Snow White

Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
Trip End Mar 09, 2008

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Flag of Turkey  ,
Friday, September 28, 2007

For our overnight train from istanbul we managed to accidentally book ourselves first class tickets. i do appreciate any transport system that is sufficiently cheap that you can make this mistake. Our private cabin had decadently rich bedding and thick cotton sheets, leading Claude to note that it was better than most of the hotels we stay in. There was even a fridge!
Getting to the train was quite another matter: the tram we boarded was officially full at least 3 stations before it reached us, and it was full as far as the laws of physics and geometry prescribe once the first person at our station boarded. And 10 people later when i selected my moment to alight (having bumped Claude somewhat unceremoniously through a different door) it was clearly bordering on the surreal. Not normally claustrophobic, space and time did start to bend slightly as I stood utterly wedged into the packed tram (and yes, we'd already let full ones go by - there was no pacifist's choice available).
Having apologised profusely to the man who saw my backpack up close and personal for an interminable 10 minutes (who apologised back for the trams being so full in his city...), we connected to our ferry, which docks neatly at the main train station, and so began a very pleasant journey south.
Pamukkale is very small town. Three main streets, and a couple of cross streets that looked more like paths than roads. Despite the lack of complexity Claude still managed to get lost. it was actually quite an impressive feat given that despite its smallness in stature it has greatness in landmarks.
I had been cautioned by wise voices that Pamukkale's main sights could be summarised, in the words of a profound orator, as "a bit crap". For whatever reason, I enjoyed them all.
The Travertines are a natural phenomenon where a calcium rich warm spring bubbles from the earth atop a small cliff. Over many centuries, the water tumbling down has left deposits creating both small, creamy pools and smooth, sheer expanses in a brilliant, flawless white. i think i just need to leave this one to the photos. 
its not just us who liked it: the Russians go bananas for it, coming here to the exclusion of anywhere else Turkish. it was another bakingly hot afternoon when we visited, and i found it surprising that Claude, covered out of normal respect for the local viewpoint, only twigged after 20 minutes ascent "Hey, why am i wearing this wrap? There's nude Russians here!"
Nude they were not. But as rolls of pasty skin endeavour and conspire to consume the meagre swimming attire that constrains it (and wins), you must understand this is an easy mistake to make.
The pools are a triumph for another reason. Not long ago they had become incredibly degraded by tourism until reforms were made, a number of hotels atop the site demolished and your run of the site corralled into a small walkway. İts a good tradeoff: better to walk in a small area and see the ancient pools reforming to their grand old form. We have found it unusual in our trip to see damage ever being attempted to be reversed - let alone this successfully.
The Romans were awake to this area and had built their own health spa at the pools way back in Not Many A.D. For us today this meant there was the (well preserved) ruin of Hierapolis as part of the scene as well.
Once again, credit where due. As part of works to restore the great ruins of the Roman empire the İtalian Government is doing the restoration. İts done brilliantly: 90% of the pieces are original having fallen into the soft earth during one of the many earthquakes that hit this area - so just a matter of digging them up and putting them back together. New pieces have been done in a slightly different colour to show the difference. Cleverly, they have restored the stage so that the main theatre can once again function as a theatre, and its used a couple of times annually. İt is becoming very evident how well the Romans used the surrounding natural environment to set off their grand buildings. İts an epic feeling standing at the highest point of the theatre. 
We rounded this off with a nice place to stay, with homecooked meals and 9 cats to keep us company for dinner. The owner regaled us with their misfortune of being mislabeled "a nice German couple" in the latest Lonely Planet. "İts really hurting us," she moaned in a troubled voice, "after all, who wants to stay with Germans?" İf you get the chance, their oddly named Melrose Allgau Pension is worth the stay, and not in the least German.
There have been many mixed voices from others we have met about Pamukkale. İ don't normally enjoy great natural wonders unless they have been cooked. Maybe İ liked just because it seems here that even God doesn't finish things, leaving the landscape as partially planned as our journey.

* * *

We felt spoiled.  The train ticket vendor sold us a first class cabin (instead of our intended umpteenth class).  Notably, it was so cheap that we didn't even notice at the time.  We did notice, however, after we arrived at the station and wondered why we were being directed to such a groovy little private cabin wıth bar fridge, sink and bench.  Train travel in Turkey is fantastic.  Odd really, as we keep hearing from tourists and locals alike that the only way to travel over here is with the oversized, glowingly reviewed tourist buses.

After arriving in Denizli, we caught our very first dolmus (glorified mini-van) for the additional 15 minutes it took to get to Pammukale.  Pammukale, of course, being home to the calcium rich, natural travertine springs plastered across every tourist brochure espousing Turkey's gloriousness.

İ had heard consistently poor reviews of this 'natural wonder'.  So much so, that the first time İ came to Turkey Pammukale was voluntarily neglected.  This time around, we had heard that the place had been so destroyed by tourism that interventions had taken place to salvage what was left.  Namely, a group of 5 star hotels perched on the clifftop above the travertines had been demolished after it was discovered that they were diverting the natural springwater from cascading down the mountain (to form these breathtakıng pools), in favour of filling the hotel swimming pools.

Did İ think certain areas were a bit tacky? Yes. Particularly the manmade basins they had concreted in the hope that the springwater would create a calcium coating.  İt helped us understand what it must have once looked like (in terms of the scale of a giant white mountain nestled into the surrounding near-desert terrain).

Keep walking around the bend away from the masses and these newer, regenerated pools had really sprung to life.  The clean, pure, white basins against the setting sun and the rural backdrop were impressive.  After all, this is not something you see every day.  (Just maybe, my low, low expectations helped me draw my happy conclusions).  
However, as you can see I couldn't stop taking photographs.  The combination of the sunset (we wanted to avoid the crowds and the heat of the day) and the flawlessness and purity of the pools made this a fantastic photography subject.  İ just can't imagine what you would think if you had stumbled across it in the 'wild'.  İt would definitely be even more astonishing. 

My plans of tree house living in Pamukkale were cast aside as soon as we saw that tree house living actually meant: charge basically the same amount for a furnished room with ensuite bathroom but instead provide a crooked wooden raft up a tree which is large enough to shelter a double mattress - only just.  As it turned out, our decision to take the low budget room was a good one.  The hot water broke so we were upgraded to a slick, renovated suite well above the standard of something we would actually pay for on this trip!

After our discovery that the Hieropolis ruins and the travertine springs (the two sites of Pammnukale) were actually located on the same small hilltop (and both didn't take long to traverse) our plans to stay a few nights in town were amended quickly. 

Next stop - Selcuk, to see the ancient ruins of Ephesus and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world: what is left of the Temple of Artemis. 

* * *

Obviously some keyboard issues with İ İ y ı I here... we don't normally struggle with spellıng thıs much :)
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