On Thursday morning our group embarked on our most recent trip. From the airport in Athens we flew to the island of Samos, our seventh visited Greek island, where we spent the day as we waited for a fairy to Turkey. From the top deck of the fairy, at sunset, we made our way from the European island of Samos to Asian Turkey, a port city called Kusadasi. We spent two nights in Kusadasi, and used it as a base point for two of our major excursions: the ancient city of Ephesus and Smyrna, or modern day Izmir.
Our first night in Kusadasi we just got some dinner, did a bit of exploring, and hung out around the hotel, as we knew that our next day was going to be very busy. After a good nights sleep we got up early to set out on our trip to the ancient city of Ephesus. This is one of the largest sites of ancient ruins in the world, and most of it is still underground, waiting to be excavated. We spent a few hours in Ephesus, and still didn’t have enough time to fully see all of the excavated ruins. This ancient city was home to some of the most magnificent things that I have ever seen, and a very funny and informative tour guide made it all the more enjoyable. The highlight of the ruins, I would say was the remains of an ancient library, which, in its days was one of the largest in the world. This building was nothing short of incredible, with its colossal size and double storied columns. We saw that gates for separate, different classes of people divided the city into sections. On the sidewalks we saw carvings and etchings, which were evidence of early Christianity in the city. All together this tour was like gazing upon and learning from ancient masterpieces of mammoth stature. This was the most amazing site of ancient ruins that I have ever seen in my life.
After leaving Ephesus we headed back to Kusadasi to try our luck in the bustle and bartering of the outdoor marketplace. This type of marketplace, we have learned, is very common in Turkish cities. We are currently in the end of the tourist and port season so all of the shopkeepers are ready to pack up for the winter. In talking to one of them, their summer profits last them through the winter until the next season starts. Because the season is drawing to a close all of the merchants are in a craze trying to get rid of their merchandise, at any price. They try to pull you into their shops and show you things. They offer you good prices and compliment you. In short, they will do almost anything to get you to buy something. They want to make sales in a way that I have never seen before. This doesn’t sound like a very interesting observation, but trust me when I say that it is a fascinating condition to witness. I found myself feeling for the people that were trying to force things on me.
On our way out of the market we saw a sign for a karaoke bar. Knowing that this was a port city, and therefore a city that catered to the English language, we thought that they might have English music, so we decided to go back later in the evening. After a buffet of Turkish specialties (which, in my opinion, are the worst specialties I have ever eaten) we ventured out to check out the night scene in Kusadasi, and eventually made our way to the karaoke bar. Here we had a blast, and engaged in much conversation with the Turkish bar-owner and workers. They taught us a few Turkish phrases, and talked with us a bit about their customs and way of life. The night ended in a quick nap before the next day’s adventures in Izmir.
Our tour guide through Izmir was born and raised in the city, thus making our tour all-the-more special. He showed us old fortifications and some of the most beautiful mosques, along with a small portion of the worlds largest street market, but did it through a more intimate and personal perspective. This city was fascinating, especially since I had just finished reading about the Greek and Armenian genocide in Izmir in 1922, which was titled: Smyrna 1922, The Destruction of a City. From Smyrna we flew to Istanbul, Turkey, which we arrived in last night.
Today is our fist day here in Istanbul, but we are hotel ridden due to intense rain. Hopefully we will be able to get out today, as our goal is to see a few ancient mosques and a famous palace.