Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Aegean coast beckons, and we arrive

Clock tower in the central square Izmir

We were met for our journey to Istanbul's Sabiha Gökçen International Airport, at 9 AM by a dignified driver dressed in a suit from the private shuttle service Backpacker's Travel Service

For the four of us and all our luggage it was a bargain 50 euros or 105 TL (plus small added gratuity)  the ride took over an hour and it was nightmare traffic all the way, particularly crossing the Bosphorus Bridge to get to the Asian side of Turkey.  The driver was quiet and a very patient. (He even had a small fridge in the front, offering us cold bottles of water for us to drink midway on the journey!)

We got to the airport in plenty of time to check in for our flight, have a glass of çay, and make our leisurely way to the gate.

I had struggled with the options of getting us all to the airport. I looked into bus or train or boat and even considered taxis.  In some instances (example:public transportation) some alternatives were much cheaper. But it felt a little like we'd be herding cats, and I remembered we were all "on vacation". 

The ease of booking the Backpacker people online (and their quick response), was what convinced me to go this route.  (we COULD have schlepped the luggage ourselves and made it happen for less, but there's enough stress in travel now a days and this seemed like a perfect solution). I include this diversion for any who may be considering travel to Istanbul and wonder at "the thing in the middle" ie: "airport....?.... hotel".  If you are feeling intrepid there are many options, but lately, as I get older and have tried all the options, I find myself shepherding my resources...a little bit like "picking your [travel] battles".

The Sabiha Gökçen International Airport is very new, only built in the last 5 or 6 years and is really lovely. 

We flew on Pegasus airlines, (they have a rather charming URL: which always making me smile and think of pigs flying, instead of a flying horse) I made all the arrangements online and printed out the tickets.  When we checked in with the print outs, there were no problems.  We were assigned excellent seats at check in and boarded painlessly.  Well except for the slight moment of "duh" when we got into the wrong line and waited to go through passport control.  When we got to the desk we were turned away.  It was after all a DOMESTIC flight.  sigh.

We arrived in Izmir to sunny skies and part of a familiar airport.  The old international "terminal" was now the domestic terminal and it looked out onto a HUGE new building that apparently was now for International arrivals.

We were met by the representative of Elit Car Rental.  28 euro/day, everything included! (Full Insurance, Unlimited Mileage, Insurance for Tires, Headlights, Windscreen, Theft Insurance, Airport Delivery, V.A.T, Second Driver, 24 hours road service, and Theft insurance with NO excess!)

It was the best price I'd found on the internet for the sized car I was looking for. 

I did have misgivings though as when I called no one spoke any English, except finally a young girl who told me everything would be alright and just fill out the form on the internet page.  (I emailed a Turkish friend and asked her to call and talk to them in Turkish and give me her opinion, and she confirmed that they were actually all right, just short on English speakers as it was the off-season) I rented a Fiat Doblo Diesel (seats five and has room for five huge suitcases) and that's what the rep had brought to the airport.  Clean and basic.

In broken English he explained everything we needed to know, took us to the gas station and filled the tank, filled out all the forms with our driving licenses, all the while smiling cheerfully while repeating all the services we were getting for free, and generally told us everything except where to find the map to the entirely new highway system that now rings around and through Izmir!  Sadly the car didn't come with a map.  Needless to say there were no bookstores en route.  In fact he called his office and someone drove to the gas station with a sort of tourist map, and that's how we went off in search of the hotel - on the new highway.

We honestly found it by sheer luck, tempered by a vague memory of where Balçova was.  As we were driving down a hill I happened to glance out the window and saw the entrance! Fortunately I looked at pictures on the net before we'd left!!

The hotel is a Thermal "spa" hotel, or rather small complex of spa facilities medical support, thermal swimming pools and jacuzzi, as well as meeting rooms and banquet facilities.  There are two hotels: a simple hotel and a rather grand one.  We were staying in the simple hotel.  For 61 euros/night we got an en suite room, with a buffet breakfast and a buffet dinner and access to the pools and the fitness center as well as the park with the tennis courts and lovely gardens. 

almost exactly our room
As we had taken advantage of the bargain prices, we got the "bargain" rooms. 

The rooms were clean, if a bit "tired", but they were larger than I'd expected, and warm. 

The warmth was generated by the thermal waters that heat the place!  In fact ALL the water was thermal.  The shower, the sink... the toilet... yes, the water was hot in the toilet!!   We actually had to run the cold tap for a while (the  way you run the hot tap in most places!) in order to get the shower water to be a bit more bearable!  Our last morning coincided with a group who got up early and took showers --- draining all the COLD water, and making our showers very brief, emerging hot pink and very clean.  We felt that the temperature of the water had sanitized us.

Our first objective after arrival was to scope our our local environment ... AND buy a map. The hotel didn't sell any maps in the gift shop.   

We drove into Izmir, but ended up doing so by taking a back road, the only road that we recognized.  SO many changes.  When we arrived in town, we parked at the only familiar memory in town (so we could find the car again!!)  the Hilton hotel parking ramp.  Fortunately we managed to do it with all the elan we'd hoped to show C& S so as not to worry them overmuch at our bafflement of how to get around!

We wandered around a bit and tried a few places looking for a good map (including the Hilton hotel!) and couldn't find one, but we were referred to the "new" Konak Pier.  When we lived there, the Konak pier was really just a sad falling down structure that was being eyed for demolition, until someone finally decided to invest in it and "do" something.  When we left, they were still working out what they were "doing".

The Konak Pier building was designed by the famous Gustave Eiffel in the 1870s and has been used as French Customs, İzmir Customs, fish market and parking lot. The original steel construction structure were renovated with the latest technology and began to be used as a modern shopping mall in 1998. Konak Pier is the most prestigious center in Izmir with its movie theaters, restaurants and the famous brand shops. It is located on an area of 8,000 m2. A small parking lot is available.

It's lovely inside and filled with great stores, restaurants and a movie thearter.  Also a really terrific bookstore with many, many English language books.  In Remzi Kitabevi I bought several good maps, with the help of a really great guy who spoke excellent English and found exactly what I was looking for.

We would never have had the money to retire to Corfu, if that bookstore had been in town when we lived there.

So we returned to the hotel and had a surprisingly delicious dinner. (The food was simple Turkish home cooking with fresh ingredients and a large variety of dishes to select.)  There were two other restaurants in the same building and if you ordered your meal (and paid for it!!) there, then you could enjoy wine with dinner.  Our meals came with water, fruit juices, tea and coffee.

We also discovered that the thermal pools were open until midnight.  Yes. We did.  And an amazing event it was, as the weather had turned cold.

The jacuzzi was warm enough to need to get out and swim in the huge warm pool in order to cool down a bit.  It was LOVELY.

The next morning we left with the best of intentions and were planning to go to Priene, Miletus and Didyma.  Due to a fair amount of confusion, and T throwing up his hands and saying we'd go the "old way" (meaning via the back roads from where our old house was). 

the old limani /agora
We'd arrived close to Ephesus by 10:30 in the morning and I knew that at this rate, we'd get to the three cities much too late to see much and we'd have to turn back before we'd explored everything.  So, ever flexible, I suggested we visit Ephesus instead.  That suggestion went down well and we'd arrived at our destination with plenty of time to wander. 

The new discoveries at the site, and the changes made to some of the standard things were wonderful as it was - for me- like visiting an old friend, and her new family!

For now I'll just post pictures of Ephesus and let it speak for itself... or else the captions will!
in the great theater- still used today!

advertising to incoming sailors

the library of Celsus

falling lizards... or beware the edge? you decide.
Samson after the haircut
main street Ephesus
a sort of experiment in comfort
walk this way...
Inside the Slope Houses- the new excavations, now a new and wonderful exhibit.

a maze of upper class dwellings buried in the hillside
still assembling the puzzle pieces
but when the puzzle pieces fit...
it can be pretty amazing.
imagining people going from room to room
maybe house proud
kitchen with cooking vent and fish painted on the wall...
early church like room inside the complex of houses
even looking up, there's something to see.
so many puzzle pieces left!
exiting slope houses and wondering if they went to the library often...
walking back to the car
a choice for lunch in Kuşadası
We returned to the hotel just in time to quickly change our clothes and be picked up by our Turkish friends.  About twenty of them showed up at a wonderful cocktail party they threw for us.  We felt so cherished (and so awful that we'd waited so long to come back for a visit!)  Everyone looked fantastic and we were only sad for not seeing everyone we wanted to see.

Sorry, by the way, the post has gone out so late, (I worked on it most of Saturday, but now it's 2 AM Sunday morning, so it would seem this will be a Sunday post!)  I forgot that people need to fit into my day, even when I'm trying to write "important" things for my blog. (yes. go ahead and laugh.  you know who you are!)

Tomorrow, OK, later today, I'll try and make another post and include more of our excursions...

g'night for now.

1 comment:

  1. I was stunned by the changes at Ephesus...your photographs are giving me a great deal of pleasure.
    Agree with you about ease rather than spartan economy when humping last trip to Nicaragua persuaded me of the impossibility of carting luggage for two, picnic same and juggling with passports and immigration forms.
    Have yet to persuade other half.



Related Posts with Thumbnails