At times, we feel like we are chasing the stories of the Bible and the Qu’ran. The regions we have been in over the past month are so rich with history I am beginning to cross my i’s and dot my t’s trying to retrace our steps. Plus, we must have visited over 30 different ruins, churches, mosques, shrines, etc. since we’ve began this trip. Ephesus is the supposed home of the Virgin Mary and it is believed this is where she spent her last days. The apostes Paul and John are also believed to have lived here during the first century and the latter is believed to have written some if not all of his gospel while here. You can read more about the history here.
Walking around the ruins, you try to imagine what it was like in those times. Long robed men and women walking to and fro on the marbled streets. In the early morning they would visit the library, then head to the baths for the daily cleansing. While there, they would discuss politics, philosophy and make business deals. Afterwards, maybe they would visit one of the two giant theaters for a show. Wine was in abundance and the fruits and vegetables that grow in this region have been here for ages. They eat tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives, breads and jams. Apricots and peaches, when in season, are a real crowd pleaser and you cannot have breakfast without a hard boiled egg. In the ruins there is even a brothel, making me think that maybe things haven’t really changed that much.
We stay in Selcuk, the nearest town to the ruins of Ephesus, at Diana Pension. The owner, Mike, cannot use a computer so we offer to help him update his website and get his profile on Hostelworld sorted out to bring in more business. This turns out to be a longer process than we had anticipated, but in the meantime, we were able relax in the beautiful Atrium and Terrace garden of Diana Pension for a few days and cement a great friendship with Mike and his understudy Shetke, who we call Ronaldo. In the morning, the boys make us breakfast consisting of, you guessed it, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, breads and jam, apricots and of course, a hard boiled egg. Some mornings they make us a Turkish dish called menemen, a spicy frittatta with tomatoes, onions, chilis and some eggs fried in oil. We settle into the lifestyle here quite nicely. After breakfast we do some work on the computer for Mike, checking our progress and making necessary changes. Then, we take the local bus to the nearby beaches and relax for a few hours before returning home. On the walk back to Diana Pension, you cannot help noticing the scores of old men sitting at the sidewalk cafes playing backgammon or rummicube, drinking cay. These old men have apparently earned this right to relax and I would be shocked to see the same man sitting at the same table from as early as 7 a.m. all the way to dusk. This happens nearly every day. A few days pass and then we are off to Fethiye, a small seaside village where the Aegean and Mediterranean Sea’s meet. The next morning we board a 100 foot gulet, an old-fashioned wooden sailboat and set out to sea for a 4-day, 3-night adventure.
Sailing the Med
Our boat is filled with nine others, Oli and Rose from England, Missy and Nina from Canada, Maura and Rory from Moorestown and Yardley, and three Turks, Yasemin, Betu and Huseyin. Somehow, through sheer luck I guess, we all get along really, really well and the group dynamic makes this one of the highlights of our entire trip.
Every hour or so we anchor and jump or dive into the majestic blue waters of the Med. The scenery is breathtaking and small, scattered villages adorn the mountainous coast. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are prepared for us by our crew and we even are served high tea in the mid afternoon. We play cards and tons of backgammon to pass the time and have long talks about religion, politics and our family life, growing closer and closer as each minute passes. Swimming and reading fill our afternoons and I realize we are truly living the champagne lifestyle on our beer budget. Everyone brings their blankets and pillows up from the cabin below to sleep under the stars on the deck. Sunrise wakes us up initially but it’s the heat that gets us out of bed, begging for the next swim stop.
On the night of Turkey’s big futbol match against Germany, we convince the captain and crew to dock and they easily comply. Stopping in Kas, we find a television and gather round to root the team on. Once again, it’s a great match, but unfortunately they came up short in the last minute. We resort to late night card playing and drinking and of course this leads to people jumping in the water, namely Naked Oli. This is our last night on the water and we definitely went out with a bang. The next day we docked and bid farewell to our gulet, Babaveli 4, and hopped our bus to Olympos. Six of us, Oli, Rose, Rory and Maura, stayed together for the overnight ride to Cappadocia.
Oli and Rose, through some magic trick I assume, already had a hostel booked and they fortunately were okay with the rest of us tagging along. Cappadocia, meaning the “land of beautiful horses” is built into caves of a unique substance called “tuff,” a cross between rock and sand formed from volcanic activity. This, along with other geological events, has created a landscape of phallic spires called “fairy chimneys,” and large valleys including the Turkish grand canyon, the Ilhara Valley. We check into Flinstones Hostel and our room is an underground cave and begin planning our first sightseeing adventure into nature. The hostel manager, Fati, pitches us a tour around Capadoccia for the day and we gladly accept, not really feeling like going on a solo mission after our 14 hour bus ride.
We start at Kaymakli , an ancient underground Christian civilization that tunnels down eight stories deep! During times of persecution or battle, mostly from the Romans, the village would retreat underground and take up shelter for extended periods. Churches, monasteries, stables, full kitchens and even torture areas for their captured enemies make up the twisted maze of tunnels. They even made wine! Apparently, the started by building one cylindrical ventilation shaft several hundred feet down and then built rooms off of that. Given the consistency of the soil, digging wasn’t exactly difficult, but at it’s peak the community had 10,000 inhabitants so you can imagine the scope of the project.
Afterwards we stopped at the Ilhara Valley, an impressive, albeit miniature, Grand Canyon and began a 90 minute hike down into the valley before stopping at a stilted restaurant located on the river for lunch. Finally, we stopped at what was once a “castle made of sand,” a kingdom built into the rocks that towered high over the surrounding villages of Goreme. Hiking to the top, the six of us watched the sun go down before hiking back to Flinstones.
The next day we rented motorbikes and explored the area surrounding Goreme. Stopping by the phallic-looking fairy chimneys, we snapped some funny photos and continued our journey to nearby village, Urgup. We found a winery that had been recommended to us and then met up with Maura and Rory for a sunset over the hills accompanied by some awful Turkish wine. This would be our last night in Cappadocia, so we all decided to go to “Turkish Night,” an all you can drink and eat bonanza accompanied with entertainment.
Walking into the hall, we could immediately tell this was a tourist-only destination but after they put two jugs of wine on the table, we stopped caring. The first act was a Whirling Dervish performance and we learned that this is a Muslim religious practice only completed by a small sect, the Mevlevi order. At one time the Dervishes were banned from practicing in this way but religious reforms in the early 20th century reversed that. The dervishes spin counter clockwise with their right arm opened up towards the heavens to symbolize accepting God’s gifts. With their left hand opened down toward the earth, they shower the earth with these gifts. It’s a meditative ceremony, one in which even I was dizzy. Always ones to get our monies worth, the night went long as we watched belly dancers, gypsy dancers and were even asked to do a full “chachacha-style” line dance. During the gypsy dance, I was asked to do a solo dance to entice the bride-to-be. This reminded me of the Kurdish wedding ceremony we had seen in Istanbul. Needless to say, I wasn’t chosen 😦 Afterwards, Maura and Rory were called up to shake their booties during the belly dancing lessons and wowed the crowd. More dancing ensued and as a group we ended up in a local bar to play pool and dance. It was a great way to wrap up our time together.
The morning after, we found an even better way to wrap up our time by visiting a turkish bath, called a Hamam. Closely related to the ancient Roman style of bathing, the Hamam was a daily ritual in days past. Now it’s more of a tourist stop, but considering the amount of booze we consumed the prior night, it was a necessity. First, you strip down and walk around in your red and white checkered towel. The attendants direct you to the dry sauna where the sweat-a-thon begins. Next, you are directed to take a cool shower and then lie down on the octagonal heated tile bed, large enough to fit 10 adults. After a while, you are called by one of the Hamam attendants to your table where you get a massage. My therapist – if you can even call it that – is a huge, hairy, Mr. Behar look-alike, and he is dressed in the same towel. He instructs me to lie face down on the marble tiled table. Not exactly the most comfortable bed but the massage and bath that ensued is definitely one for the record books. This guy was a giant gilopi moose and he literally beat me down. They use soap as the oil and lather you up, rub it in, and then dump hot water before repeating. Near the end of the 20 minute massage, he sat me up, grabbed each side of my head and I thought he was about to kiss me but instead he gave me a football-style headbutt and then cranked my neck from side to side, cracking every bone in the vicinity. Then he gave me a friendly slap on the face and smiled. I was in a state of euphoria as they led me to the cool mineral bath to finish up the treatment. Leaving the Haman, we were directed to the lounge area where they served us Apple tea and each recounted our glorious finale in Cappadocia.
Later that day we boarded our flight back to Istanbul and watched the final EuroCup match where Spain reigned victorious. Erin and I bid farewell to the crew but will see Maura in Germany in late July and changed our itinerary to visit Oli and Rose in London after our trip to the Netherlands! See you guys then! We slept in the airport on the floor and boarded our 5 am flight to Budapest where we will begin our European leg of the tour for the next two-and-a-half months. 🙂