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Published: June 12th 2012
Between the two hills, back from the beach, is the little paradise of Olympos.
Some experiences just can’t be photographed. Some are too magical to be captured. Turkey is a beautiful country and all the places I have traveled around here are very picturesque. However, my most recent trip to Olympos was just different from my other vacations around Turkey.
For one, it was a short weekend get-away to the beach. I left Istanbul after work on Friday and flew back on Sunday. Also, Olympos is known more for the lifestyle than the historical ruins. I went there to get out of the city, relax and enjoy my last vacation in Turkey before I leave at the end of this month.
Living in Istanbul with its centuries of fascinating history has instilled in me an automatic visit to any nearby ruins. Saturday morning I dutifully walked to the ancient city of Olympos, only to find it completely taken over by the forest. There were few signs and the paths were not well maintained. The only other tourists I saw were an Australian couple that said they don’t like beaches.
What I loved was the feeling of being in a place that was so abandoned. It was eerie to walk along the paths,
From the path to the beach, walk up the stream through the forest. The stream was channeled centuries ago and the square columns are the remains of the market road.
hearing only the running water of the stream, cicadas buzzing and the rustle of the breeze in the trees. Olympos has only very recently been studied by archeologists, and it has not drawn crowds of tourists. The place has great historical significance, but there is little left to see. What drew me was the reputation for the laidback beach-town atmosphere.
The beach felt relaxing in a quiet, sit around with your feet in the water sort of vibe. It’s mostly a pebble beach, so there were no fast soccer games or volleyball nets, nobody out for a run and nobody looking like they were in a hurry to go anywhere or do anything. The water is the perfect temperature for floating on your back, comfortably warm but still cool enough to be an escape from the afternoon heat. Endangered logger-head sea turtles lay their eggs in the area, so the beach is closed at night and doesn’t attract people who want to make a bonfire and party until dawn.
In the afternoon I went on a short sea kayaking tour to visit another beach. It was a small group of me and a mother and her daughter from
In Turkish, Pamuk is cotton, and kale is castle. It is a huge expanse of travertine deposited by hot springs covering a hill above the town of Denizli.
Singapore. The daughter had just graduated from high school and this was her graduation present. We had two guides for just the three of us. We glided along the coast, looking up at the limestone cliffs that shoot up out of the water, marveling at the centuries old Lycian, Roman and Greek forts and city ruins. Sailboats drifted past and a few motor boats cruised slowly along the coast. At the beach we snorkeled around for about an hour looking for the giant turtles. I only saw fish, but one of the women from Singapore saw a turtle. That is one of the things left undone, that I will have to return to Turkey for. I missed seeing the turtles in Cyprus, and now in Olympos too.
While on the way back I found out that our guide Ali’s wife is from Spain. I haven’t had many opportunities to speak Spanish recently, so when we got back to town he introduced us. Hanging out with Elena was not only fun and one of those multi-lingual moments that I crave, but it also made me feel more of a part of Olympos. She’s a Spanish teacher in Istanbul during the
The springs that flow out of Pamukkale are filled with minerals that are naturally deposited to form pools that cascade down the hillside.
school year, but she and Ali live in Olympos during tourist season.
After dark I drove out towards the Chimera, which are natural vents of gas that shoot out of the limestone on a hill above the sea. They have been on fire for thousands of years and gave birth to many ancient myths and legends. I didn’t read up on the Greek gods before I went, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for history and legend. I was there for the experience and it was magical.
Walking up through the forest, alone, in the dark I reflected on how there are very few places in the world that I would feel safe going alone at night. Hiking to the Chimera, also called Yanartaş which means “burning rock” in Turkish, was peaceful. I heard the sounds of the forest and occasionally crossed hikers going back. They always said some sort of greeting in English or Turkish, soft and quiet enough not to break the stillness of the night.
It is a steep three kilometers and getting close to the top I could hear the low voices of people already gathered around the flames. It reminded me of
I took hundreds of photos in the few hours I was at Pamukkale. The contrast of snowy travertine and warm water was beautiful and so unique I couldn't stop snapping pictures.
hiking up to remote hot springs in Idaho. People were sitting or standing in semi circles around each flame or cluster of flames, with their backs to the hills above, looking out over the sea. The stars were bright with no moon and not a cloud in the sky. Most people watched the flames, sea and stars without talking, although there was a low hum that blended with the sound of crickets chirping of people speaking quietly or whispering to those sitting with them. As with everywhere I’ve been in Turkey, most visitors were Turkish but there was also an eclectic mix of foreigners speaking many languages.
Back in Olympos I joined a group of locals for a night at a bar, talking with people from all over the world, dancing to Turkish music and singing along to Bob Marley at the top of my lungs. It was a late night.
Sifting through the pebbles on the beach the next morning, holding my own pebble pageant and looking for a heart-shaped stone, I thought about traveling without my camera in hand. It felt freeing on this trip. I wasn’t trying to look at everything through a lens. I
The hills above Pamukkale are covered with the ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis. Excavation and restoration are still in progress, but we could already get a feel of life under Greek rule.
wasn’t focused on what would look good later or on what I wanted to show somebody and had to get a photo to email to them. I felt more present.
However, I do love taking pictures and Turkey is a gorgeous country. My blog being what it is, I have to include a few photos. My trip with Lindsey to Ephesus a couple weeks ago was much more of a sight-seeing trip. I took hundreds of pictures at Pamukkale, although I don’t have a lot to say about the place. It’s beautiful and the ruins of Hierapolis cover the hillsides above. The ruins at Ephesus were impressive, and so was the museum in Selçuk, although any book on the topic would have much better information than I can give you. Even the little guidebooks they sell at the postcard shops are filled with fascinating stories.
The most memorable experience on the trip with Lindsey was being at the Virgin Mary’s house on Mother’s Day. There was a service in English and people were singing hymns. I hadn’t expected to stumble on a real church service and it was very moving. I watched people filing up to the altar
Continuing to climb the hills above Hierapolis you stumble on ruins that are still not completely unearthed. It seems to go on forever.
to receive communion, wondering how many were there on a pilgrimage. It was a large congregation and the service was outside, next to Mary’s stone church/cabin. How many had left home to come to Turkey specifically to see the Virgin Mary’s last home? How many made plans years in advance so they would be there on Mother’s Day? Why did they come?
There was so much power and longing in the voices singing that I found tears streaming down my face. After the service I entered the house and felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. I had to sit down. It’s such a small building that there are only two little kneelers and two wicker chairs. People file in, say a prayer standing before the altar then exit through the side door. Most people were still outside, talking after the service, so I wasn’t in anybody’s way, taking up half the available seating. After I collected myself and made it back outside I watched people lighting candles and filling bottles at the well.
I have never felt comfortable taking photos in churches, but on that visit to Mary's house I didn’t even want to
Not only did Hierapolis seem endless, the vast number of incredible historical sites is overwhelming. Everywhere I turn in Turkey there are ruins from every culture that has inhabited the region over the centuries.
take photos of the building, candles or well. The moment was just too special to spend it snapping pictures.
Turkey is a unique part of the world, a crossroads for most of the existence of humanity, full of more history than I would have thought possible before coming here. My year living in Istanbul has been a wonderful opportunity to see a country that had not previously been on my list of places to visit. I wanted to go to Madagascar. This summer I am moving to Bangladesh, so Madagascar may have to stay on the list for a while yet.
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