Turkey was never really on my list of places to visit! Thinking about it, I cannot figure out a reason why that must have been. Afterall, I have always been interested in the Persian Empire, its cuisine and have been very much aware of the fact that modern civilisation and cultural progress germinated in this area! They were the second greatest empire after the Babylonians. They were the pioneers of trade and global discovery as far back as 4th century B.C. And, by all accounts, they catalysed the spread of the chicken to the rest of the world from the wild jungles of Asia.
Ok, the last bit I only learnt in the last week but, nevertheless, I have been fascinated by the ancient Persian culture long enough to make the lack of opinion on Turkey rather awkward. Nevertheless, opportunity arose, and there I was in Israel at the end of last year. Once in the region, it was hard not to make the most of it. As it would happen, going from Israel to anywhere in this predominantly Islamic region is near impossible! Jordan and Turkey were the only options and the latter won out from pure economic sense and value. Jordan has Petra and Wadi Rum, yes. Turkey has all of stunning Istanbul, even older ruins of Ephesus and the quaintness of Capadoccian countryside. Score!
So, anyway, after a brief stop at Capadoccia where I luxuriated in the novelty of staying caves cut into the sides of vertically rising geographical structures, I headed to the small town of Selcuk that counts to its glory proximity to the World Heritage site of Ephesus ruins, the remnant of one the Seven Ancient Wonders, stunning aqueducts running through the city and the Byzantine ruins of the Basilica of St. John. Even more wondrous is that while this town is definitely tourist oriented, it still remains firmly rooted in its farming and artisanal traditions. This curious juxtaposition, rather than confusing, makes its populace very friendly and approachable. As a single woman traveling, I found Selcuk particularly the most welcoming part of the country. It also had the best food I tasted in my trip! And, that is saying something given the allure of Istanbul that I visited right after!
Also, there is probably no other place in the world that you have the opportunity to stay in a lovely B&B that is spitting distance from an ancient ruin of remarkable importance. Hotel Bella, where I stayed was a quiet oasis set back in a garden of lemon trees and beautifully appointed in old world charm. From here everyday I ventured near and far, to the Ephesus ruins and other ancient relics on the first day. On the second to the market of Sirince nearby and as far as the South West coast into well know cruise ship catered Kusadasi.
I travelled in late November and the best thing of visiting close to Winter is how much of the place you get to yourself. During Summer and the height of the tourist season, everywhere in Turkey is a nightmare if you don’t like crowds, particularly checkmark sights like Ephesus and sea side Kusadasi, where mega cruise ships docks on their world tours carrying in too many Asian tourists for leisurely strolls through the narrow lanes!
Let’s stipulate you are there and made your peace with whatever the state of affairs is. What do you do once in Selcuk? Why, just what I said! Ruins, markets and sea… 🙂 And, lot of awesome food everywhere.
My journey was made nicer as I met another fellow single traveling lady from Canada, who also loved food and history, and we became fellow strollers and friends! On the first day, we spent a few hours walking through the ruins of Ephesus, imagining the glory in its heyday as a bustling market town where traders brought in their wares from land and sea alike. Although today the land on which Ephesus was is nowhere near the sea, it used to be. The sea has retreated in the several centuries in between to create a large of part of the country to the West. Housed within the Ephesus were three distinct and interesting buildings – the Library of Celsus, Terrace Houses, and the Great Theater. All three are architectural marvels, steeped in history and definitely worth spending time in.
Walking for hours amongst the giant boulders and beheaded statues certainly gives you an appetite and the best place to go for lunch is a local Gozleme shop by the cave of Seven Sleepers. Legend is that a group of seven youth hid in this cave in 250AD to escape persecution for being Christian. When they awoke 180 years later and emerged, Christianity had become widely accepted. Fantastic as that sounds, the gozleme was genuinely fantastic! Old ladies cheerfully rolling out dough stretched thin, stuffed and cooked in a wood burning stove in front of you and served fresh and hot, downed with a big glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate or orange juice, it was a wonderful stop before more ruin hunting.
The afternoon included strolling through the ruins of the Basilica and then viewing the Temple of Artemis, or rather the lone composite column that stands in place of the grand Temple that once was! It is actually quite saddening to see that single disjoint column as a standing reminder of the follies of humans. It was built thrice and destroyed as many times, to leave nothing behind for posterity, consumed first by a flood, then by greed for fame, by Christian aversion of pagan customs and eventually by rioting Goths. As the sun was setting on a grey day, it was a melancholic sight to tired feet but even in its thwarted glory it was one I would not have traded for it provides a moment of introspection in the peace of absence.
After that very weighty start to the stay, the next day, I decided it was time for the lightness of food market. Nearby Sirince is known for its agrarian roots and thence we went in a local commuting bus. It was one of the best days on my two week stay in the country, drenched in simple warmth of a largely rural town, homemade Turkish delights, pounds of fresh fruit and awesome Dondurma, the Turkish ice cream, that you must have when you are here. It is an experience unparalleled!
Our last adventure in this region was to the port of Kusadasi. Again taking the commuter bus, we reached the town through a lot of construction. The port has changed in recent years from a sleepy fishing village to a major stop for mega cruising lines. Along with it came new prosperity, want for bigger things and lots of new housing. As we made our way down the winding roads, we could see new gated communities and resort like amenities being built. Again, we benefitted by going off-season as the normally crowded town was bereft of most visitors and was presented in a more natural state. The bazaars are interesting to walk by but nothing to be particular about. A stroll along the shore is a delight in the late afternoon warmth.
This was my first brush with the coast of Turkey and being a seafood lover, I really wanted to try the fish here. There are several restaurants along the pier and you can easily choose any of them. By chance, and, because I wanted to take photographs, we wandered into a seafood market. Oh the sights!! The freshest fish I have ever seen and so, so clean! The only other real fish market I had visited prior was back in India, where while the fish certainly was fresh, the market was not! We managed to find one vendor who spoke English and said we could buy raw fish and take it to a nearby restaurant to have it cooked for us! What?! We bought a ton of anchovies! Oh, how good they tasted simply fried with salt. I don’t like the strong flavor of preserved anchovies, but fresh, they are out of the world awesome!
After a sumptuous meal, it was back to the hotel and flight to Istanbul in the morning after an early breakfast. Yet, I still remember the experience as if it were tomorrow and tastes of everything I ate in this region lingers even today! A beautiful part of the country that I would definitely return to…