Spending Our Days in Ancient Selçuk

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Middle East » Turkey » Aegean » Selçuk
May 7th 2015
Published: May 8th 2015
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Our beautiful Hotel Bella is a true gem! It's facade is a sea of brilliant green vines while the interior is decorated with true Turkish flair - Ottoman furniture, carpets on the floor and walls, glittering mosaic lamps and gorgeous ceramics. We have a small balcony where we overlook the ruins of St. John's Basilica. We have the best sign in our bathroom though. It reads, "Welcome to the ancient city of Selçuk. Please do not 'flash' anything down the toilet"! Try as we might, I think the toilet water has been flashed once or twice😊 After unpacking, we went upstairs to the gorgeous terrace area to meet with Erdal, one of the owners. He explained things we could see, excursions we could take, as well as giving us some history about Selçuk. Just off this beautiful balcony overlooking Selcuk, there are numerous stork nests, complete with young ones. Some of the nests were built atop the ancient aqueducts while others in metal cribs on hydro poles. These storks migrate every Spring from Africa, a 4000 mile journey during which the storks use thermal air currents to glide, instead of their wings. This helps them conserve energy. They return to the same nest next each year and with the same mate. Their first order of business is to reconstruct their huge nests and then it's on to laying eggs. Storks make a unique clicking sound as they are in their nests. We watched these large birds glide in the blue sky. Later we enjoyed a delicious dinner on the same terrace. We watched as the sun set behind the mountains. We met a wonderful family from Australia who we talked to at length. Through our chat we discovered that we were all going in the same van in the morning to visit the ancient ruins of Ephesus.

On Tuesday morning the other hotel owner, Nazmi drove 7 of us to the entrance of Ephesus, leaving us 3 hours to explore. This ancient city was amazing. History has it dating back to the middle of the 7th century B.C. It is a place so rich in Greek and Roman history and woven with religious significance as Christianity spread throughout Ephesus. We were able to wander through most of the ruins, as there were few barriers. We walked under archways, through tunnels, and up and down stairs. We got a glimpse of the State Agora, where religious and state meetings were held. The Basilica was a trade centre during the Roman Empire period where merchants engaged in commerce and bankers exchanged money. We wandered up the seats of the Odeum, which resembled an open arena with tiered seating. Here, discussions were held about the future of the city as well as a venue for concerts. Many of the marble pillars are standing, now in various heights but give you an idea of how beautiful this place once was. The Water Palace, Temple of Domitian and The Pollio Fountain must have been majestic in their time. Wandering down Curetes Street we came to the Memmius Monument and got to see the relief with Nike, the winged messenger of the gods. The Scholastika baths, brothel and public latrines were altogether. By "public" they meant no privacy. Everyone just sat on a hole with no partitions! Talk about having performance anxiety! We loved seeing the frieze of the godess of Fortune as well as a relief of Medusa. We really couldn't get over how huge this city must have been! We had also bought extra tickets to see the Terrace Houses which are huge homes belonging to the rich Ephesians which have been unearthed in the side of the hill. Remnants of mosaics and frescoes are seen on the walls and floors. I think the most incredible sight was the Celsus Library. As we walked down the Marble Road we came to this huge building with marble statues behind the massive columns. We were able to wander through the Agora (marketplace) and then to The Grand Theatre which had seating for 24,500 people. As we were leaving, we wandered down a less crowded path to the Church of Virgin Mary, a beautiful set of ruins. It was the first church built in the name of the Virgin Mary.

After meeting Nazmi at the exit he then drove us to the Cave of the Seven Sleepers. Before visiting this site we went to a Turkish restaurant where we were mesmerized by the 3 old women who were making the paper thin pastry for "Gözleme" (Turkish pancakes). Sitting on the floor, one women chopped bowls and bowls of onions and spinach, another held a large, circular wooden board between her feet and rolled out the dough with a piece of dowling until it was a huge round shape. The third woman was stoking the small fire over which they would cook our Gözleme. We then all sat together out at a table and enjoyed a cold drink and our delicious Turkish lunch. We enjoyed talking more with Mike, Karen, and their daughter Maddy, as well as with another couple from Australia. Then 6 of us climbed the hill to see the cave of the Seven Sleepers. The story of this cave is that 7 boys and their dog ran away from the cruelty of the pagans during the reign of Emperor Decius (249-241 B.C.) Because they were Christians. They found shelter in this cave and fell asleep, waking 200 years later!

Returning to our hotel we then walked across the road to explore the ruins of St. John's Basilica and the Selçuk Castle. The Basilica is where the tomb of St. John the apostle is located. It is marked with a huge marble base and 4 pillars, one in each corner. It is hard to fathom that this amazing set of ruins is directly across from our hotel. We then walked up to the Selcuk Castle which has undergone a lot of restoration since 2008. Walls have been rebuilt and we were able to wander through, peering into cisterns and climbing the walls in spots. Next Erdal drove us to the House of the Virgin Mary. It is believed that St. John made a promise to look after Mary and a few years after the death of Christ he brought her to Ephesus. This small stone house was built by St. John on a hill, 420 m above sea level. Apparently a German nun, who had never left her homeland, was able to describe the location of this home. This information was recorded in a book. In 1891 two priests used this information from the book and found the house, just a she had described. We lit candles in Mary's honour, drank from the spring of healing waters and I left my white note tied to the wall, amidst a sea of others. It was quite amazing.

Back at our hotel we spent time with Nazmi in the carpet shop. He regaled us with the history of carpets. We looked at carpet after carpet and finally chose two beautiful ones to have shipped home upon our return. Ka-ching!!! We then walked into town for dinner and visited Moonlight Silver and Souvenir Shop. This place was highly recommended by Trip Advisor and we were not disappointed. Julia, the owner, was a wonderful, warm woman who served us tea and let us wander at will. We finally settled on a Turkish lamp to be shipped home as well. Ka-ching!!! She was so open and honest, telling us that her husband prays 5 times a day and she's a Muslim woman who wears a bikini! We laughed at her many stories. Before leaving she gave me a wallet and Curtis a set of "worry" beads. She called them "patience" beads as he may need them when the VISA bill comes in!!!! We really haven't bought many mementos of our trip and knew that Turkey was the one place we would make an investment. Once in a lifetime we keep saying!!

We literally fell into bed after our day exploring ancient ruins and shopping.

Our last full day was spent wandering to the Isabey Mosque which was built in 1375 but was heavily damaged by two earthquakes. We walked through town down a shaded path towards the Temple of Artemis. This road was really cool as it was filled with locals who had large blankets laid out, small rusty firepits where wood was burning, and food covering the open spaces. Kids were playing, music was blaring and an old Turkish woman was dancing. We made it to the ruins of the Temple which was once considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Today only a few pieces of marble and a single column remain. Upon our return to the hotel we were then given a ride to Şirinçe, a small village high in the mountains which was once populated by Greeks. This village is well-known for its fruit wines, olive oil creams and soaps. The cobblestone streets were lined with little shops and old women crocheting. The streets seemed endless! We stopped for soup and Gözleme at a shaded cafe.

Later we went back to visit Julia and she recommended "Jimmy's", a small restaurant with fantastic Turkish home cooking. We chatted with some fellow Canadians and then went back to Julia's for an apple tea. She entertained us with a story about Jimmy. Apparently he had a huge restaurant here but lost everything due to his drinking and gambling (including his wife). He vowed to straighten up and his wife returned. He now rents a small spot and his tiny wife cooks the most delectable food. Julia sends business his way as long as he stays sober and doesn't gamble. Seems to be working so far!!!

We then walked around Selcuk, enjoying the sultry night air. Upon returning to our hotel, we sat upstairs in the beautiful seating area, Turkish music playing softly and having a glass of Raki. Our experience in Turkey has been so fantastic and humbling. I don't think we were quite prepared for the beauty, both of the land and people. We have never once felt unsafe, and probably have been more comfortable here than anywhere in our travels. According to people, both travellers and locals, Turkey is evolving. They are becoming a true tourist destination. If you are thinking of adding Turkey to your travel plans we would highly recommend it.

As we enter the final stages of our unforgettable journey. We are off to Budapest on Thursday. It's hard to fathom that we only have 30 days of travel left!

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