Kusadasi and Istanbul
by Linda Coffman
Kusadasi - June 15th
Of all the ports on the Aegean, none have the
spiritual attraction found near Kusadasi. Only twenty minutes
from R1's berth is the ancient city of Ephesus. Noted for its
Greek and Roman architecture, archaeologists have been working
for over a hundred years to uncover the hidden treasures of
Ephesus--yet only a small percentage of the huge city is
revealed. Painstaking excavation work has revealed buildings of
breathtaking beauty and simpler structures--strikingly advanced for
Three tours were offered by R1's shore
excursion department for our day in Kusadasi. Once again, I opted
for the abbreviated 3 1/2 hour version of Exploring Ephesus
(including the Basilica of St. John) and Mel selected Exploring
Ephesus, Priene, and Didyma, a 7 1/2 hour tour including lunch.
Also available was a Highlights of Kusadasi tour lasting 6 1/2
hours with lunch. All three included Ephesus.
Coaches were again spread out--leaving
as soon as they were "full" and timed so that our
arrival at Ephesus was staggered. In the pier area vendors were
offering English version guidebooks to Ephesus for $3 to $5
(price was dependent on your bartering skill). I strongly
recommend buying one, the photos and maps of the area are
excellent. Our tour guide was one of the best of the week; an
archaeologist with hands-on experience, he also teaches at the
school for guides. Passing golden beaches and beautiful five-star
hotels (extremely affordable at $40 per person a night,
all-inclusive), we were treated to the sight of storks nesting
atop power poles. In the villages, storks are treated like family
pets. Through orchards of mulberries, peaches, and tangerines,
our anticipation built as our guide explained the minute care
with which the ancient Roman capital of Asia Minor was uncovered.
Once a seaport, Ephesus is now several kilometers inland.
Once inside, I realized nothing prepared
me for the rush of excitement I felt walking on the same marble
road where Mark Anthony and Cleopatra's chariot once passed. The
restored Greek and Roman temples seem to go on forever. At one
time Ephesus' population was 300,000 and the site is huge, yet
only a small portion is uncovered. One of the most extensively
restored buildings is the Library of Celsus which once contained
12,000 papyrus scrolls. The niches where they were stored are
visible in an inner room. Ephesians were well-educated and some
of the uncovered buildings are gymnasiums (schools). Wealthy
families took pride in their educated servants and all citizens
were able to read.
Most notable is the Great Theater with
capacity for 24,000 spectators. The scene of gladiatorial
contests, it was here that Anthony appeared with Cleopatra before
the populace and where St. Paul addressed the Ephesians. Sitting
on a marble seat in the hot Turkish sun, I felt a chill when our
guide took the stage and acted out Anthony's introduction of
Cleopatra and then solemnly quoted St. Paul. This is an
experience no one should miss.
Most visitors to Ephesus were led by
private guides; however, there were some independent tourists who
attempted to tag along with our group. Our guide quickly (and
forcefully) pointed out to them that they had not paid for
his commentary and if they wished to have a more rewarding tour
they could hire a personal guide at the entrance for $20. If a
ship's tour isn't your preference, you can hire a car and a guide
but you probably won't save much money by doing so.
After our stop at the Basilica of St.
John, we passed the lone column remaining of the Temple of
Artemis, once one of the Seven Wonders of the World. We were also
treated to Turkish Delight by our guide... this is a confection
similar to "gummi" candy, is covered with powdered
sugar, and comes in a variety of flavors (some with pistachios).
Back in Kusadasi, I ducked out of the
optional carpet demonstration and headed for a cafe for coffee
with new-found friends. Our guide explained to us that a cup of
local coffee lasts 40 years if shared with a friend so we thought
we'd try his theory over strong Turkish brew. If you aren't an
adventurous caffeine addict, try the "Nescafe"--milder
and less grounds in the bottom of the cup.
Kusadasi - The Bazaar
Across the street from the
sidewalk cafe, there it was -- an American woman's dream... The
Bazaar. Fortified and refreshed, I plunged into the fray, armed
with credit cards and millions of Turkish lira. Realistically, I
represented dollar signs (a female tourist with cash) but
honestly, I've never felt so sought after and (yes!) desirable
in my life. What a rush to have all these attractive Turkish men
vying for my attention. Silver? Gold? Leather? Carpets? Whatever
my pleasure, they would show it to me! Easily swayed, I began the
ritual dance of tea-drinking and bartering immediately. Did I get
bargains? Well... I don't have a clue, but it was a marvelous
time and I love the trinkets and treasures I brought home.
One escape mechanism I had
going for me was that I was alone. Enthusiastically admiring a
jeweler's offering of sapphires and diamonds ("This piece is
YOU!"), I explained I couldn't possibly spend that
much money without my husband's approval. Every merchant nodded
in solemn understanding -- after all, they were men. Later, when
I did meet up with Mel, I allowed him to be the heavy and refuse
to buy everything in sight. In the meantime, I enjoyed the
boiling hot sweet apple tea and shopped to my heart's content.
For my larger purchases, Visa was widely accepted but American
dollars were preferred. Sighs of disappointment were obvious when
I pulled out my small stash of (millions) of lira.
Mel and I agreed we weren't in
the market for rugs... but he attended the carpet demonstration
and purchased a small prayer rug. In the meantime, I haggled with
carpet sellers at Benny's and selected two (larger) throw rugs
for about the same price that Mel paid for one. Taking him in
tow, he approved my choices and was somewhat abashed that he'd
paid so much more for his. Last stop of the day was the Kismet
Internet Cafe to send email home ($2.00).
Istanbul - June 16th
Leaving R1 was a sad but seamless process. At
a mere five days, our time onboard was just too short. We chose the Highlights
of Istanbul post-cruise excursion to fill our day and deposit us at our hotel in
the afternoon when rooms would be ready for our arrival. (A complimentary
transfer is available for passengers not on tour.) After retrieving our
passports we proceeded to our coach and began our day at the Hippodrome, once a
center for sports, theater, and political gatherings. Over the centuries other
structures were built on top of the Hippodrome and all that remains today is the
serpentine column of Emperor Constantine and the Obelisk of Theodosius.
From there it was a short walk to Istanbul's
most famous landmark, the Mosque of Sultan Ahmet, or the Blue Mosque -- so
called because of the Iznik tiles that line the interior walls. Small domes
first come into view and are a precursor to the main dome and minarets which
achieve their objective--lifting your eyes to heaven. Only worshippers are
allowed entrance through the main door; visitors are admitted through a side
passage. Plastic bags to carry our shoes in were distributed by our guide. A
word here about clothing... respectful attire is required and knees and
shoulders must be covered. Mosque floors are covered by rugs and shoes are
removed before entering (wearing socks is advised). The tiles, frescoes, and
stained glass windows of the Blue Mosque are quite beautiful and our guide
explained the functional features of the interior as well.
Continuing our walk, the next stop was Hagia
Sophia, the Church of Santa Sophia. The Blue Mosque was built in 1609 by Sultan
Ahmet to surpass the beauty of this building, Emperor Justinian's 6th century AD
Christian church. When it was converted to a mosque in 1453, all mosaics and
paintings were covered as mosques cannot contain drawings of humans and animals.
Now a museum, Hagia Sophia is undergoing restoration and the results thus far
Next stop... Hey! This looks like Sleeping
Beauty's Castle at Disneyland! Sure enough, Disney modeled that familiar
structure after the Royal Gate of Topkapi Palace. Through the gardens and
courtyards, a variety of chambers contain such treasures as eight pound
emeralds, the 86-carat Spoonmaker diamond, and the Topkapi dagger set with three
large emeralds. Other rooms house gem encrusted thrones, priceless silver,
porcelains, and holy relics. Tours of the Harem are available but we only had
time to tour the Treasury and enjoy the cool breeze from the Bosphorus on the
Balcony of Life.
After a time out at the "facilities"
(more about "eastern" plumbing later), we rejoined our bus -- next
stop, the Grand Bazaar. But first I encountered a small shopping opportunity on
the fly. A street vendor's offer of a silk scarf for $13 (a bargain!) quickly
became a final offer of $5 once I stepped into the bus (sold!)
"Sorry We Are Open"...
sign on an Istanbul shop
With over 4000 shops, Istanbul's Grand Bazaar,
or Covered Market, is the Turkish version of the Mall of America...