Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Priene, Miletus, and Didyma

When touring the area, the stops of Priene, Miletus, and Didyma and are usually lumped together in one day -- a "PMD" tour.


The scattered column pieces of the Temple of Athena lie all over the place and piled down the slope where they fell during an earthquake.

'Look at the size of those columns!' is what we said when we saw this place. Our tour guide replied, 'just wait until the end of the day.'

The lion-footed seat in the front of this theater was for VIPs. Naturally, we sat it in (surprisingly comfortable!) and took pictures:


The thing to see in Miletus (once a pretty important city and the archeology museum in Istanbul is full of statues from here) is the theater:

Gladiators fighting:


Here's a graffiti death threat to the builder of the theater for stiffing the workers.


The Temple of Apollo was the second largest temple in the ancient world (just a bit smaller than the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus). A modern town was built right around the temple -- we had lunch across the street. This is what the site would look like from the air (yes, we took a picture of a picture):

The inside of the roof of the temple was once covered with these griffin decorations:

And for scale:

We flew out of Izmir the following morning. Just in time, it seems, since this is what we saw when we woke up: a cruise ship in port.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Ephesus is the most popular destination in the region. At one point 250,000 people lived there. On a busy day, 3 cruise ships, or tens of thousands of tourists, visit the site, and the road in the picture below would be packed shoulder to shoulder. Thankfully, we visited after the peak tourist season and there were no boats in port.

A backgammon board:


The figure at the top of the gate is a Medusa. There are Medusas and evil eyes everywhere in Turkey.

Public toilets:

At a lot of the tourist sites in Turkey, there is the option to pay extra (buy another ticket) to see some small portion of the place. The temptation might be to say 'I just paid X to see this, why should I pay X more just for this one thing.' In every case, it was totally worth it to pay extra. Always pay the extra. At Ephesus, the extra ticket gets you in to see the terrace houses. While the rest of the site shows you the public places -- the theater, the baths, the temples, and the library -- the terrace houses show where people, well the very rich, actually lived. Even better, there is a very large structure built over the whole site (the ruins of 7 or so houses), so you'll be in the shade.

In ancient time, the most famous building in Ephesus was the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Nowadays, the most famous sight is the Library of Celsus:

The Theater:

Ephesus was also one of the seven churches of Asia and associated with John the Apostle. In the 19th century, a German nun reported a vision of the house John had built in Ephesus for Mary, the mother of Jesus, including a number of detail about the location of the house. Based on the description, a French priest went to Turkey and found the ruins of a house on a mountaintop near Ephesus. The ruins have been restored and the house is now known as the house of the Virgin Mary and is a big tourist attraction.

Nearly every tour includes a 'shopping stop' on the itinerary. That means we ended up looking at leather coats, onyx and turquoise jewelry, and ceramics. Mostly it's useless filler time. On the day we went to Ephesus, we went to a carpet co-op. Everyone in Turkey asks every visitor (constantly) if they're planning on buying a carpet. For the first week, we always replied 'no way, carpets are expensive.' But, in the end, we did. At the carpet co-op we visited, the government teaches rural women to weave carpets in traditional styles, and we might hope that the money we spent went to the weaver and not middle men. It's a pretty carpet.


Thursday, December 15, 2011


After Istanbul, Sean and I flew to Izmir on the Western coast of Turkey, next to the Aegean Sea. That region is full of Greek and Roman era ruins. The most well-known spot is Ephesus, a popular stop for cruise ships. To make things easier for ourselves, we'd hired a tour guide for the few days we were in the area and who also arranged for transport and hotel. On the first day, we went to Bergama, where the ancient city of Pergamum is located.

When visiting one of these ancient ruins, the thing to realize is that every single one of them used to be a port city, but now the water has receded from the rocky acropolis. It will be unbearable hot and sunny and, since it's a ruin, there's no shade. And no water. And no toilets. So even though it's totally awesome, you can't stay and linger as you might wish to.

Pergamum is not one of most popular sites, but I had been to the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, so I figured I'd better see where all that stuff actually came from.

This is the Temple of Trajan.

And this is the theater they built into the hillside. It is incredibly steep.

And this is where the Altar of Zeus used to be. Here is where they reconstructed it in Berlin.

Pergamum is also where the Asclepion was -- ancient Rome's greatest medical center. The acropolis is at the top of the pic, the road to the Asclepion is in the foreground.

A little theater, and all the benches have lion feet.

A tunnel. By the way, they built the hospital here because of a natural spring source. I tried the water; it was fine.

The intertwined snake symbol of medicine.

Greek and Latin writing on lots of stuff.

It may be hard to see in this pic, but there are terra cotta water pipes in that wall. All the ancient cities used such pipes in their water systems. And there are shards of them under every one of your footsteps when you're there.

By the way, when they named our hotel, the Seaview Hotel, they weren't kidding:


Monday, November 28, 2011


Still working on the non-Istanbul parts of my trip, but I realized that I forgot to mention the turkish ice cream, Dondurma. There are stands all over the tourist sites in Istanbul manned by guys with red vests and caps who churn the ice cream all day long. The ice cream is yummy, but, most notably, it's chewy, with the texture of those big pink bubble gums from when we were kids (was it Bubblicious?). The more you know ...


Friday, November 11, 2011

Istanbul Redux: The Grand Bazaar, the Istanbul Archaeology Museums, Tea and Doughnuts

After the first week in Turkey, we left Istanbul for the Aegean coast and then Cappadocia. But we had to go back to Istanbul for a couple of days before leaving the country. On the return visit, we stopped by the Grand Bazaar, built in the 1450s.

The sellers weren't nearly as aggressive as I expected -- which was both relieving and a little disappointing.

We also went to the Istanbul Archeology Musuems. The highlights there are several giant sarcophagi dating from the late 4th century BC and discovered in Sidon, Lebanon. The most famous is called the Alexander Sarcophagus, which depicts Alexander fighting the Persians.

That's 4th century BC paint!

This one is the Sarcophagus of the Mourning Women. Look at their faces.

We visited Turkey during Ramadan, which we were worried would be odd or awkward but was actually totally awesome. Every evening, the Hippodrome would fill with families picnicking. There was a stage for musical acts and a little Ramadan bazaar with stalls selling food or arts and crafts. The atmosphere was like the 4th of July (including people selling light-up toys for kids) every night.

At the Ramadan bazaar, there was a stall which sold these honeyed doughnuts.

They look like those honey doughnuts you get at Indian restaurants (which I do not like), but instead of being soft and mealy (I'm sure fans of them probably describe them as 'gooey' and not mealy) they have a crunchy shell and in the inside has the texture of youtiao. We got them nearly every night.

And some random assortment of observations that might be helpful to tourists:

We didn't really have any language problems -- everywhere we went people had at least sufficient English for us to get by.

At restaurants, the waiters were generally friendly and nice and surprisingly flirty when Sean wasn't around.

People don't really drink Turkish coffee in Turkey. Instead, tea is the drink of choice -- anytime and all the time. When confronted with a set-up like this

the top pot contains concentrated tea and the bottom pot has hot water. Use the hot water to rinse your glass, then fill it 50% (maybe 30% is better) full of the concentrated tea. Fill to top with hot water. Add sugar to taste.

There are a lot of stray or semi-stray animals in Turkey. Not as many stray dogs as you might expect, and the ones I saw seemed docile if mangy. But all over Istanbul there were tons of cats and kittens. Waiters at outdoor cafes were constantly trying to shoo them away. They didn't look mangy or feral, so I suspect most of them had some person taking care of them at least occasionally.

Finally, and I don't think there's any way to say this without sounding condescending even though I don't mean it to be, but Turkey was way cleaner than I anticipated. Far cleaner than Taiwan, likely cleaner than the US, not quite German levels of clean. In particular, the public toilets were very clean and maintained and I only had to use a squat toilet once or twice during the whole trip.

By the way, this isn't the end of my Turkey blogging, I have more posts to come on the Aegean coast and Cappadocia.