January 28, 2020

Turkey and Spain - Part 3 (Antalya to Izmir)

The remaining six days in Turkey involved a lot more moving around including one day each in Antalya, Pamukkale, and Izmir; plus three days in Selçuk. Visiting the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts of Turkey is still decent in December with daytime temperatures approaching 20’C while winter jackets were still needed at night. However, revisiting the coastal areas during the spring or fall is needed to fully appreciate the area.

Antalya
Roman Harbour in Antalya
Unlike Istanbul with its historic significance and Cappadocia’s abundance of old caves, Antalya feels considerably more modern. While on the sleek modern tram from the Airport to downtown (which also goes to the bus station), we passed by shopping centres which would feel right at home in North America and Western Europe. This modern feel – combined with palm trees everywhere and its status as a cruise ship and beach destination – makes this city Turkey’s Miami.

Antalya has a modern feel and palm trees everwhere
Despite it being modern, Antalya also has the charming old city of Kaleci (where we stayed at), Hadrian’s Gate, a heritage tram, and a Roman harbour. The harbour and Karaalioglu Park just east of Kaleci are pleasant places to relax. There is a toy museum which was a nice childhood throwback. Finally, we found food (and certain souvenirs) to be cheaper in Antalya compared to Istanbul and Göreme. One of the restaurants in particular – Can Can – was delicious and had a down-to-earth feel with it being possible to be well fed for only 20 Lira.
Hadrian's Gate leading to the Kaleci old city
The Pamukkale Turizm bus from Antalya to Denizli was the best bus experience in recent memory. The seats were comfortable, snacks and non-alcoholic drinks were complimentary, and the seats had WiFi available. A couple of stops were made along the way for breaks. Once at Denizli’s new bus station, we went downstairs to find Platform 76 and get the dolmus to Pamukkale.

Pamukkale
Pamukkale looking down from the Travertines
We got to Pamukkale’s Travertines at around 9:30 AM when the water didn’t start flowing yet and we had to wait a few minutes. Once the water flowed and the pools started filling in, the hot springs felt good on the feet.
The water got warmer as we walked up and hit its peak at around 11:00 AM when we reached the top. One thing we didn’t like was how some parts of the Travertines were red and uncomfortable to walk on. We saw someone bring flip flops, which wasn’t a bad idea.
The pools of the Travertines filled with hot water
Hierapolis – the ancient spa town at the top – wasn’t as impressive, but still good to spend some time exploring the ruins and some of the collections before descending. We had lunch at Kayas Restaurant where not only did they give you complimentary bread as did other Turkish establishments, but also tea and baklava at the end. The meals themselves were decent and served quickly.
The ancient spa city of Hierapoils
The TCDD train to Selçuk was cheap at 21 Lira per person and was very modern inside. However, there was a slight issue on Google Maps with finding the station where it popped up at two different places.

Selçuk
Getting from Selçuk to Ephesus by bike is a good idea with this good quality path
Given how far Ephesus is from the town – about 45 minutes by foot – we rented bikes to get there. Fortunately, there was a nice trail with seating along the main road to Ephesus, which allowed us to stop at the remaining pillar of the Temple of Artemis along the way.
The Library of Celsus
Ephesus itself was good with its large amphitheatre, the Library of Celsus, and well preserved and decorated Terrace Houses (included with the Museum Pass). Entering from the north side (lower gate) was a good call to avoid the crowds.
Ephesus' amphitheatre seated up to 25,000 people
After Ephesus, we biked by the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers which wasn’t that remarkable, but made for a pleasant ride with almost no traffic. We didn’t go to the Virgin Mary House as it was too steep a climb to get there.
View of Selçuk from the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers
Our second day took us on a day trip to Sirince which costed 8 Lira return. The small village is cute to explore, though the two historic churches – St. Demetrius and St. John the Baptist – had very little inside.
The village of Sirince is a nice place for a day trip and fruit wine tasting
The main reason for visiting Sirince is to try their fruit wines, though I suggest exercising caution when buying as many places sell fake wine using sugar and artificial flavours which tasted like syrup. One place I recommend is Hera Wines which sells authentic pomegranate and cherry wines under the Küp brand. The Sirincem Restaurant was delicious with their mixed crepes, stuffed pumpkin flower, fried vegetable with mince meat, and a “regional stew” which is really oatmeal done right.
The remains of St. John Basillica
We wrapped up our time in Selçuk with by visiting the Ephesus Museum, St. John the Baptist Basillica, and Ayasuluk Citadel; as well as walked past Isa Bey Mosque and Selçuk's saturday market. The Basillica is only a skeleton of its former self, but the ruins are fascinating and the site of St. John’s tomb is intact.
Ayasuluk Citadel
The Basillica and Citadel also offered nice views of the town. The Airbnb in Selçuk was one of the best we have stayed at yet. The host – Sevgi – was friendly, kept the place sparkling clean, and even offered soup when my partner was sick.

Izmir
A shame the Bisim bike share didn't work for us to enjoy this waterfront trail
One place that is a letdown – but not unexpected – is Izmir. The Airbnb was cheap but unclean. Their Bisim bike share didn’t accept Canadian credit cards, which was a shame given they have a decent waterfront trail. Lots of places – including their market – were closed on Sundays when we were there.
The desserts at Léone were a bright spot in Izmir
One bright spot was Léone which is a French style bakery that serves high end cakes and croissants. Looking back, we should have done an extra day in Istanbul instead or even a second day in Antalya.
The well decorated terrace houses of Ephesus
Aside from the final day in Izmir, our visit to Turkey was very good overall. The country’s rich history, unique landscapes, and abundance of good food options meant there was something for everyone. We felt safe during the trip and appreciated the hospitality of its residents. While we would visit Turkey again in a heartbeat, the time had come to explore Granada and Seville.

Happy travels!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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