Day 12, evening
Spent the afternoon in Ephesus (which is in the Asian part of Turkey, meaning that I’ve now visited four continents). Our guide was much better than the one that gave us the Istanbul tour – he moved slower and was more informative – so that was nice. Ephesus is interesting; it’s the equivalent of an ancient ghost town. It used to be a fairly large harbour city; I think the estimate is 250,000 inhabitants. It remained quite Greek even under Roman rule, to the point that the city laws were posted primarily in Greek instead of Latin, which our guide claimed was a rare concession for the Romans to make. It was of course a pagan city, but it seems it eventually had a lot of Christianity in it. I say this based not on anything the guide said, but on the prevalence of the odd eight-spoked wagon-wheel-style designs that were carved into many roads. Our guide said that this was a Christian symbol, a sort of cross. I’ll have to look that up later.
From a church history perspective, the story the guide gave us is thus: John was in Ephesus when Emperor someone-or-other had a temple built to himself. This emperor exiled John to Patmos, likely because John would have refused to worship the emperor. While John was on Patmos, he wrote Revelation; then, when the emperor died, John returned from exile and died in Ephesus. I think his tomb is claimed to be around there somewhere.
The geographic history is also interesting: Ephesus was a port city that died when the port filled up with silt. Our guide was unclear on how exactly that happened, but the old harbour is now something like 5 km from the edge of the sea. (Details subject to my shaky memory.) The city’s economy evaporated, and the city was eventually totally abandoned. It was covered by dirt (silt?) over the years, to a depth of (I think) about two meters. The current estimate is that excavating the rest of the city will take approximately 100 years.
The excavations that have already been done are available to walk through, and that’s what we did. Some of the ruins have been reconstructed into buildings, with a lot of the missing pieces filled in by replacement material (which is a visibly different colour than the original stone). Even some of the pieces that have been taken to museums have had replicas made that now stand in the reconstructed city, so that visitors can see what it should look like.
The roads are remarkable – the first time that the “Roman road” reputation has really seemed to hold any merit. Pompeii’s roads were in reasonably good condition, especially when the city’s violent history was considered, but the stones were rounded and the mortar washed away, and the roads were thus fairly hard to walk on. But the main road of Ephesus that we walked down is still nice and flat, with square slabs of marble (I think) that are fine to walk on and would probably be fine to drive on too. It was a little weird to consider that we were walking on a road that some of the apostles walked on: not a reconstruction of a road, not a newer road in the same location, but the actual same road that some of the apostles walked on, as we viewed the ruins and reconstructions of buildings that those apostles probably knew quite well, and as we saw the Christian signs carved into the roads and walls, evidence of the work of those apostles in that city almost two thousand years ago. It actually had very little emotional impact on me, simply because on a deep level I haven’t really realized or accepted the truth of what I just said. I know it, intellectually, but I don’t really know it.
Anyway, I took lots of pictures, so everyone can see it now. Also on the menu today: Kusadasi (pronounced “koo-SHA-da-say”, where the second syllable has the same vowel as “cat”, and secondary stress is on the last syllable…I think). This is definitely a city, and may or may not also be the name for an island or region; it apparently means “bird island” or something like that, but as far as I could tell from our guide, this referred to a nearby island, not the land (or island?) that the city of Kusadasi is on. Pretty much all we saw there was the bazaar. The salesmen in Kusadasi (and by Ephesus) were very aggressive (not quite the right word), coming out into the street to try to sell you things. It got to the point that I was avoiding looking at anything to prevent people from running out to try to lure me into a sale. The bargaining wasn’t nearly as harsh as Istanbul, though; shopkeepers would often lower their prices if you hesitated, but it wasn’t anyhting like Istanbul where the final price could be half (or less) of the initial price, and if you didn’t bargain, you’d get ripped off. Here, the original prices were decent, and people would offer lower prices without you needing to bargain first. We hardly bought anything, though.
There have been these freaky blue and white glass “eyes” everywhere in Turkey and Greece. They’re some sort of superstitious thing to ward off evil spirits, I think, but they were everywhere in Kusadasi, including embedded in the street. I find them mildly freaky, and their presence in everything was starting to get to me. The weirdest: A crucifix for sale in Patmos that included one. A blending of traditions, I guess.
Tonight was busy. First, we had a special cocktail party for Contiki, though I saw Dan being presented with a bill later so I’m really not sure who was paying for the drinks. Cheryl and I both had cognac, and that was dangerous; it was excellent, but went straight to my head. Two of those, on an empty stomach, would probably have had a pretty serious influence on me. After that was dinner (Greek night, apparently), then karaoke in the Stars Lounge and Disco. I sang a couple songs with other people (Dan and Dave; the latter is a non-Contiki passenger who’s here with his wife on their honeymoon, and who has been hanging around us quite a bit): “Song 2” and “Summer of ’69”. Dan and Jerome (a Trafalgar tour guide who’s sharing a cabin with Dan) sang a few terrible, terrible duets (actually, I think there was a third guy in there for some songs). Todd (our opera singer passenger) sang excellently, as one would expect, but the computer only rated him a 65% or so, so no one believes it anymore.
That brings us to now. Some of the passengers just got mildly scolded by one of the upper-ranking crew for lighting a hookah pipe on one of the decks. Apparently it’s a fire risk…but they were told that they could finish the coal that was in the pipe right now. I’m about to go to bed; I’m really light-headed and I don’t know if it’s fatigue, my cold, after-effects of the cognac (unlikely), or effects of second-hand hookah smoke (entirely plausible), but whatever it is, sleep can’t possibly hurt.
We’ve got no tours booked for tomorrow, which I believe we’re spending in Rhodes. I’m not sure, to be honest, but we’ll see…
(Side note: Got the mid-week room bill today, which lists all the drinks and things we’ve ordered since the trip started. The value of the free drinks I’ve had already roughly doubles, by my estimation, the amount I paid for the 7-day drinks card, so that’s good. We estimate that Paul has had over €200 of rum and cokes.)