Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Turkish Delights

Marmaris, Selchuk and Istanbul. We have just spent a week in these three delightful places in Turkey.

We went to Marmaris since it was the only Turkish destination for the ferry from Rhodes. We chose Selchuk as a base for visiting Ephesus, since I didn't have good memories from my last visit to Kusadasi. We chose Istanbul because it is without doubt one of the great cities of the world.

In Marmaris we discovered a very pleasant small resort town with literally hundreds of hotels f ronting along the beach and waterfront promenade. It is a popular starting point for a variety of boat cruises along the Turkish coast. Unfortunately, Claire's restricted schedule prevented us from taking a multi-day cruise; but we did have one very enjoyable day on the Turquoise Coast. Two highlights were a visit to some amazing tombs carved into the cliffs, and a dip in the mud-baths near Turtle Beach. Fortunately, we did not take family photos for the blog, since there were so many complaints about the red spandex shot taken at the Great Barrier Reef. But here are some of our fellow passengers after frolicking in the mud.

Selchuk turned out to be a delightful small town with a very pleasant walkable centre. Although very close to Ephesus, it remains relatively unspoilt by tourists. We stayed at Jimmy's Place, despite its name, because of its location, the guest reviews on, and a recommendation from the fellow who ran the internet café where we were searching for accommodation. It turned out to be a good choice.

Rather than try to visit Ephesus on our own, we joined a small tour group. We also visited a home supposedly occupied by the Virgin Mary. I was impressed that the Turkish government had spend so much money maintaining a property that appealed primarily to a Christian audience, only to be told that the Vatican was the major funding source for the property’s maintenance.

We also visited the oldest mosque in the region. Inside, I heard a guide telling a group of American tourists that the Koran makes numerous references to Mary and Jesus. He added that although Moslems do not regard Jesus as God, he is considered an important prophet. "Is this really such a big difference that we have to fight wars with one another?” he asked the Americans. “I don't think so".

Ephesus is the most impressive archeological site I have ever seen. While this visit was not as awe inspiring as my first sojourn 13 years ago, when I went with my father, it was wonderful to be there with Claire and Sally. We had traveled quite a long way to get to Ephesus, but it was definitely worth the effort.

While Claire enjoyed Turkey’s smaller towns and archeological sites, what she really wanted was to get to Istanbul to experience the bazaars. So the next morning we took an early shuttle bus to Izmir airport, and from there a short flight to Istanbul.

Anyone who has seen the movie ‘Midnight Express’ knows that you don't want to spend time in a Turkish jail. But try telling that to the people who pay $420 to $630 US a night to stay in a double room at Istanbul's Four Seasons Hotel. Opened ten years ago, it occupies a neoclassical structure that was built as a prison in 1917. But having lunch in the courtyard café, or staying in one of the spacious rooms or suites, you wouldn't know it was once a jail.

We didn’t want to pay that kind of money to stay in a jail, so instead we chose the Hotel Romantic off It had an excellent location and looked quite attractive in the web photos. However, we discovered the name was a bit of a misnomer when we found separated twin beds in our double room!

To get an overview of the city, we again decided to take a ‘hop on hop off’ bus. What a mistake! While I thought the service in Athens was poor, in some respects, the one in Istanbul was even more disappointing. There was very little commentary...."in front of you is the Hilton Hotel", and most of it was punctuated by very monotonous music. There were few stops, and very infrequent service. Moreover, it ended at 4 pm on the longest day of the year! It was such a bad experience, I wrote to the management in the hope that they might improve the service for future travelers. But I won't hold my breath.

After completing most of the bus route, around 1 pm we decided to get off and visit the Blue Mosque. As we were crossing the road towards the entrance, we were stopped by a man who told us it was closed. Every guide book warns you to avoid people who tell you attractions are closed, since invariably they want to take you to a friend’s jewelry shop or somewhere else which you really don't need to see. Given my disappointing experience with the tour, I wasn't in the mood to deal with this guy, but he kept insisting that I not try to enter the mosque. Suddenly, I saw three policemen across the street and approached them. "Is the Blue Mosque closed today?" I asked. "No" they replied in unison. I then pointed out the fellow who had tried to tell me otherwise, and requested that they find out what he was up to. I left as he was showing them his identification papers.

Since I did not have the appropriate clothing and had been inside the mosque before, I decided to let Sally and Claire go in without me. But a few minutes later they returned. "It's closed for prayers" they said. “It opens at 2”!

Instead we decided to visit St. Sophia, another major attraction. It was originally built as a church, then converted into a mosque, and subsequently a museum. On the way, we lamented the fact that we didn’t know anyone in Turkey who could show us the real city, so we didn’t have to go from tourist site to tourist site. Unfortunately, the only Turkish people we knew were the Filisophs, our neighbours on Deering Island, and Chela Herman, our next door neighbour.

So imagine my surprise when I turned a corner in St. Sophia and there stood Miryam and Rafael Filisoph! They were as surprised to see me, as I was to see them. It turned out they were in Istanbul for a couple of weddings, and we spent some good times with them over two days. A couple of highlights were a trip up a very old tower for a 360 degree view of the city, and a dinner party at the Bosphoros waterfront home of one of their friends. It was magnificent.

Unfortunately, after seven days it was time for us all to move on. On our final afternoon we decided to experience ‘one of the 1000 places to see before you die’; one of the oldest Turkish Baths in the city. Sally described it as interesting, although not relaxing. I would have to agree. My memory is of a jolly half naked Turkish gentleman who seemed to take great delight in scrubbing the skin off my forehead, and pummeling my sore calves with his elbows.

At 8 pm, we saw Claire off on an overnight train for Athens, and two hours later we boarded another train on the very same platform for Bulgaria. It had been a very good week, but we needed more time to see the rest of Turkey. So we will return for a much more extended stay at some time in the future. But we may just skip the baths.


Cruise Turkey said...


The Fabulous Turkish Delights are Sydney's most successful and popular belly dance artists. Turkish people are so lovely and willing to help you with anything. It probably a bit too lovely and seems to be a complete lack of girls in turkey so the men are very friendly. Thanks a lot...

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