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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.