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.

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While Corinne and andrEa are staying in Milas and then cycling from Milas to Didim, Ethan, Anthony, and Padraic are traveling along Turkey's Mediterranean coast:

topics: Adana, Mersin, Korykos, Kizkalesi, Silifke, traffic, HISTORY, Crusades, castles; jump to dispatch

Rider Notes: February 14–15, 1998

Food of the Day: S(h)algam

S(h)algam is a specialty of the Adana region of southeastern Turkey. Made from the juice of dark turnips, this red-colored drink is served cold, often with an actual piece of turnip included in the glass. Not knowing exactly what to expect, but particularly parched by their ride to Mersin, the boys stopped at a fruit juice stand to sample this local delicacy. It was . . . well, it was unlike most other drinks they have ever had. Unsweetened, its strong turnipy flavor detracted from its ability to refresh. Ethan, known for devouring foods that even omnivores like Anthony and Padraic shrink away from in disgust, drank his glass right down and started munching on the turnip. Anthony and Padraic had more difficulty — Padraic grimaced with every gulp — but not wanting to offend the juice salesman by not finishing, every drop was drunk.

Tech Fact of the Day: St. Valentine's Day

Since the first day of this dispatch falls on St. Valentine's Day, we thought we should impart some technical information about this world-famous holiday. Valentine's Day has been celebrated since long before the third-century Roman saints (yes, two Saint Valentines) lent their name to the day. Every February 15, the Romans celebrated the festival of Lupercalia, which honored the Roman gods Juno and Pan and involved various fertility rites. Other cultures believed that lovebirds (the real birds) began to mate on February 14. The modern holiday probably derives from a French and English custom of the 14th century in which on St. Valentine's Eve, young people would promise to become the "valentine" of the person whose name they drew from a box. Even though it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the actual Saint Valentine (either of them), and Turkey does not seem to observe the day, we would like to wish everyone out there a happy Valentine's Day. We hope that every one of you has a "valentine."

Person of the Day: Saul (Paul) of Tarsus

On Tuesday, as the guys cycled from Adana to Mersin, they passed the town of Tarsus. From the highway, they could distinguish the city only by the number of buildings and the sudden increase in bus and truck traffic. However, Tarsus is an ancient city, remembered, among other things, as a site frequented by Cleopatra (apparently at different times with both of her famous lovers, Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony). The city is most famous, however, for having been the home of Saint Saul (Paul), Christianity's first and most important missionary.

Saul was born in this small town in the year 10 AD to a prominent Jewish family that enjoyed the privilege of Roman citizenship — an important distinction in the farther flung regions of the Roman Empire. A student of Jewish law who fiercely protected Judaism, he spent much of his early adulthood as a prominent persecutor of the early Christians. Until (as the story goes), while traveling on the road to Damascus to round up Christians, he was transfixed by a shaft of light and heard a heavenly voice ask, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" Saul, naturally afraid, replied, in a tremulous voice, "Who art thou, Lord?" To which the voice answered, "I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest." From that moment Saul (who thenceforth called himself Paul), became an ardent Christian.

After a few months of solitary meditation, he sought out the apostle Peter to learn more about Jesus. Paul then undertook three long and immensely successful missionary journeys, converting people to Christianity and setting up churches in Greece and Asia Minor. Because of his missionary work, but also because of the distinction that he made between followers of Jesus and Jews (that Christians did not necessarily have to be of Jewish origin), he is considered the man most responsible for making Christianity a worldwide religion. Paul also formulated much of the theology of the early Church.

Paul's missionary work was cut short, however, after his arrest by authorities in Jerusalem. He escaped death there by claiming his right as a Roman citizen to appeal his case in Rome. Unfortunately, Paul fared no better in the capital; he was held as a prisoner until his execution sometime between 62 and 68 AD, apparently on the orders of another famous Roman Christian-persecutor, Emperor Nero.

Place of the Day: Kizkalesi/Korykos Castles

About 20 km from today's final destination, Silifke, Padraic, Anthony, and Ethan stopped at the tiny resort town of Kizkalesi click to view a photograph — the ancient city of Korykos — to explore the ruins of a castle. Actually there are two castles: one called the "Maiden's Castle" about 150 m (492 ft) offshore click to view a photograph and its counterpart on shore. The impressive Maiden's Castle is fairly intact, but since the causeway that used to connect the two castles washed away long ago and the BikeAbout bikes don't float, the guys had to settle with a thorough investigation of the ruins of the onshore castle. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph

First built by the Byzantines, the castles at Kizkalesi attained their impressive size during the 12th century when the Christian Crusaders and their Armenians allies extensively renovated the structures.

"Armenians?" you ask (well, maybe you don't ask, but we're going to explain it anyway). Between the 11th and 14th centuries, a series of Armenian dynasties controlled the area between Silifke and Adana, formerly known as Cilicia. During the 11th century, the Seljuk Turks had pushed the Christian Armenians from lands further east. The Armenians in turn conquered this area of southeastern Anatolia. Still pressed by the two forces they had beaten to capture Cilicia (the temporarily resurgent Byzantines to the west and the increasingly powerful Turks to the east), the Armenians had to rely on the support of crusaders who were passing through on their way to the Levant (today's Middle East). For their part, the Crusaders, though pledged to free the Holy Land and protect Christians, lent their support out of more selfish motives than Christian charity. Many of the European knights hoped to grab territory of their own, and if they couldn't take this land from the Muslims, they were happy to take it from fellow (Armenian) Christians. For example, in the late 11th century, a Crusader lord took large areas of Cilicia from the Armenians. However, even with the crusader interlopers, Armenian dynasties controlled most of Cilicia until they lost it to the Mamluks of Egypt in the 14th century.

Needless to say, very few of these thoughts ran through the minds of Anthony, Ethan, and Padraic as they jumped from stone to stone in the ruined castle click to view a photograph, although they did notice the obvious influence of the Crusaders. Both castles shared many architectural features of the other crusader fortresses they had visited — vaulted roofs, prominent defensive towers click to view a photograph, and a lot of really, really big rocks. click to view a photograph

Group Dispatch, February 14–15

picture of Padraic

Since Padraic and Ethan had been off their bikes for a while, the three boys decided that the first two days back on the road should be relatively short and easy. Forcing themselves out of their warm beds into the cool morning air, they took long deep preparatory breaths and immediately started coughing from all the truck fumes. click to view a photograph

Unfortunately, they never really escaped these fumes on the busy highway between Adana and Mersin, a bustling port city 70 km (43 mi) to the west. It took nearly 10 km (6 mi) just to get out of the sprawl around Adana. Indeed, considering the development along the highway, the boys found it hard to figure out where Adana's sprawl ended and Mersin's began. Not that they could afford to pay much attention to details such as scenery as they dodged trucks and potholes the size of refrigerators (or walk-in freezers).

With no compelling sights to stall their pace, they reached Mersin before 1 p.m., found a place to stay, and set out to explore the city. In an attempt to stimulate the economy of this port city, part of Mersin's harbor area has been declared a free trade zone, meaning that certain products can be purchased without taxes added. Correspondingly, the city positively bustles with shops and (since it was Saturday afternoon) with people shopping. As usual, the guys confined their expenditures to food, eating a large lunch in honor of their first day back on the bikes together. They topped off lunch with a bracing glass of s(h)algam (see the Food of the Day), and some colorful fresh fruit. click to view a photograph

Most of the rest of the day and night was spent working on dispatches. Anthony had been too lonely and ill while in Syria to write anything, and Ethan and Padraic had spent much of the previous two days traveling, without the opportunity to turn on a computer.

The next morning, the ride along Turkey's coast began in earnest. Once out of Mersin, the road became better paved, less trafficked, and more coastal. For one of the first times during the whole trip, the boys spent much of the day with the Mediterranean in sight and not more than a few meters away. And, despite the chilly temperatures, the bright sunshine combined with the ocean views to make this one of the more pleasant cycling days in recent memory.

Just as the road started to become more hilly, they took a needed break at the complex of ruins at Kizkalesi, where they visited Kizkalesi Castles (see the Place of the Day), clambering around on the stony ruins for over an hour. click to view a photograph

Back on the road, they were relieved that the road became flat again, turning inland, across the broad delta of the Göksu River to the city of Silifke located at the foot of the Tarsus Mountains. click to view a photograph The boys arrived with time enough to find a hotel, shower, do laundry, and visit their second Crusader castle of the day.

While Ethan stayed in the hotel to perfect his latest dispatch, Anthony and Padraic stormed the castle. Of course, since it is placed high above the town, by the time they had climbed the steep road to its walls, neither was really in any shape to storm anything. Sweating and winded, they gratefully entered the castle through the remains of its northern gate. Silifke was founded by one of Alexander the Great's generals, Seleucus I Nicator, also the founder of the Seleucid Dynasty. Originally the site of an acropolis (the fortified part of a Greek city-state), the castle structure was added to by the Crusaders (working with their Armenian allies) and the Ottomans, giving it its classic, castle-like appearance, although like the Kizkalesi/Korykos Castles (again, see the Place of the Day), the castle at Silifke was in ruins. Despite its impressive outer walls that make it look like a formidable fortress from the town below, little is left behind the walls. click to view a photograph

Still, the sheer size of the castle impressed them. From the town, the castle looks fairly small since only one of its sides is visible. However, its walls stretch back along the ridge for at least 400 meters, enclosing a vast area that must once have been a substantial settlement. Just behind the walls, most of the way around were the remains of massive chambers with high-vaulted ceilings. click to view a photograph From a vantage point on top of one of the remaining towers (at one time the castle had over 20 towers) click to view a photograph, Anthony and Padraic saw the foundations of other structures within the walls — perhaps old barracks, storehouses, or armories. click to view a photograph The guys tried hard to imagine what it once must have been like, fully intact and alive with the activities of hundreds of people, instead of just two bike-tourists.

Lingering just long enough to see the sun set click to view a photograph over the mountains to the west, Padraic and Anthony slipped over their last stone of the day and rushed back down to summon Ethan to dinner. Visits to ruined castles are known to cause great hunger.

Meanwhile, the ladies have stayed in Milas and then cycled from Milas to Didim. You can read about their journey in their February 13-14 and February 15-16 dispatches.

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