Sunday, June 17, 2012

Turkey Days 7 and 8: Pamukkale, Night Buses and Istanbul's Grand Bazaar

I'm back in London now, and it's about twenty degrees cooler than it was in Turkey. Back to work tomorrow...

The day after Ephesus and our Turkish bath, we got a shuttle to the train station for our train to Denizli, a town further inland famous for cotton. The train was very full and we took a while to find seats, and once we did I spent the remaining three hours sleeping, or looking it the window at the tall hills and fields and towns. From Denizli we took a bus to Pamukkale, which is famous for its white terraces.

When I was tiny, we used to get pizza from a place with a poster of the terraces displayed proudly on the wall, and I always wanted to go there. I was very excited when I saw it was included on the itinerary, and it was just as amazing as I'd thought. You can see it as a white section of hill as you approach, and then as you get closer the white resolves into cliffs and terraces and tiny dots of people moving up and down. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant where the owner performed dramatic caricatures of each of our nationalities (including an attempted haka), then reapplied our sunscreen to every bit of exposed skin and walked up to the terraces.

At first it looks a lot like a ski slope, but when you get right on the travertines you feel the rough calcium beneath your feet and see the rivulets of water and patterns in the stone. I decided the texture was most like dragon skin, and if anyone ever needs to take a plaster cast of a material for a movie or some such thing, they should go to Pamukkale.

In the eighties the terraces had hotels built on top of them and a road following them up (actually on the travertines. Can't quite believe it) but when they became a World Heritage Site they demolished the hotels and replaced the road with artificial pools. The pools still look particularly man-made, but I guess they're a lot better than the road and the hotels. You're still allowed to walk on the travertines as long as you don't wear shoes, but you're not really supposed to swim in the pools because it contaminates the water that should be forming the travertines. Lots of people do, however, and I wondered if they had some kind of system in place so that the water is directed over the natural travertines when the tourists aren't there, and over the man-made parts (which don't matter so much in my opinion) when they aren't. The natural pools didn't have any water running over them when we were there, so hopefully they're doing something like that.

By the time we reached the top my feet were a bit raw and everyone was very hot. There are ruins of the ancient city of Hieropolis at the top, as well as a swimming pool with real ancient columns in it and a place where you can have Doctor Fish 'give you a pedicure' (eat dead skin off your feet). Five of us tried the Doctor Fish and spent the first few minutes squealing and clutching at the sides of the tank as all the other customers sat looking sophisticated. It got better after that, and after the fish and the Turkish bath we were confident there was no dead skin anywhere on our bodies.

We wandered around the ruins a bit and then made our way back down the travertines, which I think was better than coming up with the whole white expanse spread before you and the plains below and the mountains in the distance. Absolutely incredible.

We had our last group dinner on the roof of a hotel beneath grape vines and left the Aqueduchess to continue her journeys in Cappadoccia, where they filmed the cave-house bits of Star Wars. The rest if us took a bus back to Denizli before getting a luxury night bus all the way to Istanbul. I managed to sleep about half the way, but by the time we got to Istanbul I was very tired. Our airport shuttle didn't leave until 1pm, so we spent the morning wandering the Grand Bazaar and using up most (or in my case, all) of our money. I think I got some good deals - best was 75% off, but that was more because I didn't have the correct change than because of my skill in bargaining.

It was sad to say goodbye to our group, but I think we'll stay in touch. Glamgirl and I were on the same flight back to London. We ate far too much free sample Turkish Delight in Istanbul Airport and searched for chocolate and Swiss army knives on our stop in Zurich airport. I found chocolate in the shape of a Swiss army knife, and then we boarded the plane with the least hassle I've ever encountered - no lines, just scan your own ticket, show your passport and walk onto the plane where everyone was very calm and reserved. I was amazed by the flight attendants' ability to switch immediately between French and English and German.

Now considering a trip to Barcelona. Hmmm.



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