Friday, August 13, 2010

Mediterranean Cruise Report -- Day 9

Welcome to my recollections of the wonderful cruise my wife and I took during the month of July, 2010 for our 5th anniversary. This will be an ongoing series replete with anecdotes, history, pics, and even videos taken as we experienced all that our various ports of call had to offer. As usual, click on the pics to view larger versions, and don't forget to also click on the "Vimeo" vids to view the brief live-action clips.

If you missed a prior trip report, or would like a refresher, please click on the appropriate link below:
Day 1 -- When in Rome.
Day 2 -- Bad Sun Rising.
Day 3 -- Let Me Take You On A Sea Cruise.
Day 4 -- Into the Wild Blue Yonder.
Day 5 -- Our (Very Brief) Adventure in the Lost City of Atlantis.
Day 6 -- Ruin'd!
Day 7 -- Turkish Delight.
Day 8 -- Into the City, Again.

DAY 9 -- This Wasn't in the Da Vinci Code!

As I stated in my last entry, Day 9 found us having left Istanbul behind. During the night we sailed south along Turkey's coast and toward the resort town of Kusadasi. Now, we weren't headed there to check out ocean fronting condos or to sunbathe (although this town has some truly awesome beaches!). No, Kusadasi is a fun place I would like to visit for a vacation of maybe 2 or 3 days -- but this wasn't why we were going there. It was for Ephesus, a major port city back during the Roman Empire when the sea extended around 60 miles farther inland. Now a major archaeological site, Ephesus had once been the empire's second largest city behind Rome.

We arrived in port just after sunrise on July 11, the seventh day of our 11-night cruise. But we weren't allowed to leave the ship until 8:30 am. Lisa and I, plus 2 other couples from our ship, were due to meet up with a private tour guide at 9:00. We found him waiting outside customs for us almost right on the dot. From the port we drove for 45 minutes until we arrived at a dusty, open plot of land nestled between two mountains, which we learned was Ephesus.

At first it didn't seem like much, just the ruins of a small little theater used by the gentry class for musical concerts. But as we we descended the marble-inlaid road to the city proper, Ephesus began to spread out before us in perhaps the most stunning example of well-preserved ruins we would see on this trip outside of Pompeii. I mean, sure, the buildings were in really bad shape after almost 2,000 years of neglect. But more than at any other site, it was here at Ephesus where I actually felt I was in a real city. A city that had once been a thriving metropolis and that, even today, can be seen in almost its entire original layout. If you've visited many ancient sites around the world, you'd know how rare this is.

We traveled down the main road leading to the lower city that Cleopatra and Marc Anthony had to have traveled down. That St. Mary, mother of Jesus, and the apostle John once walked as well! It was a brutally hot day--somewhere in the upper 90s and nary a cloud in the sky--with what felt like hundreds of tourists walking all at once down the same road with us. It was a strange sensation, and I tried to capture the moment on video even:

In the distance there at the end of this brief clip is the Library of Celsus, partially restored, which we were saving for later in the tour. But before we could get there, we made a stop at the famed Terrace Houses of Ephesus -- a once grassy hillside that has only recently been excavated and containing several Roman-era aristocratic houses virtually intact. This is an amazing indoor site that you have to pay a little extra to get into, and as such we had the place almost entirely to ourselves. Which was great because we needed the break from the strong, hot sun which had been shining almost directly down on our heads this whole time. I was amazed by all the original frescoes still exhibiting vibrant colors and the faces in the mosaic tiling still identifiable after all this time.

If you're ever in Ephesus, you really need to check this place out. It was not hard at all to imagine entire extended families living their day-to-day lives in these dwellings.

After exiting the houses, we stopped briefly along the main road to peer into the tomb of Arsinoe IV, Cleopatra's younger sister and one-time rival for the Ptolemaic throne of Egypt.

The general consensus among scholars is that Cleopatra needed her sister out of the picture, and that she persuaded Marc Anthony, then Governor of Ephesus, to have her eliminated. Whatever the story may have been, I could not believe we were standing so close to the place where such an important person in history was laid to rest. Funny thing is, almost all the other tourists simply ignored the tomb and walked on by. In this case, I have to say ignorance is definitely not bliss. Thank god we had a great tour guide to point out all these neat spots for us!

We eventually made our way down to the ruins of the Library which, as you would expect, was nothing but a skeletal husk of its former glory. We took some quick pictures at the steps, ducked briefly inside to where the scrolls would have been shelved, and then continued our way towards the ancient harbor (now just flat grassland).

On the way there, we ran smack dab into the biggest standing ancient outdoor theater I'd ever seen. I believe it might even be the biggest one from antiquity anywhere in the world! It seated around 44,000 spectators in its heyday, and even nowadays is sometimes used for live concerts on very special occasion. Whoa!

The theater and road leading to what used to be the harbor was unfortunately the end of Ephesus for us, but luckily not the end of the tour. We still had plenty of nearby sites to visit, and we were all of us eager to get to them. Our next stop: the House of the Virgin Mary.

Although, to be more accurate, it's really the House of St. Mary. The structure is small and rather unremarkable, today resembling more of a shrine that an actual dwelling place. Still, no less than three Popes have visited the site and proclaimed it to be an authentic Holy site. And as such, the little spring that runs out of the rock this little house is perched on has been declared sanctified by the Church. And, although I can't claim any personal reverence to such things, I did do as the sign suggested and filled up my empty bottle with this supposed "holy water" that was on tap. Because, hey . . . you never know!

Afterwards, we took the long van ride back down into the town of Sel├žuk, where we stopped at a local family-owned pizza and grill for a welcomed lunch break. The pizza was amazing, and the lamb, beef, and chicken kebabs we split among us were grilled to perfection! I even tried what I think must be Turkey's official beer, brewed locally, as apparent by the numerous billboards I saw for the "Efes" brand everywhere we went.

It was a very good meal, and the proprietor and our waiters were absolute princes of charm and hospitality. After lunch we made a very quick stop at the nearby museum of Ephesus--housing artifacts found at the site we'd just been to--before we all piled back into the van and headed up another hill towards what is now left of the Byzantine-era Basilica of St. John. This is place is HUGE, but mostly ruins nowadays. Our guide took us straight to where a miniaturized model of what the basilica used to look like stood:

Now, compare that to what's left of the site now:

Pretty bad, huh? The basilica had been built in the 6th century A.D. by the emperor Justinian in honor of the supposed burial place of the apostle John. We wandered through the remains of the nave and the chapel, and also stood for a few moments at the site of John's tomb.

For me, being here was special solely due to the historical importance of the place. I didn't believe that John was actually buried here, but I did believe that this spot on that lonely hill had great significance to a good many early Christians before the Turks took over the territory. It would not had been my preferred stop had I been choosing the itinerary for the day, but in retrospect I'm glad that we did check it out.

Moving on, we were driven a shorts ways down a small road from the hill to the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World -- the ruins of the Temple of Artemis. At the Museum of Ephesus, we had seen a model of what the temple might have once look like back at its full glory:

But now, unfortunately, all that is left of the Temple is one whole column and less than half of another:

A pity. I would have so loved to have seen this site at least partially intact.

The Temple of Artemis was also our last stop in Ephesus. Afterwards, we drove back to Kusadasi, admiring the beach front properties along the way. Once at the port, we thanked our guide and said our goodbyes, then the rest of the group headed back to the ship. I say the rest because Lisa and I decided to stay in town and walk around for a spell or two. But also because sometime during the day I'd made up my mind that we would not leave this place without bringing back a rug or two for our apartment. We had heard so many things about the quality and craftsmanship of handmade Turkish rugs that I just had to see them for myself. I'm very glad that we did, but I would receive the shock of my life when I found out how much these rugs can go for. I mean, DAYUM!!!!

We wandered through the Old Bazaar in Kusadasi for a while, but everything there looked like a tourist trap, so we didn't stay long. However, a little further up the main street we found a nice looking shop with the name "MATIS" emblazoned on the front. I don't know why, but I received a good feeling about the place and that was all that I needed. Lisa really wanted to get a rug for our living room, and she too thought that this shop looked like the ideal candidate. Upon entering the establishment, you're greeted with many cases displaying jewelry and ceramic wares. However, a very enthusiastic salesperson, dressed in a white button-down shirt and gray slacks, quickly rushed over and took us straight away to the woven rugs section as soon as we told him what we were interested in seeing. The showroom was in the basement, and we seemed to have been the only customers in the place. Now normally this would set my alarm bells off . . . but on the contrary I took this as a good sign that these people would be more willing to bargain with me, then. Little did I know what I was about to be subjected to.

What followed next was the most elaborate, drawn-out show and dance I've ever had the displeasure of participating in. I say "displeasure", but it really wasn't all that bad for us. I honestly felt we came out of there with a steal on not just one, but TWO premium hand-woven wool rugs that are simply too gorgeous for words. Actually, even pictures don't do them justice, as you really had to have been there to see and feel the awesome workmanship of these rugs. Nevertheless, I'll include the pics below for you to judge:

The only part that was annoying, actually, was haggling the price down to around 35% of what the salesperson had originally quoted me. And trust me, it was not easy. Lisa pretty much sat on a couch and remained quiet the whole time while I got down and dirty in some serious negotiating. We were offered refreshments at one point, and we accepted. I sensed it wouldn't start us off on good terms were we to refuse our host's hospitality. Later, during a particularly contentious debate on the business's supposed profit margins and how I would be dragging them into the red, the salesperson retreated into another room and then came back with what he claimed was the "vice president" of operations for the company. This man tried to get me to come up on my counter-offer to the salesperson's price, but I held to my guns. I played the sob story of the customer who felt he was being bamboozled on a subject he knew nothing about. I even threatened to leave, and had made it halfway back up the stairs with Lisa's hand in mine before they called us back.

Eventually, after an hour of cutthroat back and forth haggling, we finally came to a nice agreement. I've since done some research on the type, pattern, and style of rugs we purchased that day and realize that we actually did make out like bandits on the purchase. Even still, we ended up paying an arm and a leg. But I feel the quality and the attractiveness of the two rugs--not to mention the heavenly plushness of the double-knot weave on both--more than justifies the price we paid.

The salesperson and his "boss" were all smiles after we shook on the agreed amount. We ended up purchasing some more items from the upstairs showroom, but nothing at all close to the amount we'd just spent on the rugs. When we finally left the establishment and began the short walk back to our ship, it was with the satisfied knowledge that we'd done good.

All in all, it was a very satisfactory end to an excellent day. We broke port and sailed away later that evening, leaving Turkey behind for good and to much sadness in our hearts. It had been a fabulous three days spent in this beautiful country with the most gracious and welcoming people.

Our next port was two days away, in Piraeus -- just a 30 minute drive outside of Athens, Greece. It would take us 32 hours to get there, meaning we had an extra sea day in-between to just relax and not worry about shore excursions. Which was all the better because, after the whirlwind adventure that had been Turkey, we surely needed the rest. Yet all the while, I was looking forward to going to the "cradle of democracy" and finally getting to climb the Acropolis to see the Parthenon.

It would prove to be a visit that did not disappoint.

Up next: Day 11.


  1. These ancient ruins always blow my mind, not just for the history they represent, but that fact that they were built without any modern machinery. We take cities and big buildings for granted, but imagine the impact one of those temples must have made on someone who'd never seen anything bigger than a farmhouse before.

    Well done on the haggling. I believe it is very much expected in that part of the world. Not something I've ever been able to master - I always fall for the sob stories and take pity on the poor salesperson :-)

  2. I see you know excatly how I feel regarding these ruins, Ian. Being able to walk through such ancient sites with SO much history always gives me goosebumps. No joke. I simply live for this!

    Oh, and I'm totally cold-blooded when it comes to the sob stories. My rule of thumb is to take whatever yarn the salesperson is spinning and pretend that he just told me the complete opposite. And hey, it works!


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