When I landed in Turkey I literally had no idea what my itinerary would be. Really, my knowledge of Turkey on the whole was very limited. It is a pretty large country so I figured about a month of traveling seemed about right. Googling one month Turkey itineraries was difficult at first because I didn’t even know the names of the any of the famous sites or any of the cities besides Istanbul, Ankara, and Antalya. So there were a lot of google tabs open at any given time! Overall the west is where most people go, being that it’s wealthier and more modern, has the nicest beaches as well as lots of Greek and Lycian ruins. Then you have Cappadocia in the center, which is probably Turkey’s most unique region that most would say it’s a must-do on any itinerary. Then you’ve got the East, which is generally poorer, has less infrastructure, and way less tourists. But there’s still lots of ancient towns, mosques, fortresses, and ruins to see, as well as a different cultural flair. You’ve got the Armenian influences in the mountainous Northeast and you’ve got more Arab influences in Kurdistan, which makes up most of the hot, flat Southeast region.
Two weeks for each half it is! I decided to start with the ruins of Ephesus in the far west, get down to the southern coast and work my along the coastline for a bit, go up to Cappadocia, and then figure out what to do in the East from there. Domestic flights are very cheap, so I booked a flight out to Izmir to save myself a 9 hour bus ride (making sure to fly from Ataturk, not SAW!) and then took the train to city of Selcuk, which is the small city used to access Ephesus. I walked from the train station and found a hotel nearby for $12/night. Yep, Turkey is cheap. In the outdoor cafes you see all these old men out drinking tea, each tea costs 1 lira, or 20 cents. Same with a cup of lemonade, a bottle of water, a piece of Turkish bread, you got it, 1 lira. Ice cream might cost 2-3 lira. Things on the menu usually ranged from $2-$5, rarely more than that. I had learned that in the last few weeks the lira had dropped quite a bit, making it a particularly good time to be a foreigner making dollars and spending lira.
The next morning I woke early to get out to the ruins, which open at 8 am. I’m not gonna be stuck behind any tour groups! Although I will admit, I do get mildly tilted when I can’t visit a nice outdoor place like this during sunrise or sunset hours. I didn’t feel like waiting around for a dolmus (vans used for public transport) so I just hopped in a taxi. I got in right after the gates opened and for a short while I had the whole place to share with only a handful of people.
So about Ephesus: It grew in prominence a Greek colony around 1000 BC, then was taken over by the Persians for a while, then the Romans, where it reached its peak in the first few centuries AD, housing 300,000 people and becoming second in importance only to Rome. It’s crowning achievement was the temple of Artemis, which was over four times the size of the Parthenon, although a few columns is all that is left today. After the fall of the Roman Empire the city was mostly abandoned and forgotten until the 1870’s when British and Austrian archaeologists got permission to start excavating the site. While teams have been excavating this site for over 100 years, amazingly only about 15% has actually been dug up.
The ruins feature such things as an ampitheater, public baths, the terrace houses, a stadium, and the best preserved feature is the entrance to the Library of Celsus (which was the 3rd largest library in the ancient world, behind Alexandria and Pergamon). So it was a neat little glimpse of what it would be like to walk down a Roman street about 1800 years ago. Half an hour later later the tour buses full of Russian, Turkish, and Chinese groups rolled in clogging up the whole place with selfie sticks. Fortunately it’s not that big so I got to see most of it before the hordes rolled in.
Ok, checked off the list! I mean it was pretty cool, maybe if I was a bigger history buff I’d appreciate it more. I came away with a ‘hmm, this is pretty neat’ impression rather than a “omg, this is amazing!” type reaction, which many other people seem to get from Ephesus. I mean if a fully intact temple of Artemis were still around, then yeah, that would be amazing. Ruins, and especially ruins filled with tourists, just don’t really do it for me. I guess that’s why I haven’t been to Athens or Rome yet! I could have left that afternoon, but it was market day in Selcuk, so I figured I’d relax and enjoy the afternoon and get to my next destination, Pamukkale, the next morning.
I booked a direct bus at 8:30 am, but when I got to the station I was told the bus was not working. Uhh, ok. I was directed to take train at 9:20 instead. I get the feeling the bus just wasn’t booked up enough and they decided to call it off. On bright side, the trains are very nice. On the downside I’d have to find the bus station in Denizli and find a dolmus to take me the 20 km to Pamukkale. Being that it took a solid hour and a half to find the bus station, wait for a dolmus to fill up, and get to Pamukkale, a direct bus would have certainly been preferable! So far I’ve noticed in Turkey, they have very few ‘tourist buses’ where they take you directly to/from the tourist areas, instead you always get dumped at the bus station, which is usually at an inconvenient location on the outskirts of town and have to get a taxi/dolmus from there. Alas.
So Pamukkale is a pretty interesting sight, it basically looks like a snow mountain in the middle of the brown, arid Turkish landscape. In Turkish the word actually means cotton castle, which is kind of cute. The location is on a fault line, so as the fault shifted, it created hot springs with very high mineral content, which formed lots of calcium carbonate (aka travertine), which makes Pamukkale so white. They make you take your shoes off to help preserve the travertines. I was there during the middle of day, so it was pretty jammed, but still entertaining. You kinda feel like you’re hiking up a glacier, just in a swimsuit and bare feet. It’s extremely hot during the day, but there are plenty of pools to take a dip in. If I had done it again I probably would have spent the night here just so I could enjoy the place in the late evening/early morning without all the people. Instead I spent about 2 hours there and then found a dolmus back to Denizli and another bus onto to Fethiye, my first beach destination.