Tuesday 18 January 2011
Yesterday I had another tour around the Cappadocia area. The day before, our tour guide was a very nice woman while yesterday it was a very nice man – a bit too nice to me in fact! Because I am travelling alone, in these larger tour groups people pair up with their travel buddies so I'm always left with the tour guide, which is fine, except when they take a special liking to you and and want to take your picture every five minutes and get way too close. I backed away a few times but it didn't matter with one guy - always popping up and making comments about me. At the end of a tour when he was giving me my bus ticket and made a huge deal about how we would be forever parted, I'd had enough. I'm afraid I wasn't very polite.
The day itself was amazing though. We started off by going to see what the locals call the 'fairy chimneys' – they are like mushroom capped rocks. It's hard to describe them so here's a picture. They were quite beautiful – there was a church inside one so I climbed up the top to see inside. The sky yesterday was clear so the photos came out quite well.
After this we went to a valley that has rock formations that look like animals and people – all natural I'm told!
Before lunch we went to a terracotta workshop in a village called Avanos. This village is situated right on the Red River, one of the longest rivers in Turkey and gets its name from the red clay at the bottom of the river. This clay has been used for thousands of years to make all sorts of objects and we were shown a demonstration of how the ancient 'kick-wheel' method is used. The guy made it look super easy, but when they asked for volunteers one of the Spanish guys showed us it's not so simple. There was many a joke cracked about the famous pottery scene from the movie 'Ghost' while the other Spanish guys sang the song in that scene.
We were of course shown to the room with all the finish products that we could buy. The work was beautiful, but I just don't trust getting back home with anything like that still intact in my bag, so I didn't get anything.
After lunch we went to see some more panoramic views of Cappadocia, where you could see the highest mountain in Turkey. There's quite a ski trade there apparently. And lastly we went to a town called Goreme, which has an open air museum because there are many 10th century and earlier churches in the tall rocks. You'd think that these churches would be pretty spartan and unsophisticated in design, but the frescoes inside some of them rival any church you would find in Italy from the Renaissance. Unfortunately when the Greek population left Turkey as part of the forced population exchange during the 1920s, no one was left to use the churches and many of the faces of the religious images have been hacked away by Turks since that time.
The tour ended up finishing quite early and as my bus didn't leave for another 4 hours and I had already checked out of my little cave hotel, I found myself at liberty. However, this is where the Spaniards came through for me – they were going to be on the same bus so we all found a really nice Turkish lounge/bar where they put on a fire for us and we lazed around chatting for a few hours. One of the Spanish guys, whose girlfriend was there too, has applied to work in Australia, in Melbourne no less! And piled me with questions about life there. He was telling me that the working conditions in Spain are very bad and economically it doesn't make sense to stay. We exchanged details so if he and his girlfriend come I can show them around. Likewise, when I am in Madrid in a few weeks his girlfriend offered to take me out. So, a profitable afternoon for both groups!
The overnight bus was painful but I arrived in Selcuk in one piece and am now waiting to be picked up by our guide for our tour of Ephesus – I am very much looking forward to seeing this town – it's over 8,000 years old!
Tuesday 18 January 2011 in the morning
I am really feeling the effects of the night bus this evening – nothing like being jolted around for 12 hours while getting bits and pieces of sleep to make you appreciate sleeping in a bed!
Today was really beautiful weather wise – I actually felt the sun burning my face at one point – the first time it's happened all trip! Our group today was about 9 people and we toured the ancient city of Ephesus, which was really cool. The Ephesus that stands (figuratively speaking, most of it is rubble) today was built in around 300 BC, but the city's origins are actually much older – dating back to 6,000 BC. During the Roman Empire, Ephesus was one of the largest and most thriving cities in Asia Minor. Our tour today took us past the main gate where there are Roman baths. Travellers had to wash themselves before entering a city – this was a fairly common Roman custom. Then we walked along the marble path through the city street, ruins of beautiful buildings all around us. Some of them have been restored so that they stand as they would have back in the day, while others lie in bits and pieces on the ground. The best preserved building is the Library. This has been restored and is very impressive. Right opposite it was the city brothel and there was in fact an underground tunnel that led from the library to the brothel, so men could tell their significant others they were studying, while off pursuing other interests!
One of my favourite monuments was the huge theater, where St Paul preached when he came to Ephesus. Of course, after he spoke, the people there wanted to kill him so he escaped through the tunnel exits. It was surreal walking through these same tunnels thinking he was once there. The theater itself is quite amazing – I climbed to the top and got a great picture of the surrounding area.
The area around Ephesus is very different to Cappadocia – Ephesus has very fertile soil and there are many fruit and olive trees everywhere. It's absolutely beautiful countryside – probably the most beautiful place I've been all trip. You just can't not feel relaxed when you're in such countryside, the birds chirping and the sound of sheep baahing and the cow bells clanging as shepherds move their flocks around.
After lunch, during which I sat with a couple from the US who were very nice, we went to the house where the Virgin Mary is said to have spent her last days. There are a number of sources as evidence for this, scriptural and historical and the previous three Popes have visited the site and declared it to be a holy site. There is also a spring there, which people have claimed has healed their various maladies. The area where the house is is absolutely beautiful – my idea of perfect serenity. The house is quite small and inside (where no photos are allowed) there are simple rooms, the main focus being an altar with a beautiful statue of Mary on it. I stayed in there for some time, then made my way around the corner to where the spring water was. It actually comes out of taps, so my romantic notions of a Lourdes like moment were squashed, but the water is cold and cleaner than most of the water here.
To the side of the spring was a wall where there was some kind of mesh and there were thousands of bows tied to it – all different colours. On closer inspection I saw that they were prayers, handwritten by people who have come on hankies, tissues and paper and tied to each other. It was quite lovely to see such a physical reminder of how many thoughts and issues we bring forward in prayer.
My tour mates had long gone by this time back to the bus so I had to get back there. I could easily have passed the whole day in the gardens.
After this we went to the Temple of Artemis, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. To be honest I was expecting a bit more than one column, which is basically all that is left now. But the temple had over 120 of these marble columns, so if you're good at using your imagination, it's easy to see how grand the temple must have been.
We also had some more 'presentations' today. One was blatantly a sales pitch, where we went to a leather factory and they played seedy music while teenagers came out on a small catwalk, modelling the goods. The Americans and I found the whole thing so hilariously crass so we laughed and at the end managed to escape without buying anything, but there were so Mexicans in the group who weren't so firm in saying no. Of course, this when you get pounced on so we waited while they bought some things. I just can't keep a straight face when some Turkish guy holds up a jacket that only Donatella Versace could get away with and croons, “So pretty, just to match you my lovely one” as he strokes it and looks at me suggestively. I think they realise pretty quickly that I'm not a serious buyer! Especially at 600 euros a pop.
I did enjoy going to the carpet weaving place though, because the people there actually showed us how carpets are made and how much effort goes into it, especially silk carpets. It's an amazing art form but there's no way I would spend thousands on a carpet. I just like it because we always get free Turkish apple tea, which I am fast becoming addicted to. Like Turkish food, it's the bomb.
The hotel I am staying in tonight and tomorrow night is actually right on the sea, so it looks a lot like St Kilda. I went for a walk this evening on the bank wit the waves crashing around me – such a nice change from all the time I've spent in cities these past few weeks!
Tomorrow there's been a change of plans in my itinerary – instead of going to Pamukkale which is a 3 hour bus ride each way, I'm going to stay local and explore more around here. It's only me on the tour so I am really hoping that I don't get another tour guide who likes to get too close. It's a shame that it's like this. I have been really surprised that whenever I am out on the street I never get hassled. The only time anyone addresses me is when I am walking past a restaurant and they ask if I want to come in. But I have had 3 male tour guides so far and two of them have taken far too many liberties in their behaviour towards me. I don't like having to have a confrontation with them so fingers and toes crossed tomorrow is ok.