ephesus, turkey

Near the end of our time in Turkey this past summer, Danny and I took a long weekend to visit Pamukkale (which I recently blogged about here) and Ephesus.  We spent mid-day Friday through mid-day Saturday in Pamukkale, and then drove the roughly three hours it takes to get to Selçuk, the modern-day town near where the ancient ruins of Ephesus are located.  Our drive was fairly uneventful, but still peppered with enough assertive drivers and literal roadside fruit and veggie stands to keep us both on our toes and remind us that we were still in Turkey!  ;)

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By the time we arrived in Selçuk, we didn't have enough time to tour the ancient city of Ephesus, so we opted to get up and do that first thing on Sunday, and spend the rest of Saturday at our hotel (we stayed at the Hotel Akay and had no complaints).  As far as we could tell, we were the only ones staying there, so we enjoyed the pool and floaties all to ourselves once I finally coaxed myself into the, what I would consider to be, cool, water - after all, it wasn't exactly the heat of the day.  

D - I love pools so much that it's difficult to describe.  I love swimming, but sometimes open water scares me (I believe I've mentioned my ever present fear of sharks and other dangerous sea critters here before), and I'm too paranoid to enjoy the swim to it's fullest.  While I used to be scared of sharks in pools as well (when I was a kid), I've mostly overcome that fear now.  

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Ephesus has been around for a long time - long enough to see rulers rise and fall, different people groups come and go, and new religions form and change lives, countries, and even the world.  Ever since we were considering spending the summer in Turkey, Danny's top (and only?) must-see was Ephesus.  Not only is Ephesus mentioned in the Bible, but it's Europe's most complete classical metropolis...and only about 20% of it has been unearthed so far!  At Ephesus' height, it was the Roman Empire's fourth largest city with about 250,000 people living in it, and its Temple of Artemis (of which only a column remains today) was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. 

So yeah - it is (and was!) an impressive place.  It's also one of those places that a guide and more information than what is provided (ahem, basically none) would be hugely helpful.  We did our best to figure out what we were seeing (okay, that's probably an amphitheater, this was probably a grand avenue, there's a...heap of broken pieces of old buildings?), but sometimes it was easier said than done.  And like I mentioned before, hiring a guide is also easier said than done - I often think the good ones are one or two in a hundred.  

D - The theater of Ephesus was especially cool.  Not only is it an actual place talked about in the Bible, but when we were there, it was also the site of an impromptu concert by a remarkably self-confident woman in a group of Asian tourists.  Perhaps she was trying to test out the acoustics, or perhaps she was just overwhelmed with an urge to release a song attempting to break free from the confines of her heart, but either way, it was very entertaining, and yes, the acoustics were pretty good.

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To me, the most impressive ruin was the Library of Celsus, a Roman building that once held 12,000 scrolls, and I was just in awe of the whole thing...until we realized that the facade had been entirely rebuilt by well-meaning archaeologists in the 1970s.  I suppose I'd rather see it like this than in shambles (like some of the piles of rubble we saw while walking around), but still, it did feel a bit strange to think we were seeing something that had stood for thousands of years almost unchanged, but then realize things were not quite as they seemed.  

D - I enjoyed walking around Ephesus because every now and again it helps to be reminded that the stories in the Bible are real stories, that took place in real places with real people.  Visiting one of the settings described, wrecked and ruined though it may be, really helps me to visualize what life was like two thousand or so years ago.

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At Rick Steves' and others' recommendation, we also opted to tour the terrace houses (they're located with the rest of Ephesus, but entrance is separate and you cannot see them while walking around the city as they are covered by a massive structure to protect them from the elements.  Excavation on these, which were the homes of Ephesus' rich back in the day, began in the 1960s, and it seems that some elements of preservation and such are still ongoing.  We were the only visitors as we walked along the metal stairs and semi-transparent pathways over what many consider were condominiums for the wealthy and elite of the day.  Even though it was awfully hot and humid while we visited the terrace houses (it was hot and humid everywhere at that point), I think I'd still recommend a visit - we found pretty much all tourist attractions in Turkey to be very inexpensive, and in addition, so much of what has been uncovered (paintings, mosaics, tiles, etc.) is in incredibly good condition.

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We left Ephesus and, as mentioned, it was HOT (theme of the summer).  I had originally planned for us to check out Çeşme, a seaside town famous for its castle and beaches.  Since we had pushed our visit to Ephesus off to Sunday rather than Saturday as planned, we unfortunately couldn't fit it in any longer, so we decided to start making our way back to Izmir, where we were flying out of later in the day, in hopes that we might come upon a beach while en route.  We chose the route that would lead us along the coast rather than inland, and sure enough, only a few minutes after leaving Ephesus, we saw a turn off towards the water, took it, and found loads of people with their cars backed up to the sea with makeshift camps set up for (I assume) the day.  It was like nothing I'd seen before, but I can say the same for much of what I saw and experienced in Turkey.  

At the risk of not finding any other beaches before hitting Izmir, we parked our rental car, walked up and down the beach to get a better lay of the land (as well as to make sure we were nice and warm before getting in the chilly water!), and took a swim.  

D - Shannon's a bit too nice to say this in the blog, but I'm pretty sure she thought that the drive-in beach was sort of trashy.  Like the Turkish version of hillbillies or something.  I, on the other hand, absolutely loved it.  At any rate, we had a really nice time swimming there, though some people had put watermelons down at the waters edge to keep them nice and cool for lunch, which I have to admit, is indeed kind of trashy.  

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We left ourselves plenty of time to get to Izmir and ended up with some to spare, so we stopped at a mall with a Starbucks (that accepted our cards that we could use at restaurants around the country given to us by the camp as one form of payment for the work we did during the week), chose some treats and cool drinks to enjoy outside on the patio, returned the car, and flew back to Istanbul, ready to work our final five days of the summer the next week.  Although our trip had a rocky start (remember?), I suppose, as they say, all's well that end's well.  :)