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Jumping Off a Mountain: The Best Way to Really See a Place

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The best way to see a place is by jumping off a mountain and flying down!

We decided to try paragliding in order to see the beautiful coastline of Ölüdeniz (dead sea, in Turkish).   The cove, surrounded by mountains and small islands, is absolutely stunning.  The town, unfortunately, has been overridden by British holidaymakers, making it near impossible to find  good Turkish food that hasn’t somehow incorporated toasties or baked beans.  Hence, it’s best to just fly right over the commercial stuff and really absorb the scenery.

Since we arrived early for our flight, Mom and I headed to a bar on the beach to enjoy a beer and watch other gliders land.  The air currents provide an exciting path down – you can fly right over the main street of the town and then land in a small grassy park area just before the beach.

I had read reviews of the scary road you take up BabaDağ (father mountain, in Turkish), the mountain we were going to jump from, and expected the worse.  Although our van mostly hung on to the very edge for the forty-five minute ride, it was nicely paved and certainly nothing so difficult that would break your transmission or anything.

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At the top, we paired with our pilots and started loading the gear.  There are several steep patches of dirt at the peak surrounded by windsocks.  After a couple of people from our group took off, the wind died, and we stood there with all our gear and waited. And waited.  The waiting on a steep incline, along with climbing back up it when we finally decided to change our jump-off location, were the most difficult parts of the entire experience.

We had good wind at the new location, and before I knew it, I was running right off the edge of the mountain.  Within seconds, we were airborne.  We stood for a few seconds in order for the pilot to gain control, and then on my pilot’s instruction, I sat back and enjoyed the ride.  The harness was so comfortable that I felt like I was sitting in an armchair in the sky for the ride.

Our first vistas were the mountains, which of course are even more impressive from the air!

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Next we approached the coast, and flew east to see all of the islands and coves at the beach.  My mom and I flew together, sometimes so close that my mom could touch my kite!

It was late afternoon, and a beam of sunlight washed the islands of Ölüdeniz with gold.

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Before landing, we got to do some acrobatics, which was definitely my favorite part of the flight!  It happened so fast, but I think we did some flips and then a spiral down towards the water.  I think it feels more impressive than it looks, because afterward, my friend said you can really only do a few tricks in paragliding.

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Landing was awesome!  We flew right over the main street, and I felt like we were so close to the pedestrians that I had to raise my feet to prevent kicking them out!   It reminded me of riding the Big Bad Wolf at Busch Gardens, where it always seems like your feet might hit the rooftops.  Some of the bars have messages painted on their roofs for the paragliders – I liked getting the special view.  For the actual landing, my pilot just told me to stand up.  I did, and we stopped, right in the middle of the strip.  It was probably the most amazing forty-five minutes of my life!

We’ve spotted paragliders everywhere we’ve been this summer, from Turkey to Spain, and seeing them brings back the thrill of jumping off a mountain.  If everything works out, I’m heading back to Ölüdeniz in October to get certified!

Ionian or Lycian Ruins Around Fethiye

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Even though we reached our hotel in Fetihye pretty late in the afternoon, we rebounded in time to get a tiny bit of sightseeing in.  I read somewhere online that there are Lycian tombs right above the city, and because of their location, the best time to see them is at sunset.  Of course, that also means that you get to see the sunset over the city of Fetihye, which is a beautiful harbor town at any time of day but especially nice at dusk.  The tombs generally face the west, and I think their locations were chosen to give the occupants a pleasant vista for their afterlife.

We climbed, first in the car and then on foot, all the way up to these tombs.  Nobody is sure exactly who was buried, and since they’re so old (from 350 B.C.) nothing easily removable is still left – thanks, tomb raiders.

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We did find this inside:

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After checking out the tomb, we walked back down the hill right into a restaurant overlooking the town, and since we were all hungry and thirsty by this point, and quite happy to delay driving back through the twisty walled streets, we stopped for dinner.  This was our first meal in Fetihye, and it was a good sign of what was to come.  The drinking and eating on Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast is superb!  The restaurant owner also gave us a list of things to check out while we were in town.  He devised a six-stop driving day, of which we only got through two sites!  None of us are early risers when we have the option not to be, and it gets pretty hot for touristing later in the day.

So, late morning the next day, we set out for Saklikent Gorge.  We weren’t particularly energetic and hadn’t worn the appropriate footwear to really appreciate the gorge, which you do by walking through the freezing water and holding on for life, against a strong current, to two sets of lines.  There is a series of these as you enter the gorge and make your way through.  We walked as far as we could with dry feet and then watched other visitors scramble for a while.

Our next stop was Tlos.  This is a pile of ruins in the mountains above Fethiye.  At the base and around the mountains are old Lycian tombs.  On top of that are various iterations of a Roman city, with an Ottoman fort built on the very top of it all.  It’s one of those sites that is still under excavation and has very little posted in the way of explanation.  Your interpretation of the various piles of rocks is almost entirely dependent on your imagination and any prior knowledge you may have.

Luckily we got a little extra when we stopped for a quick lunch across from the site.  After we ordered cold lemonades and a sandwich, a kid approached our tables with some books about the area and a gave us a quick overview.  He introduced himself as Nail (pronounced Na-hil) but said we could call him Neal Diamond for short, and then, like a young archaeologist in training, he explained a couple of the legends of the areas, most of which involved a tomb that’s pretty difficult to reach and best viewed from the road.  Then he left us with the books, which we perused while waiting for our order.  When we finished eating he came back to collect the loaner books and was truly impressed that my mom had found his picture in one of them, and clearly proud that she had bothered to read a few of the passages.  So, if you’re ever by Tlos and hungry, stop by the restaurant closest to the parking on the hill and look for Neal Diamond – he’ll charm your socks off!

Hierapolis and Pamukkale: Old Stuff and a Swim

A great combination of an old tomb and the travertine pools

A great combination of an old tomb and the travertine pools

The city of Hierapolis goes back to the 4th century B.C., and some researchers think it could even be older than that.  It was a Hellenic city-state and even mentioned in the Bible, although just one time.  From ancient times, the city was known as a spa destination, due to the travertine pools and springs all over the place.

I like visiting because you can do a combo day, where you look at old stuff for a while and then you get rewarded for your touristic duties with a swim in a spring-fed pool!  If you go in mid-summer, like we did, you start to think about the pools about an hour into wandering the ruins, because you’re covered in sweat and dust and have already gone through a ton of water.

When I visited in early May, we started at the Necropolis, the ancient cemetery.  In June, we started at the eastern entrance, which leads you through an old city gate, to the theater, and around some churches, including the possible tomb of either St. Philip the Apostle or St. Philip the Evangelist – it’s not clear.  No matter which gate you enter from, eventually you get to the middle of the park, which includes the Roman Forum and Cleopatra’s Pool, and the Temple of Apollo.  Like so many other old cities, Hierapolis suffered several earthquakes and was eventually abandoned.  Before that happened, it became a destination for large civilizations, including Pergamam and the Romans.

You can see the glaring white travertine hill from miles away as you’re coming into Pamukkale, which means Cotton Castle in Turkish.  The stark white is a result of travertine and hot springs mixing for so many years.  As the hot spring water travels down the hill, it leaves deposits of limestone, or calcium carbonate, which build into all these impressive terraces.  The water that pools is rich in minerals – we saw lots of people giving themselves mud baths in the pools.  I started to, but then realized that the mud was attracting bugs and quickly rinsed off.

The park manages which pools you can walk/bathe in by rotating filled and drained pools.  The pools need to be drained occasionally so that the sun can re-bleach the limestone.  It was really unclear where we could and couldn’t walk.  The best way is to either go where there are other people, or just go wherever you want and wait for a guard to blow a whistle at you.  You hear whistles all the time, either to tell people to get off of an area, or to take off their shoes, because they don’t want dirty rubber soles ruining the place.

Although the old site is really impressive, and the limestone terraces are beautiful, my favorite part of our stay in Pamukkale was our hotel, Aya Sunrise.  It’s run by a Turkish/Japanese couple, and they had a beautiful baby that kept all the guest entertained.  The whole extended family worked at the place, or hung out there, and everyone was helpful when we needed it or willing to chat.  The host and I bonded over Macklemore’s Thrift Shop video – he had just cut his hair like the artist’s.  Also, they have a spring-fed pool, which is perfect to cool off after a day of touring.  And while you’re swimming, someone will show up with cold apple tea an an extra refresher.

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