This is a first for both of us. Neither Rich nor I have been to Turkey before. For that reason we choose a tour that includes multiple locations, so that we can see something of the countryside. While all of our pictures reflect the ancient ruins that we visited, it will be the space in between that we remember best.
We have an excellent local tour guide. He feeds us just enough information about his country to help us interpret what we see, understand something of their local customs, and appreciate his culture and history. Visiting three different sites we start with a large open-air amphitheater at Milletus, seating 15,000 people. What is most impressive is the perfect acoustics, only achievable from one very specific spot on the stage.
The Temple of Apollo at Didyma is fascinating for its story. Our guide informs us that it was an unachievable feat. It could never have been finished, given its impossible dimensions. Yet the grand vision is apparent and there is great detail in its components.
The main attraction of the area is Ephesus. A whole city has been discovered and is in a state of continual restoration. It is impressive for being so extensive. We walk on marble streets and take in the collection of structures on either side. The facade of the library towers above us.
On the tour bus we pass through towns. We don’t see individual houses. Instead there are multiple dwelling units, all in pastel colored stucco. Many appear rundown, but I suspect we do not appreciate the local standards. Someone asks about the barrels on top of nearly every building. They are water heaters, our guide explains. We hadn’t even noticed the attached solar panels which heat the water in the top barrel to near boiling, then it drains into the barrel below. Highly efficient, it is a cheap way to deliver hot water to the residents. After that, we couldn’t miss seeing them everywhere.
Men sit at tables in outdoor cafes. Fields with animals are as likely in town as in the country. We learn to identify olive trees which are abundant. The terrain is rough, with hills and mountains in the background. It feels foreign and holds a rich history.
A buffet lunch enables us to sample the local dishes. Fresh salads, well spiced lamb, cheesy puff pastries and rice dishes are all tasty. Desserts are rich and moist, dripping with honey. I appreciate this opportunity even knowing it caters to the cruise ship tourists.
We finish our tour in the port town of Katakolon. We are deposited at the Bazaar and led into a carpet shop for a demonstration on how their local rugs are made. Our guide has already explained that Turkey is in danger of losing the craft of hand weaving, as young people no longer learn it from their elders. So the government has developed local weaving centers and subsidizes the instruction of young women in this technique.
Our carpet store has been in the same family for five generations. The owners are proud of their product and proceed to show us their wares. But first we are all served a drink. I opt for tea, but Rich is more adventurous and accepts a glass of Raki, the national (and very strong) alcoholic drink. They roll out carpet after carpet for us, young men flicking them open with a flair. We learn the differences between wool, cotton and silk, and blends of each. Soon it is easy to see how the designs get more intricate the finer the materials. And we are impressed. They demonstrate how the colors change depending on the direction of the rug. And we are amazed.
Even though we are not in the market for a rug, their sales techniques are very effective. Until we discover the prices. We need only listen in on the inquiries of others to learn how high a price these hand made rugs command. It is not really a surprise, having learned that even the smallest rugs takes nine months of double-knotting each individual strand. We just really hadn’t appreciated their true value before. Which makes it even easier to leave without one. But we truly enjoy the education.
Not quite ready to leave the Bazaar, we walk the halls past various stalls. I can’t resist a stand with scarves, and soon find myself being fawned over by the eager salesman. Like all the shopkeepers, he is most persuasive and offers end-of-season bargains. I figure I can’t go too wrong with a scarf for five Euros. Even if it turns out not to be genuine Pashmina, I only care that it is something I like. He demonstrates several scarf styles with it on me and hopes I will choose multiple bargain rate scarves, but I leave with only one. Not to be deterred, he carries my scarf to another shop where his friend can sell us beautiful leather jackets. It doesn’t work, and I leave with my single scarf. The experience is worth the price.
One short day in Turkey is hardly enough to appreciate the country and its people. But that’s the nature of a cruise. It can only ever be a glimpse at each day’s destination. A tease to let us know we’d like to return for more. Today we are happy to have a taste of Turkey.