herald

Thursday 31 July 2014

Indulging myself in Izmir

I didn't know what to expect with Turkey.

I had heard both horror stories and tales of delight, some warning me of the sweltering heat and the leering stares while others insisted I would instantly fall in love with the country. I found a happy home somewhere between the two.

Izmir may be a port city, but it is packed with history and is a convenient gateway to an Aegean gems such as the resort towns of Cesme and Alacati (just an hour and a half away).

Izmir itself is home to the fourth century castle of Alexander the Great. Archaeologists are so confident of unearthing more untold stories that the authorities are moving residents from their homes to continue excavation of the ancient city.

I also indulged my inner nerd with a trip to the ancient ruins of nearby Ephesus, the 3,000-year-old city can give the Colosseum a run for its money, although, disappointingly, it isn't as well restored.

Unlike the Colosseum, nearly all of the grounds are entirely accessible and allow you to fully immerse yourself in what was once the epicentre of activity in Asia Minor, including the grand amphitheatre, where a riot was nearly started in ad57 over Saint Paul's evangelism in the city.

The temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, may have been destroyed in AD401 by an angry Christian mob, but its ruins are still visible, and artefacts are on display at the nearby Ephesus museum.

Ephesus was also the home of the Virgin Mary, where she is believed to have spent her last days. The modest stone building has been restored and has become a place of pilgrimage for travellers the world over.

Through my travels, I've come to realise that the key to finding a worthwhile destination is asking where the natives holiday -- and the Turks have good taste. Cesme lays along the Aegean coast, and boasts turquoise seas, countless water activities and a club scene that would impress the most seasoned VIP revellers.

This secret treasure can be reached easily by bus or car, from Izmir airport and, upon arrival at the Sisus Hotel, I knew that I wouldn't be leaving willingly.



massage

I stayed in one of their suites, all of which have their own balcony, and made time to indulge in an anti-stress massage in the basement spa.

But my prime concern -- both at home and abroad -- is food, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. The Turks are fans of multiple courses and my true kryptonite, bread, in all its various shapes and forms.

In Izmir I had been greeted with a massive buffet at the five-star Crowne Plaza Hotel with a traditional Turkish breakfast, complete with cheese plates, bread and various different pastries, as well as sausage, omelettes and fresh fruit.

As I was surrounded by water, fish was naturally on the menu, particularly at the Aquarium restaurant in the Swissotel, Izmir. I don't usually eat seafood but felt compelled to try calamari for the first time -- albeit, half a ring.

The new Kaya Izmir Thermal Hotel also boasts one of the more impressive properties and lunch menus that I have experienced -- I tried the artichokes.



haggle

After food on my priority list comes shopping. Some of my favourite items have been acquired from haggling at different markets. While stall owners may be pushy (very) and will try every tactic to attract you to their business, be persistent in whatever it is you want (or don't want) and they will back off. There are few things more depressing than coming back from a relaxing four-day break, complete with 25C and sunshine, to be greeted with cold rain. But I am already planning my next trip -- if only to stock up on some more jewellery and have the opportunity to sip on apple tea while haggling with local merchants.

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