The NPR reporter was talking about the president of Turkey as I put my car in reverse and backed out of our garage. But before I could leave the driveway, his words turned into a gibberish buzz when I heard the name Atatürk. Suddenly, instead of focusing on the news of the day, my mind was flying across continents to the beautiful seaside city of Kusadasi, Turkey, where a statue of Atatürk stands majestically on a hill overlooking the harbor.
That’s one of the magical side effects of travel. Ordinary information about somewhere we’ve visited becomes forever meaningful, impacting our thoughts and maybe even changing the way we view that information. It had been ten years since I came upon that statue of Atatürk, but it might as well have been last Tuesday.
Our visit to Kusadasi had been part of a cruise on the Crystal Symphony. Numerous cruise lines cancelled Turkish ports this summer after the terrorist activity in Istanbul. And that’s one of the not-so-magical side effects of travel. The profound sadness of knowing that a place we once excitedly and lovingly explored is now deemed unsafe for our return or someone else’s first visit.
After hearing that NPR report, I searched the internet for information on Eastern Mediterranean cruises and learned that a few cruise lines have plans to return to Turkey as early as next July. It’s a hopeful sign that, of course, could change at any time. As a small way of honoring that hope, I’m sharing my pictures and memories of our travels in Kusadasi 2006.
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It was a hot and sunny August morning when we met our wonderful guide Levent Solmaz at the Kusadasi port. We were heading about 20 minutes inland to the area’s main attraction – Ephesus, a once-thriving ancient city founded in the 10th century BC by Athenian and Ionian Greek colonists. Nestled in the low hills past the town of Selçuk, the city was built on a long-ago river that had flowed to the Aegean Sea. Ephesus spanned Greek, Roman and early Christian times and had an estimated population of as many as 500,000 until it was abandoned in the 15th century AD.
The word that kept dancing in my mind as we began our walk along the marble and mosaic streets was splendor. If what I was seeing were merely ruins, I could only begin to imagine what a spectacular city it must have been. I was thrilled, too, that we had hired a guide for this tour. Levant spun stories of Ephesus’ history, explained everything that we were seeing, told us how the numerous buildings had been used and talked about the people who had walked the Ephesus streets. From Alexander the Great to Cleopatra to Saint Paul, it was literally a Who’s Who of the ancient world!
Ephesus Terrace Houses
Ten days before our visit, Ephesus had opened several “terrace houses” to the public. The homes date back to the 1st century AD and were thought to have been lost in an earthquake. Archaeologists had discovered them in quite remarkable condition – including original frescoes and mosaics – and recreated them under a series of plexiglass ramps and stairs for visitors to get a “birds-eye” view.
The terrace houses required a separate entrance fee, but Levant assured us it would be more than worth the extra charge. In addition to the excitement of being among the first visitors to see these houses, we followed one of our never-fail travel mantras as we bought our tickets: You never know if you’ll have a chance to be somewhere again. Carpe diem.
The Great Theatre
Our final stop in Ephesus was the Great Theatre, built in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. The spectacular theatre can seat up to about 24,000 people and is used today as a concert venue.
Nightingale Hill & Mary’s House
Levent took us back to Selçuk for lunch and a quick visit to the Ephesus Museum. From there, we headed to the top of Nightingale Hill and the house where the Virgin Mary is believed to have spent her last days. The hilltop setting was incredibly serene, despite the stream of tourists and vendors selling souvenirs. Beautiful old trees and pink-flowered shrubs dotted the landscape, almost standing guard over the tiny house.
Temple of Artemis
Our final stop was the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, built in 550 BC. Although only one column and a few fragments remain from the original temple, I was excited to see my first world Wonder!
Late that afternoon, we spent some time at the harbor before boarding our ship. With its gloriously sunny weather and prime location on the Aegean Sea, it was easy to see why Kusadasi was a popular resort destination. But for a traveler from half-way around the world, Kusadasi was a look into the past, an unforgettable walk through an ancient time and place that was once filled with splendor.