Ephesian Hordes

crowds swarm at ephesus
Crowds of tourists swarm Curetes Way, Ephesus
Sunday, August 29.

Monday, August 30 Ephesian Hordes

Our one and only morning in Selçuk began with a hearty Turkish breakfast at the Hotel Kalehan. I got up a little earlier than Susanne, and when I reached the hotel restaurant the waiter was just setting up the morning buffet. It was a sumptuous feast of fresh breads, green and black olives, hard boiled eggs, white goat cheese, honey and a range of jams made of strawberries, grapes and figs. I relished every bite, having developed an efficient technique for smearing the honey, fig jam and goat cheese onto pieces of bread with getting my hands coated in a sugary goo. Susanne joined me about 15 minutes later, still with a case of the sniffles but certainly well enough to hit the ruins of Ephesus for the morning.

After breakfast we packed our bags, storing them in a room near the front desk. Even though checkout was at 11am, the manager said that we could come back from the ruins, take a shower and hang out by the pool until we were ready to catch a bus overnight to Cappadokia. Meanwhile, he would find out the time of the bus departure and get tickets for us, which we could pick up in the afternoon.

We caught a cab from the hotel and rode for 20 minutes to Ephesus. The taxi kicked up a trail of dust and gravel along the main road to the ruins, as we paralleled a tree-lined pedestrian path towards our right side. Even though the drive was short I was impatient to get to Ephesus. Ever since studying Latin in high school I had longed to visit this great city, built by the Carians and Ionians, made wealthy by the Lydians and Alexander the Great's Macedonians, all before becoming the thriving commercial center of Rome's Anatolian province, Asia Minor. Ephesus was one of the best preserved Roman cities in the world, certainly the best preserved in Turkey. It symbolized so much of what fascinated me about the ancient Mediterranean. I was anxious to finally investigate this city for myself.

The cab pulled up to the entry gate just after 8am. I figured we would have to wait for a while to get inside, since we had been told the ruins didn't open until 8:30, but the ticket booth was open for business. We each bought a bottle of water and entered the ruins, walking along a dirt path. As far as we could tell we had much of Ephesus to ourselves, which was the whole point of us getting there so early. Susanne and I were very eager to get pictures of Ephesus' famous Library of Celsus, but we knew that enormous numbers of cruise ship tour groups would be on their way soon.

We briefly strolled along an ancient avenue lined with columns, some broken, some standing. The avenue terminated at the Great Theatre of Ephesus, a stone amphitheater that could sit as many as 24,000 people. Along with the many gladiator fights that most certainly took place here, the Great Theatre also played host to the preachings of St. Paul, the prolific disciple of Jesus. Around 1,950 years ago, St. Paul came through Ephesus while on his third missionary journey across the Roman Empire. He lived in Ephesus for two and a half years, during which time he wrote his two letters to the Corinthians.

Andy looks at his map along a columned road near a giant ampitheatre
Andy gets his bearings along the road to the Great Theatre, Ephesus

We began to make our way uphill on what appeared to be the path to the center of the ruined city. As we walked up, a Turkish soldier with a rifle slung over his shoulder appeared from the other side of the hill.

"Merhaba, effendim," I said to him as he approached.

"Merhaba," he replied. "I am very sorry, but you cannot walk this way. This is the military post. Please walk around the hill." Indeed, just to our right was a small sign with the word dikkat (caution) written in red letters. Below it I could read in English, "Military Zone -- Do not enter!"

"Üzgünüm, effendim," I said apologetically.

"No problem," he replied, again in English. "Have a nice visit."

Susanne and I walked around the hill as instructed, towards the Great Amphitheater. We could now see another avenue continuing perpendicularly from where we stood -- a thoroughfare lined with giant slabs of well-trodden marble.

Susanne suddenly started to walk quickly down the avenue. "I think I see the library," she said, increasing her pace.

"Run!" I yelled jokingly, trying to keep up with her. "We must take it before the tourists do!"

In just a few moments we reached our goal -- the one reason for coming to Ephesus in the first place. Standing proudly near the back of a sunken marble plaza was the Library of Celsus, one of the most enduring images of the Roman world.

Ruins of Celsus library
Marbled ruins of the Library of Celsus, Ephesus

Susanne stands in front of the Library
Susanne posing in front of the Library of Celsus, Ephesus
As I've so often felt upon seeing famous monuments for the first time, my initial reaction was that the library was smaller than I expected. Nonetheless, the detail of its two-story façade was breathtaking. Each floor was adorned with four pairs of columns, with either doorways or windows placed between each pair. On the bottom floor, four sets of friezes adorned the pairs of columns, while on the top floor three friezes occupied the space between the column sets. Eight stone pedestals sat between the column pairs. At one time statues sat atop each pedestal, but today only the first floor pedestals were fortunate enough to play host to such works of art.

As I stood above the plaza, peering through my telephoto lens, I could clearly make out the names of the four statues representing the Virtues: Arete (goodness), Ennoia (thought), Episteme (knowledge) and Sophia (wisdom). The Greek letters looked as if they had been carved yesterday.
Marble Statue of Sophia (Wisdom), Ephesus
Statue of Sophia (Wisdom), Ephesus
Admittedly, such an assumption might not be far from the truth, since until recently the great library was a pile of rubble, having fallen victim to Anatolia's legendary earthquakes. With the help of Austrian archeologists, the façade of the 1800-year-old library was completely restored. As marvelous as the library was, I wondered just what parts of the building were authentic and what parts were modern-day replacements extrapolated by archeologists. The statues, for example, were models of originals now kept safe in Vienna's Ephesus Museum. Nonetheless, I didn't dwell on these questions for long. The Library of Celsus was too extraordinary to be clouded by the mere fact that it was a recent reconstruction.

The two of us snapped photo after photo, knowing that any moment our solitude would come to a crashing halt. Indeed, within 20 minutes of our arrival at the Library I spotted what appeared to be a New Orleans funeral procession parading down the main avenue: a swarm of people holding enormous umbrellas above their heads, apparently oblivious the region's bone-dry climate. But this odd crowd played no jazz, nor did they come to celebrate anyone in particular. With each approaching step I could spot the cameras, the baseball caps, the day-glo shorts, the running sneakers. The Cruise Ships had landed, and in the grand tradition of the Lydians, Carians, Ionians, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, and Ottomans, they were here to conquer Ephesus. God save us all.

The tour groups arrived in waves, usually two dozen people at a time following a cruise ship representative with an umbrella in one hand and an umbrella in the other. Some of the groups were shadowed by a professional photographer who would snap pictures, candid and otherwise, of the ship passengers standing around the ruins -- pictures which would undoubtedly be available at a premium back onboard their vessel. The vast majority of visitors were Americans, though there were other tour groups composed entirely of French, German, British and Japanese tourists. Susanne and I retreated to the steps below the library as the tour groups crowded the marble above the plaza. The further back we fled, the closer the tour groups crowded around us. High above along the main avenue I continued to see the steady stream of umbrellas, prancing towards us like countless animated brooms. I am the sorcerer's apprentice, and this is my Ephesian nightmare.

crowds swarm at ephesus crowds swarm at ephesus crowds swarm at ephesus
The many ruins of Ephesus

Our peace and quiet thoroughly shattered, we wandered inside the library, now an open courtyard lined with empty marble shelves. A Turkish artist sold small lithographs and gold leaf pictures, all framed and available for $100 each, cash or charge. I stood below a wide stone gate inscribed with the names Mazaeus and Mithradates as Susanne offered some of her water to a friendly dog who was grazing in the grass next to the library. We then returned to the top of the plaza and worked our way up the main avenue as the endless stream of tourists crowding the ancient road. Competing French and British tour leaders shouted over each other as they tried to explain the history of glorious history of Ephesus in 100 words or less. Few of the tourists appeared to be paying attention, among them a group of British boys who were ogling at French girls in bikini tops and pink spandex shorts. Susanne and I wandered up Curetes Street into the ruins of the 2nd-century Temple of Hadrian, which in ancient times was connected by tunnel to the local brothel. Cruise ship tourists, it seemed, never broke away from the herd, so we had the temple to ourselves save an American couple carrying Silicon Graphics laptop bags who were heading out just as we entered. Unlike the library, the temple interior was an unrestored jumble of shattered marble boulders, resting in weed-infested piles of black gravel. There wasn't that much to see there but at least it gave us a respite from the crowds.
Entrance to the Temple of Hadrian
Entrance to the Temple of Hadrian, Ephesus

We returned to Curetes Street and walked uphill, passing rows of marble columns and statues, many in excellent condition. At the top of the hill a small 1400-seat theatre known as the Odeon stood to our left, while several temples and caves could be found off to our right. Feeling a little adventurous we decided to explore some of the caves. A couple of them were several rooms deep, packed with a deep debris layer of gravel and dirt. We briefly spotted a beam of light penetrating one cave. Susanne wanted to take a picture but by the time she got her camera ready the beam had disappeared. I helped recreate the moment by kicking the dirt below my feet, sending up tremendous plumes of dust into the air. Like magic, the light beams appeared, dancing in the swirls of dust. I enthusiastically kicked and kicked, turning the interior of the cave into a surging cloud so thick that it almost qualified as a living presence in itself. The light beams continued to dance, but now the air was too polluted for us to take advantage of it. Susanne and I exited the cave, both breaking out into laughter as we discovered the film of ancient dust that now enveloped us. The chuckles ended as we realized our cameras had fallen prey to our dusty intrigue and now had to be wiped off as delicately as possible.

Susanne and I briefly exited the ruins from the back gate in order to relax over a couple of Cokes. Like the front entrance, the back gate was crowded with vendors offering an assortment of drinks, snacks, trinkets and overpriced film. Once back inside we explored the Odeon theatre, climbing along its 23 tiers of marble bleachers.

"Go back to the bottom," Susanne said as we reached the top. "I want to get a picture of you from the stage."

"Okay," I replied, starting to make my way down the bleachers.

"And I want you to pretend you're lecturing to the people sitting in the bleachers," she continued.


"Come on," she insisted. "It'll make a great picture."

Feeling like an idiot, I made my way to the stage and stood there, pretending to appreciate the scene around me. A group of American tourists was sitting in the bottom bleachers, listening to a tour guide at the edge of the stage. When I saw Susanne had her camera in position, I nonchalantly began to wave my hands exaggeratedly to the crowd, as if I were a professor making an important point. A couple of seconds of this was more than enough -- I didn't want these tourists to think I was a ranting lunatic.

As I walked back up the bleachers I could see Susanne laughing hysterically.

"Great job," she snickered, "though I think you were too far away for the picture to come out."

Andy standing on the stage of the Odeon Ampitheatre
Look carefully and you'll see Andy standing on the stage of the Odeon Ampitheatre

We spent another half an hour or so exploring the ruins, slowly making our way down Curetes Street and towards the main entrance. If it hadn't been for the crowds we might have wanted to spend several more hours climbing around the site, but the sheer number of noisy tourists clogging up the atmosphere was incentive for us to call it a morning. Susanne and I caught a taxi back to the hotel just after noon. The hotel manager informed us that our bus to Cappadokia would depart at 4:30pm, arriving in the village of Göreme at dawn. He assured us that the bus would take us all the way to Göreme -- I had read numerous accounts of visitors being dumped in the city of Nevsehir, Cappadokia's largest city, and being forced to pay for a second bus to go the final 15 miles. If that ended up being the case it wouldn't be too terrible, but I certainly preferred to avoid the hassle. I asked him the name of the bus company, and it was a line I wasn't familiar with: Can Elbistan. Aydin had strongly encouraged us to take one of the major companies since they provided greater comfort and safety.

"Can Elbistan is a good company," the manager said, "and it is the only one that goes directly to Göreme from Selçuk."

Hungry from our morning trek around the ruins, Susanne and I walked to downtown Selçuk for some lunch. As we had noted the night before, the streets around the center of town were dotted with multiple kebapcis, pidecis and western-style eateries. No particular restaurant stood out above the others, so we strolled through the central square and made a loop through town, stopping at a drug store for coughdrops before settling on a restaurant. Susanne's cold seemed to be getting worse, so I was prepared to struggle with my limited Turkish to seek out the coughdrops. Fortunately, mini-packs of Halls Mentholyptus were stacked next to the pharmacy's cash register, saving me the embarrassment of having to improvise "Kofdroplar var mi?" to the man behind the counter.

boy riding bike on sunny street
A boy rides his bike at lunchtime, Selçuk
Walking back from the town square and the Roman aqueduct, we sat down at a streetside pideci under a shady tree. Susanne and I both got vegetarian Turkish pizzas which were served pre-sliced and stacked like a pile of nachos. The pides were both fairly good, though they were certainly made better with a dash of kirmizi biber, Turkey's ubiquitous dried red pepper flakes that no respectable pideci table could do without. A steady stream of leaves and pollen nodules drifted from the tree above us, landing occasionally on our pizza slices. A teenage boy rode up and down the street, which was closed to motorized traffic. Across the street, a music store decorated with Middle Eastern ouds played arabesk, the ubiquitous Turkish pop music that blends traditional Ottoman music with a danceable beat. Meanwhile, an agile cat climbed up and down the music shop, jumping between trees, awnings and the tiled roof as if it still had plenty of its nine lives to spare.

Back at the hotel, I paid the manager a total of 10 million lira for our two tickets to Cappadokia -- about $12 a person. We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around the pool. Aydin's friend at the hotel gave us access to a small cabana by the pool in order for us to change clothes and store our things. The pool itself was still quite chilly and one of the hotel employees was in the process of cleaning leaves out of it, so we relaxed on the deck, laying out in seaside beach chairs that would have been quite at home at some turn-of-the-century English resort. Susanne and I were briefly entertained by a small turtle making its way across the pool side, along with a family of chickens clucking inside the rose garden. The claustrophobia and frustration generated from our experience with the crowds at Ephesus were quickly dissipated in that quiet time chilling out at the Hotel Kalehan.

crowds swarm at ephesus
Two Turkish men engrossed
in conversation, Selçuk
As Susanne changed into her street clothes I went to settle our bill at the front desk. I didn't recognize the man behind the counter, and he asked me how much I had been quoted for our room. Perhaps it was the mindless lounging by the pool, but for whatever reason my brain neither remembered the price Aydin had quoted for us nor computed a good price in Turkish liras.

"Twenty million liras," I said to him. He looked at me perplexedly; though the man didn't know what to charge us, he had probably been told that we were friends of one of the managers. I pulled out Aydin's business card and handed it to him.

"Tamam," the man said. "No problem -- 12 million liras, not 20 million."

I suddenly recognized my error: I had quoted the official room rate of $50 while Aydin had secured us a room for just under $30.

"Var, on iki milyon lira!" I said, relieved that he had caught my mistake. "That's more like it."

Neither Susanne nor I had a sense of how far the otogar was from the hotel, so the hotel manager hailed a taxi for us. As it turned out the otogar was two blocks north of the train station, probably no more than a five minute walk. We arrived at the small bus station just before 4pm. An old man in a uniform approached us to find out which bus line we were taking. "Can Elbistan," I said without thinking, pronouncing "can" like it was a container to hold soda or beer.

"Jahn," he said gently, correcting my pronunciation. "Jahn Elbeestahn."

"Üzgünüm," I apologized. "Jahn Elbeestahn, lütfen."

Turkish Pronunciation

Interested in learning how to pronounce all the Turkish words mentioned in this journal? Check out my Turkish pronunication guide!
Having worked hard on my Turkish over the last several days I certainly should have known better. For whatever reason, the Turkish letter C always gave me trouble. Unlike in English or the romance languages, C is pronounced in Turkish as the J in James, while the letter Ç was pronounced as the ch in cheese. If I wanted to use C as in candy, in Turkish it would have to be spelled as a K. Simple enough; it was just that damn Turkish C that kept slipping me up. Can Elbistan, Jahn Elbeestahn; Abdullah Ocalan, Abdullah Ojahlahn....

Around 4:30 we boarded the bus and were led to our seat by the yardimci, or bus steward. The yardimci was a gaunt man in his 30s with green eyes and terrible body odor. I had read that yardimcis were one of the pleasures of Turkish bus travel: they offered you free bottled water and splashes of lemon cologne, they stopped people from smoking on the bus, they woke you up when you reached your final destination. To our chagrin, customer service was not a particularly strong attribute for this yardimci. He never bothered to offer us water or the lemon cologne for refreshment. He constantly opened the window shades, despite my closing them because of the hot sun pouring in on our necks. He sat in the seat behind us, chain-smoking cigarettes. I'm usually not one to complain about bad bus rides, since travel comforts are rarely universal in the places we've visited. But we had been given such high praise for the quality of Turkish buses that our first overnight bus ride was exceedingly frustrating.

The trip wasn't a complete disaster, though. A quiet man sitting next to us generously shared a basket of figs he had bought at a roadside stand. The figs had light green skins and a juicy purple flesh that melted in your mouth. After stopping at a large bus terminal in the city of Denizli, Susanne and I bought some water, vanilla wafers and a couple of simit, giant rings of bread coated in toasted sesame that were also the forerunner of the bagel. Back on the bus we shared our wafers with the fig man, who offered us more figs and a cup of orange soda.

Just beyond the outskirts of Denizli the bus stopped again at a restaurant, giving us an extended break to stretch our legs and sit down for some food. Since both of us had already eaten a lot on the bus we didn't get anything there, but we talked with a young waiter who was eager to practice his English.

"Where are you going?" he asked us.

"To Cappadokia," Susanne replied.

"You should stay in Göreme," he continued. "That's where I did my army service. It's very beautiful there."

"Actually, we're staying in Göreme," I said. "Are you from there as well?"

"No, I was born in Ankara," he answered. "When you do your military service, they send you somewhere new. If you are from the city, they send you to the country. If you are from the country, you go to a big city. I was from the capital so they sent me to a village. But I liked Göreme a lot. I was able to learn my English there because of the tourists."

"We're really looking forward to it," Susanne said. "We're traveling across Turkey but I really wanted to come here to visit Cappadokia."

"You should go horseback riding while you are there," the waiter continued. "A friend of mine runs a horse farm and you can rent them for an hour, two hours, a half day, whatever."

"We actually want to rent motorbikes," Susanne said, "though we're thinking about going on a balloon ride."

"Balloon rides are very nice," he replied, smiling. "But too expensive for a soldier."

Back on the bus Susanne and I both did our best to get some sleep. As far as I could tell Susanne nodded off just past midnight, but I couldn't sleep a wink. I've never been able to sleep while in a sitting position, no matter how far back I could recline. I had taken some Tylenol PM to help me sleep, but all the pills did was make me exceedingly groggy.

The last time I remembered looking at my watch was just after 3am. With earplugs in both ears and my light anorak wrapped around my head, I must have finally fallen asleep.

previous diary

Previous Journal:
Riding the
Steambath Express

diary homepage

Anatolian Fortnight

next diary

Next Journal:
Land of the
Fairy Chimeys