Spring Travels

The school year in most English preparatory departments is broken down into five modules. Each module is six weeks followed by a final exam. After the first module finished we had a week holiday for K urban Bayram, the feast of the sacrifice. That was the week that Graham was here and he and I went to Bursa, Uludağ and Iznik back in November. Since then, however, we haven’t had any time off. During exam week we don’t have to teach, just mark exams, so that’s a bit of a break. We also had a couple of snow days, but none of those really count as a holiday. There wasn’t even any time off over Christmas and New Year, as both days fell on Sundays. So after five months without a break, everyone was fairly demoralized and in need of a holiday. The fourth module finished up recently and thankfully before the fifth module began we had a one week break.

Once again it had been roughly two months since my previous escape out of the city, when I had gone to Edirne for a weekend. I think I start to go a bit stir crazy if I haven’t gotten out of the city in a month, so I was due for another getaway. Unfortunately, though, Thursday also marked the first day of blinding allergies. I went to bed Wednesday feeling fine but awoke unable to speak.
Thursday evening I took off with Dave, with whom I traveled to Konya, and we took the night bus to Izmir. I really hate night buses, but this meant we could start our trip a day early and not have to pay for an extra night in a hotel. We got in to Izmir around 9am and the first stop was to the pharmacy to procure things to minimize my suffering. Lozenges, anti-histamines and a fever reducer, I was set to go exploring whether I felt well or no!
We checked in to the cheapest hotel in the area, the Karadeniz hotel, 25 TL per night. Later that day we did some reading in the guide book and discovered that our area was Izmir’s dingy red light district. This explained why the room was so cheap and why everything there was really dirty and miserable.

After a nap to get at least an hour of proper sleep after the uncomfortable bus ride, we set out to explore Izmir. Izmir is Turkey’s fifth biggest city I believe, but we didn’t want to spend too much time there. We were on the stones and saints tour, and had more stops to make. Bigger fish to fry, more important saints to stone. After a walk along the bay we found our way to a few museums, the old Agora, and then walked up the hill to the fortress, erected by Alexander the Great (Izmir was Smyrna now it’s Smyrna not Izmir been a long time gone, Smyrna, why did Smyrna get the works? That’s nobody’s business but the Turks). This was the highlight of Izmir for me. There were women inside the fortress weaving carpets in an area with tourist trinkets and men (presumably their husbands?) off in another area drinking tea and smoking cigarettes. The view from the top was wonderful, the air was clean and the weather magnificent.

 Selling seeds down by the sea side

After an unpleasant evening in our unpleasant hotel we headed to the bus station, with Dave reflecting that he would never stay in a place like that again. But it wasn’t so bad, I didn’t think, I’ve stayed in worse! I didn’t have spider bites on my face like that time in the hostel in Istanbul in 2010, it was better than an asbestos filled abandoned building on the top of the hill in Tbilisi, and nobody came into our room in the middle of the night without shutting the door or asked me if I wanted to watch porn with him like that other time in Istanbul a few months ago, so it wasn’t too bad. Almost pleasant, even!

We boarded the bus and headed to Selcuk. I knew a good place to stay in Selcuk, as my dad had stayed there numerous times before. We found the Tuncay Pension and I flipped through the guest book to find two of my dad’s previous stays. I then spoke with Cuneyt, the owner, who shook my hand and laughed when I introduced myself. He told me a funny tale of my dad’s first stay there. Cuneyt was in the middle of a poker game or something and his brother said he had to get down to the bus station, there was this guy just kind of standing around without a place to stay, and it was around 11pm. (This version of the story is disputed, however.) I guess this sort of aimless traveling without much in the way of planning runs in the family.

What remains of the temple of Artemis

After dropping off our bags, Cuneyt found us a guy in a rug shop across the street who offered to drive us the few kilometers to Ephesus. We wondered if he would want us to buy a rug from him for the drive over, but when we explained our jobs and where we worked he just laughed and called us his poor traveling teachers. We wandered around the ruins for a while, realizing too late that two days in the sun without sunblock probably wasn’t doing our necks much good.

The theater in Ephesus

We arranged with Cuneyt that evening to go to Pamukkale the next day as part of a tour. This way we would turn it into a day trip and spend another night in Selcuk, thus saving funds on bus, lunch and the entrance fee to Pamukkale. Plus, we’d have a better bus route to our next destination, as Pamukkale is a bit out of the way from the other places we wanted to see. Traveling with a tour meant we’d get better information than the guidebook, but also meant we’d have to deal with people who go on tours.

Our tour mates were an American girl, two Chinese girls, an Italian couple, and a group of Pakistani boys. At one of the pit stops on the way, some of the girls were late coming back to the bus and I could understand enough Turkish to know the drivers were muttering to themselves how disrespectful their tour group was. Saygisiz!
Pamukkale was very nice. The town was built as a spa town due to the calcium shelves and rich calcium water. A lot of the restoration work has been done in the past few years, so the site will change rapidly. It was another hot, sunny day, but we were prepared this time with 50 proof sunblock. The damage had been done, however, and my poor noggin and neck were quite pink.

We were glad we did Pamukkale as a day trip, because the hotels, restaurants and shops looked like they were all tourist oriented, whereas Selcuk felt more like a town of itself.

The old Agora 

Supposed burial site of Philip the apostle
The next day we headed north to Bergama. Bergama is a cool little town, and the most “town-ish” of the old Aegean cities we went to, being less frequented by tourists. It’s a farming town, we realized, after walking through the market and seeing almost nothing but farm equipment. It was nice to see mostly regular people as well, rather than a lot of tourists everywhere. The two tourist attractions here are the Acropolis and the Asclepion, an old medical center. Everyone was welcome to come to the center to be treated. Except for pregnant or dying people. They weren’t allowed in.

Dogs and donkeys

Cats and dogs

Akropolis Guest House

I asked a random tour guide why most of the columns were Ionic except for the three Corinthian columns at the end, but he’d never noticed it before.

The next day was chilly, overcast, windy and rainy, which gave my neck much needed relief. My allergies finally cleared up and I felt like a normal person. It was disappointing the weather was so bad, because this was the day we had saved for going up to the Acropolis. Had we done this the day before, perhaps my hands wouldn’t have been frozen and the views might have been slightly better. Had it been a better day we also could have inspected the guide book a bit more closely and explored the hill more, but since it was so cold we rushed through it.
I had been looking forward to seeing the Acropolis because I had already seen part of it. Back in 2009 when I was in Prague, I had to go to Berlin to apply for my residency visa. I made a weekend trip out of my visa application and went museuming. I was excited to see the Pergamon museum, as the last time I’d been in Berlin I hadn’t known about it, but after having had courses on the Ancient Near East I was giddy about the chance to see the Ishtar gate. The first room in the Pergamon museum is a reconstruction of the Temple of Zeus from Pergamon (why did Pergamon get the works? That’s nobody’s business but the Turks…) The museum in Berlin has all of the original friezes from Bergama, depicting the gods and the humans battling, and have arranged it as the temple had been laid out. I was now excited to go see the original Bergama. It’s a little bit bare, though, what with the Germans taking everything back to Berlin! In my first trip to Berlin I didn’t know anything about the Pergamon museum. Then I took courses on the Ancient Near East and kicked myself for not going to see the Ishtar Gate when I had been in Berlin. Fool! When would I get the chance to go back?But when I did get the chance to go, I didn’t know too much about Pergamon, so I didn’t pay too much attention to the Pergamon section of the museum, and now having been to Pergamon, I’m kicking myself for not having paid more attention and gotten more pictures. Fool! Now I need to go back to Berlin!

After a blustery hour or so on the hill we wandered our way back down the hill and walked around Bergama for the rest of the day. We had thought about trying to go to Assos and Troy, but there weren’t any good bus routes that wouldn’t send us backtracking, so we decided not to do it, thus making this our last day before heading back. We finished off our trip with a viewing of Jason and the Argonauts in the guest house that evening.
The next day we boarded the bus back to Istanbul. There are a few bus rides that I’ve been on that have completely blown me away, when my jaw was just on the floor of the bus the whole journey as gazed out the window. One is the bus route from Sarajevo to Mostar, winding through cliffs and mountains along the Neretva river. Another one was my bus ride into Kotor, Montenegro from Dubrovnik. Sadly, the weather was rainy and gray that day, but my god! The mountains along the Bay of Kotor are incredible, and I would love to go back with a bike and cruise through Montenegro for a week.
I would say the bus journey from Bergama to Canakkale ranks up there too. From the small farming town of Bergama, with rolling green hills and narrow farm roads, the bus eventually wound its way north up the Aegean Sea coast. The bad weather had come and gone, Tuesday having been the only bad day. The sun was shining and the sky a deep blue, and the Aegean was spectacular. Since quitting cycling a few years ago I miss riding my bike every once in a while, and on this bus journey I would have loved to have had my bike. Scrap the 11 hour bus ride back to Istanbul, we had a few days, I could ride a bike back! There were a few steep hills the bus had to climb, with a few switchbacks, which enabled for a wonderful view of the Sea and the surrounding fields. Oh, to have been pedaling on that road would have been marvelous. Unfortunately, my bag and camera were below and I was unable to get a photo.

All things must pass, and the holiday was soon over. A few more weeks until this module is over, then we’re off for the summer. More adventuring, stumbling, wandering and scribbling await!

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