Part three of our amazing trip in Turkey was a drive along the Mediterranean coast, from Izmir to Antalya, known in Turkey as the Turquoise and Lycian Coasts, respectively. Our ridiculously small clown car could barely fit all the purchases we made in Istanbul but we made it work for the few hours we were in it each day (even if we sat with bags on our laps). Just some advice: be wary of Economy Car Rentals as they do not verify that the local companies actually have the same cars as advertised. Our first stop was the town of Selcuk, just outside the ancient city of Ephesus. Ephesus is one of the best preserved ruins we’ve seen (especially the library). It’s also full of cats. Just how Santiago had a stray dog problem that was simultaneously sad and cute, Turkey has a stray cat problem. Everywhere you look there are cats sunning on ancient ruins, lying in handmade vendors goods or diving into alley dumpsters. It’s sad, but the cute outcome is the amount of kittens you get to see! There was no lack of kittens in Ephesus, ready to make any picture better.
From Selcuk, we headed inland toward Pamukkale. En route, we took in another site called Aphrodisias. The parking attendant didn’t want us to park on the street; instead he wanted us to pay $5 to park in his lot even though there were very few visitors that day and plenty of parking available. We asked him if it was illegal to park on the street. He said no, but he could not guarantee that someone wouldn’t hit our car or break into it in such a way that he was basically promising that one of his friends was going to commit the crime themselves. So fueled by the motivation to not let this Turkish mafia rule our day, Dennis, our knight in shining armor, stood guard while Joshua, Sue and I got to explore Aphrodisias.
It truly was a well preserved site, the stadium being the most incredible we saw. All the marble seats were intact, the last row even had built in backgammon boards carved into the marble (for when the events got boring?!).
In Pamukkale, we stayed at a little hotel, probably more of a hostel than Joshua’s Aunt and Uncle were prepared for. The owner was nice enough, and did us a huge favor when he prepared us for the holiday starting the following day that represented the sacrifice Ibrahim made when offering to sacrifice his son. The day before we had seen little lambs in the trunks of cars (makes total sense now, they were headed to the family dinner table), but at 7am the following day, the town went crazy shooting guns into the air…we even heard shot gun pellets hitting the roof of our room. Luckily, our hotel owner had warned us that we would have a free alarm that morning. Although she tried on several occasions, Aunt Sue could never secure us an invite to the parties being held around town.
Near Pamukkale, we visited the “red waters,” where hot, mineral-rich water comes bubbling out of the ground.
It’s just down the street from “cotton mountain,” the location of the Pamukkale pools. The minerals from the earth look like they are melting down the mountain, and they are bright white in color. The pools are filled with warm water that is said to have healing powers. We spent plenty of time splashing in the pools before we walked through the nearby ruins of Hierapolis. By that time, however, we had seen plenty of ruins. Our true goal for the afternoon was to relax in the antique pool where you can swim among ancient ruins in warm mineral water. I’m guessing all our ailments will be forever cured with the amount of time we spent.
Our next stop was a small coastal town of Fethiye. We made it just in time for a grand sunset and a great local fish meal. Our hotel owner, Dr. John, gave us a multi-day itinerary for our one day drive. In doing so, we visited the Lycian tombs on a hill outside Fethiye (the stairs were steep…it was a team effort). We passed through a Turkish ghost town before stopping for lunch in Oludeniz, a gorgeous Mediterranean beach resort. We wrapped up our afternoon with a walk through the harbor town of Kas (keep in mind that none of these towns are pronounced how you would think!). We packed in as many activities that we could…more in Turkey than probably anywhere else considering how fast people drive…Joshua zipped around hillside corners in our little Renault. You can cover a lot of ground when you drive without limits!
We did receive some important feedback at the beach near Fethiye. We would like to think our trip is a good idea, meaning it was smart to leave good jobs and spend our life savings to travel the world now. Not everyone would agree, but Joshua met a man at a small Mediterranean beach who helped us feel even more confident in our decision. He and his wife had saved for their whole life to see the world when they retired. Unfortunately, his wife passed away from cancer recently, so now he was somewhat reluctantly going at it alone. The Brit shared his enthusiasm for traveling now, not waiting for a distant and unpredictable future. He and Joshua bonded instantly.
After a full day of sightseeing, we arrived in Cirali with one goal—hike to the everlasting flame. It is most popular to climb to the flame at night, although it’s open 24 hours. In the dark, the hike can be hectic…it’s all uphill, the “stairs” are uneven, you have to avoid rocks and it’s pretty steep, but at the top you come across all these natural camp fires surrounded by groups of people sharing wine bought from the true “convenience” store just outside the ticket booth. The flames can be covered and put out, but apparently they re-ignite themselves because of the chemicals emitted from the earth. The Chimaera claims to be the inspiration for the Olympic Flame, so I feel like I’ve gotten really close to my Olympic dream these days.
Some people hate to ask for directions. We’re actually the opposite. In fact, we asked for directions to our hotel in Antalya when we were literally 30 ft away. Hey, after the two hour detour in South Africa, what’s a 30 second stop (except for the idiotic looks we got)? The hotel was absolutely luxurious, Elegance East. The owner loved beautiful things and filled his hotel with the finest of everything. He welcomed us with chocolates, cocktails and ornately decorated rooms.
We continued the pampering with Joshua and Uncle Dennis getting straight razor shaves and haircuts. Joshua even sprung for a full facial mask which may explain the Turks impeccable facial hair. He loved every minute—he looked like a puppy with its head out the window (but with less hair blowing) when he was asked to hold the hairdryer in front of his face to dry the mask. Overall, it was “the best deal” Joshua said he’s gotten the whole trip…total pampering for both of them for $7. If he lived there, Joshua would get one every week!
Sue and I sat outside the men’s club waiting patiently for our own relaxation time. We booked a final Turkish bath for the whole family! However, the Sefa Hamam was far less touristy than our first experience, built more for the everyday locals. I ended up lying naked next to Aunt Sue while the masseuse told me I was beautiful and rubbed my boobs. At least Aunt Sue didn’t leave me alone with the guy! Joshua wasn’t so lucky. His masseuse told him he looked 25 and asked if he played football (yeah, right!) while he splashed cold water between his legs. It was a totally different experience than we had in Istanbul, but truly hilarious in retrospect.
We needed a night of the best to send Joshua’s Aunt and Uncle off in style. So we made a reservation at the #1 restaurant on TripAdvisor called Vanilla in the old town of Antalya which is surprisingly cute (actually one of my favorite cities in Turkey). The dinner wasn’t anything special, but at least the idea got both Aunt Sue and I showered and dressed up!
The next morning we took Sue and Dennis to the airport for their flight home. Encouraged by Aunt Sue, Joshua and I stayed another night at Elegance East. They did our laundry (the cleanest our clothes have ever been) for free and even sent us on our drive with a huge plate of snacks for the drive. It was the perfect end to our family vacation in Turkey. Actually the perfect end was reminiscing on how much fun we had with Sue and Dennis, despite all odds: difficult directions, small cars, an election we couldn’t agree on, confined spaces and a local language barrier.
Joshua and I had a job to do: return the rental car to the Izmir Airport where we picked it up. We took the shortcut back towards Izmir…our 8 hour drive was more like 5 since we knew where we were going. We stayed in Selcuk again for two reasons…we knew where a decent cheap hotel was located and across the street was the best doner and iskender we had during our whole trip. Staying in a town because we knew we could eat well for a few dollars…we’ve made worse decisions! And then, to end the 6 day sacrifice of the lamb holiday, we were treated to a brilliant fireworks display.
We dropped off our car in Izmir and had to travel like real people again. We took a bus to Cesme, the nearby port town, in search of a boat to Athens.