As I mentioned in a previous post, my traveling companion and I joined a 5-day tour by bus along the Aegean coast area of Turkey. Overall, it is a pretty good experience, and it is nice to have someone else plan the transportation, lodging, and food in the myriad of places we stay. It is, however, exhausting, staying only one night in each hotel (except one), spending 3-8 hours on a bus every day, and having to worry a bit about not delaying the rest of the group when we might want to explore a bit more in a particular place, or would rather sleep in.
As we board the bus, meet the other 4 travelers, and get our overview, we discover that the 6 of us are actually on 3 different tours, that happen to be sharing 4 days. Four of them had been touring Istanbul the day or two before (we had too, but not part of a tour group), and on the last day of our tour, the other 2 sets of 2 people would also be venturing in different directions, one couple continuing for another day or two with the tour group, as we get shuttled back to Istanbul. On our final leg to Istanbul, we are pretty exhausted, and our tour guide graciously skips a bit of the tour (some silk market) and delivers us directly to our next hotel in the Asian side of Istanbul, which is about 1.5 hours away from where we were initially picked up (in the European side) and where we were originally supposed to get returned to, which is great. Our tour group is very friendly and a lot of fun. All 4 others are from Australia most recently, though one was Greek and another Italian, originally, I think.
Directly adjacent to our first hotel is a gaudy park with an interesting theme… it seems to include the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Smurfs, and Santa Claus delivering presents. I’m baffled, so we walk through it, and see a cat acting crazy in the distance. Turns out the cat is playing with a lizard, which he runs off with (leaving the tail), and starts to alternate between eating and still trying to play with. Our next hotel (which we stay two nights in) is gorgeous and has a nice view of the Aegean Sea.
We stop at a local carpet shop, which trains and employees local people with some profit sharing through some government program, and we get to watch them work a bit, see how silk is made, and then sit through a rather lengthy showcase of various kinds of Turkish carpets from different areas of Turkey. One couple buys a quite large carpet, earning our tour guide a commission for bringing us there. Despite my mixed feelings on the matter, I quite enjoy seeing the different kinds of carpets and how they are made, my favorites being a simple style that is made with materials very local to where we were touring, slightly reminiscent of Southwestern Native American styles and colors, and another kind which is not dyed at all, but made from wool from different colored sheep – giving a natural set of colors that they claim will never fade (“have you seen a faded sheep?” he asks).
Our tour stops at the ruins of Ephesus, which may be familiar to you due to St Paul’s Letters to the Ephesians, as Ephesus was a major Christian community in the first couple centuries. It was also a major Roman port before that. It is purportedly where Mary, mother of Jesus, spent her final days on earth, moving there with many other first century followers of Jesus escaping the persecution in Israel. Unfortunately, our tour does not stop at the shrine built at the site of her home, which we see in the distance, but continues on to the main ruins of Ephesus.
Ephesus is a little more busy with tourists than any other place (outside of Istanbul) which we have visited, and for good reason – the ruins are beautiful and well preserved, we get a pretty good feeling for the shape of the city, and how it was used.
Ephesus once housed the second biggest library of the ancient world (biggest was Alexandria, and third was at the Acropolis of Pergamon, which we had seen the day before, though little remained of the library), and the facade of the library is pretty well restored and makes for an impressive sight. One area of the ruins is dedicated just to storing all of the columns and tops of columns that, presumably, they are unsure where they fit, and we walk around there enjoying the ancient decorations.
Meals with our tour group are always very enjoyable, the Australians providing good conversation. The driver for our bus is also very nice, though he does not speak a lot of English (maybe about as much I speak of Japanese…), he is always friendly and happy to try to communicate with us. One particularly relaxing lunch (where we had the “pancakes” referenced in the earlier blog post about food) is in a nice outdoor garden setting, gentle breeze keeping us cool. Very peaceful break before getting back on the bus to be rushed off to our next sight, the Temple of Artemis. Well, the tour guide said we were going there, but we first stop at a leather factory, enjoy a short fashion show, in which my traveling companion and another tourist were forced to participate. And then we stop at some other little market town. And then we finally make it to the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, of which little remains, but was a significant place back in its day. The Temple of Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Not sure what the castle in the distance behind the temple ruins is… would have liked to see more castles… maybe in Italy!