My First Winter (January) Visit to Turkey

Feedback from travelers recently returned from Turkey: what's good, what's bad, what they found

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My First Winter (January) Visit to Turkey

Post by SwampeastMike » Sun Jan 18, 2015 2:55 pm

We enjoyed a brief 10 days in Turkey as part of a longer holiday to visit friends around the New Year holiday.

First we spent three days in Bodrum which we have visited during the late summer and autumn for quite a few years. Many hotels and restaurants were closed but there were a fair number of Turkish guests enjoying an extended New Year's break. We found a very nice room with a great view of Bodrum harbor/marina for perhaps 1/4 the in-season rate. We spent a day just driving around the peninsula to see what things are like in the winter. Far greener and far more quiet except füor furious construction of yet more hotels, resorts and holiday homes.

We headed off early in the morning for Sagalassos--an ancient Roman city near the Isparta and high on a mountain above the little village of Ağlasun. We enjoyed the 400 km drive the eastern half of which was mainly unfamiliar to us. We make a couple stops to follow brown signs pointing to places of interest and arrived at Sagalassos shortly after lunch. An older mountain pass between Burdur and Ağlasun found some snow on the sides of the plowed and dry road and the final 5 km to the site was through slushy, rutted snow. Otherwise the only weather problem we encountered was unbelievably dense fog in a mountain pass between two large flat areas just south of Denizli. The weather forecast called for 2-3 cm of snow in the general area the night after our visit and snow showers the next day. I allowed a third day in the itinerary in case the weather was a bit worse or we just wanted to stay an extra night near Sagalassos.

I cannot recommend Sagalassos more highly! The ruins are incredible and include two (one smaller one very large) fountains in working order. Only minor repairs were required to get them working again and the original drainage systems worked perfectly! The remote locations means few tourists at any time--it was deserted except for us during our visit but there were some tracks in the snow. The views are wonderful and were made even more beautiful by the 4-5 cm of snow. Fortunately the temperature was above freezing and the many, many wooden steps along the trails were reasonably safe. We saw much of the site in about two hours but the temperature dropped to freezing and the wind picked up so we left lest ice on the steps or narrow, steep and curvy approach road cause problems. As long as you are reasonably fit I suggest at least 4 hours of exploration and an entire day if you want to enjoy some off-the-main-trail hiking as well.

Fortunately a brand new and very nice hotel named Sagalassos Lodge and Spa opened this year. It is about 4 km away from the site and has beautiful views in every direction. It is the only place in the general area offering anything above the barest level of accommodation. The nearest town with much interest to any tourist, Eğirdir, is about 2 hours away and the nearest city of much interest to tourists is Antalya about 3 hours to the south. While definitely possible as a day trip from either place I just mentioned or as a somewhat out-of-the-way stop while touring, I very much recommend Sagalassos Lodge and Spa for a night or even nights if you just want a quiet and beautiful place to stay for a few days. While not "cheap" accommodation I found the price of the room and food very reasonable and an excellent value. A 2nd-rate motel in a location of no interest to tourists costs more in my "cheap" area of the U.S.A.--this hotel is in a beautiful location, has excellent food, indoor and outdoor pools, a hamam, exercise room, etc.

Just after check-in I looked at the weather forecast. It was now for 8-12 cm of snow to begin before dark. A few hours later (now fully dark) it changed again to only light snow. It began to rain--then snow.

We woke to about 3 cm of sticky wet snow and sunshine. The scenery was awesome but areas not receiving sun were very icy. I checked the weather forecast and different websites had different forecasts that varied greatly both for a given location and in the general region. I considered staying for another night but first called a friend living in Turkey who said, "Get out. Terrible weather is coming in from the north." I followed the advice and bought chains in the town below for use on the mountain pass between it and Burdur. The temperature was a few degrees above freezing and things were melting nicely but I knew that many areas of that mountain road would not have seen the sun. The chains were of a sort new to me and I stopped a fuel station for some help putting them on. Me, my traveling companion and a Turk working there all tried without success--the Turk said they must be the wrong size even though the label showed my tire size. I told him where we were going and he said there would be no problem without the chains. HAH! I didn't even make it 200 meters up the first, relatively gentle and straight incline!

I recalled seeing a modern divided highway near the town center so went back and saw the sign pointing to Burdur--about 20 km longer than the other way but the road was well-traveled and clear. Well traveled and clear until a mountain loomed ahead and the highway became a good and modern two-lane affair. Janderma had stopped traffic coming down to let traffic up. We were in the middle of the group of cars going up. Near the top it became especially icy but everyone was making it. Everyone that is except the ancient Renault ahead of me who kept going slower and slower. I was shouting in the car, "Don't stop! Don't stop!" He stopped and skidded across the lanes as he tried to get going again and was then hopelessly stuck. I stopped. Everyone behind me stopped. None could get going again. We all got out of our cars and along the the janderma were about to start pushing cars out when... comes a large transport truck chugging away up the road. He had hundreds of meters of view and could clearly see that 8-10 cars were stopped and all over the road. He kept coming and coming and coming trying to pass everyone on the left. We could see that there was not enough room as everyone instinctively moved to the other (cliff) side of the road. He barely clipped the driver mirror of the car behind me. Then he hit the rear of my car--then its driver mirror exploded--then his wheels spun out and he was stuck. Then we watched in horror as the truck began to slide backwards, hitting the driver front corner of my car and pushing it down as the front of the truck came nearer and nearer to the guard rail. Fortunately he stopped sliding before anything worse happened.

A couple hours, an accident report and visit to the office of the bottled water company who owned the truck later I was driven back up the now melted slope, they put a few cases of excellent bottled water in the back seat and we were on our way again.

I had taken a short-cut that saved at least 60 km the day before. It was along mainly excellent secondary road that was mainly flat as it passed by a number of lakes. There was only one small ridge of hills between me and the mountain pass just south of Denizli. Just after the accident area there was no snow to be seen. As we went down to Burdur there was more snow but the road was mainly clear. The shortcut was fine--for a while...

...the temperature dropped like a rock to a few degrees above freezing. There had been significantly more snow and it was a loose, dry snow. The wind became a gale from the north as we drove due west. It began to snow quite hard. Recent road construction found a new roadbed being prepared just north of the existing road. It was built up about a meter above the level of our road. Snow as high as the new roadbed was drifting nearly half way across our road. I had to slow greatly. The hilly ridge approached and things got somewhat better even if the road was completely snow covered with some deep icy rutting as the temp dropped below the useful temperature range of the salt that was applied earlier. Across the ridge the road was flat again but now the wind was even stronger and the snow much heavier.

We hit the E87 highway and headed north to Denizli. The wind was now coming directly towards us with near whiteout conditions. I saw an illuminated "OTEL" sign on the right but my brakes were nearly useless so I kept going until I found a crossover to the southbound lanes. I was skidding all over the highway but manged to make it to the hotel without incident. Nearly brand new, we were very lucky to find this hotel as there was nothing else in the area. The hotel nearly filled in the next few hours.

The weather forecast called for light snow showers the next day. Hah! It was a full blizzard all day long. The highway was closed due to a huge number of vehicles (mainly trucks) across and off the road.

We were finally able to leave about mid-morning the next day. With the help of some Turks we managed to get the tire chains installed. It was very difficult as they were indeed a bit too small for the tires. It took more than an hour to drive the 20 km or so to the edge of Denizli. The road had been plowed numerous times but it was still ice covered and treacherous. The janderma carefully checked every vehicle and any without chains were forced to turn back before approaching the pass from either side. Denizli had comparatively little snow and a few km on the other side found no snow whatsoever. I live in an area of the U.S. where localized, rapidly changing and nearly unpredictable weather is the norm but I have never encountered such wildly varying conditions over such a comparatively small area. Even minor changes in altitude found nearly opposite conditions resulting in temperature inversions and crazy variances in sun and precipitation. While the rapidly changing landscape of Turkey is one of my favorite things about the country this experience taught me that such comes at the expense of bizarre differences in weather conditions.

Having cancelled our flight from Bodrum to Istanbul I arranged to have the car picked up in Izmir and we took the first available flight from there to Istanbul. I had previously arranged for a dinner with a group whose only common friends was us and did not want to miss it as everyone had made special arrangements to get together.

I had asked one of our Turkish friends in Istanbul to make reservations at a restaurant that is currently "hot". I thought that it would be no problem in the week following New Year's--especially with about 10 days advance notice and a Turk making the reservations. To my surprise it was fully booked until late in February! We settled for a decent place with a great view in Eminönü. While somewhat of a "tourist restaurant" reservations were required and it was filled mainly with Turkish couples and groups. It would seem that the Turks take advantage of the diminished tourist crowds. We all got along wonderfully and our Turkish friends have made some new friends.

We did some sightseeing on the Asian side of Istanbul the next day and I was a bit surprised at the number of people (both foreign and Turkish) visiting them. While significantly slower than during our previous visits (mainly October and November) I discovered that the statement "Istanbul has no real tourist season" is true.

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David Morgan
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Re: My First Winter (January) Visit to Turkey

Post by David Morgan » Sun Jan 18, 2015 5:40 pm

Crazy Turkish truckers! At least you don't see burnt out shells of trucks by the side of the road any more.

Actually, I have immense respect for Turkish truckers. I find them sympathetic travellers. And I like their lokantas.

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