Monday, January 19, 2015

Turkey - Priene and Hospitality in Altikum

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Thursday, November 10 - 33 miles

We awoke to the storm gods still unleashing their wrath, but placated that we had a roof over our heads. The pansiyon owners knocked and entered, distributing several breakfast dishes on our tiny round table. There was the ubiquitous soft, white bread, salty cubed cheese, butter, black olives, and a reddish jelly. I cupped my hands around a small glass of tea, served with traditional sugar cubes, but noticed a teapot was not provided. I'm afraid I offended the proprietors the evening before, refusing a second cup.

Priene theatre. Photo credit: Wikipedia
We set off amid showers, but they lightened and eventually stopped altogether by the time we reached Priene's ruins. Unlike Ephesus's crowded site - and as we would later learn - visitors are allowed to wander among the ancient stones, unhindered, without regulation or entrance fee. Especially in November, we had historic sites to ourselves. At Priene we hiked around toppled stone columns: they looked like large gear cogs. We climbed sandy paths between pine trees, emerging near tall pillars, and surprised upon a small amphitheater - my favorite – whose inner seating retained it's beautiful decoration, sculpted to resemble paws on chair arms and legs. And like other historic sites, Andy and I couldn't understand Greek writing, amply displayed. However, we'd come to understand our role: to observe, delight, wonder, and see, but keep pedaling. Ours was not an historical adventure, but to capture the flavor of a country; immersion was not possible with a whirlwind agenda.

We pumped across the flat, fertile Menderes River delta, again struggling into a headwind that seems to come out of nowhere, a constant nemesis in Turkey. Andy and I suspect it's payback for the tailwinds across Europe.

The colossal well-preserved Theater of Miletos rises to our left, appearing like a bleached stadium rather than snuggle into the hillside. But understandably, the complex was once a port, much like Priene's ruins, both were confluence communities in ancient times, before sea level receded, now leaving both ruins inland on the Menderes river plain. We made a cursory inspection, but decided to ride on. We longed to reach Altikum beach, a resort community we hoped housed hotels or pansiyons where we might stay a couple days.

Temple of Apollo in Didim, ripe for exploration. It will have to wait for the following day.
By day's end we filled panniers with groceries in Yenihisar and headed for Didim Altikum. As we headed down dusty street in Didum, a colossal temple appeared. Overgrown grasses, lack of fencing, all indications of untidiness or perhaps lack of money for upkeep, which was becoming the norm in Turkey. I longed to explore but the seaside beckoned. We promised to visit the following day.

Entering Altikum beach, the community looked deserted. We hadn't anticipated that every hotel would be closed, so we asked around. Pretty soon, a man smiles, ushers us to his hotel. He hefts my 75lb. bike up several stairs, before I can interrupt and help; he's shorter than I am. I have a lump in my throat; the Turkish hospitality never ceases to amaze me. He promises us a room in his friend's hotel - indeed interrupts the proprietor's dinner to make arrangements - then takes my bike up and down more stairs until we arrive at the building next door. Sheref, the hotel manager, opens the door for us. An hour later he brings hot cups of Nescafe to our room.

Sheref is a balding man who attends fix up projects during off-season at the hotel. Soft spoken, a nice gapped-tooth smile, he loves American rock and roll, even offering to go for a walk with us after dinner. Sheref speaks wonderful English, learning it from the hotel's summer crowd. After strolling in the humid evening air we relax on the rooftop, sipping more Nescafe, listening to his beloved rock and roll music, thankfully at a tolerable level. Sheref explains he may not manage the hotel the following year; he wants to help his brother farm cotton then sell at a market where he'll enjoy speaking with tourists. Eventually he bids us goodnight.

1 comment:

  1. Annie--Thank you for helping me to remember a trip I took in the area around this time nine years ago. The theatre in Priene is probably the only place in the world where my singing offended no-one! And, yes, the Turkish people are incredibly hospitable: I could go back for that reason alone. But, in addition, there are so many sensual delights and things that are of historic and artistic interest.


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