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Linda Coffman

Turkish Delights

R1 ~ Kusadasi and Istanbul

by Linda Coffman

Kusadasi - June 15th

Of all the ports on the Aegean, none have the spiritual attraction found near Kusadasi. Only twenty minutes from R1's berth is the ancient city of Ephesus. Noted for its Greek and Roman architecture, archaeologists have been working for over a hundred years to uncover the hidden treasures of Ephesus--yet only a small percentage of the huge city is revealed. Painstaking excavation work has revealed buildings of breathtaking beauty and simpler structures--strikingly advanced for their time.

Three tours were offered by R1's shore excursion department for our day in Kusadasi. Once again, I opted for the abbreviated 3 1/2 hour version of Exploring Ephesus (including the Basilica of St. John) and Mel selected Exploring Ephesus, Priene, and Didyma, a 7 1/2 hour tour including lunch. Also available was a Highlights of Kusadasi tour lasting 6 1/2 hours with lunch. All three included Ephesus.

Coaches were again spread out--leaving as soon as they were "full" and timed so that our arrival at Ephesus was staggered. In the pier area vendors were offering English version guidebooks to Ephesus for $3 to $5 (price was dependent on your bartering skill). I strongly recommend buying one, the photos and maps of the area are excellent. Our tour guide was one of the best of the week; an archaeologist with hands-on experience, he also teaches at the school for guides. Passing golden beaches and beautiful five-star hotels (extremely affordable at $40 per person a night, all-inclusive), we were treated to the sight of storks nesting atop power poles. In the villages, storks are treated like family pets. Through orchards of mulberries, peaches, and tangerines, our anticipation built as our guide explained the minute care with which the ancient Roman capital of Asia Minor was uncovered. Once a seaport, Ephesus is now several kilometers inland.

Once inside, I realized nothing prepared me for the rush of excitement I felt walking on the same marble road where Mark Anthony and Cleopatra's chariot once passed. The restored Greek and Roman temples seem to go on forever. At one time Ephesus' population was 300,000 and the site is huge, yet only a small portion is uncovered. One of the most extensively restored buildings is the Library of Celsus which once contained 12,000 papyrus scrolls. The niches where they were stored are visible in an inner room. Ephesians were well-educated and some of the uncovered buildings are gymnasiums (schools). Wealthy families took pride in their educated servants and all citizens were able to read.

Most notable is the Great Theater with capacity for 24,000 spectators. The scene of gladiatorial contests, it was here that Anthony appeared with Cleopatra before the populace and where St. Paul addressed the Ephesians. Sitting on a marble seat in the hot Turkish sun, I felt a chill when our guide took the stage and acted out Anthony's introduction of Cleopatra and then solemnly quoted St. Paul. This is an experience no one should miss.

Most visitors to Ephesus were led by private guides; however, there were some independent tourists who attempted to tag along with our group. Our guide quickly (and forcefully) pointed out to them that they had not paid for his commentary and if they wished to have a more rewarding tour they could hire a personal guide at the entrance for $20. If a ship's tour isn't your preference, you can hire a car and a guide but you probably won't save much money by doing so.

After our stop at the Basilica of St. John, we passed the lone column remaining of the Temple of Artemis, once one of the Seven Wonders of the World. We were also treated to Turkish Delight by our guide... this is a confection similar to "gummi" candy, is covered with powdered sugar, and comes in a variety of flavors (some with pistachios).

Back in Kusadasi, I ducked out of the optional carpet demonstration and headed for a cafe for coffee with new-found friends. Our guide explained to us that a cup of local coffee lasts 40 years if shared with a friend so we thought we'd try his theory over strong Turkish brew. If you aren't an adventurous caffeine addict, try the "Nescafe"--milder and less grounds in the bottom of the cup.

Kusadasi - The Bazaar

Across the street from the sidewalk cafe, there it was -- an American woman's dream... The Bazaar. Fortified and refreshed, I plunged into the fray, armed with credit cards and millions of Turkish lira. Realistically, I represented dollar signs (a female tourist with cash) but honestly, I've never felt so sought after and (yes!) desirable in my life. What a rush to have all these attractive Turkish men vying for my attention. Silver? Gold? Leather? Carpets? Whatever my pleasure, they would show it to me! Easily swayed, I began the ritual dance of tea-drinking and bartering immediately. Did I get bargains? Well... I don't have a clue, but it was a marvelous time and I love the trinkets and treasures I brought home.

One escape mechanism I had going for me was that I was alone. Enthusiastically admiring a jeweler's offering of sapphires and diamonds ("This piece is YOU!"), I explained I couldn't possibly spend that much money without my husband's approval. Every merchant nodded in solemn understanding -- after all, they were men. Later, when I did meet up with Mel, I allowed him to be the heavy and refuse to buy everything in sight. In the meantime, I enjoyed the boiling hot sweet apple tea and shopped to my heart's content. For my larger purchases, Visa was widely accepted but American dollars were preferred. Sighs of disappointment were obvious when I pulled out my small stash of (millions) of lira.

Mel and I agreed we weren't in the market for rugs... but he attended the carpet demonstration and purchased a small prayer rug. In the meantime, I haggled with carpet sellers at Benny's and selected two (larger) throw rugs for about the same price that Mel paid for one. Taking him in tow, he approved my choices and was somewhat abashed that he'd paid so much more for his. Last stop of the day was the Kismet Internet Cafe to send email home ($2.00).

Istanbul - June 16th

Leaving R1 was a sad but seamless process. At a mere five days, our time onboard was just too short. We chose the Highlights of Istanbul post-cruise excursion to fill our day and deposit us at our hotel in the afternoon when rooms would be ready for our arrival. (A complimentary transfer is available for passengers not on tour.) After retrieving our passports we proceeded to our coach and began our day at the Hippodrome, once a center for sports, theater, and political gatherings. Over the centuries other structures were built on top of the Hippodrome and all that remains today is the serpentine column of Emperor Constantine and the Obelisk of Theodosius.

From there it was a short walk to Istanbul's most famous landmark, the Mosque of Sultan Ahmet, or the Blue Mosque -- so called because of the Iznik tiles that line the interior walls. Small domes first come into view and are a precursor to the main dome and minarets which achieve their objective--lifting your eyes to heaven. Only worshippers are allowed entrance through the main door; visitors are admitted through a side passage. Plastic bags to carry our shoes in were distributed by our guide. A word here about clothing... respectful attire is required and knees and shoulders must be covered. Mosque floors are covered by rugs and shoes are removed before entering (wearing socks is advised). The tiles, frescoes, and stained glass windows of the Blue Mosque are quite beautiful and our guide explained the functional features of the interior as well.

Continuing our walk, the next stop was Hagia Sophia, the Church of Santa Sophia. The Blue Mosque was built in 1609 by Sultan Ahmet to surpass the beauty of this building, Emperor Justinian's 6th century AD Christian church. When it was converted to a mosque in 1453, all mosaics and paintings were covered as mosques cannot contain drawings of humans and animals. Now a museum, Hagia Sophia is undergoing restoration and the results thus far are magnificent.

Next stop... Hey! This looks like Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland! Sure enough, Disney modeled that familiar structure after the Royal Gate of Topkapi Palace. Through the gardens and courtyards, a variety of chambers contain such treasures as eight pound emeralds, the 86-carat Spoonmaker diamond, and the Topkapi dagger set with three large emeralds. Other rooms house gem encrusted thrones, priceless silver, porcelains, and holy relics. Tours of the Harem are available but we only had time to tour the Treasury and enjoy the cool breeze from the Bosphorus on the Balcony of Life.

After a time out at the "facilities" (more about "eastern" plumbing later), we rejoined our bus -- next stop, the Grand Bazaar. But first I encountered a small shopping opportunity on the fly. A street vendor's offer of a silk scarf for $13 (a bargain!) quickly became a final offer of $5 once I stepped into the bus (sold!)

"Sorry We Are Open"... sign on an Istanbul shop

With over 4000 shops, Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, or Covered Market, is the Turkish version of the Mall of America...

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