This Greek Salad is All Green to Me

Trip Start Oct 13, 2010
Trip End Jun 20, 2011

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Flag of Turkey  , Turkish Aegean Coast,
Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Days 243 to 245

On our way to our final stop on our Turkish tour, our bus finally arrives in the city of Kusadasi at about 9PM, where someone from our hotel is meeting us. After standing on the side with our backpacks for about 20 minutes and no sign of anyone there to pick us up, we walk over to the ticket booth and Jill patiently explains our dilemma to the guy at the desk. He kindly calls the hotel for us and they tell him that they'll send over a driver. Wow….thanks for the initiative, guys. I guess that should’ve been our first warning about the hotel.

This last stop was sold to us by our travel agent guy as a "4-star hotel" and we were looking forward to the opportunity to get spoiled a bit. Well, arriving into the dingy lobby and checking in with the unfriendly desk clerk, it quickly became apparent that this was no four-star. I’d say maybe a 2.5 star. Our dinners here are supposed to be included in the package, but we’re curtly informed that we’ve arrived too late for that dinner. (Ummmm… maybe we would have been on time if we didn’t spend an hour at the bus terminal waiting for our pick-up… just sayin’?!) So after unloading our packs into our dated room, we walk around the corner to eat at another hotel that seemed to be a bit more friendly and welcoming….and still serving food. The meals were passable, though it was nice to sit outside, relax, and sip on a glass of wine. We shared a Greek salad as an appetizer and when the salad arrived with no feta cheese, no olives, no onions, and no tomatoes, we called the waiter over to tell him that they must have made a mistake. Given that Greeks and Turks are so close geographically and share so much culturally (though they admittedly hate each other), you would think that they know what goes in a Greek salad, right? So it must be a mistake. Nope. Our silver-tongued waiter enlightened us by advising that the lettuce-filled salad we were staring at below us was, in fact, a traditional Greek salad….and that the word “Greek” actually means “green”….which explains why our salad was all green. Jill and I looked at him and nodded, while both thinking….that is the biggest crock of sh*t we’ve ever heard. To quote a tried-and-true Bronx saying here….”whadayya gonna do?”. So we sat there, drank our wine, and ate our green, Greek salad.

Wednesday was our designated tour day, so we were up at the rare hour of 7:30AM to get ready for our 8:30 pick-up. Our buffet breakfast downstairs was incredibly underwhelming but somewhat edible, so we filled up in advance of the long day ahead. Our first stop was the town of Sulcuk, one of the most visited tourist destinations in Turkey. Supposedly, back in the days of Jesus and following his death, John the Evangelist (one of the apostles) was assigned the region of Asia Minor to spread Christianity. He is said to have died here in Selcuk and there was a basilica built atop a hill in the 6th century to mark the site where he was buried. The Basilica of St. John still stands atop that hill.

Next up was the Temple of Artemis, once one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. A Greek temple dedicated to a goddess named Artemis, it was larger than the Pantheon in Greece in its prime, but was eventually destroyed in 401AD. Now, only one pillar remains….and lots of rubble. Ahhhhhh….we were all pretty big deals in our primes, weren’t we?

After visiting a mosque that was constructed using the stones from ancient ruins, we made our way to the star attraction of the day…the ancient Greek (and later Roman) city of Ephesus, once one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean world. We’ve seen quite a few “ruins” already on this trip, but the ones here were quite amazing. In fact, we were told that Ephesus contains the largest and best-preserved collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. Strolling around the grounds, we were really able to get a bit of a feel for what life was like in Roman times here.

We spent the next couple of hours walking around with our tour guide through the marble-paved streets and under the blazing sun. Jill was actually feeling a bit ill from the heat and was looking for some shade cover whenever we were able to find some. (“I’m MELLL-ting…”) Some of the highlights of what we saw:

-          The Great Theater – believed to be the largest outdoor theater in the ancient world, this thing used to seat over 40,000 people! Though let’s face it….people were probably much smaller back then.

-          The Library of Celsus – absolutely huge structure built in 125AD and adorned with tons of statues at the entrance. It once held about 12,000 scrolls and it faces east so that the reading rooms could make best use of the morning light. My favorite part? It had a secret underground tunnel to a brothel! “Hey honey, I’m just heading over to the library to…..uh… know….study and stuff.”

-          The Temple of Hadrian – immense structure with awesome friezes that was built in the 2nd century just because Emperor Hadrian was popping by for a visit. Now that’s a pretty cool welcome, right?

-          The Odeon – a small, roofed theater for musical performances and meetings of the town council.  Oh…..right….so that’s where the name “Cineplex Odeon” comes from. This place had a capacity for only about 1,500 as you had to be a pretty big deal back then to be invited in.

The last thing in Ephesus that really impressed us were the bathhouses and latrines. All of the toilets in the latrine were side-by-side in one big open area (no modesty here, folks). There was fresh water running on the upper level for washing and a sewage system on the lower level to flush out all the……..waste. There also used to be 2 guys in the front of the place playing flutes….you know….to help relax you a bit….and maybe to mute out the noises. (Can you imagine if you were prone to stage fright? Yikes!) All this for just a small fee. We were actually quite amazed at how sophisticated everything was for 2,000 years ago. Meanwhile, India still has open sewers on its streets all over the country.

After lunch, we were whisked off to make a couple more stops of awesome Turkish sites – a carpet factory and a leather shop. Yep….nothing like paying for a tour and then being taken hostage as the tour bus drags you into shopping stops. Despite a hard and aggressive sell by the guys working at the carpet shop, we didn’t see any that we’d wanna spend that much money on….and I had to be borderline rude to make the guy understand that we weren’t buying. The leather shop was slightly more entertaining, as we were treated to a fashion show with some pouty Turkish models to help sell their wares. Nice try….and the stuff did look nice….but we’re not really in the leather market right now. Although a well-to-do couple that we met on our bus left a few hundred dollars less rich.

To conclude the day of great sights, we were driven up a steep hill about 7 kilometers from Selcuk.  Here, atop Mount Koressos, overlooking Ephesus and the Aegean Sea, sits a modest little house which is believed to have been the House of the Virgin Mary. Now, wait a second here…how the heck did the Virgin Mary end up in Turkey, you ask? Well, remember earlier on when we mentioned how John the Apostle was here spreading Christianity after Jesus was crucified? Supposedly, before Jesus died, he entrusted John with Mary’s care and John brought Mary here with him, where she lived until her death and Assumption.  The site was discovered in the early 19th century, based on the visions of an Augustinian nun in Germany. Pope Paul VI confirmed its authenticity in 1967 and it has since been visited by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

Aside from the specifics of the who’s, when’s, and where’s of this shrine, the spot itself is beautifully serene and peaceful. Thousands of Christian pilgrims, many overwhelmed with emotion, visit each year and there is a wishing wall where people have pinned notes or letters asking for help or strength from the Virgin Mary. Quite a touching scene, whether or not the authenticity of the house is still questioned by some.

Our last tourist day in Turkey was on Thursday and with no sightseeing on the agenda, we slept in, had breakfast downstairs, and then just wandered around the town, stopping in at cafes and restaurants along the way. The food, once again, was decidedly average, bringing to a culmination a very disappointing culinary experience in Turkey. Our guide book raved on about how Turkey is one of the best places to visit for great food. Not really our experience…oh well.

In the evening, we walked along the waterfront, which was bustling with tourists, and then made our way into the shopping district. We were trying to find a place to buy stamps for our postcards, but didn’t have much luck. We did find them….but the guys selling them were all trying to rip us off by asking for 4x or 5x more than what the actual value was. Ahhhhhhh….Turkey.

After another bland and uninspiring buffet dinner at the hotel, we went up to our room to pack for our travel day tomorrow. On the day we arrived, we asked reception if he knew of a place where we could have our laundry done. He told us that the hotel could arrange laundry services for us, and although we know that this usually comes with a small premium, we took him up on his offer anyway. Well, as we were packing our laundered clothes, Jill noticed that a few of her tops had soap stains on them, which weren’t there before. Oh well….I can’t say we were tremendously surprised, given the level of service so far. What did surprise us however….or shall I say stunned us, was the bill for the laundry service. For the difficult chore of inadequately washing our crappy backpacker clothes, mainly consisting of underwear, socks, and t-shirts, we were charged a cool $60! (I had actually gone down to reception to pick up the laundry and just thought that I was doing the dollar conversion wrong, 'cause there is no way that they could charge us $60 for laundry…. But, upon returning upstairs and having Joe confirm…  oh, yes they can… and they just did!) With the two of us staring at each other, appalled by their incredible gall, I had a mind to march down to reception and give them some hell. But instead, I followed the Yankee game online, skyped with my uncle Russ, and then fell asleep. G’nite!!

And so ends our whirlwind, 2-week visit to Turkey. Geez…I think I spent ten times the amount of time writing about it then actually touring the country! This place has so much history, culture, and incredible sights that it was tough to squeeze in what we did in that time. We did pay for it to a certain extent though, with many early mornings, long bus rides, and jam-packed days. But some of the things we saw and did here, most notably the hot-air balloon ride and meeting up with my friend Lynn, are among the highlights of our entire trip so far. We leave early tomorrow morning for Istanbul, where we’ll catch another flight to Amman, Jordan. We’re done with “Middle East Light”….now it’s time for the real thing! We’ll see how that goes…
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