My love for the ancient world dates back over a decade and has very profound and significant origins.
“My name is Gladiator.”
Who knew watching Russell Crowe fight tigers and make out the sister of the Roman emperor would inspire such an ardent and deep admiration for antiquity? If my mother only knew that letting me watch these kinds of movies as a teenager would spark a flame that would turn into a useless bachelor’s degree in medieval studies, undoubtedly she would have hurled my VHS copy of Gladiator out the window.
13 years and a $200,000 education later, my passion for anything dated before the fall of the Roman Empire has not waned in the slightest. Talk of the Trojan War titillates me; the mere mention of the Caesars animates me, and don’t even get me started on Sparta. Why?
Because everything in the ancient world was BADASS, that’s why. Also, it’s pretty damn interesting.
In short, I’m a total nerd. I can tell you the names of all the Roman emperors starting with Augustus, IN LATIN, no less, and once I voluntarily spent a Christmas break in college taking a class about ancient Roman architecture and archaeology IN Rome.
There is no hope for me. I have no idea why I’m still single. Talk about a catch!
What does this have to do with anything? You might be asking yourself at this very moment. Don’t worry, that’s something that crosses my mind fairly frequently these days. Am I turning into one of those badgery old ladies who speak only in tangents?
My abiding love for the past has carried over into my travels – that’s why, people!
Over the years I have made it my personal mission to explore and personally visit the historical sites of my dreams. So far I’ve been to 74 World Heritage sites, and far more that SHOULD be World Heritage Sites – not that I am really counting. I only know this because I was superbly bored at work last Friday afternoon and counted them. Unlike some people who shall remain nameless, cough cough, I don’t feel the need to make my life into one giant checklist and knock off as many World Heritage Sites as possible that I will only forget about a day later.
Call me a snob, but I like to take trips and visit places that have personal MEANING to me, even if that meaning was I saw that Ridley Scott film a movie there when I was in 8th grade, thus it looks cool, I MUST GO. I will never visiting a place just to say I’ve been there, end of story.
Whether I am putting around in the mud in Ostia Antica to journeying to Phoenician ruins in the middle of nowhere in Spain, or getting lost for hours in the Egyptian museum (easily done as it’s the WORST organized museum in the world), I almost always find a way to schedule in a little bit of antiquity into a trip.
My latest escapade in Turkey was no exception. Some of the oldest, and best preserved ruins and ancient sites I’ve seen while traveling have been in Turkey. Though many might initially think of visiting more “traditionally” classic ancient sites in places like Italy or Greece, for goodness’ sake don’t overlook Turkey!
When I started researching for my trip, it didn’t take long for me to get bogged down with what ancient sites to choose from. THERE ARE SO MANY!
Since this was my first trip to Turkey, I set my eye on Ephesus, one of the best preserved ancient cities in the world. As soon as I saw a photo of it, I knew I had to go.
My last day in Turkey was an epic one. Arriving on a late-night flight in Izmir, I made my way to what had to have been one of the top 5 SKETCHIEST hotels I’ve ever stayed in. With my rape whistle and pepperspray under my pillow, I had an uneasy night’s sleep before waking up early to meet my guide from About Ephesus tours.
Caption contest: GO!
Ephesus is on the Aegean Coast in western Turkey, and thus it’s quite popular with the cruise ships that dock in nearby Kusadasi. I don’t know which I hate more, cruise ships or massive day tour groups from cruise ships, so it took a long time to sift through all the possible tour companies to find a decent one.
About Ephesus picked me up for a private tour straight from my hotel. Driving out to the site, my awesome guide Canan and I bonded over a love for history and a general curiosity in the world. Answering all my questions with a smile on her face, and telling me all sorts of interesting facts I didn’t know before about Ephesus and Turkey, my excitement to finally witness this magical place firsthand only grew.
For the first time in days, the weather finally heard my pleading, and the rain stopped and the mists began to burn off as we climbed over green mountains and past verdant fields on our way to Ephesus. In fact it was so warm I didn’t need a coat! Our first stop was a very holy place where the virgin Mary supposedly lived. A tiny chapel high in the hills, as the early morning dew dripped off the trees and the smell of the sea lingered in the air, I might have even had a moment of spiritual contemplation. Stranger things have happened!
The House of the Virgin Mary
As we passed through the ticket gates in Ephesus itself, my heart began to soar. As my boots passed from puddle to puddle on the marble streets, I couldn’t believe that the streets were still intact! I was walking on ancient streets! Even on a Saturday it wasn’t too crowded; I can’t imagine what it must look like in summer though!
The crowning glory of Ephesus is its famous library facade: the Library of Celsus. Not many ancient ruins have preserved double story buildings. Just looking up at is impressive. Waiting a few minutes for a big tour group to pass by, I walked down the stairs and marveled at the architecture of the past.
We took our time walking from spot to spot around the city, as I snapped a million photos, I listened to Canan explain everything to me. The sun would occasionally peep through the clouds, illuminating the beautiful white city; standing high up on one of the hills next to the main street, it wasn’t hard to imagine its glory from milleniums past.
What amazing moments happened there? What have these columns and walls witnessed over thousands of years? God, my nerd imagination was running wild!
After an enormous lunch, Canan and I visited a local school that teaches carpet weaving. Turkey being famous for its silk carpets, they are hawked just about everywhere imaginable. The carpets there are woven by hand by the girls, and once they graduate the receive a share of the sale. Some of the large silk carpets take years to finish. I definitely do not have the patience for that.
Sitting on a $100,000 worth of silk, rubbing my hands over other luxurious handwoven carpets, I was overcome with emotion and a yearning to nest. I WANTED TO BUY A CARPET. Thankfully, my banks do not have that much faith in me, and I did not have enough money on a credit card to buy one. And since I basically live out of a backpack, what the hell would I do with a carpet?
This was Bank of America’s response to my credit limit increase request. Um, how about nope.
Promising myself that one day when I’m older and more settled, I would return to this little school and buy a carpet for my house.
They gave me a silkworm cocoon to take home with me, which I put in my leather coat pocket for safe keeping only to find it a month later at a Starbucks in Baltimore.Nice memory! I might try hiding travel souvenirs more often only to find them later and remember a beautiful moment in a beautiful place.
We also stopped by the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. I could hardly believe my eyes as we walked around the field of where one of the greatest temples in history once stood.
What’s left of the Temple of Artemis
I was so sad to leave Ephesus and to say goodbye to Canan and About Ephesus, but I know I will be back one day. Fittingly, we finished the day as the sun was setting over the Aegean. Will gulls calling out for bread and my hair blowing wildly in the tangy sea breeze, I was infinitely happy that I took the time to travel all the way to this region of Turkey.
“What we do in life echoes in eternity.”
Whether I will forge my own mark in history, or spend my life tracing in the footsteps of the great civilizations before me, I was content in the knowledge that I was following my dreams, and seeing places of historical and profound significance. Thank you Russell Crowe.
Have you ever been to Ephesus? Do you like visiting ancient or historical sites while traveling? Do you love Gladiator as much as me?
*Many thanks to About Ephesus for the complimentary tour. Like always, I’m keeping it real – all opinions are my own