Christine Cunanan for The Frequent Flier in Travelife Magazine

Years ago, I went sightseeing in Turkey with the guide of Mel Gibson. We began in Istanbul and then journeyed onwards to Izmir. Then we visited the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Ephesus and the wondrous white crystalline formations of Pamukkale.

It was a most interesting journey of exploration and discovery. We so enjoyed our holiday and this was mainly because of our guide.


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FLYING TO IZMIR

After visiting the major sights of Istanbul, we took the early morning Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to Izmir, the third largest city. This was the gateway for our visit to Ephesus and Pamukkale. At the airport, we were welcomed by Marti, our private guide in Izmir, and we set out for a one-week holiday, sightseeing in Turkey.

Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey. This is where we landed to go sightseeing with the guide of Mel Gibson.
Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey.
This is where we landed to go sightseeing with the guide of Mel Gibson.

We basically wanted a crash course on antiquities and the ancient world, sightseeing of Turkey. So when I contacted the tour agency in Izmir, I specifically asked for a local guide with a good sense of culture, knowledge and patience to answer our many questions.

WORKING PART-TIME AS A GUIDE

Marti told us he was a college history lecturer who worked as a guide in his spare time. He had a good sense of humor, kind eyes and strong sunburnt arms. He constantly claimed that his arms were black from digging artifacts at the height of summer. Marti fit my wish-list for a private tour guide for sightseeing in Turkey.

He certainly knew how to faze us from the outset.

Sightseeing in Turkey
Sightseeing in Turkey

MEL GIBSON AND THE PASSION OF CHRIST

When he met us at the airport, he said: “I took Mel Gibson around Turkey for a month when he was researching for the movie ‘The Passion of Christ.’ This was when I was on leave from teaching at the university and not conducting archeological digs.”

If he said this to impress us, it worked.

DIGGING FOR STATUES

Later on, at a local museum not far from Ephesus, he pointed to a tiny, delicate gold statue of a plump woman holding a jar. Then he said with obvious pride: “I dug this with my bare hands two summers ago.”

In another museum, he walked straight to a broken jar of white clay as if this was a long-lost friend. I could have sworn he was teary-eyed.


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“I still remember how I discovered this,” he said. “I had been digging all day and I was already tired and ready to give up.

He continued: “Then my hands felt something hard and round in the soil. I was so excited. But at the same time I had to remember to control myself, in case I damaged some part in the process. When I finally saw this jar, I felt it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.”

SIGHTSEEING IN TURKEY

Sightseeing in Ephesus at the Library of Celsus
Sightseeing in Ephesus at the Library of Celsus

In Ephesus, Marti took us to the Library of Celsus and the ruins of the Temple of Artemis. It was a scorchingly hot day but he wove fantastic tales around each set of fallen columns or broken statues.

We were compelled – or rather, enthralled – to keep on sightseeing. Every ancient site had a story, and Marti resurrected each one with the expert touch of a magician.

The ruins of the Temple of Artemis in Izmir
The ruins of the Temple of Artemis in Izmir

A JEWELRY SHOP IN IZMIR

However, Marti reserved the best tale for last. On the last day of our holiday sightseeing in Turkey, he suddenly turned around from the front seat of the car with a quizzical look.

“Do you like jewelry?” He asked me. Without waiting for an answer, he continued: “Because you are such nice people, I’d like to take you to the place where I bought my wedding ring.


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He continued: “We’ve been going here for years. And each year since we were married, my wife has saved up and bought a piece of jewelry here. Because it’s such a special place for us, she told me: ‘Marti, don’t bring tourists to my favorite jewellery store. Just bring friends.’ ”

It certainly sounded like a line. But after a happy week of wondrous stories, we willingly gave him the benefit of the doubt.

WELCOME WITH TURKISH APPLE TEA

Almost on cue, the driver did a sharp right turn and we found ourselves in front of a two-storey jewelry emporium just outside Ephesus. Very friendly people rushed out to greet us as soon as the van stopped. Many glasses of Turkish apple tea later, we left the store with some packages and a slightly used credit card.

“You will not regret it,” Marti told us back in the van, beaming back at me like a proud father. He certainly seemed to be in a good mood.

He said: “This will be your wonderful memory of your Turkish holiday.” It certainly was. Even now, each time I wear my necklace, I still remember our wonderful time on holiday, sightseeing in Turkey.

HOW MUCH TO TIP THE GUIDE OF MEL GIBSON

When it was time to say goodbye, the question of tips came up. How much exactly do you tip someone who has guided a Hollywood superstar and who practically dug up most of Ephesus with his bare hands?

Somewhat compelled to match our appreciation for an educational and entertaining week to his impressive qualifications and to what we imagined might have been Mel Gibson’s Hollywood-sized tip, we gave a tip that was perhaps larger than necessary.

Back at our hotel, Marti received our parting gift with profuse thanks and left. We then stood by the front entrance waving enthusiastically until he was finally out of sight.

COMMENTS BY THE HOTEL DOORMAN

“Did you have a good time here?” The hotel doorman asked. He’d been silently observing our fond farewells the entire time.

“Oh yes,” I answered. “We had a great guide. He took Mel Gibson around for a month when he was researching for his movie The Passion of Christ here.”

I don’t know why I said this, but I felt this would prove what a good guide — and what a great time — we had.

The doorman smiled at me patiently, as if we were sharing a joke. “Oh, did he say it was Mel Gibson this time?”

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