Heaven and Hell

Daughter and I recently did a long weekend road trip.  4 days of driving with no real destination in mind so the next few posts will no doubt be giving you some of the highlights of our trip.

Originally we were heading towards Goreme to go ballooning but a last minute decision was made to go west as it was hot and Daughter wanted to swim so we started driving west towards Alayna going via Kizkalesi, Narlikuyu, Silifke and finally ending our road trip in Yesilovacik also known as “literally the middle of nowhere”.

Credit: Wikipedia

Credit: Wikipedia

Just past Kizkalesi is a small tourist sign – Cennet ve Cehennem (Heaven and Hell).

“Oh let’s go check out the caves”, she said.  “It’ll be fun”, she said.  Well SHE needs a kick up the ass and by SHE I mean ME because it was MY silly idea.

Cennet ve Cehennem are actually two large sinkholes and, as someone who knows little about sinkholes I’ve got to say, they are pretty huge.  I mean I have seen sinkholes on television where houses are swallowed up in Florida or that big one somewhere in Mexico (I think) that took out a whole neighbourhood.  They seem to be popping up everywhere these days thanks to fracking and all sorts of other less than stellar reasons but Cennet and Cehennem are natural sinkholes that have been there for thousands of years.

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We started off walking to Cehennem because Hell seems more likely in my future.  It is only a 5 minute walk up a small incline.  A pleasant walk on a pleasant spring day.  The sinkhole itself is masterful and Mother Nature has definitely outdone herself.  The opening is small but has a depth of 128 metres.  I felt quite nauseous standing on the edge but Daughter being Daughter threw her legs over the side to take a photo to message to The Turk (just to “freak him out”).  Don’t worry though there is a barrier around the edge – you are quite safe.

Interesting titbit – according to mythology, after Zeus defeated the hundred-headed dragon named Typhon he kept him in Hell for a while before imprisoning him under Mt Etna.  Good to know.

After visiting Hell we started off towards Heaven.  After the first 50 or so steps we passed a group making their way back up.  A mixed bunch but the one thing they all had in common was that they were all bright red from exertion.  As they puffed past me I murmured geçmiş olsun (get well soon).  I got a wave and a groan – it was clear they were all too exhausted to speak (or couldn’t get their breath).  Crap!  What am I doing?

Daughter ran off ahead leaving me to waddle along at my own pace.  By the time I reached the small chapel (at about 300 steps) it was clear that I was in over my head (literally because I must have been about 100 metres down the sinkhole at this point).  I started wondering whether they could airlift my body out of here or maybe some kind of winch system set up behind the scenes because I didn’t know how I was going to drag my ass up all these stairs.

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The chapel itself was apparently built by a believer by the name of Paulus in the 5th or 6th century.  You really have got to give credit where credit is due.  Paulus must have had some major love for Saint Mary because he would have had to carry those stone blocks down the 300+ stairs to get to the landing.  Kudo’s to you Paulus.

We continued past the chapel to reach the mouth of the cave.  This climb is a little tricky now as the as the stone stairs were quite slippery from precipitation.  The cave itself was a lot cooler and quite a reprieve on a hot day.  Daughter ran off attempting to reach the back of the cave to find the source of the stream that we could hear however that proved to be impossible while I chose to sit on a rock and contemplate my new life in the cave (because like I said I was pretty sure I would never be able to drag myself back out of the sinkhole).

heaven over it

After spending 30 minutes of exploring the cave it was time to leave.  Standing at the mouth and looking up, well I’ve got to be honest, it was going to be a monumental task.  All up there is 452 stairs to reach the top!  452 stairs!  But I did it and without the need of the imaginary winch too.  We passed a group on their way down and, seeing my red faced and fatigued self, said “geçmiş olsun”.  I groaned and waved while Daughter continued to jog up the stairs (sometimes I hate that kid).

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Now in future when I get a hair brain idea like visiting caves anywhere I will make sure I do a little research first and it will go a little something like this:

Janey:  Is there 450+ stairs in my foreseeable future?

Janey:  Umm … yep.

Janey:  Feck my life!

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Need to know:

Cennet ve Cehennem is off the D400 at Narlikuyu.  There are no buses to the site itself so you will need to either drive or walk.

Entry fee is 10TL (5TL per cave).  Asthma Cave is 3TL.  Toilets are 1TL.  Parking is free.  There is the possibility of a camel ride around the carpark at a negotiated price.

There is a café at the top of Heaven as well as a few tourist shops.  There are many lokantalar along the road up to the caves serving typical Turkish food.

Oh and take water.  Lots of water!

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Elektrik ve sürprizler

The good people of Icel are not sharing nicely and now it seems we are running out of electricity.  I am not sure how a city (or in this case a province) runs out of electricity but in order to control the said good people of Icel (and maybe to teach them a lesson in sharing) they have all been put in the naughty corner by the local Electric Company who has decided to switch off the electricity to teach everyone a lesson (although they are calling it maintenance).  

Not only are they switching it off in the middle of summer they are switching it off in the middle of the day so for the next week (with the expected weekly average of 35 degree – that’s 90 degrees for readers in the US – in temperature) the electricity will be turned off for a period of 4 hours each day between the hours of 9 to 5.  You don’t know when.  It will be a surprise. 

elektrik

Speaking of surprises I find that my house is a revolving door.  There is always people coming and going.  Family, friends, neighbours.  It can get on your last nerve when you hear the door bell (which is an annoying tune of Greensleeves) constantly blasting.  Last night we had Kemal’s aunt visit and then a cousin.  Then his sister in law, brother and their two kids showed up.  His elder brother popped up to give me some paperwork (for my fiasco of a residency visa application) and finally . . . it was quiet.  When suddenly that damn doorbell rang again!  Enough!

“Kim o?” (“Who is it?) 

Again.  “Kim o?”

Nothing.  I have had enough.  I put on my shoes and stomp down the stairs to give the visitor the death stare when . . . sürpriz!  A friend and her family visiting from the UK.  Wow!  They are staying in the village with her husband’s family for the next two weeks!  I can honestly say I have never been so happy to see someone.  Not only does it mean I am not the only yabanci in the village it also means there is someone with possibly even less Turkish in the village than me!  Win, win!

They are coming for a BBQ tonight which will be amazing of course but I warned her “Don’t ring the door bell.  Knock on the door!”

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Hey Berat! Why be an asshole?

On Wednesday Daughter and I took Daughter’s favourite cousin Tatlim to Kizkalesi for the day.  It has been a few months since our last visit to my favourite beach but this time was no quiet visit.  The beach was full.  Music was blasting from every doorway.  Restaurants and hotels were at capacity and teenage boys could be found on every street corner chatting up every female who walks past.

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After staking out our space on the packed beach Daughter and Tatlim disappeared into the water leaving me to laze away in the sunshine.  Goodness it was hot.  I did what I do best and that is watching the world go by.  Vendors were everywhere touting their goods including su (water), çay, Nescafe, misir (corn on the cob) and even balik (fish) were all on offer for a price.  There were women strutting in bikinis, old men covered in sand (a strange Turkish tradition) and little kids playing on the water’s edge under a guardian’s careful eye.   This is what living in Turkey is all about.

Tatlim had never been to the Castle on the sea so we hopped the ferry (20TL for 3 people) over to the island.  Daughter and her cousin went off to explore leaving me to thoroughly examine the mosaics (Daughter always knows how to make me happy). 

The only blight on an otherwise perfect day was the excessive amount of new graffiti that has appeared throughout the castle since my last visit.  I had noticed it before but the sheer number of tags (Daughter tells me that this is the correct terminology) throughout the castle is deeply disappointing.  The local belediye (council) is attempting to combat the problem with security guards now roaming throughout the little island but my guess is that they just cannot be everywhere at once plus their time is also spent patching up swimmers who injure themselves on the rocks surrounding the castle plus picking up garbage and cleaning up after people *sigh*.

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The thought of these idiots defacing a beautiful piece of history is repugnant to me.  It’s not just at Kizkalesi though.  I recall seeing tags on the ruins at Soli Pompeiopolis as well.  Mersin (and Turkish) authorities have been trying for a long time to cope with not just damage to antiquities but also the theft of their treasures. 

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So I write this to you Berat or Mehmet, Fatih and any other tagging asshole currently skulking around in my general vicinity.  Firstly, how stupid are you to spraypaint your name?  Dumbass.  Secondly, be thankful that it is not I who catches you because I would give you a whopping and send you home to your parents with your spray can shoved where the sun does not shine.  And no i am not joking!

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Soli Pompeiopolis

I think we have already established that Mersin province is full of ancient sites.  On Saturday (and before the shite hit the fan at home) I went to Viranşehir (Ruined City) to meet with my friend Alana.

For me Viranşehir was a bit of a track from our home in the Village (probably about 60 minutes on public transport) but for anyone staying in Mersin it is located about 20 minutes from the Forum or 30 minutes from the Otogar (catch the Eğriçam bus).  It is quite central.  Viranşehir is a residential area jam packed with high rise apartments blocks and shopping centres so to discover the Roman ruins of Soli Pompeiopolis smack in the middle of this residential area is certainly a surprise.

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Sidenote – One of my main issues with Mersin Turizm is that they have virtually no information for a tourist visiting this city or the area.  If you are a history buff there is abundance of ruins and archaeological sites to explore but with little or no information it is incredibly difficult to visit or even to be aware of its existence and Soli Pompeiopolis is the perfect example.  The only reason I knew of it is that Alana had put some photos up on her FB page.

I digress though, let me talk about this site.

Soli Pompeiopolis was once a large town and a most important harbour.  It was the capital of a Persian province before succumbing to the Greeks, Alexander the Great and King Antiochus III.  After all this carnage Soli recovered with the arrival of Roman Pompey who renamed the town Pompeiopolis (because he was obviously full of himself) who, not only held off the Persian Army, also used it as a base for fighting the pirates that preyed on boats in the area.   In 527AD Pompeiopolis was flattened by an earthquake and eventually the town was left to disrepair.  Today the main, and frankly the only thing that you can view as the ruins are surrounded by wire fencing, is the Colonnaded Street (cardo maximum).  It is over 350m long with Corinthian columns and I imagine it would have been very grand in its time drawing you down towards the harbour.  There is also a theatre, harbour, a bath and the monumental tomb of Aratos currently under excavation.  Archaeologists have found many coins, pottery and other artefacts of interest which are currently on display at Mersin Museum.

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As mentioned the Turkish Government is currently undertaking excavations on the site and in fact there is talk of building an archaeology museum to incorporate the site nearby which, for a history buff like myself (yes little known fact), would be great.

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Worth visiting?

As you can only view the ruins from the street there is little to hold your interest.  If, however, you make a day of it and incorporate a pleasant walk along the promenade, visit a couple of the bars for an ice cold beer (which Alana and I did) or perhaps have a picnic at one of the many beaches then it is a day well spent.

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Ancient Wonders

Daughter and I went walkabout last weekend and ended up about 2 hours west of Mersin in the small village of Kizkalesi.  Most of you who know Turkey or more particularly know Mersin will no doubt already know about this little spot along the Mediterranean but for those of you who are yet to visit this area Kizkalesi should definitely be on your list. kiz 3

Once out of Mersin the bus ride is enchanting was we passed through small villages, a scatterings of ruins and the never ending blue ocean.  The town itself is really nothing to write home about with its extraordinary number of pensions and holiday apartments that have built along the shoreline and on the lower slopes of Tarsus Mountains but our reason for visiting last weekend is to wonder at the majesty that is Deniz Kalesi also known as the Maiden’s Castle floating in the blue water of the Mediterranean.  Set on a small island just 400 metres off the mainland the island (The Turk tells me he used to swim over to it as a child although I call balderdash on that statement) was built sometime in the 1st century and has been rebuilt many times over the following centuries. Like most things in Turkey there is a legend that is attached to Deniz Kalesi.  It is said that a fortune teller told the King that his beautiful daughter will be poisoned by a snake.  Shocked by the fortune teller’s words, the King tries to change her fate by building a castle on an island where no snakes live.  He sends his daughter to live in the castle.  But a snake hides in a grape basket sent from the mainland and poisons the princess.  Definitely a bit of bad luck for her – maybe the King should have sent the Princess to Ireland.  Incidentally there are hundreds of little lizards on the island sending Daughter into screams of terror at every turn – so that’s definitely a bonus *sigh*. Image Daughter and I took a paddleboat over to the island (which really means I had to paddle both of us over to the island while she hung her legs into the water) to explore before returning back to the mainland (which also meant I had to paddle us both back while she complained about being cold even though it was 30 degrees and I was sweating bullets).  If you don’t want to paddle (or know that you are going to get stuck doing all the work) you can take one of the tourist boats over for 10TL. Exploring the ruins takes time and as Daughter and I had all the time in the world we enjoyed wandering around the base, climbing up and down its high walls and examining the mosaics. Image The mainland also has its fair share of ruins to explore as well and Daughter and I spent a good few hours wandering along in the sunshine traversing the ruins along the shore including Korykos Castle (above) which is directly opposite Maiden’s Castle and then a quick dolmus to Elaiussa-Sebaste (below) ruins which are only a few kilometres east of Kizkalesi.  If you have a few days you should also explore the Roman-Byzantine cities of Kanlidivane and Kanytelis also has a wonderful example of Roman necropolis. Image In summer Kizkalesi is packed, mostly with German tourists, but right now it is just a sleepy village and definitely no crowds – the beach was just pristine and it was all ours. _________________________________________________________________________ Loving this blog? Please help me build my audience and share with like minded people who, like you, love to travel and love Turkey. You can also subscribe or like me on Facebook for all updates.