Often exotified, Turkey is a major destination for any avid traveller. Possessing a mixture of both European antiquity and remnants of central Asian culture, Turkey is unique and boasts not just a diverse background, but various cultural and geographic areas.
One such area that is popular with tourists is the Aegean. How could it not be? A sunny coastline and great seafood will always draw a crowd. And, it was Nina’s and my next destination on our backpacking around the Mediterranean. Of course, getting to Turkey from Cyprus was not the easiest feat.
As mentioned prior, Cyprus is split politically into a two zones: one an EU member and the other, a de-facto Turkish colony.
Public transport is non-existent between these two areas, and the UN maintains a small, but reinforced border between the two. Despite all the horror that occurred that resulted in this separation, this checkpoint is somewhat of a tourist destination now. Weird if you ask me, but then again, South Korea has the DMZ …
Nina and I arrived back at the main bus stop in Nicosia and trekked our way to the border rather quickly, especially lugging around our things. In the hot summer, one needs to move quickly. So, we stopped a café for an iced coffee and to ask the waitress where would be the best place to exchange some Euro for Lira (the Turkish currency) to have on hand.
It was quite the challenge actually to do so before crossing, so I recommend exchanging any money before arriving in Nicosia. Most places we visited did not have that much Lira on them to substitute, possibly because we were not the only tourists crossing over.
The border itself is rather safe, but keep your ID on you as there will be multiple stops with various UN and Turkish agents that will act as immigration. The same goes for the Ercan airport, a major point of departure for the Turkish mainland. There will be passport and multiple securities checks, which require one’s aforementioned passport and visa. Apply beforehand if you are not from a select group of countries. Upon arrival in Turkey itself, there will be another passport check. For the most part, it is rather seamless, especially for obvious tourists.
However, before even that, finding the bus stop to get to the Ercan airport was a little tougher than expected. Nina and I had to trek a few kilometres to the Kibhas bus station. Next to parking lot/ bus terminal, the Kibhas office (Kıbhas Havalimanı Otobüs Servisi) is located at the far corner where one can purchase a ticket and take a pre-scheduled shuttle. The exact address is Terminal Sk, Yenişehir 99010. Good luck!
Catch Me in Çeşme!
While Nina and I first arrived in İzmir, we stayed only for a night before heading to our main destination of Çeşme: a popular national tourist destination. We spent the night at Hakcan Otel along the İzmir metro line from the airport. It was a decent stay with spotty internet, but after a long day of travel and waiting in lines, Nina and I did not really care. They do have a nice breakfast buffet in which one can indulge too that sweetened the experience.
Arriving in Çeşme is simple enough, but the language barrier can make things a bit disorienting. The best bus system to take is the Çeşme Seyahat, which operates essentially to get people to and from this coastal location quickly. Either go to the Üçkuyular stop or İzmir’s Otogar (main bus station) to catch these chartered buses. They run every 30 minutes in peak season, so no rush.
Unless you speak Turkish, I would ask reception the best route to get to these departure points. Taking a taxi will undoubtedly get one ripped off, and any good concierge will exercise some classic Turkish hospitality and set you on the right route easily.
The bus will drop you off eventually at an otobüs durağı (bus stop) called Çeşme Belediyesi, close-ish to the harbour.
Çeşme is what one might expect from a tourist town on the Aegean. Lots of sun and beaches with a relaxed vibe all around. Many Turks flock to this area themselves, which makes it a mix of domestic and international tourists.
It is also considered to be the most expensive place in Turkey, so be aware that prices are not representative for the whole country.
‘Let’s Go to the Beach Beach’ – Ninkee Minjaj (RIP VINE)
Çeşme offers an assortment of activities and spectacles for all ages. Although it is a beachy town, which can lead to some tendencies (*cough* Ayia Napa *cough*), I can happily report that many families also frequent this location for some wholesome fun.
Visiting beaches are obviously a popular pastime as is boating for those who can afford it. Some beaches are public while other are pay-to-play so to speak. The beach clubs are largely located on the right side of the peninsula that makes up most of Çeşme; however, some there are not private like Ayayorgi Koyu. If there is someone at the main entry of a location, it is likely there will be a charge of some lira.
There are many public beaches littered throughout the town, so do not feel pressured to attend these expensive clubs. Many are also rather far from the centre of town, so use a taxi to avoid a hot schlepp in the sun. For relatively short distances, the price is alright; the beach attendants can also help you with securing one if you end up stranded on the other side of the town.
Libations and Lakerda
When it comes to food and drink, Çeşme is also unmatched. The seafood is to die for and worth every amount charged. On the fringes of the Levant, Turks also enjoy a hearty meze (platter and selection of small dishes), which is to be shared.
At many restaurants, waiters will have you go up to select the fish one desires (often pricey and gimmicky) at the counter where one can select from the daily meze spread too.
I would suggest trying the lakerda (a preserved bonito from the Turkish Bosphorus) and the local samphire or Deniz Börülcesi Tarifi (a seaweed salad). Both dishes are traditional and rich in nature while still fresh and chilled.
Nina and I recommend either Ferdi Baba Restaurant – Çeşme Marina on the left side of the marina or Yücel Balık on the right end of the cove. Both are moderately priced, but the food and service are exquisite! They also both had sufficient vegetarian options for Nina, which just meant more seafood for me!
For a more or less wholesome night out, I recommend strolling down Atatürk Boulevard. Here, there are many dessert shops, souvenir stores, pastry vendors, and of course, the popular lounge and bar, Star Bar. The concierge where we stayed directed us to this joint where his good friend works (looks like a caveman, his words) who was able to treat us to great service!
Alcohol is rather expensive, especially in Çeşme, but Star Bar features live entertainment and snacks too! Nina and I went here two nights for some chill drinks and local culture.
Here is where we also learned about Turkish dating customs. My dear friend Zeynep whose brother actually had his wedding in Çeşme (aside from being a firm feminist) is well versed in the cultural understandings of her homeland. A so-called friend from the hostel we stayed at came with us to Star Bar one night, which amounted to an awkward (unsuccessful) seduction that bluntly ended with him asking for sex from Nina. In Nina’s words, “so un-smooth.”
Zeynep has described the dating culture as somewhat macho and hyper-masculine, which puts many women in compromising positions. Generally, if I was not by her side, Nina was quick to find a courter that she would have to politely brush off.
Be aware of some of these dating and courtship norms and smart about them (ie firm boundaries are good), but for the most part it should not derail from your experience.
Çeşme Castle: A Must See
Çeşme also boasts its own rich history of invasion (or well, of being invaded, I suppose).
Located by the sea, it was under attack by opposing forces during the Ottoman Empire, which has left it was a magnificent (although at times) ruined castle. The most notable of attackers were the Venetians in the 15th and 16th centuries who were expanding their influence across the Mediterranean.
Today, the castle is a major historical touristic location for the city and also houses the Çeşme museum. It closes just after sunset, so be sure to enjoy it for its gorgeous views of the harbour. Small price of 8 lira for entry.
Nina and I stayed at this amazing little hotel/hostel called Marigold Hostel, close to the harbour. The accommodation boasts both dorm and private housing (for families), a pool, bar, and free Turkish breakfast buffet.
Try the menemen, which is sort of a pre-mixed shakshuka. The woman who arranged most of the food was a delight and enjoyed very much when I attempted to speak Turkish. Again, Turkish hospitality reigns supreme.
This stay was likely Nina and my best accommodation during our whole trip in regard to shared living spaces. I would highly recommend and return here for another round!
The concierge and manager recommended we stay maybe 3-4 hours at the Castle, but Nina and I were satisfied with about an hour of touring. It is a beautiful structure, but the city has much to offer aside from distant history.
Çeşme should be on everyone’s radar in the coming years as a major summer destination. Domestic tourism is high, but recently, international tourism has not been as strong as a result of shifting perspectives of the Turkish government and regional violence.
Nevertheless, Çeşme itself is a safe and welcoming destination with a pre-established Turkish reputation for fun and relaxation. We just need to catch on to it …
After leaving Çeşme, we returned to İzmir for a day before our flight to İstanbul.
After taking a taxi from the main bus terminal, we arrived at a rather small hotel called Olimpiyat Otel. Check-in went fine, but the room itself was rather dingy and smelled of cigarettes. (We asked for a non-smoking room prior.)
Nina and I were both tired and dehydrated and hungry … so we were thankful for a place to rest at least. I would not recommend this hotel for others, but it works in a literal pinch.
The neighbourhood it is located in is called Konak. Before leaving, the concierge at Marigold told us to be careful. This area has a reputation for pickpockets it turns out.
It does look a bit rough around the edges, but it did not seem any unsafer than other areas we had visited beforehand. To be honest, what stuck out to me was the large amount of immigrants in the area from both the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.
It should be said that Turkey situates itself in a rather peculiar place as a result of its history and uniqueness.
Turkey is at the top of its own hegemony so to speak as a result of its distinct culture, language, and political weight and history in the region. This dynamic can lead to xenophobia and prejudice to non-Turks/ other Turkic peoples who are not Turkish. This ethnocentrism is a large component to the heavy nationalism that exists in the country too.
For this reason, what we were told may have been embellished a bit by hearsay and cultural biases than the actual truth about Konak. However, I, again, would not recommend this hotel. The main reason I have to say is that the müezzin (person who calls to prayer from the Arabic muʾaḏḏin) is super loud and right next door! And, I am pretty sure there is another mosque like at the kitty-corner to the hotel, so it’s competing prayer calls.
I sort of like it to be honest. I find it soothing; I grew up with my sister singing opera on the daily. However, it kept Nina up a lot in every city we went to. And, it does not help to be right next to them …
Fortunately, the hotel does find itself right next to one of the main metro/train lines, which made getting the airport for our morning flight a breeze. In retrospect, Olimpiyat Otel was a strategic move if anything. And, sometimes, you have to lose a pawn (or sleep) given the strategy.
Pier or Bazaar? Both.
The main areas of interest that Nina and I could visit in İzmir were the port/pier and bazaar.
The Kizlaragasi Han Bazaar is a dense cluster of shops that sell everyday goods as well as foods and souvenirs for tourists. As in Morocco, bazaars here are an experience. And, one needs to be prepared for the rush and bartering. The İzmir is certainly not overwhelming, but it was rather chaotic — which is to be expected.
Nina and I were in search of some grub, but did not find anything that suited our tastes when perusing the stalls. I did introduce Nina to some Middle Eastern sweets (ie halva), which the merchant gave to us for free when I asked just for a bit since it was her first time trying it. We would get our supply of halva and more in İstanbul later.
Definitely keep one’s things close by and do not be afraid to turn down an offer. As an experience haggler and rather curt when I need to be (also I usually get curter as the time goes on and people shout in Chinese at me), I enjoy the chaotic energy of this shopping. Nina, is much nicer, and wants to support local businesses, so we balance each other quite well. Find a Nina in your life.
The port area is less cultural, but beautiful to say the least and highlights İzmir’s waterfront. The Konak pier is romantic in the evening (judging by all the couples) and where groups gather for reunions and such too.
Nina and I enjoyed the views during the daytime and grabbed a snack at the pier itself (Konak Pier) and also enjoyed a dinner here later at an upscale restaurant called Soirée. Food was less expensive than in Çeşme, but still moderate for our budget.
Be sure to hydrate while here. İzmir is in a hot region, although less humid than İstanbul. Nevertheless, swimming is not as much of an option here to cool off as it is in Çeşme. Keep a bottle by you so you do not overheat by midday.
To escape the heat, I also recommend strolling over to Lunapark, a carnival setting surrounded by greenery that will cool one off in an instant. Here is also a great place to enjoy the city with a sugary limonata or ice cream and possibly visit the classic rides and carnival fun this site has to offer.
Impressions of İzmir
İzmir definitely feels like more a city than a coastal vacation spot. I do give it the benefit of the doubt, as Nina and I were only there for such a short time … However, it does have a busier vibe to it compared to Çeşme.
According to my Turkish connections, İzmir does also have a reputation for its lively and fun residents (‘the girls/guys from İzmir’), so to speak. And, with more time, I am sure it is a quality destination all its own.
İzmir does also possess a rich amount of history as a western point of Anatolia. Once called Smyrna by most peoples in the ancient world, İzmir has had much Hellenistic influence over the centuries and now possesses a rich archeological background. Unfortunately, we did not get to visit any sites, but I suppose we can leave that for next time.
And, we are back from hiatus! I now have time and focus to complete writing up our summer escapades with a focus on Turkey; thank you, scheduled breaks. We have a trip already in store to a new country we have not been to together for 2020 too, so stay tuned …