Left Istanbul at 8:30 and took the 1 hour flight to Izmir, but with waiting, delays, and transfers, etc., we did not get on the bus for touring until about 2 pm. Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey; its population is 4 million. Our first stop which was actually near the airport (beautiful, huge, and brand new...just opened in March, to replace the one opened in 2004!), was a winery for lunch. This is the same thing we did on our South America trip. Except this time it was only lunch (outside, under a big old tree); no winery tour, no presentation of local skill, etc. This was just fine with us! The food was a set menu. We had a cheese and olive plate, green salad (pretty much the same as yesterday's), chunks of beef with boiled potatoes, and oh so cold and refreshing chocolate mousse for dessert. Good, but not picture-worthy.
We stopped at an overlook and could see much of the city and the Aegean Sea, and also the ruins of the Acropolis, built by Alexander the Great.
For those of you who may not know (or don't do crossword puzzles), "agora" means "market place". From this we get the current day term "agoraphobia", which is a condition many men suffer from: fear of shopping.
This was really a huge place, with shops on two levels!
Restoration has been going on for many years, and continues today:
So there are Roman ruins and Greek ruins and Byzantine ruins all in this same area. Then the Ottomans used part of it for a cemetery. The tombstone on the right has a turban on top!
We learned that Homer was born in Izmir! We always think of him as Greek, because, at that time, this area was under Greek control. "Izmir" actually is a corrupted term for "Smyrna", the Greek name. Many of you have probably heard of or eaten Smyrna figs. Yup! They come from here, and are still a major export crop.
Through our guides' running commentary we had an epiphany: When we toured China, everything there was described as the biggest. Here (and in Greece), everything is described in terms of being "first": the first theater, drama, government, city, civilization, agriculture. The earliest settlement in the area (and perhaps anywhere) dates back to 4,500 B.C. It is very sobering to hear them talk of these cultures which lasted for hundreds or thousands of years and then disappeared. We tend to think of our own time as "the way it is and the way it will always be". We should look to the past for a reality check.
Then we checked into the Swissotel in "the nicest part" of town. It looks just like Miami Beach! Palm trees, hotels, shops, a waterfront. One thing here (and in Istanbul) that South Beach doesn't have are the street dogs. These are strays that are all over the city. But they are ear-tagged and given shots and neutered by the government. Why they do this, we don't know. There are also many cats roaming around, especially in the ruins.
After resting for a while it was time for dinner! We ate at the hotel's seafood restaurant, The Aquarium, because dinner was included in our tour package. The tables are set up outside in a lovely courtyard (actually right on the grass, which is nice: the urban areas of Izmir and Istanbul both have very little green space). We had received our bread and olives / sauces for dipping....
....when plop! Splat! Plop! OY!!!! A bird! Right on our table. The waiter was quite flustered and said he hoped that was not going to be our memory of Izmir! Luckily (amazingly!) we weren't hit. So we moved to another table and carried on. Wendy started with grilled octopus on smoky eggplant puree with rivulets of butter:
Then, since we were still pretty full from lunch, we decided to split a sea bream. Unlike the other night, this one was grilled on a charcoal grill near our table. Excellent!
Believe it or not, even though it was included, we decided to skip dessert!
WARNING: Reaching vacation food overload!!!!!!
The weather was still so perfect, so we decided to walk along the waterfront (about 2 blocks from the hotel). This was an excellent decision, as we saw a fabulous sunset (much better than in Santorini)...
... along with some local color: fishermen, cotton candy man...
...and one of the ubiquitous statues of Kemal Ataturk, who is the founder of modern Turkey: