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The Ultimate Way to Relax

It was also in Canakkale where we had our first hamam (Turkish bath) experience. Almost all Turkish towns have at least one hamam. Direct descendants of the Roman bath, the hamams are used by locals as a place not only to get squeeky clean, but also to socialize and relax. The tenets of Islam require a high level of personal cleanliness, and many Turks who don't have good bath facilities at home come to a hamam frequently. They are open to everybody, of course, but in genuine, non-touristy hamams, women and men have separate entrances and facilities. The experience is really something else.

Upon entering a hamam, you are led to a private salon where you can change and lock up your clothes and valuables. You then put on a pestamal, a thin sarong which you wrap around your waist, and slip on a pair of wooden clogs. Then you enter the main bath chamber, a large, steamy, heated room which is usually all marble and often quite ornate, with tiled designs on the walls. There is always a large dome over the center of the main chamber, with small round skylights which bathe the entire room in a soft, natural light. Under the dome, in the center of the chamber, is the gobek tasi, or "navel stone," a raised, circular marble platform where you can recline and get a massage after your bath.

The fun starts when the tellak, or bath attendant, comes in and begins his work. You can bathe yourself, but it's much more fun to have a tellak do it for you. First, he'll sit you down at one of the many clean-water wash basins which line the perimeter of the room. Then he'll douse you with fresh water and begin scrubbing you down with a kese (abrasive, loofa-like mitt), which removes all kinds of dirt and dead skin you never knew you had! Then, it's a quick rinse off before you're led back to the big, flat navel stone in the middle of the chamber for a massage. These guys are quite strong and a Turkish massage can be a rough affair, but in the end you'll never feel more relaxed and so incredibly clean! As you're lying on your back looking up at the beams of sunlight piercing the chamber from the domelights, you might be tempted to wonder when you'll be beamed up to the Mother Ship. It's a surreal experience. After the massage, you're free to move into the soguk-luk ("cold room") where you can sip tea and relax on your reclining couch before heading back out into the busy real world.

Sound relaxing? It is! We left our first hamam feeling totally refreshed, and, of course, impossibly clean. Visiting a hamam is a unique Turkish experience. We plan to go make many return visits throughout our travels in Turkey. They should have these things back home in the States!


City of Homer's Trojan War

July 27

Troy Ruins

The Ruins of Troy

Trojan Horse

The Corny "Trojan Horse"

On our final morning in Canakkale, we visited the ruins of the ancient city of Troy, about 30 minutes south of town. Troy is famous, of course, because of the Trojan war, which, according to Homer's Iliad, took place in the 13th century B.C.. Troy was long considered a myth until it was discovered in 1871 by the amateur archeologist and treasure hunter Heinrich Schliemann. There are actually nine different cities buried on top of one another here, known as Troy I through Troy IX, respectively. Most archeologists believe either Troy VI or Try VII is the city mentioned in Homer's famous work. In addition to some intersting real ruins, there is also a corny "replica" of the Trojan Horse at the site entrance. This was put here several years ago purely for tourist consumption -- nobody knows whether or not there ever was a real "Trojan Horse" as Homer claims in his story.


Ancient Roman and Bibical History in One Small Town

July 27-August 1

Turkey is a very big country. You don't realize how big it is until you actually try to get from one place on a map to another place that doesn't seem all that far away, only to find out it takes many hours by bus to get there. For this reason, we often had to stop midway between primary destinations to avoid all-day bus trips. Between Canakkale and Selcuk, we made a two-night stop at the small resort town of Ayvalik, on the Aegean Sea not far from the Greek Island of Lesvos. Ayvalik was okay, but nothing special -- it was packed with Turkish holiday makers and the weather was especially hot during our stay here. On our way south from Ayvalik, we quickly visited the ruins of ancient Pergamum, once one of the richest cities in the Roman Empire. Pergamum was nice, but we were a little tired and it was still roasting hot outside, so we quickly made our way south to our next destination, Selcuk.

Wanting to see the ancient ruins of Ephesus, we decided to stop for a couple of days in the nearby town of Selcuk ("sehl-CHOOK"). In addition to being right next door to Ephesus, Selcuk is a pleasant town with an amazing history of its own. It's a place worth spending a few days in. It is here where we began to see our first glimpses of biblical history during our travels.

St John's Tomb

At St. John's Tomb

It is widely believed by historians that St. John the Apostle came here to spend his final years living on the hill behind town while preaching at nearby Ephesus. He wrote his gospel and died here on Ayasoluk Hill. The Roman emperor Justinian later erected a massive church over the site of St. John's tomb in the 6th century AD. You can still visit St. John's tomb and the ruins of the once-mighty basilica that stood over it. It is also said (although there is much less evidence of the fact) that the Virgin Mary came to Ephesus with St. John, also spending her final days near Selcuk. The small stone house she supposedly lived near town in has been excavated and is now called, appropriately enough, Meryemana ("Mary's House").

Selcuk is also the sight of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis. This was the first of the "Seven Wonders" we will visit our trip. We expect to find more of them elsewhere in Turkey and in Egypt later. There is nothing left of the temple other than an excavated trench where it once stood. Such incredible history in this small little town, and we haven't even gotten to the ruins of Ephesus yet!

Ephesus Library

The Beautiful Library of Celsus

Speaking of which, just 4km outside of Selcuk lie the magnificent ruins of Ephesus. We spent an afternoon in the ancient city and found it to be absolutely, hands down, the most spectacular of all the ancient ruins we had seen anywhere on our trip so far. And from Morocco to Greece to Turkey, we've seen a lot of them. No wonder the Greeks are so P.O.'d at the Turks -- Turkey has all the best Greek and Roman ruins! A thriving city since at least 800 BC, Ephesus later became a rich and beautiful city as the Roman capital of Asia Minor until the 6th century AD. Most of the ruins you can see today are of the Roman city, and spectacular they are.

Great Theater

The 25,000 seat Great Theater

Among the most remarkable sights at Ephesus are the Great Theater, a monumental amphitheater capable of holding an audience of 25,000, and the Library of Celsus, with an amazingly well-preserved marble-columned facade. There are many other interesting ruined buildings to view as well, including large fountains and statues, a huge Roman bath, and even residential housing areas.

After all of the ancient ruins we had visited in Greece and Turkey, we decided Ephesus would be our last. There are literally hundreds of additional Greek and Roman sites throughout Turkey, but none of them can top Ephesus. And so, we're finished with ancient ruins until we get to Egypt next month. (We bet you'll be happy to be finished with all those "ruin pictures" as well). As a Dutch traveler here said to us so eloquently, "Ruins are like Country Western songs -- the first two or three are fun, but after that they all start to seem the same." Ain't that the truth!

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