Saturday, May 3rd 2014: More Izmir!


The day started out without alarm clocks, and with a full spread of Turkish breakfast, complete with a hard-boiled egg (a throwback to our days in Utrecht). After the much-appreciated slow easy morning Nicole and I decided to go ferry-hopping around the Gulf of Izmir, to enjoy the sunshine and see the action around the various city ferry ports. Izmir has eight ferry terminals surrounding the gulf, starting in the Northeast and going clockwise they are, Bostanlı, Karşıyaka, Bayraklı, Alsancak, Pasaport, Konak, Göztepe, and Üçkuyular.

We started our walk to the nearest ferry port Konak.  This port is along the long waterfront walk it was already crowded with tourists and locals that Saturday morning.  When we arrived at the quay, the ferry to Karşıyaka was just about to leave. We navigated the rush of other ferry goers and arrived at a prime location on the upper deck in the sunshine an on our way to the next stop. Sitting on the ferry and going across the gulf was a great way to–if only for fifteen minutes–get away from the city and away from bumping into people. I have experienced ferries in Istanbul that are just as crowded as the streets; the ferries in Izmir that Saturday had an element of space that was luxurious.

Arriving in Karşıyaka the port area was bustling with the finish line set up for the 50th Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey: a 1,251 km bike race through selected cities of Turkey. The race was going to be passing through in about and 1 and a half hours. The crews were setting up barricades for the audience and pre-race activities had already started on the sidewalks and cafes near the route. Nicole and I had been enjoying our space on the ferry so after a quick lap of the route we got on the next ferry, to stay ahead of the crowds.

Our next stop was Pasaport, a smaller ferry stop where we took a lunch break and enjoyed some of the fine seafood Izmir had to offer. After the long lunch we decided to walk along the water back to Konak, stopping at our favorite ice cream stand for the best ice cream in Turkey, cake batter flavor.  The next ferry brought us to Bostanlı, and was a little longer then our previous two ferry rides. We sat by a woman who shared some of the snacks which she had brought with her: a tart, crunchy, small green fruit. Also she and her family were participating in my favorite ferry activity: buying simit and feeding the seagulls trailing behind the ferry. One participant had the patience to hold his arm out long enough to allow for a gull to pluck the bread from his fingertips. We sat and watched the gulls feast all the way to Bostanlı and back to Konak making it back to the hotel just in time to hop on a bus to the airport ending out lazy Saturday with breezy ferry rides on our mind.



Saturday in Izmir was a free day for everyone to explore the city, so groups formed based on interests and we all hit the road for a day of discovery.  My crew of adventure bandits included Rachel B., Karen, Spencer, Joe, and A.J; all of whom wanted to soak in the totality of Izmir. Naturally we decided upon the highest point in the city to be able to get the postcard views everyone dreams of when imagining the cities that surround the Aegean Sea. So, we set out with cameras and sketchbooks in hand, to discover what Mt. Pagos had to offer.

We hoped to not only get expansive views and explore the park, but also to understand the topographic relationships of the city as the urban fabric of Izmir cascades out of the mountains like the a series of tiered waterfalls. The task at hand turned out to be much more than we bargained for;  Karen realized after about 200 stairs that there was not a sip of water anywhere. We climbed more stairs than we could count, and stopped to catch our breath at the few landings we could find. The locals along the way were very friendly, saying merhaba (hello) each time we passed their stoop.

When we reached the summit we were immediately greeted by the 2-centuries old castle Kadifekale (meaning the velvet castle), the grounds of which have become a neighborhood park where people relax, take in the views, picnic, play football, and sell textiles. Once beyond the gates we rushed for the stairs and up the wall without hesitation to take what we came for: views. We got all we wanted and more; with 360-degree views of the entire city below, this defensive fortification is a landscape architect’s dream.

After taking in the views, interacting with the locals, and of course buying scarves, we headed back down the hill. The reverse pilgrimage back down was just as eventful as the park itself and we once again experienced the friendliness of the people who live here. This became extremely evident when Rachel hit a little speed bump, fell down, nearly buckling her ankle and scraping her foot so hard against the pavement it drew blood. Before we could realize what was happening a woman came rushing over with a band-aid in hand to help patch up Rachel, and even offered her water afterwards.

One of the most notable aspects about the way culture and urbanity intersect in Turkey is peoples’ surprising ability to maximize the use of very limited open space. Between sets of stairs we stumbled across a relatively flat area (by open I mean a space 5 meters wide, and by flat I mean something less than a15 percent grade) where a group of young boys ages 4-7 were playing football. The moment we stepped in for a little two-on-two we realized that even at such young ages they were already experts at playing keep away, effortlessly sneaking the ball between our legs and magically reappearing at our backsides to catch the ball.

Although we all set out just to take in the views and see some topography, our journey became enriched by interacting with the local people, even if it was for just a moment. Thus far we have been to more than a handful of Turkish cities, both large and small, and everywhere we go everyone is so friendly and excited to interact with someone different. I have to say that I can already see the end of our stay here in sight and I already miss how each and every day is so unique and filled with adventure.



Upon arrival of the Netherlands portion of our study there was a slight adjustment period to begin to familiarize ourselves with the various forms of transportation networks that are embedded within such a dense country. Pedestrian traffic ruled the streets and we were constantly checking both ways, behind, above, and sometimes even under for the nearest biker cruising by. Overwhelming at first, the end of our stay found many of us atop these Dutch chariots ourselves in the thick of flocks of bikers and pedestrians. Our arrival to Istanbul rendered quite a different experience….

Here, the automobile or anything with a motor rules the road, parking is generally anywhere your car can fit, and one-way signs might as well be invisible. The city of seven hills isn’t the most bike friendly city, but underground transportation networks, informal bus systems, and ferries are just a few of the many modes of public transportation offered. In contrast to the Netherlands, which has an extremely formal, organized, and methodically programmed system, Istanbul struggles to combat a growing population and efficient public transit. The rapid and informal growth of the city has proven to be an extremely difficult road block in supporting such a dense population. Having experienced many of these transit options already it was our return trip from a weekend in Izmir that I began to realize how Turkish people deal with transportation issues besides laying on their horns…

In Izmir, the small busy street outside our hotel was already full of traffic by mid-morning and by the afternoon cars were beginning to stack up facing each other. On a street lined with butcher shops, tea lounges, and street vendors I had a hard time imagining squeezing my 97 Civic through the lively neighborhood, let alone get any sort of two-way traffic. As cars began to back up, a boy who couldn’t have been more than 15 starts barking orders and directing cars through the maze of streets, even jumping into a couple of them, to pull off as what seemed to be a very informal valet parking network. Watching this kid reminded me of a game of tetris, but instead of blocks he was directing cars, mopeds, and flat-bed trucks. One after another he shuffled through or parked another, returning to a man who appeared to be his father for approval and a sip of water. Realizing we had a flight to catch we decided it might be best to meet our shuttle bus out by the larger street. As the bus approached we had about 30 seconds to jump on before the sound of horns would fill the air. Relieved we wouldn’t have to fight the traffic we set off for the airport. The hour or so drive allowed some people to catch some sleep after a long day in the sun, but I was glued to the window captivated by what seemed to be multiple near-death experiences as motorcycles, four-wheelers, and cabs cruise by. Passing lines don’t exist and it appears to be a free-for-all in the lanes. A two-lane road quickly becomes a three-lane road, and a one-way becomes a two- or even a three- way street.

Following a quick one-hour flight back to Istanbul everyone felt relieved to be on the final leg of getting home. A slight miscommunication meant our bus was a little late picking us up at the airport, but a quick trip to the BK and one whopper later, I wasn’t about to complain. Once we were picked up, it seemed like it would be no time before we were home. Falling into a little cat-nap myself I awoke to the bus at a dead stop on a three lane highway. Cars were zipping by on the shoulder and street vendors walked up and down between cars selling water, food, and phone chargers. Something that probably seems normal for locals was extremely fascinating to our group. Being slightly parched I almost reached my hand out for a bottled water myself. As we reached the end of the hour long traffic jam, two highways merged into a four lane freeway towards the city. If I didn’t have my glasses on I could have been fooled I was in a game of bumper cars. Vehicles squeezed through spaces I didn’t think you could roll a bowling ball and battled for the front of the line. Not only then, but the rest of my stay I have been amazed that I have yet to see any form of an accident. Once we were off the highway our driver had a hard time locating our neighborhood. Let’s be honest, in a city of 17 million it isn’t always the easiest to familiarize yourself with every neighborhood, especially considering how fast infrastructure changes here. Driving up and down hills the size of Wisconsin ski resorts we caught glimpses of familiar landmarks on the horizon but couldn’t seem to find the best route. The driver stopped multiple times and ran out to ask local shopkeepers and passersby for directions. This is far from an uncommon scene here as people are generally extremely helpful in almost any situation, especially when it comes to directions. The highlight of our trip was when a minor traffic jam was alleviated for a full size excavator to be loaded onto a trailer in a matter of minutes as a local jumped into the street to direct traffic. A completely hectic situation turned into a smooth operation, which we have noticed to become a common thread here throughout the city. A block later we recognized our street and the bus halted to a stop. Relieved to finally be home, but still half blocking traffic we all jumped off the bus and head to the nearest corner store. Having left our hotel at 4:15 we made it home by 10:30; it had been quite the afternoon of traveling and yet another regular day in Istanbul.