Following an exciting port day in Athens, we had no problem jumping out of bed at the sound of the 5:30 a.m. alarm. Today’s port was to be Izmir, Turkey. This was the stop on our 12 day cruise of the Mediterranean that I was most looking forward to. I had been reading about Ephesus for weeks and knew it would be a remarkable place.
One of the largest ancient cities on the Mediterranean, Ephesus had at one time a population of 250,000. Partially destroyed by an earthquake in 615 A.D., the cities final demise came as its coastal port silted over eventually leaving the city miles from the sea.
Our tour meeting time was 7:00 a.m. in the theater and once again there was no room for anyone to be late. At the appointed hour we were hustled off to a large van. I had chosen the deluxe option for this tour — a small group excursion through the cruise ship that included ourselves and 8 other passengers plus a very well informed and friendly guide, Emil.
We drove an hour to get to Ephesus where we spent a delightful 2 1/2 hours touring the site. Because we were on the small group tour we reached Ephesus a good half hour before the other tour buses and were also allowed to take paths and routes through the site that the larger groups didn’t walk. Because of that, we could experience each of the stops free from the crowds.
When we came to the point in the tour when Emil wanted to show us a relief of Nike we found another group standing in front of it. Emil, a boisterous and raging bull sort of man whom I can’t imagine ever taking ‘no’ for an answer, barged through the middle of the other group and began ‘shooing’ them out of the way.
“Move aside! Move aside!” he told them. “Move your group over there,” he said to the other, bewildered guide as he pointed to a spot several feet to the right.
The tourists from the other group, wearing expressions of confusion and/or indignation took one slow step to the right. The looks they gave us were asking “Who is this crazy man?”
Emil pushed his way to the front of the Nike relief and motioned for us all to follow. “Come closer!” he insisted. We all uncomfortably followed him to the prime position in front of the Nike relief and listened to Emil tell us all about the piece as the other tourists stared at us in disbelief. When we moved on, the other group took their previous place once again. As we followed Emil down a cobblestone path, he explained that he’d had a right to move the other group out of the way because it was a small group stop and the other guide had had no right to be there. I’m sure those other tourists didn’t know that though and probably thought us all very rude!
We next came to the Terrace Houses. The terrace houses can only be visited in small groups and this was the main reason I had chosen the small group tour. It was well worth the added expense. These homes with their walls still covered in frescos and floors with mosaic tiles, were one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen. It is difficult to imagine how these places could have survived in such good condition for so many centuries.
Following the terrace houses we walked past the huge ampitheater to a nearby street where we watched a performance of gladiators fighting and a royal procession featuring Cleopatra and her attendants. Yeah. This was cheesy beyond words. And a colossal waste of precious touring time.
Lunch was in a 5 star hotel overlooking the ocean. What can be said about a meal in a five star hotel? The food consisted of many different Turkish dishes plus wine and water and all were excellent. The service was superb and the hotel grounds by the sea were beautiful. But if I wanted to eat lunch in a hotel I could do that at home. Our group would have all been happier having a more casual meal in a more traditional Turkish location. The restaurant gave us a feel for where rich tourists might sleep and eat but didn’t show us anything about the real Turkey. The restaurant was pretentious and there was little conversation around the table as everyone tried to figure out which of the eight or nine forks and other utensils were appropriate to use for which course. What conversation there was was mostly done in uncomfortable, self-concious whispers. Or in French. Four people in our group were tourists from Quebec who, although they spoke perfect English, insisted on speaking French to each other throughout the entire day isolating themselves from the other half of the passengers. But despite the location and the weird travel mates, lunch was a welcome break which lasted about 45 minutes. No one wanted to linger any longer than that and we were soon on our way again.
Our next stop was the obligatory carpet “demonstration.” Why tours insist on adding this outrageous activity is beyond all rational understanding. One man on our tour tried to stay in the van, arguing that he didn’t like to shop, but our guide wouldn’t allow it. It wasn’t about buying anything, Emil insisted, it was about learning something about Turkish culture. The passenger got out of his seat and came along with the rest of us, not wanting to insult our Turkish guide or his culture.
We were led into a room where two men demonstrated how silk threads are made. We then returned outside to a spot where an outdoor oven was boiling big pots of yellow, red and blue dyes. We listened to an explanation about the different dyes and what types of plants they use to get certain colors. From there we moved to an area where we watched women weaving the rugs. All of this was fine and even quite interesting. Then came the catch.
We were next ushered into a large room and the door was shut behind us. We were asked to sit down along the wall of a carpet filled room for yet another demonstration. If I had known any better at the time, I’d have developed a sudden urgency to use the restroom and would have spirited myself out of there, pronto. First we were served our choice of wine, raki or tea. Then, as men started spreading out one carpet after another onto the floor in front of us, we were all told to remove our shoes and socks so we could have the “opportunity” to feel the carpets. If you ask me, it was to prevent us from making a quick escape out the door. One woman in our group asked the price. She was hurried off to a corner and shown more and more rugs. Doc then made the mistake of mentioning that we already owned a silk carpet very similar to one hanging on the wall. Oh, when will that man ever learn to keep quiet?! Now tagged as people who buy Turkish carpets, we suddenly became the customers of choice and were surrounded by salesmen.
Yes, we do own two Turkish carpets. We’ve had them for years and they are great quality pieces. That is exactly why we don’t need or want any more! The men showed us more and more carpets even after I’d said that we weren’t interested. The guy in charge wanted to know which was my favorite.
They ran and got more carpets to show us.
We finally had to sit down, put our shoes back on. All the while the man in charge kept asking if we preferred the wool or the silk, the red or the blue. Or perhaps we liked the ivory and brown the best?
We stood up and ran for the door. That was when Emil, our guide, got involved.
“You should buy just a small one to hang on the wall,” he argued.
“No thank you,” I said. “I already have two wall rugs in storage because I don’t have room for them.” (And that wasn’t even a lie).
“But you should buy something. For a souvenir!”
“No thank you. We don’t need a new rug.”
“But I want you to have something to take home that’s made in Turkey! Not like that souvenir junk sold in all of the ports!”
How many times does a person have to say no? I flung opened the door and Doc and I made our escape.
There are a few other crafts you can purchase here as well and they are all very nice items but, honestly, after the rug demo I was afraid to ask the price of anything or show any interest whatsoever by looking at a price tag. Instead, we headed back to the van. To hide.
There was one person in our group who did purchase a rug. It was the man who initially refused to get out of the van.
Another night at sea and the following morning we would arrive in Istanbul. A new adventure awaited us…