Turkey, a Saga. Part 1

29 Apr

Part of the adventure is getting there!

We collapsed on to our bed in our room at the ANZ guesthouse in Selcuk, Turkey (no prize for guessing what the ANZ stands for). It was 7.30pm and we had been going since 4am. Our feet were throbbing and eyes burning, yearning to close and sleep. Needless to say, we were relieved to reach Selcuk after two flights and a train ride.

Both our flights – London to Istanbul and Istanbul to Izmir – were delayed, which meant we had to run to make the next leg of our trip in time. Together with an overcrowded train ride from Izmir to Selcuk, where we had to stand the whole hour it took to reach our destination while holding ourselves and our heavy bags up, our legs were glad to see the end of the day.

Our guest house is run by an Aussie – Michael, and he greeted us with a “long time, no see!”, like we were old friends visiting from his home land. Two Turkish boys – Michael’s helpers – stood by his side, eager to show us to our room, which is very comfy and has a view overlooking the courtyard. It was beautiful to sit at the window, looking out at the surrounding area and listening to the stillness of the town under the setting sun.

We were recommended a Turkish restaurant to grab a quick meal. Called Kebab House, it is a family run affair by Ali Baba and his wife and brother, who were all very kind to us. We sat down and ordered delicious Turkish pancake (with spinach and cheese) and chicken shish kebab, with a massive bottle of water and hot apple tea (which I bought a box of the next day – it’s so yummy). We had a good chat to Ali’s brother who promptly served us the very delicious meal.

We’ve been given a very good first impression of Turkey. Turks are so friendly and we were shown nothing but kindness and enthusiasm from them. They are proud of what they have to show us. Ali’s brother gave us some very beautiful picture guides of Turkey to look at over dinner and he gave us bookmarks with the Australian, NZ and Turkish flags on them and the words “Gallipoli, 96th anniversary”. He was happy to tell us the best places to go.

Sleep that night was bliss.

The beautiful Ephesus

This morning, we woke to the sound of rain drops on the roof. A little annoyed, we were discussing our ‘plan B’ plans for the day in case the rain didn’t let up over breakfast (we love hostels for their free breakfasts!). We decided to just wait for the rain to pass – we were on a ‘relaxing’ holiday after all – which it did within half hour and so we went back to Ali Baba’s who gave us a lift to the ruins of Ephesus, a quick drive from Selcuk.

Ephesus is claimed to be the best preserved classical city in the Eastern Mediterranean and the site certainly didn’t disappoint. The walk through the ancient Roman ruins is roughly 3km. We took our time, spending around three hours strolling through, pointing out all the red poppies growing out from between the dilapidated columns and buildings. It’s incredible to walk on the marble-paved ‘streets’ and sit in massive theatres, which date back to AD 41. One theatre, called the Great Theatre, seats 25,000 people. We both loved this area.

Meeting Ali back at the ruins, he drove us back to his restaurant where we stayed for lunch as well – kebab and Turkey’s local tipple – Efes beer. We drank slowly as we waited for the rain to subside for the second time that day before we took a walk back to our hostel. It feels nice not to have to rush in this town. Everything is within walking distance. It’s a really friendly town and it immediately felt like home – nice and familiar and we have both said how this area was probably our most favourite in Turkey. People are willing to help you – even if they may have a ulteria motive to get you into their shop, like Ali Baba’s brother, who runs a carpet shop next to his Kebab House. He invited us in and we went to look out of politeness – he had shown us wonderful hospitality after all. He showed us around and even though I was very tempted to buy a woven bag, he told us ” if you don’t like or don’t need, then no matter.” He was just really proud to show us that his rugs were authentic woollen Turkish rugs, rather than cheap Chinese knock offs a lot of other carpet sellers try to sell to tourists.

Rather than risking a trip to the local beach – 7km away – with the chance of more rain on the horizon, we needed to find a way to get to Pamukkale the next day. Tours were either full or non-existent (in fact the only rude person we encountered during our time in Selcuk was an Australian woman, who was completely un-interested in selling business to us in the form of a day trip). We eventually sourced some advice from people at the hostel, who advised we could easily do it ourselves by bus.

Our last day within the region sorted, we organised for an extra night’s accommodation and went for a long stroll around the town. We bought Turkish Delight and apple tea to take home while we walked to the Isabey Mosque. We arrived at the mosque during prayer so we were unfortunately not allowed inside, but we sneaked a peek through the windows. When we came outside from the courtyard, I nonchalantly pointed to a Turkey across the road, which belonged to a farm which also had geese, chickens and dogs. Matt then excitedly pointed out that we were seeing a Turkey in Turkey – so we stopped and took photos until the guard dog we had woken from its deep slumber ran after us… Thankfully he was on a chain.

Still across from the mosque, I spotted two young girls pointing a camera at us from the windows. I smiled and they smiled back, still completely obvious of their picture-taking. A bus load of women wearing similar head-dress and long skirts and jackets pulled up beside us – again a lot of staring and looking us up and down. We hadn’t encountered this type of attention elsewhere in the town. Our only conclusion is that we were showing skin. You could see my ankles and the bottom part of my legs. Everything else was covered a part from my head. Matt was in shorts, so maybe we looked a bit odd to them, wearing clothes they would never dream of wearing.

A cultural must-do in Turkey, we visited the local hamman (Turkish bath) that night after dinner. The hamman is a way for the locals to relax and let someone else bath you for a change (I don’t know how many times we’ve longed to be that lazy as for someone else to scrub us clean!). We were given towels to wrap around ourselves to relax in the hot room – much like a sauna but is massive and has showers and a large marble hexagon bench in the middle that is heated. We watched others in the same room getting rubbed, scrubbed and soaped down, until it was our turn. A Turkish man spent some time rubbing a coarse mitten over my skin. At one point he smiled and said something in Turkish while he pointed at the grey chucks of skin that were forming on my arms. I imagine he was thinking “how can this girl be so dirty!” Feeling like I had no skin left to scrub, he doused tubs of hot water over me to wash my body of the skin he’d just removed.

Next came the ‘soap man’. Using what looked like a pillow case, he dunked it in a tub of soapy water and blew into the opening until it actually blew up like a pillow. He squeezed the fabric over my body and masses of soap suds covered me. He did this a few times and then rubbed me clean, including my hair and face, giving me a massage as he went. Once he was done, again, I was doused with more water and then told to take a cold shower. Matt went through the same process. Red-faced, but with incredibly smooth skin, we were given dry towels to wrap ourselves in and made our way into the reception to cool down where we were given the pleasure of watching Turkish TV. After paying for our bath, we were given an oil to pat on our faces – meant to be cooling and refreshing. It reminded me of aftershave. An interesting way to end a very interesting day. No where else but in Turkey.

Visiting the ‘cotton castle’

The ‘call to prayer’ alerting residents that it’s time to pray, sounded throughout the streets of Selcuk. It was certainly before 6am as it was still dark. The sound woke me, but Matt slept right through it. It took me ages to get back to sleep.

Today we were catching a bus to Pamukkale, a town three hours inland. The draw card for Pamukkale is the natural-formed calcium mountain, which dominates the view as you drive in to town. Our bus ride was long. The ‘highways’ are slow going with traffic lights dotted along the route, even where it seemed unnecessary to control the traffic in such a way. Even so, the ride was made bearable with Pepsi and cake, which we were served by the bus attendant – much like on a flight. And aside from the smoke that wafted through the bus from the driver’s cigarette a couple of times during the drive, it was quite a comfortable journey.

Once we eventually made it to Pamukkale, an hour behind schedule, we had only three and a half hours to climb the ‘cotton castle’, (Pamukkale in Turkish). We walked up – bare footed as no shoes are allowed to trample on the mountain. We walked through the cool water that gushed down the slopes and paddled our feet in the warm pools (travetines or terraces) where the water collects at different points. We could feel the residue of the calcium forming on our skin where the water washed over. The water in these pools reflect a beautiful aqua, and against the white snowiness of the calcium, made for a really pretty picture. No where else in the world does calcium spew out of the Earth as it does here. It really is an incredible site.

Once we reached the top, we were standing on the ground where the Roman city of Hierapolis once stood, grand and proud a top the white mountain, overlooking the valley below. What remains now is a landscape of ruins. Not much is still in tact, the exception being a giant theatre further up the hill. Even though we saw two similar structures the day before, it’s an incredible thought to be standing where ancient Romans used to live out their days. We could almost imagine the city in its heyday, where now only huge marble slabs and the groundwork where buildings once stood remain.

After another walk down the calcium mountain, we caught our bus again. This time, there was no coffee or cake, just a bus full of French students and a nice Asian couple and their baby. We returned back to Selcuk (only half an hour late this time) just in time to grab more kebabs and hot apple tea at Ali Baba’s before packing our bags in preparation of our journey the next day.

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today was meaningful

a collection of thoughts, life lessons, and days full of meaning.

Liv Hambrett

An Australian Writer in (North) Germany

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Photography, Aviation, Nature, Culture, Nikon, Canon, Qantas, Airlines, Emirates, Airports, A380, 747

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