I didn't see a single turkey while in Turkey, Part 2- The rest could be the best

Locals in Turkey
Part 2 of my blog on Turkey encompasses other destinations within the country that warrant time and exploration. With it being winter and large earthquakes having occuerd recently,  the eastern part of the country was left out and postponed to a more favorable season. Although this part of the country is indeed beautiful, don't let yourself be fooled into thinking that the western side has little to offer.

Ruins, landscapes, unique destinations and even friendlier people can be found outside the hustle and bustle of Istanbul and the other major cities of Turkey. There are a number of ways of traveling to these destinations. Whether you prefer the fast pace of airline flight or the slower relaxing bus route, all the information can be found on turkey travel planner website. Its layout isn't the most easy to navigate, but the information present on it is very in-depth.

With too many things to see and little time plus the weather working against us, it was decided that Selcuk (pronounced sell-chuck) would be the home base for most of the countryside roaming that would be undertaken.

Selcuk is a small town with approximately 37,000 occupants. I found it to be very warm and has all the needs for an enthusiastic traveler. Coffee shops, great restaurants, markets, and an extraordinary amount of orange trees compliment the very warm nature of the local people here. From here all the great sites such as Pamukkale, Ephesus and many quaint hill towns can be reached by public transport.

Ruins near Isa Bey Mosque

Very picturesque countryside

Apparent resting site of St John the apostle

View from ruins towards castle over looking the town

Street in Selcuk

Many great archeological sites can be found literally within the city center. The Basilica of St John the Apostle and the Ise Bey Mosque are less than 5 minutes walk from the center of town and the ruins are very well preserved and less congested than the stereotypical ruins located nearby at Ephesus. Entry is relatively cheap and I personally enjoyed these the most out of all the ruin sites I visited. The view from the Basilica of Selcuk is wonderful.
 
A short drive (10 minutes) from Selcuk is the famous Ephesus. Ephesus was the ancient city of Anatolia and originally was a Greek city, which turned into a Roman city after their conquest in 197 BC.
Ephesus can be completed rather quickly, but taking the time to marvel at the intricate craft work of the stone masons will leave even the most "ruin hardy" traveler gobsmacked. The theater is worth a look but the crowning glory of Ephesus is definitely the Roman library of Celsus.

Facade of the Library of Celsus
Grand indeed
The library towers high above the rest of Ephesus and it can be seen from most points within the site. It is in surprisingly good condition considering the weather it endures and its age.

As I stated before, the real beauty of this site is in the detail. Stone faces on the tops of pillars, mosaics which still retain their color, Greek and Roman letters inscribed everywhere and ancient story characters can all be found with a little investigation. If you want a fully informative trip then a guide is a must.

Mud, dirt and white marble make an interesting combination

Mosaics still holding their original color

Workmanship is truly amazing

After completing a tour of one of the ancient seven wonders of the world, it is time to visit a UNESCO world heritage site a couple of hours away in Pamukkale, which means cotton castle in Turkish. It is basically the site of many ancient civilizations and has thermal pools. With the area being quite prone to earthquakes, many civilizations have been destroyed and thus there are considerable amounts of ruins here to be viewed.

Blue thermal pools of Pamukkale
Although the ruins are quite the draw card, the real beauty of this place lies in the thermal pools located on the white mountain just outside of town. These travertines are covered in carbonate materials that are left behind by the thermal springs flowing over them.


Looking up at the springs


The only area of Pamukkale open to the public

Water flowing over the edge of a travertine

The waters present on the terraces are incredibly warm and can be accessed by tourists. No shoes are to be worn though. As it was winter when I visited the hot water made for a welcome change from the freezing cold wind and rain bouts. With water only going to just below knee height and it being incredibly warm, it can be likened to walking around the kiddie pool at the local swimming pool (albeit without the copious amounts of urine). As it is a UNESCO heritage sight, a lot of the site has been closed to the public to preserve it for future generations. Having said that it is still well worth the visit. For those budding photos remember to over expose your pics by +1 and bring a polariser.

With time running out the next destination on the itinerary was Cappadocia. This large town of fairy chimneys and ancient cave dwellers is a must see for anyone who travels to Turkey. It is literally like stepping into a fairy tale, except there's wireless internet and plenty of Kebap stores.


Out of a sci-fi novel
 
Cappadocia's history is dense. A lot of the caves are currently used for hotels and food storage, but in the past they also served as refuges and hiding places for early Christians to practice their worship.

The caves are used for tourism and food storage

Down town

All of the guide books do their best to describe this wondrous landscape, but until you are actually there, you realize that the words just don't do it justice. The town  (Gerome) itself isn't terribly large, but in summer the population swells and thousands as tourists come to experience this place and tick it off their bucket lists. There are plenty of restaurants and places to stay, but booking in advance is wise.

Snow always makes things look more beautiful
Fairy chimney by night
Local waiting for a feed

Christmas day arrived and I was saw my 3rd white Christmas. The novelty certainly hasn't worn off and only those who live in non-snowing climates understand the splendor yet strange weirdness of celebrating Christmas with snow all around.

Anyone who has been to Cappadocia always recommends the same activity - take a hot air balloon ride. With the weather being dicey to say the least and the thought of being several hundred meters in the air supported by a balloon in a cane basket being intriguing to me,  a balloon ride was booked and I'm glad I did it.


Up up and away
I will offer two pieces of advice....1) wear lots of warm clothing and 2) don't cheap out on a balloon ride. They are dangerous and choosing a skilled pilot and crew is more important than anything else. I went with Butterfly balloons and although more expensive they have the best safety record and flight experience. It is incredibly surreal when the balloon takes off. The only noise heard is the flame heating the gas occasionally and when its not firing it is peacefully calm. The air becomes cooler and people become ants and you rise up and up to get an amazing view of the region.

Nice view of the region

An experience not to be missed

Photo opportunities abound from the air

With the flight being completely weather dependent, flights are easily cancelled so if your staying for a couple of days, book on the first day to buy yourself some time if needed. In summer there can be up to 95 balloons in the air at once and it is indeed quite the spectacle. I was surprised at how maneuverable the balloons were and how relaxing the whole experience was. It is a birds eye view that is worth every Turkish Lira. Most balloon flights end with champagne as well as mulled wine and cake, which was appreciated but warm socks would've been nicer.

Peaceful and beautiful from the air
Once my toes had recovered I ventured to the open air museum which was 5 minutes walk out of town. I had heard great things about this place from guide books and fellow travelers and I was keen to explore it myself. Unfortunately, my timing wasn't terribly great and my arrival was met with the unloading a several coach loads of package tourists. As with anything like this, you just have to roll with the punches.

Open air museum
This museum contains great examples of all aspects of a typical carved out city. It has examples of kitchens, basic churches, wineries, tombs, dining rooms and food stores. In winter its quite slippery so caution should be taken on the stairways.

Early frescos

These were all interesting, but the real treasure is in the dark church. This church (which will cost you a little extra to see) is basically hidden away from the elements and sunshine and therefore all the original artwork is beautifully preserved. It dates back to the end of the 12th century. Although I have seen some amazing religious artwork before, this place takes the cake.

Floor to ceiling paintings

Truly spectacular

No sunlight has preserved the details and colors of all paintings

The detail seen and the effort put into this church is indescribable. Hours could be spent here and the extra cost to experience this marvel of ancient art is well worth it. I wont even try to describe it as I know I can do it no justice. This is a must see. 

Last thing on my list for the Cappadocia region was to visit the underground city at Derinkuyu. This phenomenal city was dug out by locals and has 11 floors to it and descends to a depth of 85 meters. It was used as a shelter from invading armies and contains everything from schools, stables, wineries, private bedroom, toilets and even wells. It could house up to forty thousand people at a time and could support them for up to six months. It is a labyrinth of tunnels, stairs, one way doors and dark rooms. Only 10 percent is open to the public and currently it hasn't been completely explored yet. It is worth a look just for the sheer effort needed to excavate such an immense living area.

Stairs leading down to next level

Great effort has been put in to make it look and feel homely

One of many water wells

Some areas are quite large and open

All in all Turkey was one of the most enjoyable destinations I have been to. Given the adverse weather, I would like to return in the warmer months and see what I wasn't able to this time. Although it isn't as cheap as it once was, Turkey is still a "good buy" destination. The only negative is the pushy carpet salesmen, but after a day or two you won't even notice them. Give Turkey a chance and enjoy where Europe meets Asia.

Safe travels

Rob

robgubiani@yahoo.com