Day 2: Istanbul/Canakkale
Our first major drive brought the group to Canakkale (cha-NOCK-a lay) via ferry boat across the Marmara Sea, where we visited the ancient ruins of Troy. Yes Troy, as in Helen of, the Horse, etc. It was amazing to see the location: there is an active dig going on, and considering there were nine versions of the city layered on top of one-another, it is quite a project. We marveled at the ongoing work, and the fact that this city used to be on the waterfront: silting and sedimentation have moved the coastline miles away. Yesim taught us all a great thing: look closely at the stone work, and try to judge which layer is the older: the neatly places stones, or the lumpy, haphazardly stacked ones? We of course all assumed the messy work was older, but in fact we were exactly wrong. Our ancient ancestors were more careful in the older times, taking care to build and stack stones so tightly you could not pass a piece of paper between them. This is the kind of detail and memorable anecdotes we were to receive all throughout the trip from our exceptional guide.

That afternoon we traveled to the Tusan Hotel, a beautiful little homey place with a large pool, oceanside location and even a talking parrot to greet you in the morning. This is a place I want to stay during the warm Summer months, when I could enjoy the nearby beaches and beautful scenery completely.

Day 3: Canakkale/Dikili
The following morning we departed for Pergamon, site of the Asclepion (built for the God of medicine, Asclepios) or medical center, where you can see many marble columns and a rounded medical facility where Galen founded modern medical practice (and terms, such as doctors doing “rounds”). On the way, we stopped off for a “Shu shu” (Yesim’s term for a bathroom break, picked up from her many Chinese tourists) at a wonderful roadside stand, where there were fresh nuts, olive oil and dried fruits available. We began making these stops nearly every day, a great diversion from the many sites we were visiting, and a good way to get a better sense of the local culture, and of course buy snacks.

We ate lunch in a wonderful little spot in town, eating the famous Doner Kebaps, delicious lamb served over rice with assorted mezes and yoghurt. The owner proudly displayed his recent write up in Conde Nast Traveler magazine. An example of typical Turkish hospitality and friendliness, he not only walked us back to the bus, but agreed to climb aboard and entertain us with 2 songs from his home town, using the interesting mid-eastern method of vocal stylings. This was a unique and personal experience, something I doubt is common with most tour operations. Not only was it culturally relevant for the group, but put us all in the mood for more local culture.

A short drive uphill and we were at the site of the Acropolis, with a dramatic hillside theater, marble baths, a great library, numerous archways and an incredible view out to sea. We were also able to see the ruins of the Temple of Athena, Altar of Zeus and Temple of Dionysos, all built by slave labor hauling stones and marble up the hill form the valley below. Yesim was very knowledgeable about this area, and had many great bits of lore, fact and gossip, making the trip informative and fun at the same time.

We stayed that night at the Hotel Mysia in Dikili, located on the beach in another fabulous Summer spot (note to self: come to Turkey in the Summer of Fall!). Well rested, we geared up for one of the most spectacular sites in the trip, Ephesus.

Day 4: Dikili/Pamakkule
The drive up to Ephesus was gorgeous, passing trough endless acres of fruit and nut trees, cotton, almond and lavender all in bloom. One interesting thing about Turkey, you feel as if you are surrounded on all sides by mountains no matter where you go. This makes for some amazing photography, as the misty mountains recede into one another on all sides. On the way to Ephesus, we stopped by another famous site: the house of the Virgin Mary. Located on a beautiful mountainside, it is said to be the last resting place of Mary, and is a shrine of sorts with a wall for the pious to place ribbons in Her memory.

A short drive later and we were in Ephesus, one of the best-preserved Roman cities in Mediterranean, and the second most popular destination in Turkey after Istanbul. The ruins are magnificent, with towering columns, arches, statues and carved marble everywhere. The marble road shows grooves leftover from years of chariots. It was easy to allow your mind to rebuild the missing parts of this enormous city and imagine life in this powerful Roman city. Yesim pointed out numerous little details, such as a carved marble sign made of Nike (the impetus for the swoosh logo), pointing the way to the main city center.

Walking down the wide marble roadway, we passed a number of wealthy homes, with beautiful carvings and elaborate tiled mosaics, still being uncovered and restored but there for all to see. Passing by the Library of Celcus with its restored façade, Yesim mentioned that at one time it was believed to have held up to 3 million books. On the right we passed the Temple of Hadrian, and continued on to the enormous Odeon, a theatre used for poetry readings, concerts games and spectacles. One could spend days here, and I really can’t do it justice in this short summary, but I have to applaud Yesim and FLO-USA for packing so much information into our time there.

Our final stop of the day was to the Museum of the Selcuk, where we were able to view the massive collection of statues, art and artifacts removed from Ephesus. The collection was amazing, many of the statues very well preserved or restored. As usual, Yesim walked us through the museum, pointing out the most important highlights and then cutting us loose to take photos and explore on our own. This became the standard for the remainder of the tour, and was a great way to infuse us all with understanding but not overburden the group with history lessons.

We were all happy to get back in to the bus and head for our next hotel, the Hieropolis Hotel in Pamukkale. The hotel is very much like a Las Vegas establishment, with a glitzy lobby and all manner of shops an services available. Making it especially unique, they have in-house natural hot springs, pool and a Turkish bath to work out the kinks and get you revved up for more exploration or relaxation. Boy, were we going to need it…

More in the next installment where we will travel to Antalya, Konya, and the amazing area of Capadocia.