Ephesus ruins and fruity wine in Selcuk

Turkey's flag
Middle East » Turkey » Aegean » Selçuk
June 17th 2012
Published: June 24th 2012
Edit Blog Post

We jumped on a local bus for a 25 minute trip to the bus station in Bursa. We then transferred to a bigger and more comfortable bus for our six hour Selcuk trip. Looking out the window of the bus, we could have been travelling through rural Spain, although there was a little more green foliage. Olive trees spread to the horizon, and tiny farmhouses dotted the landscape.

We stopped a few times for toilet breaks, and a guy brought around drinks and snacks during the journey. It was a comfortable bus, and the views of the Turkish countryside were fabulous. We eventually arrived in Selcuk at 5pm. We couldn’t believe the heat when we jumped off – it was around 37 degrees, and the sun was intense. We walked to Dream’s Guesthouse, dropped our bags, grabbed a very quick shower and then jumped in a minibus to Sirince for a wine tasting.

The drive to Sirince was beautiful. The countryside was stark and the narrow road wound its way up into the hills. There were few signs of life on the way up, but we drove over a crest and the small hill town Sirince was suddenly upon us. We jumped off the minibus and walked through the early evening heat to our destined wine tasting cellar. We tried a selection of fruit and grape wines before wandering around the village market area. We decided to eat at Dimitros Restaurant. By ordering a main meal (meatballs in our case), we received an incredible complimentary meze. This was sensational. I could easily have grazed on this all night and forgone the meatballs. They also served cold beer, which was extremely welcome in this heat. A group of old men was singing at a table just over from us (one was playing the violin), and this added to the fantastic atmosphere. We were seated outside with a great view of the Sirince hills. We ended the meal with cherries and watermelon and then drove back down into Selcuk. I picked up an Efes beer and we rushed to the sanctuary of our air-conditioned room. We were getting very low on clean clothes, so we dropped a large bag of laundry at reception. It wouldn’t be ready until the following night, so our choice of clothing was going to be interesting for the next 24 hours. It had been a long travel day, so we eventually crashed at midnight.

Just before the wine tasting, Ren was the only one amongst us who managed to drop a coin into the ‘special’ hole at the bottom of the village wishing well. According to local myth, any wish will come true if you manage this.

We woke at 6am to catch up on our travel notes. We headed out for a walk at 7.30am and ended up at St John’s Basilica. Apart from four other tourists, we were the only people there. We wandered the ruins, met a small tortoise (nearly trod on him) and enjoyed the views of Selcuk before returning to the hotel for breakfast. Unfortunately, the breakfast was poor, as was our room and the attitude of the staff. All up, this was a very disappointing hotel. We quickly showered and then headed out for an orientation walk of the town. It was going to be 40 degrees, and we were definitely feeling it. We walked past aqueducts and stork nests, checked out local restaurants, picked up postcards from an old Turkish man and headed back to the hotel’s street terrace area to escape the heat of the burning sun. We relaxed in the shade, wrote postcards and then walked to the post office to send them to Australia and the UK. We picked up water from the supermarket and ordered takeaway Turkish pizza from Ejder Restaurant. With our pizza and complimentary salad in hand, we walked back to the hotel and relaxed in our hotel room to escape the mid-afternoon sun.

I headed out at 4pm to wander the market area and pick up a new notepad for my travel notes (I was running out of pages). We left for the Ephesus Archaeological Site at 5pm to escape the heat and crowds. We walked through the ruins with a guide, and the insights he shared into ancient Roman life were fascinating (although he left us with the impression that he would prefer the site to be closed to tourists for at least five years so they could complete numerous unfinished projects). The sun was beating down on us, but we still managed to sit in the 25,000 seat Grand Theatre (which is still used today). After about 1.5 hours we emerged from the ruins and jumped on a minibus to the Cave of Seven Sleepers, where we dined on gozleme (thin bread that had been freshly made by Turkish women sitting on the floor and baking it in a fire oven). I had otlu peynirli (spinach and cheese) and Ren had kiyma patatesli (mincemeat and potato) – it was incredibly good. The cold Efes beer was also very welcome. After dinner we walked to the Cave of Seven Sleepers, which provided panoramic views of Selcuk (including the imposing city castle) as the sun set.

We caught a minibus back to the hotel, where we sat down and shared a bottle of Sirince fruit wine and leftover gozleme (which we’d packed in containers from dinner). We finished the night with ice cream, picked up our laundry and headed up to our room. It was 10.30pm, so we organised our packs for the travel day tomorrow and caught up on our trip notes.

The best part of the day was spent in buses getting to Selcuk. We took a local bus to get to the bus depot in Bursa and then spent over six hours in an intercity bus to Selcuk in the South Aegean region. At the bus station we stocked up on water and snacks and settled into the ride - this was a very comfortable bus. Similar to the long distance buses in Asia, there was a bus attendant who handed out complimentary ice cream as we boarded, and then water, hot drinks or juice and more snacks! There were a few small toilet stops and a longer stop for lunch too. I am more and more impressed with the Turkish public transport system. However, it was a long travel day, and we were all very impressed with Suleyman’s capacity to get us all there in one piece. Especially as this was his first trip as a solo group leader. Even though it was a long travel day, it was really interesting watching the gradually changing scenery from inland plains to coastal towns. The farmland was interesting too – fields of corn and olive orchards as far as the eye could see.

It was wonderful to finally arrive in Selcuk, even though it was still a very hot 37 degrees when we stepped off the bus at 5pm. The town is at the foot of Ayasoluk Hill, capped by a Byzantine-Ottoman fortress. There are also two significant buildings on the hillside – the ruins of St John’s Basilica and the old but still working Isabey Mosque. Our hotel - Dream’s Guesthouse – was quite disappointing. We are getting used to tiny rooms in Turkey, but this was ridiculously tiny. And to make matters worse, the staff acted like they were doing us a favour by working there – it’s a bad look when the manager seems more interested in entertaining his mates than serving guests.

That afternoon, we caught a minibus up the narrow hilly roads to the nearby village of Sirince. The people in this village came to Turkey from Greece as a result of the rather controversial population swap. At the end of the Greek-Turkish war of independence in 1922, both Greece and Turkey enforced the migration of all ethnic Greek Christians from Turkey and all ethnic Turk Muslims from Greece. It was the largest ever population swap with over a million people involved on both sides. Most Ottoman Greeks had lived in Turkey for centuries and couldn’t speak true Greek, so were looked down on when they arrived in Greece, and likewise the Greek Muslims who were sent to Turkey had also lived in Greece for centuries and struggled to be accepted by the locals. This was one of the transplanted towns that survived and apparently only thrived due to the plantations of fruit trees in the surrounding hills. In a few days we visit the village of Kayakoy which tells the other side of the story.

At first glance, Sirince is total tourist kitsch. The entry to the village and the single main square is covered in little stalls selling tourist crap. Luckily we ignored the circus by walking further into the village and up its steep stone steps, which surprisingly turned out to be a really cute Turkish village. The citrus and stone fruit orchards take over the hill sides all around here, and as beautiful as I have found Turkish fruit juice to be, we had come to Sirince was to taste the local fruit wine that it is famed for. The fruit wines were sweeter than I had expected but still quite strong. We didn’t particularly enjoy the tasting, but a few of us bought bottles of our favourites – apple and peach – to share over the next few travel days.

We visited the ruins of the Church of John the Baptist, a small uninteresting church that was in the early process of being restored. Right outside the church was a wishing well with a statue of Mary in it. This wishing well was slightly different to all others I’d seen, in that there was a small hole in the bottom of the well that you had to try and get your coin into… it was harder than it looked, but I managed to get 10 kurus into it. Let’s see if my wish for more travel this year comes to fruition. The Virgin Mary is supposed to have lived here and her last home (called Meryamana) is a site of pilgrimage. Legend has it that on the instructions of a dying Jesus, she came here accompanied by St John (the apostle) to live out her days quietly.

We decided to have dinner in Sirince rather than back in Selcuk. Suleyman sourced Dimotros Restaurant which offered five tasty plates of different meze (assorted tapas-like dishes) on their balmy terrace, and then mains of our choice. The meze was amazingly tasty, and probably filling enough to be a meal in itself, but we had already ordered lamb kofte (meat balls) to share. The kofte was disappointingly dry, but finishing a meal with the sweetest of watermelon and fresh in-season cherries was really lovely. Even better was the group of men sitting on the other side of the terrace – one was playing a violin and the other were singing and clapping (helped along by the raki on the table no doubt). It was a very enjoyable way to spend the evening. At the end of dinner, Suleyman gave us all little evil eye charms to keep us safe on the rest of the trip. A sweet gesture. 😊

We were so glad we got a look at the real Sirince and its simple way of life. It’s such a shame about the tacky tourist shops at the entrance to the village, but I suppose the locals have learnt to live with it, and even live off it.

The next morning we were up very early, as the traffic and street sweepers started up at 5:30am. We (Cath, Viv, Chris, Robyn, Darryl and us) went for an early morning walk to see the three main monuments in town. Andrew and I decided that while we were there, we would take the opportunity to visit the monuments at that point, rather than coming back later in the day – a day predicted to hit 40 degrees.

We first walked to the Isabey Mosque which is very simple but has a distinct air of significance about it. We were then at the ruins of St John’s Basilica at opening time and we were glad for it. Within 30 minutes the big buses had started to pull up outside. The Basilica ruins are vast! This would have been a seriously large place of worship in its time. It apparently contains the tomb of St John but no one is certain. Having initially come to Ephesus with Mary, St John is believed to have subsequently returned and lived here.

The ancient column nearby is from the Temple of Artemis. It was built in 550BC and dedicated to the worship of Artemis, the goddess of fertility. The Temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world; however nothing is left of the Temple now, except for the one lone gigantic pillar. What wasn’t destroyed by invaders was used to construct St John’s Basilica; which ironically was then looted, and some of the pillars taken to build the Isabey Mosque. All three monuments stand within shouting distance of each other. Recycling religion both physically and metaphorically I suppose. The lone pillar looks almost defiant, but it is also quite a sad statement of human destruction.

Suleyman took us on a brief orientation walk of Selcuk to show us the post office, ATMs and good restaurants. As we were walking around, an old disabled man sprinted behind us trying to sell us postcards – we were going to buy whatever he was selling to reward his sheer effort on such a hot day, and the postcards turned out to be very nice – bonus! 😊

The walk wasn’t long, but we took in quite a lot of the local culture. We spotted dozens of storks that had nested on top of an ancient minaret and along the old aqueduct. These birds are enormous, and I wondered how the little ones learn to fly when they are perched so high. There were noisy tractors speeding through town, often with an older man or women riding shot gun with the driver. We couldn’t help but peep into the local cafes and shop windows - men sipping cay (Turkish tea) and playing their own version of Scrabble (with numbered tiles), a man getting a shave in the barbers shop, women knitting in doorways and the friendly restaurant owners who say a friendly ‘maybe another time then’ when you say no to having lunch there. There were old women dressed in what I’ve heard referred to as ‘Anatolian camouflage’ – dark baggy multi floral printed pants, dark baggy floral printed shirt and headscarf with at least two different floral prints on it. For the camouflage to work, none of the floral prints can match. I want some of the those baggy pants – they look so comfortable.

After the walk we sat in the shade of an open air front room of the hotel and wrote our postcards while chatting to Suleyman about the upcoming travels days, and life in general. When we ventured back out onto the streets, we walked to the post office to post our postcards and then dropped into Ejder Restaurant for ‘packet’ (take away) lahmacun (Turkish pizza). It was surprisingly delicious for something that doesn’t look much more than minced meat on lavash bread. If we’d had more time, we would have definitely gone back for a meal.

That afternoon we set off at 5pm with our local guide Harry (an archaeologist) to explore Ephesus, one of the best preserved Greco-Roman city ruins. It was only 4km away from Selcuk. Ephesus was founded by Ionian Greeks in the 11th century BC and the city was famed for the Temple of Artemis (which is now where Selcuk is). In the Roman period, it was the capital of the East Roman Empire, and for many years the second largest city in the world. The city saw acts of war, arson and an earthquake that destroyed much of it. However, its decline is more attributed to the harbor slowly silting up (the sea is now 6km away) and thus causing trade to decline.

The Lonely Planet Guide recommends starting at the upper gate of ancient Ephesus and walking downhill through the city to the lower gate. We walked on eroded marble streets once walked upon by Antony and Cleopatra! A brothel sits right in front of what must be the most magnificent of the buildings in Ephesus, the Celsus Library. The library is another reason to start at the upper gate, because as we walked down the hill, the Library is always directly in view and it is easy to imagine the wide marble roads that once led to it. The building was beautiful enough to make me forget the heat and dust that had been bothering me a minute earlier.

The wealthy citizens of ancient Ephesus lived a luxurious life with beautiful two and three storey villas which had extensive mosaics and frescoes, baths, running hot and cold water, sewerage systems, central courtyards to let in the light, marble floors and walls which helped to regulate the internal temperature and underfloor heating in the winter. All this around 5th century BC.

There were also forums, arcadia (shops), covered walkways, a gymnasium, public baths, temples and public fountains. They had large numbers of slaves who catered to their every need, even to the point where in winter they would apparently send their slave ahead to the bathroom to warm the marble seat for them (I hope it was warmed with hot towels, but I’m guessing not). Even though some houses had private bathrooms, the public latrines were very popular for meeting up with friends and er... you know... doing stuff together. I cannot tell you how repulsed I am by this concept!

Ephesus is considered one of the largest and best preserved classical cities in the world, although it is understood that only 15%% of the site has been excavated to-date. And as far as ancient ruins go, I found it much more interesting than most. The theatre was amazing, and as we sat on one of the tiers taking it all in, I tried to imagine this in its time – full to capacity with 25,000 people reverently listening to the preaching of St Paul (his letter to the Ephesians), or applauding lustily at the bloody battles between gladiators. The local guide Harry decided to demonstrate the acoustics of the theatre by singing an operatic song in German. It sounded incredible for a theatre that is well past its glory days, although big name international acts still use it for concerts in summer.

When our heads were full with too many Ephesians facts, we went in search of dinner. Visiting Ephesus at 5pm was a great way of avoiding the cruise ship crowds and the merciless sun. Apparently it had got up to 45 degrees in the early afternoon, but we walked around in 28 degrees and a little breeze which helped immensely. Dinner was at a local shop renowned for its gozleme, a popular very thin savoury bread. We watched as a very capable looking woman mixed the dough, hand rolled it into thin discs with a stick-like rolling pin and filled it with different fillings of spinach and sheep’s cheese, lamb and eggplant or lamb and potatoes in a matter of minutes. It was passed to another woman who cooked it in a stone oven until it was smoky and flaky. The gozleme was nice but quite filling, so we got doggie bags to take back to the hotel.

The restaurant was near the Cave of the Seven Sleepers, so after dinner we walked up the hill to the grotto (every single gozleme in my tummy was making itself known by this point). Legend has it that seven Christian men were driven into a cave and trapped. About 200 years later the cave entrance was moved open by an earthquake, causing the men to wake. They wandered downhill into the town and were somewhat shocked to learn that it was 200 years later and they were under Christian rule. The legend is far more exciting than the cave or their tomb. I wouldn’t recommend a special trip to see it, unless you were there to eat gozleme and happened to be in the area.

We returned to our hotel in Selcuk, and Cath, Viv, Chris, Robyn, Darryl, Shirley, Greg, Andrew and I sat outside and finished Robyn and Darryl’s bottle of apple wine from Sirince. One bottle down, two to go. There are a few ‘sweet tooths’ amongst us and a call was made that a late night ice cream was in order, so we crossed the road to a local ice cream bar and I had my second serve of chocolate flavoured dondurma (Turkish ice cream). It was much better than the one I had in Istanbul, but I’m still not a big fan of the texture.

We crawled into bed at some point and I managed to stay awake for a whole 10 minutes before I head-planted into my book and called it a night.

Next stop Pamukkale in the Inner Aegean region!


25th June 2012

A feast for the senses~
No wonder you guys got that Blog award eh?! Your descriptions are just so vibrant and potent and ...well exciting! Thanks so much for taking the time to document your trip as you have - I saved up a couple of entries and have really enjoyed delaying my Monday morning start by reading through them! May your wish come true Ren! LouXX
26th June 2012

Re: A feast for the senses~
Thanks Louise! I think a bit of travel reading is the perfect start to any Monday :)
25th June 2012

News From A-M
A-M is (was?) temporarily back in Pamukkale before proceeding to Kusadasi for three days. The Artemis Yoruk Hotel is the place to be in Pamukkale, apparently. But you've got to be quick by the sounds of it. PS - Haven't had time to read this blog yet, but I certainly will.
25th June 2012

Re: News from A-M
Hey KD - how funny, we did stay at the Artemis Hotel! :)
25th June 2012

Well done you've got this trip nailed ..hope we can download some of those wonderful photos we look forward to the next update of Kas and beyond.
26th June 2012

Thanks guys! It's been an action packed journey for sure :)
26th June 2012

Watch out for the evil eye
Love the photos of people working.
26th June 2012

Re: Watch out for the evil eye
Thanks Merry Jo and Dave! :)
6th July 2012

St Paul and Ephesus
Glad that you enjoyed Ephesus so much, it is certainly one of the best ancient sites in the world. St Paul is supposed to have said of Ephesus "Is there a greater city?" After spending time at the site, it is easy to see why he formed this conclusion - it must have been a magnificent sight in its heyday.
7th July 2012

Re: St Paul and Ephesus
It certainly wasn't hard to imagine how beautiful a city it would have been. I just love that they had heated floors! :)

Tot: 4.108s; Tpl: 0.086s; cc: 45; qc: 173; dbt: 0.1486s; 3; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 2; ; mem: 2.3mb