Central Europe - Turkey

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  • We arrives in Çeşme and immediately caught a bus to Izmir, then another down to Selçuk. Almost the first thing we saw was a plane parked alongside the cars in the University carpark - funny place, Turkey.

    As we wandered a bit aimlessly along the street, hauling our luggage, and Englishman on a motor scooter pulled up besides us, asked if we needed help, and directed us to a street behind the museum, where we would find suitable guesthouses. He was right - we checked into the 'Boomerang', run by a family who had lived in Sydney; next door was Harry, who had lived in Western Australia - Selçuk seemed to be a town of Turkish people who had lived in Australia for some time.

    We were in Selçuk to visit Ephesus, but Selçuk has attractions of its own. Ayasuluk Fortress and the Basilica of St John loom over the town, and the remains of an aquaduct can be found close the centre. We spent the first day looking around locally, assuming we would go to Ephesus the next day; the weather had other ideas. During the night we experienced one of the most violent and spectacular electrical storms we have ever seen, and we woke to rain, rain and more rain - no walking out to Efes this day. Instead, we read books and spent the afternoon in the nearby Ephesus Museum.

    The following day was better, so we walked out the tree-lined path to the Greco-Roman site of Ephesus, home to the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. The theatre dominates the view down Harbour Street, which leads to the silted-up harbour, and the extensive site is home to the Library of Celsus, the facade of which has been partly restored. There are the recently-excavated terrace houses, rich in detail including painted walls and mosaics, and the site covers a huge area and is full of interesting buildings and statues.

    Having decided to skip Lesvos, we now had more time to travel in Turkey, and included Pamukkale in the places we'd really love to see. We arrived in the late afternoon, giving us time to walk around the small town before dinner. There was a wedding taking place, accompanied by noisy car parades for the groom and his friends.

    The next day saw up up with the crowds walking over the extensive hillside of mineral salt deposits, and paddling in the many pools. We were a bit surprised that we could walk over the salt, but there was a restricted area that gave us good access while protecting most of the site. A few people lolled back in the pools, but most were satisfied with paddling in the shallower areas as they walked up the hill. Overhead there were hang-gliders giving people a different view of the salt flow, and even a small plane doing aerobatic maneuvers.

    We had failed to do our homework, so the Greco-Roman and Byzantine city of Hierapolis came as a very pleasant surprise - we had no idea that such an extensive and interesting archeological site was at the top of the mineral salt area. It was a huge town, and amongst the many ruins is a wonderful little theatre, with much of the back-stage area restored.

    We didn't want to go straight back to Istanbul; the bus trip was simply too long. We looked at the map and chose a place at random - Afyon. The bus station was right out on the edge of town, and we had no map or information about the city, so we took a local bus in to "the centre" and jumped off when we saw what looked like a suitable hotel. In the event we were a little way out from the centre of town, but well within walking distance.

    Afyon is dominated by a huge black rock hill, topped with a fortress. It provided us with a direction to walk, so we set off to see what this town looked like. Part of the way along we were stopped by a man who asked us if we had a few minutes. He turned out to be the director of Afyon Liseti, a middle and high school, and he then showed us around the school, including the museum. The real object of stopping us was to see if we would talk to the English language students, so we eventually met up with about twenty students who reluctantly spoke English to us. It wan't well organised - I would have liked to have been in a classroom, with a board so that I could illustrate some of the things we spoke about, but we were gathered in the foyer, and we made the best of a rather awkward situation.

    We walked on into the centre, then up around the foot of the black rock to where a path went up the incredibly steep hillside to the fortress, by by then it was late in the day, and for once we didn't automatically climb upwards when we got to a hill-top fortress. The city had some rather lovely buildings, including a hammam and a rather large mosque. there were also some rather wonderful cake shops in Afyon, featuring "hairy cakes".

    We did go back to Istanbul, but only stayed a night then went for a short loop around the Sea of Marmara. Our first stop was Bursa, the first capital of the old Ottoman empire. I was more interested in its position on the old silk road, as I like to buy material as souveniers of our travel. As with Afyon, the bus station was far out on the outskirts of the city, and we caught a local bus into town, hopping off when we saw what looked like suitable hotels. As it happened, we jumped off the bus a bit early, so we were near a modern shopping centre, but still some way out from the centre of the city.

    We just looked around locally the first evening, but we had all of the next day to walk into the city centre and explore. The covered bazaar was more extensive than we had expected, and is unsurprisingly much less touristic than the bazaar in Istanbul. We visited the Great Mosque, then walked along Ataturk Street, past the unusual timber and masonary municipal building, looking for the Green Mosque. Along the way we crossed over a small river, stopping to admire the waterfall. Spilling down the banks of the river was a five-story café with its lower terrace offering wonderful views of the waterfall and the bridge - totally irrisistable place to stop and have a coffee. There were a number of bridges across this stream, including one lined with artisan shops.

    After walking much too far we eventually found our way back to the Green Mosque, and to the Mausoleum nearby. We also visited the tourist shops clustered along the street - lots of silk, but it was very expensive and I decided to go back and look for a silk shop in the bazaar. Sure enough, there were places with quite beautiful silk there, and I found something to my taste.

    I had chosen to go to Iznik, touted as a small walled town on a lake - sounded good. In the event, it was a somewhat disappointing place for our last excursion in Turkey. There is a medieval wall, but for the most part it is neglected, and it isn't a great place to walk around - either it is directly on a busy dusty road or it is deep in weeds, brambles and rubble. Similarly, there is a lake, but as soon as you walk away from the central part of town it is blocked off from pedestrians, and you can't stroll along the shores. We were happy to be heading back to Istanbul.

    We had a few days in Istanbul, looking at places we hadn't visited on earlier trips. We spent a day around the Sûleymaniye Mosque Complex, We also walked all around the Valens aqueduct, and out to the Yedikule Hisari fortress. Of course we also went to the Grand Bazaar and to the spice market, and all around the historic areas, and up around the newer parts of the city, but we found time for a day over on the east side, with a quick side trip to Dolmabahce.

    Our trip back to Australia was via Singapore. Sadly our timing made it impossible to catch up with friends except by telephone, but we had a day to wind down before heading to Perth and driving home.

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