Leaving Istanbul, we had a 40-hour non-stop passage to Kušadasi. A port town, but clearly an inexpensive stop for holidaymakers from the UK as well, Kušadasi is busy town with the usual shops and cafes that cater to cruise chip customers. Our primary reason for coming is that it is the closest marina town to Ephesus.
Once the former capital of Asia Minor and the second largest city in the Roman Empire, Ephesus is an archeologist dream come true and is still revealing her treasures and secrets today.
I first came to Ephesus on a cruise ship whose itinerary included Kusadasi. It was probably 3 decades since I was here, and a lot has changed since then. I remembered the amphitheater large enough to hold over 20,000 spectators. But I didn’t remember the Library of Celsus, built in 110AD as a tribute to a wealthy senator. Currently residing in a sarcophagus beneath the library, Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, was a well-loved senator and benefactor of ancient Ephesus.
2 other important monuments remaining are the Temple of Artemis completed in the 6th century BC and was designated as one of the 7 wonders of the Ancient World.
While there is evidence of some reconstruction, the original work is evident and remarkable. Directly adjacent to the Library of Celsus, once the 3rd largest library of the Roman world, sits the agora. It takes no imagination whatsoever to picture the traders from all over Asia and Europe meeting here to conduct their business. If ever there was a reason to visit foreign countries and archeological discoveries – Ephesus, is it. Reading books and watching documentaries on television simply cannot convey the spirit or energy of a place that walking in the footsteps, on the same pavement, and in their homes can convey. It was remarkable seeing the graffiti on the walls and artifacts left behind revealing the interests, and the politics of the people who lived in that time. Imagine the conversations that must have taken place whilst sitting in the communal toilets or bath houses. Walking in the agora it was easy to picture the merchants and customers conducting business. There is just nothing like it.
We were collected from our boat in the Setur Marina in Kusadasi by our guilde Ilker Avci (Port of Call Kusadasi Travel Agency. Whatsapp +90 535 559 00 57. I found Ilker on Airbnb. I find many of our guides there because unlike Travelocity and other large booking sites, Airbnb seems to handle more small and personal guides. Frequently when I book a guide from Airbnb, we get someone who is working for themselves rather than a large tour agency. With few exceptions, they are usually local, impart the spirit -as much as the information – of a place, and they have relationships with the smaller shops which I love. When possible, we try to leave whatever dollars we spend, in the local places and with the local people.
Before Ilker collected us, we gave him a rough idea of how we wanted to spend our time. I didn’t really expect or want to go to a carpet shop or leather shop since we were more interested in the archeological parts of the city but I did tell him that I would be very interested in learning about the silk process, the silk worms, the natural way of dying the yarn and I had also heard that there is a unique ceramic that comes only from this area and I would be open to that as well. Ilker suggested that we get an early start (8:00) which would give us some time in the ruins by ourselves before the tour busses showed up. Also, September is still warm here, so it gave us some cooler weather. We did enjoy probably an hour of peace and quiet before the busses unloaded and the masses descended on us. What a huge difference it made to be able to appreciate the sanctity of the place without the energy present with the arrival of thousands. I could feel the people from thousands of years ago and imagine what their life was like. The terrace houses were spectacular! Constantly being excavated, they are revealing their secrets every day. I would love to ask the archeologists who spend their days with the artifacts of these families if they feel a connection to them.
Have they given them names, do they feel their energy or presence, or ghosts left behind. It was for me surreal to look at the almost childlike graffiti on the walls and wonder about the person who left these behind. Could you imagine knowing that your etchings on the wall, the marks we pencil in Jacks bedroom marking his passage through life in terms of his growth, being discovered even 300 years, never mind 3000 years from now.
Having crawled all over the ruins we had hoped to see, and given that the crowds were now arriving en masse, we were ready to move on.
The next stop was the carpet shop. Even though this was not something I had planned on, I trust that when something comes up on a tour or doesn’t come up on a tour, it is all as it should be and I try to lean into it. As it turns out, ALL of us loved this stop. Even Jack who was clearly not going to be buying any carpets. I suppose part of my reticence in the carpet shops is the overwhelming sense that I don’t know enough about any of it to feel confident in buying them. Also, I didn’t imagine that the carpets would really “feel” at home in our Florida home.
But this was not about “selling” us something as much as it was about us learning and appreciating the cultural impact and significance of carpet weaving in the heritage of this region. And that is exactly what we ARE doing here. In addition, and a big highlight of the stop, we learned not only how the carpets are made, but how the silk is woven from the silkworms. We witnessed the silk being extracted in one long thread, from the cocoon, then weaved. I hated to learn that the worm must be killed to get the silk but that mercifully the worm dies only 2 days before they would have died naturally. Small consolation …. The dyes are natural and watching the woman weaving was at once therapeutic and mesmerizing. I’m sure sitting still to do this for hours at a time would be a real challenge, just as knitting is, which is why these women only actually weave for 4 hours total per day, but there is also something meditative about it. We truly appreciated the work and the workmanship that went into the creation of these special treasures. Of course, choosing a carpet is another matter entirely!
Have you ever gone into a car dealer or a repair shop and just known to the core of your being that you were about to be “ripped off”? I have had this unshakeable feeling too many times to count, and the less I know about the subject at hand, the greater the feeling that there is no chance that I won’t be swindled. Well, that is how I felt in the grand Bazaar in Istanbul. I feel this even more so when it is incumbent on the buyer to negotiate (something with which most Americans are very uncomfortable), there is little chance that I’m going to feel ok negotiating a price involving such a capital expenditure. We aren’t talking about peaches in the market where I am sure we are paying way more per kilo than any other shopper there. Don’t get me wrong, when I’m buying amazing fruit from the farmer with dirt under his nails, I’m delighted to pay more – and will often leave behind more money than it cost.
But I didn’t feel swindled. I felt educated well enough and the price calculated methodically enough that I didn’t think the salesman was picking numbers from the air and changing the decimal based on the person standing in front of him. Now granted, he may have been, but I just didn’t feel that the price that we paid was in any way unfair or unwarranted. Is it possible that we paid more than someone else walking in the door the following day? Of course, it is. But we were well satisfied with the price that we paid for the carpets we bought.
There were hundreds if not thousands in every shape, color, and material and only the most experienced vendor could have helped us choose but choose we did. There are a couple of long hallways in our home which need rugs so we were able to support the local economy, the local artists and we will have a treasure waiting for us at home when we rejoin them in a couple of years from now.
I can’t recommend this carpet shop enough and if you find yourself in Kusadasi, pay Can Karaer a vist. Nakkas Carpets +90 (537) 75 95
Our next stop involved one of the very best meals we have ever eaten! We love discovering new ways of eating old ingredients or discovering new ingredients we have never heard of before. Mezzes are a common way of eating the salad or appetizers in Turkey. Like the tapas in Spain, mezzes may be a cold or hot salad, or dip and served at the outset of your meal. It is common to choose from the display case which mezzes you would like. Muammara, a dip made of roasted sweet red pepper with nuts and spices, is a new favorite mezze we have found and here is where we had it first. I have all the ingredients and I can’t wait to make it on board.
Fortified and replete, we next went the house of the Virgin Mary. Dying on the cross, Jesus instructs John to take Mary as his mother and Mary to take John as her son. John’s grave is nearby (though we ran out of time and energy and never made it there) and I have only just discovered that John is believed to have ascended into heaven as his remains are unclaimed by any church. But we did see Mary’s house. There is a saint who has had apparitions instructing her that this is Mary’s house. It is now the sight of holy pilgrimages for Christians and Muslims as well.
Several hours past our agreed upon 6-hour tour, Ilker made one more pass by the town of Selçuk. Alec and I had planned to grab a cab or bus and have a walk around. It is certainly cute enough to have made the list but having seen it from the windows of Ilkers car, we were satisfied to cross it off the list. But if you are here for any time, it may be worth a closer look. We were needing to move along so we began preparations for the next leg of our trip, Bodrum. Below are a few more photos from our walks around town included Pigeon Island.
If you find yourself in Kusadasi and in need of a tour guide, give Ilker a call Whatsapp +90 535 559 00 57