Alsancak is where the few gay bars are to be found. We had done our internet research and went in pursuit of the twilight world of Turkish deviants. It was hopeless. We found only one dismal little bar down some dark alley. It was a tawdry, dirty dive, virtually empty and pounded by deafening techno. The drinks were absurdly expensive and even the ‘free’ bar snacks came at a price with a specially prepared bill. The bar staff were so bored they poured alcohol on the bar and set it alight for a laugh. Taking a leak was a surreal experience as the entrance to the toilet was guarded by a head-scarfed granny in pantaloons demanding a lira to spend a penny. The few punters were rough rent boys in cheap shell suits looking for punters of their own. As they began to circle us like a pack of hyenas, we knew it was time to leave. We sprinted to the entrance fully expecting it to be locked. Thankfully, it wasn’t. That was Izmir.
Our hotel is equidistant between the city centre proper and a trendy, Sohoesque district called Alsancak. No one would describe Izmir as beautiful. Much of it was burned to the ground in 1922 during the Greco-Turkish War, and the city was unsympathically rebuilt with block upon block of mediocre concrete box architecture that surely wouldn’t withstand even the slightest tremor. However, the place does have a certain appeal and Alsancak, in particular, has a real buzz, all trendy shops and pavement cafés.
We decided on a trip to the Roman agora, the largest market place ever excavated from the period. We strolled through the modern pazar and delighted in confounding the catcalling hawkers by responding in German, French, Spanish, and a little Turkish, anything but English. We found the agora remains on the wrong side of the tracks and gazed through the railings. Having been spoilt by the glory of Ephesus, I’m afraid an enormous hole on the ground with a few old stones randomly scattered about looking like London after the Blitz really didn’t impress. We didn’t bother going in.