Central Anatolia! One of my favorite places in the world, with fairy chimneys, underground discos, no, wait, forget the disco (been there, done that)…
HacıAli likes to tell the story of how one day, driven into a stark-raving frenzy by my disco-neighbors, I smashed all the pots in front of his shop. (About an hour later when I came to, I went back and rather sheepishly said I was ‘done shopping’, and could he please ring up my total. His response: “Let me show you where the expensive stuff is, for next time.”)
Picture 20 Chez Grandpa Ali
Now that I no longer own a house over a disco, I have a standing offer from HacıAli to stay in his old house above the shop, since it (the house, not the shop) is usually empty. Considering that it’s more than 10 hours on the road from Bodrum to Avanos, we don’t get up there much, but Harun and I took HacıAli up on his offer on our way up to Georgia. It got us out of the Aegean and on our way towards the Black Sea – with planned stops at ‘The Hittite Sites of Central Anatolia’. At just about the half-way point between Konya and Çorum, not only was Avanos conveniently located geographically, an overnight stop there also gave us the opportunity to ‘feel the pulse of the nation’ in the wake of Turkey’s ostensibly ‘unsucessful coup attempt’.
I know, I know: post-failed-coup Emergency Rule is not the best situation to be taking a road trip in, but we’d planned it in advance (the road trip, not the coup, obviously!), and I was going to have to be back in the Aegean in September, because I was going to be teaching part-time at a university close to where we were moving; in fact, I was supposed to be planning my classes during our road trip, leisurely dreaming up dialogs on architecture and sustainability while driving a fuel-burning vehicle thousands of kilometers for my personal enjoyment…
But alas, it was not to be.
As soon as we sat down in front of HacıAli’s – where we happily sat for hours, drinking Turkish tea and ‘taking the pulse’ – I received a text-message from a friend containing a PDF file with a list of all the educational institutions being closed because they ‘had ties’ to the ‘coup plotters’.
And thus, as Harun likes to say, “I was fired before I even started”.
Now, I can pretty much vouch for everyone in the department I was going to be teaching at and say that none of them ‘had ties’. And it was this apparent indiscriminateness of what some might call the ‘post-coup efforts to right the country’ that made it so difficult to ‘take the pulse’ as we wanted. Harun and I were pretty much the only people we found who didn’t first lower their voice and look around (and in one case, put away a cell phone ‘because it could listen’) before venturing an opinion on the only thing that was on anybody’s mind anywhere between Bodrum and the Georgian border (which was where we were headed, remember? Don’t worry, we’ll get there…).
In the interests of protecting the privacy of the possibly (but not necessarily) paranoid, I will just randomly intersperse some comments along with some photos. Just chalk everything up to ‘Anonymous’.
Picture 22 Zelve
Not a Hittite site, but a network of cave dwellings just a few kilometers from Avanos. (Full disclosure: we did not get to Zelve until our way back from Georgia; it was hot, and we had tea to drink and pulses to feel.)
(Pulse: “Just like at Çanakkale, the brave Turks took to the streets to defeat the enemy and preserve democracy… What are you looking at on that computer? Are you nuts? Delete! Delete!)
Picture 23 Hattusas: Cows
Hattusas is even more like an open-air museum than the open-air museum in Cappadocia famous for its cave paintings, since here in Hattusas you drive from ‘exhibit’ to ‘exhibit’ (or walk, if you are in good shape and prefer not to burn fossil fuel). No cave paintings here, but lots of interesting stuff, like the layout of ancient Hittite dwellings, and cows. Whether or not these cows were descendants of ancient Hittite cows, I cannot say; however, cows did figure prominently in our journey from Hattusas onwards.
(Pulse: “Who am I to say anything? I’ve got no one with any power backing me up. No one in the position to say something is saying anything. If no one’s got your back, saying something would just be the epitomy of stupidity.”)
Picture 24 Hattusas: Lions
Yup, me, there on the right. To give you an idea of scale. Lion on the right is original, lion on the left is to show what the lion on the right used to look like once upon a time.
(Pulse: “This was planned. It’s the continuation of reforming the military, removing those who are still in the way of what Turkey and the US want to do in Syria.” **)
** Note: Less than 2 weeks later, Turkey invaded Syria…
Picture 25 Hattusas: the Tunnel
Yup, this time it’s Harun on the right for scale. Very cool tunnel. In every sensed of the word. Outside the tunnel it was 35 degrees (95 in farenheit). I quite enjoyed the tunnel… I could just about imagine a procession passing through here… By the way, the brochures you get at Hattusas show some really cool reliefs, which you can see at Yazılıkaya (“Stone with Writing”), just up the road from Hattusas. But for the really, really cool stuff, you need to go to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, which is filled with things dug up from various Hittite sites all over Central Anatolia, and lots more.)
(Pulse: “The end of the US Empire is at hand; that is only natural, all empires come to an end. Power is shifting to Central Asia… Anyone who is innocent will be released from detention.”)
Picture 26 Alacahöyük: End of an Empire (Hittites )
Of course, seeing the artefacts in a museum in Ankara isn’t quite the same as seeing them “in situ”. Alacahöyük (a “höyük” is a “mound”, as in “burial mound”) is done up rather nicely; you can walk around the site and peek in the graves (note the crown on this guy here) before you go into the museum building. There are no grazing cows here, but if you’re lucky, you may run into the local geese herder marching his flock home in the evening. Also, there is a lovely cafe across the road, run by a woman from Erzurum who makes delicious gözleme and who will engage you (or your Turkish-speaking companion) in long discussions about local politics and rail against all things in general.
(Pulse: “Foiled coup? Foiled? Oh no, not at all, it was very successful…”)
For everything you ever wanted to know about the Hittites and even more, check out this amazing web site. And just hang in there, we really are going to Georgia. I think we might even get there in the next installment…
With ‘democracy’ in Turkey resumed and in full swing, we continued on our way to Georgia, ‘slowly-slowly’, as they say in Turkey. We meandered from the Menderes River waterfall to Lake Eğirdir, passing a wind farm in the middle of nowhere (reminding me that there is a moral component to aesthetics and explaining why objections to wind turbines on the Aegean coast because they are ‘ugly’ turn my stomach) and a police road block in the center of Isparta (reminding me we were in a ‘post-coup-attempt apocalypse’ that required rerouting everyone around a huge jandarma facility that had been blocked off by police cars and tanks) to get to the road that wound down to the lake. A bus driver we had met back by the waterfall (See Part 3) had tipped us off to the fact that we could find cheap pensions on the peninsula that juts out into the middle of the lake, so naturally, that’s where we headed.
Picture 15: Rooms in Eğırdir
This little strip of land has a lot of character, what with stone houses once owned by Greeks (I believe, as it would explain a lot of things) in various states of abandonment, disrepair and renovation into boutique hotels. The almost imperceptible pause taken by the owner of the first place we enquired at led us to move on – because the pause is one that I have come to recognize as accounting for the time it takes to calculate whether or not to double or triple the price of a room based on the looks of the customer – to a little place on the other side of the peninsula a few blocks away (this is not a very large peninsula) where the owner also gave us a once-over when we enquired about a room – but in this case, the pause was more of an “I-doubt-that-these-two-are-worth-the bother-but-beggars-can’t-be-choosers” kind of a look – and since the price was right, the place was clean, and well, it was only going to be for one night, anyway (clearly, we were all making calculations based on the same criteria of skepticism-divided-by-need), this is where we ended up.
Picture 16: Watering the Garden in Eğırdir
It turns out that Ali, the owner of the ‘Sahil Pansiyon (Shore Pension)‘, is really a wonderful guy, once he warms up to you (as usual, it was Harun he warmed up to first, when he discovered that Harun also belonged to the Universal Brotherhood of Fishermen), and the Sahil Pansiyon is really a wonderful (albeit no-frills) place, its sign (advertising ‘all rooms with toilets and showers’) harkening back to an earlier era in Turkish Tourism. As Ali explained to us (while Harun helped him water his pumpkins, tomatoes and fruit trees from water pumped out of the lake), he (Ali) had given up his previous life of fishing on the lake and gotten into a bustling Eğirdir tourism industry by transforming his old family home into a pension.
Once upon a time, the lake came practically up to their front door. Nowadays, there’s a road between the buildings and the shore, and the tourists passing by the pension drive over the pebbles spelling out ‘Sahil’ that are embedded in concrete in front of the pension’s threshold. Nowadays, in fact, there are few tourists passing by, and even fewer stopping (Ali blames this on 1. ‘wrong policies’, 2. ‘bombs’ and 3. the ‘post-coup-attempt state-of-emergency’), but (and I can understand why) both he and his wife (who has diabetes and isn’t much on conversation, but sits in front of ‘reception’ in the Sahil’s ‘breakfast area’, where there’s no breakfast, because it’s not worth the bother) prefer the lake to their apartment in downtown Isparta.
Harun and I both loved the lake, too, and if it weren’t for the fact that we were trying to get to Georgia, we would probably have stayed on for a few days, but as it was, we settled on a fish dinner by the lakeshore and a room cool enough to fall asleep in, and then headed on.
“Next stop, Konya.”
Picture 16: Fish (details)
This is a close-up of our Fish Dinner in Eğirdir. Some points to note: 1. Fish on the left is sea bass, farm-raised and one of the two most common fish on the menu at every fish restaurant in Turkey; fish on the right is lake bass, from Eğirdir; 2. Cell phone on the table; NOT having a cell phone on the table is almost unheard of; 3. No raki on the table. NOT having raki on the table at a fish restaurant is almost unheard of. Or used to be. More and more (and more) as we headed into the Turkish hinterlands we saw signs advertising ‘alcohol-free fish restaurants’. In Eğirdir, which is in the province of Isparta, we found some fish restaurants on the shore that sold raki (and may I point out politely that no one is forced to drink it), whereas next-door in Beyşehir, which is on the other side of the provincial borderline bewteen Isparta and Konya, we found schoolchildren on public-school-sponsored summer-camp outings to the mosques on the shore (with boys loaded onto one bus and girls on the other)…
(Here I’ll share a tidbit of information from Wikipedia with you that I thought was interesting and explained to me why I always have a hard time spelling the name of this lake: “The town and the lake were formerly called Eğridir, a Turkish pronunciation of the town’s old Greek name Akrotiri. Unfortunately,Eğridir means “it is crooked” in Turkish. Therefore, to remove the negative connotations of the name, in the mid-1980s the “i” and the “r” were transposed in a new official name, thus creating Eğirdir, a name that evokes spinning and flowers, although many people in Turkey still call both the town and the lake by its former name.”)
Picture 17: Konya – Praying
Konya is the home of Mevlana – Rumi – the sufi mystic – and one of the most-touristed cities in Turkey, under normal conditions. But we were travelling under ‘extraordinary conditions’ – and there was not a tourist in sight. Instead, the complex in which Rumi is entombed was filled with residents of Konya (one of the most conservative cities in Turkey), taking advantage of the ‘free entrance to the museum’ that had been declared by the president (or was it the prime minister? I forget) as ‘a present from the government to the Turkish people’ for taking to the streets to ‘put down the attempted coup’. (Personally, I like the idea of free museums for the people – but it would have been nice if it didn’t require a ‘coup’ to happen…)
Picture 18: Konya – WhirlersIn case it’s not clear from the photo, the whirlers are mannequins. The Mevlana complex has a lot of ‘tableaux’ like this set up to lend authenticity to the place. We also got treated to a group of mehter musicians dressed up in Ottoman regalia (“for centuries, mehter music accompanied the marching Ottoman army into battle”) and performing right in the middle of a traffic circle on the way to the museum (I’m not sure if this has become standard procedure, or if this was another one of many ‘post-coup gifts to the people’…).
Picture 19: Konya – Where Rumi is Buried
(To get the next installment of Georgia Road Trip as well as “post-road-trip posts” delivered right to your Inbox, just Click on ‘Follow’. Hmmm, I wonder what it’s gonna be…)
So, where was I?
Right… we were leaving Aphrodisias, and I was giving Harun the option of camping at a place about 2k from the site, or driving all the way to Pamukkale (which was not really all that far – we could make it in time for dinner).
I was betting ’50-50′ (under normal conditions, I would have been betting ‘0’, but given that we had just been through a ‘foiled coup’ less than a week before we began our previously scheduled road trip, at its outset I had insisted on ‘No Improvised Sleeping Devices’. Regardless, Harun drove right past the campsite I’d read about without even so much as stealing a glance).
You see, despite a rather pleasant musical interlude we’d spent at an ‘official government campground” in Datça last year, and despite a cheap ‘establishment’ by the beach between Fethiye that we’d discovered the first time we did the drive between our place in Bodrum and ‘the family’ in Adana, Harun has little faith in campgrounds. He’d rather we just pick a spot and camp on our own, away from people (by the seaside, if possible). Since he is rather good at picking spots, I’ve learned to go along without much complaining. However, given ‘the circumstances’, I felt it necessary to bring up the fact that 2 strangers camped on the edge of the woods someplace might prompt a call to the jandarma, if not shotguns a la Deliverence.
Having thus chosen ‘Option No. 2’: Hotel in Pamukkale, I thought it might be a nice idea to stop for dinner at this great kebab joint in Denizli, just a half-hour from Pamukkale and the city at the center of the province where the famous ‘Cotton Castle’ (cotton: pamuk, castle: kale) travertine is located.
Unfortunately, although we’d been to this kebab joint twice, we knew neither its name nor its exact location, just that it was somewhere close to the bus station in the center of town, and since we’d found it so easily the second time, I figured we could find it easily the third. We did not.
Instead, we ran into a ‘Democracy Meeting’ (‘Demokrasi Mitingi‘ in Turkish, and in Turkish, ‘miting’ means ‘protest’, so in some sense, I guess, a ‘Demokrasi Mitingi‘ might be considered a ‘Democracy Protest’). If you’ve never heard of a ‘Democracy Meeting’, that’s okay, neither had I, nor had anyone else in Turkey that I know of, until just then, after the ‘foiled coup attempt’, when these meetings began springing up spontaneously all over city centers in Turkey – although ‘spontaneous’ really wouldn’t be the right word for them; they were more like ‘Thank-you-for-your-help-in-putting-down-the-coup Parties’ organized by various local administrations across the country. The one in Denizli featured a big tent with seating, music and lokma (fried dough), and on this hot, hot summer evening, it was just getting going as we walked from where we parked the car to where we thought ‘our’ kebab joint was.
In fact, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, there was no kebab joint there. In fact, we couldn’t seem to find any kebab joint anyplace. Instead, the entire center of Denizli seemed to have been taken over by ‘cafes’ offering little more than tea and toast, and the temporary tent of the ‘Democracy Meeting’ – which I would have gladly joined if it had been offering something a little more substantial than lokma.
Thus, I would have to rate our stop in Denizli the first failure of our road trip. There was nothing to do but settle for ‘chain kebab’ (salty gunk at some less-than-famous franchised restaurant), make our way past the now-in-full-force ‘meeting’, get back in the car, and head towards Pamukkale – passing by, as (bad) luck would have it, Denizli’s best kebab restaurant on the way out of town.
So, I think this is the appropriate time to offer up another disclaimer: This travellogue will not necessarily provide you with names of or directions to anything. (I think I already brought up the lack of photos in in Part 2). This is not because I’m intentionally holding back; it’s because I forget. Like, for example, I forget the name of the pension we stayed at in Karahayıt.
Karahayıt is the laid-back town down the road from Pamukkale, which is usually not at all laid-back, but frantically full of tourists (although not this year). Instead of ‘tour-bus tourism’, Karahayıt tends to get a more ‘fambly-style’ (old lady?) ‘health-tourism’. The appeal is the sulphury-minerally red water that the various (and clearly) family-run establishments have piped into the rooms. In fact, we ended up in a room with a home-made bathtub (a half-wall built some ways away from a floor drain, which you stick a tall plastic pipe in when you want to fill up ‘the tub’). The water is steamy-hot and said to be good for sore bones and joints, and I would highly recommend it in the wintertime. We stayed at a place (I know I wrote down the name and phone number somewhere…) run by a little old lady whose younger family members were said to be busy running the souvenir shops and restaurants on Karahayıt’s main strip – which is easy to find, because it’s also Karahayıt’s only strip.
As soon as we settled down in our pension room, we wandered out to the strip ourselves, to mix with the other local tourists (no foreigners in sight) and mill about for awhile before heading back to our emphatically non-air-conditioned room. The next morning, we steamed ourselves in stinky red water before walking outside.
There was no one there.
Something was going on, you could just feel it in the hot-and-sticky air. There wasn’t enough milling about, enough touting for tourists. It appeared as if everyone had packed up and gone home overnight. It wasn’t until we sat down to what was to be the first of many unmemorable breakfasts over the next month (a sad thing, worth mentioning in a country with olives and figs growing all over the place, and during high-season for tomatos) that we learned that a state of emergency had been declared throughout Turkey.
Karahayıt ‘Town Center’
Suçıkan Waterfall (Dinar, Isparta)
A spontaneous stop (almost) on the way from Karahayıt to Eğırdir, this lovely waterfall has a nice shady restaurant at its base, along with free wi-fi (when it’s working) and a legend all its own. (Interestingly, the explanatory panels with the English translations of the Turkish offer more information than the originals, in a pattern that I began noticing as we stopped at various museums and ‘places-of-interest’, as the Turkish tended to gloss over unpleasant things like kings drowning children in rivers, flaying, and anything to do with sex – which kind of puts a damper on the original stories of the goings-on of the Gods of Olympus. Try search-engineing ‘Marsyus, Apollo, Meander River’ for more information.)
Nex Stop: Eğirdir
To be continued…
Aphrodiasas was the first scheduled stop on our epic road trip. It’s not exactly close to Bodrum, and it’s not really on the way to anywhere, but I’d heard it was a great place (“10 best ancient cities in Turkey”), and had a sculpture studio that was famous in its day (5th century? I forget. I’m bad at dates, so I tend to just say “5th c” for everywhere in Turkey that’s pre-Modern and post-Hittite and not Byzantine, Selcuk or Ottoman).
And since we had to start someplace, Aphrodisias seemed as good a place as any. It fit nicely about half-way between Bodrum and Eğirdir – and Eğirdir was about halfway between Aphrodisias and Konya – which was about halfway between Eğridir and Avanos, according to various web-calculators. This meant 3-4 hour stints of driving for Harun – who doesn’t like to let me drive. (When we got to Avanos, my friend Hacı Ali upbraided him for this: “You think she doesn’t know how to drive? What do you think she did before she met you? You gotta get over this…”)
At Aphrodisias, Harun was hoping to find figs, as it was the season for figs, and Harun believes that the best places to gather figs, and olives, are at ancient Greek sites in Turkey. Although another of Hacı Ali’s rants was to be about people who pick things that don’t belong to them (“they call it göz hakı ‘eye rights’, but it’s just plain hırsızlık ‘stealing’ “), whenever we start to contemplate a road trip, one of the first factors Harun takes into consideration is what’s in season. I think this goes back to an earlier road trip to Tlos (up in the hills above Fethiye) when we ran into a little old man who insisted that the site that we had to pay to get onto was his land and the government had no right to take it from him and as far as he was concerned we had his permission to go ahead and pick as many olives as we liked.
Since then, we have made it a point to purchase “museum cards” good for a year’s worth of free entrance to most ancient sites in Turkey, and to make sure we go when the olives are ripe. This year we were expecting to hit ripe olives on our way back along the Mediterranean. Aphrodisias was supposed to be for figs (for Harun) and carob (for Me).
We were being somewhat well-behaved tourists, parking our car outside the site like the sign said (athough not following instructions to go to the paid parking that was unnecessarily far away and surrounded by souveneir shops). After that, we walked along the road heading into Aphrodisias. It was almost like a processional way, lined on one side by some very large and lovely carob trees as well as pistachios. (Unfortunately, there were no carobs on the trees, and – note – pistachios are related to the same trees that give us turpentine, which is why I don’t particularly like trying to eat unripe pistachios off the trees.)
As you have read this far without any visual stimulation, I suppose it is about time that I make two important confessions. One: Although I’ve gotten better about carrying my camera with me, I have a habit sometimes of just carrying it, and as a result, I have no pictures of these lovely carob trees, or of a lot of other people, places and things that we encountered during our trip. (But no worries, as I plan to be enlivening this modest little travelogue with some artistically enhanced photographs). Two: Although I’d love to be able to say “along with my sketches”, in fact, I ended up doing about as much sketching as Harun did fishing. My only excuse is that I was just too busy travelling).
With the exception of a group of what appeared to be international archeology and/or architect students, we had Aphrodisias entirely to ourselves. There were two reasons for this. One: Various and sundry bombs going off at assorted places in Turkey (the press likes to refer to it as “a spate of”). Two: The “darbe” – Turkish for “military coup” – an “attempted” one of which had just been “foiled” less than a week before we took off on our road trip. Considering that we had been planning this for about a year, we were not about to be put off by a little coup. Or even by the government’s declaration of OHAL – the Turkish acronym for “Emergency Rule” (or the literal translation, “Extraordinary Conditions”), which apparently occurred sometime while we were traipsing around Aphrodisias, but which we were yet to learn of until the following day.
But enough of all that. It’s time for Aphrodisias in Pictures:
Picture Number 3 (for 1+2, see Part 1 of the Georgia Road Trip):
Aphrodisias: A Monumental Gate Under Renovation
This was very big and impressive, but there was no apparent sign of anyone working on any renovation, although there were some plastic bottles up on top of the scaffolding filled with either paint or chemicals or something that had to do with renovation, I believe.
Picture Number 4:
Aphrodisias Stadium (with Dramatic Lighting by Photoshop)
This was a very large stadium. Personally, I like the one at Magnesia, by Söke, because most of the seats are still buried under the hills, so it leaves quite a lot to the imagination. And also, on the way to the Magnesia stadium are a lot of figs and olives. (BTW, I decided to Photoshop the picture because the weather did not provide me a blue sky. And to help appeal to the imagination.)
Picture Number 5:
Arches and Seating and Weeds with Blue Sky
There are a few arches still standing around the outside of the stadium. But there are a lot more weeds springing up among the seats. Many of which are edible (the weeds, not the seats). Since there were no figs, I enjoyed some of these (again, weeds). (Blue Sky courtesy of Photoshop.)
Picture Number 6:
Weeds at Aphrodisias
Not all the weeds at Aphrodisias are edible. But the ones that aren’t also make nice pictures. (BTW, this is not Photoshopped. OK, it’s cropped – but cropping doesn’t count. Not in my book.)
Picture Number 7:
Signs of Life at Aphrodisias
This was the first sign of life we saw at Aphrodisias after the guy who helped us get our Museum Cards to ding us through the turnstiles at the entrance to the site. (I’m not counting the scaffolding and paint at the top of the Monumental Gate, because those could have been there for years, whereas the samovar and thermos looked pretty recent.) Also note the improvised seating…
Picture Number 8:
Underfloor Heating at Aphrodisias
They’re also restoring the baths. You can see part of the tiled floor in the corner of the space, and how it was raised up above stones that heated up the place. At least I’m guessing that’s how it worked. I could be wrong.
Carvings from the Museum
Aphrodisias includes little museum that has apparently been recently renovated and is truly beautiful. Well lit, nice blue walls, lighting, ventilation… I particularly liked these little marble carvings. Such a modest little woman – Aphrodite? Covering up her parts on the way back from a bath? Think Boticelli… (and I note the abscence of fig leaf – as we noted the absence of actual figs, alas…)
Since Aphrodisias was the home of a famous sculpture studio, I’m guessing that this is a depiction of the God of Scupture Carving Something Magnificent…
And apparently the machismo we associated with the sculpture department (“Big Men in Big Boots”) back when I was in art school goes back centuries, too.
(From Aphrodisias, we head to Denizli in Part 3 of the Georgia Road Trip)