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"After a few minutes, our driver waddled back into the bus after passing the test or coming up with the right amount of money to pass the test..."
- Greg Salow

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Mediterranean of a different kind
by Greg Salow, Portland, Maine, USA
Dec 11, 1999

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Nowadays, many Americans are fortunate enough to travel to the Mediterranean. As Mediterranean meccas like Athens, the Greek Islands, and Istanbul become overrun by American cruise ships, there is still a place near the Aegean coast where you can experience the sights, sounds and aromas of a different world - without running into a lot of Americans. This place is called Bergama, Turkey.

The road to Bergama

Twenty Kilometers southeast of the Turkish port city of Ayvalik. The best way to get to Bergama is by bus from Ayvalik. The bus ride takes about an hour and a half, and you ride through miles of villages and olive fields.

Our particular bus ride was highlighted by a police stop that tests bus drivers for intoxication. Accidents caused by drunken bus drivers are all too common in Turkey. Police are taking the necessary precautions. After a few minutes, our driver waddled back into the bus after passing the test or coming up with the right amount of money to pass the test...

Let the bidding begin

Upon arrival into the Bergama bus station, you are greeted by a cast of pension owners and workers hawking the benefits of their particular dwellings. As we scarfed down a particularly tasty lamb stew served over rice, a persistent pension owner, armed with a three-ring notebook full of reviews from sources like the Lonely Planet made his case. We decided to take a chance and spend the night in Bergama. Little did we know a short stopover, would turn into the two-day highlight of the entire two-week trip.

The pension owner drove us to the 300 year old restored Ottoman style Pension Athena. A sign leading in read “We are not the best but trying to get there. Our room overlooked the ancient ruins of Pergamon, a Hellenistic ruin dating back over 2,200 years. Although the late September weather was a clear and comfortable 80 degrees, we decided to wear jeans and cover our skin out of respect to the Muslim culture. While Turkey is not an extreme Muslim country, the religion does underline life in the nation. Throughout the day one can hear the chants and prayers emanating from the mosques. While it’s not a public offense to wear shorts, many tourists will get treated with intentional indifference, or the evil eye...

Once settled in, we ventured out past the ruins Aesciepion in the Western section of town. When the Roman empire dominated this area, the complex became one of the first medical clinics and spas in recorded history. Past the Aesiepion, you come to a row of carpet merchants. We visited a few of the shops, and partook in the custom of drinking freshly brewed apple tea as merchants flipped through hundreds of colorful intricately sewn rugs.

Since we weren’t quite in the buying spirit, we decide to take the 1 1/2 mile hike up to the ancient city of Pergamon. Weaving uphill through neighborhoods of adobe dwellings swashed in pastel blues, pinks , and yellows, we encountered groups of cheerful and curious grade school children. The children playfully asked for everything - money, pictures, ball point pens. Each wanted their picture taken, and wrote out their address in hopes of becoming pen pals.

Temple of cats?

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