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Istanbul and Turkey

Old May 27th, 2010, 09:41 AM
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Istanbul and Turkey

I asked a few questions about bus connections when planning this trip and when I updated the post on my return someone suggested I write a trip report - so here goes:

Our trip has been in the planning for some months now. I am a member of www.couchsurfing.com (the 50+ group). Though I'm not 50 yet they are a really fun bunch. We have regular meet ups and, back in September last year someone joked that they would like to go to Istanbul. Before we knew it the planning was underway. More than 40 people signed up for the trip from US, Canada, UK, Spain, Italy, India, Brazil, France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Georgia...

As soon as I put my name down, Michelle (another 50+ member) contacted me to ask if I would be willing to travel with her. We booked our flights quite early on with only vague ideas of what we would do after Istanbul. The outbound flight wasn't the best timing for me. I live in central / northern England but Michelle lives in the South so I had elected to fly from Gatwick as I was planning to drive to Michelle's the night before and leave my car there. I hadn't planned for someone crunching my car which meant I had to travel to Gatwick by train...the night before so spending the night at Gatwick airport.

We (me, Michelle and a friend from India) arrived at SAW airport around lunch time on the Thursday and then had a two hour wait for our shared hotel transfer with our Italian friends. They emerged from the airport bearing gifts of chocolates, liqueurs etc! The drive to the hotel was random, fast, erratic and very stomach turning. The traffic is completely crazy with our driver cutting in and swerving to avoid other vehicles. I just made it to the Hotel Peninsular in Sultanahmet without being violently sick!

Our hotel was very centrally positioned and pleasant. After unloading and meeting some of the others we headed down to Cankurtaran Square where we had all agreed to meet up for dinner, drinks and general welcomes and hellos. Cankurtaran Square is very pleasant and the food was fine. About 25 of us turned up and it was great meeting al these people we had corresponded with for so long face to face. Most of us had had long journeys and we had a full day on Friday so we headed back for a well earned sleep.

Breakfast next day was served on the roof terrace. Very typically Turkish with cheeses, tomato, cucumber, olives, lovely bread, fresh fruit, yoghurt and fruit purees / jams and sweet pastries. After breakfast we headed to Cafer Aga Medresesi where I was designated money collector / badge issuer for some of the organised trips. The cafe is very pretty and situated between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. We had already eaten but some ordered breakfast and it looked good. After all the monies had been sorted we had a big group photo then headed out with the local Istanbul CS members to The Grand Bazaar. We were expecting to get a lot of hassle from the traders in the Bazaar but they were really pleasant and polite. The Bazaar itself is beautiful with lovely ornate arched and painted ceilings. It was worth visiting to see the architecture. Dilek (one of our Turkish hosts) showed us the traditional shops (selling ceramics, carpets, gold etc) but also the wedding dress shops (two people bought wedding dresses in heavy silk to rework into other things). We also saw the circumcision shops selling the little outfits the boys where. We were quite surprised at how old the boys were when they were circumcised and the ceremony that went with the occasion. The boys are dressed in fine clothes (like little princes), they visit the mosque and also family and friends where they are given gifts. The circumcision comes afterwards. During our time in Istanbul we saw one or two boys at the mosques dressed up and felt a little sorry for them - knowing what was coming after all those presents and well wishes!

After our tour we sat at a cafe near the New Mosque having tea. While everyone was relaxing Dilek whisked me away to sort out the monies...and then took Michelle and I to the Egyptian (Spice) Bazaar. Personally, I preferred the Spice Bazaar - I loved the wonderful smells and colours and it seemed more authentic and less touristy than the Grand Bazaar. Dilek took us to her favourite shops and the shopkeepers allowed us to taste her favourite sweets and pastries. Sweets made of nuts and compressed grape juice, little parcels filled with sweetmeats and then dried mulberries - delicious. We bought several things to take back with us. On the way back to the square we bought feta börek and meat pide (the latter filled with salad and rolled up as finger food). They were less than a £1 each - delicious and very filling. Börek is a type of pie popular throughout the former Ottoman Empire. It is made of a thin flaky dough known as phyllo or yufka, and is filled with salty cheese (often feta), minced meat, potatoes or other vegetables. Börek may be prepared in a large pan and cut into portions after baking, or as individual pastries. The top of the börek is often sprinkled with sesame seeds.

In the afternoon we headed to the Hagia Sophia (with plans to go to the Blue Mosque afterwards). Sadly I only managed one - Hagia Sophia which was wonderful. The lovely old mosaics that had been hidden for so long were beautiful. Unfortunately there was renovation work being undertaken so there was a lot of scaffolding inside but it didn't spoil my enjoyment. By the time I left the Hagia Sophia it was half past four so I headed back to the hotel and sat with an apple tea at the little restaurant / tea shop opposite.

After a while I was joined by some of the others and we decided to meet up later for dinner. We had dinner a little further down from the Peninsular on the left and it wasn't the best. A fish restaurant, but not a huge amount of food, service very slow and expensive. Afterwards we headed back to the roof top terrace with the Italian group....following the grappa bottles together with some of the French, Belgium and Dutch. Our Italian friends managed to pursuade the (unconnected) restaurant next door to not only provide glasses for the grappa and a knife to cut the sweeties I had bought....but also to throw in a plate of baklava too!! So we watched the stars and the illuminated skyline of Sultanahmet chatting, drinking grappa, eating baklava and sweeties while enjoying our new friendships...a perfect day.
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Old May 27th, 2010, 09:44 AM
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Great thread. Love to hear more
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Old May 27th, 2010, 09:47 AM
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Photos are here - though still adding to them and very few have captions!

http://s1026.photobucket.com/albums/...plus_istanbul/
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Old May 27th, 2010, 10:26 AM
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The following morning(after another lovely breakfast) we headed off to Eminönü to catch the Bosphorus cruise boat. There had been some debate as a few decided to walk from The Peninsular rather than get the tram. We (those on the tram) arrived in plenty of time to get our tickets. We had been advised to get there early. Although the scheduled departure time is 10.30, the ferry starts boarding at 10.00 so if you want any chance of a decent seat you have to be there early. Ten o'clock arrived, then quarter past - still no sign of the walkers. Even Patrick had reappeared at this point (he had bought his ticket then slipped back (by tram) to see the Blue Mosque while we waited to board. We were all aboard and only 5 minutes from embarkation before we saw them arrive. They had, apparently, gone in the wrong direction and were on their way to Chora by the time they realised! (Sheesh - they only had to follow the old walls!) Finally, with everyone aboard, the boat pulled out.

Once again our Turkish hosts were wonderful, they had brought sweets and typical foods for us to taste while we cruised along. Tea could be purchased on the boat. The cruise was definitely worth doing - and is a lovely calming day after the hectic running around. The cruise allows you to see many beautiful palaces, and fortresses including the Maiden Tower (Kiz Kulesi), Dolmabahce Palace, Ciragan Palace, Ortakoy, Fethi Ahmet Pasa Mansion, Ortakoy Mosque, Beylerbeyi Palace, Kuleli Military School, Arnavutkoy, Bebek and the Rumeli Fortress (Rumeli Hisari), which was built by Mehmet the Conquerer in 1452, for preparation of his planned siege of Byzantine Constantinople. On the way the ferry stops at Kanlica Village on the Asian side. Kanlica Village is famous for its yoghurt. Although we didn't get off here, sellers brought pots of yoghurt aboard which you could buy. The yoghurt is quite sour though very nice when eaten with the sugar topping.

Our final stop (at 12.30) was Anadolu Kavagi which is a sweet little fishing village (though I'm sure much sweeter at the end of the day when the ferry has taken away all the tourists!). You can walk to the castle ruins from where you are supposed to be able to see the Symplegades (the clashing rocks from Jason of the Argonauts) but we decided to follow the shoreline. The weather was beautiful and, after a nice lunch at a little local place (for the grand sum of £2.50!), we sat dangling our feet in the water watching the cruise boats. We could have stayed longer (and caught the last ferry back at 5.30 but we decided to leave on the 3.00 ferry. Anadolu Kavagi is only a small place and 2.5 hours was sufficient to explore.

Coming back from the ferry we came across the Arasta Bazaar. The bazaar consists of 40 or so very nice shops (a little more chic than the ones we had seen in the Grand Bazaar and elsewhere.) The Arasta Bazaar was created from 17th century stables. Beside it is a lovely restaurant area where you can drink tea, smoke water pipes (no we didn't!) and play backgammon (which seemed very popular in Istanbul). You could also see local women making the traditional flat breads. We browsed the shops (I bought two beautiful large silk and wool scarves) and then sat and had apple tea - which was when we discovered that the restaurant had local music and whirling dervishes that night.

After returning to the hotel for a short while we returned to the restaurant (the adjacent cheaper one!) and had a lovely meal while listening to the music. The shops stayed open 'til 9.00pm so two of the others went back to negotiate on more scarves and jewellery!
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Old May 27th, 2010, 11:03 AM
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Sunday was to be a very busy day. It was the last official day of the organised programme (before we all headed off to do our own thing) and the plan was to visit Topkapi Palace, then the Church at Chora followed by a guided walk through the Golden Horn area to see some of the older parts of Istanbul, city walls and the traditional Jewish quarter. The evening was to end with a big farewell dinner in a little restaurant off Istaklal!

Several had already decided to give Topkapi a miss - including Michelle. So I headed off at 9.00 am prompt with those going to Topkapi. I had already decided not to visit the harem. Time was short and I had heard that only a few rooms were open and they didn't really have the atmosphere of the days of the Sultans.

We stayed together as a group for all of twenty minutes! Topkapi, even without the harem, is big. Building after building all beautifully ornate, set in wonderful gardens and with fabulous views across the Bosphorus. The treasury was particularly wonderful - though some of the diamonds and emeralds were so large you felt they had to be fake. It would have been lovely to see some of the more behind the scenes areas. For example the kitchen stretch endlessly and produced thousands of meals a day but only the outside is visible.

After Topkapi I headed back towards the hotel passing the front of the Blue Mosque. It was only just after 12.00 and we didn't have to be at Chora until 3.00 so I decided to see if I could see the Mosque. Until that point I had religiously taken a scarf with me everywhere. I hadn't expected to have time to see the Blue Mosque so hadn't brought a scarf. I asked a gentlemen standing near the steps if it was possible to borrow a scarf to see inside. No problem he said...and promptly found me a scarf, took me on a guided tour of the mosque and then bought me apple tea. It was the first of many such acts of kindness and hospitality I experienced in Turkey. The mosque is free to enter but only when prayers are not in session. Scarves are available and you must remove your shoes (you are provided with a little plastic bag to carry them in). Make sure you are properly outside the mosque (i.e. on the plastic matting) before replacing your shoes.

I headed back to the hotel and met up with those heading for Chora. We took the tram as far as we could and then negotiated with a taxi. After agreeing a reasonable price we all piled into the back of the taxi (5 of us I think - elbows and knees everywhere with lots of giggles and laughter). We fell out of the taxi at Chora Church (literally church in the field) which conveniently happened to be next to a cafe and ice-cream shop! Suitably replenished we joined our guide who gave us a very interesting tour of the church. The mosaics, hidden for years (under the 15th century equivalent of artex) were beautifully preserved and simply stunning in colour, detail and execution. Gold and coloured mosaic panels cover every inch of the ceilings depicting biblical scenes showing every key stage in the life of Christ and of Mary. Not knowing what was to come I had initially thought that, at 20TL it was expensive, but IMHO, it was well worth seeing.

The walk that followed was fascinating. We had detailed information from our guide but our Istanbul hosts all shared their memories and experiences with us. We explored the old wooden architecture of Istanbul now sadly falling into ruin. We heard of the infamous eggplant fires of Istanbul that decimated much of the old wooden architecture. How the houses (albeit tiny) used to be split to have a harem (women's area) and a general area. How, under old sha'ria law, women had to be inside at sunset and the windows all had screens so the women could look out but no-one could look in. How, because the houses were so close together, women could have a conversation with their female neighbours via the upstairs bedroom windows. We heard how dramatic the changes brought about by Atatürk were, how they had had to learn a new alphabet, a new number system. Equally how strange and wonderful the new freedoms were - that women could be anything they chose - even government ministers and how difficult this was for the older generations to deal with. We saw pretty old mosques and lovely old synagogues. We tasted bread and pastries from the little bakeries, watched children playing in the streets while mothers and grandmothers watched from the doorsteps. We saw the market stalls and the faded, shabby but beautiful architecture and doorways. We saw and fell in love with the real Istanbul.
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Old May 27th, 2010, 11:16 AM
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I am glad you enjoyed the Dolmabahce Palas. Many Fodorites don't like it, but I think it is fabulously tacky in a Liberace-type way.

The Harem of the Topkapi was one of the highlights of my trip to Istanbul, along with Chora.

Thin, one of the gold ladies of the Splendid Palas
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Old May 27th, 2010, 11:17 AM
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When we reached the end of our walk we had cold drinks, tea etc at a lovely walled cafe. One of our lovely members of 50+ had been very ill. Thought she had planned to be here she was too ill to attend. We spent time over drinks to sign a large poster with our thoughts and best wishes which would be sent to her the following day. By this time it was already 6.30 and we were due at the Abbas restaurant at 7.00. Taxis were flagged down (four of them) and once again people concertina'd themselves into the cabs. The meal at Abbas was wonderful, lots of mezes, then sea bass and salad (for me) and sticky Turkish pasties and coffee afterwards. There were presentations for the organisers. All those attending had contributed to a scrapbook for Dilek, the main host and organiser. Each person had made an A4 hospitality 'ticket' to invite Dilek to their part of the world. Each ticket was as unique as it's contributor and together they made a beautiful gift. With much laughter, a few tears and promises to meet again we went our separate ways. Our lot, very predictably, nicked the half empty wine bottles, flagged down a taxi and headed to the roof terrace for our last farewell drink.
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Old May 27th, 2010, 11:53 AM
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Monday Michelle and I headed out of Istanbul. We had planned to take the Pamukkale Express overnight to Denizli but, unfortunately, the service was never reinstated after the track repairs. I believe this is a permanent discontinuance. We decided to change our plans and take the ferry and local buses to Bergama. After a substantial breakfast we headed out of the hotel mid-morning to catch the tram to Laleli from where we would walk to the ferry station at Yenikapi. We planned to catch the 12.30 ferry and then connect by bus.

The ferry station is very modern and clean. All bags are scanned as you enter and it is easy to buy tickets. After purchasing our single fare we sat and had tea while we waited. The ferry itself is far more organised than in the UK - all the seats are numbered so you can't just park yourself anywhere. The ride was smooth and took about a couple of hours. We had been advised to take a dolmus from the ferry port to the bus station in Bandirma but when we disembarked we noticed small minibuses parked up nearby (opposite and right). We went and checked them out and one was going to the bus station. At the bus station we found the desk selling tickets to Balikesir (our next stop) and again parked our bums and drank apple tea while we waited. (Much apple tea was consumed on this trip!)

In due course the bus arrived and our bags were loaded away. The drive to Balikesir was about one and a half hours (approximately) but we had had to wait a little while for the bus. We were very impressed with the buses; clean, modern air-conditioned - many even had personal TV's! One word of warning - it is not appropriate for a man to take a seat next to a women and vice versa unless they are married. This applies even if you are travelling as a group of friends. At Balikesir we asked for the Bergama bus and was told to look for the bus marked Soma. We duly found it and a man whisked our bags away and pointed us in the direction of tea! Apparently, we had a short while to wait before it left. We found the staff at the bus stations to be incredibly helpful. The Soma bus was quite a small bus - a little more basis than the one we had travelled on to Balikesir. The scenery over the journey was wonderful - undulating green very reminiscent of England which gradually turned more Mediterranean with increasing hints of olives and vines and more scrubby planting.

The buses were largely full of locals rather than tourists and seemed to be well used. By the time we were approaching what we thought was Bergama it was getting dark. We were concerned about our pension booking - in case Ayden let the room to someone else. All of a sudden our driver f lagged down a bus coming in the other direction, stopped our bus and indicated that we should get off. Thinking we were about to be abandoned in the middle of nowhere we were initially non-plussed...until we realised that the Soma bus went to...Soma. From there we had to get the bus to Bergama - our driver had just short cut the route for us!! Once again our bags were whisked across the road to the Bergama bus (another small bus) and we climbed aboard. On the previous buses we had bought tickets at each the station - we had no ticket for this bus but it seemed we paid when we arrived. After we had been on the bus for a little while (obviously looking like we expected to get off any minute!) a young local girl leaned across and asked where we were heading for. When we explained she said to relax - we had at least another half an hour to go and explained the land marks we should be looking for. When she got off a few minutes later she asked the driver to keep an eye out for us!

Eventually (at about 9pm) we pulled up into a small deserted bus station where we were told to get off. We paid the driver and the bus pulled away. Now what? We had no map just the name of the pension (Athena) and Bergama was a large sprawling town. We noticed a shop nearby that was still open so we went in and asked. After a bit of consultation and conflab we were directed along the road, left fork and on the left. As we approached the left fork we saw a sign for Athena and there we were. As we went through the wrought iron gates into the lovely courtyard we saw a beaming Ayden...who gave us a big bear hug. He looked as relieved as we were that we had arrived. He showed us around and then we headed down the road to find somewhere to eat (a little local cafe - so dinner for the grand sum of £2). After wandering around the old part of Bergama we went back back to the pension and fell soundly asleep.
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Old May 27th, 2010, 01:44 PM
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Hastobe_kat, thanks for responding with a very well written and informative trip report, and so quickly.

This is the kind of reward i love for trying to answer questions.

i am looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip.
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Old May 27th, 2010, 01:46 PM
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by the way, "dolmus" is the minibus that you took from the ferry landing in bandirma to the bus depot.
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Old May 27th, 2010, 06:38 PM
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Bookmarking
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Old May 28th, 2010, 12:09 AM
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Thanks otherchelebi - I don't know why but I thought a dolmus was a taxi!
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Old May 28th, 2010, 04:51 AM
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We had opted for a twin room with a shared bathroom. The accommodation in the old pension was comfortable but basic. The house was a restored old Ottoman and had lots of quirky features and quaint character. The route to the bathroom was through an interior hallway (with lovely polished floors and rugs), then through a door onto an open (exterior) balcony / walkway that overlooked the shady courtyard planted with a lovely tree, beautiful red amaryllis and perfumed jasminoides. The bathroom consisted of a sink on the exterior walkway and a separate (enclosed) toilet with a wet room style shower. If you are used to 5* luxury you would probably have hated it. We loved it - in fact, of our paid accommodation, we would say this was our favourite.

After a shower we headed down to the courtyard for breakfast. Aydin (sorry spelled it wrong before!) served us a great breakfast. Fruit, cheese, olives, yoghurt, honey, preserves, fresh bread, omelette and as much tea / apple tea coffee etc as we could drink ... Just as we thought he had finished bring things to the table he would come out with another dish! At breakfast were three backpackers from London who had arrived the day before from Istanbul. They told us they had come via Bursa and had had a nightmare journey. It had taken them a day and a half. We felt quite smug about our trip of the previous day. When we told them how easy our trip had been they were a tad disgruntled. We are 'older travellers' so maybe us old 'uns' can teach the young 'uns' something?

Everyone's plans for the day entailed a visit to the Acropolis. Aydin gave us a detailed map showing the route and explained how to get to the main road through the winding streets of the old town.

The backpackers set off ahead of us. It is only a short walk from Athena Pension to the road leading to the Acropolis. The route takes you through picturesque streets and past lovely old Ottoman houses. When we reached the road we noticed there was a hole in the fence surrounding the Acropolis area. We were just contemplating whether to go through the hole and explore or to walk the 3km to the main entrance when a car came past and one of the occupants wound down the window and said 'Acropo?' 'Yes please', we said and they opened the doors and we climbed in.

A couple of hundred yards further down the road we saw the backpackers puffing up the hill (it was hot already that day!). Grinning at each other we waved at them as we passed. The look on their faces was priceless. The old un's had done it again. To top it all, when we got out of the car at the main entrance, a friend of one of the drivers invited us to have tea with him. He proceeded to explain the best route through the site to minimise the walking, what to look out for and the key things not to miss. When our fellow backpackers arrived (looking all hot and sweaty) we were feet up supping our free cup of tea.

Pergamum was wonderful - in fact we enjoyed it more than Ephesus. It had been a late change / addition to our trip (when we found the Pamukkale Express had been cancelled) so we had only allocated one day to explore the area. In retrospect two days would have been better. We spent the entire day at the Acropolis and didn't get to see the Asklepieion (the first medical centre) or the Red Basilica (one of the seven churches). The site is huge and includes the remains of the the old walls, arsenal, library, large (and incredible steep) theatre, old streets, remains of houses, wonderful mosaic floors, a vast gymnasium (which had three training areas, a running track, music theatre, dining / entertaining hall) - most of which would have been covered, several altars. The most significant altars are the reconstructed Temple of Trajan and the altar of Zeus (the latter being one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) and now at the Pergamum museum in Berlin (which I now really want to visit). The restoration was of an incredibly high standard and put Ephesus to shame. Detailed signs explained what buildings stood at each point and the restoration work that had been undertaken. Detailed drawings showed what the buildings would have looked like and how they fitted into the social life of the ancient Greeks and Romans. They also explained how the reconstruction had done and what calculations / methodology had been used to determine the original scale and form of the buildings. Some restoration work had been undertaken (e.g. Temple of Trajan, where the mosaic floors had been uncovered) to reconstruct part of the buildings to demonstrate the design and scale. This had been done very sympathetically and using materials / construction methods etc that allowed you to see exactly where the ruins finished and reconstruction started. For example, where walls had been reconstructed, a red line showed where the reconstruction started. We plan to return to see those areas we missed.

We finally emerged from the Acropolis at 4.30 in the afternoon, hot, dusty, thirsty and hungry. It was very hot on the Acropolis - even in early / mid May. Make sure you take a water bottle with you. We wound our way back through the little winding streets stopping en-route to buy a large bottle of water (which we drank in one go!) and ice creams.

Back at the pension we were invited by Aydin to see his garden. Michelle and I are both enthusiastic gardeners and had been admiring Aydin's amaryllises. His garden is a little away from the old pension (which he rents) and adjacent to the old mansion (which he owns and has been restoring). His garden is a work in progress and is full of all sorts of fruit trees. His plan is to create a shady area that is also productive. We chatted about soil types, cultivation of fruit and trees, pests and how he was trying to find someone to help digging his garden over in exchange for board. Alas we are past the age of manual labour or we might have taken up his offer! He then showed us the mansion house he has restored. In contrast to the old pension the restoration has been done to a very high standard and would definitely tick the boxes of a more demanding guest. The house has retained the traditional Ottoman layout - four rooms off a central salon furnished with period furniture. Historically these rooms would have had a dual purpose - living areas during the day and sleeping areas at night. Each room is now a bedroom. All the rooms have an en-suite bathroom - discretely hidden behind what looks like fitted wardrobe doors! The rooms have high ceilings but there is only a single floor for occupation. The house has a basement (so the house is slightly above ground level - accessed by steps) but the basement was traditionally used to keep animals which helped keep the house warm in winter. There is also a separate family room and plans for a dormitory. Aydin has worked hard and the house etc are a credit to him.

After our tour (and a quick nap) we headed into town. We found another small, local restaurant which had very appetising food on display. The owner explained what was in each dish and we each tried several. Again, the meal was extremely tasty and very cheap. As we were eating we saw our backpacker friends (along with another guy who turned out to be staying at Athena too) who came over to chat. One of them is a vegetarian and had been worrying about how to get vegetarian food while in Turkey. We pointed out the dishes (as many were meat free) and they all went in to order.

After we had eaten we wandered around the old town again - enjoying the lovely atmosphere as night fell. There is a lovely hamam which would have been nice to try but sadly (again) insufficient time. We wandered down to the square where there seemed to be a local political rally in progress but I think we caught the tail end of it. We headed back to the pension where our backpacker friends and their American friend had already returned (with several cans of Efes beer!). We all headed to the roof terrace and sat on large cushions, rugs etc drinking beer and sharing travel stories as night closed in and the call for prayer reverbarated around us.
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Old May 28th, 2010, 05:26 AM
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I am enjoying your trip report and sharing the trip with you in retrospect.
You have a nice mix of fact and feeling, and your apparently pleasant nature permeates the narrative.

I am usually a harsh critic, so do not think i tell this to everyone, whatever it's worth:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A142N7PESHWHB4

Thanks again.
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Old May 28th, 2010, 11:33 AM
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bookmarking -- love all the detail!
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Old Jun 2nd, 2010, 08:38 AM
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Thanks for the kind remarks!
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Old Jun 2nd, 2010, 09:11 AM
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The following morning we (along with several others) formd an orderly queue to settle our bill. We paid about €11 euro a night including breakfast - so not too traumatic. (The Peninsula had been €27 a night including breakfast - so a lot more expensive...but then it was in the touristy bit of Istanbul). Aydin was hilarious - wafting his euro notes in glee - he is such a funny and delightful guy! The backpackers had decided it would be a smart move to follow us - as we seem to get everywhere so easily. Their friend, was staying on a few more days but had been recommended the same couch as us in Selçuk by another travel companion - so we may meet him again.

We took the free shuttle bus from the depot near the Basilica and then got the bus to Izmir. The bus like before was very clean, modern, comfortable - and cheap (20TL). At Izmir bus station, while waiting for the bus to Selçuk, we found a stall selling cheap (
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Old Jun 2nd, 2010, 10:04 AM
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The previous day we had bought supplies for breakfast - eggs for omelette, yoghurts, fruit etc so we had a leisurely meal before heading down to the carpet shop. Once again we were welcomed warmly with tea. Our host had family staying so was busy watch his little girl racing around and around (oh to have the energy of a 5 year old again!) They asked our plans for the day. We mentioned that we were thinking of buying some jewellery (my travel companion, Michelle, is a jewellery nut!). We were immediately taken and introduced to their friends, retired veterinarian and IT consultant now jewellery makers extraordinaire. Both are very talented and make the most beautiful pieces of jewellery - often to order. They also make the most exquisite decorated eggs and are quite famous for this latter skill (photos and newspaper articles were show cased on their walls). Delighted with teh prospect of designing her own jewellery, Michelle, launched into discussion about the sort of design she would like - based on some very old jewellery she had seen in the British museum. Meanwhile I browsed through some of the pieces they had on display. I found a lovely old silver piece - an old Anatolian enamelled deign and another piece in detailed silver filigree with a large turquoise central stone on a necklace of silver and turquoise beads. I bought both! We sat and chatted over tea for quite some time about what had bought them into this field and the fun they had had exhibiting and travelling. Michelle's necklace and matching ear-rings wouldn't be finished until the following day so we bad farewell and headed off to the museum.

The museum was small but interesting and included an number of large pieces of sculpture that had been located at Ephesus. It also included some smaller - very beautiful pieces of glass and other intricately carved items that would have been in more everyday use. I am guessing that, as the excavation of Ephesus continues (only a very small area of the original city has been opened so far) that these collections will increase and new items will be showcased.

After our trip around the museum we headed to the bus station via the park. We noticed a large table spread out with all manner of goodies which seemed to be for sale. We enquired further and discovered it was a fund raiser for a children's charity. We chose several savoury pasties and a couple of cakes before heading off to catch the dolmus to Pamucak beach. We spent a very pleasant few hours on the very quiet sandy beach there followed by tea and a snackat the adjacent bar / restaurant. A complete antidote to all the frenetic rushing around of the past few days. We headed back to the main road and waited for the dolmus back - which arrived almost immediately.

Back in Selçuk we called around at the carpet shop and had tea with the the owners. As well as running the carpet shop our host's boss had some land he wanted to plant with fruit trees. Selçuk and Ephesus were once on the coast - indeed the road from the Agora (marketplace) in Ephesus used to lead directly to the harbour - so silks, jewels, slaves, animals would be taken directly from the ships docking in the harbour onto the marketplace. Over the years the harbour repeatedly silted up. Initially attempts were periodically made to clear the harbour but, eventually, nature defeated them and Ephesus 'moved' further and further from the sea and it lost it's status as an important trading port. Today it is 4kms from the sea. Accordingly much of the land around Selçuk and Ephesus is saltmarsh that has to be repeatedly washed to remove (or at least reduce) the salt before it can be used for farming and agriculture. Our hosts boss was trying to 'wash' his land free of salt by repeatedly flooding it with fresh water. Withe the combination of the shop and the land the family worked long hours. The shop opened early in tourist season - typically 7am and stayed open until 11pm. During this time family would help out to allow their father to go and work on his land. Even out of season they worked hard - travelling around Anatolia trying to find good pieces that were more and more difficult to locate as the culture and way of life of some of the nomadic craftswomen changed and eroded. They also used this time to travel further afield to make business contacts elsewhere in Europe and in the States. Interestingly, they were closely involved in a co-operative project to encourage the survival of some of these old crafts and we were shown one of the first pieces produced by the co-operative.

After bidding the family a good evening (and dodging our hosts young daughter who had progressed to a tricycle!) we wandered around the streets enjoying the ambience of the early evening. We stopped at a lovely little cafe near the park that was serving the most wonderful looking cakes and pastries and had tea and chocolate cake - very indulgent. Further along in the open frontage of a carpet shop, two amazingly coloured cats caught our eye. The cats had very unusual markings typical of Turkish 'Van' cats or 'swimming cats' (http://www.vantasia.org/turk_folk.html) - and were very affectionate. We started chatting to their Belgium owner (who had been living in Selçuk for 17 years!) and discovered that they weren't. We did however have a fascinating tour of her shop - and, more particularly, a demonstration of her unique sideline; making miniature hand knotted silk carpets...for dolls houses! The carpets were absolutely beautiful - exquisite reproductions of the full sized versions - perfect in every detail.

After calling at the local shop (for breakfast provisions) we headed back for the night.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2010, 10:43 AM
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The following morning we had an early start. We had been advised to get to Ephesus as soon as it opened at 8.30am so we could avoid the crowds. We headed to the bus station early and arrived in good time. With the exception of a french tour guide the place looked deserted. We wandered up through the site admiring the statuary. After about 10 minutes my (bargain) batteries that I had bought in Bergama failed...with no spares! I headed back to the entrance to ask if they would let me back in if I exited to buy more batteries from the stalls outside. They said no problem and I headed to the nearest purveyor of said product (next to the stall with the sign that said 'real fake watches!'). I bought the batteries (reliable Duracell this time) - for princely sum of 20TL (which nearly gave me a heart attack!) then headed back into the site...which by now was teaming with coach trippers.

Ephesus was interesting and the Library of Celcus was incredible but, generally, we found the site a let down after seeing Pergamum. There was very little in the way of information and virtually nothing on the background and techniques used in the excavation and reconstruction. The standard of renovation was sloppy in comparison and we walked away very disappointed. Ephesus has the potential to be awesome but the feeling we got is that those involved in the site don't care. Whether this is because there are just so many ruins and so much to excavate they are overwhelmed or maybe they feel the site is so famous they don't need to try - that they will always earn lots of money from the largely 18-30 coastal clubbers holidaying nearby who are, perhaps, not too interested in the detail. In any case we only stayed a couple of hours, in contrast to the 6 hours we spent at Pergamum.

From Ephesus we took the dolmus back to the beach. We stopped a little further on this time and found a nice beach bar that served chilled Efes beer and large, hot (and cheap) sandwiches. At the end of the afternoon we headed up to the main road to catch the dolmus back to Selçuk and flagged it down as we saw it round the bend. It was only when we climbed aboard that we realised that it wasn't a dolmus but a private bus bringing workers back fro the fields! Cringing with embarrassment we apologised profusely - the driver thought it was very funny and, very kindly, took us to the bus station anyway!

We called around at the carpet shop where Michelle spent some time choosing a kilim to take back with her. Unfortunately, the necklace wasn't quite ready - so we headed into town for something to eat. We ate at the restaurant by the aqueduct and had a lovely meal.

After we had eaten, we decided to go and buy a bottle of raki for our host. On our way to the shop we passed by a group of people sitting on cushions and rugs on the street corner playing backgammon. They invited us to join them, which we did and one of their number brought us tea. After a little while talking we discovered that one of the group was the mother-in-law of our host! After a very pleasant half hour we went and collected our bottle of raki and headed back. For the first time during our stay our host stayed at the house (he had been staying at his parents home) and we spent the evening exchanging stories, eating traditional sweeties and drinking raki.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2010, 12:36 PM
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The following morning we repacked our rucksacks (which were getting fuller at each stop) and headed to the bus station to catch the bus to Izmir. We were staying at Guzel Izmir Oteli which is near the railway station (Basmane) - a deliberate choice as we have an early train to catch back to Istanbul the following morning. Izmir bus station is a rabbit warren but thankfully a very nice man walked us all the way around to the stop for the connecting bus to the railway station. We found the hotel quite easily. The hotel is clean, fairly basic but very centrally located - and less than £14 each for the room including breakfast. The oly downside was that the rooms at the front are on the main road and so can be noisy.

Michelle was tired so I said I would explore while she had a nap. As the railways station was so close by I thought that I may as well get the tickets for the following day. I queued patiently at window no 1 until it was my turn - at which point I was told I had to go to window 4. I duly moved around to find no-one serving at that window. Nevertheless I patiently waited and, when the lady at window 1 had finished serving everyone else she came across to window 4. It transpired I could buy both the train and ferry ticket which came to a combined 39TL each. The train wasn't running for the first leg of the journey so we had to get a bus which went from the area adjacent to the main station platform. With ticket duly collected I went for a wander around and sat having a tea and some pide at a little street cafe (again really inexpensive).

Back at the hotel and hour or so later Michelle was awake and showered so we headed off. The plan was to walk to the famous clock at Konak Square in the old town and then to maybe explore the old bazaar and perhaps visit the ethnology museum near the park.

The weather wasn't looking too co-operative as we wandered off but held out until after we had visited Konak Square and the beautiful clock and pretty mosque. As the rain started we walked under the covered walkways of the shopping area and then took shelter at a cafe. After having our ears assaulted by the constant calls of the mussel sellers next to we decided to press on to the park and ethnology museum. The park was a lovely oasis with a stunning crab claw tree in full bloom. We weren't sure where the museum was but someone pointed us up the steps to a rather imposing looking house. As we approached the main entrance we passed some very impressive (though headless) statuary. (Apparently the heads (and hands) on old statues were most vulnerable and disappeared first as they could be carried easily by bounty hunters.) The inside of the museum was wonderful with sweeping stairs that spiralled around the main, circular, entrance hall allowing you to see all the way up to the fourth floor. The museum was interesting with typical room layouts mixed with wonderful costumes and beautiful old lace and other crafts. It even had a display on camel racing (which I found fascinating and would love to go back to watch).

We left the museum and headed back to the hotel via the bazaar which turned out to be wonderful - definitely worth a visit. We watched a very beautiful girl trying on a wonderful outfit of red lace with sparkling beads and diamanté. She looked simply gorgeous - we are guessing it must have been for a special occasion but we have no idea what. Further into the bazaar we came across a lovely colonnaded area with a tee planted and shady awning. Men were washing at an adjacent fountain. When we got closer we realised there was an old mosque close by. We sat down at the nearby cafe and ordered tea and just sat watching the hustle and bustle around us.

As we approached the hotel we started to look for somewhere to eat that evening. Although the atmosphere around the hotel definitely had a 'buzz' with lots of cafe's, restaurants etc we got the distinct impression (from the degree of undress of some of the females) that we may have stumbled across Izmirs red light area. We decided that judicious choice of table would be in order and headed back upstairs to change (and me shower) for dinner. In the end we found a place that had excellent food. Once again we were drawn by the mezes and this particular restaurant allowed you to try small amounts of each one (which were actually quite reasonable sized servings) for 2TL each. We had a large selection of mezes followed by lamb chops and aubergine and meat kebabs with a salad. The meal was very reasonable at about 15TL each including drinks.

Back at the hotel I was very glad I had packed earplugs as the noise from the street was definitely intrusive without them.
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