When Liam and I first pitched our yurt in Anatolia, we bought an olive sapling in John’s memory and put it in a patio pot. It did remarkably well and bore fruit in the first year – a lean harvest but a harvest nonetheless. After we decided to wade back to Blighty, I asked Annie of Back to Bodrum fame if she would take care of John’s little twig in her Bodrum garden. Annie went one better and offered a sunny spot in the olive grove of her fabulous country pile.
Four years on and the wedding of the year presented the perfect opportunity to check on John’s tree. Little more than a twig when it was transplanted to Annie’s field, it now stands tall as a strapping sapling, framed in chicken wire to protect it from nibbling cattle.
See the Tree How Big It’s Grown
The first snap is courtesy of Elaine Akalin.
Thank you, Teo, for planting it. You did all the sweaty work while all I did was pat it down like the Queen at an opening. And thank you, Annie, for taking such good care of it. I’m not religious at all but a part of me hopes Teo and John popped a cork and shared a bottle on the big day.
Not much of the news coming out of Turkey these days is positive – refugees, bombs, riots, censorship and the usual rhetoric from the imperious Erdoğan. The western media do so love to stoke up a drama. You could be forgiven for thinking the place is falling apart. Well, it isn’t. But the headlines are putting visitors off. According to some estimates, bookings by Brits are down by over a third. A glance at the travel agent’s window reveals the bargains to be had, reflecting a tourist trade going through lean times. It would be foolish to suggest there aren’t any problems but Turkey remains one of the safest holiday destinations anywhere.
It’s been four years since we returned from Turkey and we’re content with our lot in old Norwich Town. The slowish pace of life suits us well. But, we’re often nostalgic for our easy come, easy go days of Bodrum. During one particularly wistful afternoon in the boozer, Liam and I took a drunken stagger down memory lane. Over the last few years I’ve scribbled a word or two about my best bits of Turkey and I’ve even won writing competitions with my musings. So to cure me of my melancholy, Liam suggested I put them all together. So that’s what I’ve done. And very cathartic it was too. I’ve called it Postcards from the Ege, Jack Scott’s Turkey Trail.
Here’s the blurb:
With such an immense political and cultural heritage, it’s no surprise kaleidoscopic Turkey is such a feast – a prime cut of authenticity, seasoned by the West and spiced by the East. Jack Scott knows a thing or two about the country. He lived there for years and travelled widely – to Istanbul and along its south-western shores from Izmir to Alanya. In Postcards from the Ege, Scott shares some of his must-sees and personal highlights. Follow Scott’s trail. Come to Turkey.
The e-book has just been published on Kindle by Springtime Books. It’s a steal at a couple of quid and if it encourages people to sample the extraordinary land we used to call home then that’s all to the good.
No journey through Asia Minor is complete without a tumbling tour of the ancient wonder that is Ephesus: world heritage site nominee and arguably one of the most impressive open air museums anywhere. Ephesus (or ‘Efes’ to give the place its Turkish name which also happens to be the name of Turkey’s favourite ale), was one of the most sophisticated cities of antiquity, adorned with grand civic buildings, marble-clad pavements and street lighting.
Charlotte and Alan fancied a day trip and invited us along for the ride. We decided on a pilgrimage to The Virgin Mary’s House (or Meryemana – Mother Mary, in Turkish), near Ephesus followed by excursion to nearby Şirence. We travelled the now familiar Izmir road arriving at Selçuk for a tasty and inexpensive pide lunch. Replenished, we ascended the mountains to Meryemana (or Mary-enema, as Alan calls it).
Completed in 1950 in neo-Byzantine style on 7th century foundations, Mary’s gaff is a cute, unassuming little bungalow, now a consecrated church but with the character of a shrine. It’s the centre piece of well-tended park overlooking a pretty wooded valley. We entered the house reverentially and gazed upon the small effigy of Our Lady. It felt contrived to me. I have little time for religion and give more credence to the tooth fairy. Outside in the courtyard Liam lit a candle as is required of a fallen Catholic.
There is scant biblical evidence that Jesus’ mum found her last resting place there (before her Assumption, of course). This hasn’t stopped the place becoming a side show on the bible tours circuit or various popes cashing in on the act with papal sponsorship. Naturally, there’s the obligatory tacky gift shop selling Chinese made plaster figurines and vials of holy water. Liam procured a small woodblock icon of the Madonna and child that is now proudly displayed on a shelf in the loo.
Onwards to Şirence, a small village perched high on the hills above Selçuk. Surrounded by vineyards and orchards set within a serene Italianate landscape, Şirence had been a Greek populated settlement until 1923. During the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey the inhabitants were told to pack their bags and leave for Athens. After being left to rot for decades, the village has re-emerged as a bolt hole for wealthy Turks attracted by the fine wood-framed stucco houses that clutch precariously to the hillside. Despite teeming hawkers serving the mob of tourists, both Turkish and foreign, the village retains a real appeal. We grazed at the stalls, drank beer, sampled wine and infused the charm.
We thought of dropping in on fellow jobbing blogger and good egg Kirazli Karyn who lives only a spitting distance away but we didn’t want to descend unannounced and mob handed.
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.
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.
Selçuk is a handsome town, host to a fine museum and spitting distance from the wonder that is Ephesus: world heritage site nominee and arguably one of the most impressive open air museums anywhere. And, since we were in the vicinity anyway, it would have been rude not have a look around the imposing ruins. Ephesus (or Efes to give the place its Turkish name which is also happens to be the name of Turkey’s favourite ale), was one of the most sophisticated cities of antiquity, adorned with grand civic buildings, marble-clad pavements, street lighting and home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Sadly, just one lonely, forlorn re-assembled pillar remains of Artemis’ once vast shrine rising up precariously from a mosquito-infested bog. What a lunatic hadn’t destroyed by torching the place, the Christians had finished off. The rest of the city is a magnificent affair and in impressively good shape after decades of excavation and partial reconstruction. We had decided to drop in at just the right time of the year. As Turkey’s second most visited attraction (after Sultanahmet – the old city – in Istanbul), Ephesus is best avoided at the height of summer when the unforgiving sun and the rag-tag of camera-toting tourists conspire to make the place Hell on Earth.
The city was of immense significance to the early Christian Church. St Paul wrote his Epistles to the Ephesians (to damn them for their debauched ways I suppose, having never read them) and the Virgin Mary is reputed to have lived out her dotage nearby. It can be reasonably argued that Christianity, as an organised religion, was born in Ephesus. Not a lot of people know that.
We hired a guide but soon wished we hadn’t. A serious academic type, he droned on about the fine and upstanding Ephesians: civilised, cultured, always kind to their slaves. We fancied the alternative history, the salacious version, where the same fine and upstanding Ephesians visited the hungry whores via the secret tunnel connecting the great library to the brothel. After the sombre tour, we paid off the guide and re-roamed the ruins unescorted. Something not to be missed is the public latrine. The Romans were particularly fond of communal crapping, artfully combining conversation with evacuation.
Having had our fill, we returned to the car and journeyed back south but were unable to resist another detour, this time to Priene. Built on a natural escarpment high above the Meander River flood plain, Priene is the most complete Hellenistic site in Turkey. Whereas Ephesus overawes with its monumental scale, Priene seduces with its intimacy and superb aspect. We loitered a while as the sun began to set over the Ege bathing the ruins in a soft warm light.
It was time to top up the tank, so we pulled into a service station. Such establishments in Turkey are a joy, belonging to a gentler age, with staff on hand to fill your tank and sponge down your dusty windows. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago when a friendly chap with a cheesy smile and handlebar moustache would fill your car as a lit fag dangled from his gob.