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Ephesus, revisited

I tried very hard to find the old olive tree, under which I was unceremoniously dumped exactly 35 and a half years ago by my school-friends, when we visited Ephesus on our grand tour of the Antiquities.
There were five of us and we had decided that after 6 years of Gymnasium, (an education heavily concentrating on the Classics) it was time to visit the sites around the Aegean Sea ourselves and see what  all the fuss was about. We had read Plato, Ovid, Homer and Caesar’s De Bello Gallico ('Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres') and knew everything about the heroes of the Trojan War.  In our sleep, we could recite the Histories of Herodotus ('so from here they went all through Milesia, 24 stations and 108 parasangs') or Homer ('Andra Moi Ennepe, Mousa', the beginning of the Odyssey). We bought ourselves a VW Van and, with typical Dutch efficiency, created a travel schedule that would have put any professional travel planner to shame.
We mapped out eight weeks of travel on a day to day basis and stuck to the rigid agenda throughout the journey, which we had dubbed 'Strateia' (Greek for ‘field-trip'). The schedule did not allow for contingencies and was strictly adhered to.  So when there were issues of sickness and health, like food-poisoning or over-exposure to the sun, regular procedure was to stick the patient in the back of the Van and “keep on truckin”.
When visiting the site or museum of the day, and one was not feeling well, there was the choice of staying in the bus or finding a shady spot near the point of interest till the others returned from their outing.  Then, there were of course, always the big stories of how much one had missed, or that this was really the site or museum, which topped all other ones. Admittedly, at the end of the journey “classical site tiredness” had set in and we were a bit less motivated but we managed to visit all the places we intended to see in Turkey, Greece and, after a ferry ride from Patras to Brindisi, Italy. So, since I was sick on the day we visited Ephesus, I missed the Library of Celsus, the Terrace Houses and the huge Amphitheatre years ago but that was not going to happen this time around.

Blue coat, Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Archaeological Museum Istanbul, statue garden

First, we spent five wonderful days in Istanbul (the Archaeological Museum here is amazing, btw) and marveled how the city, in our eyes, has changed. Modern, great public transport, no cars driving against traffic or on the side-walks, a wonderful eye for detail and aestethics and polite police so, honestly, not what we envisioned since we both were here last (respectively 15 and 35 years ago). We had loads of food (every meal good, without exception, something we are not really used to anymore) and gorged on fish almost every night, did the Topkapi, the Blue (and several other) Mosque(s).  It's impossible to get away from the crowds though, even in low season;  we took a couple of ferry rides across the Bosporus to visit the other, Asian side. In short, we played the tourists and got back into holiday mode after our revolutionary adventures  in Egypt. We then flew to Izmir, in search of warmer weather (Istanbul turned out to be pretty chilly this time of year) and set out to see the heart of ancient Ionia.
Ephesus, Arcadian Way, little traffic this morning

the Library of Celsus, Ephesus

the library of Celsus, Ephesus, again (view from below)
Ephesus, away from the crowds
Every tour guide will tell you that Ephesus is a 'must' (with the exception of Pompeii the best preserved ancient city around the Mediterranean) and we tend to agree because there are many unique finds here.   But we found the mobs and commercialization of the site, even in low season, overwhelming (and that’s putting it kindly). In spite of our best efforts to avoid the masses (early arrival, back entrance) we were over-run by a wide variety of, interestingly enough mostly Chinese, tour groups.
On a professional level, Christine and I have an ongoing discussion about the negatives of tourism promotion and development and Ephesus and its surroundings shows this dark side in all its ugly glory.
As a side-note, we managed to find a very nice bed and breakfast near Kusadasi .  Sadly this city (close to Ephesus) which had an almost magical-sounding ring to me since I camped here 35 years ago on a remote deserted beach,  has  been  totally ruined by over-development, lax or no zoning laws and mass tourism. 

Anyway, in spite of the crowds we managed to appreciate Ephesus but we were far more charmed by Priene, an exquisite site, much less visited than Ephesus (we were almost the only ones here, no groups). How cool is it, to walk (all by yourself) in the footsteps of Alexander the Great who stopped by here during his travels and founded and financed the well known temple of Athena (see pictures)?
So, this part of Turkey has become a mixed bag in our opinion. Mass tourism has destroyed the authentic charm of many places (my father used to snidely remark “people call this progress”).  But there are still gems to be found and explored.

Serene Priene

Sponsored by Alexander the Great....

Myus, close to Milete, old Byzantine ruins

We found a beautiful nature reserve and watched pink flamingos, blue herons, white-tailed hawks and other birds on the sea-shore.  We loved Priene and found a few places with similar appeal, devoid of tour buses and roving masses. Heracleia ad Latmos for instance, with its necropolis, which consists of a few dozen rectangular graves hewn out of boulders along the shore or Claros, known for its prophetic Temple of Apollo. Less enthusiastic were we about Didyma (known for its Delphi like Temple) which is completely surrounded by souvenir shops, bad food places and other annoying commercial entities.
Would we go back?  Yes, absolutely!  But you have to know where to go, that’s the verdict for most places nowadays anyway. Finishing our tour through South Western Turkey in Izmir, we flew back to Istanbul from where after some other adventures, of which we will report later,  we managed to make it back into Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
The rock graves, Heracleia ad Latmos
Recycle, recycle, recycle

I never found that olive tree I eventually fell asleep under thirty five years ago (my friends had to wake me up) but, being the eternal romantic, I am convinced it is still there, doing its age-old tree job, protecting weary travelers through the ages from the sun in past, present and future ……..


  1. J and C, Wonderful report on Turkey (and the primary author was obviously the Flying Dutchman) Jelte was the eight week forced march right after high school or after college -- we are guessing high school).
    It was sad to hear about every place being overrun by tourists. We spent three weeks in Turkey in 1995 in April and we usually had every place to ourselves, including Ephesus. (Your tree was still there then, Jelte)
    You could sponsor trips to the places that you DID enjoy -- but then they would be overrun as well.
    (In your heart of hearts, do you two think that perhaps, just perhaps, your very success as travel advisors has contributed to the blight you detest?)

    News from the home front: Janette has moved in with Lew -- so he's a happy camper.

    After Cairo and Turkey, Khorog must seem VERY tranquil indeed.


  2. Great post, Jelte! Keep on truckin'!

  3. hey jelte, your memorie is excellent, it was almost as you want your followers to believe in ephesus, 35 years ago. I quote from the diary of Jan Buschmann:
    "Kusadasi july 5 1975
    (...)we got all slightly drunk. That night, jelte is getting ill, vomiting every hour. Food poisoning from a bad sausage?
    Weather: warm but beautiful.

    Kusadasi, july 6 1975
    Weather: warmer than yesterday, actually too warm: 42 C , 37 in the shadow
    Jelte is sick to death. After having carefully claered away his messy s***, we visited the tiny Ephesus museum. Nothing of real interest. Next to the Ephesus site itself, where the temperature was too high to see much or better willing to see much. Jelte then decided to lie down to the grass again and we left him there. When we returned he was gone! It appeared he was 50 meters further on lying under an olive tree, remembering Horace." (unquote)

    As always the truth is less romantic than the memory, but a unforgettable journey it was!
    Stay well J&C, hope to bee able to visit you!



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