Turkey — Day Twenty-four — Pamukkale (Aphrodesias)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

We had a good sleep at the Venus Hotel.  Waking up refreshed and a little more aware of our surroundings, we were even more pleased at the bright and fresh nature of our room (yet again a triple for the price of a double, and the extra bed held all our extra crap).  Karyn confirmed that they are slowly fixing up all the rooms and common area.  Over a delicious breakfast, we had a great chat about the vagrancies of the Lonely Planet.  

Karyn explained that when the LP guy had come to their hotel a few years previous (to write for the 2007 edition), he didn’t even stay in the hotel, just took a look around and left.  Fortunately, he gave them a good write-up, but telling potential travelers that the hotel is pink and romantic doesn’t actually give any idea as to the quality of the rooms or food.  In addition, because the information is collected literally years before the edition is printed, prices are way out of date, which can give travelers a nasty shock upon arriving at the hotel or attraction.  
There doesn’t seem to be any avoidable way of the L.P. being out of date that isn’t prohibitively expensive for them and the consumer (and guide books are expensive enough as it is), and we did get a lot of assistance at least in knowing what to see.  Our frustrations regarding its inaccuracies were echoed by Karyn, and we promptly adopted her nomiker of ‘Lonely Bastard’.  We had a love-hate relationship with our guide book, that’s for sure.
This is one of the reasons I haven’t provided a lot of information about the prices we paid: the information won’t be relevant for long, and we were traveling in the off season.  What seemed like a good deal to us might not be possible to get in the high season.  To say we were there in the ‘shoulder season’ would be an extreme understatement.  In fact, Karyn and Ibrahim were off to Southeast Asia on their ‘summer vacation’ in just a few days.

Karyn also told us our options for getting to Aphrodesias: hire a car and driver for 100YTL or take the bus for 25YTL each. Obviously the bus was the better route, but it would only go if there were a minimum of four people, so we had to cross our fingers that more intrepid people wanted to go see the ruins.

We were just finishing up breakfast at 9:30 when the bus came by for us, happily with two other people in it! We gulped our tea and climbed on board, where we met Sharon and Barb, two lovely Ottowa-onians (?) who had spent the bulk of their month’s holiday in the East, near Van, which sounded really spectacular. We all bonded right away and chatted as the bus went and picked up another man, Tatsi from Japan, who hadn’t much English but had a very good attitude.

We stopped on the way out of town for some very cheap and delicious simit to take with us. I think the simit were about 10 kuruş each, which was the cheapest we had seen anywhere. Fortunately the taste did not reflect the price, and I bought simit for everyone on board, including a surprised Tatsi.  Yum!

The bus ride was quite long, but we filled it with hearing and regaling stories about our various adventures in Turkey: Sharon and Barb had met a man by chance who became their driver, guide and fast friend. Their stories cemented our desire to return to Turkey and see ‘the East’ as they did. They, in fact, are currently planning their next trip at which time they will go up into all the little villages Noori, their driver, said he would take them to, plus the Black Sea and all kinds of other adventures which are in store for them.

They’ve been doing very well travelling without any real Turkish language at all. Turkey is pretty easy to travel in in that regard, though I still like my Turkish words!

We finally arrived at Aphrodesias, or the parking lot for Aphrodesias, and were told to meet our driver at 2pm. Then we all piled into the shuttle… wagon, pulled by a… tractor, which (for free) took us all the way to the gate.

After paying our whopping 4L (less than the L.B. said it charges) admission charge, we entered the ruin by way of a cobbled path that passed a field full of amazingly carved sarcophagi. As it was by now about 11, we decided to take pictures on the way back.

Aphrodesias was the site of a prehistoric community since 5000 BC or so, and had the shrine to Aphrodite since 600 BC, but only became a real town in the 1st or 2nd century AD. The town reached its peak at about the 3rd century AD and was abandoned in the 12th century AD. The little village of Geyre grew up in its place, which moved after an earthquake in the 1950’s, after which time the excavations began in the 1960s to very recently.

The central part of Aphrodesias is actually the village square, and contains a gift shop, rather nice washrooms, a few scruffy cats and the Museum. There are also several options for where to start your explorations. I got left behind a little (taking pictures of the kitties), when I heard shrieks and laughter coming from up the trail. I found my people had discovered that a shrub with very ‘Day of the Triffids’ pods on them. When disturbed by a foot or stick, the little pods shot up into the air and landed sometimes metres away from the original plant. Bizarre!

Hearing the high-pitched squealings of a multitude of primary-schoolchildren on the theatre, we decided to approach the ruins from a more circuitous route. We headed on a goat track up to the left, joined by a shaggy dog whom Barb referred to as ‘Monsieur Woof Woof’ to his great delight.

The little path led us to some interesting places: we saw a chunk of stone carved like a leaf just stuck in the dirt; we saw a lone section of city wall; we saw a marble wall in the middle of nowhere with beautiful panels of carving, with an old wooden chair propped up against it; we saw huge snails and seed pods that looked like snail shells. We finally ended up following a very dubious-looking trail that led to the rear part of a very complete colonnaded walkway: we weren’t sure if Tatsi thought we were really cool for leaving the beaten path or absolutely crazy Canadians bushwhacking through the back forty of Aphrodesias. From there we looked at the well-preserved baths and the enormously grand theatre, which we had all to ourselves for about ten minutes. Steve and I had really good luck all through with getting spectacular ruins to ourselves.

At this point, Tatsi abandoned us to go on ahead, so I guess the verdict must have been ‘crazy’.

We went around the back of the theatre to more baths and more ruins, and a particularly charming kitty that followed up for quite a while, pausing to sit picturesque-ly on bits of broken ruin. I pulled a few ticks off his ears, which gave me the bug-induced willies, but it was for a good cause.

After more ruin-wandering, at which time Mr. Woof Woof returned and the cat sensibly left, we headed over to the stadium which was incredible: it had seated some 30,000 people to watch sporting events (athletic and gladiatorial) in relative comfort. There were designated seats, and guilds would have areas designated for them to sit as well. Barb and Sharon were politely chatted up by a tour guide who was taking a little break from giving a private tour to some Americans, proving correct their statements about being hit on by Turks of all walks. They had had some interesting experiences to say the least!

As we were getting close to time, we took a very quick look at Aphrodesias’ most famous ruin, that of the monumental gateway — the Tetrapylon of Trajan — that led pilgrims to the Temple of Aphrodite. It was beautifully restored, though somehow a little small after the Library of Celcus.

Passing yet more kitties and friezes, we found ourselves with a whole fifteen minutes in the Museum. Fortunately, that was all you really needed for a quick look at the Statues With Heads, if you passed over the majority of Statues Without Heads. We were able to get the tractor back to the parking lot only a few minutes late. Frankly, after the wonders we had seen, taking pictures of the sarcophagi didn’t seem so interesting.

In the parking lot, there were (surprise!) handicraft stalls selling trinkets, among which were some very sweet little whistles shaped like birds, much after the fashion of the whistles in the book ‘Birds Without Wings’ which I received for Christmas last year. We bought two, as they were very cheap and very cute.

Back on the bus, we had a little discussion about lunch, which is to say Barb and Sharon tried to explain to our driver (who had very little English) that they wanted to go to a cheap, village restaurant rather than a tourist place. As they had no Turkish, this involved a lot of them speaking clearly and loudly, and a lot of me looking up words in the phrasebook, like ‘inexpensive’ (which is ucuz, pronounced ‘oojooz’) and saying things like ‘lokanta’ which I already knew (restaurant).

He seemed to understand, and we drove off in the opposite direction from which we came. After a while, we came to a small town, where we pulled off the main road in front of a greasy spoon. Barb seemed a little dubious, but Sharon explained that the more quaint places were just for tourists, so we went in.

We were the only women in there, and definitely the only tourists, but it was full of locals which seemed like a good sign. The menu was a large piece of paper under the glass on the tables, which conveniently had pictures of each dish along with the Turkish name. We all had the special casserole except Tatsi, who had pide.

We taught Barb and Sharon the Turkish name for cherry juice, as they had also developed an addiction to vişne suyu. The vişne suyu was an unfamiliar brand (did you know the ubiquitous Cappy is made by Coke?) and came in glass bottles for the first time.  It was divine.

We were brought fresh, warm bread and the typical salad with lemon juice just before our casseroles arrived, boiling and sizzling in red-hot ceramic pots. After they had cooled enough to touch, we ate them with huge enjoyment – çok nefis indeed!

The casserole was followed by a sweet pastry covered in honey and halva – it was delicious too, but way too sweet for me. The driver explained in broken English and charades that the tea was free, from him. How nice! The total bill, each, for drinks, bread, salad, roasted green peppers, casserole, dessert and chai was a whole 10YTL each. We were very impressed with our driver’s lokanta selection, and told him so, as best each of us could.

We all paid the driver 30L each instead of the 25L fare, in order to give him a good tip. Back in Pamukkale by just after 4pm, we made arrangements with our newfound Ottowa-onians to meet at 7:30 for a light dinner or drinks, or something of that social sort.

Once back in the room, Steve and I settled down for a quick cuddle and chat before seeing the town (which we still hadn’t managed). Unfortunately, we both drifted off, and woke at 7:15, completely groggy and exhausted. We weren’t really in any mood for drinks, or dinner given the size of our lunch, but felt that our current course of action was more fitting for a pair of octenegarians than newlywed thirty-somethings.

We dragged ourselves down into the lounge, where Barb and Sharon turned up a few minutes later, and directed us to a small restaurant called ‘Mehmet’s Heaven’ which was certainly nice enough. We had some adequate (and not too filling) mezes, and Steve and I uncharacteristically got a bottle of local red to share between us. It was very drinkable to my palate, but quite dull to Steve’s, which is typical of our shared wine experience.

Conversation was very interesting: Barb works for Statscan and Sharon is a museum curator, and both are quite up on Canadian politics. Steve held his own in the discussion, but I was a little at sea, except when complaining about the high cost of real estate. Since our new friends were heading to Istanbul the next day, early, and were also flying out Monday, we tentatively arranged for the girls to go to a hammam (Turkish bath) in Istanbul, as I had been too chicken to go on my own. We also got the name and number of their hotel, as their rates seemed good and we had been waffling over what hotel to try and book at for several days.

More than a tiny bit tipsy, we left the restaurant after 11pm, said goodbye, and staggered gracefully down the road and into bed.