One Hot Day

Lawsy, it was hot.

We’d weathered a memorable ride on a mini-bus (dolmus) to get there, a ride packed full of sweating bodies overlapping each other, a ride reeking of body odor, a ride without moving air to calm the overheated brain. Once we got off the mini-bus, we then had to walk down a long road to reach the attraction: the ruins at Efes.

Sweet Stinky Jehoshaphat in a Sauna, but it was hot.

Efes, the Turkish name for the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (Have I spouted lately about how there are more Greek ruins in Turkey than in Greece?), is a place rich with history. The Temple at Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was there. The Gospel of John is rumored to have been written there. Pliny the Elder hung out there. At one point, before the Roman Empire fell, it was second in importance and size only to Rome itself. And guess at whom Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians was aimed?

Visiting Efes, for a ruins maven like myself, was a kind of heaven.

If heaven is ninety kajillion hell-like unrelenting degrees.

The thing about Efes is that it’s crazy awesome–but it’s not as though ruins, as a rule, offer up a lot of shade because hello no roofs. By the time we reached the amazing reconstructed library (how do I get a card?)

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we needed to stop and recover in the shade behind a wall:

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Despite the heat, it felt like magic to walk upon such worn stones, and we all (Byron, Allegra, Paco, friend Kirsten, and me) milled around and stared at ancient toilets and brothels for a few hours. Eventually, everyone was ready to retire to the area of restaurants and shops for bartering, ayran (foamed yogurt and water with a pinch of salt) and gozleme (sort of like a Turkish quesadilla).

Actually, I wasn’t.

Before calling it a day, I had an itch to scratch. There was an archaeological project going on at Efes; for an extra fee, visitors could walk through the covered, enclosed area and view the excavations of terraced Roman houses. Normally, we aren’t ones to pay an extra fee, but my gut kept saying, “Do it. Go look at those things.” Since the kids were nearing heat exhaustion, Byron and Kirsten took them off to shadier places while I…

had one of the best–unexpectedly sacred–hours of my entire year in Turkey.

It didn’t hurt that the excavation was covered, of course, and it didn’t hurt that very few other tourists were willing to pay the extra fee. When I walked into the cool hush of the work site, I watched the only other visitors, both of them, working their way toward the exit.

Suddenly, it was shady and quiet and calm, and I was in the presence of something that felt like greatness.

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I stayed on the marked boards and paths, craning my head, using my long camera lens to try to view and capture some of the mosaics and details that were well removed from the walkways. Even more than loving a ruin, I do love a mosaic.

And then my reverie was interrupted by a voice, a man who was talking quickly to me in Turkish, taxing my brain to track his intent by applying the 100 words of vocabulary I’d acquired over time. Some sort of greeting and then some strident-sounding verb thingies. Was I not on the path? Was I in trouble? I hadn’t touched anything, and anyhow, it’s habit in Turkey for museum attendees to pet, hug, sit on, and kiss items on display. To the best of my recollection, I hadn’t petted a thing since parting from Paco. So what was he telling me? Were they closing? Had I paid my extra fee for only six minutes of bliss? Was this place the ruins version of a money-grabbing whorehouse?

Ah, but then he used the international gesture for “Come on!” and motioned that I should step off and over and under so as to join him. Holding a finger up to his lips, he looked around at the empty place, a glint of mischief in his eyes, as he said something about lunchtime. Or food. Or eating. Or maybe bears. Gesturing again, and using one of the Turkish words I did know, he bid me “Come!”

So I followed him. Off road. To experience rooms and walls and mosaics and paintings that couldn’t be seen unless one was on a personal, semi-illicit guided tour.

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He walked quickly, but I trotted along behind him, stopping to snap as many pictures as I could without making him impatient. When we’d get to a particularly wonderful bit of something, he’d stop and point, waiting for me to get the photo.

Rather than make this post seventy-two feet long by embedding each photo, I’ve put some of the best ones into this slideshow. The first pictures are of Efes itself, so you can get a sense of the ruined city before heading into the terrace houses. Any photo that is up close of a painting or mosaic is something I look during my once-in-a-lifetime walk through ancient homes.


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When, finally, my guide deposited me back where we’d began, I used all three of the thank yous I knew in Turkish and clutched, meaningfully, at my heart. Then I meandered through the upper levels of the terraces, carefully staying on the marked paths, before stumbling back out into the searing sunlight, feeling more than a little bit changed.

I wandered back to find my crew, breathlessly telling Byron he just had to go back and see those houses. But, alas, everyone was more than done, more than ready to make the dusty walk back out to the main road, more than ready to stand, unprotected from the heat, next to the black asphalt highway until the next dolmus came by.

Fortunately, our plan for the tail end of the day was to hop off the dolmus as it re-entered the city of Kusadasi and take a refreshing plunge in the cooling waters of the Aegean–

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Published by Jocelyn

There's this game put out by the American Girl company called "300 Wishes"--I really like playing it because then I get to marvel, "Wow, it's like I'm a real live American girl who has 300 wishes, and that doesn't suck, especially compared to being a dead one with none."

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18 Comments

  1. all i can do is gasp at the good fortune of your private tour. wow….just wow. and i think this is one greek who might have gone all turkish and kissed a mosaic or two, at the very least i may have fondled them salaciously.

  2. What an amazing experience. I think being an archeologist would be in my top 5 career choices if I never had to worry about money.

  3. I know you were stressing the heat here, but current events surrounding Fox News Anchor Megyn Kelly had me thinking of Santa as a swarthy Turk. I can only imagine how delighted you were to hit that beach.

  4. Oh. What to say? Those ruins are unbelievable. I could look at them for hours (unless the temps were hotHOT, then I would run for shade). The mosaics look very much like those of Pompeii — contemporaneous?

    You will be amused to know my first thought upon reading of the mysterious Turk who beckoned you to follow him off the path was that he was a rapist/murderer/nogoodnik who was going to rob you and cut you up into little pieces and feed you to the dogs. This is the way the mind of a serious murder mystery reader thinks.

    Another thought: if you guys were dying of the heat in your shorts and sandals and tank tops, how did those Muslim women stand it in their long pants and sweaters and headscarves? The mind boggles.

    One more thought: your friend Kirsten in that second photo looks as sad and bedraggled as any person I have ever seen. I feel her pain.

  5. It’s like you’re living out a Dan Brown book–swept away with a mysterious Turk into the inner sanctum. You are my hero.

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing the personal illicit tour. I hope to someday make my way to Turkey, but none of my fellow travelers is as interested as I am in the hot, dry OLD area. Someday. Hopefully, I may also have a personal tour guide.

  7. Walking in the footsteps of the ancients! I was lucky enough to visit Ephesus in the 1980s but I am sure things have changed a lot since then at the excavations. Your private tour looks so special and thank you so much for the photographs. What an experience:)

  8. Oh, Oh, Oh,!!! I am warmed by your beautiful illicit tour, and deeply touched by the marble inlays, mosaics, even the walls. Magnificent. Thanks so much for sharing, and I hope the making of this kept you warm as well (stay snug despite your deep freeze; been thinking of you).

  9. I wouldn’t have had the nerve to take the private tour and probably insulted the man in a million ways I didn’t mean. This is a wonderful story!

    I have a shoe box (for shining shoes) from Turkey. Long story. It’s one of my prized parental acquisitions.

  10. I’ve never been to Turkey and have never really had the desire to go. But, I think it is so cool that a guide singled you out and showed you some out of the way things to peruse. He must have seen your gypsy eyes and known that you could be trusted to appreciate them.

  11. I went to those ruins! And also Kusadasi to step in the water, since I try to at least get my feet in every major body of water I encounter. It was in May and way too cool for swimming, though.

  12. This is a fantastic post, combining, as it does, the history of the place and the anecdotal. I would have loved to walk amongst those ruins, but despite having born an raised in a hot country, I avoid high temperatures! 🙂

    Greetings from London.

  13. Amazing! So much history! I, too, have always viewed archaeology as something I think I could dig 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing (story and pictures).

  14. I have always wanted to be an archeologist when I grow up; I have a major fascination with all things ancient. I would have been right there with you on the illicit, behind the scenes tour! I love that the mysterious Turk saw a sense of adventure or perhaps an appreciation in you, such that he felt you were worthy of more than the standard tourist path allowed. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!

  15. Tremendous atmosphere in this piece. The exciting thing about the excavations, from your pictures, is that so much of the decoration survives. I believe that some archaeological purists say you shouldnt reconstruct, but I found the Minoan reconstructions on Crete among the most memorable I had visited, as well as the extraordinary atmosphere of Palmyra, now sadly off limits for the forseeable future.

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