I’m pretty behind on my blogging. We’re already in Albania, but I’ve yet to say anything about the latter part of our stay in Turkey or anything about Greece.
We left our Istanbul hostel before dawn, got a shuttle minibus to the airport and flew to Izmir, a city on the west coast of Turkey; the flight was less than an hour. From the airport – after hanging around while Habiba’s mum tried unsuccessfully to reserve tickets and seats – we took a coach to a bus station – or otogar – in Izmir. We found a place to take a minibus to Selçuk and, with half an hour before it left, we decided to get breakfast.
The food took quite a while to prepare – fifteen or twenty minutes, maybe – so we tried to eat quickly. The bus guy saw me standing up and wolfing down food and he made reassuring, plenty-of-time expressions. When I went out ahead of the others a few minutes later, he was taking our bags off the minibus. I told him we were ready and were taking the bus, so he loaded our bags on again. I then had to stand half on, half off the bus while we waited for Habiba to retrieve her mum from the bathroom. Then, when they got on, everyone was looking for me, not realising I was already seated. Fun.
Selçuk turned out to be a lovely countryside town, nestled in a dry, Mediterranean valley strewn with olive orchards. We stayed at Atilla’s Getaway, run by Atilla, a Turkish Australian. He was very friendly and attentive – we were the only guests there most of the time, so we received lots of attention. The hostel was a few kilometres outside Selçuk and he provided a shuttle service at regular intervals; however, being the only people who needed shuttling, he and his staff took us back and forth whenever we wanted. They also cooked decent breakfasts and dinners for us.
Our first sightseeing expedition was to take a taxi to the House of the Virgin Mary. This is an old, pretty stone house on a hill several kilometres from Selçuk that is supposed to have been where Jesus’s mother lived out her life after Jesus’s execution. Inside, it’s been made into a little church, where people reverently shuffle through the front door and an antechamber, into the main room and out through a side room.
Although there is a local tradition about it, the house became famous only after an 18th century woman had a ‘vision’ of the place. Catholics searched for it and a hundred years later, a German decided he’d found it. Supposedly, the woman’s descriptions were amazingly accurate, right down to the ‘rectangular stones’ the house was built from – so few buildings utilise rectangular masonry, so it must’ve been the place.
I made a point of expressing my doubts about the whole story, and Habiba and Noor made a little fun of my scepticism. For a building that’s supposed to be two thousand years old, it’s in pretty good condition. Additionally, while several popes have visited the place, the Church doesn’t officially recognise it as what it’s claimed to be because of the lack of evidence.
The next day, we walked from the hostel along a dirt road on the side of the valley to Ephesus, or ‘Efes’ in Turkish (which is also the name of a Turkish beer). Ephesus was once a port – although the sea is now some distance away – and the most important Greek city in Asia Minor. What remains now is a large complex of ruins in the countryside. We reached a little townlet at the upper gate with cafés and souvenir shops and entered there, passing by a small amphitheatre and various ruins, along marble-paved streets with several semi-restored doorways and façades, until we got to the two most impressive ruins, the Library of Celsus and the 25,000-seater theatre.
Because of the scale of the site and the way in which it’s all linked together by streets, you get a better sense of, or you can better imagine what the place was like a couple of millennia ago. We took our time wandering around, taking lots of photos, reading the signs. It wasn’t too crowded; there was a sprinkling of tourists and an exuberant school group. By the time we reached the Library and theatre, however, we were getting tired and were ready to head back to town. There were several cats around the ruins. At the lower exit, a family was having a picnic near the toilets (which doesn’t sound too appetising, but the WC was a very pleasant building) and they were surrounded by about a dozen cats. Quite amusing.
Later, we wandered around the market in Selçuk, had lunch and went to the ruined Basilica of St John, another impressive ruin – although not quite on a scale with Ephesus. It was overlooked by a castle on the nearby Ayasoluk Hill, which we didn’t go to.
While Istanbul had been wintry, with clouds, snow and strong winds, Selçuk had perfect weather. The skies were mostly blue and, while the air was cool, it turned out to be quite warm in the sun.
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