It really took me just about a week back home during the winter break to start yearning for an exciting backpacking trip somewhere. I had decided with my boyfriend and regular travel partner to head northward in Turkey once I returned, since we would have about 10 days of the vacation still waiting. Our plan was to tour the Black Sea coast, starting with Trabzon, then heading to Rize, and from there to lush, green Artvin. Lastly we would go to Kars – where we were especially excited about seeing the ancient city of Ani – and return from there to Ankara. We had planned and planned, but when it came to finding accommodations, we were confronted with the report that most of those places were, at the time, under heavy snow. Not that snow in itself would have deterred us, but we had wanted to see the beautiful natural and historic sites that those places boasted and would not have been able to do this satisfactorily under such weather conditions. We thus decided upon a spontaneous change of plan on the very day we were due at the bus station.
We quickly managed to cancel our tickets and began searching for a new destination, preferably somewhere with warmer temperatures and equally fascinating places to see. After some deliberation, we narrowed our focus to the Aegean coast of Turkey and promptly chose some five or six cities we might visit. We thought we’d start off with an island neither of us had ever been to: Gökçeada. We reached the island, located in Çanakkale province, by a short ferry ride. The island itself is quite big, but we found it sparsely populated, mostly because it was off-season; otherwise, we were told, it would have been crowded with flocks of tourists. It’s a quaint place, scattered with old Greek villages as well as existing Turkish and Greek villages. It was interesting to note that the Greeks still retained their culture and language to a large extent, yet also conversed fluently in Turkish when needed. We trekked our way to about four different villages on the island, some of which were partly abandoned Greek villages, with Greek history dating back hundreds of years. The most interesting sight was that of an abandoned laundry building in the village of Dereköy, once considered one of the biggest villages in Turkey and now a ghost town.
After a few days of fatiguing treks and hikes to get a full sense of the island, and regular visits to Mustafa’nın Kayfesi, where we enjoyed bountiful teas and coffees, we headed to the peninsula of Gallipoli, where the famed Battle of Çanakkale was fought in 1915. The peninsula is a historical graveyard of sorts – a battlefield still so well preserved and in many ways untouched. As we made our way to Gallipoli National Park, where the huge monument dedicated to the fallen soldiers towered above us and a chillingly large cemetery extended down to the shore, we passed fields and fields of green land, where once shells had exploded, military camps had been set up, and a vicious battle had been fought. At one stop, our guide showed us the place where the French and English had converged on the Ottoman soldiers, and told us how the whole peninsula of Gallipoli is strewn with bones, bullets, empty shells, clothing and other articles belonging to the soldiers who died here. And while we were walking around the area, he even found for us a button that had been part of a uniform. Holding it made me experience an overwhelming sensation that I only feel when surrounded by such history. It stemmed from the thought that in my hand lay a button that once a brave soldier had buttoned up his uniform with, probably for the last time, and here it was in my hand. In terms of history, Gallipoli was one of the most captivating sites I’d ever seen.
We spent our next day exploring the city of Çanakkale itself, where a trip to the ancient city of Troy was inevitable. Additionally, we had excellent food near the ferry dock, in a small café by the name of Mori Bistro.
An even greater adventure lay ahead of us in the city of Bergama, or Pergamon in Greek. This small town had an abundance of historical sites to its name. We began with the acropolis, which is easily reached by the cable car that takes you from the town up into the hills where the massive site lies. The acropolis boasts an incredible theater and a large city, incredibly (and naturally) well preserved. Also worth seeing was the Red Basilica, a marvelously preserved temple and one of the largest Roman structures existing in the ancient Greek lands. Next we headed to the Asklepion, which was, unexpectedly, a large complex of theaters, columned walkways, tunnels and streets. A whole part of a city seemed to lie there! If one happens to be in the general Aegean area, Bergama is a place that should not be missed.
As our vacation came to its close, it felt only obligatory to go and see Ephesus, only a short trip away in İzmir province. The best part about it was that this was the first time I had been to Ephesus when it was not tourist season, and having the whole place to myself was great! There were only a few other people, and the beautiful Library of Celsus stood peacefully vacant and forsaken by the crowds of tourists that normally surround it. It was a great time to freely explore the city, in the serenity of the quiet wintertime atmosphere.
This closed the incredible 10-day backpacking trip that began ever so spontaneously and ended up being one of the most exciting and worthwhile trips we’ve had. And of course, it was a great way to start the semester, tired but with exciting stories and memories to share with friends.