Visit the Ancient Roman City of Hierapolis and Float Above Cappadocia
The afternoon call to prayer rings out across Hierapolis, Pamukkale, as a Russian wallows in the area’s famous hot pools. His nubile companion frolics nearby - slithering through the water like a porpoise, spitting it up and letting it hit her on the head. Her laughter is in pleasant contrast to the echoing message of the muezzin. From where I sit, with a glass of Turkish brew Efes in hand, it's a great view. I've chosen not to indulge my love of relaxation here, instead heeding the wise whispers of my learned guide, who won't bathe in the waters due to a high bacteria count a few years ago. It makes sense. Millions of people soaking in the one spot every year is akin to swimming in a urinal, I imagine.
I'll unwind later but first there's plenty more to experience at Pamukkale and its neighbour, Cappadocia.
Amusement park of antiquities
Hierapolis, with its thermal springs, was an ancient Roman spa town and cure centre in the Pamukkale region of Turkey.
However, those doing the healing weren't always successful and as a result there's a huge necropolis (cemetery) to explore. The corpses would be buried with a gold coin in their mouths to pay the boatman, who would row them to next world.
Treasure hunters, who almost always got into their mouths to pay the boatman, who would row them to the next world.
Treasure hunters, who almost always got into the graves before the archaeologists, have long raided the cemetery to satisfy their greed, so if anyone you with the offer of lining your palm with precious metal-send them on their way.
Nearby Frontinus Street was once the main commercial axis and, at the northern end, the ruins of the Arch of Domitian with its twin towers are a reminder of just how great the Romans were architecturally. No cranes, no 3D imaging, yet solid perfection in their structures.
Next, the amphitheatre beckons. Inside, an inscription reads: "Hierapolis, foremost land of broad Asia, mistress Nymphs, adorned with streams of water and all beauty". It sums it up well.
This structure is a top vantage point to soak up the area's attractive, unique vistas - the calcified hillsides that ape snow-covered mountains, the awesome reminders of the Romans' building expertise and the clear blue waters of the pools.
Due to the hike up the hill the amphitheatre is not crowded, but it once held 12,000 people and is in one of the best conditions for its age in the world. Sit for a while and imagine the concerts, religious ceremonies and competitions once held here. I'd love to see the likes of Muse rock this joint.
Back on the flats, it's time to roll up the trousers and wade in the warm mineral waters of the travertine terraces. I could hang out here all day. The waters have flowed for two millennia and a sense of relaxation pervades. If this is a place for healing, well, count me as cured.
Take it underground
Josef Fritzl would have reached nirvana in the underground city of Derinkuyu in Cappadocia. It plunges 85m below the ground, could fit 10,000 people in it and also had room for animals.
This subterranean dugout was used by 6th and 7th century Byzantine Christians as a refuge from the marauding hordes of the Persian and Arabic armies, Here you can see stables, schools, a wine-making area (where they would stamp the grapes with their feet), a church and ventilation to cope with the lack of windows. This is definitely not a place for claustrophobes, and even the fittest among us are breathing heavily after climbing the hundreds of stairs back to the surface.
If you don't like having a guide, you should get one for this underground city. It's easy to get lost (just try to follow the blue arrows if you do lose your bearings) and a guide will be able to paint a better picture of what life was like beneath the surface. Get here early to avoid the crowds.
My Aussie friend tries to get his girlfriend to take a creative picture of him seemingly holding one of the phallic Cappadocian fairy chimneys. We laugh as we imagine hordes of tourists doing the same thing á la supporting the Leaning Tower of Pisa or kissing the sphinx of Giza.
These must-see, naturally-formed wonders can reach heights of 40m. They were created when the wind eroded the lava surrounding the consolidated volcanic ash, and sadly this erosion isn't going to stop. One day the fairy chimneys will be gone.
The best way to appreciate Cappadocia is by floating above it in a hot air balloon, especially at dawn when you can watch the sun rise over the extraordinary formations, during which the rocks appear to change colour, It is only from the sky that you can truly appreciate the beauty and strangeness of this mystical moonscape, dotted with towers, valleys, caves and tunnels.
As we bid farewell to awe-inspiring Cappadocia, I can't help but notice a couple of Japanese tourists high on the hill, adopting my friend’s cock pose. What has he started? Oh well. Boys will be boys.
On the hunt for souvenirs
Try to avoid buying tacky souvenirs in Turkey. Like so many other countries, there's a great market for cheap mass-produced garbage just waiting to be pawned off on ignorant foreigners.
Genuine handmade Turkish rugs are beautiful but very expensive - the silk ones will probably require you to take out a mortgage and really should fly for the prices asked.
If you're after an affordable handmade piece of Turkey, visit the pottery studios of Selim Gurdal in Avanos, Cappadocia. He has been involved in pottery since he was a boy when he watched his father take clay from the nearby Kizil Imak (Red river) and shape it. For the past 40 years Gurdal has worked at many of Cappadocia's 60-plus studios and now has his own. He's considered a master potter.
He crafts from both red and white clay and his pieces take 25 days to dry. They are then hand-painted by friends and family and the resulting vibrant plates, amphoras, teapots and cups are both decorative and practical.
They're as authentic as they come - straight from the earth and featuring the labour and soul of humble, humorous craftsmen. As Gurdal says: "You're not just getting a piece of pottery, you're getting genuine art." Watch him at work at Veneesa Studios, Yeni Mah, 11 Sokak No 20, Avanos, Cappadocia.