Friday 11th December
Marcus had set his alarm early but had still not got out of bed when we got the wake up call and he asked for me to shower first which I did. For some reason neither of us had had a good sleep, for me my left side felt stiff from lying on it and I felt more tired than I had the day before despite 8 hours sleep. The shower revived me a little and eventually once we had double checked we had everything we went downstairs to breakfast.
I had made the joke the day before they needed a baked beans or equivalent to go with the sausages and scrambled egg and it seemed someone was listening. Unfortunately it was made from mushrooms and whilst I put my dislike of them to one side I found my self picking them out so only the sauce remained. I felt quite content when I boarded the bus and Marcus decided to take one of the empty rows at the back so he could sleep.
It had been an early start and after leaving at 7.30am we knew we had a long drive ahead of us. Volkan spoke for a short while before letting us rest for a couple of hours. After around two hours we reached a service station however there wasn’t anything to see besides some dogs one of which took an interest in my leg.
We boarded the bus and the long drive continued before we reached the start of the Gallipoli Peninsula and drove past Saros Bay. This is an area of Turkey that interested me and I had hoped we may stop at one of the beaches or memorials. As it was we didn’t quite go far enough because most of the action was south west of Gelibolu which is where caught the ferry to Lapseki.
Before we caught the ferry we stopped for a lunch buffet which again had a great choice of food including sucuk sausages, chips, and a nice slightly spicy red lentil soup. As with breakfast I left feeling I’d over indulged and after only two days in I was concerned at how much I might weigh when I get home especially as little energy was being used napping on the coach.
The ferry to Lapseki across the Dardanelles to the Asian side of Turkey was full so we had to wait 30 minutes however Volkan let us explore Gelibolu rather than just sitting on the coach. There was a memorial to Ataturk and the remains of what appeared a fort. We boarded the ferry and a man was feeding the seagulls creating a frenzy. Somewhat predictably, as is my luck with birds, one of them made me its toilet target though no one I was talking to fortunately realised so I made my excuses to leave so I could clean up.
As we drove from Lapseki we passed Canakkale and from there we could see some of the World War One memorials on the opposite side of the sea. Volkan then read out a speach from Atatürk In 1934 about how the Australian and New Zealand soldiers killed and buried in Turkey were considered brothers in a now peaceful land. We then had a 1 minutes silence to reflect on the 500,000 lives that were lost which was incredibly moving.
Eventually we arrived at the archeological site of Troy, the city made famous by Homer and which for centuries (like Atlantis) was believed to have been a myth. It’s discovery in 1870 by Heinrich Schliemann proved its existence however the city was built over 5000 years ago and rebuilt so many times that little remains of the legendary layer from the Ilion of Homer. At the entrance there was a wooden replica of the Trojan Horse and we slowly made our way around the ruins.
We stopped at various remains where Volkan provided some information including the South Gate, the Roman Odeion (theatre), the Sanctuary (first built in the 7th century BC) and the Palace House. It was also possible to see Schliemann’s famous trench which ultimately led to the discovery of the city however the techniques used destroyed large sections. Before leaving I climbed to the top of the wooden horse which was the only real highlight. The site was slightly underwhelming, perhaps not helped by the weather but I was so grateful to have visited such a historic and iconic site.
After another couple of hours drive we stopped off for another toilet stop and I stock up on supplies because I’d eaten most of my chocolate and sweet rations on the long journey. Boarding the bus, one of the ladies noticed some beers and Vulkan then gave them to us for a tip because a new tax law meant they couldn’t be sold. This meant the final hour passed a lot quicker and put those of us at the front in a more relaxed state.
Marcus and I dumped our bags in the room before going to dinner where we sat with Alex and her mum Deborah. We were getting used to the high standard of food and we weren’t disappointed by the selection on offer. I had wanted to experience a Turkish bath in Turkey so once we were done I went to book myself in at the Health Spa whilst it wasn’t busy. They provided me with some budgie smugglers which barely kept my modesty especially at the back and some wooden sandals which felt like I was learning to walk all over again.
First I sat in the sauna at a temperature of around 115 degrees and slowly all the impurities in my body seeped out. After leaving I was given a scrub which was so hard it was as though the masseuse was a child attempting to rub out an ink stain. To say my skin felt smooth afterwards would be an understatement. Next I went back in the sauna where, like in Marrakech I thought I had been forgotten. Then I had a shower, followed by the actual massage which was very relaxing though I didn’t fall asleep like the last one I had. Finally I returned to the sauna before a final shower.
When I returned to the room I realised I had been away for two hours and Marcus was already in bed. We had another 7.30 departure but rather than dropping off to sleep straight away the experience had given me unwanted energy. Marcus was convinced I’d had a happy ending due to my smile and I tried to convince him I hadn’t.
Saturday 12th December
After we woke up we made our way down to breakfast which was a little disappointing compared to the high standards that had been set by the previous hotel and the dinner from the night before. Of course in comparison to my usual breakfast it was still a feast fit for a sultan.
We all boarded the bus on time and set off however after a few minutes Volkan did another head count because someone on another coach was missing and he needed to confirm they weren’t on ours. They weren’t and it later emerged they had overslept and been in their room.
As we drove along Volkan told us he was originally from Antioch, and provided some information about how Turkey is the biggest producer of figs, raisins, apricots and pistachio nuts. Apparently it is one of the few countries that can produce enough food to sustain its own population. He also told us about Ashure a traditional pudding which originated from the story of Noah’s ark as a celebration after the flood.
After a few hours which included a brief toilet stop we arrived in Sardis which had been the capital of the Lydian Kingdom and seat King Croesus. Our first stop was to see the Temple of Artemis which had a stunning backdrop of mountains in all directions. The temple itself was quite ruinous, mostly with broken half columns though two of the tall columns remained and climbing one of the hills it was possible to appreciate how big it would have been. Near the temple were also the remains of an early Christian Church dating from the 4th century and this was one of one of the seven churches to receive a letter of Revelation from St. John the Apostle.
Our second stop was the metropolis of the city which had been occupied from around 547 BC and remained inhabited until the Sassanian invasion in 616 AD. This second site contained the Roman Synagogue and the baths-gymnasium complex. Before viewing these up close we walked parallel to an old Roman road, a small stretch of which had been excavated and marked by columns. We also passed up to 30 Byzantium shops dating from the 4th century some of which had been occupied by the early Jewish merchants as well as the excavated remains of a public toilet.
I doubt I’ll ever have my mind blown like it was in Egypt but the baths-gymnasium complex were amongst the best archeological remains I have been fortunate enough to see. I was impressed at how many of the small details had survived, such as the small faces on the columns, and equally that the structure was still mostly intact.
After leaving Sardis we stopped for lunch and Marcus was again centre of attention many of the waiters believing this time he was a boxer. The starter was again lentil soup but the freshly baked bread was particularly welcome and the main course was also nice. I’m not sure what we would have done if we hadn’t paid for lunch to be included because there was no where nearby. Really I got the feeling the travel company should come clean and make this a compulsory, unhidden local payment.
After boarding the coach we continued our journey this time to the archeological site of Laodicea which is still being excavated. It isn’t on the scale of Pompeii but evidence suggests it was once and on two major trade routes. First we walked up the main street stretching 900m, once part of the Syrian Road, where Volkan told us about some of the ruins. Laodicea is probably most famous for the Basilica church, one of the oldest anywhere in the world which like Sardis was also mentioned in the Book of Revelation. There were also the remains of an Agora, baths and the remains of a big theatre.
Both Sardis and Laodicea are less travelled compared to other sites such as Ephesus so my expectations had been low and I was therefore pleasantly surprised. Both contained fascinating remains and Laodicea in particular was a much bigger site than I expected. It was also interesting to see that the archeological work is still going on and who knows what more will be uncovered.
After leaving Laodicea we continued to our hotel near the white calcite cliffs of Pamukkale where we stopped off briefly for a picture and so Volkan could withdraw money. It wasn’t the most picturesque spot just behind a car park but it was still good to get a quick glimpse even though we would be returning the following morning.
We arrived at our 5 star hotel and before going to dinner I made my way to the hotels natural thermal pool. Volkan had earlier told us the natural thermal pools in the area had been used for 2500 years and that the ancient civilisations believed they had healing properties. It was as warm as the Blue Lagoon in Iceland but the water there had been a lovely blue colour where as this was browny green. I decided to have a quick dip in the cold water to give my body an unpleasant shock before returning back to the hot waters.
After getting out I went to the toilets to get changed but didn’t have the room key. By the time I found Marcus in the dinning room to get the card it looked like I’d wet myself because I’d been trying to disguise the fact I was carrying my swimming shorts through the hotel. Eventually I came back down for dinner where the donor kebab was particularly good.
Alex and I returned to the thermal pools and had a shot of Raki before Marcus joined us in the reception. We then went to the disco where a group of women were dancing and one in particular looked like a 90s raver. They forced Alex to dance much to the amusement of Marcus and I before we all went our seperate ways and to bed.
Sunday 13th December
After breakfast we drove a short distance to a more scenic spot to see Pamukkale however we didn’t have time to make it to the top to see the Roman ruins. We did however see the mineral rich water flowing through the park and it is the sedimentary rock deposited by water from the hot springs which has created a natural wonder giving it UNESCO world heritage status.
Another coach journey then commenced and eventually we reached a carpet shop where we learnt about the traditional methods used in Turkey. Really it was all part of the attempt to sell us carpets and as I’ve said before, if I had my own home I would have by now because it would be nice to have at least one room decorated with souvenirs from places I’ve visited. That dream will currently have to wait, however in the meantime I will take the free drinks whilst politely saying no.
After the carpet shop we carried on to a restaurant for lunch but as I was feeling peckish I broke in to my rations of dorritos. Fortunately I didn’t lose my appetite because the soup wasn’t lentil and the main was rice and kofte meatballs. The yogurt dessert with honey, pomegranate, poppy and sesame seeds was also quite possibly the tastiest thing ever to pass between my lips. I also had my first white wine of the trip which had been locally produced and I was pleased with my choice. Leaving lunch our next stop was our final destination Antalya.