RETRO POST: A Journey to Miletus

I am on an Internet Vacation this week. I promised one old post and one new post each day while I was on vacation. This is the fourth of my old posts. It was originally posted back on July 11, 2007. I brought this one back because I was thinking about that vacation I took to Europe five years ago and this is one of the more memorable days.

Written at 7:17 PM local time, while sitting out on the deck

Every gal in Constantinople
Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople
So if you’ve a date in Constantinople
She’ll be waiting in Istanbul

–They Might Be Giants

Last night’s dinner was a Greek & Turkish dinner. I started with the Aegean Cocktail Shrimp, and followed that with a Caesar salad. For the main course, I had some kind of chicken dish, served in a sauce very much like a Marsala sauce, and served with rice, spinach, and broccoli. Dessert was the really big news last night. Dad has been craving Key Lime pie all week, and even though it wasn’t on the menu tonight, our table captain prepared an entire pie for him. Of course, there was enough for the whole table, and though I’m not a big fan of key lime pie, I had to try it. Dad ate two slices and took a third with him. The waiting staff also brought out a big piece of chocolate cake for Mom and Dad for their anniversary, candle and all. Then was the main dessert. I chose the baklava, which I thought was quite good, and very sweet. And, of course, I had the chocolate mousse as well. This time I didn’t even have to ask for it. Our waitress, Viola, knew to bring it out to me.

 Texas Hold 'Em Poker and a Tour of MiletusAfter dinner I relaxed for about 45 minutes and then headed to the gym for chest and back strength training. I did a full workout and on the last set of chest press, even managed a full set at 125 lbs. which means I’m getting back to where I was before I slacked off.

The rest of the evening was spent in the Wheelhouse lounge playing Texas hold’em poker with Jen, Jason and Mom. We didn’t have chips so we had to get creative. I bought 4 packs of SkittlesTM from one of the shops on the ship, we divided them up into five colors and then assigned each color a value. And that’s what we used for chips. We played for nearly three hours, having put in $20 each, and as it turned out, it came down to me and Jen, and I eventually won as the clock approached 1 AM. After that, it was off to bed.

Today, the day started at 8 AM. I had to meet for my tour of the ruins of MIletus and Didyma at 8:30 AM, and when I got there, I found that there were only 12 of us on this particular tour. (There seemed to be 40-50 people on the other tours on average.) This was clearly not one of the more popular tours. But I had a special reason for going on this tour, which requires a slight detour to explain. strausmousekruppenheimer and vickyandnorm will know what I am talking about.

For those of you who don’t know, I went to Cleveland Humanities Magnet High School in Reseda, California. The “humanities” portion of the name meant that for three years, I didn’t take regular English and History. Instead, I took an integrated course of philosophy, literature, social institutions, and art history. This was called our “core” classes and those of us who attended the program simply referred to these classes as “Core”. No one could have gotten through 10th grade Core without learning the name Miletus, and that it was the birth of philosophy. Beginning with Thales, and followed by great thinkers such as Anaximander and Anaximenes, Miletus ushered in a new age of thought for human culture and civilization. All of this had been burned into my brain since I was 16 years old and these names were as familiar to me as members of my own family. So you can understand that if I had the opportunity to actually visit this place, there was no way I could pass it up.

When I set foot off the ship on the way to the bus this morning, I set foot in Asia for the first time in my life, for all but a very small corner of Turkey is on the Asian continent. The twelve of us were ushered onto the bus, which was well air conditioned, and we were soon underway. The drive to the ruins of Miletus took about an hour and I got to see a good deal of this region of Turkey. We wound our way up from the harbor into the mountains and than down into dry, arid valleys that reminded me very much of the desolate, small-town areas in central Utah, only much hotter. There was more trash on the ground that I have seen in other cities in Europe, but not distractingly so. There were also plenty of reminders of the modern world: McDonald’s, for instance, to say nothing of some very nice houses and apartment buildings.

When we finally reached Miletus, we disembarked from the bus and began our tour of the ruins, which were all I hoped they would be. The most striking, and largest of all of the ruins is the theater, which though crumbling, is still in very good condition. It originally seated 5,000 people, but was expanded to 15,000. We were able to walk in and among the seats. We received a short historical lecture from our tour guide while sitting in the shade of a vomitorium (look up the word in OED if you are not sure what it means), and I found myself infinitely impressed by the fact that I was sitting under an arch with the original keystone still in place, and which had been standing there for thousands of years. Sitting there in the shade, I wondered if it was just outside in the hot sun, right over there, that Thales first realized that at a certain time of day, his shadow was exactly the same length as he was tall (and from this, became the philosophical inventory of trigonometry). I was the only one in the group to wander the ancient causeways and climb to the top of the theater, looking down into what must have been a spectacular view of the stage in its day.

After leaving the theater, we walked through the ancient roads, marked by stone and laid out in precise right angles (another invention that seemed to originate in Miletus). We took in the surrounding ruins and then made our way to the ruins of the ancient Roman bathhouse. This was very cool because we were able to progress through the ruins in the same way the Roman’s would have passed through then. We started in the ruins of the changing rooms. Then we moved into the cold baths, then the hot baths. I would occasionally stop to touch the stone, to rub my hand up against something that a Roman soldier or freeman might have touched, to get a tactile sense of the history of the place.

It was a very hot day, reportedly over 105 degrees, so it was a relief to get back onto the air conditioned bus for the drive to Didyma. It wasn’t a long drive, perhaps 25 minutes. We came down out of the mountains and along the sea once again. We even passed by a Raging Waters-like water park. Upon reaching Didyma, there was no way that you could miss the temple of Apollo. It formed the center of the town, around which the streets were built, with the 19 meter high columns rising above everything else. We were able to walk around the temple more or less freely, and I enjoyed walking through some of the dark passageways, with the bright sunlight on either end. It was as though I could better feel the age of the place in the darkness. The reliefs on some of the stones was truly amazing, and I made sure to get plenty of pictures. In fact, during the course of the whole trek to Miletus and Didyma, I think I got around 250 pictures.

From the temple, we had a short 2 minute bus ride to the restaurant at which we ate our lunch. It was a Turkish buffet luncheon, with all of the alcohol we wanted to drink. I sampled everything in the buffet, and all of it was good, although I don’t know what any of it was called. There were pastas, for instance, but there was also quite a few pickled vegetables. For the main course, they served freshly caught fish. The fish still had the heads attached, as well as the skins and were obviously not deboned, so one had to be careful eating it, but it was very tasty and I more or less destroyed mine (sharing small bits with two small kittens that sat nearby). I had a bottle of Efes, a Turkish beer that I thought was really good.

After lunch, we climbed back on the bus for the 90 minute bus ride back to the port town, and you can imagine what happened once the dozen of us were stuffed with food and drink. We dozed most of the way back so that the 90 minutes felt more like 19 minutes. The last part of the tour was a stop at a Turkish rug store, where we were given a demonstration of how the rugs are made. The cruise line has an agreement with this store, so that they don’t try to hard sell you on buying one of the rugs (which for a high quality silk one, can easily cost $14,000). But it was interesting to watch. Someone came by to take our drink orders and we were given beer or wine or juice–whatever we wanted–for free. And our glasses were kept full too.

Upon leaving, I tipped our tour guide and headed back on board the ship. I have a massage scheduled at 5:30 and the ship has just left Kusadasi and is now heading west, on our way into Rhodes tomorrow.


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