My first glimpse of Turkey. The city of Kusadasi looks tightly packed as I peer out of the veranda door, and the pink of the dawn sits atop surrounding hills. There’s a tugboat taking our cruise ship into port and I watch it work for a few minutes. I’m not sure what Turkey will be like, but I’m pretty excited. Alan and I are here to see Ephesus, the ancient city about 20 minutes from Kusadasi. We have one day.
We meet Ali, our guide, outside the terminal. I want to confirm the tour price. “For you,” he says very seriously, “just sixty four thousand dollars” and then laughs. I feel comfortable. It’s hot, but that’s nothing unusual for Turkey is summer. The memory of walking to school in heat like this in tropical Australia pops into my mind, but I didn’t seem to care so much about the weather then. Thankfully, our car is air-conditioned and glimpses of Kusadasi reassure me as we inch our way through the streets. I’m not sure why. Maybe I expected something akin to the chaos of Asian cities? This is clean, well laid out, with orderly traffic. I feel more comfortable.
The omnipresent roadside souvenir stall, the same the world over, greets us at Ephesus. “Cross the road” says Ali. We dash across, just a bit fearful that a car will appear too quickly for us to get out of the way. Ali deals with the tickets, and we join a mass of people merging to pass through the narrow entry gate.
The smaller of two amphitheatres at Ephesus appears in view. Already the scale of this place is clear. The Agora holds piles of small, red clay water pipes, gutters and plumbing remains and the first of many temples and intricately carved arches. A glimpse of the two story Library Building in the distance now appears, but our eyes are drawn to the people. The cobblestone road is a moving mass of almost solid colour.
Walking down the hill, I hear snippets of conversation in many languages, some loud, some quiet, some bored, some animated. Travel is great for bringing strangers together for a few moments in places like this, all of us drawn to see and feel the power of ancient civilisation.
Currently fascinated – no, obsessed – with ancient columns, I take more photos for my collection. We enter the Terrace Houses, a new excavation into a hill, its roof a welcome respite from the heat. It costs more money to go in here, and the people in front see the fee and murmur “too expensive, let’s leave” and head outside.
“No”, I want to yell to them, “spend the money, you’ll regret it later if you don’t”. Just like we regret not spending the money on a side trip to Tibet when we went to China in the 1980s.
But, I keep quiet and head up the first flight of stairs into an expanse with houses so well preserved, for once I don’t feel like I’m kidding myself trying to imagine living here in ancient times. A series of metal stairs and platforms keep us moving up and through the ruins. Each level brings a new and wider perspective. We pass houses with murals still colourful, more plumbing, and bathrooms this time, entrance arches and mosaics that make you stop and stare. This is…spectacular. Outside again – did I mention it’s hot?
“I will leave you here” says Ali. “Spend as much time as you want, then walk along the path through the shops and I will meet you in the parking lot”. We nod, and Ali disappears into the crowd.
We stand for a few seconds, and Alan says “Come with me. I want to show you something”.
He takes me back up the hill, weaving through the mass of people to the building that houses the toilets. He has been here once before, and this is what he remembers? These communal toilets in a grand building are impressive, with the same amount of attention to detail and structure here as in the surrounding temples and houses. I feel a sense of personal relief that civilisation has moved on from this particular form of sharing!
Reaching the Library, I climb the stairs and enter a space that does feel like libraries today. There are fewer people in here, the conversations are quieter and there’s seems to be a quiet reverence happening.
Shade under a porch that separates the library from the main ampitheatre beckons. We squeeze into a space at the side and stare. Buildings today are bigger and bolder, but lack the subtlety and the detail of these structures. Here you can sense a story about the people who built them, what mattered to them and how they lived. I realise I’m feeling a sense of connection with people past, and I’ll take that with me with we leave. I felt the same at Pompeii, but somehow it’s feels stronger, more intimate here.
The main amphitheatre is big and draws you towards it, but we keep walking. Did I mention it’s hot? On the path leading out of Ephesus, we are stopped by trumpet fanfare. People in Roman costume – soldiers with red flowing cloaks and gold helmets, important men in long flowing white robes, slaves with those large feather fans, and women in bright colours dancing for the men. I take some photos while some sort of ceremony is re-enacted, but feel a sense of unease that this event is too forced, too artificial and somehow detracts from my Ephesus experience.
Suddenly, we return to the present. The path turns into a covered street of souvenir sellers, with the ubiquitous ‘genuine fake watches’ signs. And then, our first experience of Turkish selling.
“Turkish delight miss?”
“No, thank you.”
“Oh, it’s really good. You must try some.”
“No, really, thank you.”
“Really cheap, just for you.”
“No,” I say, giving him my best ‘I mean it’ glare. He heads off, only to meet us again a few steps along the street.
“Turkish delight miss?”, he says and looks up.
“Oh, it’s you again”, he mutters with disgust, spins on his heel and goes to find another tourist.
The selling is intense, every few seconds there is another offer, another bargain. We smile, shake our heads and keep moving. We find a stall where no one seems interested in selling and buy some water. I look at souvenirs but don’t want any. The images and thoughts in my head seem enough.
We emerge into the heat of the car park, find Ali chatting to other guides, and return to Kusadasi. We stop at a bank to get some lira to pay Ali and say goodbye. The town beckons, but it’s hot. We return to the ship.
That night watching the sunset from the veranda, I decide one day is enough to get a strong sense of Ephesus, but it’s not enough time to spend in Turkey.
I like this place.
We will be back.