A richly historical land with some of the best cuisine you will ever taste, one of the world’s greatest cities and scenery from white-sand beaches to soaring mountains, this is Asian Turkey. And as there are so many things to see and do, we’re staying a bit longer than usual.
As we moved into Asian Turkey, we tried to go through some of the highlights from my previous visit as well as explore some new ones. With plenty of time on our hands we took it easy. Our first stop was Troy, the archeological site that is located close to Canakkale, in the mouth of the Dardanelles Strait. A history lesson for Rochelle in the Trojan War and the Greek mythology (Yes, Cleo, you should be very proud of your brother’s knowledge in history). Nowadays at the hill Hisarlik, a small village pops up and supports the tourists visiting the archaeological site. That was our base to explore the ruins which in my opinion don’t have much to offer. After a long day at the ruins and an overnight camping in a nearby pension, we were good to go.
Next was Ayvalik, a beautiful seaside town with an attractive, work-a-day port, by far a free-tourist hustle place with palm-tree-lined waterfront and smattering fish restaurants, much like elsewhere on the Aegean. If you happen to come this way, do not miss out from wandering a few streets back. Here you will find an old Greek village in spirited abandon, a witness of a greater past. The broken chimney in the town centre belonged to a now-abandoned olive-oil factory; we were told that there are ongoing plans to turn it into a museum. Today the city holds almost all of the Aegean olive-oil production and all activities are centered on Ayvalik. We spent a couple of lazy days of sun and sea on the Ada Camping, in the national park of the Alibey Island. Although an island, Alibey is connected to the peninsula with a causeway so Voukefalas had no problem getting us there.
Cesme was the name of our next destination. With its long horse shoe-shaped seafront, a hilltop castle overlooking a windswept bay and busy market streets, Cesme made up as a pleasant overnight stay. With no camping grounds, that overnight stay took place in the car park outside the docks, base for departures to the Greek island of Chios, 8km across the water. Although it may sound an extreme and uncomfortable night to you, it was a memorable experience especially when we set up our dinner table facing the lovely harbor and enjoyed a bottle of good local wine. The staff of the car park was really friendly and helped us by providing electric power for our little fridge in order to preserving our supplies. Rochelle says it was a really pleasant highlight. You can’t get better real estate.
Moving away from that unexpected experience we headed to Selcuk. A place that if it wasn’t for nearby Ephesus it might had been just another provincial Turkish town; Nevertheless, it does have more than the usual number of attractions: Byzantine aqueduct ruins, St John’s Basilica and Ayasuluk Fortress. Like all similarly small places catering to short-term visitors, there’s plenty of competition with some advantages and disadvantages. We picked Selcuk as our base to explore ancient Ephesus, the great trading city and centre for the cult of Cybele, the Anatolian fertility goddess. In Ionian times, Cybele became Artemis and a fabulous temple was built in her honor. When the Romans took over, Artemis became Diana and Ephesus became the Roman provincial capital. Of Turkey’s hundreds of ancient cities and classical ruins, Ephesus is the grandest and best preserved. Indeed, it’s the spunkiest classical city on the Mediterranean and the ideal place to get a feel for what life was like in Roman times. In 356 BC the Temple of Cybele/Artemis was destroyed. The Ephesians planned a grand new temple which, when finished, was recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Our really early morning walk though the ruins and the deserted ancient streets of Ephesus, before the crowds took over, was definitely one of the best experiences in this trip.
With sightseeing on the top of our agenda, we then headed further inland to another great sight, the magnificent ancient city of Hierapolis and the natural pools of Pamukkale. These glittering white cliffs and pools jump straight out of almost all Turkey’s tourism brochures, and day-waders do indeed come from far and in wide numbers to enjoy the warm waters of these dazzling travertines. A sight that could be odd as well as unpleasant, especially when the day trippers wonder around the ruins in their swimwear. Above them stand the ruins of Hierapolis whose inhabitants did the same thing 2000 years ago. While Pamukkale’s village is modest, it has good budget options, some even with thermal water pools, and makes a relaxing base for a few days.
And then was Bodrum. Although more than one million tourists flock to its beaches, boutique hotels and clubs each summer, Halicarnassus in ancient times, Bodrum nowadays, never loses its “cool;” More than any other Turkish seaside getaway, it has an enigmatic elegance that pervades it, from the town’s grand crowning castle and glittering marina to its flower-filled cafes and white-plastered backstreets. In its recent past Bodrum was a simple fishing village and old-timers can still remember when everything was in a different place or didn’t exist at all. Long before the palmed promenades and elaborate eateries, Bodrum wasn’t even desirable – it was actually the place where dissidents were sent into exile. At the beginning of the 1980s, well-heeled foreigners started to come, and
today Bodrum is a favorite getaway for everyone, from European package tourists to Turkey’s prime movers and shakers. It was the town’s arty identity that saved it from the ignominious fate of other nearby Turkish fishing villages. It took us only a morning visit to the nearby Gumbet village/resort to understand how lucky Bodrum was. With almost a week in our Bodrum itinerary and finally a room in a pension (much needed since we both got sunstroke in Pamukkale), we finally were relaxed and chilled as almost everyone in Bodrum, local or tourist. Rochelle probably more than me, as she had some classes of Yoga as well. Our poor car Voukefalas finally got some weight off its back as for a while we moved almost all of our belongings to the room. Somewhere here the Aegean met the Mediterranean and…