You know when you’ve been in a hotel a long time when you realise there’s been a change of staff at the breakfast buffet. People haven’t been fired – obviously – just that some people have got some time off and deservedly so.
I’d noticed the same lack of familiar faces amongst the clientele too. All the usual breakfast grazers were nowhere to be seen. They’d been replaced by new faces, all of them very white, one of whom sat at the table across from ours running his finger over a guide book for Turkey. He seemed intent on planning how he and his American wife would crack the real Turkey.
I’d reckoned on the same only the day before. I resisted the temptation. Let him find out the way I did. It’s the only way, I thought. As you see, I may have been on holiday for a week but there’s still a mean streak which needs to be worked on.
There had been cloud cover across the bay only the previous morning. Despite Simon reassuring me that our closer proximity to the equator meant that some of that necessary UV could still penetrate the clouds and thus tinge our skin, I reckoned the fast approaching thunder cloud made a day at the hotel a miserable affair. It was time to explore.
For some reason I plumped on Ephesus as the place we were going to visit. Ephesus was the oldest ancient site east of the Mediterranean. That meant old ruins. That meant sight-seeing. That meant a road trip.
The journey to the ancient ruins would take us no more than an hour – an hour and a half at a push. This calculation based on me measuring the distance on the map from our hotel to Ephesus as being no more than half a forefinger.
What I hadn’t bothered to check was the scale on the map. If I had then I later wouldn’t have been so inconsolably angry that our journey had taken two and a half hours. At that point there was at least another twenty-five kilometres to go.
We finally arrived at the ancient site at around 3.20pm, having set off to avoid the impending rain storm only to drive through one at the beginning of the journey and arrive 188 kilometres just in time to get drenched in another one. The site closed to the public at 5.30pm. We’d have a couple of hours there before we had to drive back. This little road trip was feeling like a bit of a disaster.
Ephesus wasn’t quite what I was expecting it to be either. I’d seen the pictures in the guide book. It made it look like a scene from Ecce Romani. I imagined a very British kind of tourist attraction with gift shops, printed tour guides, turnstiles and a cafe run by a couple of old women.
Not so here. It may be an extremely important site, but such English details were lacking.
We paid 4 YTL to get into the car-park only to be offered a free trip to the top of the site (the ancient city is effectively a walk down a hill – best to start from the top, not the bottom) by a man who spoke very good English and seemed to have a fantastic line in leather goods he reckoned we absolutely couldn’t do without. “First I take you to my leather shop and then I take you to the top of ancient city for free!” he said excitedly as he pulled the sliding door of his mini-bus wide open and ushered us inside.
We declined, taking the shiny yellow taxi to the top for 15 YTL. We paid a further 10 YTL each to get in, at which point we understood why it was the guide books advised visiting the site when the sun was obscured by the clouds. There was no shelter which in turn meant there was nowhere to hide from the rain.
Other visitors had taken the sensible precaution of bringing brollies and waterproof jackets. One foreign-looking couple who had found the only archway on the site to listen to their tape-recorded guide and wait for the rain to pass. Beside them was a brolly hanging from a hook in the wall. They appeared visibly unimpressed with British society as a whole when I ventured, “Is that brolly yours?” “Yes,” was the couple’s stern reply.
For all my apparent moaning about the day (the rain did eventually stop), there was something eerily moving about the entire place. The Greeks obviously knew how to lay out a city in a suitably grand style. There was detail in the carvings, solidity in the stone walkways and an undeniable sense of grandeur in the buildings implicit in the remains which marked out foundations and boundaries.
Looking down on the site felt a bit like looking at a partially completed cartoon. We saw the sketches of the buildings in front of us, leaving us the fill in the rest in our imagination. The more I looked, the more I wanted the site finished off. The more I wanted to wander around these amazing structures and live the glamorous life of togas and scrolls and sandals I reckoned it was back then.
At the same time it felt odd to be wandering aimlessly over what at times felt like a forgotten town. People lived and worked and studied in these buildings how ever many hundreds of years ago. The idea the place had ceased to be vibrant and successful when the nearby port finally silted up, made what was left almost like a tomb.
Stunning to look at, it did kind of feel as though we should have been marvelling from afar rather than clambering all over it.