April 2004: Turkey

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boats sail sea pinkskyTurkey has more Greek ruins than Greece and more Roman ruins than Italy, and 20 civilisations have passed through. Hardly surprising, that the most beach-hardened bucket-and-spaders can’t resist a peek into the culture of this surprising land.

You don’t have to stray that far to appreciate sites like Troy (near Cannukale in the north west), Ephesus (a few hours from Izmir and Bodrum or a short trip from Kusadasi by bus), enjoy a dip in an ancient Roman hot spring in Pamukkalle surrounded by bits of broken statue, or any of the three of the seven wonders of the Ancient World found within a few hours of each other in the South west corner. Another favourite hit is the lagoon beach of Olu Deniz near Fethiye.

A wonderful day-trip destination Ephesus, is familiar to us all from those Bible readings. There isn’t much left of the temple of Artemis, but the sheer grandeur of all those wonder-sites of the ancient world penetrates the sun cream to make the small hairs stand on the back of the neck.

A word of warning, Ephesus is bulging in high season. By mid morning it is overwhelmed by coach tours, and the place can become hot, sticky and jostley. Get there early (and often).

To get away from the holiday hordes, you still don’t have to travel far at all. Discoveries waiting out there include the idyllic resort of Datca, a long bus-journey from Marmaris or a short boat-journey from Bodrum, and the taste of fresh tuna on a coast-line restaurant with the Mediterranean lapping the sand a few yards away. Boats can be hired for u20 per person for the day for a group of six in Kalkan, an unchanged village on the south coast.

To really get away, go east. The English prefer the south-west corner. The Irish have found an enclave for themselves in Alanya, a panoramic port city on the southern slopes of the majestic Taurus Mountains under its distinctive 9th century castle.

The Germans, the original Turkey tourists, can be found further east again. Antalya has marketed itself as a winter sun destination, so watch out for new innovations. Turkey also has thirteen ski resorts, offering a week’s stay for the price of a cocktail in Meribel.

An adventurer should try to overnight bus to Nevsehir and find the desert world of fairy chimneys, underground cities and mystical wall-paintings in churches dug in soft rock.

It gets less and less westernised the further east you go, beyond the Cappadocia chimneys and on to the Mount Nemrut giant monuments. Mount Ararat defines the sky-line here. You get the impression that little has changed since Noah landed his three-star cruise ship.

The Irish accent is security of a welcome everywhere in Turkey.

Great culture, low cost to pocket or sanity. Twenty civilisations can’t be wrong.

 

 

ASPENDOS Opera festival staged in the ancient 10,000-seat theatre from June 12 to July 16 is one of the great events of the cultural world.

CAPPADOCIA (right) where Christian communities retreated underground when Arab armies swept through the area in the 7th century leaving chiselled churches and sprawling underground cities.

EPHESUS Once the Roman capital of Asia Minor, a must-do stroll through the colonnaded streets to the 25,000-seat amphitheatre and the Library of Celsus.

GALLIPOLI a peaceful stretch of scrubland marks the site of many momentous battles, including the nine-month WWI encounter between Ataturk and the Allies that cost 3,000 Irish lives. 31 war cemeteries bear witness to the peninsula’s bloody past. Excellent museum bears testimony to the losses on bith sides.

ISTANBUL Capital of three successive empires, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman, whose influences permeate the city’s architecture. Attractions include the labyrinthine Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Haghia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar.

NEMRUT DAGI A pre-Roman king had colossal sculptures of himself and the gods placed on ledges cut into the mountainside. Climb the mountain before dawn and watch the sun rise.

PAMUKALLE Cotton castle created by hot mineral waterfalls transforming over ages into a landscape of layered rock pools, the calcium-rich waters are said to have special healing powers.

PERGAMUM’s Library of Celsus once rivalled that of Alexandria in Egypt. A steep walk rewards you with the Temple of Trajan and a Hellenistic theatre carved into the hillside. Visit the ruins of the Asclepion, the famous medical centre decorated with images of the snake representing the god of medicine.

SIDE Beloved of Anthony and Cleopatra, two 2nd-century temples of Athena and Apollo, situated on a promontory in the Mediterranean, make romantic viewing at sunset.

TROY A humble remnant of its famous past and subject of a forthcoming blockbuster, a huge replica of the Trojan horse stands at the entrance.

 

Independent travellers can discover a world of dusty road through private buses which overtake each other to catch the passengers at the next stop, with the conductor shouting the destination out the window. And they all seem to go to a place called Aydin. In the stations, there are manic attempts to inveigle the newly landed passengers to buy tickets. When surrounded by a dozen excited ticket-sellers, take your time. Find out when the next departure is. Don’t pay for one that leaves in four hours time.

These bus journeys are at high speed and adrenalin-saturating, retracing the steps of the Crusaders through beautiful Anatolian hillsides. Even more fun is the Dolmus. The word means “full” and that is how they operate. These mini-bus-alikes wait until they have enough passengers before departing. When are we leaving? “Soon.” In the east you can share a dolmus with real people, real sacks of grain, and real farm produce.

If travelling independently, beware of mosques and mosquitoes when selecting accommodation. The latter can find their way through all sorts of devilish screens. The former are likely to call you to prayer with a plaintiff moan in the early hours of a hungover morning. Restaurant touts can be a pest in peak season.

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