Ancient Greeks

Trip Start May 03, 2013
Trip End May 22, 2013

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Flag of Turkey  , Turkish Aegean Coast,
Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday May 17 Day 15/1 Ankara to Izmir
"Turkish 7004 9:30AM Ankara Esenboga 10:50AM Izmir"

Most of our group heads off to the airport together, but we'll part with half the group there. Those of us traveling on to Izmir will take another local Turkish flight down to Izmir. The others are heading on to Istanbul for their flights home.

We arrive in the warmer coastal city of Izmir, once known as Smyrna, after a short flight. We're met by a smaller version of the white bus that's been our 'home' since Gaziantep. We drive on through the community and head up Mt. Pagos for a hillside view of the harbor and the town below us, though it is pretty hazy. We stop off in a small cafe for a coke or a coffee and relax for a bit on their open balcony before heading out to the hotel to check in. Nearly every inch of the hillside below us is covered with buildings, the smaller homesteads surround us at the top, leading down to the water and the high rises. The flat rooftops just below us are covered with laundry and satellite dishes.

Izmir is Turkey's 3rd largest city and a major shipping and tourist port. Tourists ships pause here for the same reason we do- the magnificent ruins of ancient Ephesus is a 2 hour drive south. We're on our own this afternoon and need some lunch. Our hotel is just blocks from the walkway along the shore - what we call the Embarcadero in San Francisco. There are piers for the water taxi's which travel back and forth across the bay. Some people are fishing from the low wall at water's edge. Others are just walking, enjoying the sights and breeze. The narrow street is one long restaurant row. We pick out a nice looking sea side cafe and have  a chicken sandwich. Then a slow walk back to the hotel where we take it easy before dinner at the hotel.

Saturday May 18 Day 16/2 Izmir

We head out at 8:30 for our 2 hour drive drive south along a major road to Ephesus. Mustafa has warned us of the hot sun. We try to be prepared with hats and water, but I'm sweating just getting off of the bus. We're dropped off at the top of the excavation site, which slopes down toward where the port once was. Our bus will meet us at the parking lot at the bottom.

It seems crowded with tourists, but Mustafa says it can be much worse.  We spend the next two hours or so walking over ancient mosaic sidewalks, posing in front of ruined pillars and statues, dodging other tourists and trying to not be separated from our group. We spend a good deal of time walking up several stories inside the excavation site called the "Terrace Houses". These house are covered over during the active and careful excavation. We walk up narrow metal stairs and over plexiglass floors built for us tourists to get an inside view into the home of the well-to-do: walls with frescoes, floors with mosaics, niches for statues. The closed in setting is very hot- not a breeze at all -and with my acrophobia, a little disconcerting at times- especially since I can look down at my feet, seemingly standing in air above the building below me.

We finally work our way down the main walkway again to the famed remains of the Library and walk past the large Theater. It's relative size is deceiving until I realize that the small figures are my fellow tourists. I wonder how many people would make up a full house? Then we walk through the usual gauntlet of tourist shops and on to the bus. I'm pretty grateful for the air conditioning.

We drive up winding roads then into the hills and stop at the nearby village of Şirince. It's inhabitants are mostly of Greek heritage, descendants of people who did not leave Turkey after the War of Independence. Now it's a boutique village for the Ephesus tourists. We walk up a narrow 'street' of very large stones, past small inns and shops, and settle into a very lovely little cafe for lunch. The menu is a little predictable at this point, but delicious nonetheless.

Afterwards we head back to Izmir. We have dinner on our own at a different sea side cafe as the sun sets over the water. It's a lovely sunset photo op. Then a walk up the square to the quays and back to the hotel.

Sunday May 19 Day 17/3 Izmir
Today begins much like yesterday with a 2 hour bus ride. This time we're heading north to the town of Bergama. It sits below the hilltop acropolis of the ancient town of Pergamon which is our goal today. We do a pit stop on the way and discover a very clean WC surrounded by turnstiles. Folks must have been sneaking in a lot to need this type of security. Inside, we're greeted by birds chirping. I assume they're outside a window until one of my fellow travelers points out the nests up in the corners. 

As we're passing through Bergama's town square, Mustafa points out the crowds and the celebration that's occurring. It's Youth Day, a celebration of the young and gymnastics and dedicated to the beginning of their War of Independence. The local kids are dressed up, some in native attire and others in their sports gear. Mustafa allows us to stop and run over for some quick photos.

Then we drive up the steep hill where we leave the bus to board a funicular to the top. It's an involved process that reminds me of boarding a Ferris wheel that never stops. Inside a small building, we're confronted with yellow circles around bare feet that are painted on the flooring. We're surrounded by the gear structure. The idea is to stand on the circled feet, wait for the little glass car (about the size for 3-4 people max), and jump in for the trip up the hill. Then remember to jump back out at the top. We're met by the usual (but smaller) gauntlet of shops and a very nicely laid out stairway up to the top with shade trees. It's a stunning view from the top, especially at the hillside theater that seems to hang miraculously above the modern town below. We wander through the site, posing in front of ruined pillars and statues. It's a much smaller site than Ephesus. We're practically by ourselves compared to yesterday.

Afterwards, we lunch in the village (yep, more kebaps) and then head back to Izmir. Tonight is our for-real farewell dinner at the hotel. Tomorrow we'll fly back to Istanbul. Only Jeanne, Mustafa and I will stay, while the rest continue on back to the states.
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