Ephesus, Turkey: Ancient Ruins, Virgin Mary’s home, and Managing Expectations

by jenjenk on November 18, 2011

One of the leading reasons why I wanted to go to Turkey was so that I could visit Ephesus.  I’ve read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians so many times, I wanted to see the life of the Ephesians come to life. Apostle Paul had such a great love for the Ephesians that I wanted to see and walk the path that he walked.  I’ve said before that I try to keep my expectations low.  I can honestly say that I didn’t do the same for Ephesus.

We started off our trek from Izmir to Selcuk before the sun even crested, which was rather dumb seeing as how the train station kiosk didn’t open for another hour after we got there.  We killed time by doing what we do best – eating:

We were able to purchase our tickets through sign language…and guesswork…making up words here & there to finally get our tickets.  As we were waiting in line to board the train, we saw someone holding a huge hank of rope and a few sets of knives, everything a serial killer would need to commit a crime.  I’m not sure who he was selling his goods to but he was headed to Selcuk with us.

The minute we stepped off the train and onto the streets, we were overwhelmed by “tour guides” offering to take us to the Virgin Mary’s House then on to Ephesus.  We first wanted to get our bearings straight, pick up some bottled water, and figure out our course of action [I didn't arrive into Turkey until midnight the night before so we hadn't had an opportunity to talk about the game plan other than, "hey, let's go to Ephesus"].  This was a great plan until we realized that all the taxis left and there wasn’t going to be another one swinging by the train station until the next train arrived an hour later.

We started to head towards Ephesus in hopes of finding ourselves a taxi along the way.  About 20 minutes into our walk we found a taxi station where we were able to negotiate a ride to St Mary’s House and Ephesus for less than $50.  The road was windy in an uphill swerve.  I was a little worried that I might get car sick but we made it to our destination before it became a problem.

All the websites and guidebooks I read mentioned that St Mary’s was overrated.  My whole thinking was that it would be silly of me not to check it out since I traveled halfway around the world.  Really, what was another 5 kilometers?  Ummm…I guess I didn’t delve too much into the history of why they thought The Virgin Mary lived there.  It was based on visions that an invalid German woman had.

Further, the original structure was no longer there, a new[er] building in its place.  WHAT???!!! Seriously??  And yet there’s this line of people [me included] waiting to shuffle through an empty building, the entire length of the shotgun home taking no more than 30 seconds to cross through.

I left there with a sense of …nothing.  No deeper emotions, no sense of awe, no sense of inspiration.  I was let down.  I felt a wee bit foolish.

We got back into the cab and headed towards Ephesus, hopeful that the ancient structures would fill us with a sense of awe.  I wondered if I’d have a sense of being an Ephesian, strolling the promenade, imagining what it was like as a port city [The water has receded about 3 miles or 5 km from Ephesus].

Ephesus was not exactly what I expected.  I had a hard time imagining Ephesians strolling through the Promenade when it was being over run by cruise ship tourists.  I had a hard time imagining what the structures looked like when it was first built because the columns and structures that were currently displayed were proportionately bizarre [see above photo - I'm not sure what that's supposed to be]. There were pockets of beauty like the first image on this post. The Library, the 2 story building pictured in the distance, is a spectacular work of art.

The detail work on the Library [pictured above] was impressive.  These are the type of structures that I could spend hours looking at. I got a crick in my neck trying to figure out how they placed each of the beams, tiles, stones into place.  It was crumbling but still gorgeous.  Even more interesting was the Terraced Houses that are being restored.

I don’t know what kind of paint they used but I want it.  The fact that you could still see even a HINT of paint after all those centuries is amazing.  I would never have to paint again. Even more amazing was this guy below who was putting the tile pieces back together.  I don’t think I’d be able to survive that job.  I always wanted to cut my puzzle pieces to fit into the puzzles when I was a kid.  I was a very lazy kid.

Over all, I was a little disappointed with my trip to Ephesus.  Perhaps I was being unrealistic.  Perhaps it was the crowds, or the odd mishmash groupings of columns and edifices, or the apparent lack of protection from hands [and feet] of the remaining ruins.  Whatever it was, I didn’t feel that sense of awe that I thought I should have felt.  A little let down, we headed away from the crowds and in search of a meal.

Kebab House was our destination.  Part restaurant, part carpet sellers [seriously, they kept trying to sell me carpets], the proprietors were warm and welcoming, asking us where we came from and where we were going.  This was my first “real” meal of my trip to Turkey.  I hate tomatoes.  I mean, I want to love tomatoes but my body just rejects the acidity in the tomatoes and makes me want to spit it out as soon as it touches my tongue. Regardless, I will try it every single time [I know I’m ridiculous]. When I saw the beautiful color of the tomatoes [this really is how red they were!!], I had to try it.  These tomatoes were perfect. I continued to eat tomatoes all through Turkey.

This meal revived my tired spirits.  It made me remember why I was here, to experience everything about traveling – the highs, the lows…and somewhere in between. I remembered that traveling isn’t only about seeing famous sights or my own prejudiced expectations, it’s also about the small things – the human interactions, the tastes, the smells, the sounds, and the unfamiliar experiences of being outside of my familiar day to day life.

A lot of times, certain places won’t live up to expectations. How do you manage the situation? How do you change your thinking to move towards positivity?

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Joy November 18, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Really? I actually wanted to go to this place really badly because my art history professor was going on and on about how amazing everything in this place is. Hopefully I won’t be too disappointed when I get there.
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jenjenk November 18, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Joy – The library & the terraced apartments were very cool! I think I just had higher expectations of Ephesus overall…and with all the cruise ship tourists, it was a lot of jostling and congestion. Maybe if i had gone during off peak hours, my impressions of Ephesus would’ve been drastically different?? Let me know what you think when you get there!

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inka November 19, 2011 at 2:06 pm

I loved this post. Seeing as I live nearby, I have been to Ephesus countless times and my first was a big disappointment too. Then, I returned in winter, no tourist crowds and it was better, but I much prefer the Ephesus museum in Selcuk. As to Mary’s House…I found the wall where people post their prayers quite touching and the whole complex serene. I have learned the hard way not to get over excited, so now I travel to the biggest wonders of the world with a totally open mind. If they live up to expectations, so much the better, if not, I won’t be disappointed.
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jenjenk November 20, 2011 at 10:23 am

I’d like to see it with less crowds. Maybe that’s why i wasn’t able to see the beautiful ruins independently of the massive amounts of people!!

I think it was because Ephesus was SUCH a huge part of why I wanted to visit Turkey that I had such high expectations for it.

I think I’ll have to go back again to give it another shot [with less people]…

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Andrea November 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm

I didn’t make it to Ephesus but I’m often underwhelmed with popular attractions – crowds will do it every time for me.
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jenjenk November 20, 2011 at 10:24 am

if you ever make it back there, i’d like to read up on your take!

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HeatherChristo November 19, 2011 at 4:42 pm

I will be in awe for you :) Your pictures did it justice. I remember when I first saw the ruins in Rome, it is just so mind boggling. I would love to go to Ephesus, but the Kebab House looks almost equally tempting right now :)

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jenjenk November 20, 2011 at 10:25 am

Awwww…thanks, heather. The kebab house was actually really good!!! it revived my spirits!

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Natalie November 20, 2011 at 6:21 am

I was so sad to read that you were disappointed with the Virgin Mary’s house and Ephesus. Ephesus is perhaps one of the best historical sites in Turkey and there are hundreds of them. Maybe you were tired from the journey or the crowds ruined it for you. I laughed when i read about the tomatoes though. Everyone always remarks on the tomatoes!
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jenjenk November 20, 2011 at 10:26 am

You’re telling ME! I was ready to gush & *love* ephesus!! I’m pretty sure it was the crowds…i was feeling so hopeful and excited.
Oh my gosh…seriously!! those tomatoes were AMAZING!!!!

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Courtney Mroch November 20, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Hi Jen! We’re trying to decide if we will do Ephesus on our trip, which, partly in thanks to you and your posts about Turkey, we will be leaving on in a week and a half! My husband has Ephesus high on his list. I’d like to see it, mostly to see the library. I don’t really have expectations for it like you did though. Which I thought was neat that you did and why.

I have been disappointed with New Orleans and New York. I want to like both, and I do (it’s not that I don’t). It’s just that I’ve seen them SO much from TV and movies it just didn’t move me when I was there. Then there have been other places I had no expectations for, and in fact could’ve cared less if we visited, and have been absolutely smitten and enchanted with. Like D.C. (could’ve cared less if we ever got there, but then fell head over heels in love with it). St. Augustine, FL was another one. Never had even heard of it until we moved to Jacksonville, and then when we went down to Auggie I felt as if I’d arrived home.

Quebec City was on my bucket list. I had HUGE expectations, but like you said, I was trying to manage them so as not to be disappointed. I was NOT disappointed. In fact, I was overcome and astounded and so grateful to be there and it FAR exceeded any expectations I ever could’ve had.

What a great post. I just hope I get as many great pics as you.
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jenjenk November 20, 2011 at 7:04 pm

Courtney – I *would* add Ephesus to the list of things to see. Go early, before the crowds get in. I had to travel from Izmir [I arrived after midnight the night before so getting to Selcuk would have been costly and exhausting for me] so I got there right in time for the cruise ship/tour groups to arrive. I suspect that getting there before the crowds would have been a different experience for me. Make sure you pay the extra to go see the Terraced Apartments – i thought it was pretty fascinating to see how homes were shaped. Also, I enjoyed visiting the Ephesus Museum, which has a lot of great pieces of art.

Let me know what you guys think!!! I hope you guys love it!!!
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Abby November 21, 2011 at 6:09 am

I think you’re absolutely right — history is fascinating, even if not preserved to our standards. Even if that’s often disappointing. :( The food looks so good!
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Christy @ Ordinary Traveler November 21, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Sorry to hear your tour was a little disappointing. I guess we can’t like every place we visit, right? :)
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Christy @ Technosyncratic November 25, 2011 at 8:45 am

Awww, bummer. =( But.. what is that delicious looking little pastry in the second photo??
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jenjenk November 26, 2011 at 4:30 am

MMMM…that was a caramel dessert, actually. I was on vacation. ;)

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TheWorldOrBust November 27, 2011 at 3:05 pm

You made my day! I just spent a week in Istanbul, and had no time to check out Ephesus and felt bad about it, but, I like how you were honest about it, as I think I would have felt the same.
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jenjenk November 28, 2011 at 12:46 am

the crowds…oh, the crowds…they always manage to suck the life out of me…probably why i hate Black Friday Shopping. Thank you, internet. :)

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Lorna December 1, 2011 at 8:02 am

I enjoyed reading your Ephesus tour comments and felt similar feelings. We were part of the “cruise tourists”, our tour day was Sunday and the crowds were real. Our tour guide was a big disappointment as she didn’t get the audio mics to work and basically rushed us through the important parts of Ephesus. We had to walk carefully because of the slippery rocks and maybe this reminded us of the early Ephesians. The Library will be remembered, the amphitheatre had a special feeling and we enjoyed seeing pictures of sights that we missed! Thanks for your interesting blog, also love your comments on Istanbul shopping. It was the best!

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jenjenk December 1, 2011 at 11:39 pm

Yes, i loved the library and amphitheater [how huge can that be??]…those were great!

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Kristina January 29, 2012 at 9:43 am

A little sad to read this but I understand that feeling of high expectations. We’re planning on two days in Ephesus mid week. I think I will try to arrive very early, hopefully before the cruise ship tourists. :-)
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Suzanne Grey January 31, 2012 at 6:33 pm

@Kristina,

I have disappointments too but I think it really happens for a reason.
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