Two weekends ago my friends and I headed for the ancient ruins of Ephesus and the sandstone travertines of Pamukkale.
There are two options to get to Ephesus, by bus to Selcuk or Izmir, or flying to Izmir. Selcuk is the nearest town to Ephesus and is a 40 minute to an hour bus ride from Izmir’s main Otogar (bus terminal) or Airport. We booked ourselves on an overnight bus to Izmir from Istanbul, which took around 8-10 hours in good traffic conditions.
I can definitely say I am very impressed with Turkey’s bus system, it can be defined as organized chaos but for the most part it is pretty efficient and reliable, plus their buses have personal TV screens and a drink/snack service by bus attendants. The rest stops along the way are quite large and have 24 hour food court service (very basic Turkish food items, but nonetheless cheap and good) as well as a grab and go market. The buses get washed and “scrubbed” at the rest stops too. Though, like most of Turkey, most of the bus employees did not speak much English, it was still relatively easy to find your bus and know your final destination, plus the bus attendant checks and reminds you, also no worries they ensure every passenger gets back on the bus after the rest stops and at each Otogar. For this trip we used KamilKoc, Turkey’s oldest and most reliable company, even though the largest company is Metro (its far less reliable).
Note: You do not have to go to the main bus terminals to buy tickets nor do you need to fluster about how to get to them. The bus companies have branch offices in every major neighborhood in Istanbul that provide travel services as well as free shuttle services to the main bus terminals (there are 3-4 main ones in Istanbul alone). But furthermore, most of the agents in the branches do not speak English, an ideal way would be to go to the company’s website and jot down the bus # and departure time and place and get the tickets at the branch office, I do not recommend using their websites as they can be unreliable and limiting as well as not accepting foreign cards.
Once we arrived at Izmir, we asked around for Dolmuses to Selcuk and were promptly pointed in the right direction. The shuttle bus cost 9TL per person. We then arrived at Selcuk and the hostel we stayed provided free shuttle service from the Selcuk Otogar to the hostel. As recommended by a friend of mine and having seen its rave reviews online, we opted to stay at Atilla’s Getaway (see the Atilla’s Getaway post for a more detailed hotel review). And indeed we made a great decision!
We had Dilek, the manager at Atilla’s arrange a taxi to take us up the mountain to Virgin Mary’s House, and then to the south entrance of Ephesus. Virgin Mary’s House was interesting but I will honestly say that unless you go for deeply religious purposes or on a holy pilgrimage to the Virgin Mary’s last home (which I totally understand and respect), I am not entirely sure it is worth the drive up the mountain/ 15TL admission to see. I did not feel as profound a spiritual feeling as I would in a Cathedral or other holy sites, but this is just my opinion.
This was once the capital of Roman Asia-Minor with a population of over 250,000 people. It was home to one of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World, The Temple of Artemis (sadly only a lonely column remains today). I will not bore you with its long history, but it was quite historically significant in the Roman Empire and served as an important port city along the Mediterranean as well as the gateway to Roman Asia-Minor.
While most of the ruins are well ruins, there are a few parts that remain in great condition which make the journey to Ephesus worth it. One part of Ephesus that really stands out is the Library of Celsus, while only the facade remains, it stands tall and proud with most of its original details still in tact (the original statues are on display at the Ephesus Museum which sadly was closed for renovation during our visit). The library was also the third largest library in the Ancient world (after Alexandria and Pergamum) and was home to generations of great thinkers, the building itself was designed to protect its 12,000 scrolls from extreme weather and moisture.
Another great part to visit is the Great Theater, it was where the city enjoyed dramas and comedies and is a great example of a well preserved Roman Theater. Its great fun to walk around and climb the seats or sing a song or two at the center stage.
Finally, another rather interesting part are the Terrace Houses, which cost an extra 15TL atop your Ephesus admissions fee to get in. It is an ongoing archeological dig/ preservation project but it is well worth a visit as 1) few tourists/ groups visit 2) it shows the houses that Ephesus residents would have lived in 3) it has a few well preserved mosaics.
Other interesting parts: the Bathhouse, the Roman Latrines, the two Agoras, the Brothel, Temple of Hadrian, and Curetes Way.
I highly recommend going on your own and getting an audio-guide instead of joining a tour group. This way you can stroll through and explore the ruins at your own pace and really take in the city rather than rush through the key sites. We spent basically 3 hours wandering through the city while most people do it in 1.5 hours.
The next day, Dilek arranged a dull day tour for us to visit nearby Pamukkale and its limestone travertines, Hierapolis ruins, and natural hotsprings. The drive there took around 3 hours, and when we arrived we proceeded to have lunch at a tourist buffet which wasnt too bad before driving up to the entrance of Hierapolis and the Travertines. Hierapolis ruins were disappointing after seeing Ephesus the day before, pretty much what’s left are remnants of its waterway and water pipes and sewage system as well as its theater.
We then headed to the main locker room/ restaurant area where there was also the Cleopatra’s Pool (a pool with original collapsed columns in it) which was packed with tourists and so we decided not to pay and swim in it. Once we got changed and lathered on some sun-screen we headed to the Travertines. The original and natural limestone travertines are now pretty much dried up, I believe the spring waters have been redirected to the manmade ones or that overuse from previous years really did dry them up. So now there is a manmade path/ ponds/ travertines for people to walk down and lay in (you cannot really swim in them as it is only knee-deep for adults). But just because it is man made does not mean it is not fun, interesting, cool or awesome. It was still made of limestone and the spring water was still refreshing (especially in the ponds near the bottom of the hill). The first few ponds were crowded as most tourists seem to stick to those two, but as you walk along the limestone floor with the flowing spring water to lower ponds, the crowd begins to dwindle and the water temperature cools and the floor goes from rocky and sandy to being clay, a very wet limestone clay. Waterfalls of natural spring water from the mountains flow into the travertines along the way which creates amazing and refreshing showers/ experience under the falls. We took our time and ended up spending a good 3 hours in all walking down and back up the travertines, which resulted in some mild burns, but very much worth it!
Note: before setting foot on the limestone you MUST remove your shoes, either carry them with you or just leave them on the wooden walkway, the floor feels rather soft and doesnt cut your feet even though some parts feel sharp, plus the cool flowing spring water helps too.
the tour cost 100TL per person (around 50USD)
Afterwards we returned to the hotel for a second night of chilling, relaxing, and conversations with fellow travelers.
Sirince (pronounded Shi-ren-jay)
A short 20 minute shuttle bus ride from the Selcuk Otogar is the quaint mountainside town of Sirence. It is a magical and mystical village that emerges in the mountains. Originally settled by the Greeks, it was originally called the “ugly city,” in order to keep others away, before being renamed Sirince (meaning pleasantness) by the Turks who then occupied the town. It is home to wonderful and well kept Ottoman/Greek homes and architecture and is known for producing good fruit wine. One our last day we opted to eat lunch and stroll around here. It was a good decision, and is a must do when in Ephesus or Selcuk as many tourists skip it. There are a few sights to see such as the Church of St. John the Baptist (which we missed), but if you are not up for that, a simple stroll through the town, a nice lunch with fruit wine and a good wine tasting of the local wine is really all you need to experience the pleasantness of this town. It is magical and surreal because it is very pretty but also because it really does not feel like one is still in Turkey, it feels more like a Tuscan or Mediterranean Greek town.
That night we headed back to Izmir for our overnight bus back to Istanbul which was delayed by nearly 3 hours as we hit the legendary Istanbul traffic jam caused by a car accident.
But otherwise a wonderful trip.
If you are in Turkey I would recommend a 3 day 2 night trip to see Ephesus, Pamukkale and Sirince, and when you do definitely without a doubt stay at Atilla’s Getaway as they will take care of everything for you and make you feel welcomes and relaxed.