A few weeks have passed since I returned from Turkey. This was my big international trip of the year, and I hadn’t visited since September 2017. Overall, I had a great time, much like my past trips. I was able to spend time with my boyfriend and his family in Izmir, relax at a resort in Antalya, and visit Istanbul again. I also got to practice speaking Turkish, and I can understand people, like listening to conversations, much more now than I could in the past.
I went to Izmir for the first time a few weeks after moving to Turkey in 2015. Located on the western coast of the country, Izmir is the third most populated city in Turkey, behind Istanbul and Ankara. The city was also known as Smyrna until around a century ago. (Random: I learned that from playing the board game Ticket to Ride: Europe, which is super fun. I recommend it!) There was a huge Greek Orthodox population until 1922, when the new Turkish Republic and Greece swapped their respective populations after World War I. There’s a lot to see and do, especially when you consider the surrounding smaller towns and villages, which have some of the best Greek ruins I’ve seen.
If I had to choose a favorite major city in Turkey, Izmir gets my vote. I love the weather, the natural beauty, and the relaxed lifestyle. (This was the first place in Turkey where I saw people wearing shorts, which says a lot to me.) Something as simple as wandering the streets of the Alsancak neighborhood, which feels really breezy with a lot of nice boutiques and restaurants, is super enjoyable. Then there’s walking along the water and watching all the students and families picnicking in the grass.
The city center wraps itself around the backwards C-shape of the Aegean, and you can take a cheap ferry to get from one side to the other.
Following the theme of Izmir, Şirince (pronounced “shih-rin-je”) was primarily a little Greek village until the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
It’s definitely touristy today but a nice place to spend an afternoon. You can walk through the market and buy souvenirs. There are restaurants and mini cafes. The architecture is also very nice.
A story about the karadut juice: I bought a cup of juice right before leaving Şirince to drink on the drive back to Izmir. Because I am an incredibly slow drinker, I still had the juice while walking around Alsancak. A couple of little girls came up to me while I was checking out some books at a market; they wanted me to buy something. Although I told them I didn’t have any cash (I really didn’t), they continued to follow me down the street. Finally, I said to them in Turkish, “What do you want? My juice??” and held out the cup. One of the girls shrugged, took the juice, and thanked me. And that was the end of my juice.
A bit different from Şirince is Kuşadası (pronounced “kush-ada-suh”), a resort town about an hour away from Izmir by car. This area has a rich history as a port city and was known by the Greeks, Genoese (an old republic in Italy), and Venetians.
There’s an old fort that dates back to the 14th century and was built by the Genoese. The inside is a mixture of an arboretum (lots of trees native to the region with labels, like olive and cypress trees) and a marine/maritime museum.
Along with the fort, the Genoese built a castle in Çeşme (“chesh-mey”) in the 14th century. I’ll admit that I haven’t seen it because I was more interested in going to the beach. I don’t know if this is typical, but there didn’t seem to be the option of a public beach in Çeşme. The few that were still open at the end of summer 2017 were private, where you pay an entrance fee, but it wasn’t very expensive.
We also stopped by a marina on the way, and it was ridiculously picturesque and also somewhat empty.
Another popular place we visited was Alaçatı (“ala-chah-tuh”), which was even more picture-perfect. We didn’t stay for long, but the town has very well-preserved and colorful traditional Greek and Ottoman-style houses.
Thank you for reading! For newcomers to Turkey, I can’t recommend Izmir enough. For people who’ve been, is there anywhere that I should visit for my next trip? I know I have a lot more to learn about the city and the region. Otherwise, stay tuned for my next posts about the rest of my trip!