Cheap pizza and cheap coffee in Naples

As I write this [in mid-July:  I’m a little behind on publishing blog posts, I’m afraid], I have just completed more than my fair share (half, since there are two of us) of the four pizzas we ordered for dinner in Naples.  So you’ll have to excuse me if it’s a bit of a slow post.  Right now my digestive system is doing a lot more than my … whatever the thinking system is called.

We’ve been in Naples since Saturday night, and as I write this it’s now Wednesday night.  So that’s … Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday … five nights’ worth of dinners.  And there were a couple of lunches in there too.  Over the last (Google search for five times twenty-four – no, wait, four times twenty-four) ninety-six hours, I’ve averaged more than two pizzas a day.  And on average, it’s probably cost about four euro per pizza, or less.

Not all of them have been to my taste, I must admit.  The thing covered in corn tonight, for example.  Honestly, who puts corn on a pizza?!  But most of them, well …  I guess there’s a reason I’ve been averaging more than two pizzas a day.  (Bear in mind that most days I haven’t got around to lunch, so that’s not one pizza for lunch, one for dinner.  That’s two pizzas for dinner.  Much to the disgust of, well, anyone in the general vicinity.)

Ok, so it’s not the most elegant photo ever. But then, it wasn’t particularly elegant if you were there, either. Honesty is important in a travel diary, after all.

So, you’d think my lasting take-away from Italy would be pizza.  (“Take-away”, get it?  Terrible joke, I know, but like I said, not a lot of blood to the brain right now.)  But no, I think it’s the coffee that takes the metaphorically mixed cake.  Eighty euro cents for an awesome espresso from pretty much any random place that you walk past – how could I say no?  In fact, how could I not say yes multiple times within the space of an hour or two?

We’re going to Croatia after Italy, so I’m hard pressed to complain about how deprived we’re going to be in any regard.  But brilliant four euro pizzas and tasty eighty euro cent coffees will be sorely missed by my taste buds, if not by everything from there on down.

Nice and Monaco

The more observant among you may have noticed that my previous post, about my time in Marseille, had very little to do with Marseille – instead, I spent my time exploring the Calanques between Marseille and Cassis.  I’m sure Marseille is lovely and all, but a couple of brief walks around didn’t yet anything of spectacular interest, so…

This post is about my time in Nice (which, by the time I’m lazily getting around to posting this, was now more than a month ago, in mid-July), and has very little to do with Nice.  Not because Nice isn’t pleasant enough – I’m sure it’s peachy.  The atmosphere was jovial and lively.  People were having fun.  The weather was great.  The food was good.  The seaside was appropriately blue and popular.  (That said, the Australian in me still struggles to understand how Europeans can get so excited about beaches that don’t have sand.  If you agree, and you find yourself in the area, I recommend heading around the corner to Villefranche-sur-mer.  It’s a small village within walking distance of Nice – or if you’re lazy, it’s one train stop away – and it has a beach much more to my taste.)

But proceeding leisurely to the point, somewhere in the middle of Nice is a local bus stop with a number 100 bus which, for the princely sum of bugger all, will take you to Monaco.  Which, let’s face it, has a bit more “ooh, have to go check that out” appeal.  So two of my days in Nice were actually spent on the other end of that forty minute bus ride, in a different country entirely.

A local bus in Nice. ‘Local’ as in, ‘going to Monaco’.

Monaco was intriguing, but when it comes down to it, both days spent there basically consisted of ogling the very expensive cars in front of Casino Monte Carlo (which, by the way, is smaller than you expect) and ogling the very expensive boats in the marina (which, by the way, are every bit as big as you’d expect).  In fact, everything in Monaco just looks expensive.  Even the people.  Especially the people.  (Well, except for the hordes of wide-eyed tourists like myself.  We just look cheap and tacky.)

Making the most of your time in Monaco basically consists of finding the best vantage points from which to ogle the expensive things.  The casino is best ogled from just in front of it (duh) unless you happen to have turned up besuited appropriately to gain entry.  Tip for any aspiring gamblers:  shorts, tshirt and thongs (that’s flip-flops, for the uneducated among you) unfortunately don’t cut it.  (One of the more entertaining aspects of admiring the casino’s frontage is the sight of the establishment’s impeccably dressed doormen denying entry to plaintive would-be guests.  That and the meerkat-like straining of said would-be guests attempting to get a peek inside.)

Shiney. Pricey.

Once finished with the casino, you can then appreciate Monaco’s supremacy in another field:  the quest to host Formula One’s most boring race.  Since Monaco’s race is a street circuit, you can walk around the roads and tunnels where some of the world’s fastest (and, of course, most expensive) cars parade quickly around in pretty much their starting order 78 times until someone gets bored and waves a chequered flag at the guy who was on pole.

That done, you’ll want to get on with some more ogling, and for the superyachts, that’s best done first from a café next to the marina (preferably with coffee), and then from up the hill in front of the castle.  On your way to the latter vantage point, make sure to appreciate the statue of François Grimaldi the Cunning, the first Grimaldi to rule Monaco, over nine hundred years ago.  (The Grimaldi family is sovereign in Monaco today, and although the reign has not been an unbroken one since François’s day, it’s been all but.)  Enjoy the gloating story told on the sign nearby, narrating his epic bravery in entering the city disguised as a Franciscan monk, and heroically stabbing a few unarmed clergymen to take over and begin his rule.

And that’s about it for Monaco, really.  Enjoy the boat-envy.

A collection of expensive floating palaces

Slightly less expensive, slightly less palatial, slightly less floating.

Oh, one point about Nice, though, before I go.  There’s a lovely cliff walk out east of the city, which I recommend.  Follow the coast around towards Villefranche-sur-mer, and before you get too high up the hill, look for a sign next to some stairs pointing to the cliff walk.  (Better yet, ask someone other than me for better directions.)  It was quite a pleasant wander around the rocky headland next to Nice.  Right up until rounding the last corner, where we strolled around to be confronted with the slightly unexpected sight of an old-ish gentlemen maintaining a nice even tan on the back of his testicles.  The walk apparently terminates in a concreted nude beach.  (Actually, ‘beach’ is not really the right word – it’s more of a random concrete platform next to the water.  But whatever.)  I have nothing against people getting their kit off in the sun, if that’s their thing – but I will admit to having been a little unprepared to walk straight into a collection of old farts browning their brown-eyes.  About face, and back to the scenery.  You have been warned.

A section of the cliff walk in Nice. Not pictured: geriatric genitalia.

Hiking through the Calanques in Marseille and Cassis

I may have only just got to Marseille, but my first full day there was spent elsewhere.  (Tardy posting note:  I was in Marseille for a few days in early July, 2012.)  One fellow traveller told me he thought the best beaches in the area were in Cassis, not Marseille, and another said she’d heard the Calanques were worth exploring.  As Wikitravel helpfully explained to me, the Calanques are a series of fjord-like inlets/cliffs/promontories running from Marseille to Cassis.  Apparently they’re accessible from the Marseille side by taking the number 21 bus from Rue de Rome, but hey, two birds, one stone…

So come 11:05, having paid my €5.60, I was on the train to Cassis.  By midday, I’d made my way into town at Cassis (the train station is a way out), taken a quick look over the beach (pretty girls getting their tops off:  check;  sand instead of pebbles:  check;  space to swing a cat:  no check) and was on my way out of the tourist information centre with an inadequate but free tourist map and a largely useless brochure about the Calanques.  Pro tip number one for anyone following in my footsteps:  decent trail maps do exist – buy one.

The beach at Cassis at sunset (after the topless girls had left: it seemed rude to ogle with a camera…)

Here followed about seven hours of constant walking and climbing around the Calanques.  Which are stunning.  I realise that most people are a little more averse to that much walking than me, especially given that there’s really quite a lot of quite taxing clambering up and down steep valleys.  And so if you’re such a person and you find yourself in Cassis, you’ll be pleased to know that there is an excellent beach that is only an hour or so’s (admittedly difficult) walk/climb in, in Calanque En Vau.  Either way, pro tips two and three:  take plenty of water, and wear decent shoes.  I did it in my FiveFingers, which was manageable but not ideal, since the trails consist purely of small stones exactly the wrong size for shoes with very thin soles (ie they’re pokey and they hurt).  Oh, and I’m not kidding about the water – assuming you’re there on a warm day, you will sweat bucketloads.  I drank more than four litres of water while walking around, plus another litre while eating dinner straight after.

Calanque en Vau (seen from farther into the Calanques)

Looking down into one of the Calanques in brilliant sunshine

Other than that, there’s not a lot for me to say about Cassis – it’s better in pictures than in text.  Oh, other than to thank the two lovely French girls I ran into on the way out, and who showed me a good place to dive in and cool off after a particularly sweaty stretch of climbing, before they kindly gave me a lift back into town.  They’re staying in Cassis on holiday and are liking it, but they did explain that it’s a little too well-to-do for people in town to be friendly and approachable.  They recommended I go to Sanary-sur-mer, which is apparently friendlier.  So maybe I’ll do that.

(Update from later:  I didn’t end up going to Sanary, unfortunately – it was on my way to Nice, and I would have liked to go for a night, but so far as I could tell from a quick search online, there aren’t any hostels in Sanary, and the hotels were either full or expensive.  So I just ended up in Nice early.)

A nice spot for a swim after a hard day’s walking

Oh, finally, pro tip four:  see pro tip one, and get a decent map.  It’s apparently possible to walk along the Calanques all the way back to Marseille (to meet up with that number 21 bus), which I would really like to have done – especially for the possibility of seeing them at sunset.  Instead, I spent sunset somewhat less spectacularly, sitting at the train station writing a draft of this post while waiting for the last train back.  I’m sure I could have walked it, too – I think I probably got close to half way before turning back, and by the time you add the 3.5km walk from town to the train station (the shuttle bus had stopped running), I wouldn’t be surprised if I covered about the right distance.

Oh well, c’est la vie…


Post script

You can indeed get to the Calanques from Marseille on the number 21 bus – I did it the next day.  Catch it right to the end of the line, and wander into the national park that sits directly behind where the bus parks at its final stop.  A few slightly easier bays to get to, perhaps, if you’re not quite so up for clambering through valleys…  Still stunning, though.

The Calanques along the coastline south of Marseille


Another nice spot for a swim — this time nearer Marseille

Bathing in sweat in a Turkish bath

This blog is an equal opportunity employer, and so I’m happy to follow up the male-focussed shaving post with some pampering that both sexes can enjoy, albeit in segregated fashion:  a Turkish bath (aka ‘hamam’).

(For those not in the know, “equal opportunity employer” is a self-applied epithet used in job ads in Australia by companies and government departments who wish to impress potential applicants by boasting that they endeavour to refrain from blatantly illegal discriminatory practices like only hiring candidates with dangly bits down there.)

So, without further ado, how to enjoy a Turkish bath…

Step one:  nude up.  After paying (60TL – roughly £21 or €27 – happily forked over up front), I was shown to a changing room and handed a towel.  Unsure of the procedure, (having heard different things from different travellers who’d attended different hamams), I asked whether I was supposed to wear anything under the towel – board shorts, perhaps? – and got the proprietor’s best idiomatic English in reply:  “are you kidding?”.  Fair enough.  (The point of my asking had actually been not so much out of prudishness, but more to avoid the awkward “what the hell, why would you do that?!” if I wasn’t supposed to be imitating a true Scot under the towel.)

Step two:  enter the hamam, proceed to your assigned marble washbasin, and spend a few minutes pouring warm water over yourself (and towel).  There was no one else in the hamam when I was there (5pm on a hot Friday afternoon is presumably not their busiest time), so I got to spend a bit of time poking about and admiring the all-marble room at this point, too.  Then again, some other participants would have been helpful:  a few surreptitious glances would have answered some crucial questions like “am I supposed to keep the towel on for this bit?” and “does it matter if I get the towel soaking wet?”.  (Answers:  yes and no, respectively.)

Step three:  have a nice lie down on the heated marble platform in the middle of the room.  After all that enthusiastic washing, you’ve earned it.  When delivering hand-wavy instructions at the beginning of step two, the proprietor (who from now on I’m going to call ‘bathman’, just because after many minutes spent staring out the train window at the Mediterranean in southern France I can’t think of anything less dumb) had gestured that this was a good time for a ten to fifteen minute nap.  At this point, however, one begins to take notice of just how hot and humid the hamam is, and the effect that that’s having on one’s pores:  namely, that they have opened the sluices and become a plethora of little sweaty waterfalls.

Step four:  enter bathman, now himself clad in towel;  follow his instructions to sit next to your assigned washbashin so he can throw progressively cooler and cooler water over you.  After all the sticky sweating, this is incredibly pleasant.

Step five:  back onto the marble platform to be covered in soapy water and manhandled through a brief whole body sports massage.  I’ve never really been one for massages, for some reason, so this didn’t really do that much for me other than produce a couple of invisible bruises on my thighs the next day (the bathman has quite a grip!).  But I’m sure most people enjoy it, and it was entertaining if for no other reason than to see him do it mostly with his eyes closed, in order to preserve the modesty of the aforementioned true Scot.

Step six:  amateur sports massage completed, it’s now time for the bathman’s turn at amateur chiropractic.  He seemed to gain quite some pleasure from producing cracking noises from my back and ribs, in particular.  No harm no foul, I guess.

Step seven:  more water sloshed all over you.

Step eight:  bathman’s duties are complete, and it is now time for another lie down to complete the experience.

Step nine (optional extra credit):  once changed back into your clothes, allow the door to the haman to slam shut on your heel as you go back in to take a few happy snaps (which don’t turn out anyway because it’s too humid for your camera to capture anything at all without getting its lens covered in mist), and spend a good five minutes trying not to bleed all over their nice clean marble.

They sure know how to pamper a guy in Turkey

A bloke’s visit to Turkey just wouldn’t be complete without getting another man to have at his face with a straight razor.

But before I got around to that, the mop on my head needed some attention.  So in the spare hour I had before my train out of Selçuk, I wandered into the barber for a haircut.  (It would have made sense to go for the shave experience at the same time, of course, but as a not-exactly-testosterone-heavy individual who’d recently wielded the safety razor myself, I needed to wait another day or so before that became sensible.)

I like to think it’s testament to improvements both in my travelling skills and general outlook on life that I wasn’t the least bit phased (and in fact was quite pleased, from an entertainment perspective) to discover that neither of the scissor-wielding gentlemen in the establishment spoke a word of English.  (For completeness, I should note that I haven’t even managed to remember the Turkish word for “thank you”, such is my foreign language prowess.)  But the lack of verbal communication was no problem;  a few basic hand gestures later and my excess hair was falling to the floor.

The entertainment began at the point at which Western hairdressers would consider their part of the bargain complete.  First came the delicate trimming of ear, nose and eyebrow hair (although I’m pleased to say that not much attention was required at any of those sites – I’ve got a few years to go before the unwanted but apparently inevitable eruption of excess follicles there, I hope).  Then a scalp, shoulder and full back massage and a polite enquiry as to whether I would like some tea?  (Yes, please!)  As the tea was retrieved, the barber slathered a mud mask onto my face.  This was highly amusing, but I can’t help but think its primary purpose was to allow him the opportunity of a smoke break while the mud did its work and I enjoyed my tea.  (He looked genuinely surprised when I turned down his offer of a cigarette, too:  smoking is still fairly universal in Turkey.)

Looking entertained with my mud mask and Turkish tea

Anyway, a hair wash and more scalp massage as he washed the mask off, and then, the pièce de résistance:  an alcohol-dipped flaming cotton bud on a metal skewer which he slapped enthusiastically against my cheekbones, presumably to burn off any stray facial hair above the tree line.

Total time:  roughly 45 minutes.  Total cost:  10 Turkish lira, or roughly £3.50 or €4.50.  Including the tea.  Bargain.

The next day I was in Izmir, and feeling that I’d probably squirted out just enough facial hair to make the procedure not a joke, I went for a shave.  There’s actually not much to tell about the shaving part of the episode:  he did a good job, with two passes for a very close shave, and with no cuts to report (which is more than I can say for my own subsequent attempt to shave quickly a few days later).  There’s definitely something strangely luxurious, not to mention faintly ridiculous, about having someone else shave your ugly mug, but I tried not to grin about that too much at the time, lest I lose a much-needed corner of my lip.  It hadn’t occurred to me prior, and so I hadn’t planned ahead appropriately, but one also needs to refrain from swallowing at certain key points, in order to maintain the wholeness of one’s Adam’s apple.  It turns out that this is surprisingly annoying immediately after downing a complimentary Turkish tea.  But you’ll be pleased to know I soldiered through successfully and emerged entirely intact.

As I reflected contentedly on my now baby-bottom-smooth (but still adult-bottom-unattractive) face, my vendor prepared the next part of the show:  hot green wax, which he proceeded to spatula at my forehead and around my eyes until I looked remarkably like I was trying on my next superhero costume.  Although that look was slightly ruined by the wax-dipped cotton swabs he shoved unceremoniously up my nose.  (Had the previous day’s trimming not been enough?  Had my nasal hair magically regrown overnight?  Should I be concerned?)  Wax time was apparently smoke break time in this establishment, so there was a pause at this juncture as I turned down both a cigarette and a Lipton’s Iced Tea, and waited for both the wax and the barber’s nicotine fix to take hold.  Once the wax came off, it was a mud mask and scalp and face massage and we were done.  Except for his trying to spray some Lynx up under my tshirt (what was he trying to say?!) – which provided me with an opportunity to discover that the Turkish word for ‘allergic’ is thankfully very similar to the English one.

Worst superhero ever. (Excuse the blurry photo; presumably the barber’s nicotine fix hadn’t quite kicked in yet after all!)

Izmir is a bigger city than Selçuk, and I’m sure I got the big city tourist price at 40 Turkish lira (roughly £14 or €18).  But for the entertainment factor, it was worth every kuruş.


I understand and respect Gallipoli’s fairly seminal place in Australia’s history, but I’ve never shared the almost religious attitude that many seem to have toward it.  Gallipoli certainly wasn’t on my list as the Mecca that it is for a lot of Australians and New Zealanders.  I was a little intrigued, definitely, but I wasn’t making specific plans to go.

I did end up going, largely on the basis of an enthusiastic recommendation from an American expat I met in Olympos.  (The recommendation was interesting because it didn’t come from an Aussie, Kiwi or Brit, and because it came with the comment that the tours tended to give a good explanation of the Turkish viewpoint on the conflict.)  I also went because, well, it happened to be pretty much on the way back to Istanbul anyway, given that I was coming from Selçuk (home to the Greek and Roman ruins of Efes/Ephesus) and Izmir, which are farther down the west coast.

Anzac Cove

The main thing that surprises you about the whole tour through Gallipoli is how small it all is.  Anzac Cove is tiny.  And strikingly beautiful.  And intensely hot, at least in the middle of summer when I was there.  If it weren’t for the large-scale human slaughter that made the place famous, it would be a lovely stretch of coast for a small holiday resort to set itself up on.  The water is clear and inviting, the sun was shining hot in the middle of a lovely blue sky, and the expanse of sand is worthy of some of the better beaches I’ve been to recently.  It makes for a strange sense of dissonance to discover that this lovely spot is the location you’ve learned to associate with so much needless death and destruction.  Sweating under a cloudless sky, it’s similarly difficult to comprehend the merciless winter conditions that eventually convinced the Allies to abandon the engagement.

The other interesting discovery from our tour was just how much Gallipoli features as a nation-building moment for Turkey as well.  Especially as the place where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk made his name defending the empire from Allied invasion, before he went on years later to found the Turkish state.  It’s perhaps somewhat predictable, but also interesting, to hear the different emphasis in the Turkish view of the engagement.  Where Australians (and I presume Kiwis) grow up hearing how the Anzacs battled under constant machine gun fire pretty much from day one, the Turks hear of the only 106 men guarding the entire peninsula when the Allied forces arrived (the main forces were farther north, anticipating an attack there), and celebrate their bravery (and luck) holding off the Anzac assault with only single-shot bolt action rifles and not enough ammunition, until reinforcements arrived days later.  Where Australians lament that the Anzac landing party found the wrong cove and so were forced to contend with a cliff where they expected a gentle hill, the Turks regret that had the landing been closer to the spot it was planned for, their longer-range gun emplacements would have had an unobstructed shot at the arriving forces.

A cemetery (there are many) next to Anzac Cove

The comparison is interesting, and all the more poignant for the surprisingly mature attitudes that each of the nations involved has since taken to the conflict and its historical significance:  the Aussies, the Kiwis, the Brits, the French and the Turks all have war memorials on the Gallipoli peninsula, and the mutual respect is obvious.  Atatürk’s speech describes it perfectly:  “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours.”

Atatürk’s reflections on those lost at Gallipoli

I won’t claim to have come out the other side of my trip to Gallipoli with any greater devotion to Anzac history than I already had.  But if you’re in the area, I certainly do recommend going.  And if you’re staying in Çanakkale (the city next to the peninsula), then spend your evening there thusly:  wander east from the ferry terminal along the waterfront, and once you’ve taken the mandatory photo of the Trojan horse (from the 2004 movie), pick a bar or restaurant to sit on the foreshore and watch the sun set over the peninsula and the Dardanelles Strait (over which the whole conflict was fought) while quietly reflecting on the staggering beauty of the place so many people never came back from.

Sunset over the Gallipoli Peninsula and the Dardanelles

Happy Turks and smiling friends

You might remember from a previous post our less-than-entirely-successful attempt to get a taxi driver to take us to Rumeli fortress in Istanbul – our fault;  the locals know it as ‘Rumelihisarı’, and if you can’t communicate the ‘fortress’ part of the name to a taxi driver who doesn’t speak English, then you’re just left with ‘Rumeli’, which just refers to the Roman (ie European) side of Istanbul.

After the taxi driver gave up and just picked a random spot on the European side of the bridge to drop us, we started walking in what we figured was probably the right direction for the fortress.  We’d become reasonably good at asking directions during the day, and so we employed this skill once more.  Walking through a residential area, we interrupted a large group of people – I think a family – talking on the street, in front of what I presume was their house.  They helped as much as they could, communicating a surprisingly large amount of details with a few basic gestures, repeated emphatically.  (Apparently it was shaping up to be a longish walk.)  They even called over a friend from down the road to help, since she had a little more English than the rest.

And so we walked off in the direction they’d indicated.  Only to hear, two minutes down the road, polite honking from behind us.  One of the party had gone and fetched his car, and was waving us in:  he drove us to exactly where we wanted, which turned out to be about ten minutes’ drive away, through a series of narrow winding side streets.  (The meandering drive provided us the opportunity to bond with the driver as all three of us marvelled and laughed at the big removals truck bravely soldiering through roads that he really didn’t quite fit down, and around corners that he surely couldn’t make).  This despite our new friend speaking very limited English, and us speaking no Turkish;  all purely on the basis that we’d looked lost and asked for directions.

So this is the other thing I loved about Istanbul, and in fact about all of Turkey.  It’s friendly.  Everyone is.  Not in the sense that people are polite and patient – they are, but that’s not the point.  In the sense that people will naturally treat you the way you would treat your friends.  And they’ll be happy in their interactions with you, and with other people.

By way of comparison, the last bus trip I took in London (out to Gatwick) and the first bus trip I took in Istanbul each featured a bus driver loudly talking into a phone.  For all I know, I suppose the Turkish driver’s conversation may well have involved just as much swearing as the Londoner’s one – but I doubt it.  The London trip certainly didn’t involve the grins and laughs that the Istanbul one did.  Seriously, when did you last see a happy bus driver in the UK?  In Turkey, they all were.  Every time I got on an intercity bus, it was to be greeted by a face that seemed to be glad to see me from behind the steering wheel.  And likewise every interaction with the staff (what do you call the guy who roams the bus checking tickets and bringing water and making sure people get off at the right stops with the right bags – an attendant?  a steward?  a maître’d?!).  There was always a huge store of patience and helpfulness, regardless of level of English.

And it wasn’t just the staff.  I was slightly bemused to get a particularly friendly and earnest waved goodbye from the (non-English-speaking) Turkish passenger who’d been sitting next to me on the bus from Izmir as he got off a couple of hours before the bus’s destination of Çanakkale.  My contribution to our apparent friendship in the few hours we’d been on the bus so far consisted basically of dozing and snoring myself ungracefully awake, but that was enough to warrant a fond farewell, apparently.

There isn’t really much of a point to this post, I suppose.  And there aren’t any pretty pictures, either.  But it seemed worth mentioning anyway:  it makes a big difference to your travels to see smiles on everyone’s faces, and it obviously makes a huge difference when everyone is so willing to help and to be patient, even if they don’t speak your language and you don’t speak theirs.  Other places I’ve stayed have certainly had their moments – don’t get me wrong, there have been lots of friendly people pretty much everywhere I’ve been (and I’m sure I’ll be told off mercilessly if I don’t mention that the Spaniards can be some of the best at this, and ditto if I don’t admit that I haven’t been to Brazil yet, but am told to expect great things) – but Turkey pulls it off better than any other destination I’ve been to so far.

Pamukkale: hot springs and photo shoots

I’ve probably spent more time preparing this post than any other of the admittedly not very many at all on this blog, and yet it’s going to be a short (-ish) and uninformative one.  And it turns out that all my preparations have been in vain anyway.  All that time was spent trying to figure out just what the hell was going on with all the other tourists at Pamukkale – primarily the Russian ones – but to no avail.  The internet has failed me, and with this post, I in turn fail the internet.  My Google-fu is apparently too weak.

For as much as Pamukkale is an amazing natural wonder – and it is beautiful and amazing, and definitely worth a look – the images that stick in my mind are not like the ones that feature on its Wikipedia page.  They’re the ones that will feature in some bikini-clad Russian girl’s modelling portfolio.  Or the ones of guys in budgie-smugglers, trying their best to look like they should be turning up as stills at the beginning of some dodgy behind-the-Iron-Curtain porn flick.

Pamukkale, for those not acquainted with it, is the location of a series of thermal hot springs in Turkey, and the distinguishing feature of these hot springs is their high mineral – especially calcium – content.  As the water from the hot springs emerges and streams away (or, given the Turkish heat, evaporates), it leaves behind its mineral content, and so produces travertine – pretty-looking white stuff which in the case of Pamukkale is laid down in pools on the hillside, made all the more attractive by the blue tinge to the mineral-heavy water they hold.

The traditional Pamukkale photo: picturesque travertine goodness.

So far, so much Wikipedia-like goodness.  Where it gets weird is that it’s apparently not sufficient to come and take photos of the natural beauty.  Especially if you’re a Russian tourist.  I’d noted with interest as we wandered through the beginnings of the site that all the signs seemed to be in Turkish and Russian, unlike everywhere else I’d been in Turkey, where English features and Russian doesn’t.  Walking through the main section of the site, we saw why:  Russians made up the majority of attendees, and pretty much all of them were on one or other side of a fancy camera lens, taking studio-style shots of girls in skimpy clothes draping themselves over the travertine.

“This shot will fit perfectly into my ‘pictures of me in a bikini on natural wonders of the world’ album.”

There were come-hither looks, there were cleavage thrusts, there were girls in 1970s-style swimsuits displaying an apparent lust for deposits of calcium carbonate which, to be honest, struck me as downright unhealthy.

And then there were the rich Russian guys in budgie smugglers doing the same.  (One presumes they were rich, based on the very low and very high levels of attractiveness of themselves and their girlfriends, respectively, and based further on the quantity of their jewellery, etc, etc.)

Not pictured: dignity

I’ve heard a rumour since that there’s a Russian music video that was filmed at Pamukkale, and that the Russian tourists are imitating its starlets.  I’ve heard elsewhere that it was a photo shoot in a popular magazine.  But it’s here that my Google-fu has failed me.  No combination of Pamukkale and anything MTV, music video, or magazine shoots has brought me any joy.  And so it’s the artificial wonder of Pamukkale that’s left the deepest impression on me, not the natural one.

Final random totally unrelated thoughts:

  • It’s possible to paraglide over the hot springs.  The three of us (two girls I met on the cruise from Olympos to Fethiye, plus me) were going to do it at sunset – right up to having paid for it and sitting in the hotel foyer waiting to be picked up – but the winds apparently changed, and as a result my face is stuck this ugly for the rest of my life and we also couldn’t go paragliding.  Devastating.  Very jealous of anyone who has actually done it.
  • In addition to the “wow, weird but entertaining…” factor, there is another benefit to the weird posing girls and guys:  the opportunity to take parody shots.  Yes, we did.  No, you can’t have copies.
  • In addition to the hot springs, Pamukkale also has the ancient Roman ruins of Hierapolis, with a huge amphitheatre and substantial necropolis.  Pretty cool.  Some of the tombs are remarkably well preserved.  Some of them not so much.  One of the girls wryly observed as we wandered around that it did feel at times like someone had been having a good time with a baseball bat.   But even as a nerd who studied Latin in high school, let’s face it, we’re there for the hot springs more than the ruins.
  • Finally, thanks to the two girls I spent my time in Pamukkale with for a fantastically entertaining weekend there, to top off the great trip we’d already spent on the boat.  Cheers for the company, and for proving my theory that it’s the people you meet while travelling who really make the difference.

Remains of a tomb in Hierapolis (only partially baseball-batted).