The Blue Aegean and its Ancient Wonders: Turkey’s Ephesus and Bodrum

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26-30 August 2015. We fly from Istanbul to Izmir, some four hundred and eighty kilometres (300m) to the south, where we pick up a rental car, and with the help of a GPS make our way to Selçuk, about an hour’s drive away. It all sounds so simple. And it is really. Except for driving in Turkey. It’s challenging, and within the first twenty minutes we are almost in a huge collision as Don is not expecting to be overtaken on the right. Luckily I see the big truck bearing down on us at relentless speed and shout in time. ON YOUR RIGHT! Phew. That was close. And quite stimulating. We both suddenly become much more alert.

The car-rental person at the airport helps us program the GPS for our hostel in Selçuk. We learn that caddesi means street, and we learn that sometimes the district is the first thing listed in an address, and we learn that the GPS system doesn’t always recognize the street names we need, and we learn that sometimes the GPS on our phone does. It’s confusing at times but during a two week road trip we survive the crazy drivers and always manage to find our way to where we want to go, frequently with the help of kind strangers.

We choose Selçuk because it is very close to the ruins of Ephesus.

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Located at the mouth of the Menderes River this ancient Greek metropolis was conquered by the Persian, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires. It thrived because it was one of the most important seaports in Asia Minor, transporting goods from Asia to Europe. Through the many changes in leadership it remained one of the most vibrant cities of the ancient world. At its height in the second century AD the population of Ephesus was as much as four hundred thousand.

As the harbour gradually silted up due to deforestation, over-grazing, and erosion, the city’s importance declined and eventually after several hundred years of significance it was abandoned. Ephesus, once on the coast at the mouth of the Menderes River, is now about five kilometres (3m) inland. What remains is the grandest of Turkey’s many ancient ruins.

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It’s my birthday and we spend it in searing heat wandering for four hours around the ruins of Ephesus, a city that was once second only to Rome. We love both: the heat, and the ruins. It’s a wonderful way to spend my birthday. There is so much to see that the four hours pass quickly. I’m no student of history but every time I explore ancient places I find myself imagining what life would have been like. There is much that we take for granted that they also had – glass containers, ceramics, indoor heating, complex water systems for homes and fountains, even public toilets.

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Probably because I’m not a student of history I’m always astonished by how advanced ancient civilizations were. This is Marble Street, one of the main streets of Ephesus.

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And this is Curetes Way. It is probably as busy today as when Ephesus was at its height of importance as a major trading port.

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On either side there were many great statues,

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large public buildings such as the town hall and the Temple of Hadrian,

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and rows of shops selling all manner of goods for daily use, as well as more luxurious items such as incense and silks. Ephesus was a wealthy city and this was reflected in the public buildings, fountains, and statuary, some of which were inlaid with precious stones.

Gate of Augustus

Gate of Augustus



The Great Theatre, seating 24,000

The Great Theatre, seating 24,000



Dating from about the first century, the so-called Terrace Houses were peristyle homes defined by their interior central courtyards. Most of them were two-storied, with living and dining rooms on the ground floor and the bedrooms above, much as we have today. Since there were no windows the only light came from the central courtyard so the rooms were dim, however the houses had central heating. Hot air was forced through clay pipes hidden behind the walls and under the floors. They also had hot and cold water, and bathrooms that included drains for the latrine. The walls were marble or painted with murals, and the floors were covered in exquisite detailed mosaics.

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The greatest treasure of Ephesus to be seen today is, of course, the magnificent Celsus Library, built by Consul Julius Aquila to commemorate his father Celsus Polemaeanus, the governor of Asia Minor in the second century. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 270, but was reconstructed during 1970-78 to become one of Turkey’s best known and most popular tourist attractions. The library held twelve thousand scrolls and was the third largest ancient library. We are suitably impressed by its magnificence, grand beauty, and cool interior.

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Back at our hostel we eat dinner on the rooftop terrace under a nearly full moon and get a glimpse into ordinary family life. Perhaps it is not so different from life long ago when Ephesus was a thriving city.

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28 Aug 2015. We drive to the popular seaside vacation town of Bodrum on the Aegean Sea, arriving at about two in the afternoon.

From my notes: It’s initially difficult to find our accommodation. We tried to program the GPS with help from the man at the guesthouse in Selçuk. The GPS didn’t recognize the street or the name of our Bodrum accommodation. So we set out with the GPS navigating to a nearby intersection hoping we’ll be able to find it. Crazy Turkish drivers, but the drive was mostly smooth. Don discovers that the cell phone GPS can find the street. It’s confusing and we drive past Rose Residence once and are led around in a circle and back to it again. It doesn’t seem to be in the location we expected, and I am completely turned around. Eventually by the end of the day we have our bearings.

Later in the day, driving into the centre of Bodrum we get caught unawares in the one-way street system along the waterfront. Following the long curve of the road we see yachts piled almost one on top of the other on the seaward side of the street.

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On the land side there is an endless procession of wanna-be-upscale restaurants. The traffic is bumper to bumper and we have no choice but to keep going even though we know we’re heading deeper and deeper into tourist central and the prices that go with it. Eventually we find a place to park and eat a very mediocre meal for a very fabulous price, but have at least figured out the street system, albeit the hard way.

The next day many things seem to go wrong. At the same time it is one of the best days we have in our five weeks in Turkey. We have booked a day out on a yacht on the Aegean Sea. We have to pay cash for the boat trip. Walking towards the marina I try an ATM that takes my bankcard, does the transaction but gives me no money. I decide not to panic. We get to the boat and Lynn from the boat takes Don to another ATM, and then another, but neither recognize his bankcard. I then go with Lynn to yet another machine and this time get cash from both my credit card and bankcard. Phew. We will be able to spend the day on the water after all.

We try to take off but the anchor is caught on something. We wonder if we’ll ever get free. Adil, our captain, with the help of a couple of the other passengers, tries all kinds of maneuverings, and eventually after ten minutes we are free and head out of the harbour.

At the end of the day, back in our apartment I do laundry but can’t figure how to get the machine to stop. It goes on for hours. I put it through two extra spin cycles but it still won’t get to the end of the cycle and release the door lock. I finally translate all the labels on the dial and discover iptal means cancel. I turn the dial to iptal. Yes! That does the trick. Finally.

We go to a nearby restaurant for dinner. The menu is all in Turkish but we recognize kikling as Swedish for chicken so decide, for no logical reason, that it will be the same in Turkish. It isn’t. And pilav surely means rice! It does. We wait. And wait. And wait. Forty minutes later our meal arrives. It is chicken kebabs and fries and an unrecognizable salad. It is at least edible.

In between the noncompliant ATM’s and the recalcitrant anchor at the beginning of the day, and the malfunctioning washer and the slow meal at the end of the day, we have hours and hours on the water. It is glorious.

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There are fourteen of us on the boat including Lynn and Adil but it never feels crowded.


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It’s not a party boat. There is no music. All is soothing and mellow. It’s a lazy day, a peaceful day, a day filled with sunshine and laughter, a day for rest, a day when our hearts and cells remember to breathe.

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There is an Indian family from Seattle,

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and a British couple. Here’s Don with their lovely daughter.

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There are two young German couples,

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and us.

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I feel the warm wind on my face as we move through the water, the gentle rocking of the boat, deep indigo water, sapphire blue sky, everyone lazing around chatting, relaxed, playing, smiling, laughing. It is a day of easy bliss, soft and nourishing.

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We stop in three different locations to swim and snorkel.

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In the shallows from above the water is a soft teal green. Snorkelling underneath I see the sun dancing. I watch the moving patterns of golden light reflected through the water, the sun’s rays creating designs with the gentle movement of the liquid. I am entranced, lost in another world.

Back on board,

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Adil makes us the best lunch ever. It’s simple enough: salad, pasta and fish, but it is equal to the best fish I’ve ever tasted. I remember my initial visit to Canada back in the mid-seventies. My sister took me to a First Nations restaurant that I believe no longer exists. I tried Black Alaska Cod for the first time, and I’ve had Black Cod once more since then. If you’ve never eaten it you must. It is the best fish I’ve ever eaten. Until I ate at that First Nations restaurant all those years ago I never knew how delicious fish could be. Moist, succulent, drool-worthy. I don’t know what kind of fish Adil serves us, but it is so good it rivals Black Alaska Cod.

At lunch most of us are sitting on a bench around an oval table. The two German men are long-haul pilots with Etihad Airways. They are seated in the middle. They can’t get out without several people having to move. I have two long-haul pilots cornered! This is my chance to ask everything I’ve ever wanted to know about what goes on in the cockpit. To this day I can’t believe that I don’t ask about turbulence. It’s the one thing about flying that scares me. Perhaps that’s the reason I don’t ask. I do learn that there are four pilots. They work seven-hour shifts, and there are beds for those not on duty. They admit that it gets boring at times.

Eventually it is time to return to Bodrum. We are sun-soaked and deeply relaxed. Walking from the marina to the car we agree it has been one of the best days ever. Then before we go out for dinner we call our banks. There is nothing wrong with Don’s bankcard, and my no-money transaction didn’t go through. So in the end it is a wonderful day, and nothing is wrong.

The following day we explore Bodrum Castle, dating from the 1400’s, and all the museums contained within its walls.

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There is much on display that has been reclaimed from shipwrecks – coins, glass, amphora, jewellery, bronze implements. Once again I am surprised by how sophisticated cultures were thousands of years ago, as if beautiful intricate glass was only invented a few hundred years ago, but no! Over three thousand years ago they were making exquisite, intricate glass bottles, vials, and plates,

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as well as beautiful terracotta amphora of all sizes from tiny to enormous, and storing them filled with oil and wine, and transporting them in the hulls of their ships all over the Aegean and Mediterranean. I keep trying to imagine the lives of the people, reminding myself that these are not just old artifacts but were actually used by real people living real lives.

The beach at Bodrum seen from the castle. We didn’t go there.

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After visiting the castle we stop at a supermarket and buy eggs, cheese, and tomatoes to make dinner at home. I notice a very tall woman in a short dress with bleached blond hair. I honestly wonder if she had once been a man. I am judgmental. She is wearing too much makeup. Her skirt is too short. Her hair is too bleached. She happens to be ahead of us at the checkout and as I look at her, with no prompting she gives me the most dazzling smile, looking me directly and unwaveringly in the eyes. Truly dazzling. A smile to light up the sun. I look away and look back and there it is still – this dazzling smile. There is a barely recognizable feeling that if I hold her gaze we will probably spontaneously hug each other. There are no words between us. Just a smile so bright and so sincere I am a puddle. As we leave she waves good-bye.

Next post: From Bodrum we move on to the Mediterranean towns of Marmaris, Fethiye and Antalya. Fethiye is so beautiful we change plans and stay longer.





All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2016.

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