In May, my friend Nic visited my in Istanbul, and we embarked on a road trip to Troy. This was so much easier said than done, because he had had his driving license for less than 6 months, and I had none, so convincing a rental company to trust us with a car proved difficult. We set out at about 11 or 12 in the morning (after a fantastic Turkish breakfast obviously) in the direction of Taksim square, and just started asking at every rental place we passed by. Having been refused maybe three or four times, we started to wander down the hill to enquire about busses. On the same street as the bus company, we unexpectedly passed by one final car rental (Hertz), and, can you guess it? Yes! They had no issues finding us a last-minute car. It was about 3 or 4 in the afternoon by then, on a Friday, which is a ridiculous time to try and drive out of Istanbul. However, the horrendous traffic jam provided us with the opportunity to get used to the automatic car and Turkish traffic. Off we went, across the Galata Bridge, around the old walls of Constantinople, and away toward Tekirdağ.
Because I had my work phone, with Turkish sim and internet and so forth, I was able to both function as navigator and as travel agent. Whilst driving I googled hotels in Gallipoli. We stopped somewhere to have köfte (Nic) and mercimek (me) and I successfully got hold of a seaside hotel with a free room (although communicating we would like two beds turned out to be an epic failure haha). As the sun set, we raced toward Gallipoli, with radio Alexandroupolis to keep us entertained. The car was something like 40-60 EUR per day (and it was a quite nice car); a day being 24 hours, so for a 4-day trip we needed to pay 3 days (leave Friday 4pm, come back Monday before 4pm). The hotel room was probably about 20-30 EUR and included breakfast (and parking!). This was booking things randomly and last-minute on the day right, I am sure you can get even better deals in advance.
In the morning we drove along the harbour of Gallipoli (the town, not the battle site) and onto a ferry, which took us across to Asia. We kind of went onto a different ferry than we intended by accident, but the difference was only a few kilometres, so that’s fine! Onward, around Çanakkale, and to Troy! This is also when we unfortunately lost the signal to radio Alexandroupolis, so at a gas station we picked up a handy wire-chord-thingie which connected my tablet to the car, for a proper road-trip sound-track! Doing the roadtripping properly here, yes!
We got to Troy around 11am, so we bravely opted to wander into the soon-to-be-scorching May sun before having lunch. It was pretty quiet, with one bus of tourists, and what appeared to be the German Consul-General and his wife + private tour guide. A ticket to the site costs 25 TL or about 6 EUR. It is actually one of the more underwhelming archaeological sites the world has on offer, so 2 hours should do you there. It is definitely still worth a visit! it is just hyped up a lot by things such as movies and epic poetry. Since the people of the Bronze Age liked to build with mud-brick, not all that much of ‘Homer’s Troy’ survived. Many people seem to picture Troy as ancient Greek (i.e. when the epic story became popular, historically), but the events described in the Illiad and the Odyssey took place long before that. Another problem is that famous ‘archaeologist’ Heinrich Schliemann literally bulldozed his way through a lot of the interesting bits (you can see the hole he left). Mr Schliemann had mistaken the dating of what he was looking for, as well as what he was looking at. I guess it was an important lesson in the study of stratigraphy.
When you get to Troy, the first thing you encounter is a re-constructed Trojan horse. This is great for small children (and Nic) as well as photos. You then proceed past the dig house and through a sort of haphazard outdoor lapidarium. Then, you are faced with a bit of the very re-constructed ancient walls of Troy. Passing through this, there are several ‘look out’ points, one of which provides a view over the fields where The Battle Of Troy must have taken place. The magnitude of the story really sinks in there. However, altogether most visitors will probably have imagined the city of Troy as bigger than the relatively small remains illustrate. Onward, there is a bit of mud-brick preserved underneath a very expensive shelter. Beware, it is home to a tonne of bees! After circling around this, you get to the Schliemann shaft, followed, finally, by some more Greek and Roman looking bits of marble. Because the Romans were basically in charge of the settlement most ‘recently’ (it kind of went downhill after they left/changed) these remains are most visible. There are some houses, shops, bits of temple, baths, and so forth. If you like, you can venture down the hill, through a field, and then some trees, to the ‘water cave’. It is a very old human-made cave, associated with Hittite water deity ‘KASKAL.KUR’. Besides a friendly shepherd we did encounter a huge snake there though, so be careful!
Afterward circle back up, past the theatre, and find yourself facing the lapidarium once more. That’s it, that was Troy (Truva, Wilusa, whichever name you prefer for it). I know it might not look or sound like much, but it is an unforgettable experience, I promise.
Now – there is only one restaurant nearby (at the start / end of the huge driveway going up to the site), so you feel a bit forced into there, but: I have been coming there for years and the staff is so friendly, and they do the best gözleme (Turkish savoury pancakes) in this part of Turkey. It is well worth sitting down with a cold drink and chilling there for a bit. Also it supposedly has the ‘House of Schliemann’, as well as great Troy-themed place mats, if you want to continue your cultural experience.
From Troy, we continued driving down the road to Ayvacık (n.b. not Ayvalık) and then Behramkale. Since it was still just about off-season (start of May) we managed to get a room (plus breakfast) at the amazing Assos Kervansaray Hotel. I spent most my childhood camping at the camping-site right next to it, so it is one of those grown-up things I had always wanted to do. Oddly, the hotel comes with a swimming pool, despite being right on the beach at the Mediterranean Sea (spot Lesbos in the distance!). Sea water at Behramkale can be cold due to a strong current, but we braved it anyway, together with some cold-resistant Russian tourists. Afterward we just chilled with a glass of wine on the beanbags on the pebble beach. If this is not holiday, then I do not know what is.
Behramkale is a charming, tiny, sea-side town. Nothing much changes there, except that a huge hotel chain will try and squeeze in a new hotel every couple of years. It is very popular with weekend tourists from Istanbul, who know to find it; foreign tourists usually have no idea it exists. You have to drive down a ridiculous cliff road to get there (do not be tempted to take a caravan), and then through a set of restaurants, to enter the town. You read it here: it is a thing, you are allowed to do it. Poor Nic nearly had a stroke I think. You will drive right past the fresh waffle and ice-cream place, and the tiny family-owned shop that sells sweets and overpriced sunscreen, and basically onto the beach. This is one of the most unique places in the world that I know, and I almost hesitate to share its ‘secret’ location with anyone. Some of my earliest memories are about this beach and these waffles.
Up the hill is the ancient site of Assos. It is a really fantastic mountain hike, through bushes hanging over ancient pottery, accompanied by goats (and occasionally snakes; beware!). I just know the way, via photographic memory, and always end up following the old Roman road to the top. There is no way I can explain how to find it though, sorry! Once at the top, you can cross the road into the Necropolis of Assos. This city owes a lot of fame to Aristotle, who lived there for a while in the 4th century BCE. In the 3rd and 2nd centuries the city was ruled by the Kings of Pergamon, followed in the 1st century BCE by the Persians. They were chased off by the Romans of course, and Assos became a prominent city in the province of Asia Minor. A landmark Doric temple to Athena was built at the top of the cliff in the 6th century BCE – but leave that for last. First, have a lunch break in modern Assos, and have a wander around the little market there. The temple is also where you buy your entrance ticket to the whole site by the way. If you are able to scale cliffs, you can avoid it, but I would recommend making this investment in the protection of local heritage. If your stamina is not what it used to be, there are also mini-busses that drive between Behramkale and Assos by the way.
Assos is one of those treasures of the ancient world. So much of it is still there, yet quite little is maintained or visited. Tour-busses are able to find the place, yes, but the tourism is non-existent compared to Troy. This is a place to explore in peace, where you can hear your footsteps echo on the old Roman roads. It is my number one recommendation, when people ask me what to visit in Turkey; followed by Ephesus of course.
Assos has a really cute little market with hand-made bits and pieces, and of course a very friendly population. We only had a quick browse though this time, because the beach was calling. We quickly made our way back down the mountain to go for (in my opinion, famous) waffles and ice-cream, and chilled on the pier drinking rakı and watching the sun set. How much better can life get?!