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It was always part of our plan to take a break from Istanbul, having been scammed and all, and see a bit of the Asian side of Turkey. Actually, Istanbul is a nub off Turkey that only half sticks into Europe. A good chunk of the city is actually still in Asia. Either way, Ed and I wake up obscenely early (5am) and make our way to Ataturk airport to catch our flight to Izmir, a city along the Aegean, and Turkey’s 3rd largest city.
So I’m not usually one for airport fast food, but a) we were starving, and b) it actually looked good. I don’t know what’s sadder, the fact that the only “full” Turkish breakfast I had in the whole trip was in an airport restaurant, or the fact that I really, honestly, enjoyed every last bite. A full Turkish breakfast is kinda like the smoked salmon eggs benny with the works – brunch food mostly enjoyed on the weekends. Typically, you’ll have fresh honey to eat with kaymak (a thick dairy product similar to clotted cream), an assortment of hard and soft cheeses, olives, bread, cold cuts, and some chilled veggies. At 6am, the sight of this is irresistible, and it takes all but 10 minutes for me to scarf it all down.
Our destination is an overnight stay in Selcuk, where we will explore the ruins of Ephesus, a biblical city where Paul writes the letters that form the book of Acts in the Bible. Things look up! Our hostel in Selcuk (Sell-chuck) is quite basic, but it’s the first sunny day we’ve had. We sit in a chilly patio for some brunch. On the menu is beef kofte (oblong, spiced meatballs) with cheese, salad, and lahmacun (sort of like fresh Turkish pizza). SO GOOD. We’re now fueled for a trek to the ruins. Except Ed is an absolute pig, and as we walk to the parking lot to grab a taxi, we literally cross the street and smell some very aromatic kebabs. Ed has to get one…They sell them by the dozen, but no, just one please.
Unfortunately for us, the ruins of Ephesus are, well, very very ruined. There isn’t quite a lot left standing to be quite honest. Still, it’s not crowded, and we meander our way through the various sites. One can only imagine what this whole complex would have looked like in it’s hayday. What sort of performances were held in the theater? What did the churches look like? How was the marketplace? Can History Television get on that?
We finish after a few hours early and come back to Selcuk for an early afternoon tea. We find out about this mountain village called Sirince (Syrinche), where lots of the old architecture is well preserved. We end up taking a ride up, and boy is it cold up there. We take a leisurely stroll up up through the narrow stone street, past various shops. We found the ruins of the Church of St. John (I think) at the top of the village. But since the vast majority of Turkish people are Muslim, the call for afternoon prayer comes on just as we are leaving. There’s an interesting circumstance eh? We manage to get a table in an indoor patio of a family owned restaurant. We enjoy a light dinner with some beer and make our way home.
The next morning we make our way back to Izmir airport, only to find out that it had snowed in Istanbul, and there were massive delays all around. We park our butts in the lounge, and wait…and wait…and wait…10 hours later, we find out that they had shut down all gates at Ataturk, and our flight had been cancelled for hours. Thanks for the update, jerkwads…We’re stuck in Izmir for the night, and our flight isn’t until tomorrow evening, pending no more snow.
However, our night in Izmir turns out to be a blessing in disguise. We grab rooms in the hippyest hostel by the waterfront, and meet some of the nicest people, from all across the world. A number of them have been here for weeks, or have stayed much longer than they’d anticipated since they took a liking to Izmir. We all went out to grab a bite, and we were introduced to kokorech, bbq’s sheep intestines served in a sandwich or on its own with some flat bread. Sounds gross but oh. so. good. The mussels there are steamed and stuffed with rice. 5TL gets you around 40 mussels. Steal! One of the guys who take us out, a New Yorker, spends his days reading in the book shop, and began traveling indefinitely because he wasn’t ready to setting down and start domestic life. Another guy, a Sicilian, studied Turkish in University, and decided to stay here long term because the atmosphere was more laid back. We literally just met these guys and they were taking us out like we were pals. I’m reminded again, of the gem travel friendships can be.
If you’re needing a break from the craziness and tourists of Istanbul, take a short flight to Izmir. You’ll literally breathe a breath of fresh air and enjoy the more relaxed, less touristy atmosphere, without having to go somewhere super remote. Don’t forget to pick up your “evil eye“!
- Izmir is a short, 1 hour flight away, pending no snow. It’s pretty damn far to drive (upwards of 14 hours), so consider the flight as it’s relatively cheap if you buy ahead of time. We paid around $50 CAD. Do yourself a favour and fly from Ataturk, as you will most likely be staying in the European side. Getting to the smaller, older airport on the Asian side of the city is truly a pain in the ass. If your flight DOES get delayed by snow or otherwise, at the Izmir airport, the lounge on the main check-in level is pretty affordable and offers many amenities…and booze.
- Selcuk is about 1-2 hours away depending on traffic. If you fly Atlasjet, you get a free bus ride to Selcuk. Simply go downstairs to the exit, and look for a mini bus that has the Atlasjet logo on it. They will drop you off in Selcuk, and you can get picked up at the same location, just make sure to ask for the pick up schedule.
- Both Ephesus and Sirince are doable in the same day, and accessible by taxi.
- If staying in Izmir, consider doing tours to Pamukkale, the cloudy white step pools, or the ruins of Aphrodesia, which are supposedly more intact than Ephesus
- Izmir’s own bazaar is worth checking out. Quieter and more manageable than Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, I find that you can really get some good deals here without the hard sales situation. Ed bought himself a nice Turkish rug for $400!