October 26 (Friday)
Steve woke up earlier than me, which should come as no surprise to anyone. He went up to the breakfast room, which (no surprise again) was on the rooftop terrace and had a chat with Nazmi, one of the owners of the Hotel Bella while I slept the sleep of the just. He came down to get me just as I was getting up.
Looking around with refreshed eyes, I was impressed all over again: the room was nice and bright owing to the window that looked out at an old aquaduct across the street. There were charming wrought-iron bars on the windows, and charming lace curtains, and charming — ok, beautiful and clean — fixtures in the bathroom. I showered with plenty of hot water and was ready to face our first day in Selçuk.
We went back up to the terrace, which was amazing, the nicest terrace we saw in Turkey. Half was open and half was glassed in, and the glassed-in area had comfy divans, low tables, beautiful carpets and a FIREPLACE. Amazing! We were asked how we wanted our eggs, and we both selected scrambled with peynir (cheese). Good choice! The scramble came out in a little metal dish, steaming and bubbling. The bread was fantastic, the olives [allegedly] were delish, the fruit super and the jam in pots on the table was superb. The U.T.B. on a whole new level. Did I mention amazing? We like the Hotel Bella, which we had heard about from Travels with Bill & Nancy. We had sent them an email that wasn’t responded to and then called by Skype from Fethiye. We were delighted that they had been able to accommodate us on relatively short notice and had given us a nice room to boot.
While we were eating, Steve explained that Nazmi had suggested NOT going to Ephesus that day as two cruise ships at Kuşadası had vomited some 5,000 tourists onto poor unsuspecting Ephesus. When Steve had mentioned to Nazmi that one of the things we wanted to do was rent a car and drive ourselves to Priene, Miletus and Didyma, Nazmi had said he could help with that as he knew someone with Avis. It was an easy decision to not join the throngs of tourists, but we weren’t sure we’d be able to rent with Avis as we didn’t have a credit card. Nazmi assured us this would not be a problem as he could vouch for us (though we weren’t entirely sure how, given that we’d been in the hotel for less than 12 hours).
Not only was renting the car not a problem, but the Avis guy was there with the car before we had finished our excellent breakfast. We signed the papers (and this time I checked the insurance, which would cover us if we were at fault for a loss, but not if we were drunk or speeding) and realized in a moment of horror that we didn’t have enough cash on us to pay for the rental! We asked for a minute to run out to an ATM and Nazmi told us not to worry, he’d add the 60L to the bill. Crazy!
After being shown around the car (a pretty basic Ford Festiva), we popped down the end of the block and across the street to the (semi, because Turks drive everywhere) ‘pedestrian only’ area of Selçuk where most of the shops, restaurants and ATMs were to get some money out for today’s adventures.
The little bit of Selçuk we saw in those few minutes were just wonderful. I felt immediately that I could live in this place. The area was clean and bright, and the shops looked prosperous and well kept. We headed back to the car and our helpful map, hand drawn by Nazmi, with all the rights and lefts marked down on the back of a napkin.
Our grand loop was to consist of the clifftop ancient Greek city of Priene, then to the ancient Greek city of Miletus, then further down the coast to ancient Didyma. We’d be getting our fill of ruins today! All three were members of the Ionian League and Priene and Miletus were at one time seaside prior to the silting of the Meander River — yes, the river that gave all curly rivers their name.
Cruising down the road, we turned right at Söke and followed the signs to Priene. The only challenge to driving in this area was figuring out the speed limit. On the way in, I recall that the bus consistently wanted to go 90kph, only because the stupid bus beeped every time it went over 89km and it beeped a LOT. I figured 80 was a good safe bet and I didn’t even get honked at all that often.
We pulled up to the parking lot at Priene and it was full of tour buses. We couldn’t complain too hard, given our general luck with having ruins to ourselves, so we headed up the walk with a good will towards the Temple of Athena. As we were climbing up huge marble stairs, a group of Japanese tourists came down, smiling and bowing. We smiled and bowed back and, around the next corner, smiled and nodded at a group of German tourists. When we made it to the Temple of Athena, there wasn’t another tourist in sight.
The standing columns stood in a line against the tree line, and an expanse of smooth marble pavers littered with broken columns stretched to the edge of a cliff that perched high above the Meander valley. It was an astonishingly beautiful spot and Steve especially was completely taken by its charms. I liked it very much, but Steve found it positively religious. He walked out to the prow of the outcrop where the ruins were most tumbled and the trees were twisted by the wind and soaked it all in.
I found myself fascinated in the rough carvings I found in the rock: crosses and what looked like game boards and other interesting graffiti.
After twenty minutes or more, we heard voices in the distance, and decided to have our last memories of the Temple of Athena be quiet and serene with just us in it. We left before the people came, and went over to the perfect little theatre, passing an interesting ruined basilica with beautiful tiles. The theatre was fun and in super condition, with great carved seats. We walked a little further down and saw a ruined agora but didn’t walk any further into the lower town. Priene was particularly interesting because you could see the grid lines of the townsite; walking streets through distinct neighbourhoods made me feel as though I would pass a toga-clad Greek at any time.
We walked back down the marble way to the exit and passed a few busloads of tourists heading up the trail. We were very pleased with ourselves — our anti-tourist shield was working!
Back in the car, we headed back out onto the main road that headed across the Meander valley. Driving through several small towns, I was eager to stop and look at some of the little shops and markets but Steve was anxious to get to Miletus (and not go shopping). If only we could have had days to spend exploring this area!
Miletus was easy to find, and the parking lot was full of tour buses — again. We decided to wait and see if the crowds would thin by eating lunch at one of the many cafes that lined the road in direct view of the amazing theatre at Miletus. We had some adequate gozleme and some delicious juice.. ok, I had delicious, fresh squeezed, portakal (orange) suyu and Steve had grenade (pomegranate) suyu which was slightly less delicious due to the pressing of the rind as well as the seeds. It was a little bitter, but still good. We cruised around the tourist area for a minute. The shops were adequate with some meershaum and nice G-rated as well as slightly rude onyx carvings.
After a while, we walked up to the amazing theatre. It was built right into this hill, and it dominated the scene. Walking across a field strewn with rubble up to the theatre, you could see that it was remarkably intact. The stairs up to the entry were complete, and you could see the ‘vomitorium’ was also still completely in place. No — the vomitorium has nothing to do with throwing up. Rather, it is the access tunnels behind the seats, like where you would get beer and foam fingers during the intermission at BC Stadium. We were excited about getting in there and running around like idiots, but first we were distracted by scrambling up the scaena (front of the stage) to look at some relief carvings among the fallen stones.
We were met up there by an older British couple who introduced themselves as ‘The Cliftons from Oxford’. In short order, we found out they were retired (he had been a barrister, and we exchanged a few lawyer/insurance broker jokes), they owned half a share in a restored Greek house in Selçuk and they had guests visiting. They told us to look for little yellow crocuses that were only out this time of year and recommended a sandwich restaurant in Selçuk. They said they might see us around and we hoped so as they were a lot of fun.
After the Cliftons left, and with them all the tour buses, we clambered all over the magnificent and ginormous theatre. We climbed to the top, down to the tunnel entrances, through the tunnels, and climbed back up to the top and we had it all to ourselves. We looked over the back of the theatre from the top of the hill and it was nothing but a wide expanse of fields, a meandering river, and the dusty hills where Priene perched in the distance. We knew from reading that the sea had once lapped at the bottom of this hill, which seemed ludicrous given that the sea was a mere shimmer at least ten kilometres distant.
From the top of the hill, we walked down to the rest of the ruins. Miletus is a huge area that most tour-bus tourists never see, and we explored like mad. We found a pool with the remains of a statue (again, it used to be on the waterfront), the agora dedicated to Apollo which everyone thinks is a temple. Really, just a blessed shopping mall! The area is a little marshy, and we were a little lazy, and the mud not too deep, so we scampered through a little pool over to get a closer look at the agora. The hillside was covered in bits of brick and pottery and all kinds of interesting stuff, but I restrained myself from picking anything up. Over by the baths, a young Turkish man in gumboots approached us and gave us sprigs of lavender. He seemed at first glance to be a little simple, with his shirt untucked and a rather disheveled air, but when we talked about the ruins, he spoke articulately and knowledgeably about the area. We got the impression he wanted us to ask him to show us around but, after our experience in Konya, we didn’t really want a guide.
We made our polite escape, and a few feet along found a tortoise in the path. We tried to get some pictures, but he decided we were obviously hungry for tortoise kebap and booked it for the bushes. When I say booked it, I mean he went FAST! So much for the tortoise and hare trope… this guy would have left any rabbit in the dust of Miletus.
Back at the parking lot, we gave that amazing theatre a long last look and drove down the little road that ran in front of the shopping and food stalls (where I couldn’t resist jumping out for a quick purchase). A short distance — 200 metres short — we saw a sign for a turnoff to the Ilyas Bey mosque which was currently under restoration and ‘decommissioned’ from its usual mosque duties. We were there, and the mosque was there, and we like mosques, so we turned left and headed down the road. Another few hundred metres along an avenue lined with olive trees, we found the road ended with a little flock of parked workmen’s vehicles. We were the only tourists there.
The man minding the white booth where one usually paid an entrance fee waved us in without taking our lira, and, dodging wheelbarrow-pushing workmen, we approached the courtyard of the Ilyas Bey Camii.
The Ilyas Bey was magnificent. Even without a standing minaret, the walls, the arches, the stork-nests pom-pomming the spires on the roofs, and the atmosphere of grace and humility was exquisite. The entire scene seemed shot in soft focus; the sunlight was more gentle, the scents more refreshing, and the sounds more musical than in Miletus; the very air sparkled with something I can only describe as sanctity. We took off our shoes at the door, even though we didn’t have to, because we felt compelled to grant this place as much respect as we would had there been a bowing Imam at the door. Before we could even enter, we stood silently and marveled at the carved stone fretwork that surrounded the entrance.
Inside the mosque, it was hard to know what to look at more. The ceiling was arched and the mihrab (the niche) was surrounded by a deeply subtle and most beautiful foliate carving in the stone. The floor was mostly covered in smooth marble flags that felt heavy and cool and timeless under our feet. All in all, it was one of the most reverent places we’d been and we were hard pressed to tear ourselves away. To think we could have missed it was just heartbreaking.
In a fit of happiness and largess, I picked a black olive off a tree next to the car and gave it to Steve to eat… I didn’t know, and he didn’t remember, that olives have to be cured in brine before they are edible. Oops! At least we had bottles of suyu in the car for him to rinse out his mouth with.
We pointed the car on the southern sea road and drove down to Didim, where the huge complex that was both the Temple to, and the Oracle of, Apollo. Next to Delphi, the oracle at Didyma was the most important of the Hellenistic world.
We nearly drove right by it.
Having turned around, and found a parking spot next to a little restaurant, we paid our entrance fee and walked down the stairs. At first glance (at least when not in a car), Didyma is impressive. It has a few incredibly tall reconstructed pillars and a veritable forest of shorter pillars. It took walking down the stairs to the excavated area, and then walking up the steps of the temple itself, and being right among the stumps, to comprehend the true magnitude of the partial columns. Even the broken stumps were well over my head high. When I looked straight ahead, I got a sense of what it must have looked like when everything was intact and a visitor would have felt completely dwarfed and insignificant in such a place. Ok, I felt dwarfed and insignificant. It was pretty incredible.
I found a lot more carvings scratched into the enormous marble pavers: more crosses, more gameboards, and a carving that might have been a Viking ship… or might have been a cervix with a sail. I kept expecting to find “Herodotus was here” or suchlike.
After a bit of exploring, we found a downward-slanting tunnel that we followed into a high-walled courtyard that had pieces of relief carvings leaning against the walls. Some were extraordinary, like the griffins. We realized that we were disturbing a giggling Turkish couple: she quite conservatively dressed and both of them madly in love. We wondered how many spooning Turkish teens these ruins had sheltered. We giggled and held hands a bit too, which was fine as we were alone except for the couple, and they were staying out of sight. After a while, the sun was getting low in the sky, and we were getting hungry, so we found our way to the exit, passing and taking many photos of the ubiquitous Medusa head (which isn’t a Medusa at all; I examined her hair very closely and saw nary a snake).
Up on the street, we dodged a carpet seller and walked a few feet up to the Apollon Cafe that was named in the LP as being good and prices reasonable. The terrace was lovely, though its view of the temple was from across a busy road and through trees. We didn’t think the prices all that reasonable either, though we did find the LP to be generally out of date on that front, too. We decided to order a few mezes, which the waiter provided with barely disguised ennui. The mezes were definitely good — better than we expected. The service… meh. The kedi sitting on the rail next to the arbour was the best part of the meal.
When we walked back down the road to the car, we stopped to admire another kedi on a cafe stoop, and the owner of the cafe called out to us to look at the menu (a common occurrence). We regretfully advised that we had already eaten and it was true — we did regret. Not that we ate, or that the food was bad, or the terrace not lovely, but we regretted that we didn’t break away from the strictures of the LP and go out on our own. The LP is often a safe bet, but not always the best one.
Pointed north, we passed a bizarre kind of amusement park that looked like Disney met a Pueblo indian and they got drunk on raki and decided to build an adobe amusement park sponsored by Crayola. Weird! And not open, or we might have gone in.
We pulled into a little dirt road beside the ocean and walked down to the shore where we watched the sun set over the Agean Sea. Steve took a few photos and then we just stood there and cuddled. You could practically hear the sun set, it was so magical.
We thought we might have a chance to see Lake Bafa before the light was entirely gone, so we drove like very cautious demons back towards the main road past Söke, passing (cautiously) a police roadblock that (cautiously) waved us through. Whew! We found the road which we thought would lead to the lake, and drove along it, past a gated compound that was either military or industrial. We drove past a suspicious-looking guard in a guardhouse and realized not too further along that we were only just reaching the marshy part of the lake… and it was dark. We turned around and drove again past an even-more suspicious guard back towards the main road.
We were almost at the main road, and getting eager to get back to Selçuk where a more substantial dinner might be found, when we found ourselves stuck behind a flock of sheet. I mean, sheep. Even though we joked a lot and complained a little, we were happy enough to be in the middle of nowhere in Turkey stuck behind a flock of sheep herded by actual Turkish shepherds, rather than tucked into a comfy resort where we would never get to smell… well, sheep.
After further adventures with autogaz, which cost us about 50L for the day, we were back at the Hotel Bella, dropped the car keys off at the front desk, picked up our beady yellow key fob, and dragged our sorry selves all the way up the stairs to the terrace restaurant. There were a TON of people up there — more than I thought the hotel would hold — and the food they were eating looked divine. We plunked ourselves down on a divan in the corner near the fireplace, and chatted a little with a harried-looking Urdal (Nazmi’s partner) about our day. The menu looked reasonable but we weren’t too into the prix fixe that looked great but was too much food given our late lunch. Urdal cheerfully allowed us to order some mezes but going to the display cabinet was too much for me — they all looked so darn good — and I think I ordered five. Or six. Maybe more. They were all delicious, though, and we stuffed ourselves stupid.
We spent a very enjoyable evening eating and chatting with other guests and eating some more and looking at the very lovely view of the lit-up walls of St. John’s Basilica and the aquaduct. The other guests we chatted with were very nice: we met an Australian doctor who had a winery and we had interesting conversations about the wine industry. Keep in mind that my expertise was pretty much limited to having done a few winery tours in the Okanagen; fortunately Steve was better read than I. Linda, a Chinese Canadian from Vancouver, was there to visit religious sites including Mary’s House. The evening was very convivial and we ate and talked and ate some more.
When we finally rolled ourselves into our room, we were struck all over at how nice it was. The maids had changed our towels and emptied the garbage (which was important, as there was a helpful sign in the washroom that declared the hotel to be in the old part of town and requested we not flush anything paper down the toilet).
The maids had also, slightly less helpfully, thrown out the plastic bag we had placed on the floor that contained our pomegranates that we had been hauling around since our first day in Çirali. On the upside, they also threw out the knife we had gotten in Fethiye to cut up said pomegranates… why that’s the upside, I’m not sure, but we were remarkably cheerful about the loss, and we went to bed content.