Nothing ever goes exactly as planned in life, does it? Nobody's perfect, and the same is true for life. Travel is no exception - plans must change at times, people you meet and travel with won't be perfect, and because you're in new environments and places, extra doses of flexibility, kindness, and the ability to choose laughter over anger are helpful.
Our trip to Pamukkale and Ephesus combined a few of my more trying traveling experiences and although I remember some definite highlights - the water park! the friendly staff member at our second hotel! having the pool to ourselves at our last hotel! - it's not one that I look back on in an exclusively positive light.
We flew into Izmir, Turkey's third-largest city, on a Thursday evening and were due to pick up our rental car immediately afterwards, but with no sign of our rental car company and no way of contacting them, we found ourselves in a bit of a frustrating situation. Eventually an employee of another car company agreed to call them for us, and we finally found a representative from the agency outside near the international arrivals, hours after we'd landed. We still had an hour long drive to our hotel ahead of us, and after asking for help at various gas stations (our GPS had led us astray), we made it.
In the morning, the generous breakfast buffet and the inviting water slides at the hotel convinced us to take our time and stay until about noon...definitely a change of plans, but honestly probably the best decision of our trip. We were the only ones on the slides for a while, and we just had the best time together...and I've now learned that Danny is wild about water slides and is eager to return to a water park of any kind as soon as possible. Oh, and we stayed here just in case you're ever in western Turkey, looking for somewhere sort of in the middle of nowhere! ;)
D - The water slides don't look that scary in the photo but they definitely had some giddy up, especially for a serious slider with impeccable form such as myself. Add in the fact that I had just gained five pounds at breakfast (to increase my velocity) and I was really zipping. By the end of our time there I had mastered the craft so well that I was skidding across the water 10 feet before finally slowing and sinking into the depths of the pool.
Our early morning fun in the sun meant that we didn't begin our day at the pools and ruins of Pamukkale (mid-August in Turkey is HOT) but instead with lunch since we'd arrived in the mid-afternoon. We were staying at the Melrose House Hotel, which, aside from their wifi, we have only positive things to say (and the wifi situation was presumably temporary). They have a sister hotel, the Melrose Viewpoint, which is where we ate a late lunch/early dinner (it seemed slightly nicer, and in walking distance to the hot springs, in case you're in the market). The food, I think, was quite good, as I don't remember anything to the contrary, but I do remember having a traumatic cat experience here - one of many in Turkey and Greece, of course, as cats roam freely and are treated with great honor. Over the summer I dealt with an increased anxiety around cats as they were often our unwelcome meal companions, but that's a story for another time.
With the weather slightly cooler, we set off for Hierapolis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was probably founded in the early 2nd century BC and used until the 14th century AD by a variety of people groups, but probably most notably the Romans. It was ruined several times throughout the years by earthquakes, a common theme in Turkish history it seems, as Turkey is located in a very vulnerable position at the meeting of many different plates and fault zones. In between earthquakes, Hierapolis was somewhat of a spa town, and a place where doctors would send patients to seek cures for illnesses in the thermal waters. The sun was slowly setting, so it was the perfect time for a tour of the ruins while also dodging the heat of the day. And, when I say tour, I mean "tour," because there was no signage, and we didn't have a guide or any information, so we just walked on the paths, taking our best guesses at what things were.
D - I enjoyed Hierapolis a lot! It felt a bit more untamed to me than many of the other ancient history sites that we've visited. I would say that Hierapolis is to typical ancient history sites, as wildlife sanctuaries are to zoos. Things just felt a bit more authentic to me.
We didn't leave enough time to see all of the remains, and as we realized that the sun was getting closer and closer to setting, we rushed to white travertine terraced hot springs, the part of Pamukkale that we were really there to see. As we reached the edge of the hill that overlooks the small town, valley, and hot springs below, I could immediately see that all was not as we might have hoped. The once brilliantly, naturally blue pools have been walked in, swum in, and frankly, ruined, by millions of tourists over the years, and only but a glimmer of what used to be remains. Pamukkale is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1988, and UNESCO claims that "visitor access to the travertine terraces is prohibited in order to sustain the water flow and to maintain the colour and structure of the travertine terraces" but that's simply not true. Yes, some of the travertines are off-limits, but many are not, and there are no rules - people are allowed to wear and do as they please as they come into these fragile natural formations. The human impact on Pamukkale is obvious - many of the travertines have dried up, some are tones of black and gray and yellow rather than white, and others are in various stages of degradation.
Needless to say, because I had seen stunning photos online of Pamukkale, and found the site itself to look incredibly different due to human destruction (much of which continues to this day), it was difficult for me to enjoy our visit. I can't in any clear conscience recommend that someone visit Pamukkale unless they're going to be nearby, and if you do, I would urge you not to enter in and contribute any more to the pollution and damage of the pools. We went in without shoes or any clothing that would have made contact with the water or surfaces, but even still, I regret that we did. Those photos you see online with a Google Images search of "Pamukkale"? The ones with pristine white terraces and aquamarine water filling the pools? Good sources tell me those are 15+ years old, and I know (with my very own eyes) that the Pamukkale of years past sadly doesn't exist anymore.
The next morning we had a pretty typical Turkish breakfast at our hotel (by the pool!), and after a bit, we got on our way towards Ephesus, on our final stop on our mini three-day road trip around western Turkey.