I write this post from the terrace of my hotel in Fethiye. Directly in front of me is the bay, which glistens under the sun and where sailboats float along in the sapphire water. Sort of like the produce, even the vistas and landscapes in Turkey feel somehow brighter and better and more colorful. I’ve seen mountains before, and coastlines and sparkling water and quaint villages tucked away in remote valleys, but in Turkey all of these things have a genuinely special character. I find myself very much in love with so much of what I’ve seen, and my holiday isn’t even halfway over!
I was told by many people that I would see a different Turkey when I left Istanbul, and I’ve found that there’s definitely truth to that. Even spending just a few months living in one of the largest cities in the world has kind of left me feeling a bit rough around the edges. I like the bustle, and I do find Turkish people in general to be pretty helpful and hospitable, but having seen a few other places in the country now, I can tell that a lot of city folk definitely put on a tough front to get through their day – and I can’t blame them. I’ve found that if I don’t approach the city with a certain amount of skepticism and pushiness, and if I don’t prioritize my own needs first, I would likely never get anything done and probably get walked on in the process.
So, in the sense that Istanbul has toughened me up, it’s nice to be able to visit places where I don’t have to always be so assertive. Plus, in the time since I’ve come to Turkey, I’ve never been out of the city, and so far I’m really enjoying these two weeks away.
A lot of people have been asking me how exactly I went about creating such a thorough and lengthy itinerary. Having never left Istanbul, and still not speaking much Turkish, the thought of planning a trip anywhere else was admittedly rather daunting. Plus, there was so much I wanted to see that I had no idea where to start or how to go about planning anything. In an effort to simplify and get some samples of potential itineraries, I searched for budget tours of Turkey online and came across the website of a local travel agency in Sultanahmet. They had lots of packages within my timeframe and budget, so I sent an email asking which they would most recommend. Five minutes later, I received a phone call asking me to come into their office for something customized. The agent I worked with was great and attentive, and two weeks later, I was fully booked for a 16-day western Turkey extravaganza!
Going through an agency was probably my first good decision of the trip. Everything was prepaid, and reservations for buses and hotels and tours were made in advance, so there’s been little additional cost and zero worries about whether there would be enough space to get a seat or a room, which, during this high season for tourism, has been known to be a problem. For the most part, whenever I arrive somewhere, someone has always been waiting to take me to the next stage of my trip, so a lot of the guesswork has been removed from getting to where I need to be when I need to be there. And if shit hits the fan, there is someone I can call to fix it. Having never traveled in Turkey before, and it being that I’m travling alone, it’s been wonderful to have full peace of mind.
So far it’s mostly been go, go, go, but today I’ve found myself with nothing planned and access to a pool and a gorgeous view, so it’s been a pretty leisurely one for me, and I thought I’d take some time to post some photos about the start of my trip.
Everything kicked off on Friday at 6:30am, which meant I was up even before the summer sun to get ready and make my way to the Metro station so I could meet my travel van in Sultanahmet. I was excited enough that it actually wasn’t too difficult to wake up and get going, and walking through Istanbul in the quiet morning without the heat or many other people was rather enjoyable.
My van picked me up and, with the company of about 10 other people, made the 5-hour drive to Eceabat, a small seaside town and one of the jumping-off points to Troy and Gallipoli. My schedule for the day only included Troy, but in the van were many Australians heading to Gallipoli, which hosted a World War I battle that proved disastrous for the Allies and was particularly devastating for Australians and New Zealanders, so visiting the area is sort of a cultural pilgrimage for them.
As we made our way from Istanbul, we drove along the coast, and while there were sometimes glimpses of sea out the window, the true wonder was the countless fields of sunflowers along the way. I wasn’t able to get a good photo, and many of them were pretty dried out in the August heat, but there were times when the fields spread out as far as I could see, and it was pretty fantastic. After the journey, our van dropped us in Eceabat, where we had lunch and then embarked on our respective tours.
My route: Istanbul is starred in the top right. My bus travelled along the north coast of the Sea of Marmara before stopping at Eceabat (point A). From there, it was a ferry ride and a shuttle to Troy.
There were just a few other people with me on my tour of Troy, and our guide was a young Turk who spoke about the area with a passion and interest like I’ve never seen. He was a certified guide of the place, but is apparently an aspiring archeologist, and he shared with us many of his theories about mysteries surrounding the ruins of one of civilization’s oldest known cities. His enthusiasm and the stories about the place is probably what made the trip worthwhile for me – there was very little to see of the ruins, and admittedly I didn’t find wandering around in the dust and heat all that enjoyable. I was able to learn a lot, though, so you can peruse the photos and read the captions for a little more information!
We had to catch a ferry across the strait, then a half-hour shuttle ride to the ruins.
The ferry stopped in the city of Çanakkale, where much of the movie “Troy” was filmed. Supposedly this is the replica of the Trojan horse used in the film. Brad Pitt was not there.
Troy is immortalized in Homer’s “Iliad,” a story about the siege of Troy by the Greeks. It’s the one with the beautiful Helen, the idiot Paris, and the (almost) invincible Achilles. It’s also the story that involves the Trojan horse. While the siege and characters may be myth, the city of Troy is certainly real, as is evidence of attack and razing. The city, however, was thought to be completely fictional until it was discovered in 1868 by the wealthy German archeologist Heinrich Schliemann.
Heading towards one of the entrance gates to the city, now ruins.
Troy was built and rebuilt nine times, creating nine layers of the city across different time periods. Historians refer to these levels as Troy I-IX. Each new level was built directly on top of the previous, which had usually collapsed to ground level anyway due to destruction from earthquakes or attack.
To the untrained eye, the different levels appear to be indistinguishable from one another. Apparently the key to identifying which is which is by the type of stone, which varies from level to level and can be used to determine how advanced/affluent the culture was at the time of its use.
The siege of Troy supposedly occurred during Troy VII, and consequently is the most famous level and referred to as Homeric Troy, despite the fact that the author lived many years after Troy was long gone.
Troy remains relatively close to the water, but during its lifetime it was known as a harbor city. All of this pasture land, then, was once water. Crazy.
Heinrich Schliemann’s role in the excavation of Troy is a controversial one. One on hand, he is credited with discovering the city. But on the other, his motivation was with the purpose of finding treasure there. And he did find quite a bit, but he used dynamite and other destructive means to get to it, thus destroying many levels and important artifacts along the way.
Most of the ruins remain entirely original, so there’s not much reconstruction, and not many stones weren’t there to begin with.
An area specifically built to offer some shade for visitors. It also covers some reconstructed housing.
The treasure Schliemann discovered was mostly various items made with gold, silver, and copper. Supposedly the story is that his workers were digging when he spotted something glinting in the sun. He told them to take an early lunch so he could be alone while he uncovered the treasure and hid it away.
Schliemann left Turkey and snuck the gold out with him. It was only when he had his wife photographed while wearing the jewelry that anyone even knew he’d found anything.
Turkey banned him from further archeological work in the country and sued him for the gold. He returned some of it later in exchange for permission to dig there again.
The rest of the treasure remained hidden until it was looted by Soviet forces from a bunker in Berlin during WWII.
For a while there were talks of returning the artifacts to Germany, but current Russian officials have effectively ended any negotiations, claiming that Russia deserves to keep what they have as compensation for Germany’s own destruction and looting during the war. Of course, there is absolutely no discussion of returning the treasure to Turkey, where it was discovered and from where it was originally stolen. Not cool, really.
A model of the legendary Trojan Horse. In the Iliad, when the Greeks are unable to break into Troy using force, they construct a hollow horse and place a small number of Greek soldiers inside, leaving it outside the gates of Troy. The rest of the army hides away, and Troy takes the horse into the city walls. At night, the Greek soldiers climb out of the horse and open the city’s gates from the inside so the Greeks can continue their attack. Our guide was doubtful that the story was historically accurate, given that the Grecian army would have had to hide pretty far away if they wanted to convince Troy they weren’t around. In the time it would have taken them to get from their hiding place to the city, the Trojan soldiers could have easily taken out the few Greeks who were inside the horse and closed the gates again. A convincing argument, but the world may never know!
The next morning I was to depart to Selçuk, a town in similar size and style to Eceabat and from where I would take my tours of Ephesus and Pamukkale (more on those later!). My shuttle to the bus station wasn’t to arrive until 10:30 that morning, and when I found myself wide awake at 7, I decided to take a walk along the seaside. I found a little park with a monument and some displays involving the battle at Gallipoli, and even gained a fuzzy friend while I strolled. It was a lovely, relaxing morning – good preparation for the nine hours I was going to spend on the bus to Selçuk!
My room in Eceabat at TJ’s Hotel, which was much more than I expected from my budget travel plan.
Along the seaside there’s a park to commemorate the battles fought on the Gallipoli peninsula. It translates to Respect for History Park.
The entrance to the park, with the ferry that crosses to the other side.
This monument is, as most monuments are, heavily symbolic. It features soldiers from Turkey, New Zealand, Australia, and Britain, plus a mother figure. It’s representative of each party’s struggle and sacrifice.
Eight busts for Turkey’s eight commanders.
The park mostly consists of models of the region around Eceabat and Çanakkale, with markings indicating sites of battles, cemeteries, memorials, and towns.
There’s also a display of Turks in the chaos of trench warfare. The short explanation on informational sign to the side used “honor”, “sacrifice,” and “bravery” about 200 times.
Here a soldier is displayed reading the Qur’an, which, apart from eating, sleeping, and fighting, was, according to signage, the only other way soldiers spent their time.
From the park, I just walked up the boardwalk.
This is the ferry that takes cars and pedestrians to the other side of the sea.
I gained a sweet, old friend while I was walking. She stayed with me the whole morning.
Heading back to the hotel. This is the line of cars waiting to cross on the ferry.
Ferry time! I had to cross to the other side to get to the main bus station where I’d catch transport to Selçuk.
I’m not sure there was much to see…
Riding a Turkish bus is like sitting in the lap of luxury. Screens on the seat backs, movies, snack and drink service, and wifi! Plus, the ride around the coast was really beautiful. It was a lengthy journey, but the distractions were great!
In summary, my vacation has been much needed and very enjoyable. I’ll return soon with some photos and tales of Ephesus and Pamukkale, but in the meantime, all my love!