Sunday, June 17, 2012

Turkey Day 6: Ephesus, Selçuk and a Turkish Bath

I think my body is now about thirty percent sunscreen.

We got into Selçuk around noon and had lunch on the terrace roof of our hotel, looking out over the town and up to the medieval castle on a hill in the middle of the city. Again, lots of beautiful mezze and then a choice of fish, beef or chicken. The beef came on kebabs stuck artistically into half a tomato. We spent the afternoon wandering around Selçuk looking at the Basilica of St John, taking pictures of the one remaining column of the Temple of Artemis and visiting the museum, which has artefacts from Ephesus including lots of statues of Eros, most of which I found very creepy (little wise winged baby staring at you? Creepy). I especially found a gigantic emperor's head creepy, because it was carved to look like a baby's face. Lots of beautiful ancient jewellery and glass bottles and weapons, as well as marble upon marble upon marble.

At four o'clock it was cool enough to go to the ancient city of Ephesus, it being only about 32 degrees Celsius. We entered from the top and wound down through the valley, passing fields of columns and huge stones laid out for cataloguing as well as the smaller amphitheatre built into the hill. When you stand in the centre of the amphitheatre you hear your voice echo around.

We walked along ancient marble-paved streets, saw a bath house and a public toilet and lots and lots of cats who were very happy to pose for us.

At the bottom of the valley stands Ephesus's great library, which was the third biggest of the ancient world with 125,000 scrolls. They have done a lot of restoration work on it, and you've probably seen a picture of it with its tall pillared facade.

Inside there are two shafts that you can take flash pictures down and get back glimpses of the tomb inside. From the great library you walk through to the wide expanse of the agora market place with its double columns on all four sides, and then up to the grand amphitheatre where Bono's sung a concert. They're still restoring the amphitheatre, so I'd love to see what it looks like when it's all finished. Today you're allowed access to the bottom set of tiers and the stage with its incredible acoustic. The wind would have blown off the sea and carried voices even farther two thousand years ago, but the sea's now around eight kilometres away because of silt build-up.

Dinner was to be at a hotel up on the hill. Our transport arrived: a van and an open jeep. Glamgirl, the Aqueduchess, Pistachio Girl and I claimed the jeep and clutched the roll bars as we hurtled up the hill between houses and rugged fields. The hotel had a terrace with a view over the whole city, and a swimming pool. Within five minutes we were floating in the pool with drinks and taking in the scents of the barbecue.

The setting sun lured us out to take pictures, and then we had a beautiful dinner in the gathering dusk while three tiny pet dogs scampered around our feet. Our guide taught us some Turkish dances, one of which was a Turkish take on musical chairs where I came second. We all agreed that it was the most incredible place to have a meal, on the terrace looking over the city with its basilica and castle as the sun set behind the hills and the stars came out.

But the day was not yet over! We still had a Turkish Bath to go, an experience that many of the group viewed with trepidation. The atmosphere in the waiting room was thick with nerves, and many jokes were made about tea towels (the attire we were to wear into the bath house, though we were allowed togs/swimsuits as well).

The bath house itself is a domed room with shower stalls along two walls and a circular marble platform in the middle. The air is hot and humid, so much so that you need to take a cold shower at regular intervals. After about ten minutes of lying on the hot marble, the production line was put into motion: first the right-hand side marble bench, where the man scrubbed you down with scrubbers and exfoliated half your skin off in rolls, and then the left hand bench where another man soaped you up, slung you around the slippery marble and poured cold water over you. We had an extra oil massage after that in another room, with olive oil, and then got back to the hotel around 1am. A long night, but it was worth it.

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