Sometimes I forget that I live on an island in the middle of the Aegean. I mean, I don’t really forget. I see the beautiful blues everywhere I go so it’s hard to not take notice. But what I forget is how hard it is to get places when you live in the middle of a sea.
Last summer, shortly after we arrived, Chris and I took the kids to Samos for a few days, with the hopes of traveling from there to Turkey for a day. We had purchased ferry tickets from Ikaria to Samos, but the travel agents here don’t sell ferry tickets to Turkey. We were told to buy the tickets when we arrived in Samos. When we arrived I tried to purchase tickets, but I was told that the ferries were all sold out during the length of our stay in Samos. Of course we made the best of our time in Samos, but needless to say, we were frustrated. Turkey is so close. But so far away.
So the weekend before last we had the opportunity to travel to Turkey and visit the ruins of Ephesus with my step-brother-in-law, Greg. As a professor of languages, he tries to take time every summer to travel abroad, visiting various countries to keep his skills current. He LOVES languages and always has…he is fluent in 5 or 6 (or 7) languages and can speak more languages than I have fingers on my hands. Early spring he emailed me, letting me know that he was going to be in Turkey in June. I told him 1) we wanted to meet him there and 2) he was going to be so close to Ikaria, he needed to come visit. For months we tried and tried to find a way to make it work. The dates were fixed because the kids didn’t want to miss the last day of school (June 14), and because Greg had plans to be somewhere else by June 18. It was so difficult because the boat schedule for June wasn’t available–until the first week of June. Every few weeks, beginning in March, I visited the ferry ticket office and asked if the schedule was out. And every time the woman would shake her head and say, “Oxi akoma,“. I was fine with “Not yet” throughout March and April, but by mid May I was just annoyed. I kept telling Greg that sooner or later we’d find out if the kids and I could make it to Turkey, as long as he was flexible and didn’t mind last-minute plans. I knew eventually the schedule would have to surface.
When it finally did, it looked as though it was not going to be possible for us to make the trip. Boat schedules came out with new times and days beginning on June 14. We needed to take a ferry to Samos, which although is only a stones throw away (10 nautical miles) can take 6 hours to get to from Ikaria. Yes, you read that right, and I agree…I could probably swim there faster than that. There are two ports on Ikaria and two ports on Samos, and one small island in-between. So from the first stop in Ikaria (Evdilos) to the second stop in Samos (Vathy) there are three extra dockings, resulting in an extraordinarily long trip for such a short distance. Keep in mind the ferries don’t run everyday, so in addition we had to throw that fact into the loop. And once we arrived in Samos, we would have to take another boat from Vathy to Kusadasi, Turkey. In short, by the time we would arrive in Samos, we’d be too late for the ferry to Turkey. Later during that first week of June we found out another boat was being put on the schedule, shortening the trip to an amazing 1.5 hours! Again, I got my hopes up, thinking it was going to be possible, only to find out that the although the trip was direct, the ferry would be docking at the port closest to Ikaria–an hour by car from the port where the ferries leave for Turkey. It would arrive at 4;30, but the ferry for Kusadasi would be leaving at 5pm. So on June 11th I talked to Greg and finally conceded to the fact that we were not going to be able to make the trip to meet him, but still hoped he’d be able to visit us.
Twenty-four hours later I called him back and told him things had changed! Without boring you with details, we found a small boat that would take us early in the morning to Samos, with plenty of time to make our way to the 5pm ferry to Turkey! We left Friday morning from Karavostamo at 7:15 am, ferried to Samos, spent the day there and arrived at the hotel in Turkey at almost 8:00pm. Saturday we spent touring a tiny piece of Turkey, and beginning early Sunday morning (7:00am) we began the trip back to Karavostamo. Fifteen hours later we found our way into the house…delirious from four ferry rides, two bus trips, a taxi ride, and various trips in the hotel “shuttle”–along with a day of site seeing! It was A LOT of waiting and planning and fretting and a lot of travel for 36 hours, but so very worth it!
What was so special about going to Turkey? And why would I want to do that, considering the Greeks and the Turks have had their fair share of “disagreements” in the past? I wanted to see the ancient Greek city that in the first century BC was one of the largest Mediterranean cities of its time, housing over 250,000 people. I believe that only 15% of the town has been excavated, including an enormous library, second only to the library in Alexandria, Egypt. What remains is the impressive two-story facade of the building, which at one point held over 12,000 scrolls. We walked the marble streets, sat in the Odeon theater created for political meetings as well as social events and concerts, pretended to shop in the ancient markets, saw where they got water from the fresh springs, and even visited the public latrines. From the minute we arrived the latrines were a high priority to find for the kids. They couldn’t imagine a large public restroom where “toilets” were lined up right next to each other with no stalls or partitions. A gutter of clean flowing water ran in front of the long marble benches so that the people could dip in a stick with a sponge in order to clean themselves afterward. We found out that the wealthy often sent their slaves/servants in advance in order to “warm” the marble before they took their turn.
We also visited an amazing part of Ephesus still being excavated–the terrace houses or as we concluded, the rich neighborhood of Ephesus! These homes had the most amazing mosaic tiled floors, marble walls, and frescos–so many of which were preserved to perfection. As we traveled through this “extra” exhibit we saw a sign describing this project as “Solving the World’s Largest Jigsaw Puzzle.” It was amazing to see how the archeologists are able to piece together the pieces that they find and recreate the walls, pillars, pipes, and floors so that visitors can see what life was like for people who lived over 2000 years ago.
After touring Ephesus with Greg and Sofia and Antoni (I can’t imagine an adventure without the two of them along), we walked around the town of Selcuk, Turkey, giving us the opportunity to take in a bit of the Turkish culture. We visited a mosque, saw both ancient baths and the Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) from afar, helped tie a few knots in a rug at a turkish rug factory, ate fruit, Turkish ice cream, and a doner kebab from the weekly market, and returned to our hotel with time remaining for a night swim. Early Sunday morning we loaded the first ferry of the day and brought Greg back to the island with us for a short stay.
The trip to Turkey and Ephesus was well worth the two days of traveling, the expensive ferry ride from Samos to Turkey, the port taxes, and the Turkish Visas. We packed as much in as we could during our 24 hour stay, and I am so glad Greg is a go-with-the-flow kind of traveler. I can’t believe that 48 hours out I didn’t think we were going to be able to pull it off! Amazed and thankful how opportunities present themselves; you just have to be willing to take them when they are in front of you! I have to say that I have seen a number of archeological sites over the years, and I do believe that Ephesus was the most impressive I have ever seen. If you ever have the chance, GO! But not by way of Ikaria.
Step-Uncle Greg with the kids
Odeon Theater, Ephesus
City Streets in Ephesus
Great Room, Terraced Houses, Ephesus
The World’s Largest Jigsaw Puzzle–Terraced Houses, Ephesus
Frescos, Terraced Houses, Ephesus
Mosaic floor, Terraced Houses, Ephesus
The Library, Ephesus
The Library, Ephesus
A quick trip to the latrine, Ephesus, Turkey
Ancient Theater, Ephesus
A mosque, Selcuk, Turkey
Ancient baths, Selcuk, Turkey
Turkish Rug Making
Eating Turkish ice cream…it had elasticity!
Elias with his Turkish Fez