A weekend in Izmir

Well, a few days ago we had another long weekend here in Turkey, and decided to take a look at one of the great cities and a fantastic architectural site of the ancient world: Izmir and Ephesus.

We booked our faithful hound Remi into the local kennel along with his best dog friend Willie Nelson the border collie – we found a great place that’s cheap and comes out to our place to pick up and then, when the weekend is over, delivers them back to us! Turkey as it turns out is a pretty cool place for dogs.

Oranges

Reaching for street-level oranges.

Izmir’s a beautiful portside city surrounding a large bay in the Aegean sea. It’s surprisingly big – the third largest city in Turkey – but once you’re there it has a nice, intimate feel. We’d been so used to Ankara’s dry brown climate that Izmir’s green landscape was a shock. Every hill was covered in foliage, and the plum trees had just started to blossom. Our lungs and nostrils opened up in the humid salty air. Palm trees lined the beach, and many streets were furnished with orange trees filled with bright, full fruit.

We took the shuttle up to the Alsancak district, then hopped a cab up to our AirBnB neighborhood. The cab drivers are all very proud of their city – of the green grass and the wide ocean and deep and history. It’s one measure of how great a city is – how much do the cabbies love it? Our hotel was just off a main shopping district, above a jam-packed bookstore and next to a convenience store.

We went with our friends, one of whom was under the weather the first night so we went just the three of us to look for a nice fish dinner. There’s a whole row of restaurants along the waterfront, a strip you’d call touristy for Turkey but didn’t have the overbearing souvenir shops and kitsch factor that ruin a lot of tourist districts. Just nice restaurants with patio seating and acceptable prices. You’d be heartbroken, Minnesotans, who are suffering through a miserable winter, to know we sat outside until nine in the evening, drinking beer/raki and eating fresh fish!

Saturday we wandered along the coast, looking at the statues, then hopped on a ferry for a mystery trip to the northern shores of Izmir bay. Here we discovered a cute shopping district and a Muppet themed bar/restaurant where we ate a nice burger and  had a complimentary shot of Jagermeister. For some reason we didn’t get a good picture of the muppet menu, even though it seemed odd that Bunsen Honeydew and Beeker were selling mixed drinks.

The next day we took the train down to Selcuk, the town nearest to the ancient ruins of Ephesus. It was only six lira per person, and a comfortable ride. From there it was another 10 minute ride out to the ruins. It sounds like a lot of transfers, but it was really quite a nice little adventure.

On stage and ready for action at the great theater, Izmir

On stage and ready for action at the great theater, Izmir

Once inside the park you walk down a nice walkway and suddenly looming on your left is the giant 25,000 seat auditorium, once the highlight of a thriving metropolis of 300,000 people here on the western coast of the Anatolian penninsula. A grand walkway led from the auditorium down to where the harbor used to be, a thousand years ago, but which has now silted up. There have been some renovations, and the great facade that once stood behind the stage is long gone, but it is still one of the most impressive sights we’ve ever seen. It’s very impressive when you consider that much of it was carved from the rock of the hill behind it.

From there a path leads to the great library of Celsus, a two-story edifice recently rebuilt. It’s a beautiful, elaborate construction of yellow marble with statuaries and delicate columns that once held the library of the city. It stands in the sun and kind of glows. It was amazing.

So was the weather, I should say. It got into the seventies, just a touch of the heat that would come if we visited in the summer. The crowds weren’t bad, but there were tour groups from all over the world. We heard snatches of Chinese and German, lots of British English, and yes, even a group of Koreans! On the way in we’d even seen a Korean restaurant, so there must be enough tours coming through from Korea to keep that place in business.

We walked up the rest of the path, past the latrines (narrow holes, very close together, not much privacy in the pre-water closet days), an enclosed terrace house, then up to the second entrance. To go back we took a winding path that led down to where the archeologists are headquartered – this gave us a chance to see the ruins from the top of a hill, and they were just as impressive laying out in the sun as they were up close.

And so we returned to Selcuk, then took another dolmus – dolmus are minivans that carry fifteen to twenty people on pre-determined routes, kind of a cross between a city bus and a carpool – out to Serince, a small town nestled into the sides of a green mountain. Serince is famous as the center of local winemaking. Here you can sample and buy dozens of varieties of wine made from all kinds of fruits – strawberries, raspberries, peach, and quince, just to name a few. Traditional grape wine is also on offer. We spent a few hours here sampling, had a nice lunch of meze – small dishes of spreads for bread – with a bottle of red, and just watched the sun move over the mountains for a while. Mountain living would be wonderful, we all decided.

Then it was time to head back to Izmir. The trip was kind of winding down. Next morning our friends left on an early flight, and we had just enough time to wander down to the clock tower and get a last meal of traditional Turkish breakfast – a variety platter of cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese, honey, simit bread, and various other local delicacies. Then it was time to head out to the airport. This cab driver was no less convinced that he lived in the best city in Turkey, and we could find not reason to argue with him.

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