Life Along the Turkish Aegean

Friday, June 27, 2014

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.
Then we drove to the edge of Izmir (in the area of Turkey once known as Ionia) and saw the ruins of a 2nd Century A.D. Roman agora (which had been built on top of an earlier Greek one). This is one of (if not the) largest unearthed agoras of ancient times.

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:

...Wayne had the Aegean salad: rocket, red onion, olives, mint, and cheese (hold the tomatoes and cukes of course!!!!):

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:

Saturday, June 28

Our day of touring in Ephesus! There were actually 5 iterations of this city, starting in the 10th Century B.C.  The ruins we visited were from the 3rd city, which was inhabited for about 900 years before being abandoned due to earthquakes and malaria.  It is currently about 6 miles from the Aegean, but at its height it was a port city! Yes...over the eons, the silt has built up enough that the city is no longer near the water.  It was known for the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, which, alas, no longer exists. This is the most well-preserved (and restored) Greco-Roman city in the world (according to our guide).  Also, the beer Wayne has been drinking all week, Efes, is named for the Turkish word for the city!

Here is the part of the agora. Note the clay pipes....

...these were used to carry water from the aqueduct to various parts of the city.

This part of the city was the medical area. These stones bear the caduceus...

....and a mortar and pestle!

Here we are with part of a frieze of Nike, winged goddess of victory:

Note carefully that today was floppy hat, extra water, and umbrella-for-shade day, as it was well into the 90s. They tell us that where we are going tomorrow it could reach 120! (And it's not a dry heat!) 

This is what remains of the Library of Celsus (not Celsius, the thermometer guy).

When it was in use, it was the third largest library in the world. On the top step there was evidence of the Jewish community that lived here: a menorah was carved into the stone.

And this is the amphitheater where John spoke to the Ephesians.

When it was built it held 7,000 people.

Next, we drove a short distance to the Basilica of St. John. This is where John, Christ's Disciple, lived and preached.
This building was actually larger than Hagia Sophia in Istanbul!

Here is the baptistery:

John also died here, reportedly at age 100 of natural causes (the only disciple who did), and was buried here (for a time; though the tomb is still here, his remains were moved to Rome for safe keeping). lunch!  Today's was a family-run roadside restaurant serving authentic Turkish food. WOW!  It is run by a mother and her daughter; in fact, the name is My Mother's Kitchen. They had a spread (too good to call it a "buffet") of 36 (count 'em) different hot and cold Turkish dishes:

We were able to sample whatever (and how much) we wanted! Our plates (guess whose was whose):

Stuffed peppers, chickpea salad, green beans, stuffed zucchini flowers, marinated red cabbage, rice, fried cauliflower, spicy bulgur, potatoes, etc.  Soooo delicious!  So much so that we bought the cookbook (inscribed by the daughter, who also said to contact her if we had trouble making any of the dishes!). Can't wait to get home and cook up a Turkish feast!

That was the end of touring for the day.

Back at the hotel, while Wayne was beginning this blog, Wendy went to a lecture given by a local college professor. The subject was "The Status of Women in Turkey". The gist of the talk was that women in Turkey were critical partners in every aspect of society until the 9th Century, with the advent of Islam. At that point, they assumed more subservient (required) roles in society and the family. This changed with the creation of the Republic (as a secular country) in 1923. The speaker shared some disturbing developments (not legal but basically Sharia law) among traditional fundamentalist families in the southeast and creeping into the urban areas.

Izmir - night 2 dining:
We capped off our visit to Izmir/Ephesus with dinner at Korfez Restaurant-- on the Aegean Sea boardwalk close to the hotel. The restaurant had been recommended by everyone except our guide--and we were in the mood for more fresh fish. So we gave it a try. It did not disappoint. Newly confident in our ability to eat like the Turks (at least the hungry ones), we started by strolling to the mezze display and pointing.
We learned in Istanbul that the display case/ cart size of mezze servings does not necessarily correlate precisely to serving size. We learned in Izmir-- neither does the presentation. We pointed at zucchini flowers, green beans, and an eggplant salad. We received all three and they were scrumptious-- but with some extra ingredients (like walnuts in the eggplant, yogurt dip for the zucchini flowers, and tomatoes with the beans). 

We also ordered a salad, then waited patiently for our fresh-from-the-Aegean red snapper for two. It was exquisite but Wayne received the serving with spine (the major bones); we're guessing that was a gender-based waitstaff decision so we covertly swapped so that the bones expert (Wendy) could work her magic. With lots of lemon, the fish was divine.
We finished out our meal with a brilliantly expressive sunset, fresh fruit (the melon here is particularly delicious) and, of course, pistachio baklava.

After a cup of apple tea (they say only the tourists drink it), we were on our way.  All I can say is, Wayne is anxious to weigh in after the trip and I am not! Even the amount of walking is not helping!
Love,  w&w..................

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