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It was an early start this day to catch the Denizli Ekspres, a relative term which served only to indicate that the other trains were even slower. I got to the front of the ticket queue 10 minutes after the train had been due to depart but with it still yet to arrive there was no apparent rush. The Turkish railway system had been lain by the Germans which might suggest a modicum of efficiency, but in fact it was notoriously slow and antiquated. The Sultan of the time had contracted the Germans to lay the line payable by the mile, so needless to say they didnt always choose the most direct route. Allegedly there are sections where it is obvious that shorter stretches could have been possible. According to my ticket the "Ekspres" would take 1hr 44mins to travel the 54Ks to Izmir, twice the bus time, but the stations were more convenient for once and at less than a quid I thought it was worth it for the adventure. If you got frustrated with the pace you could always get out and push. Old wooden sleepers lay discarded by the side of the track and I had already seen new rail at Selchuk station ready to replace some more. I trusted they would be laying it a little straighter this time and indeed maybe that was the impetous. Upon arriving 36mins late they still managed to sell us short by terminating early in a grubby suburb short of the centre. I just followed the crowds onto the attendant buses and we charged deathwishlike as the drivers raced each other 3 abreast through the unsightly hotchpotch spread over rambling hills. No two buıldıngs were the same and none at all were pretty. I should have been heading out to the Roman sites at Sardis or Pergamon from Izmir but to be honest one pile of stones had started to look very much like another and certainly none would rival Ephesus. It was the history itself which was important so I just read my book and concentrated on reaching ever further.

Izmir I had decided, a city of over 2 million souls and Turkey's third largest, had to merit at least a day, even though reputedly there wasnt that much of note. Surely feeling refreshed after my night in the comfortable and homely Selchuk pension I opted for the super-efficient yet masochistic overnight bus journey again, this time up to Channakale on the Dardanelles. I booked my ticket straight away and dumped my bag at the ticket office free to wander away. I had to hide from the sun, thankfully back with me nonetheless, by taking a stroll through the bazaar which was still quite traditional in parts, centred around an ancient Agora. Narrow lanes chock-a-block with shoppers proferred anything you could think of and more from small ramshackle units. Some such as the jewellers and fishmerchants tended to congregate together, in other parts kebab sellers traded precariously surrounded by piles of slippers and socks. Some shops were only as wide as the door and side-on counter, how you were supposed to serve tea in such places god only knows. I resisted the temptation for plastic tack and tripe hung up like curtains. Whole sheeps head anybody? It was the smells which always made the bazaar special however. Turn a corner and your nostrils would take off at a tangent, be it with spices, fish, flowers, fresh meat or roasting chestnuts. After visiting the Ataturk Museum (every major town had one) I had another first, my inaugural plate of Köfte (spicy meatballs), a Turkish staple. More sausage shaped than round, it tastes just like how it sounds and thankfully not at all like the tinned variety! Having strolled around Izmir for a full day I became aware of an insidious change which had occured. It was the first day in three weeks that my feet hadnt hurt like hell, I hadnt been bothered with insect bites either and I also felt cold for the first time. My shoes had been worn in, as had my body it would seem, it was like I had reached another level of being, healed up and running sweetly like a freshly run in machine now well oiled.

Out of stupidity I had toured the city in the wrong direction and so came to the Archaeology and Ethnography Museums just in time to find them shut. To salvage something from the day the only other excursion I could come up with was a ferry boat trip and so I boarded a boat with the intention of a short cruise along the waterfront to catch a few snaps. Like so much public transport in Turkey however, frequent though it tends to be, it is usually not entirely user friendly for the uninitiated and so I ended up crossing the bay instead to some mirror image suburb. It only cost pennies to travel though and nothing at all if you just stayed on the boat, so I continued the mystery tour to another district of concrete tenements before finally electing to change boats and make sure of my originally intended destination. A really nice islamic influenced clocktower complemented by a tiny but beautiful octagonal mosque were there to meet me, these were the scant sights of sprawling Izmir. A loud gunshot signalled dusk and with it the Muezzins called to Allah and the faithfull broke their fast. Izmir, once Smyrna a Greek dominated city until recently, had reinvented herself as a Turkish bastion but still clearly held one eye fixed on the west. For every headscarf I saw there were twice as many girls in tight jeans and T-shirts (and believe me I was looking). Couples canoodled openly in the park and old men were modernly dressed. They might still kiss each other on the cheeks before their evening of backgammon, nargileh (waterpipe) and chay, but there were also designer clothes outlets and Burger King. The balance worked, it seemed they had found a happy medium and were the epitome of tolerance. One can note that though Turkey is 99 per cent Moslem it was founded as a secular state guaranteeing free religious expression for all and had doggedly defended the principle when challenged by radicals in the past. The world would do well to share their example. A couple of beers on the prom with Izmirs young and trendys and I was ready for the bus.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Turkey

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