The road to Istanbul

The road to Istanbul

After three days of buses and sightseeing all we really wanted to do was hang out on a beach for a day. But through some missteps in arranging hotel accommodations (we booked a night in a town with the same name but hundreds of miles away) and following our Lonely Planet guide instead of our instincts, we ended up in a work-a-day seaside town called Avylik (pron. EYE-va-LEEK) where there was no close beach and not a whole lot to do.

Ayvalik

Ayvalik

We ran opposite ends of the spectrum on foods while there. The town is known for their “Tost”, actually a sandwich with toasted bread. We found a little place on a narrow alley in the old part of town called Tost Evi (translation: House of Tost) and had two packed toasted sandwiches (mine was salami, Cindy’s was chicken) a soda and a mineral water for less than $4! That evening, we ate in a touristy restaurant on the water and had a tasty, though modestly portioned meal including a shared stuffed mussels appetizer, a glass of wine and two orders of fried calamari for a whopping $45. (Yes, it’s cheap by US standards, but this is Turkey!)

I don’t know exactly why but I really enjoy getting haircuts when I travel. Perhaps it’s part of the adventure of seeing how things turn out. I got an awesome haircut for less than $8.

For the first time, as we tried to get bus tickets out of Avaylik , we heard the Turks version of “You can’t get there from here”. We were non-plussed being faced with the logistical problem of getting to Canakkale where we planned to tour Gallipoli. We stopped into 4 or 5 bus company offices until we finally got to one that did offer the service, though, at an extremely high price of 30 TL (about $16) each for a 3 hour ride. (For comparison, a 4 hour bus ride from Fethiye to Pamukkale costs 15TL, or $7.75).

The next day the bus road past several seaside towns north of the Bay of Edremit where there were tons of hotels on the water and people frolicking in the deep blue Aegean Sea. Yeah, that was what we wanted, but we were passing them by as we were moving on with reservations ahead.

On the road to Canakkale

On the road to Canakkale

Canakkale and the Gallipoli penisula are on opposite sides of the Dardanelles, a straight which straddles the Europe and Asian continents and serves as gateway to Istanbul. The battle of Gallipoli holds significant importance to people from Australia and New Zealand and as is often viewed as the beginning of their national consciousness’. They were called ANZACs, an acronym for The Australia-New Zealand Army Corps. The campaign is known to the Turks as the Battle of Canakkale.

Trench warfare at Gallipoli, 1915.

Trench warfare at Gallipoli, 1915.

Bucolic pastures on the south side of the peninsula of Gallipoli gave way to high pine mountain forests that sit over the coast. It’s ironic that such a beautiful place could have hosted such violent and deadly action.

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My First Hamam (or Turkish Bath)

When Bill suggested trying a Hamam, I quickly agreed. I’m all for trying something new that doesn’t require being on my feet! I was, though, a bit apprehensive about going to a place alone, knowing English wasn’t spoken, so we invited Sue and Dave, the couple we met two weeks ago in Cappadoccia.

We arrive at the Hamam where the guys go one way and Sue and I go the other. A young lady escorts us to a changing room and indicates that we should change into our bathing suits (luckily, I asked our hotel what I should bring before we left, so I was prepared — or so I thought!) Now, as I said, I’ve only known Sue for two weeks, but they put us in the same dressing room so we had no choice but to get undressed together.

After changing, we were led to the sauna (pronounced in broken English as “sue awna”) where we sit for about 15 hot minutes. This being our first experience in a Hamam, we wait for someone to come and get us, but no one comes. Finally, we decide to get up and leave the room. I figured out later that the whole Hamam experience is done on your own time. We could have spent the entire evening in the sauna if we wanted.

A scantily clad (as in bra and panties) young lady was waiting for us. She takes one look at me, points to the top of my tankini and says, “Off”. I look around and see similarly dressed young ladies “working their women” on a marble slate. So, off comes my top and I lay on my stomach. The next thing I feel is a few drops of water on my feet and then, whoosh!, warm water being poured all over my body. Then comes the soap which has a tingling sensation. The soap starts foaming and I open my eyes (big mistake — soap in eyes!) Out comes the loofah. Scrubbing here, scrubbing there. She gives me a wedgie and scrubs my butt! Authoritatively, she says “Over”. So I flip over. Scrubs some more, not missing a spot! Then she has me sit up, raises my arms, and uses the loofah from the tips of my fingers to my waist while I’m trying not to laugh because I’m ticklish.

Next she brings me to another part of the room with warm water flowing into a basin and uses a small bowl to start rinsing me off, pouring water over my head, down my back, under my arms, in between my legs, just about everywhere. She grabs some shampoo and massages my scalp and rinses me again. Then she sends me back to the first spot and after applying more soap, starts giving me a full body massage. She knows what she’s doing, kneading me in all the right places.

Lastly, she leads me to a pool, and in very broken English, she points and says “pool, sauna, shower.” She leaves me there to go and work on her next customer and I start entering the pool. After being pampered with the warm water treatment, the water feels quite chilly and the room is dark so I can’t see the bottom. I’m walking down the ladder, hoping that I can touch the bottom. Luckily, I just make it. I’m in up to my neck and on my tippy toes.

By this time, I’ve lost complete track of time. We’re supposed to meet the guys in 1 1/2 hours, but since neither Sue nor I have a watch on, we don’t know how long we’ve been there.

So after the pool, sauna and shower, we meet up with the guys, served some tea and brought back to our hotel. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and would do it again.

I did, however, come away with something more than just being squeaky clean. Firstly, I like being in a place for women only. I found it rather comforting. Secondly, I saw almost-naked bodies and thought that we come in all shapes and sizes and we’re all beautiful. I look no different than any other woman my age and should feel good about myself. And I do!

Pictures courtesy of Google. I did not have my camera nor were there any men!

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Ephesus, Izmir, Bergama (Pergamon)

Ephesus, Izmir, Bergama (Pergamon)

Every bus has a bursar/steward who collects money from passengers that haven’t paid yet, assists with the luggage and also brings around water (or cola/orange soda drinks) and sometimes snacks, as well. These guys give more service and work harder than your average American airline flight attendent! We caught the bus to Ephesus from Pamukkale the next morning and shared the very back row with the two lovely women from Montreal we’d met on the dolmus the day before and a young local guy. They must have been the last seats sold because those don’t recline. Adding to the lack of comfort was a lack of sufficient air conditioning. The bursar was bringing around lots of drinks and snacks but it was still hard to make up for the sweaty conditions. Fortunately, this was the exception and the only time we rode like that.

Ephesus was once the 2nd city of the Roman Empire and its base in Asia Minor. Ephesus’ earliest inhabitants date back to the 7th millennium BCE and it has traded hands by various conquerors including Alexander the Great, the Persians, the Hittites, the Lydians, and the Romans. Interestingly, there was a significant Jewish population, too.

Menorah inscribed on the steps of the library

Menorah inscribed on the steps of the library

Ephesus draws large numbers of tourists due to its sprawling reconstructed ruins and surrounding religious sites visited by (St.) Paul and (the virgin) Mary who was reputed to have settled there. As our primary interests are historical and cultural we rarely, if ever, visit sites of religious significance.

You can imagine how some adolescents were posing at the Roman latrines.

Seats of marble

Seats of marble! Fancy schmancy but ooh that’s cold

I suppose the Roman toga provided some privacy.

The Ephesus amphitheater could hold about 25,000 people--the largest in Anatolia.

The Ephesus amphitheater could hold about 25,000 people; the largest in Anatolia.

I can’t quite remember when I realized there was a train station in Selcuk (the town where Ephesus is located) and that the train was a viable alternative to taking the bus. When I researched the options, the train not only turned out to be cheaper by almost 50%, but the terminus was right near the hotel we were staying at in Izmir. Trains are always more comfortable than buses so it was a slam-dunk. And a fun ride, to boot!

On the train to Izmir

On the train to Izmir

Izmir (formerly Smyrna) is the third largest city in Turkey and has a reputation for being very vibrant and independent-minded. I’d gotten used to not having to check restaurant bills so carefully and feeling more relaxed about not getting what we call “the tourist shuffle”, but big city rules needed to be applied once again. The cabbie who tried to add a few extra lira to our fare (mentioned in Cindy’s last post) drove us to Kadifekale castle through heaps of chaotic traffic while trying to read an English/Turkish expression guide. The summit was a bit disappointing as the houses blocked a bit of the view and the summit was littered with garbage. However, we did spy a Mount Rushmore-style head of Ataturk carved into a mountain below. Fittingly, there was a new highway under construction right next to it. Turkey is on the move with all kinds of public works projects, civic improvements and signs of growth wherever we went.

Ataturk was truly a remarkable leader

Ataturk was truly a remarkable leader

View of Izmir from Kadifekale

View of Izmir from Kadifekale

We made our way down through the steep, narrow streets of the hill of the same-named Kadifekale slum deciding to take a cab when Cindy’s knee started acting up. We thought it might take some effort to find one but immediately flagged one down who, after driving about 100 feet, told us we’d need to find another cab–or something like that–essentially telling us to get out. Upon exiting the cab, there was a city bus that was stopped at its terminus and starting it’s turn around. The driver beckoned us over for a ride down and when we explained we didn’t have change he motioned “no problem” and gave us a free ride. Wow! Cindy and I wondered if this could ever happen in Boston or NYC. I had just purchased a new backpack that morning and as we left the bus I gave the old one, still in great condition, to the driver. He balked, perhaps a bit embarrassed, but I insisted he take it. This interaction typified the genuine warmth and helpfulness we’ve felt from the Turkish people

Historic Ottoman-style clock tower

Historic Ottoman-style clock tower

We spent two nights in Izmir but were unsuccessful in catching any shows from the Annual International Arts festival. The timing just didn’t work out and we took a taxi to the Otogar (bus terminal) where we got a bus to Bergama.

Bergama was delightful. Perhaps there were no more than 20 other tourists there at the same time as us. It contained a couple of historic sites that were on opposite sides of the town sprawling in either direction. Far less visited than Ephesus, it made exploration much more enjoyable. The first was the acropolis at the north end of town. It sat high on a mountain top and was an extensive and vast site in its own right.

Bergama acropolis

Bergama acropolis

Treasury hall at Bergama

Treasury hall at Bergama

West of Bergama town was Asklepion, center of medicine and healing. No dead or dying need apply because it might tick off the gods!

Stoa at Askceplion; Pergamum in the background

Stoa at Asklepion; Pergamun in the background