Castle of St. Peter (Bodrum, Turkey)
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Passengers sailing into the Turkish port of Bodrum first see the Castle of St. Peter, a dominating 15th-century crusader outpost that sits between a yacht marina and a bay. Gullets, the traditional Turkish wooden sailing yachts, bob on the South Aegean's salty, blue water, and buzzing outdoor cafes and "beach" clubs that jut out on wooden piers line the shore.
The port city is awash in Greco-style buildings: sparkling white cubes covered with purple bougainvillea. You might actually think for an instant that you're on another Greek island -- Kos is, indeed, easily visible in the distance -- until you hear the sound of the muezzin and glance up at the handful of minarets poking through the sea of square structures. Make no mistake: This is very much a Turkish city, brimming with locally built boats, bustling bazaars and plenty of regional cuisine and character.
Known in antiquity as Halicarnassus, after the famed king who left an awe-inspiring mausoleum (though only the barest remains of the place are still visible), the Bodrum of today is a popular leisure holiday spot for wealthy European jet-setters, who come, often via motor-yacht, wearing sun tans and designer shades. Shoppers will surely come away with bags in hand, as the area is known for its fine leather goods (especially sandals) and carpets, and there is no shortage of impressive Prada and Gucci knock-offs on offer. However, the city is also a refuge for artists and intellectuals, drawn here by Cevat Sakir Kabaagacli, the famous political writer-dissident who fell in love with Bodrum during his forced exile. (His loving novel, "Blue Voyage," is credited with bringing international attention to what was previously a lazy fishing outpost.)
Bodrum most regularly hosts ships from luxury lines like Seabourn Cruise Line, Azamara Club Cruises and Windstar Cruises, usually as part of Eastern Mediterranean cruises to the Greek Isles. The occasional bigger ships -- from Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line or U.K.-based Thomson Cruises and Fred. Olsen -- may also be on the schedule.
One geographic note: Bodrum proper is actually situated on the Bodrum Peninsula, which, in addition to the city, encompasses numerous other resort towns like Gumbet, Turgutreis and Gumusluk, many set on semi-circular bays carved out of the rocky land. For beach bums in particular, one or more of these may be worth visiting.
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Other Eastern Mediterranean Cruise Ports:
Antalya • Athens (Piraeus) • Bari • Bodrum • Corfu • Crete (Heraklion) • Dubrovnik • Gythion • Haifa • Istanbul • Izmir • Jerusalem (Ashdod) • Katakolon (Olympia) • Koper • Korcula • Kotor • Kusadasi • Limassol • Mykonos • Odessa • Rhodes • Santorini • Split • Varna • Venice • Volos • Yalta • Zadar
It's Turkish, but you'll have little trouble with English communication if you stay close to the harbor or are visiting the staple tourist sites. Many taxi drivers, however, have limited English language skills.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency is the Turkish Lira (TL). ATM's are available throughout the port, with an especially high concentration located near the castle. Visit www.xe.com for up-to-the-minute exchange rates. Because the economy is partly reliant on European, U.K. and American tourists, shops and restaurants may also accept euros, pounds sterling and dollars (as well as credit cards).
Bodrum is known for its handmade leather sandals, and Ali Guven is the star craftsman. (He's supposedly cobbled for celebrities like Mick Jagger.) His shop is located at Carsi Ici, Ziraat Bankasi karsi. Bring cash, or buy a knock-off pair from one of the bazaars.
Where You're Docked
Cruise ships visiting Bodrum dock at the Bodrum Cruise Port, which began operations in March 2008. (Previously, ships anchored in the marina, and passengers tendered into port.) The port is located on the edge of town, about a mile from the castle.
The modestly outfitted terminal building houses customs offices, a duty-free area, car rental office, restaurant and cafeteria. There isn't much to do in the immediate vicinity, which is underdeveloped, so most visitors will immediately head for town.
It takes 20 minutes to walk from the pier to the Castle of St. Peter, which is near the center (older) portion of town. If a day in town spent shopping and dining is all you're after, Bodrum is easily walkable.
Many operators, like luxury outfit Seabourn Cruise Line, will set up a complimentary shuttle service to take passengers from the pier to the center of town. The port also typically organizes a shuttle boat service that takes passengers from the pier to a spot next to the castle. The standard schedule has the boat departing the pier on the hour and returning from the castle on the half hour, but times may vary. The trip costs one euro each way (two euros roundtrip).
Passengers looking to go farther afield will want to take a taxi (should be about 15 euros to get to Bitez, 12 euros to Gumbet and 40 euros to Gumusluk) or dolmus (which means "stuffed"), one of the green public mini-buses that connect Bodrum to other towns on the peninsula. The bus station is located on Cevat Sakir, about five minutes by foot from the castle.
Another option for those looking to branch out from Bodrum proper is renting a car. Hertz has a somewhat inconveniently located office -- a bit of a trek to get to for day-trippers, anyway -- but there are numerous Turkish rental agencies located near the marina. They include XL Onelli Car Hire and Set Car Hire. Proper Car Rental, which is located near the Hertz office, is another popular Turkish option. Travelers who pre-reserve their cars may be able to arrange for a more suitable pickup and drop-off point. (Check with the agency.)
Watch Out For
In the crowded bazaars, take precautions with your valuables. Also, shop owners have been known to hound tourists, but you should be able to get the message across with a smile and a firm "no thanks."
One of Bodrum's marquee experiences is taking a gullet cruise along the Turkish coast. The gullet is a traditional Turkish sailing yacht constructed out of lacquered pinewood. Glide in and out of isolated Aegean coves through the clear, salty water (some passengers come prepared with masks and snorkels so they can peer below unflinchingly), and swim or sunbathe right off the yacht. All cruise lines will offer the trip as an excursion, but it's just as easy to create a custom "Blue Voyage," with or without lunch, by negotiating for your own boat and captain. The gullets are all lined up along the marina, and haggling is half the fun.
Towering over the harbor to the west and the bay to the east is Bodrum's postcard image, the restored Castle of St. Peter. The Knights Hospitaller began construction of the castle in 1402, drawing from the marble ruins of the nearby tomb of King Mausolos. (Look for the polished rock in the castle's walls.) Today, the castle is Bodrum's top tourist destination, and it's easy to lose track of time within its environs -- while climbing the towers, descending into the dungeons and wandering the gardens. The castle houses the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, which showcases numerous artifacts, including jewelry, coins and amphorae (ceramic transport jugs) recovered from nearby ship wrecks that date back to the late Bronze Age (14th century B.C.). One particularly impressive room houses ancient glasswork. The room is pitch black, save for the glowing artifacts, which are illuminated from below.
Editor's Note: The castle is open every day, except Mondays. (Cruise lines may have special access, so shore excursions may still be available.)
The Tomb of King Mausolos was built in the late 300's B.C., commissioned by the king's wife/sister (not such a common combination these days), Artemisia. Though now in ruins, the once-massive structure is considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It's about a 20-minute walk from the center of town, and because little of the structure remains -- the foundation is still there, along with marble pieces scattered about -- it'll be up to the guide or visitor to bring it to life. There's also a small museum on the grounds. (Turgut Reis Cd and Saray Sk)
Been There, Done That
History buffs won't want to miss the Bodrum Amphitheatre, which is set up on a hillside overlooking the harbor. The structure was built in the late 300's B.C. under the direction of King Mausolos and was expanded by the Romans hundreds of years later. The 10,000-plus-seat theater was excavated and restored in the 1970's, after sitting idle for some 2,000 years. Besides being a tourist site, the amphitheatre still operates as an open-air museum for concerts and other shows during the high season. (Bodrum Turgutreis Yolu)
While the city of Bodrum isn't known for its beaches -- there's really just one ho-hum option in town -- the peninsula certainly has plenty of lovely stretches. Bitez Beach, located about five miles west of Bodrum, is a full-service sunbed and umbrella option, where you can rent water sports equipment, shop for crafts or munch at a seaside cafe. For those looking for something a little more active, the steady breezes make the Aegean a prime spot for windsurfing, and the activity is available at Bitez and elsewhere on the peninsula.
Depending on your tastes, shopping may rate as a "don't miss" activity in Bodrum. The marina is lined with boutiques, the area around the castle boasts souvenir shops, and various bazaars have all manner of carpets, ceramics and leather goods, in addition to "genuine fake" designer jeans and watches. On Tuesdays, a big indoor market is held at the bus station with plenty of sellers hawking knick-knacks and bric-a-brac. As previously noted, Bodrum is also known for its handmade leather sandals, and Ali Guven is recognized as the top talent. His shop is located at Carsi Ici, Ziraat Bankasi karsi. Bring cash.
The marina, where most cruisers spend the day, is lined with al fresco cafes, typically overpriced restaurants serving a mishmash of regional Turkish food (salted fish, stuffed vine leaves, grilled meats), seafood, burgers, Mexican, Asian, Italian, pizza and casual Turkish options (kebabs!). Wash it all down with raki, a Turkish liqueur produced from anise. The marina restaurant scene is mostly an international mix of mediocrity. But, you're paying for the buzz, the people-watching opportunities and the lovely views of bobbing motor-yachts. As a general rule, tips of 10 percent are customary. That said, there are certainly a number of standout spots in town.
Just a touch off the main drag is Restaurant La Passion, a quiet venue serving Spanish cuisine. High walls set off a peaceful courtyard, and the menu focuses on tapas (lots of seafood options, cheeses, chorizo), paella and gazpacho, of course. A fixed-price three-course lunch is offered. (Ataturk Cad. Uslu Sokak 8)
One of the marina's most well-known casual venues is Sunger Pizza, which blends a prime location (a rooftop terrace with a nice view of the passing hoi polloi and the castle) with some of the best pizza in the area and reasonable prices. In addition to pizza, Sunger's menu has salads, kebobs and other casual fare. The joint is popular with tourists and locals, so you may have to wait for a table during the busy lunchtime rush. (Neyzen Tevfik Cad. 218)
It's certainly pricey, but some would argue that the views alone from the Kafedaki Restaurant & Cafe are worth the cost of dining there. Set up on a hillside, you overlook Bodrum, the adjacent bay of Gumbet and Bodrum's Greek Isle neighbor, Kos. Staple menu items include grilled octopus, chickpea ravioli, lamb's tongue, spinach and rocket salad, and various meats and seafood mains. The owners of the restaurant will even arrange to have you picked up from a hotel in Bodrum. (Call +90 252 317 02 75 for directions.)
Staying in Touch
A handful of Internet cafes are located in the center of town, with at least one near the modern mosque on Ataturk Cad. For snail mail correspondences, a post office is located in the central downtown area at 3 Cevat Sakir Cad.
Best for First-Timers: There's nothing quite like taking a gullet cruise in Bodrum, and all cruise lines have the activity on their shore excursions roster. You'll sail through the salty blue waters, stop for swims and usually enjoy a picnic-style lunch. As previously mentioned, arranging for your own boat trip is easy -- and most likely cheaper. The excursion through Azamara, for instance, is about $60 per person for a four-hour trip. During my cruise, fellow passengers bargained for a three-hour sail that ended up costing them $15 per person.
Best for History Buffs: Every line offers a tour of the Castle of St. Peter, Bodrum's visual centerpiece, and the Museum of Underwater Archaeology. You'll explore the castle's towers, including the English tower, which is set up like a 16th-century hunting lodge, and take in the vast collection of relics salvaged from local shipwrecks.
Best for Beach Bums: The Bodrum peninsula is known for its swanky resorts, and some of the upscale cruise lines will include resort day-passes in their excursion mixes. A trip to the five-star Kempinski Hotel Barbaros Bay, for instance, is sometimes offered (by luxe operator Seabourn Cruise Line, though resorts may vary). This white, stucco-stepped luxury complex is located on a clifftop, overlooking its own private bay. Excursions typically include use of the pools and private beach and the option to purchase spa treatments.
Best for Repeat Visitors: It's also possible to make the trek from Bodrum to Ephesus, the best-preserved ancient city in the Eastern Mediterranean. Ephesus is a pretty incredible place that enthralls even those who normally find ruins tedious. The Virgin Mary is believed to have visited here between 37 and 45 A.D., and 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. The city was built on the river Cayster -- a strategic trade route to Anatolia. The ruins range from a theater and library to private terrace houses with magnificent mosaics and frescoes. It's about a 2.5-hour drive from Bodrum, so those choosing this excursion should expect a very long day.
For More Information
On the Web: www.tourismturkey.org or www.gototurkey.co.uk
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