Is full of history and scenic beauty but Priyadarshini Paitandy also falls for the country's gorgeous men and endless shopping
We land in Izmir, listless and sleepy. Blame it on Istanbul. The last three days have been fun and packed with things to do, from pub-hopping, shopping and sightseeing to street food snacking. We knew that's how it would be, which is why we are now headed to Kusadasi, where we intend to unwind and rejuvenate before moving on to discover the rest of Turkey. Kusadasi is a resort town that has a lot on offer – from water sports and sightseeing to just lounging on the beach or being pampered at a hammam.
A handsome young hunk awaits us at the arrival lounge with a placard bearing my name. He's in a crisp white shirt, well-fitted trousers, polished black designer shoes (looks like Valentino to me) and dark hair neatly gelled. He's impeccable and we look like something the cat dragged in - hair a mess, clothes creased and eyes sleep-deprived and puffy. After a secret dab of lipstick and a failed attempt to settle my boisterous hair, I introduce myself and we pile into the car. Turkish pop music is blaring from the music system, as he drives us from Izmir to Kusadasi, alternatively drinking Evian and fidgeting with his Blackberry. The road swerves ahead, rocky mountains on one side and deep blue sea on the other, often giving us a sneak peek at the harbour below. It's a 90-minute drive that our Turkish Schumacher accomplishes in 55 minutes and then flashes us his disarming smile. We are unabashedly smitten but that's only till we walk into the hotel to be greeted by the blue-eyed, blonde-haired manager. That's the thing about Turkey, the men are gorgeous and it would be rather unfair to just gush about the places and not the men.
Waking up to a blue sea
Our hotel overlooks the harbour and every morning you wake up to a huge cruise ship docked on the azure blue sea. The ship sets sail each evening and is back the next morning, like a faithful lover awaiting a glimpse of his lady love. In the distance is Pigeon Island, an imposing structure that served as a fort during the Ottoman reign and gets its name from the migratory birds it attracts. “Pigeon Island is one of the few places in the world that offers the best view of the sunset. Don't miss it,” says the hotel manager. We head out immediately. It's 6 p.m. and we have an hour before the sun goes down. The bridge leading to the island is lined with men in easy chairs holding fishing rods. One seems to have fallen asleep and is snoring rather gruffly. No wonder his fish basket is empty!
It's a long trek to the fort. The view gets better with every step we climb — gentle waves lapping below, expanses of sparkling blue water, and the sun beginning its descent. As darkness slowly engulfs the vibrant sea, the city springs to life with houses, shops and cafes lighting up. The restaurants get busy vying for attention, with waiters waving menus at the tourists. Mustafa, the animated waiter at Victoria, catches our eye. He leaps and squeals in delight and welcomes us in like long-lost friends. We order kumpir (a baked potato dish with peas, salami, mushroom and whatever else you want), baked fish and meat cooked in a clay pot. In minutes, Mustafa jives in with a colourful brandy-based cocktail that's accompanied by sparklers, ribbons and a proudly beaming Toggi, owner-cum-bartender. Everyone looks at us keenly as we take our first sip. Apparently, the rule is if you like the drink, you have to dance on your table. Luckily, our table is covered with plates full of food and that's an excuse to dodge the practice. We could stay on and continue our half-English, half-action conversation but I am distracted by a board in the distance that reads: SALE. We enthusiastically leap up, ready for another night of shopping. The market down the alley is open till 2 a.m.
Shopping spree ends
Clothes, shoes, bags, souvenirs, in colours and patterns unimaginable... am I in heaven? The store keepers are mostly warm and friendly and every conversation starts with “Excuse me, lady, where you from? Oh India? You so beautiful like Katrina / Kareena...” I'm certain this is where my hunt for orange shoes, orange bag, orange clutch and orange belt will end. You'll probably find everything you need here but you need to haggle. The norm is to settle for half of what they quote. Now that we know the tricks and I have a big shopping bag, three hours to go and over a hundred shops to cover... looks like it's going to be a while before I get back to my hotel room.