Yanartaş — Stones of Fire

On Christmas Day we rented a car right at the resort (filling the tank up was bad idea — that cost almost twice as the rental contract itself!) and set off down the coast to the West and South from our resort in search of the Chimera. We can’t thank our Frommer’s Turkey 2008 author enough — her instructions were right on the money.

After about three hours in windy, hilly, sometimes scary traffic conditions straight through Antalya and out the other side, we finally made it to the mountainside turn-off described in the book. We pressed on faithfully, even as the road stopped being a real road and we were sure we were lost among roadside chickens and the odd ramshackle “pansiyon.” And we got to the Chimera “base camp.” There a friendly old man pointed enthusiastically at pictures on postcards when Sarah mentioned the Turkish name for the phenomenon of the eternal flames on the mountainside: Yanartaş.

The hike up the hill was only 1000m and was well marked — you can’t miss it. We managed to not get rained on, though you can probably tell by the pictures that it was threatening to the whole time.

After making our way back down the path to the car, we decided to scout out some dining options. But it was getting late and long since dark and we opted for a stop to the Migros supermarket in Kemer for a snack of potato chips (an American brand…so, so much better than what we can get in Germany) and an old favorite, Fanta Limón. Why did they never introduce Ruffles in Germany and why the heck did they stop distributing Fanta Limón?

We made it back in time for a light, healthy dinner at the resort. The road traffic in Antalya reminds me a lot of what I’ve seen in Puerto Vallarta and Iaşi: lanes are extremely optional and horn taps and high-beam flashes are friendly, helpful measures — not the deadly serious insults we’re used to in the U.S. and Germany.

Still, I’m glad the tour bus driver is handling the rest of our surface travel.

Day 4 – Perge and Aspendos

OK, some good news (at last!). Today was about thousand percent improvement over yesterday (especially nice, because this excursion wasn’t free). Our tour group was about a quarter of the size, versus the Antalya shopping trip, and composed completely of people who wanted to be there. That was a big boost right there. By chance we had the same guide today as yesterday. He was very receptive to questions and I don’t think our group ever stumped him…except with a question about whether the aqueducts had guard posts stationed along them (good question, but not one of ours).

Our Frommer’s Turkey book gave Aspendos three stars and merely a mention to Perge. Aspendos was a pleasure and I’m really glad we did it, but we really thought the ruins of the ancient city of Perge were worth at least as many stars as the amphitheater at Aspendos.

When the bus picked us up at our hotel, it was about half full. We made one or two more stops and then were on our way to Perge. We saw the stadium outside the city wall first and then made our way in through the gate. The amount of old stone lying around on the ground, much of it ornate, was impressive. And then we got a look at the columns, many of which had been restored or at least re-inserted into modern replicas of their sockets. For me, I think the highlight of the Perge visit was passing from the Frigidarium through the Tepidarium to the Caldarium and checking out the ancient Fußbodenheizung structures underneath the floors of the baths.

We took a little break from the made-man marvels to visit a waterfall not too far away in a park area. It would have been a nice place for a picnic, but our lunch plans brought us back toward mankind’s creations near the 2000 year old amphitheater at Aspendos, so after a few minutes of admiring the waterfall and wildlife, we got back on the bus to move along. We pulled into a ramshackle village within sight of some ruins at Aspendos — not sure what those were, since we never talked about them — and sat down for lunch. It was pretty much the same deal as yesterday’s lunch: some bread, some salad-type stuff, and your choice of chicken, ground beef, or fish/vegetarian main course, followed up by fresh fruit dessert. Then, back on the bus for a two-minute ride to the theater at Aspendos.

Sarah remarked afterwards that once you gain admission to it, the theater is really yours to explore. There didn’t seem to be any restricted areas. We guessed that all they need is someone to hang around and make sure you don’t actively desecrate the place; otherwise, since you accepted the risk of climbing around mostly (but not entirely!) intact stone stairwells and bench seating, what else could go wrong? That building has been there twenty times longer than you can hope to live. The view from the top row out over the walls towards the Taurus Mountains was breathtaking. It was easy to see why this theater is still an active performance site: you can put sixteen thousand people in it and it still sounds great — we tested that a little bit, our normal speaking voices clearly audible between the top row and about half-way down. Just a little louder than normal is all you would need to project all the way from the bottom up to the top.

After hanging around there for about a half an hour, we sampled a mix of freshly squeezed and orange and pomegranate juice (yum) and got back on the bus for just one more stop to go. We made our way out to a bridge crossing a river that was built in the 1200s (and modernized more than once over time). This was not a big deal to for anyone who lives in Regensburg, and the rest of the guests didn’t seem too jazzed about it either. At that point, I think we were all just ready to get back to our respective hotels and chill out a little before dinner.

Turkish Riviera Day 3 – “Side” trip/planning

After breakfast this morning, we met with our tour company rep and started talking about all the other neat stuff we could be doing on this trip. A lot of the options were available for less than €50 a head and included a meal or two. We were most interested in Antike Höhepunkte (Highlights of Antiquity) and Sea to Sky (a gondola trip up a mountain from sea level) and Das Erlebnis Nord-Zypern (The North Cypress Experience), and Kekova (a sunken city) but of those four, two have been cancelled due to a lack of interest or dangerous weather conditions. So we signed up for Antike Höhepunkte and a free shopping trip to Antalya. We’re not big on tourist-targeted shopping opportunities, which are apparently attractive to other visitors from Western Europe (a couple times one or both of us have been mistaken for Dutch or Belgians, so it must not be exclusively Germany sending her children abroad), but we opted to take in Antalya as part of that package. I mean hey…it’s free transportation 50 minutes to the city of Antalya and back here at the end of the day. Why not, right? If the free trip to Antalya and the Highlights go well, we might sign up for the sunken city trip. Otherwise, we might be renting a car and striking out more on our own.

After getting our package plans settled for the next couple of days, we walked out onto the main drag along the coast and hopped a dolmuş (mini-bus) headed toward Side. You wave at the bus headed toward you, he pulls over, you get in, and you hand the driver a Euro coin (don’t forget, the national currency of Turkey is the Lira, but you don’t hardly need it) per person. Then get off wherever you want. Any verbal interaction you need happens in fairly broken but usable German. Our first impressions of the road travel are that it’s much less crazy than Puerto Vallarta (nothing scary about the buses at all), so that’s encouraging.

We got off at the main bus station (if you can call it that — more like a parking lot) in Side and walked around, taking in all the ruins lying around. Along the way, we stopped in at a place which smelled good and seemed a refuge from the Turkish merchants encouraging us (in German) to buy their jeans, shoes, leather goods, jewelry, etc. I had a chicken döner and Sarah had a beef one. Fellow expats: ever heard of a beef döner? Both were great, served piping hot in freshly grilled lavash-like wraps. When we got down to the harbour area, we finally — FINALLY — found a place with a decent cup of coffee (saw the Illy sign). That’s been pretty sorely lacking for the past few days, as the coffee at the resort is awful. Still have yet to try out any Turkish coffee or tea, but we’re hoping for some of that tomorrow.

Check out these ruins from Side (OK, the first one is from our hotel room):

Turkish Riviera — first couple days

Day One

We had a nice and easy late afternoon departure fro Munich. We took a train down and though the platform was packed, and the train itself arriving from Nürnberg with a ton of passengers on it looked foreboding. But practically all of them got off in Regensburg, leaving easy seats for us and our big suitcase. Waited a few minutes for the bus in Freising, like always. But it was reallly, really cold. You know the kind where you can’t stop shivering, even after finding a heat source? That’s what this was.

We got into the airport and had a bit of a kerfuffle regarding our tickets — the TUI counter is not always the TUI counter, it would seem. It was hampered by an apparent bomb scare — we watched security shepherd everyone away from an area with red warning tape as a real German Shepherd was brought in to sniff a suspicious misplaced/ abandoned piece of luggage. But whatevs, it all got sorted out with plenty of time to spare. We were lounging comfortably at the gate when WE spotted a piece of luggage with no owner around. No one else in the immediate area seemed to know anything about it, either. I kept an eye on it and Sarah grabbed some airport staff. I don’t know about y’all, but when it comes to stuff like that, we don’t play. Die Polizei came around a couple times and when the bag’s owner returned, he got a little talking-to from the Feds.

Uneventful flight. Just a little delayed due to the weather and de-icing.

Getting off the plane in Antalya, we both remarked upon the swankiness of the airport as we collected our luggage and bought our visas (€15 a piece). We stepped out in the parking lot area and found our tour company’s stand pretty quickly, found our way to our bus and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Other passengers were getting antsy in the meantime, even berating the driver a bit. We finally got going and didn’t arrive until about 1am. We checked into our room knew right away something was wrong. It smelled terrible. It looked OK — clean, tastefully decorated. But we couldn’t spend the night in there. The clerk was happy to upgrade our room for €45 (total, not per night). But he couldn’t or wouldn’t just move us into a non-smelly room in the same price range the same night. I am pretty sure that was a scam of some sort — just not willing to fight it at 1:30am after having traveled all afternoon to get there.

Day Two

We were so tired from our late arrival on Day One, that we managed to wake up for the tail end of breakfast, but crashed out again immediately afterwards, sleeping through lunch. Eventually, we woke up and decided to explore the beach area. Here’s what we found waiting for us: