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Taking in Turkey

I hate new year celebrations, sorry to be boring, but perverse as I am, I don’t like being told when to party, and I sure don’t like to pay extra for it. Millennium, that’s just 1000 times worse. So what’s a chap to do when the whole world wants an expensive party, and he doesn’t want to join in? Short of joining the Y2K paranoids, the best thing I could think of was a little travel.

We flew down to Antalya, on the last day of December, just two days after deciding that it was the thing to do. After landing, the nice man from Budget provided us with a car and we made tracks for our lodgings in Belek.

Like most of Turkey, this region is literally littered with historical relics, the grand visions of great civilisations. Unlike other regions of Turkey, here the beautiful blue Mediterranean sea washes against a coastline of natural pine forests and mountains. The climate is friendly also, 15oC in January.

Early on the first day of the new year, we rose early, and after far too much to eat we set of for Phaselis. Phaselis is a ruined Roman city, situated, as an estate agent would say, with the benefit of wonderful sea views, set in a pine forest. Call me an old fashioned romantic but I fell in love with the place. The morning sunshine filtered through the trees and sparkled on the gently lapping water. Birds twittered as they flitted through the treetops, the sweet songs interspersed with the raucous sound of Jays. The smell was unbelievable, so fresh, so clean and with that natural pine scent, which despite the best efforts of science, is still not quite available in the supermarket. The main thoroughfare is still there, flanked on either side by broken pillars. A few arches stand proud above the small car park, the remains of an aqueduct are hidden away is a small rather cute, amphitheatre, fairly overgrown at the edges.

It was with great difficulty that we dragged ourselves back to the car, but this was only the first of many sights that we planned to see. Next stop Olympos, another Roman relic, this time rather hidden from view. From the beach I was disappointed, having been told great things of this place, a favourite with backpackers from all over. However the remains are now hidden beneath a couple of thousand year’s worth of tree growth, and finding them is like a maze or a treasure hunt. Around each new corner was something new to discover, under each piece of undergrowth, another piece of the jigsaw that made up the old city. Time was short however and we had an appointment with Santa Claus. We were going to visit his church and tomb.

In case you’re wondering if I have started to tell a fairy tale, it is the St Nicolas of Myra that I am talking about. The road to Myra was like nothing I have seen before. Here the mountains and the sea are neighbours, the result being steep cliffs. Cut into the cliffs is a road, which follows every line of the coast for what seems about 200 miles. The maps say 20, but I’m really not too sure. The result of this part of the journey was satisfied eyes, queasy stomachs. Tucked under the cliffs were countless, minute bays, with beaches of white sand washed by the blue, blue sea.

Demre, (Myra) is also famous for rock tombs, cut into the cliffs. They overlook another small roman town. Nowadays they also look out over orange groves, which were one of my favourite sites from the whole tour. The leaves are a dark green, like holly, and the contrast with the bright orange fruit is amazing. (Fruit in January? I don’t understand it either). Santa’s church was a fairly classical Byzantine style, without any great frescoes, perhaps a little disappointing compared with other sites we saw. We drove out of Demre, eating pide and cheese, which made a mess of the car, but pide is only available during Ramadan, and so you have to take advantage of it.

And so on to Kas. We arrived just in time to see the sun set. The sky was slightly cloudy, and the sky was washed with a lovely golden hue. We sat in a small café, drinking cappachino and listening to the sea. Kaþ is not a place of great historical significance like the other places we visited, but is a simple small seaside village, still relatively unspoilt by progress.

What a day and we still had one more to go. We saw west of Antalya, today we would travel east as far as Alanya. The road east of the city is straight and wide, but it has to be said, lacks some of the charm of the other road. We did make very quick time to Alanya though. First on our list was Aspendos, regarded as the best Roman Amphitheatre anywhere in Turkey. We arrived early, even before the early rising Germans. This enabled us to get a feel for the scale of the theatre. Amazing after so much time, it is still virtually intact and is used for concerts during the summer. It was definitely the best “ruin” of the trip.

Now it was time to go underground, we took a visit to the harbour cave in Alanya. The cave was small but there are many formations. There are apparently many caves in this region, most of which are not accessible to the public. Alanya’s crowning glory is the castle that sits atop a hilly peninsula, overlooking the city. The castle has a long history, including Roman and Ottoman chapters. Looking out over the walls of the castle, was like being on top of the world. On one side the sea, the other the city and beneath us on rocky outcrops were herds of goats. A brief aside about goats, which, in Antalya, are commonly eaten. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this, weak western digestive systems sometimes find it a little heavy going. You have been warned.

Whilst in this region, you have to visit a waterfall. The combination of mountains and sea make them quick common here, and some of them are very beautiful. We had chosen to visit Manavgat falls, near Side. Manavgat falls are only about 2 metres high but great none the less. The volume of water flowing was very high that day, so we got to see it at its best. The lack of excess people was also a bonus. I’m told that during certain seasons, it is less than spectacular, though I’m sure it still offers respite from the searing heat of August.

Our last stop before evening was Side, a small seaside town complete with yet more relics from the past. To be quite honest I was beginning to get a little over exposed to Roman History, by this time, so we just walked around a little and again contemplated the evening sky from the comfort of a seaside café. Please don’t get the wrong idea, I liked Side, I just didn’t wish to explore yet more relics. Before we left, we just had time to see the famous red brick minaret in Antalya, which to our disappointment was not lit up, before catching a post Y2K flight back home.

Despite my opening sentence, I did eat drink and make merry on new year’s eve, but I’m sure the memories of those two thousand year old cities, and the beautiful natural scenery, will be a much longer lasting memory.

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