Friday, January 29, 2016

MEDITERRANEAN CRUISE 2015 - KUSADASI, TURKEY


 SUNDAY, OCTOBER 4th, 2015


Another early morning start as the ship would be docking by 7am.  We ate breakfast outside, on the aft deck, and were able to enjoy watching the sun come up over Kusadasi.  The horizon was a blend of deep oranges, purples and golds.  

Sunrise over Kusadasi
We were off the ship a bit late as it took awhile for the ship to clear.  We immediately made our way through the terminal toward the exit to find our driver/guide for the day.  I had looked at all sorts of options to get to Ephesus, from private tours to the Ephesus shuttle.  Through my research, I came across a taxi service that would be quite a bit more cost effective and have the bonus of not having a huge crowd to travel with and also had very good reviews on Trip Advisor and Cruise Critic.   

I sent an email to Ali at Ephesus Taxi Service (www.ephesustaxiservice.com) aka Ali Baba Taxi, to inquire about pricing and availability and I received a response very quickly.  The price to take the Ephesus Shuttle was $35US (equivalent) per person, which would have worked out to $210US for the six of us.  Ali’s price was €80 total for all six people.

We met Ali and followed him across the street to where his van was parked and off we headed to Ephesus with the goal to get ahead of the ship’s tours.  This was a common goal at pretty much every stop on this cruise.  His van was in top notch condition and very clean with air conditioning and wifi available.

Ali
We quickly warmed to Ali as he was very charming and upbeat and knew a lot about the area and its history.  My Dad loved him because he had a great sense of humour and kept us all laughing as we traveled.  Our first lesson was how to properly pronounce Kusadasi.  We pronounced it just as it is spelled but Ali taught us that the proper way to pronounce it is “koo-sha-da-sa”.  It took us a lot of practice to say it correctly without getting tongue-tied!

The early morning light was absolutely incredible.  A pale orange haze blanketed the area as the fog had not yet burned off and the sunlight was diffused through the fog.  


We made it to Ephesus just before the tours arrived so we did not get ahead of a lot of the crowd but we only ever felt crowded on the main avenue.  We got some water at a market across the street and bought our tickets and a tour book as soon as the gates opened for business.  Entry was 40TL (Turkish Lira) per person for the entry ticket that included access to the Terrace Houses.  We were able to pay by Visa so we did not have to actually get any Turkish Lira for this stop.

We had done a bit of reading up on Ephesus before we arrived so that we would have an idea of some of the history and ruins.  We brought along our constant companion, Rick Steves’ travel guide, to help us as well.  You can hire a guide at the entrance and, if we returned, we would probably do that the next time.  We got the basics of the history and the different ruins we saw but a guide would have known more details that would have enhanced the experience for us.



One thing that excited me right away was when we realized that we could actually walk among the ruins and up stairs and into buildings as we toured.  Things were not roped off and it really added to the feeling that you were walking in the footsteps of the ancients.   We all went off in different directions as we explored and came back together periodically to touch base. 




There were tons of cats around...and the occasional dog.  They take donations at the front gate to help feed the stray cats that wander the site.


We were glad we had paid the extra fee to access the Terrace Houses, as they were a cool and quiet respite from the heat and crowds outside.  They have spent a lot of money on the excavation and the site is now encased inside a structure to protect it from the elements.  You follow a raised walkway that winds through the excavation and up stairs at different points so you have a bird’s eye view down into the interiors of the houses.  I was surprised at how much was still standing of these homes that the wealthy used to inhabit.  Columns, frescoes and lots of mosaics still to be seen.  We wanted to take in everything so we took our time going through the site.




The view from the deck above the Terrace Houses
Once back outside, our next stop was my favorite ruin which was the Library of Celsus.  The main part still standing was the façade of the library.  We were able to walk through and into an area behind the façade and look back out at all of the crowds making their way down Curetes Street, one of the three main roads at Ephesus.

The Library of Celsus

Inside one of the doors of the library
We spent almost two and a half hours wandering through the ruins and absorbing all of the sights that we could.  Ali met us outside the lower gate and we headed out to Selçuk, a nearby town.  We stopped at a carpet factory for a lesson in Turkish carpet weaving and were pleased that we did not get a hard-sell sales pitch that is often part of these tours.  We also stopped by the Temple of Artemis ruins (which is essentially one main tall column that still remains of the temple) and the Basilica of St. John. 
 
Learning the technique
Vibrant carpet
They worked from a pattern


Basilica of St. John
We headed back toward Kusadasi, making a quick stop at a leather shop along the way.  The leather was so soft and buttery and the prices fit with the evident quality.

Ali had us back to town by around noon, as all aboard was at 1:30pm with departure at 2pm.  He dropped us across the street from the bazaar and thus began another lesson in navigating the lanes packed tightly with every type of shop you could imagine.  Shopkeepers called out to us as we walked by and we quickly learned not to make eye contact with anyone or we would immediately be seen as ‘being interested’ and then getting away required some real effort.  It was a crash course in quashing some of our Canadian instincts for politeness and saying “no” and to keep on walking, even if they were still talking.

The bazaar
 
Along the Kusadasi harbour front
We spent probably 45 minutes in the bazaar and then joined the long line of passengers getting back on the ship.  We were back on the ship a bit after 1pm, changed into our swimsuits and got some lunch to eat on a sun lounger on the aft deck.  We enjoyed watching the ship sail away from Kusadasi from the comfort of the hot tub and then headed back to the cabin for a nap.  Since we were back on the ship so early, we decided to dress up and go to the more formal restaurant (Windows) for supper and then took in the evening show.

Farewell Kusadasi
Kusadasi was a wonderful surprise as we did not have any real expectations going in.  We expected to enjoy Ephesus, but it exceeded those expectations.  We could have probably spent at least another couple of hours there, had we had the time.  Just outside the town of Kusadasi, they have one of the largest waterparks around.  It would have been a great spot to spend a few hours.  The entire area was also very beautiful  and would be a lovely place to come to enjoy some sun, sand and peaceful surroundings.