Friday, September 28, 2012

Kas: In Kas

Kas just might be my favorite place in Turkey, it's just that great. It's pretty small compared to the other Western Med getaway spots, it's totally mellow and there are gorgeous flowers everywhere. There's also a lot to do and it makes a great base for day trips -- you can go scuba diving or sailing, visit ancient ruins at Myra, Tlos, Xanthos or Letoon, go paragliding, go to a real sandy beach at Patara, visit Greece for an afternoon, or go kayaking over the sunken ruins of Kekova. There's also now a large marina, if you've got the yacht.

Of course, it's also close to my heart because Kas is where Cagatay and I met, during a scuba-diving trip. That first day, he extended a friendly invitation to go to dinner at his uncle's restaurant, Ikbal -- which might actually be the nicest restaurant in Kas. (Seriously, I'm not just saying that because we're family now -- the food is incredible and the setting charming. Look at Trip Advisor -- it's ranked #8 of 96 -- if you don't believe me.)

Another thing I really like about Kas is its energy at night. Because it's really small, there's a true central square, and at night, everyone comes out there -- kids are running around, people are sitting on the low wall people-watching or chatting, while others are filling up the outdoor tables at the surrounding restaurants. The only other place I really saw this happening in Turkey during my summer of backpacking was in Ayvalik, where everyone gathered along the waterfront at night.

Once upon a time, Kas was the Lycian town of Antiphellos. There are a couple of bits left -- the theater is pretty well-preserved (local teenagers often hang out there at night) and there are some rock-cut tombs above the town. There are also a couple of sarcophagi scattered around town, the most well-known of which stands at the top of one of the shopping streets.

The town, by the way, is pronounced Ka-SH, because in Turkish, it has an accent on the s (but I don't usually use the Turkish characters on here -- too much of a pain on my American keyboard).

Pin It

Monday, September 24, 2012

Kas trip: Across to Kastellorizo, Greece

We went to Kas at the end of Ramadan, when everyone has off from work, and since the hotels there were all fully booked for our last two days, we decided to spend the end of our trip across the way in Greece, on the island of Kastellorizo. (It seems like the Greeks also refer to it as Megisti, and the Turks call it Meis.) If you look at a map of Turkey, you'll see that all of the islands, with only two exceptions, belong to Greece, even though a number of them are just a stone's throw from Turkey. Kastellorizo, Greece's easternmost island, is only about 20 minutes by ferry from Kas, out in the harbor.

Kastellorizo was AMAZING. Heavenly and divine. It's pretty small -- according to Wikipedia, the current population is only 430, and everything is centered around the harbor, the hills just above it, or the small cove just on the other side. Not surprisingly, there's not a lot to do, but that was one of the things that was so great about it -- we spent our two afternoons by the water, lounging or looking for turtles, and our evenings strolling and eating good food. (Not a lot to do was good for us, but of course, not so great for the island. It seems like there wouldn't be much job opportunity there outside of tourism, and a good number of the islanders have resettled in Australia. As a comparison to the current 430, 9,000 people lived on Kastellorizo in 1910.)

We stayed at Poseidon Hotels, which were actually little apartments on the other side of the harbor, directly across from the ferry. We didn't know what to expect; I'd had a hard time finding someplace to stay in Kastellorizo (there are only three places listed on Trip Advisor), and a travel agent in Kas had found this place for us. But it was really great, and I'd highly recommend Poseidon Hotels. It's a street back from the water (although we could see the harbor from our balcony), but they've set up a "beach"-side area with chaise lounges, umbrellas and kayaks, so it didn't make a difference.

On our first afternoon there, we took advantage of the chaise lounges. It was divine. The only interruption came around 5pm, when this huge ferry came sailing in, completely taking up the entire harbor. I actually felt incredibly sorry for everyone who was leaving.

On the second day, we woke up early to take a short boat trip to see the Blue Grotto, a small cave where the light emanates this eerie blue. You have to go early because of the tide, and when we got there, around 9am, the tide was already too high for the boat to go in. But no problem -- we put on our scuba masks and swam in. It was cool, but it was also kinda creepy, and for a little while, I was freaked out by what might be in the water. (In the end, I decided nothing much was in the water.)

We spent the rest of that day in the chaise lounges. Then, in the late afternoon, we decided to do a little exploring. We'd seen a Lycian tomb in the hillside as we were going to the Blue Grotto, and we decided to try and find it. It turned out to be pretty easy -- there's a little walkway that clings to the side of the island, and we just followed it along. After, buoyed by our success, we decided to try and make it up to the 14th-century Castle of the Knights, a ruined fortress visible at the top of the hill. We got up to it pretty easily -- once there, you can climb up about 30 steps, to where the flag is. Next to it was a 15th-century chapel, St. Nicholas, but it was closed. As we walked up, we felt like we were walking through people's backyards, but once you're at the top, there's a clear paved pathway -- we followed this down, and it led us to a couple more churches and then through the back alleyways of the harbor area. It was fun just to go wandering around -- Kastellorizo is too small to get lost, so you can pretty much go any way you want and feel sure that you'll find your way back.

We had a great holiday overall, but our two-day trip to Kastellorizo was a definite highlight. I'm hoping we'll go again next summer, it was just that fantastic. :)
Pin It

Friday, September 21, 2012

Kas trip: Scuba diving

On our last day in Kas, we decided to go scuba diving. I wasn't that keen on going -- we'd been two years ago (actually, Cagatay and I met on the dive boat), and the diving then was pretty bad. I remembered it as being cold, somewhat murky, and mostly devoid of fish. So I didn't really want to go again, but Cagatay convinced me that we should try again.

We were hoping to dive the airplane wreck (Dakota), but no one was going out there, so instead, we went with Naturablue to Kovanli Island, out in the bay. It was actually the same site we'd dived two years ago. Unfortunately, the dive wasn't all that much better, though on the plus side, the water was warm (which really makes all the difference -- there's nothing worse than shivering through a dive). There wasn't much to see except for some broken amphorae here and there. I don't know if they're real, ancient artifacts -- someone told me two years ago they suspected the amphorae have been placed there for the diving, but I don't know what the truth is. I'd like to think they're real. :)

All in all, the diving wasn't great, but we still had a nice afternoon. Once we were back on the dive boat, we went upstairs and sat in the same spot where we'd sat two years ago, the site of our first conversation. It's kind of amazing how much has happened in two years. :) Pin It

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Kas trip: Ruins of Tlos and Patara

I really love traipsing around Turkey's ancient ruins; we'd visited Myra and Andriake on our first full afternoon in Kas, and we'd gone to Xanthos, Letoon and Patara two years ago, so that really only left one major set of ruins in the general area: Tlos. Our plan for the day was ambitious -- we'd visit Tlos in the morning, spend the early afternoon at Saklikent Gorge, and end the day at Patara. It turned out that our plan was too ambitious, mostly because the drive to/from Tlos, mostly along a two-lane road through fields and farms once you get off the highway, takes much longer than the mileage would indicate.

Tlos was another important Lycian city, though the Rough Guide says little is known of its history (which might explain why there's little information about it on the interwebs or at the site itself). It's old, apparently referred to in 14th-century BC Hittite records. But even unexplained, Tlos is pretty amazing. Driving up from the Xanthos Valley, suddenly the road turns, and there it is, the acropolis and rock tombs perched dramatically on the hill. It's quite the introduction.

At the main part of the site, you can walk up the hill, past stone sarcophagi (Lonely Planet says this was the necropolis) to check out the rock tombs -- you can even go into one -- and wander around the ruins on top, the residence of a 19th-century Ottoman governor, which is nothing more than bare walls now. When we were there, archaeologists were working on the Roman stadium at the bottom of the hill, where the stands have been excavated on one side. Further down the road, there are the remains of a church and public baths, which you can wander around, and the theater, which was fenced off.

But the highlight of our trip to Tlos was finding Bellerophon's tomb, no easy task. Bellerophon is a hero in the Greek myths -- riding Pegasus, he managed to kill the Chimera, a three-headed monster with a lion's head, a goat's body and a serpent's tail. When he died, legend says he was buried in Tlos. The myth says he was disgraced because he thought he was worthy of flying to Mount Olympos, but his tomb -- sporting a temple facade -- is huge.

There aren't any signs on how to get there -- we used Lonely Planet's slightly vague directions and lucked out. Basically, when you're standing at the entrance booth to go up to the acropolis, there are some rock-cut tombs to the right. You walk to them, and then follow the path down along the rock face -- it goes all the way to the bottom of the rock and back up again. About halfway back up, you'll see a flimsy wooden ladder and a spray-painted red arrow -- you go up the ladder and the tomb is right there, to the left. It only takes about 5 minutes to walk there, but it's a pretty steep up/downhill, and we had it to ourselves.

There's nothing in the tomb (or in any of the tombs), but Bellerophon's does have some reliefs on the outer walls, including one of him riding Pegasus. (You can see it on the wall behind me.)

We left Tlos early afternoon and headed toward Saklikent Gorge. This area of Turkey is largely agricultural, and as we drove along the two-lane road, past stands of trees and up and down mini-mountains, we saw beehives, sundried tomatoes actually being sundried on metal roofs, a zillion pomegranate trees, melons growing in fields... It took longer than expected to get to Saklikent (and back to the main road), so we decided to leave the gorge for another trip and just go to Patara.
Patara is known as the birthplace of St. Nicholas, but these days, it's more famous for its long, sandy beach, a rarity in Turkey. From what I've seen, most people just pass the ruins on their way to the beach, and you can't really blame them -- the ruins at Patara are pretty spread out, and like Tlos, there's almost no information at the site to help you navigate them or figure out what you're seeing. The triumphal arch and amphitheater are pretty obvious; most everything else is not. (However, unlike Tlos, there is quite a bit of information available on the Internet.)
We started our little tour at the crumbling amphitheater, which is interestingly built into a hill -- you can't tell at the bottom, but if you climb to the top, you see that the stones of the theater start blending into the natural rock. Next to the theater is an odd building, one that appears to be a theater but also looks brand-new. It turns out that this is the Bouleuterion, the world's first democratic parliamentary building and where the Lycian League met. According to the Fethiye Times, the US Founding Fathers were inspired by the Lycian League when writing the Constitution; "Documents show that both Alexander Hamilton and James Madison referred to the League as a good model." The Bouleuterion was discovered in 1991, excavated between 2000 and 2006, and then rebuilt by the Turkish government at a cost TL 7.5 million (about $4.1 mil) and opened to the public in May 2012. There's an incredible difference between old and new; check out this Flickr photo from 2006.)
The Lycian League, which was formed in approximately 205 BC, had 23 known members. The six biggest cities -- Tlos, Xanthos, Pinara, Patara, Myra and Olympos -- sent three representatives, while other location sent one or two representatives, depending on their size. The League elected its president, called a lyciarch, annually; you can still see the semi-circular seat, in the photo above and to the right, where he (or she?) would sit.
After we walked through both the amphitheater and the Bouleuterion, we strolled down the path to the column-lined Main Avenue, which was once bordered with shops. In one, we found the broken-up pieces of a mosaic.
After that, we called it a day. There are a number of other ruins at Patara, most notably what's been called the oldest lighthouse in the world, but we had no idea how to get over to it, and it was getting pretty late. Oh well, next time.
On the way back, we drove past the gorgeous Kaputas Beach. It's located in a cleft between two mountainsides, and you have to climb down what looks like at least 100 stairs to get to it. We still, unfortunely, have not been down there. So I suppose once again I have to say, oh well, next time. :)
Pin It

Monday, September 10, 2012

Kas trip: Finding Santa Claus in Demre

We took a long-awaited vacation (and as it turned out, honeymoon) to southern Turkey and Greece a couple of weeks ago. I may be down on Istanbul, but Turkey is amazing, and nowhere more so than Kas. It also happens to be where Cagatay and I first met. :)

On our first full afternoon, we took a little roadtrip to the city of Demre, which is about 45 minutes or so from Kas. Once upon a time, Demre was known as Myra, and Myra was where St. Nicholas (otherwise known as Santa Claus) was bishop in the late third/early fourth centuries. There are two St.Nick-related sites in the area: the Church of St. Nicholas, which was built in his memory about two centuries after his death, and the Lycian ruins of the ancient city of Myra.

We started with the Church of St. Nicholas, which is smack in the middle of the dusty modern town. According to the information sign in front of the church, the current building was constructed in the ninth or 10th centuries after being damaged by either earthquake or attackers, and the building was added onto in successive centuries. I've heard that the site can be overrun with Russian tourists (apparently he's a very popular saint with them), but I've been there twice now -- both times in the late afternoon -- and had it almost completely to myself. The building definitely feels like a ruin, but it's really lovely -- there are some gorgeous frescoes on the walls and ceilings, some of which detail the life of St. Nicholas, and here and there, stuffed between rocks or thrown into his broken tomb, you'll find little notes that people have left for the saint. [The tomb was broken in the 11th century when Italian sailors stole the remains of St. Nicholas -- they now lie in Bari and, apparently, Venice.]

The photo below is not of his tomb -- that's a different broken one. The frescoes above it are from the 12th century, I do believe.

After we explored the church, we got back in the car and drove the two kilometers or so, past all of the greenhouses that characterize this area of Turkey, to the ruins of ancient Myra. When I was here two years ago, I had taken the bus to Demre, and I decided to walk to the ruins from the church -- in the July heat. That was a mistake. (On the way back, a very kind family gave me a lift -- I suppose they could see I had totally wilted.)

The ancient ruins at Myra are some of the greatest in Turkey, and they're especially beautiful in the late afternoon light. There's actually not much to these ruins, just an amphitheater, Lycian tombs at eye level, and a bunch of carved theater masks lying around. But they really are amazing. Technically, they don't really have anything to do with St. Nicholas -- Lycia was annexed to the Roman Empire in 43 AD, but still, he was the bishop of Myra and this was a part of Myra.

After Myra and on the way back to Kas, we stopped at the ruins of Andriake, just outside of Demre -- we had seen them from the roads on the way in and stopped out of curiosity. These ruins are on a reedy little river, but this was once the site of Myra's successful port -- a lot of Turkey's ancient port cities were eventually reduced in importance when nature clogged up the waterways. According to a sign at Myra (and Internet sources), Paul, Luke and Aristarchus stopped here on their way from Caesarea to Rome, where Paul was to have a trial before Caesar.

Andriake is not formally open to tourists, from what I gathered -- at every archaeological site I've been to in Turkey, there's an entry point where you pay a fee (and you always have to pay a fee). At Andriake, there was nothing -- no info signs, no custodians, just some archaeologists working in one section. So we parked the car and just walked around, making our way among the goats who were also enjoying the site.

From what little I've been able to find online, the Andriake excavations first began in 2009; that year, a synagogue with more than 200 artifacts were discovered, an important find because of "a paucity of information regarding the Jews in the Roman province of Lycia and Pamphylia," according to an academic paper on Andriake's synagogue. (It starts on p.335 in the linked document, if you're interested). However, on our own, we weren't able to find the synagogue -- while we saw some columns indicating something like a temple, the only thing we could really figure out was the huge storehouse, the Horrea Hadriani or Granarium. It was apparently built in the second century BC.

Above and to the right is the Granarium. Up close, you can see the word Caesaris carved into the stone above one of the doorways, along with a bust of two people, apparently Emperor Hadrian and Empress Sabina.

And that was that. On the way back, we were treated to a stunning view of the sunset as we were just above Kas:

Pin It