Thursday, April 24, 2008

Running Around Istanbul


We just got back to the hotel after our little adventure in Istanbul. After spending the day in Ephesus, we flew back to Istanbul, arriving at 9pm. Our hotel owner had clearly drawn a diagram for us indicating the route we should follow from the airport to metro to tram, but when we asked for directions at the airport, we were told there was no metro, only a shuttle bus. This seemed very odd to us and we were really irritated and puzzled. The guard at the bus stop told us we needed to go to 4.Levant and take the metro to Taksin, but according to the map, that was all the way up north---how could this possibly be? Finally, after a lot of questions, one girl on the bus pointed out to us where we were on the map. Turns out we were not at the regular airport; I had booked our return ticket into the local domestic airport on the other side of town, on the Asian side of Istanbul! In order to get back, we had to ride the bus up north and across the Bosphorus, then transfer to the metro. It ended up being quite an adventure of bus to metro to funicular to tram and then a walk back, taking over an hour. Riding the metro and tram so late at night were mostly men, and we felt very much like locals. It was unbelievably safe, and all along the way, workers went out of their way to help us. Our little adventure on the bus went through the very modern Istanbul, financial district and across the Bosphorus. We saw beautiful high rise office buildings in blue and green neon lights, and the brightly lit buildings along the river at night. The bridge that spans the Bosphorus was glittering in blue lights. It was a breathtaking scene—a silver lining to my little error.

We had had an interesting day walking around the ruins of Ephesus, the former capital of Roman Asia Minor and site of one of the grandest reconstructed ancient sites in the world. Over 250,000 people lived in this city during this time. The reconstructed Library of Celsus is a two story high marble building that stands grandly at the end of the site. What a great undertaking it was over a period of 10 years to excavate and piece together this edifice. The size of this city is impressive with columns lining the marble streets, many of which are still standing. The Romans constructed an elaborate system of concrete pipes to bring water down from the mountains. This was a vibrant city until the land began to silt over increasing the distance to the harbor. As we walked down the streets, you could almost hear the sounds of this Roman city come to life.

Our guide took us to the city of Selcuk, the second city of the Romans, after Ephesus became less desirable. We visited St. John’s Basilica, a ruin of the basilica where he was buried. The size of the building is astounding and it made us wonder how the ancient Romans transported the columns and rocks over such large distances to construct such elaborate buildings. We stopped for a simple but delicious lunch of kabobs and dolmas (artichokes and peppers stuffed with rice). Our guide was a gentle 75 year old man who clearly was not happy about the increase of the extremists in Turkey. Despite his long career as an engineer and in the army, he was still working because the government pension is quite small. He had us a bit worried with his driving and we had a few close calls and swerves as he tried to answer his cell phone while driving. My heart stopped a few times when he was climbing down over the tall Roman blocks and the multitude of steps in the old Roman theatres. I took his business card but Ray said he definitely wouldn’t want him driving our kids around!

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