Escapade 2: Kusadasi, Turkey
I'm not sure how I expected Turkey to be. I do know that it surprised me more than any other destination on our whirlwind vacation. In leu of the Casa Blanca vibe I'd imagined, Kusadasi was a paradise of rolling green hills, valleys of orchards of peaches, apples, and pears, bright blue waves crashing at the foot of stark cliffs, and sandy beaches adorned with five star hotels. We didn't spend much time in the city itself since we decided to forego the cruise sponsored tour of Kusadasi and the neighboring city of Ephesus where the real marvels were located. This was, hands down, the most fortuitous decision we made during the entire trip.
Our taxi driver seemed as elated as our wait staff had been the night before to have seven American girls as his charge. After haggling down to just ten euros a pop, we climbed into Sabas's (pronounced Sabash's) taxi van and set off for the ruins of Ephesus. As we climbed into the hills outlying Kusadasi, we began to prod our driver for information about the city and himself. As he spewed facts about the countryside and the country of which he was so proud, we learned that taxi driving was only a temporary gig for old Sabas. By age 35, he's seen 62 countries working as a journalist for Atlas. He'd trained sled dogs in Alaska, grown bored and become a skydiving instructor. He'd tried his hand as a newspaper man in Seattle. He'd worked at a vineyard in New Zealand. He'd done it all and come back to the family hotel before starting his next adventure. Inspired beyond belief, mouth agape, I decided then and there to try and emulate this man's life.
Snapped back to reality from envisioning my own fantastical future, Sabas switched topics from himself to the Virgin Mary House that we were about to visit. The people of Ephesus are proud to tell you that tucked away on Mount Koressos sits the last dwelling of the Virgin Mary. It is said that Mary was "assumed into Heaven" by angels from this modest home that Saint John built for her. The house itself is rather unremarkable, a stone edifice surrounded by trees and speckled with sunlight with a simple rope lined queue where patrons wait to see inside. Inside the house is a simple altar with a statue of the Virgin where guests can light a candle and pause to pray. The site glows with a certain power, not because of any religious significance it holds for me, but because of the raw display of emotion it caused in other visitors. A woman in her late 50s, red sweater, dirty blonde unkempt hair, closed her ayes as she turned them heavenward, putting her hands together captivated by prayer. It felt almost voyeuristic watching such an intimate moment between one mother and another. On the way down from the house, patrons pass a wall of prayers- scribbles on napkins and receipts stuck into wire mesh, asking or thanking God or Mary.
Our next stop after the Virgin Mary House were the ruins of Ephesus. For a few euros, we entered the excavation site that held the third oldest library in the world. Tourists are allowed to galavant freely about the fallen pillars and nearly intact amphitheaters. The American in me expected them to be roped off and covered in cellophane for preservation but the Turks take a different approach. We climbed on the ruins til our feet and our camera memory cards were full, taking whimsical pictures on columns and statuary. Finally fed up by our lingering at each site for unnecessary time and photo ops, Emily yelled in annoyance, "they're just rocks. You don't know what they mean and you won't remember them anyway!" Touché Emilia.
Good old Sabas picked us up from the ruins and as a special treat, took us the the "modern" town of Ephesus where he and his family run their hotel. In a very "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" style, he introduced us to all of the extended family. "Nick, Nick, Nicky, Niko, he's single, how handsome no? Nicolai, Nick..." While those may not have been the actual names, it was definitely the vibe. From the roof of the hotel, Sabas pointed out the sites in the surrounding countryside including a castle in the distance. He then called upon one of the relatives to whip us up a sample plate of Turkish food. A variety of yogurt, tomato, and pepper based sauces served on a platter were the cherry on top of our Turkish delight.