A new year, a new adventure so despite our hangovers we pack up the camper van say our goodbyes to Serap and Coco and head for the big open road! However first we have to find our way out of Istanbul to the ‘Bogazici Koprusu’ (Bosphorus Bridge), which spans the Bosphorus Strait and connects Europe to Asia.
The road system is very confusing but with a bit of determination and perseverance we find our way there. However the confusion doesn’t end there we are now faced with a toll system and the machine only accepts a certain type of card that we don’t have, the button to call for help doesn’t work, the instructions are all in Turkish and there is a long queue growing behind us full of irate drivers honking their horns! Eventually one of the drivers comes over, very annoyed, and tells us to use a card lying on top of the machine. Finally we are through and then find we don’t pass another toll machine so we end up not having to pay!
We follow the Bosphorus north and pass through Beykoz, from where we head inland. We start noticing more and more military presence with protected zones, barracks and endless, very high security fencing. Near to ‘Apadonli Zavagi’ we find a secluded lay-by and stop to rest our weary heads for the night. A few hours later we are woken by a knock on the window. To our horror we see army personnel are surrounding the van. We quickly put some clothes on and open the door to an army officer accompanied by around 5 other soldiers with guns. They are quite suspicious and intimidating at first but they soon realise that we are not a security risk and tell us to move 500metres down the road as we are in a militarised security zone! We move the camper van a km away and finally settle down to a well-deserved sleep only to endure the van rocking all night due to the gale force winds!
We wake the next morning to discover that we have parked in probably the most ideal camping spot in the area. We have a view of both the Black Sea and the Bosphorus and we are parked just near to the mouth of the Bosphorus at Payraz.
There is an abandoned fortress nearby called ‘Apadolu Kavagi’. To reach it you can walk through an abandoned Muslim graveyard that is all overgrown. The fortress was originally a castle built by the Byzantines, then it was restored and reinforced by the Genoese in 1350 and later by the Ottomans since when it has been abandoned for many years and parts of it now lie in ruins. Surprisingly we notice some quite modern looking stone crosses inlaid in the fortress walls. There are several stray dogs watching us as we explore the site. We have seen so many stray dogs since being in Turkey, not only in cities like Istanbul but also in the countryside. Apparently the government does nothing to round them up as they do in many countries, instead they are left to roam the streets, often fed by people but more often than not scavenging whatever scraps they can find. They generally look in good health and well fed. They can however be a real menace on the streets and often cause fights with other domesticated dogs who at times get killed.
We drive back down the Bosphorus, passing yet more military barracks and secure areas. After several small villages we join the main highway from Istanbul to Izmit. We continue on to Yalova to check out ferry times to Istanbul and car parking as we shall be returning to Istanbul in a weeks time to meet with and interview GAD architects and to attend the opening party of the Borusan Music House.
Yalova to Termal to Iznik
From Yalova we head to Termal, which is famous for its therapeutic hot, mineral rich, spring waters that naturally appear from the ground here. Termal was first discovered by the Romans, further developed by the Ottomans and then again by Ataturk. There are several spas and hamams in Termal, we decide to visit Valide Banyo, which is very cheap (20TL a massage, 8TL for a bath and sauna), men and women bathe separately. The water is scorchingly hot and the whole interior is decked out in marble with a central pool to bathe in, individual washing areas around the main room, a sauna with wooden benches and a steam room again all in marble. They forget all about Julia’s massage and leave her bathing so that she looks like a shrivelled raisin by the time she gets called for her massage! Both of our massages are very vigorous and actually rather painful at times, especially around the calf muscles but we both feel wonderfully clean and relaxed when we eventually leave! We spend the night on the outskirts of Termal.
We drive from Termal to Iznik and stop en route at the lake ‘Iznic Golu’. It is a beautiful and peaceful place where the only people we see are a couple of men with guns hunting and a young lad driving a tractor. It is surrounded by agricultural land and olive groves with a stunning backdrop of snow capped mountains. There is a system of concrete irrigation channels suspended a metre or so above the ground on stone supports bringing water to the olive groves but they are very old and most are abandoned and broken. We also see a beautiful little mosque.
Iznik was founded in 1000BC and is famous for the ceramic tiles that you see incorporated into much of the finest Ottoman architecture. We also see these tiles embedded in less exotic or lavish rubbish bins. The town has a very rural feel about it and tractors line the main high street.
We stop at the tourist information office to pick up some maps. The man inside kindly offers to open the ‘Aya Sofya’ next door and then proceeds to charge us 14TL (7â‚¬) even though there is nothing to see inside and the space that there is to see you can see through the glass door that he opened for us! On leaving the ‘Aya Sofya’ the heavens open so we run for shelter near the adjacent ‘Yesil Cami’ or ‘Green Mosque’.
Finally the rain breaks and we set off to explore the town’s crumbling and abandoned town walls, towers and gates, which were constructed by the Romans and then strengthened by the Byzantines. In some places these walls rise to nearly 13 metres. You can still see the remains of the 114 towers, 12 minor gates and 4 major gates. Although much of the town’s defences are now in ruins, much of it is still very impressive. We follow them round and find ourselves by a semi-ruined Roman amphitheatre, which we are told would have once seated 15,000 people. It now lies totally abandoned and forgotten except for a pack of stray dogs that are sniffing around.
We continue following the walls around the town to the ‘Lefke Gate’ which is very impressive with huge stone carvings on it, however unfortunately by now it is pouring with rain again so we take shelter in the camper van and leave to find somewhere to camp the night. We drive for many kilometres through olive groves looking for the lake, which eventually we find and we camp on its shoreline. As the evening progresses we realise there is quite a lot of activity around where we are parked with cars and people coming and going all evening. Then it suddenly clicks that we are next to a public toilet, which is clearly the local gay pick up joint with one man who is parked near to us being particularly active! At one point we see flashing police lights but they don’t hang around long.
Iznik to Eskisehir
We wake to find a light dusting of snow covering everything and get on the road for Eskisehir. As we ascend the hills above the lake the views across snow covered olive groves are spectacular. We pass many quarries from which they extract the local ‘white gold’ or ‘luletasi’, which is a porous white stone that they use locally to make pipes and other artefacts.
We stop at a petrol station that is advertising diesel at 2.64TL/litre rather than the normal astronomical nearly 3TL /litre (1.50â‚¬). As the man is filling us up we notice that the pump says 2.92TL/litre and when we point this out to him he just laughs, which is infuriating. Turkish diesel and petrol is so much more expensive than anywhere else we have visited in Europe and we cannot understand how any local people can ever afford to run a vehicle. We stop to take photos at a beautiful, abandoned, rural mill house.
Eskisehir is famous for its mineral springs and hamams so we decide to treat ourselves to a night in one of the hotels that has its own hamam and piping hot mineral water pumped directly into the hotel bathrooms. We stay at the ‘Uysal Otel’ on the town’s main pedestrianised street of ‘Hamamyolu Caddessi’. We have a beautiful room with a huge marble bath fit for a king and limitless thermal water, all of this plus a hearty breakfast and wifi for 70TL/night (35â‚¬) … can’t complain! That evening we feast on Turkish delight whilst wallowing in the very deep bath and decide to stay for two nights not one!
We visit the tourist information offices to stock up on maps and information on the nearby Phrygian Valley area. It is a beautiful, sunny day despite the freezing temperatures. Eskisehir is a very modern city despite its name meaning old city. The only old neighbourhood we can find is the Ottoman shopping area where we stock up on thermal underwear, brushes and a carpet for the van.
The Phrygian Valley Area
We get up early and drive to the Phrygian Valley via Seyitgazi. The Phrygians came from Thrace to Central Anatolia in around 2,000BCE. Their empire flourished under their most famous king, Midas (725-675 BCE) until it was overrun by the Cimmerians. Despite living in caves the Phrygians were very sophisticated and are credited with inventing the frieze and embroidery as well as musical instruments like the cymbals, flute, lyre, pan pipes, triangle and double clarinet.
The diesel is running low so we head for the village of Han where we are told we shall find a petrol station, however this comes in the form of a farm cooperative that only sells tractor diesel which is no good to us! A very friendly man in the village wants us to stop to drink cay (tea) with him and is very, very insistent however we manage to get away and leave in search of petrol again. There is snow on the ground and the temperature varies from -5oC to +7oC. We are very nearly out of fuel when we arrive in the town of Cifteler and we find not one, not two but three petrol stations next to each other! (the only ones in at least a 50km radius!) We drive back to Han, 30km away, and from where we have just come.
We continue to the village of Yazilkaya, which means inscribed rock and which archaeologists call ‘Midas Sehri’ or ‘Midas City’. The Yazilkaya plateau and environs is known to have been a Phrygian religious centre and is often referred to as the ‘Cybelle Religious Affiliation Centre’. Its most dominant feature is the massive ‘Midas Tomb’, which is a 17 metre high facade built into a red rock face of soft, volcanic tufa in the 4th century BCE. It is covered in geometric carvings and Phrygian script, much of which still hasn’t been translated although the name Midas has been found within it. Phrygian script originated from the Phoenician alphabet and affected the Greek alphabet as it spread west. There is a niche at the base of the facade where an effigy of the mother Goddess, Cybelle, would have been present. This effigy is now in Ankara. Cybelle was said to be the saviour and protector of nature, cities, agriculture, fertility and girls.
The local custodian of the site leads us through the snow and up to the tomb. He is very friendly and in broken English tells us a little of the history and sites that we shall see and the route that we shall take around the plateau. In the distance he points out three large rock formations that rise above the flat valley and were important Phrygian military outposts that were inhabited by the Phrygian nobility. He then leaves us to explore on our own. Next to the Midas tomb is a huge rock with chambers cut out of the soft, volcanic rock, which was once a Roman monastery.
As we begin our path around the plateau we see the ‘Unfinished Monument’, which although left unfinished was also used as a monument for worship. We climb through the deep snow to reach this monument and discover an ancient road where the tracks from Phrygian carts have left their imprint in the soft rock. We see a path that leads down into a tunnel and there are steps going deep into the ground and leading to an ancient water cistern.
We clamber up a steep slope to the top of the platform where an acropolis once was and we find an ancient altar that would have been used for sacrifices. The views from the top are spectacular and you can see for miles across totally unspoilt countryside untouched by man, with mountains and amazing natural rock formations. The whole platform is riddled in holes some of which are natural whilst others are man made and there are beautiful multicoloured lichens covering much of it..
As we continue around the plateau we find rock tombs, tunnels, rooms carved from the rock, niches, reliefs and stepped monuments. At times there is no path and we scramble through snow and undergrowth climbing the rock faces. Luckily the rocks are not icy and they are porous so our boots find a good grip and despite the steep angles we can walk easily. Finally we find our way back to the start and after exploring the Roman monastery a little more we continue on to nearby Kumbet Valley
On arrival in the Kumbet Valley we leave the village and find our way along very muddy dirt tracks to some cave houses built into the rock. At one point the camper van spins right round in the mud. The cave houses are beautiful and we feel like we could be the first to discover them as there is no sign of tourism, or in fact human activity, anywhere in the area. Julia gets stuck in the mud whilst taking photographs! We pass several other interesting looking tombs but the light is fading so we don’t stop. Unfortunately we have to leave the area as we have a long drive ahead but we promise ourselves to return.
We drive nearly 300km through the night to Yalova and camp 10km from the city in preparation to catch the ferry from Yalova to Istanbul the following morning. We leave the campervan in a secure car park and catch the ferry across the Sea of Marmara to Istanbul at 11:30. The ferry takes 1hour and 20 minutes and costs 13TL (6.50â‚¬).
To discover more about project ‘Abandoned?’ visit www.wasabandoned.com