Drive

Oesn’t al­ways find what he’s g a visit to Turkey’s till comes away happy.

The Press - Escape - - TURKEY -

com­pletely out of his way. I leaped out of the car and thanked him pro­fusely. He smiled and drove off.

The next day, un­daunted, I charted a course in Ap­ple Maps for Pa­mukkale, some three hours away. Google Maps doesn’t main­tain its turn-by-turn func­tion once you dis­con­nect from wi-fi, but Ap­ple Maps does. As long as you stay on the route you’ve cho­sen, the app will con­tinue to tell you when to turn right and left, and which leg of the round­about to veer into on your way out of a cir­cle.

So the trip to the park would al­low ab­so­lutely no room for side ven­tures, which was fine. We didn’t have much time to get there and wan­der around be­fore sun­set, and that pres­sure gave me li­cense to drive fast and fu­ri­ous, as if I were be­ing chased.

Pa­mukkale is best ex­plored in a cir­cu­lar fash­ion, be­gin­ning at the south gate and traips­ing up the hill above those travertines, a se­ries of saucers and cliffs formed over cen­turies by tooth-white cal­cite de­posits, to the ru­ins of Heirapo­lis, an an­cient Ro­man and Byzan­tine spa city. Paved path­ways and wooden-bridge walk­ways lead from one relic to the next, al­low­ing vis­i­tors to ex­plore a tourist at­trac­tion that dates to 190BC.

A high­light is the Ro­man theatre, built for 12,000 spec­ta­tors and com­pletely ac­ces­si­ble to­day. From there, we saun­tered past the Arch of Domi­tian to the Ro­man baths, imag­in­ing what it must have been like to take a dip here two mil­len­nia ago. At the park’s north gate, you turn back in the other di­rec­tion and look across the ‘‘Cot­ton Cas­tle’’ (pa­muk in English means cot­ton), dis­cov­er­ing the first glimpses of cal­cite blan­ket­ing the hill­side like snow and petrifying leaves and twigs that have fallen into its path over the years.

A path me­an­ders atop the travertines back to­ward the en­trance, where the best part awaits. Here, warm min­eral-rich wa­ter flows over the cliffs and into pools cut per­fectly into the rock. Vis­i­tors take off their shoes and step onto the cal­cite, which is a per­fect tex­ture for bare­foot walk­ing, soft but sta­ble, and our bare feet clung to the tiny ridges in the travertines. Even un­der­wa­ter, it’s nearly im­pos­si­ble to lose your foot­ing.

This side of Pa­mukkale is the pay­off, and as the sun set it cast a long, gor­geous light across the cliffs. You could the­o­ret­i­cally lie all the way down in some of the big­ger pools, but the wa­ter is only a few inches deep, and the sub­strate is amilky white mud. Swim­mers head back to­ward the en­trance, to the an­tique pool. I found that part a lit­tle com­mer­cialised, but in the sum­mer, I’m sure that it would be a nice place to cool off.

The next day, af­ter the Indy 500 drive back to the ho­tel, we headed north, to an­other mys­ti­cal des­ti­na­tion: Behramkale and As­sos, at the south­ern end of Turkey’s Biga Penin­sula, 260km from Izmir.

Like the trip to Pa­mukkale, most of the drive there had more in­ter­est­ing traf­fic-dodg­ing than scenery, save for aworth­while stop in Ay­va­lik, renowned for its ‘‘tost,’’ which is the most over­hyped del­i­cacy I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced. The ba­sic ver­sion is noth­ing more than a grilled cheese panini. Ask for ‘‘ev­ery­thing’’ and they slap a few canned meats, pep­pers and onions on top. Eat it be­cause you’re ba­si­cally re­quired to at some point, but don’t ex­pect any­thing amaz­ing.

The last 15 kilo­me­tres or so of the drive is a beach­front stretch of nar­row, pot­holed road­way that winds its way among olive trees and past sea­side ho­tels with ham­mocks call­ing out to weary trav­ellers. It’s what I ex­pected this en­tire length of the coast to be, but most of the road is a fast-mov­ing high­way, tucked in­land and away from any sublime views.

In the for­mer Greek set­tle­ment of Behramkale, nar­row cob­ble­stone streets wind their way up to the top of a per­fect dome of a hill, where a kindly old man finds you a place to park. A short, steep walk to an en­trance gate gets you into the Tem­ple of Athena, a 6th-century BC Ionic tem­ple, whose 360-de­gree vista is much more im­pres­sive than the ru­ins them­selves. On the Jan­uary day we were there, we had the place to our­selves. But for the wind, rolling up from the sea, it was the qui­etest place I’ve been in months.

There isn’t much in the way of sig­nage at Behramkale, so it’s hard to tell when you’re in the vil­lage and when you’re not. The Lonely Planet guide­book de­scribed this as a place of ‘‘twin vil­lages’’, not just Behramkale but also As­sos. I as­sumed that the two were in­dis­tin­guish­able, that you skipped through one and then the next on the way up that hill.

Iwas, hap­pily, wrong. On the way back down, a some­what ter­ri­fy­ing cliff­side road drops like ame­teor into the sea­side vil­lage of As­sos, founded by Mysians in the 8th century BC. To­day, its roads are barely one car wide. Aris­to­tle lived here from 348 to 345BC. A nice place to write, surely.

Ea­ger to be­gin the long drive home, we only cruised from one end of the vil­lage to the next, wish­ing that we’d rented a ho­tel room here so that we didn’t have to haul all the way back to Izmir af­ter only a cou­ple of hours at our des­ti­na­tion. Next time.

At the end of both of our long road trips from the busy sea­port of Izmir, we dined at the same place: Sakiz, just off the main wa­ter­front drag of Ataturk Cad­desi. The first time, it was a de­lib­er­ate choice, a restau­rant that both Lonely Planet and TripAd­vi­sor agreed was worth a stop. That night, we ate some of the most de­li­cious and dif­fer­ent food we’d had in Turkey, where res­tau­ra­teurs don’t typ­i­cally veer far from the stan­dard mezze op­tions of grilled lamb and egg­plant. Sakiz burst at the seams with cre­ative dishes and fan­tas­tic seafood. We had baked oc­to­pus on a bed of egg­plant and cala­mari.

Here, we got a real feel for Izmir’s rep­u­ta­tion as amore laid­back, pro­gres­sive an­swer to Is­tan­bul. A pair of lo­cal folk artists – a singer and­her gui­tar ac­com­pa­nist – played an as­sort­ment of Turk­ish tra­di­tional hits, ev­i­denced by the cho­rus of people in the restau­rant who knew the words to ev­ery song and, at their fa­vorite parts, belted them out loud.

Af­ter din­ner, a pro­fes­so­rial gent in a tweed blazer stood and in­vited the man at the ta­ble next to him – a stranger, as far as I could gather – to dance. The man smiled and got right out of his seat, and be­fore long, half the people in the restau­rant were spin­ning and twirling. This is not the kind of thing that you’d see in but­toned-down Is­tan­bul, and it was de­light­ful.

The sec­ond night, feel­ing ad­ven­tur­ous, I asked Ap­ple Maps to guide me to a restau­rant called Go­zlemicim, at the top of a mon­strous hill in Izmir, that al­legedly served the best go­zleme in the city. It wasn’t un­til we’d spent a frus­trat­ing hour hunt­ing for the place that the pro­pri­etors of a small in­ter­net cafe in­formed us that go­zleme is a break­fast food (it’s a Turk­ish pancake) and that Go­zlemicim is a break­fast joint. We moped back down the hill and hoped that Sakiz was still open. It was, and we dined there on sea bass and seafood pasta.

The next day, we were sup­posed to go to the re­gion’s crown jewel: Eph­e­sus, which Lonely Planet bills as the ‘‘best­p­re­served ru­ins in the Mediter­ranean’’. But we skipped that, a de­ci­sion that has drawn some wide-eyed dis­be­lief from trav­ellers who’ve been there. We were suf­fer­ing from ruin en­nui by that point, and even af­ter nearly two weeks in Turkey, our only bazaar ex­pe­ri­ence had been a whirl­wind trip through the spice bazaar in Is­tan­bul. The Ke­mer­alti Bazaar in Izmir was sup­posed to be a bet­ter deal than Is­tan­bul’s Grand Bazaar, and we’d fi­nally got­ten sick of driv­ing. So, yes, we skipped the most touristy thing you can do in the re­gion and never looked back.

The Ke­mer­alti wasn’t amaz­ing or any­thing, but on the sleepy Mon­day we ven­tured there, it was easy to nav­i­gate and un­crowded. The only pushy shop­keep­ers were cafe pro­pri­etors, sur­pris­ingly enough, de­mand­ing that we have a Turk­ish cof­fee or smoke some shisha. Ev­ery­one else let us browse and keep walk­ing, un­mo­lested.

Ex­cept, that is, for a charm­ing ado­les­cent who spoke great English and struck up an easy con­ver­sa­tion with me af­ter I bought a $5 Nike knock­off duf­fle bag to cart home the un­rea­son­able num­ber of Turk­ish sweaters I’d picked up here and there. His name was Ahmed, and he promised to show me the best of what the bazaar had to of­fer – in­clud­ing, of course, his fam­ily’s leather shop.

Nor­mally, I’d say some­thing po­lite and push off, but I liked Ahmed and didn’t mind hav­ing him show us around. My girl­friend did buy a smart Burberry-style leather jacket from his brother. We hag­gled and got a good deal, af­ter which Ahmed found us ex­cel­lent Turk­ish cof­fee, a good bar­ber and a place to buy stained-glass bul­bous lamps, all at rea­son­able prices and all in enough time to make it back to the air­port with am­ple time for our flight – even with­out a friendly old guide to show us the way.

Photo: WASH­ING­TON POST

Cot­ton cas­tle: Cal­cite de­posits have over cen­turies cre­ated a moon­scape at Pa­mukkale, a three-hour drive from Turkey’s coastal city of Izmir.

Photo: WASH­ING­TON POST

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