A lot of what we want to see and experience in Turkey – Bodrum, the Turquoise Coast, Cappadocia and Istanbul coming up – are pretty standard tourist places. Sometimes, though, we like to take advantage of the time we have to try something a little more unusual. Enter Egirdir, a town of about 20,000 people about 115 miles due north of Antalya.Egirdir sits on the shore of Lake Egirdir, a beautiful freshwater lake about the size of Lake Tahoe (or, for Minnesotans, a little smaller than Mille Lacs), and thus attracts tourists looking for a little adventure. And at about 3,000 feet above sea level, the climate was a lot more temperate than what we’ve been experiencing in Turkey. Our little two-day/three-night stop consisted of one longish and kind of hellish bike ride and a beautiful day touring yet more old Greek and Roman ruins.
For our first full day in town we rented bikes to ride 20 miles out to Lake Kovada National Park. The ride was described as “through apple orchards,” while Lonely Planet says the park is “nice for hikes, picnicking, and flora.” Sounds good, right? Well, not exactly. The ride was on a road beside apple orchards, and they were beautiful with miles and miles of millions and millions of ripening apples along with a few assorted apricot, peach, and pear trees. The problem was that “through apple orchards” made it sound cool and shady, when in fact the ride was in the blazing sun. And the park? I think of nicely watered and even manicured lawns for picnics and all that. This one, not so much. There were pretty limited facilities of any sort and the trail was pretty basic without particularly attractive views or anything.
And then the ride back. It so happens that when you’re biking on a slight downhill stretch you don’t really notice it; you just think you’re making good time. Until, of course, it’s time to go back. On the return, then, we were riding slightly uphill. Oh, and into a headwind that had come up. And now in the mid-afternoon heat. Officially I enjoy biking in most any situations, but this was a tough ride back; I’m not sure Mark has forgiven me yet for suggesting the ride and I was still sore the next morning.Our second stab at an adventure in Egirdir was measurably more successful. Sagalassos is unlike other ruins we’ve toured. It was an important regional city 2,000 years ago, but it was never of the importance of a place like Ephesus. At an altitude of 5,300 feet, it’s high up in the Tarsus Mountains and thus significantly cooler than other sites we’ve toured. Although the city was destroyed by earthquakes and devastated by the plague, after it was abandoned it was never pillaged and thus makes for a great opportunity for archeologists. Very much an excavation in progress, it is almost entirely, utterly free of tourists.
The little pension we were staying at arranged for someone to drive us up there and let us walk around as long as we wanted. The town had prospered under Roman rule in large part because it exported grain to Rome, which seems so improbably based on the land and climate today, which seems anything but agri-friendly today. The scientists who study this stuff, though, remind us that 2,000 years ago the climate was somewhat more mild with measurably more precipitation. The town of some 5,000 people, then, had a distinct elite, wealthy superstrata and, as a regional center, a theater that seated 9,000 people with incredible views over the valleys below.
Now we’re headed off to Cappadocia, with a quick one-night stop en route, and from there to Ankara, the capital.