As we believe that we are short on time, we decided to make our way out of Istanbul by air, rather than the much cheaper, but much much slower bus. We decided to skip Gallipoli, which would as an Australian it would be sobering to see, but I don’t hold any direct ANZAC ties so I didn’t feel too guilty in skipping past the battlefields. I also had no regrets skipping Troy, which I have heard is little more than a massive tourist trap and a replica wooden horse.
Having learnt how hard it is to get to the cheaper (and much further) airport, we booked flights from the Ataturk Airport, which was only 30-minutes and €5 each! Unsurprisingly there was very little traffic in town at 7AM on a Sunday morning.
Like Kyrgyzstan, there were multiple security checks. Fortunately they were all smooth (and didn’t involve an old man crossing names off a print out).
Even though we had an unpleasant flight with Pegasus between Bishkek and Istanbul only a few days ago, we still decided to fly with them to Izmir – mostly because it was a short flight and it was much cheaper. Thankfully it was quick and reasonably painless.
We decided to hire a rental car for the next 18 days, with the intention of driving around the coast and up towards Ankara. There was some confusion picking up the rental car (which we organised through economycarrentals.com) – I had booked a small car like a Fiat Punto, but had ended up with a mid-sized sedan Fiat Linea, which will be harder to park and will use more fuel.
There was even more confusion when it came time for me to drive away from the airport. I haven’t driven a manual car in years, and I have never driven a right-hand drive car. It felt indescribably odd trying to shift gears with my right hand – kind of like trying to write with your opposite hand. I hadn’t even driven 500m out of the airport and Risa was worried and thought that we should cancel the reservation – such little faith!
Our first mission was to find a cheap GPS navigation unit, as there was nothing included with the car (and renting was €5 a day, which worked out at $130 for the duration). I remember seeing them for sale at almost every shop I walked in to in Australia, so I really didn’t think it was going to be difficult. But, after an hour of pulling in to every electronics or department store we saw and coming up blank, we gave up.
While we were walking around the streets, we could hear these cars honking and making a huge amount of noise. I knew that Turks are impatient drivers, but couldn’t believe that they would be such jerks with the horn… and then we saw the cars and guessed it must have been for a wedding (we learnt later that it was a normal tradition). There was a big convoy of cars with their horn locked on, people hanging out the windows, lights flashing. We could hear them for another couple of minutes as they continued on their noisy journey.
Instead I purchased a SIM card for my phone and decided to use a data connection with Google Maps. Getting a SIM card was simple and it cost about 60TL ($30) for the card with enough credit to get us through. However! Turns out that Google and the Turkish government are having a bit of a spat about Cyprus and the borders, so Google Navigation has been disabled, which limits the usefulness of it somewhat – instead of listening to the lovely Google lady, I have to get Risa to interpret and give directions, and we all know how many arguments start from navigation! There was some confusion with the highways leaving Izmir, with the multiple turnoffs, all of which had Izmir as their destination and many with the same road number. But, obviously, we got on the right road eventually.
It was about 4PM when we finally arrived in Ephesus, which was probably a good thing as it didn’t seem to be that crowded. It wasn’t the best weather, but in between the heavy clouds were patches of clear skies and sunshine.
These were the first ruins that I have visited, and I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was a little disappointed. I was anticipating walking through old buildings and experiencing what life was like 2000 years ago. However, since the buildings were all ruined (hence them being called ‘ruins’), it required a great deal of imagination to put the picture together. It’s just a case of managing expectations I guess. The photos always show the brilliantly preserved façade of the Celsus Library, so I just assumed that the entire town would be in a similar state – it’s not.
Don’t get me wrong, once the initial shock/disappointment wore off (and it wore off quickly), we were exploring and looking for hidden gems that still remain. There was lots of rubble, toppled columns, and foundations of buildings. Most of the marble was still in very good condition with very little erosion (unlike the sandstone). I found it really amazing seeing the Greek characters engraved into the stone, too.
Apart from the draw card library (which we decided to save for last), the immense terrace houses complex was a standout. These were the houses of the ruling elite, and it showed the luxury in which they would have lived. Palatial rooms, with gorgeous tiling and frescos – luxurious even by today’s standards. It is a separate fee to enter this area (which is still under active renovation/excavation), but it is certainly worth it.
Here and there the odd column had been re-erected, and other blocks have been arranged in a way make sense of the area.
The town stretched further than I was expecting, and all sorts of buildings remained. Sadly, there was no free information about any of the buildings. If you wanted to know more than you could gather by simply looking at it, you would have to either pay for a guide or hire a pre-recorded one. It bugs me on principle that the entry fee only covers the entry. Something as simple as a small brochure giving some information would be so beneficial, but of course, that doesn’t make as much money. Fortunately, our Lonely Planet did a decent job of explaining what many of the ruined buildings were (and things to look out for), so all wasn’t lost.
By the time we’d walked to the top of the town, the weather had finally closed in and the rain had started. At first it was just the odd heavy shower, which we were able to time the showers and hide inside some tomb-like rooms or under trees to stay dry. However, it eventually got the stage where it was a tropical downpour that didn’t let up. The rain was so heavy and constant that soon rivers of brown water were flowing down the marble pavement. I’m sure that the marble pavement was tough and wore very slowly, but it was a nightmare to try and walk down in the wet! I found myself shuffling like we did on ice.
At least the rain drove most of the remaining tourists to leave the site, leaving it to us (and a small handful of others).
The theatres were also extraordinary, if only for their scale. I can’t imagine 30,000 people all seated in one of these enormous auditoriums. I actually can’t imagine town of this age with 30,000 people in, either.
But, as I alluded to earlier, Celsus Library was easy the stand out attraction, and it was very easy to understand why. The marble façade still looked amazing. There was still so much detail, and it was more-or-less still intact. It was also enormous, probably standing 20m tall.
Ephesus is only ruins, so the nearest accommodation options are in the close by town of Selçuk. This was our first real taste of rural Turkey – I got overly excited each time I saw people driving past on tractors. We managed to find a cute little hotel/guest house from Lonely Planet called Vardar Pension. It was an old apartment block, and we were in a small studio room on the top (fourth) floor. It was simple, but it was cheap and very clean.
Sadly the famous kofte restaurant across the road was closed tonight, so we had to go for a little search to find a feed. I let Risa do the selection, as she’s far fussier than I am. What we ended up with was a meal with vegetables, which was kind of exciting after all the meat and bread we’ve been dieting on recently. They also had kofte (meatballs) on the menu, but I will probably never know if they were as good. But, not dwelling on the negatives of what might have been, the meal that we did have was tasty, if not life changing.
There are still some remnants in town of the past, the most obvious would be the enormous castle perched up on the hill, and the aqueduct, which is now a home for cranes.
It was a cute, though sleepy, town.