A Travellerspoint blog

Egirdir, Turkey

We are now on tiny Yeslada Island, which is on a large lake connected to Egirdir via a narrow causeway. Off the beaten track in south-central Turkey, this place sees it's share of vacationing Turks in the summer, but not now. It is very much spring, with all the trees leafing out, birds chirping, and ducks humping. They are strange looking, long billed ducks who dive under the water for extended periods of time and reappear 50 yards away, like loons. Our charming guesthouse has a direct view of the lake, which is surrounded by imposing snow capped mountains, and seems to change colors depending on the time of day, position of the sun, etc. It is by turns, blue, turquoise, and grey.




One afternoon we rented an ancient row-boat, and paddled around with oars that must have weighed 20 pounds a piece. It was a good idea until the wind picked up, white caps appeared, and we had to struggle to get back to the dock. Luckily, we didn't have that far to go.

We also happened to be in Egidir on market day, and as in Selcuk, we had more than our fill of of feta, olives, tomatoes, strawberries, and oranges.




Unlike Morocco, many people here seem happy to have their picture taken. I asked two older gentlemen at the market if I could take theirs and they nodded. When I showed them afterwords, they each touched their hearts, as if to say thank you.


By in large, the Turkish people have been very generous and warm hearted. They seem to go out of their way to make contact, and to watch out for you, if you are obviously a foreigner. They are right up there with my all time favorites, the Laotians and the Burmese.


Posted by jonshapiro 08:54 Archived in Turkey Comments (6)


Melrose Guesthouse. We arrived here on a day when the travertines were free for the Turks, and there was an air show as well. The small town was packed,
and when we got to our hotel they had overbooked and did not have a room. They did put us up for free in a relative's guest house next door, not nearly as nice, but the price was right. Our current room is probably the best one we have had in Turkey thus far, with a big round bed covered with bright red pillows and spread. Hugh Heffner, roll over. There is also a terrace overlooking snow capped mountains. I wasn't expecting such an impressive landscape as none of the guidebooks mentioned it.


Incredibly, the proprietress, Leyla, who is Turkish, was actually born and raised in Wangen. As my ongoing readers know, Wangen is a small place in southern Germany that is home to our friends, Antonette and Joachim, whom we visited just prior to Istanbul. She didn't know them, but still...

Leyla returned to Turkey when she was 10, and we had an interesting discussion with her about feeling caught between two cultures, similar to the talk with Alex in Ayvalik. It was hard for her when she first attended school because her turkish was not very good, and they put her in a younger grade. At that time, all the girls had to dress in black and she wasn't used to that. Things are much easier now, but she still doesn't feel completely Turkish. For example, she always has to be on time, and follow through with what she says she will do, which is not the same for many Turks. She can imagine how she wants the guesthouse to look, and she thinks this too would be difficult for most of her countrymen/women. In the beginning, these things created problems with her husband, but now she says, he is just like her.

Rather than going up to the travertines on a very crowded day, we arranged a side trip to Aphrodisias It was a bit of a haul as the ruins are about a 100K drive, but on the way there we took the longer scenic route through the mountains. We shared our mini bus ride with three young foreign exchange students, an American studying in Ankara, as well as a couple of Aussies.

The ruins only had a scattering of people, and the setting rivaled Pergamum with snow peaks in the distance and green fields all around. The city, is dedicated to Aphrodite, goddess of love, desire, and beauty, and the place lives up to her name.

Temple, and on right, Torso of Achilles



On the grounds there is also a museum which has statues and busts of local prominent figures, (from 2500 years ago), as well as various Gods including Aphrodite.




Today was our day to ascend the travertines, and it was a blast. You can see it below, but it is essentially a mountain of snow white chalk and mineral deposits, that was created by thermal springs that bubble up in several places, putting out a constant stream of warm, mineral laden water that washes over the rocks.


To prevent destruction of the site, everyone is asked to take off their shoes, and so barefoot, we continued up the ramp, which is like a white staircase. It is interspersed with a dozen or so small pools, each one a different temperature, but all relatively warm.


We didn't know about the pools, and so didn't wear bathing suits, but no matter, we went into every one of them, clothes and all. We smeared ourselves with the loose chalk at the bottom of each of them so we didn't get too sunburned, and it wasn't crowded so we had many of them to ourselves. Unfortunately, it was difficult to capture the full effects our pool romps with pictures. My hands and clothes were too dirty to handle the camera, and I was, frankly, a bit embarrassed to ask a stranger to do it.

As we soaked up the mildly radioactive (we hope) waters, we gazed out at the green valley below and the snow peaks on the opposite side. Hard to beat it.



Slowly we made our way to the plateau above, where we put our shoes back on and walked to Hieropolis, a Roman city that was later home to Jews, Christians, and finally Muslims. Further on, we came to an ancient, steeply banked theater, that probably seated 30,000 or more back in the day. Complete with subterranean passages, near perfect acoustics and sightlines to the stage, it is an architectural marvel. I imagined the cheers and shouting of a gladitorial contest, as I sat on the uppermost seats, looking out toward the travertines and the high mountains in the distance. Those Romans obviously had a highly developed sense of style and aesthetics.


After taking all of this in, we continued past more deserted ruins of the ancient city, and then back down the white staircase in what was then (2,000 + years ago), the center of town.


A late lunch of spinach and feta crepes completed a near perfect day, certainly one of the highlights of our time in this fascinating country.

Posted by jonshapiro 10:05 Archived in Turkey Tagged landscapes buildings_postcards Comments (2)

Efes (Ephesus)

We took the bus from Bergama to Efes, as it is called here, and stayed in nearby Selcuk, a medium sized city, not without it's charms. Now that we were getting to southern Turkey, it had a much more tropical feel.


There was a beautiful old mosque.



And a round stone castle not far from a pedestrian mall that was closed to traffic, with shops and restaurants. The weekly market took place right in front of our hotel, hours after our arrival, and we stocked up on different types of feta, delicious tomatoes, olives of all kinds, and strawberries. It was more than enough for lunch and dinner. The non food section of the market was less interesting. Mostly it was bargain clothes, probably made in China. Wandering around the back streets of Selcuk, these ladies were kind enough to let me take their picture.



Efes itself was a bit of a disappointment after Pergamum. Although larger and more extensive, the setting is not so lovely, and the place was packed with tourists from all over, even in the hot sun of mid-afternoon. Where you are allowed to walk is also quite restricted because of the numbers. Nonetheless, it is worth a visit, in part because some of the buildings have been tastefully reconstructed and you get a sense a just how large a city it was.




Posted by jonshapiro 06:42 Archived in Turkey Tagged photography tourist_sites buildings_postcards Comments (1)


We arrived here, at the Odyssey Guesthouse in Bergama, in a downpour which continued for most of the day. We did laundry, and more or less hung out, reading the copy of the Odyssey that was in every room. We did make a brief foray to see the old Roman Basilica nearby,and stopped in a carpet and gift shop and chatted with the owner, a handicapped man of about 60, whose English was quite good. He told us about his children in North Carolina, and said how lucky we were to be born in America. Quite true, despite the crazy politics of our country today. He was quick to add that Turkey is much better off now than it was just a few years ago, something which echoed Martine's comments in Istanbul.

Back Streets of Bergama near Guesthouse

Today however, is truely glorious, with blue skies and bright sun. We hiked up the back way to the old acropolis, clamoring over stone walls and ascending herd paths up the steep green hills. By going this way we managed to avoid the tour groups until we got to the very top, and by then most of them were going in the opposite direction.


The ruins, often overlooked by many on their way to Ephesus, are impressive. It was one of my favorite sites in this country of ruins. Many Corinthian and Ionian columns still standing tall, glistened white in the sun. Some of the original details of the temple friezes are still present.


There is an enormous 10,000 seat amphitheater carved into the hillside, a homage to Zeus, but apparently the site of political speeches.



The ancient city, which dates to 400-500 BC, was successively occupied by Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and then Turks. Home to over 200,000 people in its heyday, it was known as Pergamum.



On the way down, we skirted the teleferique and climbed back over the stone walls to the narrow alleys of upper Bergama.

View of the City with Basilica

We then walked to the other set of ruins on the opposite side of town, known as the Asklepieion. It dates to about 300BC, but which was at its height in 100 AD, as a vast medical center. It also had complete mental institution with a dream interpretation center, and hot and cold herbal treatments, for those with psychological ailments. Freud had nothing on the Greeks. Though somewhat less impressive than the stadium on the hill, there was a smaller amphitheater of 2-3000, perhaps where Galen and others performed surgeries. Death was officially forbidden to enter, but it seems as though gravely ill patients, those who were clearly dying and/or pregnant, were not allowed in the first place. I guess the doctors felt they had to stack the deck in their favor.




Back at the Odyssey Guesthouse terrace, I gaze out at the crumbling brick walls of the Basilica (100 AD), old tile roofs in the foreground, and green hills beyond. I can make out some of the older ruins dotting the hills leading up to the acropolis on my left.


This is a very friendly town. All of the kids we meet are eager to practice their English, and people go out of their way to show you where things are if you need help. While bigger than Ayvalik, it feels more relaxed because it is not a resort.

In a little while, we will have tea or coffee with Alex, who we met in a locanta yesterday. Though Turkish, he lived in Astoria, Queens for many years and has recently returned to his country for a different job, and to help take care of his family. When we arrived at the cafe, he was already there with another Turkish friend who spoke no English. He said he brought his friend because he didn't know the city very well, having just moved here less than two months ago. This friend called yet another friend who had a car, and we proceeded out of town, first to an outdoor place that was not really open, and then to another restaurant in a small indoor mall. They ordered for us, a large mezze plate, pizza, a bulgar dish, salad, and mixed kabobs for all, even though we tried to tell them we weren't hungry, as we were expecting only a light snack. The friend with a car, Osman, teaches comparative religion in the local high school, where it is compulsory. He spent several years living in Syria, where he attended university and worked as a journalist.

And so we began asking questions, translated by Alex, about Syria, Iran, and the Middle East in general. Osman felt that Turkey used to get along well with its neighbors, but no longer, in part because of the situation with Israel and the United States. He said he thought that Iran will gradually liberalize, but is unsure what will happen with Assad. About Israel and Palestine, he seemed to agree that Israel should give up the settlements and the occupied territories, and that there needed to be a two state solution.

What was striking to us, is that Alex did not feel free to express his opinions to his friends because, as he later put it, he is Turkish, and yet he is not Turkish. He is Muslim, and yet he is not. A man caught between two cultures, he nevertheless insisted on paying for everyone. When we asked about his family, that is when we found out that his father recently died unexpectedly during routine back surgery, and Alex, as the oldest son felt responsible. He initially came to the US in his early 20's, after getting a very good job with Alitalia, the Italian airline. He said he had many problems because he was so young, and the office politics were complicated. It was apparently a high pressure job, but after therapy, (how typically New York), he decided that he had to leave, and ended up going to Bolivia to study Spanish in 2006. It was almost the total opposite life from what he had been living before. As it turns out, he was also married to a psychologist, though now he is divorced. We didn't get the whole story of what happend after Bolivia, but now that he is back in Turkey, he feels it is his responsibility to take care of all the problems in his family, something he didn't feel living in the United States. We exchanged emails and offered each other a standing invitation to come and visit. A most interesting man, and a fascinating evening talking politics with people whose views we would never get to hear.

A reminder once again of why I travel. It is because of chance encounters like this one, unrepeatable and unique to the moment.

Posted by jonshapiro 14:47 Archived in Turkey Tagged people tourist_sites buildings_postcards Comments (3)

Ayvalik, Turkey

We arrived last night after an easy crossing despite warnings about high seas. The whole trip took about nine hours with the bus to Balikisir and then Ayvalik. After a lukewarm reception at nine in the evening, we moved from Taksiyaris Guest House to a newly renovated place around the corner which we seem to have to ourselves. Ayvalik is a cute, if somewhat disheveled old town of stone houses and tile roofs, many of which are in various states of disrepair, though a number of them are slowly being renovated by Istanbulis. They are buying up old places for a summer seaside getaway. By car you could probably make it in about four hours.


The seaside promenade is a nice place to stroll,


while the narrow cobblestone streets run up a steep hill to a wooded grassy area with goats and chickens roaming freely.



There is a small expat community here, mostly Brits, and we gave Ahmed's, wife, Kathleen, a call. He apparently had already spoken to her, and she seemed quite happy to hear from us. We had lunch, and then she took us to her house. It was quite a large place, about 130 years old, and she is still working on parts of it. We shared travel stories with her, and she told us about her time teaching English in China in the 90's, quite different than our experience. She also told us a fair bit about her relationship with Ahmed, who it turns out, is Bipolar. The meds he takes only control it partially. Perhaps that is why he has had so many different jobs. Kathleen spends part of the summer in England since Ayvalik gets too hot for her, but she worries about leaving Ahmed alone. It seemed to us that her relationship with him is quite rocky, understandable, given his mental health problems. She is encouraging him to spend time with his family in Pakistan, which is where his doctor is.

It was enjoyable to spend the better part of an afternoon with a fellow English speaker, but it was hard for us to understand exactly why she settled in Ayvalik. It seems a lonely existence in a town with marginal infrastructure, and a small number of foreigners. Now, she says, it is impossible for foreigners to buy property as a law was passed preventing them from doing so. She is concerned as to how this will affect property values, as a good deal of her money is tied up in the house.

Posted by jonshapiro 12:43 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

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