A Roman Aqueduct in Selcuk

     I live in Brunswick, Maine, a very pleasant college town with a main street of restaurants, gift shops, and food shops in 19th century buildings. In mid-winter, the streets might be deserted, but in summer they are populated by hundreds of “summer people” strolling up and down, window-shopping, or enjoying a meal in the pleasant sidewalk sunshine. I have lived here for over 20 years, but on any day of the year I could walk the length and breadth of the town without ever meeting and greeting someone I know.

      Not possible in Selçuk, a town in Turkey about the same size as Brunswick. My wife and I lived there for eight years. From the moment we stepped out of our garden gate, in winter or in summer, we’d meet and say hello to neighbors, shopkeepers, restauranteurs, and any number of local people enjoying a meal, or drinking tea, or playing backgammon out-of-doors. Shopkeepers and waiters, when they were not busy serving customers, would stand in their doorways and greet passersby. If I had business to attend to, I’d say hello and continue walking, but if I had time on my hands, I’d likely sit and chat. Almost immediately, a cup of tea would appear beside me.

      One day, I remember—it must have been early autumn—there was a chill in the air, and my wife and I thought it would be nice to eat lunch out-of-doors, but only if we could sit in the sun. We were looking for such a place. As we walked by the restaurant called Tat, (meaning “tasty), we got to talking to Rasūl Bey, the owner. He invited us in, but his entire side of the street was in the shade, and we declined. Not a problem! He picked up a table, carried it to the other side of the street, and set it down in the sun, outside a bank where there was no competition for space on the sidewalk. How could we refuse?  

       I can’t imagine that ever happening in Brunswick.

    Turks spend more time out-of-doors than Americans do—or Swiss. I once took a group of teachers from a school in Istanbul to a conference in Switzerland. We were put up in quite a large hotel in a small alpine town. We arrived in late afternoon and walked out together, about eight of us, to find a restaurant for dinner. The Turkish teachers were amazed by the absence of people in the streets or in the well-kept gardens. They found it so bizarre that they began to shout “Hello—where are you? Does anybody live here?” In spite of the ruckus, no one appeared. The young teachers got giddy and started to sing and dance, but no one came outside to see.

    Summer people come to Brunswick, but relatively few stay in town; they stay in their summer homes or in rental properties outside town, close to the water, and they drive occasionally into town for shopping, dining, and cultural events, such as the Bowdoin International Music Festival, the Maine State Music Theater, or the once-a-month arts walk, when art galleries and artists’ studios are open to the public. It’s just the opposite in Selçuk. There are guest houses, hostels, and boutique hotels on almost every street all over town. The well-preserved ruins of Ephesus bring tourists from all over the world, so there are always interesting people to meet and talk with. Also, because so many of the local population are engaged in the tourist trade, most of the shopkeepers, waiters, and carpet dealers speak English.

Gate into the Citadel and Basilica of St. John

    For example: most of the customers waiting in   line for service in the local banks were Turkish   residents, not tourists, who rarely make it past the   ATM. With few exceptions, the bank tellers’   command of English was even weaker than my   command of Turkish. In our bank, however, there   was one teller who spoke very good English, but he   left the bank soon after we started to go there, and   he opened a bar half a block away. From then on,   when something complicated exceeded our ability   to negotiate in Turkish, we would go get Tufan to come and help, thankful that he not only spoke English but also knew banking as thoroughly as any of the Turkish-speaking tellers. Something similar happened in the walk-in clinic. My wife had taken some tests but didn’t understand the diagnosis the nurse was trying to explain to her. However, she knew that the manager of a hotel just down the street used to work at the clinic, so she walked down the street and got Cüneyt to come back with her and serve as her translator.    

The Dutlu Yol
     Our house sat near the top of Ayasuluk Hill,   across the street from the basilica built in the 6th century CE by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I to house the grave of St. John, a disciple of Jesus and author of the book of John, maybe also the book of Revelation—scholars are divided on that.  From out of our living room windows we looked over the sparse remains of the Temple of Artemis to the Dutlu Yol (the Mulberry Road), a lovely tree-shaded avenue leading from the town to the Selçuk football stadium and the towering gateway of the ancient Ephesus stadium. Although it was a lovely walk at any time of day—and a magical morning run—only a few young tourists walked to Ephesus that way, while millions got there by minibus or taxi (cheap at 10 lira), or directly by bus from cruise ships in Kuşadası, cutting out Selçuk altogether. A cruise ship might disgorge as many as 4,000 passengers. 

      Imagine, the port of Kuşadası can accommodate as many as eight cruise ships at any one time, 600 cruise ships a year. Add it up! No wonder Ephesus is crowded. And a good thing the crowds don’t come into the town of Selçuk!

A Bit Crowded
A Better Day to Visit