Once we’d got into Turkey (with all the rubber-stamping and bureaucracy that entails) we decided that Ephesus was one of the places we absolutely needed to see.
We weren’t disappointed.
From the road, you see the amphitheatre cut into the side of the hill – and it looks impressive. But, I wonder how many people take a picture from there, thinking they’ve seen it, and never go in.
Although you have to pay to go into the archaeological site, it’s worth every penny.
The largest amphitheatre outside Rome, it seated 25,000. Originally built in 300 BC, it was extended to it’s current scale around 100-200AD.
The amphitheatre is incredible. We sat for an hour about 2/3 of the way up the steps and listened to people talking on the stage floor – the acoustics are tremendous.
The channel that runs around the front of the stage was originally filled with water that was fed from the river over 2 miles away.
Everything happened on the floor of the auditorium: from plays to Roman worship; from Gladiatorial contests to recreated sea battles (when they would flood the stage with a sophisticated water management system); from City proclamations to the (then) blasphemous story-telling by St Paul himself on his way to Rome as he tried to convert the Romans to Christianity.
A truly amazing atmosphere.
However, it’s not just an amphitheatre. The City grew to as large as 300,000 people by 250AD, a huge population in those days. It housed everyone from Emperors and wealthy merchants, to the poorest of traders exchanging goods between Asia and Europe.
Such a wealthy City that the town centre covered over 1,000 acres – even the main thoroughfares were covered in mosaics.
We saw Roman colonnades and Greek temple ruins; fields littered with stunning stonework in the process of being restored; simple, cave-dug town dwellings; ornate monuments put up to honour Alexander the Great & a multitude of Roman heroes; and (the hight of sophisticated society) a public latrine where you could pass the time of day with other noblemen while you had a crap.
However, none of them really compared to the City Library building, built around 200AD, where the City’s most valuable documents and parchments were kept in a multitude of niches carved into the walls. Little remains of the internal structure now, but the facade is stunning.
We’ve uploaded the pictures in fairly large scale, so click on a couple of them to see the quality of stonework and the detail in the carvings. Unfortunately, the pictures can’t possibly do it justice.
Everyone who goes to Turkey on holiday is offered a day trip to Ephesus by their hotel. I can understand why. You’d be mad to miss it.
After the stress of nearly missing the boat to Greece, we got in to Patras and drove round the coast to Piraeus for another overnight boat to Chios (an island off the coast of Turkey).
Straight off of that one, we drove round the port and onto our ‘car ferry’ to Cesme in Western Turkey. Not the biggest ferry we’d been on. Room for us and one other car on deck.
Real fuss at the port as the boat was due to leave at 8am with us, another car and 5 touring German bikers on board. We had a good chat with the Germans for the 2 hours it took to get all of our paperwork done. By 9am the skipper of the ferry was getting really grumpy with Turkish Customs people who were giving us a real grilling so, as soon as our car was on board he cast off – and left the Germans still arguing with Turkish immigration control. I guess they had to wait for the boat the next day – never found out if they actually made it!
Arrived in Turkey to lovely sunshine….
….. and another 2 hours of form filling, rubber stamping, chasing round the port to get us and the car through Customs.
There’s nothing the Turks seem to like more than a rubber stamp and a car search. Customs, police, insurance, passport control etc are all complicated, without instructions, long-winded, unhelpful and pretty aggressive. Each of the officials behave like Kings of an Empire. Fortunately, the Turkish travellers themselves were really helpful and did what they could (in a combination of sign-language and pigeon English to point is in the right direction). Thank heavens.
Some time later (and £200 poorer) due to import taxes, car insurance, visas, entry permits for the car, etc we left the port, entered Turkey and looked for our first campsite.
Seeming all closed up, we came across a nice place by the beach in Selcuk (10 minutes from Ephesus) which we planned to visit the next day.
Cracking site, and once again we had it all to ourselves.
After a good dinner of grilled chicken and salad, a super sunset before bed (about 8pm – boy we must be getting old).
Didn’t get a chance to put these pics up before we left Italy.
Stayed in a small hillside town called Alborobello (on the ‘heel’ of Italy).
Cracking place. It’s got it’s modern urban sprawl but the centre of the town is 1500 ‘Trulli’ buildings which date back to around the 15th Century.
A number have been turned into tourist attractions, but most are still lived in.
I know I’m a big guy, but not that big that you can’t tell how small the buildings are. They were originally built by peasants and of dry-stone construction so that they could be dismantled very quickly – it was illegal for peasants to build houses, so they needed to be able to take them down whenever the village was going to be inspected by the authorities in Rome.
In around 1740 one of the village elders finally got an audience in Rome and managed to convince them to allow the peasants to build. From that point a number of them were rendered, but many remained dry-stone construction.
All the roofs are dry-stone, the only mortar is in the cone at the top (the different pinnacles denote a variety of religious meanings).
Most of the homes that are lived in are made up of between 2 and 6 of the individual buildings (depending on how much money you’ve got). Some are for sale in local Agencies and prices range from $130,00 for a small ruin, up to $500,000 for something pretty special in the countryside, with a bit of land.
Good god. After overnight crossing of the Adriatic and Aegean to Piraeus, we arrived in Greece.
15 hours and pretty choppy. But sunny!
Drove long coast 250km to Athens and arrived 3 hours early for overnight boat to Chios (Greek island off coast of Turkey).
Time for a leisurely lunch in the car…
We waited at dock E2 as directed to exchange our e-ticket reference number for our boarding passes for the 9pm boat.
By 9pm there was no boat, and no one at the ticket office – buy 100 other people waiting for a boat with us. When the ticket window opened at 9.10 we were told we were at the wrong dock.
RACED the Land Rover round Piraeus port (raced is a relative term in a Land Rover), screeched up to the ticket deck and charged towards the boarding ramp. Greek official didn’t want to let us on as they were raising ramp but Helene whipped out her special magic smile and melted his cold, hard heart!
OMG (never used that before, but) OMG!
Left Amalfi in pretty grim weather and headed for the Bascillicata region (around the top of the boot).
These guys can build anywhere – came across this tremendous villa build into the cliff, wedged between 2 rocks. Fantastic views from one side and a hell of a staircase down the other side to their own private rock pool.
Who’d have thought that southern Italy would be so mountainous (and so cold).
We stayed a couple of days at a mountain town called Matera. Amazing.
Built into the cliff and dating back to 17th Century, over 30,000 people lived in houses carved out of the rock or adapted from caves. As late as 1956 15,000 people were forcibly removed by the government (they were considered slums) and rehoused into a new town up on the plain.
There are still 3,000 inhabitants and a number of the buildings have been turned into restaurants, hotels and B&Bs carved out of the rock.
We were fortunate to stay in one, and this is the view from our room of the cliff-top church oposite.
The same evening, a torch-lit procession was held around the town by members of a number of local churches, culminating in a service at the rock-church. We had front row seats…
The whole town was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in the 1990’s. Don’t know about you but we’d never heard of it. Can’t believe more of fuss isn’t made to promote it. It’s marvellous. A couple of the original buildings have been set up as small museums (a church, a typical cave home – that housed parents and an average of 6 kids – the ice storage cellars that kept ice and fresh water till mid summer, etc).
And our room, cut into the hillside, couldn’t have been much better.
However, 2 days constantly up and down steps, and you certainly feel like you earned your dinner!
Driving down Amalfi coast, we went looking for a crumbling monastery that our Milan office did the design and feasibility for almost 10 years ago. Bought by a Texan, widowed billionaire for $12m, she planned to spend $20m on it and turn it into an exclusive 12 room boutique hotel.
At the time, the job was shelved, but when we found it, wow. Beautiful.
Built on the edge of a 400 ft high cliff, with an infinity pool and spa. We went in to get a coffee or something but it was closed – or rather not yet open.
Builders were just putting in place the furniture and completing the snagging (boy I remember how miserable that is).
The place looks tremendous. Infinity pool is built on the cliff edge and the terraces are all laid out ready for the place to open in a matter of weeks – ready for the Easter season to start I guess.
Since we couldnt get any joy there, we found a little bar in Positano. Even though its pretty cold, Helene spotted a bottle of Pimms and couldn’t resist. The guy didn’t seem to know what to do with it so poured her a bucket full and added an inch of lemonade to the glass. Excellent value (£3.50 for Pimms and a beer!).
We’ll be back.
Made it off Sardinia. Now back in mainland Italy (grim drive down from Civitaveccia, round Rome, to Amalfi coast).
Amalfi (particularly Positano), still one of my favourite places in the world.
However, summary of Sardinia costs (@ bar / restaurant prices);
Coffee: £1.20 (always superb) learn a lesson Starbucks / Costa and stop serving that overpriced muck.
Pizza: £6 / £7 (ditto Pizza Express)
Orange juice: £1 per litre
Wine: £3 per 1/2 litre (in a restaurant) – great stuff.
Coke: £2 per can (in a restaurant) – may as well drink wine!
Fuel: £1.90 / £2.10 per litre. Wine is better value!
Best example of a rip-off (after all the good value we’ve found) is dinner on the boat back to Italy.
Starter – Bresaola (dried beef) starter, £7.50
Yea, that is a very small plate, rather than a giant knife and fork!
And for desert, chef’s special vanilla pudding, £2.90
I think they take the total food cost of all supplies on the boat and divide them by the number of people travelling (at this time of year there were only about 30 of us). Hence the silly prices.
Also, no Coke. Only local brew – Corsi Cola. Now that’s novel (but a nice label)
Had a great time (but sopping wet) in Sardinia. Lovely place but I think we were a month early.
Made it to Cagliari in time for the 5pm (overnight) ferry to Naples.
Found out last minute that it’s canceled due to storms and next one is 5 days.
Scott’s developing Trench-Foot with all the rain we’re having, so used our dubious language skills to get us onto an overnight boat to Civitaveccia (about an hour north or Rome).
With the new Pope (il Papa) being elected today, the whole place will be mobbed.
Will be interesting to see where we end up – given that the only booking we’ve made so far that didn’t end up at a surprise destination was the Channel Tunnel. If that had gone awry it would have made News at 10.
Knocking around Palu in SW Sardinia. Camping is a game of 2 halves: found a cracking beach last night and decided to camp opposite.
Then the weather changed. Hell of a storm all night and till lunchtime. Volume turned up to 11 on stereo and can hardly hear it over the thunder. Judith – you’d love it!
We’ve moved to the East coast of Sardinia to avoid the worst of the weather (not entirely successfully).
The hotel is basic, but pleasant. The people are really nice. However (surprise) the restaurant is Chiuso. So – lunch on the balcony….
and dinner at a nice little al-fresco place we found on the headland….