When in Turkey, do as the Romans...

Trip Start ??? ??, 2008
Trip End ??? ??, 2008

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Monday, March 31, 2008

From Istanbul to Izmir, it felt like we traveled in time. From the age of Byzantines and the Ottomans to the time before Christ, the Roman Empire...

So on our final day at Istanbul, we woke up super early to catch our 8:30 a.m. flight to Izmir. Izmir is located south of Istanbul along the Aegean Coast. It's the third largest city in Turkey and we had arranged for our hotel to get us a guide so that we'd start our day off right into the sights.

What's amazing about Turkey is that no matter where we were at, could have been in the middle of no where, cell reception is unbelievably good. I mean, in places we were nowhere close to any businesses or residences and I'm getting 4 bars. Meanwhile, I'm sitting in Montebello playing DB poker with my buddies and I can't get a bar to save my life. Anyways, I digress.

We met our guide, a well educated Turk who towered over us at about 6'4". While Jill had arranged for us to get shuttled around in a Mercedez or Volvo, I guess by Turkey standards, that really meant a "Fiat." Yes, here we were, driver, 6'4" tall guide, me, and Jill in a Fiat that could've been dubbed as a four door Mini (okay, let's say it's the size of a Civic - the older one). No matter... we were in Izmir and ready to see one of the best preserved Roman ruins ever uncovered.

Okay, honestly, I was dead tired, and some of the morning I don't remember so well. For the first hour, our guide went into a long description of this land and what went on in this area from the days of the Roman Empire through the time of Christ and where John the Baptist finally died.

Here's the short version. The Greeks first occupied this region and then the Romans came in. It was good to be a Roman back in the day. The empire extended really far, and modern-day Turkey was no exception. Wherever the empire would go, the Roman system would follow. The Romans were ingenious. They didn't just take over. They integrated, they established Roman colonies, and brought the best of Rome to the areas conquered. When conquered, they built aqueducts, roads, established education, a senate, democracy (sort of), libraries, and a good life, for those who were part of the at least for those who were part of the Roman colony.

Before we get to the Romans, the first place we visited was the "alleged" house of the Virgin Mary. Apparently Mary, after the life of Christ sort of retired in this region. I'm not really buying hard into this story, but so goes the myth: Some woman in Germany (some nun) apparently had a vision of where Mary went after Christ. She dreamed of a small house, and described in detail the house. Apparently some priest heard of her dream and knew of the exact location she was talking about, and so they set on a pilgrimage to this place (Ephesus area) and found the house. Since then, it has been dubbed the house of the Virgin Mary. Now, there is little proof of this place, although the signs at the house really try to support this place as fact. I really don't know either way, so I went through the tiny house, and drank from the three wells: "health," "wealth," and "love." I'm not sure why Jill insisted we drink from "love," but oh well.

Well, if it's real or not, it is a very highly revered place for religious people, both muslim and chrsitians. Apparently Mary is mentioned in the Koran a ton of times, so they see Mary as a religious figure as well. I give the house of the Virgin Mary a flat 5 out of 10. I don't know if I buy the whole vision thing.

Ephesus - the Roman Ruins

Now, after my sleepy haze, we went to the ancient city of Ephesus. Apparently this was the third rebuilding of Ephesus, when the Romans came. Version 1 and 2 were built by the local Turkish people. Now from the road, I thought Ephesus was maybe a building or two, and what looked to be like a theater.

After paying admission and starting to walk, I realized just HOW huge this place was. After the introduction to Ephesus from our guide, we realized that Ephesus, in its time, was the NYC of the Roman Empire (Rome was the Rome of its time - duh). The place was huge, and had been totally covered in dirt due to erosion. In short, some British archaeologist believed the ancient city to be here, started digging, and they didn't stop. He basically uncovered a city. And the city was in great condition. From the excavation, they essentially uncovered what life was like back in the day.

As I said before, it was good to be a Roman. To be a Roman, meant status. It meant less taxes as a citizen (if you weren't, and were ruled by the Romans, you might pay 60% taxes, while citizens would only pay 20%). We basically saw this city from its Administrative halls, down the road, to the library, down to the merchant center (the Valley Fair or Del Amo Mall of its time), the main Theater (Staples Center), the privileged residences (Atherton / Bel Air), and of course the Brothel (which was conveniently located across the library and where they found a secret tunnel leading from the library to the brothel. Gives a whole new meaning to "honey, I'm going down to the library to catch up on some reading." (p.s. the little statue we took a picture of with the big, ummm, rock, was found inside the brothel). Also one of the photos we took of the "ad" was on the steps leading towards the brothel, in pictures, it says if you have a broken heart, and some coin, go to the left above and find some pretty women. (or so the myth goes).

The details were stunning in this ruin, at each entrance, there was a bath, that was the Roman way. If you wanted to come into town, you'd have to enter the bath and clean yourself off. We saw where the senate debated, and the road from essentially city hall down to public area (where statues of coveted citizens were adorned). We then went down to the public latrines, which was a trip. Marble slabs with holes cut in them. Apparently back in the day, nobody was shy. Also, apparently if you were Roman, most likely you had slaves, and if you were rich enough, you'd have a slave, just to keep the cold marble slab warm so that when you went to do your business, you'd have a warm seat.

We then went to the library. The library was in impeccable condition. (well at least the face). I mean absolutely amazing detail and 3 stories high. Wow - go Romans!

Next stop - the Beverly Hills of the Ephesus. This part was completely covered with a 1 million dollar roof courtesy of a bunch of sponsors. This hill side residence was basically like living in a condominium... huge marble living rooms, communal kitchens, but individual bedrooms complete with custom mosaics, their own kitchen, storage, and security. This is where you'd find the celebrities and Bill Gates of their time. Conveniently it was located close to the library, which as you remember was located right across from the brothel... Go Romans!

As we ventured further, we entered the Staples Center... well, they didn't have luxury boxes, so we'll go with Arco Arena... still pretty nice. This half circular stage was the place where the gladiators would fight. After visiting an exhibit on gladiators, apparently, gladiators were not necessarily free men. They were mostly slaves who, through years of service could earn their freedom (with a pension). Many gladiators were revered as the celebrities of their time, albeit still slaves. When you put in 20 years of service, you were freed. Most gladiators lasted one fight, maybe two.

Gladiators could fight each other, in groups, or wild animals. I took a picture in the very tunnel the gladiators would enter to fight. Pretty crazy... In the life of the gladiator, it was kill or be killed. You could NOT leave alive and after losing UNLESS you were granted a pardon (a rare occurrence- but perhaps sometimes given to their favorite Gladiator - perhaps the Brett Favre of their time - cut the guy a break right?)

The stage was also the place where people would be judged. Slaves who wronged their masters would be judged by letting them go against a lion. Hmmm... I think the slaves were always wrong... because according to the Romans, if you won, you were right.

I can't go on enough about how cool it was to see and understand life back then. The city extended all the way to the sea (at the time the sea level in the area was higher) and a paved road traveled down to the harbor where there was yet another bath.

In all, I've been to Rome and there is little left of the ruins. It's hard to get a flavor of life as a Roman... that is until I came here. You just wouldn't understand until walk the same road, sat on the same toilet or sat in the theater that the romans lived in on a day to day basis. Here's a life without internet, without cell phones, yet their lives were not so different from ours. Sure, they fed slaves to lions, wore togas and saw men kill each other for fun... but they had shopping malls, made a living, paid taxes, and did what we all did, they tried to get by in the society that they lived...

Our trip next traveled to St. John's Basilica. Essentially where John the Baptist was buried. Yes, THE John the Baptist... you know, one of twelve JC's boys. Most of the layout was torn down, but we got to see this very holy place, where many stop to make their pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Sorry for the history lesson, this was a very historical day... From mosques and Sultans to Romans and Jesus, this was a piece of history and that we got to touch and feel. I spent lots of the day touching rocks that sculptured marble that someone 2000 years ago had carved, sat on a toilet which some random Roman dude had done his business, and was at the site where, whether you're religious or not, lied a guy who knew Jesus.

At about 4, I was ready to crash. We finally got to our hotel, where, I can safely say is really in the middle of no where. Okay it's in a small village... Kirazli (I think). Lots of rural houses where mostly farmers reside. I honestly don't think they've ever seen an Asian person in their life. So Jill and I going to dinner was pretty humorous.

We get to a dark little place which we knew was a restaurant only because our hotel told us it was. If we hadn't been told, I would've thought it was just some random building. We go in, and our host orders for us (he didn't eat with us, but ordered for us).

We got a mixture of veggies, with yogurt, lamb balls (more like little rolls the size of bird poop) with yogurt, beef dumplings with yogurt, fried potatoes (with yogurt), and a flat iron pan dish (tasted like beef fajitas - skimpy on the beef). Mix that with some bread and whoala... Turkish local cuisine. Ummm... all in all, a little too oily for my tastes, a little too gamey, and generally not very remarkable.

Food was okay, we didn't finish, and I think this restaurant may have been the only thing open at 8 p.m. at night within a few miles.

The hotel was pretty new, and nice. The room we got, a deluxe room came well equipped. Pretty rustic, but had the amenities including a 12 inch TV with a blackbox satellite dish. Internet was available at 2MBps. Hey, it was better than nothing. Did I mentio nthe blackbox got Arabic Porn? Now don't get too excited. Arabic porn consists of what we would find in a porn COMMERCIAL. A girl talking on a telephone in lingerie with various phone numbers flashing on the screen for you to call her. Yes, about 15 channels of a similar nature made up local porn.

Perhaps if the middle east had better porn, this whole terrorism thing might not be so prevalent. The switch to radical islam may be replaced by staying at home and watching porn?! Hmmm...

Oh well, needless to say, Jill and I slept pretty early each night because frankly speaking there was nothing else to do but read and sleep and watch TV in Turkish. We don't understand Turkish... so we were left with little options.

In all, Ephesus was pretty amazing, and just being in the countryside of Istanbul made me feel much more at peace. It was beautiful to say the least.

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