When you encounter a big milestone in your life there’s usually an “aha” moment, where you say to yourself, “I can’t believe…”
I thought my “moment” this semester would be in the Hagia Sophia. After studying it for years and seeing pictures on any documentary about religions, the fact that I was actually inside it was sure to overwhelm me. Maybe the construction was to blame, but it didn’t happen.
It turns out my “aha” moment came today, while touring the coastal city of Izmir. It’s the third largest city in Turkey and one of the easiest to plan a solo trip to, which made it my first study abroad target. I booked a flight for about $40 round trip (yay Turkish Airlines!) and settled on the Olympiyat Otel Izmir for about $20 per night. I haven’t spent a full day here yet, but I can already recommend this hotel for anyone else looking to take a weekend here. It’s in an authentic residential neighborhood (there’s a bazaar 100 feet away) and has phenomenally helpful staff. It’s clean, has good wifi, and hot water as well (give it time to warm up).
Let me start off by saying Izmir is BEAUTIFUL. It’s a complete change from Istanbul- modern buildings, wide boulevards, and green space everywhere. Most of the parks and “tourist attractions” are placed along the water, which suits me just fine. After getting off at the wrong train stop and hiking half the city, I was perfectly happy to wander up and down the coast for the entire afternoon. There’s trees, fountains, playgrounds, pergolas, benches, and lots of bike paths to attract people to the water’s edge on nice afternoons. And nice it was- 80 degrees! In February!
With regards to actual tourist attractions, Izmir is lacking, which makes one, maybe two days all you need in this city. The coast is great, not to mention the amazing views the bay gives you (the city encircles it, which makes for good panoramas). But all there is is a clock tower, a historic elevator, two large statues, and the “Grand Bazaar”- which is exactly like Istanbul’s but smaller, less crowded, and a lot more pleasant (it’s not all tourists). If you have the energy, you can hike up one of the massive hills overlooking the city for some amazing shots, although I was up at four in the morning so I took a pass.
If you stay near the Basmane train station, as this and many hotels are, you can catch rides to two really famous sites: Ephesus and Pamukkale. I will be visiting both- Ephesus tomorrow, and Pamukkale on Saturday (got to save the best for last!). Both are all-day trips, although I’m hoping to make it back early enough tomorrow to catch the sunset over the Mediterranean.