May 1995. I am in the middle of my masters degree. We’ve been busy renovating the big wreck of a house at 19th and Inverness we bought the previous year. It has been a decade since we’ve travelled outside of North America. A big trip is in order! We choose Turkey, not realizing that we will be there during Eid, a major holiday marking the end of Ramadan when fasting ends and pigs and goats are slaughtered and given to the poor.
We fly to Istanbul via Vienna, Austria. A bus takes us to the city centre and we find an inexpensive hotel just down the hill on the back site of the main square. It is centrally located and we can walk to the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. We do. And further afield we see other, lesser, mosques, the Grand Bazaar and the Bosporus. The Topkapi Palace, home of the sultans, dazzles. We buy a couple of carpets.
Heading south on a third class bus that stops at every town, it takes all day to get to Kushadasi, a coastal resort town. Because it is Eid, the Turkish people are all traveling back to their home villages for the event. The buses and trains are packed. As are the hotels. It is crowded and noisy. Everyone smokes.
I see women carrying shopping bags, wearing tents disguised as coats, walking 10 ft behind their fashionably dressed husbands. My feminist sensibilities are challenged.
A day trip to the ancient city of Ephesus is a highlight. Built by Greeks in the 10th century B.C, the city boasts a house once occupied by John the Baptist. We walk on stone roads that are rutted with chariot wheel tracks, making the history of the place feel very alive.
Further south, in Bodrum we get a crappy damp room for too high a price. A noisy traffic choked street leads down to the port. There’s a ferry terminal with a sign that says “Greece”. I find a booth selling tickets. How much? When? How long? I turn to Craig and say “I’m going to Greece at 0600 tomorrow morning. You coming?”
We get to the Greek island of Kos and find a hotel on the beach a short walk from town. The room is huge and airy and faces the ocean. The beach across the street is clean and quiet. The town has a square with many restaurants. The fare is mostly the same everywhere in Greece: grilled meat, french fries, greek salad if you’re lucky. We ask at a waiter at a particularly quiet cafe about the food and its bland monotonousness. He commiserates with us. “Ach” he says, “you want good Greek food you have to go to Orestes in Vancouver.” Okay.
Kos is one of hundreds of islands in the Agean Sea, part of an archipelago called the Dodecanese. It’s the third largest and one of the closest to the Turkish mainland.
From here we take a ferry to Rhodes, a large, medieval and strategically important island. The architecture overawes. The views, everywhere, of the sea. So blue. The sky. So blue. The stone buildings in high contrast.The medieval old town of Rhodes has been declared a World Heritage Site.
Historically, Rhodes was famous worldwide for the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, a statue of the Greek titan-god of the sun Helios that sat in the harbour. It was destroyed in 226 BC in an earthquake and never rebuilt.
Rhodes is the largest Dodecanese island and is the administrative centre of this archipelago. During the Crusades, the holy wars waged against the Muslim world in the medieval era, Rhodes was an important naval stronghold.
Santorini is an overnight ferry away. It is part of the Cyclades archipelago, the southernmost island of this group. Santorini is essentially what remains after an enormous volcanic eruption that destroyed the earliest settlements on a formerly single island, and created the current geological caldera. It’s widely believed that Santorini was the inspiration for Plato’s Atlantis.
A cab gets us up the steep incline to the ridge where the towns lie, overlooking the caldera. It is magic. Have I ever been anywhere more beautifully breathtaking?
We rent a car to drive to some of the beaches, making the mistake of filling the tank with gas. It is a small island and we are to return it empty, not full. We use maybe a tenth of a tank. What a waste!
We eat lunch and dinner one day at a cliffside place called “Archipelago”. The view is unparalleled and we take many shots from the small balcony. We sit for a long time in the afternoon, after lunch listening to Lorenna Mckinnet on the stereo. Drinking a white Boutari. Eating black olives and feta cheese. YUM!
The food so good that we return later that night especially for the 1/2 roasted chicken. With lemon potatoes. Not a french fry in sight. We have seen the trucks loading on the ferries so we know they are all McCains.
Paros is the final stop before Athens and a flight home. Flat and quite small, it has a village atmosphere. Fewer tourists. We dine outdoors at night in the square with mostly locals. At Pebbles Bar, where we go to watch the sunset and listen to jazz, with mostly bohemian Europeans. No Americans. This is a bit too far off the beaten track. Such a great place to wind down.
Our humble room in a small pension down a lane from the beach has a small bathtub. Luxuriating in it at the end of a hot, dusty day of sightseeing, or just sitting on the beach, is a treat.
We are sorry to have spent a mere week in Turkey and kick ourselves for not doing more research before planning the trip to coincide with Eid. We know from friends who travel there in subsequent years that Turkey is a fabulous country, but is now beset by the problems plaguing the region and not particularly safe for tourists.
Greece, on the other hand, did not disappoint in any way. Except the food. For good food in this region, Istanbul is definitely the place. Apparently Oreste’s in Vancouver is good too! We check it out when we get home. Oh yeah!