Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ancient Ruins and More Couchsurfing Adventures

Western Turkey has a definite "tourist track," a series of stops that almost all tourists to Turkey visit. Istanbul, of course is one stop (usually the first) and then most tourists head south along the coast, stopping in Canakkale to visit the World War I battle field of Gallipoli and the ruins of Troy. We decided to take an organized tour of Gallipoli as the sights are quite spread out and there isn't really public transportation. The tour was pretty interesting, and we learned a lot about the battles that took place there in 1915.

Gallipoli is a famous place for Australians and New Zealanders to visit because it was the first major battle of Australian and New Zealand forces (ANZAC). There are numerous memorials to dead Australian and Kiwi soldiers. It was a beautiful day when we toured the area and it's hard to imagine fighting in such a beautiful place. Over 500,000 soldiers died in about eight months of fighting.
Next up was Troy. We decided to visit Troy on our own since a tour would cost $40 US each and there was a public bus out to the sight of the ruins. However, because we were catching a bus to the town of Bergama at 12:30 PM the day we visited, it only gave us about an hour to see the ruins. It turned out to actually be enough time, as there isn't a whole lot to see. We walked the circuit of the ruins and took some pictures at the somewhat ridiculous Trojan Horse recreation.
Troy was okay, but we enjoyed the Gallipoli tour much more. From Canakkale we took a bus to Bergama, which is right next to the ancient ruins of Pergamum, "site of the preeminent medical center of ancient Rome" (Lonely Planet). We stayed at the cutest little guest house, called Gobi Guest House where the owner, Gobi was probably the cutest Turkish man ever. He made sure we were comfortable at all times, giving us complimentary tea whenever we were coming and going as well as all sorts of information about visiting the sights of the area.

From a budget perspective, Bergama also gave us two good budget-conscious stories. First, we'd read in the guide book that there was a shuttle bus that transfered people from the bus station to the center of town about 7 km (4 miles) away. The guide said it costs 2 TL ($1.25 US) each. However, when we got off the bus, a taxi driver and another ticket seller told us that there wasn't a shuttle bus anymore, but that he'd drive us for the "very good price" of 15 TL ($10). We said no, we wanted to take a bus, and Jaimee even showed the guys the part in the guide book that said there was a shuttle (as if this proved there should be a shuttle). They insisted there was no shuttle. Thinking there was no bus, we relented and headed to the taxi. The taxi driver popped the trunk and we were putting the bags in when I spotted a bus on the other side of the parking lot. "Where does that go?" I asked. "Oh, another village," the driver said. Not trusting him, I ran over to the bus and it was a shuttle into town, for FREE. We jumped on the bus and told the driver and other passengers the story and they were all very mad, saying that that was not how Turkish people should operate and the driver even wanted to get the taxi driver's identification number in order to report him to the tourism board. It was a welcome reaction, quite different from Egypt where the attitude seemed to be that that kind of behavior was to be expected.

Our second budget story occurred when visiting the actual ruins of Pergamum. After paying 60 TL ($40) each for the tour of Gallipoli and 15 TL ($10) each to visit Troy, I was a little burned out on paying entry fees, so when we walked up the Pergamum entrance and saw it was also 15 TL each, we agreed that Jaimee would pay and go in and then come and get me to pay if the ruins were really great. Otherwise, I was happy to wait outside and see what I could from the entrance. So, Jaimee paid and walked through and I settled in to wait outside. When the ticket taker saw what I was doing she just let me go in for free. Now, it might seem stupid to balk about paying $10 for an entry fee when we'd paid so much to get to the actual sight in the first place, but after paying at sight after sight in Egypt we were kind of tired of paying. In any event, it probably won't work again, but it's worth a try if you ever want to get a two-for-one admission...

As it turned out, Pergamum was totally worth $10 (even $20 maybe). The ruins are in great shape, there's a huge amphitheater and several other building, including treatment rooms for psychiatric patients. The only downside was that we were touring the sight with a gaggle of school kids from several different schools and the place was swarming with kids running all over the place. They also were saying many things to us in Turkish that I can only imagine was not very nice because they kept laughing after yelling different phrases.
From Bergama we took a bus to Izmir, a city of about three million people on the coast. According to our Istanbul couchsurfer Ali, Izmir is the "Barcelona of Turkey". We'd arranged to couchsurf with this 60-ish year old guy, George, who was retired from working in the travel industry. As it turned out, George is an American from Barre, Massachusetts who's lived in Turkey for 45 years. He was an absolute hoot. He is gung-ho into couchsurfing, even hosting a couchsurfing party while we were there. About 20 people showed up, including a Brazilian, a Portuguese, and an American from Steilacoom, Washington. The American annoyed everyone by showing off his "new toy" (his words) to everyone. (Side note: I wasn't overly impressed, and do not plan on running out and buying one when we get back to the states.)

George took us all around Izmir, mostly out to breakfast (Turks put brunch-loving Americans to shame - they can surely lounge for hours with cup after cup of tea and a yummy medley of foods), but also to the seaside town of Cesme where we met up with some friends of his who own a big sailboat.
Even though we've only know George for a few days we feel like we've known him for a lot longer. He's a great guy and we hope to catch up with him in the states this Fall when he heads to Boston for a family reunion.

Tomorrow we get back on the tourist trail and head south to Selcuk where we can visit more ruins and see the ancient city of Ephesus. Feel free to look at all our pictures of Gallipoli and Troy, as well as the few that we took in Izmir. George took more pictures at the couchsurfing party but we couldn't transfer them off his camera but if he ever posts them on-line we'll add them to the album.

1 comment:

  1. Hey nice you made to troy, it was one of my favorite sites in Turkey.


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