It’s hard to encapsulate the mystique
or fascination of Turkey in a few words without resorting to some pretty tired
clichés, such as ‘cradle of civilization’ and ‘crossroads of cultures’.
In many respects, Turkey stands out
as the country, perhaps, most deserving of such descriptors. So many
historically and culturally significant, ancient civilisations took root in
what today we call Turkey. It was the site of the first expansion of Christianity.
It was the seat of the Eastern Christian church and the focal point of clashes
within the early Christian church. It was the Eastern capital of the Roman
Empire. It became a hub of Islamic religion and culture and the centre of a
great Muslim Empire. Long before that, it housed empires and civilisations that
are long gone. It provided a route (far from a free or easy one) for invaders
and would-be conquerors from all directions over several millennia. And it has
vestiges to show of all these events and happenings.
My starting point was a reasonable
awareness of its role in the early spread and development of Christianity; a
vague knowledge of a few ancient civilisations that had a foot there at one
time or another; some appreciation of its contribution to our ANZAC legacy; and
a limited awareness of its Islamic heritage.
By the time I arrived there, I had
done quite a lot of research and prepared some detailed notes; and, therefore, had
high expectations as to what I would get from it. However, I was still
overwhelmed by the wealth of its ancient and more recent cultural, historical,
architectural, and even geographical treasures. For the very interested, I have
uploaded PDFs of notes on Points of Interest En Route and a couple of sets specifically on Ephesus: Ephesus and
Surrounds and Buildings of Ephesus. They are probably only for the very
keen or those who are embarking on a visit by whatever means.
My tour had three dimensions to it.
The first was spending a few days in
Jordan. That was a treat; and sort of laid some markers for Turkey. What is now Jordan was all part of the Baghdad Caliphate, with which early Turk
tribes developed close – to the point of controlling – relationships, that, in
turn lead to the rise of Islam in Turkey. Jordan was also part of the Ottoman
Empire and still has vestiges of that period in its only rail line. It shares
with Turkey the best preserved Roman ruins outside Italy, which I visited
before seeing Ephesus. And it has spectacular evidence of its role in the
Crusades, most of which passed through Turkey, with the magnificent Kerak
The second was additional time I
spent alone in Istanbul, both before and after the organised motorcycle tour. It
was a very special experience to get a better knowledge of and feel for so many
aspects of such a fantastic city.
The third was the motorcycle part of
the tour when so much of what Turkey has to offer came to
Here’s something that I had
undoubtedly read and heard of before but had no really clear appreciation of,
until I could see it. I’m referring to the East/West
divide within Turkey. Turkey straddles two continents: the Asian continent in
its East and the European continent in its West. It gets more interesting.
Istanbul alone straddles both continents. Part of the city is in Europe; and
part of it is in Asia. Little wonder they talk about ‘crossroads of cultures’.
Even more interesting still is to
actually see and experience the fact that the two continents have a water-way
divide from the northern most parts of the country to its most southern parts.
You can’t go from one continent to the other – not even within Istanbul –
without crossing the water divide.
From the Black Sea, running south
through Istanbul into the Sea of Marmara is the Bosphorus. The Bosphorus is a strait of 32km in length, ranging in
width from about 300m to 3km. A cruise on the Bosphorus took us under the two
bridges that provide links between the two continents (in Istanbul, ferry is
the only crossing option) and provided magnificent views of shorelines of
mansions, villages and battlements. The Sea of Marmara provides the next
section of the water divide before it narrows and continues south into the Dardanelles. The Dardanelles, not unlike
the Bosphorus, is a long, narrow strait – only this time linking the Sea of Marmara
with the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. The Dardanelles (formerly called Hellespont) is 61km long and ranges in
width from 1.2km to 6km. It continues the divide between the European continent
(the Gallipoli Peninsula at this part of the divide) and the Asian continent.
The narrowest part – The Narrows – is
at the port town of Çanakkale (a ç is a ‘ch’.) It was here that the Persian King Xerxes built his
bridge of boats to land 100,000 troops in Thrace. It was here also that Turkish
forces, in March of 1915, scuttled the Allies’ naval attempts to control the
strategically significant strait. This event, in turn, lead to the Allied
decision to invade the Gallipoli Peninsula as an alternative way of gaining
control of the strait. What the Turks
commemorate as the Battle of Çanakkale, we commemorate as the Gallipoli
[conflu]Back to Istanbul for a
moment. Just where the Bosphorus divides Istanbul, there is a spur of water
that runs west into the European part of Istanbul. It’s called The Golden
Horn. It was once a beautiful inland
water retreat (perhaps a bit like Pittwater or the lower reaches of the
Hawkesbury in Sydney), but has become polluted with the city’s population
growth, especially in the 1950s. In the past, it played important historical
roles as a secure harbour and northern defence of old Constantinople (a former
name of Istanbul). It still has some gems to visit along its shores and in its
The two most imposing landmarks in
the oldest quarter of the city – even the whole city – are, undoubtedly, Aya
Sofya and the Blue Mosque. While I made a few visits to each of them, there’s a
lot more to Istanbul. Having had 5 days to explore and get acquainted with
Istanbul, I think I can safely say I did more than simply scratch the surface,
but certainly wouldn’t feel safe in boasting that I had any sort of in-depth
appreciation of the city. It’s like a huge, fantasy-world castle in which every
room and every nook and cranny has its fascination, its stories, and its
secrets. You could never discover them all!
Aya Sofya – Holy Wisdom (or, as it
was traditionally called in Greek, Hagia Sophia) is a magnificently huge
basilica built in 537 (sixth century AD!). Its architectural feats, not least
its 56 metre high dome, are still considered unbelievable today. It became a mosque after the Muslim conquest
of the city in the 15th century; and was converted into a national
museum by Atatürk in the 1930s. The Blue Mosque (or Sultan Ahmet Mosque) is
situated across Sultanahmet Square from Aya Sofya, thus making them an imposing
duo of magnificent buildings. It is said that the Blue Mosque was built to
demonstrate the architect’s prowess over those who built Aya Sofya and as a
tribute to the superiority of Islam. It has amazing blue-tiled walls and
pillars. It was built with six minarets – on a par with the only other mosque
in the world that had six minarets, the great mosque in Mecca. The sultan was
forced to donate an extra minaret to Mecca to keep himself out of strife.
Over three visits to the
Archaeological and Ancient Orient Museums, I must have spent the equivalent of
a day between the two (a second visit to the latter was particularly
interesting after having ‘discovered’ the Hittite Kingdom on the tour). Both
museums are such treasure troves. Close by is the Topkapi Palace, which became
the control centre for the far-flung Ottoman Empire when Süleyman the
Magnificent (great name!) consolidated the seat of the Ottoman Empire and his
royal residence. (The ü is ‘ew’ as in few.) The palace and its grounds are enormous.
Its lay-out and architecture are both confusing and fascinating. Its history is
It’s a long walk to the Süleymaniye
Mosque, but well worth it. It’s the second biggest mosque in Istanbul. It was
built by a famous architect, Sinan, for, not surprisingly, Süleyman the
Magnificent. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovations, so I had to content
myself with the surrounds. They were sufficient to make the walk rewarding. In
the garden of the mosque, is the tomb of Süleyman. The precincts of the mosque
include its former hospital, soup kitchen, medreses etc.
The fully covered Grand Bazaar is
almost a city in itself. It’s certainly easy to get totally lost amongst its
maze of narrow streets and lanes. But then, it’s hard to want to extract
yourself from such an array of attractive and enticing things to buy. There are
no limits to what’s on offer! The Egyptian Spice Market is almost as popular
and has its own enticements.
A little off-beat, but a curious
attraction, was the so-called Basilica Cistern or Sunken Palace. Essentially it
was an underground tank to hold the city’s water supply. But a tank with a
difference! It was begun by the Roman Emperor Constantine and expanded by
Justinian in 532. Its cathedral-like ceiling is supported by 336 columns,
seemingly salvaged from other
contemporary Greek or Roman structures, as were
the Medusa heads (check out the photos).
I figured one could not really visit Turkey without experiencing a genuine Turkish bath house. I encountered the full treatment of the turkish bath in the best of old traditions in the Cagaloglu Hamani - an ancient bath house built by Mahmut I in 1741. (Cagaloglu Hamani comes out orally as cha-al-olu ham-an-er)
Along the Golden
I spent the best part of a day
exploring the environs and upper reaches of the Golden Horn. There were three
The first was the Kariye Museum (Church
of the Holy Saviour in Chora), which the travel books say has some of the best
Byzantine mosaics on its walls and ceiling. They were certainly pretty
impressive. The church was originally built in the 4th century as the 'Church of the Holy Saviour Outside the Walls'
or 'in the country' (chora). It
was outside the walls of Constantine but just inside the later walls of Emperor
Theodosius II, if I understood correctly. I make that seemingly obscure point
only because the visit to the church enabled a visit to nearby sections of the
city walls. The current church building
dates from the late 11th century. The mosaics and murals date
from about 1320. The church had
its centuries as a mosque before becoming a museum.
The second highlight was the Eyüp
Mosque. I read somewhere that there is a saying “the Süleymaniye [mosque] is
glorious, Sultan [eyup-rgt]Ahmet [Blue Mosque] is beautiful, but it is the Eyüp
Mosque which is holy.” The mosque was erected by Mehmet the Conqueror over the tomb of Ayyub al-Ansari, who was the
standard bearer for the Prophet Mohammed as well as the last survivor of his
inner circle of trusted companions. He was known as Eyüp Sultan. It is popularly accepted
that, while serving as commander of the Arab forces during the siege of 668 to
669, Eyüp was killed and buried on the outskirts of the city. One of the
conditions of peace after the Arab siege was that the tomb of Eyüp be preserved
(sacred-destinations.com). After Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem,
the Eyüp Mosque is said to compete as the fourth most important place of
pilgrimage in the Islamic world.
The third highlight was a stroll
through an old Ottoman cemetery up the hill to Pierre Loti Café, high up on a
ridge overlooking the whole of the Golden Horn all the way to the Bosphorus.
There’s not a lot up there apart from the view and the reminisce that the café
was the work of a rather well-renown Turkophile French author of the 1800s. I
was sitting there over a Turkish coffee as the Azan (call to prayers) started.
Such a high vantage point overlooking a multitude of mosques might have
provided a glorious chorus of Azans. But
each Azan began, seemingly, according to the watch of each Muezzin (the person
who performs the Azan) – and the watches were far from synchronised. It made
for an interesting cacophony of Azans. The Istanbul Azan is distinctive and differs from Azans in other places. If you haven't heard the Azan, you might like to sample it here:
Across the Golden
Crossing the Golden Horn in Istanbul,
you go from the Old City to the New City. You’re still on the European side of
the Bosphorus. The new city, so-called, dates from early times and was most
commonly associated with foreign settlement. It housed, over several centuries,
the various foreign quarters, as well as providing settlements for merchants
and refugees. It gained quite a reputation for all the worst sorts of life
styles and activities. In the 19th and 20th centuries, it
became the location for many Western embassies and so took on a European
visage. It’s a significant business centre today.
Apart from a couple of walks across
the two storey Galata bridge and into the near-by fish market, my only venture
into the heart of the area was an expedition to scale the Galata Tower, which
is the new city’s most dominant feature. It was built in 1348 during an
expansion of the Genoese
colony in Constantinople. It was the high point of the
fortifications surrounding the Genoese citadel of Galata.
Ready for the
Not all of the above experiences
preceded the motorcycle part of the tour, but most did. The cruise on the
Bosphorus, the venture into Galata, a second visit to a Hamam (Turkish Bath) –
a different one, and second and third visits to the Archaeological and Ancient
Orient Museums, Aya Sofya, the Blue Mosque and strolls around the old city
rounded off the Turkey tour after returning to Istanbul.
But, after four days immersing myself
in Istanbul and having met up with my fellow travellers over those four days, I
was ready for the road. We just needed some motorbikes. And they were delivered
to our down town hotel on the Friday afternoon for a Saturday morning start. I
suspect a Saturday start made the ride out of Istanbul a little more manageable
than it might otherwise have been. Still, you needed all your wits.
A Map of the Route
Here is a map of Turkey indicating
the route of the tour. You can interact with the map by using the arrows and
the + and – signs. For example, you can zoom into Anzac Cove or other places.
You can also change the map from Satellite mode to Map mode for easier
recognition of roads and places.
The reddish markers are destination
places. The purple markers are places of interest. However, many destinations
are places of interest in themselves.
View Turkey Tour in a larger map
After what seemed an interminable
ride through built up areas, we hit the north coast of the Sea of Marmara and
followed it for pretty much the rest of the ride to the town of Gallipoli.
Gallilopi, which the Turks call Gelibolu, is on the east side of the Gallipoli
peninsula (the opposite side to where the Gallipoli landings took place). Next
morning, we rode over to the west coast of the peninsula and spent the morning
visiting the Gallipoli battle areas. This was quite a sobering experience, spoilt
a little by all the preparations for Anzac Day (we were there on 20 April). But
you just needed to look beyond the scaffolding and make-shift stages and delve
into your own inner recesses of thoughts and feelings; and it wasn’t difficult
to do. Despite a last minute visit to the War Memorial in Canberra to pore over
the Anzac Cove diorama and reading a lot about the landings, it was still near
impossible to recreate all the horrific stages of gains and losses. But it was
more than sufficient to simply contemplate what must have been thoughts of
disbelief and despair when the light of dawn revealed what confronted the
ANZACs and others (and there were others, including Canadians and Indians). We
looked up to the ridges from the beach and down to the beach from the ridges.
Either way, the view and the feelings it engendered were sombre.
I was struck at how small and barely
discernible, in a topographical sense, was ANZAC Cove. There was really nowhere
to go. I was also struck by the fact that there were fewer graves than I
expected. That’s because such vast numbers are still ‘buried’ where they fell.
Another striking aspect to it all was the large number of Turkish visitors.
There is a Turkish cemetery and monuments to the Turkish forces, as you might
expect. I understand, however, that the growth of Turkish appreciation and
attention has stemmed in large part from the increasingly large number of
Australians who have been arriving every Anzac Day.
After a few hours, we retreated to a
neat little town for lunch before boarding a ferry, with bikes, of course, to
cross the Dardanelles and spend the afternoon at Çanakkule. That was an
interesting experience in itself – riding bikes onto a very large ferry to the
wonderment of locals and other tourists. As we crossed the strait, I pondered
the difficulty Xerxes must have had, but overcame. The substantial battlements
on both sides of the strait (after Xerxes’ time!) were a reminder of the
challenge any boat or ship would face trying to breach a blockade.
Up until this point, we had been on
the European continent. By crossing the Dardanelles, we were now venturing onto
the Asian continent, where we would stay until our last day of riding into
We left Çanakkule at 8.00am next day for
a full day of riding and sight-seeing. Our destination was Kuşadasi – a long
way south on the Aegean Sea coast. (The ş is a ‘sh’.)
Our first stop was a short
diversion to the northern Aegean coast. On the mainland, not far south of where
the Dardanelles meet the Aegean, is the remnants of the fabled city of Troy. There’s a lot of ruins there, but not much of
any size that you can readily identify in an historical context. But it would
have been unthinkable to have missed Troy. It’s so much part of the mythology
(or history) that most of us have been either steeped in or, at least, exposed
to. It was interesting to walk around and associate foundations or bits of walls
or archaeological trenches with the various stages of Troy and some of the more
renown events – even if much was speculative. While it all made sense at the
time, I’m not confident I can still make those associations when it comes to
putting captions on my photos!
From Troy, it was back on the highway
heading south, then skirting around the Bay of Edrement until we could pick up
a minor road to Bergama. I found our proximity to the ancient city of Pergamon
too much to resist. While the rest of the group had lunch somewhere on the
other side of Bergama, I headed in the opposite direction, armed with a map
from the local tourist office, and made the steep, 5km climb to the high ridge
that once housed the key parts of one of the world’s great cities. My
particular interest stemmed from an almost accidental encounter with the
Pergamon Museum in Berlin some years earlier. I suspect the Pergamon Museum was a hidden
treasure until the Wall fell and the West ‘discovered’ it. It houses the great
altar from the Temple of Zeus at Pergamon. There’s only a few stones left of
the temple. The Pergamon theatre would have to be one of the most spectacular
of Roman theatres, although far from the best preserved.
Sadly, it was all a bit rushed as I
was anxious to catch up with the group before they set out to ride through the
city of İzmir. Fortunately, I did so, just as they were mounting bikes after
lunch. I say ‘fortunately’ mainly because the two of us with small-tanked bikes
ran out of petrol soon after. Good lesson!
The next challenge was riding through
Izmir – Turkey’s third largest city, but quite possibly the one with the most
criss-crossing motorways, extensive road works and heavy, fast-moving traffic.
It all worked pretty well, except that two of us managed to miss a vital marker
and got totally separated from the peloton – and, for most of the time, from
one another. It did feel lonely; but I persevered in the conviction that, so
long as the setting sun was off to my right, I couldn’t possibly go wrong. It
I might add that, at this stage, Izmir
(ancient Smyrna) was just a huge industrial city we had to get through. I later
learnt a lot more about it from a fascinating read: Paradise Lost by Giles Milton. The book is sub-titled Smyrna 1922 – The Destruction of Islam’s City of Tolerance. I had no appreciation
of what a great city it was in those halcyon days of grandeur in the years
before and even during the war. A city of mixed races and religions, of rich
and poor, where significant influence and control of commerce were in the hands
of the high-living Levantines – essentially European families (sometimes more
like dynasties) who had lived there in luxury for more than a generation or
two. The book well captures this phase, as well as the horror, brutality and
destruction that followed.
With such a full-on day, not to
mention time conjuring up petrol and looking for the lost, it was late and dark
as we crawled into the picturesque harbour town of Kuşadasi. This was to be our
base for exploring the Roman ruins of Ephesus and surrounds.
Our first stop was the site of one of
the Seven Wonders of the World: The Temple of Artemis (Artemis was a widely
venerated ‘mother goddess' of various things; also associated with the Roman
goddess Diana). From being, in its day, the largest Greek temple in existence,
at some four times the size of the Parthenon, it’s now just a single column (with
the almost obligatory stork’s nest) and some foundation walls spread over a
marshy paddock. But there’s still awe about being on the site and imagining the
enormity of one of the great wonders of the world.
The quick visit to the site also
provided our only opportunity to take in some of the immediate surrounds: high
on a hill above the town of Seljuk is the Byzantine Seljuk Castle; between the
site of Artemis and the castle is the 15th century Isa Bey Mosque,
incorporating stones and pillars recycled from the ruins of Ephesus and the
Temple of Artemis; and the Basilica of St John the Evangelist, who spent some
years in Ephesus and who is buried on the site of the basilica. The ruins remaining
today are from the great basilica built by Justinian in the 6th
Then we hit Ephesus. There’s really
no end to describing the features of Ephesus. All the details are already
contained in other documents referred to earlier, so I won’t repeat material in
them. Not unlike my visit to the Roman town of Jerash in Jordan, the great
fascination was being transported back to Roman times and reliving the daily
life that would have been a normal part of the town’s every day existence.
Ephesus seemed to want for nothing. It had small and large theatres, houses of
the rich and not-so-rich, public squares and buildings, including public
toilets, and, yes, even a brothel. Current excavations of inner-town, up-market
houses are revealing insights into life in Ephesus that were previously
unknown. I recalled in the theatre that this was the actual place that St Paul
stood with a theatre full of keen listeners. That was before he was chased out
of town by an angry mob. Part of the issue, I gather, was that he was
undermining a lucrative trade in selling statuettes of Artemis!
A particular attraction for me in
Seljuk was the small but very highly regarded archaeological museum, where I
spent a few hours instead of visiting a leather fashion show and outlet with
the rest of the group. The museum houses many mosaics and frescoes from houses
in Ephesus, as well as unique statuary from Ephesus. A ride back to Kuşadasi in
a local bus was an experience in itself.
After a two-night stop in Kuşadasi,
we headed pretty much due East, away from the Aegean. After that, we would head
south to the Mediterranean, thus, in effect, cutting out the south west corner
Our destination as we headed inland was
Pamukkale, sometimes referred to as the ‘cotton castle’ or the ‘frozen falls’.
The attraction here is a large area of white cliffs, ‘waves’, stalactites,
potholes – with pools dotted amongst all of this and cascading water flowing
What makes it different? It’s a
natural spring, basically, that has been flowing for centuries. Except that the
spring is heavily laden with limestone, which causes the water to calcify as it
mixes with the air. Hence, acres of look-alike snow fields cover hills and
[hier]The Romans were right onto this
– and the range of therapeutic remedies the spring reputedly provided. They built the splendid town of Hierapolis
over the hill and adjoining slopes to take full advantage of the spring, around
which they constructed their bath house. Even today, you can lie around in the
hot springs pools accompanied by Roman columns and other ancient fragments from
the town. Or you can sit and watch others do it while you enjoy a beer. We had
dropped the bikes at out hotel, so the ‘sit around and enjoy a beer’ was the
The ruins of Hierapolis provided a
rewarding wander through them. There’s a remarkable necropolis that seems to
extend for miles, there’s some great monumental gates and arches, as well
another spectacular theatre. And, not
least, the hot spring pools to cap it off.
Our hotel in Pamukkale for the night
had its own thermal pool. It was like a
very hot bath. In fact, there were three
pools, each of a different temperature. And some lovely mud to enhance the
warmth of the spring pools. All very indulgent!
Fethiye, Kaş and
a Lot in Between
Kaş Next day was a good morning’s
ride to our lunch stop at Fethiye. We were now heading south to the
Mediterranean. It wasn’t long before we got off the main road and headed into
some rugged country, across high peaks and along narrow, rutted, winding roads.
A morning well spent and enjoyed. I think I might have spared a thought for
Crusader armies who passed through this exact terrain – and it was hard enough
going on a motorbike on a paved road.
It was a rushed lunch at Fethiye for
me. We had a ‘free pass’ for the afternoon, which meant that we were on our
own. We only had to arrive in Kaş at some time that day or night. I had so many
plans, I had to trim them fairly drastically to ensure I got in before it got
too dark – and I just made it, having to struggle in the fast dimming light
with very vaguely recalled instructions of how to get to the hotel.
I have one regret about that
afternoon. The first place on my wish list of about a dozen places to see on
the way to Kaş was Kayaköy or Kaya (the
ö is like ‘o’ in dog, but only as Inspector Clouseau would say it). My notes
told me that “Kaya is described as an eerie ghost town, which makes a fascinating
excursion. It was home to about 3,500
Greeks until the deportations of the 1920s.
The Macedonian Muslims who were due to take over the village believed it
to be cursed and refused to move in, so the whole settlement of about 400 homes
stands silent.” That sounded fascinating enough. But, although I was well into Birds without Wings by Louis de
Bernières, It wasn’t until I got home that I discovered that Kaya was the
inspiration for his fictional town of Eskibahçe, where most of the novel’s
action takes place. That really would have made a visit there come alive. But,
sadly, I had to cross several places from my wish list; and that was one of
detour was to the site of Xanthos – once a leading town of Lycia and renown for
twice fighting to the death rather than surrender to an overwhelming enemy, the
second time involving Brutus of Julius Caesar fame. The site was rebuilt by Mark
Antony, but later dismantled by a British explorer, who took most of the then
intact ruins to London. All that remains are the theatre and some pillar-tombs
– and the hill on which was the citadel that was so tragically defended on two
very pleasant wander up a narrow gorge at Saklıkent on the Eşen River. Access
was provided by way of a catwalk along the cliff face of the gorge, with the
river surging below your feet. When the gorge widened, you were delivered to a
relaxing place to quaff a tea and ponder the surrounds.
the once powerful Lycian city of Patara. It must have been quite a place in its
time, given the very large area over which the ruins of the ancient city are
spread. Having a motorbike was a plus. It saved having to walk around. There
was no other vehicular access to many of the ruins. The entry to the city is
marked by a triple monumental arch, which also served as part of an aqueduct.
The granary of Hadian still stands. The theatre has partially filled with sand.
There are some impressive columns bordering a street of sorts. All this is
largely overgrown by vegetation – but the area abuts Turkey’s longest and
widest white sand breach. If it hadn’t been so windy and choppy, I might have
been tempted to strip and be first to try the Mediterranean.
If it hadn’t
been for the diversion to Patara, my first glimpse of the Mediterranean, as it
was for the others, would have been a deep blue bay that suddenly appeared a
long way below, as the road turned to face the sea, and which seemed to come
from nowhere. Kaş was easy to take. The
hotel was right on the promenade, with the Med virtually lapping at the door. A
few hearties had discovered it was very cold! Maybe I wouldn’t have dipped in
at Patara after all.
Antalya and Detours
on the Way
ride to the large city of Antalya was another ‘get there at your own pace’
exercise. That suited me fine. There were a few places along the way I wanted
to check out and a couple more that were well off the direct route. Most of the
group stayed in Kaş for lunch before setting out for an afternoon’s ride to
Antalya. I had a fellow traveller eager to make an earlier start. We had a good
plan that would have seen us visit, initially, some key tourist places along
the coastal road before heading north, but we managed, inexplicably, to turn
north off the coast road far too early; in fact, not far out of Kaş. I guess I would have to say we got thoroughly
lost for a while. We eventually had to solicit some map-reading lessons from a
local petrol station owner. His directions were counter-intuitive, to me at
least, but that was because we were actually on a very different road than I
had thought. Once we reached the main road north from Finike, my fellow
traveller had to cut loose and return to Kaş to collect his pillion. I battled
on to reach some of the original goals.
have to go very much further north before turning off and climbing even higher
into the mountains to reach the ancient city
Arykanda, almost perilously perched on high ridges and up the steep
slopes of mountain sides. Visiting Arykanda was in stark contrast to Ephesus,
where there were literally ship loads of tourists (from cruise liners that dock
in Kuşadasi). There was only one family (from France) and me in Arykanda for
the whole time. It had lots to offer and was situated in the most spectacular
Juggling priorities, I decided to
return south to Finike and head back towards Kaş to take in places I had missed
because of the earlier wrong turn. That didn’t work. The twisting road hanging
off the cliffs along the Mediterranean seemed to go on for far too long. I eventually cut my losses, did an ‘adventurous’
U-turn and headed for Antalya.
However, there were some more
places to visit off the main road. The first was Olympos, which was reached
down a ‘steep, roller-coaster road of narrow hairpin bends.’ I suspect the
guide book hadn’t realised that this would be so inviting for a motorcyclist. Getting
there also involved riding over a river ‘crossing’ – a wide, large-pebbled, river
bed. I waited; and watched several cars cross before attempting it. The water was only a few centimetres deep but
the experience was interesting. Olympos has almost become strangled by
overgrowth. It obviously had an outstanding water distribution system, most of
which has survived. Ancient Olympos has access to the sea by way of the river
that flowed through it into a protected bay. A trek through the ruins on narrow
walking tracks and across creeks brings you out onto one of Turkey’s longest
pebble beaches. Quite spectacular.
The next diversion was to Phaselis.
This was easier to get to and more pleasant to amble around. It was
particularly picturesque, with lots of trees amongst the ruins; and large bays
on both sides of the peninsula on which it’s built. It seemed to have had quite
a reputation in its day, with Demosthenes (383-322 BC) describing its citizens
as “most scoundrelly and unscrupulous.” Perhaps that might have had something
to do with the belief that Phaselis was founded by colonists from Rhodes in the
7th century BC, who bought the land with dried fish.
I almost made it unaided to the hotel
in Antalya. Well, even that’s not true. I had to stop twice for directions. The
complicated instructions (unwritten) were made more difficult by several lots
of unexpected, extensive road works and detours. I got to the clock tower in
the old city and remembered that was one of the markers. Not much help, but
some consolation. I then phoned in for further instructions. As it turned out,
I was amazingly close.
It was nice to look forward to two
nights, with a day off the bike.
The day in Antalya was spent lazing
and lunching on a Mediterranean cruise. Steep cliffs dropping into the sea, voluminous
waterfalls plunging into the Mediterranean, opportunities to swim from the boat
(the more adventurous reaching some rock outcrops close to the base of the main
falls), and a freshly cooked (on board) seafood lunch. What more can I say?
Along the Med to Kız
On the road again after a day’s
break, we had the most tiring day so far (worse was to come!). It was a 420km
ride, about 300k of which was mostly tight corners along the Mediterranean
coast. There were times when I felt
vertigo as I came around corners high up on the steep rocky coast line, with
sometimes no guard rail and a huge drop into the sea. I found myself having to
consciously not look at the sea or the scenery, but only the road. Good idea,
anyway, in the circumstances. It didn't help that the road had a lot of heavy
trucks on it that simply can't make the turns without either starting them by
coming out wide onto your side of the road or finishing them likewise,
depending on the direction of the turn.
Our morning tea stop was Alanya. That
was different. Alanya’s a city that sprawls along the coast, but is cut in two
by a massive, solid rock promontory that juts to a sharp point in the
Mediterranean. On the top of the promontory is the most spectacular castle,
whose crenellated walls, with 150 bastions, wind their way for 7km around the
promontory. It looks like – and was – a pirates’ lair for years. Pirate
chieftan, Diototus Tryphon, built his fortress on the peak in the 2nd
century BC. This was the last bastion to
fall to the Roman General Pompey in his crusade to wipe out the pirates in 65
BC. Our morning tea spot
was on the top of the promontory.
We headed out for the next leg to
Anamur for lunch. More of the coast-clinging, vertigo-inducing road. No
After lunch, I wandered off again –
or, at least, stopped off. Just beside the road, not far out of Anamur, is a
pretty impressive castle – Mamure Kalesi (Anamur Castle). The first fortress here was built in the 3rd
century AD but it has had many other incarnations. It certainly warranted the
hour I spent there, wandering around the grounds and what little there was left
of the interior buildings.
was spent at a tiny place called Kız Kalesi, named after one of the twin
medieval castles there. On the land is Korykos Castle and on an offshore island
is Kız Kalesi (the Maiden’s Castle), once a refuge for pirates until the Byzantines
fortified it as part of their defences during the Crusades.
Some of the braver (?) members of the group swam out to it, but I didn't
feel the need to do so. It was sufficient to admire its emergence from the sea,
almost like the monolith in 2001.
North to Cappadocia
Next day, we doubled back to Silifke
to take the road north across the Taurus Mountains into cental Anatolya. I dropped off (again) to climb (on the bike)
to the castle high above Silifke. It was interesting enough, as was the view
looking down on old Roman legacies in a cistern and seven-arched bridge. I
caught up with the group by lunch time. The road north from Silifke was, at
first, more than a hundred kms of nice sweeping turns. Then onto the flat
plateau for a fair bit of straight riding – with a fair few radar traps. We
devised a system of warning to complement our corner marking system. It worked
pretty well, with only one infringement (not me).
This day brought us into Cappadocia.
Before reaching our destination, we stopped to visit one of the underground
cities. These were carved out of the unique volcanic rock that is spread
throughout the whole area of Cappadocia.
It is soft to carve into and hardens when exposed to the air. The
underground cities go back thousands of years. They have as many as eight storeys.
It was a bit like going into a cave system, except that they were all carved
out by humans. Mostly, they were used as refuges and hiding places against
attacking armies. They were also used by early Christians to avoid persecution.
We stayed three nights in Cappadocia.
On the first full day there, we used minibuses to tour all the key sites. There
are the most amazing formations that have come about by wind and rivers carving
into the lava rock. They refer to many such formations as fairy chimneys
because of their shape. Many of these tall fairy chimneys have been carved out
to make homes. There are many houses,
churches and monasteries carved into the soft lava rock cliffs and hillsides.
The first idea of monasteries and monks came from this area – as did the first
set of rules for monks. The monasteries were all carved into the rock. There
are hundreds of churches – all small but many with marvellous frescoes painted
on the walls and ceilings.
The second day, after a last minute
cancellation of a hot air balloon cruise over the Cappadocia countryside (due
to weather), was spent doing our own thing. Five of us saddled up and rode off,
once the rain stopped later in the morning, to do some exploring, including a
bit of off-road riding along the valley ridges. We had a good guide in a fellow
traveller, who was on his 8th or 9th or 10th
Turkey trip. His favourite view was of the fairy chimneys from the top of a
valley wall looking down on what he called ‘Happiness Valley’. It was good
venture that day, taking in so many vantage points; and absorbing the
intricacies of the ‘architecture’ – both natural and built (or carved) and the
sweeping grandeur of the countryside. You could begin to imagine what an
overwhelming experience it would have been drifting aimlessly across it all in
a hot air balloon. But that will have to wait.
After our third night in Cappadocia,
we continued our trek north to our next destination – Boğazkale. It was only a
half day ride. This is the site of the
ancient Hittite capital of Hattuşaş. We spent the afternoon looking over the
very spread-out remains of the capital of the Hittite kingdom, which flourished
from 1400-1100 BC and controlled a ]vast area of today’s Turkey, as well
as south as far as Syria. The Hittites travelled widely in chariots for trading
purposes and their writings and carvings were influenced by the Egyptians, with
whom they traded. In fact, they came up
against an expanding Egyptian empire under Rameses II at Kadesh (in today’s
Syria) in 1274BC. The ensuing Treaty of Kadesh, which fixed the borders between
the two kingdoms in that region, is one of the oldest surviving treaties in
history. It’s in the Ancient Orient Museum in Istanbul. And to think all this
was happening hundreds – over a thousand years BC! Not surprisingly, there’s
very little superstructure to see. Mostly foundations, but even those are
awe-inspiring when you look down on the outline of the Great Temple, said to be
the largest building in the world in its day; and the Imperial Palace, where
over 3000 clay tablets from the emperors’ archives were found.
Further North to
the Black Sea
After a night with the Hittites, we
headed for the Black Sea town of Sinop. This is Turkey's north coast. It was a very
pleasant day's ride, with lots of winding road over mountains and a fair bit of
very small, back roads through villages that retain all the hallmarks of an
older way of life. We spent some time in one such village, where stops had been
made on previous tours, to renew acquaintances and imbibe the ambience of
Reaching the Black Sea seemed
something of a feat when you looked back on our journey. We had traversed open
lands, mountains and coasts that had seen armies, kings, emperors,
civilisations, victories and defeats, as well as their fantastically rich
historical, cultural and religious legacies – all from so many peoples and
eras. Now we were entering a stranger
land. One that was more associated with mythology, not that we didn’t encounter
some of that along the way. This was home to “Jason and his Argonauts..., the
Golden Fleece..., killer rocks, sea caves leading to Hades, brutal Amazons and
numerous other bizarre tribes...” Well,
so the travel guide would have it. We didn’t exactly get into any of that. Our encounter
might have seen far less adventurous, but it wasn’t without its excitement as
we managed a very different terrain and significantly worse roads clinging even
more precariously to the steep drops into the more foreboding Black Sea.
Given that you drive and ride on the
right hand side of the road in Turkey, we were on the vertigo-challenging
outside of the roads along the precipitous coast lines of both the
Mediterranean and Black Seas. Maybe, there’s a case for doing the tour
clockwise! However, I’m inclined to think that the much less familiar and
relatively less-known Black Sea coast, which means the discovery of news
aspects, probably makes for a better finale to the trip.
Our stay for the first night on the
Black Sea was Sinop. It was a very pleasant introduction to this part of the country,
being a quaint town set on a peninsula protruding into the sea (as peninsulas
Along the Black
The day from Sinop was undoubtedly
the hardest and longest ride (time-wise) of the trip. It was only 350kms, but the badly maintained
road constantly twisted along the coastal hills. The road was in wicked
condition, with several places where chunks of the right hand side (the side
closest to the drop-off and the side we were riding on) had been washed away or
just broken off because of the weight of vehicles and lack of support
underneath. They were marked by
balustrades, but that was only small comfort. Other parts of the road,
especially the tight, steep corners, had been broken up by the trucks, so you
were making the most difficult part of the turns in the roughest part of the gravel-filled
All part of the excitement of a day’s
adventure riding for the indomitable motorcyclist!
Our destination that day was Amasra,
another quaint town, nestled between fortified promontories, with impressive
wall, fortresses and steep cobbled paths. This all made a half-day’s walk
around town next morning a must before departure. But before that, we had to
As if the road and terrain weren’t enough, we
ended up with rain to cope with. Actually, most of us beat the rain, but a few
managed to meet it an hour or so from Amasra. I don’t think it took them all
that long, once arrived, to catch up in the beer-drinking stakes at the little
bay-side kiosk across from the hotel, where we had all spontaneously gathered.
I suspect the hotel proprietor spent a lot of time looking out his window
lamenting the loss of business, while the lady who owned the kiosk counted her unexpected
fortunes until the last of the group departed at 2.30am. She was back opening
up by 7.00am, not that she got any early morning starters from us!
Next day was a short ride to Safranbolu. Just as well it was short. It rained the whole way and was freezing
cold. At one stage, high up over the
mountains, we came across snow, which must have recently fallen (like a half
hour before) because it was still thickly on the road. We picked our way carefully along the almost bare
bitumen tracks left by passing four-wheeled vehicles.
Safranbolu was the quaintest of towns. Our hotel was a restored caravansaray. A
caravansaray is an establishment that provided a safe haven for overnight stops
for the early camel caravans. This one
was built in 1645 and would have housed hundreds, along with the camels, behind
its massive walls and heavy gates. It’s
the only hotel I've stayed in where the foyer was in the open air. It was the main courtyard of the
The rooms were rather tiny,
especially sharing, but the lay-out and atmosphere more than compensated. My
room, which was not much bigger than the two beds that took up the floor space,
had a narrow staircase which took you down to a small ensuite. This had
obviously been put in to fill the area where the smaller animals, such as the
horses, sheep etc, would have been housed, while the camels stayed in the
Safranbolu is noted for its array of
the finest 19th century Ottoman houses in Turkey and its Turkish
Delight. It’s Turkish Delight to die for! Nothing at all like what passes for
such in Australia.
The Run Home
The final day's ride was supposed to
take us back to the Black Sea and along back roads to Istanbul. However, because of the foul weather, we quickly
hit the main roads for the final dash to Istanbul. And it did become a dash for
home. Like the riding school horse when
you turn its head for home. The traffic was mad and hectic as we got closer to
Istanbul, but it was also very exhilarating. The road took us to the ferry port
for a short ferry ride across the Bosphorus to the old part of Istanbul and our
hotel. That crossing also took us from the Asian continent back to the European
continent, where we began our journey.
We were in for a bit of a treat for
the final two nights. We had a different hotel, much more in the centre of the
high spots and spectacularly overlooking Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque. A
thoroughly beguiling way to end such an absorbing and enticing experience.
Here is a slide show of the Turkey tour. Click on the arrow to run the thumbnail slide show or elsewhere on the thumbnail to be taken to the album and view full screen.