Nigel J. Ross

Turkey, 2001

* clicking on asterisked pictures takes you to a large-size photo


The holiday in Turkey was a wonderful experience, but it was also a rather exhausting time, the programme of visits being just so intense. A couple of mornings we had early morning calls at 5:30, to leave the hotel at 6:30 ... and at times the evening events went on till well after midnight! No way can we complain that the tour wasn't complete. Just as well we had the week at the seaside in the middle of the 10-day tour to recuperate!

The first few days in Istanbul were amazing. The city itself it spectacular, divided across the Bosphorous and the Golden Horn, between Europe and Asia. And it is in fact a curious mixture of west and east. Some parts look very European, but then you just glance in another direction and there are fantastic mosques, or busy bazaars, and the whole impression is very oriental. It was the mosques that really took my breath away in Istanbul. I'd seen pictures of Santa Sofia, the Blue Mosque and so on, but never did I imagine the scale would be so impressive. The main dome of Santa Sofia is something like 35 metres across - and it was built 1500 years ago - all covered with shiny gold mosaics. The Sultan's palace of Topkapi was another eye-opener: not like a Western palace, but built around a series of gardens and inner courtyards. Add these visits to a boat trip down the Bosphorous, a night watching belly dancers, a walk round the floodlit city centre by night, a stop-off in a bar to smoke the hubbly-bubbly (narghile), shopping expeditions to the Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian spice market, and we really had quite a time.

The tour then continued across the Dardanelles, visiting the Green Mosque in Bursa, before the first of our visits to historical sites. Troy was fascinating because our guide was really excellent. The few remains really came to life with his explanations. But there is really very little left of the city. Just as well it was the first site we visited, as we would have been very disappointed otherwise. Instead the various ruins we saw next just got better and better. A vast amount of Ephesus is still standing, including almost all the Roman library. The city of Pergamon was wonderful, not least because of its special hospital (where patients were kept happy with marijuana wafting in through special vents). The temples and stadium at Aphrodisias were splendid, as were the Roman baths at Heriapolis at the top of the Pammukale falls. The falls cover a whole mountainside and consist of naturally-created circular and semi-circular basins of white calcium limestone brimming with warm spring water. A truly spectacular site.

Along this part of the tour we had stayed a night in Bandirma, Smyrna and Denizli, working our way south and slightly east. Our next stop was Antalya on the south coast. It was quite a shock to discover that Antalya is the most humid area of Turkey. Up until then it had been hot but dry and very bearable. Antalya, on the other hand, was having its hottest (and stickiest) days of the summer, and it was very unpleasant. The locals were staying indoors as much as possible and sleeping on their balconies (we had air-conditioning in all hotels and in the coach), and every time we ventured out, the sweat just poured out of us. Nevertheless, we managed a few visits. The ruins of Phaselis are on a little promontory, shaded by soughing pines and surrounded by three picturesque bays - we bathed in each one to cool off! We saw the wonderful restored Roman amphitheatre at Aspendos and the extensive Roman town of Perge. The coolest bit of our stay in Antalya was a boat trip along the coast to see a tall waterfall that cascades down into the sea - and naturally we took every opportunity to dive off the boat for a quick swim.

After Antalya, we went further east along the coast to our beach break at Side. We were lucky to have a wonderfullly luxurious hotel with private, spacious beach. The first few days we just slept off the tiredness accumulated in the previous days. The beach was glorious, the sea warm and inviting and a true holiday atmosphere soon took over. We then ventured out and about, into Side a few times (with its shops, ruins and port), and also a bit further afield to the nearby town of Manavgat, and a beautiful horseshoe waterfall. We also met up with a former student of mine who was also touring Turkey at the same time.

The relaxation over, we rejoined the tour and headed north and inland. First stop was the city of Konya, the birthplace of Mevlana, an important religious figure who set up the Dervish sect. We visited his sumptuous mausoleum and were lucky enough to see a display of whirling Dervish dancers. The display was held in a restored Caravanserail (a stopping place for camel caravans on the silk route) at night in darkness and silence - except for the haunting flute music and the faint sounds of the dancers feet. The dancres whirled and twirled continuously for 20 minutes - it was quite a magical experience. We also visited other Caravanserail en route to Cappadocia.

The last couple of days in Cappadoccia were yet another eye-opener. I'd seen pictures of the strange rock formations resulting from the wind and rain eroding the light-coloured soft rocks formed from lava, but never had I expected the formations to be so large or so numerous. There are valleys and valleys of the formations, each valley having slightly different features from the next. The fairly inhospitable terrain was also inhabited for centuries by Christians in this Muslim land, and they managed to preserve their religion (and their skins) by building hidden underground churches, as well as vast underground cities (one that we visited, with miles and miles of corridors had eight floors and could hold up to 10,000 people). The Muslims also lived in the rocks, as the soft nature of the rocks made it easy to hollow out dwellings, which were cool in the summer and warm in winter. Still today a number of "cave dwellings" are still in use.

Cappadoccia is a lively area for handicarafts, so our visits also included carpet-making, jewellery workshops and potters. The highlights of the area, were, however, the underground churches with their wonderful frescoes. It was amazing to see how big some of the hollowed-out churches were, and the frescoes from centuries ago were still very clear in most cases. Our last day took us to Ankara, the modern capital, where we also visited the museum of Hittite culture. Our flight back from Ankara was good, and an opportunity to doze off a bit after another round of non-stop visits.




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