After a week of decadent inactivity in the Aegean Dream resort on the coast of Turkey’s Bodrum Peninsula I woke (late) to the disturbing realization that — as I confessed on this page last month — I had ceased to be a travel writer.
I had become . . . a slob!
So I showered, grazed the sumptuous breakfast buffet (that took a while, but hurrying breakfast is bad for the indigestion) and took Turkish coffee on the terrace overlooking Homer’s “wine dark sea” (the Mediterranean, at least this Aegean bit of it, in all honesty doesn’t look remotely wine dark, more an inviting blue). Then, suitably fortified, I decided it was time to break free of this cornucopia of easy living. To say, “No! No more free poolside cocktails! No more Turkish baths! No more massages, manicures, beach boules tournaments and fish grills at sunset! Get thee behind me Aegean Dream resort, with your seductions and carnal temptations! I can beat this thing! I will be strong!”
The next morning I woke (late) and discovered that I was still in the Aegean Dream in Turgutreis. How had that happened?
Slowly I pieced together the events that had transpired the previous day. Breakfast, terrace coffee, the pretty woman who’d interrupted my decision to do anything productive by sidling up to me with a cocktail . . . It was her! She’d started the rot! Her and her infernal cocktail! And then — yes! — it was all coming back now! The sun had joined the conspiracy by getting hot, and the swimming pool had started twinkling at me and looking very blue, cool and refreshing. Just a quick dip, I remembered thinking. Nothing hardcore. You know, just a splash. What then? That bloody woman! Again! At my elbow, looking pretty, with a plate of freshly cut watermelon — so crisp, so sweet — and another cocktail!
Lunch had then arrived with supernatural alacrity. Seconds (and more cocktails) later the day was pulling its routinely glorious sunset act. Then dinner was announced.
And here I was. In bed!
“Where are you going?” my wife asked me drowsily as I scrambled to find my camera.
“To rent a car.”
“We’re going to Ephesus!”
“Because it is one of the most perfectly preserved cities of Roman Asia; it has played a major role in the spread of Christianity; St. John wrote his Book of Revelations there, inspiring lots of good/mediocre/bad horror movies; St. Paul wrote Corinthians there; the Temple of Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the World; the Virgin Mary chose it as her retirement home; and it has a gladiators’ cemetery . . . ”
“But we’ll miss breakfast!”
Yegods! The Aegean Dream had snared her, too! Midori, my wife! A woman who normally doesn’t bat an eyelid at the prospect of getting up at 4 a.m. to conduct crocodile population surveys in the Zambezi! A woman who has single-handedly overseen the formation of some of southern Africa’s finest transfrontier parks in temperatures that could have boiled a lizard! A woman who exults in history and travel and adventure and discovery and all that sort of stuff. A woman who was now worried about missing breakfast!
“To hell with breakfast! I’m offering you one of the most extraordinary archaeological sites in the world! We can see the cave where the seven youths (still revered by both Christians and Muslims) were said to have slept for centuries until the days of religious persecution were over! The Basilica of St. John the Evangelist! The Temple of Hadrian! The Temple of Domition (which, incidentally, was erected on a pseudodipteral plan)! Aqueducts! Early Christian graffiti! What is a boiled egg to all that?!”
“You go if you want to.”
I love the Turkish people (when they are not trying to sell me a carpet), and I know it’s unfair to make sweeping generalizations, but I’m sure they’d be the first to agree with me when I say their driving techniques are, at the very least, over-enthused.
Indeed, my guidebook informed me that a driver was 12 times more likely to be involved in an accident in Turkey than in Britain.
My exodus to Ephesus was confirmation of this statistical tidbit. I don’t think I’ve seen more vehicular mayhem since “Mad Max II: The Road Warrior” hit the big screen. No one actually died, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying, and by the time I reached Ephesus my nerves weren’t just shaken and stirred but jangling away like wind chimes in a hurricane. Oh, and the temperature had cracked the 40 degrees C barrier and had ambitions for a half-century.
“It’s the hottest day since 1950,” explained a man at the gate. “Welcome to Ephesus.”
His English was impeccable. But then again, practice makes perfect, and I rapidly discovered that here was a man with a job that offered a lot of practice. There must have been 30,000 people in the high street of Ephesus. And another 30,000 in the Roman public toilets and baths. in the magnificent Library of Celsus, once home to 12,000 scrolls — yes, there were 30,000 more. At least. The amphitheater, which in its heyday was the largest in Asia Minor, and which witnessed wild beasts and heavily unarmed Christians interacting to the cheers of 44,000 spectators, was less crowded. By the time I reached it, Sol Invictus was at his zenith and only the most valiant souls had the energy to ascend its multitude of steps. Heatstroke stalked the panting mob that staggered past, somehow indifferent to the glorious spectacle.
I inadvertently became saddled with a trembling elderly gentleman who needed carrying. He started off fairly light but rapidly gained weight. Eventually I reached my car.
It was time to drive back. Super!
“How was your day?”
“Memorable,” I said. “How was yours?”
“Really relaxing. I did some snorkeling. You have any plans for tomorrow?”
“Absolutely. Breakfast, then a coffee on the terrace . . . “