The Aegean Coast (Gallipoli, Pergamum, Ephesus)

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Middle East » Turkey » Aegean
May 14th 2016
Published: May 14th 2016
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Friday 6 May – Istanbul to Gallipoli

Turkish drivers are absolute tossers! Indicating is non-existent and lanes and directional travel are optional. Merging is about cutting in at the last minute with only 30cm of vacant space. They don’t wait for you to let them in and they don’t let you in unless metal is about to clash. Even trucks pull out with no warning. People overtake on blind corners, reverse down motorways in the emergency lane and if they have time to turn around and face the direction of traffic, they’ll do that and then drive back down the emergency lane to the exit they missed.

If we ever felt ripped off, it was today. We were approaching a police radar and I looked at our GPS and said to Dwayne “You’re good. We’re only doing 108 and it’s 110kph limit so we’re under.” About 500m down the road we were waved in by a policeman and promptly given a 200TL speeding ticket for doing 122!!! We told him our GPS showed 108 but he didn’t care. Talk about fraudulent. There’s absolutely no way our little 1.3L Fiat was doing that. Not only did I check the GPS, but Dwayne checked the speedo and it was nowhere near 122. Anyway, we told our B&B host about it and he told us not to pay it because policemen are dodgy. We absolutely won’t be paying it out of principle – it’s a complete fabrication. No doubt we’ll end up paying though, either at passport control when we leave the country or the rental company will get it and on-charge it.

The drive took a long time due to heavy traffic and intermittent rain, but it was a pretty drive once we were 2hrs out of Istanbul. The countryside is VERY green at the moment with wheat farms and rolling hills stretching for miles. We were expecting a more arid landscape, similar to Greece. However, it reminded us of Czech Republic more than anything. Ironically, the mosques and minarets look out of place amongst the Eastern Europe looking villages. There are few fences so occasionally when we came across a herd of cows or sheep, there was a shepherd with his Anatolian dog just sitting in the field doing nothing amongst the flock, making sure they stayed off the road.

Eventually the Dardanelles came into view and it rendered a very pretty coastline in the fading sun, which we followed to our delightful B&B.

Sabbath 7 May – Gallipoli

Today was our biggest day for walking so far – over 20,000 steps.

We started at North Beach and followed the Australian Government’s walking tour complete with free audio guides. What struck me most as we were walking to Anzac Cove was the stunning blue-green water of the Aegean Sea and how striking it was against the yellow cliffs of sandy clay rising steeply just behind the beach. Hearing that a mini military city, complete with hospitals and supply stores, lived on this narrow beach (in places only 20m wide) defies belief. At 10.30am on a weekend we were surprised that there weren’t more tour buses as we had heard that weekends can be very busy. Of course there were 3 or 4 when we arrived, full of Turkish tourists, but they were gone 10 minutes later and we had the place to ourselves. In fact, we only came across another dozen or so English speakers the entire day. The Anzac coastline seemed mostly deserted compared to what we were expecting.

From Anzac Cove cemeteries we walked around the corner to Hell Spit, walked up a narrow, dirt road built by the Anzacs to Shrapnel Valley cemetery and unwittingly made our biggest mistake of the day. We decided that rather than walking from the beach up 1.5km of cliff track to Lone Pine, we’d walk the lower sections and then drive to Lone Pine and walk the upper sections. More on that later. At Beach cemetery, we saw Simpson’s grave (minus the donkey).

We arrived at Lone Pine and again, it was surprisingly empty. The view is spectacular and it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like 100 years ago. Lone Pine was the allies’ most successful campaign in the whole disaster as this where they overtook Turk trenches and stabilised the high ground for the supply line below. We finished at Lone Pine and started to explore the trenches. It’s mind-blowing to see that where the narrow, one-lane road is now, was essentially the “no-man’s land” separation line between the two trench systems. I had always heard they were close but when Dwayne stood in the gutter on one side and I stood on the other, the theory actually became real and even more amazing. Walking the trenches is surreal and it was my favourite part of the day.

We continued up the road for another couple of kilometres and saw several more cemetery sites and stories of epic battles. Quinn’s Post is where the guns fell silent for 10 hours on 24 May so both sides could bury the dead. The Nek is where the Light Horse were sent into a slaughter on 7 August, as epitomised in Peter Weir’s final scene of the movie “Gallipoli”. The bodies of the fallen lay there untouched until the Allies returned after the war. As we walked around the peninsula, I couldn’t help but wonder how many fallen we were walking over who weren’t buried in a specific cemetery.

The final lookout point was Walker’s Ridge, overlooking the Sphinx and one of the steep valleys that the Anzacs were trying to clamber up when they first landed. Given they are almost vertical cliffs, it is obvious that they were never going to ascend that valley and given the amazing view over the beach, it’s no wonder they were sitting ducks.

Back to our big mistake in driving rather than walking. There were literally hundreds of coaches backed up for miles along the single lane, one-way road, waiting for parking at the two Turkish memorials. We had passed them all when walking the trenches and unfortunately they were still there when we got back to our car 2 hours later. As the road was one way, we had to also get in amongst the traffic jam, where it took us 1.5hrs to go 2km! We could have walked back down the Lone Pine track to the beach in 30 minutes! There were thousands of Turks and hundreds of coaches all waiting for 2 parking lots, whilst the Australian sites along the way were empty. 2hrs later we got back to Anzac Cove in time for the setting sun to shine its soft glow on the Sphinx and surrounding clay cliffs.

Actually, that was another mistake we made – going to the beach in the morning when the light was coming from the east, and heading to the hills in the afternoon when the light was coming from the west. In both cases, we were always taking photos looking into the sun. If I had to give advice to others about how to do Gallipoli, I would tell them to start on the ridges where the sun is behind you, and finish at the beach when the sun is on the cliffs. I also wouldn’t bother with the simulation centre.

Overall, it was a most excellent day.

I am officially over Turkish food. There’s nothing wrong with it but there’s only so much gozleme, pide and kebabs I can eat. For the rest of the trip it will be soup for me, which I’ve really enjoyed whilst here. I’d kill for some Thai or Mexican. It’s also really hard to self-cater when it comes to fresh food. There are only 5-6 veggies that everyone sells and this doesn’t include broccoli. The fruit is also mediocre in taste so we’re both hankering for a bowl of veggies and even nice fruit (which is amazing for me given I don’t like fruit). Maybe it’s the season we’re here.

Sunday, 8 May – Bergama

We farewelled our lovely host at our B&B to continue on to Bergama. I was glad that we stayed on the Gallipoli peninsula rather than at Canakkale, as we didn’t have to worry about ferry schedules and the B&B we stayed at was most charming and a delight to be at. Melissa Doyle and the Sunrise team stayed there last year for the 100yr anniversary.

As we crossed the Dardanelles to Canakkale, we recoiled at the all the jelly fish in the water. They are everywhere like a virus, right up to Istanbul. As soon as we landed at Canakkale, the landscape immediately became the arid, olive tree ridden hills that we expected. I couldn’t believe the difference between the two sides. Even the architecture changed to the Mediterranean style terracotta roofs. It reminds me a lot of Croatia - from Czech Republic to Croatia. The coastline is jaw dropping and I can’t wait to get on a boat next weekend and sail between the plethora of islands for a week.

Whilst passing a modern shopping centre, we were gob smacked to see security scanning the cars coming into the car park for car bombs. I mean the full-on hand-held pole with a mirror and scanner disc that sweeps under the car. Can you imagine that happening at Westfield?! And people say Turkey doesn’t take security seriously!

Driving was an exercise in frustration. They have these wonderful wide motorways with 110kph limit, but whenever there is a side road (and they are every 2km), the speed slows to 90, then 70, 50 – all signs within 20m of each other. They also don’t tell you when you’ve left the 50 area. So it was like a game of guessing yoyo where we’d get the little Fiat up to 110 and then a kilometre later we had to slow down to 50 and guess when that ended. That went on for 100km. Of course, we were the only ones obeying the limit whilst everyone else sped past us like an autobahn. We only had to go 256km but it took us over 4 hours due to the worst speed signage I’ve ever encountered. Some Turks also drive through red lights. You have to be on the lookout all the time for dodgy drivers.

It doesn’t help that the car we’ve been given is a downgrade on what we’ve paid for. Our 1.6L Ford Focus is a puss-bucket 1.3L Fiat. We’ve paid for an intermediate but been given an economy without any explanation or refund of the difference. Sigh. Yet another rip off in need of correction.

Turkey is such hard work. Out of all the trips we’ve done, it is shaping up as my least favourite trip thus far. However, I’m hopeful that at some point it’s going to knock me off my feet. Maybe tomorrow will be the day.

On a positive note, I found a bakery in Bergama that sells large chocolate eclairs for 75c. Given I don’t eat any of the local desserts, these French items are keeping me going in what is a very chocolate-lacking society!

Monday, 9 May – Pergamum

We discovered at breakfast that we are the only ones in the Guesthouse. Like the host in Gallipoli, this host also said that the tourist numbers are significantly down because of the perceived danger. From what I’ve seen, Turkey is actually safer than Australia. Every time you enter public transport or tourist attractions (and shopping centres apparently), you are scanned.

This morning we set off, following the GPS to the Pergamum Acropolis only to be stymied by the incredibly narrow and twisty back streets of the old town. After some friendly advice from a local, we found our way back to actual roads meant for traffic and found the road that winds slowly up the side of the hill leading to the Acropolis.

I counted 5 couples and one tour group of 8 across the whole 10 hectares of the upper city. It was empty, although we met an old Aussie bloke from the Mornington Peninsula – our first encounter with another Antipodean since leaving the airport.

Wandering around the ruins was a slightly strange experience because we spent hours in the Pergamum exhibit of the Pergamum Museum in Berlin. It had an amazing tower with a 360 degree screen wrapped completely around it showing what they think Pergamum must have looked like when it was a thriving city in the ancient Roman Empire at the height of its power, complete with people going about their daily lives and time passing through day/sunset/night/sunrise phases. Finally seeing the actual place was almost empty by comparison, but you get a much better feel for the scale of things and its place in the landscape and surrounds. From the top of the hill you have wonderful panoramic views of both the modern town of Bergama and the whole area. It’s actually a grand feat that they got all the weighty building materials up such a steep hill in the first place.

The stand out ruin was the in-tact amphitheatre, rising 40m above the stage and listed as the steepest theatre in the ancient world. When you pop out of a covered tunnel at the top, you almost fall forward with vertigo! It doesn’t look like it would be wonderfully acoustic in the open but Dwayne stayed in the back row and I walked down to the front stage and we both spoke in normal voices and could hear each other perfectly. Amazing! We also saw a ring-headed dwarf snake – a bronze red 80cm common snake in Turkey. He slithered across the path as we came up the stairs.

After 4 hours of wandering around we left and ate lunch at the city’s top restaurant, Kybele. They did a memorable cold artichoke and dill starter and the profiteroles were the only way to end a lovely meal. Cost $45 for a 3-course meal with drinks.

Tuesday, 10 May – Selcuk (Ephesus)

There’s not much to say about the drive between Bergama and Selcuk. The landscape continues to be rocky and arid at ground level with olives trees filling the hills on every side between horizons. Unfortunately the smog we had in Istanbul has returned and you can’t even see the Aegean islands anymore. The weather forecast for the next week is clear and sunny with highs of 28C, which is exactly what you want for a cruise but it won’t be great for photos. Oh well, warm weather is preferred over rain so we’ll have to take the bad with the good.

Our apartment owner in Ephesus is an interesting guy. He is an older Kurdish man who moved to Ephesus 20 years ago to try and make a life for his family. He makes and repairs leather shoes. When we arrived he showed us the apartment and the roof top terrace, and then made us Turkish tea (which is actually just Lipton black tea) and sat down for a chat. We asked him if he sees refugees trying to boat over to Greek islands or if there is a large contingent around this area. He said that he rents a large storage unit in town and got friends to plaster/tile it so it could be lived in, and now a Syrian family of 15 lives there whilst he pays the rent. He also spends every Sunday working with refugees for 4 hours. He said that when other storage renters saw what he’d done, they did the same thing and now there are 50 refugees living at this storage facility in several units. He’s a simple and humble humanitarian. His face is worn with years of hardship and occasionally he looks off into the distance, disappearing for a split second before coming back to the conversation.

His apartment is not fancy by any means, but it’s clean and has everything we could need. He’s even given us washing powder so we don’t have to buy any. Our balcony overlooks an old aqueduct, cistern and fortress.

Wednesday, 11 May – Ephesus

Ephesus is very, very cool. Not just because we saw a tortoise crossing the main street, but because it was settled in 5000BC and yet by 700AD it had been destroyed by earthquakes and marauding forces.

The Temple of Artemis, one of the 7 ancient wonders built in 500BC, was destroyed in 268AD. In 614AD an earthquake sealed the fate of the city and by 700AD the harbour had silted up, leaving this wealthy port high and dry. The ocean today is 5km away. People left the lowlands of the city, migrating to the hills. They used the earthquake ruins to build their farm houses, grinding down the marble into limestone for plaster. By 1090 it was a small village and even the famed Temple of Artemis had disappeared from local knowledge.

It amazes me that after existing for 5700 years, it faded into oblivion under a mound of dirt within a couple of hundred years. Civilizations built on civilizations, either not realising or caring what was under their feat. From glory to obscurity overnight.

The past 100 years have seen Austrian and Turkish archaeologists unearth about 10% of Ephesus. Interestingly, the focus is no longer on uncovering more of Ephesus but about restoring what they have already uncovered.

When you read the guide books and talk to locals, they talk about how most people park at the upper gate and walk down to the lower gate, and then catch a taxi or horse and buggy to the upper gate because it’s too far to walk the 3km back uphill. We decided to also follow the suggestions by parking at the top. We bought our museum pass for the Aegean region and entered into a visual feast of ruins. A lot of what you see at Ephesus is reconstruction but I think that’s better than just a field of broken columns. As a result of this reconstruction, it’s wonderful to wander around. There are temples and baths, public toilets and markets, terrace houses and stadiums. The workmanship on the original marble pillars is stunning – so smooth and perfectly round. The first complete structure you come to is the Odeon, which was the concert hall. 3 tiers high and suspected of being fully covered, it is a wonder to sit on its steps and ponder the play of the day. And then there’s Curetes Street. This was my favourite part of the city. The 210m promenade drops away from the upper city to the lower city, originally with fountains, statues, monuments and shops on either side. It varies from 7-10m in width.

As we arrived at the top of Curetes St at about 9am, we looked down and saw only 10 or so observers. We had arrived at 8.30am to steel ourselves for the onslaught of buses but this deserted view was not something we’d dared hope for. Talk about a photographer’s dream! There was only 50 or so people before 11am, and 500 people scattered across the site at any one time between 11am and when we left at 12.30pm. Upon speaking to an Irish minister, he said that when he’d come this time last year, there was literally thousands. God bless terrorist-scared tourists. More people should stay home where it’s safe!!!

We took our time meandering down Curetes St and looking at the various structure that were there. The terrace houses had some amazing mosaics and frescoes. The Celsus Library is an imposing structure at the intersection of Curetes and Marble Sts, and it’s the calling card of Ephesus tourism. Whilst only the front façade has been reconstructed, it’s enough to give you an idea of what a magnificent library it would have been.

After the library comes the Great Theatre, built in 200BC by the Greeks, 50m in diameter and a perfect semi-circle for 25,000 spectators. Thought to be the biggest outdoor theatre in the ancient world. Apparently this is where the pagans and Christians clashed and subsequently Paul was put into prison before being expelled from Ephesus upon his release. It is an amazing structure although it does lack the amazing views that the Pergamum theatre had.

4 hours later and we were at the bottom gate, looking for a ride back up the hill. Unfortunately the horse and buggy wanted 50TL, but given we could have a decent lunch for that, we decided to go back through Ephesus to the car. Our passes wouldn’t let us through and it turns out that our weekly pass is only good for one entry per site. Had we known that, we would never have exited to begin with. These passes have so many secret conditions that you’re not told of. Anyway, the ticket lady was nice enough to issue us a day ticket for free and we entered back in to Ephesus. We mentally prepared ourselves for the long, arduous climb which apparently take 30 minutes. You can imagine our absolute amazement when we were back at the top gate in 10 minutes. There is no way it’s 3km from top to bottom – 1.5km at best. So I would like to just clarify right here for potential tourists that parking at one gate and doubling back at the end of sightseeing is no issue at all. It’s not far, it’s not strenuous and it certainly is a lot cheaper than taking a taxi or horse!

I always thought Ephesus would be a large site, but then again, my yard stick is Pompeii and its 45 excavated hectares makes it the granddaddy of all ruins. Be that as it may, I still wasn’t expecting Ephesus to be that small but when it came to retracing our steps in the heat of the day, I was glad it was!

Once leaving Ephesus we grabbed lunch at a nearby tent café, where the ladies were sitting on the floor making gozleme and the tables were nestled under a shady trellis of creeper vines. We had 2 gozlemes and 2 drinks for 25TL ($12) and thought it was one of the best local tips we’d received thus far.

We then went to Ali’s store and had tea and a chat, before extracting ourselves for St John’s Basilica and the Ayasoluk Castle. St John’s had some impressive ruins in a very small area, including the grave where he is supposedly buried. The story goes that he and Mary (Jesus’s mum) came to Ephesus 10yrs after Christ’s resurrection and he wrote his letters (except Revelation) on Ayosoluk hill, where he asked to be buried. They found a sarcophagus with bones inside so Justinian I built a massive basilica in John’s honour in the 500’s. Unfortunately it’s a pile of ruins as well, similar to Ephesus. The castle beyond St John’s is in appalling condition, as they only started restoring it in 2008. It has a long way to go.

Thursday, 12 May – Pamukkale

Ali showed up at our door with pastries at 9am so our departure was delayed whilst we went to his shop for tea and a chat. He borders on too hospitable – he keeps asking us to stay and go later. He doesn’t seem to understand that we have limited time to see things.

As it was, the 2.5hr drive actually took 4hrs thanks to all the 50 zones every two kilometres and two detours that added 20 minutes to our schedule. The horrendous smog that blocks any mountain or sea views also returned in full force as we made our way inland. And when we got here…the whole 200km detour was a waste of time!

We went to go into the Hierapolis ruins and white terraces via the north entrance, but it had a sign up saying it was closed until 1 April. They had a 2nd entrance 100m down and so we drove there and found another sign saying it was closed until 1 May. We asked the guard at the boom gate what the go was with entry and she simply said “It’s closed”. I said that the dates say it’s supposed to be open by 12 May and she just shook her head and said we had to go 3km south and walk up. In 30C heat, we did not fancy the idea of walking up but we’d come all this way and bought our museum passes specifically for this (this was the tipping point where we broke even), so we weren’t going to let a 3km hike deter us.

We arrived at the south entrance, paid our 5TL parking fee and arrived at the ticket booth, only to discover that our museum passes were not valid here. I had checked several information websites that said Pamukkale was included in the Aegean pass because the Turkish Government site has no English or even a list of venues that can be translated. Our pass is valid for most of the sights in this area, but not the white terraces. Yet again misinformation causes a problem, where you have to know the answer in order to ask the right question.

Anyway, as we had to pay an additional entry fee for Hierapolis and another entry fee for Cleopatra’s pool on top of the museum pass we’d already bought, we decided the 100TL fee for both of us was too expensive. Sadly, we came back to our hotel, caught up on the blog and lamented that we have another 5hr drive ahead of us tomorrow to get back to the coast we’d just come from.

Sigh. Turkey is such hard work.

The only saving grace to this disaster of a day is the fact that our hotel is only $35pp for dinner, bed and breakfast, and their dinner buffet had fresh beetroot! You should have seen me eat half the bowl just because it wasn’t tomato, cucumber or capsicum.

Friday, 13 May - Bodrum

I found out what the tap beside the toilet did today. At 7.30am the cold squirt in the nether regions was most unwelcome.

We left the smog-filled valley and set a course for a different road from the frustrating drive yesterday. Google maps said we’d be there in 3.5hrs, Sygic (our offline navigation app) said we’d be there in 6hrs. The drive ended up taking 4hrs and it was a much prettier and less frustrating drive than yesterday. We crossed over several mountain ranges that reminded me of Yoho NP in Canada though not as high and majestic. It was very rocky and the olive trees had been replaced by pine trees. We climbed over passes and dropped into valleys but the beauty of this route was that there were few little towns in the narrow valleys, so the speed limit was 90 or 110 for most of the way.

After we had driven 2/3 of the distance, Dwayne saw a tortoise trying to cross the 4-lane divided highway and he was near my right tyres when we passed. We pulled up down the road and Dwayne ran back to where he was, picked him up – much to his dissatisfaction if the hissing was anything to go by – and took him safely across the other side of the highway. Operation Tortoise Rescue was a success!

We checked in to our lovely hotel – just $48 a night for B&B for both of us and it has a wonderful view of Bodrum harbour from our balcony. When we told them we were cruising and asked for their tips on where to park our car for a week for free, they offered to keep it for us at no extra charge. I wanted to offer them something so we’ve agreed to pay a small fee for them to shuttle us to and from the marina and store the car. Talk about generous given we’re only here one night!

Bodrum is a cute little resort town with a lovely waterfront, albeit cluttered with chaotic traffic and too many shops. It reminds me of Bali and people drive like they’re in Bali as well. Motorbikes everywhere weave in and out of traffic, even cutting in front of you. No helmets. Intersections are a free-for-all. There are often no road markings and everybody just pushes into the intersection and hopes for the best.

Bodrum was once known as Halicarnassus and it housed one of the 7 ancient wonders – the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. It was built around 350BC and amazingly, stood until 1522AD when crusaders tore it down to use as building materials for Bodrum Castle. 500 years is not that long ago to lose one of the ancient wonders. Having gone through the castle this afternoon, I can say that it’s a crying shame that something so grand paid the price for such a common place structure. The castle is very pretty on its hill overlooking the harbour but it was only held by the knights for 80 years before Suleiman the Magnificent conquered it, so it was a flash in the pan compared to the mausoleum. I lament its destruction.

Speaking of the castle, we wanted to find parking but it turns out you can only get there via pedestrian walk ways. I walked up to the security boom gate and asked them where to park our car and he said “Just come through”. So he let us into the pedestrian area and we parked 25m down from the castle. He didn’t even ask us for parking money!! And then at dinner (we had Mexican!), the owner offered to hand-make us a pot of sour cream for haystacks, because you can’t get sour cream in Turkey. 3 tangible offers of assistance. We’ve had friendly hosts before but these 3 people actually offered to do something for us.

Tomorrow we board our 25m luxury sail boat with 6 other strangers for a week.


28th May 2016

What an incredible journey so far! You know if I ever go to Turkey, I'm going to ask you for the details (b&b, restaurant , etc.) Maybe you should add them to the blog now. 😉 Miss you Two! x0x

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