For weeks now, we’ve been travelling along the western coast of Turkey and have been hitting ghost town after ghost town after ghost town. (Note: This post was written in December, when we were still in Turkey). As we walked the Lycian Way, we were surprised to find that even the largest centres (like Kalkan and Kaş) were virtually abandoned. Almost all the restaurants were shut up for the season, hotels were closed down, and tumbleweeds were tumbling through the streets. While in Kaş, we were literally the only people in our building. Olympos, where we spent 9 days R&Ring after the hike, had a population of approximately 11. Pamukkale was a little busier, though most travelers were in and out in a single day as part of a tour. And the town of Selçuk (the base for exploring Ephesus) was similarly dead. At least as far as the tourists go.
All of this off-season travel can be great… it means great rates at hotels, discounts and free tea at restaurants, “private” dorm rooms, and a break from the tourist throngs.
But there are a lot of downsides to off-season travel too. Ferries are shut down, less restaurants mean less selection, “guaranteed everyday departure” buses don’t run everyday, regularly scheduled dolmuşes have you wait for a few hours until they get another client, and attractions are closed for renovations.
We REALLY wanted to fit a quick trip to the Greek island of Samos into our Turkish travels. Samos is the birthplace of Pythagoras and since we’re both pretty big math nerds – me much more so than Mike – the visit would have meant a lot to us. We were actually in the town of Kusadasi, which means we were only a few miles as the crow flies from Samos. And yet no boats were running. The only way to make the trip, from as far as we could tell, was to fly to Athens and then to Samos or wait for the New Year’s Eve boat/hotel package out to Samos. Neither of these were feasible options, so Pythagoras’ birthplace will have to wait for another trip.
We also wanted to visit the ruins of Aphrodisias, a 2.5 hour bus trip from Pamukkale. Normally, there’s a return day trip offered everyday – but not in the winter. They need at least 5 passengers to run the bus. We could have pieced together the public transportation ourselves, but we decided the added time for transfers, hassle, and cost weren’t worth it.
So that brings us to Ephesus. The Ephesus Museum in Selçuk, which I really wanted to see, was shut for renovations. So was the Citadel of Ayasuluk (though this has been closed for restoration for a while… it’s not just an off-season thing). As we were walking to the Ephesus ruins, one of the carpet shop owners called out to us to see why we were in Turkey in the winter because, as he says, “it’s much nicer in the summer. Everyone else comes in the summer.”
So was it worth the trip?
We had a great time exploring the large site of Ephesus. The ruins were impressive and we had many parts of them to ourselves. Though there were still a few tour bus cattle herding operations, the groups seemed to hit up the main sights and then quickly move on. While I sat and gazed at the splendour of the Library of Celsus, I noticed several different groups arrive, snap their pictures, and move on. At times, there were only about a dozen people in the Library area.
We were also the only ones in the Terrace Houses exhibit (which have a separate entrance fee) and they were our favourite part of Ephesus. We were able to stare 2000-year-old aristocratic grandeur in the face, and it was every bit as glamorous as you would expect our modern day royalty to be used to. Walls were gilded in shining polished marble, floors were covered in detailed mosaics, and there were indoor pools, courtyards, plumbing and even heated flooring. It was a glimpse of something totally different than we got at any of the other ancient ruins we’ve visited.
Ephesus is located about 3 km from Selçuk. Don’t let the taxi drivers fool you… it’s an easy walk. You can stop and check out the last remaining pillar of the Temple of Artemis (one of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World) on the way. It’s not much to see, but there’s no entrance fee.
If walking isn’t really your thing, dolmuses leave the otogar every 45 minutes (perhaps more often in the busy season) and cost a few lira. Entrance fee is 25 lira/person. If you want to see the Terrace Houses within the site, you’ll have to fork over another 15 lira at its entrance. [Note: We usually skip these extra admission attractions, but this time we decided it might just be worthwhile - and, in our frugal opinion, it was.]
If you didn’t get enough photos here, you can always check out our Ephesus photo gallery!