We started our morning early with more time than we had originally budgeted for, all a knock on effect of managing to get to Pamukkale in time to see the travertine pools that first sunset (which was so perfect compared to sunrise!), that had allowed us to early enough to get to Selçuk last night in time to see Ephesus at sunset as well. The timing couldn’t have been better. Now we have until around 10 to wonder around town, see sights, and then catch the 11:28 train to Izmir. Just as luckily, the train schedule fits perfectly with our flights with the train stopping literally at the airport on the edge of town at 12:15 for our 2:30 flight!
Our hotel is right next to the ruins of St. John’s Basilica so we decide to start there before going down a block further to the Isa Bey Mosque and then onto the single remaining column of the ancient Temple of Athena.
The Basilica is pretty well destroyed, with most of what is there now a reconstruction paid for by a Christian group in Ohio. The story is that St. John, one of the original apostles was buried there after having brought Mary here around 50 AD. The Byzantines then build a Basilica on the site, which was later enlarged. There isn’t a whole lot to see though, it’s basically a pile of bricks at this point.
We then moved down to Isa Bey. It’s Ramadan, so we’re not sure what to expect, or if we’ll be able to look around at all. Isa Bey was built after the conquest of Anatolia by the Seljuk, and is of a transitional style between the Byzantine and Ottoman. The domes remind me of Byzantine style, and the atrium is lush and green. One of the two minarets has fallen down, and the other is missing its top, replace by a stork’s nest. At the entrance is a sign that says pants and head scarfs are required so we make a circuit of the atrium and are on the way out when a man waves at us and says something we don’t understand. I take it as we are not supposed to be where we are and we make to leave, we get close to the gate and he waves to us again and says “Hello” and waves us to him. He says we can go inside. I motion at my clothes and say we aren’t dressed correctly, and as we approach he says it’s ok, he says for you its normal, and that he is the Imam and he says its ok asks to show us his mosque. He has a quiet whispery voice, and is smiling ear to ear. I get the overwhelming feeling he’s incredibly proud of his mosque and wants to show it to us. We come inside and he explains the design, and shows us a picture of what it will look like when the restoration is complete. He shows us a picture of himself 30 years ago when he first became the Imam of this mosque and points out that the picture was taken in the United States where he was educated. He explains that the city has 5 Imams each in charge of a mosque and another who leads all of the Imams. He goes on to explain that it’s Ramadan and so during the day it is very quiet here, that people come to pray very early in the morning, but right now is incredibly busy and an important part of the year for them. Still beaming he takes us outside of the gates and shows us a picture of his son in a tile shop and signs our names in Arabic Calligraphy and gives us a book describing what the call to prayer says. He then shows us the tiles and tells us that the money made from the stores here at the front of the mosque go toward the restoration and convinces us to buy a tile of an Arabian horse on it, he shows us that normally they sell it for 38 TL, but he only wants 20. And when he packages it up, he even finds the small refrigerator magnet of the same time and throws it in as well, still beaming at us. He leaves quite an impression. I think he’s trying to put his best foot forward with us, but at the same time it doesn’t feel like an act, he genuinely seems like a warm caring person. I wish there were more like him and less of the fire breathing extremist type.
Turkey in general is much more secular than its neighbors, and more private with their beliefs. You see mosques all over the place, and in some places it seems impossible for them to not be one per 100 Turks, but you rarely see any other overt displays of faith. It seems more personal to them, than overt.
We move on to the Temple of Athena, but there really isn’t anything to see, there is a single solitary column remaining from what was once one of the wonders of the ancient world. Like the minaret, it too is topped by a stork’s nest.
All the while I’m wishing I’d bought a tile myself as I always want to bring home some kind of characteristic piece of art, and those these aren’t handmade, they also aren’t expensive, and have a lot of interest. We return to Isa Bey as it’s on our way and pick out another for me to bring home, something subtle and characteristic. The Imam is talking to another foreign couple as we arrive.
Back at the hotel we have our breakfast and watch a pair of storks that have built quite the nest on top of a telephone pole across from our hotel, it’s amazing they can build something like that on such a narrow pole.
We then get to the train station, buy our ticket, and hit up the ATM yet again. We don’t have to wait too long for the train and manage to get seats split by an aisle. The ancient woman to my left has quite the swelling in her forearm which surprises me a bit when her sleeve slips back as she reaches into our purse for her phone.
The airport in Izmir is large and modern, and still under construction. For being the third largest city in Turkey, I’m surprised how few gates and flights go through here. There are direct trains for Istanbul and Ankara, and I guess most Turks must use those to get in and out of Izmir. There aren’t many options for food, so we end up at an expensive restaurant getting what feels more like a snack than a full meal. We explored the terminal a bit, and only 1 of the three floors is in use, with the other 2 being built out. I had a vague memory I had booked us an airport transfer because it wasn’t horribly expensive, and Göreme is a bit of a maze, but I couldn’t quite remember for sure. I had forgotten to print out that email conversation for a good 4 months ago and so much had happened since then: moving to a new office at work, getting our wedding location locked in and the start of the planning, and having our house broken into. So much to push it out of my mind. I was 75% sure I had, I had also discussed it for Dalaman but had decided not to which I think was where the uncertainty was coming from, but how long to wait if there isn’t someone waiting? I’ve arranged airport pickup before and had them an hour late, and the buses are timed with the flight schedule.
The flight was nearly two hours, but Jenn and I slept through pretty much the entire thing only to be woken up to put our chair backs up.
Sure enough I had remembered correctly and there was a guy with a Colin Grenshaw sign.
Göreme is a town in an area occupied since the 4th century BC made out of what Geologists call Tuff. It’s volcanic ash that has been compressed into a very soft rock on millennia, and the inhabitants have carved homes out of it. The hoodoo like structures are often referred to as Fairy Chimneys here, and this national park turned tourist town is filled with cave hotels. There are about 2000 inhabitants here and maybe five times that many tourists. The shuttle winds its way up the maze of streets dropping off group after group at hotels tucked into the cliff side before dropping us off at ours. We get a little bit of an idea of how the city is laid out, though only in the general sense. Our hotel is on the outskirts of town, but is absolutely gorgeous. It’s not a cave hotel, but looks more like a villa made from hewn rock. When we arrive we’re told they’re upgrading us free of charge from the standard room to their superior room. I swear this is the best room in the entire place, it’s in the center with two huge windows that open up onto the garden and a view of Uçhisar in the distance. I swear our room is larger than Jenn’s old apartment in Santa Monica and is decorated down to every little detail. Even the AC unit is made to look like a picture frame, and when it’s on it goes all Transformer and vents appear and things move and suddenly it’s blowing cool air.
We had been recommended Top Deck by Kate and Damian, a little well hidden gem with tremendous mezzes (assortments of appetizers). Everything is done as Chef’s menu and you basically tell them how much you want. We decided since we’d seen the sign, we’d try to find it. We wound our way around trying to find it, definitely made a wrong turn, and then asked for directions. With a new map we eventually found our way though not quite following the path we’d planned. We asked for a table for two and they looked us asking our name. Frick. Kate had told me that they required a reservation at least a day in advance, I’d totally forgotten. We told them we didn’t have a reservation but asked if they could squeeze us in. The owner/chef said they could juggle things around if we could be done in an hour. I was like is that a challenge?! I don’t dilly dally with food. Food is serious business. I told him of course we could be. We sat down and practically hit the seats with our order ready, a medium mezzes plate and the lamb main, whatever that might be. Our table is all of a foot high and we sit on cushions. Very traditional, and more of what I expected than the very western restaurants we’ve eaten at time and time again. The mezzes come and are pretty tasty, not quite mind blowing, but very very good. I can see how you could make an entire meal out of a big platter of many mezzes. Then our lamb comes. That’s a whole other story. The lamb falls off the bone, has oodles of flavor, and comes in an absolutely delicious sauce. I pick my bones clean, and even Jenn’s, and soak up the sauce with the table bread. Best meal of the trip by far, and one of the better ones I can remember having, especially on a trip.
We waddle home full and happy, and ready for more sleep. Tomorrow we wake at 4am to go ride a hot air balloon.