We woke at 5:00am on Christmas Day where East meets West. It was not because we wanted to eagerly open our presents, we were touring through Turkey and had to leave the hotel early. Our arrival in Çanakkale on Christmas Eve had been delayed by two hours on the European side of Turkey. The delay was caused by a bus that had slid on the slippery road and it was dark before we could proceed onto Eceabat to catch the ferry to the Asian part of Turkey. Thirty-two weary Malaysian travellers eventually entered the hotel restaurant at 11:00pm much to the apparent chagrin of the waiters. There were no Christmas decorations or tree to give us that Christmas feeling and chicken was definitely no substitute for turkey. However a complimentary glass of wine and a hearty ‘Merry Christmas’ put a smile onto our faces.
Christmas morning was truly a white Christmas; the ground, buildings and trees were covered with snow. The view across the Dardenalles was quite spectacular and the red berries peeking through the snow on the green fir trees gave us the Christmas feeling that was lacking the night before. Coming from a tropical climate the -2°C temperature lashed at our faces and although the sky was clear the sun had not appeared over the horizon. After breakfast we left the hotel and visited the Çanakkale Museum. We had to be very cautious as we made our way from the bus to the museum. The footpath was comparable to an ice-skating rink as it was too early for the morning sun to melt the ice.
From Çanakkale we drove to Troy. As we approached the ruins of Troy our bus slid across the icy road and caused a minor traffic jam as all the other vehicles had to wait while we put chains on the rear wheels to get grip and continue on our way. After visiting the model of the famous wooden horse we were conjecturing whether the story was fact or fiction?
The ruins of Troy have unearthed nine different settlements, one on top of the other. These excavations, some of the buildings are 5,000 years old, have revealed that the Trojans had a high level of civilization. The excavations began in 1871 by the German archæologist Heinrich Schliemann who unfortunately was not as meticulous as he could have been. Also many treasures were plundered and today they are exhibited in museums outside Turkey. As we wandered through the ruins I thought about the Trojans in their togas and wondered how they coped with these freezing wintry conditions. As we clambered for the warmth of the bus the temperature outside dropped to -5°C.
From Troy as we drove towards the Aegean Sea the sun began to shine and the temperature went into plus degrees. After a short stop for lunch at Bergama we visited the historical sites nearby at the ancient city of Pergamum. Pergamum, population 20,000, was a powerful Hellenistic city in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. First we visited the Red Hall in the town, now called Bergama, before going to the Asclepieum Medical Centre, Library, and Amphitheatre.
The Asclepieum Medical Centre was built in the name of the God of Healing, Asclepieus and was built in the 4th century BC. It was similar to the modern day health clinics where patients exercise, take herbal remedies, drink natural spring water and get massages. Inscribed above the entrance was; “In the name of the Gods, Death is forbidden to enter.” Snakes were sacred to Asclepieus and the relief at Pergamum is similar to the emblem used by the Medical Profession today.
The Library of Pergamum was built by Eumenes II and was one of the three famous ancient libraries. It contained 200,000 volumes. A century later Anthony gave the library to Cleopatra as a wedding present and the books were added to the Alexandria Library. I don’t know what was going through Anthony’s mind; it would have taken Cleopatra 90 years to read the books if she read six books a day. Didn’t he want her to do anything else?
We then drove up the hill to the Acropolis. One of the disadvantages at travelling at this time of the year is that it doesn’t get light until about 8:00am and it is getting dark by 5:00pm – good news for those who need a lot of sleep, bad news for photographers.
After visiting the Acropolis we drove to Izmir, the third largest city in Turkey, where we booked into the comfortable Hotel Kaya Prestige with its beautifully decorated Christmas tree in the foyer. The Christmas feeling was here albeit quiet and on a small scale. After a hot shower and dinner, again no turkey, most of us headed to bed after a memorable and eventful Christmas Day, for many their first white Christmas.
From Izmir some of the highlights during the next five days were visiting the incredible ancient city of Ephesus III (2,000BC) where I discovered the original Nike – no not an old pair of sneakers but a stone carving. She was the Goddess of Victory and one can see from the photo how Nike shoes arrived at their logo. After Ephesus we visited St. John Basilica, House of the Virgin Mary, Ayasuluk Fortress and the 600 year old Isa Bey Mosque then onto Pamukkale and the limestone formations and hot springs, the Whirling Dervishes Museum at Konya the Cappadocia open air museum, lunch at an underground restaurant, the underground city of Oznak, a ceramics factory, the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations at Ankara (European Museum of the Year Award), Mausoleum of Ataturk and lunch in Ankara old town, bought dried apricots, figs, dates, pistachios, almonds and other nuts at the market before returning to Istanbul.
We travelled a distance of 2,800 kilometres and the disadvantages of travelling at this time of the year are the cold temperatures and short daylight hours, however we were well compensated by the changing scenery, complete snow covered landscapes to green orange groves covered with ripe fruit and marvellous coastal vistas with clear sunny skies overhead. To me the big plus travelling at this time of the year is that the popular sites are not crowded.
Turkey is an inexpensive country to visit and with its ever-changing scenery, amazing archæological sites, good cuisine and for the shoppers, jewellery, leather goods and ceramics of the highest standards; there is something for everyone. Of course don’t return home without your Turkish delights – I mean the confectionery not the belly dancers.