Romans and Iranians

Saturday 7 May dawned clear and bright just as promised, and, confident that it would all be dry by the end of the day, Dan did a bumper load of laundry and hung it out on his line before setting off on foot to Ephesus.  It was a couple of miles or so distant, but the majority of the way was a pleasant shady avenue beside the new main dual carriageway.  Along the way, the inevitable street-hawkers will have a go to sell a guidebook, but Dan felt there was probably no need.  In Istanbul, he’d relented and agreed to buy a guide for 5 Turkish Lira (about £2, and a quarter of the starting price) but really only because the map in the front would be useful.  In the case of Ephesus, Dan figured there probably wasn’t enough city left to really get lost in.  On the approach to the ancient city, guides make themselves known, but again, Dan figured that this would not be necessary – and besides, he’d much rather take the place at his own pace.

Dan’s a big fan of Roman remains, having grown up in a village connected by the Roman road of Watling street to St Albans with it’s Roman past, and having had childhood trips up to Northumberland to visit an aunt and uncle and walk some of Hadrian’s Wall.  A few years back, on a day off from doing hot-climate vehicle development work at Prototipo Nardo near Lecce in Southern Italy, Dan spent a total of 10 hours driving 550 miles from Lecce to Naples and back in order to spend 4 hours wandering the streets of Pompeii.  That trip had been well worth it and Dan had high hopes for a similar payback for the even greater milage put in from Istanbul to Selcuk and back in order to visit Ephesus.  Unlike Pompeii, which was wiped out in one event in 79 AD and preserved in it’s then state, Ephesus suffered a series of earthquakes which ultimately harmed the economy enough for the place to cease to be viable and it simply fell increasingly into disrepair and disuse until it was finally abandoned hundreds of years later.

The place was everything Dan had hoped for.  Unlike Pompeii, where structures were buried and protected until excavation started with the accidental discovery some 1700 years later, Ephesus had fallen down and been adapted and finally abandoned over the years, so the modern archeologists had had some serious reconstruction work to do.  Reconstruction had all been undertaken by the Austrian Archeological Institute, with the agreement of the Turkish authorities.  The most famous view of Ephesus, that of the library facade, is one product of that reconstruction work – an imposing sight indeed.

Possibly the most impressive feature of Ephesus however is the large theatre – the largest in the ancient world, with a seating capacity of twenty-five thousand.  The structure evolved over hundreds of years of use, and in it’s time was used for theatrical performances, meetings, and later gladiatorial and animal fights.  The view of the auditorium below would have been impossible at the height of Ephesus’ era, as an enormous stage building used to stand at the end of the street.

Another structure to capture the imagination somewhat is known as The Octagon – a moderate tomb containing the remains of a teenage girl, believed to be Arsinoe IV, youngest sister of Cleopatra, who was executed (under orders from Mark Antony, but ultimately at Cleopatra’s own request) in Ephesus in 41 BC.

Much of the site resembles some kind of ancient architectural salvage yard, with sections of columns and intricate and in places inscribed masonry lined up in rows at the sides of the roads, catalogued but perhaps not fully identified.  Even these sections of columns laid at the sides of the roads are in themselves quite remarkable.  Two thousand years ago, a Roman mason spent a few days on each one, chiselling the corners off a rectangular block to make it eight-sided, then sixteen-sided before ultimately sanding it cylindrical.  Today, we can still see the results of his labours – which of us can expect any part of what we do on a daily basis to be testament to our efforts two thousand years from now?

In line with other Turkish tourist attractions, there is an additional fee to pay to see the best bits – in the case of Ephesus, these are the “terraced houses” terraced in both senses as they are built up a steep hillside and have shared walls.  These are quite well preserved with wall decorations and plaster still intact in places, and some really exceptional mosaic floors.  Reconstruction work is ongoing here, too, with marble wall panels being re-assembled as enormous irregular jigsaw puzzles ready to be re-attached to the walls.  Not for the first time when visiting a Roman site, Dan thought that some of the plasterwork was in places in far better condition than that in his Bristol student house…

Whilst wandering through the city, Dan had been glad of his decision not to take a guide.  One guide was telling a group of cooing American tourists how the tubulae (hollow rectangular section terracotta tiles in the walls) were used to circulate the hot water of the Roman central heating system.  Dan didn’t have the heart to correct him, so that group, who were already blown away by the fact that the Romans had sewers in the times of Christ, now also think that the citizens of Ephesus were one combi-boiler away from gas fired central heating and hot water on tap.

Dan was content to wander the streets of Ephesus taking in the sights of the place all day – pausing for a while to eat a packed lunch of a sandwich and a banana prepared back at the campsite that morning and swig from a bottle of water.  It was late in the afternoon that Dan realised he’d rather annoyingly allowed himself to get rather sunburnt – particularly the back of his neck.  That’s what archeological fascination can do to you…

The sun was well on it’s way down by the time Dan left Ephesus behind and strolled the couple of miles back to Selcuk.  On arriving, and whilst still equipped with his camera, Dan wandered into the courtyard of the seventeenth century mosque near the campsite.  The high-walled site was part-mosque, the other half was un-roofed and had originally contained stone colonnades amongst the greenery of the open-courtyard garden, before these and one of the minarets were floored by an earthquake.  The courtyard garden provided a particularly pretty and peaceful environment, away from the bustle of the streets outside.

It was into that bustle that Dan eventually had to emerge to go and see a man about his phone – and enquire as to why it didn’t seem to work – the Turkish instructions that came with the SIM and the Turkish error messages that resulted from attempts to use the phone were no use to our linguistically challenged traveller.  Turned out it was a simple case of activating it – the fact it was showing reception only meant the SIM had been activated by Turkcell, the account still had to be activated from the phone end.  Dan’s humble little African Nokia was once again connected to the world.

Sunday 8 May was similarly dry and bright at Garden Camping in Selcuk.  It was a real struggle to pack up and leave such a pleasant place, particularly when faced with a very long day back to Istanbul, scene of Dan’s previous gloomy failed Iranian visa attempt.  In fact, the struggle nearly became more than psychological as the DRZ did not seem keen to fire up, appearing to sense the long day ahead.  It looked like Dan’s attempt to stretch the life of the DRZ’s spark plug may have reached the end of it’s course.  After a couple of attempts and a bit of throttle waggling, the DRZ reluctantly fired up.  This time, Dan and the DRZ were heading to a different campsite, futher away from his current position than Mystik up on the coast at Kilyos, but hopefully better.  Garmin reckoned it would be over four-hundred-and-seventy miles to Mocamp, West of Istanbul, so there was nothing for it but to get on the road and start eating those miles.

Dan’s old midlands colleagues might be interested to know that if you’re in the market for a big yellow thug of a machine to do a bit of casual roadside rehandling, the weapon of choice across Eastern Europe and Turkey at least appears to be the JCB 3CX Back Hoe Loader.  They’re everywhere, and whilst it may just be that Dan notices them more than other brands, they do appear to be the single most popular machine.

Dan was avoiding motorways due to the fact that the added hassle and expense of paying the tolls with the KGS card was not paid back when comfortable and economical cruising speed is only 60mph anyway – it’s nearly as quick on the ordinary A-roads, and the riding is generally more interesting as well.  With over 400 miles and most of the day behind him, that policy was changed after a particularly frustrating crossing of the city of Istanbul in mostly stationary rush hour traffic.  The motorway with it’s toll booths was welcomed with open throttle and Dan again began to make progress towards his goal.  The comfortable and economical cruising speed of 60mph was also left behind in favour of just getting to Selimpasa and off up the hill to the campsite.  Eleven hours after leaving Selcuk Dan had arrived, after a mammoth 475 mile day on the hardy DRZ.  Agreeing with his new French neighbours to share a taxi back to Selimpasa to catch the bus at 8am the next morning, Dan set up camp. It was a welcome relief to get the tent up and collapse into it, ready to be up early and back on the buses for a second attempt at the Iranian visa.

Monday 9 May looked cold and gloomy, but Mocamp was indeed a step up from Mystik – it wasn’t flooded, and the showers were hot. Admittedly there was no WiFi web access, and it was 4 miles from the nearest bus stop, but overall, Dan was a much happier camper.  With the sky looking so forbidding, Dan took his emergency Istanbul umbrella with him to the consulate.  There, the ever-friendly Mr Hossein was in good spirits and could confirm that yes indeed, he had received Dan’s new visa authorisation number from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran.  All Dan had to do now was take a trip across the street to the bank, pay an eye-watering one hundred Euros into the account of the Iranian consulate, and return with the receipt to prove he had done so.  On arriving back at the consulate with a receipt and a lighter wallet, Dan was told he could pick up his visa on Thursday.  Hoping to at least have the Turkmenistan visa application well underway by then, Dan appealed for a shorter timescale on grounds of the expense of staying in Istanbul, and settled on a collection time of 2-3pm the next day.  As Dan’s weather talisman in the form of his umbrella was proving effective at keeping the weather dry, Dan decided to head back to the campsite to change the plug on the DRZ and have a bit of a tinker.

The public transport route back to Selimpasa was also slicker than that to Kilyos – Tram, then Metro, then the 303 bus from Yenibosna to Selimpasa.  It took about an hour less than getting from Istanbul to Kilyos, but that hour was then spent walking the four mostly uphill miles back to Mocamp.  It’s not an unpleasant walk, and Dan was happy to get the exercise as sitting on a motorcycle all day doesn’t do much for one’s fitness.  With plenty of daylight left, Dan set about the DRZ with his tool kit as soon as he got back, whipping the seat and tank off to change the plug, then topping up the chain oiler and going round a few bits with his oil can.  With the bike fettled and the tools packed up, there was time for a bit of bread and cheese for dinner, before watching the sun set over the hills and settling for the night.

Tuesday dawned and looked every bit as gloomy as Monday had, but Dan was in bright spirits at the prospect of finally getting his Iranian visa, and figuring the weather would probably pan out the same as Monday washed and hung out some laundry before heading into the city.  By the time he arrived, the weather had brightened up again and there was plenty of time to take a casual stroll around the bustling four-hundred-year old spice market before heading to the Iranian consulate to pick up the visa.

Inside, spices vie with elaborate ornamental plates and silk scarves for space.  Outside, yet more stalls sell all manner of other foodstuffs, fresh fish, cheeses and meats, whilst the well-rehearsed showman ice-cream sellers twirl their wares like refrigerated silly-putty.  Not tempted by any of the more exotic items offered, Dan bought a lump of the oldest-looking cheese available for purchase and a few olives before heading back to Sultanahmet to see Mr Hossein.

On arriving back at the consulate, Dan spotted the sign by the closed and locked door – Opening hours Monday-Friday 0830-1130.  Mayday.  Dan rang the doorbell and received no response.  For a couple of minutes, Dan suspected he’d been stitched up, and would have to return yet again the following day.  Heading round the building to the security hut at the main entrance, Dan enquired about the consular sections hours.  Once the security staff had found someone who spoke English, a phone call was made, the phone was passed to Dan and someone at the other end promised to answer the door at the consular section and let Dan in to see Mr Hossein.

Once back inside the consular section, Dan was assured that Mr Hossein would be with him as soon as possible.  It was 2pm.  At 2.30, the smiling face of Mr Hossein appeared behind the glass with Dan’s passport, ready to show the new tourist visa now in place inside.  Dan thanked Mr Hossein, put his passport away, helped himself to a cup of water from the cooler and headed back out into the street, and in doing so allowed some other frustrated visa applicants into the building to try and collect their visas.

The trip back to Mocamp was the same combination of Tram, Metro and bus followed by a long walk as the previous evening.  This time however, Dan stopped to pick up some provisions to supplement the cheese and olives, as there should be another overlander waiting for him at the campsite.  A series of text messages to Dan’s Turkcell during the day had confirmed that Ed was on his way across the border from Bulgaria to Turkey, heading for Mocamp.

Sure enough, when Dan walked into the site, there was another little bike and an even smaller tent next to his own – Brighton 2 Siberia was back up to two.

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5 Responses to Romans and Iranians

  1. dan rea says:

    BRAVO you two! great read, and fabulous adventure!

  2. Mark Doyle says:

    Hi Dan

    I was in Ephesus in Oct 2009. Remarkable place and you describe it very well. The paved marble road between the theatre and the library was the highlight for me. That and seeing an American pay $30 for two umbrellas.

    It’s great that you are reunited as a team again and cheers for the excavator trivia. JCB all the way! Good luck heading East!


    • dan says:

      Hey dude,
      It’s an amazing place for sure – though being a bit of a geek I was probably more interested in the surviving iron rings in the marble man-hole covers over the sewer than the assumed-to-be-a-prostitute’s-advert etched into one of the marble paving slabs (a foot, a heart and a woman – advertising has moved on in 2000 years…).
      Thanks for your charity donation too!

  3. Lois Oliver says:

    Great news that you’ve caught up with each other – enjoy the adventure, and stay safe!
    Lois x

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