25 July 2013

Hieropolis-The City of Healing

Hieropolis-the city of healing! People apparently used to come here receive help from the many doctors. And who could blame them for thinking this place with its rather magical looking snow that's not snow (i.e. the travertines) could cure them? However as Lonely Planet amusingly pointed out, given the size of the city's necropolis, healers here had somewhat mixed results.

The necropolis was extensive. I mean, extensive! Aside from the theater (which looked like every other theater you've ever seen in any ancient city) it was the most complete of all the sections of the city. It was also pretty creepy. I'm not sure what it was meant to look like when it was functional...but being surrounded by all these, mostly open (!), tombs was rather creeptastic.

It also seems strange that they should be piled on each other all willy nilly as they were. That cannot have been the intended plan for the original necropolis. So were the healers really so ineffective that the need outgrew the space and they did indeed just pile tombs on top of one another? Were they shifted around and piled on top of one another as the city was excavated? And if that is the case, what did they do with the bodies? Because the (open) tombs were empty. We checked, trepidatiously and a little horrified each time, but we checked.

That was the basilica
One of the weirdest things I've ever seen on my travels was all the people wandering around Hieropolis in their bathing suits. And who could blame them really? It was sooo hot. And the huge burning ball of fire in the sky was completely unobstructed by any clouds. Since we ignored Lonely Planet's suggestion to start at the north entrance, make our way through Hieropolis, then down the travertines and instead made our way up the travertines, walked all the way through the city, then came back through it all again, we were melting. Meeelting. Like the Wicked Witch of the West but without having any of that lovely water thrown on us.

Although perhaps that's what happened to all the dead bodies. Maybe the constant heat was too much for them as well and they just crumbled away to dust a la Joss Whedon's vampires. I would have. By about this time we were ready to give up on Hieropolis-unfortunately we still had to walk back to the travertines. We got as far as the theater which could only be entered from the top via a long walk up a hill. I was very much, screw that, and my friends seemed to agree.

The latrines-much fancier than any public bathroom I've ever seen
At this point the only thing that kept us going was the thought of being able to exit the site via the travertines. Even though we figured they'd be crawling with people (which per my last post they were indeed), at least there would be water and cool limestone to help us escape from the burning heat.

My friend Eva pointed out that this was certainly the first time either of us have ever been to ruins, which by and large are great expanses of hot, dusty, hot dustiness, that have such a pleasant surprise at the end. The beginning (or the end depending on which route you took) of the city has a few pockets of travertines, although these you're not allowed to walk on.

This place below we found, I must admit, shortly after we started our walk and we stopped to take a wee nap in the shade. Not sure if these lovely gardens were part of the city that was or not but these were really nice places for a rest.

So even though it was hot as...something really hot and sweaty...it was completely worth it to ignore Lonely Planet and walk up the travertines first since we got to see everything without absolutely everyone else also being there. Although if we went again we might rethink our plan to then walk all the way through Hieropolis twice and just go through once and find a bus or something from the north entrance.

Up next - Bebek and the Fortress of Europe!

23 July 2013

The Cotton Castle

From Selcuk we took a three hour bus ride to Pamukkale, or, the Cotton Castle. Pamukkale is that thing you know you've seen pictures of but can't figure out why people are hanging out on snow banks in their bikinis.

The Pamukkale travertines are made out of limestone. In order to protect it you have to walk it barefoot. It looks really rough (and is in some spots) but for the most part is easy to walk on. And what roughness there is you're rather happy for because water covers the entire surface and the ridges, caused by the constant flow of water, provide traction.

I did not mess with the colors-it really looks like that
The water that runs down Pamukkale gathers into a pond in the public park (above). Along the travertines it collects in pools, creating clear, bright blue circles of cool water against the very very white limestone.

We were so glad we ignored Lonely Planet's advice to start in Hieropolis then finish on Pamukkale. We decided to walk up to Hieropolis through the travertines since that was the entrance closest to us. Totally worth it. At 9AM there were very few people about and it was still fairly cool (i.e. maybe 87 instead of the 93 it would be later) and parts of the travertines were in shadow. In the afternoon the place was crawling with people and none of us even bothered to take out our cameras since you couldn't get a good shot of anything. You could barely even get in any of the pools they were all so crowded.

It was nice to stop in each of the pools. In the morning some were still quite cool but by the time we made our way down they were all warm from the sun. The limestone the running water erodes gathers in the bottoms of the pools so while walking on the limestone wasn't really slippery, sometimes walking in the pools was because the collected limestone powder makes a kind of clay. 

We didn't wear out bathing suits but plenty other people were wearing theirs and lounging in the pools. None were very deep, I think the deepest was only up to my knees, so mostly people were just soaking. And a fair few people were also doing amateur 'glamor shots'. So even if the view of the travertines was ruined in the afternoon by the sheer amount of people, there was plenty of entertainment to be had. 

There were easily 10 times the amt of people only a few hours later
While it was not slippery, it was a little tricky to walk in some places. The water rushed quite fast in a few sections and with the natural erosion, we really had to watch our steps to make sure we were putting our feet down somewhere safe. I am happy to report that I did not fall, not once!

This really was a fascinating place to visit. The town of Pamukkale isn't much, you can tell that it pretty much grew up around the ruins and travertines as it seems to consist largely of restaurants and hotels. Also don't expect fabulous food...most of the restaurants were as or more (!) expensive than in Istanbul and not nearly as good.

It is absolutely worth the 3 hour bus ride from Selcuk though. And because there's not a whole lot here, buses to and from a variety of places (Selcuk, Cappadoccia, Istanbul, etc) are available at the many travel agencies and the airport isn't too far away if you want to make it a day trip. Definitely get there early though so you can enjoy the travertines before the crowds show up.

Next up...Hieropolis! The only ruins where I've ever seen people wandering around in bathing suits.

22 July 2013

Around Ephesus

If you're in Ephesus and you have a little time, it's worth it to spend the night and take a little time exploring the area. People seemed nice and generally quite helpful-and there seems to be more English in little Selcuk than in all of Istanbul.

For example, we managed to get ourselves on a free shuttle the airline provides to get you from Izmir to the town, which is about a 45 minute drive. The driver dropped us off on a random corner and all we had to do was look slightly confused before someone asked us, in very good English, where we were going, which hotel we were looking for etc.

"Oh Tom!" he said as soon as we mentioned we were headed for the Artemis. "Hang on, let me call him." And five minutes later there was Tom coming to get us. Fantastic.

Among the interesting things in Selcuk (the town where Ephesus is), was this...art.

I don't know. I don't ask questions. It's like a 'hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil or a seagull will break open your skull' kinda thing. Why not. In addition to seagulls we also saw a lot of storks. They were just hanging out on the random ruins of things that seemed to pop up around town.  

Selcuk also has a pretty happening night life for such a small town. We wandered out of our hotel in the evening and saw that not only were all the cafes full, but there was some sort of dance something happening in the local park. We think it might have been for a new sports center that was offering dance classes (seems like a good explanation anyway). The dance teacher (?) was demonstrating a number of Latin dances and trying to get people to follow along. Of course all the little girls were enthusiastically twirling around but there were a surprising amount of adults trying as well. How well they followed was another question since she didn't seem to be a very good teacher and was too involved with spinning around and around and showing off her own skills than actually teaching anything.

If you've got the time it's also a quick dolmus (a mini van like public cab) to nearby Srinici which is well-known for its fruit wines.

Sirinci is a lovely little "typical" Turkish villa...which is now completely full of shops and restaurants and whatnot. The fruit wine the village is so famous for is somewhat less lovely. Like many Turkish wines it's very hit or miss and you can definitely tell which wines are made with real fruit and which are made with a lot of artificial flavorings and colors. The ones with artificial flavors taste, as Lonely Planet warned us, like cough syrups.

In addition to wine you can also buy olive oils, for which Turkey is becoming more well-known, teas, nuts, lotions made from local herbs and fruits, home made jams, and something called gum mastic. No idea what that is but it's the white jars in the below.

The nice thing about the town though is that you can walk into any shop and taste any, and every! wine they sell. If you don't want to buy anything no problem. Some of the fruits are what you're used to finding in fruit wines: apple, cherry, strawberry, raspberry, peach, etc. Some of them leaned a little stranger though.

Since this is Turkey the apricot and mulberry weren't all that unexpected. But the watermelon, citrus, and kiwi (?!?) were certainly not something you see everyday. I think we tried most of them but most definitely not the kiwi. The kiwi we steered well clear of. I shudder to even remember the bottles of lime green kiwi "wine".

The best sign ever

Because of the awesome sign we stopped here for a drink. The sign was a little misleading sad to say. However after all that tramping around, bargaining for everything except the wine, and wine tasting, we were in need of a break. So we stayed for a glass of chilled strawberry wine.

We left Sirinci with two bottles of the mulberry and a bottle of local red. One of the mulberries is currently in my growing wine collection, the other (and the red) we drank at the barbecue our hotel put on that night. If you do decide to spend the night in Selcuk definitely book yourself into the Artemis Hotel. It's pretty basic but very close to the bus/dolmus station and Tom, the owner, is very friendly and helpful. I suspect I'll be back in Selcuk in a few months and I imagine I'll be staying there again.

If wine that largely tastes like cough syrup isn't your thing and a trip the the House of Mary didn't fully cover your pilgrimage needs, Selcuk is also home to the first basilica dedicated to Saint John. Sadly there's not a whole lot left; but it's nearby the Selcuk bus station and totally worth the 8TL to get in.

I love me a pillar
From the ruins of the basilica you can also see the Selcuk castle which was sadly closed while we were there. Another view afforded by the basilica is of the remains of the Temple or Artemis. Not saying it's not worth going to see that if you're in Selcuk, but there is just the one pillar left (I think a lot of it was torn down to make the castle and basilica actually) but since you can see it from the basilica, why bother?

The coolest thing about the basilica? It's not just dedicated to Saint John the Apostle...it's also his final resting place and home to his tomb.

Tomb of St John
What remains of the basilica has some very interesting things. For example,t he baptistery. Now in the Catholic Church, even adults who are baptized just lean over the font for the priest to pour a little water over ones head. Apparently in the early days we were full immersion folks.

Steps leading into a full immersion baptismal font

There were storks hanging out even here too.

I can only imagine how gorgeous this place must have been. The detailing on some of the columns is still impressive today.

Aside from the taxi that ran over my foot at the House of Mary, I very much enjoyed the whole pilgrimage aspect to my trip.

Next up...a three hour bus ride and the amazing travertines of Pamukkale!