We flew from Bucharest, Romania to Izmir, Turkey, arriving just a bit before Scott and Travis. We were so excited to meet up with them and share experiences in this new (to us) corner of the world. Scott and Travis also visited Cappadocia and loved it, like many others before them. We chose to skip it due to time and budget constraints, but it's on our list for our return trip to Turkey. We were moving pretty quickly with them and only stayed two nights in each city: Izmir, Kusadasi and Bodrum.
Izmir is a large city and its nickname is reportedly "Infidel Izmir". It's a supposed party town on the water, but to be honest, Bodrum is truly the party town.
Izmir is home to the ruins of the ancient city of Smyrna. Don't be fooled by the gates surrounding the ruins that appear to be closed; it's open and the entrance is on a side street. While the site is still an active archeological dig, we were able to explore the underground cisterns and see the excavated pieces laid out, ready to be assembled together.
This city is also home to a Mustafa Kemal Ataturk museum, the famous leader of the Turks, which gave an excellent timeline for his rise to power and his life.
Easy to explore on foot, we were glad to visit Izmir for the ruins, but it wasn't our favorite city in Turkey.
We used Kusadasi as our home base for exploring the ruins of Ephesus. It's a tourist town with a below average market full of trinkets and junk. The town caters to cruise ships, which have become the bane of our travel experience.
However, Ephesus is a MUST see and truly is an incredible place to visit. The terrace houses are worth the extra entrance fee and the city itself is so well put together that you get an amazing sense of what it was like to live there. Certainly some of the best ruins we've ever seen. It was incredible to walk the streets and stand in the amphitheater where Paul preached and see the secret sign of the Christians living in the city - a pie symbol which spells out Cristos. We booked our private tour through OnlineEphesusTravel.com and got a great rate of $52 per person. However, the quality of the tour was pretty mediocre and our tour guide spent lots of time on his cell phone instead of paying attention to us. This tour also included an undesired stop at a typical rug shop. It is really interesting to learn about how silk is harvested and woven into rugs, but you're then obliged to listen to their sales pitch and elbow your way out of their clutches. The tour ended with a quick stop at all that remains of the Temple of Artemis - a solitary column in a swamp. It is entirely unimpressive, but was another one of the Seven Wonders to check off our list. We were disappointed with the tour but assume most of them are like ours. At least book a private tour for the late afternoon like we did. It is the best way to see Ephesus at your own pace and most of the swarms of mega tour groups have left by then.
Kusadasi itself is situated on a stunning coastline overlooking the Aegean Sea. Take the time to hike up to the top of the Ataturk statue to watch the sun set.
Bodrum was our favorite city in Turkey. A little port town, it's cozy and fun. This is Turkey's true party town and they seem to love the reputation. It is well developed for tourism, but maintains its unique charm better than Turkey's other Aegean cities.
We visited the Bodrum Castle, built by the crusading Knights of St. John in the 1400's, which also houses the Underwater Archeology Museum. We spent hours here learning about many excavations and dives. The concept is genius. Why doesn't every fort just make the entire place into an exhibition?
Buy a combo ticket for the fortress and for the ruins of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. This shrine was built as a grand resting place for the wealthy King of Caria, Mausolus (hence the name). The ruins aren't spectacular, but seeing the remains of one of the original Seven Wonders was pretty neat.
From Bodrum we also took a five-hour-long boat cruise around the coast so that Scott and Travis could see the coastal scenery. If you don't have a full week like we did to take the gulet cruise, this is the best way to see the beautiful Aegean in a day. At the marina, you can find a number of boats that do day trips with around 20-30 passengers for 40 lira per person ($15). Lunch is included, the boat sells cold Efes beer, and you stop at three coves to swim. We stopped at Orak Island, which has the clearest water we've ever seen. It's hard to beat this deal.
Bonus Review: Marmaris
We included Marmaris because we started our gulet blue cruise (a traditional Turkish boat) from there. It's much bigger than we expected and is packed with sail boats from around the world. The promenade runs the entire length of the city along the water and it's a lovely walk. Marmaris also has a huge market selling anything you could desire.
We enjoyed one night here at the end of our gulet cruise and stayed at the Reis Beach Hotel. It was a great spot and their restaurant served us one of the best meals we had in Turkey.
We hardly scratched the surface of Turkey, only exploring the west coast, but central and eastern Turkey also hold many significant historical sites. We look forward to seeing much more of this country one day.