Monday, January 4, 2016

The Cotton Castle

The literal translation of Pamukkale is Cotton Castle, which is perfect because it honestly looks like balls of cotton.  Or snow. I fell in love with it last summer when Mike and I went and knew that we'd be back at some point.  It's 2.5 hours from Izmir, so it's kind of long for a day trip, but definitely worth it. 
When Poorna and I were planning her itinerary, we didn't put it on there originally because it was January and I figured it would be too cold.  Then, one of Mike's classmates went and raved about how warm the water was, even in December when she went and that changed everything.  We quickly added it to the itinerary and didn't think twice. 
So, on the Wednesday of Poorna's visit, we jumped in the car and set out for the Cotton Castle.  Mike and I have driven a bunch around Turkey and at this point, we both feel very comfortable (Mike driving, me navigating/napping/DJing).  We have converted our spedometer to kilometers per hour and have gotten used to seeing goats and other animals on the side of the road in the middle of the road. What we hadn't experienced was getting pulled over by the police, which we can now say we have.  Lucky Poorna can now say she's experienced it too!
We were driving along and cruising with the flow of traffic.  Nothing too fast, but probably a little too much over the speed limit. So, we're driving and then we see a traffic police officer standing in the middle of the road signaling to us and a few other cars to pull over.  The officer approaches the window of our car, just like in the United States and says something in Turkish to Mike.  When Mike asks him if he speaks English (he asks in Turkish) the officer replied no (I understood this entire conversation! One point for me!).    The officer proceeds to talk to Mike in Turkish (which is where I got lost) and then leaves.  At this point, Mike says it's a registration check.  Then, the officer comes back and asks to see Mike's driver's license. Since Mike is military and here on orders, he doesn't need an international driver's license (I do, which is why I don't drive). The police officer didn't know this and seemed a little hesitant when Mike explained it, but let it go.  He did say that Mike needed to get out of the car and come with him.  Can you imagine if someone tried to get out of the car in the United States? They'd handcuffed and pinned down faster than you could say "speeding ticket."  Here, it was no big deal.  I had no idea what was going on at this point and Poorna and I were just watching from the car.  Luckily, there were other people who were pulled over as well, so I didn't feel too worried.    After what seemed like forever (really, probably not even ten minutes), Mike returned to the car with his first ever Turkish speeding ticket. Apparently, there had been guy a kilometer or so back with a radar gun and was radioing the officer who pulled us over. Instead of being upset or frustrated, I think we were all pretty intrigued.  The ticket comes to about 60USD and we get a 25% if we pay it within 15 days.  Not too terrible, although I think we'll be watching our speed limit a little more carefully from now on. 

So, after that whole ordeal was over, we finally made it to Pamukkale.  From the minute we got out of the car, Poorna was in heaven.  I mean, how could you not be when it looks like this?

Mike and I recommend starting at the bottom for a couple of reasons.  One, that's where the parking is and two, the crowds start at the top. If you start at the bottom, you hike through the water, and then reach the ruins at the top, and then hike back through the water.  You do have to carry your shoes with you if you do it this way, but we always have a backpack, so it's not a huge deal. 

I wasn't sure how this whole hiking-through-water-in-the-winter thing was going to work since it was especially cold for this part of Turkey (read: 45 degrees Fahrenheit).  Plus, they make you take off your shoes so you don't stain the rocks, which just seemed like it would be unbearably cold. I'm not going to lie, it was pretty cold at first.  I ended up putting my socks on for the first part because it was so cold, but then we got to the middle of the pools and the water started warming up.  It got so warm that we were looking for water to put our feet in.  The hot springs are at the top, so by the middle of the hike, the water is warm.  It was so fun!  

After we got to the top of the springs, we walked around the ruins that are there.  When we asked Poorna for feedback, she said she probably would have been fine not doing Ephesus and just doing the ruins at Pamukkale (there is an amphitheater at both locations).   Once we explored the ruins more, we were ready to hike back down and get some lunch.  We ate at the White House Restaurant (fitting for three Americans, right?) and it was delicious! I had iskender (Turkish street food) and it was the best iskender I've had.  Poorna had Manti, which is Turkish pasta with a yogurt sauce and let. me. tell. you. It was delicious beyond belief.  The bowl was huge and we probably should have split it (she didn't end up eating half of it), but I've dreamed about that manti ever since. Definitely a must if you go to Turkey, especially if you go to this restaurant.   

By the time we finished lunch, it was almost two and we were ready to head back home.  Poorna said it was a definite must for anyone coming to Izmir, which we'll remember. We're still trying to solidify an itinerary for visitors, but I am pretty sure Pamukkale will make the list from now on!

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