Izmir, Ephesus, and Pergamum

During the weekend that bridged March and April, J and took a trip to the city of Izmir to visit some of Turkey’s most popular historic sites and excavations: Ephesus, Pergamum, and Asklepion.

We flew into Izmir on a Friday morning and had a day to explore the city. We spent the time ducking into shops and walking up and down the modern waterfront lined with fish restaurant after fish restaurant. A friend of mine from Izmir had given us a recommendation before we left and we kept and eye out for the place so that we could return easily in the evening.

Our excellent fish dinner at the famous Deniz Restaurant was by far the best food of the trip. Over the next couple of days we quickly learned that guided tours and good food do not go hand in hand…

This particular weekend was the first and only trip we booked through the travel office on base. That office is operated by a commercial tourism company in Turkey and when you book a tour package with them you are then combined with any other individuals or small groups who booked the same tour for the weekend. This meant that on Saturday morning our guide made stops with his mini bus a several different hotels, gathering up the nine (including ourselves) people taking part in the day’s excursion. Overall, while it was handy and interesting to have a knowledgeable guide, J and I quickly remembered why group tours generally don’t appeal to us. Quite a bit of waiting, interrupting, and chattering over the guide’s efforts to explain came with this particular group of individuals. The bus also made several “complimentary” (but, really, sponsored and mandatory) stops at “authentic” shopping destinations. No, we don’t want to buy that same onyx bowl that we’ve seen in Adana for a fraction of the price, thanks…

But, irritations aside, I’m certainly glad that we paid these sites a visit. My recommendation to other travelers, though, would be to simply rent a car and skip the tours, bad food, and pushy shopping stops.

We made this trip at the absolute perfect time of year. Spring was in full bloom with hills covered in daisies and the cherry blossoms out. Not too hot, not too cold–just right.

Pergamum ruins. Remains of the Greek temple.

The road to Asklepion, an ancient Greek psychological hospital.

The next day (Sunday) we went to Ephesus, one of the largest, or perhaps the largest Greek/Roman excavated city in Turkey.

First things first: 2,000 year old public toilets. For some reason, I find it completely fascinating to think that people sat themselves right down on this same piece of stone for so many centuries, so long ago…

The library. Now, our guide informed us that 70% of this structure has actually been reconstructed. I’m not quite sure how reconstructed is defined in this case, but I’d be curious to find out. Did they simply re-stack the stones as they found them? Have they cut new stone?

The day concluded with a visit to a carpet co-op (or so they said–I say tourist trap considering the prices…) and a ridiculous-beyond-belief leather store complete with a “fashion show” that was so bizarre the words escape me at the moment. Let’s just say that now we know exactly where many of the knock-off designer leather goods you might find on any street corner get produced.

This trip left me with a jumble of mixed feelings. On the one hand, I felt fortunate, as I always do whenever we travel in Turkey, for the opportunity to see and touch history in a way that I had never imagined. At the same time, I simply felt so doneĀ with many of the things that our fellow tour-goers, visiting Turkey for a short time, found charming and exotic. I’m sick of people expecting that I will want to shop. I’m sick of street cats roaming around my feet while I’m eating a nice dinner. I’m sick of the facade of “high end-ness” that so many businesses attempt to impress upon you when, in reality, little attention gets paid to the foundation of things. (For a silly example, our room had only hand towels. We inquired about them in the shiny, sleek lobby as soon as we first dropped our bags in the room. They never showed up. At all. And for all the faux-finishing and smartly dressed employees, the single elevator in the entire hotel rarely worked. Our room was on the seventh floor.)

I get the impression that new things, even if they’re just shoddily propped on top of old things, perhaps appeal to many Turks because of all of those crumbling ruins I posted above. Old, massive stone fortresses are far from rare here. Anyone can drive to Anavarsa and roll a chunk of Byzantine pillar on the bed of a pick-up truck and cart it home. Not everyone can have wood laminate pasted down over their old marble countertops…

I am glad we made this trip. But, lesson learned: we guide our own tours and we pick our own hotels.

In other news, today is June 1st. We leave on June 30th. I am ready. I have a feeling that Germans like to pay attention to the foundations of things. I’m pretty sure that I’ll appreciate that–at least for a while.

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