Kusadasi: Where wonderful Turkey beguiles and bewitches
Jerome Reilly visits Kusadasi, with side trips to Ephesus and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
We were on our way to visit the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus and had taken a detour down a dusty road to see what remains of the Temple of Artemis, one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World.
Our group had risen early that morning to beat both the heat of Turkish mid-summer as well as the crowds that descend each day on the historic sites around the resort city of Kusadasi.
A young woman had the same idea of getting things done in the cool of the morning.
She was dressed in a full length black burqa and was working alone in a field beside the road using a basic wooden hoe of a design unchanged since Ephesus was in its pomp a few thousand years ago.
As we passed the woman quickly set her work tool aside and discreetly pulled the veil of her Niqab over her face, lest she be seen by the men on the tour coach.
Hours later, after our grand tour of the ancient site that attracts two million local and international visitors each year, we arrived back at our base in Kusadasi.
During an an early evening walk before dinner on the popular Ladies Beach, we met other young Turkish women as they rushed into the surf in their swimsuits holding hands with their boyfriends, laughing as they ran into the surf.
That sharp contrast between the eastern devout and the western secular is part of Turkey's enduring fascination and one perhaps that the country itself is still trying to reconcile.
Just after 10pm that there was further evidence of this cultural clash.
The yatsi call to prayer begins when the sun sets, and lasts till the red light has left the sky in the west.
That night the muadhan's evocative call to prayer from the mosque was all but drowned out by the throbbing beat of last year's dancefloor hit "Summer" by Calvin Harris that thumped out from the speakers in a seaside restaurant and bar.
We were staying at the Sea Pearl Hotel managed by Irishman Seamus Glynn who has brought four star Irish standards to this part of Turkey where the Palmin Group has a range of quality properties.
It's a home from home for thousands of Irish tourists who return year after year, get on first name terms with the waiters and staff and generally treat the place like it was their own.
For us it was a first package holiday in many years. Package holidays had lost their allure when the kids got older and self-organised vacations and independent activity holidays had become a habit.
Yet there is something wonderfully relaxing about an organised stay in a good quality hotel, seamless transfers from the airport, a cocktail on arrival and a well-trained Irish rep with Sunway Travel giving the low down on where to go, what to see and what to avoid at a first morning pep talk in the lobby.
A buffet breakfast is always a good start. Omelettes made to order and delicious Turkish pastries, local cheeses and meats as well as fruit and thick yoghurt.
Holiday breakfasts taken at lengthy leisure are always a treat and we later wandered down to the pool for a dose of Vitamin D.
It would have been easy to sit by the pool all week with the Kindle but with so much to see we soon got itchy feet and explored every inch of Kusadasi using the cheap local Dolmus bus service. The small mini-vans seating perhaps 10 people circle and criss-cross the town on a number of routes.
We hopped on the Number 5 and like errant schoolboys piled into the back seats. We handed over the equivalent of €1 each in Turkish lira to the passenger in front of us on the mini-bus. The cash made its way hand to hand , seat to seat up to the driver who dropped the money into a tray on the dashboard, generally decorated with brightly coloured bunting, little keepsakes and LED lights.
Soon we were in the heart of Kusadasi.
The insistent "You buy, you buy" hassling by local shopkeepers can become a bit wearing at times but it's best to just politely decline with a smile and walk-on.
It's another cultural clash I suppose, this love of barter and striking a deal.
There is value in the shops especially good quality leather.
I waited, slightly impatient outside a shop as the important transaction of the purchase of a handbag was being transacted.
Ten minutes later I went inside.
The shopkeeper pointed to another door at the back of the shop. "Your wife, your wife, She is gone, gone! She has broken my heart," he said dramatically clutching his chest as he wailed at a lost sale.
Ephesus is worthy of a visit and this year, at last, is destined to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It's an accolade richly deserved.
It was built a thousand years before the birth of Christ and during the Classical Greek era was one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League.
The city later flourished under Roman control and is said to have had a population of more than 50,000 during that period, making it the third largest city of Roman Asia Minor.
One could easily spend a day here. The open air theatre capable of holding 25,000 spectators is particularly impressive.
Under the Greeks it was used for drama. Later under the Romans it was the home of gladiators. It was only seven years ago that a graveyard of the fallen warriors was discovered and archaeologists are still making new discoveries every year.
Turkey has a lot to offer and represents outstanding value for money.
It's little wonder that so many Irish travel to the Kusadasi region each year. This enormous country, bordered by eight countries has an eclectic cuisine. We discovered one particularly fine restaurant in Kusadasi called Antepli eta Lokant which is heartily recommended. Jerome Reilly travelled with Sunway.