Tourist beware in beautiful Antalya

Pat and I are sitting, bare feet, pants rolled to our knees, on the multi-coloured pebble beach in Antalya. The sparkling azure sea rolls to the shore, a succession of gentle breakers, foaming and sucking at the steep beach a few feet from where we’ve been pebble hunting. Up and down the beach, brown Europeans are sunbathing and swimming. It’s November 18th. The temperature is in the mid to high 20s and we are at the most southern place we’ve visited since leaving home.

Later …… We’re staying in the heart of Antalya’s old city. Ottoman architecture surrounds us, our tiny hotel is an original, with suitably creaky stairs. There are hundreds of European styled street-side restaurants and cafes. Wine and beer is served at the vast majority of them. The menus are varied, the seafood plentiful and fresh. Yesterday we sampled calamari twice. Today we are tasting shrimp. 

Antalya’s old city is perched on ragged rock bluffs rising out of the sea. Ancient towers of once strong fortifications still cling to the rock. Today they are occupied by mouse-catching cats. It maybe that the cats don’t bother with the mice as they – hopefully just the cats – also hang out at restaurants, putting the dogs to shame when it comes to shameless begging.

We notice tour boats taking people out in the pretty harbour and along the coast. That looks nice, so we investigate. Soon we are on-board an hour-long harbour tour. Forty minutes after leaving we are back.

“We paid for an hour,” we tell the ticket man. He pretends to have forgotten how to speak or understand English.

We point to the sign that clearly says, “one hour,” in several languages.

“No,” he insists. His English is magically recovering.

We point and I argue and he comes out of his booth, covers up the one hour portion of the English part of the sign with tape and goes back in his booth. He flaps a piece of paper at us that indicates 45 minutes.

I argue that we never got that paper. He shouts. I tell him to not shout and to listen. He gets more excited because there are now several people gathered around. I tell him I’m staying put until he listens. He listens then calls me a bunch of names. His English is getting better by the moment.

So the name of this blatantly dishonest boat tour company – just in case you are in Antalya or planning to go – is SS 200 NOLU AKDENIZ, Yelkenli Yatcilik Motorlu Tasiyicilar Kooperatifi. 

A few minutes later we stop by another ticket office of the same company and we ask for harbour tour details. Yes indeed, one hour tours is what they are selling. So we tell the guy what has happened.

Suddenly the story changes, “well yes, it is really 45 minutes.”

“45 minutes is not 60 minutes, even in Turkey,” I say.

The guy sheepishly suggests I talk to the boss. I do. Oddly this guy listens. I find myself wondering if he’s doing so because there are several police within hearing distance. Pat explains that the false advertising is misleading. I tell him this kind of thing gives Turkey – Turkish men in particular – a bad reputation among tourists. The boss agrees but insists that in Turkey things are done this underhanded way. He offers us a free 45 minute harbour tour in compensation. We tell him we’ve had enough harbour touring and go find ourselves a restaurant with excellent wine and a stunning view of the harbour. We look down and see the 45 minute one hour tour boat puttering by the cliffs below us.

The afternoon after visiting the beach and tramping around the city, we go to a 300 year old hammam. We’ve been to enough hammams to know they are supposed to be hot. The idea is to sweat before being scrubbed. This hammam isn’t hot. We aren’t shivering but there is certainly no sweating happening either. When we point this out we are told that Europeans don’t like it hot. 

“We’re not Europeans,” I say.

“This is a Turkish hammam in Turkey,” Pat says.

“The point is for it to be hot,” we both add.

“Don’t blame the Europeans because you don’t want to heat your water properly,” we mutter as we leave. Once again – misleading false advertising bites the unwary tourist where it hurts.

So the name of this establishment – in case you want to avoid a ineffective Hammam – is The Turkish Bath Antique Spa Hammam. It’s in the old town. 

That said, the beautiful young woman who scrubs and bubble massages us is from Iran. She came to Turkey with her mum and sister eighteen months ago. They have applied for visas to immigrate to Australia. Oh so much more of her story we want to know. We hope they are soon making new and wonderful lives for themselves down under.

What will we remember of our visit to Antalya? The warmth of the Mediterranean sun? Absolutely. The fabulous shrimps and calamari? Of course. The cold wine and beer and the stunning locations of the restaurants? Yes indeed. The glorious beach? Oh yes. The vibrancy? Again, yes. But we will also remember the dishonesties. Tourists should be double aware here – we are marks and subject to being scammed.

Konya – Turkey

Our bus trip from Goreme to Konya is comfortable and nothing untoward happens except that the sky clouds over and rain begins just before we arrive in Konya. The bus station is on the outskirts but near a tram station so we brave crossing two major roads and get to the tram station unscathed. It seems very odd that there are no pedestrian under or overpasses as numerous people are doing the same thing as us. The tram ride into town takes some time as there are multiple stops. We alight at the stop nearest our hotel and hurry through a deluge for the last few blocks.  We drip in the door onto a fine antique Turkish carpet. The housekeeper rushes up from somewhere and insists we remove our boots and put on the supplied slippers. Looking around we see we are in a fine renovated Ottoman mansion. 

Needing a meal, we ask for the nearest restaurant and the hotel owner walks through the rain with us for a few blocks to a pleasant establishment. We order our meal with sparkling water – no alcohol served here or in most places in Konya. This is an ultra conservative town. Most women are wearing hijab (scarf covering head, hair and shoulders) we also see many wearing burka (loose garment covering head and body) and some with niqaab (veil covering full face except for eyes) as well. 

We slosh back to our hotel and pop into the owner’s carpet shop next door for a promised cup of tea. He regales us with carpet making tales and explains much about natural, chemical, organic and mineral dyes. He’s a wool dyer and his passion is carpets. Knotted carpets, kilims, modern, antique, regional patterns, Indian and Chinese copies – marvellous stuff. At one point he mentions an unhappy time at school and being beaten by the imam. I wonder if he might sway a little from the path of conservative Islam.

“Do you drink beer?” I ask.

“Yes, I do.”

“Where can we buy some?”

“Come, I will show you.”

We set off into the dark rainy streets and we follow him into a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop with darkened windows. We pick three beers and they are each carefully wrapped in news paper and put in a nondescript bag. There’s some jocularity between our host and the salesman. They seem to think it quite odd that these old foreign ladies are sneaking about buying clandestine beers.

Once back at the hotel we leave our host with one and hop onto our beds – in dry clothes – to enjoy ours with a snack and BBC world news in English. All sorts of interesting things going on in the world.

The next morning is sunny and the city’s puddles glisten as they dry.

We visit the museum mosque, see Rumi’s tomb and learn a bit about Sufism. Then after exploring the nearby pedestrian shopping streets, it’s time to go back out to the bus station. This time we take a local mini bus and the ladies on the bus ensure we get off at the right stop. 

Soon we are on the bus headed over the mountains to the coast and Antalya.

We have spent more than a little time wondering about the routes taken by Syrian refugees across Turkey. Geographically and climactically it seems it would be a difficult country to transverse.

Could they just buy a bus ticket and ride like us? We have always had to show our passports to buy tickets. Today, as our bus approaches the coast, there is a road block with a soldier and several police. Our passports are collected and taken for checking. Everyone on the bus has their ID checked. This answers one question for us. Without proper identification and visa, travelling across Turkey by bus is unlikely. So we continue to wonder how the refugees manage to make their perilous journey. 

Goreme Turkey – Part III

Today we enjoy a leisurely breakfast before any excitement. We then walk out to a horse ranch just outside town. A couple of days ago we’d booked ourselves a ride to explore yet another canyon. The rancher confirms we know how to sit on a horse because this ride has a couple of ups and downs. 

“Yup, we’ve ridden in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan. We can do ups and downs,” we assure him.

These horses are beautiful creatures, sleek, tall Arabians. They gallop around their paddock tossing their heels and nodding their heads, dodging this way and that until they fall to the temptation of some fresh-picked willow. They calm down while being brushed and saddled.

Pat and I ride two pretty mares. Our guide rides a big feisty stallion. 

The first part of our ride is easy and our guide checks on us to ensure we are having fun. We are. We climb up a ridge and then suddenly the trail drops down the other side. It’s not too steep, it’s a bit exposed, it’s not bad until two large stray dogs come bounding along barking like wild things. Our horses don’t like this, flatten their ears and begin hopping around on the narrow trail. Our guide leaps off his horse and chases the dogs off by throwing rocks. We continue into the valley and enjoy the ride between the rock formations, through a tunnel then begin climbing. Pretty soon we are climbing a much steeper section and onto an exposed narrow trail far above the canyon floor. Pat and I squeak a bit. Our guide says not to worry, the horses are used to this. The problem of course is tat we are not used to this. So we sit very still, keep our eyes focused on the trail ahead, try to ignore the drop below and pretty soon we’re riding up to a funny little restaurant. Here we dismount, order large delicious fresh squeezed juices for a small price then walk up to a beautiful cave church with quite a few intact frescoes. Continuing our ride, we begin to descend and here too is a scary bit where we cross a tiny narrow bridge with crazy drop offs on either side. This is followed by a descent so steep that there is a rope strung along the trail to help hikers up and down. Our horses just lower their haunches and carefully pick their way. Pat and I just lean back and let the horses do their thing.

We’re thrilled with the ride which has taken us through Sword Valley, Red Valley and Pink Valley. It would have been a long tough hike. As it is, we have time to go back to our cave and grab clean clothes. Next stop for us is the hammam. This is one of the nicest we’ve visited. We enjoy the full treatment including a mud face mask, sauna, the usual scrub and massage then a swim. Of course we rehydrate afterwards with a beer.

Thus our visit to Goreme is coming to an end. It has been one of several highlights of this journey.

Tomorrow we will catch a bus onward to Konya.

Goreme Turkey Part II

The alarm wakes us from deep slumbers and we stagger around pulling on as many warm clothes as we have with us. At the appointed time we are outside the gate and a vehicle arrives. We climb in – six others are already passengers. We are the last to be collected. We drive east for about half an hour. Dawn is beginning to redden the horizon as we leave the main road head along a dirt track then into a field.

All around, the ground is covered with gigantic slug-like shapes, billowing and undulating as hot air is blown into their mouths. Attached to each slug by wires and carabiners is a basket. Our slug billows and grows and slowly rises. The hot air fans are removed and a propane burner attached to the top of the basket begins ejecting hot flames into the vast interior. The slug rises into a balloon and the basket is lifted from its side to an upright position.

“Climb in.”

There are toe hold slots in the basket and one by one, twelve of us climb up and in. The basket is divided into quarters. Three of us stand in each quarter. We all have plenty of outside edge space. More hot air roars into the ballon above as our balloonist pulls a series of levers. The ground crew begins untying tethers. Soon just one rope is left to be released and we begin to hover a metre or so above the ground. An all clear is given, the tether is pulled free, another roar of flame into our balloon and we sail up in the cold morning air to meet the rising sun. Around us hundreds of other balloons are doing the same thing. Some are already high above us, some are still sluggish on the ground. We all drift west with the breeze. Except for the periodic roar of the propane burners, the flight is silent. Our basket-mates are also quiet as we  absorb the thrill and beauty. The ground drops below us and the wide canyon-filled vista opens all around.

A full moon that had been shining brightly, fades as the sun rises. The balloons that had all been muted grey shades in the early light, now blossom into hundreds of bright designs and colours in the sunshine. 

Sometimes we fly as high as 1200 metres above the ground, sometimes we creep along almost touching the canyon walls. Up and down our balloonist takes us as the wind drifts the balloons slowly across the landscape. We fly for a little over an hour then land softly on the back of the basket’s custom-made trailer. A perfectly accurate landing. The top of the balloon is opened and it slowly looses its hot air, sinking down to the ground in a billow of fabric and lines. Meantime the ground crew sets out a table and nonalcoholic champagne. We clamber out, drink to the success of our flight, climb back in the van and are driven home.

And then it’s time for breakfast.

Breakfast consumed with gusto, we set off on another easy walk. While in the balloon we’d noticed a canyon directly behind our hotel. Known as Love Valley, it is famous for its many slender tall rock chimneys with little caps of harder rock on top. They have a distinctive shape but a young unimaginative Spaniard man in our basket had asked, “Why is it called Love Valley?” 

Our balloonist replied, “Because the shape of the rocks are like penises.” 

The Spaniard, who had been groping his girlfriend throughout the ride, appeared to be somewhat embarrassed. 

Now Pat and I have decided to take a closer look at the canyon, penis rocks or not, it looked stunning from the air. All we have to do is pop over the ridge and down the other side and we will be exploring the pathways within.

We are very quickly up on the ridge and begin walking along looking for a way down. The ridge trail is a little over four kms. After a little over four kms, plus several side jaunts as we explore offshoots that look like they might safely descend, we come to the end of the ridge and walk down a steep track to its base. A barely 100 metre walk along the low ground brings us to the trail entrance of the canyon we quest. We decide to hike up its entire length then return back into town from that direction. The trail is actually multiple trails but it is easy to stay in the right direction as cliff walls rise steeply on either side. The iconic vertical rock chimneys rise in clusters all around. Hidden springs provide enough water for poplars, fruit trees and grape vines. In some places the path tunnels through dense shading vegetation. In several places tunnels have been dug through sections of rock that would be difficult to climb. We stop at a tiny cafe for a tiny tea for an exorbitant price. We get hot. We get a bit hungry. Lunch time comes and passes as we continue exploring along the canyon. Eventually the trail climbs steeply and before long we clamber up to the top where we enjoy a minuscule drink of fresh squeezed pomegranate juice for several Lira more than appropriate. Highway robbery.

Our track now continues in the “wrong” direction for another twenty minutes before we can swing back towards town. Unfortunately we now find ourselves on a paved stretch of highway but it’s only for a couple of kilometres. We break our journey by popping into a few roadside restaurants seeking lunch and beer. Neither is to be had but an extremely expensive frappe serves to provide the energy we need to get us home. 

While we are sipping the delicious frappe and admiring the stunning peaceful view, Pat comments, “We can’t have a beer, so make do with a frappe instead while just 300 kms away there’s a war going on in Syria. It’s a weird world we live in.”

We ponder the difference 300 kms can make – potentially a three hour drive – as we walk the rest of our way back into town then begin an earnest search for beer, eventually finding a place that serves. 

We’ve had a good laugh at ourselves….how often have we set out on a short simple walk and found ourselves on a much longer expedition? Too many times to count. We’re just driven to explore around the next corner or over the next rise.

Goreme Turkey Part I

Tired after our all-nighter on the bus, We grab an hour of shuteye as soon as we gain possession our room. The room carved into the hill side – a luxurious cave. The only disadvantage is that it’s dim lighting, the window is small, and the internet doesn’t work unless the window or door is open. We have a nice porch though – also cut into the rock wall. The interior is warm and dry and there’s a wood floor.

Feeling slightly restored, we set off to explore. This area abounds with canyons with hiking trails wending their way through many of them. We walk through town to the start of an easy strollI guess sort of trail. Soon we are diverging from our gentle path and climbing along a narrower higher route – curious as usual about what lies beyond the near horizon. We are not disappointed. We are now on a ridge between two valleys and the next looks even more enticing than the one we were enjoying. Sense prevails – fatigue being a factor – and we decide to explore the second valley another day. Continuing along our ridge we dead-end – cliffs falling below on all three sides. Reluctantly, we retrace our steps but at one point wonder if a smaller trail will lead us down. It does for a while then it too dead ends with an alarming clamber and narrow crevice. We climb back up and continue on the longer more sensible route. On the way we discover several ancient cave churches with some of their rudimentary frescos still faintly visible. 

Back in town we find a restaurant serving Cappadocian food – as opposed to Chinese, Indian and the like – and beer. We settle in for a good meal and spirit a third beer into my pack to take back to our cave. We have an early night as we are bone weary and because we will have a very early morning – a dark chilly 0650 hrs departure. Could it be that we face another long bus trip so soon?