Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pools of Pamukkale and the ruins of Hierapolis

Blindingly white tea-cup shaped natural pools, overflowing with light blue water, all set on a hillside adorn Turkey's tourist brochures and even the walls of many local kebab restaurants around the world, all of these surreal images coming from the small town of Pamukkale in the central Southeast part of the country. Despite knowing that I'd be in the company of a few other tour groups, I couldn't miss this amazing natural attraction. I warily boarded a direct minibus from Selçuk/Ephesus, never really trusting those working in the tourist sectors of these popular cities. As luck would have it, I found myself seated next to an English-speaking Turkish tour guide who also happened to be the same guy I saw arguing with my minibus driver a day earlier. Embarrassed by the incident, he explained what had happened and also gave me some great advice on sights to see in the rest of the country. Heading inland from the West coast area, we passed into some more forested areas, still surrounded by random mountains popping up here and there in the distance, and we also passed through a few small towns consisting of one or two main road lined with old stone houses and women sitting along the curb, giving the area a nice rural, Eastern European feel.

When I arrived in Pamukkale after the 3 hour ride, I looked for a hotel which had been recommended to me at my previous stop, finding that the bus stop in the tiny town was literally across the narrow street from my intended accommodation, so I dropped off my bags with the friendly, multilingual owner and headed out for the afternoon. Just a few steps up the hill on the main road, there was a lake and a tiny grass park, looking straight at the main attraction of the area, the pools of Pamukkale. The huge hillside is covered in bright white, creating a completely unnatural look to the area. The formation is the result of calcium carbonate deposits in the water, flowing over the hillside and hardening, some of them forming travertine pools shaped like huge tea cups, about the size of a residential swimming pool, with a row of white stalactites hanging down from the bottom of the pools to the edge of the hillside below. The pools are filled with a beautiful light blue water that also flows down the hillside, though there has actually been some controversy as the pools have been alternately filled and emptied from time to time to help clean them out to avoid damage from the influx of tourists in recent years.

As I climbed the somewhat steep path angling up the white hillside, I was whistled at by a guard to remove my shoes, as I had missed the sign on the way up. The white walkway was covered in tiny ridges formed by the hardening minerals, along with many painful pebbles and flowing water, making it not the most comfortable barefoot trek up the hill. However, the spectacular set of about ten pools clinging to the hillside more than made up for the discomfort. Seeing them before in pictures, I didn't know what to actually expect, but I found a group of mostly circular pools hanging together in the vast white gradient, warmed by the somewhat hot water flowing down over the hill in a scenic little cascade. People posed and played in the water, constantly being whistled down by the guards as they got too close to the pools or the steep edges of the structure above a drop of a few hundred feet. Based on old pictures I've seen, people used to be able to swim in the actual pools, but for both safety and preservation reasons, I was glad to see that this is no longer the case. Instead there are a few artificial pools created alongside the path up the hill, in addition to one massive pool at the top of the hill, charging a good bit for visitors to take a refreshing break in the water.

In addition to the incredible pools, the hilltop is also the site of the ruins of Hierapolis, another ancient city founded around 190 BC, eventually abandoned in 1334 after a series of earthquakes. For being a secondary attraction in this small town, these ruins were again impressive, though after Ephesus and Pergamum, they weren't quite on the same scale, though pretty close. Walking under the hot sun, I passed by ancient tombs and housing structures, again finding my way to the huge theater, usually the most impressive site as these ruins. As you'd expect, there were empty archways, columns lining marble walkways and everything you'd want from a site of ruins from those times, though I also enjoyed the view on a nice shaded bench near the edge of the steep hillside, basking in the cooling winds coming up the side of the mountain.

Heading back down, I spent some more time gazing at the surreal pools, watching the sun finally set over the horizon as the pools finally grew darker and darker, flanked by a few lovely strands of bougainvillea flowers and less and less people. As with Ephesus, the place almost cleared out by dusk, allowing me to relax and enjoy the beauty and solitude all together. Climbing back down the hillside, I cringed with each step on the painful pebbles, eventually meeting up with a pair of Japanese girls for whom I had taken a picture earlier, sharing in my pain. They turned out to be flight attendants from Tokyo, and they joined me for dinner at my hostel before heading off for the night. I also met a group of three travellers from Spain and Italy, and I recommended my hostel to them, so between the two dinners and three beds that I conjured up for my guesthouse, I felt like I was almost due some sort of commission. Then again, it's such a small town, that there really aren't all that many choices.

(From the small town of Pamukkale, you get a glimpse of the hillside covered in white, all a result of hardened calcium deposits flowing over the huge hill.)

(One of the most popular images on Turkish tourism brochures, the travertine pools of Pamukkale are truly unique and beautiful.)

(As you can see, the line of tourists climbing up the hill in the background means that this place is certainly not undiscovered. Climbing up that hill was slightly painful, as you have to take off your shoes and walk up hill on the calcium ridges and among pebbles digging into your feet.)

(And if the amazing white pools weren't enough, there's another set of ancient Roman ruins, Hierapolis, sitting on top of the hill overlooking the area.)

(As usual, the theater was the most impressive piece of the ruins, showing how massive these cities must have been. It was also getting pretty hot, but unfortunately these theaters weren't air conditioned. They really weren't all that advanced after all.)

(The water flowing over the hillside eventually formed these calcium carbonate pools, filling with the beautiful water before overflowing and continuing on its way down the hill below.)

(Staying until later in the afternoon, the tour groups began to disperse, and the whistle-toting security guards were less active, allowing me to soak in the amazing sights...though I couldn't actually soak in the pools, as that's not allowed anymore, partially for keeping the pools pristine and probably moreso for preventing idiots from falling over the side and to a painful death rolling down the rocky hill below.)

(These pools are each about the size of a regular, residential swimming pool, though I really don't know how deep.)

(The sun began setting, and a few people were hoping to catch a shot of the sun setting over the pools, but with the direction of the sun, that was not even close to being possible, so I think it was the wrong season for that. Here you can also see a bit of the cascade coming over the hill and feeding the pools.)

(Along the outside edges of the pools, stalactites hang down like icicles, connecting to the pools and hillside below.)

(After the sun set, I gingerly walked back down the hill, stopping in one of the artificial pools dug into the hillside for a break.)

The Ruins of Ephesus (Efes)

The most well-preserved and impressive ruins in the Eastern Mediterranean. Given the glowing description of Ephesus, I knew this large set of ancient ruins would be my next stop moving South down the West coast of Turkey.

A quick bus transfer in Izmir turned interesting as I observed argument between my driver and a local man, finally broken up by a few large men holding both sides back, and given that I didn't exactly trust that my tiny minibus was the only transportation going to the site of these ruins, I was off to an interesting start on my way to Selçuk, the site of Ephesus. After asking around at the bus station, it seemed to be the truth, so I piled in the minibus with the half-tourist/half-local crowd and was on my way. When we arrived in Selçuk, I had to first find a hotel. I was approached by an old man immediately upon getting off the bus, though I didn't feel quite comfortable with him. Eventually, I gave in, and his son drove me to the nearby hotel. Asking for a dorm room, he informed me that I'd just share a double room with someone else, though that girl had taken the key with her, so I couldn't see it. Sounding a little suspicious, I waited and finally the owner managed to find another key, so I took the room and left my stuff behind (though I carried my valuables with me, as I always do). I walked back to the bus station, ready to get a minibus to the site of the ruins, but given the timetable that afternoon, it would actually be just as long to simply walk the three miles each way, so I set off on my journey.

My first stop in town was a lovely site on a hill overlooking another hill with a castle, and more importantly, the site was that of the Basilica of St. John, who is said to have visited the area between 37 and 48 AD, along with the Virgin Mary, and then again in 95 AD, when he is said to have written his gospel at this very location. Again, I was blown away by the significant historical sites that this country has to offer, as I had no idea of most of these facts until arriving in these towns. The site of the basilica was very picturesque, entering to find a stone walkway lined with red poppies and bougainvilleas, leading up to a large site of ruins including ceiling-less archways, free standing columns and the baptismal sanctuary. The key attraction of the site is a little courtyard surrounded by a small set of stone "bleachers", looking onto four pillars arranged in a rectangular formation, marking the grave site of St. John himself.

Moving along, I walked down the pleasant, shaded sidewalk leading to the ruins, almost completely shaded by two rows of trees with some sort of raspberry-looking berries, possibly mulberries. Soon enough, I saw the unassuming entrance to the Temple of Artemis. This may not mean much to some people, but the Temple of Artemis was a sprawling complex of great importance to the ancient cultures here, AND it's one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. With it's 127 columns, the massive structure was apparently the largest in the world during its heyday around two thousand years ago, even larger than the Greek Parthenon. Now, though, it's not quite as impressive. Well, it's not really impressive at all for what it is. There is just a sort of swampy field with one huge column remaining. So if you have a really great imagination (I'm an actuary, so I do not), you could probably imagine the wondrous place in all its majesty.

Another twenty or thirty minutes down the road, after refusing a few offers from taxis, I arrived at the sprawling site of Ephesus (Efes in Turkish). The area has been an important trading center since around 800 BC, with most of the ruins from probably around 300 BC, giving the area more than its fair share of historical significance. Being such a popular site, the parking lot was full of tour buses from all around, including day trips from Mediterranean cruises. The walk up to the ticket booth was lined with shops and cafes, selling overpriced food and souvenirs to tourists in many different languages. Once inside, though, the majesty of the site grabbed my attention and helped me forget about the large groups around me. Just down from the entrance, the first main sight is the massive 25,000 person theater, sitting on a hillside overlooking the ancient road leading further into the center of the old city. I climbed the huge stone steps of the theater, reaching the top row for an aerial view of the panorama laid out before me. In front of me lay a marble path with a whole row of columns that used to hold torches to light the avenue where shops lined the way, filling up with people at all times of day or night. To my left, curving in around the hillsides, another marble path led up to the remains of buildings and shops. The road, made of thick slabs of marble, was notable for having drainage and sewage channels running underneath, and it's even said that you can still see the ruts from carriages plying the road almost two thousand years ago. I overheard one tour guide talking about animals being in the stage below, with the height difference and minimal walls between the stage and front row of seating not really being sufficient to protect the audience if one of the wild animals decided to turn against the crowd.

Just as I was making my way up the road, a light rain began, and it was actually a bit refreshing, as well as helping disperse some of the tour groups. Next along the road was one of the main attractions of the site, the incredible facade of a two story library, sitting at the corner of the main road. The intricate face of the building was inset with four sculptures of women (maybe goddesses) who each had a virtue written under her statue, embodying Goodness, Thought, Knowledge and Wisdom. In addition to the sculptures, beautiful engravings decorated the undersides of the overhangs, all supported by massive, stately pillars. I had seen a picture of this before, but it was incredible to see up close. The Library of Celsus was also said to have been built with two walls (one inner and one outer) to protect the material inside from heat and humidity. Built around 114 AD, the library once held up to 12,000 scrolls in its walls.

Climbing the hill up the road, bits of storefronts and columns stood along both sides of the marble path, finally leveling out to another large site of heaps of ruins and a smaller amphitheater that was also quite well preserved. Spending time on the bleaches of the theater, I looked over the ancient city, imagining the sights and sounds that must have filled this ancient metropolis. Little by little, the tour groups began to thin out, and I started making my way back down the hill to re-visit a few of the sights. Coming down the hill, I stopped at the ancient Roman bath, which was just as pictured in those classic scenes of Roman baths, with a long flat marble bench along a long wall, with holes every couple of feet for the built-in toilets. In addition to the holes on top, there was a convenient opening in the front that allowed one to dip their hand in the trough of water running behind their legs to wash themselves while still comfortably seated. How convenient.

Stopping back at the Library of Celsus, I literally had the site to myself, interrupted occasionally by one worker replacing a few lights here and there. Without tour groups coming and going, posing for photos, it was a nice break to appreciate the true grandeur of this place, built so beautifully so long ago. As I was ready to leave the site for the evening, the sun was beginning to set over the hill, and I saw that some of the workers were setting up for a wedding to be held under the view of the imposing theater. It was an incredible setting for a wedding, though I had to laugh as I saw the tables were filled with appetizers that included bowls of olives, cheese, Doritos and Ruffles. The outfits of the staff were also great; they wore long plastic robes, cut and shaped like ancient gladiator uniforms.

Walking back from the site, I had a long way to go, but the mild weather was absolutely perfect, and I didn't mind the 45 minute stroll, passing some locals picking berries and chatting along the sidewalk as I went. Back at the hostel, I was again apprehensive, as my room was locked again without the key, though they told me that the guy in my room had taken it, though I was told earlier that it was a woman. They also didn't have the spare key, so I sat and waited...and waited...and waited. The staff seemed helpful and even checked a few of the local restaurants for my roommate, but he couldn't be found. Finally, around 11 that night, after three hours of waiting, he showed up. Though things felt a little suspicious, it all turned out fine, and my roommate turned out to be a very friendly Canadian/Indian guy studying Arabic in Syria for six months, so I didn't stay mad at him long. As usual, my sleep was interrupted by loud mufflers of cars buzzing by the adjacent road and the call to prayer from the local mosques, but I was just happy to have a place to stay for the night, as I would be moving on the next day.

(St. John's Basilica in the town of Selçuk. Apparently John lived here with Mary for a while and returned to write his gospel here. Pretty historical, eh? The four columns in a rectangle surround his final resting place.)

(The ruins at the basilica were quite impressive, with all different bits of an old church and nice columns.)

(One of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World - the massive Temple of Artemis. It's not quite as wonderful anymore, as only 1 of the columns remains over a swampy valley.)

(The long stone walkways/road of the ancient site of Ephesus/Efes. This site is said to be one of the most impressive ancient Roman cities, and with the miles of ruins, I concur.)

(This is just the little theater, perhaps for bargain movies after they move on from the big theater down the road.)

(There are two main preserved roads, consisting of huge granite slabs, with drainage and sewage channels running underneath. There are also wheel tracks (from carts, not cars) supposedly from almost two thousand years ago that can be seen on parts of the road.)

(Looking downhill from the elevated end of the site. At the end of the road, you can see the Library of Celsus, a two story facade that is the most impressive single piece of ruins in the complex.)

(This road would have been lined with shops, bath houses, etc. Probably no kebab shops yet, but who knows.)

(The classic Roman bath houses. There were a few long rows of these benches along the wall, with a large hole dropping all the way down to the sewage channels below. There would have also been water flowing through the channel by my feet, allowing someone to dip their hand in and clean themselves while enjoying the comfort and conversation afforded by these establishments.)

(Another row of columns - if you don't like columns, you should really avoid Roman ruins.)

(The incredible Library of Celsus once held 12,000 scrolls in its walls almost two thousand years ago.)

(Although it was ridiculously crowded at first with tour groups and even cruise ship excursions, as I stayed late into the afternoon, I had the place to myself, which was pretty amazing.)

(The massive facade has four statues representing the virtues of Goodness, Thought, Knowledge and Wisdom. Obviously, I fit right in around there.)

(And this is the REAL theater, capable of seating up to 25,000 people. Even now, the size of this stadium is impressive, also offering a view of the library and mountain backdrop, along with two of the main streets.)

(Another view of the theater, after almost every other tourist had cleared out. Check out the cool cloud above.)

(As I was leaving, there were some workers setting up for a wedding, and I loved their plastic gladiator outfits. The classy looking wedding had an incredible setting under the view of the theater and hillside, but I thought it was a little odd that some of the appetizers for each table included bowls of olives, cheese, Doritos and Ruffles. Maybe they were wedding flavored Doritos...)

Ancient Ruins of Pergamum - the Acropolis

Not The Acropolis, but the acropolis. Sorry for the confusion. I think that one's in Greece and not Turkey.

Moving on from the historical ruins of Troy, I was ready for a more architecturally impressive set of Roman ruins, so I headed down to Bergama and the ruins of Pergamum. Again the bus ride was quite scenic, leading down the coast, watching the rolling hills grow into small, rocky mountains and seeing the countryside morph into the classic Mediterranean coastal look with vineyards, grassy fields and forests of fig and light green olive trees covering the landscape. This region (Ayvalık) is also apparently known for their olive oil, similar to some of the finest olive oil produced in Italy, or so I am told. Fortuitously, I ordered a random toasted sandwich at a rest stop along the way and inadvertently received an excellent Turkish grilled cheese sandwich equivalent, so I think I'll have to remember that phrase for the future.

Drifting off to sleep, the bus attendant tapped me on the shoulder to let me know we had arrived to Bergama, so I hopped off the bus on to the side of the road, across the street from the bus station, still about 7 kilometers outside of town (as is the case for some Turkish bus stations). After talking with a pushy taxi driver for a while, I finally gave in and took his overpriced taxi into town, anxious to get to the ruins as it was getting later in the afternoon, and I wanted to get up to the site that same day. Once I got to my hostel, having paid about $15 for the taxi ride, my normally quiet, nice hostel owner went straight outside and reprimanded the taxi driver for overcharging me and letting him know that we wouldn't be needing his services anymore (he had "kindly" offered to take me to my next destination). So I walked down the road and found a better taxi to take me the five uphill kilometers to the top of the mountain overlooking the city, upon which sits the Acropolis, with sweeping views over the entire valley below. Again I found the site almost completely empty, allowing me to contemplate the long history and significance of the rows of tall columns and half gate that remained on top of the site.

During the time of Alexander the Great, Bergama was an important part of the Roman kingdom. As the city grew and changed rulers, the historical sites of the Acropolis and Asclepion (one of the most important ancient medical centers in the empire) were built and expanded, mostly in the years from around 300-150 BC. As always, the rich city eventually fell into a state of disrepair, coming back into prominence with the tourist industry. As I walked among the tall columns and piles of rubble, you could imagine how impressive these majestic structures must have looked, standing tall for all the city below to see. Below the main courtyard with the remains of a huge building surrounded by columns, I walked through the rows of arches supporting the hillside structure, revealing the inner workings and architecture of the time.

Just as impressive as the top of the hill is the theater, large enough for 10,000 people, carved into the steep hillside just below the site, still high above the city below. The very steep stairs led down to a small stage where speeches and performances must have been held, surrounded now by encroaching yellow grass and a few shrubs. Sitting on the steps, marvelling at the views of the city and countryside below, this truly impressive setting must have been magical during its heyday. A few minutes later, I heard some rustling in the dry grass next to me, and I looked over to see a reptile staring right back at me. After staring at each other for a moment, the slithering creature turned and sped away, sliding down the dry grass with amazing speed. I hesitate to call it a snake because I actually think it might have been a legless lizard (yes, those do exist) because something looked slightly different about the face and body shape of the animal. Either way, it sort of spooked me, as it seemed to give me a really strange, almost human expression before fleeing from me, reminding me of all the Biblical and mythological stories about influential serpents. Heading down to the bottom of the steep stairs, I was impressed by the views looking back upward, but I was also a little wary of all the movement I heard in the grass around me. Fortunately, I found five or six random turtles moving about in the dry grass, hissing at me and telling me to keep moving.

Just as I was contemplating leaving the site, nearing 7 in the evening, I heard a guard whistling at the four or five remaining visitors in the site, informing us that it was time to go. Not wanting to pay for a ride down the hill, I had read about a random trail down a dirt path around the side of the mountain, so I decided to try it out. I couldn't find the beginning, but I found what I believed to be the middle section, following an old cobbled path to a few more hidden ruins outside the gates and eventually leading to a small hole in the chain-link fence, putting me into a maze of narrow alleys sitting up on the top edge of town. As I negotiated the streets, I was delighted to see local children playing and old Turkish women with traditional dresses, colorful headscarves and wrinkles worn in by the harsh sun sitting on their front steps, looking strangely at me as I passed through an area that apparently doesn't get many outside visitors. I finally emerged to the main road, coming out right at the Red Basilica, another historic site in the town. This massive structure originally a giant temple to some Egyptian gods from the 2nd century which was then converted to a huge church with a huge podium in the middle where the preacher could appear to speak through a 30 foot high statue. St. John also called it one of the seven churches of the Apocalypse, saying it was the throne of the devil. Mostly worn down with huge walls of red brick remaining, local children climbed under the fences blocking entry inside and were playing hide and seek in what must be a really scary place to be after the sun sets.

After dark, I found a nice local place to eat, watching the two chefs next to me prepare the traditional Turkish pizza/pide in the fire oven, from stretching out the dough to shaping and baking the long, narrow creations. I opted for a nice plate of kofte, Turkish meatballs, along with some yogurt, pita type bread and a few random vegetables, creating a pretty tasty meal. The owners were also interested to hear where I was from and my thoughts on their small city. A few more of the local teenage workers joined in, curious to talk to me. I also ran into them the next morning as I was leaving, having to refuse an offer for some tea as I was in a hurry to catch the next bus, though I didn't know exactly how to do that. I was sure there had to be a minibus to the bus station outside of town, but I couldn't find where it would be. Eventually, I boarded a random minibus and asked the driver if he was going to the bus station. He smiled and waved me on, eventually dropping me off (out of his way) at the minibus station that offered free transfers to the larger bus station outside of town. Refusing any payment of mine, he just smiled and sent me on my way, in a way redeeming my impression of the workers in the city after my bad taxi experience.

(The mountaintop ruins of Pergamum, dating back just over 2,000 years, if my arithmetic is correct.)

(Just off to the side of the ruins is the 10,000 person capacity theater, situated on a steep hillside overlooking the town below.)

(Trying to add to the dramatic look of the Acropolis, I opted for some black and white and sepia pictures. Ooooohhhh, so dramatic.)

(As the afternoon came to an end, I was one of only a handful of people left at the ruins, often the only one in sight.)

(Just as with most of my trip, the weather was hot and dry, though not to the point of being uncomfortable. In the evenings, it was still fairly cool and pleasant.)

(Posing by the main ruins of the Acropolis. Later on, a Turkish guide explained to me that any site called an acropolis means that there is a burial ground there, though I was sort of doubtful, as it seems like I would have heard something that obvious before. Who knows.)

(An aerial view of the ruined site, where the central building used to sit in splendor, surrounded by a small courtyard and rows of columns.)

(A few more sepia pictures of the site. Ah, the nostalgia.)

(The setting sun passing through the stately columns. Classic.)

(A view of the extremely steep rows of the theater, with the hilltop ruins at the top of the picture. While sitting on the edge of these steps, I met a strange looking little serpent that sort of freaked me out, and then I found some less threatening turtles at the bottom, though they did still hiss at me.)

(After climbing down the front side of the mountain, I reached the Red Basilica. Apparently called one of the seven churches of the Apocalypse by St. John, it looked like a pretty great place to play hide and seek, as demonstrated by a group of local children.)

(The view of the hilltop Acropolis from the town below.)

(Two local chefs making Turkish pizza/pide by rolling out long, narrow strips of dough, covered with a bit of cheese and meat and then fired in the oven. This was my view from my streetside cafe.)

(My plate of kofte (Turkish meatballs) along with yogurt, tomatoes, onions, lettuce and some nice dry bread. I made a sort of sandwich/burrito out of the things, which worked out pretty well, though I never really know the local method of putting these things together.)

Bozcaada - Turkey's Quiet Little Piece of the Aegean

Despite Greece's stronghold on idyllic islands in the Aegean sea, Turkey managed to pry two little gems from their grasp. The larger of the two, Gökçeada, was a little out of my reach, but I liked the sound of tiny Bozcaada better anyway. (Pronounced sort of like Bowz-shay-ah-da, though varying depending on who you talk to.) I took another minibus back down the coast, past the site of Troy, to the harbor where I waited, finding a seat in an open air cafe overlooking the brown beach, watching the local men play cards and backgammon as they whiled away the time until the evening ferry. The crossing took less than an hour, putting me at the harbor in Bozcaada just as the sun was setting behind the largest hill on the island.

This tiny island, only about 6 miles long by 3 miles wide, consists mostly of one main town, wrapped around the small harbor and fronted by an impressive castle, described by my book as the only true sight/destination on the island. Right away, though, I got a sense as to why people come here. The village, a mix of Greek and Turkish culture, was almost unbelievably cute and quaint, with tiny cafes lining the narrow streets, sometimes wide enough for a car or two, sometimes blocked off by the outdoor seating of the restaurants or a random tractor sitting off in a corner. Small stone houses that must have been over a hundred years old sit pleasantly next to freshly painted hues of white and pastels. Locals literally stop and chat with each other from one open window two stories up to the passerbys below. A few restaurants try, in their very relaxed and discreet way, to attract your attention with a colorful painted sign or logo, though you get the feeling that they don't mind if you just keep walking, enjoying the laid-back air of the town. Along the harbor, five or six restaurants have set up tables overlooking the water, serving the fresh catch of the day to anyone who wants to stop by. The narrow, winding streets just continued for a few blocks into town, ending with a small hill overlooking the city on one side and stretching out to the other edge of the harbor and the impressive stone castle on the other end of the town. This really was a quintessential Mediterranean type fishing village with a welcoming feel, not yet converted to mass tourism, almost feeling too content in themselves to be bothered with it.

Arriving on the dock, I, being the only foreigner, was greeted by a little old man, showing me a brochure with pictures of his hotel. Not knowing where I'd stay, I decided to take a look, figuring I'd reward him for the effort of coming down to the dock to see if any tourists just happened to be on the boat. He apologized for his poor attempts at English, but it didn't matter. Just a few minutes away, he showed me to my room, which was actually the second story of a two story house squeezed between a restaurant and local shop along one of the main roads, just as picturesque as the rest of the buildings in the area. My room was also rather large with two beds, a couch and a tv, along with an attached bathroom, all for only about $25.

With the last remaining bits of light, I wandered the cobbled streets, finding my way up to the top of one of the hills overlooking the village, seeing the small town laid out in front of me. Heading back down, I stumbled upon a soccer match in the center of town, adjacent to a tree covered outdoor courtyard that was shared by two or three very basic cafes. I opted for a simple chicken kebab and watched darkness set in as the old men chatted around me and the teenagers waited for their turn in the soccer game.

The next morning, I had decided that I'd take the local bus (dolmuş) to the South end of the island where there are a string of beaches, but after talking to a few locals, I found that the service only ran a few times a day, and I shouldn't really count on them. So I noticed a sign about scooter rental around the corner and decided that was my best option. I flagged down a waiter who then flagged down the owner of the company who was relaxing in the courtyard, and I tried to explain that I wanted to rent a scooter for the day. His lack of English and my lack of Turkish didn't work too well, so eventually he motioned for me to jump on the back of his scooter, and he took me just down the road to a friend's restaurant who happened to speak English. As we chatted about prices, the scooter owner had to leave to do some painting, but I was instructed to let his friend know if I wanted one. This turned into an hour long chat about anything and everything, as I was treated to Turkish tea and hospitality while looking out over the harbor, talking to my new friend. Finally, I found a break in the conversation and mentioned that I really should get the scooter and see some of the island. At this point, the owner was long gone, so we had to call him back and go through a series of things as he tried to find the keys (which were just in the bottom of the seats, sitting there the whole time), helmets and paperwork. We never did find the paperwork, but he took me back to our English-speaking friend for an explanation, and he also vouched for me, as there was no official paperwork to hold me responsible if anything did happen to the scooter. Eventually, I was back on my way, taking the one main road out of the village, heading down along to the Southern coast. With the small population of the island, I had most of the road to myself, literally seeing a separate rabbit and then a turtle a few minutes later on the road before seeing other cars. (As you'd expect, I saw the hare way before the tortoise, but if the fable has taught us anything, we all know that the rabbit will stop for a break or a snack, and the turtle will win in the end.)

Spending about four hours on the scooter, I think I may have crossed over every single road on the small island, weaving up and down, in and around the rows of drying grapes of the inland vineyards, through the few bits of pine forest and mostly along the sweeping coast, offering scenic views of the clear blue sea below. I stopped at a few of the beaches for a bit, and while quite scenic, I don't think any of the Mediterranean type beaches can compare to the ones I've recently seen in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. The sand is coarse and sometimes the beaches are mostly rocks, though the beautiful water still provides some amazing views. Not knowing where to go, I followed a sign that said something about a "piknik," figuring that might lead to a pleasant spot in the middle of the island. I don't know if I ever found that location, but just after passing through a small grove of pine trees, the road opened up to a vineyard on my right and a beautiful patch of wildflowers on my left, covering an area the size of a football field in red poppies, mixed with a few tiny patches of white and yellow. Stopping for a stroll, as I'd never pass up the opportunity to meander through an idyllic patch of wildflowers, I found that there were actually a few goats laying in the field as well, enjoying the bright sunlight and cloudless sky. Soon after, heading back to town, I found another vineyard next to a field of wheat, so I rode on the dirt road along the edge of the field, enjoying the prototypical view of the golden wheat swaying in the wind, with the ocean off in the distance.

Finally, I headed back to town, content with my beautiful mix of rocky beaches, ocean views, vineyards, wildflowers and wheat fields. I dropped off the key and arrived in the town square just in time to see some sort of Naval presentation playing the national anthem and another song to a group of soldiers who had come in on a battleship for the afternoon. I spent the rest of my time between my cafe in the center of town and along the harbor with my English-speaking friend, having thoroughly enjoyed my day riding around this perfect little island. As crowded as Greece and other parts of Turkey get with tourists searching for the perfect small island, I couldn't believe that I nearly had this place to myself, and moreso, that the relaxed culture and lifestyle was still intact.

(One of the cute little streets of Bozcaada town, just inland from the harbor.)

(I think this was a Greek cafe, occupying the little alley around the corner from my hotel.)

(My rental scooter allowed me to basically see every road on this tiny island. This was my first view of one of the beaches lining the South coast.)

(Some typical scenery along the South coast.)

(Bozcaada town, viewed from the hillside. What you see in this picture is essentially everything that exists in this town - a few streets of houses and restaurants, a harbor and a castle.)

(The red-tiled houses add a nice touch to the already scenic town.)

(Me hanging out in a field of wildflowers - I think they are red poppies.)

(How could I resist a stroll through a perfect field of wildflowers along the side of the road?)

(As you can see, it's all very dry here, yet it still maintains a nice hint of green. Well done.)

(Another of the beaches with the typical clear water. As it turns out, the Aegean Sea is freezing! I guess that would be nice in the scorching summer heat, but it was too cold for me.)

(The coastal road, free of cars and full of great views.)

(Hello durrrrrr!)

(Little vineyards like this one line the interior of the island.)

(Ever since watching the movie Gladiator, I've been longing to stroll through a golden field of wheat, so I couldn't pass up the opportunity here. The picture was taken with a timer and a mini tripod on my scooter.)

(The castle is the only really iconic sight on the island, but it's the atmosphere that people come for.)

(Just around the corner from my hotel and the castle, this piece of land marks the edge of town. Literally.)

(My hotel is the second building from the left - the two story place next to the cafe.)

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