We actually got moving relatively early on Thursday, but did not leave for the bus until 10 am. Mehmet made the process immeasurably easier. First he guided us to the bus station, then talked to the various people to figure out which bus we needed and the logistics with our bikes. There are many Dolmus (small mini-buses) going to Selcuk, but they cannot take our bikes. The larger buses go to Kusadasi, which is about 10 km from Selcuk. Since the bus actually passes right by, Mehmet talked to them about letting us off at Ephesus (about 2 km from town). They also agreed to pick us up (as long as we make a reservation in advance) for the trip back to Izmir.
Upon arrival in Selcuk, we discovered that they had a lot of rain – the night before and more that morning. It was probably good that we did not come earlier, as the rainy morning likely would have meant that we did nothing. By the time we arrived, the rain had passed. It was not gloriously sunny, but it was nice enough to be out and about.
We headed up to the Australia New Zealand (ANZ) Guesthouse, choosing them from our guidebook and a few phone calls. We had the option of a double room with shower or a double room with a Jacuzzi tub for 15 Lira more. Given Becky’s cold, we decided that a soak in the Jacuzzi would be nice – especially after dark when it gets pretty cold. The ANZ Guesthouse is run by Harry, who has spent some years in Australia and speaks fluent English.
After a necessary nap, we headed up to Ephesus, taking advantage of a free ride from the guesthouse. Since it is winter, the site closes at 5:30 pm. We arrived at 3:30 pm, and unfortunately, it was too late for the audio self-tour. We decided the cost of a tour guide was too much at 60 Lira, even after we bargained down to 50 – so we just wandered around the site and read the various placards. The size of the site is quite amazing, more than 2 km long, and formerly one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire. The amphitheatre is quite impressive: it would be super cool to see a concert there – although you would need to bring a cushion, as the stone seats would feel awfully hard and cold within the first few minutes. Going near the end of the day, in the winter, meant that there were only a couple of tour buses. The site did not feel overcrowded, which we have heard is a real problem much of the time. The largest group of people were doing team building – rushing around the site in teams, answering questions and collecting puzzle pieces. An interesting idea!
After a nice dinner at the Amazon restaurant, we were both ready for bed. We planned on taking on nice hot soak in the tub. We also asked for the control for the heater in our room, as our afternoon nap proved to be quite cold. This turned out to be our saving grace. The hot water at the guesthouse was lukewarm at best – typical of solar hot water a few hours after sunset on a cloudy day. They do have a gas backup system, so Becky asked for some hot water. Unfortunately, the water never heated up.
On Friday morning, we took a walk around Selcuk. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, which is just on the outskirts of town. We went to see it, but were really unimpressed. At this time, it is just one pillar that has been resurrected from many small chunks. We can only guess how fabulous it was in the past. It is not much to see compared to the city of Ephesus – but it is definitely a stop on the tour bus circuit. When we arrived there were four bus loads of people looking over at the single pillar, with associated peddlers selling postcards, guidebooks and other trinkets. From the site of the Temple, there is a great view of the Isa Bey Mosque and Castle, so we took many pictures of the view.
After the Temple, we walked up to the Isa Bey Mosque. This mosque was built in 1375, and since then completely lost one of its minarets in an earthquake. The top of the minaret still standing is also missing. When you first walk inside, you enter a large outdoor courtyard. The mosque has a separate women’s entrance to the side of the main men’s entrance. The women’s area is separated from the men’s by a temporary wall. I guess they could easily adjust the size of the areas if necessary. Both the women’s and men’s areas are filled from end-to-end with Turkish carpets. We were there 10 minutes before the noon call to prayer on Friday, so we cut our visit short to avoid imposing upon prayer time.
We then continued walking up to the Saint John’s Basilica. The Basilica was an important church in the sixth century after Christ. If it were to be reconstructed, it would be the seventh largest cathedral in the world. At one point it was converted to a mosque. It is believed to be the burial site for the Apostle John. Today it is a rather impressive set of ruins. Becky was particularly interested in seeing the Baptismal area, which involved a walk in bath, similar to what is found in some evangelical Baptist churches. We were not able to continue up the hill to the castle, as it is closed for excavation work.
After lunch, Scott went to check out the Ephesus museum while Becky came back to the guesthouse to rest and write. We both wonder where the ancient ruins are best kept. Many have been moved to museums where they can be kept in a relatively safe environment. Those that are left in their natural state – or restored – are out in the open, subject to the natural environment and erosion. It is definitely more interesting to see them in their natural setting. Scott didn’t find the museum particularly inspiring, although it did have some interesting statues and other artifacts. There was also a special exhibit on gladiators in Ephesus during the Roman Empire, with analysis of 120 skeletons retrieved from the Ephesus gladiator’s graveyard.
Overall, Ephesus and the museum were interesting, but not stunning. Neither of us are finding great rewards in seeing ancient ruins – we’re getting much more out of meeting and talking with people, and learning about their lives and cultures.
On our return to the guesthouse, we passed a family making doughnuts on the street outside of their house. We were each offered one to try, and Scott was able to use some of his very limited Turkish “delicious” and “thank you”. They were warm and coated in sticky sugar – indeed delicious afternoon snack.
After an afternoon nap – still necessary as Becky’s cold is not improving – we went to visit Mehmet at the carpet shop. He taught us about the different types of carpet that are available and how to identify good quality. The shop had many different types of carpet with a variety of qualities – so you could definitely find something that matched your price/quality criteria. We certainly aren’t experts, but we can now identify: natural versus artificial fibers, kilim versus carpet, single knot versus double knot, and know to ask about chemical versus vegetable dyes. (If you’re interested: artificial fibers are sticky when burned, kilim is a flat weave, carpet has pile, double knot has loops visible if you know where to look, vegetable dyes age better).
Mehmet also mentioned that just outside of Ephesus is a “carpet factory” where the tour buses all stop. He said that the carpets there are much more expensive because the tour companies get a commission on everything sold. Also, the factories are not real operating factories, rather they are setup just for the tourists. The folks “making” carpets there are paid to be there only when tourists are coming through. The cost of all the sales people and carpet makers plus the commissions for the tour companies mean the prices are significantly higher (at least double) what is charged at Harry’s carpet shop. He also mentioned that the sticker price (no bargaining) is the price you pay if a guide brings you into the shop, because they must pay the guide 20%. Because we are staying at the ANZ guesthouse, we would get a discount if we wished to buy anything, and likely a further discount related to being here in the slow season. For some of the more expensive carpets, the prices are listed in US dollars, and we were offered the same price in Lira – seems a significant discount, especially with no bargaining on our part. Since we’re on our bicycles and not heading home anytime soon, no carpets for us though.
After another good dinner at Amazon, we tried out the tub again. The hot water was OK for a quick bath to clean yourself, but still not warm enough for a soak. We borrowed an electric kettle and used it to heat up several kettles of water. With the enhancement of some boiling water, we were both able to enjoy a luxurious soak in the tub.
General observations about Selcuk and Turkey
Selcuk is a small town in tourist Turkey, and somewhat similar to Cesme. It is full of little pansiyons and budget accommodations. In the summer time, it is packed with tourists, but in the winter most of the pansiyons are empty. Each evening we noticed an acrid tang as we walked about town, and soon discovered what it was. They use coal here, mixed with wood, to heat the houses. Electricity is expensive, so electric heat is only found in some of the guesthouses – fortunately, ours is one of them. The coal stoves, similar to wood burning stoves, provide a nice heat source, but the fumes from the chimneys are rather unpleasant.
In our wanderings today, we stopped by the grocery store. This was the first time we had been in a grocery store in Turkey – apparently we have been eating out a lot! We discovered that lactose free milk and soy milk are both readily available. Given the amount of smoking here, we were amused that the cigarettes are stored in locked cabinets and that there are signs saying that you must be 18 to buy them. It felt very similar to a small grocery store at home.
We have also found that the pharmacies carry most name brand medications that we can get at home. Becky was happy to discover that she could get the same brand of asthma inhalers here. We have recently discovered that mailing medication to us in Turkey, Syria, or Italy will be difficult (oops, we should have checked that before we left). Fortunately, so far we can get everything we want here in Turkey except Cold FX.
Where ever we go in Turkey, we have noticed a large number of feral cats. This has been especially the case in the smaller towns (Cesme and Selcuk). When you are eating at an outside restaurant or on a patio, they can be a real nuisance. At one restaurant, the owner had a small electronic device that he clicked and the cats ran away – we guess it was similar to a Dog Dazer, which emits an uncomfortable high frequency sound. He was very discrete in using it, but we were happy to not be pestered while trying to enjoy our meal.
The voyage of our ship from Naples/La Spezia to Port Kelang (Kuala Lumpur) has been cancelled. We are guessing that the economic downturn is causing shipping companies to their traffic between Europe and Asia. There are a number of other ships on similar routes and we are now looking into alternatives, which is actually giving us a little bit more flexibility and will likely cost us less than the ship we had originally booked. Such is the nature of freighter travel.