We were tired as we arrived in Turkey and we looked forward to a little “vacation” from the pace of travel for the past several months. Suzanne found a great off-season deal for four nights at an all-inclusive resort. All-you-can-eat buffet, water slides, sea kayak, sauna, ice cream at 3pm, and unlimited drinks on the beach. After our most recent stay at the Adam’s Hotel in Athens (one of our least favorite hotels so far), we were all smiles.
For an additional splurge we tried para-sailing at the end of the beach. Over the years Suzanne has told a story about when she was set to para-sail on a vacation in Mexico many years ago, but the wind had come up and they closed down before she could take off. So I negotiated a deal with the Turkish boat captain lounging at the end of the beach to send up Suzanne and the kids. The kids went up with smiles and excitement. Suzanne went up with a determined look on her face – and she never relaxed her grip on the parachute cords until she was safely back in the boat. In the end everyone was exhilarated and happy with their flight – a great end to our resort stay.
We had not arranged transportation from Izmir to Istanbul in advance, so we explored a rental car from the on-site agency at the resort. Most rentals from the resort are one-day affairs for tourists to explore the local sights. We needed a three-day, one-way rental to Istanbul – significantly outside their comfort zone. The rental agent didn’t speak much English, and between the language gap and the natural larceny endemic in every car rental agent, we had a tough time agreeing on the rental. Eventually we agreed to return the car to the Ataturk airport in Istanbul no later than 2PM on the third day. The agent said he would meet us at the police control station at the entrance to the airport. Seemed kind of strange – but OK.
Flash forward three days – we rolled up to the airport, two hours late due to crazy, insane Istanbul highway traffic. The agent was there on the side of the crowded four lane road leading to the airport, standing just behind a cluster of police officers armed with automatic weapons, and standing with him was his date! The agent had parlayed his business trip to Istanbul into a romantic get-away. I don’t think his date was very pleased to stand on the side of the hot, dirty, smokey highway, surrounded by armed police, in her fashionable outfit and pumps – for two hours waiting for us to arrive. It showed on her face. We pulled over on the shoulder of the road and piled the agent and his girlfriend in with the kids, then continued the drive to the airport where we turned over the keys (with a sigh of relief). The whole thing was one of those strange improvisations that probably happens every day in Turkey – but seemed very odd to us.
OK, now back to day-one on our drive from Izmir to Istanbul.
Our exploration for the day was Ephesus – a truly amazing place. This ancient city – founded about 1,400 BCE – was a major city in the Greek, Roman, and Ottoman empires. It was a large and wealthy city, with a population of about 225,000 in the 1st Century BCE. It is located on the famed spice road between the East and West, our guide called it the New York of the ancient Mediterranean. Luckily for us, Ephesus was reduced to a small village in the 7th Century CE due to a couple big earthquakes and the harbor silting over. The abandoned ruins of the ancient city were covered by centuries of accumulated dirt. Today only about 20% of the old city is excavated, the rest remains buried under meters of soil. There is continuous work to excavate, preserve, and study.
A unique feature of Ephesus is that we were able to walk right out in the fields and make our own way among the 3,500-year-old ruins. The other ancient sites we have toured are highly controlled, patrolled, and secured to keep the tourists from leaving their grubby fingerprints on the relics. It didn’t seem that grubby tourists are much of a concern at Ephesus. And we didn’t see any signs of damage from the thousands of tourist that troop through the place every day. We were there during low season on a very hot day, and it was still very crowded by 11 AM.
Although there are many interesting ruins, fountains, temples, and buildings; I think the most interesting are the library, the theater, and the harbor road. The Library of Celsus was built to compete with the great library in Alexandria and held over 12,000 scrolls. It is renovated with great care and is very impressive. The Theater is huge, with a capacity of 25,000. The Greeks and Romans used it for all types of entertainment – including gladiator and wild animal fights. The harbor road led from the harbor to the center of town. Along the side of the road are columns that supported roofs for the shop keepers who sold their wares from little brick alcoves along both sides of the street. The little markets sold everything and anything in the ancient world to travellers from all corners of the world.