I had my reservations about overnight buses- mostly due to our experience in India. To add to it the language barrier, general discomfort, restroom access worries, my paranoia of being left behind if I got off of it. But our worries were completely misplaced!
The buses were regular seaters but with ample legroom and space for the hand-rest. The “conductor” did his level best to communicate with us through sign language and a sweet smile while serving several options of drinks and snacks all covered in the price of travel. To our delight and relief, they stopped at a very expansive supermarket at night which was our cue to have dinner. When most of the men headed straight inside to the prayer room while we made our way to a meal. There were a large number of options in buffet style and they even had vegetarian options. Even if someone was travelling with a child or had specific need the supermarket would have been just the place to pick up some last-minute items.
We treated ourselves to a roast vegetable dish, with potatoes, peppers, tomatoes. Some pickled vegetables with a dip and even a dessert that reminded us of gulab jamoons. Topped it all with the new favourite ayran(buttermilk) and we were all set for the rest of the journey. We needn’t have worried at all. There were multiple stops at every couple of hours at similar places with large supermarkets to buy anything you need and clean restrooms throughout the night.
After we got off the bus we had to take yet another bus after an hour and a half (to which we were oblivious). The drivers everywhere were very caring and with detailed instructions handed us to a passenger who also had to catch another bus later. He took us to the basement parking to show us where the bus would be and in turn informed the bus drivers there to help us when it was time too!
He spoke some English and with google translate managed to convey that we could relax in a café for tea till it was time for the bus. The café itself was housed in yet another small mall with restrooms so it was perfectly convenient. It turned out to be one of the most memorable parts of the trip where we had a long conversation with the gentleman Hussain and the café waiter Adam about everything from movies to culture to Ottomans, jobs, language, food and family. If you’re curious, they had watched the movies PK and Bahubali! Husain had a connection since he had worked with some people from Kerala during his work stint in the middle east as a welder. He had to leave for his bus and we bid him a warm farewell truly grateful for his time with us and help.
Meanwhile Adam gave us a class in Turkish describing what he called out to get customers to visit his shop and different dishes they had. Since we still had time to kill, we ordered a type of bread with spinach and cheese and a sweet bun with sesame seeds as breakfast.
Adam even gave us an early warning when it was time for our bus. Again each person we met was instructing the next to hand-hold us through the trip! As we went to pay for the food, it turned out that without even mentioning it to us, Husain had paid for our tea before leaving. When we were surprised, Adam simply said: “Turkish man is gentleman“. We couldn’t but agree 🙂
With the helpful reminder from Adam, we then went to the bus parking area where the bus driver gestured to us to the right bus and we were off to Selcuk in the Izmir province. A short walk with our backpack via a lemon tree-lined main streets in a pretty neighbourhood and we got to our Airbnb.
Incidentally, this was a heritage building from the times of the Ottomans that has been renovated but we were thrilled more by what was growing there today. It was a green haven with flowers at every possible spot in the wall, lemon trees, tomato plants bursting with large tomatoes. Aptly our room itself was named after Hera, the queen of the Gods. While we wished to enjoy the premises itself we had only the day to actually explore Ephesus. So we set off on foot to our very first unplanned stop of the day- The museum.
The Ephesus archaeological museum is definitely a good start before making one’s way to the Temple of Artemis or the Ephesus ruins. Finds from both sites are housed here and present a clearer context of their history and significance.
One of the key displays is the statue of Goddess Artemis – carved in stone is her jewellery, elaborate headgear topped with the temple itself, a chequered skirt with animals real and mythical in every cell, and oval-shaped structures believed to be everything from breasts(since she was the goddess of fertility), to bulls testicles(from the sacrificed bulls) to bees eggs(since the Greek believed they reproduced asexually symbolic of her virginal status).
Additional artefacts interesting to us were the bust of Socrates, and one of Zeus. It humbled me with how limited our knowledge history of this side of the world was based on our school level studies.
We walked ahead next to the site of the Temple of Artemis. Honestly, the Temple of Artemis cannot be highly recommended as a place to “see”- mostly because there is almost nothing left of it other than some pillars. Despite being rebuilt several times, being several ages old, a flood and arson could do that to a structure. The structure itself was the largest in the Greek world with 127 columns, 18 meters tall and gilded in silver and gold. All this while being entirely made of marble. That probably justifies its inclusion into one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world.
However, what is interesting are the legends that go along with it and its history. The temple being set fire was on the day of the birth of Alexander the Great and so its believed that the Goddess was away playing mid-wife to the birth. Another legend is that the Goddess herself delivered her twin brother Apollo. The Goddess Artemis of Ephesus is different from the popular Goddess Artemis in Greek mythology who was a hunter. She, on the other hand, was known as a very potent Goddess of fertility and divine power and therefore worshipped by several Greek regions. It is understood that the people of Ephesus were deeply devoted to their patron Goddess Artemis and 1/3rd of the writing of the region from that period in Greek literature refer to the Goddess and related topics.
Merchants, traders and kings were known to pay the temple part of their profits. In addition to priests and priestesses, it housed acrobats, dancers, musicians and functioned as a marketplace for art. Being rebuilt several times after plunder and arson, tragically the temple itself was finally destroyed by a mob led by St.John and torn down by Christians over time as the majority of Ephesians converted to Christianity.