Morning in Istanbul, Common Scams and Everyday Happenings

It’s hours before sunrise in Istanbul, and I wake up as the first melodic call to prayer of the day seeps through our open hotel window.  This is my first time in a Moslem-predominated large city, and there are so many Mosques in the Sultanahmet district, the prayer calls go on for ten or twenty minutes as each Mosque takes their turn.  In previous times each Mosque had astronomers to figure out the multiple daily calls – which are timed to the rise and fall of the sun rather than any specific hours on a clock.

Lovely street leading to our hotel.
Lovely street leading to our hotel.

In a few hours we’ll leave our delightful little hotel room in a somewhat delightful hotel on a very delightful street of hotels and head up to the rooftop terrace for one of our final Turkish breakfasts.  Of all the countries that we’ve visited, I believe the Turkish Breakfast is the most robust and varied.  While I do love the Italian cappuccino and croissant, or the Swiss muesli, and appreciate the Norwegian variety of herring, the Turkish mix of olives, halva, cheese, vegetables, fruit, bread, and other seemingly random items makes breakfast a scavenger hunt of tastes and experiences.  Our terrace (and our new room) has a panoramic view of the sea – and as we eat we can watch ships leave the Bhosphorus Straight (the small water body between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea – and head south.  Our first room didn’t have a sea view – it had a view of the backs of buildings that faced the sea.  When I mentioned that we booked (and paid extra) for a sea view, there was some muttering about the room having a sea view (it didn’t), the hotel being full, and being able to move rooms the next day.  I suppose they overbooked the sea view rooms.  I suppose it is a minor scam .  They are lucky they made it right for us, because I have the power of a bad but accurate trip adviser review at my fingertips.

Sea view!
Sea view!

Speaking of trip adviser, I decided to learn which leather coat stores had good reputations in Istanbul so that if I did decide to buy a coat, I wouldn’t get scammed.  Now that we are nearing the end of the trip, it’s time to do some shopping.  Not that I necessarily want a leather coat – but I didn’t want to regret not even looking.  Yesterday morning, as we were starting out on the “Back Streets of Istanbul” walk in Rick Steves’ book, we ran across the store.

Leather coat store in Istanbul
Leather coat store in Istanbul

There was a lovely coat in the window, so I wandered right in.  This was my second experience in a leather coat shop (the first one was where we had to wait while another couple bought their coats over our objections to even wasting time at the store).  I went in knowing that this particular store had better quality goods and slightly higher prices, but in all honestly, if you’re going for a big ticket item, it’s better to make sure it’s authentic and from a reputable place.   (I did learn in Antalyla that if a tour person takes you to a store, they get a 50% cut – not sure if that holds for taxi drivers as well, but you are better off making your own way into a store.)

The salesman was very very pleasant.  I was the only customer, and he spent a lot of time showing me some very stylish coats.  We didn’t talk price.  Ken wandered in and was seated and given some apple tea.  I was shown more coats.  Finally I asked the price.  There was actually a price tag – which is supposed to mean a “set price” although the salesman said that they could go 10 percent or so lower.  But somehow it went from something like 1000 euros to 400 dollars in a few minutes – which is a little more than 10 percent.

I started to get worried that I was actually entering into a barter – because once you accept the tea and fully enter into bartering for an object, it is polite to actually finish bartering and buy it, and quite frankly, I had only looked at a few coats and wasn’t ready to buy anything.  As I hesitated, politely, he leaned over and whispered, “Is there a problem, can you afford it?”  Here’s the rub.  We’re Americans traveling in Istanbul, so to pretend we can’t afford it would be rude – although I was dressed in grubby clothes (my best but after seven months of travel ….).  He then whispered (I think so Ken couldn’t hear), “How much can you afford?”

What went through my mind is – how low can I go without being rude – not how much do I think this jacket is worth – because I had no idea what the jacket was worth.  “$300” I whispered back.  Why are we whispering – there is no one in the store except the sales people and us.  Is he afraid Ken will hear and object to the price?

“The owner is in  the store right now and I’ll ask him,” he whispered back.  “I don’t know what he’ll say.”  At this point I was beginning to feel like I was in a car dealership.  He went and talked to the owner, then came back with a calculator, told me he asked the owner how low he could go without telling him my price and showed me a “$290”.  Wow – better than my offer.

At this point my common sense kicked in and I told him – honestly – that I promised myself I wouldn’t buy a coat without really thinking about it – so I’d think about it and come back if if that was the coat I decided to purchase.  In the meantime, another saleswoman had the coat on and was modeling it to show me how fabulous it was.  None of that interaction was a scam, but it was a well-polished sales pitch.

The streets between the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar are crammed with real Turkish people shopping.
The streets between the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar are crammed with real Turkish people shopping.

The common pitch to get us into stores is quite simple.  If you stop for a second to 1) look at a map; 2) look around, a man suddenly appears at your elbow.  “Are you lost, can I help you find something?” he asks in a very friendly way.  “No thank you.”

“Where are you from.”

“United States” (or America if they seem to not understand.”)  “Seattle”

“Oh America, fantastic, what a great place.  I (my cousin, my nephew, my brother’s friend) visited there once – Chicago (California, Georgia).”  Some have even been to Seattle.

If they name a city near where we live, I usually smile and say a few more things, but if not I’m starting to walk again.  As we start to walk away and end this friendly interaction, there is always the inevitable,

“And can I sell you a carpet?  I have a shop just down the street.  It has great prices.”  It could be a restaurant or a gift shop, although carpet dealers seem to be the most aggressive.

The best way to end the interaction that I’ve found is to be honest and say, “I don’t want to waste your time, we’re really not interested in buying anything.”  They are aggressive, but don’t want to waste their time either.

The same interaction can happen even if you don’t stop, but then it usually just starts with “Where are you from.”  If you are actually walking it’s pretty easy to just smile and keep going.  If you stop and politely answer each time, you’ll never get past the first block.

It’s all very mild, nothing like the aggression we encountered in Rome.

I really liked this costume shop in the arts and crafts part of the street.
I really liked this costume shop in the arts and crafts part of the street.

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One scam we did encounter was the “exclusive” store.  We stumbled into it by accident; Ken has been looking for a wallet.  I saw a leather store and wandered in.  After explaining I didn’t want a carpet (one floor of those) or a leather jacket (another floor of those) and was only interested in looking a wallets, the salesman led us out the back door, into another building, up some stairs, and into an unmarked showroom with about four sales staff.  It was full of high end designer knock off purses.  As Ken looked at the wallets I wandered over to the Louis Vuitton purses – there is a particular style I recognized from Bodrum – and asked the price.  300 euros for a knock off of a 3000 euro purse.  I asked if the price was fixed.  That’s a polite way of asking if the store bartered, or was a more modern type of store.  Fixed.  The sales woman explained that in the Grand Bazaar they look you up and down and decide what sort of price you can pay and then tell you a price, but fixed was a much better way of setting prices.  She then went on to explain that their store had a reputation for quality and most of their customers were word of mouth.  Quite frankly, with the unmarked door, I suspect most of their customers are led into the store by a tour guide, and people are so excited to get access to the high end knock offs, they don’t question the price.   I saw the exact same purse – same high quality knock off in a street level store in the bazaar behind the Blue Mosque – same starting price, but the salesperson said the price was negotiable.  Beware of the “private store” scam.

PS – turns out that particular bag is the much sought after “Capucines” – the bag that LV launched with a huge public relations campaign which included putting the bag in the hands of Angelia Jolia and Michelle Williams.  It’s so coveted that have a huge wait list.  I wonder if I was drawn to it though that heavy (but subliminal) marketing campaign – another scam??  Not that I was ever interested in actually buying it.

Those scams are minor, but Istanbul can be a dangerous place for the unwary.  While wandering through a center town cemetery, I started talking to a youngish (30s) man from Toronto Canada.  He was travelling alone.  A very pleasant and talkative man, he immediately started telling me about how he was scammed.

The scam artist claimed he was staying at the upscale Four Seasons
The scam artist claimed he was staying at the upscale Four Seasons

He was in the center part of town in the evening taking photos of the Hagia Sophia when another man started talking to him.  The other man was from Dubai, and spoke very good English.  After talking for a while, the man suggested they go for a beer.  They took a short taxi ride to a club – the man paid for the taxi – acting like a big spender.  At the club (where there were other people) the man told him to squeeze into a booth – insisted on it – so that he was sort of trapped in.  Then two ladies joined them.  At that point the Canadian was starting to realize what was happening, and when the bartender asked if they wanted anything to drink, he purposely got the Dubai man to order.  Four drinks were ordered.  The men had beer – the ladies had some sort of drink in a bottle with no label (probably water.)  Then they asked for a second round – and the Dubai man told the Canadian he had to order this time.  The Canadian man protested and said he wasn’t there to meet the ladies – he had just come for a beer.

The Dubai man got mad, and yelled at the Canadian telling him he was responsible for paying for his drink and his ladies’ drink.  The Canadian agreed just to get out of there – and when the bill came it was 1000 euros – so around $1400.  At that point there were no other customers in the club.  He emptied his pockets – 50 euros and 50 plus 15 Turkish lira and a pack of gum.  No credit cards.  The man yelled at him for not having more money.  He opened the pack of gum to see if there was money hidden in there, and then took a piece of gum.  He took all the money except the 15 lira and told the Canadian to leave.  He left.  He found himself on a deserted street in a deserted part of town, separated from the main part of town by a highway.  No taxis.  After walking for mile or so he  found a bus, but the bus driver told him to take a taxi.  He finally found a taxi.  He didn’t remember where the club was, or how to get back to  it, so he couldn’t file a complaint.  He was lucky.  It could have ended up a lot worse.

I don’t want to make it seem that all of our time in Istanbul has been avoiding scams.  This is a wonderful city, full of a huge diversity of people and neighborhoods, with endless things to see and do.

The Hagia Sophia - built as a Roman (Byzantine) Church and later converted to a Mosque around 1500 years ago will take your breath away.
The Hagia Sophia – built as a Roman (Byzantine) Church and later converted to a Mosque around 1500 years ago will take your breath away.
Eleventh Century mosaic of Christ with Emperor Constantine IX Monomachus and Empress Zoe in the Hagia Sophia upper gallery
Eleventh Century mosaic of Christ with Emperor Constantine IX Monomachus and Empress Zoe in the Hagia Sophia upper gallery

The Hagia Sophia was astonishing.  To think that a building  with a that large could have been built in the sixth Century – a feat not matched again until the Renaissance some 1,000 years later.  The mosaic in the photo above has an interesting back story.  Empress Zoe was the daughter of an Emperor with no male heirs.  Her first husband (the man pictured to the right of Christ, left on the mosaic) died a few years after they were married in his bath.  She married her young lover, Michael IV (and the writing above the Emperor’s head was modified with the new name.)  A few years later he was dead as well.  His nephew seized power and sent Zoe into exile – and scratched away her face in the mosaic.  She found a way to return to power by the time she was 65, this time married to Constantine Monomachus – so for the third time the writing above the Emperor’s head was changed, and this time Zoe’s face was restored to her youthful beauty.  (Source – Rick Steves’ guidebook.)

Topkapi Palace
Outside of the Prince’s Rooms at Topkapi Palace

The Harem of Topkapi Palace was another must see.  It was the residential portion of the palace where the Sultan, his wives, favorites, and other slaves (concubines) resided.  Each Sultan could have up to four wives and four favorites.  The rest of the concubines were servants – not mistresses.

Apartments for wives 2, 3, and 4 - imagine living next door to your bitterest rival.
Apartments for wives 2, 3, and 4 – imagine living next door to your bitterest rival.

The system was meant to produce male heirs to continue the dynasty.  It did work – there was always a male heir – too many in fact.  Tradition was that the extra little princes were kept locked away in the Princes’ rooms – behind the iron grills.  When their brother rose to power, they were often strangled so that the succession would be clear – especially if they were brothers with another mother – because the Sultan’s mother co-ruled.  In some cases – I suppose if the Sultan hadn’t produced any male offspring yet (some Sultans were very young) the “locked away” brothers inherited the thrown without ever seeing the outside world beforehand.

Soaring dome in Suleyman the Magnificent's Mosque
Soaring dome in Suleyman the Magnificent’s Mosque

The Mosque I enjoyed the most was the one sponsored by Suleyman the Magnificent.  Built almost 1,000 years after the Hagia Sophia, architect Minar Sinan created a dome of enormous proportions supported by arches and strong pillars rather than thick walls.  This allowed the interior to have loads of windows and natural light.  Sinar (1489-1588) was a contemporary of Michaelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci and this Mosque was one of his lasting legacies.

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Suleyman may have been magnificent, but his personal life was a little less straight forward.  He fell for one of his concubines – when she managed to make herself noticed by laughing in his presence.  His primary wife didn’t think the girl was much of a danger – and called her a “slave” and hit her.  Suleyman was less than pleased and banished that wife.  After Roxelana bore him a son, she convinced him to marry her.  At that time it was unheard of for a slave concubine to be raised to a legal wife.  That only left the son from the first wife standing between Roxelana placing her own son on the throne, so she convinced Suleyman to strangle his heir.  She bore Suleyman four sons and one daughter.  Two of the sons died of natural causes, and Suleyman had one strangled, but the final one succeeded him.

Roxelana ruled behind the scenes as Suleyman turned to her for advice. He outlived her, and built her a huge mausoleum behind the mosque.  His own – larger – mausoleum sits beside hers. (Source – Rick Steve’s guidebook).

 

Antalya Turkey – Third Most Visited City in the World – Why?

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Finishing up our tour of the Turkish Riviera, we wound our way to Antayla, which for many of the last five years has been reported as the third most visited city in the world after Paris and London – and trading back and forth with New York for third.  I know right?  I had never even heard of this city until I was looking for a city with an airport convenient to Istanbul.  According to Turkish statistics – the number of international travelers surpassed Istanbul quite a few years ago.  Perhaps someone is having trouble with their math – because there is no way I can believe that is the case.  Istanbul is packed with tourist type people, while Antalya is a laid back largish Turkish city  surrounded by resort type towns.  For a large city it had little of the hustle-bustle that made navigating it nerve racking.  It was one of the friendliest places we’ve visited – and sure there were a few aggressive carpet sales people, but not even as bad as Bodrum or Kusadasi.

Some of the highlights in the city were:

Kaleici – the old town.  This old town is a maze of pedestrian only streets leading to the small port.  Shockingly, it has better restaurants and a better variety of shopping than the adjacent busy (and more local) pedestrian mall and ‘old’ bazaar.  Not that you don’t have to wade your way through the knock off stores – but there were more than a few local stores tucked away on the less busy streets, run by great people just trying to make a living in the tough economy.  The local nomadic tribes still create carpets and kilims in traditional patterns with root-died wool.  (I’m finding it increasingly easy to tell the fake cheap imported carpets from the real ones -not that I have any idea about good pricing.)  Kaleici is really quite ancient (dates from 150 BC), although many parts have been rebuilt – and there were Roman-aged ruins in many of the corners.

Broken Minaret
Broken Minaret
Hıdırlık Tower, 2nd-century
Hıdırlık Tower, 2nd-century

The Archaeological Museum in Antalya (a short tram ride from Kaleici) is one of the best in Turkey, and mainly focuses on antiquities from the Lycian coast.  Its statue collection (Roman) is one of the best in the world – with many of the statues from nearby Perge (Perga) that served as the backdrop to the stage.  The collection rivaled anything we saw in Italy!

The museum also contained some of the artifacts from the excavation of the Karian Cave.  The Karian Cave is located in the limestone bluffs (Katran Mountains) about 30 kilometers from the city.  It is the oldest settlement in Turkey – and has around 11 meters of soil in the entry way that has been excavated, yielding some fragments of a neanderthal baby’s skull and tooth (middle Paleolithic – 160,000 – 60,000 BC), and early paleolithic tools (dating to 500,000-450,000 BC.  If you’ve read Clan of the Cave Bear you can easily conjure up a picture of this sort of cave with your imagination.  The cave is set around 130 meters up a slope from what is today a very fertile plain – and was likely even more fertile in the paleolithic, supporting a wide range of grains and fruits.

Even though none of the artifacts are at the actual cave, it was really interesting to wander through it and imagine why early people would choose the cave (food, safety, water.)   We were the only people wandering through while we were there, but there were a few workmen working on the entrance and the lights were on in the cave.  It was great having the place to ourselves – the caves were large, but not large enough for modern crowds.

One of the chambers of Karian Cave
One of the chambers of Karian Cave
Excavation of Karian Cave
Excavation of Karian Cave

Another interesting site we visited was Termessos, set in a notch at around 1,600 m elevation in the Taurus mountains, and today nestled in the Güllük Mountain (Termessos) National Park.  Termessos was a Pisidia city, and with its mountain location was impregnable – even Alexander the Great couldn’t get by the double city walls – one set far down the valley, and another near the town proper.  It was one of those sites that grew better and better the higher we climbed.  There were multi-story building still standing, and the highlight was the theater – which had amazing views down the valleys.

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City walls
City walls

I think it is fair to say that we’re a little overwhelmed with all the different civilizations we’ve seen in unique geologic settings – especially considering the time frames they span.  It’s going to take a lot of reading when we get home to pull this all together in our brains.

Next stop is Istanbul, and then home in less than a week.

Cirali, Eternal Flame, and Turkish Public Transportation

Thanks to a recommendation from one of the friends we met hiking in Switzerland, we just spent a magical three nights in a small coastal village on the southern coast of Turkey.  Cirali is about an hour and a half west of Antalya, and on the Lycian Way – a 500 km plus (25 days or so) hike through coastal Turkey that is said to be one of the ten best hikes in the world.  Luckily for us, you can also get to Cirali by road – even by public transportation, even though it really is a small rural village.

Turkey has an extensive network of buses, mini buses, and dolmus (shared taxis) that link the small villages to larger centers, and provide easy connections between the larger cities.  Getting from Pumukkale (small village) to Cirali (even smaller village) was a piece of cake – we even got door to door service.  We grabbed a dolmus from right outside our small hotel in Pumukkale.  That dropped us off at the Denizli bus station – a two story building with buses up top and the mini buses and dolmus downstairs.  The bus from Denizli to Antalya operates like an airplane, in that it has both a driver and a steward.  The steward 1) settles you into your reserved seat; 2) checks your destination; 3) offers you a cup of water; 4) brings around a cart with meal service; 4) offers a newpaper; 5) bring around more water; and 6) makes sure you get off at the correct stop.  The bus stopped once along the way at a rest stop (25 minutes) where we were encouraged to disembark and they washed the bus.

Antayla’s bus station was as large as some of the airports we’ve seen on our trip.  It was located on the edge of town and consisted of two large ‘terminals.’  I’m not really sure what the difference was between the terminals – but that didn’t really matter because there are always officials watching out for people that look bewildered to tell them where to go.  That’s important, because there seems to be dozens of bus and mini bus companies selling tickets in the terminals, and to figure out which company goes where by yourself would be overwhelming.

We then jumped on a mini-bus to Cirali (highway stop) – a bus route that ran right down the coastal highway.  We got off the bus, crossed the highway, and within minutes the Cirali dolmus (shared taxi) to whisk us into town.  Sort of.  We waited in a nice outdoor shelter while the driver spent a lot of time on the phone – turns out we were waiting for three more people to be dropped off down the highway.  Once they arrived, we gathered them up, and then the driver dropped us all of at our hotels/hostels.

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Back to Cirali.  It’s situated on a relatively undeveloped part of the coastline because the beach is a nesting ground for the endangered loggerhead turtles.

Cage put up on beach to protect the turtle nest
Cage put up on beach to protect the turtle nest
Olympos Beach
Olympos Beach

The places to stay are set back in the trees – pomegranates, orange and lemon trees for the most part.  There are tons of juice stands!

Downtown Cirali
Downtown Cirali

Most of the accommodations are spread out along a loop road.  We stayed in a small guest house – just four cabins and the family home.  They were so kind and friendly – and the breakfast was absolutely amazing.  That photo below was breakfast for just the two of us.

Turkish breakfast
Turkish breakfast

It was a short walk to the Olympos beach and then up a trail through ancient Olympos to the small laid back Olympos village.  This village is famous for their tree house – hostel style accommodations.

Olympos treehouse
Olympos treehouse

About an hour’s walk the other direction from Cirali is the Chimera (Chimaera) eternal flames, source of the Chimera myth.  The thing to do is hike up to the flames at dusk or after dark and enjoy them.  I’ve seen a lot of interesting things on our travels, but I’ve never seen rocks that were on fire like this.  There is natural gas seeping out of the rocks from various pits/holes.  It’s been going on for thousands of year!  Here’s a link to the Chimera mythology – a monstrous fire-breathing creature.

Chimera (Chimaera) Turkey
Chimera (Chimaera) Turkey

The Lycian way splits into two routes in Cirali – the first goes up through Chimera, and the second follows the coast.  We hiked about an hour along the coastal route and were rewarded with this private black sand beach!

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Beach north of Cirali
Beach north of Cirali

So that was a recap of our three days in paradise.

When it was time to leave, we were stuffed in a taxi with all our luggage and 8 other passengers and driven to highway to catch the mini-bus.  Every time we thought taxi was full the driver would stop and pick up a few more people, telling us to fill all the nooks and crannies of the ancient taxi bus – with luggage shoved in the strangest places.  It was so tight, a German hiker who somehow ended up in the back corner started saying in a mildly panicked voice “problem, problem, we have a problem,” as he tried to scramble out.  I think he was claustrophobic, and being caught behind everyone was too much for him.  The whole situation (not the claustrophobic man in particular) was pretty funny – we were all joking that the driver was going to stop again and start putting passengers on our laps.

Pumukkale, Hierapolis, and Roman Baths – plus Please! Don’t sit with shoes on the toilet

Way back in May, when we stopped in Kusudasi, Turkey on the Holland America cruise (the stop where it almost came to fisticuffs over the leather jackets) I noticed a sign in the window of a travel agency with a picture of Pumukkale.  Pumukkale means Cotton Palace – and the picture of the bleached white travertine pools holding turquoise water was seared into my brain.

Pumukkale
Pumukkale

Fast forward several months and we decided to fly home from Istanbul.  Right away I knew that one place we’d visit in Turkey was that magical place.  It was worth it!

We stayed in a small family run hotel in the village of Pumukkale – right at the base of the travertine hills.  It was far away from the mass tourism of the larger resorts in a nearby village, and while hot water would have been pleasant, our friendly hosts more than made up for the inconvenience.  There are three entrances into the site – which is a historic site (the Roman City of Hieropolis sat above the cliffs), a swimming area serviced by the calcium rich hotsprings next to the ancient Roman Baths, and the Pumukkale cliffs.  I only mention that because if you enter from either of the other entrances, you miss half the fun.  The village entrance is at the base of the hill, and as you walk up the road cut into the side of the hill, you arrive at a sign that instructs you to take off your shoes.

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Whether it is because they feel the slope is slippery, or because shoes would wreck the travertine, they are serious about people going barefoot.  A slew of guards keep a sharp eye on tourists and blow a whistle if they see anyone dare to slide on their flip flops.  Socks are okay.  Along the way are a series of artificial pools where people happily pose for pictures.  I’m not sure if they realized they were fake.

At the top of the road was a cluster of folks that presumably came in from another entrance, and didn’t make it more than 10 or 20 meters down the road.  I have to admit I found them very annoying as they seemed oblivious to people trying to walk past as they snapped their photos prancing around in the fake pools (the actual pathway around the upper pools was very narrow).  I did mutter under my breath things like “this is a bad place to stop – people want to get by,” but I did refrain from shoving  anyone out of the way – barely.

Entry into Pumukkale from the village - those dots on the hillside are people climbing the slope.  The terraces are only filled with water periodically - this section was dry.
Entry into Pumukkale from the village – those dots on the hillside are people climbing the slope. The terraces are only filled with water periodically – this section was dry.

The cotton-colored cliffs are formed by calcium rich hot springs that cascade out of the side of the hill.  The way the water flows caused pools and terraces to form all the way down the hillside.  The site (it is a UNESCO site) is managed to keep the hillsides white – and according to our host if they kept the pools full of water all the time they’d turn brown, so they alternate areas where they allow the water to flow.

At the top of the hill, the site transitions from that beautiful hillside into a set of fairly well-preserved Roman ruins.  The first are are the ancient Roman Bathhouse – which has been restored and serves as a small museum.  It has a small “extra” admission price but doesn’t have much in it that I found interesting – except this one statue of a man with a dragon tail.

Heirapolis Museum
Heirapolis Museum

Behind the Ancient Roman bathhouse is a newer complex labelled Ancient Baths.  Inside, beyond the restaurants, bathrooms, showers, lockers, and souvenir shop, and in front of the beach chairs, are the thermal pools.  I don’t really know why we bought a ticket for the pools without taking a good look at them – but we did – and regretted it.  Not only were they sort of dirty (filled with algae) and packed with people. but for some reason there were a whole bunch of ruins scattered in them (perhaps as a PH buffer or maybe to make them seem old) so you had to wade through really slowly or risk whacking an knee or ankle.  There was a small “ruin free” area for swimming – it was like swimming through molasses .

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But it was probably worth it to go in because the thermal waters apparently hold the secret to Cleopatra retaining her beauty as she aged.  Not only that, but they can cure all sorts of illnesses – at least according to the sign.

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Ironically, the site also contains the largest Roman necropolis (cemetery) in Anatolia.  In addition to Heirapolis being a Holy City, many people would come to the city to receive cures from the thermal waters – and end up dying.  I’m saying this all a little tongue in cheek – but the necropolis really was fantastic – truly the most interesting one we’ve seen out of all the sites we’ve visited on our trip.

The northern necropolis (there were actually three for the city, but we only walked through the northern one) stretched down the road outside of the city gates.  I should also mention the impressive HUGE olive oil press just outside the city gates – mass production of olive oil!

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Roman olive oil press
Roman olive oil press

Anyway -back to this amazing necropolis.  There were all sorts of tombs, including one called Tomb of the Curses – with an inscription that warns of fines, diseases, misfortunes and punishments in the next world for messing with tomb.

Tomb of the curses - Heirapolis, Pumukkale
Tomb of the curses – Heirapolis, Pumukkale

There were also a half dozen “Tumulus Graves” or round buildings that were fairly large and contained multiple coffins.

Tumulus Grave, Heirapolis
Tumulus Grave, Heirapolis

Then there were a huge variety of Sarcophagus – including this one that had a view of the travertine terraces!

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There was also a well-preserved theater – said to be the best preserved in Antolia – that was undergoing restoration.

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So it was a very eclectic visit to Pumukkale – I certainly had no idea what was in store for us when we entered the site.

One thing about traveling is you never do know what is in store for you, and public bathrooms can be either a pleasant surprise or – well – not.  I have to comment on the bathrooms at the “Ancient Baths” or the mineral baths – or at least on the sign on the door.

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“Please! Don’t sit with shoes on the toilet”

Now we haven’t run into any “squat toilets” so far in Turkey.  I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised at finding clean western style toilets (although and this may be too much information, but you aren’t supposed to flush paper in Turkey because of the pipes getting clogged – and the paper is only for drying – there is an extra nozzle for washing under the seat).  Anyway – the toilet behind this sign was a “western style” toilet, so I can only think that perhaps non-tourists had as much difficulty figuring out what to do with it as we would have with a squat toilet.  I don’t really know – I’m opening to guesses.

We ended up spending all day at Pumukkale so that we could capture the sunset.  Remember those guards I mentioned with the whistles – well the one watching the terraces full of water sure got a workout.  Even though there were clear signs that said to not enter the natural terraces – I guess many people didn’t think the signs were meant for them.  The poor guard – whistle, whistle.  He had to chase an entire group out of the pools!

Then there were the people determined to get themselves in a great sunset shot – but of course everyone can’t get themselves in a great sunset shot if everyone is trying to do it at once.  So a few enterprising people just took a few steps in front of everyone else and into the pools – whistle whistle.  It was amusing until this one couple just parked themselves –  obnoxiously – in front of everyone else – making me grind my teeth in frustration.  It’s like they didn’t realize the sunset was for a limited period, and others might like to get a shot without them in it.  I did wait patiently, but then I gave up and found another spot.  Thankfully I didn’t shove the lady out of the way or say anything rude, because it turned out she was staying at our small hotel. Now that would have been an embarrassing breakfast.

Ah Pumukkale – I’m glad I ventured into the “Cotton Castle,” it was a day I won’t likely forget!

Pumukkale Sunset
Pumukkale Sunset

Bodrum Turkey – What do a Royal Shipwreck, Crusaders Castle, and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World have in Common?

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Bodrum, Turkey, just a short ferry ride from Kos, Greece – was our point of reentry into Turkey – the last country we’ll be visiting before heading home.  Bodrum is part of the Turkish Riviera – a town known now for its large wooden sailing boats – great weather – nightclubs – cheap shopping – windmills – and a few historic sites.

Bodrum
Bodrum

I didn’t love Bodrum; it was the type of place where I was pretty sure we’d be ripped off every time we opened our wallets; it was the type of place where restaurants have menus in euros rather than turkish liras – or they don’t put prices on the drinks and lure you in with cheap food.  The stores were filled with good knock off purses – the type with labels and embossed pull tags that are so well done they just seem wrong and may even fool some people; the stores were filled with Beats headphones in legit looking boxes with well faked warranties – the type of products that seep into real stores and cause all sorts of headaches for real companies.

We had to navigate the narrow streets each day, weaving our way through people calling “Hello Lady” and “Yes Please” and chasing us down the streets with menus.  It was almost humorous, but a little exhausting, and was the sort of place where it was easier to just to keep your eyes down and keep walking – letting the slower tourists be caught in the traps as you weaved on by.

Bodrum has some highlights.  One was the Underwater Archaeological Museum in the old Crusaders (Knights of St. John) on the waterfront.  I don’t really know how to describe this eclectic museum, but I’ll try.  Imagine a large (restored) 15th Century Castle, complete with watch towers at every corner and the inner parts filled with ramparts, small stock rooms, and a lot of open area.  Now imagine some of the small stock rooms retrofitted into tiny little museum spaces, and some of the ramparts filled with exhibits.  Not all – just a few tucked in here and there – so you have to go through the castle like it is a maze, poking your head around corners and looking for (sometimes well marked) treasures.

The best treasure in the place was the Uluburun Shipwreck.  This Bronze-aged – (14th Century BC) – shipwreck was found off the coast of Turkey, not too far from Bodrum, by a sponge diver in the 1980s.  This shipwreck contained an eclectic cargo that could have been part of a royal dowry.  The full inventory can be found at this link, but the pieces that I found the most fascinating were:

The Egyptian Scarabs – including a gold one inscribed with Nefertiti hieroglyphs, the shipwreck occurred some 400 years after her death when subsequent rulers tried to erase all evidence of her.

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There were also a series of cylinder seals that were often used as gifts between kings – one was 400 years old at the time of the shipwreck –

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There was also assorted gold jewelry, a golden chalice (goblet), ivory tusks, ostrich eggs – just a very eclectic mix from all over.  Truly a royal cargo.

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Finally, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – the Mausoleum of Mausolus – or the Mausoleum all Mausoleums are named after.  Unfortunately after standing tall for thousands of years, it was used by those darn Knights of St John as material to grind up for cement to fortify their castle.  Didn’t work, they only held the castle for a short time after destroying the Mausoleum before running from the Ottomans.  The very sad thing is they recognized the beauty in the what they were destroying – but went ahead anyway.

The Mausoleum was built for Mausolus by his wife (and sister) Artemesia – after his death.

 

The mausoleum may have looked like this.
The mausoleum may have looked like this.

Funny story about Artemesia.  The Rhodes folks didn’t like the idea of a woman ruling she ruled after Mausolus’ death) so they decided to invade.  She took her fleet out and hid them in a cove.  When the Rhodes ships arrived, they found the city almost empty, and jumped ashore to take it.  Artemesia snuck her ships behind them, had her sailors climb aboard the Rhodes empty ships, and then they did away with the Rhodes invaders.  Not done yet, she sailed the Rhodes fleet to Rhodes, was met with welcome arms, slipped into the city and did away with the City Leaders responsible for sending the fleet against her – then erected a statue in her honor.

 

Kos – Archaeological Gem under a Veneer of Tacky Tourism

One thing I’ve learned on our travels is that just because I’ve never heard of a place doesn’t mean it’s not a tourist haven.  Kos island in Greece is one of those places – off the beaten track for US and Canadian visitors – but with direct flights from Germany and the UK it’s full of tacky beach front hotels, waterfront restaurants, and cheap souvenirs.

Kos waterfront
Kos waterfront

But after scratching the surface a little, turning a blind eye to the unappealing architecture and crowded streets, eating a few streets back from the waterfront, we found the place to be filled with friendly, genuine people, great food, and archaeological gems.

Our hotel was a family run place a little out of the main area.  It was in a neighborhood filled with empty storefronts (the effects of the recession are still widely apparent in this part of Greece; nearby Rhodes has more half built construction than any area I’ve ever seen), neighborhood stores, crumbling sidewalks (if there were sidewalks) and loads of cats.  Well stray cats can be found just about everywhere in Greece – but there seemed to be even more than usual in Kos.  The hotel was a meeting point for the family – and there were often three generations in the lobby / terrace watching TV, chatting, and just hanging out.

The town was laced with bike lanes; the bike lanes were filled with tourists on bikes.  Much of Kos Town is flat, but we did see a few (out of shape) cyclists try to tackle the trek to Ancient Pyla – and were rewarded with a scooter assist.  That’s when a local person on a scooter slows down and lets you grab their seat so that they can pretty much drag you up a steep hill.

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Kos Town is dotted with archaeological sites.  The only one in town that charged an entrance fee was the Kos Castle  – a Knights of St. John Castle set at the tip of the harbor to guard the straights that run between Kos and Bodrum, Turkey.  Bodrum has a similar castle, as did Rhodes – several hours to the south.  These are the same knights that had to flee to Malta when the Ottomans conquered the area.  The Knights were only in the area from around 1337 to 1523, but their castles left a lasting impression.  One unfortunate thing about the knights is that they took building stone from nearby areas (important historic sites) to build their castles.For that reason many of the older Greek sites in the town – albeit brought down by earthquakes – were missing important bits and pieces when they were reconstructed by the Italians in the early 20th century.

Kos Town was originally planned under theories of town planning proposed by Hippodamus of Miletus – thought to be the first urban planner.  Hippodamus felt that the ideal town should consist of around 50,000 people (10,000 free men and assorted women, children, and slaves) with streets arranged in a grid pattern, have large central areas, and contain neighborhood blocks of 2400 meters squared.  The original town was toppled by many earthquakes, built over, scavenged by the Knights, built over again, until an earthquake in the 1930s toppled a later town exposing many of the ancient ruins.  Rather than rebuilding the entire town, many of the major Ancient Greek sites were excavated.  Unfortunately along with free admission is a lack of much useful information at the sites.

Ancient main street
Ancient main street

Kos was also the birthplace of Hippocrates – the father of modern medicine.  The current town boasts of a Plane Tree where it is said that Hippocrates would give lectures to his students.  It is a nice old tree, but since Hippocrates was alive in the 5th Century BC – well …

Hippocrate's Plane Tree is old ...
Hippocrate’s Plane Tree is old …

About 3 kilometers outside of Kos Town was an Asclepeion, or ancient healing center – that was enormous.  It was a three story healing center set up based on Hippocrates’s teachings.  Much of the site was restored (recreated since the Knights took a lot of the building stones for their castle) in the early 20th century when the island was occupied by the Italians.

Another interesting site was Ancient Pyla and the hilltop castle.  This middle-aged settlement was located along the spine of the mountains that runs down the island.

Of course we mainly went to Kos because it’s a volcanic island, and provided easy access to  nearby Nisyros, which contains an active crater, full of bubbling mud pits and sulphur spotted fumaroles.

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Santorini Sunshine

Santorini is probably one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever visited, with distinctive white with blue trim villages tumbling down an almost vertical 250 meter cliff face hanging over an azure ocean.

Fira
Fira
Oia
Oia

It’s not undiscovered by any means, and the crowds could get overwhelming at times, especially in picturesque little Oia where the sunsets drew crowds so thick even the countless bridal parties had to elbow their way in.  Luckily there were always places to get a little distance from the crowds –  a glass of wine on a sun drenched terrace overlooking the caldera at the sun dips into the ocean  – a black sandy beach on the ‘other’ side of the island, or a day trip to Theressia, which gave glimpses of what Oia and Fira may have looked like before tourism.

There are two hotel rooms and two restaurants (aside from the ones at the port that cater to day tripers) in the small town on Therissia - a stone's throw from Thera (Santorini's main island) but a world away.
There are two hotel rooms and two restaurants (aside from the ones at the port that cater to day tripers) in the small town on Theressia – a stone’s throw from Thera (Santorini’s main island) but a world away.
These are the traditional cliff houses.
These are the traditional cliff houses.

Akrotiri

The cauldera in the center of the Santorini islands blew its top some 4000 years ago, in what is considered the largest volcanic eruption witnessed by humans.  The island (it was one island at that time) was inhabited (there is some evidence of human occupation going back to mid 6th millenium BC – or 8000 years ago) and the volcanic ash from the eruptions – meters thick in places – covered the entire island.

Of course this pretty much destroyed any cities/towns on the island at that time, and is also thought to have set off a tsunami that ravaged the shores of Crete – some 60 kilometers away – with the wave having a reach of 80 meters.  Some feel that this tsunami wiped out all the coastal cities of Crete – leading to the demise of the seafaring Minoan civilization within a few generations.

On Santorini, the cities/towns were gone in a flash.  At this point in time archaeologists have uncovered part of one city – a port town named Akrotiri – on the southern edge of the island facing Crete.  The site was discovered in the mid-1960s, and has been undergoing excavation (on and off) since that time.  We were fortunate to find the site open – it had been closed for seven years and reopened in 2012 after a the structure enclosing it collapsed and was rebuilt.  Because it was covered by ash – it – like Pompeii – represents a snapshot in time of a working Theran city – similar to Minoan but thought to be a distinct civilization.

The city was thought to be one of the largest cities (perhaps 30,000 residents) in the Aegean in the 17th Century BC.  It was toppled by an earthquake (and rebuilt) prior to the volcanic eruption, and was an example of advanced engineering and design.  Some of the infrastructure included large public buildings, a main road (and alleys), three story buildings, a salt-water sewer system – including indoor toilets – and a separate drinking water system – with water possibly coming from the nearby hills through use of an aqueduct.  The town’s importance as a trading center is clearly seen by the variety of pottery from around the region, the wide diversity of food (found at the bottom of pottery jars in one large building) and the weights and scales.

Scale found in Akrotiri
Scale found in Akrotiri
Weights found in Aktotiri
Weights found in Aktotiri
Cast of a table found at the Akrotiri site
Cast of a table found at the Akrotiri site
This table is covered with dolphins.
This table is covered with dolphins.

It’s estimated that only three percent of the site has been excavated – so theories about the Therans and the city can easily change – but at this point it is thought that the city’s residents left the city prior to the eruption with all their valuable belongings.

Much of the site is unexcavated - still covered by a thick layer of volcanic tuff - all enclosed in a large building.
Much of the site is unexcavated – still covered by a thick layer of volcanic tuff – all enclosed in a large building.

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The city is remarkable well preserved under the thick layer of volcanic tuff, including some of the best wall frescoes from that period.  They are absolutely astonishing (none are at the actual site – but there are a few in the Fira Museum and the remainder are in Athens) and paint a very complete picture of the civilization.

One of the ones I found most fascinating was the “Flotilla” – a procession of boats leaving from one city to arrive at another.

 

Flotilla - (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akrotiri_(Santorini)#mediaviewer/File:AKROTIRI_SHIP-PROCESSION-FULL_PANO-3.jpg)
Flotilla – (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akrotiri_(Santorini)#mediaviewer/File:AKROTIRI_SHIP-PROCESSION-FULL_PANO-3.jpg)
closeup of the town from the Flotilla fresco
closeup of the town from the Flotilla fresco
Blue monkeys (part of a large wall fresco)
Blue monkeys (part of a large wall fresco)

 

Veena and Ken's Seven Month Adventure in Europe