7/3/13 - 7/20/13
Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.
My next stop on the cruise was Kusadasi, Turkey, which is the modern port near the ancient port of Ephesus. To explore the area, I had booked a private tour with Ephesus Shuttle. My tour guide, Oscar, was waiting for me just past customs and I was soon on my way to Ephesus!
It was a relaxing 25 minute drive through the charming seaside town of Kusadasi and the scenic countryside to the first stop, the House of the Virgin Mary.
The house is believed by some to be the site of the house where Mary lived the rest of her life after she, according to some legends, and the Apostle John came to Ephesus following Jesus's crucifixion. Set amid a lush, green garden, the house is considered a holy site and a place of pilgrimage for both Christians and Muslims. Below the house is a spring whose water is thought to contain healing properties and a "wishing wall" where individuals can leave prayers or wishes.
Personally, it was an emotional moment to see the tangible prayers that so many had left on the wall. Although most were private, some, like a small pair of baby shoes, were a clear indication of the desire near to someone's heart. Whatever you believe, it is a beautiful and peaceful place that visitors approached with an attitude of reverence.
My next stop was the archaeological remains of the ancient city of Ephesus. I was not sure what to expect, but It was an incredible site that went beyond anything I could have conceived.
Unlike cities such as Rome, where city has been built on top of city, Ephesus slowly faded when the harbor shifted and the city could no longer function as a port. Eventually it was abandoned and forgotten. Thus, once it was rediscovered in the late 19th century, there was no modern city to consider as the site has been painstakingly excavated and reassembled. To date, it's estimated that less than 20% has been uncovered. And that 20% was amazing.
Oscar did a great job of balancing providing information with giving me space to explore on my own. Ephesus has a fascinating history. It was an important location for the Greeks, Romans, and Babylonians, and holds some well known Christian history. I mean, "Cleopatra was here" was practically carved into the marble toilets. Paul preached and was imprisoned here. And Ephesus served as major center of trade for centuries. There was just so much to see and learn.
Of course, one of my favorites was the stunning library. It was the third largest library in the ancient world behind the fabled libraries of Alexandria and Pergamum. The intact nature of the ruins was also amazing, especially considering the amount of effort that must have gone into the reconstruction.
Marble streets still existed in many places. Although only poor people walked on marble. Obviously. Only sidewalks made of tile mosaics would to for the wealthy of Ephesus.
Throughout my time in Ephesus, history felt so alive. It was easy to squint a little and imagine being back in the bustling port city of Ephesus watching people go through an everyday life vastly different than my own or to catch a glimpse of the moments of history made there. Despite the heat (and it was hot!), I repeatedly got goosebumps just thinking about the history that happened and the lives that were lived in the place where I was standing.
Although the archaeological site of Ephesus was the highlight of my tour, there were certainly other interesting stops that followed. The next stop was the Basilica of St. John. Today it's a ruin, but the church was built over the supposed site of St. John's tomb.
There was also an incredible hilltop view from the basilica. From there, I could see the single remaining column of the Temple of Artemis. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the temple was rebuilt multiple times. Columns from the temple are in museums throughout the world, including the Hagia Sophia, which I had seen just two days before. As I gazed across the valley and to the ocean, I thought about the interesting and unexpected ways that history intersected across the places I had visited so far.
After a fascinating, hot, and busy morning, I was ready for lunch. For the "traditional Turkish lunch" included with the tour, Oscar took me to Bizim Ev Hanimeli. Located in the countryside outside of Kusadasi, the meal was basically a Turkish grandmother cooking a bunch of homemade dishes. It was amazingly delicious. The only problem is that I wanted to eat everything and there were just.so.many.choices. I would have needed a mid-meal nap to even have a chance of trying all of the options.
When I look at the pictures, I can still taste the fresh and flavorful dishes I enjoyed as an afternoon breeze moved through the open-air patio. If I had to choose a favorite (and choosing favorites is just about my most hated activity - how can one make a decision under that kind of pressure?!), it might be the stuffed bell peppers. Or one of the pasta dishes. Or maybe the cacık. But then again perhaps it was one of the salads. See, like I said, I am terrible at choosing a favorite. I did get really excited about the watermelon. I had seen it sold on the street in Istanbul and had been craving it since then. It was the perfect end to a delicious meal. Oh, and please excuse the fact that I, too, am the color of a watermelon. Apparently I didn't wear enough sun screen that day.
The last stop of the day was a pottery shop. I was broke (see the first Istanbul post), but there were some beautiful pieces for sale. Maybe next time...
After the final stop, we went to the Ephesus Shuttle office (which looked totally shady by the way; for about 1/2 a minute I thought I might get mugged) to pay for the tour before I was returned to the ship. At around $90 a person including lunch (the price per person changes depending on how many people are on the tour), I felt like the tour was a great value.
After returning to the ship, I spent the rest of the evening pretty much doing nothing. I even ordered room service just to be totally lazy. I obviously know how to have a good time. Although I had not been sure what to expect in Kusadai/Ephesus, this port ended up being my favorite stop of the entire cruise. Sadly, this was my last stop in Turkey - next it was back to Greece to see Athens.