As I continue to review my recent European/Mediterranean vacation, it should be obvious to you that I’m saving my favorite cities for last!
First, I should mention that I traveled to Izmir, Turkey on Spring Break many years ago, when I was in college. Izmir is a larger city and the group I traveled with back then was completely immersed in Turkish culture, so it was quite different from a one afternoon cruise port of call. Still, I have such wonderful memories from that trip. The food, the language, the culture. I just couldn’t wait to share all these things with my husband and my travel companions! Unfortunately, political winds shifted just before we left the U.S.
In light of the attempted military coup, which took place just one week before we arrived, we went back and forth as to whether we would even get off the ship in Kusadasi. Frankly, we were surprised that the city was still on our itinerary, as I had called the week before and learned that Royal Caribbean had diverted two of its ships to Crete.
After quite a bit of discussion, we decided that, if the ship was going to stop in Kusadasi, then it must be safe for us to disembark. We decided not to purchase any shore excursions and, instead, opted to stick close to the port area and not venture out any further into the country – just to be on the safe side.
We got off the ship, walked through the main duty free/cruise line shopping thoroughfare and crossed the street to look at some of the local shops. I had a request for a couple of rings from my younger sister and I thought, “What better place to buy sterling silver at a great price than Turkey?” The shopping area was packed with stores, all the shopkeepers just outside, beckoning shoppers with all sorts of pleas and bargains.
I remembered learning on my college trip that bartering was quite common in the Turkish markets, and was expected. I must not have remembered correctly, though, because these shopkeepers were extremely pushy and forceful in their sales tactics. It was humorous at first, but after some time, it began to wear on us. It was especially awkward as a woman, because we could feel the men’s eyes crawling all over us. If it weren’t for the rings, we would have turned right around and left.
Luckily, I did find a shop with exactly what I was looking for. The owner asked me for much more cash than I actually had on hand and I was ready to leave. I, honestly, couldn’t afford his price, but I also didn’t feel it would be fair to low-ball him. That was when he admitted to me that the cruise ships had not stopped in Kusadasi in 10 days, so he had not had any business at all. He said, “Any money is money. We will take anything. We’ll take Euros, Dollars, even Yen.” Heartbreaking. It did give me some insight into the reasons we were being pressured so heavily to buy. Still, we were uncomfortable, so we headed back to the ship.
On the way, we actually found a nice little seaside bar and ordered some drinks. We sat there for a long time talking and enjoying the breeze.
I was a bit disappointed with the port overall. For one, all that great culture that I couldn’t wait to show my husband and my friends just wasn’t there. There were no city-wide prayer calls ringing out over the landscape. There were no authentic restaurants serving iskender or kofte. Aside from one statue, way up on a hill, there wasn’t a statue of the great founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, on every single corner. It was just really touristy and shopping-focused. I understand, though, that our reluctance to move further into the mainland or purchase a guided excursion had quite a bit to do with this lackluster experience.
We did have a nice time together at the bar, though. The view was lovely and I could see one Atatürk up on the hillside (pictured above). I got the rings I was looking for at a rock bottom price. And, at the very least, we got some free nazar amulets to ward off evil. All in all, an OK day. Next time, though…we’re definitely snagging that tour of Ephesus.