• Turkey dans Greece Travelogue

    Par malkish87

    Part I

    We flew into Istanbul and traveled through Turkey for about 2 1/2 weeks. After Turkey, we took ferry boats to several Greek islands, then flew to Athens and headed home after a total of four weeks on the road.

    Inflation is a big problem in Turkey. The average annual inflation rate in 1999 was 64%. During the last decade inflation has averaged 72%. Three years ago, the exchange rate was 157,170TL/$1. Today, it's 635,070TL/$1.

    On our first day in Istanbul, a nice lunch for both of us cost 8.5 million Turkish Lira. About $13 U.S.

    If you live like the locals, it can be an amazingly cheap place to visit. Even the most touristy businesses only begin to approach U.S. prices.

    Istanbul is a very large city that's packed with interesting sites. The Blue Mosque, Topkapi palace, Aya Sophia, the Underground Cistern, the largest and oldest bazaar in the world, and very old buildings and ruins are around just about every corner.

    The cistern is where fresh water is stored for local use. Cisterns exist all around Istanbul. This cistern reuses architectural structures from other more ancient buildings. This was a common practice and parts of older buildings could be seen in the ruins of walls.

    Turkey is almost entirely Muslim and it is evident as there are numerous mosques. Almost every mosque has at least one Minaret with several loudspeakers on it to enable a summon to prayer to be broadcast throughout the city five times per day. The most unfortunate prayer time is around 4:20 AM, when everyone is awakened by the call.

    Mosques are large empty buildings with rugs everywhere for kneeling. Muslim men wash and clean all exposed parts of their bodies before each prayer, and prayers are always made while kneeling in the direction of the sunrise.

    Well over half of Turkish women keep their heads and bodies completely covered. Older women go for the traditional black wraps from head-to-toe. Younger women have adopted oversized trench coats with arms so long that their hands are covered. Scarves cover the head.

    Ever since the earthquake in 1999, tourism has suffered in Turkey. We never had a problem finding a hotel/pension/hostel and we will later in the trip be the only people at one hotel. There aren't many Americans here, but quite a few people from Australia and New Zealand.

    Istanbul's population is about twelve million and growing, due to immigration from its troubled neighbor countries. Half of these twelve million people are carpet salesmen.

    It's difficult to believe the density of carpet shops and the aggressive tactics used to get you into their shops. As a tourist, you are constantly called to by shop owners and other businessmen. They generally try to get your attention by saying "Yes, please..." which it turns out is someone's bad but popular interpretation of a non-translatable Turkish greeting.

    Also popular are "Where are you from?", "What time is it?", "What are you looking for?" and the ever-popular "Can I help you?". Of course, these greetings all lead to a friend's carpet shop where a special deal can be made.

    Everything in Turkey is to be bargained for. Hotels, goods, food, you name it. It's a time consuming process, but no one's in a hurry.

    The Evil Eye and Ataturk are as ubiquitous as mosques.

    The Evil Eye is a symbol that is generally made of blue glass with an eye on it. It's intended to ward off the evil that can be conveyed by evil people looking at you.

    Ataturk was a war hero and leader of Turkey who implemented many reforms aimed at modernizing Turkey. He is so greatly beloved that you will find his picture in every business and on every piece of currency. There is always at least one Ataturk statue in each city, and the main street in most towns is named - you guessed it - Ataturk.

    Part II

    From Istanbul, we took a bus to Cappadocia in central Turkey. The only way to travel long distances in Turkey is by bus. There is no effective rail system.

    The buses are all late-model Mercedes. We asked about this and were told that there are a couple of powerful families in Turkey that control much of what goes on. They bought a license to manufacture Mercedes buses and quickly got laws passed making it expensive to own old buses. They apparently killed any alternative forms of transportation at the same time.

    Long-distance buses all have a non-smoking policy that doesn't apply to the driver and relief driver(s), who can smoke at will.

    One key feature lacking on these new Mercedes buses is a toilet. The trip to Cappadocia took twelve hours and the bus stopped only three times. No quantity of Evil Eyes or Ataturk pictures is going to make this a comfortable situation.

    They also have adopted the same policy on children as U.S. airlines have - they travel free if they don't occupy their own seat. There were large and small children on the floor and laying across laps. All this luxury cost only $15.00. If it weren't for the incontinent, motion sick 103-year-old man sitting in front of us, it would have been worth it.

    The region of Cappadocia is known for the dramatic landscapes and caves that are made possible by the soft rock earth. We hiked through some lovely canyons and saw many dwellings that were carved right into the hillsides.

    We also experienced an old style of housing that has fortunately not caught on in the rest of the world. The first floor is reserved for farm animals and the family lives on the second floor. The first floor is enclosed and looks a bit like a garage. In the old part of town, we would walk past a house and hear mooing coming from the garage.

    We visited a completely underground city with eight levels. It is thought that the Hittites excavated the first few levels in the rock when they came under attack from the Phrygians. Christians escaping the Arab invasions of the 7th and 8th centuries later expanded the complex. There are air shafts, waste shafts, wells, chimneys and connecting passageways. We were thinking mainly of the 1999 earthquake while descending through the various levels.

    This photo shows a stick in the center of a large wheel-shaped stone. With the stick removed, the stone can roll into the passageway, blocking enemies from entering the deeper underground chambers.

    We once again visited a Hamam (Turkish Bath) as we had in Istanbul. The hyperlink explains the whole thing.

    Part III

    We took another bus ride (eleven hours) to Antalya on the Mediterranean coast. We had prearranged to take a private sailboat from there to Kas, stopping at several ports along the way. The trip was supposed to take four days and three nights.

    The boat was a huge disappointment. The only working instrument was a magnetic compass - no radio or other safety features we've come to take for granted.

    On the good side, there were many great ports along the way and the water and scenery were beautiful. We would have never seen these had we been on land.

    At one port, we saw the ruins of Myra, which included ancient Lycian rock tombs. The Lycians settled in the area in the 15th century B.C. St. Nicholas (Santa Claus) settled here more recently and was bishop of Myra in the 5th century AD.

    We got off the boat in Kas and found they had a French restaurant. This would be the first time on the trip that we would eat anything other than cucumber, olives, feta cheese, kebabs, eggplant or eggs. The Turkish diet is amazingly non-diverse.

    Snack food can be bought at tourist stores. Unfortunately, they've "improved" on our old-favorites. We've had peanut butter flavored Cheetos (yes, Cheetos as in CHEEse) as well as beef and catsup flavored potato chips.

    Don't look for these on your grocery store shelves anytime soon. I imagine that these were all horrible marketing ideas that were first test-distributed in Boise, then the whole lot was quickly shipped to Turkey.

    From Kas, we went to Oludinez which is also on the Coast. Oludinez had so many visiting Brits that it should be a British colony. The town catered to them, which means we got more non-Turkish food (yea!).

    Oludinez is a pretty spot, but Oludinez businesses had a tendency to horribly over-promote sites and sometimes outright lied. There was a "Blue Cave" that wasn't. A "Butterfly Valley" without the winged creatures. Our afternoon boat excursion was supposed to take us to the Blue Lagoon, but it turns out this is impossible. It was actually pretty amusing after the fact.

    The boat excursion reminded us of the extreme efforts we take to promote safety (and avoid lawsuits) in the U.S. There were several boats that all went on the same route. In the morning, they would back towards the beach and drop anchor just offshore.

    When it was time to board, an extremely long gangway was lowered onto the sand from the rear of the boat. Passengers had to walk up the gangway, but the waves caused it to rise several feet into the air and slam down on the sand in barely predictable cycles.

    There were children and old people attempting this feat. Lots of people got very wet. Someone on our boat got a horrible cut. Someone on a neighboring boat broke her leg. Every place we stopped on the excursion, the process was repeated. The D-day invasion was only slightly more hazardous.

    Part IV

    We next traveled up the coast several hours to Selcuk near the ruins of Ephesus and near where we would cross over to Greece. At a bus stop along the way, Trish lost her sunglasses at one of the toilet stops. Toilets are generally a porcelain slab with two foot prints and a hole in between. The glasses went down the hole. Trish spoke a form of English not usually heard at the bus stop.

    Here's a picture of a bathroom in ancient Ephesus. Clean spring water ran down the trough in front of the toilet for hand washing, the floors were mosaic and an orchestra played on a stage in the center of the room.

    Turkish bathroom technology has gone steadily down hill in the last two millennia.

    If you travel and live like the natives, Turkey is extremely cheap. If you want refrigerated food, like to take a taxi, enjoy a shower, like hot water in the morning, or any of the other things we take for granted, it's relatively a lot more expensive. One day, we took a fairly short $9 taxi ride to stay at a $12 hotel.

    Instead of taxis, the natives travel within the city or between nearby cities by Dolmus. The "Dolmus" is unique to Turkey - Fortunately. It's a little van with no A/C or any niceties at all. Top speed can't be over 40MPH and at that speed it sounds like it's doing 100MPH.

    The Dolmus operates on a set route like a bus, but it's really much worse. This is because they pack as many people as possible on board and often won't leave a stop until the van is completely full. They will also stop along the way to encourage others to hop on. They will then honk at everyone they pass walking in the same direction the Dolmus is traveling in if a seat has become available along the way. You have to picture all of this occurring in well over 100 degree heat to appreciate the full effect.

    When you get on the Dolmus, you tell the driver where you're going and the driver tells you how much it's going to cost. You then take your seat and pass your money up to the driver via the people sitting between him and you. He somehow makes change - always with one hand while driving - and passes it back through the crowd. It's a cheap way to get around, but you'd better not be in a hurry.

    We saw a McDonald's restaurant in every major city. I once foolishly thought of these as a blight on the local culture. Now I appreciate them for what they are - a source for clean bathrooms where no bathrooms would otherwise exist. Go Ronald!

    Ephesus is an enormous ruin that has been built and rebuilt for millennia, beginning as early as 1,500 B.C. The city finally died when the harbor silted up, making trade difficult. The Virgin Mary lived here and the bible speaks of the Ephesians as well. The Basilica of St. John where St. John is buried is also nearby. The historical area is vast and major excavations are still underway.

    From here, we're off to the island of Samos in Greece. We'll then island-hop down to Santorini and fly to Athens, where we'll spend a few days before heading home.

    Part V

    We made the trip to Samos, Greece via the ferry from Kusadasi, Turkey. Turkey is packed with interesting sites and we'd go back again, but it's not a comfortable place to travel when compared to Greece. It's the difference between spending time at a great museum or spending time at Club Med. Both have their merits. Actually, it's more like the difference between standing for days in a great museum with no toilets in blistering heat or Club Med.

    At this point in our trip, we made a handy list of the top ten reasons why Greece is better than Turkey.
    1) Toilet paper.
    2) Toilets.
    3) Shower curtains.
    4) No carpet salesmen.
    5) No broadcast call to prayer at 4:20 AM.
    6) Kabobs are only ONE item on the menus.
    7) Refrigeration (for eggs, meat, etc.).
    8) A picture/statue/painting of Ataturk isn't staring at you everywhere you go (he looks frighteningly like Houdini).
    9) Internet connections are faster than 14.4kbps.
    10) Hot water in the mornings.

    In hindsight, this list is a bit harsh, but we were giddy with the comforts of Greece at the time.

    The Greek isles are by no means self-sufficient. Without tourism, most would be empty. Once you leave the tourist areas, the islands are largely barren. Many farms exist, but with too few grazing spots for cattle and very limited crops. Just about everything else comes in by boat and the tourist dollars pay for it all.

    On our first day in Samos, we were surprised to find that all but the most touristy shops and restaurants that were open at 2:00 were now closed at 2:30. We guessed correctly that this was Siesta time, but we couldn't have guessed that Siesta would last until around 6:30 (or whenever). Even the museums observed Siesta.

    Festivities go very, very late into the night, though we never stayed up to witness them. We noted a bar advertising that they opened at 9:00PM and closed at 6:00AM. In every hotel we stayed in from here on, we would hear early morning revelers in the streets, so we must have been the odd balls.

    Boat service between the islands is fast and efficient, though the schedules are a little loose. All of the companies operate near-new vessels and they are very large, seating around 2,000 people. Things aren't very organized in port, though.

    The boats stop in a port for only about fifteen minutes. In that time, dozens of vehicles and hundreds of passengers depart the vessel and about the same amount get on. It all happens at once as though someone fired a gun and yelled "Go". Officials are all around with blaring whistles, pointing fingers and shoving hands. It would probably be more effective to have a priest on site praying that no one gets crushed.

    The vehicles are a weird mix. There are scooters and cars from Italy, the US, Germany, Japan, Russia, England, Korea, China and perhaps worst of all, France. I don't know how they keep them all running as we haven't seen any repair shops. The majority of people get around on motorcycles and, mainly, scooters. We rented scooters on several islands to get around.

    I would think that everyone on a little desert island would be happy to standardize on a single, reliable vehicle that could be maintained, such as a Toyota truck. This is not how things are, however. This would be boring.

    There is a law requiring cycle riders to wear helmets in Greece. The scooter rental shops will inform you of the stiff fine for not wearing a helmet. Trish and Doug gladly wear helmets after hearing of the death and dismemberment rates on some of the more populous islands. No one else wears a helmet. No one.

    The food is wonderfully diverse once again. We can always get a Gyro, but we can also get Italian or Mexican food if we feel like it. One restaurant we ate at served "Goat by the Kilo". I'm not a metric-kind-of-guy, but still I would never have thought of a cute little goat in that way.

    It's relatively boring here when compared to Turkey - just the usual paradise stuff. That's why our photos and notes are primarily about Turkey. It's tougher traveling in Turkey, but the memorable sights and experiences are everywhere.

    We took a six-hour ferry boat to Mykonos - a beautiful city packed with Greek Orthodox churches and all of the sins of the world. Even though we live in very diverse California, we couldn't help staring at the old Drag Queen with a mustache who sold us our boat ticket to the next island.

    Paros was our next stop. It's a lovely island with lots of beautiful beaches and lots of sailboarders. All of the islands we visited were nice, but Paros was our favorite. From Paros, we went to Santorini.

    Santorini is an obviously volcanic island with shear cliffs and dramatic landscapes. It would never occur to me that a city should be here, but the island has a rich history with ruins that pre-date the volcano's eruption.

    From Santorini, we flew to Athens. Athens, of course, is a big city. It reminded us a little of Rome, but lacked the many public squares and beautifully maintained old buildings found there. The central sight here is the Acropolis, where the Parthenon is located. It's high on a hill in the middle of the city.

    The Temple of Zeus is an interesting sight. The photo shows how the ancient sites in Athens are now crowded amid urban sprawl. Construction of the temple began in the 6th century B.C. After many delays and many conquests, it was finally finished more than 700 years later. Hadrian dedicated the completed temple in AD 130.

    The Temple of Zeus once had 104 columns, but by 1765 it had only twenty-one and today is has sixteen. In 1907, at least sixty columns traced to this Temple were discovered in a first century B.C. ship wreck near Tunisia. It is believed the columns were on their way to Rome.

    There is great controversy about Lord Elgin's taking (plundering) of many of the choicest pieces from these ruins in the early 1800's. These are now displayed mainly in the British Museum. It would, undoubtedly, be best to see these structures in their original form. Alternatively, it would be preferable to have the artifacts in a museum near the original location.

    This issue is not as cut-and-dried as it seems when one realizes that a single statue pillar pillaged from the Erechtheum in the Acropolis is much better preserved in England than the remaining five statues which were moved to a pollution-free nitrogen-filled chamber in the Acropolis Museum in 1979. Countless scores of other historical objects remain exposed to the elements and the weight of tourist's feet.

    It's time to tally the various modes of transportation we've taken on this trip.
    - Jet airplanes
    - Ships
    - One really crappy little boat
    - Buses
    - Dolmuses
    - Taxis
    - Walking, walking, walking
    - Electric trains
    - A turboprop airplane
    - Scooters
    - A high-speed catamaran
    - Horse cart
    - Row boat

    That's enough. It's time to go home to our hot showers and comfortable beds.

    It's been a great trip!


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