We questioned friends who had visited Turkey and almost unanimously they said they loved the country. Then we asked about side trips out of Istanbul and almost unanimously they said – Ephesus and Cappadocia. We followed their advice.
When Paul visited Ephesus it was a Greek city occupied by Romans. His boat would have sailed right to the edge of the largest city in the region, at one point containing 200,000 inhabitants.
Through the power of silt and time, the former port is now a full five miles from the Aegean, but the marvels of Ephesus endure.
Greeks built the massive amphitheatre that holds 20,000 people. Elton John sang Rocket Man here. But who carved the menorah into stone in front of the library whose façade looms impressively along the main street? Nobody knows.
Our guide, a charming woman named Dilek Aydeniz, said there was a secluded passageway from the library to the brothel across the way. A man could tell his wife he was going to check out a book and slip into the brothel, coins in hand.
Dilek took us to the terrace homes that once housed elite Roman administrators -- high rises, state of the art, with setback floors that let in light to many of the chambers. We climbed what felt like six stories of hard stone steps. Each apartment had running water and stanchions for candles. In one secluded corner was a lavatory – a 40-seater.
In Ephesus, there are traces of Biblical figures – Paul and John, so intent on evangelizing that they became a threat to the silversmiths as well as Roman officials.
Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, is said to have lived her final years here, perhaps in the modest home on Nightingale Hill that attracts so many pilgrims, including Muslims who honor her as Meryem. I thought about the elderly Jewish woman, protected by her dead son’s followers, safer here than she would have been in her homeland.
We drove to Selçuk, a pleasant town whose name originates from the Seljuk Turks who emigrated from the east. Men played a card game called okey in the cafes. We saw the basilica of St. John, named after the apostle who preached here.
In the center of town, we stopped below a rampart of the old Roman aqueduct, some of whose graceful arches are still standing. Atop this column is the large nest of a stork, now migrated southward. The storks are venerated because they are monogamous and industrious, our guide said; they also carry rats and snakes to the nest to feed their young, and sometimes drop their prey onto pedestrians in the bustling streets.
Selçuk was alive with commerce and Ephesus quivered with memories. What was missing was the salt air and glitter of the sea.
We went to Cappadocia the easy way – by flying from Izmir to Istanbul, resting overnight, and flying to Kayseri the next day. (Turkish Airlines is very good, and serves cherry juice on domestic flights.) I know people who have taken the 10-hour bus ride between Ephesus and Cappadocia; but we were not up for that.
Cappadocia is a region carved by wind and rain and snow and ancient volcanoes; amazing natural obelisks point toward the sky, with top-heavy caps of volcanic ash teetering above them. I cannot describe the fantasy landscape; please check out sites and photos on the web.
Time and humans have created and enlarged caves into the porous hills. Our guide, Gökhan Yaramis, told us how ancient Christians spent much of their lives underground, cooking and surviving and witnessing their faith with rudimentary paint on the cave walls.
One day Gökhan took us to a charming restaurant, Kavi, in Avanos, under a canopy alongside the Red River, with its thick layer of shade trees, with a view of a bridge and a mosque. The next day he took us to the university town of Mustafapaşa, a Greek city until the changes of the 1920’s. A traveler could spend a lot of time around Cappadocia. October is brilliant.
We went high-end, I admit it, with a guide and driver, expertly arranged by Karin Paquay, a multilingual Belgian executive, and her helpful colleagues at Destination Management Turkey (DMT) based in Istanbul, In Cappadocia we splurged for a view from the expensive CCR Hotel in Uchisar, dug into ancient mountainside caves. (Oddly enough, cave hotels have very dark rooms.) Other tourists were backpacking it. The main thing is to go in your own fashion. Our friends who gushed about Ephesus and Cappadocia were absolutely right.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
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