Having booked a holiday in south-west Turkey, I was intent on taking a pilgrimage to Ephesus, one of the great cities of antiquity. As BC swung into AD, a quarter of a million people lived there in comparative wealth and opulence. It was the major port of the Aegean Sea, until the port silted up and it lost its lifeline. Ephesus has been deserted since the 14th century, but many of the original houses, temples, pavements and amphitheaters survive to tell a tale.
I was particularly interested in its Biblical significance. The apostle Paul visited Ephesus on his first missionary journey, and returned to stay for 3 years on his second. He wrote one of his famous letters to the Ephesian church, and this was one of the seven Turkish churches addressed in the book of Revelation.
Returning to Jerusalem from Rome, Paul and his companions didn’t have time to visit Ephesus, stopping off instead down the coast at Miletus to meet and pray with the elders of the Ephesian church. So I determined to visit Miletus as well.
Paul sailed to Ephesus and Miletus by sea. This is impossible now, as the coast has receded west, leaving both cities marooned. I was going to have to drive.
I told the rest of the holiday party that it would be about 5 hours of driving in a noisy van, and 3 hours of walking around a load of stones in the searing heat. I would be very happy to take anyone else who wanted to come with me, but more than happy to go on my own. I would be leaving at 8. Unsurprisingly, they all preferred a lie in and an easy day around the pool.
I was quite content to travel solo. The benefit of sight-seeing on your own is that you can be entirely selfish without any guilt. You can do as you please, go as you please and be as you please – without having to worry or care about anyone else’s needs or desires. It is entirely liberating.
And so, on the day of the pilgrimage, I woke at 7am after about four hours of sleep. I lay in bed and went through the ritual of telling myself I could go back to sleep and do this another time. But I knew I would go today. I packed fluids and provisions for my journey and was out of the house by 8.
My essential companion on my trip was my faithful steed, Starex; a big white shiny rented 10-seater people-carrier. He is a seasoned traveller with 188,000 miles under his fan belt. He is refreshingly undemanding, needing nothing from me – other than keeping him a few inches clear of more solid objects. He can be annoyingly unresponsive – more of an old pack horse than a thoroughbred. He frequently needs a hard kick on the accelerator and a firm wrench on the gear stick. He will growl and whine in protest, but on the whole will get on with the job. I have more difficult employees.
fired him into life and reversed him out of his stables. Minutes later, we were speeding north on the open road along the stunningly beautiful Turkish coast. I nibbled bread, sipped water listened to the Manic Street Preachers above the growl of the engine. The route was mainly dual-carriageway, interrupted by the occasional town or city and a quite unnecessary number of traffic lights.
Beyond Milas, there is a sweeping stretch of road which descends to Lake Bafa, caresses her shores for a few miles and then deserts her up a steep incline. Like a man leaving his mysterious lover after some beautiful moments of passion. After this, we endured an endless stretch of road which was as straight and as true as a piece of wool stretched across a large piece of paper. An extensive plain which was once the sea.
By now, I had Starex pretty well tamed and we rattled along very nicely, albeit very noisily. We were man and machine working in harmonious discord – motoring down the outside lanes of the dual carriageways and showing a few younger fillies a clean pair of heels at the traffic lights.
Ephesus is hard to find. It doesn’t exist on Google Maps or Tom Tom. One wonders how Paul and his crew ever found it – perhaps he had downloaded a better map. We had followed directions to Selcuk. Then, after more than two hours, there was an English-style white on brown sign signifying an historic monument. It was signed “Efes/Ephesus” and I breathed more easily.
Efes happens to be the leading brand of beer in the area – a pleasant, light little number. I assumed here, it was the Turkish name for Ephesus. Either way, the outcome would be satisfactory. We followed the sign and squeezed down a much narrower road.
After fifteen minutes or so, we turned a corner and came upon walls of stalls on both sides of the road, selling souvenirs and refreshments. On the right was a crowd of people gathered around the entrance to the historic site. I had arrived.
A couple of luxury coaches were parked up. I found a dusty car park and a corner of shade for unluxurious Starex and paid a few liras to a man who stuck a ticket under his wipers. Having driven myself in an old van, I felt like a more authentic tourist.
I climbed out of the air-conditioned fridge into the pre-heated oven of reality. I filled the various pockets of my shorts with my essentials – phone, camera and wallet. I swapped my sticky hot tea-shirt for my buttonless, loose-fitting Turkish shirt. I donned my bush hat and my sunglasses, grabbed my water bottle and found Paul’s letter to the Ephesians on my phone.
I was ready to tour.