Turkey had been on both our "must-see" lists for a long time and so it was with great anticipation we arrived in Istanbul. We had three weeks to spend in the country. You'd think we'd have planned out our time (or at least I would have given my over-planning tendency) but no. We landed in Istanbul with no idea what to do for 8 days before our AirBnB apartment was available. So, as 21st century travelers worn down by five months of decision-making, we turned to social media to make our decision for us. Fortunately, our friends/family obliged and we decided not to do a road trip (too far in our time span) and not to go to the beach (too cold). Instead we did a quick stop in Selcuk to see Ephesus and then flew to Cappadocia for some exploring.
Rather than give the day-by-day of three weeks, we decided to go for another "Best, Worst and Funniest" for each of the three places we went. It's more fun for us to write and hopefully more fun for others to read.
Best of Ephesus
- The greatest meatballs on Earth, kofte, at a local restaurant. We went in once to buy some for lunch and then have a picnic in a local park. After we finished, we both looked at each other and, without needing words, immediately headed back for a round of seconds. Selcuk was a strong start for Turkish food and it only stayed good.
The town of Şirince, about 20 minutes from Selcuk, where an old woman cooked us the most amazing baklava. She didn't speak a word of English, but she was unbelievably kind and made sure we had to roll ourselves down the hill after eating so much.
The Terrace Houses, which are a special section of Ephesus that is an active archeological site. We went late in the day hoping to avoid the bulk of the crowds. It was still fairly crowded at first but by the end, we had the place almost to ourselves. The whole Terrace House complex is enclosed to protect it from the elements. We walked by people who were slowly trying to piece together frescoes that had crumbled. A serious jigsaw puzzle. But man, talk about real estate envy. The nobility set themselves up well. So much exposed brick!
The Library at Ephesus was also really cool, though the restoration is a lot more obvious here. After four months of travel and countless temples/ruins, it's been interesting to see the differing approaches to restoration. Some places let it go and do minimal upkeep (Angor Wat Jungle Temple), otherwise take restoration too far (some temples in Bagan), while others strike a nice balance (Taj Mahal).
- The theater at Ephesus was a real treat. First off, it showcased all sorts of cultural events from dramas to gladiator bouts. The Romans knew how to do live-action. The theater was huge and from the cheap seats up top you could even see the ocean. Easy to understand from up there how beer and circus could distract from the gradual decline of your empire.
- The general sense in Ephesus that everywhere you walk is rich in history. The pieces of rubble cast to the side of the path here would be prominently displayed in many museums around the world. Kind of like in Petra, you actually got a bit of a sense of what it would be like to be a person living there. We realized that despite all the changes that have occurred in the last few millennia, people's day-to-day basic needs and concerns are not all that different. Everyone worries about a job, whether their kids can go to school, etc. Maybe we have smart phones now, but at the most fundamental level, our concerns do not change much.
- Finally, the little town of Selcuk was pretty great. It was charming to walk through in the evening. We stay at a lovely place called Hotel Nazar. The food, as described above, was amazing. The hotel provided Turkish-style breakfast each morning. I know comments like this are obnoxious, but you honestly haven't had feta cheese until you've tried it here. And the town was even home to a flock of storks. It was quite a charming sight to see little kids playing soccer in the streets while storks soared overhead.
Worst of Ephesus
- Not a lot to complain about in Selcuk. One thing would be the local beach was seriously disappointing. We arrived thinking maybe we'd swim or at least walk along the beach to find some food. Instead, there was a hose pumping unknown substances into the water. The beach was dirty with trash and as we tried to walk around the point to a nearby town, we found ourselves in high grass that may or may not be where the local mob dumps its bodies. Who knows, it maybe nicer in the summer during peak season?
- The train ride from the Izmir Airport which required standing for two hours and using toilets that made Indian Rail look sanitary.
- Turkish domestic airline leg room. It's non-existent. We flew Pegasus and I don't think anyone over the age of 10 could fit into the seats without painful contortions.
Funniest of Ephesus
- The hilarious statues for sale outside a church which depict a particularly well-endowed man.
- The toilet room at the Ephesus ruins. Confirming the old adage that indeed "Everyone poops."