Port of Kusadasi
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Nearly 20 years ago when we first sailed to Kusadasi, our gulet, a traditional Turkish sailing vessel, docked in a modest marina across from a row of open-air shops. We came to explore nearby Ephesus, one of the Mediterranean's most impressive ancient sites whose ruins detail life in the once-powerful Greek and later Roman city. Upon returning to Kusadasi, our guide herded us into what he swore was "the best carpet shop in Turkey." In between sips of thick Turkish coffee, we haggled with the owner, eventually settling on a blue Hereke, which we stowed in the yacht before dining at the simple dockside eatery.
Remarkably, our rug's much the same, but everything else has changed. Now the former seaside village's population hovers around 50,000, streets bustle with tourists, rug shops bloom in high-rise buildings, and an air-conditioned shopping mall with sleek jewelry stores and European fashion boutiques anchors the modern port.
What Kusadasi lacks in charm it makes up for in locale. At Ephesus, about nine miles from town, you'll travel back thousands of years. The Terrace Houses, now open to the public, make the centuries-old city even more enthralling.
Despite Kusadasi's crowds, you can still find an outdoor cafe to sip Turkish wine, savor just-caught fish and enjoy the sea breezes.
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Turkish carpets dazzle with rich colors and intricate patterns, but know how to judge them and be sure to bargain, bargain, bargain. Even on a strict budget, you can bring back Turkish delight, sweet jellied fig candies flavored with mint, orange, lemon or pistachio.
It's Turkish, but most of the locals know enough English to get you by.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency is the Turkish Lira, and ATM machines abound. Check xe.com or oanda.com for current exchange rates. Many shops and restaurants are perfectly happy to accept euros and dollars, although the exchange rate may not be quite what you expect.
Where You're Docked
You'll tie up very close to the action. Cruise ships dock at Kusadasi Port, built on an "arm" that stretches out into the main harbor. The shops spread out from there.
The modern cruise port terminal, just across the street from the main part of town, features shops, outdoor cafes, a seafood market and a modern mini-mall called Scala Nuova. Like malls in the U.S., some spaces are empty, but others stock European fashions, Western brands like Diesel and Birkenstock, and Turkish delight, pastries, and other sweets.
Starbucks fronts the sea, and the cafes serve wine, beer and mezze, the Turkish word for appetizers. The port contains a Burger King and several pizzerias. The facility also has a duty-free shop, which you can only access on your way back to the ship.
On Foot: Kusadasi is easily explored on foot. Your ship will provide a map of the area, but you can also obtain one from the Kusadasi Tourist Information Office, across the street from the harbor in the Iskele Meydani (+90 256 6141103).
By Taxi: Ephesus is the focal point of a call at the port. If you're not headed there on a ship-sponsored excursion, organize a private taxi trip. Taxis are readily available. Make sure you confirm the price before setting off, and be sure your driver will drop you off at one end and pick you up at the other. Less expensive than private taxis, the minibuses (dolmus) accommodate up to 15 passengers.
By Car: Kusadasi has car rental agencies. It's best to reserve vehicles ahead of time. Make sure you have all the necessary licenses and insurance.
Watch Out For
Jewelry stores selling zultanite, a gemstone also known as Turkish diaspore. Mined only in Turkey's Anatolian mountains, the gemstone isn't widely distributed in the country. Many shops claiming to sell zultanite rings, brooches and necklaces substitute colored glass for the stone.
A trip to Ephesus is a must. It's the best-preserved ancient city in the Eastern Mediterranean and a magical place that enthralls even those who normally find rubbernecking around ruins a bore.
The Virgin Mary is believed to have visited there between 37 and 45 A.D. The two-story library once contained thousands of scrolls, and the Terrace Houses display intricate mosaics and colorful frescoes. The fabulous Temple of Cybele at Artemis -- which Alexander the Great visited during its construction in 334 B.C. -- was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Note: Prepare carefully for a trip to Ephesus; the site gets very crowded and extremely hot in the summer months, so take plenty of water, sunscreen and hats. There are restaurants near the site, and full-day cruise tours will include lunch.
If not visiting Ephesus via a shore excursion, your taxi will drop you at one end and (by prior arrangement) pick you up at the other.
Often included in tours to Ephesus and definitely not worth missing is a visit to the House of the Virgin Mary, located atop Nightingale Mountain (Bulbul). It's a humble, one-story brick house that, by myth, is supposed to be the place where she spent her last years. Discovered in 1880 by a German nun with a vision, the house has been visited by countless folks on pilgrimages, including two popes. Sometimes included with an Ephesus tour is an excursion to the Basilica of St. John. Many believe that St. John spent his last years near Ephesus and was buried in the area. The small church built over his grave site in the 4th century was turned into a basilica in the 6th century.
Been There, Done That
To discover "old" Kusadasi, just head north along the shop-lined and pedestrianized main street (Barbaros Hayrettin Caddesi), and when you reach the top, it's easy to get directions to the main market and the ancient Kaleici neighborhood. It's a network of narrow streets crammed with bars, restaurants and atmosphere. You can even sample a hamam, or Turkish bath.
These have been modernized and are more expensive than they once were, but you can still get the full works for a reasonable price. Try the Kaleici Hamami (to the right, off Barbaros Hayrettin Caddesi, but ask for directions).
If you've done Ephesus, there are additional ruins to see. Spend a day at Aphrodisias. Dating back to the third millennium B.C., it was home to residents who worshipped the goddess Aphrodite. As you may recall, she stands for all that concerns love and nature. The Roman Stadium is the best preserved ruin, and the lovely setting on an 1,800-foot plateau is a great place for a relaxed stroll.
Additional ancient sites frequently seen together because of their proximity to each other are Priene, Miletus and Didyma. At Priene, the most northerly of the three sites, located 18 miles from Ephesus, view the remnants of the Temple of Athena and portions of the city walls. Miletus, 14 miles from Priene, is known for its large amphitheater. Didyma contains the ruins of the 120-columned Temple to Apollo.
Tired of ruins and rugs shops? Then relax outdoors. Kadinlar Denizi, also known as Ladies Beach for its topless bathers, is the closest to Kusadasi -- just 2.5 kilometers south of town. You can take a minibus or taxi from the port along the waterfront road. It's a pleasant place to bathe and soak up some sun, but it does get crowded in peak season. For lunch, try some of the hotels' beach bars.
Another option is a brisk walk to Guversin Adasi (Pigeon Island), reachable via a causeway and topped by a small stone fort. There, you can stroll through scenic woodland to a hilltop cafe that offers snacks and alfresco lunch with a view.
You can also spend the day at the Dilek Peninsula National Park, also called Milli Park, about 23 kilometers south of Kusadasi. Enjoy beaches, swimming, hiking, biking trails and strolls through forests. Just outside the park gates is Degirmen (Davutlar), a sprawling park and restaurant.
Kusadasi's waterfront is the best place for everything from a quick snack to fresh fish. Try the cheese rolls -- a traditional Turkish mezze that consists of phyllo dough surrounding ricotta cheese.
There is a handful of waterfront cafes from which to choose, but locals insisted we try Kazim Usta (16B Balicki Limani), just to the left of the cruise terminal. Specialties include calamari and sea bream.
We also like waterfront Ali Baba, where you select your fish to be grilled from the market out front. Good starters include the garlic humus and the eggplant salad. (Belediye turistik carsisi Number 5)
For a world-away experience, try Secret Garden. The restaurant is tucked away in, yes, a small garden right by a yacht marina; the stuffed calamari is a specialty. (Setur Marina, Akyarlar Mevki Yat Limani)
Staying in Touch
On the second floor of the port terminal building is an Internet cafe.
Best for Ruins: All ships will offer tours to Ephesus, which lies less than an hour away. Durations range from four hours to an entire day, with lunch at the site, a guided walk and built-in free time in both Ephesus and Kusadasi. It's worth a repeat visit to Ephesus to see the Terrace Houses if they weren't open on your first trip. Not all shore tours include the Terrace Houses.
Best for Biblical Sites: Some shore tours emphasize Ephesus' biblical sites and add a visit to the nearby House of the Virgin Mary, the place, according to local legend, where Mary lived until her death.
Best for Outdoor Enthusiasts: Visit the Dilek Peninsula (30 kilometers south of Kusadasi), and enjoy its pretty beaches and fine country walks. Tours are usually half a day and include a picnic lunch.
For More Information
On the Web: goturkey.com, gototurkey.co.uk
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Other Mediterranean Ports
IndependentTraveler.com: Europe Travel Guide
--Updated by Candyce H. Stapen, Cruise Critic contributor