Jul 20, 2015

Turkish Diaries: Part 3

To read earlier parts, click here: Part 1, Part 2

Being from Chennai, it was common practice for me to get up early, have a coffee strong enough to knock a gibbon’s brains out and take a walk around the apartment doing nothing constructive, until the maid arrives. My wife on the other hand is wont to sleep late and wake up late; which was nothing new north of the Vindhyas (this is a stereotype I have noticed, so all you tut-tutters can kindly go jump in front of a moving BEST bus). So, as the sun rose colouring the sky a dark purple, I was treated to a miracle. My wife was up, ready and raring to go for a walk. I acquiesced, albeit grumpily having been smoothly robbed of the one trait that I thought gave me an upper hand in marital life.

Our hotel was conveniently located right on top of the Ayasoluk Hill, next to the İsa Bey mosque. We ambled around, taking pictures of a nearby synagogue and the joke that was the Temple of Artemis along with what was supposed to be a bath but looked like a medium-sized mound with a lot of holes stamped by a few elephants on a sugarcane rampage. This bath along with its weird holes on the ceiling has some significance later, when I reached Istanbul (but that is shelved for a different post). On our walk, we encountered several relics of both the Greek and the Ottoman Empires; it was deliciously adventurous. Here you are, calmly walking along a boulevard whistling Maari Theme song and suddenly out-of-the-blue a column addresses your view with imposing authority. You scuttle initially in fright and then in awe and then you slyly shift into DSLR-mode. The column snorts in approval having made its point.

After the walk, which was imperatively populated with even more cats than ever, we reached the hotel and hey-ed the hotelier. We told him we would be leaving in 25-30 minutes and requested him to get breakfast ready. We quickly had a shower, dressed, came out and sat at our first Turkish breakfast, which we discovered were the same across Turkey, irrespective of which place you were holed up. The menu is as follows,
  • At least 4 types of cheese
  • Bread (ekmek) and Simit
  • Homemade marmalade jam
  • 3 types of olives (green, black, pickled)
  • Yogurt
  • Cut tomatoes and some random fruit which tasted like cow's feet
  • Fruit juice
  • Turkish omelet which is same as normal omelet but made in Turkey
  • Cold meat which was unnaturally cold and tasty
  • And of course, tea
After the unashamed annihilation, we burped our way to the hotelier. He handed us a map, gave us directions on what to do and we matched that with the mental plan we had made the previous night. It was all good. We threw our bags over our shoulders, took some water bottles, drew a vinayagar squiggle in the air and began to sight-see.

TIP 1: Take water bottles. There is a fair bit of walking about the ruins and you'll end up getting dehydrated anyway. There are also taps all over the place, where you can refill to your heart's content.

Our first stop was the Ephesus ruins. There is a trick here. Cabs at the bus station would take you to 3 places: the Mother Mary's house, the entrance at the bottom of the hill or the entrance at the top of the hill. Take the one that goes to the top of the hill. There is simply no point climbing up and down the same hill, unless you still have that Gold Gym membership and you are feeling guilty and depressed at that awesome dinner you had the previous night full of calories and other gymmy stuff. Mother Mary’s house was walk-able from within the ruins itself. So, we boarded a taxi, got dropped off at the hill and started our way down.

Ephesus is simply brilliant. I would suggest an audio guide, but there was no need. Each point was helpfully marked all the way with boards and placards; you would hardly have time to stop, listen and move on. Better still, take a guide from the hotel itself (which is what we did) and read it away whenever you stop. The walk downhill was amazing, replete with a view of the entire valley that was loaded with remnants of almost five eras - the Classical Era (under the Persians), the Hellenistic Era (under the Greeks), the Roman period, the Byzantine era and the Turkish era*. The ruins themselves are breathtaking, culminating at a massive theatre following the equally impressive Library of Celsus.

There was a small detour to the House of Mother Mary near the Northern Entrance; apparently a place where Mary spent her last years. We gave up having had our fill of ruins and went out to wait for the shuttle to take us to the next point - Pamucak beach.

Pamucak Beach:
TIP 2: There are these shuttles that transfer you between points across Selcuk. They are very cheap and are enormously obliging while commuting between key tourist spots. Suggest, you take these instead of taxis that are just plain expensive for no reason.
The beach was on my list mainly because, again being from Chennai, I cannot resist a beach. However far it is, however desolate it is, however tepid the water is. But Pamucak exceeded all expectations and demanded a salary raise; it was very far, was more desolate than Mettupalayam railway station and the water was a dark green peppered with sharp rocks. Nevertheless, nothing dissuaded me from kicking off mine shoes and wading into the water as much as I dared, slightly drunk from a pint of Efes that I bought from a beach-side cafe that had last seen a customer when Alexander the Great waded into this beach with his platoon.

After relaxing for some time under the shade of a palm tree, we walked back to the bus stop and waited for the return trip to Selcuk; ruminating where to go next. We were already tired from all the walking and I could visibly see my glowering wife on the cusp of what I would like to call, the Great Exhaustion Outburst. By some divine intervention, the shuttle came from somewhere and saved me from the jaws of death and blade.

When we reached the bus station, it was barely 2:30 PM. We were famished and entered the first restaurant that we came across. It was 'Mehmet and Ali Baba Kebab house'. We had no idea about the place, though the board was littered with recommendations from Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet.

They weren't wrong.

We sat down on a wooden bench under a mulberry tree; wife suggested that we can eat those mulberries and we did. It was superb! As we waited for the food to get ready, the owner of the establishment, Ali Baba himself, came out and gave free apple tea. We sipped the tea, chewed the sweetly sour mulberries and thought philosophical thoughts. Lunch was obviously sumptuous and included Kuzu Güveç, Çiğ köfte and Dolma washed down with more Efes pilsner (this beer would be a running leitmotif in this series).

Now fully rejuvenated, we trudged back to the bus station and caught a shuttle to Şirince, which is supposed to be a small hamlet known for its wine. The trip was beautiful; there were groves of olive trees littering the hills, as the bus navigated over a minor ghat-section to finally come to Şirince. The best description of the place is 'cosy' and we hiked all the way up to the peak, overlooking the valley. On the way, there were a host of shops with shopkeepers tempting you with their wares that included several wines and homemade soaps. The wife had a sudden memory flash of her brother and gave in to the temptation, buying a few soaps.

Did I mention, they were also dirt cheap?

Right at the peak, we encountered a solitary, Ottoman-designed water tap that gave the coolest water I had ever tasted. The water was slightly saline, but apparently it was potable. There were two horses there as well but they ignored us. We drank the water and sat down to take a breather giving the stink eyes to the horses.

I was very hurt.
TIP 3: Ignore all forms of four-legged lifeforms. They are bad. And rude. And very... *reaches out for handkerchief*
The Basilica and the Mosque:
We caught the shuttle back and reached Selcuk. Our penultimate stop was the Basilica of St. John followed by the İsa Bey mosque. Both were spectacular in their views, one external and the other internal. The Basilica, built right on top of the hill, gave you a bird's eye view of Selcuk and you could make out Ephesus from there. No. Ephesus is not a girl. On the other hand, the mosque was the first glimpse we got into the intricacies of ceiling calligraphy which were prominent across Turkey’s mosques.

The sun was still trying to set, but losing graciously. Once fully satisfied that we had probed our limits of walking/trekking/hiking and our feet were self-dialing ambulances, we went back to our hotel and literally dropped in exhaustion. We decided to have dinner near the aqueduct, next to the railway station. But a nap came first.

After a short nap, that lasted 2 hours, we woke up and got ready for a good dinner at one among the multitude of restaurants around the aqueduct. It was 10 PM thereabouts and the town had just come to life. Dinner had two major highlights - Lahmacun and Cacık. The former is Turkish pizza and the latter, a delectable yogurt dip.

Post dinner, as I was suffering from food coma, I kindly requested 8 hours sleep. Yours sincerely, Sirpy.

Wife was too tired to reply and soon snores punctuated the night stillness of a starry Selcuk.

The best part of the trip was yet to come.

*copy pasted from Wikipedia.

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