At first it looked as if the skies might clear, but as we stumbled down the cobbled streets toward the dock, a steady rain enveloped us. When a taxi appeared, Gerard couldn’t resist and we haled it down. It was a short ride to the ferry but we didn’t pay a short price…our naivety must have been obvious. Not an auspicious beginning to the day. Then arriving at the ferry we found out our boat to Bandirma was cancelled; but there was another two hours later to Yulova. No problem we could take a bus from there to Izmir. Stepping off the ferry in Yuolva, a cold wind almost knocked us off our feet. There was a shuttle service I wanted to take but impatient and cold and in spite of our earlier experience, Gerard said, “No, we’re taking a taxi.” As we pulled into the bus station a solitary bus was about to leave. “Izmir?” I shouted. The conductor nodded and grabbing Gerard’s hand led him into the station to buy tickets. With engine revving, the bus waited for us to board; we had no idea how long the trip was. The bus was surprisingly comfortable and served complementary snacks, not once, but twice! When it stopped raining and fog cleared…momentarily, the landscape looked Mediterranean with orchards of orange trees laden with ripe fruit, clusters of silver-leafed olive groves and straight lines of stately cypress trees.
Seven hours later, we arrived in Izmir – the dark skies had cleared and a crescent moon shone through. But we’d misplaced our guidebook and, as any budget traveler knows, without a guidebook you’re lost – especially if you can’t speak the language. In the bus station, I approached a young man staring at his smart phone who, with a smile but no English, was more than willing to help. He led us to a line of shuttle buses that provided free transportation the six miles into the city. Where are you going? We kept saying city center. All we knew was that our hotel was near the Bazaar – but the Bazaar didn’t seem to register with anyone. Finally, there was a general consensus and we boarded the mini bus for that destination. At the first stop where there appeared to be many hotels, we got off and again approached a likely candidate to help us find our way to the Guzel Hotel. First his advice was to take a taxi, but the cab driver said, “No, the Guzel’s just around the corner” and pointed. (Just to put it into perspective Izmir is the second largest city in Turkey.). After a rough start, it was an amazing finish – and… when we got to the hotel, we found the guidebook.
Izmir, the ancient city of Smyrna, was almost destroyed during the War of Independence in 1922. Rebuilt, it is not terribly interesting with the exception of a few old areas. But more importantly the weather had drastically changed – not exactly balmy but no rain. It felt great to walk in bright sunshine on the promenade beside the Mediterranean. Each day, we picked a different section of town.
The Bazaar is a smaller and calmer version of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul but no less colorful. It was Friday and at the small mosque in the center the faithful were spilling out into the lanes on prayer mats. So many men praying, but where were the women? Are they any less pious, or are they hidden away from prying eyes? There are plenty of women about, their heads swathed in scarves, but they’re not in the cafés or mosques.
Generally speaking, Gerard’s country of origin is not greatly appreciated – in fact we read that 70% of Turks are suspicious of Americans and their motives in the Middle East. I can’t understand how that could be… When asked where we’re from, there’s not a lot of enthusiasm; nevertheless everyone so far has been very friendly. It’s surprising how well you can manage, speaking no Turkish. So far, there’s always been someone around who speaks at least a few words of English and wants to help. Surprising considering how many tourists pass through here during the season – and this is NOT the season.
I’m also amazed at how clean Turkey is – no offense to India, even by American standards – whether in city streets, public toilets, or hotel rooms. In Izmir small trashcans are fixed unobtrusively to every lampost, some even have an attached ashtray for cigarette butts. And there’s a special plastic container for recyclable bottle tops. But where are all the discarded bottles?? The city buses are new and shiny clean, likewise bus and train stations – and new highways freshly paved. Perhaps the economy is so good they’ve been able to replace everything. Is this representative of the whole of Turkey or just the areas we’ve traveled so far?
The reason for going to the small town of Selcuk was to see nearby Ephesus. Though now nearly empty, Selcuk enjoys abundant tourism and the affluence it brings. We stumbled upon an intimate restaurant that could have been the owner’s living room and where his wife cooked Turkish food each day, with enough veg dishes. Abandoning our online booked hotel, damp and smelling of mold, we negotiate a room at Boomerang owned by an enterprising Turk who emigrated to Australia twenty years ago and recently returned with his Chinese wife and two young kids. A line of Turkish and Australian flags interspersed with Chinese lanterns decorate the front of the guesthouse.
150 year of excavation have made Ephesus, once the capital of Roman Asia Minor, the most complete classical metropolis in Europe – and 82% of the city is still to be unearthed. A private company recently bought the business rights for Ephesus fr om the government. The place is turning a healthy profit and it’s hoped that some of it will find its way into better services. I’m not big on ruins but there was enough here to hold even my interest – the front of an elaborate two story library, a huge stadium that would accommodate thousands and so on. Not as well preserved as Pompeii, but there are wonderful stone carvings and statues, a mosaic walkway and a museum of frescoes. It was a peaceful scene without the throng of tourists during mid season. All in all a pleasant day out in the countryside.
The following day we took a minibus out of town to Sirince – a pretty hillside village that was settled by the Greeks, but after “relocation” in 1923 the Turks moved in. Hiking around its outskirts we came across some wonderful old houses and outlooks, but the center was totally taken over by the tourist trade. The trail of gift shops held little interest for us, with the exception of one – a family jeweler that proudly announced it was chosen to provide the decorative costumes for Brad Pitt in the movie Troy. The high quality designs of the handmade jewelry were eye-catching. “50% discount – you will be my first customer of the day!” I knew I’d regret it later but I just couldn’t bring myself to part with my Turkish lira.
So far we’ve not met a lot of interesting tourists in Turkey, but at our restaurant in Selcuk that afternoon two unusual men from Ohio and around our age were delighted to strike up a conversation with us. And of course Gerard was only too happy to accommodate. Twin brothers, called Robert and…not Richard, but David, were far from identical in either look or personality. Sculptors in business together they had been hired to create a statue in the middle of town. One knew the area well and had spent the morning driving his brother around who was here for the first time. They were both high on excitement from visiting the lonely tomb of supposedly Alexander the Great’s leading general that very few people know of. They also told us about the Virgin Mary’s House outside of town. Legend has it that Saint John brought Mary to Ephesus at the end of her life. In 19C a French priest claimed he’d found her house on the basis of visions of a mystic German nun. Today a chapel has been built on top of the foundation that he discovered. The brothers’ stories made us envious – it would be well worth renting a car to be able to tour the surrounding countryside. But tomorrow morning we’re heading south by bus to Antalya.