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To Greece Or Not To Greece

We are chilling in the calm little town of Selçuk, which is remarkably normal given its immense historical importance. The ancient city of Ephesus is just outside the city limits, and St. John retired here to write his gospel, along with the Virgin Mary; there are tombs professing to be of the two here, St. John's a short walk up the hill from our pension. Ruins are just scattered around the surrounding countryside; some have only been "discovered" by the larger world as recently as the 1970s, and surely the sheep herders out here know of places that haven't seen the inside of any guide books. Basically, our tone for our Turkey segment seems to be looking at rocks or piles of rocks. More on Selçuk in a minute.

Our final day in Göreme was really excellent. We were worn out by the bus ride into Cappadocia, so we slept longer than we wanted to, and missed what probably was a beautiful sunrise over the rock formations in the village. After a eating a traditional Turkish breakfast at the hotel, we headed out. We visited two different parks of the strange rock formations unique to Cappadocia, the first called Imagination Valley (the formations inspired wild comparisons, such as women and camels...always camels), the second Mushroom Valley. The latter park was named for the formations that were created when the softer stone eroded under the harder stone, leaving formations that resembled very tall, bizarre mushrooms. Worry not, I took no less than 250 pictures in Cappadocia, so I will soon upload some here. By the end of the second day, Jess was threatening to take away my camera if I took another picture of a rock, regardless of its formation or carvings. Even I don't know what I'm going to do with all of those pictures of rocks; surely they will mean much less to me when I am sitting at home looking through them, wondering why exactly I took so many pictures of stones.

The other major stop of the day was again in a valley of rock formations. The unique part of this particular valley is that early Christians had founded a substantial community here, and had carved into many of the formations to build chapels, monasteries, crypts, and homes. Quite a few of the chapels have faint mosiacs still painted on the walls, some having survived twenty centuries of the ravages of time and nature and war only to have some European scratch his name out on them. It was all very interesting, but reminiscent of Rome in that we had to elbow our way through the crowds to see anything.

Two other stops of the day were of the co-op / carpet-shop scheme variety. The first was a stop at a pottery co-op, which was quite interesting in that we were shown the methods that pottery is done in Turkey. It's done pretty much the same way as anywhere else, but the really good pottery has its designs painted on by hand, which can take weeks to months. It was beautiful, but incredibly expensive. Then we actually did stop at a carpet shop, albeit one where they'd posted a couple of women on looms out front to show how carpets are made. After staring at the women for a few minutes, we went into a showroom where a true Turkish spectacle was put on. Three men ran to and from a wall where probably at least one hundred carpets were rolled against, and this slick looking fellow narrated while they unfurled the rugs....er, carpets triumphantly at our feet. Of course they brought out the tea and wine (I was tricked into coming into the showroom on the false promise of free beer), and we were assured that these were absolutely the top quality carpets to be found, well, anywhere. As a matter of fact, if one of us ended up falling in love with a $6000 rug, that person should purchase it, because no one wants to be walking on the cheaper substitute rug at home and think only of that first rug, that would be a tragedy. The smallest rug out there was more than $300; I don't think anyone fell in love with any rug.

That spectacle was actually quite amusing, because when you have no interest whatsoever in a rug, then there is no pressure, and it is possible to just sit back with the wine in your hand (though a poor substitute for a beer) and watch the men sweat as they unroll and then reroll dozens of carpets to a largely apathetic but certainly captive audience. On the other hand, I was a little annoyed that we paid a decent chunk of cash only to be carted around to four separate co-ops (the onyx factory, the winery, the ceramic factory, and the carpet shop). On the other hand, that day we ate lunch at a buffet, and the Turks should know better than to sit a cheap American backpacker down at a buffet and hope to come out on the winning side. Better yet, there was an Irishman on the tour with us, and we were equally enthusiastic about free food, so an unspoken competition took place. It doesn't matter so much who won, but rather that I felt much better about how much we paid for the tour after eating at the buffet.

We needed the food, because of the upcoming bus ride, which Jess is going to write about. Suffice to say, that bus ride was as interesting as the ride into Göreme. Yet we made it to Selçuk, which has been good to us. We napped in the morning, then headed out to Ephesus in the early afternoon. The 20 lira ($14) entrance fee (each) was a shocker, but we'd come too far to not go in, and when compared to the other entrance fees we'd seen across Europe (10 euros to go in yet another cathedral? Who are they kidding?), it was a bargain. Actually, Ephesus was really quite fascinating. Again, pictures are much more descriptive, and I tend to think of ruins as big piles of rocks, but these ruins, part of a thriving city that apparently at one time was a Wonder of the World, really impressed us. It's interesting to see a place that has seen 1400 years pass, that really has endured the ravages of time, and to realize that despite the diminutive piles of rocks and sad remains of walls and arenas, this was a huge, thriving, and beautiful place. To be here in its heyday must have been jaw-dropping, especially for those times. The city even had a sewage and water system, and its eloquent passageways were alighted at night the Roman version of streetlights. That doesn't even begin to address how eloquent and remarkable the carvings were in the marble, the statues and columns all demonstrating master artistry that mocks modern art of today. We got our "ruin fix" done, and we enjoyed it: what more could we ask for?

Tomorrow is a quandary. We want to go to Greece, if only for an afternoon to say that we've been there, to check it off if you will. We greatly underestimated the travel times in Turkey, though, as well as the cost of transportation. One option would be to take a night bus to Istanbul, then another long bus to the Greek/Bulgarian/Turkish border crossing, and then another long bus back to Istanbul, all by Sunday. Another option would be to stay another night here and make a day trip out to the Greek island of Samos. Both options are expensive, probably equally so. At least going to Samos would be relaxing. Either way, we have yet another night bus trip ahead of us to return to Istanbul.

That is to say, yet another adventurous night bus trip.

Until next time, be safe.


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