A Travellerspoint blog


Selcuk, Turkey


sunny 95 °F

The bus station in Selcuk was smack dab in the middle of a bustling market and as we looked around to get our bearings, we were approached by a random local man who promptly escorted us through the market to our pension (guesthouse), waved to the owner and then headed back into the market. A 16 year old helped an old woman check us in, and we were shortly standing on our balcony looking down at the busy market. It flooded the street entirely and we couldn’t resist diving in… a minute later we were on a shopping spree for tomatoes, bell peppers, eggs, eriks, and apricots. We decided to self-cater our dinner that night and made Manti (Turkish ravioli) in our little boiling pot with veggies from the market.

The small town of Selcuk exists mostly because of tourists coming to visit Ephesus (an ancient Greek and later Roman city that is one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World) that was only a 30 minute walk from our pension. We set off to see the ruins along a bike path bordered by fruit trees and families having picnics. We arrived at the Ephesus grounds and were impressed with the substantial size of the ruined city which offered many places to wander. The well preserved stadium/theater and the rebuilt library façade were quite the attraction but our favorite spot was an almost life-like fountain:

We had mixed emotions while walking through the ruins of Ephesus. Some of the buildings have been left much like they existed in 41 B.C., yet some buildings have been put back together in a sort of jenga-like construction that made them look fake. There were some places where things clearly had been put in the wrong place, or upside down. Regardless, we had a great time admiring the ancient city…

After an long day of walking around the ruins, we were tired, and hot. So we thought we’d relax in our pension owner’s pool:

The pool was actually in a boutique resort just out of town that the owner of our pension had recently built and she was kind enough to drive us there and allow us to swim in her two week old salt water pool! It was like being in Napa Valley, but with olive groves, instead of grape vines.

Europcup soccer had just started, so we headed for the pubs. We watched Spain vs. Italy with some youngsters and some frosty mug beers and then England vs. France drinking tulip glass ĉay (tea) with the local old folks. While walking to one of the games we found the coolest sandwich bar and stopped for a tostu (panini) and a fresh mug of aryan (salty yogurt drink). We also made sure to try out a Selcuk specialty cuisine called “Çöp shis” (which is small little pieces of kebab literally translated to garbage sish kebab).

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 07:29 Archived in Turkey Comments (1)

Izmir, Turkey

True Turkish hospitality and kindness

sunny 85 °F

Emre, happened to have to work in Izmir on the same day that we had planned to take a bus to Izmir. We hitched a ride and were thankful once again to have small backpacks that could fit on the backseat with us in a small car.

Emre’s door to door service handed us off to Ekrem at a coffee house in a north suburb of Izmir called Karsiyaka. Ekrem showed us around his math preparation clinic for high school students looking to score well on their university entrance exams. It was really interesting learning how important the entrance exams are for Turkish students (they sounded way more important and challenging than the SATs). Some children’s parents will even get a doctor’s note for their child to skip regular school, so that they can spend more time going to Ekrem’s exam preparation clinic prior to the exam.

On our walk around the neighborhood we stumbled upon a huge pasar (market). This was not a tourist market or your average farmers market… this place was under a circus sized tent with clothing and other goods pouring into the streets as overflow. We were in a heaven of fresh fruits and vegetables, buying tomatoes, cucumbers, cherries, eriks (green plums), strawberries, olives, cheese, nuts, bread and eggs. We stocked up on enough food for several feasts, and some for our gracious host and his roommates.

Ripe tomatoes were in season and going for less than 15 cents per pound! The clothing stands were a blast to watch because the vendors would spread out all of their clothes on tables and then stand in the middle of the clothing mounds shouting Turkish phrases to the surrounding shoppers. It was a weird feeling to wander amongst the locals who somehow obviously knew that we were tourists in this market. Being out of Asia, we had thought that we could blend in more with the locals, but apparently, we still stick out like sore thumbs. We asked one vendor who spoke to us in English how he knew we were tourists. He said our sunglasses, figure and our noses!

Izmir was more than a big city, with lots of entertainment options… we watched a local soccer match, had 0.7L Efes beers served with popcorn, nuts, and eriks (green plums), went for a run along the Karsiyaka waterfront, and spent some time playing on the park workout equipment.

The city waterfront is shaped like a half moon with ferries connecting the outer points to central downtown. We headed to town in search of a kumru sandwich and found one tucked away in one of the markets. The kumru sandwich is an Izmir specialty made on a toasted sesame roll with cheese, tomato, bologna like salami, sausage, tomato paste, and a pickle.

In the spirit of adventure, we decided to jump on a random local bus for a tour around the city. We thought we’d luck out and get a bus that went up the hill for a sweet sunset walk through the neighborhoods. The bus driver seemed very amused to have two foreigners fumbling to pay for tickets on his bus, and proceeded to ask us where were going (in Turkish)… we sat in the very front seat and tried to show in charades that we were just riding the bus around. When the bus came to the end of the line, we got up with all of the rest of the riders but the bus driver indicated that we should not get off and repeatedly said “dang-ger, dang-ger, dang-ger” while making the motion of slicing his throat with his finger. In what seemed like a token of his affection and apologizing that he wouldn’t let us off, he had us follow him to an ice cream vender across the street and insisted on buying the two of us ice cream cones (with chocolate sauce and nuts). He then escorted us back on the bus and drove us back into tourist land. Later that same day, Robin had asked for one chocolate baklava from the huge tray at a deli. The lady behind the counter just handed one to Robin, and offered another to Kevin, free of charge! We only accepted one, seeing as one piece of baklava can put a non-diabetic into diabetic shock due to the copious quantities of sugar… but thank you Turkish hospitality for saving us from the ghetto and feeding us with sweets!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 03:54 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Canakkale, Turkey

A small coastal town with a large selection of new grub!

sunny 85 °F

The bus dropped us off right at the port and we thought we’d have to take a shuttle into the center of town… after many confusing conversations with the locals we finally figured out that we were already in the center of town! Turns out that Canakkale is a very small town with a beautiful promenade along the water; we only had to walk 50m to meet up with Emre for a monster sized baked potato (kumpir)… this kumpir bar was similar to a frozen yogurt bar in that there were over 15 different toppings to select from!

We continued sampling new Turkish foods first with some traditional ice cream (dondurma) before heading out for some Efes beers and live music. The best part of the evening must have been eating a hand rolled Tuni afterwards, which kinda felt like hitting up a late night taco truck.

After a Turkish coffee making lesson, we headed to the beach. Although the water was pretty refreshing, the two beaches we went to weren’t nearly as impressive as the one we had been to on the Black Sea, so we headed off in search of a place for some lunch. Strolling through the quiet streets, we found a nice alley filled with old men having chai… we stopped in front of a café that had grapevines growing over the top and were pleasantly surprised with a kind man from the shop across the street who came over and asked if we needed any help. The restaurant owner was his friend, who didn’t speak any English, so he helped us order some kofte and taziki.

The most popular tourist site close to Canakkale is Troy, home of the Trojan Horse. Lucky for us there is a replica of the horse in Canakkale that is rumored to have been used in the movie ‘Troy,’ so we decided to stay in town and selected some ‘Trojan wine’ to go with the experience.

Now feeling a bit warrior like, Kevin and Emre took on some 16 year olds for some 3 on 3 basketball. For the next two hours, Kevin and Emre took on the heckling kids who couldn’t figure out a combination to beat the old guys… to celebrate our victory Emre took us to the best place in town for Turkish cheesecake (which by the way needs a new translation because it does not resemble American cheesecake at all)! We were very impressed with how many new local delights we sampled in such a small town… our favorite being a sweet sesame covered roll twisted into a bagel shaped pastry that were sold all over town! There were even ones filled with olives…

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 09:37 Archived in Turkey Comments (3)

Riding Buses in Turkey

This bus has WiFi?

sunny 80 °F

Traveling over land through Asia is an adventure to say the least, and has left us dreading any sort of long bus trip. Our first trip in Turkey was via bus from Istanbul to Canakkale and was to be a 6 hour ride. We were not excited, and the price was a lot higher than what we had been paying in Asia. However, we were in for a real treat when we boarded our plush air conditioned bus and found that every seat had a TV, a food tray, and a USB power outlet.

As we were smiling with disbelief, a stewardess came down the aisle serving complementary snacks and drinks as if we were on an airplane. The roads were paved (shocking!) and at times we felt like we were simply sitting at an internet cafe. During the bus ride we pounded out some serious catch-up on trip planning as we were served tea, coffee, water, and cake. When we stopped for a break the rest stop had tables with seats and stores with shelves! Even though we still had to pay for the toilet, it was actually inside with running water!

We drove along the Sea of Marmara and made for a very picturesque journey. Near the end of the journey the bus boarded a ferry to cross the Dardanelles (which connects the Sea of Marmara with the Agean Sea) and we could see cute little Canakkale nestled quaintly at the water’s edge! The bus trip was so enjoyable and productive that we couldn’t wait to ride the bus again!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 21:25 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Istanbul, Turkey

Into the Mediterranean!

sunny 80 °F

Perhaps it’s because we were so excited to be out of the heat and crowds of India, or because it reminded us so much of San Francisco, but for whatever reason, we fell in love with Istanbul. It is surrounded by beautiful blue waters, filled with cute tea shops and green parks, littered with sky lines and cityscapes, alive with trams that meander flower lined walking streets past historical castles and bazaars. It is a wonderful city to get lost in and to absorb all of the sites, foods, and sounds of the mosques. We enjoyed fresh veggies without worry of bad water, and sampled many of the local delights with the first and most obvious being the Turkish Delights. We decided that we like the original chewy ones, that don’t contain nuts or other frills. Second, there is baklava, with all different kinds, including chocolate! We ate doners, which are similar to our beloved schwarma and last but not least there is an endless supply of yogurts, cay (chai), and Turkish coffee. All of which can be enjoyed while sitting outside in cafes with ample people watching opportunities. The people here are super friendly and hold true the legendary ‘Turkish hospitality.’ People seemed to be relaxed and spend a lot of their day sitting outside, drinking cay from tulip shaped glasses.

Istanbul is unique in that half of the city is located on the European continent while the other half separated by the Bosphorus is on the Asian continent. While on the Europe side, we stayed in 68 Hostel on the Tophane tram stop. We were pleasantly surprised with it being located smack in the middle of a cute little neighborhood, with a market, a few veggie and fruit stands, a baklava bakery and a caged mini soccer field. We were close enough to walk to all of the historic sites, and just around the corner was a park on the hill with an awesome sunset view of the Bosphorus!

We spent some time wandering around the entirely covered Grand Bazaar, through the cavern like underground streets with blue glass “watching eye” charms peering at us from every shop. We learned that these watching eyes are supposed to fend off evil and bad spirits, and Robin is now protected with here new necklace! We had the impression that they were sold only to tourists since they were sold all over the bazaar, however, we later noticed watching eyes in every normal shop, home and on bumpers of cars and buses!

We found the best tourist site to be the least visited and hardest to find. It was the Basilica Cistern that was featured in the movie ‘From Russia with Love.’ It’s an underground water tank that used to hold 2,800,000 cu ft of water for the city and it blew our expectations away. It was like walking underground into the ‘Mines of Morea’ with spooky columns holding up a dimly lighted dome roof.

Before heading over to the Asian side, we took a cruise along the Bosphorus to the Black Sea, where we spent a few hours enjoying the view from a castle on top of a hill. We were joined by some dolphins swimming just off the bow of our boat and went under several familiar looking bridges :)

Leaving the tourist sites behind on the European side, we ventured into the suburbs to meet up with Osman and Kubra where we experienced a more practical version of Istanbul. We were greeted with an amazing spread of typical Turkish breakfasts and some good home cooking. Osman and Kubra took us on day trip up to the Black Sea near Agva where we stopped in little fishing towns and spent some time relaxing on the beach, making sand castles, flying a kite, and riding river bicycles!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 10:53 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

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