Friday, November 2, 2012

Turkey - 2nd and Final Episode

We are now back in Istanbul for four nights, after 9 days of travel by many forms of public transport along the coast of the Aegean Sea.

Our first stop after Pamukkale, where we last wrote, was in Selcuk, a picturesque town with cobbled streets and Roman ruins, including a fifth century AD fortress, a fourth century basilica, baths from 1364 and the Temple of Artemis which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Antique World. However, all these sites were somewhat neglected and totally overshadowed by the splendid Roman ruins of nearby Ephesus. Even the local museum displayed only excavated sculptures and artefacts from Ephesus. We spent half a day walking round the well preserved streets, admiring the vast piles of carved stone which are all that remain of the huge Roman city after many earthquakes. The marble streets are still in remarkable condition and some of the buildings have been reconstructed. Only 15% of the original city of over 200,000 inhabitants has been excavated so far.

Cooking pancakes in Sirince
We enjoyed a visit to the mountain village of Sirince, built and once occupied by Greeks, who left in the 1920's. Old stone houses with wooden shutters and doors and orange roof tiles have patios where they serve savoury pancakes under grape-vine awnings. It is famous for felt-making and olive-oil production as well as wines and vinegars. The characterful ice-cream vendors dress up in extravagant old-style costumes, and tease the customers by snatching the cones or scoops back with an iron-bar.

Restaurant waiters also like to joke with customers or pose for photos with general the Turks are a fun-loving people. They are also very generous with strangers. When we asked to buy two huge apples in a market, the stall-holder gave them to us for free and when we were flummoxed by the complicated ticket buying system on Izmir public transport, a friendly middle-aged couple used their transport pass to buy us tickets.

Turks take their national holiday on October 29 very seriously, with red Turkish flags draped from private houses, flying from municipal buildings and carried by school children singing the national anthem and honouring Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, of whom there are pictures and statues everywhere. It is their Republic Holiday, celebrating the declaration of the Turkish Republic in 1923.

The long-distance buses were fully booked for the holiday, so we travelled to Ayvalik a day earlier than planned. It is a picturesque old fishing port, famed for its olives and “Ayvalik Tost”, a cheesy, meaty sandwich rivalling a Philly cheese-steak in fat content. We stayed in the old part of town in a quaint restored guest-house which served a wonderful breakfast. We enjoyed exploring the old parts of the town where there are working horse-drawn carts in the cobbled streets, olive-oil factories, mosques converted from old Christian churches and fishing boats bringing in fresh catches along the sea-front.
We took a bus ride to Alibey Island and tasted the seaside treat of “lokma”, which are deep-fried spheres of dough soaked in syrup and sprinkled with coconut. The olive plantations stretched for miles, the trees laden with green and black olives...they taste nasty until they have been cured, but we have loved being served a variety of different coloured olives with breakfast wherever we have stayed.

Our next stop was Foca, which is even more quaint and cute, with its fishermen mending colourful nets along the waterfront, each boat different from the next with elegant rugs to sit on and decorative potted plants on board.
Our hotel room had its own balcony over the promenade, from where we looked out over the harbour to the islands and enjoyed romantic sunsets. We were glad we hadn't swum in the sea after we noticed the numerous spiky sea-anemones on the rocks, and saw a large blue jellyfish close to shore. In the 3rd century BC, Foca was the centre of a powerful seafaring civilization which founded many Mediterranean cities, including Marseilles.

While Sandy's namesake hurricane was hammering the Philadelphia area and other East coast communities in the U.S., we were enjoying sunny days with temperatures in the seventies. We did experience a major downpour one evening in Ayvalik, when the street was so flooded that our waiter had to rescue a girl from the rising water by helping her climb through the restaurant window.
We are now back in Istanbul for a few more days before returning to Philadelphia on Monday. Our trip from Foca to Istanbul was long and varied, involving a local bus, a suburban train through Izmir, a plane to Istanbul, another bus, a funicular railway, a tram ride and finally a walk through narrow streets and stairways to our lovely guest-house overlooking the Sea of Marmara. Today we enjoyed a great breakfast on the rooftop terrace with views of boats, fishermen and many varieties of birds, before wandering through the back streets of Istanbul, visiting streets where every store is specialized – in hardware, grilling equipment, belt buckles, spices, dried fruit, bridal wear, kitchen crockery, etc.

Tomorrow we have plans for a ferry ride to the islands in the Bosphorus and a whirling dervish performance in an old bath house.

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