October 12 – 20, 2020
Merhaba! (hello in Turkish)
I know the pandemic is taking a toll on a lot of you especially my Canadian homies who haven’t seen their loved ones in so long on top of a very cold and snowy winter. I hope this blog post entertains you for a few minutes, takes your mind off of your routine and brightens your day.
We’re covering a short period of 8 days packed with sightseeing including two days in the coastal town of Izmir where we picked up a rental car, visits to ancient roman cities, thermal pools and meeting friends in Bodrum.
From the enchanted land of the Cappadocia region, we flew to the coastal town of Izmir where we picked up a rental car to explore a little more of Turkey.
Izmir known as the pearl of the Agean Sea, was founded by the Greeks, taken over by the Romans and rebuilt by Alexander the Great before becoming part of the Ottoman empire in the 15th century.
Today Izmir is the 3rd most populous city in Turkey after Istanbul and the capital Ankara, it is known to be proudly liberal and deeply cultured.
As we often do, we opted to stay in the historic district where we found a great little hotel located in the middle of an ancient market. You literally have to walk through the market to reach the hotel which we thought, added a little touch of autenticity and fun. Our stay at L’Agora Old Town Hotel & Bazaar exceeded our expectation, as soon as we arrived we were greeted by Lamia a super friendly Moroccan who worked the reception. She spoke perfect English and French, she gave us so much information about things to see in the area and was just an awesome person to talk to. Just hanging out in the very comfy courtyard we met some very interesting people including the friendly owner who even gave us two beautiful scarves when we left. Turkish hospitality at it’s best.
We only stayed a couple of days but we saw a few of the popular attractions, they were all located within walking distance from our Hotel, we also took the super efficient tram to reach the Karatas neighborhood where the historic Elevator is located.
- Kemeralti Bazaar – historical market stretching from the Konak square to the Agora ruins
- Agora Open Air Museum – archeological ruins of an ancient Roman market
- Clock Tower – the main landmark of the city located at the Konak Square
- Konak Square – Izmir main square located in the historic district
- Kordon Seafront promenade – lined with bars, cafes and restaurants
- Asansör (historic Elevator) – a must for beautiful city views from above
After a couple days in Izmir, we returned to the Airport to pick up our rental car and start our road trip.
We paid $400 USD including insurance and unlimited mileage for a Peugeot 301, a 4 door sedan, for a month. Car rental is very common in Turkey, there’s lots of options and haggling is expected especially if it’s for a long period. You can also leave the car in another city for an additional fee which is great if you don’t want to back track. The roads are well maintain and the signage is excellent, making it super easy to drive all around Turkey with the exception of Istanbul which is a lot more hectic. We extended later on for an additional month with just a phone call.
Fun fact: you receive the car empty of gas and your return it empty! Clever way to make a few extra bucks!
Ancient Greek City of Ephesus
Our first stop was the ancient Greek City of Ephesus one of Turkey’s most important archeological site. In ancient time Ephesus was the religious, cultural and commercial center. Located in the Aegean Sea at the north of Cayster River, the city was one of the largest seaports of Antiquity.
The site is huge and there is so much to see that we decided to get a guide to really understand what we were looking at. Farooq was informative and friendly, we spent about 2 hours with him and just brushed the surface of this ancient site. Here’s some of our highlights:
- Library of Celsus – the most recognized and beautiful landmark of Ephesus
- Arcadian Street – the grand boulevard with marble slabs and colonnades, joined the now dry seaport to the grand Theater
- Curetes Street – where ceremonies honoring the Goddess Artemis where held, the marble slabs still hold markings from the roman horse chariots
- The Latrines – public toilets where men used to spend a great deal of time relaxing and talking shit
- Temple of Hadrian – dedicated to the Greek Emperor Hadrian is considered one of the best preserved
- The grand Theater was under construction during our visit. Holding 25,000 spectators it was the largest in that part of the world after Rome’s Colosseum. Built in the 4th century it took over 60 years to built. The acoustics is so great that artists like Elton John, Sting and Pavarotti have given concerts here, however it is no longer permitted in order to preserve the structure.
After our visit to the ancient city of Ephesus we drove to the House of the Virgin Mary located on top of a mountain just 9 km away. It is believed that the mother of Jesus came to the area with Saint John to spread Christianity and she lived in this house for the remainder of her life. Even though the Catholic Church has never confirmed it’s authenticity, the house has been visited by several Popes and has become a pilgrimage site for Christians. Another theory is that Mary lived and died in Jerusalem so who really knows?
Nonetheless the setting was very nice, up a mountain among lots of trees, a very tranquil site with a serene atmosphere.
After our sightseeing we drove to the coastal town of Kusadasi for the night. Certainly not a place where we would like to spend time. It’s a resort town on the western Aegean coast, a major cruise ship port and a jumping off point for visiting the nearby archeological sites. We had a mediocre meal on the seafront, found a hotel for the night and left early the next morning.
Pamukkale Thermal Pools and ancient City of Hierapolis
After spending the night in Kusadasi we headed inland again to the small town of Pamukkale we took the scenic route through cotton fields and pomegranate orchards and had a great meal at a small road side restaurant. Using Google map we found another great little hotel in Pamukkale, the Venus Suite Hotel.
The main attractions in Pamukkale are the ruins of Hierapolis, an ancient Roman spa city founded around 190 BC and the mineral-rich thermal waters flowing down white travertine terraces. It’s all in the same location and takes a whole day to visit, it is especially beautiful around sunset.
At this time of the year, October, many of the pools are empty, apparently the best time of the year to visit is April after the rainy season. Cleopatra herself was a frequent guest at the antique pool of Hierapolis, fed by the same hot springs as the travertine pools located just bellow. Hierapolis was considered the main health center of the world during Roman Times.
After ancient cities and thermal waters our next destination was the Bodrum Peninsula. When we were in Istanbul, we made plans to visit some friends from Northern Ireland. They’ve owned a condo in the Bodrum area for 10 years and are both recently retired so they will be spending a lot more time in Turkey.
Bodrum is located on the Aegean Sea, it is known for it’s large expat community coming mostly from the UK. With a low cost of living, warm climate, affordable and high standard housing options, proximity to an international airport, good health care and of course killer views, Bodrum has everything a lot of retirees are looking for. The City of Bodrum proper was quite busy when we drove by so we didn’t stop, we prefer smaller and more authentic towns.
Before meeting our friends we spent a couple of nights in the little beach village of Gümüslük at the very tip of the Bodrum Peninsula, famous for it’s numerous fish restaurants where you can get a table practically inches from the sea. We had the best ever grilled calamari but we found that the fish was bit overpriced.
We stayed at the Hotel Gumusluk just a block from the beach and paid only $25/night including breakfast for two so I guess we can’t really! It was ok for a short stay.
Then we spent a couple of nights with our friends John and Angie, we rendezvoused in the little town of Güllük where they came on a shuttle boat, a service offered by their condo since it’s a lot faster then driving. We had a nice lunch on the seafront and drove back to their place.
The next day the four of us got in our rental car and went exploring the area. We started with a wonderful traditional Turkish breakfast on Lake Bafa, then a stop at a small port near the Ancient city of Lassos where we saw Turkish campers enjoying the van life. It brought back a lot of memories and made us miss our camper. It would be nice Overlanding through this friendly and gorgeous country. One day …
This is the beautiful complex where our friends live near Bodrum.
It was so nice catching up with John and Angie, learning about what expat life is all about in this part of the world. We could’t help but imagine ourselves settling down somewhere like Turkey.
But there is just to many places we still want to see so for now let’s keep moving!
On October 20, 2020 we said goodbye to John and Angie and drove about 335km (210 miles) to Kas, a little town on the Mediterranean. If you follow us on Instagram or Facebook you already know what happened, if not, let me tell you: we fell in love!