Friday, October 10, 2014

Hello Turkey! Kuşadası.


Bro vs the dondurma vendor.  Yes, Bro fell for all the cheesy tricks :-)

Today was mainly a travel day; it was all about the journey. Our flight from Athens to Izmir was (thankfully) an uneventful one. The only remotely entertaining thing that happened was at Athens airport. We were on the shuttle bus, riding out to the plane, which was parked somewhere on the tarmac. We we on an Aegean Airlines flight. As I often do, I try to guess which is the one that I'll be on. As the driver went down one lane after another, I couldn't spot any plane that had the words Aegean Airlines printed on the body.....and it didn't seem like the driver could either. I made a joke to that extent not realizing that the driver was trying to find our plane. Ha, ha, ha.....funny. At one point, he stopped the shuttle and got on the phone to talk with someone. After he hung up, he drove for a bit more and then stopped in front of a Pegasus Airlines plane.  Uh....we're suppose to be on Aegean??  We got off the shuttle and followed the crowd up the steps to board the plane.  At the top, I asked the air hostess if we were on the correct flight and she said yes, so I continued on.  Most certainly, I didn't want to be on the wrong flight!


An hour after take off, we landed in Izmir, Turkey which is the airport closest to Kuşadası.  Yesterday, I had booked Bro and I on a shuttle to take us from the airport to the Ephesian Hotel Guesthouse in Kuşadası.  When I checked the reviews for the shuttle company, the common comment was that it was difficult to find where to actually pick up the shuttle from.  So, I wasn't expecting to see anyone standing with a placard with our name on it but I did warn Bro that it might take us some effort to try find the shuttle bus.

We got our luggage and headed out of the arrival terminal.  As we walked towards the exit, I had Bro try to find anything with the words, "Shuttle Direct" printed on it.  Nada.  Outside the terminal, we walked towards something that looked like a kiosk of some sort.  There were people standing nearby.   Perhaps this was the place.  Nada.  So we turned around and just about when we were approaching the arrival terminal, Bro spoke out....."Khoo, is that you?"  I replied, "What?" He pointed to a man, standing across the street, holding up a sign with my last name on it.  I slapped Bro on the shoulder and rolled my eyes.  Of course, it was me!  How many "Khoo's" could there possibly be in Izmir, Turkey at 3:30pm on October 10?  We crossed the street and confirmed this was our ride though I was already concerned that the guy was thinking we were going to the Ephesia Hotel which is not the same as the Ephesian Hotel Guesthouse.  I had put the latter with address on the request form but I have a feeling he thinks we're going to the former.

We were the last to board the shuttle van - there were already a few other people on board.

It's at least an hour's drive from Izmir to Kuşadası.  We settled back for the ride.  As we drove out of the airport, all I could think of was how wonderful it was to be back in Turkey.  Just seeing the Turkish words on the signs made me happy!  For Bro, this is his first trip to Turkey and I could tell he was quietly taking it all in, comparing the landscape that was whizzing by outside the window to what he had just left behind in Greece.

After quite a bit of driving, we started dropping off the other passengers, who were all staying at touristy looking hotels outside Kuşadası.  Seemingly, we were the only people staying in town.

The road wound its way up and down the mountains.  When I started to see the blue waters of the Aegean, I figured we must be nearing Kuşadası.  But, we still had quite a way to go.  By now, Bro and I were the only passengers left.

Somewhere in town, the driver pulled of the main road onto a quiet side street. It was a flat road.  From the description of the Ephesian Hotel Guesthouse - that it was just a short downhill walk to the main port, I knew the driver was taking us to the Ephesia Hotel.  The entry sign confirmed my suspicion the he had gotten the hotels mixed up.   As he put the van into park, I headed up to the front passenger seat and pointed out to him that he was at the wrong hotel - it was a different street address. So, he got on the phone and talked with someone.  Next thing I know, he's driving off back to the main road and we continued heading closer to the heart of town.  At least I felt he was headed in the right direction.

Next thing we knew, he had turned on to another side street.  Where the heck was he taking us?  From the side street, he turned yet again and then stopped the van.  Where the heck were we?  He told us we had to get out without explaining why.  He then got our luggage out, handed the suitcases to each of us and then instructed us to follow him without explaining why.  We crossed the street and walked up to the side entrance of a small house.  Inside, there was a man on the phone.  He was pretty gruffy when I asked him what was going on.  He just replied to wait; that they would take us to our hotel.  So, we waited.  A short while later, our van driver emerged from the house, a set of keys in his hand.  He waved for us to follow him.  We recrossed the street and headed for a small car.  There, he finally explained to us that the street where our hotel is is too narrow for a van so he was going to be taking us in the car.  Okay!  I got it.   Why the heck didn't they just say this earlier?

So, we got in the car and continued our journey.  A short ride later, we were one of many cars in the streets of downtown Kuşadası.  A turn or two plus a quick stop to ask for directions and we finally arrived at our hotel, nearly two hours after we had left the airport!  As I got out of the car, I noticed that the road was plenty wide to accommodate the shuttle van that we had been in earlier.  But hey, it's easier to say this in hindsight.  Would have been horrible had we come by van only to find out that it would not have been able to get down the street.  Thankful that we made it, I gave the guy a nice tip - he worked for it.

 The Ephesian Hotel Guesthouse is a small family owned and operated place.  There was no flashy sign out front but I recognized the small sign from the pictures I had seen on the web so I knew we were in the right place.....that and the road were we on was on a hill.

The front door was locked but as we tugged on it, a man appeared on the other side to let us in.  He got us checked in and then gave us the option of choosing between a couple of rooms.  We asked to see them.  The first room was a large room with three beds in it.  The windows overlooked the front of the hotel.  Since we were staying here for three nights, he thought we might prefer the extra space.

View from our hotel room.  The Aegean Sea is to the left and behind.

The next room he took us to was in the back of the hotel.  It was much smaller but because it was on the corner, it had windows on two sides as well as a balcony.  Apparently, this was the room I had paid for.  I was completely enchanted by view from the windows and the balcony so we took it despite it being the smaller room.  As we wrapped up the paperwork downstairs, the man told me his name was "J".  I knew he was the owner.  Seems a bit gruffy too but his gesture to offer us the larger room at the same price as the smaller one that I had booked told me he was most likely a very hospitable man.....at least I was hoping he was.  And from his slightly raspy voice and the smell of cigarette smoke in the lobby, I suspected he was a smoker.

Bro and I got settled in and then headed out to explore Kuşadası.  Down the hill we went.  In about 5 minutes, we had arrived at a pedestrian only street that connected with other pedestrian only streets that connected with more pedestrian only streets.  We were in the heart of a large commercial area.   Dozens of shops, restaurants, cafes lined the streets....it was all here.  I couldn't believe how centrally located we were!

Lots of places to shop!  The plastic chairs belong to the shops they face but no one seems to mind if you sit on one.

Plenty of what I call Turkish fast food places.

It was early evening and too early for dinner so we decided to walk around.  In all honesty, both of us had been munching on food all day so neither of us was all that hungry.

From our hotel, it was about a 10 minute down to the water.  There's a short promenade and a small plaza area with benches for sitting to admire the view and people watch.  Remarkably, there were just a few small eateries but no shops.  Guess those aren't needed given the pedestrian only area is just a few blocks inland.  We noticed the ferry dock nearby - we'll have to check it out on another day.

Seaside promenade and plaza.  Surprisingly empty of people.  Maybe it was too early for locals be out?

We happened on a market and Bro happened on the figs.  First Turkish liras spent!

My little Turkish souvenir.
When my dream of island hopping our way from Santorini to Kuşadası went down the tubes, I knew that Bro was disheartened as well.  He had really wanted to see more of the Greek isles.  As a consolation, I told him that we could go back to the Greek island of Samos from Kuşadası - it's just a short ferry ride.  So I found the name of a travel agency and I Google mapped it to get us walking.  As we strolled along, we came upon a travel agency.  It wasn't the one that we were looking for but the sign out front indicated they sold ferry tickets to Samos so in we went to get more information.  It would cost 40 euros per person plus a small service fee.  The boat would leave at 9am from Kuşadası and then return at 5:00pm from Samos.  I had thought I had read the ferry left Kuşadası at 8:30am but maybe it was a different boat??  Anyway, this was the first agency we had been to so we decided to go to another agency to compare.  At the second agency, we got a slightly different information set - departure and arrival times were not quite the same as what we were told at the first agency.  Perhaps it's a different boat??  Anyway, this guy only charged us 80 lira per person plus the same small service fee.  40 euros is much more than 80 lira so we decided to go ahead and get our tickets from this guy.  We're heading to Samos day after tomorrow.  Bro confirmed that the ferry dock was indeed where we thought it was.  We still wanted to check it out.

Making our pomegranate juice before torturing Bro :-)
With our Samos plans in place, it was time for some food.  Okay, technically, it's food but it was not dinner.  We started with a small plastic cup of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.  It is the season and there were plenty of juice vendors offering up glasses.  Oddly enough, the places selling juice seemed to be the same ones also selling dondurma, the classic ice cream of Turkey.  And.....dondurma vendors have a very recognizable costume that they wear - an embroidered vest with an embroidered fez style cap.  Not sure where it originated from but one look at a man dressed in that outfit and you know what he sells. 

We just picked the place next door to the travel agency and it was a juice/dondurma place. Bro ordered my juice from a man dressed in that ubiquitous dondurma vendor outfit.  As we were sipping on the juice, the man walked up to me and tied something to my back pack and without saying a word, walked away.  I turned my pack around to see that he had tied a teeny weeny pair of Turkish socks to the strap of the front pocket. I presume they're usually sold as a souvenir.  Cute! Someone in Turkey likes me :-)

Bro had never had dondurma before so what better time than now and what better place than this one.  He placed his order and then had to endure the several minutes of cheesy quick hand moves by the man serving him.  It's the same routine they torture all tourists with and Bro fell for all the tricks.  Bro enjoyed it and of course, I had to film it - the video opens this posting.

It was a lovely evening for a walk and we were in a very lively area.  Vendors were at the ready to lure us people into their shops and there were plenty of tourists who were willing victims.  Eateries were filled with dinners and I have to admit, the smoky smell of grilled meat, wafting through the air, was tempting me to grab a table and gulp down some kabob.  But instead, it was the ice cream that drew me in.  I checked out every carton in every ice cream place we walked by.  What stopped me in my tracks was this place.  Why?  Because they had a container of ice cream labeled *dut dünya*. I don't speak Turkish but I know the words that I need to know. This was a container of mulberry ice cream and there aren't that many places in the world that you can get this flavor so I knew I had to have some.  I got a cup with two spoons so Bro and I could share.  This dut dünya ice cream was simply divine.....full of sweet mulberry flavor and creamy as any good quality ice cream would be. It has set the benchmark for all ice creams to come on this visit to Turkey.

We sat in the plastic chairs, set outside, across from the small ice cream place.  As we ate our treat, the store owner came out to chat with us.  We started with the usual traveler chit chat but I was more curious about his ice cream.  Looking at the sign and not knowing any Turkish, it was hard to figure out what the name of the place was but it turned out to be Adado Dondurma.  The owner's specialty is dondurma and he happens to be from Maras, Kahramanmaraş, Turkey which is where the elastic-y treat is suppose to have originated from.  He told us that he was getting ready to leave for the US to participate in some sort of conference where he would be demonstrating dondurma making.  In fact, he was getting ready to close up for the night so he could work on getting ready for his trip.  This is one serious ice cream man!  He handed me a piece of paper with the name of his Facebook page.....yes, he has a Facebook page.  And....he has a very distinctive mustache.....much nicer than the typical Turkish mustache....reminds me of Hercule Poirot as portrayed by David Suchet. :-)

Anyway, he was a super friendly guy and we enjoyed our time interacting with him.


It was barely 9pm when we got back to our room but we were both beat.  We had been on the move since 5am and that was after a so-so night's sleep on the overnight ferry from Santorini to Athens.  I was more than ready to call it a night.

Tomorrow, we have a big day ahead of us.  I'm taking Bro to Ephesus and since it's Saturday, the market in Selçuk, which I know he will enjoy.  I need my rest. 

So happy to be in Turkey!!  Goodnight from Kuşadası.

Night view of Kuşadası from our hotel room balcony.