From Pamukkale we followed roads east with our eye set on what would eventually prove to be the jewel in the Turkish crown of dreamy destinations, Cappadocia: that unique place where geography, geology and history all collide to create what must surely be one of the most stunning travel locales on the entire planet. Along the way, we stumbled upon another little treasure in the form of the Turkish Lake District. Up until Pamukkale, Turkey had seemed relatively cluttered, the coast road a mish-mash of tourist resorts and industrial cities interspersed with the fabulous ruins as previously related. Now the country was opening up to us with sweeping vistas over sun-scorched grasslands as we penetrated the Anatolian hinterlands.
Our destination was the beautiful town of Eğirdir, resting peacefully at the foot of Mount Sivri on the shores of a crystal clear lake the size of a small ocean. Both town and lake were formerly called Eğridir, a Turkish take on the town’s old Greek name ‘Akrotiri’ meaning simply the peninsula. As we were finding all over Turkey, delving back into the local history was like peeling back the layers of an onion of ancient empires and civilizations. Founded by the Hittites, the town was conquered by Phrygians in around 1200 BC, then by a succession of Lydians, Persians, Macedonians (Alexander the Great), Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks and finally the Ottomans in 1417. Since then the population had remained essentially Orthodox Greek up until the 1920’s, when they were forcibly repatriated to Greece as a dark consequence of the recent Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922). Through this compulsory population exchange, 1.5 million Anatolian Greeks moved West while around half a million Greek Muslims moved East, all ratified under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. To give the exchange some idea of proportion, in 1906, nearly 20 percent of the population of present-day Turkey was non-Muslim; by 1927 this had reduced to a mere 2.6 percent.
Under the new regime, Greek Akrotiri became corrupted to Turkish Eğridir. Unfortunately the new name means “it is crooked” in Turkish. To dispel such negative connotations, in the 1980s the “i” and the “r” were transposed to create Eğirdir meaning ‘she who spins’. And the town does indeed spin a magical serene beauty. The famous 14th century Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta described it as “a great and populous city with fine bazaars and running streams, fruit trees and orchards”… situated beside “a lake of sweet water”.
A small peninsula does indeed strike out into the lake from the town and here the Romans built a Kale (fortress). We passed its ruins on our way out to the tip of the peninsula, where the delightful Hotel Merci furnished us with a cozy bed for a few days. The beauty and tranquility of the place was enhanced by the fact that it was almost deserted. Whilst the lakes are shunned by many tourists, due to their reputation for being rainy, we were starting to notice the disastrous impact of the current events on Turkeys borders on the tourist trade. Outside the major attractions there is no one here, even though the terrible events are happening hundreds of miles away. It has heightened our own visit to Turkey yet we feel sorry for those engaged in the tourist trade as their customers are staying away, hotels remain nearly empty and sightseeing tours are unfilled.
Replenished from a few peaceful, sunny days on the lake we rode on taking terrific empty roads, straight as a rifle barrel, across vast expanses of grass extending way beyond impossibly blue-skied horizons. All of a sudden the flat ended and the landscape crumbled and crumpled, the road now jinking through a sci-fi landscape of salmon serrations, canyons and gorges. A magical place of rocky outcrops and fairy chimneys revealed itself, all cut through by some race of Flintstones to create sometimes primitive, sometimes majestic cave dwellings… We had arrived in Cappadocia.
We found a fine apartment at the Özsoy Apart Hotel located in the cave-town of Ürgüp and looked forward to a spell of making, mending and cooking our own food. We had just unpacked when a dreaded email to call home arrived; my younger sister Jackie’s six-year struggle against Breast Cancer was about to end.
Departing on this trip had been a tough call. We had been considering it for several years, all the while with cancer casting its dark shadow over this and everything else that happened in our family. In the end, factoring in commitments with work, our own age, health and condition, we decided to simply go and deal with events as they transpired. It mattered little if we were at home and work in England or Europe or on the road some place; at some time we would have to return to Belfast for all the wrong reasons.
Fikret, the manager at the Özsoy, was simply brilliant. We broke the news to him and he agreed to take care of the two bikes and our luggage while we were away. He even returned with some soup to our room to cheer us up and then organised a mini-bus pick up for the flights back to Ireland.
We landed in Dublin about 5pm and a few hours later were at the hospice with Jackie. She passed away peacefully that night. Once again life had shown us how quickly one can be cast from very high to very low. The funeral, black clothes, grey skies, deep and dark grief… always questioning why? The few weeks at home passed in a blur of sadness made easier simply by being with and around family… My little sister has passed on, her struggle has ended. Her smile and cheery disposition will remain with us always and is a real comfort as we once again return to the road.