April 2nd, 2015
I stepped off my flight from Istanbul to Izmir with my schoolbag, a startling sense of excitement and three days to see this part of the country. All I had been told was that the people of this region were very attractive. I can confirm that now. I descended the escalator off the tarmac and into the airport and my nose was immediately smelling smells it had never smelled in an airport before. These Turks had a fully stocked professional florist’s right there, black escalator stairs ending in a mass of flowers of all colours and fragrances. It was a very strong first impression.
I was spending the day in Izmir before taking the train to Selcuk. Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey. It appeared more industrial, there were no tourists and people were genuinely surprised to see me almost everywhere despite there being a lot of people around almost always. I walked all along the bay in downtown Izmir, following a path past waterfront hotels and restaurants and bars all in soft pastel tones, like San Francisco on a post card long before Instagram filters.
I walked for five or six hours from an old bazaar with nothing but food and clothes, through a modern business area where I relaxed in a posh hotel lobby and put my bag down thankfully. I walked out of there and went down a side street full of kiosks all selling little trinkets. I found one man half asleep and all he sold were turkish artists interpretations of Hollywood movie posters. Framed. I would have purchased dozens if I could have but left happily with a Back to the Future and a Batman Begins that I added to my list of things to not forget somewhere.
I bought a delicious chocolate bar, Turkey has the best assortment of convenience store counter chocolate bars that I have come across in my life. They are clearly of a higher quality than American candy bars.
I listened to my short but sweet Turkish Gold playlist for hours and steadily walked in a drizzle that I frequently prayed wouldn’t turn into a rain. The preciousness of time is amplified even more while traveling, we are clearly at the mercy of the weather gods then, those powerful few known as weathermen in America. These were the sort of deep thoughts l had while listening to Paul McCartney channel his days in Africa.
I stopped and had a delicious coffee on a side street from an old man. We both smiled a lot and fumbled around trying to talk but neither of us communicated a single thing successfully. Well, actually, when I left he knew I liked the coffee and Izmir, and I knew I liked the coffee and Izmir. I paid him with a single coin.
Soon I was in the station. It was much seedier at night. Drug addicts and tough guys were popping up from buildings I had assumed were shuttered and boarded up. I found my platform and boarded my train and as I got within a few feet of my seat, my feet and knee ached. Maybe it was my imagination.
I found my hostel at 1am after sleuthing around the tiny village of Selcuk for the good part of an hour. I was greeted by somebody who made zero effort to pretend that I had not just completely woken him up. He showed me to my room and I fell asleep, exhausted.
I could hear loud noises. I heard them half-asleep and then they became louder. Now I was awake and could hear the sound moving. I lay there in my bed, under the covers and realized a damn bird was flying around my bedroom. I was alone in the room so I had to get up at some point, adult me lectured sleeping me sternly. I ran to the front door, hit the light, looked up at the ceiling and there is a huge bat flying around. I hightail it down to the front desk and wake up the guy for the second time that night.
He’s looking at the bat in disbelief. He’s asking me if I brought it. I’m looking at him in disbelief. I’m telling him no and that I’m not fluent in the language he’s speaking. I’m only guessing what you’re saying, dude. His plan is to throw the complimentary notepad from my desk up at the bat which is now stationary (pun intended) on the ceiling. Incredibly his plan works and works very quickly. I had resigned myself to sitting exhausted and watching him throw a stack of paper at a bat for at least the next thirty minutes but he grazed that flying rodent on his fifth attempt. It flew out the window and I closed it. We carefully inspected the room for more bats. There were none. He assured me this was not normal. He asked me if I would mention the bat on TripAdvisor.
The next morning, I woke up and ate breakfast. I guess everyone did.
I did not want to take a bus to Ephesus. From the Batcave, it was a 70 minute walk through the countryside so I elected to walk. I first passed cows and sheep and lambs aplenty on plots of farmland. There was a nice clearly designed path to walk alongside the road to Ephesus. That path was empty for many minutes at a time, but I did pass some interesting folks – some schoolboys, some old men, and a young woman exercising. She was really pushing herself through a demanding workout on the parallel bars at a kid’s playground. I saw some college-aged guys on a motorcycle and took one of my favorite photos of the trip. I was asked for a cigarette by somebody. I disappointed him and he too, did not hide it.
I had downloaded a Rick Steves podcast which was a walking tour of Ephesus. If you walked in and timed pressing Play correctly, you had a English tour guide in your ear for free. Directions, history, little facts and jokes. It was fascinating. They said that supposedly Julius Caesar or Cleopatra actually walked down that same narrow rock path. Following in Caesar’s footsteps felt amazing, Efes felt like a truly historic place, could easily imagine how this little place captured the attention of the world in 10,000 B.C.
I left there and walked back to Selcuk. I wanted a haircut. It was late, but Selcuk must be the barber capital of that state. Every lane has two or three salons or barbershops. I walked into an empty one. A very soft spoken gentleman named Salih gave me an immaculate cut. He even burned rogue hairs off my ears with a flaming Q-tip (Pun intended – you should be listening to A Tribe Called Quest). Most restaurants had closed. The village is so small, there must be about six square blocks in the tourist section, but there must be hundreds of restaurants. I was fortunate enough to not only have the best meal of my trip that night but to also become friends with my waiter. We talked about Syria, regional politics, Turkish basketball league, futbol and his plans for finishing college. We closed the restaurant and met with one of his friends for beers at a nearby pub. We then met their friends. Everybody wanted to be somewhere else. Guys who lived in Selcuk wanted to live an hour away in Izmir and those guys wanted to live in Istanbul. And those guys in London. And those guys just hoped the rain would hold off, like it had in Turkey today.
We shot the shit early into the morning and I drank too many beers. I was hungover the next day sitting in the courtyard eating my hardboiled eggs, papaya, berries and apple.