Monday, September 12, 2011

Turkey: Olimpos, Pamukkale and Selçuk

By Melissa at 9:23 AM
August 30 - September 8

Olimpos
After another long, but pleasant multi-bus journey from the town of Goreme in Cappadocia we arrived in Olimpos, a small town on Turkey's southern coast. Before talking about Olimpos, I just have to say that I love traveling by bus in Turkey. Most of the buses are all new Mercedes coaches with fully reclining seats, bus-attendant call buttons, personal TVs, sometimes WiFi and food and drink service. And we even got ice cream on one of the buses! Greyhound is so pathetic it just needs to curl up and die. Maybe it will take Amtrak with it.
The bus we rode to Olimpos on
From Olimpos and Fethiye, Turkey

Anyway, back to Olimpos. So what to say about Olimpos...Brian loved it, but it wasn't really my cup of tea. There is no town, just a road lined with hotels. And all the hotels follow the same formula so it only attracts one kind of visitor, i.e. the backpacker set. The hotels have what they call tree-house accommodations--basically a wooden cabin elevated four feet off the ground or slightly nicer bungalows, on-site outdoor restaurants, dinner and breakfast included in the price, and plenty of hammocks, bean bags or open cabanas on stilts. Okay, so the cabanas were awesome, but our room was just one step above camping and the beach was at least a 15-minute walk down a dusty road, dodging cars and minibuses along the way. Okay, so once you got there the beach was great. There was a lot of sand compared to most European beaches and the water was absolutely perfect. Warm, super salty and calm. However, the relaxation I gained on the beach was kind of spoiled by the hot, dusty walk back to the hotel. But as Brian likes to point out, I've been spoiled by Caribbean beaches so it's not really fair to judge other places by that standard, because nothing is going to measure up.
Olimpos beach
From Olimpos and Fethiye, Turkey
The grounds of our pension
From Olimpos and Fethiye, Turkey
Melissa chilling out after breakfast
From Olimpos and Fethiye, Turkey

On another side note, are there any Australians left in Australia? It only has a population of 21 million people, but a quarter of them seem to be living in the UK, a quarter of them seem to be traveling throughout Europe and I'm sure we'll meet the other half when we get to SE Asia. But really, who can complain since they are just about the nicest, happiest people you'll ever meet.

Pamukkale and Selçuk
This part of the trip is kind of a blur for me because I was ill and at some point developed a fever, but didn't realize I had a fever because it was 91 degrees in the shade, who knows how hot with the humidity index and nothing feels normal at that point. I was just downing water and juice like it was my job and trying not to faint.

After a one-night stopover in a town midway between Olimpos and Pamukkale, and what seemed like a billion bus rides later, we joined a tour that would take us to see the amazing limestone hillside of Pamukkale and the ruins of Hieropolis before dropping us off at our hotel Selçuk. For something that I didn't even know existed before two months ago, I was very impressed by Pamukkale. Pamukkale is a hillside covered in travertine (limestone) pools that are formed when minerals from the underlying hot springs flow down the hillside and harden as the water cool. It's complicated to describe and much easier to see in pictures so check out a few of these.
Travertine terraces of Pamukkale
From Pamukkale, Turkey
More travertine terraces
From Pamukkale, Turkey
Brian on the travertine terraces
From Pamukkale, Turkey
Travertine terraces
From Pamukkale, Turkey

The ancient city of Hieropolis was built on top of the hot springs in the 2nd century BC. Similar to today, people came to bathe in the mineral-rich hot springs to cure various ailments. Some very impressive ruins in Hieropolis have been uncovered including the theater, temple of Apollo and the baths. And just over the summer they discovered the tomb of St. Phillip the Apostle. Brian got some great pictures of the ruins while I napped in the shade near one of the artificial hot spring pools made for tourists. After a great tour with a very funny tour guide, we jumped back on the bus and headed to our hotel in Selçuk. Which was where I finally took my temperature and realized I had a 100 degree fever!
Ruins in Hieropolis
From Pamukkale, Turkey
Theatre in Hieropolis
From Pamukkale, Turkey
Hot springs
From Pamukkale, Turkey

Ephesus
In the morning we had a very good breakfast at our hotel, perhaps the best so far in Turkey, and caught a mini-bus up to the exquisite ruins of Ephesus. My fever was gone, but I hadn't really eaten anything in the past day and a half, so I spent a lot of time in the shade downing water while Brian ran up and down the hills taking pictures. But it was very impressive and definitely worth stopping at if you are in Turkey. I won't go into a lot of detail because the pictures tell it all. Plus it basically has the same history as most of the ruins we saw in Turkey: Originally Greek, then Roman, then Byzantine, destroyed at some point by a huge earthquake and then uncovered in the 20th century. Ephesus is worth the visit because it is one of the best preserved and most excavated.
Greek Theatre
From Ephesus, Turkey
Marble Street
From Ephesus, Turkey
Brian in front of the Library of Celsus
From Ephesus, Turkey
Library of Celsus
From Ephesus, Turkey
Street of Curetes
From Ephesus, Turkey
Temple of Hadrian
From Ephesus, Turkey
Brian in the Odeon
From Ephesus, Turkey

We ended up leaving our hotel in Selçuk early as a result of the Ramzan (Ramadan in Turkey) Holidays because all of the buses going back to Istanbul were sold out for two days. So we booked the last two seats on an overnight bus where two passengers happened to cancel their tickets and crossed our fingers that it would be as nice as all of our other bus rides. Can't be worse than a red-eye flight, right? And it was better! What could have turned into a travel nightmare was a fairly pleasant 11-hour bus ride. Once we got off the bus and I calculated how long we had been on the bus, I was just in shock. After about hour eight on most long flights I've been on, my back and legs ache, I'm ready to strangle one or more of the flight attendants, several of the passengers around me, and am wriggling in my seat non-stop in a fruitless effort to find a more comfortable position. But with the help of my inflatable, travel neck pillow, I basically slept the entire journey in relative comfort. Brian slept less, but was also feeling refreshed and not at all worn out or sore.  The bus stopped about 4 or 5 times for rest stops to pick up or drop off passengers and the bus-attendant handed out water and snacks in between the stops. The company, KamilKoç, even had it's own rest stop, complete with nice bathrooms and a quick-service restaurant.

If this post seems like it's all about buses, it's because we spent a good amount of time on buses during the second half of the trip. Turkey is a huge country and in order to get to see the top sights you either have to fly ($$$$) or be prepared for long bus rides. So now we're back to Istanbul for a couple of nights to rest up for our 13-hour journey to Beijing. We don't have much planned as we felt we needed to rest up before landing in the mega-city that is Beijing in the mega-country that is China.  So we we're just spending these last few days enjoying lovely Istanbul, doing last minute planning for our trip to China and getting our fill of delicious Turkish food.
Melissa and Brian in front of the travertine terraces of Pamukkale
From Pamukkale, Turkey

More photos of Olimpos, Pamukkale, Hieropolis, and Ephesus.