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Saint Nicholas traveled, but not to the North Pole. In his youth, he journeyed
to Palestine (Israel) and Egypt, prerequisite stops in those days for future
saints. But his legend begins in Myra (also known as Kale or Demre) east of
Patara. A boat ride in Saint Nick’s time, today Myra is a three hour bus
journey over Turkish mountains from Patara. (Bus fare 50,000 lira -- last bus
back at 20:30.)
On the shorter bus routes, like on the Santa Claus trail,
you usually travel on a "dolumus"-- a minibus. "Dolumus" means "packed" and
often, especially in the morning and evening when locals are traveling
to and from work, dolumus
is a well-choosen adjective. You may have the pleasure of
experiencing the locals with all five senses.
Home base: Kas
The inviting, but somewhat touristy city of Kas lies about an hour east of Myra,
and makes a good base camp as lodgings are sparse in Myra.
An attractive fishing port, Kas is chock full of
inexpensive but comfortable lodging. Recep Bilgin Caddesi (a street) is
full of nice pensions. Prices
around US $14. Some lodging advice, which is valid throughout
Turkey and, in fact, any Muslem country: do not stay in a pension next
or close to a mosque unless you like to rise early to loudspeakered Muslem
prayers. (And listen to them all day, if you're in your room.)
Kas is also
a good place to buy a Turkish carpet, if you so desire.
Magic Orient, where we bought ours. Located on the waterfront, Magic Carpet
has a reputation for honesty, amazing for a Turkish carpet seller.
Visa/Mastercard accepted. (Carpet tip 1.
If your itinerary takes you into
Central Turkey, carpets are much less expensive there. 2. Buy your carpet at
the end of your Walkabout -- they're heavy.)
Kastellorizo (Meis in Turkish)
lies a short distance to sea
and makes an interesting day trip.
Despite the fact it is far from Greece and
just off the Turkish coast, the island is officially part of Greece.
Not surprisingly, Turkey disputes ownership. Kastellorizo is
where that wonderful Italian film Mediterraneo was filmed.
Saint Nicholas lived his adult life in Myra, becoming the bishop of
the city. More than just the patron saint of children and travelers,
he is also the protector of prisoners. (Thus if you are a teenager arrested
while visiting Turkey, you'd better pray to St. Nick.) The origin of
Saint Nicholas’s involvement with children and gift-giving is believed to
have arisen from a legend in which a shopkeeper was too poor to supply his
daughters with dowries. When Saint Nicholas heard of their plight, he threw
three bags of coins into the shopkeeper’s yard, saving the daughters from
The Church of Saint Nicholas is in Myra, built after his death.
remains were placed in a rock sarcophagus. The church is a quick walk from the bus
station. The way is marked (look for “Aya Nicola” signs) but if you get
lost just say “Noel Baba” to any local and they’ll point the way. The entry
fee is 50,000 Turkish Lira. Outside the church, set in a quiet, plant encased
garden, is a modern statue of Saint Nicholas,
complete with beard,
bag of toys, and children. It’s the Turkish Santa Claus, however, thin
and dressed in a robe.
Myra contains other
impressive ruins, a mile north of Saint Nicholas’s church.
Lycian tombs are carved, stories high, from the hillside above a Roman
amphitheater. They are an impressive sight and should not be missed.
An easy walk, unless the temperature approaches the surface of Venus,
which it sometimes does on the Turkish Coast. Taxis are about $2 from the
Last stop on the Santa Claus Trail:
Jolly Saint Nick's Bones (Really!)