I apologize for the length of this post–the other two that describe this trip are about this long as well. I’m also going to post them in a fairly rapid succession; the rest of December is pretty packed (Vienna and Prague trip, possibly going to Bulgaria, New Years in Istanbul….and my studies!), and I want to relay this trip to you guys because I had an awesome time. Alrighty, enjoy! :)
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So, remember reading in my last post that my friends and I rented a car for our day-trip to Hattuşa? Two friends and I did the same thing recently for our Izmir/Selçuk trip (November 22 thru November 25). And, to take it one step further, we even slept in the car for two of the three nights!
I’ll pause here while some of you back home judge me. Because, indeed, I just KNOW that some of you are and you might even be preparing a speech for when you see me next, “Hayley, do you know how dangerous that is?” etc. etc. *Cue pause*
As I was saying, we slept in the car for two of three nights, basically because this trip was hastily planned and no one took the initiative to research hostels or send out a couch-serfing request (personally, though, I would rather sleep in a car than take my chances with couch-serfing). Rebecca happened to be renting a car to move her stuff from the dorm to her new place and we simply extended the rental for the trip. Actually, the vehicle was a Kia Sorrento, a gas-guzzling SUV that ran on diesel. Even though I didn’t like it, two of the three of us on the trip were American, and we figured we fit the Americans-with-their-huge-gas-guzzling-vehicles stereotype nicely.
We left the night of Thanksgiving, November 22, after our classes. The intention was to get on the road right away, but we got distracted and first stopped to eat in Ankara. When we made it to the freeway, we had
some a lot of difficulty leaving the city and finding the signs for Izmir. At one point we were going east instead of west–but we caught our few several mistakes early whenever we made them.
In the end, we arrived in Izmir’s city limits at around 5:30 am (it’s about a 7-hour drive from Ankara; a little longer if you go by bus). Rebecca, God bless her, drove the whole way there (and for 99% of the trip too) and we hastily found a place to park and sleep. It was harder finding a place to park than one would think–we ended up in a side alley that housed a dozen or so shops and high-rise apartment buildings. I think we were also by dumpsters. It was kind-of sad, sad enough for us all to laugh like lunatics before we fell asleep; are we actually doing this? Yes, yes we are!
So we each snuggled in our blankets and fell asleep. I slept pretty well, considering my surroundings. However, a mere two hours later an awful, prolonged honking noise entered my sleeping brain (for those who live in the mid-west, it reminded me of a tornado alarm).
Sweet Jesus!! WHO is making that NOISE at this UNGODLY hour?! A few Turkish and English words entered my brain at this point, my memory vaguely remembers hearing the words “beş” (Turkish for ‘five’) and “charged a fine” over a loud-speaker. My eyes snapped open and almost immediately I shut them again. Oh yeah….
I’m sleeping in a rental car.
In the middle of Izmir, Turkey.
We’re smack in the middle of a small shopping area and people want to open their shops. We’re interfering with their progress–badly enough that they called some traffic police/tow truck people to get rid of us. I’m the first to wake up and notice this and it was a lonely feeling. Well….shit. We just got here–we can’t have anything cut our trip short!
And then I thought about what I must have looked like….Oh no, my hair must look awful–SO embarrassing! Time to get out of here!
I woke the others and Rebecca drove us off, giving the traffic people a dirty look while I avoided eye contact. We pulled up Google Maps on Kas’ phone and made our way to the coastline. We weren’t exactly sure what we were looking for, but we drove right up to the coast, found a parking space and settled down. This is nice….several cafes, a water-front view….the sun was shining….Kas and I felt the need to get breakfast and explore right away, and Rebecca remained behind to get more sleep (she did drive through the night, after all!). After eating, Kas and I went for a bit of a stroll through Izmir….
We walked for a couple of minutes through the bazaar area behind the buildings in the picture above. I bought a scarf (the green one you’ll see me wear in the upcoming pictures) but we left when cafe/restaurant people got pushy. Actually, one guy cut me off when I was walking and tried to make me swerve into his cafe. I wasn’t going to have any of that so I pushed him out of my way while we bustled out. Luckily, that has been the only time when I’ve felt uncomfortable around vendors and shopkeepers (I felt safer when Mr. Cranberry proposed to me in this post) but I refused to shop any more in that area!
Kas and I walked back to the car, woke Rebecca up, and we took turns to tidy ourselves as best we could in the bathroom of a nearby cafe. Then we were really ready to start our Izmir adventure.
The best way to explore Izmir (or any city in Turkey for that matter) is to pick a direction, walk, and see what comes up.
We first encountered the Clock Tower (Saat Kulesi in Turkish), built in 1901 when the Ottomans were still in power. It’s placed in the middle of a family-friendly courtyard:
Mosque and Kemeraltı
Right next to the Clock Tower was a small mosque. Can’t remember all the details or when it was built, but I know it was built by a woman–so that’s nifty!
A couple minutes from there was Kemeraltı, the huge shopping/bazaar area in Izmir. We rushed to get through–the shop people here are pushy, more so than in Istanbul! Plus, it was crowded….
We emerged at the other end of the bazaar and walked across the street toward Agora, a Roman-era site smack-dab in the middle of the city. The entrance to the park wasn’t well marked, so for several minutes we thought it was closed and stared through the fence to see all we could see….
We were literally continuing up the road to find something else to do when we passed the entrance, immediately to our left but shaded by some overgrown trees. Entrance fee was free for students (yay!) and the place was virtually empty. We went down the stairs and went to the right first. Remember the historical graveyard pics from my Adana post? Yeah, Izmir has it’s own historical graveyards….piles of priceless ancient artifacts lying around outside.
We walked to the left and headed toward the excavation site. We headed down the stairs….
Village and Fortress (Watch Out for Them Turkish Boys!)
We looked at a map we got from the tourism office and saw that the fortress was nearby, all we had to do was walk through a village-type area (“village-type” meaning a mix between a squatter settlement and a village neighborhood). We did not realize that the entire walk there was an up-hill climb….
I will say, the map was amazingly accurate in terms of street markings–and that’s considering we were walking through an area where very few tourists venture through. I say that because the mothers who were hanging clothes to dry, the sweet old men who were smoking and playing cards outside of a cafe, and the school children playing football (aka soccer to my Americans out there) looked really surprised to see non-Turks ascend the hill without a tour bus or taxi. Yet again, the three of us were no strangers to stares all weekend–we were a pretty rag-tag team! (Me = European/American; Rebecca = Chinese/American; Kas = Indian and Sri Lankan/British. I am tall, they are short; I am light, they are darker; I have blonde hair, they have black hair. See? Rag-tag team!)
Of course, we had to walk back down….but that was MUCH easier than climbing up the stairs. We took some time to talk with the kids; they wanted to practice their English and we wanted to try out our bad Turkish. Their English was pretty impressive! One boy proudly told me, “My name is Süleyman (Turkish form of Solomon)–it is a VERY Turkish name!” Did not appreciate when they asked for money, though, and I always answered, “Para yok, arkadaş, öğrenciyim!” (“There is no money, friend, I am a student!”) However, I was happy to oblige when they wanted to take pictures. The boys were bolder than the girls, they just wanted to talk, which is why there are no girls (other than Rebecca and I) in these photos:
We bopped around Izmir a bit longer, grabbed food, and headed back to the SUV. This night, thankfully, we were hosted by an acquaintance of Kas and she let us use her shower and sleep at her flat. It was a full day of seeing ancient places, meeting new people, and getting into shenanigans with the rental car. And that’s just the first full day of the trip! Until next time…. :)