A Travellerspoint blog

January 2013

Ovacik

We have spent four enjoyable days hiking in the Tauros Mountains, high above the intensely developed coastline of southern Turkey. At 1250 meters, the sea is still visible down a long valley, right in front of our terrace at Gul Mountain House.



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At times, we can even see the shoreline opposite Antalya Bay and the high mountains beyond.





Sea and Sky Merge in these pictures
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It is different world up here in the shadow of Tahtali Dag, 2650 meters, still snow covered at the end of April.





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The scenery is quite alpine, despite the relatively low elevation. There are sharp rocky peaks rising above the piney forests that cling to the flatter crevices on the cliffs. In between the mountains, are small villages with red tile roofs that have more goats than people.







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It took the better part of the day to get here from Egirdir. The big bus to Antalya was fine, but the dolmus from the octogar (bus station) was very slow, taking almost 2 hours to go the 50k down the coast to Kemer. From there we contacted our hotel and they came to collect us. Thanks to Omar, the manager and cook, the food is fantastic, perhaps the best we have had in Turkey. Often he gives us a half a dozen mezes, including what is probably the best yoghurt ever, stuffed and smoked eggplant, salad, olives, homemade bread from the wood oven, soup, and then a main course of fish, chicken etc., also cooked in the same oven. Enough food for at least four people, and then a sizable breakfast as well, all included in the price of 130 Lira, a definite bargain.When we first arrived, the hotel was practically empty. Omar told us that summer is their busy time, and despite the heat, a lot of Russians make it up from the beaches in Kemer, including his Russian girlfriend. This time of year, it is mostly Europeans, and sometimes day trippers on a jeep safari, who stop for lunch.

We spent day two hiking a section of the Lycian Way. Luckily two Dutch hikers showed up with good maps and a GPS because the trail markers were few and far between. Kate Clow's descriptions and maps were almost useless, in part because they assumed a starting point in Fethiye, a long way in the opposite direction.



View of Tahtali Dag from Lycian Way
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After about 5 hours of rugged slogging on a trail with many twists and turns, brambles,etc, we arrived in Geldelme, a small village with an overpriced restaurant. But the beer really hit the spot. From there we walked part way back on the road when we were lucky enoubgh to hitch a ride in the back of a truck.

The next day we ignored the Lycian Way altogether, and walked down a couple of clicks back to the tiny village of Ovacik. We then followed a dirt track that a butted up against two large rock faces. After about 7K of relatively flat walking, there was an even smaller road heading up towards Tahtali Dag. We took it up towards the pass, eventually stopping in a subalpine meadow. Small purple, yellow and white flowers dotted the grass. The road continued, but we walked back the way we had come. Altogether it must have been 25K, a long but satisfying day.

Today, a shorter walk up the paved road in a different direction, and then to a village on the right. From there we scrambled close to the top of a nearby, but low mountain, and then back to another dirt road leading up and around the far side of the valley. We stopped for lunch in a field surrounded by old pines, with views looking out at the misty sea. We returned to the hotel for the last night and another huge and scrumptious dinner. There were an interesting mix of people now staying at the Mountain House. Several more Dutch couples, a couple of Brits, and a very friendly young couple from Australia, one of whom was originally from Moscow. After we finished dinner, not long before dark, a group of elderly Germans showed up after hiking all day.





Birds Flying just off hotel deck
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All in all, it was a delightful and relaxing coda (or nearly so) to our time in Turkey.

Posted by jonshapiro 09:21 Archived in Turkey Tagged landscapes mountains postcards Comments (2)

Egirdir, Turkey

We are now on tiny Yeslada Island, which is on a large lake connected to Egirdir via a narrow causeway. Off the beaten track in south-central Turkey, this place sees it's share of vacationing Turks in the summer, but not now. It is very much spring, with all the trees leafing out, birds chirping, and ducks humping. They are strange looking, long billed ducks who dive under the water for extended periods of time and reappear 50 yards away, like loons. Our charming guesthouse has a direct view of the lake, which is surrounded by imposing snow capped mountains, and seems to change colors depending on the time of day, position of the sun, etc. It is by turns, blue, turquoise, and grey.




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One afternoon we rented an ancient row-boat, and paddled around with oars that must have weighed 20 pounds a piece. It was a good idea until the wind picked up, white caps appeared, and we had to struggle to get back to the dock. Luckily, we didn't have that far to go.

We also happened to be in Egidir on market day, and as in Selcuk, we had more than our fill of of feta, olives, tomatoes, strawberries, and oranges.




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Unlike Morocco, many people here seem happy to have their picture taken. I asked two older gentlemen at the market if I could take theirs and they nodded. When I showed them afterwords, they each touched their hearts, as if to say thank you.






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By in large, the Turkish people have been very generous and warm hearted. They seem to go out of their way to make contact, and to watch out for you, if you are obviously a foreigner. They are right up there with my all time favorites, the Laotians and the Burmese.







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Posted by jonshapiro 08:54 Archived in Turkey Comments (6)

Pamukkale

Melrose Guesthouse. We arrived here on a day when the travertines were free for the Turks, and there was an air show as well. The small town was packed,
and when we got to our hotel they had overbooked and did not have a room. They did put us up for free in a relative's guest house next door, not nearly as nice, but the price was right. Our current room is probably the best one we have had in Turkey thus far, with a big round bed covered with bright red pillows and spread. Hugh Heffner, roll over. There is also a terrace overlooking snow capped mountains. I wasn't expecting such an impressive landscape as none of the guidebooks mentioned it.



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Incredibly, the proprietress, Leyla, who is Turkish, was actually born and raised in Wangen. As my ongoing readers know, Wangen is a small place in southern Germany that is home to our friends, Antonette and Joachim, whom we visited just prior to Istanbul. She didn't know them, but still...

Leyla returned to Turkey when she was 10, and we had an interesting discussion with her about feeling caught between two cultures, similar to the talk with Alex in Ayvalik. It was hard for her when she first attended school because her turkish was not very good, and they put her in a younger grade. At that time, all the girls had to dress in black and she wasn't used to that. Things are much easier now, but she still doesn't feel completely Turkish. For example, she always has to be on time, and follow through with what she says she will do, which is not the same for many Turks. She can imagine how she wants the guesthouse to look, and she thinks this too would be difficult for most of her countrymen/women. In the beginning, these things created problems with her husband, but now she says, he is just like her.

Rather than going up to the travertines on a very crowded day, we arranged a side trip to Aphrodisias It was a bit of a haul as the ruins are about a 100K drive, but on the way there we took the longer scenic route through the mountains. We shared our mini bus ride with three young foreign exchange students, an American studying in Ankara, as well as a couple of Aussies.

The ruins only had a scattering of people, and the setting rivaled Pergamum with snow peaks in the distance and green fields all around. The city, is dedicated to Aphrodite, goddess of love, desire, and beauty, and the place lives up to her name.





Temple, and on right, Torso of Achilles
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On the grounds there is also a museum which has statues and busts of local prominent figures, (from 2500 years ago), as well as various Gods including Aphrodite.




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Today was our day to ascend the travertines, and it was a blast. You can see it below, but it is essentially a mountain of snow white chalk and mineral deposits, that was created by thermal springs that bubble up in several places, putting out a constant stream of warm, mineral laden water that washes over the rocks.





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To prevent destruction of the site, everyone is asked to take off their shoes, and so barefoot, we continued up the ramp, which is like a white staircase. It is interspersed with a dozen or so small pools, each one a different temperature, but all relatively warm.




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We didn't know about the pools, and so didn't wear bathing suits, but no matter, we went into every one of them, clothes and all. We smeared ourselves with the loose chalk at the bottom of each of them so we didn't get too sunburned, and it wasn't crowded so we had many of them to ourselves. Unfortunately, it was difficult to capture the full effects our pool romps with pictures. My hands and clothes were too dirty to handle the camera, and I was, frankly, a bit embarrassed to ask a stranger to do it.

As we soaked up the mildly radioactive (we hope) waters, we gazed out at the green valley below and the snow peaks on the opposite side. Hard to beat it.


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Slowly we made our way to the plateau above, where we put our shoes back on and walked to Hieropolis, a Roman city that was later home to Jews, Christians, and finally Muslims. Further on, we came to an ancient, steeply banked theater, that probably seated 30,000 or more back in the day. Complete with subterranean passages, near perfect acoustics and sightlines to the stage, it is an architectural marvel. I imagined the cheers and shouting of a gladitorial contest, as I sat on the uppermost seats, looking out toward the travertines and the high mountains in the distance. Those Romans obviously had a highly developed sense of style and aesthetics.





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After taking all of this in, we continued past more deserted ruins of the ancient city, and then back down the white staircase in what was then (2,000 + years ago), the center of town.



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A late lunch of spinach and feta crepes completed a near perfect day, certainly one of the highlights of our time in this fascinating country.

Posted by jonshapiro 10:05 Archived in Turkey Tagged landscapes buildings_postcards Comments (2)

Efes (Ephesus)

We took the bus from Bergama to Efes, as it is called here, and stayed in nearby Selcuk, a medium sized city, not without it's charms. Now that we were getting to southern Turkey, it had a much more tropical feel.



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There was a beautiful old mosque.





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And a round stone castle not far from a pedestrian mall that was closed to traffic, with shops and restaurants. The weekly market took place right in front of our hotel, hours after our arrival, and we stocked up on different types of feta, delicious tomatoes, olives of all kinds, and strawberries. It was more than enough for lunch and dinner. The non food section of the market was less interesting. Mostly it was bargain clothes, probably made in China. Wandering around the back streets of Selcuk, these ladies were kind enough to let me take their picture.





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Efes itself was a bit of a disappointment after Pergamum. Although larger and more extensive, the setting is not so lovely, and the place was packed with tourists from all over, even in the hot sun of mid-afternoon. Where you are allowed to walk is also quite restricted because of the numbers. Nonetheless, it is worth a visit, in part because some of the buildings have been tastefully reconstructed and you get a sense a just how large a city it was.





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Posted by jonshapiro 06:42 Archived in Turkey Tagged photography tourist_sites buildings_postcards Comments (1)

Bergama

We arrived here, at the Odyssey Guesthouse in Bergama, in a downpour which continued for most of the day. We did laundry, and more or less hung out, reading the copy of the Odyssey that was in every room. We did make a brief foray to see the old Roman Basilica nearby,and stopped in a carpet and gift shop and chatted with the owner, a handicapped man of about 60, whose English was quite good. He told us about his children in North Carolina, and said how lucky we were to be born in America. Quite true, despite the crazy politics of our country today. He was quick to add that Turkey is much better off now than it was just a few years ago, something which echoed Martine's comments in Istanbul.


Back Streets of Bergama near Guesthouse
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Today however, is truely glorious, with blue skies and bright sun. We hiked up the back way to the old acropolis, clamoring over stone walls and ascending herd paths up the steep green hills. By going this way we managed to avoid the tour groups until we got to the very top, and by then most of them were going in the opposite direction.



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The ruins, often overlooked by many on their way to Ephesus, are impressive. It was one of my favorite sites in this country of ruins. Many Corinthian and Ionian columns still standing tall, glistened white in the sun. Some of the original details of the temple friezes are still present.




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There is an enormous 10,000 seat amphitheater carved into the hillside, a homage to Zeus, but apparently the site of political speeches.






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The ancient city, which dates to 400-500 BC, was successively occupied by Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and then Turks. Home to over 200,000 people in its heyday, it was known as Pergamum.







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On the way down, we skirted the teleferique and climbed back over the stone walls to the narrow alleys of upper Bergama.







View of the City with Basilica
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We then walked to the other set of ruins on the opposite side of town, known as the Asklepieion. It dates to about 300BC, but which was at its height in 100 AD, as a vast medical center. It also had complete mental institution with a dream interpretation center, and hot and cold herbal treatments, for those with psychological ailments. Freud had nothing on the Greeks. Though somewhat less impressive than the stadium on the hill, there was a smaller amphitheater of 2-3000, perhaps where Galen and others performed surgeries. Death was officially forbidden to enter, but it seems as though gravely ill patients, those who were clearly dying and/or pregnant, were not allowed in the first place. I guess the doctors felt they had to stack the deck in their favor.

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Back at the Odyssey Guesthouse terrace, I gaze out at the crumbling brick walls of the Basilica (100 AD), old tile roofs in the foreground, and green hills beyond. I can make out some of the older ruins dotting the hills leading up to the acropolis on my left.




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This is a very friendly town. All of the kids we meet are eager to practice their English, and people go out of their way to show you where things are if you need help. While bigger than Ayvalik, it feels more relaxed because it is not a resort.

In a little while, we will have tea or coffee with Alex, who we met in a locanta yesterday. Though Turkish, he lived in Astoria, Queens for many years and has recently returned to his country for a different job, and to help take care of his family. When we arrived at the cafe, he was already there with another Turkish friend who spoke no English. He said he brought his friend because he didn't know the city very well, having just moved here less than two months ago. This friend called yet another friend who had a car, and we proceeded out of town, first to an outdoor place that was not really open, and then to another restaurant in a small indoor mall. They ordered for us, a large mezze plate, pizza, a bulgar dish, salad, and mixed kabobs for all, even though we tried to tell them we weren't hungry, as we were expecting only a light snack. The friend with a car, Osman, teaches comparative religion in the local high school, where it is compulsory. He spent several years living in Syria, where he attended university and worked as a journalist.

And so we began asking questions, translated by Alex, about Syria, Iran, and the Middle East in general. Osman felt that Turkey used to get along well with its neighbors, but no longer, in part because of the situation with Israel and the United States. He said he thought that Iran will gradually liberalize, but is unsure what will happen with Assad. About Israel and Palestine, he seemed to agree that Israel should give up the settlements and the occupied territories, and that there needed to be a two state solution.

What was striking to us, is that Alex did not feel free to express his opinions to his friends because, as he later put it, he is Turkish, and yet he is not Turkish. He is Muslim, and yet he is not. A man caught between two cultures, he nevertheless insisted on paying for everyone. When we asked about his family, that is when we found out that his father recently died unexpectedly during routine back surgery, and Alex, as the oldest son felt responsible. He initially came to the US in his early 20's, after getting a very good job with Alitalia, the Italian airline. He said he had many problems because he was so young, and the office politics were complicated. It was apparently a high pressure job, but after therapy, (how typically New York), he decided that he had to leave, and ended up going to Bolivia to study Spanish in 2006. It was almost the total opposite life from what he had been living before. As it turns out, he was also married to a psychologist, though now he is divorced. We didn't get the whole story of what happend after Bolivia, but now that he is back in Turkey, he feels it is his responsibility to take care of all the problems in his family, something he didn't feel living in the United States. We exchanged emails and offered each other a standing invitation to come and visit. A most interesting man, and a fascinating evening talking politics with people whose views we would never get to hear.

A reminder once again of why I travel. It is because of chance encounters like this one, unrepeatable and unique to the moment.

Posted by jonshapiro 14:47 Archived in Turkey Tagged people tourist_sites buildings_postcards Comments (3)

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