Webmaster's Note: Because the BikeAbout team is traveling in smaller groups for a little while, we have changed the format of the journal slightly. The dispatches for Turkey will be presented in geographical rather than chronological order. To view the chronological order, go to the itinerary.

topics: Asclepion, Pergamum Acropolis, Troy, cheap transportation; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: February 21-23, 1998

Food of the Day: Hin diba

"Hin diba" is the Turkish name for cooked dandelion greens. andrEa worried that they would taste like the road, since we've seen them growing there, but sautéed in olive oil and lightly spiced with lemon and pepper, they were delicious!

Word of the Day: Ucoz

A good word to know in any country, especially when asking for recommendations on places to stay and eat is the word "Cheap!" In Turkish, it's "Ucoz!"

Person of the Day:

The people of today are the two young men who run the Athena Pension click to view a photograph, Aydin Sengul and Ismet Hoca. click to view a photograph Their terrace, which "just might" be the best place in town from which to hear the mid-day calls to prayer. There are several mosques nearby, and the wailing of all of them echoes off the hillside.

Place of the Day: Asclepion at Bergama

The Asclepion, or hospital, at Bergama was among the first in the ancient world and served as a place of teaching and study which helped shape modern medicine. It was founded by a man named Archias but grew to great importance under perhaps the greatest physician of the times, a man named Galen (131-210 AD). Born in Pergamum, he studied medicine all around the Mediterranean, and then returned home to build his own research center and try to heal the gladiators who fought for the amusement of the masses.

The hospital is named after the god of medicine, Aesculapius, whose symbol is a snake. Ever notice the snakes on pharmacy windows and ambulances? The story goes that snakes shed their skin, just as people can shed their diseases - with help from the god. Now you get it...! At this hospital though, doctors began the development of medical theory as we know it, unraveling the mysteries of the nervous and circulatory systems, while ancient practices were used for cures. For instance, dream analysis was a diagnostic tool, and treatments included massage and medicinal herbs.

Tech Fact of the Day:

It seems that sacred ruins don't really "belong" to anyone (also see the guys' dispatch of February 19-20). Some local folks we met in Bergama are disturbed that the Altar of Zeus from the ruins of the Pergamum Acropolis currently resides in a museum in Berlin, Germany. They told us, "We want it back!" This made us think: these are ruins of Greek and Roman origin, which now belong to the Turks (since they won this land in a series of wars), pieces of which can be found in foreign museums. Hmmm...

The reason the Germans have the Altar is because they paid for the excavation and restoration of the area beginning in the 1800s. The sultan at the time let them keep it as a "gift." This could be considered fair, since everybody wins; after all, the Germans did pay for the excavation, and the Turks make money off tourists at the site. But, technically, who owns this stuff anyway? After a lot of thought, we decided we just don't know. In theory, as a holy place, the Altar belonged to the god Zeus himself, and anyone wanting to use it for sacred purposes. But last time we checked, tourism and museums are hardly divine practices...

Group Dispatch, February 21-23
picture of andrEapicture of Corinne

Leaving Izmir wasn't easy. Gülden and the BikeAbout Gals had been up quite late the night before discussing many things, sending positive vibes to the second loaf of bread Gülden had ever baked in her life click to view a photograph click to view a photograph, and andrEa was up until 7 a.m. writing email since we knew we wouldn't be on line for another week. Getting going was pretty rough. That said, thanks to Gülden's dad, the bikes were cleaner and more greased up than the day we began our trip. But, as we packed, one of the trailers developed a flat tire, so that was another delay.

Once we were on the road and in the midst of the lazy Saturday afternoon traffic, Gülden and her whole family escorted us to the city limits in their car. They had already showered us with a large amount of food - including the fresh, dense, and beautifully scented Gülden bread - some warm clothing we were lacking, and even some Turkish good luck charms for our journey. Yikes, the weight we added to our bags...

Biking to Bergama flew past as the flat road was smoothly paved, the traffic was light, and there was not much headwind. We surprised even ourselves with our speed, though the few days' break in Izmir didn't keep our knees from being alarmed by the extra weight of the trailers. Only in the last 15 km, as the sun began to set, did the headwind pick up. Corinne was alternately yipping like a cowgirl and screaming her own version of a call to prayer click to view a photograph, trying to beat the wind's wrath with her own. All her yelling didn't stave off the winds though, or the two big and loud dogs that chased us for about a kilometer into town...

A few of Gülden's contacts in Bergama brought us to the Athena Pension click to view a photograph where, in a flurry of excitement and even after we explained we're NOT writers for Lonely Planet guidebooks, the two friends who own the hotel welcomed us with all their might. We told them that we don't review hotels, but they didn't believe us. So we made them the People of the Day click to view a photograph thinking perhaps they were just living up to their slogan, "We're not the best, but trying to get there!" A restored old Ottoman house, the pension has two floors, a courtyard, and a gorgeous terrace.

However, in keeping with the personae of its two owners, the place was decorated like the ultimate bachelor pad, with televisions in the most interesting places, ornamental empty alcohol bottles, and a distinct smell of men's cologne which the young owners sprayed into the room before we went in. Ahem... It was a strange experience, as these guys went out of their way to impress/undress us, offering drinks and massages. The latter was our cue to end a long, emotional/commotional day; it was time to lock the door and get some sleep.

In the morning, the entire extended staff and many neighbors watched us eat breakfast click to view a photograph in the sunny courtyard, and occasionally asked questions. click to view a photograph They assured us that we were the most interesting tourists they'd ever seen. click to view a photograph Apparently, mostly Turkish people stay at this particular place, so they soak up any chance they can to hang out with foreigners click to view a photograph and were very excited to inform us that andrEa was the first Austrian ever to stay in their establishment.

Bergama now sits where the ancient city of Pergamum once did. If we were good BikeAbouters, now we would talk all about biking the 6 km up (and we mean UP) to the ruins of Pergamum's Acropolis, the reason why Bergama is a tourist stopover. But we didn't. We took taxis instead; we were still wiped out, and wanted to save time instead of money today. And, there is a lot to see in Bergama - especially from the top of the hill. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph

On the hill itself is the old city click to view a photograph, complete with lots of toppled columns, a theatre click to view a photograph, streets, infrastructural remains click to view a photograph, crumbled temples click to view a photograph, and other oddities click to view a photograph to explore and understand. click to view a photograph

Although first and best known for its vast library of almost 200,000 volumes (challenging the most famous one of the times, located in Alexandria), Pergamum was an important center for other important reasons. Our Place of the Day, the ruins of the ancient Asclepion, or hospital is all the way at the bottom of the hill, but it was at the top of its class of institutions. There aren't any pictures, but it sure was interesting to learn about - especially since it helped build the fame and fortune of the city.

Pergamum, during its heyday (2nd century BC), was the capital of its own kingdom, lorded over by the descendants of yet another inheritor of power from Alexander the Great's broken empire. Lysimachus, also founder of Roman Ephesus, claimed Pergamum as well when he was in control of the Ionian. When he was killed in battles against Seleucus, Pergamum was taken over by the person he placed in charge of the great fortune he had stored there. Four generation later (Eumenes I, Attalus I, Eumenes II, Attalus II, Attalus III), the kingdom was in ruins and willed to Rome, thus becoming the Roman province of Asia (129 BC).

As we biked from Bergama, we noticed for the third time, people gathering vegetation at the roadside. We wondered what they saw that we didn't, since all we saw were dandelions. It turned out, though, that we were able to sample these greens cooked! They're called "hind diba", and they were delicious and odd enough to make them the Food of the Day.

Along the way, as our luck would have it, we were once again offered a ride. We had stopped for a while on our way toward Ayvelik, where we had planned to spend the night. While offers such as the one we received happen many times, we usually simply say no thank you. But this time, the offer was for a ride all the way to Akçay, to which we had been planning to take a bus anyway. But the ride we were offered was a much more "ucoz," or cheap, option than a bus, so we took it! Of course, to make up for our frugality in transportation, the only available place in Akçay was very expensive, which was very annoying, but we could only get so lucky, right?

That evening, just on a hunch, we decided to check out a few of the Sunday papers to see if all the press attention we had received in Izmir had met with any success. Lo and behold, we found our pictures on the front page of the second section! We burst out laughing since the pictures looked so odd to us, and because we had NO IDEA what the accompanying article said! We did find someone to sort of translate it first into German for andrEa, who then translated to English for Corinne. It was a bit of an ordeal. The next morning, on our way out of town, we made copies to send home, and kept an original, hoping to scan it in Istanbul and add it to this dispatch so you can see it too! We'll try to add it in later...

The next day, since the ride from Akçay to Çanakkale goes through SERIOUS mountains, one of which is a long and very steep 20 km hill that wouldn't have been possible with the trailers, we caught a lift to Troy and planned on visiting the ruins there. From the bus, the views from the mountain were beautiful, of course, and we were upset not to have a tent, sleeping bags, and the much more essential element for a mountain like this - the TIME to do it! In the correct time frame, even this mountain was doable on a bike. But the BikeAbout schedule must move forward. And anyway, we had some ruins to see in the Turkish town called Truva.

Also called Troia, this ancient city was rebuilt 9 times from 3000 BC to 300 AD, as layers of city upon on city have proven in the wake of archeological digs. People are thought to have settled here since the Bronze Age, so it's OLD! More familiar to much of the English-speaking world as Troy, it is best known, however, as the site of the Trojan War, the story of which is detailed in the famous book of verse "The Iliad" written by Homer. Homer, you may remember, is also the Greek author of the sequel to this tale, called "The Odyssey." We talked about it, and him, back in Sicily if you need a reminder.

The story of the Trojan War - which may or may not be 100% true - goes like this: There was a nine-year war (or sometimes 10, depending on whom you talk to) between the Greeks and the Trojans. Why, you ask? It's simple: The infamous Helen of Troy was stolen from (while others say "persuaded to leave") her husband, Menelaos, by a prince, named Paris, and taken to Troy from Greece. She was said to be the most beautiful woman ever (no one argues over this), and when the Greeks started the war to go and get her back, they gathered masses of support and sailed to Troy a thousand ships strong. Hence, "The face that launched a thousand ships." Get it?

Well, in Homer's story (which recounts the history of the war), there are all sorts of mythological figures, including gods and goddesses, so that makes it a little less believable. Still, most folks think there is some truth to what he tells. It is estimated that the war happened around 1250 or 1185 BC, making the Troy of literature the seventh one in the stacked-up ruins found there. The reason for the attack, however, is believed to have been more political in nature and not as romantic as the saga sung about Helen.

Troy (Truva) is situated very close to the lucrative and strategic Dardanelles Strait tomorrow's Place of the Day), which is a waterway that connects the Mediterranean and Black Seas. (Today, it is also considered to be the gateway to Europe or Asia, depending on which way you are going.) Having control of this very important stretch of land would have been reason enough to find a way - even a zany way - to obtain Troy. And so Ulysses, the main character in "The Odyssey," is the mastermind who thought up the entirely fictional wooden horse, in which 100 soldiers were supposedly hidden. Given as a gift to the Trojans by the Greeks, it was brought inside the until-then unscalable city walls. During the night, the soldiers jumped out and captured the city.

But Troy doesn't exist anymore, except as the site of the dig, where recently a kitchy wooden horse was built as a tourist attraction. Basically, if you're not an archeologist or a literature buff, what's there isn't that interesting. Upon learning this, we skipped going to Truva, and simply tipped our helmets at the sign.

More rolling hills brought us the remaining distance into Çanakkale at sunset, where we arrived to find tiniest hotel room ever - in a less than respectable hotel. But the price was right, and that night we tried to dream of tent life. It would have been near heaven. Even a tiny tent can at least be surrounded by beauty in the wilderness, and we were just as cramped in our room. Regardless, we got a little work done that night, startled by how much ground we'd covered so quickly, since Izmir.

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