Tuesday, December 19, 2006 Turkey Turkey

Down the Aegean coast

And what a movie it was. This huge fibreglass animal was given to the town of Çanakkale after filming finished in September 2004. It now lives on the harbourside. [IMG_0516]
Replica horse from the movie "Troy" [Enlarge]

We decided to book a tour from İstanbul around some of the sites of western and central Turkey (the north and east are too cold at this time of year). Also, sporting our shiny Syrian visas we added a seven day tour of Syria for good measure. This will allow us to kick back and take in some sights without having to worry about booking our own travel and accommodation all the time.

Hayden the travel agent from Ayala Travel put together (suspiciously quickly) a complete itinerary and, having paid, we got chain of little handwritten forms which we will give to each local tour guide on the way and they will swap them for bus tickets, tours and/or accommodation. That's the theory, anyway.

We were booked on the 12:30 bus to Çanakkale (pronounced Channack-alley) from the İstanbul main otogar (bus station). We turned up at the travel agent's office the required 15 minutes before our 11:00 transfer to the otogar. And there we waited until 11:45, which is when the service bus finally turned up. There then followed the mandatory white-knuckle ride through the Monday morning traffic, and we were deposited at our waiting coach with less than ten minutes to spare. We are learning to take this sort of thing in our stride—you always seem to get where you need to be on time. We noticed that the minibus had the almost universal Turkish 'evil eye' good-luck charm hanging from its rear-view mirror. These are eyes painted onto blue glass disks, and they are found in most vehicles in Turkey, and they bring their bearers good luck. We don't know exactly how they work, but they obviously do, because nobody in Turkey feels the need to wear a seatbelt.

Petrol is expensive in Turkey. It costs about the same as in the UK (YTL 2.7 per litre / GBP 0.99 per litre / USD 7.37 per US gallon) but GDP per capita is only a quarter that of the UK and a fifth that of the US. This means that car ownership is very limited. The rail network is not very extensive either, which means that there are a lot of buses. Every town has a bus station with buses to just about anywhere, and minibuses (Servis buses) to the local villages. Because there are lots of buses competition is high so the service is good and the prices are kept low.

We took a route south-west along the north shore of the Sea of Marmara, so we would need to take a ferry across the Dardanelles later on as the only two bridges are at İstanbul. Along the way the bus stopped often to pick up people from the side of the road. We were never sure how the bus knew where the people would be, or how the people knew which bus to flag down, but it seemed to work well. Actually, the bus never really stopped. What happened was that it slowed down just enough for the conductor to jump off (needing to break into a run when he landed), the new passenger to leap on, then the conductor—still running—to jump back on. It all happened in one fluid motion and took about a second and a half. Obviously if you live in the countryside in Turkey you get used to this!

It got dark before we arrived at the ferry port of Eceabat, and when we got there the ferry was just pulling into dock. We waited for 15 minutes or so and then the coach drove onto the ferry, which was basically a big, flat, open platform with a structure on top containing the bridge and a restaurant. We got out to have a quick look round and take a photo as we left Europe for the last time, but it was cold and dark so we got back onto the bus for the short crossing.

We were not sure how far away Çanakkale's otogar would be once we got to the other side, but in the end it didn't matter as we were turfed off the bus in the port and to our relief found a man from 'Hassle Free Tours' who was expecting us. Our slip of paper instructed him to "Make transfer to Maydos Hotel" so we were ready for another exciting minibus ride, but the 'transfer' actually turned out to be a 100 metre walk round the corner to the hotel. The guy who escorted us had a very bad limp despite being only in his late 20s, which we thought meant that maybe he had left his evil eye at home one day when he had gone for a drive.

The hotel was nice and we were tired so we decided to eat in the hotel restaurant, which was a strange glass-walled box on the seafront. We had a comfy bed with a full-sized duvet (luxury!) and a good shower and we set the alarm for our 07:30 trip to Troy the next morning.

In the morning we walked back around the corner to Hassle Free's office to meet our tour guide. Why the early start? Because the guide has a full-time job as a civil engineer and runs the tours before going to work! We wondered whether all of our tours would be done on the cheap like this, but the itinerary suggested that the others would be full days. The guide turned up with a minibus and driver, and we boarded and waited for the rest of the tour group. But almost immediately the guide slammed the door shut and we were off at full speed towards Troy. It seemed we were the only people booked on the tour. We were sat at the front of the minibus and the guide was sat right across the aisle in the other front seat, but she still decided to use her microphone to give us loads of information about Çanakkale and Troy. Apparently a 'Çanak' is a ceramic plate, and 'Kale' means 'fortified place'. So if it was a UK town it would be called Plateham or something.

It was 30km to Troy along a narrow, winding road. We could see the Gallipoli monuments in the distance across the Dardanelles, where we had come from the previous evening. As we pulled up in the car park it became clear that the place was deserted and this was serious off-season. And it started to drizzle. Nevertheless the tour was interesting as this was our first serious ruin (there are lots more to come). Our photos of Troy are here, and everything you could wish to know about the city can be found on Wikipedia.

The guide didn't manage to persuade us to buy the official guidebook, which was written by her father, but she did take away a book recommendation from Isla (Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad). By the way, Isla disagrees with the majority of the Amazon reviewers about this book! We finished our brief time in Çanakkale by walking along the sea front, where we found a huge replica Trojan horse on the harbourside. The horse was used in the film 'Troy' and Isla was disappointed not to find Brad Pitt still inside.

Our next bus was the 11:30 from Çanakkale to İzmir. We would need to change at İzmir for Selçuk, our next destination. We could see the bus coming in on the ferry and we waited under cover out of the rain for it to disembark. Our route took us down the beautiful Aegean Coast and we were amazed by the amount of new building going on. There are literally tens of miles of new houses and apartments lining the coast, filling the space between the road and the shore, and extending a mile or two inland. The coach company was different this time but the service was pretty much the same as before, even down to the running leaping steward and the strange cake thing we were given shortly after setting out. We arrived at İzmir after dark (İzmir is Smyrna, the birthplace of Homer—of Iliad fame, not Bart Simpson's dad). Yet again the GPS was a life saver as otherwise we would have had no idea that we were in the right city. We got off the bus at the huge otogar and a waiting man said "Selçuk?". When we replied that yes, we needed the bus for Selçuk he dashed off through the crowds and even Glenn had to walk fast to manage to keep up with him. The bus to Selçuk turned out to be a minibus, which gradually filled up over the next half an hour (why did we need to be route-marched there?) It set off with the driver's mate hanging out of the door shouting "SELÇUK-SELÇUK-SELÇUK!" across the otogar in the hope that he could sell the last remaining seat. There were no takers.

We had been given 12 Lira in cash by the travel agent at Çanakkale and told to give this to the guy in the minibus. He seemed happy with the amount as he worked his way through the bus collecting the fares. The journey to Selçuk was fairly short and uneventful and we arrived half an hour late into the otogar (cryptically described as "Notoriously hassley" by the Lonely Planet guide—we never did find out why). Our contact, this time from Grand Wonders tours, was nowhere to be seen and the man in the otogar office failed to contact him by phone. We were reminded of the travel agent Hayden in İstanbul who had told us not to worry, they always turn up. Nevertheless, Selçuk is a small town so we asked for directions to our hotel in a Lokum (Turkish Delight) shop (mental note: must return here) and walked to 'Jimmy's Place', aka the Artemis Guest House, our home for the next three days.

Map of Days 024-025

Days 024-025
Istanbul to Selcuk

This map shows the route we took in this post. Click it to see larger maps of our whole route at flickr.

Maps are taken from the CIA World Factbook.