Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Breathless at Termessos, Turkey

Has anything ever left you breathless?
Well…the only problem with Twitter chats is that they are chats on Twitter, and extended chatter requires multiple tweets. Reliving this moment that left me breathless could not be completely covered on Twitter alone (nor could Q1 or Q2, but never mind), so bear with me.

Termessos lies about 35 kilometres north of Antalya, so getting there required that we rent a car from our pansiyon

in Antalya and make it a day trip, combining it with the Karian Cave and Chimaera. Once we got into the hills, things started to get interesting (I mean, we were in Turkey, so it was already interesting, but now we were stepping it up a bit). Here's how I wrote about it.

The drive north of Antalya is simple and beautiful. We’re driving in Turkey. And I’m not sure what we’ve done to deserve yet another sky that is so blue it seems to sparkle. Not far out of town, we begin to make the upward climb into those remarkable hills, where the drive becomes very dramatic, and not just because the road crumbles away from the edge and spills down the hillside. Not the ground beside the road, but the concrete that was once a part of the road. A never-ending stream of mostly-intact hairpin turns takes us in a continuously vertical direction, into Gulluk Dagi National Park, and past the set of outer walls belonging to the ancient city of Termessos.
This is the reason we have come to Antalya. When researching Turkey, I happened upon a photo of the Termessos theatre, and I told Max, We have got to go here. “That is quite a bit off your path,” he said. Then we will need to make changes to the path, I replied. We are not missing this.
I’ve spent more than a few nights lying awake in bed, imagining the four of us exploring this place, and I am thrilled to pull into the parking lot (you do not need to remind me that it is actually Laura that is doing the driving; I’m well aware of that by now) and find that ours is the only car here.
There is not very much information available about Termessos, either online or in the guide books, but what I do know is that this magnificent city existed around the time of Alexander, in the 300’s BC. There is some uncertainty as to whether or not Alexander tried to take control of the city, having recognized its extraordinary defensive power and position. Maybe he received some kind of concessions from those within, or perhaps, as has been told, the Pisidian people living here were so fiercely independent that they repelled any and all attempts to be ruled by an outsider. After a visit to this place, the latter does not seem unlikely.

The air is fresh and clear, and the trees have begun to cloak themselves in their autumn attire. We walk for a good twenty minutes, more or less straight uphill past yet another set of defensive walls, with still another visible further up the hill. This place is Large. Capital L Large.

We come across the remains of an impressive gymnasium along the main street. The boys climb over stones the size of cars, and through doorways made for giants. As I take this all in, I have a tangible feeling of time, centuries of time, walking with us through these ruins, and I swear I can hear the sounds of battle, and a city breathing. Like a cool, icy wind on a warm sunny day. I get goose bumps, my skin a little electric, and when I try to explain the sensation to Jonas, he looks at me like I’ve just bumped my head very hard.

We climb higher still, sarcophogi literally littering the hillside, as we search for the elusive theatre. 

We climb over a wall, through a short tunnel, over a pile of enormous blocks,  and into a clearing - the theatre stage. We walk up the steps into the seating, and turn around.
It takes my breath away.

We have lunch sitting in the seats, and then watch the boys climb the blocks and steps over and over again. There are no chains or ropes, and since we’re 3500 feet up, we remind them regularly to be aware of their surroundings. 

We explore the remains of temples and homes, cisterns, streets, arches, doorways, walls, and gates. 
Termessos disappeared from history after an earthquake, its walls abandoned by the people in search of something better. I can imagine the sense of despair that would make rebuilding a several hundred-year-old city after a such a devastating event an impossibility. We see only a handful of people while we are here, and after almost four hours, we disappear from Termessos as well. 

How does something like this ever get left behind, forgotten but for a few passages here and there in the history books? What will remain of me after I am gone, of the home I have built, the life I have lived? We are all just sentences in books, I suppose, eventually. If that.
After spending some time in the very damp Karain Cave and its less damp museum at the bottom of the hill, we drive along the shores south of Antalya, in and around and through these glorious hills on our way to Chimaera. At the entrance, the gruff gentleman takes our ten lira fee, then points directly at the moon. “Eight hundred metres,” he says. “You have flashlight?” Yes. “Good.” He then goes right back to ignoring his surroundings.

In Greek mythology, a Chimaera is a fire-breathing monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail. This is what awaits us at the end of our moon expedition. We take a snack break at the four hundred metre mark, then at the top celebrate our victory. And while there isn’t an actual Chimaera here, there is something equally fascinating. Fire that comes out of the ground from about twenty-five or thirty small holes. A strange gas that somehow escapes from the bowels of the Earth and combusts when it comes into contact with the air. You read that right. Fire comes out of the ground.

Anyway, I carry on a little bit more about the rest of our day, but those were my exact words on the blog that night. "It takes my breath away."

Stepping Out, and Into Rome

Rome was the starting point of our family's travels, and as such, it holds a special place in my heart.
Following an overnight flight to Gatwick, we flew to Rome, and took the train from the airport to the main station downtown.
As we stepped out onto the street, the sky was a magnificent and deep shade of blue. As the warmth enveloped our bodies, the whole of what we were about to do settled upon me. Nine months of travel with our ten- and twelve-year-old boys. We paused just outside the doors of the station, and I thought to myself, "We are doing this." The wonder of the world was opening up to us, and the thrill of that sensation left us in awe. What an opportunity. What a time.

The Wonder of India

There really is something about India that gets inside you. It may take a while, as it did for me, but there will be this allure, this pull, that keeps you thinking, keeps you wanting more.
I had to leave India before that feeling took hold. By the end of our three months travelling all over, from Alleppey in the south, Jaisalmer in the west, to Kolkata in the east, I was done. I needed out.
When we descended into Bangkok, I couldn't believe how shiny the airport seemed from the sky. The airport was clean inside and out, the money we got out of the ATM felt like it was right off the press, super crisp and still a bit warm. Our taxi was clean, the roads were clean, and the taxi drivers somehow managed to stay in the proper lane, on their allotted side of the road. No meandering, no drifting.
But after a few days, I began to look back a bit, and think quite fondly of our time in India. The touts and annoying shopkeepers were settling to the back of my mind, and the friendliness of the vast majority of people who wanted nothing more than a photo with us, and a bit of conversation, that is what began to rise to the surface. Two months later, at the end of our trip, both my wife and I thought that if we were to return to any of the eleven countries we visited on our nine-month trip, India would top the list.
The travel posters all say, "Incredible India." The posters speak the truth.