A Couple of Weeks in Turkey, Part 2: Selçuk/Ephesus

This article is part of the “A Couple of Weeks in Turkey” series and follows A Couple of Weeks in Turkey, Part 1: Istanbul.

Having decided that our destination after Istanbul would be Selçuk, we bought a flight 2 nights before leaving. The closest airport was Izmir and we used the Turkish low-cost airline Pegasus to buy cheap flights.
It cost around 120 € already with the expensive eDreams taxes…
Pegasus is a very well chosen name for a flight company but it is funny that their website is flypgs, which I always read as “fly pigs” 🙂
But I’m saying this because it’s funny, I don’t mean to disrespect, in fact, everything was great! The seats are reserved and the departure was at a reasonable time in the morning (unlike other low-cost companies) and I totally recommend it.

After we arrived at Izmir, we had to take a train to Selçuk. We had read in the guide book that although you buy a ticket, it doesn’t mean there will be a seat reserved for you… Indeed, the train had only two cars and when we entered it we saw there was already people sitting on their luggage or standing because all seats were taken. The trip took a bit more than one hour and we stood in the aisle the whole time. Even though it was not a comfortable way of traveling, at least we got to see landscapes very different from Istanbul’s that kind of resembled Portugal many years ago; I’m talking about large plantations, tiny villages and kids riding old motorcycles without using helmets.

Lua de Mel na Turquia
(in the end of the trip we were not so smiley)

Finally we arrived to Selçuk, all tired of standing in the train and as soon we left it a guy came asking if we had a place to stay. Yes we had, we were physically tired and also sick of having people approaching us all the time (to sell stuff). Turns out that when we got to the hostel, the owner wasn’t around so we waited a bit for him and when he arrived, he was the guy that had just approached us in the train station. He just wanted to guide us to the hostel. We obviously felt really bad.
The hostel was Tuncay pension and although it was not in the center it was not too far, had a pleasant courtyard, the breakfast was tasty and there was a nice family feeling to it: the owner, his brother and their families had dinner at the courtyard every night and were happy to help us with planning the next step of the trip.
The only negative thing was that the tub was obstructed (though they fixed it within a few hours) and the owner, although nice, was being a bit too insistent with trying to sell us stuff (guided tours to Ephesus, bus tickets and tours in Cappadocia).

Courtyard in our pension in Selçuk
(the courtyard of Tuncay pension)

As soon as we left our stuff in the pension, we went to explore the center of the town. We had lunch at a place where the main waiter (he was probably the owner) could say “thank you” in probably every language of the world. He said “obrigado” to us and, apart from other mainstream languages, we heard him even saying it in Norwegian!
This waiter was one of the people that confused us for Turkish people. We weren’t aware of it but apparently both Helena and I have Turkish looks because more than 5 times people thought we were Turkish.
In this restaurant I tasted a Turkish drink called rakı, it was really strong, both in alcohol and in the anise flavor (I didn’t like it).
After lunch we walked around a bit and found a street market with many kinds of vegetables like it’s hard to find in most European cities these days. On the way back to the hostel we found a couple and their son cooking some sweet fried dough. We were so amazed at the way and the speed the guy shaped the dough that we recorded a video (that’s why I don’t have photos) and while we hadn’t decided yet if we were gonna buy a bag, the couple gave us a bag of it for free and it tasted like heaven! What can I say, people are nice in Turkey. Doing a later research, it seems that what we ate there was called “lokma”, although the shape was different from the Wikipedia article.

Lua de Mel na Turquia
(the Selçuk market)

After this walking trip, we went to the Pammucak beach. This was the first time we took the dolmuş. What a ride! A dolmuş is a minibus or better, a van, used as a shared taxi. People hop on and ask for the driver to drop them where they want. So there we were on our way to the beach, all seats taken when we saw some people on the side of the rode waving at the dolmuş. Too bad I thought, it is full. Nope, the driver stopped, they came in and the driver signed them where a folding stool was lying. Further on our way, more people came in and stood, so we were like 15 people on a van driving at around 100 Km/h.
Still, we arrived in one piece to the beach and the beach was awesome. The water wasn’t crystal clear or anything like that but it was warm, the weather was hot but not burning hot, really nice!
A picture might describe it better:

Pammucak's beach

After the beach, we explored a bit of the town again, had a pleasant dinner where I tasted an Efes beer for the first time and went back to the pension and finish our day learning online how to play backgammon. Backgammon is very popular in Turkey and we wanted to learn how to play it as learning new things is part of travelling.

Lua de Mel na Turquia
(men playing backgammon)

The next day, we had planned to spend the morning visiting the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus. The park is huge and is totally worth visiting — a ticket was 20 TL (~10 €) if I’m not mistaken. It is a good idea to arrive early in order to avoid the burning sun and the crowds and although there are walking tours, we just went on our own again. A friend had advised me to check the house where Mary, the mother of Jesus, had lived but we skipped it as it was not in Ephesus itself and we were both tired and not really interested anyway.
When passing by Ephesus’s Theater we were surprised by a group of Korean tourists who started singing in choir to us who were seating in the stairs. Who else can say they went to Ephesus and there was a little show waiting for them 🙂

(seating in front of the ancient library)

After walking a lot among the ruins we took the dolmuş and went again to the beach where we had a nice kebab and, since it was so hot, 4 ayrans. Ayran is a cold drink made by mixing yogurt, water and salt and though it is popular in many countries, it was supposedly created by Turkish people. I had tried ayran for the first time in Belgium and I love it so after drinking it every day during our stay in Turkey I sometimes make it at home because it is pretty much impossible to find here in Galicia (I’ll leave the recipe for another post).

Back to Selçuk, we tried to visit its fortress but it was already closed. I had read on our guide that sometimes ancient coins are still found in that fortress and that there are people who try to sell those to tourists which is illegal. Turns out that a guy started talking to us, asking us where we were from, asking if we had seen the main attractions, etc. while we were walking a bit with him until we were in a more hidden place and he pulled a cigarette pack but instead of cigarettes it was holding, guess what, ancient coins.
I kindly declined his offer and he insisted and lowered the price until I told him that although it was very tempting, I would eventually have problems at customs and we got the hell outta there as fast as we could…

The next day we were leaving for Pamukkale and it would become yet another funny story but that’s for another post…

to be continued…

A Couple of Weeks in Turkey, Part 1: Istanbul

As it says in a previous post, back in June I got married.
The original plan for the destination of the honeymoon was to go to Japan. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been attracted to Asian culture in general and to Japan in particular. Helena also loved the idea of going to a country with such a different culture so we thought the honeymoon was the perfect opportunity to go there.
We were thinking of buying the plane tickets in the middle of May when a very big tragedy occurred and we changed our plans. I am obviously talking about the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and the following events related to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Our thoughts go to the victims of this sad event and their families.

After that, we wanted a place that was exotic (as in, not very European/Western) but affordable (because we still wanna go to Japan, probably next year). After a little brainstorm with Helena I came up with a good one: Turkey!
Yes, it might probably one of these days enter the E.U. but it is still “differently” attractive.

Off to Istanbul!

The two return trip plane tickets cost as much as one ticket to Japan, around 700 € (with insurance and taxes included). Also, we decided not to go with a travel agency (the Lonely Planet guide is our travel agency :)). We don’t really like those classic guided tours. Going with everything planned isn’t much of an adventure is it? We even only booked the hotel one week before we departed and for two days only, for the rest, we followed the true Portuguese spirit of: let’s see about it then… 😀

As for the bags, given that we would be also visiting outside of Istanbul, we decided to take our InterRail backpacks and just like this last year’s trip, I didn’t take my laptop! Instead I used my faithful N900 smartphone for everything: calls, booking hotels, research about places, twitting…

On June 15, we arrived at the Atatürk International Airport, went straight to the currency exchange and that was the first time we got ripped off… 11% of commission if I remember well. WTF! Here is a little advice, don’t run to the first currency exchange, instead wait and go to one that doesn’t take commission (what these ones do is that they exchange it at a fixed rate that benefits them but it’s not much and certainly not 11%).

The hotel, Naz Wooden House Inn, was cozy and the staff was even nicer (we found Turkish people nice in general). The room was tiny but from what I had read, that’s pretty normal in Istanbul. The hotel was right behind the Blue Mosque (or Sultan Ahmed Mosque) and so we visited the area in the first two days. We hate waiting in queues and there was a big line to enter the Blue Mosque so we were still deciding if we should wait when it started raining like hell. The people in the line dispersed, hurrying to escape the rain and it was a nice opportunity for us to get in a much smaller line. Anyway, it would have been totally worth the wait. The mosque is really big and beautiful:

Inside the Blue Mosque

Being a coffee lover I could finally taste a Turkish coffee after having seen what it was in the TV. If you don’t know what’s it like, the coffee is strong-ish (how strong a coffee is really depends on what you’re used to) and you choose the quantity of sugar in advanced. Despite the fact that I drink my espressos without sugar, I chose “orta şeker” (medium sugar) for the Turkish coffees because they tasted better this way. Another particularity of this coffee, probably the most known one, is that you’ll find that coffee grounds fill about a quarter of the cup. Tradition says that when you finish your coffee, you place the cup upside down on the saucer, let it cool down and when you lift the cup, your future can be read in the coffee grounds left in the cup.

Turkish kahve

Another curious thing that can be found in the streets of Istanbul is the way people treat animals. We saw people giving food and water to stray dogs, cats and even ducks (as the photo below shows) and I assume these weren’t simply leftovers as we saw a restaurant employee cutting meat from the kebab stick and giving it to some cats. I later read somewhere that this is a common thing in there. Really nice!

Looks tasty!

Let the bargaining begin!

We had decided to stay one more night in Istanbul so I asked for an extra night at the hotel but they were fully booked and said they had a room in their “sister hotel” nearby but it would cost me 65 € instead of the 49 € I was paying. I said no, I could only afford the same price and I would look for another hotel, thank you very much. The guy said: “Wait wait, let me explain it to my colleague and see what we can do…”. He called the other guy and then told me: “Okay, you can go to our sister hotel for the same price, 49 €.”! And this was the first time I bargained in Turkey; even without knowing I was bargaining!

The other hotel, Sultan’s Inn, was more luxurious and we got a very nice large room (with a double bed and 2 single ones).
In this hotel we also used the functioning internet to book the flight to our next destination, Izmir (more on that in the next article).

Trip in the Bosphorus

The third day in Istanbul we traveled for the first time the Bosphorus‘s ferries and visited the Asian shore. It’s impressive if you think about it, one river cross for ~30 cents and you’re in a different continent. This part (we arrived at the Kadıköy station) was clearly not made for tourists, with less appealing buildings and lower prices. We just wondered around a bit, took some photos, drank yet another Turkish coffee and had the cheapest lunch in ages: 1 kebap + 1 ayran for 2 TRL, that’s right, 1 €. There was no way it could taste bad after such a good price.

After the cheapest lunch on earth we hurried again for the ferry and visited the island of Burgazada (about 1 hour from Kadıköy). I had heard about this island in an episode of the TV show “Españoles en el Mundo” (it is about Spanish people living abroad). It is a nice small island that has no cars (apart from firemen and police ones) and for this reason one can find roads that are occupied by trees like in the photo below. The island turned out to have less things to see and probably there were other more exciting islands to visit but it was okay.

A tree in the middle of a road

On our way back we had some interesting show in the ferry. People buy some kind of bread at the ferry and feed the seagulls with it by throwing it out while the seagulls flying by catch it in the air! It’s really something worth seeing.

Feeding the Seagulls "On The Fly"

That night, back in Istanbul, we went again to the Marmara Cafe to relax with some coffee and waterpipe for the next day we would fly to Izmir!

to be continued…