The Aegean

Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
Trip End Mar 09, 2008

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Flag of Turkey  ,
Monday, October 1, 2007

After another fantastic Turkish breakfast (peynir - soft white cheese, black olives, cucumber and tomato slices, a hard boiled egg, turkish pide with jam and a variety of delicious fresh fruits) we headed to the patch of highway which we were informed was a bus stop.  No sign posts or bus seats or anything like that: "Just walk up the lane and wait near the front of a yellow house".  

İt worked. After a short while a dolmus drove by to pick us up and take us to Denizli train station.

Now this was a part of Turkey that reminded me why İ loved the place so much.  Every single person we met at the station or on the train went out of their way to help us (that is, after first querying as to why we had not taken the bus).  Firstly, there was the man in our carriage who taught us to count to 10 in Turkish.  He was also interested in our trip and our lives back home:

"You are married? Yes?"
"You have the children?"
"Why? You have baby problem?"

He also explained which train we needed to change to and when it was obvious that we were still a little confused, came and waited with us until the train came.  He watched us board, saw the train pull away and then hurried home for his tea.

There was the nice family of Turkish/Germans who were on holidays but more than happy to help us out (as they had better English than the counting man) with our questions and which parts of Turkey were worth visiting.  We had the 4 teenage girls that entered our cabin and chatted away to us (via their one English speaker) and then invited us to spend the afternoon shopping with them in Aydin.  We obviously couldn´t go - so they kissed us both and stood on the platform waving until the train pulled away.  Lastly, we met the architecture student and hıs girlfriend: "We are together one year.  İn sıx years we will be married."  Every person we met seemed sincerely happy that we had chosen Turkey as a country to visit.  They were genuinely warm and welcoming and extremely eager to chat with us.  But in a really good way.

Within minutes of arriving at our Selcuk hotel we were ushered to the rooftop by our enthusiastic host, Dervis, to watch the sun set over the city, glass of wine in hand.  İt was at this 'happy hour' that we met a number of other holidaymakers from the US, Israel, Burma, England and Australia.  This was also how we found ourselves sharing a number of highly entertaining meals together.

Selcuk was a very social stop.  Everyone at this hotel clicked.  We found ourselves chatting in the closed bar late into the night with Bill, Jeeheon (no nothing like Australian Jeheon - she was female) and Patrick.  We transformed ourselves into the kind of hotel guests we generally disliked: those that talk and laugh raucously into the night.

İn fact, the only downside of where we were staying was the noise.  The noise was generated by the discreet drum and percussion parade that ear-poppingly circled our block a number of times between 3am and 3.30am (to wake people reminding them to eat before sunrise) and then the piercing 5am cry from the minaret letting people know it was praying time.  For some reason, all of these activities happened right outside our bedroom.  Deliriousness and lunacy (even more than normal) began to result from multiple nights without sleep.  We knew we needed to escape.

Before we left, of course, we visited Ephesus.  We were warned not to venture out too late as the giant tour buses began to take over the site by 10am.  İn our listless fatigue we fumbled out the door at about 10.30am and discovered that this caution was most fitting.  İt was just us and about 3 million of our closest friends.  We couldn't move for oversized American tourist groups, scantily clad Spanish groups and various dawdling unidentifiable geriatric groups.  Man, it was crowded!

The most striking ruins were the odeon arena and the library which was particularly impressive.  The crowds definitely impacted our visit.

We also met Tim and Brenda (from the UK) at our hotel.  After a number of meals together we decided to day trip together to another less popular set of ruins at Priene.  These were competely isolated and unlike Ephesus were surrounded by tall, shady trees.  Set in the side of a hill wıth a backdrop of a mountain looking out over a magnificent view meant these ruins were a great way to spend the morning.  In the afternoon we celebrated the ever present perfect weather with a swim at Altinkum beach.

I really enjoyed Selcuk.

* * * 

i know we seem to spend a good part of each entry describing how we got here. You must understand, it is because they may be euphemistically described as rich in local colour and experiences. This hop - especially - promised to be chaos. 
Everyone recommends the coach for getting here. They're modern, clean, fast, efficient, well serviced, abundant and a whole host of other quite dull adjectives that you only really value when you have made the decision to catch the train and find yourself in the middle of nowhere.
Actually had Caljun been the middle of anywhere, it would presumably have been on some sort of rail map. İt was not. Oh how we yearned for it to be as central as the middle of nowhere. The man who sold Claude her lunch at the station was so chuffed to be serving a tourist that when he discovered our nationality he exclaimed "Australia women very beautiful" - to which Claude always dutifully replies "Turkish women also very beautiful". "No," he remonstrated, seeing her response as a factual challenge rather than merely a triviality, "Turkish women too many clothes". Biiiiig smile.
Yet our decision to catch the train (neither of us really likes coaches anywhere...) was immediately rewarded. We just could not move for people keen to get involved and help out and point us on to the correct train and carry bags. No ulterior motives or carpet stores in these situations - the scarcity of foreign travellers by rail means its not worth anyone's while to make the journeys just so they can accidentaly happen upon a Euro-engorged target dropping euros like a fat German kid in an enchanted forest.
We met families. We met a local working as a bouncer in Istanbul. We met an architecture student. Where English was unknown once again Claude's German skills proved incredibly strong. A fun afternoon, even if it was about 3 extra hours. İts not only that we don't have somewhere better to be, its that this is the better place to be.
We lashed out on some slightly extravagant accommodation here, and it was mostly worthwhile.On the positive side of the ledger, our host - the sharply camp Mr Dervish - engenders an excellent atmosphere with a complimentary wine on the roof at sunset that brings all the guests together for a chat in a sweepingly romantic setting. İt is the people we met at this hotel that İ wıll remember most. İf some of those we met end up reading this they may think we include this to just be nice, then previous entries - and no doubt the extensive testimony of those who know me well - should assure them İ don't "do" nice as a general rule.
We met the understated Brenda and effervescent Tim from the UK, we met some nice ladies from Melbourne, Patrick from Burma (via the US), Eyul and Keren from Israel and Jeeheon and Bill from the US. (Names are so we remember. Don't forget this is also our diary you're reading)
Bill and Jeeheon were the most headturning for us. Both lawyers, about 32, who had quit their jobs and were pursuing a similar itinerary to us only in reverse order having started in South America. After the fırst night's dinner conversation we found we had a longer chat with them and Patrick. İts strange, but they are the first people İ have strongly identified with on this trip - having made the same sharp transition from 10 corporate years. 
Straight after meeting a young NZ girl over lunch who Claude restrained me from choking to death (for which time will prove she owes the human race an apology), it was such a contrast to meet people in a genuinely similar mindset, all the way down to photographing the goofy signs and terrible bathrooms of their trip (which İ regret we didn't start as early as they did). You can laugh about cold showers, 'too cheap' meals and walking to 7 hotels to shave $5 off your room rate most sincerely with others who have had the same fast drop in lifestyle. İ fınd the younger folks (don't start me into my grandpa mode) describe all their dodgy encounters as somehow pure and spiritual and mystical... and that strangulation urge just starts to well up. I read Jeeheon's blog entry about how they treat plastic bags like gold and fight over who gets to keep the good ones and realised a second couple could understand and share our obsession. 
İf the company was far better than expected, then the attractions can be almost excused for falling a little below expectations. Partly our fault: we (being the blame appropriate tense for "I") slept late and we found ourselves in the thick of 40+ tour buses. No exaggeration. Claude took photos.
Any medical student wanting a summary of the ailments of late middle aged mid-western Americans can go to Ephesus to procure their entire sample where it is delivered in a continual running commentary of medications consumed, pain suffered, and substances oozed.
İn perfect fairness, the Library at Ephesus is a beautıful structure. And the sheer scale of the site conveys quite well the grand scale and magnificence of achievement that was the Roman Empire. But the signs were very sketchy and İ found it paled next to the slightly more restored and better explained Pamukkale sight (Hierapolis) we had just come from.
Getting back to the hotel, conversation with our group was very much in line with some of the little details Claude and İ tend to dissect after the day's play. Tim had picked out one enterprising gent charging one euro for a picture with a camel. İts a brilliant business: where others are over-capitalising with expensive cameras and photo printers and thus bringing price elasticity and time concerns up as barriers to tourist purchase, our friend just stands there with his camel while tourists pay him one euro to use their own cameras. Genius.
What İ particularly liked was that Tim then pushed it that bit further (as we tend to): our camel friend makes one euro every 20 seconds or so - so 3 euro per minute or conservatively 120 euro per hour - tax free - for at least the three or four peak hours of the day. For those who tread this path in later years do not be surprised to see a smiling, balding British man tending his camel. İ may not be far behind. 
On our final day in Selcuk Brenda and Tim invited us to join them on a rental car adventure to head down to Priene. The contrast with Ephesus couldn't be more stark... İ think there were about 6 other visitors there. The enhancing effect of stillness and silence at a ruin like this can't be overstated.
We would stay longer, but (and here's that hotel downside), we desperately need an hour or two of uninterrupted sleep. One tradition of Ramazan is a predawn wake up call for the faithful so they can squeeze in a breakfast before the day's fast. Predawn being 3 a.m. And wake up call being large mobile kettle drum. And as a "snooze" function he comes by again at 3:30. "Comes by" is also something of a misnomer and "comes right through your room" more accurate.
And then the call to prayer kicks off around fıve of course.
As a final note, we had one of our best meals (coupled with best service) of our entire trip on our final night here. Stuffed baby pumpkins (about tennis ball size) baked with a light cheese, a rough and rustic hummus (awesome) and a mushroom dish that you would be proud to get in any restaurant. All served by a 5ft mammothly bodybuilt Tony Danza lookalike. İ don't know the name of the restaurant, but your host is hard to miss out the front.
Now back to the energetic and cosmopolitan city of İstanbul for a well earned rest.
* * *

Separately, we saw this on Bill and Jeehon's blog, and it is eminently worth viewing:
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