The bulk of the time was spent listening to the unofficial archivist of the Jewish community from the beginning in the Eighteenth Century to the present. There have been Jews in the area since even before its official beginning although the original settlers died out with no connection to the immigrant Jews who started coming later. Artifacts showing the Star of David were found, however, lending credence to the theory of their presence. We saw a photo display of famous and/or heroic Jews of the past and learned a little about the present state of the Jewish community. Most surprising was that Jews can “come out” with no repercussions but many of the approximately 4000 Jews of Sevastopol still conceal their religious preference. MA, more than anyone else, noticed that there was little understanding of spoken Hebrew among our hosts. In fact, as we discussed over dinner tonight, they seemed like a little Diaspora, a community which has grown in isolation and has developed cut off from its past. In this, they are like the Russian Jews who emigrated in the 1970s and 1980s who were Jews by birth, not religion, and knew nothing of the religion.
Thursday, April 09, 2009
We are at sea today after several days in the Black Sea. At the CC cocktail party the other night, Captain Gundersen remarked on how calm the Black Sea had been. He said that normally, one can expect rough seas, but we have been lucky for a month and we hope it continues on the return crossing.
We ate breakfast in the dining room, arriving a little past 9:00. The Prinsendam is heading generally west as we traverse the Bosporus again. Istanbul’s two intercontinental bridges slid by overhead as we approached the city. These bridges connect the Asian and European sides of this narrow section of the waterway which connects the Mediterranean and Black Seas. We watched the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque as we glided by. As always, there was a light fog, so it was a bit magical. Around Cape Horn, into the Sea of Marmara and on to the Dardenelles as we head to Kusadasi, Turkey.
The rest of the day was a little less poetic. We came that close in trivia again [What was the Lone Ranger’s real name? What four Shakespeare plays have ghosts?]. After lunch, MA took a long nap while D played one-on-one blackjack and came home a winner. Before dinner, he tried to qualify for tonight’s blackjack tournament but didn’t expect his paltry 600 point s to qualify. When he checked after dinner, he found that there were only four contestants, an unusually low number even for this cruise. Luck was with him again as he won the tournament and $90 [less than the $100 awarded in the other competitions but not bad considering how few people paid their entry fees]. The hat he won will be worn proudly tomorrow in Kusadasi and Ephesus.
Friday, April 10, 2009
We are docked in Kusadasi [Koo-shuh-dah-si], Turkey, today. The weather gods honored us again with a beautiful day, clear skies and warm temperatures. We packed rain jackets as insurance against disaster and never took them out of the carry-all.
Kusadasi is a pretty little town, filled with vacationers and sun-worshippers in the summer, but a bit sleepy today because we are early in the season. In fact, we are the only cruise ship in port which is a good thing for us if not for the local merchants. The main attraction for us, though, is not here but a few miles away in Ephesus.
The four of us [MA, D, Bill and Sharon] met our guide Banu outside at 8:30 and walked to the port entrance to discover that we had another thirteen-passenger van to ourselves. We each had several seats in which to spread out and had plenty of leg room for a change. We drove through Kusadasi and nearby Selcuk to the ancient ruins of Ephesus.
Ephesus is probably best known because one of the New Testament books is the Letter of John to the Ephesians. According to legends, John spent several years preaching to and converting residents of Ephesus. Late in the tour, in fact, we visited the Basilica of St. John where John’s reputed remains were discovered; they were sent to Rome for entombment, but the ruins of the Basilica still attract visitors [including us]. We are at the point where one set of ruins looks pretty much like any other, but we were able to distinguish the baptismal pool in the ruins as well as the spot where the crypt was discovered. Otherwise, it’s all a blur of columns and arches [and cats].
We started the day in Ephesus itself. The town was built into a hill, so modern visitors start at the top and walk down, considerably easier than climbing up. Although one Roman ruin looks like another, this one was worth the trip. First, it is so large that it can’t be seen in one glance. It extends into the distance and around corners. In this, it reminded us of the remains of Pompeii. We first came upon what we thought was a small amphitheater when, in fact, it was a meeting room of some sort in the “official” side of the town. Apparently, this structure had been roofed, so it couldn’t have been an amphitheater since those were open-topped. We gawked and continued down the path, passing piles of clay pipe used for the distribution of water to all of the buildings in Ephesus.
It is impossible to remember all of the buildings, but the most memorable were in the commercial or public area of Ephesus. The two sections, official and public, were separated by an open gate made too narrow for vehicles to pass through, thus separating, but not isolating, them. Among the buildings were a brothel, a library, a public latrine, a public bath and the theater.
While there is no definitive evidence that the building identified as a brothel was, indeed, a house of happiness, there is nothing to disprove the theory either. Since Ephesus was a port town, there had to be one somewhere. And it wasn’t a secret to the populace or the visiting seamen – there is an advertisement and directional arrow carved into the marble sidewalk between the brothel and what would have been the harbor if it hadn’t silted up over the centuries. The ad included the likeness of a woman’s face; the directional arrow; a footprint; and a referral to the library. If a potential customer’s foot wasn’t big enough to fill the footprint, indicating he was too young, he was directed to the library; if it is was big enough, he was pointed toward the brothel.
The library was reputed to be one of the largest in the world in its time, third only to Alexandria and Athens[?]. Small by our standards, it allegedly had over 12,000 scrolls in its collection which was quite impressive for the times. Its reconstructed façade has been put back in place after a massive restoration effort; most of what we saw is from the original structure and it looks like something out of an Indiana Jones movie.
The latrine and bath were for visitors to Ephesus because every house had hot and cold running water as well as latrines and a sewer system. Waste water was gravity-fed down the hill to the Aegean Sea. Likewise, the public facilities were continually flushed by piped-in water. There were no individual stalls and no lids to leave up, but the ergonomics were pretty much what we have now. The use of togas afforded some semblance of privacy in an otherwise very public performance. The baths were like the one in Varna – fridgidarium, tepidarium and caldarium plus steam room – but on a much smaller scale.
The street was paved with marble, much of which is still there. On either side were businesses and, over them, housing. In some areas, there were only houses where the rich had more space and better views of the countryside and the long-gone harbor. We didn’t visit them because of the steps, but others said they were worth the climbing.
We passed but did not explore the commercial agora which would have been like the ones in Rome and Athens. Instead, we took the time to struggle up the ramp to the theater. A massive Greco-Roman theater, it was built into the hillside and was definitely not roofed; it is so big that it is used now for concerts and other performances. Banu said she wants to marry a man who is “crazy rich” so she can rent the auditorium and hold her wedding there! Having walked up ramps to enter the theater, we had to climb down marble steps to reach the orchestra area. It was here that MA slipped on the last step and landed unceremoniously on her tush. She struggled on but had a 3 inch long bruise to show as a result when we got home.
We continued past the sites of the Arcadian Way, the main road into town from the harbor; the Harbor Gymnasium; the Stadium and other collections of columns and rubble before running the gauntlet of souvenir shops to reach the van.
We also visited the alleged house of the Virgin Mary. Legend has it that she spent the last years of her life in this cavernous stone cottage atop a steep hill about 2000 feet above the valley floor. A twisting switchback road took us up the mountain and the constant twisting and turning reminded us of the drive to Positano. The view was as beautiful with the town of Selcuk laid out below us, appearing and disappearing as we drove higher and higher. The fields below became a checkerboard of fruit trees, mostly pear, and looked like a patchwork quilt. It was breathtaking.
The climb from the van to the house itself wasn’t as steep. Banu paid our way in and gave us the tickets as souvenirs [as she had done at Ephesus], then escorted us to the stone and brick house. It is considered a shrine by many and the interior no longer resembled a domicile. Instead, the main room was almost empty with a few straight chairs arranged as for a religious service. The one side room was likewise pretty sparsely decorated. There were religious pictures on the walls and tokens from several visiting popes, including Benedict XVI, but it no longer looked like a house. No pictures of the interior were permitted, either, so one must rely on memory alone. Once outside, we passed faucets set into a wall so that pilgrims could drink the “holy water” which came from an underground spring. We ran the gauntlet again and drove off.
Banu decided it was time for lunch, and no one argued with her. We drove back to Selcuk and went to Anton’s, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant which was so far off the beaten track it didn’t even have a track. Once again, we were the only Americans in an ethnic restaurant; of course, we were also the only customers, but Anton’s was not going to be on any HAL bus tours agenda.
We feasted on what we can only assume was traditional Turkish food. Banu and our driver certainly enjoyed themselves and Banu and the waiter/owner[?] explained what we were eating. We started with a chopped salad of carrots, cucumber, tomato and arugula served simultaneously with a dish that was a cross between and Indian kulcha, a quesadilla and a pizza -- it was dough filled with mashed potato, cut into pizza-sized wedges, cooked on a stovetop, not deep-fried. It was yummy.
Next came bread which we ate with Turkish meatballs. The meatballs were shaped like small sausages and made from beef and lamb. Although Turkey is a secular Moslem country, pork is not only not eaten, it is not cooked except in major tourist venues said Banu. She admitted that she is a modern Moslem woman who does not subscribe to many of the ancient practices. When the call came at 12:15 for mid-day prayers, she said that she does not see the need to pray five times a day or to wash ritually before prayers or meals because hygiene has improved since these rules were instituted.
Back to lunch – the wonderful meat dish was followed by a very sweet milk-and-rice dessert. It reminded us in taste of sticky rice in the Floating Market of Bangkok but was milkier in texture. Everyone except Bill loved it, but it was too sweet for him. Of course, we had Cokes, Bill had a local wine and Sharon had Efes beer, the local beer named after Ephesus.
After lunch, we visited the Basilica of St. John as mentioned earlier. The fact that he spent 2-1/2 years in Ephesus combined with Mary’s presence lends some credence to the theory that John and Jesus were brothers, but we’ll never really know. Still….
A quick stop at the remains of the Temple of Artemis/Diana showed us the one remaining pillar and a drawing purporting to be a schematic of the temple before the ravages of time, earthquakes and pillagers. Again, it became just another ruin.
We stopped for wine and olive oil for Bill and Sharon, who didn’t buy anything. MA found apple and pomegranate tea, though, so it wasn’t a wasted stop. We also visited a pottery demonstration and managed to leave some euros there, too, before returning to the Prinsendam. We won a double tie-breaker in trivia but gave our picture frames to Norm and Kay, our partners.
Rest time, dinner, reading and journal writing rounded out another full day.
Tomorrow – Santorini,