Wednesday, September 06, 2006

September 6, 2006
Middle East Travelogue #2

Dear Family & Friends,
Hello from Selçuk, which is located 2 miles from the ruins at Ephesus, and which is not far from the Aegean coast. Before we describe some of our activities, I would like to comment on a few things. First of all, it is the keyboard of the computers here which is substituting the letter y every time I type an i. I have no control over this and hopefully, you can still understand what I write. Other letters and punctuation marks are in different places too, making these somewhat difficult to produce! (NOTE: For posting the blog, the letters have been corrected for easier reading.)
Secondly, apparently there were some difficulties in the sending of the first travelogue a few days ago. If you did not receive it and would like me to resend it, just let me know. Or you can read it on our blog at
Thirdly, yes, we just heard about the shooting of 6 tourists in Amman, Jordan on Monday and although this is a place which is on our itinerary, we will still be going there. Security has been stepped up and we are not expecting any further problems.
Our Imaginative Traveler tour has started now, so we have a tour leader and a so-called group. There is only one other person in our group, a rather strange woman from Oxford, England who perfectly fits the stereotype of the typical British spinster. She has never worked but has only been a student and she writes books that never get published. She is very intelligent, has an accent that is difficult to understand, and she mostly doesn't do anything with the rest of us, preferring to explore on her own. Our tour leader, Jan, is from the Czech Republic and he has been leading tours there so this is his first time to lead one in Turkey, thus he hardly knows any more than we do. But he is a pleasant and capable 31 year old and we are having fun with him. Of course, we have been a bit disappointed by this situation because the group socialization is something we always enjoy. We suspect that our group was supposed to be larger but lots of people have cancelled or changed to other tours due to the situation in the Middle East.
As a matter of fact, we are having a group experience here at Selçuk because another group is here at our hotel, having just come over from Greece, so we have been joining them on their activities. Last night we all went for a nice dinner in this pleasant small town, and enjoyed some Turkish mezes. These are small plates of appetizers and with everyone ordering different ones, lots of sharing went on. Today we had a very informative 4 hour tour of the ruins at Ephesus. They were absolutely packed with tour groups but enjoyable nonetheless because they are so spectacular. This town was first Greek and then taken over and made over by the Romans and there are lots of interesting sculptures, structures, roads, sewers, columns, etc. because excavations have been happening here since the 1860's. The most incredible part was an area called the Terrace Houses which is where the houses of some wealthy Romans have been partly excavated and restored. This reveals the way they lived and just seeing their intricate and beautiful mosaic floors, marble walls and fountains, and wall frescoes was worth the extra money we had to pay to get in to this part. That also meant fewer people went through there and that alone made it enjoyable. There is a huge 2 story marble facade called the Celsus Library which is stunning, and a huge amphitheater which seated 24000 people and was so well constructed that the acoustics are perfect and no microphones are needed to reach the people in the upper tiers.
Probably you are wondering what happened in between where we left off after Travelogue 1 and today. We had 2 more days in Istanbul and we used them to explore the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, the Dolmabaçhe Palace, and the Istkilal Caddessi, a very fashionable shopping street. Most impressive was the Dolmabaçhe Palace which was where the sultans and their families lived starting in 1856. Previously they had lived in the Topkapi Palace, but the royals were feeling like they needed a newer, more comfortable and more fashionable place so they built this one which is so extravagant that they nearly bankrupted the kingdom. It is very European in style and it reminded us a lot of the palace at Versailles. It has over 285 rooms with about 150 of them in the harem, which means only the sultan and his wives, children, concubines and servants used them. There is a staircase where all the supports were made of crystal, and in the largest reception hall the crystal chandelier is so huge that it weighs 4500 pounds.
Istkilal Caddessi is the very fashionable shopping street where many of the embassies and consulates are located because it is in the area that used to be reserved for foreigners. It is being renovated and many new stores are moving in as well as trendy restaurants. We visited the Peras Hotel which is where the people stayed who took the Orient Express between Paris and Istanbul in the 1800 and 1900's. It is old and elegant (and expensive).
Monday we left Istanbul on a tourist bus called Hassle Free Tours. A 5 hour drive found us in a small town near battlefields and memorials on the Gallipoli Peninsula. After a nice lunch, we had a tour of the battlefields where so many New Zealanders, Aussies, British and a few French fought and died in WWI. They were trying to take over the peninsula and eventually control the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus so the Allies could use it as a way to get to the Black Sea and supply the Russians especially during winter. They had already tried sending battleships up the Dardanelles but were badly affected by mines. They landed on April 25, 1915 and established a position on the Aegean side of the peninsula and then stayed 9 months without making anymore progress because the Turks had the high side of the hills and ridges. By the time they withdrew, the Allies had lost about 240 thousand men and so had the Turks. And for what?! Our bus was full of Aussies who still are very emotional about this and on Anzac Day, a national holiday in Australia, about 12000 Aussies come to Gallipoli for a ceremony.
Driving down to this place gave us a good chance to look at the Turkish countryside. It is mostly very dry and brown with the majority of the fields being sunflower fields. They are brown and dried out now and they are starting to harvest them. They produce a lot of sunflower seed oil here. The housing situation is that most people live in high rise buildings where they have an apartment or a flat, even in the small towns outside of Istanbul. The roads are pretty bumpy and rough and there are not many highways where there are more than one lane each way so buses can't make good time.
After our battlefield tour, we caught a ferry across the Dardanelles to Çanakkale, a small town on the other side where we spent the night. The next day we had a morning tour of the archeological site at Troy. In excavating it, they found that there have actually been about 9 towns there, built one on top of the other. This was quite a surprise in the 1800's when it happened because they always thought that Troy was just a place in Homer's legends, the Iliad and the Odyssey. There was a replica of the wooden horse and then the ruins, which were interesting because we had an excellent guide there who helped them come to life. Considering that these ruins are 5000 years old, it is kind of humbling.
After our tour, we caught the bus to Selçuk where we are now. It was a distance a little over 200 miles but it took 7 hours because of the road situation and all the traffic in Izmir, a very large city we had to drive through.
The weather is hot here and we are enjoying wearing shorts and sandals and hoping that we continue to have air conditioned hotel rooms such as we have here! Sending big hugs to you all.
Love, Mary & Elaine

1 comment:

CaliforniaGrammy said...

The weird keyboard didn't harm the writing at all . . . I was able to enjoy your days with you. Fabulous trip. Be or-so-careful in Jordan! We want to see you again!