Travels to Turkey

My incredible travels to Turkey in 2007

Archive for the ‘Smyrna’ Category

The city formerly known as Smyrna – Day 13 in Izmir

Posted by Mardee on May 17, 2007

Wednesday morning I got up early and finished up my packing. As I opened the hotel door to go outside, I almost fell over my calico kitty pal, who was evidently waiting for me to feed her breakfast. I’m not sure how it knew I was in that particular room – maybe the aroma of the fish from the night before led it there. At any rate, the two of us headed up for my last breakfast at the Hotel Akay. Unfortunately, there was no meat or fish on the breakfast menu so the cat had to be satisfied with the remains of my hard-boiled egg.

My two acquaintances from San Francisco came up shortly afterwards and we chatted briefly. I gave them my ripped-out pages from Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide for Fethiye and a few other places, since they’d lost a portion of their guidebook. After that, I checked out and made a mad dash for the otogar with my luggage – I was hoping to catch the 9 am minibus to Izmir. 15 minutes later, I was on my way in a very nice minibus – a far cry from the one that brought me to Selcuk. This one was air-conditioned and had single seats with individual vents.

It took about 50 minutes to get to Izmir, and the minibus dropped us all off at the giant otogar on the outskirts of town. This place was huge – about the size of a small airport. The first place I headed was the Varan ticket counter as I wanted to book my bus ticket to Istanbul. The ticket clerk didn’t speak much English and had to enlist the help of some of the other agents to figure out exactly when I wanted to leave. After that was settled, it was determined that they had a couple of seats left on the 11 pm bus, so I paid my 48 lira and got my ticket. The agent then offered to keep my luggage there until the bus left that evening. He told me to be back by 10:20 pm for the minibus to take me to the big bus. Hey, I would have done anything to get rid of that luggage for awhile!

After that, I headed for the entrance to try and find some transport into the city. I checked both Lonely Planet and Rough Guide, and the only bus they agreed on that led to the city center was number 54, which was nowhere to be found. So that left a bunch of different other bus numbers to choose from. Rough Guide said that nos. 601-609 led to the train station, which was near to where I wanted to go. Since I saw one approaching, I jumped on then grabbed my map and tried to get my bearings by figuring out where the bus was going.

Have I mentioned the biggest drawback to European cities? None of them believe in street signs. They all seem to feel that it’s acceptable to have an occasional sign plastered to the side of a building that no one can see – in other words, you’re out of luck. For about 10 minutes I tried in vain to spot a street sign – my next move was to ask the bus driver if he was going to Basmane Station. He shook his head. Ack – now I was panicking slightly! I was afraid that we were heading outside the city and I would be lost in the depths of the hilltop suburbs, never to be seen again. However, my seat companion grabbed my map and assured me that we would be going to the train station. Her confidence assured me, even though I had no frigging idea what she was saying, so I sat back and looked at the scenery.

The city here is very modern – all the old stuff was destroyed in earthquakes so the buildings are fairly new. The houses are interesting – some of them are very nice and sit next to buildings that are one step away from condemnation. I think the standards must be pretty low, though, since even the worst houses obviously have people living in them. Some of the houses are perched on rocky cliffs and look like a good stiff wind would blow them off. We soon were nearing the city and I saw a sign indicating that Basmane Station was to the right. The bus, however, zoomed off to the left, leaving the train station behind. I jumped out of my seat and the woman next to me grabbed my hand, again assuring me (I think) that she would tell me when to get off.

A few stops later she nudged me and I obediently exited, then stood on the sidewalk like a lost soul while I tried to find where I was on my map. I soon determined that I was a very long way from the train station. New rule – never trust a person sitting next to you on a bus. The woman was obviously after my seat and misled me in order to appropriate it at the first opportunity. So now I was in a strange section of town and had no idea how to get back. I thought about grabbing a cab, but I can be somewhat stubborn about transport sometimes. I hate to give in and have someone else find something for me that I should have found for myself.

At any rate, I started walking in the direction of the city center when I saw a subway entrance ahead. Hmmm…. a quick look at the map told me that the subway line went right to where I wanted to go – hooray! 10 minutes later, I blissfully exited at the right stop and heading down to the Agora, the market place of ancient Smyrna (now known as Izmir). Constructed during the rule of Alexander the Great, the Agora is mostly in ruins today but it was still impressive.

Agora in Izmir

After the Agora, I headed for Izmir’s covered bazaar area. It’s somewhat smaller than Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar but still a lot of fun to maneuver. I bought a few scarves and bargained the price down to what I wanted to pay, then stopped for some doner kebab at a little sidewalk stand. Next, I headed up the street to the harbor to see the boats. Along the way, I passed the Varan downtown ticket office on Gazi Osman Pasa Bulgan and inspiration struck (I do have these rare flashes of insight). Maybe I didn’t have to make my way back to the otogar on my own…

Sure enough, the agents inside were more than helpful. After I showed them my ticket, they told me that if I would come back at 10:15 pm, I could pick up a shuttle there that would transport me to the big bus. They even arranged to have my luggage sent over to the big bus so I didn’t have to stop at the otogar ticket office. What a company! They can have my business anytime (well, when I’m in Turkey, that is).

After leaving Varan, I strolled around the city, occasionally stopping in shops that looked interesting. It was a hot day, so I tried to find places that were out of the sun. After a while, I figured I’d head for an internet cafe so I looked for one that was listed in Lonely Planet. It took me awhile to find the right street then I spent about 30 minutes walking up and down looking for the darned place. None of the street venders I asked knew where it was either.

After about an hour of searching, I finally found another one a few blocks away thanks to a young boy. It felt very good to get out of the hot sun so I stayed awhile, posting and surfing. When I was there, I checked CNN and noted that there was a bombing in Izmir on Saturday and a huge rally on Sunday in support of secularism. Izmir is very secular (I had noticed that very few women were covered compared to other Turkish cities) and wants to keep the separation of church and state that is in place now.

Back on the streets, I saw the many street vendors. They are all over Turkey and sell the most wonderful things. You can get anything from a cell phone to a fresh roll straight from the oven. There are also shoe shine men all over the place. Their equipment is made of brass and looks extremely ornate – each shoe shine man has the same identical equipment. You can also find venders (and shops) selling jewelry and pieces containing a blue eye – this is supposed to ward off evil spirits. Every taxi and bus has a blue eye somewhere near the dashboard for good luck, and many shopkeepers give you a small blue eye attached to a safety pin when you buy something from them.

While I’m on the subject of streets, let me mention cars and pedestrians. Although pedestrians technically have the right of way on most streets, you would never know it. Cars honk constantly at pedestrians and seem to consider it a weakness to slow down for one. If you’re on a street and you see a car coming, you’d better book it like crazy for the other side because that car is aiming right for you. Of course, drivers don’t treat other drivers any better – if one car decides to pass another, it starts honking, which means, “Get out of my way because I’m coming through.” And it does – without fail.

After leaving the internet cafe, I wandered back down to the harbor and watched the sun setting over the water. There were lots of people out; many having dinner at the restaurants that abound on the wharf. I was afraid to go too far away since I wanted to make sure I could find the Varan office by 10:15 pm. I stopped for a quick dinner at a small pide restaurant nearby. I’ve mentioned the wonderful pides in Turkey – however, I didn’t mention the wonderful accompaniments. For example, when I ordered my pide in Izmir (minced lamb and cheese), I also got a plate of fresh arugala and tomatoes, and a small salad of greens, cucumbers and tomatoes – all included in the price of 5 lira for the pide (around $3.85). Add another .50 lira for the su (bottled water), and you have a complete filling meal for under $5.

It was soon time to head for the Varan office. I got there a little early and settled down to wait. Promptly at 10:15 pm, the shuttle bus pulled up and took us all to another stop where a massive Varan bus awaited. My luggage was nowhere to be found, however, and I started to panic. None of the bus personnel spoke English, but one of them sensed that I was losing it and grabbed one of the passengers who translated. It turned out that the shuttle from the otogar was on its way with my luggage (and the rest of the passengers).

By 11 pm, the bus was ready to go and I was congratulating myself on picking Varan. This was the top of the line – luxurious padded reclining seats with music and headsets and a pillow! The best thing about this bus is that the trip is non-stop – no pulling into stops at 2 am with the lights blazing away. The attendant came around with tea and juice and announced he would be serving breakfast at 5:30 am. We got underway and I settled back with my pillow and believe it or not, I actually got some sleep! Woohoo – this is the bus for me! It was a bit more expensive but worth every penny!

Varan is also a bit more sophisticated in its seating arrangements – I think I mentioned before (or maybe I didn’t) that men and women who are not related are not allowed to sit next to each other on the bus. This is why they always ask your name when you buy a ticket. If a man has bought a seat, only another man can be seated next to him – and the same goes for women. Varan, however, is an indiscriminate bus company – and in fact, seated me next to a Turkish guy in his 20’s.

Tomorrow – back to Sultanachmet Square in Istanbul.

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