Thursday, August 7, 2008

Turkey - Day 5

Ephesus & Pammukale calcium pools...

Day 5 marks the beginning of a historical adventure. We entered Selcuk. I bet those who concentrate in history classes will remember the Selcuk empire. Well, here it is! The dominating empire that took the world by storm once upon a time once again appeared smaller that what I have imagined. Well, the reason we were there is not to visit Selcuk city.

We are actually visiting the House of Virgin Mary and ancient city of Ephesus. The bus took a narrow winding road up the hill. There is no barrier and the path is big enough for only a vehicle to pass by. I wonder, what if another bus comes down? There is no place to squeeze 2 vehicles, unless one decided to take a plunge down. Well, I guess that’s not happening. We went up the hill safely.

As we walked towards the House of Virgin Mary, strong wind made our hair go crazy. The larger than life House of Virgin Mary appeared so tiny. It only has a living room and a small store room. The house resembled a tiny church. I could never have imagined a person could live here all her life in such a constraint place. Appears more like a prison. And Mary actually lives here. Devotees climbed all the way up to this house every year. Outside, everyone rushed to get the Holy water running from 3 taps. Everyone queued up and as usual the Cartoon Family cut the line as if nobody’s business. They were hogging all the taps! If you would ask me how does Holy water taste like? Well, you got to taste it for yourself. I am not telling! All I can say is, it is crystal clear and ice cold!

Next to the place we saw a wall made up of crumpled papers and the strong wind made them move like soft tissues. This is the wall of wishes. People come here and hang their wishes on the wall. It is believed that if their wish come true, then they have to come back to this place and bring back something which belongs to their granted wish. For example, if a person wished for a home and got a home, they have to bring back a furniture that belongs to the home.
I tried to steal some reading from the wishes but it was so tightly folded I could not see it. Well, who would want the whole world to see their wishes! No one put up any wishes as hey, you will never know if you would come back here again. If you don’t, what will happen to your wish that came true? Gone? Destroyed?

It was a short visit. We took some pictures and saw burnt out trees surrounding the House. We soon learnt that there was a massive forest fire last year. It burnt down most of the forest and strangely, the fire stopped when approaching the House. It was a bizarre sight. True enough, there is a line of perfectly grown forest trees surrounding the House. The rest of the trees standing behind the line are all charred black.

As we descend the hill, we had a great view of Selcuk city. On the next hill, lies Ephesus. Ephesus is one of the Wonders of the world which is protected by Unesco. Unlike Troy and Acropolis, Ephesus still stands tall with most of the architecture still intact. As we walked by, a photographer came from nowhere and kept snapping pictures of us. Just like a paparazzi. When we pose for our own camera, he will also snap a picture. Then he will ask us to pose and take a picture. Everywhere we go, he will come along. As the group became uneasy of this rascal, ,Bayazid told us that this is a professional photographer. It is not rare to have this people especially touristy places. They will develop the pictures in a spilt of minutes and meet us at our lunch table to sell the pictures.

As we walked down the rugged path of Ephesus, I wonder how could this place still exist after thousand of years and survived all the earth quakes? I could still see the marble floors and steps. For a moment, I really wished if I could teleport back in time to see Ephesus in its days of glory. It must be phenomenal. But, that’s not going to happen though! All that is left now is its ruins and for your imagination to picture the place of how it would be once upon a time.

People gathered in front of a what seems like a building with carving of a lady. Well, if the crowd is there, then there must be something. This is the Temple of Hadrian (left). Unfortunately, I do not know much about Hadrian but this temple sure is standing tall and the face of Hadrian is still clearly seen at the very top of the temple.

We were led to a place where there are holes just like a toilet seat. We were laughing silly as we got to know that this is the public toilet. Mind you, this place is more “open” than any toilets in China. There is no door and only potty holes. This is the place to socialize for Ephesurians. To talk about the world, the weather, sports while doing their “business”.

We saw the statue of Nike (left pix). Nike is the famous Greek God of victory. The long flowing gown of Nike has a shape of the Nike symbol you see out there. I guess that is how Nike got the “You can do it” icon, from the Goddess herself. No doubt Nike is linked to victories and it sells!

As we walked deeper into Ephesus, the real deal emerged from afar. The Celcus library. I’ve seen this structure in wallpapers and postcards. But it was so huge that my tiny camera could not contain it. I could not explain the beauty of this structure. It is simply magnificent! The intact structure was so surreal that for a moment I could picture Greeks looking people walking up and down the stairs of Celcus library.

Celcus Library

The weather does not side us as it started pouring rain. The wind blew our umbrella upside down. All of us scurried to the bus as we missed the Ephesus amphitheatre. We could not even have some time to marvel at Celcus library, unfortunately.

The excitement has yet to end. We drove to Pammukale aka Cotton castle. This is another UNESCO protected site. From far, we can see a white hill. Behind this hill is where the magic unfolds. I am the most excited for Pammukale. I’ve seen the pictures of the calcium pools and it is almost unbelievable that such place exist on Earth. We walked towards the Cotton Castle and pass through the ancient city of Hierapolis. The city built on top of the calcium pools is barely there. Long grasses has covered almost the entire city. The only structure seen is an old building from afar. It looks like a torn down bungalow. Finally, we reached the calcium pools.

Pammukale is another site that will take your breath away. Blue colored calcium pools were formed like steps down the entire white hill. We dipped our feet down a slippery stream of cool calcium waters. There are only certain areas where we, the human aka the destroyer of beautiful places are allowed to go. We stepped on the white shallow pools. The water is cool as ice and reflected the sky just like a mirror. I tell you, I can spend the entire day here. After Su and I came back home, we rated Pammukale as the best spot in Turkey.

We were told that once Pammukale was more beautiful. Before it was protected by UNESCO, people will bath and swim in the pools. Even vehicles are allowed to go inside the pool. Hotel chains mushroomed Pammukale and they drain waters from Pammukale to the hotels as a form of water supply. Tourist who couldn’t get enough of the healing waters swarmed the place. Being known as the only place on Earth which hold such natural wonders, UNESCO stepped in and put a stop before more destruction falls onto Pammukale. The chain of hotels were closed down. Rules where only bare footed tourist are allowed into designated pools were applied. Fortunately this was done in time as I could see the top portion of Pammukale pools were all dried out. Leaving only white calciums. It will take years before the pools are restored.

The sky darkened as we were shooed by Bayazid back to the tour bus. As the evening sky emerged and the wind blowing softly, he walk back along the ancient city of Hieropolis I can only described as romantic.

We wrapped up the day with hot spring baths in Lycus River hotel. This is the best hotel so far. The lower ground consist of hot spring pool, Turkish bath, relaxation room and a sauna. Best of all, we can enjoy all of them free! I took a dip into the hot spring pool. It was nice with Jacuzzi message. This pool is pretty small and at one point it get so crowded (doesn’t help with a huge over-weight guy jumping into it) I had to get out. As soon as I get out, the cold wind chilled me to the bone. I was shaking like crazy and Su wanted to get out into the open air hot spring outside. I was like ?? It’s so cold inside and it will get even crazier outside. But for the heck of it, we went to the outdoor pool. The pool was also flocked with people. The water looks muddy and we bailed out from the idea. Walking back to the hotel, it feels like a deja-vu. It’s like I’ve dreamt of this place before. The triangular lobby, a pool in the middle of the lobby.

Su and I did not end the day just yet. We went into the Turkish bath. It was warm and steamy inside. There was no one inside and the room is scented with fragrant oils. Light music played under the dim blue-ish lights. Two slabs of marble stood in the middle of the room. Surrounding the room were pipes and pails. Su & I decided to play around since no one is around. I filled the pail with warm water that flowed from the pipe. Su laid on the marble slab as I pour the water all over here. We laughed ourselves silly as we took turns to pour water on each other. Then Su decided to add some spice by making some weird Arabic music when pouring water over me.

OK. A real Turkish bath is not meant that way. A Turkish bath involves a real bath (yes, a bath like you take at home naked) where somebody will scrub and massage your body.
We were having so much fun and laughing so loudly that it scare away some people from coming inside. Must be some lunatics inside when a Turkish bath supposed to be a spa-like bath. Quiet and relaxing.

After the bath, we were still tempted to jump into the hot spring pool. However, at this point, the pool is basically swarmed with people. So we decided to explore the relaxation room. The room was scented and dimly lit. Lazy chairs are all over the room. We were relaxing under the warmth of the room. Enjoying the light music as we gazed up into the starry ceiling.


Pammukale - A closer encounter

(With additional cartoon characters at the background.. Hehe...)

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