Day 7 Ephesus and Turkish Carpets

Every year when we gather for
Thanksgiving, I ask my family to go through the ritual of saying what we are most thankful for that has passed in the previous year. I am sitting at the moment in a generic looking lobby of a resort hotel in Kusadasi, Turkey, thinking of my daughter in Klamath with the turkey in the oven and safe in a warm house. I am thankful that my family, each of them, has a safe warm home to live in, and good food to eat, and that I have a family. Truly thankful.
I am much less tired this evening than I was when we arrived here in Kusadasi. It’s nice to spend more than one night in a row in a place. Today Mo and I decided to skip out on one of the optional tours and just walk around town and check things out on our own. Nice. Kusadasi is a very popular beach resort town during the summertime, but at this time of year, things have quieted down a bit and it’s really quite lovely.
After breakfast today we all loaded up for the trip to Ephesus. In addition to the ruins, we saw the final home of Mary, Mother of Jesus, at least according to local legend and tradition. This is supposedly the place the John the Disciple brought the mother of Jesus to keep her safe and cared for until she died peacefully many years later. True or not, the shrine was lovely, beautiful and peaceful. Again, it was perched on top of the highest mountain around, with amazing views of the countryside and the distant Aegean Sea. From the road the ruins of Ephesus are visible, as a city much larger than what has been excavated so far.
I had no idea what to expect from Ephesus. I knew it was a cultural center during Hellenistic times, that it mentioned in the bible, that Paul wrote letters to the Ephesians, which I read several times as a teenager, but to be in the city of Ephesus was a surprise. At first, it was a bit of a disappointment. It would take a lot to outdo the magnificence of those huge white columns we saw yesterday at Pergamon, and from the upper road, Ephesus isn’t very impressive. But as we continued to walk the old roads, deeper and deeper into the city, it was more and more obvious what a large, impressive, and civilized city this once was. We saw the baths, the latrines were good for a laugh, with our tour guide demonstrating how they were used as gathering places for the men. The library at Ephesus is truly impressive, magnificent, although much smaller than the one at Pergamon, where there were 200,000 volumes. Here at Ephesus, there were merely 20,000 books, but the edifice is incredibly beautiful. It amazed me to see how the archaeologists manage to piece the puzzle together as they reconstruct this city from the rubble and tumbled pieces of marble and stone.

The theater at Ephesus seated 22,000 people, and was built again in the Hellenistic style that fits the contours of the landscape. For my daughter, Melody, and for her friends in the theater, I took pictures of the backstage area at the theater in Ephesus, the place where there were only comedies and tragedies. Only later with the Romans were the lions and the gladiators brought in. The Greeks were so civilized. The pillars supporting the stage were still there, but after the Romans came, the lower seats were converted to a wall so that the wild animals wouldn’t harm the people in the stadium. You could see the doors where the lions entered the arena. It was interesting seeing the evolution of this magnificent city from a place of learning and culture to a place of Roman sports and indulgence. Ephesus was a surprising wonder.
After our tour of the ruined city, we went to a carpet dealer. I know it might be fun to sit in a little shop in Istanbul and buy a carpet, but I’m still not so sophisticated that I didn’t appreciate a little help. Of course the tour company gets a cut of whatever we buy, it’s like that no matter where we travel, but it still was a lot of fun and a great show. They had carpet weavers making several different kinds of carpets and explained the details of those differences, including the number of knots, the fibers and dyes used, and where the different styles originate. Then while we had a great lunch of Turkish pizza, cheese rolls and beer, we were wooed with a display of Turkish carpets that took my breath away. The emcee started simply, with a discussion of the simplest killims, and went on to talk about silk carpets that have hundreds of knots per inch and the skill needed to make these kinds of carpets. Then the show began. Men came out in groups with carpets, throwing them out on the floor with a flourish, one after the other, more and more, all on top of each other. The colors were thrilling, and then he said, take of your shoes and walk on them, so of course, sensory me again, was walking barefoot over thick silk carpets that went for 32,000 US dollars. What fun! I came on this trip, knowing down inside me somewhere that I would buy a carpet, and sure enough the silk ones caught my heart. Also they caught my breath when the one I truly loved was priced at 4400 US. Maybe not. So then the tiniest one, a lovely piece of silk artistry that I could hang on the wall, maybe a foot by two feet, was 1100 US. Maybe not. Ahh well, they were lovely to look at and wonderful to feel beneath my feet. And yes, I did buy a carpet, a keepsake for a lifetime from this delightful country. Only my carpet is wool on wool with only a couple hundred knots per inch, but it isn’t even dyed, it is made from the natural colored wools of the sheep. I am tickled. Included in the price is the customs, the taxes, the shipping, and in a couple of months my carpet will be delivered to my door fedex. Another nice thing about settling for the tourist carpet thing. It was surprising to see how many people in our group bought carpets, some more than one, and my fellow soil scientist bought one that was 10×12 for their lovely hardwood floors back in North Dakota. Glad I don’t have to pay that bill!!

After the carpet venture, we sipped on Turkish coffee and waited for our van. The van driver’s name was Abdul, and he turned out to be our very own scenery man, a much better trip than the bus to the “village” would have been. He took the 6 of us around the hills to high points over the sea and we got some gorgeous photos of the Aegean we wouldn’t have seen any other way. Home to our hotel, we unloaded our bags, and headed back out to walk the promenade, find a supermarket and a pharmacy, and enjoy the feel of the city, and the gorgeous views along the beach. It was a wonderful way to end the day, with the long walk, and back to the hotel room for a rest before dinner.
This hotel room is way too big, with two rooms, a suite actually, a huge hall, and still you can’t get two people in the bathroom at once. Very funny. But we have big windows that we can open, fresh air, and a view of the sea from the balcony if not from the room itself. Tomorrow we continue on to Pamukkale, although what else is on the menu is completely gone from my memory. Guess we will just get up, put the bags outside the door, and see what the day has to offer.

Day 6 Troy and Pergamon

This morning started with the call to prayer once again, only this time it was still dark and there was no wind to interfere with the haunting sounds. I recorded it again, and then we managed to get our tired bodies rolling around in time to have the bags out the door by 6:30. Our stay on this one short night was in the Hotel Akol. I read several reviews and expected things to be dicey, but the beds were comfortable, the bath was clean, and there was even a door that we could open to smell the fresh air of the Dardanelles, even in the dark, you can tell you are near the sea.

We went down for another typical Turkish buffet breakfast of cheeses, breads, hard boiled eggs, and yogurt with many kinds of honeyed fruits. The coffee always is good and strong without being bitter, but I have yet to actually drink the official Turkish coffee, according to Suleyman, it’s ground to a very fine silky powder, boiled slowly in a Turkish copper pot and sipped carefully so you don’t stir up the sludge in the bottom of the cup. I’ll have to find some soon.

The first leg of the day was a short bus ride to Troy, Truja it is called here in Turkey. Suleyman is again very good at telling us the history and myths of the area where we are traveling. I have my trusty guidebook, “Eyewitness Guide to Turkey”, but I still enjoy his stories and his perspective. Traveling with 43 people is interesting, some quite nice, others a true pain in the neck, but so far we have managed to keep to ourselves most of the time, with nice pleasantries but nothing too memorable, good or bad.

Troy has been inhabited for several thousand years, for many reasons, no doubt, but probably most importantly for its strategic location on the Dardanelles, guarding this gateway into the inner reaches of Asia Minor, and the Black Sea. What was most interesting was the fact that Homer’s Troy was the 6th level of 9 different levels of civilization that have existed there. When the site was first discovered in the late 19th century, there were no protections in place and much of the wonders were looted, moved, sold, and lost, with some of the finest treasures lost to Germany, then to Russia during WWII. We walked around the ruins, listening to the history and the stories, and I looked out across the beautiful agrarian landscape thinking of what it must have been like to live here. Suleyman discussed the theory again that the cultures of this land existed for millennia without actually having any sign of war, with trade and communications between various people going on for a long time peacefully. But people were beginning to discover power, and war actually became a real concept right here in Troy, and even though much of Homer’s story might be mythological, the strategic location of Troy is undisputed.

As Mo and I left, she said that it wasn’t very impressive, and didn’t feel anywhere near as magical as the temples in Malta felt. I suggested that might be due to the “energy” of the place, the fact that Malta was probably a sacred retreat for spiritual uplifting purposes, and Troy was a city most often functioning as a defense against aggression and war. Maybe, maybe not, but while it was fascinating, it didn’t particularly move either of us.

Back into the bus again for a long drive across the countryside of Turkey, which is amazingly beautiful. We drove up through the mountains, past Mt Ida, mentioned in the Illiad and in the Bible, and winding narrow very high roads gave us our first view of the Aegean Sea. The fall colors have started to turn, and especially in the mountains there are oaks and what looks a bit like birch or aspen that are golden and yellow. The highway dropped down along the coast, through myriad small coastal towns that looked a bit drab until we started getting into areas that still had a bit of Greek influence from the time prior to 1923. It seems that there was some sort of trade made when Attaturk created the present country of Turkey, and a million and a half people had to be relocated as a result. Greek Orthodox people living in Turkey were relocated to Greece, and Islamic Turkish people living in Greece were uprooted and forcibly moved to this part of Turkey.

We had lunch in a hotel restaurant that can handle 43 people and continued on to our afternoon visit to Pergamon. I need the time to sit with a thesaurus so I can come up with words other than wondrous, gorgeous, magical, lovely, fascinating, dramatic, magnificent. These words don’t begin to do justice to what it feels like to climb up the narrow winding road to this temple remains overlooking Bergamon and the Aegean Sea. The history of this place is complex, with mythology and actualities mixed together into a plethora of images, but the hard reality of huge marble columns and quarried andesite walls is right there to feel and to see. The wind was blowing hard, with clouds coming from the west, but giving us breaks in the light that made it all the more delightful. Pergamon had one of the greatest libraries of all civilization, second only to Alexandria, and eventually all the books were moved to Alexandria. Pergamon was also the place where books were actually invented. Until this time, writing was on papyrus, but here they discovered how to use parchment. Since parchment was heavier and couldn’t be rolled, they had to cut it into squares and lay the squares on top of one another. Books. Here. In Pergamon. This was a place of worship and of culture, with a magnificent amphitheater built in the Hellenistic style that used the actual relief of the landscape as part of the structure. It was more than incredible. I need to work on my writing skills for this trip, I am sure, but these words will have to do for now. Thank goodness for photos.

We are on the bus again, and it is dark, after a lovely sunset over the Isle of Lesbos, which is visible here along the coast. Our destination is Kusadasi, where we will actually get to stay for two nights in a row. Ahhh. Dinner will again be some kind of buffet, but if we don’t get there till 830 or so, I guess we will be eating European style at some ungodly hour. Mo is doing better today, with her cold beginning to recede. Hopefully by tomorrow she will be back up to par all the way, and knock on wood, hopefully her cold will remain hers. No sharing needed!

Exploring Valetta

Today we planned to join the group walking tour of Valetta. Our tour guide, Stephan, is Maltese and has lots of good inside information about the country. He wears really gorgeous scarves tied up European style and very tight pants. Ha! During our walking tour with the group we saw St John’s Cathedral and the Michelangelo Carraveggio painting of “The Beheading of St. John”, hailed as one of the finest paintings in the world. The cathedral was truly magnificent and I bought photo postcards to remember the details since flash photography wasn’t allowed in the interior.

We did a tour through the Grand Master Palace of the Knights of St John, another very ornate and heavy building, done in the Victorian and Rococco style so popular here in the late 19th century. The “armory” was just that, a large room filled with displays of heavy armor. Somehow when I go to the “armory” in Medford for an antique sale or something I don’t think of something like this, but I will now.

The troupe dispersed and Mo and I wandered off to the Caffe Cordine for Irish coffee and cappuccino and I had my first really good pea pastizzo, a traditional Maltese street treat.

The part of the day I enjoyed most was a Museum of Archaeology. The real “Sleeping Lady” resides here. She is a small sculpture found in the Hypogeum from Malta’s prehistory, but she is stored here in this museum for preservation. She is quite small, just a few inches, and is held in a heavy bullet proof glass case with dramatic lighting. I have included here a link to the Wiki post for the Hypogeum and Hal Saflieni, the resting place of the Sleeping Goddess for more detailed information on this magical spot, a World Heritage Site, one of several in Malta.Ħal-Saflieni

I have always loved this sculpture and have a replica I kept beside my bed for years. I called her my “dreaming goddess”, and when I knew I was going to Malta, it was with a deep inner delight that I knew I was going to see the place where she was originally found.

It was another blustery day, but the clouds parted enough to give us a beautiful sunset from the upper Barraca Gardens while waiting for the Christmas lights to come on in Valetta. We wandered the narrow streets of Valetta, watching all the Christmas shopping, and enjoying the lights. After dark, we took the bus home to try for a dinner at LaVigne once more. This time it was open, but the owner was very quiet and slow and the meal wasn’t the least bit memorable. Some others of our group were there as well. Most people in our group tour seem to be quite interesting, diverse, and intelligent, and I think that may have something to do with the focus of Malta being more on history and culture rather than just “vacationing”. Of course, we picked Malta because it was in the Mediterranean and that seemed as though it might be a nice place to go in December. Ha!