Turkey (part 5) – Selcuk

As mentioned in the previous entry, Monday was our last full day in Istanbul. We were flying to Izmir on Tuesday and staying in Selcuk for the next 5 days. From Selcuk, the plan was to see the various ancient sites in the vicinity such as Ephesus, Priene, Miletus, Didyma, Pergamon and Aphrodisias if possible.

We checked out of the hotel early in the morning. Our flight was at noon if I remember correctly. The night before we bought tickets for a private van to the airport through a travel agent in Sirkeci. The fare was around 10 TL which was twice what we would have paid for public transit. But we did not feel like lugging our bags through public transit while fighting for space and watching out for pickpockets.

It was supposed to take about an hour to get to the airport but I don’t think it took more than 30 minutes which is good because it was the most uncomfortable and tight ride ever. The scenery along the way was beautiful as we drove mostly along the waterfront. Sirkeci, Sultanahmet, etc apart from being touristy are pretty old and run down. On the way to the airport, we saw some newer areas which were much nicer than Sirkeci. The nicer parts of Istanbul reminded me of Islamabad or even Mississauga. It’s actually pretty interesting how similar the nicer parts of Mississauga are to my beloved Islamabad. Sorry.. getting off track.

The van delivered us to the airport around 8:30 AM which meant we had a lot of time to kill which we did by sleeping, people watching and general screwing around. They started boarding us around 11:40. It was supposed to be an hour long flight but we reached Izmir in 45 minutes. It was a very pleasant flight and all for the grand price of 80 dollars. This included the return to Istanbul on Sunday as well as an hour long bus ride to and from Selcuk. The other option was to take an all-night long bus ride for maybe half the price. We had unanimously agreed that the flight was the way to go and had booked it while still in Toronto. So, if you go to Turkey, do look into the local airlines. The domestic flights are cheap, abundant and convenient. We flew with Pegasus Air which seems like an excellent option for domestic flights.

We picked up our luggage and headed out of the airport to look for the bus. Conveniently, there was a gentleman holding up a Pegasus Air sign right in front of the airport gate. He directed us towards the bus which was parked in the airport parking lot. We easily found the bus and after showing the driver our boarding passes settled in. I dozed off and only woke up when the driver hollered at us when we reached Selcuk.

The whole experience could not have been more convenient. The flight was smooth. The shuttle bus was easy to find. I have no idea how they make money by charging only $80 dollars for a return flight including a free bus but god bless them for doing it.

As usual I had no idea where we were and where the hotel was. Greg and Mansoor set out to figure out how to get to the hotel. Turns out the bus had dropped us very close to our hotel. We were staying at the Amazon Petite Palace (don’t ask me to explain the name). The owners of this hotel also operate another hotel which is older. Apparently, if you book a place in the older, cheaper hotel, they will likely upgrade you to the new hotel. But we didn’t want to take a chance. So, we booked a room in the nicer, newer and slightly more expensive building.

The hotel was in the west end of the town and about 2 km from the site of Ephesus. We walked maybe 10 minutes north of where the bus dropped us off to get to the hotel. We were helped along the way by the friendly locals. On the way, we walked past the Temple of Artemis. It was once the most magnificent temple on the planet and now all that remains is one sad, “reconstructed” column but more about that later…

We checked into the hotel. The hotel owner wasn’t there. His cousin gave us keys to the room, etc. We went to the room, dropped off our bags and rested for a bit. As mentioned in the reviews, it was a new building which was nice. It was a lot better than our hotel in Istanbul.

It was now around 3 pm or so in the afternoon and we wanted to get some late lunch. We found the owner, Efrem, in the office. I had read online that you can join tour groups that take you to the ancient sites of Priene, Miletus and Didyma (known popularly as the “PMD” tour). So, I asked if he could help us sign up for one of those tours. He made some calls to local tour operators. Turns out that since this was low season, they only scheduled one tour per week and the one for this week was already done. Regardless, he said he’d keep trying and if one was available, he would get us signed up. I was a little bummed out by that since the main motivation for coming to Selcuk was to see the historic sites in the area. And now we seemed set to miss out on a big chunk of it.

Next order of business as usual was food. We asked Efrem for recommendations. He recommended a place in the “downtown” (I use the word loosely because downtown Selcuk consists of maybe 4 tiny blocks). He said that the place was run by a father and son team. The father cooks and the son takes care of the customers. He added that when his friends from Istanbul visit, this is the place he takes them to. That was pretty high praise. We were sold and off we went.

The “downtown” core was a block and a half away from our hotel. We got to it and found the recommended restaurant in about 10 minutes. As usual, we were harassed by restaurant owners along the way to stop at their establishments which of course we ignored because we had the inside track on this hidden gem. After studying the menu which seemed pretty standard, we ordered placed our orders and enjoyed the relative peace and quiet of Selcuk compared to the constant cacophony of Istanbul. The food came shortly and the universal consensus was… that this was some of the worst food we had experienced on the trip so far. So much for the inside track…

It was around 5 pm or so by now. It was too late to visit any of the sites. So, we took our sweet time walking around and taking in the ambience of the place. Apart from the continuous harassment by restaurant owners, everything was very quiet and peaceful. I saw a travel agent’s office and popped in to check if they could help us get on a PMD tour. The agent gave us the same story as the one we had just heard at the hotel. Maybe this was the same gentleman Efrem had called as well. But the agent did give us one new piece of information and it was that he had a tour leaving for Pergamon on Wednesday and he could get us on that. I was pretty happy about that. At least the side trip out to Selcuk wouldn’t be a total waste. We told the agent that we’ll book through our hotel. He was happy to coordinate with them.

After walking around for another hour or so and taking in the town, we returned to the hotel. We called it a night perhaps earlier than usual but I guess the slower pace of life in this lovely, sleepy little town was rubbing off on us.

Selcuk is a pretty tiny town which was a very welcome departure from Istanbul and Toronto. Istanbul is of course worlds apart from Toronto but both share the busy nature of the mega-cities that they are. There is a sea of people out and about at almost all times. Selcuk, on the other hand, was serene and peaceful. We had reached there in the afternoon and everything was so quiet. Part of it had to do with us being there in the low season as Efrem mentioned. The other reason is that the resort town of Kusadasi is nearby. Kusadasi seems to draw the bulk of the tourists especially European tourists because that is where cruise ships stop. This is partly why we had chosen Selcuk as our base over Kusadasi. We wanted some escape from the cities and Selcuk was perfect for that.

So far, I was loving everything about Selcuk (except for the food as usual).

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