In Pamukkale, Turkey: ‘Cotton castle’ terraces and ancient ruins

Centuries of mineral-rich, cascading waters have left deposits which form these pooled terraces in Pamukkale, Turkey. I don’t think I’ve captured adequately the beauty of the natural formations, so check for more images online.

By Betty Gordon

© 2017 text and photos. All rights reserved.

When I used to work in downtown Atlanta, my newspaper colleagues and I would sometimes grab a to-go lunch at a small storefront restaurant that specialized in Mediterranean cuisine such as kebabs, falafel and healthful Greek-style salads.

On one of the walls was a large travel poster-style photograph featuring a swath of impossibly azure sky and a flock of people sitting, or walking through ankle-deep water over white travertines that consumed the lower half of the image.

Think of puddle-topped terraces of differing size and steepness, descending down an icy cliff side, but without the cold, wind or falling precipitation.

I don’t recall any words in big letters on the poster, touting a particular country. I thought it might be Greece, keeping in mind the type of food that was on the menu.

I asked one of the staff what country was represented on the poster.

Turkey, was his reply. More specifically, the location was Pamukkale, in the southwestern part of the country.

That information went into my mental travel file, hopeful that sometime in the future I’d be able to see this gorgeous vista in person.

Fast forward to the fall of 2012: a two-week trip to Turkey was looming. Istanbul, the Cappadocia region and Ephesus were on my itinerary. They’re all easy to get to by air, train or local tourist company transport. (See my February 27 post on staying in a cave hotel in Goreme, in Cappadocia.)

Pamukkale — roughly translated it means “cotton castle” looked doable, but I had no firm routing for getting there, unusual for me.

I’m the sort of independent traveler who does reams of research before I depart, studying flight, train and bus schedules, and maps. I have a pretty solid plan for how I’m going to get from point A to point B, and that rarely includes a rental car.

This prep not only helps with budgeting but also reduces unwanted “surprises.” It’s not foolproof, but it has served me well over decades of international travel.

That is not to say that I’m inflexible. Attractions, activities or even that begging-to-be- explored narrow side street promising interesting shops or restaurants can be easily accommodated.

Sometimes, serendipity steps in too.

From Istanbul, I took a Turkish Airlines flight to Izmir. The train station was conveniently only a short distance across from the airport terminal.

All the carriages were overcrowded. On the one I boarded, I had to sit in the stairwell for the hour journey to Selçuk, the jumping off point for visiting Ephesus.

In under 10 minutes, I walked from the Selçuk train station up a hill to my small hotel. I noted that I passed several travel agencies with advertisements in the window for regional bus service to a variety of attractions. I planned to investigate further after checking in.

A stork’s nest, easily visible from the rooftop terrace of my small hotel in Selçuk. The castle-like structure (background left) is the restored Basilica of St. John in nearby Ephesus.

At an informal orientation session with the proprietor on the rooftop terrace, where we were at eye-level with an impressively sturdy stork’s nest composed of large twigs, I met Frances and Gordon, from Oregon.

As so often happens, we struck up a conversation, exchanging information about where we had been in Turkey — I started in Istanbul, they were headed there next — and other countries we had visited.

When I mentioned that I hoped to get to Pamukkale, they said they were planning to go, had a rental car, and immediately invited me along.

It couldn’t have worked out better.

Pamukkale, in western Anatolia, is roughly a three-hour drive on Route E87, heading east from Selçuk, a distance of about 105 miles (170 kilometers). The road in 2012 was smooth, modern and well-maintained.

From the north entrance of the park, we followed this pretty mosaic pathway that led to the changing area.

We packed our swimming gear, some snacks and drinks and our cameras, of course.

We parked at the north entrance, bought our 20 lira tickets (about $5; price has probably increased) and walked on a mosaic-patterned path a lengthy distance to the changing area.


The amount of water available for a dip varies among the travertines’ levels.

Calcium carbonate-rich water from natural springs cascades down the giant “steps,” leaving icicle-like deposits from one level to the next, sort of like a series of mini petrified waterfalls.

From some angles, the terraces look like rippling waves, frozen before they can roll all the way toward shore.

In certain areas, it is possible to fully submerge in pooled depressions in the terraces, though an actual swim would be less successful.

In our bare feet, we walked gingerly, getting used to the sometimes flat, sometimes uneven surface.

It was not as jagged or slippery as I was expecting, but we still proceeded slowly to lessen any possibility of a mishap. When I bent down to swish my hands in the water, they did not emerge with a slimy or sticky residue.

Late in the season, the water flow lessens, so the cascade was slower than earlier in the year.

Two more attractions make the trip to Pamukkale, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, worthwhile: an Antique Pool (separate admission fee) and the neighboring ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis, with its roots dating to the second century B.C.

The thermal waters of the Antique Pool have been drawing bathers since the second century B.C.

Frances and Gordon opted for a dip in the therapeutic waters, which hover at about 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit (36 degrees Celsius). Bathers can make use of banks of lockers and the changing areas of the facility.

In Roman times, this was a sacred pool, and in some areas, submerged marble columns still exist.

In 2012, preservation work was ongoing at the Roman theater of Hierapolis, which would have been able to seat about 12,000 patrons. Emperors Hadrian and Septimius Severus built it in two stages.

Meanwhile, I wandered among the ruins, which include monuments, an extensive necropolis and a monumental arch from the early Christian period. (I didn’t have time for the Hierapolis Archaeology Museum, for which there is a separate admission fee.)

Pamukkale, one of the top destinations in Turkey with more than 1.5 visitors per year, is most crowded in spring and summer. Plan accordingly.


At Abbotsford in southeastern Scotland: Where man-of-letters Sir Walter Scott built his fairy-tale castle home

Sir Walter Scott began buying the land on which he would build Abbotsford in 1811. A modest farmhouse occupied the site at the time, but he had ambitious plans for realizing his dream home.

By Betty Gordon

© 2017 text and photos. All rights reserved.

In October 2017, I visited Scotland for 10 days. This is the first in a series about my wanderings.

With the success of the narrative poems “The Lady of the Lake” (1810) and “The Vision of Don Roderick” (1811), and funds from editing the ballads of the “Minstrelsy” series (1802-3) and other works, Sir Walter Scott had amassed the means to follow his heart’s desire.

That meant owning land in southeastern Scotland, an area referred to as the Borders, where the Edinburgh-born Scott (1771-1832) spent many happy youthful hours on his grandfather’s farm, absorbing the local lore and developing a lifelong appreciation for the beautiful rugged countryside.

So in 1811, Scott, who is credited with inventing the literary form known as the historical novel, began purchasing property — a farm really — that backed up to the picturesque River Tweed near the town of Melrose.

Over the next dozen years, Scott’s holdings increased from the initial 110 acres to 1,400, and he renamed the property Abbotsford. It was his refuge and his pride and joy, though he often referred to it as his “conundrum castle.”

For a time, he and his wife and four children (two sons, two daughters) lived in the farmhouse, adding rooms and outbuildings, until Scott’s ambitions outgrew the humbler abode. They also had a residence in Edinburgh, as Scott had followed his father into the legal profession before becoming a writer.

In a second construction burst at Abbotsford, the farmhouse was demolished, replaced with part of the imposing rectangular stone building that stands today. The mishmash of exterior castlelike elements — turrets and towers, stepped gables and crenellations — is known as Scottish Baronial.

A view of Abbotsford from the rear. The green expanse at the right leads down to the River Tweed.

This architectural style was popular in Scotland in the 1800s until about 1920. Balmoral Castle in northern Scotland, a favorite retreat of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and Queen Elizabeth II and her family, is a prime example.

In a nod to technological advancements, Abbotsford was among the first buildings in Scotland to be illuminated by gas, installed in 1823.

No inch of the property escaped Scott’s artistic eye, focusing almost immediately on the landscaping, which he eventually transformed into three interconnecting walled gardens (one provided the kitchen’s herbs, fruits and vegetables) and thick woodlands. So eager was he to get started that he had trees planted before he’d taken full ownership of the first piece of land.

To call the decor and furnishings eclectic would be an understatement, but they mirrored Scott’s taste and obsessions, from books to heraldry to possesions once owned by Robert Roy MacGregor, upon whom Scott based one of his best-known works, “Rob Roy” (1817).

To Scott, landscaping the grounds was as important as the construction of the Scottish Baronial-style home. In the foreground are thistles, a much-beloved symbol of Scotland.

A tour of Abbotsford is sheer delight. From the attraction’s entrance at the well-stocked visitor center/gift shop, it’s a short walk through the well-manicured gardens to the house. On a sunny fall day, purple thistles — Scotland’s national symbol — bobbed in the breeze and the blue-and-white flag of Scotland rippled on the tower’s flagpole.

On the audio guide, a male narrator’s distinctive Scottish burr steered me from room to room, all on the ground floor. The upstairs bedrooms and the lower level that now is office space are not open to the public.

So many interesting items are on display — Scott was an avid collector —  that I replayed some of the information two or three times and consulted the thick notebooks in each room that divulge additional source material.

The entrance hallway is crammed with objects that wouldn’t be out of place in Scott’s chivalric novels: shiny suits of armor standing in wall niches, coats of arms of his immediate family framing the doorway to the study and antlered stags’ heads mounted high on the walls.

All manner of antique weaponry climbs the walls of the armory. At bottom left is the brass-mounted veneered strongbox that belonged to France’s Louis XIV. The portrait above the mantel is of Scotland’s King James, circa 1507.

The armory builds on this, filled with antique guns and rifles, fearsome swords, fiendish daggers and menacing maces.

Scott spent countless hours in his study, trying to settle a massive debt through his writings. Up the stairs to the gallery level was a small door, which gave Scott access to his dressing room. He could move easily between the levels ensuring his privacy, while at the same time not disturbing other people in the house.

Moving into Scott’s study, the desk where he wrote many of the Waverley novels dominates the book-lined space. Because of the cost of Abbotsford’s upkeep, and the additional debt he charitably assumed when his publisher ran into financial trouble  in 1826 (owing somewhere around £126,000), his study also became a sort of prison.

Only by exhaustively churning out novels, histories and biographies hour after hour did he stave off bankruptcy.

The room behind the study is the library, the embodiment of Scott’s wide-ranging curiosity. Stacked in sturdy wooden cabinets are leather-bound volumes, some of them extremely rare, that span Scott’s life and interests.

In the alcove at the far end of the library is a marble bust designed by Sir Francis Chantrey. A plaster cast of Shakespeare is to Scott’s right. In the glass-topped octagonal table (center) are curios, including a crucifix said to have belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots. The portrait above the fireplace is of Walter Scott’s elder son, Walter, dressed in his regimental uniform of the 15th (the King’s) Hussars. Sir William Alan painted it in 1821. Atop the table at left is an urn given to Scott by his friend Lord Byron in 1815.

Works of history, geography, folklore, witchcraft, dictionaries, manuals, law, politics and more, and first editions can be found on the shelves. Unfortunately, visitors can’t thumb through any of the 7,000 books, but they can peer at the spines. Each title is precisely where Scott place it.

A marble bust of Scott designed by Sir Francis Chantrey, given to the author in 1828, is in an alcove at one end of the room. It’s described as an “admirable likeness.” The sculptor also executed busts of George Washington and the Duke of Wellington.

A glass-topped table in the library is stuffed with curios, such as a crucifix that is said to have belong to Mary, Queen of Scots.

The Chinese drawing room was a favorite post-dinner gather spot for the Scotts and their guests. Daughter Sophia would often entertain by playing the harp. In 1808, Sir Henry Raeburn painted the portrait of Scott with his dogs Camp and Percy.

In the evening, the family would congregate in the Chinese drawing room, where Scott’s eldest child, Sophia, would play the harp, songs would be sung and literary recitations would pass the time.

The hand-painted wallpaper from China depicts idyllic scenes of life in the Asian country, such as long-beaked brown birds perched delicately in leafy trees surrounded by butterflies and flowers, and men congregated around a table contemplating black and white game pieces on a lined board.

A closeup of some of the details on the Chinese hand-painted wallpaper that was imported by Scott’s cousin Hugh Scott, a captain with the East India Company.

Each of the 24 strips of green-backgrounded wallpaper was 12 feet long and four feet wide, enough to cover not only the drawing room but also two of the bedrooms.

Scott’s cousin Hugh was a ship’s captain for the East India Company and was instrumental in the acquisition of the wallpaper and getting it to Scotland.

The dining room, with a large oval oak dining table that could seat up to 30, was not only the location of many a fine meal, but also where Scott died on September 21, 1832.

Among Scott’s notable guests over the years: English poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850), American writer Washington Irving (1783-1859) and Prince Leopold (1790-1865), later first King of Belgium.

On some occasions, a bagpiper in full Highland regalia, would walk back and forth on the terrace, serenading the diners.

Many physical changes were made after Scott’s death, so the dining room looks different than it would have during Scott’s time. All the rooms on the back of the house overlook a wide expanse of grass that leads to the Tweed.

Gazing at the River Tweed and walking beside its rippling waters gave Scott endless hours of pleasure.

Scott suffered a series of strokes during a year of travel in Malta and Italy in the early 1830s. When he returned to Abbotsford in a greatly weakened state, a bed was set up by the window in the dining room, affording Scott a view of the Tweed in his waning moments.

As his son-in-law and biographer John Gibson Lockhart wrote: “It was so quiet a day that the sound he best loved, the gentle ripple of the Tweed over its pebbles, was distinctly audible as we knelt around his bed.”

Quick reference: The house and gardens are open from March through November. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 1-31. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 1 to October 31. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. November 1-30. The visitor center and restaurant are open year-round except for December 25-26 and January 1-2. Adult admission to house and gardens £9.60 (about $12.80), to gardens only £5 (about $6.70). See website for prices for children, retirees and groups. The audio tour is included in the cost of admission.

Visitors are welcome to book accommodation in one of the seven luxurious rooms in the Hope Scott Wing. This part of the estate was a family home to Scott’s granddaughter, added on after Abbotsford was opened to the public. Abbotsford is also a popular wedding venue.

By train, from Edinburgh Waverley station, take ScotRail’s Borders Railway to Tweedbank. The ride is about 55 minutes. From the station, it’s a solid 30-minute walk to Abbotsford. You’ll pass some lovely houses and be within sight of the River Tweed most of the way. Take an umbrella. Scotland’s weather can change quickly.

Australian journalist Kate Webb, held captive for 23 days during the Vietnam War, honored on a commemorative stamp

Journalist Kate Webb (left), who grew up in Australia from age 8, appears on a new commemorative stamp in Australia. Red Cross worker Rosemary Griggs is in the rear right of the frame. Image from Australian Post via Agence France-Presse.

By Betty Gordon

© 2017 text. All rights reserved.

On April 21, 1971, The New York Times ran a seven-paragraph article that said Catherine M. Webb, the bureau chief for wire service United Press International in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, was presumed dead.

Webb, then 28 years old, disappeared on April 7, when she and her translator and four others were ambushed on Highway 4, about 56 kilometers (about 35 miles) southwest of Phnom Penh, the capital. They were checking out reports of fighting in the area.

On April 16, a Caucasian body, with one bullet in the chest, was identified by two Cambodian Army officers as Webb’s. It was cremated where it was found, near the site of the disappearance. The body’s remains were transported to a hospital in Phnom Penh.

Her obituary appeared in other media worldwide, and her family was readying a memorial service for the New Zealand native, who was reared in Australia from the age of 8.

But Webb, one of the few women reporting on the Vietnam War and the spillover into neighboring Cambodia, was very much alive.

She was being held prisoner by the Viet Cong deep in the Cambodian countryside.

At the time of her disappearance, nine correspondents had been killed in Cambodia since 1970, and 17 were missing.

Perhaps Webb knew the story of Dickey Chapelle, a ground-breaking photojournalist, who was the first American female reporter killed in Vietnam, while on a patrol with a unit of Marines in 1965. See my post of July 16, 2016, for a discussion of “Fire in the Wind,” a thorough biography of Chapelle by Roberta Ostroff.

Webb, who went by “Kate,” first arrived in Saigon, South Vietnam, less than two years after Chapelle’s death. She was hired as a part-timer by UPI, and caught on full time about six months later.

And there’s no doubt Webb was aware of the story of the capture of Elizabeth Pond, 33, of the Christian Science Monitor; St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Richard Dudman, 52; and Mike Morrow, 24, of Dispatch News Service International.

In May 7, 1970, the three had inadvertently broached territory claimed by forces loyal to Cambodia’s deposed leader, Prince Norodom Sihanouk.

They were held for more than five weeks before being released. Dudman wrote a book called “Forty Days with the Enemy,” which was published in 1971.

In “On the Other Side: 23 Days with the Viet Cong” (Quadrangle Books, 1972), Webb describes how she and the others survived, detailing their movements, their treatment and the interrogations by the Viet Cong, who called themselves the Liberation Armed Forces.

Written within months of their release, and based on clandestine notes Webb was able to make while captive, this small volume is a no-frills, in-the-moment retelling of their experience (she never calls it an “ordeal”) and thought processes.

Neither an indictment nor a sympathetic treatise, “On the Other Side” showcases Webb for what she was: a keen, even-keeled reporter, whose quest for the truth behind the story never wavered.

On the day that Webb went out to investigate the fighting, she wasn’t anticipating being gone long from the office. She took no food, water or emergency equipment. Just her camera and a purse.

She was not wearing her usual green drab multipocketed top (United Press International was printed above the left breast pocket on some shirts) and slacks, but was clad instead in white jeans, a blue short-sleeved sweater and sandals.

Another questionable decision: Webb and her Cambodian interpreter, Chhimmy Sarath, left their Datsun and walked to the front lines. With shooting all around, they resorted to crouching in ditches and creeping parallel to the road trying to get to safety.

That lasted about a day before they were seized in terrain controlled by the Viet Cong.

The other four swept up with Webb were Japanese newsreel photographer Toshiichi Suzuki (fluent in Vietnamese); Vorn, Suzuki’s translator; Tea Kim Heang, a freelance photographer; and Eang Charoon, a newspaper cartoonist. The last three men were Cambodian.

All six were forced to give up their shoes, cameras and personal belongings. Their arms were tied behind their backs and they were roped together.

Then, under guard, they began walking, and thinking about survival. Of utmost importance: Convincing the guards and their superiors that all six were journalists. Not spies, especially not American CIA.

Webb says that fear was a constant companion. The six knew they could be shot at any time, but she also realized this was an opportunity to form unvarnished opinions in close-up observation of the VC, and that first and foremost, her reportorial instincts should be utilized.

She says there was no physical abuse, and that the soldiers were well-disciplined and on task. Food, clothing (black, custom-made pajama-like garments) and rudimentary shelter and medical care were provided.

Of note is Webb’s description of repeatedly trying to get across to her interrogators the responsibility of a free press. She was never certain that they understood that as a reporter for an independent business entity, she didn’t work for a government, particularly not the American government.

“ ‘You must be very brave to go down the highway for no reason other than to get the truth. This is hard to believe,’” one interrogator says.

Webb answers: “ ‘I went down the highway because it is the only way to find out what was really happening. How else can I find out?’ ”

“ ‘You can listen to what the government says,’ ” the interrogator replies.

Webb counters: “ ‘The government gives its version, you give yours, so we must find out what is really happening. That’s our job; that’s what we are paid to do. If I did not feel I could do it, I would resign.’ ”

Then, suddenly, on April 30, Webb and the other five were released. Webb, who had contracted two strains of malaria, writes that she never certain why they were let go, other than as “non-military” prisoners, they had no value to the communists.

Webb continued to work for UPI off and on until 1985. She covered, among other stories, the fall of Saigon, and the Khmer Rouge takeover in Cambodia, both in 1975.

She later joined Agence France-Presse, where she reported on the end of the Marcos regime in the Philippines, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the transfer of power from the British in Hong Kong to the Chinese in 1997.

She died of bowel cancer on May 13, 2007 in Sydney, Australia. She was 64. In 2008, the Agence France-Presse Foundation created an annual award in her name, given for “courageous reporting” under unstable conditions in Asia.

This fall, 10 years after her death, her career was honored by the Australian Post, which put a likeness of her on a stamp for the “Women in War” series. The $1 stamp is based on a photo from her days in Vietnam and Cambodia, and in fact is the one used for the cover of “On the Other Side.”

In the original photo, Webb, facing the camera, is looking intently at her interview subject — nearly out of the frame — and holding a pen in her right hand and an open notebook spanning both hands. Dangling from the chain-smoker’s left index and third fingers is a cigarette. In the stamp’s image, the cigarette has been airbrushed out.

Red Cross worker Rosemary Griggs is also honored, appearing on the stamp’s rear right. The stamps were issued October 6, in time to commemorate Remembrance Day, November 11, in Australia.

Further, Webb will be the subject of a film based on “On the Other Side.” British actress Carey Mulligan (“Mudbound,” “An Education,” “Never Let Me Go”) will portray Webb, and also be a producer on the film. Production is set for spring 2018.

At the end of “On the Other Side,” Webb concludes that in different, post-war circumstances, she’d welcome the chance to meet some of her captors again “over beer, not rifles.”