Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Turkey Pt.1

(Apologies for the long absence, it wasn't me being lazy- China blocks access to Blogger and Facebook, so I was cut off! So, to what I did a month ago....)

It's been ages since I've been on a plane, and even longer since I took a bazaar connection.

Apparently the largest population of Turks outside Turkey is in Germany, hence the cheapest flights, so I flew from Budapest to Hanover, connecting to a 2AM flight to Izmir, Turkey.

I didn't stay in Izmir long, just 2 hours until the train came to take me to Selcuk, home of Ephesus and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis.

But before I hit all the ruins I needed a nap and then a quick dolumus (minibus) ride (driving with the side doors wide open to get some air- again, silly me being the cautious American) to Sirince, a cute hill town known for their fruit wines.

For the thousandth time I was called Jennifer Lopez (this time before they even knew my name was Jennifer-- sadly she must be the only American woman people know!), this time by the hospitable waiter who walked me arm-in-arm to sample pretty much every flavor of fruit wine so I could make an informed decision. If memory serves me correctly, blackberry was the winner, paired with a delicious plate of mezes.

Everyone is super friendly in Turkey (well, men- like Zanzibar I am not sure where they hide the women). I began to think I was the only single foreign woman in the country since EVERYONE wanted to chat (and sell me a rug eventually, I am sure). Once while walking down the street one passerby said "hello again"- I guess we met before??

After the heat of the day subsided I trekked to the Basilica of St. John. They claim he wrote his gospel here in 95 AD (wait, that means he must have been very old- I detect a flaw in the story) and his tomb is located within the ruins. It must have been very impressive back in the day.

From Ayasuluk Hill, where the Basilica stood, I spotted the Temple of Artemis, or the one column that remains of the 127 that once stood, making it the largest temple in its day , even surpassing the Parthenon. I had intended to get closer, but then I walked to Ephesus and opted for the crazy overcrowded dolumus back to town.
It seems I may be the only one that walks the 4km to Ephesus since I didn't see anyone else (often I question my decisions when I don't see other tourists). As Lonely Planet said, the first stretch was nice and then the end not so much- thankfully I got a lift towards the end from a minibus driver who took pity on me while on his way to pick up a group.

Although not a big ruin girl, I did enjoy Ephesus, funny enough with an older Belarusian couple from NJ that I met while offering to take their picture (it is my new thing, I offer to take their photo and have met all sorts of random people that way- I'm friendly girl ;-)

Ephesus is the best preserved classical city in the eastern Mediterranean and was a prosperous city in 600 BC. and a pilgrimage site going back to 800 BC. It has a Great Theater built between 41-117 AD that holds 25,000 people and may have been the start of stadium seating- each row is pitched more steeply than the one below to give the best views.

The Library of Celsus, which held 12,000 scrolls at one point, also had an interesting architectural feature- the base of the facade is convex and the central columns and capitals are larger making the library appear bigger than it really is. Clever, eh?

Apparently they also have a house where the Virgin Mary stayed late in her life, but I didn't make it there.

I did however see the storks going in for a landing on the Byzantine Aqueduct outside my hotel while enjoying some lentils with the owners of the guesthouse (they were so nice!) and listening to the evening call to prayer (which I strongly prefer to the morning prayer at 4:30am!)

The next morning the journey continued with a 3 1/2 hour bus ride to Pamukkale. It was cool!!!!

Again I waited for the heat of mid day to pass, while lounging by the pool, before I made my way up to the travertines and Hierapolis, the large spa city above town.

The travertines were created when warm mineral water cooled and deposited calcium as it cascaded over the cliff edge. In order to preserve them you have to walk barefoot which is a little painful at times but well worth it since it is like nowhere I have been- like a giant white goopy sand castle with pools you can sit in coated in mud.

But that isn't even the best part! I spent 2 hours lounging around the Antique Pool, a thermal bath with submerged sections of original fluted columns. I found a nice column to lay upon in the 36 degree water and even an American to chat with (they are rare here)- she had all sorts of good Istanbul advice having lived there now for years as a university professor.

The ancient city of Hierapolis, with its amphitheater, baths, etc., was an afterthought after the pool and travetines.

Like Selcuk, I had lots of new friends here too, but you will be pleased to know that I did turn down the motorcycle tour to the top of a mountain with some random guy on the street. Was funny, this time I was greeted as "New York" by another person I apparently also met earlier. Too funny! (No, I'm still not buying a rug!)

Even funnier, the kid who appeared to run the bus company (not sure about child labor laws here- there seem to be a lot of 12 year old boys working on the buses). He was seriously a 55 year old man stuck in a 12 year old body giving me advice should people try to cheap me- priceless!

Fast forward many hours on various sized buses and I am in Marmaris on the Turkish Riviera (also known as the Turquoise Coast) about to embark on an 8 day sailing course with Sail Catamaran Turkey. It was a spur of the moment decision to sail and I found the company in one post on Tripadvisor (my bible) that I could never find again.

As it turns out, I was their first US client- go figure.

If you didn't already figure it out, it is called the Turquoise Coast since the water is the most amazing shades of blue-- spectacular!

Levent and Ayca, the couple who own the business, are absolutely lovely and kinda famous in Turkey for circumnavigating the globe and writing a book about their journey.

As it turns out, I was surrounded by Turkish fame- one of the other sailors in training was a famous former football (aka soccer) star in Turkey (and so much nicer than American athletes).

Being the only native English speaker definitely had its pluses and minuses. I met some really great people, but I missed out on a lot of the conversations and drama taking place around me in Turkish (and maybe the lesson on how to anchor the boat ;-). On the next to last day I finally clued in when an argument broke out and all I could understand was the word "Jennifer" every now and then- uh oh, I think maybe I unknowingly befriended the wrong (maybe crazy) sailor. :-(

Thankfully they took pity on me, especially Gokturk, and went out of their way to speak English every now and then which I really appreciated!

Either way, I was able to visit some really lovely spots on the Mediterranean, sleeping under the stars (it was too hot in the cabin), enjoying some good fish over LONG dinners (they really have to consolidate the dessert and coffee courses) and sampling Raki, their unofficial national drink similar to Ouzo (and equally anise-flavored and icky).

The highlight was probably when we docked in Selimiye where I did a little shopping, drank super tasty lemonade and had the most amazing meal. Funny, it seems the way to order in these parts is to barge in the kitchen and pick what looks good. I found it bazaar- can you imagine going into a kitchen in the US?

Levent also led us on three nice hikes (or climbs might be a better description as you can see in the photo) and we all had the scratches from the rocks and prickly shrubs as proof. No, it was worth it for the views and the castle at the top one day, plus I needed the training for Everest.

At the end of the week I passed the test for my beginners sailing certificate and actually kinda know a few things, except my knot skills which are lacking despite Gokhan's best efforts. Feel free to quiz me.

I also happily made a few new Turkish friends :-)

1 comment:

  1. i'm back on your baby being sick and being able to "work from home"...i loved that your highlight on the boat was docking!!!