We left Goreme on another overnight bus but this time, hoping for an uneventful 10 hour journey to Antakya. We were planning to stay there for a day before tackling the border crossing. So much for uneventful - we nearly ended up who knows where.
Scored some great seats towards the front of the bus (Grif loaded the bags while I beat the hoardes onboard). We knew we had to switch buses at Aksaray at 10.30pm. About 10pm we pulled into one of the restaurant/gas stations where the buses regularly stop to give the driver a break. Nobody got off, though a family did get on who ousted us from our great seats. Novices, we'd not noticed that all the seats were numbered and ours were actually in the back.
Eventually the bus pulled out and headed down the dark highway toward Aksaray. Or so we thought. The conductor was making his way through the bus taking details of the newcomers when, looking at us, consternation crossed his face. Next thing brakes were applied and we were dumped, with our bags, on the side of the road, with much hand gesturing back towards where we could see another bus pulling out.
Have you ever tried to run with a large unbalanced backpack weighing you down? Try doing it over an unlit, unpaved road (yet another one being resurfaced) with crazy drivers swerving around you, knowing that if you don't make that bus you could be stranded for days (ok, worst case scenario playing out in my head).
Anyway, we made it just as the bus was about to exit the carpark and waved it down, only to find it wasn't the one we needed. That was due to arrive in 15 minutes. Huffing and puffing we continued into the restaurant to the amused gaze of about 10 waiters and various other people who seemed to have nothing else to do at that time of night other than watch our shenanagins.
Our bus did eventually arrive and we took our assigned seats in the back where we slept fitfully until we finally arrived in Antakya and checked into a hotel for a much needed rest.
We liked Antakya, even though we were only here a short time. Not being a major tourist destination (we didn't see another foreigner in all the time we were there) there weren't any touts trying to get you into their hotels or restaurants or carpet stores. Actually, we didn't see a single carpet store either. It was really nice to get a different view of the country and it made us wish we had seen more of eastern Turkey rather than touring the more developed west coast.
There's not a lot to bring the average tourist to Antakya. Number one on the sightseeing trail is the Church of St. Peter. As it was Sunday, and we couldn't find a Catholic church, we decided to head there.
Looking for directions, people we asked on the street, at the hotel, and the place we had lunch (Han - amazing, you should see our leftovers) alternately told us it was a ten minute walk or a ten minute drive. It was very hot by now, so we decided to get the bus. Per our guide book, the number 2 bus went that way. We walked along the main street until we saw a bus stop. There was a bus there, so we stuck our head in, asked "Saint Pierre?", and were signalled to get on.
Only four other passengers besides ourselves and the bus driver and had a brief chat with them before we headed off. No more than five minutes later, the bus stopped in the middle of the road, the door opened, and all five people on board pointed up the hill. We got the message - it was up that way! The driver refused payment, we hopped off delighted with ourselves, the bus did a u-turn, and headed back the way it had come. It was then we saw the number - it was the number 6 bus. The driver and passengers had gone out of their way to take us where we wanted to go. How cool was that!!!
CHURCH OF ST. PETER
A small road led to the path up the hillside and the cave church. A guide there told us that a small drip of water near the rear is still collected and is used for baptisms of local children even today. Also, this water is supposed to have healing powers (although after liberal application, our shoulders still hurt from running with the bags last night). Near the back was a small tunnel which the early Christians used to escape into the hillside if soldiers ever came. Grif had fun with a couple of local kids exploring some of the many tunnels.
Antakya was the biblical Antioch, and it was here that Peter first preached. The church he "built" was just a cave in the hillside until the Crusaders decided to add the front facade. Christianity is regarded as having originated here and this cave as the first ever church built by man.
Up the hill from the church is a relief carving in the mountain which people say is the veiled face of the Virgin Mary with a smaller full-size Jesus by her side - others say it is a pagan carving of Hierapolis with our son Charon. You can decide for yourself.
Walking back to the center of town we saw a dolmus headed to Harbiye and decided to hop on. Never mind that we weren't sure where Harbiye was or why we were going there. Grif had read something about it which made him want to visit but couldn't remember what it was.
It turned out to be a suburb of Antakya wıth some spectacular waterfalls in a deep green gorge. Lots of families were enjoying picnics or dining in the various restaurants while trying to keep cool. This was the first time we saw Arabic as well as Turkish signs, and even a few Syrian license plates. (We found out when we got back that Harbiye is the place where Apollo fell in love with Daphne and tried to have her, but Mother Earth, in order to save Daphne, turned her into an tree).
Back again to Antakya to try and make it to the Mosaic museum before it closed at 6pm. It's known for the richest collections of Roman mosaics in the world. Too bad we didn't make it in time. Knowing we were running late we decided to get a taxi. Showed him the map, the address. No problem!
After our Istanbul experience, we know that when a Turkish taxi driver says "No problem", it's now obvious that it's anything but. A ride which should have taken 5 minutes lasted for 10 before he finally deposited us outside the Greek Orthodox church. Were they surprised to see us emerge outside their door!!! A few words with the driver and we took off again. We did eventually fınd the museum but it had closed at 5. That's the last time we trust a guidebook (deja vu?). Happily we were able to console ourselves with some excellent Dondurma (Turkish Icecream).
Our one piece of work for the day was going to the Otogar to check schedules and fares to Aleppo. Most quoted 5 lira, though one dubious character promised he could get us the student fare of 4 lira (definitely left his glasses at home today). Either way, it was way lower than the 20 lira we were quoted if we bought the ticket back in Goreme. Love that feeling.
So tomorrow we'll go to Aleppo. Only 30 minutes to the border, 30 minutes from there to Aleppo, and roughly 2 hours getting the passports checked. Hope they stand up to the scrutiny.