After three full days in Istanbul, we had breakfast at our apartment, then hailed a cab on the nearby main street to get to the airport. The backseat of the cab had no seatbelts, which made it a less than fun ride for me. Turks seem to have a dislike of them, with tons of people on planes unbuckling right as landing is over, whereas people usually unbuckle at the gate on most flights I've been on.
The airport had double security - there's a check before you even check in for your flight. We checked in on our flight, and while we did the guy helping us said something about Damon to another girl and they both had a laugh. No idea what that was about. If only we spoke Turkish. The flight was only 45 minutes long but we got a drink and our choice of sandwiches or cake! On all the flights on this trip the games like Sudoku were in a separate insert so the whole magazine doesn't have to get switched out. Cool idea! There were beautiful views from the plane of misty hills and fields.
We flew on AtlasJet to İzmir, and they offer a free shuttle to our destination of Selçuk, which we successfully caught. An American family we'd seen on our flight from Frankfurt to Istanbul was also there, but wasn't friendly when we tried to say hi to them. Maybe we fellow Amis were ruining their authentic Turkish experience.
We checked in at Homeros Pension and were welcomed with tea and little sesame crackers. They told us there was a big market going on in town so we checked that out. My friend M got 3 oranges for 0.25 Turkish lira (10 Euro cents) and they were delicious! We also stopped for pide since the airplane sandwich didn't really do anything for anyone. They were making them in full view which was cool. Walking around town, it seemed people were really scrounging for tourist money, maybe because it was off-season. Or maybe it's just normal.
We visited the ruins of St. John's Basilica, where St. John the Evangelist is thought to be buried, and were approached by a dude trying to sell fake old coins. He sulked when we told him that no, we did not even want to just hold them. Also there were some seemingly drunk dudes hanging around. The ruins were beautiful though and set on a hill with a great view of the sunset, hills, and Isa Bey Mosque.
The basilica ruins close at 5pm and as we left we noticed a tiny mosque across the street from the exit. I commented on it to D & M, calling it a mini-mosque, and a guy there brought us into the mosque to show us his skills for the 5:15 prayers! He said he sings them there every day. No one else was there to pray. It was pretty cool but of course he really wanted some money and to sell us a book about Islam. He found the right people since we actually had been wondering about a lot of the procedures so we asked for the book before he even made his pitch to buy it!
We had dinner at the pension, which was not bad, tons of food. The family showed up to eat as we were finishing up but they didn't seem that friendly. We headed out to buy some water and shopkeepers kept trying to reel us in. We did get sucked in by one guy who wanted to go on and on about how traditional it is there with marriage and children. Then he really wanted us to go in his shop. Mary did need to buy another scarf for someone she remembered so she actually did get something. We followed it up with drinks at a bar, but a lot of things on the menu weren't available. I ordered a mojito and it took about 20 minutes while they found some ice. They did give us free popcorn and a fruit plate. There was an American family there but no one else. The family was really into REM. Back to the Pension to sleep before Ephesus!
The next morning, breakfast at the Pension was great: a plate full of fruit and vegetables, an egg, bread, and some spreads for the bread. The owner gave us a ride to near Ephesus. Apparently he couldn't go the whole way because hotels are not allowed to offer free rides to tourists - it hurts the cab business. Another expensive ticket and we were off! Ephesus was the reason we came down to this area - it's a Roman city in ruins, much like Ostia Antica. In all we spent a little over 3 hours in the ruins, including a look through the terraced houses, which cost extra. In that area, which is covered, there are work sites where archaeologists are trying to piece together the marble walls of an ancient reception room. There were some pretty amazing buildings and carvings, but also some tourist bottlenecks, even on a rainy January day. It reminded us very much of Ostia Antica, except that it has some more impressive bits like an entire library facade (reconstructed from pieces). Only 18% of it has been uncovered!
|Ephesus Jan 13|
We had lunch at Mehmet & Alibaba's near our pension, and it was really nice. We met a fellow American there who is in history grad school at Notre Dame, and a French woman who'd moved to the area. Since we had a huge late lunch we decided against having dinner at the Pension again (since it's so early) and went back to let them know. Then we visited the Isa Bey Mosque, sadly locked, and the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, which was one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. On the way to the Temple, we ran into a group of carpet sellers who had just closed their shop and wanted to make BFFs with us so we'd stop by their shop the next morning. There's not much left of the Temple, and the one standing column (topped with a crane's nest) looks like it was slapped together from all the column pieces they could find and not originally all one column.
By the end of that, nightfall had come and we couldn't really do more sightseeing, and weren't hungry for dinner yet, so we stopped at a bar for a drink. We wanted to find some kunefe in town but weren't sure where and it was so cold we didn't want to aimlessly look for it ourselves, so we asked one of the guys working at the bar where we could find some. He walked us to one himself, probably so he could be sure to claim commission from the owner of the shop. Once we got there we asked if they'd be open later so we could stop after having dinner. Then the guy decided to show us where he thought we should eat. This was starting to seem like possibly an expensive idea but he took us to a place recommended in Lonely Planet so it seemed okay...but the place was full and we'd have needed to wait. So he took us to some other place which was fine, but the guy there suggested we get the sharing platter instead of ordering off the menu. Normally I think we would have gone with the menu but all the food sounded too big for our not-so-big appetites so we went with the sharing platter, which wasn't on the menu, but ended up costing more. Still cheap by German/US standards, but we suspected we were paying commission for the guy who took us there. Still, the food was quite good. They had a really cool grill. Afterward we went back to the kunefe place and had some, and while we were there the guy who'd originally showed us the place came to check in. I think we paid commission there, too, but we liked the place anyway so....whatever. The evening was fun even though it left us imagining a huge scheme of kickbacks all over the city! After kunefe we headed back to the Pension to warm up and review our group accounting.
|Selçuk Jan 13|
The next morning we had the awesome breakfast again, then checked out and took a minibus to the nearby town of Sirince for 3 TL per person. All the tourist shops - and there were a lot - were just opening up and getting their sell on, and there weren't many tourists there yet either. A guy told us where the church ruin was (thanks to my lack of research, I hadn't even known there was one) and then told us to come back to his shop afterward for "tea" while telling us he made the jewelry for a lot of big movies like Gladiator. We went up to the church and got another half-hearted "where are you from" sell (they always start with this) from a guy who was just setting up. The church was small and most of the paintings remaining were pretty badly damaged, but the setting was great. After looking around there we made our way out to the edge of town and up a hill, hoping for some nice country views. A lady yelled at us to come into her house and drink something that she had in a big jug! We declined!
M decided she was done with Sirince so she headed back to Selçuk with the goal of spending another afternoon at Ephesus. This wasn't an option for us since we had to fly out in the late afternoon, so we bid her farewell and stayed on in Sirince. The town is mostly just nice scenery and souvenir shops. We stopped in a pide joint for tea and fresh-squeeze pomegranate juice and ended up getting kunefe too. It was the biggest and best kunefe ever, and the wood stove was also a plus. No one else came in the entire time. Then we looked around the shops because I was hoping to find a certain kind of wall hanging that I'd seen at the Pension. I didn't find it, but a pair of socks caught my eye somehow. There were handknit socks all over Sirince but none as awesome as these ones! I couldn't get her to give me a freaking discount and she either didn't speak any English (including numbers) or pretended not to, so I just paid because they were awesome and the original price was tolerable. I ended up getting two pairs, one as a gift, but then I couldn't decide which pair to give away! We also walked past a guy who was eager to show us that he cracks almonds open with a hammer and we should buy them. I guess he thinks dumb city people have never seen that almonds come in shells.
|Sirince Jan 13|
After our shopping, we stopped back at the Pension to warm up in the common room before catching our shuttle back to the airport in İzmir. As we neared the pension the call to prayer started and at an intersection near our Pension the sound of them layering was amazing - like when church bells in Heidelberg get so echoed and layered it almost sounds like just one sound. When we got in, one of the owners gave us tea and we sat with her for a bit. Then we went to the airport shuttle stop and waited for 45 minutes in the freezing cold and no shuttle came. We started to worry about missing our flight and D called the pension, ostensibly to get the number for the airline so we could ask what the heck was going on. The Pension offered us a ride to İzmir for 110 TL. That was about what I'd estimated a cab would cost and we really had no bus options at that point as it was only 1.5 hours until our flight...so we took the ride. We took a really scenic route back to İzmir, different from the one the bus took. The sun was setting over the sea as we drove along cliffs. Unfortunately we didn't enjoy it as much as we could have because we were feeling the sting of going from thinking we'd get a free shuttle ride to paying the equivalent of 45 Euro for a ride from the Pension owner.
When we got to the airport, we found out right away why the shuttle hadn't come. Our flight wasn't listed on the departures board. We went up to the AtlasJet agent, who looked at our receipt and told us our flight had been cancelled 3 months prior! That would have been only ~5 days after I booked it and I never was notified that it was cancelled. Thankfully, the guy didn't give us any crap about it but immediately walked over to another agent and booked us on the next flight on a different airline (Pegasus) lickety-split. We checked in and checked our bags and went to the gate, only to have the flight cancelled about five minutes later due to snow-related delays in Istanbul! So much for getting back to Istanbul in time for another dinner at Hamdi (we'd been talking about those pistachio and yogurtlu kebaps all day)! We had the option of rebooking to an 8pm flight to the Sabiha Gokcen Airport, about an hour outside Istanbul, or waiting for a 10pm flight to Istanbul Ataturk. After considerable hemming and hawing about which was more likely to be cancelled and the risks to our checked luggage, we ended up taking the 10pm flight. Pegasus served us all drinks and crappy sandwiches while we waited. The flight left on time and we landed in snowy Istanbul at 11pm. The airport was clearly having some problems and it took a while to get a gate. While we were waiting for the gate we saw the airport have a brief blackout!
While it was great to see Ephesus and we really enjoyed seeing some smaller towns, if I were to book this trip again I would not have nested flights into such a short trip. The flying took up half a day each time and I felt that was too much of the trip to lose to such an irritating experience. I think I'd either have a longer trip and keep the flights, or a much longer trip and use some other transit that would involve seeing things in between (road trip?), or visit a small town closer to Istanbul. I'd love to go to both places again - I was bummed that we missed seeing Mary's house near Ephesus, as it sounds like it would be right up my shrine-loving alley. And Istanbul...you probably can't spend too much time there.
TL;DR: Click on the photo albums.