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Home > Virtual Cruises > Exotic Mediterranean on Azamara Quest
Exotic Mediterranean on Azamara Quest
Day 1: Trip Planning, Arrival in Istanbul
Day 2: Kusadasi/Ephesus
Day 3: At Sea
Day 4: Cairo, Egypt
Day 5: Jerusalem
Day 6: Haifa
Day 7: Limassol, Cyprus
Day 8: At Sea
Day 9: Sorrento
Day 10: Debarkation in Rome
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Day 2: Tuesday, Kusadasi/Ephesus
Kusadasi/EphesusAzamara Quest wasn't due in Kusadasi until 11 a.m., allowing me to enjoy my first leisurely morning at sea. Feeling decadent, I ordered room service breakfast. Unlike some ships, where all you can order is a continental breakfast, Azamara's room service menu is quite extensive. Aside from the typical fruit, bagels, cereals and breakfast meats, you can also order omelets, steak-and-eggs and an English-style breakfast with baked beans, potato hash and eggs. I opted for the "Healthy Choice" breakfast, which came with an egg-white omelet, wheat toast, fruit, cottage cheese with granola and orange juice. I figured that, in typical cruise-ship fashion, the so-called healthy option would end up consisting of overly large portions (thus, defeating the purpose). So, I was pleasantly surprised to see small portions of the fruit and cottage cheese. The omelet was tasty, the meal had a nice variety of flavors, and I finished satisfied, but not too full.

Kusadasi is a touristy resort town, situated on the west coast of the Anatolia region of Turkey. Although it's home to 50,000 residents, that number swells to about 300,000 in summer. While European tourists may go there for the beach (and you can catch a cab or local minibus to Ladies' Beach quite easily), cruise ship travelers, by and large, use the port to take day-trips to the Roman ruins of the city of Ephesus.

The ancient city of Ephesus is about a half-hour drive from the cruise port. The site is actually the location of the third out of five cities built by the Ephesian people. Although the city was originally built in the third century B.C., the excavated ruins date to the Roman era, when the city gained prominence as the fourth-largest city in the Roman Empire and the capital of the Asian provinces.

Once the ship docked in Kusadasi, we met our private guide, Batu Han Ulkumen, outside the cruise terminal. Cruise ship travelers have several options for visiting Ephesus. They can take a ship's tour with options that range from three-hour highlights tours to much longer tours that include some of the Christian holy sites. (The surrounding area was home to St. John and the Virgin Mary.) You can also negotiate with a cab to take you to the city and pick you up after a few hours there -- we saw several couples getting together to share taxis and split the cost. Or, you can choose a private guide, which we did because I'm a huge fan of Roman ruins and wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to thoroughly explore the city and to get knowledgeable information about what I was seeing.

Any way you do it, Kusadasi is easily navigated because you simply follow the Roman roads through the city. (Unlike Pompeii in Italy, with its warren of streets, there's only one way to go here.) The road is made of marble and is slippery and a little uneven -- make sure you wear good shoes and watch your step. The ruins include several basilicas, the Odeon (where administrative leaders met) and various temples. Tourists seem to be especially drawn to the public latrines. (Apparently, you had to buy tickets in ancient to Rome to use the bathrooms -- not surprisingly, they were owned by the richest family in town). The requisite photo op is to have your group sit in a row, each member on his or her own latrine. To quote Dave Barry, I am NOT making this up.

The two most awe-inspiring ruins are the Library of Celsus and the Great Theater -- the library because of its striking facade and the amphitheater because of its sheer size. The library is the iconic image of Ephesus -- a two-tiered facade, featuring large windows and four statues of female figures, representing wisdom, knowledge, destiny and intelligence. The amphitheatre, pictured right, is built into the hillside and can hold up to 25,000 people.

The best way to appreciate its imposing size is to turn your back to it, and walk down the Harbor Road (in the direction of the pedestrian exit). Don't look back until you've reached the end, and you're rewarded with a full-on view of the enormous theater space.

A must-see for me, but often skipped by ship tours, was the Terrace Houses of Ephesus. This area requires a separate ticket, and, as it involves a lot of steps, it's not recommended for anyone with mobility difficulties. The Terrace Houses are the ancient equivalent of Beverly Hills -- the finest addresses in town. These Roman mansions were built up the slopes of the hills, all with large rooms that surround an open-air courtyard. Large banquet halls and smaller living areas are decorated with intricate mosaics and colorful frescoes that look so new and modern, you wouldn't be surprised to find the same level of workmanship in a modern-day millionaire's crib. A table is carved with a backgammon board (apparently the game originated in this area of the world), and you can see how the private baths were constructed to have heated floors.

It's impressive to say the least -- I'm sure with a tad more restoration, I'd gladly swap my two-bedroom apartment for a Roman penthouse!

After our visit to Ephesus, we drove to Selcuk, the modern town next door to the ancient city. It was lunchtime, and our guide brought us to a restaurant, which he warned us wasn't fancy -- but the food was fabulous. It was just the local spot we'd been searching for in Istanbul, but we kept finding ourselves hungry when we were in touristy parts of town. We picked out a bunch of meze (Turkish salads and appetizers) from the display case, and Rachel and the guide also ordered lamb and chicken kebabs. The restaurant, whose name we never got, is family-owned -- the mom does most of the cooking at home, and the father and son grill the meat and help with service.

And the food was incredible! We had fresh yogurt, eggplant salad, stuffed artichokes, grilled zucchini patties and delicious bread. The atmosphere wasn't fancy -- just a few plastic tables and chairs on a concrete outdoor patio -- but the food was beautifully prepared and so delicious. As Western Anatolia has very fertile soil, agriculture is the main industry there, and we had even passed the fields where they grew the artichokes we were eating. So, not only was the cuisine Turkish, but the ingredients were locally grown, as well.

Our next stop was a cooperative that sold rugs, made by Turkish women throughout the country. Turkey is famous for its carpets, and many cruise travelers do end up buying one. You can choose from a wide selection of sizes, designs representing different regions and materials (silk, wool, cotton). Although not cheap, the rugs should cost less in Turkey than they do when exported to the U.S. And, they are certainly beautiful works of art, with intricate designs of flowers, geometric patterns and, occasionally, animals -- all painstakingly knotted by hand.

Until I buy that Ephesian mansion, I'm not in the market for a rug, but I did pick up a few tips on what to look for if you're a novice rug purchaser. Always ask if the rug you're interested in carries a certificate of authenticity that guarantees it was handmade in Turkey. If you fear a rug may be machine-made, look to see if the fringe goes all the way through the carpet (it's the end of the threads that wind around the loom), rather than being simply attached at the end (a sign it's machine-made). In addition, fold the carpet so you can see a row of threads, and make sure you can see the individual knots. Large cooperatives (meaning the rug-makers both get paid for their rug and get a percent of the sale profits) that are subsidized by the government are quite reputable; smaller stores can be reputable or rip-offs, so ask your guide for recommendations. If you make a purchase, sign the back of the rug so you know you've got the exact product you bought when it gets shipped to your home after the cruise.

On our way back to the port, we stopped by the site of the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. All that's left are some scattered stones and column pieces in a field, but a reconstruction of the temple is actually in the works. Although there wasn't much to see, I still had a thrill from visiting the site -- especially knowing we'd be seeing another of the wonders, the Great Pyramids, in just a few days.

Our lunch was so delicious that we opted to have dinner on the ship, instead of in downtown Kusadasi. Apparently, the oceanfront restaurants have great seafood, and we heard some Turkish music emanating from downtown once the sun set. It would've been a fun outing, especially as the ship is in port until 11 p.m., but we were tired from the day and opted for the ships' buffet dinner.

Dinner in the Windows Cafe (called Windows Breeza at night) offers a wide selection of choices. There's always a made-to-order stir-fry station, a carving station and a selection of fresh sushi. The main buffet choices are occasionally themed -- that night was Indian night, and there was previously a Turkish night. A large selection of desserts (including some themed sweets like Turkish Delight or Indian rice pudding) is accompanied by a freezer of 10 to 12 ice cream and sorbet flavors (including sugar-free). Although the Indian food was not nearly as good as on the Carnival ships with their tandoor ovens, Windows has one of the nicer dinner buffets I've seen, in terms of the variety of choices. I'm looking forward to trying the stir-fry later in the cruise.

Still jet-lagged after half a week abroad, I skipped the evening show (a trumpet soloist) and went to bed early, looking forward to my first full day at sea as we steamed toward Egypt.

Images of Library of Celsus, the Great Theater and the Terrace Houses of Ephesus appear courtesy of Erica Silverstein.
Day 1: Trip Planning, Arrival in Istanbul red arrow Day 3: At Sea

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