Posts filed under ‘Natural Wonders’

Dr. Seuss’ Inspiration?

After a difficult farewell, we returned to Konya in time to meet the Fez bus for the trip to Cappadocia. On the way, they stopped at a remarkably intact Seljuk-era caravanseray. The spiral dome impressed us all.

So did the fascinating collection of heads, another in an astounding collection of Turkish public sculpture we have seen during our travels. Atatürk, of course, is in the center. Those behind him include an enlightening and eclectic collection of Turkish heros: Ottoman Sultans Mehmet the Conqueror and Sulayman the Magnificent, legendary Turkic hero Dede Korkut, mythic Turkic tribal leader Oǧuz Kaǧan, Seljuk Sultan Alparslan, famed architect Sinan, Turkish poet and MP Mehmet Akif Ersoy, and Ibn Sina (Avicenna), medieval scientist and philosopher.


In a few hours, we reached Uchisar, a small town in Cappadocia frequented by French and Italian tourists. The landscape is astonishing, carved by wind and water from the volcanic stone. Over the centuries, humans have helped with the carving, digging homes and public buildings into the rocks. The students insisted on staying in Kilim Pensiyon’s cave rooms.

View from the Terrace
View from the Terrace
Landscape by Dr. Seuss?

Landscape by Dr. Seuss?

For two days, we climbed over rocks and explored inside caves, walked along streams and admired the Byzantine churches that still exist around the area. We got to the point that we could actually identify most of the images in the cave churches, images most of us had seen for the first time in Istanbul.

Iconoclast Version

Iconoclast Version

But the walking was intermittently difficult, and the climbing a bit intimidating. After a difficult swim in a reedy, mud-bottomed lake formed inside a volcanic crater, I wondered whether this trip had somehow morphed into outward bound. I sat out the walk along the Ihlara valley, where William and the students explored more caves and admired more churches. I did get to listen in on the conversation in a village restaurant as the owner tried to convince two bureaucrats that they really did need cable and internet -–I was exhibit A, with my laptop and nothing to connect to. (They also wanted to be able to run credit cards, and needed a cable for that. Three months, they were promised.)

Outward Bound?
Outward Bound?
but when you go inside
And inside
but when you go inside

Everyone was a bit tired as we waited to be picked up by the Fez bus for the trip to Ankara that evening. Two weeks on the road is a long time.

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July 5, 2008 at 3:14 pm Leave a comment

Walking the King’s Road

Pamukkale to Eǧirdir was on a public bus, larger and more comfortable that what we had taken so far. It was much more conducive to sleep. I think these students need bus rides to sleep–they seem to be awake all the rest of the time.

Eǧirdir sits on a large inland lake and is surrounded by spectacular mountains. It is on the way between places, which was our interest in coming. It sits close to the King’s Road that stretched from the Aegean to Persia in the fifth century BC. The Persians used the road for trade, Alexander the Great’s troops marched along it to conquer Darius II, and Paul walked it in his efforts to create converts. We arrived late in the afternoon, talked about Egirdir and history, then the students swam and we all explored the town and its neighboring islands.

The next morning we went to one of Turkey’s national parks to walk part of the ancient road, now called “Yazılı Canyon,” or “with writing.” We looked at the Greek inscriptions on the hillside–and swam in the beautiful mountain river that created the valley. The setting is spectacular, the water is the sort of “mountain stream” that companies bottle and sell. The students seem always to be drawn to high places, and they followed their passion onto the rocks, from which they jumped into the ice cold water.

We were delighted to have the park to ourselves, but spent some time on the rocks talking as we dried off. What does it mean that no one was at the national park? Our own national parks are being inundated with tourists, crowded to the point where their resources are compromised. Where do Turks go for vacations? To whom does the Tourism Ministry direct itself? What is the role of tourism in creating a national identity?

As always, the students’ questions and comments were fascinating. Turkey seems to have a two-track tourism effort. For Turks, tourism is about recreation and about education. There is a pass costing only YTL 20 that allows Turks into all major historical and natural sites (unavailable to foreigners who pay admission fees everywhere.) For foreigners, tourism TV ads on European stations emphasize the exotic, the erotic, and the ancient. They left me considering whether, indeed, Turkey’s efforts to present herself as exotic to lure European tourists can possibly be reconciled with her attempts to portray herself as modern and eligible for EU membership.

July 3, 2008 at 6:32 am Leave a comment

Pamukkale

We were all sad to say goodbye to the guesthouse and Ephesus. We had had a terrific “day off,” and most of the students slept on the bus to try to catch up!

Pamukkale was the next stop. It is named after the white calcium cliffs that rise above the town. Its waters have been considered good for healing for centuries, and many before the Romans had built on top of the cliffs. After years as a major tourist site with a number of five-star hotels at the top, the UN declared the spot a World Heritage Site, insisted on removing the hotels, and revised the water supply so that the calcium-rich water continued to build up and repair the previous decades’ damage.

It is amazing to climb the hillside. It looks glacial, and I expected that, when I took off my shoes (required), my feet would be in icy water. It looks like ice, but feels quite warm. People played in the pools all the way up to the top, where a swimming pool beckons. You can “swim among the ruins,” the pillars and capitals and various ruins in the warm-water mineral-which swimming pool. Needless to say, the students swam.

Before we headed up, I had provided a background to the site and to Hierapolis, the ruined city at the top of the hill. After the swimming pool closed, we walked to the Temple of Apollo and the Plutonium. I’d prepared information about six major buildings at the site, but the third was a theater with a stunning view of the countryside below– and a fantastic sunset. They climbed around the theater until it was dark, looking for the images I had asked them to find and enjoying the remarkable setting.

Needless to say, it was difficult to leave Pamukkale, too. I’ve never encountered a group like this. Each evening since we left Istanbul, they have declared it the best day yet. It’s hard not to be enamoured of that kind of attitude!

June 28, 2008 at 2:46 pm 1 comment


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