The Three Stooges in Turkey: the Continuing Adventures of Larry, Curly and Moe

Yesterday was a hot and busy day here in Turkey. The three of us decided that we would have a half day excursion because we were going to the opera in Aspendos that night. The Manavgat waterfalls seemed like a good bet, only 15 or so km from here and nice and cool on a very hot day. However, I just happened to be reading an Antalya tourism brochure in the morning and came across a ruin site that I’d not heard of before in the Side/Manavgat area named Seleucia. From the description it looked like there was quite a bit to see there and it was in the area so we added Seleucia to the agenda.

We grabbed the dolmus from the Side otogar to the Manavgat otogar, a 15 or 20 minute trip, and our driver took us to the dolmus operators driving the minibus to Seleukia, the Turkish name for the town nearest the ancient site. From an admittedly tenuous conversation with the bus driver, we were under the impression that the bus travelled up there and back every hour and that the last bus back was 4:30. Since we had a 45 minute wait at the otogar, we enjoyed a glass of Turkish tea with the drivers in their office. At the appointed time we hopped aboard and headed off north in the direction of the Manavgat waterfall, passing that place and then turning off the main road onto a back street somewhere about 10 km north of Manavgat. The dolmus dropped us off at the entrance to the tiny town and a local man, also just off the bus, walked through the village with us and pointed out the way to the ancient site.

Seleukeia is a one horse town without the horse; a couple of old gozleme stands, many ruined stone houses, a minaret without a mosque and a few tractors were pretty much it. Brown signs pointed the way to the site and we walked fairly briskly up the road, past an ancient sign in German advertising a non-existent restaurant, to arrive at a disused ticket booth with broken windows and a rusted gate marking the entrance to the ancient site.

It looked as though this place used to be on the tourist map but was no longer – we weren’t sure why – obviously, though, no-one had come this way for a very long time. We walked along a sandy road with no evidence of any ruins anywhere in the vicinity until Tracey spotted what looked like an aquaduct in a forest high on a hill very far away … damn. It became apparent to us that the ruins were not anywhere near and that to reach them would require a very long walk – no wonder the bus driver had warned us the last bus back was 4:30; he obviously thought we intended to walk all the way up there.

A bit disappointed, we turned around and headed back for the dolmus stop, only to see the man who had pointed the way out to us walking towards us while talking on the phone. He kept wanting to take our picture and gestured for us to follow him across the fields, both of which we declined to do. I thought he seemed weird and wondered if he was calling his buddies to come and meet him; however, as we reentered the town, he disappeared.

As we walked back, we noticed on the site signs stickers for the Manavgat mountain bike marathon … If we had seen them before, they should have given us a clue as to the length of time the journey required. Back again at the dolmus stand, a dirt track on the edge of town, we thought that the bus would be there in ten minutes or so … ten minutes passed with no sign of the bus, and ten more minutes … Waiting for Godot, once again.

We decided to walk down the hill in the direction of Manavgat and flag down any passing vehicle – the traffic in and out of dodge was pretty well non-existent, though. Finally, we spotted a dolmus in the distance and I flagged it down but he was not going our way. However, he dropped us at the main road where he said, in German, that we could catch a bus to the waterfall in ten minutes. A few minutes passed, we waited in the very hot sun, and a silver BMW going very fast slowed down to take a look. I immediately held up my hand, he stopped, and I asked him to take us to the waterfall, which he did, in his air-conditioned vehicle – huzzah! (Note: we later figured out that the minibus did not run up to Seleukeia every hour but only when people wanted to go there; we realized that, when the driver had explained to us that the last bus was at four thirty, he probably meant that he would go up there then expecting to pick us up)

The Manavgat waterfalls, big and small, are not really waterfalls as we know them, high and rugged. The big waterfall is wide but fairly low, and has beautiful green-blue glacial-cold water. At the edge of the river is an extensive development of terraces, restaurants, bars and the ubiquitous shopping stalls. We browsed through the shopping area and then had a light lunch at a table right by the waterfall. It was very cool and shady, delightful on what had turned out to be a very hot and sweaty day.

After a dolmus-ride back to Side, Tracey and Christine swam in the pool while I had a cold shower and lay down with a cold face cloth on my forehead – too much sun. Mehmet the car rental dude came by with the car we had arranged to rent, we had a tiny something for dinner and by seven in the evening we were sitting outside the Park Side Hotel waiting for the bus pickup for the opera at the Aspendos Amphitheatre.

The 16th International Opera and Ballet Festival at Aspendos is being held this June and we got tickets for the opening night performance of Aida by the Ankara State Opera and Ballet. Our little minibus picked up a full load of opera-lovers and we were at the theatre before 8 for the 9:30 start. All the performers were hanging around outside the venue already in Egyptian costume and makeup; begging cats emitted piteous meowing and received enormous pieces of pizza from them in return. The doors opened at 8 and we moved slowly towards the entrance. Security personnel searched all bags and people carrying glass had it confiscated. The stones benches had small slightly-padded green squares indicating the seating places so we grabbed three seats quite close to the stage left of centre and spent the time watching the crowd and taking pictures as the sun slowly set and the arcade around the top of the theatre turned more and more orange against the darkening sky.

Finally, after a clutch of dignitaries strolled in at 2 minutes to go and took the best, fully-padded seats right stage centre, the show seemed about to go on. But no … not quite. First, a speech from a young woman telling us that there would be speeches from others. My heart sank, remembering the children’s day performance in Kas ruined by too many long-winded speeches. The conductor, a professor from Ankara, made a speech about opera and ballet as international arts and invoked the memory of Ataturk and his ideas of progress – his speech was well-received and warmly applauded by the audience. But it was long and, after each paragraph in Turkish, the information was repeated in English, making every comment twice as long. By this time it was quarter to ten. Then a political hack came on stage and started talking, repeating essentially the same things that the other two had just said. The crowd had had enough and started clapping in unison to drown him out and get him off the stage. I felt torn – on the one hand, I hate it that politicians feel the need to insert themselves into things and make long, boring speeches in a language I don’t understand, on the other hand, I was embarrassed and a bit ashamed of the crowd for their rudeness. Anyway, he left the stage, and the show finally began around 10 to 10. Aida is a four act opera so we knew that we weren’t going to get home until 3 am.

The staging, costumes and lighting were amazing. A spectacular set with enormous columns and sculptures evoked ancient Egypt; the cast of thousands (or 50, at least), including three horses, had beautiful, colourful costumes and the lights bathed the stage in blue and purple and red. A small problem was the singing; the male lead’s voice was a bit weak and not big enough to fill the huge amphitheatre which seats about 20,000. The other leads were somewhat better but, to my mind, still not strong enough for the venue and they were not miked (Aspendos can have only acoustic performances so that the sound vibrations do not harm the 1,800 year old venue built in the reign of Marcus Aurelius). When the assembled company sang together, it was great. They also included ballet numbers in some of the acts, which were lovely. But, already tired from the busy and hot day, I was doing the head bob by the end of the first act. At the last intermission Christine ran out and got us some fabulous high calorie ice cream treats which helped a bit but, by the time the performance ended, and we were back on the minibus, it was about 1:45 or 2 am and I was nearly asleep. We were home in bed at 3. However, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a spectacular production in such a fantastic venue and I was glad we’d gone.

Earlier, we had planned to get up at 5 and be on the road by 6 to head off to Kekova, Myra and Demre, a four hour drive west on the coast highway, but after our very late night, we changed plans and decided to go somewhere closer. It was a choice between Termessos, a hilltop ruin site northwest of Antalya, or Olympos and Phaselis, on the coast road west of Antalya but not as far as Kekova. We opted for the latter and by 10:30 am we were on the road with Tracey driving. Amazingly, I managed to pilot us along the city centre bypass route through Antalya and, after a short pit stop for snacks along the way, we were on the beach at Olympos after three hours, the last of which was down a ten kilometer hairpin turn one lane road and unpaved pebbly track across a dry riverbed.

We walked south along the beach, the hot sand scorching even with slippers on, past the assembled throng of sun worshippers, and found the entrance to the ruin site next to a river in a gorge filled with waving bullrushes, pink oleander bushes and pine trees – spectacular!

Olympos was a Lycian city and worshipped Mithras, the original god of light. Although the city was founded earlier, the ruins that remain, hidden in the trees and bushes, date to the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods. Right at the entrance were two gigantic stone sarcophagi, one of which had contained the remains of a sea captain and had a beautiful carved relief of a ship beneath the inscription. We wandered through the pine forest, really enjoying the cool, green shade, examining sarcophagi, ruined houses, a temple gate with an inscription to Marcus Aurelius, and a couple of Byzantine churches.

We crossed over the dry riverbed to the ruins on the other side and walked through the south necropolis, the ruins of a small theatre with only the gate still really intact, and a large Roman bathhouse. I could hear voices coming through the trees and knew that we were somewhere near the beach, although we couldn’t see it through the forest. A small path led through the trees so I followed it to the river and called back to the others to follow me. Luckily, we were able to walk out to the sea along the river bed rather than going back through the entire ruin site because by then we were quite tired. Christine sat in the shade of gigantic oleander bushes while Tracey and I had a swim. Then we slowly made our way back along the beach to one of the two shady restaurants there for a late lunch of shepherd salad and freshly-squeezed orange juice while watching a chicken and her tiny babies scratch for food.

Later, we headed back on the highway and down to Phaselis, a ruin site on another stretch of beach about 20 km east of Olympos. Phaselis is now a state park and requires an entrance fee of 8 lira which, while parked at the gate, we briefly debated about paying and then thought, “We’ve come half way around the world to see this so of course we’re going to pay 8 lira”. Phaselis, a site about the same vintage as Olympos, is located on three small bays and was once an important commercial centre. The ruins of aquaducts, agoras, baths, a theatre, Hadrian’s gate and an acropolis remain and give a good sense of the structure of the ancient city. By the time we got there the sun was slipping in the sky and the shadows lengthening; in the late afternoon light, the site was really beautiful. Christine made friends with a tiny black and white male cat, who lay down on her clothes and started kneading them as we swam in the bay.

Managing once again to navigate our way through the maze of Antalya, we made it back to the ranch by 8:15. Tracey did a great job of driving the four seater Fiat in conditions that were not optimum. Turks don’t obey many of the rules of the road so a driver has to be constantly alert. Lanes markings are merely suggestions that most drivers don’t take, helmetless people on motorbikes weave in and out, people take two lanes, drive on the shoulder, pass on both sides, drive on the wrong side of the road or back out into the highway without looking. There are cars on the road that in Canada would long ago have been sent to the scrap yard, including ancient tractors whose wheels literally look like they could fall off any second driven by ancient wrinkled smoking men and trucks so overloaded they can’t drive more than 20 kph. By the time we returned, Tracey had gotten the hang of using the horn, the ubiquitous sound on the roads here, used to warn drivers about everything from passing to pulling out onto the highway.

Since we had the car anyway, our plan was to drive Christine to the otogar to catch her night bus to Cappadocia; by 10 pm she was ready to go, so off we went, arriving at what we thought was the otogar by about 10:15 for an 11:15 bus departure. The place was dark, with buses parked and a small clutch of men standing around one of the small buildings. Not seeing where to go, we stopped and Christine showed one of the men her ticket. They spoke no English and only a few words of German so I tried to get from them the location of the otogar. One man said, in German, “links (left)” while his hand pointed right, another said “rechts (right)” while his hand pointed left so I could see we were in trouble. All we knew was that we were in the wrong place. We headed off down the road, and seeing no bus station, pulled into a minimart where the man drew a small indecipherable map on the back of a cigarette box. Damn … we found ourselves on a busy dual carriageway and pulled in to a large garage where a man who spoke no English managed to communicate to us that the otogar was back the way we’d come about 5 kilometers on the left. By this time it was approaching 11 so I’m sure Christine was getting frantic. Anyway, we raced down the road, pulled a screeching uturn and blasted back the way we’d come. As we roared down the road we saw a couple of signs pointing the way to the otogar so we knew we were finally on the right road, finally pulling into the gigantic bus station with ten minutes to spare. Major gong show; we could laugh about it then but it was touch and go for a few moments there. After seeing Christine onto the bus, Tracey and I arrived back at Stooges Central about 11:40 and the guys from the rental agency came and picked up the car.

See more pictures here.

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