Closing Out Leg 1 in Style – Kusadasi, Ephesus and Heidelberg

We ended our time in Turkey in the beach resort town of Kusadasi. We really wanted to visit the Ephesus ruins, but we’d planned to stay in the nearest town to them, Selcuk. However, when I started researching more from Istanbul, especially how to work in a beach visit while we were that close to the Adriatic, I realized that Kusadasi had a lot more to offer. This was a valuable lesson – sometimes the closest place to an attraction you want to visit isn’t the optimal choice. By staying 20 kilometers away in Kusadasi we got a sea-view room and easy beach access and were still able to make it to Ephesus the day we visited before the tour crowds.

We arrived at our hotel early afternoon after flying into Izmir and catching our prearranged airport shuttle (we used Last Minute Travel for 25 lira each). Our hotel, which I recommend for the price and the view (which included a quality rooftop breakfast), was kind enough to let us check in a little early. So we changed into beach clothes and headed up to the city beach, which was a 5-minute walk from our hotel. The water was nice and after drying a bit we had a nice snack and then explored the waterfront, then enjoyed a surprisingly good dinner in the restaurant at our hotel.

The only thing we didn’t love about our hotel is that the front desk gave us the hard sell on a tour to Ephesus when we checked and was not forthcoming about public transit information. But we managed to figure all that out based on internet research.

Ephesus travel

We wanted to travel to Ephesus by dolmus bus, which is basically public transportation. Though we read you could catch a dolmus to Selcuk outside our hotel, we never saw one and decided to walk up to the dolmus station at Adnan Menderes Blvd. and Candan Tarhan Blvd. This isn’t really a station, just a bunch of dolmus busses parked at various points around the intersection. We asked the first one we saw and he pointed us directly to the Selcuk bus. We paid our fare (I believe 11 lira each, or less than $2) and when the bus filled up after about 10 minutes, we were off to Selcuk. I believe there is only one bus an hour or so, so it was good that we got there fairly early.

The dolmus took us to the main dolmus station in Selcuk, where we were able to get on a second dolmus to go to the lower entrance to Ephesus. Again, it was just a matter of waiting for the bus to fill, and the fair was very cheap. The best part is, because we’d gotten an early start, we beat the crowds and hustled straight through the grounds to the Library of Celsus, which was virtually deserted. Though we did come across one fellow tourist who was kind enough to take our photo.

Ephesus experience and opera

Our next stop was the terrace houses, which requires an additional admission fee and was another area I wanted to get to before the crowds. Definitely worth it! In addition to seeing and admiring the partially restored terrace houses, we talked to a couple of the local workers who are tasked with reconstructing the walls out of the stone shards. It looked like an incredibly tedious job, and they shared that on a good day they might be able to place a couple of shards – some days none at all. It was really neat to see archeology at work and we hope to visit again in a couple decades to check in on the progress.

By now the crowds had arrived, but it was ok because we’d already had our empty Ephesus experience. Chad had downloaded the Rick Steves audio guide to Ephesus, which was great. It starts at the upper gate, so we wandered up there, took a little bathroom and fresh-juice break, and then we were ready to learn about Ephesus. Mr. Steves tells it way better, so I won’t spoil it for you, but enjoy our photos!

One of the highlights of Ephesus is the Grand Theater, and we noticed a stage set up in the center, and maybe saw a sign indicating it was for an opera. We commented that it seemed like it would be really cool to see an opera there, but didn’t think much of it until we arrived back in Kusadasi (having retraced our dolmus bus steps). There we noticed a banner advertising the operat that very weekend. We hopped online, discovered that tickets were only $8 each and took a leap of faith with the purchase for the following night, not sure how we’d manage getting to Ephesus and back at night.

Getting there turned out to be fairly easy via dolmus again, and we arrived in Selcuk early to get dinner and tickets on the last dolmus to Ephesus. We went to dinner at a very charming place near the aqueduct that was extremely proud to have been visited by the Clinton family in the 90s. The owner showed us pictures and everything after learning we are American.

Unfortunately, the roads to Ephesus were blocked due to the opera, so the dolmus had to drop us and several other would-be attendees off a ways from the sight. It was a dark walk but we made it and were early enough to snag decent center seats on the second level. If you ever get the opportunity to attend this type of event, I recommend arriving early – we watched numerous people struggling to find unobstructed seating without a lot of climbing.

The opera was Tosca and it was our first. It was incredible and especially cool to be entertained in the very same seats where Ephesians sat to be entertained 2000 years ago. Oh, that is the other pro tip – we brought our beach towels to fold up and use as cushions. You really needed something between you and those stone seats. All in all, it was an incredible experience, made all the more so by our dramatic race to try to catch the last dolmus bus back to Kusadasi. We knew the basic timing and had a backup plan to pay for a taxi (which would have been expensive but worth it for the opera). It meant missing the 3rd act, which was fine with us because we’d had our opera experience and it was a little chilly out. We arrived at the road right on time and within about 5 minutes successfully flagged down the dolmus. We had to stand for a while, but it was completely worth it, all of it, and was a completely unforgettable night.

Ladies Beach

Before the opera, we had a whole day to enjoy, so we took another dolmus down to Ladies Beach, the most famous beach in Kusadasi. It was predictably crowded, but we were able to rent lounge chairs for 10 lira each and had a great time sunbathing and relaxing and swimming. After about an hour at the beach we had enough and enjoyed a great lunch nearby at one of the many Irish pubs – cobb salad for me and a club sandwich for Chad. Then we still had plenty of time to shower and get ready for the opera.

Heidelberg

After Kusadasi, it was time to return to Frankfurt, Germany, to catch our WOW flight back to home. I gave us two nights in Frankfurt so as not to risk missing this flight and we used them to revisit our Frankfurt favorites from back in May (the riverfront, a Vietnamese restaurant called Goc Pho and Eritrean food) and used the whole day to visit the lovely university town of Heidelberg. At home we have a legendary restaurant and bar by campus called Heidelberg, so the name felt a little bit special to us. Heidelberg the town did not disappoint – we enjoyed the castle, the old bridge, and Philosopher’s Way. We traveled by Flixbus both ways and it was a really ideal last day in Europe.

We really felt like between Cappadocia, Ephesus and Heidelberg, we closed out Leg 1 on a high note (especially Cappadocia!). And knowing we’d be headed back out on Leg 2 in just over a month, we weren’t the least bit sad to go home.

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