“No, Ezio, I am not going in there!” my mother said to my father, who was pointing at the hot springs with enthusiasm. Despite the rejection, he didn’t stop smiling. He took me by the arm, picked a travertine and we walked into the water. We immediately relaxed. My father stuck his tongue at my mother.
From my comfortable and warm seat I could see the landscape below. We had arrived in Pamukkale after hours on a bus that stopped every few minutes, making the ride from Fethiye longer than necessary. Among the sharp brown mountains and the golden fields, the whiteness of the “cotton castle” stood out as in a Disney movie.
First, we had to satisfy my mother’s love for ruins and rocks, as my dad and I call archaeological wonders. So, we set up to visit the Pamukkale Hierapolis Ancient City, part of UNESCO’s patrimony since 1988. The hot springs were the spa of the local population since the ancient Greek kingdom of Phrygia.
The inhabitants of an era ago enjoyed the crystalline waters just as much as we did in that more recent summer afternoon. I moved around the pool on my hands, like a crab, searching for cool spots when I was boiling. Swallows flew above my head, a bird that carries an auspicious message of happiness and freedom and that have long disappeared from Italy’s barns.
Freedom was what I felt in Fethiye, where I went paragliding with my father. Or we took the boat to cruise in the Mediterranean for a day, stopping to swim in the clear water and at the Butterfly Valley to see a tiny waterfall instead of the famous butterflies -my mother complained for hours about paying the entry fee for nothing.
Luckily, we had already spent the shopping funds in Antalya, a lovely town facing the sea. The Kaleiçi (Old Town) branched out in narrow streets with shops at every available door: clothes, fabrics, bride’s puffy dresses, rugs, and rugs -and more rugs. The quiet streets led to the shore and animated at night thanks to the clubs.
After the bargaining for everything (from the cost of the latest jeans to the cost of a bean), people headed to the seafront, which was also the favorite spot of dog owners -at every hour. The sellers of rugs tried to appeal to them with their melodic screams, while chefs displayed the freshest fish, appealing to the hungry -and making everyone’s mouth water.
Meanwhile, the new part of town busted with the quicker life of businessmen in suit and ties and women in heels. Whether the people were hurrying to their offices or to the store to buy simit for lunch, the Clock Tower watched over them as it has been doing for centuries.
For centuries in Turkey, farmers have been working the land, raising their cattle and growing crops in the sunburned land. In two weeks, we spent at least 20 hours on local buses, going from the mountains to the sea, from the busy cities to the quiet villages of women leaning on crops and men driving rusty tractors.
The buses drove us from Istanbul to Göreme, in the magic of the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia. My dad and I walked through the Rose Valley, completely mesmerized by the magical tricks of nature. Walking around the rocks formations of the Göreme National Park, I expected to see hobbits and elves playing hide and seek. But they didn’t show. Or perhaps they just followed us in our walk to the village of Çavuşin in silence, like protective sentinels.
My mom and aunt caught a ride from a local farmer (still not an elf, unfortunately), bumping and humping on his wooden cart, since it was too windy for the hot-air balloons -my dad gifted me with a small china replica instead. Luckily, we took a bus to Izmir (our last stop), leaving the cart with its owner.
Our trip began facing the sea in Istanbul and it ended facing it in Izmir after two weeks exploring western Turkey. After the muezzin’s calls in the night, Izmir had a more modern vibe, with the unstoppable traffic in the streets and at the harbor.
We spent our last days in Turkey singing with the protesters and watching the children feeding fat pigeons in Konak Square. It was magic, just a different kind. Always in Turkey.