April 8: Kusadasi.
We docked this morning in the port of Kusadasi, in Turkey. The day started out cool and cloudy and remained so for the rest of the day. The normal sight to see here is Ephesus, but we visited there on a cruise several years ago; and although Ephesus was archaeologically impressive, we wanted to see something different. So we signed up for an excursion which went to the city of Miletus, further south on the Aegean Sea coast, and to the Temple of Apollo a few miles away. This turned out to be a great choice. Our Turkish guide Izzy, who is a Sunni Muslim, told us a little about his country. Three languages are spoken here: Turkish, Arabic, and Kurdish. In 1924, Turkey adopted the Latin alphabet and decided to be a secular country, even though most of the inhabitants are Muslim. He said he always gets asked whether Turkey wants to be in the European Union; his answer is maybe. Evidently, they would be hurt economically in terms of everyday prices, but they would be better off in developing business relationships. He made a point of saying that Turkey is a significant member of NATO and takes the responsibility seriously.
As we drove towards Miletus, we got to observe the countryside here at the western edge of Turkey in the springtime. Once one gets away from the seashore, the terrain is mountainous, green, and forested. Olive trees are planted both in orchards and randomly around the villages. Eucalyptus trees are also common, I assume as the result of the Australian presence here during World War I. Even though English is widely known in Turkey and it’s taught in the schools, most signage is in Turkish. In the larger communities, apartment houses were the norm, all with balconies. The villages have smaller homes, where everyone has a small yard and often fig trees and a garden. Often a brand new home has been built next door to one that has clearly seen better days. Many houses and apartments have solar panels for heating water on their roofs, and we also saw several wind turbines in one town. We noticed that many of the homes are unfinished and asked Izzy why. Evidently, finished homes must pay more taxes, so they leave them unfinished for that reason. The Meander River is the important river in this area, and the wide, flat valley seemed to be completely under cultivation. Once, Izzy asked the bus driver to stop so we could see a group of ancient columns standing by themselves on the side of a hill. It seems apparent that ancient artifacts are commonly unearthed everywhere in this area. With evidence of settlements here since the 18th century B.C.E., that’s not surprising.
Our first stop was Miletus, the oldest and most powerful of the twelve Ionian cities in Asia Minor. Today, it’s a forsaken ruin in the middle of nowhere. Since ours was the only bus taking this excursion, we felt practically alone as we toured these ruins, a Greco-Roman theater and Roman baths. The massive stones and the engineering skill are still impressive even though weeds and the results of vandalism dominate the site today. As in several other places, we were accompanied by cats for most of our tour, but I don’t know if they were actually feral cats since they were friendly and obviously wanted our company. Our guide took us to the top of a hill behind the theater to show us the location of the ancient port. Today, it’s marked by a column poking above a puddle of water, and the ocean shoreline is now several miles away. As another illustration of western Turkey as a crossroads of civilization, we could see off in the distance the dome of a 14th century mosque. Before leaving Miletus, we got a chance to do a little shopping. They had turned a 14th century caravanserai into a tourist rest stop, complete with refreshments and some locally made (supposedly) hand crafted ceramics. So we bought a couple of heavily decorated bowls (as if we needed more). A few miles away was a small museum containing artifacts recovered from the many ancient sites in the area. The displays were nicely presented, aerial photographs of the sites were helpful, and the explanatory text accompanying everything was in Turkish and in English. I could have easily stayed here a couple more hours.
Our other stop for today was the Temple of Apollo, which dates from 560 B.C.E. If I understood the explanation correctly, this was not a temple for worshipping the ancient gods, but was rather an oracle, where people could come to get advice about the future. At least two other temples had been erected on this site, but they were destroyed by fire. Because of the nature of the carvings on many of the stones, the archaeologists believe the existing structure was never finished. The building today is a few standing walls and paved pathways, and the grounds are littered with blocks and clumps of partially carved stone. Unlike our experience with many ancient temples, we were able to walk inside the perimeter of the building and get a sense of the impression the edifice might have made on the original visitors.
Back in Kusadasi, our tour continued on to a presentation at a carpet factory near the ship. We left the tour at that point and headed for the shopping district, which was within a block of the ship. There were several nice stores in the area, but all of them had people outside urging shoppers to come inside just for a look. We came upon our friend Jim and several others while strolling here, and Jim’s recent purchase of a leather jacket convinced Denise that she might need one as well. So she entered a shop and eventually bought two jackets, one of them for Susie. She didn’t like the bargaining aspect of the transaction, but Jim had told her what should be her top price, and she did come pretty close to that. The sales people kept trying to get me to try on something, but I was adamant, and they finally gave up. In the meantime, they had given me a glass of apple tea while I was waiting, which I did enjoy. I had seen a sweets shop and wanted to stop in there before we returned to the ship because I was in need of Turkish baklava and decided I’d like a box of apple tea tea bags as well.
With all our purchases in hand, we returned to the ship to prepare for our big night out at Ephesus. HAL management had decided that the best way to show their appreciation to their 800 passengers was to host an evening of food and entertainment at the ancient site of Ephesus. So we all piled into buses and left the ship after 6pm. We arrived just before sunset, and Denise got some good pictures of the theater just catching the last rays of the day. We were served drinks and what they called “heavy hors d’oeuvres,” which just meant lots of them; in other words, we were not having a sitdown dinner. As one might expect at such an ancient site, walking here in the dark on the uneven paving stones and boardwalks was difficult – not necessarily for us, but for the physically challenged folks on our ship, who are considerable in number. But after dinner we all traipsed off to the Celsus Library for a selection of Turkish desserts and then back again to the theater, where we watched Turkish folk dancers and then listened to a concert of classical chamber music by the Aegean Chamber Orchestra. In addition to the energetic dancing and the familiar music, the ancient monuments were beautifully lit, and we had a most enjoyable evening. The evening was a little chilly, and having to negotiate the uneven pavement and the stone seating of the theater were often-heard complaints, however. One of the reasons there were no accidents that we heard of had to do with the crew. Many of our familiar stewards and staff were on hand throughout the evening to help the passengers in need of assistance. Their kindness and thoughtfulness were amazing.
When we returned to the ship, we were exhausted and went to bed right away. The next day I heard someone saying that they’d gone up to the Lido deck for more food after we got back. I found that remarkable.