Now I’m off to visit Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coastline with its many historical monuments and – some of this will probably be in one of the next posts – its beautiful beaches. To make things easier for me I’m simply following the route suggested by Lonely Planet for four weeks, all the way to Antalya and then Cappadocia. Here is the first part from Çanakkale to Izmir, including some tips on how to get around, since the information I found in the Lonely Planet or online didn’t always completely correspond to what I experienced.
Çanakkale – Troy and Gallipoli (Turkish names: Truva, Gelibolu)
I started with the small harbor town Çanakkale where I based myself via airbnb for two nights to see Troy and Gallipoli. Note that when you pronounce Çanakkale the second a and the kk are stressed: [TshanAkkkale]. Not [TshanakkAAle]. Just to make sure people understand you.
Just before I arrived I heard that there are actually not that many ruins, but was quite relieved that it was enough to keep me entertained. I’m glad that I’m not spoiled yet by having seen too many huge and well preserved ruins yet. Nobody knows if the story with the Trojan horse is historically accurate, the walls might just have been damaged by an earthquake and the town therefore easily conquerable. I was amazed to see that the sea has moved out a few hundred meters in the last few thousand years. Troy was right next to the sea back when it was built, now the sea is in the distance behind Achilles’ grave. Like most ancient towns, when the city was built again it was built on top of the old one, so that different excavated layers from different periods of time can be seen. More details about the site can be found here.
As in some other places, the most important part of Troy has been transferred to Germany, which in the case of Troy is the treasure that archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann first incorrectly believed to be Priam’s Treasure (because the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann wanted to find stuff from the Homeric epics), but actually it dates from much earlier. In 1945 the treasure was taken from the Royal Museums in Berlin by the Red Army and after the cold war was over it reappeared in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. Turkey would like to have back the treasure, but Russia is keeping it as a compensation for the destruction and looting of Russian cities and museums by Germany during the Second World War. They didn’t take anything from Turkey after all… So why give them anything.
How to get there:
-from Istanbul: 6h bus drive, offered by several bus companies. For me the closest was Truvaturizm from Esenler Otogar, 25TL with hourly departures from Istanbul (Truvaturizm also has buses from the Asian side, Ataşehir) . The bus had loads of space, screens, plugs, a steward serving free drinks and snacks, …
-tours including transfer from Istanbul or other cities with hasslefree tours.
How to visit:
I figure that for cost conscious people it’s possible to visit at least Troy in public transport, not sure how easy it would be for the sites on the Gallipoli peninsula, but I had limited time and decided to do a Troy tour in the morning and a Gallipoli tour in the afternoon with hasslefree tours. The guides were great and lunch in a good restaurant was included. The tours (and other excursions) can be booked in the agency in Anzac House Hostel (72€).
Finally I know what the story with Atatürk, the ANZAC day, the 18th of March and all that is about. The guide explains everything on a map and we went to the most important battle places and memorials.
To summarize and drastically simplify it, the British had a smart plan to gain control over the passage from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea (the Dardanelles) so they could provide war supplies to their ally Russia. The plan was simple: capture the Gallipoli peninsula, tataa, victory and control over the Dardanelles.
First the British, mainly supported by France, tried naval attacks, the main attacked being conducted on the 18th of March 1915, but that failed. So they decided to land troops on the peninsula, joined by a French troop and the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). But after 10 months of what was basically mostly a stalemate the plan failed due to some mistakes (like landing on the wrong, steep beach and taking tea breaks at the wrong times) and thanks to Turkish commander Mustafa Kemal, who ordered the 57th division to face the invading armies even if they were totally outnumbered. This seems to have impressed the storming enemy troops who stopped storming, so that the Turkish gained some time to call support and the aim of the attack to conquer a strategic hill on the Gallipoli peninsula wasn’t reached. All of the 57th division’s soldiers died during throughout that war, most of them during the battle after the first Anzac troops’ landing, they are considered heroes in Turkish history writing. The war was marked by much bloodshed, but the soldiers also showed comradery and communicated across the trenches. Eventually the British, French and ANZAC troops pulled out, since none of the strategic points they had aimed at were captured. The Turkish victory is considered to mark an important basis for the founding of an independent Turkish national state. Kemal Mustafa, who later became the first president of the Turkish republic, was given the surname Atatürk (father of the Turks) in recognition of his achievements for the founding of a Turkish national state and in every city there is a statue in his honor.
Between Çanakkale and Izmir
Why not simply see Ayvalık and Bergama on the same day on my way to Izmir? I thought and off I went. I thought 8am was early enough. Almost. Just had to hurry a bit in Bergama, but never mind.
I spent two hours in Ayvalık checking out the Church museum (Taksiyarhis Memorial Museum) and the old town. It’s a cute little town with its old Greek houses, some of them renovated, some of them in decay. Unfortunately it wasn’t the right weather to check out the beaches, but I wouldn’t have had time anyway.
Luggage storage: While I was exploring I left my backpack in a restaurant that opened only an hour later at 1pm, so I asked if they could keep it until I come back. I couldn’t see any facilities for luggage storage at the otogar in town, but who knows, maybe they could have kept it, too, if I had asked.
In Pergamon (Turkish: Bergama) my plan was to see loooaaads of history: the Arcopolis, the Red Hall (Kizil Avlu) and the Asclepion. I figured out a nice plan while I was in the bus, but it all worked out a bit differently (see below “How to get around in Bergama” for details) and I could only see the first two. I also realized later that it would have been worth it getting the Museum Pass for the Agean right away (valid for 7 days)
I went up to the Acropolis by cable car and didn’t have much of an idea what I was seeing besides that it was old and that it must have been amazing a few thousand years ago and that if I had had a QR reading app I could have scanned the code at the entrance to get the 3D app and see it all as if it was actually there. But I found jogging around there and snapping pictures just as amazing, especially turning everything a bit redder than it actually is with my camera. The view from up there is great. Interestingly enough, almost the complete temple of Zeus, besides the base, has been transferred to Germany in the 19th century.
I also managed to see the Red Hall in the less than 30 minutes I had left before catching my bus. It is a huge temple erected by the Egyptians. Later, Christians managed to fit a church inside, since the building was so huge. Now much of it is under reconstruction, so it’s not possible at the moment to enter the biggest remaining part of the building. But wandering around and looking at the disassembled fragments is quite interesting, too.
My legs still hurt from running so much and due to the speed of the visit I can’t give details about what part of the building can be seen in each picture.
How to get around in Bergama and see it all in one day:
In my opinion (I don’t agree with the information I found online) it would have been easily possible to reach everything without a taxi within a day, for example if I had skipped Ayvalik and come to Bergama directly. Here is how:
-From the minibus otogar (bus station) which is conveniently located right in the center walk to the Red Hall (about 10 minutes walk), the visit takes about 45 minutes if you’re less stressed than me. Even if you happen to be dropped ob at the bus station outside of town, from where the free shuttles should in theory drop you in town it’s not a very long walk.
-walk to the cable car (about 10 minutes walk), pay 15TL for a round trip ticket. The cable car takes 5 minutes each way.
-visit the Acropolis which takes probably 2 hours if you are not jogging like me (I did it in one hour, hardly reading the explanations and walking swiftly)
-take the cable car back and either walk to the Asclepion if you are physically able to (about 2km /30 minutes walk) or take a taxi.
-walk to the minibus station in town center (1.7km / 22 minutes walk)
I would expect everything to take 5 hours in total, not counting a stop for a meal in the middle. Which is totally feasible if you leave Canakkale at 8 to arrive at 11, this would mean that even if you sit down somewhere for a meal in between you should be able to catch the 5 or 6pm bus, and if you’re slower the last bus to Izmir leaves at 8pm anyway. Well, I only arrived around 4.30pm, which is why I was as bit more rushed. Here is what I did…
How to get from Canakkale to Ayvalik, from there to Bergama and from there to Izmir:
(I explain this in detail because the information I found online and in the Lonely Planet was reliable concerning travel times, but not concerning drop off points)
Almost hourly Truvaturizm busses leave from the office next to the port in Çanakkale (25TL, 2 hours). Passengers who get off in Ayvalik got a free transfer to the otogar (bus station) in the center and from there I got a city bus to get to the center. To catch a bus to Bergama I had to catch a city bus to the bus station outside of town (Yeni Otogar), where I realized that I had to wait another hour for the next bus. The timetable shows that there is a bus every full hour, but anyway, they leave at quarter past. The bus went all the way to the minibus otogar in the center of town in Bergama. When I arrived I checked the timetable in the bus company office “Metro”. They allowed me to leave my backpack there until I came back, which helped a lot.
What I liked most about Izmir is that the tourist attractions can be reached by foot, including the Agora, a Roman ruin, and my couchsurfing host Selin who helped me find my way around, even if she couldn’t come with me on my adventures.
Kemeraltı: This market area is a nice place to wander around, even if it’s not to buy anything. I think I would have gotten lost without google maps on my phone 🙂
Agora: Restoration works were under way on half of the area of this Roman ruin, but the other half is really worth the visit: the arched basement, some restored and original columns and fragments of the Agora and the Muslim cemetery together with sign posts offer a journey into the past.
Museum of Turkish Art and History: Interesting artefacts from Turkey’s history displayed in a manner that an average tourist can visit without running out of time or getting bored. The museum is located in the Kültürpark.
Reyhan pastanesi: Just a short walk from Kültürpark, this confectioner’s will make choosing between all the displayed cakes and pastries hard for anyone who loves sweet things as much as me. Without knowing it, I picked my host’s favorite cake to take home: cherry cheesecake. Sooo good.
Atatürk Museum: This museum was Atatürk’s house during his frequent stays in Izmir and it’s a great way to learn about his life achievement. Entrance is free and translations are done by an actual translator, not google translate.
Alsancak: A bit like Istanbul’s Caddebostan, this waterfront has walkways and a cyclepath, locals hang out on the lawn and the many cafes and restaurants invite to sit down and relax.
Chickinn: This restaurant and cafe is in a street parallel to Atatürk Street and has a nice variety of Turkish, Asian and Mexican dishes for reasonable prices. I only realized at the end that the big upstairs area has a very inviting decor.
Asansör Café: Sunset and a beer here, aaah… A lift – that was built to avoid pregnant, elderly and sick people climbing the crazy stairs – took me up straight to the cafe where I enjoyed the rest of the day on the terrace with a beer. In the beginning all the seats with a view were taken, but as soon as a space was free the nice waiters transferred me to a good spot.
Cycling on the ‘other side’ of Izmir: A very relaxing place for a walk or a bike ride up to the shopping center Mavı Bahçe that has a nice garden in the middle. Ferries go from Konak or Aslancak (on Izmir’s south side) port to Bostanlı or Karşıyaka (on Izmir’s north side).
I cycled along the coast on one of the public bikes Bisim after I managed to find a station that worked and following the simple advice from the help center: press giriş, enter the code received via text message, press giriş again. There are 32 docking stations along the coast, the explanations on the machines are available in English and you can conveniently pay by credit card. 3 hours of cycling cost me 9.40TL.
My next stop
From Izmir I took a bus to the lovely coast town Kuşadası from where I’ll explore the surrounding cities. The temperatures seem a bit more inviting for some beach time, too 🙂 More about all that soon…