Our flight from Istanbul to Izmir
was delayed an hour. No big deal except
we’d be an hour late to meet our guide—if she waited—to drive us to Ephesus. The bigger challenge was finding a place where and when
Sarah could mix protein powder and water into a weight loss smoothie without
risking looking like a terrorist
concocting a homemade bomb.
was being a good sport but the extra hour delay pushed her too far. Fortunately, we made up some of the delay in
the air, and our guide was still waiting for us when we landed. By 9:30am Sarah had mixed and gulped down her
strawberry smoothie in a van en route to Ephesus. Before reaching Ephesus, our guide, Pinar,
suggested we stop to see the house where the Virgin Mary supposedly spent her
We waited on a slow-moving line to enter a
small, stone hut. As our family stood
under the broiling sun, Max peppered Pinar with questions: “How do you know this is the house where Mary
died? Is there any historical evidence
to suggest she may have gone elsewhere?”
answered Max in a tentative fashion, but she seemed pained—rather than
charmed—by my son’s eager questioning. Both Pinar’s English and her personality were
weaker than we had hoped. We were also
disappointed in Mary’s last home, a sad little claustrophobic room where some
people were moved to pray and light candles.
Ephesus was another story. One of the best preserved cities in history,
Ephesus lived up to its reputation as a “Wonder of the World.” Instead of piles of rubble or massive
restoration, we could see the basic structure of the ancient city. There were ingenious toilets (for the men
only, of course) still intact. Built
thousands of years ago, these stone benches with holes were constructed on the side
of the mountain so that waste could be “flushed” away by rain. The toilet holes were close together, and
there was no privacy. But I’m guessing these primitive facilities were better
than whatever arrangements (or lack thereof) existed for women of the 1st
A whole wall of the original library was also
still standing, a sight so awesome we were inspired to ask Pinar take a family
picture. Pinar proved to be a better
photographer than a guide, and she probably snapped this year’s holiday card
that day in front of the Ephesus library wall.
The photo makes a great Jeopardy question. Under the category, “Famous Ruins,” it might
read: “The Elisofon family stands before
the walls of this ancient library.” Friends who remember our holiday card picturing
our family in front of the Roman coliseum may find themselves stumped this year.
After exploring Ephesus— and trying
to learn more about it by eavesdropping on other English speaking guides— we
stopped for lunch. Pinar had arranged
a local smorgasbord of salad, kebobs, and a Turkish version of a
mini-pizza. For the record, Pinar won
first prize for best photographer, best lunch provider, and worst guide.
Before returning to the airport,
Pinar took us to another carpet store, in spite of the fact that Henry warned
her that we’d already done the magic carpet ride with another guide the day
before and hadn’t bought anything.
“This one will be different,” Pinar
promised. “Here they will show you how
they make rugs from silk worms. You didn’t see that yet?”
“No, we didn’t.” Henry sighed.
“And here they weave the highest
quality silk rugs. These are signed
pieces made only by one family. Works of art.”
We sat through another rug presentation,
complete with the same apple-flavored, hot tea we’d sipped the day before. As Pinar had promised, this spiel included
showing us silk worms. The proprietor
even insisted I hold one—a dry oval shaped ball—and unravel a thread, which I
did reluctantly, not wanting to expose the worm inside. Then it was time to sit down to see the
“works of art.” These were signed by the family, and were much more densely
knotted and expensive than the ordinary silk rugs, already pricey at several thousand
Our last stop with Pinar was a
ceramic store. We almost bought a salad
bowl, but the merchant couldn’t ship it, and I didn’t want it enough to schlep
it on three airplanes, especially after learning it couldn’t go in the
dishwasher once I got home. No
commission for Pinar, I’m afraid.
Exhausted, we flew back to Istanbul
and then onto Athens and Mykonos, where we rested for six days at the
beach. Here we lounged in the shade and
swam in the cool, clear waters of the Aegean.
Max and Henry bonded during power walks while Sarah and I sweated in the
gym. At night we drove into the town of
Mykonos on crowded, narrow roads filled with tour buses, motorcycles, ATVs and cars
of all sizes, navigating crazy intersections.
Walking from the parking lot to the restaurants was an adventure. Pedestrians did NOT have the right of way,
but somehow the Elisofon family walked single file and survived the perilous
treks to and from dinner.
Mykonos was a fascinating melting
pot of tourists from all over the globe. There were couples, families, and
groups of gay men all conversing in different languages. Even our hotel was a
mix of elegantly attired families and young couples with tattoos and body
piercings. Henry noted that nearly
everyone on the beach, regardless of age, was thin. Could it be that the Mediterranean diet
Our last stop was Athens—a final two
day blitzkrieg of sight-seeing. The first day we saw Corinth, Mycenae, Nafplio
and Epidaurus. The Corinth Canal was an
impressive engineering feat for its time–a ribbon of blue blasted through
mountainous rock, but so narrow that it’s hardly used anymore. While the view was spectacular, Max has
agoraphobia so we didn’t linger. At Mycenae (1600-1100 BC), we entered through
the original gates carved with lions and saw the beehive tombs. Lunch was in the seaside town of Nafplio, and
then family Elisofon ended up in Epidaurus where the original theatre (4000 BC)
seats 15,000. This amphitheater has such great acoustics that concerts are still
Our last day was spent speeding through
the Acropolis, the Parthenon and the Acropolis Museum. We enjoyed these sights, but the most
interesting part of our day turned out to be the political discussion between
Angelos, our tour guide, and George, the driver.
On the first day of our Athens
tour, Max had asked our guide, Angelos, about the political situation in Greece.
“I’m not supposed to discuss
politics.” Angelos answered. “Everything here is okay,” he added in a tone
which implied the opposite.
“Oh, come on, we know you want to
talk about it,” Max challenged him. “Every
cab driver has been complaining about the European Union. One guy insisted Greece would be better off
going back to the drachma.”
“Let’s talk about these aqueducts
on your left instead….”
But my son can be very tenacious
and eventually wore down our driver as well our guide on the second day. “Can you explain the rise in the Neo-Nazi
party here?” He asked on the way back to the hotel.
“It’s because the Nazis are helping
the poor and helpless.” George, the driver, finally explained. Our
driver had barely uttered a word for two days, and yet he suddenly revealed
himself to be an educated, articulate
man who spoke excellent English. He confided
in us that he’d become a driver after losing his record business. “Old people
will vote for Nazis if they offer them a ride to the supermarket.” He shook his
head. “They don’t understand.”
“Well, that’s partly true, but it’s
not as simple as that….” Angelos, our guide, added.
We talked and laughed all the way
back to our hotel; after two days of touring, we had finally become
friends. Both the driver and the guide trusted us not
to report them to their travel company.
Before saying goodbye, we exchanged business cards, and I even promised
to email a link to this blog
Our Ottoman Odyssey turned out to
be a total success. The ever-complicated
Elisofon family had gotten along well, and no one had gotten sick. We had seen historic places, snapped great
photos, and hopefully created lasting memories.
Miraculously, we’d made our plane connections; our luggage hadn’t been
lost or stolen, and Sarah had stayed on her diet without having her powders
confiscated or shutting down the airport.
The only thing left to worry about
was whether we’d get home safely before the U.S. decided to launch a military action against
Labels: Acropolis, agoraphobia, Corinth, Ephesus, Epidaurus, family travel, flight delays, Greece, Izmir, Mykonos, neo-Nazis, politics, smoothies, tour guides, Turkey, Turkish rugs, vacation diets, vacations, Virgin Mary