in freedom. Glad we didn’t do that, however, because our visit to the Roman theater at Aspendos was one of the highlights of Antalya. Aspendos was the eastern most city of the kingdom of Pergamon, the culture responsible for the gorgeous city on top the hill near Kusadasi that we saw on Day 6. This Roman amphitheater was built in AD 162 and is the most beautifully preserved Roman theater in the world. I climbed to the top of the theater, walking the gallery, and imagined the beautiful façade that once held many of the sculptures that we saw yesterday in the museum. Some people from the group sang for us to demonstrate the amazing acoustics, although I really wished my daughter Melody could have been the one singing there for me. I also took photos of the backstage area and how it looked to walk backstage onto the main stage with that huge arena in front of you. The Helenistic period was dominate by theater, comedies and tragedies, and it wasn’t until the Romans that these theaters became a venue for beast fights and gladiators. There were remnants of the fences that separated spectators from the animals, and the gaping hole where the lions emerged was impressive. We both really loved this theater and were glad we didn’t miss it.
The trip to Perga very late in the day was somewhat of an anticlimax, with ruins not as impressive as Ephesus, or as well preserved. There are ongoing archaeological digs that were interesting, and there is still so much to be explored. After seeing all the artifacts from this place in the museum, and looking at all the mounds surrounding the area, it is great imagining what waits to be found here.
We returned home after dark, somewhat sad that we had no time to explore the city of Antalya much, but still managed a walk through the pedestrian mall down to the sea wall and the bazaar that bordered the old city and the sea. It was pretty quiet, with many of the summer tourist restaurants closed and dark, but still lots of younger people walking about and again the standard groups of young Turkish men hanging around smoking and talking. There really weren’t many women about, but the presence of some young couples walking the promenade and the general respectful nature of the Turkish men gave us a reasonable sense of safety even in the dark evening. Still, I didn’t carry a handbag, used a clip to hook my wallet inside my pocket, and kept my hand on it the entire time. Although Suleyman warned us about the few people who might be less than honest, we never had any problems the entire time we were in the country, for which I am grateful. There was nothing of the pushing and shoving and invasion of personal space that Mo experienced in Morocco which I had expected might be a problem. The men in Turkey that we encountered were invariably charming, and entertaining, but the women were guarded and not the least bit inclined to be taken in by western tourists. Much like cats, the boys are all friendly and outgoing and the girls hang back and look at you with caution. I found this very different from Thailand where the women are incredibly sweet and kind and treated us with great friendliness.

Day 10 Traveling through the mountains to Antalya

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I did some research before we left for this trip, so I did know that parts of Turkey were mountainous. Nothing quite prepared me for what we saw today, and from what our guide says, this is only the beginnning. We left Pamukkale in more dreary weather, with snow capping the peaks surrounding the Meander Valley. Our climb from very nearly sea level to more than 5000 feet elevation as we wound up and down the mountains was dramatic, and unexpected, to say the least. I spent most of the morning with my mouth hanging open. There was so much to see, and again, the downside of traveling by bus is very evident in my photos full of reflections of the window glass. Tour bus drivers aren’t too keen on stopping for photo ops, but the mountains were so dramatic I had to take photos anyway. I apologize for the quality, but still wanted to share the magnificent views of the Taurus Mountains.
The shifting geology kept me enthralled and glued to the window. We climbing from my California looking landscape, right up into a wild volcanic lanscape that rivaled anything in Oregon, and crossed incredibly flat and fertile valleys filled with deep dark alluvial soils. All the crops have been harvested by now, but the richness of the land is evident everywhere. The volcanics shifted abruptly to limestone and marble, with huge marble quarries along the foothills. Some areas had solid limestone rock outcrop surfaces that were probably 90 percent rock and maybe 10 percent soil.

We stopped for tea and bathrooms at a Urok shop where the women were still wearing traditional Urok pantaloons and selling pomegranate and orange juice fresh squeezed. Once we dropped down from the mountains, and began the approach to Antalya, another sub range of the Taurus mountains loomed to the west. These mountains, rising directly from the Mediterranean, are so dramatic that they look like something made up and painted against the horizon. The city of Antalya is one of the most ancient in the world, and the ruins and archeaological finds are everywhere.

We stopped at a huge mall for lunch and another break where everything was as cosmopolitan as anything in the west, and people were shopping and spending as if there wasn’t a recession in sight. The mall had a huge food court with Turkish food and all the American versions of fast food as well. Leaving the mall was a challenge since our bus was so huge and once more there wasn’t enough room with all the traffic coming and going. For a bit, we thought it was going to come to a real fight between our bus driver and another man who refused to move his car, but it all ended well with our great big bus once more negotiating impossible turns and narrow spaces.
The visit to the archeological museum was breathtaking. Truly so. Most of the sculptures there were from the ancient city of Perga, another ruin we will be visiting tomorrow, but seeing them here was wonderful because they were presented so beautifully, and were all in a place where you could actually appreciate their magnificence. I am in awe of the wonder of sculpture, this kind of sculpture, in stone, chipping away. It amazes me.

After the museum visit, we again negotiated some very narrow streets in order to walk through Hadrian’s Gate, into the Old City of Antalya on the old harbor. Our timing was perfect, will have to be sure to mention that in the comments, since we arrived at the edge of the old city just in time to see the sun setting over the sea with the sillouhettes of the mountains against the sky.

The day ended with a delight of an incredible room at the Khan Hotel, our best yet. Here we have a very large suite, with windows on three sides and views of the city and the sea, and the mosque just below us. Evening prayers were called while I watched the setting crescent moon over the minaret studded by a very huge Venus and another star that is very close to Venus. It took my breath away.

This day has opened up even more of the magnificence of this country to me and I am truly glad that I am here to experience it.

My Turkish bath

One of the things I promised myself was a true Turkish bath. What better place to have this treat than near Heiropolis, the place where people have treated themselves to spas for a very long time. I read about the Turkish baths online at home, so had a general idea what to expect, but it still was an experience I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.

Here at the hotel, they have big fat Turkish terry bathrobes for everyone, and people just walk around in these robes, padding through the lobby and halls on the way to the spa. The spa is filled with cute little Turkish guys very skilled at selling you all the treatments, but I still managed to stay within my budget with a bath and Auyervedic massage.

I walk in, feeling a bit awkward in my robe, but my cute little Turkish guy leads me to a dressing room and then on to another room where a very tiny girl leads me to the bath. She will be my massage therapist as well, so she is my guide through the process. The bath itself is made of marble, with a huge marble slab in the middle of the room and deep marble basins with old copper pipes along the sides. It is quite dark and very steamy in the room, and very warm. She gestures to me to remove my robe and has me lie on the slab. I am the only one in the room besides her, so it is little less uncomfortable lying out there on a marble slab face up in my birthday suit. Hmm.

Next thing I know, she is running the faucets and filling two large metal bowls with very hot water and pouring them on my body rhythmically in pairs, arms, legs, sides, back, pouring over and over. The sheer volume of water and the height from which she pours is an experience in itself. Then she begins to scrub with a small loofa, until I have no skin left. I think, gee maybe enough in that spot, and just when I think I might have to say something she moves to another spot. Then more water, huge volumes of water again. Silence. Steam. Then she is back doing something strange with a Turkish towel and bubbles. I am on my stomach by this time so I can’t actually see what she is doing, but suddenly I am enveloped in thick, foamy, whip cream textured bubbles. She turns me over and covers me in more foam, soapy foam, again from the towel where she makes the bubbles somehow. The foamy bubbles as they hang over me from the towel are a huge clump about 1 foot in diameter and 2 feet high. They are warm as they fall on my body. Then she rubs in all the foam and in the dim light I look down at my foam covered body and the foam covered slab and laugh to think this is the best bubble bath I ever had! She then drops bubbles in my hair and washes my hair. Finally more water, many bowlfuls of water to get all that foam from my body and I am cleaner than I think I have ever been.

Wouldn’t have missed this experience for anything! The massage was wonderful, with hot oils and chakra balancing, gentle massage just firm enough to heal, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t felt before. Huge clumps of bubbles falling from the sky on my body is definitely something I haven’t felt before. Great end to a relaxing day in Pamukkale.!

Eating and politics in Turkey

One of the interesting parts of this tour is our guide Suleyman. He is Turkish, and we found out yesterday, part Kurd, and Muslim. We get a view of his country from the inside. His knowledge of the history and politics of Turkey is truly impressive, and yet in no way is he any kind of intellectual. He’s really down to earth, and often very funny, with a dry wit that makes us laugh a lot. He also demands respect, standing at the front of the bus talking about one thing or another, if someone is chatting away he will clear his throat, look incredibly displeased, and say, “Excuse me, excuse me!!” before he will continue his stories.

One of his stories is regarding Turkey and the European Union. Its one thing to read in the guidebook and quite another to hear his version. Turkey has been in conversation with the EU for several years, with many people thinking that it would be a great thing to be part of the EU. However, it seems that the population of Turkey is about 75 million, and unlike many other European countries, Turkey still has a positive population growth. And of course, Turkey is 95 percent Islamic. This seems to make a lot of Europeans very uncomfortable, since Turkey would become the largest country in the EU in population, and would make the EU dominantly Islamic. Suleyman thought this was somewhat insulting, and said basically he didn’t want to be part of anything that didn’t want him for stupid reasons, aka “I don’t want to go to a party where I am not invited”. So the jury is still out on Turkey becoming part of the EU, but Suleyman thinks its not likely to happen in the next 10 years at least.

Another of Suleyman’s political discussion has to do with the Turks and the Kurds. He insists that Kurds are not a particular ethnic group, they are simply people who live in a particular part of the geography of Turkey, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East. He says most Turks are Kurdish in some way or another, since people from the Kurdish part of Turkey have migrated to other parts of Turkey, especially Istanbul. He said his grandmother was Kurdish. Then he discussed the fundamentalist terrorist group in Eastern Turkey who is attempted to create a Kurdish state, and he dismissed this with a harrumph, and then under his breath in a very rapid comment mentioned that Turkey, with the support of the US, recently bombed some Kurdish outposts in western Iraq. He then changed the subject.

Television. All the big hotels boast cable TV. We think that is great, because it will give us a bit of something in English to help keep track of the world. Cable TV consists of the BBC, and sometimes the international version of CNN, and so far there has been very little news of anything at all except the terrorist attack in Mumbai, so we check in occasionally to get some news from the US. Here we have the BBC and 2 other channels in Turkish. Haven’t watched them much, although we aren’t in our room much either. I’m glad for the internet, since its great to be able to have a note from my kids to keep me connected and a bit grounded.

Food. I need to try to talk about the food. We have been eating fairly traditional Turkish food at the large buffets that are offered at our hotels for the evening meal most of the time. Of course, some versions are better than others and last night’s meal was really impressive. It is very nearly impossible to remember everything, but I am going to try to at least describe what it’s like to be eating here.

One thing that is a big part of Turkish meals are the cold salads, what Suleyman calls the “beginnings”. These often seem to be my favorite choices for the meals anyway, and the one thing always present is eggplant. The eggplant is thinly sliced lengthwise and grilled so it looks like a roasted pepper and served with cool tangy yogurt. There are long huge green beans seasoned with lots of olive oil. A fava bean salad with some onions and olive oil. A tomato salad that looks a bit like pica de gallo without the cilantro, lots of chopped tomatoes, some cucumbers, onions, and lots of broad leaf parsley. Dolmas. The dolmas last night were made of seasoned rice rolled into a softened cabbage leaf. The main seasoning in the rice is lemon and I think cumin, but I couldn’t identify it, even though it was really good. Then some kind of deep fried cauliflower, but not crisp, soft and lumpy, also served with yogurt. Shredded carrots and shredded beats drenched in vinegar, many kinds of olives and triangular cuts of goat cheese, some with red pepper, some with dill, others with more olive oil. Piles of diced very dark green lettuce and spinach that is really good. Huge red radish slices as big as a baseball if it were sliced, covered with chopped dark parsley. Cold boiled potatoes with mild seasonings that need a lot of salt to be good. Some kind of potato salad that has yogurt as the dressing with little cubes of potatoes, carrots, and peas.

Many kinds of bread, most of it fairly soft and not crusty, even though it looks as though it should be. The butter is usually not very good, so we use more dark green olive oil for the bread. Then the main dishes at the buffet are usually several kinds of stews, with lamb and beef and chicken and unidentifiable vegetables, often eggplant and mushrooms which I love and are the two things Mo doesn’t. Almost always are the meatballs, maybe beef, maybe lamb, and also in a tomato and eggplant stew. There is usually some kind of rice pilaf, quite dull without much flavor. Turkish flatbread, something like Indian nan, or a flour tortilla, filled with goat cheese and spinach and roasted on a hot pan like a quesadilla. In the midst of all this complicated food is a large pan of “chips”, great fat French fries that are light as a feather and perfectly cooked inside and crusty outside.

Desserts are all sorts of things with honey in common. Little cakes and madelines, soaked in honey, something like a pistachio baklava, but not as crusty, soaked in honey, little chocolate cakes, that aren’t sweet and stick to the roof of your mouth like peanut butter. Beautiful little lemon cakes that look wonderful and taste a bit like glue. Tangerines that are tart and fresh from the local trees. Once I had a pistachio vanilla custard that was to die for and a chocolate pudding that was equally wonderful. The big thing here is called “Turkish Delight” and is in all the stores. It is the present that you take when you go visiting, and Suleyman insists that whomever has the front seat in the bus is required to bring a box of pistachio Turkish delight. Now I know where Washington State’s applets and cotlets came from. They are nothing more than Turkish Delight Wenatchee style.

I am sure that the buffets are not the best to be found in Turkey, but no matter where we go this seems to be the style of food that we find. Even when we stop at “real” Turkish restaurants they have this buffet style of eating. The first day in Istanbul, when we ate at the Pudding Café, I think I had the best food I have had so far.

Day 9 Pamukkale and Heiropolis and the Spa

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Relaxing in Pamukkale with an afternoon appointment for a Turkish Bath and an Auruvedic Massage. Yes!

The travertine pools at Pamukkale have been a site for healing for a few thousand years or so. The geology of travertine wasn’t something I fully understood, so I had to go look it up.

Travertine is a kind of limestone deposited by springs. Groundwater traveling through limestone beds dissolves calcium carbonate, an environmentally sensitive process that depends on a delicate balance between temperature, water chemistry and carbon dioxide levels in the air. As the mineral-saturated water encounters surface conditions, this dissolved matter precipitates in thin layers of calcite or aragonite, two crystallographically different forms of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). With time, the minerals build up into deposits of travertine. It is an odd geological resource that can be harvested and renewed.

The region around Rome produces large travertine deposits that have been exploited for thousands of years. The stone is generally solid but has pore spaces and fossils that give the stone character. The name travertine comes from the ancient deposits on the Tibur River, hence lapis tiburtino.

Today we are at the Lycos River Hotel in Pamukkale. It’s the first fairly quiet day we have had since we left on this tour. Pamukkale is in a very rural part of Turkey near the city of Denizli, but the hotels are not even in Pamukkale. The hotels are associated with the springs and there are many here, of varying qualities and amenities, and all a mile or so from the village where most businesses are closed since the normal travel season ended back in October. I can see why as I viewed the snow on the mountains around the Meander River Valley were we are traveling. As has been the case all along on the trip, our hotel is adequate but certainly not luxurious. This morning was a bit dicey when I couldn’t get any hot water for about half an hour. Funny, since there are hot springs all around with water at 117 degrees F. Finally managed a lukewarm shower and out in a cold foggy morning for our visit to the famous travertine pools and hot springs, and the ruins of the city of Heiropolis.

In Hellenistic times, between 200 and 300 BCE or so, the thermal springs at Heiropolis made the city a popular spa area. Later on the Romans developed the city even more into a spa retreat, with huge baths and pools, libraries, and temples. There is a pool there now that is littered with marble columns where you can swim and dive, but on this day it was too cold to think of such a thing. The ruins are extensive here as well, and the artist rendition of what the city looked like in Roman times is amazing. The city is perched above the travertine terraces shaped like a semicircle, with another huge stadium on the hill, and a Necropolis outside the city that has the highest number of existing sarcophagus from ancient Anatolia. It has been quite a revelation to be in Turkey seeing so many ruins of ancient cities of Greek and Roman culture. Another interesting cultural note is that Suleyman insists that we refer specifically to Hellenistic culture aka 300 BCE, rather than “greek” culture. I think the Turks and the Greeks are not so friendly. Some of Suleyman’s wisecracking little remarks have been directed towards Greeks.

The skies were very gray and boring, and the wind was cold and the rain started while we were walking the ruins, so the photos are a bit dull. But even the dull skies couldn’t really detract from the physical geologic wonder of the travertines. Although I did buy postcards that show how gorgeous they are in the brilliant sunlight, all white against brilliant blue skies. No blue skies today, however, so we were glad to return to the hotel and our room, turn up the heat and do a bit a relaxing for a change. Tomorrow is another long day of travel back south to the Mediterranean coast and Antalya.