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Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Ups and Downs of Travel Outside Istanbul


Sunday, October 14, 2012

This day promised to be a day of adventure. We arose early in the morning, packed our bags and loaded the car. We were going on a road trip for 8 days! And, we had no maps that would be of much use to us. We knew where we wanted to go, generally which direction to head, and Jim had downloaded some cursory directions from Google Maps.

Happily the sun was shining and there was absolutely no traffic on the roads. Our first destination was Ephesus, about an hour’s drive south of Izmir. We looked at the map and tried to find some of the placenames on the road signs to give us a clue which road we should be on. We finally settled on the city of Aydin. It was in the correct directon and was actually a bit beyond Ephesus. So we followed the signs toward Aydin and soon found ourselves on a major freeway with almost no other cars on the road. We relaxed a bit and settled into a pleasant drive.

The landscape along this route was quite mountainous with a range of vegetation from land that was quite barren to land that was highly cultivated for agricultural purposes. The distance passed quickly and soon we were watching for a sign that would guide us to Ephesus. We almost whooped with delight when a familiar-looking brown sign appeared on the side of the road indicating that we should turn right to travel toward Ephesus.

And so we arrived at the entrance to this magnificent, world class place of history, architecture, and longevity. A shopkeeper approached us when we arrived with some very good advice. He suggested that we carry water with us and that we take a taxi to the top gate and walk down the slope of Ephesus rather than up.  We followed his advice …. And we are very glad we did. A short taxi ride enabled us to leave our car where we will end up after our tour and took us to the top gate where we would begin our descent. A second shop keeper sold Jim a hat which will really help Jim remain a bit cooler throughout the day.

We entered the gates, prepared to be awed …. And we were. Stretched before us down a long slope was the main street of what was once a magnificent city of 250,000 people.

The streetscape itself was fairly steep and led us from the top of the hill steadily down into a broad valley. We passed by the remains of homes, shops, temples, baths, toilets, theatres, a brothel, a libraries and a myriad of other buildings. It was truly awesome to imagine the history of this place and its place in history. Oh, the stories those stones could tell.

In some places, the columns, carvings and structures had been better preserved. It was possible to imagine toga-clad men walking through the arches and doorways or sipping tea in cafes along the way.

Jim spent some time in the terrace houses, the best preserved area of Ephesus. This area is now totally undercover. It clearly housed the wealthy as evidenced by the painted wall murals, the elaborate architecture and the size and complexity of the homes.

At the bottom of the hill was the immense amphitheatre, now being diligently refurbished in hopes of being used once again for live concerts and other performances.  The size was impressive by today’s standards. It was overwhelming to think about its construction over 2000 years ago. There was something dissonant about seeing a modern crane standing against the blue sky as a part of this massive reconstruction project.

We finally reached the bottom of the hill and the end of our tour of Ephesus. We were grateful for the shade in the grove of trees that welcomed us as we made our way to the exit and to our car. Of course, once through the official exit there was an array of shops that offered all things Turkish or Ephisian for sale. We resisted everything except an a pistachio cream cone for Jim and a glass of pomegranate juice for me.

Then it was time to travel on. We were heading to Pamukkale but as before we had no idea how to get there. A wing and a prayer …..

We passed through many small towns, over mountains and through vast tracts of rich agricultural land. Olive groves, fruit orchards, strawberry patches, market gardens, corn fields and fields of cotton lay before our eyes. It was clearly harvest season and there were many workers (mostly older wonen) busy in the fields. What back-breaking labour it must have been.

Along the roadsides, we were thrilled to find many, many fruit stands marketing the products of the season. We had to be somewhat conservative in our purchases since we still had a lot of fruit from the market we were in yesterday. It was hard to turn away from the rich colours, smells and tastes.

We were fortunate to encounter a harvesting process for pomegranates on one of the roads we travelled. We have never seen so many pomegranates on trees or in harvest containers. Each pomegranate was gently placed into its own compartment in the shipping container, just as an egg would be. The filled crates were piled high on trucks and headed off to market or processing. Of course, we stopped to take photos and one of the farmers was kind enough to give us 2 freshly picked pomegranates. Mmmm ,,,,, I love pomegranates.
We carried on along our chosen route, gratified that we could now see the chalky cliffs of Pamukkale. We clearly had chosen the correct route. We found our hotel, The Melrose House, and settled into our very comfortable and pleasant room. It was too late in the day to go to the cliffs but our host suggested that we spend some time around the lake in the park at the bottom of the cliffs. What a great suggestion!

First, we encountered a camel …. Only 2 lira to have a photo taken. Of course, I went for it. Then we found a terrific table at a café on the edge of the lake that served delicious Turkish coffee. From our seats, we had a wonderful view of the Pamukkale cliffs and terraces along with an overview of the entire park surrounding the scenic lake. As in Alacati, it seemed that wedding couples came to this place to have photographs taken and we were delighted to see four newlywed couples in various poses by the water and in front of the large white cliffs. One of the brides was a more conservative Muslim woman who wore an elaborate and utterly beautiful headpiece that completely covered her hair. It was so elegant.

Pamukkale is an area that has developed because of natural hot springs flowing fro the earth ….. At one time, land in this area was privately owned and several major hotels had been built at the rim of the cliff. Turkey finally donated the land to UNESCO who set out to discontinue its use for accommodation and reestablish it as a natural phenomenon. All the hotels have been dismantled and walkways, lovely gardens, a museum and informational signs have replaced them.

As well as the white chalk cliffs, at the top of the ridge there stand the remains of a very large Roman city. It extends for kilometres in every direction and is in a total state of disrepair. Walls, columns, buildings have tumbled and crumbles over centuries. Fields of rocks are what remain along with the knowledge and imaginations of scholars about once stood proudly in this place.

We left Pamukkale and headed toward Aphrodisias. This area certainly has a vast collection of ruins. Once again, we passed through many landscapes – hills, mountains, valleys.  Agricultural enterprises are a prime part of the lifestyle and the economy here. Tractors travelled possessively along the roadways and parked along the curbsides in the towns we passed through. Fields were once again filled with workers. Harvest season was in full swing

We were once again fortunate to come upon a harvest operation, this time, the harvest of olives. Tractors pulling wagons piled high with containers full of freshly picked olives arrived at a sorting station located in a field at the side of the road. Olives were dumped into a hopper and sorted according to their size. Containers were filled with various sizes and loaded by hand onto a truck that would transport them to their next destination, processing into edible olives, olive oil, or any one of the number of other products derived from olives.

Women, dressed in traditional clothing – baggy pants, long sleeved tops, colourful kerchiefs – travelled by tractor and wagon into the olive orchards to do the picking. Men did the driving, the sorting and the lifting at the sorting station.

After many stops along the roadside to take photos of various agricultural ventures, we finally arrived at Aphrodisias, recommended by a friend as the most delightful ancient ruin in all of Turkey. Once through, the gate, we immediately agreed with her. The main walking trail was lined with trees much of the way. The ground was relatively level and the various sites to be explored with fairly close together. Also, the ruins themselves were in moderately good repair so it was easy to visualize what the town had been like 2000 years ago.  Of special interest were the stadium and the theatre which were very well preserved. The pillars around the temple were also very striking.

We left Aphrodisias and continued our cross country driving tour but with a little more purpose this time. It was getting late in the afternoon and we had not yet organized a place to stay for the night. Our goal was to get to the city of Aydin where we knew of at least one hotel that we would consider.  We had agreed when embarking on the driving trip that we would always be off the road by sunset. It was going to be a close contest tonight.

We did arrive in Aydin at 6 pm and through chaotic rush hour traffic, we made our way to the hotel. Jim went in to see a room – it was not great – and even the luggage boy told us we should stay somewhere else. So we moved on to the Aydin Park Hotel – more arduous driving through bumper to bumper horn honking traffic. The Aydin Park Hotel looked great …. But it was sold out. A third hotel, The Anamone, was recommended and we made our way there.  Fortunately, it was clean, pleasant and a room was available. No view but quite a price!!! At this point, we really did not have any viable options so we spent a pleasant night at the Anemone and thoroughly enjoyed the breakfast buffet that was included with the room!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

We slept in a bit (no nearby minaret to awaken me) and enjoyed a slower paced morning (including the breakfast buffet). Then we headed back through Aydin to find the road to Didyma. On the way to Didyma, we passed by several other sites of ancient cities and towns.

Our first stop was Priene, an excellently preserved example of a Hellenic town. A delightful fruit vendor at the bottom of a steep hill directed us up to the parking lot (yes, we did have to drive up that steep hill). Once in the parking lot, it was recommended by others that I not even attempt to make it into the town itself, due to the steep climb and myriad of uneven steps involved. So, Jim set off by himself while I waited at the bottom. (When he got back, even Jim said that I had made a good decision not to go in.)  The photos are beautiful and tell the tale of a city with a view that was mostly ignored by the Romans when they conquered the Greeks. Thus a well preserved Hellenic village.

Our next stop was a bit of a surprise along the way. We came upon a sign to Miletus and spontaneously turned up the road. We were well rewarded for our actions. Before our eyes emerged an enormous ancient amphitheatre, complete with stadium seats and underground passages that were constructed below the seats. It was a spectacle to behold. We were delighted that we had a chance to see it.

And now the road led to Didyma, an ancient temple ruin in the midst of the modern town of Didim. Confused? We were!! However, we found our way and took a leisurely stroll up the pedestrian area in Didim until we came to the site of Didyma. Columns from the temple soared toward the sky and tumbled rocks had fallen all around the grounds in disarray. Several partial columns outlined the main structure of the temple. It was a beautiful place!

We stopped for a light lunch in a café adjacent to the temple. Refreshed, we continued our tour, this time the goal was to reach Mulga by sunset. We did have a reservation there for tonight.

Even though the main events today focused on the ancient sites we were visiting, all through the day we encountered agricultural activities that diverted our attention. First we noticed a large number of tractors pulling unusual wagons filled to the brim with some sort of crop. Soon, we determined that it was cotton that was freshly harvested. We were able to follow the route of these tractors because all along the road were little tufts of cotton that escaped from the loads. We eventually found a facility where the cotton was being unloaded in an enormous pile that resembled a cumulous cloud but on the ground. As quickly as the wagons could be unloaded, a front end loader scooped the cotton from the pile and filled a transport truck. Yes, that is a lot of cotton! When the truck was filled, the front end loader would use its bucket to tamp the cotton down in an effort to prevent it blowing out of the truck as it was transported to its next destination. A large tarp was also stretched over the top of the trailer for even more protection from wind and rain.  As the day progressed, we saw more of these cotton collection barns. We began to realize how important cotton is in the Turkish agricultural industry.

The next crop that we encountered was the harvest and processing of peppers. We happened upon an enormous field covered with large black plastic barrels with lids (slightly smaller than a whiskey barrel). Next we noticed a large truck that was filled beyond capacity with bags of small green things. Once we opened the window, one whiff of the air confirmed that these were some sort of hot pepper. A nearby processing facility was putting the peppers into the barrels and sealing them with the lids. We can only assume that there were also other ingredients added to the barrels. It became clear very soon that we were not particularly welcome as observers to this process (even though we were outside the fence) and we were certainly not supposed to be taking photos. So the rest of the story about the peppers has to be left to all of our imaginations.

We travelled through very diverse landscapes today. Much of this area of Turkey is either rich agricultural land or barren and rocky landscape with few inhabitants. We encountered a couple of herds of sheep and/or goats along the way, tended by people who truly resembled nomadic shepherds. We may never know for sure.

Mountains reach for the sky in every direction, sometimes creating steep cliffs and narrow valleys, sometimes spreading so that vast plains lie between them. The highways traverse many mountains and we climbed high on many cliffside roads today, only to roll down the other side and start again on the next one. Riverbeds are wide and deep, but most are bone dry at the moment. The dry season seems to extend from the summer months late into the autumn.

Dry season is a good season from a traveller’s point of view. October has been a splendid month to visit this southwest part of Turkey. The daytime temperature is warm but well within the comfortable range and we have not seen a single cloud in the sky for days. It does not get much better than that.  Oh … and the sun sets late as we are at the extreme edge of this time zone. Sunrise is about 7 in the morning and the sun sets sometime after 6 pm.

Well, we made it to Mulga just as the sun was setting. And the room we are in tonight is perfect! We have chatted with both our children, had a truly Turkish dinner and have enjoyed a quiet evening getting caught up on diaries and photographs etc.

Time to get some sleep so we can explore some more tomorrow. Aegean Sea ….  Here we come!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

This was going to be another busy day.  Heading out from Hotel Pedic in Mulga, we planned to drive along the Turquoise Coast, enjoying the beauty of both the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. The road was marked on the map as a scenic route so we were excited to get going.

What we noticed right away was that the road itself was a major highway in most locations and wound precariously up and down the mountainsides, through passes and across valleys. Many times the slope of the road was posted as a 10 % grade, both up and down. Our little Ford Fiesta was able to manage the climbs but we were grateful for an extra traffic lane on the uphill climbs at times.

We also encountered an interesting feature of the Turkish policing system. There are periodic road checks at various points along the highway. Cars seem to be randomly stopped. A police officer indicates that you either can go straight through or you need to pull over onto the shoulder. Over the several days we have been travelling by car, we have been pulled over three times. The first time we were stopped we were quite unnerved, having no idea what we had done wrong or how we would communicate with the officer. He spoke to us in Turkish, of course, and I replied “English only” at which point he indicated that we should just drive on. Whew! The second time, the officer spoke a bit of English and asked to see my driver’s licence and the car ownership.  No, he did not want the Hertz rental agreement. He wanted the ownership papers. That took a little digging in the glove compartment but we finally produced the document he was looking for. He took them away, conversed with another officer, returned the documents to me and said, “There is no problem, Mrs. Donna.” The third time we drew an officer who was fluent in English and he wanted to know where we were from. When we told him we were from Canada, he smiled broadly and said, “Just go on.” I am grateful to be a Canadian!!

While en route today we drove off the main highway to a small rural community called Koycegiz. There we found a beautiful lake but sadly, no lakeshore drive as we had expected. However, we did see two moveable buildings, created from reeds and built on stilts so that in times of flood they could be literally picked up and moved to dry land. We also were deep in agricultural countryside where we saw citrus groves, tomatoes in greenhouses, olives being harvested and so much more.

We drove on from Koycegiz to a lakeside restaurant that Jim had found (he is very good at that kind of thing). I loved the name of the restaurant - Ekin Club Dipdag – on the shore of Sulungur Lake. We relaxed at a lakeside table and ordered a gozleme (Turkish pancake) and a salad. While we were waiting, a group of Canadian bicyclists arrived, including two women who had been in our cooking class last week in Istanbul. What are the chances of that!?!

After lunch we continued our country drive to Iztuzu Beach on the Mediterranean Sea. A Sea Turtle Research and Rescue Station is located at this beach because of the large number of turtles that use this beach to lay their eggs. These sea turtles dig holes up to one metre deep on the beach and lay between 75 and 100 pingpong ball sized eggs. Wow!

We saw several turtles who are in the ‘hospital’ and all I can say is – are they ever big!!

On our way back to the main highway, we made two stops. One stop was at a pomegranate sorting station with a restaurant across the road that sold freshly squeezed pomegranate juice as well as pomegranate ice cream. MMM good!

We also stopped in the small town of Dalyian and visited a grocery store. It was interesting to see what was available – lots of jams, jellies, pickles and other condiments (Iain, I know you will be impressed that I did not buy anything.) as well as a full range of products that you might find in a small supermarket at home.

On the way out of Dalyian, we observed a large number of greenhouses along the side of the road. Of course, we stopped to investigate and found that tomatoes, peppers, herbs and other plants that would be susceptible to high temperatures and bright sunlight are actually grown to maturity in greenhouses. That explains why we have never seen a field of tomatoes anywhere and yet we have enjoyed eating vine ripened tomatoes every day since we arrived in Turkey.

From Dalyian, we completed our drive up and down mountains, finally reaching our hotel in a seaside town called Belcekiz, although no one calls it by that name, not even the locals. It is widely known as Oludeniz, named after the large lagoon that can be found at one end of the town. The lagoon offers calm water and beautiful sand beaches. The main beach that stretches in front of our hotel and many other hotels on this holiday strip is the classic Mediterranean gravel beach running right into the water. A Mediterranean beach is beautiful to look at but perhaps not so comfortable underfoot.

Jim once again found us a lovely hotel, complete with a pool and restaurant, as well as beach access directly in front of the hotel. The whole area reminds me a bit of a summer resort with a wide boardwalk stretching along the beachfront with shops, restaurants, supermarkets and tourist activities. October is the shoulder season here (in fact, many hotels and shops close at the end of October for the winter) so we are blessed not to be surrounded by huge crowds of people. It is hard to imagine how busy this area would be in the summer.

One of the primary activities in this area is hang-gliding.  There are many fliers with high levels of skill performing daring stunts in the air. There are also tandem fliers so if you wanted you could go for a ride with one of them. Hmmm …. That might be something that interests me but not with a boot on my foot. At one point today, I counted over 20 hang-gliders in the air simulataneously. It was truly an awesome sight.

Thursday, October 18 / Friday October 19, 2012

We paused for a rest on these two days, happy to sleep, read, and lounge by the pool. Frankly, neither one of us felt particularly well. I think we have run pretty hard over the last few weeks and we finally had to acknowledge that it was time to take a break. And this was a beautiful place to do just that.

On Friday afternoon, we did take a short drive up into the mountains around Oludeniz. It is amazing how many little communities exist, nestled into the hills high above the sea. One was of particular interest – Kayakoy. It has an interesting history. It is built among the ruins of buildings that once housed the population of Karmylassos. Karmylassos was primarily a Greek community in Turkey. In 1924, the Turkish and Greek governments agreed to an exchange of ex-pats from each country. In that exchange, the town of Karmylassos was virtually emptied out and all that remains are the cement block shells of the buildings that were once a vibrant community. It is an amazing sight to see all the empty buildings that are nestled in the steep hills and cliffs, a silent reminder of the impact of government decisions on individual lives. Kayakoy, the village that has grown up among the ruins, has been adopted by UNESCO as a World Friendship and Peace Village.

And tomorrow, we are on the road again. Now it is only one week until we will once again be in Canadian soil. We have much to do in the short time we have left in Turkey.




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