Turkey, part two – playing tourist
After a rather uneventful first month, the other two we spent in Turkey was more packed with beautiful nature. We met some cool people, checked out must see places and slowly progressed east. So slowly actually, that we had to opt for more bus rides to speed things up. But it’s ok, nowadays, being away for a year, we don’t care (ok, mostly true for Alan) that we can’t do every bit of kilometre by bike.
Our first stop was Selçuk, which is close to one of the most famous ancient Greek archaeological sites in Turkey called Ephesos. It used to be one of the biggest cities in the Greek and Roman times in the Mediterranean with a population of 250 thousand people, and I heard it is well preserved. But it was not worth it for us (of course if you are a casual tourist 10 eur is nothing, and I urge you to get inside, the area is huge and stunning according to others).
The house of the bicycles
We were more interested in our host and his place, Adnan, who was running a sort of house of the bicycles. It is a bike heaven with an organic garden from where you can eat in the summer, and we definitely want to make something similar for fellow bikers once we have our own place. It’s also good to meet other cyclists there, and indeed we met Jeoren, a Belgian who was doing some crazy mileage, while riding through Europe in the winter. Having a taste of winter cycling, I really have to say hats off to him. He of course was faster than us, so we assumed we won’t see him again when we waved goodbye to him the next morning. That’s the drawback of long term travel; you make friends, only to let them go after a really short period of time.
The cotton (snow) castle
Then we were on to another famous place near Denizli. The road was a bit boring, because you only have the option to choose the main road with lots of cars, as there are no real roads on the surrounding mountains around you. We were longing to cycle there instead, looking at the snow-cap peaks in the distance, but at least the prize at the end of our grinding was compensating for it. If you are thinking about Pamukkale, you guessed it right. The name means cotton castle, and the white salt terraces are really like a huge fortress built from snow (or cotton, both works), so the metaphor stands. We heard about it before, although no one mentioned the huge antique spa city, Heliopolis, right next to it, which was included in the ticket.
It used to be a big attraction even in Roman times, and people came from far away to cleans and cure themselves with the thermal medicinal water. The city was so built around the spa culture that you couldn’t enter it unless you took a bath at the entry gate, which also helped to stop diseases to spread through the city. This time only, we allowed ourselves some cultural indulgence, as this was too unique to miss out. We were lucky and had awesome hosts in Denizli, Andy and Ece, and they also gave one of their museum cards (if you plan to visit a lot of sites in Turkey, it’s a good idea to purchase one, because it works with most archaeological areas), so we only had to pay one entry fee. For some extra price, you can even enjoy a hot bath in the ancient rooms full of fallen columns.
While areas like this are beautiful, it is best to enjoy them out of season, without the overwhelming number of tourists. We could almost imagine ourselves back in time, as we wandered alone among the columns and under huge arches. On the salt terraces, you have to take your shoes off and walk up barefeet, as to not damage them. I enjoyed feeling the cold water and the rock under my feet. From a bit further, they make the landscape look like a winter wonderland, and some areas can be misleading right until you touch them and realize their real nature.
The Lycian way
A few days later our wish came true, we were back in the mountains, which were still full of snow above a 1000m, making everything much more peaceful and silent. A good proportion of the time, we were completely alone and lost in our thoughts and the view, while we got uphill, bit by bit. It is kind of like a meditation, while also good for the body, but I only like it if it’s not too steep. 😀
It wasn’t long before we arrived to a balmy 15 degree down to Fethiye, so winter was just a blink of an eye, lasting only a few days. Our time there was super relaxed, staying in an eco-hostel for the rainy days through warmshowers – thanks for chillstep hostels 🙂 – , enjoying walks (dog included!) and short bike rides and running (yay) around the area. Fethiye is really bike friendly and have a long park effectively all along the beach, while there are many options to have hikes or go out to the peninsula and see the best view of the bay. It also has some stunning cave tombs at the hillside, which were built more than 2000 years ago.
Finally we left our temporary home and basically had summer for a few weeks, cycling along the sea. Apart from some natural formations, the Mediterranean in Turkey is densely spotted with ancient Greek ruins, all the way starting from South of Istanbul in Çanakkale, where Troy used to be, down to Antalya and even further. The coastline from Fethiye to Antalya is being used by people for ages, and it is called the Lycian way, taking its name from the ancient civilisation, which once ruled the area. Not surprisingly, this means a lot of archaeological sites and interesting things along the route, and it is one of the world’s longest foot paths, stretching for 540km. This article explains it better and you can choose what you’re really interested in: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/campaign/journey-through-turkey/walking-the-lycian-way/.
The coastline was stunning all the way, and it is especially beautiful near Kaş, but I would just mention the two most awesome things we saw, and there’s more in the pictures. The first was Patara, the protected turtle/ancient city beach where we arrived in the evening, so even though there was a gate for admission there normally, we could just cycle through and camp close to the beach. Although wild camping is legal in Turkey, here you’re not supposed stay from sunset to sunrise, so you don’t disturb the turtles, but we stayed away from the real beach area.
We were preparing to go to sleep when blue lights appeared outside. We were cursing heavily while we got dressed, and then we saw they sent four guys to speak with us, a bit of overkill. They were anxious to deal with tourists and started using google translate and hand signs before I spoke in Turkish, which made them so delighted they let us stay at the end. 😀 We were quite relieved to say the least; it is not so fun to pack down everything in the dark when all you want to do is close your eyes after a long day. The next morning we discovered that we slept near a huge (and I mean huge) archaeological site, and it was there just for us so early in the day. I even gave a private concert to Alan in a big amphitheatre. 😀 The only form of turtles was souvenirs though sadly, but it was not the season for them.
The other thing we were amazed about before Antalya was Yanartaş near Çıralı and Olympos. We found out about it by accident, looking at the map and checking for places to go to. It looked pretty unique, and it did not disappoint. Basically, there are several eternal natural flames there, as gas is burning through the ground for millennia. According to legend, Chimaera is banished there and spouting flames from his prison below. You can find more info about the area here. As it is down towards the coast and the main road was high up, it is best to go by foot, not having to climb up after. So we hid the bikes at the beginning of the descent, and stumbled through the forest to the old monastery. It was quite adventurous to get there, we had to cross a strong sweeping river on a cut down log in the rain, and we felt like we were in a book or a movie. 😀 We camped there for the night and sat around the fires in the dark for a long time before we went to bed. We even met the cats of doom. 🙂
Then we reached the city every tourist knows about in Turkey, and tried to plan how to approach going up to Cappadocia through the mountains. The weather was not looking good, and we would have had to climb high up, making the matter worse. We had awesome hosts in Antalya and Manavgat further down the coast, so we stayed a bit longer, thinking through our options. Finally we decided that first and foremost we are travellers, and the bike is just the best means of transport most of the time, but not always.
We actually almost started our route up, but a dog bit Alan, turning us back to Manavgat (where we checked out another free, ancient city, I can recommended it, it’s pretty beautiful) to start the rabies shot vaccination at the hospital. That was the final straw, and in a few hours, we were on a bus towards Cappadocia. As you could imagine, we made a ton of pictures there and made some new adventures, so I will leave a bit of our Turkish time to another post, as this already got quite long.