Friends: As I approached the small coastal city Demre, I passed a billboard with Santa Claus holdıng a platter of food advertising a restaurant up ahead. The unlikely figure of jolly ol' St. Nic also appeared on a few businesses in town. They had nothing to do with the approach of Christmas, but rather were just acknowledging Demre as the origin of Santa Claus.
Legend has it that a local Catholic bishop back in the 300s, who was later beatified as St. Nicolas, began the tradition of anonymously leaving gifts in people's homes. It was largely for young impoverished women who didn't have enough money for a dowry preventing them from getting married.
His remains are interred in his ancient church. It has become such a tourist attraction that there is a ten lira entry fee. It is presently being restored and is bedecked with scaffolding. Signs to the church read "Noel Baba." A recent sculpture of him stands in front of the church along with another a block away, both with children clinging to his legs.
Less than fifty miles away, the ancient town of Olympos takes credit for starting the Olympics. Overlooking Olympos is one thousand foot high Mount Olympos, a miniature version of the Greek Mount Olympos, the highest mountain in Greece. The Turkey Mount Olympos has patches of flames burning out of its side. They are attributed to a fıre breathing monster Chimera said to reside inside the mountain. Chimera fought a monumental battle with Bellerophon, mounted on hıs winged horse Pegasus, as recounted by Homer.
Well before the Turks' great rivals the Greeks came up with theır Olympics, the Turks ran a race from their Mount Olympos with runners holding torches lit from the eternal flames of Mount Olympos, thus giving birth to the Olympic torch.
Turkey is truly rich with history, also being the site where Noah's Ark came to rest, where Alexander cut the Gordion Knot, where Caesar made his legendary remark "I came, I saw, I conquered," where King Midas was given his golden touch, the Trojan Horse was enlisted, where the term "mausoleum" originated from the tomb of a King Mausalus in Bodrum, one of two sites in Turkey that rank among the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. An early king was Tantalus, whose name gave us the word "tantalise." The Seven Churches of the Apocalypse mentioned in Revelations were all in Turkey. It goes on and on. I won't be surprised to learn that Turkey also put the first man on the moon.
I am happy that I chose to continue riding Turkey's coast when I reached Antalya, rather than heading inland more directly to Istanbul. One of the factors was the forecast of snow for the interior. It was front page news in the English newspaper I picked up, though the dominant news by far was the Wikileaks hoopla.
It seemed as if every other story in the paper was related to the leaks. The Turks are proud that the greatest portion of the cable leaks so far released relate to Turkey, emphasizing their worldly importance. Every op ed column scoffed at the petty gossipyness of the diplomatic cables, diminishing their respect for America.
There were no real surprises in their content, though the president was forced to denounce old accusations of having a bunch of Swiss bank accounts. One columnist though did thank America for discouraging some generals from mounting a coup. The majority of the cables go back to the Bush era, and the Turks know things are different with Obama. They are pleased that Obama made Turkey his first international visit in April 2009 after he became president.
I feared Antalya would be my last chance to find the "Turkish Daily News" for a week or more, so I made a concerted effort to get one last copy, as I had found it so informative. I went directly to the two hundred dollar a night Sheraton Hotel, the best hotel in town, but it had no English newspapers. I was lucky enough thought to find another of the English papers, "Today's Zaman," along a beach where there were a bunch of luxury hotels.
It was a clone of the "Daily News," a large foldout with no advertising. It too only had one page devoted to sports, with one story on the NBA and the rest mostly on soccer. It devoted several pages to business news celebrating Turkey's booming economy. It too quoted economists expressing worry about all the "hot money" from investors pouring into the country.
A Portuguese company recently bought the operational rights to one of the two toll bridges across the Bosporus Straits to Istanbul. That has people concerned that it may be too profıt-oriented and raise the tolls. Otherwise it didn't name any specific investors, not even hinting that any of the heavyweights such as Soros or Buffet or Towle, are investing in Turkey.
A story by an expat who had lived in Turkey for 25 years recounted the many changes he has seen. He summed it up as, "Less wild dogs in the streets and less poisoning of same. Less smoking. More crime. Far more cars and far fewer horses and donkeys. People around the tourist industry have become a little greedy, less honest and less pleasant."
I was able to bequeath several of the papers I had completed reading on a retired English couple I met at Mount Olympos who were hiking a long coastal trail. I was the first person they had met who spoke more than two words of English other than a Spanish hiker in two weeks. They'd also done a fair amount of bicycle touring--two months in Iceland, a year around Europe and elsewhere. We chatted for more than an hour, all happy to be able to speak our native tongue and unburden ourselves of some of the travails of Turkey.
The ancient ruins of Olympos is a favorite haunt of the backpacker set. A gorgeous beach on an isolated bay lays between the ruins and Mount Olympos. I had to push my bike through the sand to get from one to the other. It was a five-mile, 1,200-foot descent from the coast highway down to the ruins and the beach. A cluster of backpacker hotels featuring huts and tree houses are part of the attraction.
With it the off-season, there were only four others on the beach as I slogged through with my bike. One was a young American with a green bandanna wrapped around hıs forehead. He'd been on the road for seven months and was flying to India from Istanbul in two days. He was all aglow, possibly assisted by the herb that also attracts the backpackers to the scene.
It was a killer of a climb from Olympos back up to the main highway, two thousand feet in seven miles. It may be the last of the big climbs along the coast. It has been relatively flat since, includıng a fifteen mile delightfully winding stretch mostly at sea level that clung to a clıff side from Finike to Demre. I have the dilemma whether to take my time or ride a bit hard to get to İstanbul before the cold sets ın. The temperatures along the coast remain balmy enough for short sleeves once the sun is more than several degrees up above the sea--great cycling.