Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

After taking advice from the manager of my hotel in Bandirma, I set off the next day along what my map assured me would be motorway all the way to Izmir, but the manager assured me would be a perfectly ridable single lane road.  The two towns I stopped at on the way to Izmir were both busy, populous places but with little to distract the passing tourist. Akhisar I liked, but without any good reason. Maybe it was because it was the only town I'd seen in Turkey where the locals used bicycles, a promising indication of the local terrain. It was also the location of one of the other three churches of the revelation, though I didn't know it at the time. 

The last 30km into Izmir turned out to be real motorway, with only intermittent hard shoulder and moderate traffic. After grabbing a tow on a car-carrier half-way up what turned out to be a very high and steep mountain, I let go when I saw a public standpipe and rest area. I refilled my bottles, and got chatting to the only other person there, who happened to be heading for Izmir in his flatbed Toyota. Moments later I was speeding the last 20km of motorway, the bike on the back of the flatbed.

I spent the next two days killing time in Izmir, waiting for my parents to turn up. I went in search of any kind of sea transportation to Egypt, by any route, but had no luck. The ferries that would normally be available having disappeared due to the off-season and the Israel-Lebanon war. I went to the museum but found little of interest there. The 'cultural park', for which read 'fairground', entertained me for about 4 seconds. In the end I watched Saw 3 and Bond at the cinema. Both crap.

Now, if anyone was wondering whence I derive what for want of a better word I'll call my 'writing-style', read on...

Seven wonders, seven churches and several games of backgammon (by Mum, with occasional editorial interruptions)
Apparently, Tim's blog will come to a permanent and premature end if I don't add an entry for Izmir and around.
He cycled over the hilly interior of Turkey from Istanbul to Izmir, and got there before us... so he and the bike were there at the airport to meet us. This, as it turned out, was a good thing. Only because the bike was there were we able to identify our first elementary mistake... 2 errors which compounded each other. An underestimate of the amount of space the bike would take up, even in pieces, in a hire car... and an overestimate of the size of car we had hired ( a focus is a hatchback in England - apparently not so in Turkey). Once we had exchanged the rather tatty looking and inadequate saloon for a very funky brand-new 'Kangol' - a high-rise car with oodles of space, at much greater expense - we were away.
Izmir itself is one of the 7 churches of Asia Minor mentioned in the book of Revelation... ancient Smyrna. By the time we finished our tour we had done several others as well... Ephesus, Laodicea and Pergamum... and come close to the others. We had also seen the site of one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world (the temple to Diana/Artemis at Ephesus), and had spent a fair bit of the holiday trying to remember the other 6.
For those who want the personal details that are often lacking in this blog - yes, he has lost weight. He is leaner and looks tanned and healthy. (I left England with a BMI of 38, which in layman's terms means clinically dead. It is now around 29- the top end of overweight but positively svelt by comparison. -ed) He had had a shave and a haircut in our honour. Despite the minimal luggage he travels with, he still managed to fill each bedroom he occupied with untidy stuff... no change there, then. Most of the stuff he carries is books, so no change there either. The bike, which I never expected to see again, looks in good shape. Tim has never had to change a tyre, and has only had to do minimal running repairs. Some of the panniers are now held on with plastic ties and bungee ropes - but all is pretty much intact. It also looks a bit less new, and less nickable, than it did when I last saw it. Also, the on-bike computer which looked as if it wouldn't work at all on day 1, is still going strong.
We took a circular route around Izmir, heading south and east into the hills and stopping where we found ourselves. It is definitely low season in November in Turkey, and this was our (mine and Jeremy's - Tim is an old hand by now) first foray into being 'independent travellers'. In one town it took some time to find a hotel of any kind, and in the enormous restaurant where we had our evening meal, I was very obviously the only woman who had eaten there for a bit. In fact, it is quite an experience for a western woman - it took me a while to get used to the fact that my food always arrived last in restaurants, and my order was taken last, too.
Culturally, the high point was definitely Ephesus, which is fantastically preserved on a large site. Easy to imagine St Paul making himself popular - and unpopular - in the enormous agora and along the streets. We arrived early and were nearly the only people there... I stood on the stage of the amphitheatre and recreated an ancient trade union dispute by shouting 'Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!' to my audience of 2. (see Acts chapter 19 for the full story.) (or don't, it's up to you - ed) We also visited the burial site of St John the Evangelist - presumably small at first, til they built a bloody great cathedral over it - now also ruined. Also the afore-mentioned Temple to Artemis (basically a bog with a few stones in it). The friendly Imam of the ancient mosque in Selcuk inscribed a blessing to us on a card while selling Tim a small copy of the Koran in english, and Jeremy did his bit for inter-faith dialogue by telling him I was an anglican priest. Moving on we found a fascinating house created by some land-owner for his 2 wives, and then to Hierapolis - a simply enormous ancient site... and the white cliffs of  Pamukkale... a geological feature formed by mineral springs spouting out of the top of the hills. Here, Tim and Jeremy paddled in the luke-warm spring water.  The oracle at Claros rounded off the cultural side of the trip - a really nice little ancient site, full of interesting bits which we could explore alone to our heart's content.
I was not allowed to visit 'Mary's house' ... where the Virgin Mary was supposed to have lived after the crucifixion. The house was identified by a 17th century german nun who had never left Germany... and it is clearly Mediaeval. Tim and Jeremy wouldn't waste time on it on the grounds that the Virgin Mary had obviously never been near it. Funny how happily they went to the Temple of Artemis and the oracle, though... apparently mythology is ok if it is old enough. (basically- yes. Although  where someone 'holy' did live is one stage closer to interesting than where someone 'holy' didn't live -ed) .
21st century features of the trip included drinking a lot of turkish tea, of various flavours; sitting in a café on turkish carpets smoking nargile (which I am assured is neither addictive nor narcotic - don't tell me if you know otherwise;) eating meze, and kebabs and baklava; Jeremy and Tim playing endless games of backgammon; sharing a sauna; being plied with turkish coffee and tea while we failed to buy a carpet from the charming hotelier; and best of all the wonderful ad hoc lunch prepared for us by the proprietors of a 'closed for the winter' campsite on the top of a mountain, beside an empty swimming pool.
At the end of 5 days we gathered at Izmir airport to say goodbye. This was not as easy as you might think - the security barrier at Izmir is at the entrance to the airport, rather than at the entrance to the 'air-side' part of the airport as at, for instance, Heathrow. This meant that in order for Tim to join us for a final few minutes at Starbucks, he had to negotiate the conveyor belt security check - with a bike. After half a dozen security staff had discussed the dilemma for a while, they found a larger conveyor belt and put the bike through that - twice. Apparently on its side was not adequate and through it went again... on its handlebars. (Tim looking justifiably concerned). Tim and the panniers then went through another security check elsewhere while Jeremy and I watched the bike.
And so we came to the end of our visit. Congratulating and reassuring ourselves that despite, or perhaps because of, our best efforts, our son has turned out to be capable, efficient, and organised and well able to cope with all that this challenging trip may throw at him...
... then he discovered he had left his glasses in the hire car.
After the hire car had been fetched back from its car park, and Tim had negotiated airport security twice more, (good thing that, due to an oversight on my part, we were ridiculously early for our flight), we finally bade our farewells, reassuring ourselves that he remains comfortingly unchanged by his adventures.


A new plan had finally come to the fore by the time my parents left, since by sea to Egypt hadn't worked, by land would have to. This meant catching a bus back to Istanbul, where I would get a visa for Syria before heading south. This new plan was going to mean catching some buses, not because of intraversible landscapes or scary politics- both of which failed to materialise, but because I've made arrangements to meet.. . guess who... in Egypt on 14 Dec, and I don't have time to do the whole way overland by bike. C'est la vie.

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