This past weekend was a 4 day holiday in observance of Republic Day on October 29th. As a result, I took it upon myself to use this time to go do some archaeology-ing! Yes, that's right, I just made up that word. As the sites around Izmir required the largest amount of time for me to visit them, due primarily to the sheer number of sites located in that area of the west coast, I decided that Izmir would be the optimal place to go to during this holiday. So as usual, I drug along Hilla and Sarah so that I wouldn't be by myself. The adventure also started out with a Pole added onto our group, and midway through a German.
The adventure begins...ON A TRAIN! Yes, a train! One of the few times that I've been on a train since I don't exactly ride trains in the US because Amtrak sucks. So Hilla, the Pole (Szymon), and I left on Wednesday evening to take an express train to Izmir so that we would arrive on Thursday morning. Since I'm in Turkey, when they say "Express Train" they actually mean "Slowest Train Possible Making Frequent Stops" so in the end the express train took about 16 hours to get to Izmir. But that's ok because we had our own couchette compartment with pull down bunkbeds and...dun dun duh...a dining car! So exciting! And not even a crappy dining car like the Amtrak trains, but a car with tables and flowers serving kebaps at way too high prices! It was all very exciting, and considerably more comfortable than a bus although it did take twice as long to get there. But at least I got to sleep lying down. The OTC sleeping pills that I took also helped.
Upon our arrival into Izmir we were greeted with this:
That's right. That is a street completely underwater. It had been raining almost continuously in Izmir for about 4 days and the streets in the low areas were so heavily inundated with water that the drains couldn't handle it so there was flash flooding. When we were walking to our hotel we had to do some creative street crossing complete with fording of road rivers, oxen dying and losing a fiddle and some sacks of flour. Sometimes we would pass stores where the store owners were having to scoop the water out of the store because the entrance was below street level. It was all very exciting. Except when my shoes soaked through. Then I was cold with wet feet. Luckily it stopped raining once we arrived, so after about an hour the water had gone down and the streets were once again passable.
The rest of the first day was lovely, wandering around Izmir, going to the archaeology and ethnography museums, getting lost on a weird street that sold mannequin parts while searching for the ancient Smyrna agora (which we never found), getting accosted by a strange man who wanted us to go into his shop, and staring at the kind of bizarre looking clock tower by the ocean. That was, until 4:00 happened, and a HUGE thunder storm rolled in. As it was warm when we left our hostel to go exploring, I was completely unprepared for rain, wearing only a scarf and sweatshirt as my warm clothing and not having an umbrella. Szymon didn't even have a jacket, but he said that he was fine because he's Polish. Hilla was the only one well prepared with both umbrella AND jacket. It didn't really matter though because once the rain started coming down we were basically soaked and had to seek refuge in the subway until it stopped raining long enough to walk under the umbrella and not get wet. After we decided that it was not quite the torrential downpour that it was at the beginning, we walked a few blocks only to find that one of the intersections that we had to cross was a raging river of water that was completely overflowing onto the sidewalk. So we took refuge again, this time inside of a candy store. I think the woman at the counter felt a little sorry for us because, after Hilla bought some Turkish delights she gave us coupons for free Turkish coffee from a little corner booth in the store. After waiting it out a little bit longer we were finally able to cross the street and make it back to our hotel. I was so excited to get changed into something dry, until I discovered that because I had left my window open before we left (it was warm and sunny then), the rain had come through the window, completely soaking my bed and my two jackets that I had left on top of my bed. I then had to go downstairs, and embarrassedly tell the desk man in very limited Turkish that my yatak (bed) was ıslak (wet) and waited for him to begrudgingly walk upstairs, flip my mattress, and get his wife to change my sheets, which she proceeded in doing while sounding like she was saying some strong words to me. It was all very embarrassing/traumatizing.
Of course the night could not have been complete without a very strange trip to a bar, which we determined was most likely a brothel partially disguised as a bar. We probably should've been suspicious at the get go since the establishment was called "Leydi Bar", but Szymon and I really wanted a beer. Upon entry, we found ourselves to be the only people in the place, although I can't imagine why as it was creepily lit only by red lamps and black lighting with a DJ doing his thing all by himself on one side of the room blasting irritating, loud, and bad Turkish pop music. And the waiters were almost overly friendly, wanting to find out where we were from, what kind of music we wanted to listen to, etc. Walking back from the bathroom I noticed that all of the tables in the middle of the room all had their chairs facing the exact same direction, towards a line of booths on one wall, which I thought was bizarre. And then the first girl walked in from the back room, wearing a gold tight dress thing with her ass barely covered by the shirt, in the highest heels that I've ever seen, and with the fakest, blondest, worst hair extensions ever. She obviously knew the guys who worked there, as she came from a back room and chatted it up with all of them. And then she just sort of sat down at one of the awkward center chairs facing away from us and began looking bored. She was then joined by another girl from the back, wearing a black corset and black shorts with her ass hanging out, who sat at another table, also looking bored. Then two older men walked into the bar, not together, and sat at different booths on the wall facing the awkward chairs and just sort of quietly sat there staring at the women. It was then that Hilla and I were convinced that we were actually in a brothel and that it was getting really awkward. The "bar" then decided to charge us out the wazoo for our beers (10TL) and for a veggie plate that we never ordered but that they set down at our table and prompted us to eat (also 10TL).
The next days were significantly less weird and a lot more awesome. On Friday Szymon, Hilla, Sarah (who joined us that morning since she had class on Thursday), and I all went to Ephesus for the day. Because it had rained so much, it was beautiful outside with all of the green, and it was relatively clear and cool, and all together much more pleasant than Thursday. The site was spectacular with a beautiful library with a two story facade, a theater with pretty good acoustics (not as good as Epidauros), and lots of antiquity...EVERYWHERE! All very exciting for me.
Us in front of the Library at Ephesus.
So beautiful and green, and with an artistically placed arch! I know. I should be a photographer when I grow up.
After hanging around Ephesus, and Szymon finding out that he had lost his wallet and calling the bus company, the police station, and anyone else who might know where his wallet was, we decided just to hang around Selçuk for a couple of hours until we could catch a train (I know! Another one!) back to Izmir. All in all it was whole-y uneventful, with the exception of Szymon finding out that his wallet was on the bus that we'd taken to Ephesus. The 3 km walk into town was quite beautiful, though, with a nice tree lined street.
For me, Saturday was the most exciting day of them all because I got to go to Pergamum, which I have been wanting to go to for about 3 years now, ever since I first saw pictures of the theater in my Classics 17A class with Crawford H. Greenewalt Jr., bad-ass extraordinaire. And oh how spectacular it was! Again, it was super green and beautifully clear, but it was also almost completely empty with the exception of a tour bus full of Germans and ourselves. This time, Sarah, Hilla, and I were joined by Florian (German) because Szymon had to go home to do a take home midterm. The site was unbelievable with the most amazing view of the plains below, and so quiet because there was hardly anybody there. And I got to sit for a long time in the theater and enjoy every single minute of it.
Oh my god that theater is so awesome! Because of the shape of the hill, instead of building the theater around, like most Greek theaters are build, they made up for it by building up so as to still fit a lot of people into it. It has kind of iffy acoustics, but the steepness of it all is quite dizzying.
What it looks like sitting midway down the theater. So steep and death defying! At the end of the stage area (skene) there's a cliff. Awesome? I think yes.
The theater looking up from the stage area. I'm still totally obsessing about this place.
A kind of crappy picture of me because of where the sun is, but you can see how awesome the view was from on top of the acropolis.
After walking all around the acropolis, we went down to the Aesclipion, which is where there was an ancient hospital and medical school. The funny thing is that, in ancient times, you couldn't go into the Aesclipion if you were dying or pregnant because it was also a temple. But those are the times when you most need to go to the hospital. Anyways, there were all of these underground areas where people used to sleep and hope that the cure for their ailment would come to them in a dream. The sleeping chamber was this really cool, multi-lobed underground building with vaulted ceiling that was caving in, allowing the sun to shine into it.
After that we went to the Red Basilica, which was not to particularly exciting, other than that it had big red brick walls that were all crumbly. For the day we managed to rent a taxi to take us around to the different areas, since they were all over different parts of the city, which ended up not being that bad, as it cost us 60TL for about 3 hours of renting.
Sunday Hilla and I decided to go to Sardis since I figured that CHG Jr., bad-ass extraordinaire would be sad if I didn't go and visit the site that he's been running for the past 30 years. It ended up being quite the adventure, getting dropped off on the side of the road with our bags, walking the 1.5km to the site through town, and then getting to the Temple of Artemis site and having it almost all to ourselves with the exception of a bus of Swedish highschoolers and a bus of Koreans. The temple itself was pretty awesome, as its a monumental sized temple (bigger than your average Greek temple) in a lovely location, and with Lydian tumuli (for tumuli, see Gordion entry) around the area.
For size reference, I caught a picture of Hilla standing next to one of the elevated columns. And these aren't even half their actual height. They're HUGE! And the design work on the column bases is so intricate and beautiful, I don't even know how someone was able to do it without messing up.
I really like this picture of me, also because I'm hanging out with an IONIC CAPITAL! So exciting!
Food adventure for the weekend: FISH ON FIRE OH MY GOD!
So I read in my Lonely Planet travel guide that there's a fish restaurant in Izmir called Deniz Restaurant that serves this crazy fish where its served in a salt block and then "broken dramatically at your table". After coming back from Pergamum Florian, Hilla, Sarah, and I decided that it would be a good idea to find out what exactly this "broken dramatically at your table" entailed. We got to the restaurant, and after standing awkwardly at the front of the restaurant, waiting to be noticed, a waiter finally came up to us and we asked if they still served this salt block fish on their menu. He said of course, and we went into the restaurant to pick our fish that we were going to split between us. We chose sea bass at his recommendation. I have a feeling that he knew that we were only there for the fish because when we sat down he said "So do you guys want to order any sides at all, or do you just want to wait for the fish? I suggest sides since it will take about half an hour to cook". Not wanting to look like complete barbarians in a fancy fish restaurant, especially since we were all wearing rain jackets and polar fleeces while everyone else was wearing blazers and such, we agreed to order a salad and a yogurt dipping sauce to eat while waiting for the fish. Waiting for the fish was a little miserable as we were sitting outside and it was really, really, REALLY cold, and we were too scared to ask for blankets, which they were periodically giving to patrons. But oh, when the fish came, how dramatic it was! First of all, it was completely covered in a thick packing of salt which had hardened into a crust on the outside of the fish. And then they lit that salt crust ON FIRE and brought it out to our table ON FIRE in front of everyone. I'm pretty sure that everyone else was jealous that they hadn't thought to even ask about this on fire fish since it wasn't listed on the menu. Or we were just those assholes who were disturbing everyone else's peaceful dinner by ordering an on fire fish. You know, like those people who order baked Alaska who everyone sort of hates because they've disrupted the peace by ordering something that is on fire, but then everyone is jealous of because they never thought to order baked Alaska. Yeah, kinda like that. Anyways, after the fire had died down, the waiter had to come out and crack open the salt crust with A KNIFE AND HAMMER. We all just sort of stared open mouthed at him while he hacked away at the salt crust and took apart our fish for us. And oh, it was so delicious! The salt had kept it nice and moist, and it was tasty and not fishy at all. It was also served with a yummy lemony sauce. And in the end the meal cost each of us about 39TL each (about $30 in America speak), which I don't think is all that expensive. Plus the entertainment of it all was well worth it.