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November 25, 2003 -> The Turkish Riviera: Week II

The Turkish coast is littered with ruins, adding a wonderful historical aspect to an otherwise beach-focused coast. Many of the historical sites are located near the best beaches, giving the authorities the justification to charge entrance fees to sunbathers who really couldn't care less about the jumble of rocks on the headland.

In true Mediterranean fashion, our lunches consisted of fresh bread, white cheese, tomatoes, and plump black olives. Each day we looked for the perfect picnic spot: in the upper seats of a Roman theater, beside the Aegean, near a rushing river, or on an unpeopled beach. It was cheap and delicious, and felt decadent in a way that no expensive restaurant meal could match.

THE MID-SEA COAST: Olympos to Kash

This was the best of the Turkish littoral, in our opinion: a bulge of land that curved southwest from Antalya to Kash and northwest from Kash to Fethiye. It was wedged between the resorts of the Aegean to the north, and of the Mediterranean to the east, and would no doubt soon be overwhelmed from both sides. For now, at least, its cities seemed calmer and cleaner, its coastline less marred by 'development', and its people less jaded by tourism. Boat trips were available to offshore Greek islands, and the hinterland offered exciting hiking opportunities.

About two hours south of Antalya was Olympos, a small coastal ruin more famous for the 'tree house' hostel located a few kilometers inland. In the summer, the hostel's 300+ beds (you read that correctly) are full of randy young backpackers who create a kind of arboreal Ibiza. I would have liked it a lot ten years ago. Even in winter, the hostel had the most diverse group of travelers that we met throughout Turkey. The bartender, naturally, was Aussie.

A short hike through a forested hillside near Olympos took us to the Chimera, a scorched-looking area where a dozen flames were jetting out from holes. A trio of fat, shirtless Germans were BBQ'ing sausages on a campfire beside the 'eternal' flames, which flared up and guttered randomly. There were a number of blackened holes where the flames had died, or perhaps been extinguished with a handful of sand.

The little harborside town of Kas (pronounced Kash) was our favorite place. At the point where the coast begins to curve north into the Aegean Sea, the town's rugged surroundings had spared it the evils of unchecked development. From the rooftop terrace of our 'pansiyon,' we could see the Greek island of Meis and its whitewashed homes. The town center had cobbled streets that fanned out from a lovely harbor. They were lined with wine bars, seafood restaurants and nargile cafes. Bright bougainvillea bushes, spilled over the walls. Twenty kilometers down the road was Kaputash beach, a pebbly arc fronting a cove of exceptional beauty, which we had to ourselves for an entire day.

THE AEGEAN: Fethiye to Efes

After watching England beat Australia in the Rugby World Cup, we left Kash and began driving north along the Aegean coast. The first stop was Fethiye, an improbably large city for such a small population. The harbor was full of boats touting "12 Island Tours"; many looked unseaworthy. I wondered how many poor galley meals found their way into the Aegean when the seas got rough.

We ran into Rich on our second night in Fethiye. He had been to many sites that sucked and was disconsolate. So we took him to our favorite doner kebab stand (thinly-sliced roasted chicken with lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup, and dill sauce, wrapped in soft turkish bread) and smoked the nargile in a nightclub crowded with young Turks (mostly men).

On a day trip from Fethiye, we visited Tlos, a rambling ruin that spanned many centuries. Lycian tombs were carved into a rocky knoll, atop which sat the crumbling walls of an Ottoman, brick-and-mortar fortress. Two village girls shadowed us around the ruins, showing us the quickest route to the old baths, and pointing out the carving of Bellerephon riding Pegasus inside one of the tombs. They laughed when I used my Lonely Planet Turkish Phrasebook to ask "Where are the gay hangouts?" but they never asked us for any money.

Just over the ridge from Fethiye was Oludeniz beach, often described as the best in Turkey. The setting is spectacular - a narrow tongue of pebbly land nearly separating a circular lagoon from the sea - but lovers of soft, white sand beaches would be disappointed. Wisely, the beach has been turned into a park, protecting it from development. There were very few sunbathers when we were there, and no one was swimming, but in the summer you must arrive early to find space. Paragliders leaped from the cliffs far above and slowly spiraled down to the beach.

The resort city of Bodrum looked more Greek than Turkish; the pleasing uniformity of its whitewashed buildings stood in stark contrast to the multicolored eyesores that blight much of the Turkish coast. The old Crusader castle of the Knights of St. John squatted on a small promontory that bisected the long bay, dividing the louder, seedier east from the quieter, uppity west. The scanty ruins of the Mausoleum of Halikarnassas (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) lie just a few blocks back from the castle, but the racy Halikarnassas Club on the eastern edge of the bay attracts more visitors.

Bodrum has money; its harbor is crammed with expensive yachts and gulets. Fancy restaurants with leafy verandas sit between thumping nightclubs that serve outrageously expensive drinks, and posh holiday homes extend far up the hillsides above the bay. We found a wonderful studio apartment overlooking the bay and spent two days soaking up the sun on our patio.

The final stop on our coastal tour was the extensive ruins at Efes (Ephesus). The most important Roman city in Asia Minor, tradition has it that the Virgin Mary came here after Jesus' crucifixion. Unlike most of the other sites in Turkey, much of Ephesus still stands: terraced homes, monumental fountains, colonnades.