First impressions of a place are important, and once you’ve mentally made a decision about a place it’s hard to allow yourself to be change your mind. So it was with Izmir, our least favorite place in Turkey. Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey and lies right on the coast but most tourists bypass it. Cruise ships often dock here but only so people can take coach group tours of Ephesus a few hours south. We had to come here for one night in order to fly back to Istanbul, so it was more of a convenient stop over but I was still excited for it. We love every place in Turkey! It’s a huge city without any tourists! Surely this must be an interesting and great place!
We took the train from Selcuk to Izmir and walked through the city to reach our hotel which was perfectly nice except for the fact that it was on a backstreet, a mile away from anything (LITERALLY anything — no stores, no restaurants NOTHING). Oh, sorry, I take that back, there was the urgent care hospital right across the street and the highway down the block. The streets at night were deserted except for the sort of savory and upstanding individuals that hang around outside emergency room entrances at 11 pm. THANKS IZMIR.
So this is how Izmir greeted us. The city is grittier than cosmopolitan Istanbul. It’s also not ideal for tourists as there isn’t really any sites of interest or note (ahhhh….perhaps THIS IS WHY TOURISTS DON’T COME HERE, DUMDUM?). We had heard that there was a nice boulevard that ran along the coast that had cafes and shops and bars, so we decided to check that out.
We walked and walked and walked through Izmir’s boring concrete wasteland before arriving at the coastal street. We were tired so we sat in a park on the water which, admittedly, was lovely but it was too late. The dye was cast. Izmir sucked and there was no changing that for us.
We walked all along the coast line. All of a sudden we saw large group of young soccer supporters marching through the streets headed for the ferry. I’m a huge soccer fan, so I was curious which team they were supporting (Karşıyaka SK, if you’re curious — their crest says “KSK!!!”) so we stopped to watch them. Then out of nowhere, a HUGE explosion. A few people screamed and some people began running. There was a second of confusion and then we realized that the supporters had thrown a tiny stick of dynamite. They were to repeat this several times. They also threw some bottles. No biggie. Eventually a few police arrived and…watched them, I guess?
I have no idea what happened, but en masse the supporters began RUNNING down the street. Some cops eventually corralled them and sent them back to the ferry dock where they’d been before. Eventually, after a few more smashed bottles, chants, and fireworks, the ferry came and the supporters got on it, screaming (I’m assuming) obscenities at the cops.
We wandered around a bit more and stopped for some Efes down a random side street which, I have to admit, was very cool. It was a tiny little alley lined with underground bars and tables outside full of tattooed hipsters drinking beer and playing some intense backgammon. For an hour, Izmir didn’t suck. But then it did again.
We decided to take a taxi back to our hotel since it was in a dodgy wasteland in the middle of nowhere. The taxi driver says “10 lira” I say “Hayer. Meter.” He says “No. 10 lira.” I mean, it’s $5. With the meter it probably would have been, like, 7 lira. I was just too tired to haggle with the guy so I agreed. This was the ONLY time in Turkey where we had a taxi driver rip us off. The guy couldn’t even find the place, so we just told him to let us out 3 blocks away and we walked the rest of the way. THANKS IZMIR.
The next morning we went to pay our bill only to find the credit card machine was broken. This was after trying FOUR different cards, including my emergency card which was buried at the bottom of my bag in my compression sack, meaning I had to unpack my ENTIRE bag to get to it. We had to catch a train to the airport, and time was ticking away. I was sent off to find the ONLY ATM within what must be a 5 mile radius. The guy at the hotel tells me it’s just “down this way. Then right.” After asking 5 different people for directions I finally find it. Of course, there’s a guy using it. I don’t know exactly what Turks do at ATMs but they must enjoy them because I’ve never seen a Turk use an ATM for less than 15 minutes at a time. So I wait and wait and wait. He finally finishes and I go to put my card in the ATM. It thinks, and thinks, and thinks before spitting the card back at me and telling me the machine is out of order. I’m pretty panicked at this point. We have to catch this train to get our flight but we have no way of paying for the hotel. I sprint back to the hotel, really just not sure what we’re going to do. I tell the hotel clerk that the ATM is broken. He says “Oh….” and then he pulls out a DIFFERENT credit card reader from behind the desk, swipes our card and presto it works just fine. PERHAPS YOU COULD HAVE TRIED THAT OTHER MACHINE BEFORE I RAN 10 BLOCKS AWAY? THANKS, IZMIR.
At this point we have about 15 minutes to get to the train station which is about a mile away. We sprint 3 blocks to the main street and flag down a cab. We get in and go a few blocks and then we sit in traffic. Inch forward….then stop. Eventually we just threw money at the driver and got out and made a mad dash for the station (mind you, this is each with 25 lbs of bags and gear). We make it to the train and get in JUST as the doors close. We hadn’t purchased tickets (I’m not even sure you CAN buy tickets on the train) but we figured we’d just figure it out. We are soaked in sweat, disheveled and panting when the conductor comes over to collect our tickets. We tell him we dont’ have any. He asks where we’re going and we tell him we’re going to the airport. He thinks for a second, looks at our sorry state, and just says “Tamam” (meaning, “OK”) and walks away without asking us for any money. For that, no sarcasm this time, thanks Izmir.