The scale is astonishing as one walks along the weathered marble road into the center of Ephesus. At the fulcrum a massive amphitheater, once capable of seating over 25,000 roaring onlookers still stands its ground triumphantly welcoming visitors. The largest preserved citadel of ancient Mediterranean civilization, Ephesus is a sprawling maze of temples, housing complexes, libraries, markets, and public spaces. It’s a tangible testament to the might civilization’s early champions wielded. Perhaps the most notable structure of the city’s remains, The Library of Celsus, is a reconstructed marvel of the exceptionally ornate Roman architecture of the early first century AD. Marveling at the obscene detail carved into the imported marble it is not unreasonable to argue that this caliber of architecture hasn’t been created since.
I half expected to be mauled by Dino, Fred Flintstone’s pink dinosaur, as I disembarked from my bus in Göreme. Perhaps a brontosaurus powered excavator or a pterodactyl delivery vehicle would be around the first bend in the road. A surreal arid landscape of organically shaped ‘fairy chimneys’ surrounded the touristy town center. Shops and hotels were dug into and grew out of the skin-tone stone walls, replicating the ancient cave dwellings littered about the area. It’s a truly bizarre aesthetic almost certainly unique to the Cappadocia region of Turkey.
Back in Tbilisi I strolled the comfortable, attractive streets in search of delicious eats to satiate an endless hunger developed over the past week of hiking. I found my return visit to this delightful city could not have been timed better. Raspberries, nectarines, apricots, and watermelons all seemed to hit peak season in perfect sync and the streets were flooded with mindbogglingly fresh and cheap produce. One vendor, slinging his berries by the bucket load, stopped me in my tracks. I needed a double take to believe my eyes, was I dreaming? For less than two dollars I became the proud owner of more than a kilogram of ruby red, firm yet juicy, raspberries. Add in a carton of ice cream and a nightly harvest festival ensued until my payload was depleted. Again I could feel myself being sucked in by Tbilisi’s magic. If I lingered a little to long, there may be no escape. To break the spell I bought a sleeper train ticket to Zugdidi; from there I would meet a marshrutka driver who would usher me back into the Caucasus.
A rag tag militia of Mitsubishi Delicas awaited my arrival to the small in-between town of Alvani. I assume the assembled mass of drivers would generally prey upon two travelers who make their way to the main intersection, but seeing as Abi and I had already paired up with our 4x4-van hybrid nobody bothered to leave the comfort of shade. I was surprised to see the aforementioned vehicle in such quantity here as a friend back home had recently told me it was becoming quite popular to convert these 90’s Japanese rovers into overland travel vehicles. If they are in short supply back in the U.S. it’s because they have all ended up in Georgia. For two hours I waited at the intersection with my driver and hordes of others, all of whom were praying today was the day visitors arrive, no one wanted to miss opening weekend. I was headed into the Caucasus Mountains, to the region of Tusheti, and this high altitude range has a very short tourism window. Mid-June - mid-September pretty much sums it up but a big snow season on either side can shorten that spread. The drivers, all eager to fill a car for the five hour ride, don’t want to miss a chance at what can be a relatively nice payday by local standards. I should have taken it as a warning sign that no other visitors ever came; eventually my car departed.