Turkey travelogue: The land of history, culture and cuisine

I opted for an automatic Dacia Sandero to take on the impressive and well-maintained roads of Turkey. The highways are four lanes each way with an emergency lane. There are no potholes or uneven surfacing

turkey a tribute to dario moreno on his 100 birth anniversary A tribute to Dario Moreno on his 100th birth anniversary

Cizgi was the cheapest car rental I could locate from the Istanbul International Airport and opted for an automatic Dacia Sandero to take on the impressive and well-maintained roads of Turkey. The highways are four lanes each way with an emergency lane. There are no potholes or uneven surfacing. The toll gates are automatic and one does not have to stop for the tag to be read. Apart from the highways, even the minor roads are surfaced and maintained well. Another feature is that the highways are grid-separated and have a maximum speed limit of 120kmph. Off the highways, speed limits varied between 70kmph and 90kmph. 

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Day 1: Istanbul to Canakkale (360 km)

Some of the roads hugged the coast of the Marmara Sea on the way to Gallipoli. The Gallipoli Peninsula, which has the Aegean Sea to its west and the Dardanelles Strait to its east, was a major theatre of war during World War I. The Gallipoli campaign handed the Allies a costly defeat and the Ottoman forces won a pyrrhic victory. They lost more than 1.2 lakh lives here. The Canakkale Martyrs Monument at the end of the Peninsula commemorates the participation and sacrifice of more than 2.5 lakh Turks. The Martyrs Monument overlooks the straits from the Hisarlik Hill. The monument, opened in 1960, is immaculately maintained. That in itself is a tribute to those who attained martyrdom for their motherland. 

The Kilitbahir Castle was built in 1463 along with its twin on the opposite shore of the Dardanelles in Canakkale city, at its narrowest point to control and protect the straits. The bastion looks quite formidable. There is a ferry terminal within a few metres of the castle. Ferries operating between Kilitbahir and Canakkale almost every fifteen minutes during the day. That Canakkale is a student town is evident from the number of youngsters in the pubs and restaurants that dot the small town. 

The vibrant, narrow streets are full of laughing crowds and slow moving cars. Hetal, homebaker from Surat and my business partner, and I got into a less busy restaurant and had a meal of meatballs, pigeon pea curry and rice. Of course, bread does not have to be ordered in Turkey; it always appears at the table.

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turkey vintage tram on istiklal caddesi istanbuls main pedestrian boulevard Vintage tram on Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul's main pedestrian boulevard (Picture: Pexels)

Day 2: In and around Canakkale

Canakkale is a picture-perfect city. The main point of interest for this day was the excavated ruins of the ancient city of Troy, about 25km to the south of Canakkale. The 11,200sqm Troy Museum, commissioned in 2018, provides visitors with an orientation to the archaeology and dating methods as well. The exhibits include stone sculptures, inscriptions, sarcophagi, tools, coins, bone objects, ornaments, columns, tiles and perfume bottles. It will take more than a day to tour the museum if one had to take in everything.

The archaeological site is just 750m ahead of the museum and has ample parking. The strategic importance of Troy, with its location suitable for controlling the Dardanelles, helped it to shape inter-regional trade and cultural relations for millennia. “Beware the Trojan Horse” is a warning that has come down the ages; the deceptive use of a gift to conquer and plunder a city, as described in Homer’s Illiad.

turkey trojan horse used for the brad pitt starrer troy is on display at the canakkale waterfront Trojan Horse used for the 2004 Brad Pitt starrer Troy is on display at the Canakkale waterfront

The wide, neat and clean promenade of the Canakkale waterfront, with waves slapping its edges, is a place to be to soothe oneself. Benches are placed at intermittent locations along the promenade. There are children’s play area, cafes and restaurants as well as garbage bins. Socially responsible people make for a beautiful and enjoyable place. The Trojan Horse that was used for the 2004 Brad Pitt-starrer Troy is on display at the Canakkale waterfront. 

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Day 3: Canakkale to Izmir (320 km)

We had two route options; a longer tolled road and a shorter, but slower, route along the coastal area. We chose the one mostly along the coast and with fewer tolled roads. Scenery and cost saving, the two obvious reasons. 

turkey the amphitheatre in hierapolis could seat over 10,000 spectators The amphitheatre in Hierapolis could seat over 10,000 spectators

The Dardanelles in Canakkale is the tapered waterbody that lies between the Aegean Sea in the southwest and the Sea of Marmara in the northeast. When you drive south from Canakkale, the Aegean Sea comes into view and, at some places, laps the embankments. The views along the way are wonderful, but the weather wasn't clear enough to enjoy them enough. Small towns and some rural areas went by along the drive. 

Izmir, the third largest city in Turkey after Istanbul and Ankara, is said to have been founded by Alexander the Great. It was known as Smyrna since its founding by the Greeks in antiquity till the first half of the 20th century. The Agora Open Air Museum is a good place to explore the city's ancient history. What took my breath away, apart from the complex arches, columns and marble sculptures, was the water pouring through a terracotta pipe. It is mentioned here that the water is from an unknown source and in the olden days, they were used for manufacturing in the marketplace, the agora.

Less than 750m from the museum is the Kemeralti Market, which is said to be the largest open-street market in the world. It is one of the liveliest parts of the city. The labyrinthine 17th century bazaar is home to shops, eateries, artisans' workshops, mosques, coffeehouses, tea gardens and synagogues. 

The Konak Square is bounded by the Kemeralti Market on one side and the downtown waterfront on the other. The governor's mansion, from which the square derives its name, is an imposing sight. Located to its side is the tiny Yali Mosque, reputed for its octagonal shape and impressive tile work. Almost at the centre of the square is the interesting 120-year-old clock tower built in Ottoman architecture style.

There is a nice walkway, along the Gulf of Izmir with the waters of the Aegean Sea lapping the stone embankments, all the way up to the Konak Pier, which was designed by Gustav Eiffel, the French architect of Eiffel Tower fame. From being a customs station to a fish market, the Konak Pier has seen it all. At present, the complex houses an upmarket shopping mall, restaurants and cafes.

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turkey 120 year old clock tower in konak square izmir 120-year old clock tower in Konak Square, Izmir

Day 4: In Izmir

Turkish breakfast is among the most elaborate I have ever had anywhere in the world. The one in the Oglakcioglu Park Boutique Hotel, Izmir, surpassed the wildest of wild expectations. The choice of cheese, bread, jam, olives, dry fruits, fresh fruits and meats made us spend more time at the breakfast table than we would normally have. I started with eggs, salami, ham, sausages, fries and toast. Then came the olives, cheese, honey, pide (Turkish flat bread), dry fruits and a cup of coffee. The third round consisted of white bread, strawberry jam, fig jam and berry jam, salad and omelette. 

The Asansor is a historical building and a prominent landmark in Izmir. Asansor is Turkish for elevator. It is an elevator constructed in 1907 by the wealthy Jewish banker, trader and philanthropist Nesim Levi, as a service to obviate the misery of people who had to climb 155 steps from Karatas to the hillside, where people lived. The quiet elevator takes one up four floors, right up a cliff, to a platform from where one can normally see the beautiful sights of Izmir and the Gulf of Izmir. However, the inclement weather meant that the views from the observation deck were disappointing. We dropped the plan to go to Mount Kadifekale, which at 190m would have afforded the best views of Izmir and the Gulf of Izmir. 

The next best we could do was to walk from Asansor to Alsancak along the Kordon walkway and promenade, right along the waters of the Gulf of Izmir, which is an inlet of the Aegean Sea. Angling is big in Turkey and every bridge or waterfront promenade we visited had a fair share of anglers, be it the Galata Bridge or the Usukdar promenade in Istanbul or the Gallipoli and Canakkale waterfronts. 

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Day 5: Izmir to Kusudasi (140 km)

An hour's drive from Izmir lies Selcuk (pronounced Selchuk), one of the most visited places in Turkey. Known as Ayasuluk during the Ottomans and mentioned in Ibn Batuta's writings, Selcuk became an alternative to Ephesus as a settlement. The Ayasuluk Castle was built around the 6th century during the Byzantine period using stones from disused Greek and Roman buildings. Below the castle, on the slope of Ayasuluk Hill, is the basilica built by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century as a tribute to St John the Evangelist who wrote one of the gospels and the revelations while living in Ephesus. The tomb of St John is also believed to be within the basilica. Legend has us believe that St John is not dead but is sleeping beneath the tomb and every time he breathes, dust gathers around his tomb. This dust, known as ‘manna’, is said to cure the sick.

turkey the great library of celsus ephesus that once held over 12,000 scrolls The great Library of Celsus, Ephesus that once held over 12,000 scrolls

The ruins of Ephesus, barely 3km from Selcuk, is a UNESCO world heritage site. The remarkable features are the Great Theatre—capable of seating 24,000 spectators, the Library of Celsus that once held over 12,000 scrolls, the Arcadiane that linked the Great Theatre to the Harbour of Ephesus, the Temple of Hadrian that honoured the emperor, the terrace houses showing how the wealthy lived, the Gate of Augustus, the Curetes Street—the main street through Ephesus—and the Odeon Theatre that could seat 1,400 people.

Kusadasi is 30km further south of Ephesus on the Aegean coast. The city has a nice seafront promenade, a marina and a harbour. The numerous hotels, pubs, cafes and restaurants indicate how popular the city is as a tourist destination. 

The Hand of Peace sculpture stands out facing the city silhouetted against the Aegean Sea with doves in the hand. The Ataturk memorial and the legend of Sisyphus, too, capture one’s attention during a walk along the promenade. The Pigeon Island, just offshore, has a walled Byzantine castle that once guarded the mainland. 

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Day 6: Kusudasi to Pamukkale (200 km)

About 30 km short of Pamukkale, we had to take rural roads and get through small villages. Venus Suite Hotel was located in a small street and the owner Younus, manning the counter, welcomed us and efficiently checked us in.

The small town of Pamukkale, meaning Cotton Castle in Turkish, receives more than 2 million visitors every year. Calcium Carbonate precipitation from the flow of geothermal water form travertines. The water is thrust up almost 300m from under the earth's surface due to volcanic activity. Over time, deposited travertines from the flowing thermal waters build terraces. The Pamukkale travertine terraces are a World Heritage Site along with the ruins of Hierapolis.

Hierapolis is believed to have been established by the Romans as a Spa City in 2nd century BC and is above the Travertine Pools. From the Romans the city passed on to the Byzantine Empire and then on to the Ottoman 

Empire. The amphitheatre is one of the features of the Hierapolis. It can be seen from the travertines and could seat about 10,000 spectators.

turkey the hand of peace statue kusudasi silhouetted against the aegean sea The Hand of Peace statue, Kusudasi, silhouetted against the Aegean Sea

Situated between the white travertine pools and the theatre is a spectacular location fed by the same hot springs. Here one can bathe in the same waters in which Cleopatra once did! Unlike the chalky waters of the lower pools, that in the Cleopatra Antique Pool is clear warm water. Even though it is a ruin today, the bath is no less spectacular and is well patronised for its supposedly healing powers.

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Day 7: Pamukkale to Oludeniz (250 km)

Driving becomes a bit tough to handle after partaking of a huge breakfast and it easy for one to feel a bit drowsy. Hetal and I took turns over the wheel from Pamukkale to Oludeniz via Fethiye, which is slightly over 200 km. The route largely plied through forests and had long stretches of winding, narrow roads, not conducive to high speed.

Fethiye is a port city on Turkey's southwestern Turquoise Coast. It is known for its natural harbour, blue waters and numerous rock tombs. The Rock Tomb of Fethiye is an ancient Greek rock hewn tomb in Fethiye built somewhere in the 4th century BC. The mountain tombs are spacious and is believed to have been the handiwork of the Lycians who had lived in these parts in the 4th century BC.

turkey the rock cut tombs of fethiye dating back to 4 century bc The rock cut Tombs of Fethiye dating back to 4 century BC

The Babadag Mountain in Oludeniz is about 15km from the center. The road is winding and narrow with 12 hairpin bends. One cannot drive up to the summit. There is a fantastic viewpoint about 1,700m below the summit up to which visitors from the city centre can come up by cable car, too. 

This day the views were blocked by rolling mist. It is a tough 25 minute walk up a narrow paved road to the summit from where paragliders take off for panoramic views of the magnificent town and the beach. Oludeniz translates to Dead Sea in Turkish because of the calm seas and the lagoon waters being saltier than bay's sea water due to its sheltered location. Oludeniz is at a conjunction point between the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. Oludeniz has a large public beach with a nice promenade with cafes and restaurants. 

turkey pamukkale travertine terraces are a world heritage site Pamukkale travertine terraces are a World Heritage Site

It also has private beaches and a lagoon. The public beach is where the paragliders, who take off from the summit of the Babadag Mountain, land. So many of them landed on the beach indicating that the weather had cleared up over the mountain. 

(To be continued) 

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