Of all the gorgeous places in Turkey – Pammukale, Cappadocia, Kekova, Istanbul – it’d be pretty easy to skip right over Nemrut Dağı. After all, it’s tucked away in the southeastern corner of the country, only a few hundred miles from the Syrian border, far off of the well-traveled circuit of Istanbul, Pammukale, and Antalya.
And it’s a world totally different. Where the Mediterranean areas of Turkey are resplendent with brilliant greens and blues, the southeastern parts of the country feature a far more muted palette, one filled with dusty greens, beiges, and greys. Drive through the southeastern part of Turkey and you’ll have no doubt that you’re properly in the Middle East. The desert heat radiates from the sandy ground, and the horizon is hidden in a muddled, heat-rippled haze. That’s not to say that the area still isn’t beautiful; it’s just a totally different kind of beauty compared to the glittering wares of the Grand Bazaar, the stark white of Pammukale, and the brilliant blues of Kekova.
At seven thousand feet, Nemrut Dağı, which is part of the Taurus Mountains Ragne, is the major destination of the area around Kahta, the nearest town. Getting there involves winding your way along steep roads that cling to the sides of the hills. There’s a reason that nearly everyone who goes to Nemrut Dağı does so with a driver from the area: trying to drive those roads if you’re not familiar with them would be like saying, “I wouldn’t mind plummeting to my death today.”
There’s no doubt that the Turquoise Coast was one of the most beautiful places I visited in Turkey. Whether the vantage point was from the deck of a boat, from within the water itself, or from the hilltop ruins of Simena, the Turquoise Coast was drop-dead gorgeous…but in my book, nothing beats a bird’s-eye view. I’m a sucker for heights and the views they provide. Tall buildings and mountains are all well and good…but if I have an opportunity to get literally up in the air, you can bet that I’m going to take it.
Aside from our time spent sailing around Kekova, our other stop on the Turquoise Coast was the seaside resort town of Ölüdeniz, located in the Fethiye region on the Mediterranean. Ölüdeniz is especially popular for British holiday-goers, to the point that many of the seaside cafés and restaurants advertise traditional Sunday roasts in the hopes of luring in some homesick travelers. (Though why you’d go for that over a kebab or some Turkish ice cream, I’m not sure…)
Ölüdeniz is a pretty photogenic place, what with all that pristine white sand and cerulean water, but the feature photographed the most is definitely the aptly named Blue Lagoon. Sheltered from the open sea by a long, thin spit of land, the lagoon’s tranquil water makes it a popular place for sun-worshippers and swimmers alike. Its picture-perfect quality draws the crowds like no other, though. The glassy water might be serene, but the hoards of splashing swimmers and screeching children aren’t exactly a good complement.
Enter in the other thing that Ölüdeniz is famous for: paragliding.
I’d gone paragliding the previous winter in Pokhara in Nepal, and I’d loved every dizzying, euphoric minute of it…so there was never a question in my mind that I’d be getting up in the air again. Ölüdeniz’s open skies were calling my name, and I wasn’t about to ignore them.
On our second day in Fethiye, I (and a few others…my enthusiasm ended up proving contagious) woke up bright and early for a 6:30 takeoff. I’m a pretty chipper morning person in general, but a 5:00 a.m. wake-up is a lot more enjoyable when you know you’re doing it to jump off a cliff with nothing but a piece of cloth to keep you alive and kicking. (Or maybe that’s just me? Self-preservation isn’t always my strong suit.)
Heights don’t really scare me – I find them more thrilling than anything – but I have no shame in admitting that the van ride to the top of Badabag, the 1700 meter hill overlooking Ölüdeniz, was probably the scariest half-hour of my life. The “road” is all loose rocks, and when you’re whipping around corners with not even a guardrail between you and a sheer drop to a fiery death, it’s hard not to feel a tiny bit nervous. I had to consciously tell myself, “This guy drives up here every day. He knows this road. You’re not going to die. You will not die.”
And obviously, I didn’t. It’s a good thing, too, because I wouldn’t have wanted to kick the bucket without seeing the Turquoise Coast from the air. Once my pilot had strapped us into our harness, I was all too happy to run full tilt at the edge of the mountain, all too gleeful to feel the ground drop away from my feet and the wind to catch our chute.
Thanks to a steady updraft of air, paragliders around Ölüdeniz can reach altitudes of just over three thousand (!) meters. Even for me, that’s pretty high. Usually, the skies are full of the wheeling, colorful chutes, but since we had the very first flight of the day, we had the air to ourselves. Flight like that, with nothing but some fabric, ropes, and air keeping you aloft, is one of my favorite feelings in the world.
It’s not all serene, though…because what’s the point of flying if you can’t get an adrenaline rush while doing it? When my pilot found out that I’d been paragliding before, he asked if I wanted the “extreme” acrobatic treatment, and I gave one of the most emphatic affirmations of my life. “Extreme” definitely summed up the corkscrews, barrel rolls, and wild, wheeling spins that he whipped us through.
By the time we landed down on Ölüdeniz’ white sand beach, my stomach felt like it had been twisted into a pretzel, and my sense of balance was completely shot. I didn’t much mind that momentary dizziness, though. I’d have put up with a thousand pretzel-stomachs and miles of giddy, wobbly steps in exchange for getting a bird’s-eye view of the Turquoise Coast and the Blue Lagoon.
It’s a dreary and rainy autumn day in northern Japan. Rain, snow, and even hail has fallen intermittently all day, and the chilly wind and clouds, cinereous and heavy with rain, have only reinforced the fact that winter is coming. And as much as I love the grey, cold weather – perfect for readings piles of books, drinking endless mugs of coffee, and burrowing under my cozy kotatsu – I can’t help but dream of the sunny days and blue waters I saw in Turkey this summer.
I have seen beautiful places in the world…and then I have seen Pamukkale. I separate those two because Pamukkale, with its stark white travertines and milky blue water, needs to be put in a category all its own. It’s downright otherworldly, one of those places whose beauty is so off-the-wall and unexpected that you think Mother Nature must have been a little tipsy when she dreamed it up.
Make no mistake about it; Pamukkale was a place that had been on my bucket list since the day I put it down on paper, and it was one of the things that put Turkey above a few other places for my summer vacation destination of choice. Even though a few months have passed, the views I took in there remain unbelievably beautiful in my mind, undimmed and undiluted.
In August, Istanbul is an oven. The temperatures hover right around ninety degrees, but the swampy humidity and sweaty crowds that mob the sun-drenched city make it seem far hotter. Any place that provides the tiniest bit of shade or breeze becomes a refuge from the heat, be that a marble mosque, a rooftop terrace of a café in Sultanahment, the shady avenues of Gülhane Park, or the air conditioned hallways of a museum. Istanbul’s best place, though, to beat the heat can’t be found in any of those places; it’s underneath them.
The only thing that compares to the adventure of leaving home is the sweetness of coming back to it.
My summer vacation has finally come to a close. After spending the past three weeks cavorting around Turkey, I’m back at my desk at Aomori High School, surrounded by exams to grade, lessons to plan, and grad school enrolment (!) to complete. And oh, how good it feels to be home again.
I feel like I say it after every trip abroad I take, but this one may have been my best yet. Turkey, to put it simply, was good to me. Its sun turned my skin a few shades tanner and my hair a few tints blonder. I perused its bazaars, climbed a few of its mountains, and dove into its Mediterranean waters. I descended to new depths underground and reached new heights above it. I consumed as much of its delicious lamb, baklava, hummus, and halloumi as my stomach could handle. And I made a whole host of new friends and even reunited with an old one. The next month or two of blog posts will undoubtedly be dedicated to all of those memories, and I already can’t wait to relive them again…
…but for now, I’m just happy to be home.
Anyone who’s left home for any substantial chunk of time knows how much of a relief it is to come back again. Last night, when I staggered through my shabby, cozy apartment’s front door, weighted down by a backpack substantially heavier than when I left, I think that I was just as happy as I had been when watching the sun rise over the otherworldly rock formations in Cappadocia a few weeks prior.
Adventures abroad are all good and fun, don’t get me wrong. I know that I’m ridiculously lucky in the life that I’ve ended up with, but I love both sides of that life; I love the comfort and contentedness I feel at home as much as the foreign adventures I enjoy away from it. My feet love to tread over as much new ground as possible, but after a while, I can’t help but crave familiar surroundings and the routine that I left behind.
After a few weeks of changing hotels every night or two, the only bed I want to sleep in is my own. After a few weeks of eating out for every meal (delicious though they all were), the only food I want is what’s been made in my kitchen with my own hands. After a few weeks filled with a go, go, go! mentality, all I want to do is stop, sleep, and watch the new episode of Doctor Who. In my soul, there reside both an ambitious dromomaniac and a Netflix-worshiping homebody. Too much time spent patronizing one means that the other rears its head with a needy vengeance.
As much as I love my day-to-day life, sometimes escaping is the only thing on my mind. Sometimes daydreams of far off beaches, exotic foods, and foreign horizons take center stage in my brain.
And when summer vacation is just lurking around the corner, that feeling has only become exacerbated. Sometimes it’s just me feeling antsy. Sometimes it gets a bit more severe. (Case in point: for the past few months, I’ve flirted with the idea of dyeing my hair blue and just heading to South America for a solid year or so when I’ve finished my time on the JET Programme.) And despite the fact that I’ve been grounded in Japan for almost three years now, some people might think that even that venture was an escape from “real life.”
But aside from traveling, the other form of escape I so often utilize is far more accessible on a day-to-day basis: books and movies. I’m a bibliophile and cinephile in equal parts. In my college days, one of my favorite classes was one on film theory, a love that I later parlayed into writing frequent reviews for the campus newspaper. And my love of books? Well, that’s been running rampant through my veins for the better part of two decades now.
What I really get a kick out of, though, is when those two loves bleed into each other. It’s why I loved seeing Pont de Bir-Hakeim , featured in Inception, in Paris. It’s why I loved visiting the Hobbiton set outside of Auckland in New Zealand. And most recently, it’s why I loved seeing the Chand Baori stepwell in India this past winter.