32. Canakkale// Izmir// Kusadasi// Turkey

We arrived in Canakkale after a quite pleasant bus ride from Instanbul, the highlight of which, was when the bus boarded the ferry to take us across to this coastal town. Totally weird!! We were using Canakkale as a base to see Gallipoli and only intented to stay 2 nights, however after the tourist mecca that is Istanbul we really enjoyed the tranquility of Canakkale and ended up staying 3. Canakkale is also used as a base to see the ruins of Troy, and although we didnt make the trek to see these (we were a bit “ruin” fatigued) we did appreciate seeing the huge Troy wooden statue that stood on the boardwalk of the town and had been a gift from the movie. Although Canakkale is not entirely rural (it still sees thousands of tourists each year for Gallipoli and Troy) we really started to see a few glimpses of the Turkey that we expected to see in Istanbul. During one evening stroll we came across a restaurant that only seemed to really sell cay. This restaurant or cay bar, was filled to the brim of men of all ages playing backgammon. This is a game that is prelevant all over Turkey and is a favourite past time, however we had never seen full restaurants dedicated to the “sport”. It was interesting to see a culture that can have so much fun without drinking…perhaps Australia could learn a thing or two.

Another major draw card of Canakkale was the food. After poor versions of chicken durum in Istanbul I finally found an authentic place that had the most tender chicken, spice and herb driven durum I’ve had so far through my travels in Turkey. Best part was, the menu was only in Turkish, and I managed to actually order what I wanted and for the bargain price of 3 Lira. The town also had a bit of a uni vibe to it, and we had been told to go to a bar called the Hangover Bar. Being skeptical as this establishment was serving western food, and a little optomistic as we really wanted a decent burger, we were not disappointed. This place was teeming with young turkish listening to the latest tunes (think top 40 3 years ago) and pretty decent food. The best part though was that the unfiltered beer made an appearance yet again, so we went back to this place each night for some pub grub and a few unfiltered Efes. One thing I will make mention without being too descriptive is this is the time in Turkey where Clinton started to develop sever stomach pains. At this point nothing really happened, and we just gave him panadol, but he was sometimes in a lot of pain.

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From Canakkale we left and arrived by bus in Izmir approx 5 hours later. We had been told by our host in Istanbul that there really wasnt much in Izmir, however we decided to go and find out for ourselves, and I’m so glad that we did. Izmir is the thirld largest city in Turkey with a population of just over 4 million. It sits out on the Western Coast so has a beautiful boardwalk that lines the whole of the city. We stayed in the old town, in a hotel that I was quite nervous about as it had only made the “just passable” rating on bookings.com. however, either our standards have dropped immensely while travelling or this hotel had made some pretty decent changes, because we were pleasantly surprised. The one thing I did notice about our location, is there really were no females about. We would walk out onto the street from our hotel and I would be the only female I could see on a very busy road. So maybe it was a bit unsafe…I had my lovely friendly giant to protect me the whole time anyway 🙂

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As far as sights go, I guess the host in Istanbul was right, there’s really not much to see. However thats not really why Clint and I are travelling anyway, so it didn’t really bother us. What was amazing to see was the Bazaar. Unlike the bazaar in Istanbul that was full of tourists and bad salesman, the Bazaar in Izmir was full of Turks going about their shopping. Sure there were still the fake watches and handbags, but the general feel of the place was much more local. We spent ages walking the streets of the bazaar, being lost, looking at trinkets and drinking cay without being hassled by anyone. We then spent some time walking along the boardwalk and feasting on a breadroll filled with Tomato, white cheese and chilli. Simple Ingredients, fresh produce, great price!!! It was super hot as well, so we stuck our feet in a fountain with a bunch of local children and watched as they splashed about. That night we feasted on a spicy Adana kebap that was simple, but fresh with lots of spice and grilled peppers. A very different Adana kebap to the one drowned in tomato sauce that we had experienced in Istanbul.

Another highlight in Izmir was walking down a random street one afternoon, trying to find our way back to the Bazaar. Having tried Backlava in Istanbul a number of times, I just was not convinced on this honey drowned dessert. However I came across a bakery on this strange street and seeing the Baklava in the window decided to give it another shot. I walked in and tried to communicate to the Turkish lady that I only wanted 1 piece and not 1kg. (Imagine a lot of hand movements) When she finally understood that I indeed only wanted 1 piece (shock) she proceeded to give this to me without accepting money. When she finally accepted the 1 lira I handed her (50 cents Aus) she then proceeded to try and give me 75 Turkish cents back as change. I could not believe the kindness and honesty of this woman. Back in Istanbul I had also tried the Baklava at the Spice Market and even struggled to be able to buy 1 piece as I was always told that it was a 2 piece minimum, and to purchase 2 pieces was 4 – 5 lira. Anyway, after having one bite of that Baklava in Izmir I wish I had bought a kilo as it was so different to any other Baklava I have had. Not overly sweet and full of nuts, this Baklava was fresh and the perfect balance of savoury and sweet. I still have dreams about it. You may ask yourself why had Clinton not tried this beautiful piece of Baklava. Well his stomach pains had turned into a severe case of “Sultan’s Curse, Bali Belly” whatever you would like to call it. We had not experienced any travel sickness in any of the countries that we had visited, and had been careful with water in Turkey so it came as a bit of a surprise. We still really don’t know what it’s from, we are guessing just the difference in spices and the poor quality oil that is used in cooking here. Needless to say wherever we ate, we had to be in a close point of call to a western toilet and alas at the bakery there was none. At this point in Izmir I had no problems at all and so was parading around with what I thought was a stomach made of steel.

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So Izmir is basically our blog full of amazing food experiences. Clinton found a local gozleme shop that blew our socks off. For those of you who don’t know, Gozleme is basically a pancake that has either savoury or a sweet filling inside. Usually these are made by Turkish women who roll the dough out with a thin rolling pin and then fill the pancake with items such as spinach and cheese or potato or nutella and banana. You can experience these at South Melbourne market for about $10 a pop but over here they are much cheaper. We got chatting to the owner at this Gozleme shop who was apparently quite famous in the area for his Gozleme. He had not stuck to tradition and realised that you could basically put anything in a pancake as long as the produce was fresh. Here we tried a savoury gozleme that was filled with lamb, eggplant, mushooms and cheese and an unbelievably good sweet pancake filled with walnuts, figs, nougat and topped with pisatchio’s. Although a little more expensive than the gozleme on the side of the road, I was so impressed firsly by the quality of produce in these gozleme’s and the business plan of this friendly turkish man. He has converted me to gozleme for life

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Our last night in Izmir came quickly and we walked along the boardwalk eating mussels from a side vendor that are cooked and filled with rice, spices and sometimes nuts and currants. They make for a delicious snack, however we have been warned to only eat them in sea side towns, as otherwise the mussels are sometimes collected from the sewers….gross. We watched the sunset over the water and then headed to our local dinner spot and shared an Iskender kebab and Ayran. (Ayran is a salty yoghurt drink that the turks tend to drink with their evening meal, I’m not a fan)

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The next morning we said goodbye to Izmir and its gozleme and headed towards Kusadasi. Our friend Sonia had raved about this place from her travels in Turkey and so we decided to use this town as our base for exploring Ephesus and to chill out a bit. This is where I have a bit of a confession to make. It’s the middle of summer in Turkey and it’s bloody hot. So when looking for accomodation in Kusadasi, I filtered my search by those that had air conditioning, and an outdoor pool. I know, not very backpacky of me but after 6 months on the road surely I deserve a little comfort. Anyway, although a little old, our apartment in Kusadasai certainly delivered. It was right in the middle of the old town and despite being a hotel complex, had more of a relaxed hostel kinda vibe. To get out of the hotel you had to pass through the outside bar, and needless to say sometimes we didnt get further than that bar. What made this place so great for us though was the people. The owner spoke excellent English and over a few efes told us about the Kurdish people in Turkey and a bit about the economic climate over the last 100 years. Known as a bit of a hot spot for the Dutch and the Irish, we spent our days talking to a Dutch couple from Utrecht. Mike was a pro water polo player who was living in Izmir and was training for the next olympics. On a break at the moment, Mike and his girlfriend Catja were working the bar in Kusadasi to earn a bit of extra money as Turkish wages are quite low. And of course there was Edward. A 69 year old Irish man who had lost his wife a few years ago. He was nearing the end of his, had cancer and had retired at the apartment complex. He spent his days smoking and drinking red wine and although endearing, towards the end got a bit repetitive with his interruptions of Trivia from Australia back in the day. Quite intellectual he had a vibrant life publishing two books in his time and lived with one regret, not following a girl to Australia. It served as a timely reminder for us, that you will always regret the things that you did not do.

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In Kusadasi, we basically alternated between Gozleme from next door for 3 Lira and Chicken Durum from the other side of the complex that came with an amazing spicy sauce that inevitably started Sultan’s Curse for me as well. Kusadasi as a town is a big port for package holidayers so has a bazaar filled with all the latest gadgets bags and watches. One day, haggling the price of a watch I got cornered by a man who did not know the meaning of personal space. Lucky my big friendly giant was there to protect me and quite loudly and urgently told the man to let me leave. Needless to say my heart was pumping as I exited the store, and I promised myself never to find myself in that situation again. Things can escalate very quickly.

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So our main reason for being in Kusadasi was to see the ruins at Ephesus. We had debated over whether we should do a tour here, however when enquired with one of the travel agents was not sold on the hour to pick everyone up, two hour lunch, see the ruins type thing. Instead with some travel directions from Erican our hotel manager and armed with some water, we decided to explore these on our own, and are so glad that we did. All we did was catch a local bus to the side of the highway and walked a kilometre to the ruins. Paid our entry ticket and then we were free to walk around and look in our own time. Everything was pretty well signed, and if we got the opportunity we kinda just hung back on an english tour and learnt a little extra. I don’t really know how to put Ephesus into words. Its the biggest collection of ruins that Clint and I have seen in our travels. Its enormous. The town was founded in 10th Century BC and was abandoned in the 15th Century AD. I’ve never seen anything that old before. It is believed the Gospel of John may have been written here. It gives you a great interpretation on what the town would have been like, and they are still excavating more. The sheer size of it is probably what blew me away the most. Standing in the amphitheatre imagining what life would have been like sooo many years ago. Simply Stunning. I don’t know whether it was luck or the fact that we went in the middle of the day (poor planning) but there wasn’t the crowds of people there like I expected. It was also extremely hot with the sun bouncing off all those white stones. After a few hours we had depleted our supply of water and decided to head back to our hotel…even though we’d spent more on an apartment with a pool we both rejoiced that day!!!

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This basically ended our 4 nights in Kusadasai, and I loved every moment of it. Turkey was unravelling its layers to us, there was good food here, the people were friendly, and like we had hoped it was easy to meet fellow travellers. It wasn’t in your face like Vietnam you had to delve a little deeper, and as we delved we liked it a little more each day.