There are a zillion ways to get into Turkey. Well, actually there are only three; land, sea or air 🙂 During planning we had toyed with lots of ideas and permutations and combinations on the best route to take. And none of the good routes went through Istanbul. By good routes I mean the ones which cost less, take the least amount of time and have the least stopovers. The route we decided to take involved a combination of air and land. Our next stop after Athens was Pamukkale, The Cotton Castle.
We left Athens around noon and took a flight to Izmir. The flight was not even half full. After it landed, eight hurried souls left it and together with us boarded a bus that took us to the terminal. There was not a soul in sight! For an airport that size it was eerily quiet. Such a huge contrast to Istanbul’s Ataturk which resembled a train station.
We approached immigration, answered a few questions and we were in Turkey baby!
There is train station next to the airport that can be reached by foot. We had planned to catch a train from here to Denizli. The train for Denizli starts from Izmir Basmane Station in the city. Although I had heard reports about the train becoming almost full by the time it reaches Izmir Airport, I ignored them. I thought it’s off season and just how many people would be going to Denizli on a weekday! I was wrong.
As you reach the train station there is a ticket counter with two windows. Intercity train tickets are available at the window on your right. When we reached the station that window was closed. I asked the person at the next counter and he asked us to wait. Since we didn’t have a ticket and getting onto the platform without a ticket is illegal, we decided to wait it out in front of the counter.
Almost an hour passed by but the window was still closed. Although we had a lot of time to kill, I started getting nervous. I approached a police officer and asked her about the tickets. She also told us to wait but fortunately for us he said we could go and occupy the benches on the platform.
Another 30 minutes passed by and the ticket window finally opened. I bought the tickets and went back. Slowly the platform started getting crowded. And I started getting anxious, what if the reports were true and the train indeed comes packed? And with so many people already waiting, how can we get into the train with two huge bags before all these people and grab a seat?
An attendant turned out of nowhere started blowing whistles and saying something in Turkish. People started moving back from the edge of the platform. We realized out train might be coming. We took up a less crowded spot so that we could board the train easily. The train arrived and we realized we were in the wrong spot :p We rushed towards the nearest door. I asked wifey to board first. Then I gave her both the bags and I followed.
My heart sank, the train was full. There were people standing in the aisle. Many of whom boarded the train with us had luggage with them. It was all chaos for a while until the train started. We slowly moved up to the middle of the coach where the two opposite facing rows of seat meet.
Wifey was giving me the looks and I was acting like poor puppy lost in the rain. I had miscalculated and there was a chance that we would not get seats till Denizli. That means four hours of standing! Luck was on our side when after Selcuk a seat close to us became vacant. I thanked my stars, atleast the better half is seated! Shortly afterwards, when the train was closer to Aydin I too got a place.
I always enjoyed train journeys and so did my wife. Before the proliferation of the airways in India, trains were the only reliable, fast and comfortable means of transport. And train journeys were one of the highlights of every summer vacation during school. Moreover, websites like Seat61.com kept my interest alive. This was one of the reason I wanted to include a train journey in our itinerary. And the train to Denizli did not disappoint.
Turkish railways are well maintained, clean and close to punctual, which is great for us Indians. The coaches were air-conditioned and had huge windows so that we could see the passing scenery. The windows had blinds on them which were very helpful.
The landscape between Izmir and Denizli was very pretty. Flatlands punctuated by mountains; some barren, some green and fertile. The small towns that passed by and the railway crossings looked so similar to villages in India that for a moment I lost track of where we were. The only the thing missing was some in-coach refreshments. And those too weren’t far away.
I heard bleak, high pitched voices. First I thought someone was fighting. Then I thought they might be arguing. Finally I saw a guy carrying a huge basket on his shoulders. The smell of freshly baked goods preceded him. We were unsure of what exactly he was selling until he came near. He was selling pretzels!!! These are called Simit in Turkey and encrusted with sesame seeds. Simit is generally served plain, or for breakfast with tea, fruit preserves, or cheese or Ayran.
People were buying a couple of them with some beverage in a small plastic bottle. Wifey thought we should give it a try and we bought it. The beverage was called Ayran. I twisted the cap open, had a swig of it and instantly realized it was salted buttermilk, Chaas! Exactly same taste, wow!
We finished our snack will glee and took a little nap. Waking up intermittently to click pics of the landscape (we believe we even saw a glimpse of Pamukkale). Come evening, we were greeted by a magnificent sunset. It was almost 7.30 pm and the sun was still above the horizon.
Around 8 at night the train chugged into Denizli station. It was almost empty by the time it reached Denizli. We went out of the station, hailed a cab and headed straight to the hotel for a nice hot shower. An exciting day awaited us tomorrow.