The bus ride from the big city of Bursa to the much smaller tourist city of Selcuk was very pleasant yesterday. Altogether, it was just over 6 hours, including a few bathroom and smoke breaks. The route was quite nice. Turkey, or at least this west central part we traversed was much much more verdant than I expected. In fact, we passed a few olive oil farms and grape vineyards. After driving over a fairly decent sized mountain pass, we could see the Aegean Sea and the port city of Izmir. From there, it was less than an hour to Selcuk where we would spend a few days..and from where I am now writing this update on my iPad in an outdoor table at a lovely little bar quaffing an Efes Pilsen.
As soon as we got off the bus at the little station in Selcuk, I knew this would be a great little town to visit. In the air was the smell of lilac, on trees growing all over the cute downtown were orange trees full of oranges, along the little main street was the ruins of a Roman aqueduct. The group walked the one block to our hotel…a lovely place called Dream’s Guest House…which I highly recommend. Our guide selected the rooms for each of us..I got a nice single room with a shared balcony overlooking a lovely street. After dropping my bags off, the group all met up for an orientation walk around the town.
We walked through the lovely little central part of the town where several shops were selling the usual tourists trinkets. I also noticed every shop had a Turkish flag hanging from the awnings or doors. Our guide told us that tomorrow was a national holiday … Children’s Day. We came onto the ruins of a Roman aqueduct. I’ve seen a couple of these before in Europe and they never fail to impress me. The Romans engineers were so clever to come up with ways to divert water from the mountains and then to construct the aqueducts with enough slope over many miles to deliver this water to the cities. On top of that, the construction was so grand that some are still standing today!
After the aqueducts, we walked up a hill outside of town where the guide pointed out some sites to explore tomorrow including the remains of the Temple of Artemis, St. John’s Basilica, and an old mosque. On the way back into town, we walked through the central market area and stopped at a lovely restaurant for dinner. The well dressed old man who ran the place came out and moved some tables close together to accommodate our group. He was quite jovial and read through the entire menu very quickly while pointing to the corresponding food item sitting in a display case. After the 20th or so item, we all started laughing as it was impossible to keep following him. Our guide was quite anxious as there was a huge soccer game being played between two of the big Istanbul teams, Galata Seray (sp?) and the other name I don’t recall. Yunus (our guide’s name) kept running towards a nearby bar to hear the score whenever we could hear yelling. Several bars were in the area and all of them had the big game on TV. All through the town, you could hear yelling and screaming whenever one of the teams scored (or missed a score).
For dinner, I ordered a plate of mixed grilled meat kebabs. For appetizer, I had a delicious plate of hummus which I shared with others…and I ate some of the food the others ordered. Every thing was very delicious. I downed the food with Efes beer and finished off with a Turkish coffee and baklava for dessert.
After the big soccer game ended (Yunus’ team lost), men and boys walked through the streets singing and chanting their team songs. The fans of the winning team got in their cars and dove through town honking their horns and brandishing their scarves outside the windows. Others had drums banging as they marched. It was quite a great site to see and hear.
We paid our bill and then walked the few blocks back to the hotel where I sat outside my shared balcony with a few of the ladies in the group for some beers and talking. All in all, a fun evening.
The next morning (Monday 23-April), we had the whole day in Selcuk area, so I didn’t need to set the alarm. Still, I got up at about 8 and then went downstairs for breakfast. This little pensione, which was more like a nice little hostel than a hotel, had a little spread of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, cheese, varieties of olives, hard boiled eggs, and bread, butter, and jam. I devoured just a bit of everything. I’m kinda getting used to the idea of having olives, cucumbers, and tomatoes for breakfast. After eating, I went back to my room to get ready for the day. We had free time until noon, when we would all re-group back at the lobby for lunch and our trip to Ephesus.
I set out first by myself to the Ephesus Museum. This was a fantastic museum with artifacts found in Ephesus itself. There were also quite a few statues of various sizes, including some that were 3 or 4 times the size of the person they were representing. After the museum, I meandered up the Ayasuluk hill to the St. John’s Basilica. This was a 6th century church built by Justinian to honor the Disciple John’s two visits to Ephesus (about 37 AD with the Virgin Mary on tow, and again in 95 where he wrote his Gospel at the end of his very long life). The Basilica has been virtually destroyed by earthquakes over the centuries, so what I saw, albeit very impressive, has all been restored. There is also a tomb there which purports to be that of St. John, himself (I wonder what Rome thinks about this?).
After I paid homage to the basilica and to St. John, I walked down the other side of the hill to Isa Bey Camii mosque. This nice little mosque was built in 1375 and one of its minarets has been destroyed (I’m guessing in an earthquake). For the first time, I didn’t encounter anyone else in a mosque, not even locals praying. That was a nice touch. I cleared my throat and heard my voice echo through the domed building. An electronic reader board hung from the front door with the times of the 5 daily prayers posted (as if you wouldn’t hear the imam doing his wailing call).
With the big sites finished, I walked up and over Ayasuluk Hill, again, and back down to central Selcuk. I milled about a couple shops and found the owner if the little restaurant from the night before. He and I chatted for a bit. He wanted to know where my harem was (besides Yunus, there are only 3 men on the trip, and the other two are married). I laughed and told him that they abandoned me. Soon, I walked and found myself in the middle of a little children’s parade. They were dressed in their various school uniforms. Some of them were banging drums and tooting old beat up trumpets. Their parents marched proudly alongside. I stood amongst them and took some pictures as the little kids would wave their hands and say “Hello, hello!” to me. After getting disoriented a bit, I ran into Willie and Sheila from the tour and we walked back to the hotel. A parking lot had been roped off for the Children’s Day festivities with a man dressed in what looked like a Santa Claus outfit. I approached him, grabbed my belly, and shouted “Ho, Ho, Ho”. He laughed and said “Not Ho, Ho, Ho” and then went on to explain he was Nasrettin Hoca, a sort of jovial teacher (Hoca being “teacher”). He was a younger man who spoke great English. We chatted a bit. I asked him how he was enjoying being in a hot suit with a big white beard. He laughed and said it was OK. He then offered me a stick swirled in this sweet jelly like stuff which turned into a lollipop. With the lollipop in hand, I said my good byes and thank yous and walked to the hotel to meet the others.
Lunch was at a little place near the Cave of the Seven Sleepers. Old women were sitting on the floor next to an open flame oven making gozlemeler, which is a kind of flatbread sorta like naan or pancake or quesadilla. We entered the restaurant, ook our shoes off and sat on the floor around a low table and ordered our lunch from a couple servers. I had a plate of mixed gozlemeler and a fresh squeezed juice. The food w shortly served in heaping piles on the plates. The group shared each others food. It was very very delicious food! I basically inhaled mine, and helped others eat their large plates, too.
With our bellies full, we boarded our little bus and drove a few minutes to Ephesus, the ancient city. I’d long heard about this place, one of the best Roman ruins in Europe. We got off the little bus and entered through the upper Magnesia Gate and gradually made our way down the city. During its heyday 2000 years ago, the city had 250,000 residents! Incredible to think about living here then. We entered the Odeon, or small theatre, and took pictures imagining what it would be like to hear a performance here on a lovely summer evening. The sun was out in full force, and I was thankful for my wonderful Tilley hat to shade my face and head. There aren’t many shady places at the site now, so keeping the sun off is a big task. There were quite a few tourists. I didn’t hear too much American English being spoken, but I did hear the usual languages of the world powers, including particularly Chinese. Yunus would stop from time to time and give us a brief explanation about some highlights. Most impressive was the Celsus Library. It is quite easily to imagine what it would have been like back in the day with its tens of thousands of scrolls tucked away in nooks and crannies. The last major site in this city we saws as the big theatre. This theatre could hold 25,000 people! Standing in the center of the “stage”, I could tell the tremendous acoustics of the place.
After about 3 or so hours there, we left and boarded the mini bus back to the hotel. We had about 2.5 hours of free time before dinner, so I recharged one of my camera batteries and grabbed my iPad to head to the town center for a beer at one of the numerous outdoor cafes/bars. I started writing and people watching. Two beers later, I paid my tab and went to the hotel to meet the others. We were going to a BBQ at another inn owned by the people who run the hotel we were staying. A van and an open air Jeep pulled up. I hopped in the back if the Jeep with three others in our group as did a young guy who worked for the hotel. We sped through town and hill a winding hill to the Villa. When we got out, we could see a truly stunning, sweeping view of Selcuk. We could even see a glimpse of the Aegean Sea in the distance. What a wonderful place. A Pekingese dog and her cute little puppy greeted us, together with one of the owners of the property. Wine was served and the grill was fired up. I talked at length to one of the Aussie men from our group – Michael. He served in the army during the Veitnam War, albeit he was posted in Malaysia. He told some war stories as we watched the sunset over the city. I mingled amongst the grup until we took to our tables. We sat at a long picnic table with dishes and flatware set out. It was like a picture from one of those foodie magazines where a big table is set in the middle of a grape vineyard or by the sea. Ours was on this wonderful patio of the villa overlooking an ancient city. I ordered fish (as did many others) and it came out whole, on the plate, grilled. I peele the skin off and pulled out the bone to savor the deliciousness of this freshly caught, grilled fish! We also had salad and lots of wonderful Turkish bread. Numerous glasses of wine were drunk and we all laughed and laughed and had a fantastic night. After eating, we gathered around a fire pit and danced for a while before doing a round of musical chairs for those that wanted to play. I was the first person to not find a seat when the music stopped, so I joined the others who weren’t dancing to laugh along and cheer those who were still in it. In the end, Michelle, one of the Aussie women, won.
With the fun night finishes, we piled back into the Jeep and the van and headed back down the hill to the city where we all got a good nights sleep.
This mornng (April 24), I got up at 7:30 to shower and organize my backpack for departure. We would leave the hotel at 08:50 to walk a few blocks to the train station. I went downstairs and had some breakfast and caught up with some of the others who were already there. I had some laundry done by the hotel, yet when my clothes came back, three pair of socks and one of underwear wee missing. It turns out one of the couples had some laundry done, too, and the hotel put my socks/underwear with their clothes.
We all left the hotel at 08:50 to walk to the train station. Departure was 09:27, so we had about 20 minutes after we got to the cute little train station to get some snacks. I got a couple squeeze boxes of juice (one cherry and another peach), a small can of Pringles, and a little package of cookies. I figured that would keep me “nourished” during the three hour journey.
The train pulled into the station right on time and we all clamored aboard with scores of locals. I found a backwards-facing seat in the very rear of the train and have sat here quietly writing this post. We are due to arrive at Denizli in about 30 minutes where we will take a city bus to Pamukkale.
My utterly wonderful Turkish journey continues!