Hot springs and thorny travertines in Pamukkale

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Middle East » Turkey » Aegean » Pamukkale
June 19th 2012
Published: June 25th 2012
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We woke at 5.30am and organised ourselves for our travel from Selcuk to Pamukkale. We had a pretty basic breakfast at 8am and then headed to the train station. The train arrived at 9.25am, and it was fairly packed. There were no seats, so we stood for the first hour of the trip. The aisles filled quickly with locals travelling on market day. When we arrived at their destination, the train cleared and we grabbed a seat.

We were wearing the evil eye charms our guide had given us. It was meant to ward off jealous stares and thoughts from other people, and the symbol prevails in every Turkish tourist shop. Many Turks wear an evil eye, and they even place them in new cars to prevent jealous glares from their neighbours.

We travelled for another two hours until we arrived at Denizli train station. We carried our packs across the tracks, crammed into a minibus and drove to Pamukkale, eventually arriving at 1pm. We checked into the Artemis Yoruk Hotel and then headed out for a light lunch. I had stuffed vine leaves and an ayran (yoghurt drink). We pottered around the hotel surrounds before setting out to explore the brilliantly white calcium travertines at 4.30pm. The heat was intense, so it was difficult to do anything. As we walked up the travertines, warm spring water was cascading down the white rock surfaces and engulfing our bare feet. It was an incredible sensation, especially given the intense 40 degree heat. We wandered around the Roman ruins at the top of the travertines and eventually found ourselves at the Theatre. This was an incredible structure, and it easily rivalled the Grand Theatre at Ephesus. A wedding photo shoot was underway – apart from the bride, groom, wedding director and photographer, we had the Theatre to ourselves. The bride had her full wedding dress and makeup on, but she was wearing bright orange thongs (flip flops) underneath. It was cheesy. It was even cheesier when they staged the scene from Titanic over the edge of the Theatre’s highest row.

We wandered to the edge of the travertines and watched the sun set over the Denizli horizon. It was an experience beyond words. The wind howled through the ruins of Hierapolis as we sat and watched the sky turn orange as the sun disappear behind the distant mountain range. It was a magically warm Turkish evening. By 9pm it was time to make our way back down the white travertines to Pamukkale. This time the warm cascading water was flowing with us, hitting our heels, surrounding our feet and cooling us down.

When we finally arrived at Pamukkale, we decided to dine at the same restaurant we had lunched in. After two very cold and very welcome beers, I had the house speciality (grilled trout), which was sensational when mixed with chilli flakes. We finished the night with a bottle of chilled Sirince fruit wine (peach) as we sat beside the pool of our hotel. It had been a fantastic day, so the atmosphere was relaxed and jovial. With an early bus trip the following day, we had to sleep. We limped up to our room, showered, jotted a few notes from the day and crashed at 12.30am.

The call to prayer woke us at 4.45am in Pamukkale. While slightly earlier than hoped, it was a welcome alarm, as we had an early start. We showered, organised our packs and headed to breakfast at 6.30am. An old Turkish woman was sitting on the floor in the breakfast room making yufka, which is basically gozleme without the filling. We tore the bread into pieces and filled them up with boiled eggs, goat’s cheese and processed meat. It was very tasty and very filling. We washed it down with very strong cay (Turkish tea), which I loved but Ren wasn’t too keen on.

The walk to the train station in Selcuk took 10 minutes, and after a three hour train journey through rolling hills, tiny towns and countless farms, we arrived in Pamukkale in the Inner Aegean region in south-western Turkey. The train was extremely packed because it was market day in Aydin – a town a few stops along from Selcuk – and the locals were not happy that there were only two carriages on the train. We attracted a lot of attention and Suleyman had to answer many questions about us and act as translator. We got seats after the crowd poured out of the train at Aydin, an hour into the journey. The scenery for just about the whole journey was large farms of every description and small household gardens – every single inch filled with vegetables and fruit trees.

A minibus dropped us off at Artemis Yoruk Hotel, a cute hotel set around a lovely pool, but the staff didn’t seem happy to be there. Our room was very comfortable and airy with a cute balcony. It was a very very hot day and we decided that we would have a quiet afternoon in the shade and venture out later when the day started to cool down. On Suleyman’s recommendation, we walked across the road to Kayas Restaurant for lunch, and the Ottoman special chicken kebap was totally delicious and very reasonably priced considering this was a tourist trap town.

We were in Pamukkale to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site – the travertine terraces. It’s an unusual geological feature formed by a subterranean water source which causes streams of thermal water to flow over and down cliffs, forming little thermal pools. The water is saturated with dissolved calcium bicarbonate and as the water cools in the pools, the calcium solidifies, becoming a hard white chalk like substance. The hot springs and travertine terraces were apparently known for thousands of years for their therapeutic qualities, long before the city was founded. The name of the town – Pamukkale – means ‘cotton castle’ in Turkish. The shimmering blue pools against the sparkling white calcified chalk were pretty beyond words, but slightly alien looking.

The travertine terraces are fragile and easily damaged by humans and their footwear. There has already been serious damage from hotels that were once built directly on top of the terraces in the 1980s. We were allowed to walk through the terraces without shoes, as there is a broad path that can be used barefoot.

Our group kept to the designated path, but sadly and very annoyingly many others blatantly ignored the signs. They even ignored the angry whistles of the guards, because apparently taking a posed photograph is much more important than not damaging the travertines. It got worse later on in the evening when the guards couldn't see. I suggested that there should be a 2TRY fine every time someone walked off the path, and you got thrown out when you hit 4TRY. Better still, I think such offences should be recorded on some sort of international passport of cultural respect (also issued to local tourists) and after a certain number of violations, a blacklist should apply. No I don’t think it’s too militant. 😊

Walking up the travertines was a curious experience – the calcium deposits were sharp in places but weirdly cushiony in others; and I hadn’t expected was that there would be streams of cool and warm water gushing downhill over our bare feet as we walked up. It was a very very pleasant sensation.

Above the travertine terraces sit the ruins of the ancient Roman city Hierapolis. Hierapolis would have been beautiful in its time, set in gorgeous rolling hills with scenic outlooks. We spent quite a few hours wondering around the ruins of the city and walked uphill to the amazingly beautiful and well preserved theatre (definitely more intact than the theatres at Ephesus or Pompeii). It was very steep and felt quite large (once seating 12,000 people), although it was a baby compared to the theatre in Ephesus which had a 25,000 seat capacity. Most of it was roped off, so we only had access to the top tiers. There was a wedding photo shoot taking place and we took the opportunity to take some picturesque and cheesy photos of the event too. I would have enjoyed spending more time sitting in theatre if it hadn’t been a 40 degree day with a harsh sun; I just couldn’t imagine wearing makeup and a fluffy meringue wedding dress in that heat.

The water bottles we were carrying in our bags had heated up (not a very pleasant hydration option), so we found ourselves trying to cool down by sitting in the shady cafe a few times. The cold drinks were a welcome relief, despite the exorbitant drink prices.

Andrew had wanted to swim in the thermal pool that was open to the public. However, we left it too late and the pool was closing by the time we walked to it. We waited for the rest of the group to finish their time in the pool and then walked to the most westerly point of the area to watch the sunset. It wasn’t a fabulous sunset in itself, but the reflection of the orange light in the travertine terraces was very beautiful. By the time we started our descent into town we were one of the few people left, so we carefully picked our way down the slippery slope in the quickly fading light.

The town of Pamukkale is tiny and seemingly only exists to service the travertines. We attempted to walk around town, but it was quite unattractive so we retreated to our hotel. We ate all our meals at Kayas Restaurant, as none of the other cafes and restaurants looked appealing. The only saving grace of staying in Pamukkale was that it was walking distance to the travertines and it has a gorgeous view of the travertines – it’s a bit surreal looking up from this tiny town and seeing the gigantic white travertines.

We ended a very special day by sitting around the pool with the usual wine suspects (Cath, Viv, Chris, Robyn, Darryl, Shirley and Greg) and sharing a bottle of peach wine. It was a lovely night and we were very relaxed, so it wasn’t until we were nearly wrapping up that we realised how loud we had been. Whoops, hope we hadn’t kept anyone up. Andrew and I went out to buy some water and check out the night lighting of the travertine; however, the lights weren’t that impressive so we did an ‘about-turn’ and walked back the hotel. I can’t remember anything after I had asked Andrew what time it was – 12:30am. I assume I fell into the bed at some point. An awesome day. 😊

I had rose jam for the first time at our hotel’s breakfast the next morning. It was a bit ‘perfumey’ at first, but it really grew on me. This region is famous for its rose fields and the distillation of rose oil. Rose petals picked at dawn are steamed in copper vats, the steam is collected and the rose oil is distilled from it. The remaining rose water is sold on the local market and thus begins the countless rose-scented and rose-flavoured food and other items in Turkey. Amazingly, one of my favourite cosmetic products sources its rose absolute and rose oil from a local farmer in a village in this area. I wish we had the time to visit.

Next we travel to the village of Kayakoy in the Western Mediterranean!


26th June 2012

Continue to love the "he said she said"
What a fantastic trip and stunning photography. I've posted some of your photos in various photography forums. Wow, what a great time you seem to be having. Love those thermal pools. What a beautiful place for a wedding. Sometimes it is ok to retreat to the room and chill.
26th June 2012

Re: Continue to love the "he said she said"
Thanks Merry Jo and Dave! Those travertines really are glad you like the photos :)
28th June 2012

Thorny travertines
Hi RenANDrew This is an interesting trip. I love these long train journeys. Get a window seat and watch the country roll by. I had this experience in Indian trains 35 years ago. I will never walk barefooted - travertines or no travertines! With best wishes Dad (Roy)
29th June 2012

Re: Thorny travertines
Thanks Dad! Train journeys are the best, unfortunately that was hte only train on this trip. See you soon! xx

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