Mediterranean Cruise 2: The Rains of Ephesus
Date of Travel: May 17, 2010
Our day starts off cold and grey – in the distance large ominous clouds darken the sky casting a grim shadow over the mountains. After spending a day at sea my husband and I were in Turkey once again, this time amongst the ancient ruins in Ephesus. It had been raining intermittently for most of our voyage so the gloomy weather wasn’t a surprise. But on this particular day, the dark clouds were difficult to ignore.
“Pay no attention to the weather.” The tour guide said rather pertinaciously as he noticed that several people in our group were no longer focused on him, but on the menacing clouds that loomed overhead just beyond the horizon.
It was going to be a big storm.
Ephesus began as a coastal city in ancient Greece. Although it is now situated several miles inland, several millenia ago it was perched right on the banks of the Aegean Sea. As sailors approached this trading mecca, they could behold the pure majesty of the Temple of Artemis. One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, its glittering pillars reflected the light and could be seen far out to sea. Years later while under Roman rule, it earned fame across Christendom as the final resting place of the Virgin Mary and Saint John.
Our tour group had already passed by several archaeological sites such as the Varius Baths when the sky tuned black. The tour guide did his best to try to reclaim the attention of the group by leading us away from the impressive Library of Celsus. Erected in 135 to honor a Roman Senator, the library stood as a sentinel against the cold wind almost two millenia later. Built to house 12,000 scrolls, its gaping pillars now served only to frame the distant lightning that had begun to dance across the sky. Just then, as we made our way to the Memmius Monument it began to rain lightly. Some of the people in our group were already prepared and started to utilize their umbrellas. Before our journey I made sure to pack one for the Captain and I to share, but it was destroyed during the rain storm in Croatia two days earlier leaving us exposed to the elements.
During the middle of the tour guide’s speech we saw a flash of lightning in the sky that was immediately followed by a loud crackling sound. Then the rain came falling in biblical torrents accompanied by a strong algid wind. It was unlike the downpour in Dubrovnik just days before – this storm seemed to have a darkly ominous bite to it, causing people to desperately seek shelter. Since we were all outside it was difficult to find refuge and many were running toward the sacred ruins completely disregarding the warnings to keep away. The Captain and I stayed where we were until it started to hail, then we also ran frantically towards the ruins and into a small cave.
I can’t remember how many of us were bunched in the cave together but I’m certain that we were a large group! The Captain and I chatted with a few people as we waited for the hail to pass since the rain did not look like it was going to slow any time soon. In the distance we heard our tour guide shouting at us to get out. Apparently the cave was an off limits dig still in progress! As we left the cave we made sure to protect our cameras and equipment, running towards the guide who gave us a dirty look and told us where to go.
Feeling like naughty school children who just received a scolding from their teacher, my husband and I reunited with our group in a tiny building overflowing with fleeing tourists. Everywhere we turned there were people, all of whom were soaked just like us. We didn’t stay in the building long and found ourselves outside in the storm again.
This time the tour guide instructed us to go to the bus. It was quite a challenge trying to make our way back to the vehicle. The storm not only made it difficult to see but the giant drops of rain made the ground slippery causing a handful of people to slip and get injured.
Unscathed but drenched in rain from head to foot I entered the bus and took a seat next to my husband. I kicked myself for not bringing a change of clothes but then remembered that we had a few more stops on the excursion and decided that I would buy clothes then. The Captain and I sat on the bus waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. Although we sat there uncomfortably in our wet clothes neither of us were annoyed or angry. While this incident can piss people off and send them shouting to a concierge or threatening a lawsuit, just the opposite should be true. Real traveling is about learning and the small stuff should just not be sweated: period. If anything it only adds to the experience and makes for a more engaging tale! My husband once told me that nothing teaches like travel, and I think he’s right. New cultures and experiences open up new places inside yourself; its who we are.
Our next stop was the House of the Virgin Mary located on Mount Koressos between Ephesus and Seljuk. We didn’t know that once we neared the location that we had to leave the bus and hike to the house. By this time the rain had stopped but still it seemed like a long walk and both my husband and I were freezing. The tour guide assured us that there would be shops on our way there so I kept focusing on that and imagining myself in warm dry clothes.
When we reached the town my husband and I went inside the first shop we could find. The shop sold all sorts of resplendent items such as brass decor, souvenirs, and pashminas but no clothes! We checked the other stores as well, but to our dismay they didn’t carry clothing either so we ended up buying several pashminas. While the scarves sufficed it would have been better if we had actual tee shirts.
From there we went to the house of the Virgin Mary where we attended mass. According to Christian tradition, Mary was brought to Ephesus by Saint John the Apostle to live out the rest of her life there. Afterward we went back to the bus where it took us higher up the mountain and to a place where we had a traditional Turkish lunch. It was quite delicious and we left with our appetites fully satisfied.
Our last stop on the excursion was at a rug shop in Seljuk where we learned how rugs were made. It was interesting watching the demonstration and once they finished our group was lead into a room full of ornate Turkish rugs. They served apple tea as we were shown the latest designs and encouraged to purchase items. Having been to Istanbul two months prior, my husband and I already owned a Turkish rug so we opted out of purchasing another. We looked around at other items but left the shop empty handed.
On the way out of town, we made a brief pilgramige to the tomb of Saint John. Having visted the remains of Saint Mark in the cathedral of his namesake just days prior in Venice, and having been married in Saint Peter’s Basilica the week before, it seemed fitting to end our trip to Ephesus with Saint John. His grave resides in the ruins of an old cathedral in the shadow of the Turkish crescent draped prominently from the walls of a nearby castle. Looking further down the valley yielded an even deeper contrast as there lay the remains of the Temple of Artemis. Of that pinnacle of ancient achievement only a single pillar remains. It was a deeply philospohical reminder of the transient nature of all things. The rains that hammered at the marble pillars during the time of Herodotus still soaked our clothes. And those same rains will still be there long after that final pillar has turned to dust.