Because I live on Cape Cod, it’s very difficult for me to look at a place and call it “beautiful”. Cities and towns that I visit in Upstate New York and Turkey are pretty, but the bar has been set so high that it’s difficult to make comparisons, particularly with coastal cities. Cappadocia came close, but the words I chose to describe it were “stunning” and “amazing”. It WAS beautiful, but it still didn’t compare to Wellfleet.
However, this weekend I decided to visit Bodrum, a small city on the south west coast of Turkey. It didn’t take me long at all- before I got off the airport bus, actually- to determine that this place is the most beautiful place I have ever set eyes on.
Bodrum has a small-town, Mediterranean vibe that you imagine only exists in movies. It’s helped by the fact that it’s 70-degrees plus and sunny this weekend, but even still, the aura is here. Streets are one-way (or pedestrian only), particularly along the water, where outdoor cafes line the aqua blue coast. It’s an hour walk from one end to the other up and down several hills and around a massive marina. The residents- largely part of the tourism trade- have a very laid-back manner and are eager to say hello and offer assistance (and mostly all speak English, thank god).
The town is centered on the marina, lined with beautiful wooden ships known as gulets. These shallow-bottomed ships are unique to Bodrum, offer wide deck space (for boat cruises), and have masts for sailing and motors for low-wind days. They are numerous in this town and are an impressive sight compared to the other boats anchored nearby. I really wanted to board one of them to see what the interiors are like, but given my limited Turkish I was too afraid to ask. Oh well!
The town is dominated by a Byzantine-era fortress on top of the central hill. Formerly known as the Castle of St. Peter (now just “Bodrum Castle”), it was built in the early 1400’s largely using the stones from another landmark, the Mausoleum. It survived several hundred years of attacks before being handed over to the Ottomans, and later, the Italians and Turks. It now houses the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, an impressive collection of artifacts found in shipwrecks off the coast of Turkey, including the remnants of a ship from the 1000’s! Other bits and pieces include raw glass and glass objects, coins, gold jewelry, a sarcophagus, and lots of pots.
Of course, going in late February on a weekday gave me the added benefit of being the only one in the castle, outside of security and cleaning crews. I interpreted that situation as I had my very own castle for two hours today, fulfilling a life-long dream of mine. Which also meant that the panoramic views from the rooftops and walls, as well as the twists and turns of the inner courtyards became an adult playground for me. Not a bad start to the morning!
Next stop was at a marina-side café for a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. This is quickly becoming a new addiction and it’s not good, because American orange juice has been ruined for me from now on, and it’s going to turn into an expensive taste back home. Here, you pay the equivalent of $1-5 and you get a bunch of oranges crushed in front of you until a glass is brimming with liquid and pulp. The taste is incomparable with store-bought juice, hence I will not be returning to that supermarket aisle anytime soon.
After the pit stop, it was on to see my 2nd Wonder of the World in as many weeks- the Mausoleum. When built, it was truly deserving of its title, standing 140 feet tall and towering over the surrounding landscape. Today it’s a pile of rubble and the outline of its foundations, as it was destroyed sometime between the 300’s and the 1200’s. Most of the stone, is still around, now a part of the Bodrum Castle.
After that, I hiked up the hill to the town’s amphitheater. This structure isn’t quite as large as the one at Ephesus- maybe a tenth of the size- but it’s still impressive, and comes with views of the town and the Aegean beyond. It was quite a strategy, I think: if the show was bad, the sun setting over the water kept the audience from throwing their food!
After another café stop (this time for food), it was a long hike to the second highest point in the region- a hilltop overlooking the coast and the city, where the Ottomans had cleared the land to build six or seven windmills. It’s steep, rocky terrain, but makes for fantastic panoramas once you reach the peak. Because it juts out into the sea, you get views no matter where you turn. The windmills themselves are still standing, albeit without their roofs and only one has the outlines of a fan still attached.
After walking back down, I headed back to the waterfront for more boats and a cup of tea, until the clouds rolled in and it was time to head for shelter. I want to give a quick shout-out to AtlasGlobal, the airline I flew here, which was on-time, had good service, and provides a free airport bus to and from the Bodrum bus station (saving you about 200 lira), and the Myndos Pansiyon, the bed-and-breakfast that I am staying at, which has been extremely comfortable and welcoming (and in a great location near the center for only $16 per night!).