TURKEY WAS ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING: Greece was nice, pretty, and had good food. Turkey was EXOTIC. I was fascinated by how it seemed as though the 3 major religions were able to get along there for so long, except during the Crusades, and ostensibly still do today. These are Wendy’s musing and impressions.
WENDY’S FAVORITE THINGS: Iznik tiles and ceramics, Rustem Pasha Mosque and Fairy Chimneys.
ISNIK TILES: Wendy fell head over heels in love with the Iznik ceramic ware and tiles that covered many surfaces in Turkish palaces and mosques. They displaced Antonio Gaudi of Spain as my favorite designer. These ceramics were created in Iznik, Turkey by a process that only in the last few years has been rejuvenated. This process includes that rather than fine clay, the ceramic is 75% and quartz 25% feldspar and white clay so is not only stronger, but takes colors and repeated firing much better. The colors of all the tiles are rich, bright and glorious. The tiles are created to form elaborate patterns together on a wall, ceiling or floor, of which I have many, many pictures. Then outside of Kapadokya (or Cappadoccia) in central Turkey, we toured a ceramic factory in Avanos that has been run by the same family for almost 200 years. One of the grandsons “convinced” us to buy an intricate-patterned, elaborately colored 20-inch diameter platter. It was designed by one of the men we observed creating ceramic-ware (nicknamed “Crazy Man” for his amazing hand-crafted pieces) and ship it home. It is now on our dining room table in all its glory.
MOSQUES ARE NOW ELECTRIFIED: All mosques have electric lights hanging from chains connected to wheel-like circles 100s of feet below the ceilings. The glass cups formerly held candles then oil. When the mosques became electrified, I guess nobody thought to make the electricity run along the ground. Sadly, the 100s of chains detract from the beauty of the domes but there’s not much we can do.
BUFFET BREAKFASTS: Buffet breakfasts lost their magic after week one in Turkey. Basically, our 1st few days at the Istanbul Armada were the top and almost every place else has gone downhill, some faster than others. Turkey’s hotels had more variety, particularly fresh fruit and tasty dried fruit. Greece has had minimal fruit period. Generally pastry was always present, along with the calories.
CRAZY SPELLING OF WORDS: So many different English spellings of Greek names drove me crazy in trying to write this. For example, Nafplio was spelled Napflio, Naphlio, and other variations, even on the local road signs. In Turkey, mostly the difference was in “sound” like k vs. “c” or “g.”
HARD BEDS: Except for one hotel, the beds in Turkey and Greece were hard as rocks. The Bella Hotel was the worst, with a rough sheet as well. The philosophy must be that hard beds wear out less quickly…
ADEQUATE BUT SOMEWHAT CHEESY CRUISE: I certainly understand the appeal of cruises being like moving hotels where one only has to unpack once, travel to many places, and with all means included, one never has to worry about where to find a good restaurant. However, the best description of our cruise was “adequate” and at times “hokey” or “cheesy”. The ship looked a bit down at the heels, probably built in the 1970s or late 1960s, needing an upgrade. The food was OK, some meals better than others. Our room was clean and actually more efficient and roomier than our room at the Bella Hotel in Selcuk. The diversity of nationalities onboard was positive and impressive: Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Brazilian, Spanish, Australian, American, Dutch, German, and others we did not observe closely. The age range, not so diverse: we were some of the younger people, though there were people in their 40s and maybe a few in their 30s. But pretty much all my low expectations about cruising were met. IF I EVER cruised again, I would only stay on a ship with 200 or so passengers, which stopped for at least one full day per port, and enabled private or small tours for each port’s main tourist attractions. That may mean I won’t ever cruise again.
RUINS ARE RUINS ARE RUINS: After a short while, all ruins look alike whether in Peru, Mexico, Europe or Asia Minor. Grey tumbled rocks are grey tumbled rocks.
WORLD’S FIRST TRAVEL WRITER: Pausanias who lived in the 2nd century C.E. was the world’s 1st documented travel writer as far as I can tell. He described many of the ancient wonders of Greece, particularly the cities of the time and created the 1st travel marketing ploy: 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. For more info on Pausanias go to http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/pausanias-bk1.html.
RANGE OF WOMEN’S CLOTHING IN TURKEY: I was continually struck by the number of ways that Turkish women dressed. None of our tour guides could answer the question: what are the religious criteria or rational for different items and degree of covering—other than it depends on one’s orthodoxy. Probably 85% or more wore totally Western dress, with young women looking very trendy, and many older women (50s or later) wearing conservative, peasant-looking long skirts, blouses and vests—sometimes with babushka-like scarves. The largest number of the rest wore a traditional Hajab or head-scarf accompanied by conservative, long Western clothing. But a noticeable minority was encompassed by Hajabs, long tunics, and long skirts most often in black. Maybe 1% or less was in full Burqua including face veil with screened eye covering. Some women wore black long tunics, skirts, loose pants, gloves, sox, and shoes but left their faces un-veiled. Some who wore all black also used fancy or even designer scarves, purses and/or shoes or even sequined tunics.
It was fascinating to watch how women must be trying to establish some unique individuality while conforming to cultural, family and religious strictures. Many times I saw women in traditional covering of some sort walking with women friends in total Western dress. One time I saw a mother in full veil pulling along in each hand her little twin daughters wearing pink dresses and ribboned pig-tails. Another time (along the promenade in Fethiye) I noticed 2 veiled young women sitting with a Western-dressed woman and children with food in front of them.
I still have lots of questions about policies and etiquette of Muslim women’s clothing. How does one eat in public wearing a face veil? How does a mother in full veil explain to her daughters wearing pink why she’s clothed that way when they ask in the not too distant future? How will Turkey joined the European Union and maintain its unique culture in the face of so much Western Europe pushback (e.g., head scarves forbidden in French schools)? How can a veiled woman obtain a driver’s license, work in government, and represent herself in society not as a 2nd-class citizen? What can a diverse society do to maintain social and economic progress when some of its women seem to be clothed (and are they treated?) as they were in previous centuries?
JEWS IN THE FORMER OTTOMAN EMPIRE: We found Jewish communities with either active or preserved synagogues in multiple places in Turkey and Greece. We learned that during the Crusades and Spanish Inquisition, when the Jews left especially southern Europe in droves, they were welcomed by the Ottoman Sultans to what is now Turkey and Greece. The Ottoman rulers respected contributions made by Jews who were already settled in their Empire since Byzantine times, so recognized their value would expand with the population. In Istanbul, we read that the Jews fought along side their Turkish neighbors to win freedom for the Republic. Though they were often treated as 2nd class citizens, Jews remained committed to this region. Even when the Ottoman Empire crumbled entirely after their World War I ally’s Germany defeat, the Jews remained in the countries created from the chopped up Ottoman Empire.
In Rhodes and Corfu, there had been thousands of Jewish families who had lived there for generations (see Oct. 17 Corfu Synagogue story) until the Nazis invaded and occupies both Turkey and Greece. We also saw in other cities we visited honoring both their heritage and the personal efforts of their neighbors—e.g., a Turkish ambassador and Orthodox clergyman–to save Jews from the Nazis. What saddens me the most beyond the fact that so many Jews died in WW2, was that the integration of the Muslims, Christians and Jews for 1000s of years in Turkey and Greece further was fractured during WW2 and now has virtually disappeared in both Turkey and Greece. The lack of tolerance among the major religions is deeply troubling particularly in light of their previous history here.
PHILOSOPHICAL MUSINGS ON THE RISE AND FALL OF MANY CIVILIZATIONS: Throughout our trip, I was repeatedly amazed by several factors regarding civilizations we witnessed, such as how:
– Many of them we witnessed whose histories highlighted astounding accomplishments but then they tumbled eventually into ruins.
– Many reached similar achievements in parallel at the same time, 100s or even 1000s of miles apart, e.g., Mayan and Ottoman civilizations.
– Some were comfortably able to integrate different cultures and improve their overall capabilities.
– They fell so far down into ignorance in Europe and Asia Minor during the Dark or Middle Ages, as if none of the accomplishments had ever happened at all, causing the peoples to live in literally stinking poverty.
– Recycling actually began 1000s of years ago: sites were built on top of each other often incorporating the previously used stones, columns, foundations, etc.
– The northern European warrior cultures—Vikings, Franks, etc.—were incredible successes in conquering these regions but total failures in incorporating anything worthwhile, never mind the best of those defeated.
– As Christianity spread in the Middle / Dark Ages, its intolerance of different religions particularly contributed to those times’ miseries.
– Important the Arab and Muslim influence was in Southern Europe, Asia Minor and northern Africa, enabling many regions to rise again.
– Sadly, divisive religion is in influencing the rise and fall of so many cultures.
RANDOM FINAL OBSERVATIONS BEFORE READING TRIP DETAILS BELOW:
– Modern structures are next door to ruins all over the world, yet people are so absorbed by daily life that they mostly ignore the amazing history right there to teach them how to prevent repeating the same mistakes.
– The details of the art in sculpture, paintings, frescoes, architecture, etc. are what give me hope for the future. Eventually—sometimes 100s of years later–humanity rediscovers their gifts for creating beauty then repeatedly displays them in ways unique to each culture, hopefully inspiring future common efforts.
DETAILED DAILY JOURNAL
FRIDAY, SEPT. 24, 2010
Briefly in London
After retrieving our luggage at Heathrow then taking a shuttle to our hotel, Geoff, Phyllis, Rick and I took bus from hotel then the Tube to Central London, which took more than one hour. That seriously cut into any play time we had envisioned for London plus at 3:00 p.m. we still hadn’t eaten lunch! So we walked to the famous Harrods, admired the Egyptian décor, stopped by the fountain memorial to Princess Di and her fiancé Dodi, and then partook in Afternoon High Tea. We were not dressed in proper tea attire so we were relegated to the glass-enclosed balcony, overlooking some cute buildings. But we thoroughly enjoyed the actually tasty, crust-less sandwiches and delicious pastries. We counted the meal as combined lunch/snack/dinner then spent the next hour back on tube then bus to hotel, for an early night with a 5:45 a.m. pickup to take an 8:15 a.m. flight.
SATURDAY, SEPT. 25, 2010
Our 1st Exploration of Istanbul
We reached Istanbul, were driven by 2 taxis (spelled taksis in Turkish) to the small but lovely Armada Hotel in old city (Asian side of Istanbul), area called Sultanahmet.
Though I didn’t see any, apparently the city is known for turtles, so the hotel had them in the lobby fountain. The turtles formed and un-formed and re-formed turtle piles every time we went by.
After being cooped up on airplanes for part of 3 days, it felt good to explore hills and streets, passing by world-renown landmarks such as Aya Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace.
We continued walking to Eminonu area for 1.5 hr boat ride (~40 people on 130 person) on Bosporus. The cruise gave us a different perspective on both the old and new side of Istanbul, as well as let us enjoy our 1st evening in this exotic city.
1st Dinner in Istanbul was a Bit Disappointing
At the end of the Bosporus cruise, we walked across Galata Bridge to “the new city” (Europe side of Istanbul). We walked along Iskatil Street, open only to pedestrians, which was teeming non-stop with millions of people walking along. It felt more crowded than Times Sq at New Years. We boarded a single-car tram, like the one connecting Grand Central to Penn Station. We started searching for Haci Abdullah restaurant which had been recommended by the hotel concierge as well as the New York Times list. We arrived about 8:45 with no reservation—our concierge said we didn’t need one. But apparently we did need a reservation because our waiter was initially slow and forgetful but then became subtly rude. The food quality was OK but we were told that the restaurant had “run out” of some main dishes even though many people were still coming in and being fed what seemed with regular food. Our very tired foursome decided to stop walking so we boarded a taxi back to the Armada Hotel.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 26, 2010
The Breathtaking Topkapi Palace
We had breakfast on Armada’s rooftop terrace with fabulous, fresh local food. We then walked to Topkapi Palace, touring with our guide Mamet for 2 hours. After a drink in the museum cafeteria above the Bosporus, on our own we toured the Treasury where there were jewels such as a 52 carat AND an 86 carat (aka “Spoonmaker”) diamond, emeralds the size of eggs, many rubies and lots of gold. There were two 45-kilo candlesticks with 1000s of diamonds. Another example was the jewel-encrusted Topkapi dagger. The throne room with lined with cabinets of inlaid mother of pearl, gold covered w/precious stones, and other gorgeous Iznik tiles (explanation prior to daily blogs). Other rooms displayed such items as: typical gowns of old Sultans and portraits or interpreted portraits, miniatures, and busts of most of Ottoman Sultans. Many rooms and corridors were lined with famous Iznik tile, but the Circumcision room (for crowned princes) and Baghdad Pavilion were most brilliantly decorated with these tiles. The Palace seemed endless–with many courtyards, huge buildings, amazing ceilings and lots of domes. In total we spent 4 – 5 hours in Topkapi, and like the Smithsonian, we could have kept going.
Ancient Underground Water Storage
As we walked back toward the Armada, we stopped at the Basilica Cisterns, built in about 500 C.E. (Common Era aka A.D.), which used to be the old city’s main water storage connected via aqueduct to a source 20km outside of the city. The Cisterns consisted of 330 columns holding up a city-block-sized, many-arched underground cavern. Huge carp swim in the remaining pool which is a few feet deep. At one corner, there are 2 huge heads of Medusa at the base of 2 columns, 1 upside down and 1 on its side—supposedly stolen from an early Christian church.
“Stretchy” Ice Cream
I had read in the guidebook about Turkey having a different kind of ice cream that was “stretchy”. So when we saw a street vendor next to a restaurant tugging and stirring different colored ice cream, called Dondurmasi (Kahramanmaras brand) I felt compelled to indulge. It was sold to me by a “performing” young man named Martin—he introduced himself as part of his patter–who scooped the ice cream onto a cone and playfully pretended to dump it onto the buyer. After a few minutes of Martin’s routine, Phyllis and I each obtained a Dondurmasi cone. It tasted more like gelato but had a chewier feel to it, so it was definitely unique.
Dinner then Whirling Dervishes
We returned to the Armada, had an excellent dinner on the Sera Terrace restaurant. Watching the lovely Bosporus, the sun set, then the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sophia become lit at night was magical and exotic, especially while listening to the muezzin call the faithful to prayers across the city.
We grabbed a taxi (aka taksi) to the Hodjapasha Culture Center for a performance of Sufi music and the Mevlevi Sema Ceremony, which featured Whirling Dervishes. Sufi is an Islamic sect focused on meditation and activities to reach a higher spiritual level. First we listened to a male chorus singing eerily and band playing traditional (whiny) musical instruments. The Whirling Dervish Dancers, dressed in fez and white flowing costumes, were solemnly bowing to each other and slow whirling. To our Western sensibility, the chanting and music were monotonous and the dancers were hypnotizing us to sleep so the overall performance was a bit boring. It was interesting how the Dervishes’ spinning did not seem to make them unsteady or nauseous…We took a taxi back to the Armada.
MONDAY, SEPT. 27, 2010
We had another beautiful breakfast on the Armada Hotel terrace, once again overlooking Bosporus and up at Blue Mosque and Aya Sophia.
About Sinan* and Blue Mosque
Then we started touring the Blue Mosque, built by 1st/best student/apprentice of the famous architect Sinan. What was most impressive was the seriously gigantic dome supported by 4 columns 9 meters in diameter and 28 meters high. No European cathedral could surpass the splendor and impressive size, elaborate interiors and amazing architecture. Because Sulieman mandated that his mosque be built with 6 minarets, the religious leaders in Mecca in turn mandated that he fund the addition of 2 minarets for the most holy Islamic mosque (which then totaled 8 minarets). The Blue Mosque’s minarets are special because each has 3 tiers for different occasions for the daily 5calls to prayer: 1 for every day, 1 for the days of Ramadan, and 1 for special royal occasions. Our website pictures of this Blue Mosque speak more elaborately than I about its beauty.
*SINAN: This architect was “discovered” as a young man of about 20 by Sultan Sulieman the Magnificent in the early Ottoman Empire. He was prolific, designing and overseeing the building of at least 80 mosques and other facilities until he died at about age 90. But also, his students continued his influence on Turkish and other regional architecture for centuries.
Because the Mosaic Museum and Aya Sophia were closed Mondays, we walked down to then through the Grand Bazaar. This indoor mall was a labyrinth of hallways criss-crossing each other, with arched and frescoed ceilings then populated by a odd mixture of expensive jewelry, cheesy souvenirs, and everything in between. All the jewelry shops’ windows were filled with gold bracelets, necklaces, rings, etc. that glowed with special lighting. The next store might be selling tiles, plates, lutes, drums, hookahs, purses and leather goods, regular clothes, or silk and cashmere shawls. It looked as though both locals and tourists were browsing there, but in any case, all the main halls were jammed with people. Within less than an hour we were ready to leave.
Egyptian Spice Market
So we walked to the Egyptian Spice Market which was a foodie’s heaven. There were vendors with colorful pyramids of spices, baskets of strange teas, cases of local cheeses, every imaginable kind of dried fruit/nuts/olives, honeys, pastries and baklavas, as well as meats and other household items. Unique to Turkey is candy called Turkish Delight which is not the chewy jelly typically found in the U.S. but a huge variety of different nut-filled and fruit-flavored small towers of deliciousness. This indoor and outdoor market smelled wonderful, looked tempting, and was definitely a local shopping place, like Haymarket in Boston.
Crossing the Bosporus to Find the Elusive Jewish Museum
Though we had already probably walked 3 miles, we continued across Galata Bridge over the Bosporus to the Beyoglu section of the New City to find the Jewish Museum. Several Jewish friends’ families had lived in Turkey before emigrating to the U.S. including Phyllis’ mother. We had the address and a street map, but spent the next hour clambering through many, often-un-named alleys with common businesses like paint, plumbing, electrical or textile supplies (from cloth to buttons and decorations). We knew we had to be very close but the Synagogue/Museum kept eluding us. Every person we asked looked at the map then, wanting to please us or not seem dumb, gave us different wrong directions or had never heard of the place even though we were actually within blocks. Eventually Phyllis went into a bank where a manager actually walked her to the window and pointed to the pinkish building nearby but said it was purposely hard to find because of a bombing within the last few years and that we should find the back door with the security guard. More confidently, we walked down a street we felt we had already explored, but kept going and eventually found a small sign pointing down a small courtyard to our objective. About 2 hours after we started on our mission, we’d accomplished it!
The history of the Jews in Turkey goes back 700 – 800 years, starting with the then Ottoman Emperor who encouraged Sephardic Jews to immigrate to Turkey and Greece during the Spanish persecutions and eventually Inquisitions. The museum had been converted from a working synagogue, named Zulfardis, about 1987 (last wedding performed there that year). The well-documented signage included lots of letters and quotes from Ottoman Sultans and Emperors praising the contributions of the Jews to Turkey. One room had pictures of weddings over the years plus displayed a couple of wedding gowns.
Istiklal Street was much less crowded than the night before, but we were very cranky and tired, so when we found the Ada Café, we ordered lunch at 4:30pm and Efes Beer again. Next we embarked on a new mission to locate 5 Dibbek St. where Phyllis’ grandparents lived and her mother had been born. Despite an address, Google Maps recommendation, a current street map and MANY people’s directions, it was still eluding us 1.5 hours later. We did circumnavigate the Galata Kulesi (Tower) which dominates the skyline of the European side of Istanbul.
So we took a taxi back across the Galata Bridge to the small Rustem Pasha Mosque, known for its beautiful Iznik tiles. By the time arrived at dusk, it was difficult to see the tiles in what I imagined their full glory. Soon we walked back up the tram-line street, I stopped to have a stretchy ice cream, and then we trudged back up the hill to the hotel. We’d had lunch too late so we had no dinner. I was verrry cranky and tired.
TUESDAY, SEPT. 28, 2010
The Aya Sophia or Hagia Sophia or Aya Sofya
We walked up the hill again to the Aya Sophia, built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian starting before 350 B.C.E. and completed ~535 C.E. Phyllis, Rick and I got into the long line to buy entry tickets but all of a sudden we couldn’t find Geoff. We waited for the line to reach the entry, still no Geoff. I waited there while Phyllis and Rick scoured the surrounding area but still no Geoff. We finally went in, again looked for Geoff, but then agreed to meet at a certain door so Rick and I could look around while Phyllis scouted for Geoff.
The Aya Sophia was a former church which had been converted in ~1500s to a mosque. At that time, all the Christian icons in gorgeous mosaics and frescoes were covered with plaster and whitewash because Islam forbids imagery of people in religious institutions. They were only rediscovered in 1948. Many of them have been restored but some were too damaged. The mosque interior is now covered mainly with marble and faux marble panels, arch decorations, and beautifully patterned painting as well as an absolutely huge dome.
Rick and I walked up the stone-made ramp to the upstairs where there are pictures of some mosaic icons and scenes as they are being restored. We also learned that like synagogues, women pray upstairs on balcony. We met Phyllis at our designated spot, where she was with Geoff.
The Gorgeous Treasures of Topkapi’s Archeological Museum
We walked back to the grounds of Topkapi Palace to see the Archeological Museum. First we went thru a pre-Arabic/early Orient building. Once again we lost Geoff who thought Phyllis had told him that we were moving on which he interpreted to mean next building when she just meant next room. Eventually about 30 minutes later, we found him at the bottom of the steps of the main building, after which all of us agreed to stay together even though we might want to see displays at a different pace. We meandered through the Necropolis of Sidon sarcophagi with amazing carvings on them. Among them was what was thought to be the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great but is now suspected to be that of Mazaeus, a nobleman from Persia and Governor of Babylon. We then went to the other end of the main hall to see statues and busts of ancient people, kings, animals, etc. More than an hour later, we headed for lunch across from the museum to at La Safran where a friendly restaurateur had recruited us to eat the day before. We had an excellent meal (if you’re interested, lamb with yoghurt and wheat gnocchi in tomato sauce and eggplant and sausage kebabs or kebaps in Turkish), and were treated to apple tea and a cookie for dessert.
Then we walked up to the Mosaic Museum back near the Blue Mosque, which mainly displayed restored ancient mosaic floors and walls which had been rescued from other sites. Geoff and Phyllis returned to Beyoglu to find her grandparents’ house so we took a taxi by ourselves to the Sultimanye Mosque, with a very strange driver whom we thought was trying to scam us as we were getting out. Unfortunately Sultimanye Mosque was closed for renovation. From pictures and the guidebook descriptions it sounded as though it was one of the world’s most magnificent mosques. Built by the famous Sinan, the Mosque was honored the Sultan Sulieman the Lawgiver, aka Magnificent. We saw the tomb buildings for Sulieman and his wife Hurrem (the Laughing One) whose story-telling skills helped her rise from Roxelana, the Ukrainian slave girl, to 1st wife and mother of the next sultan. Legend has it that Scheherazade in the Tales of the Arabian Nights was based on Hurrem.
My Favorite Mosque: the Rustem Pasha
Next Rick and I walked back to the Rustem Pasha mosque, constructed for a Grand Vizier and his wife who was the sultan’s daughter. It is small but the inside walls are decorated with the most amazing blue patterned Iznik tiles. When we 1st arrived, we were 2 of less than 10 people, all sitting quietly enjoying the peace and harmony. Within 15 minutes a large group arrived, which quickly dissipated the peaceful feeling so we walked back up the hill to the Armada. But those 15 minutes of hushed peace in the beautifully tiled mosque have remained with me whenever I close my eyes.
Dinner was at a seafood restaurant within 10 minutes of our hotel. I had bluefish and Rick had sea bass, both of which tasted as if they had just flipped themselves off the boat. The only negative was that the whole fish arrived and I had to remove its head, tail, spine and lots of small bones. But it was tasty!
WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 29, 2010
Flying to Kapadokya or Cappadoccia or Capadoccia
After an early breakfast and a 10am flight to Kapadokya, we arrived about 12:30 at our B&B, Serin House in the town of Urgup. We were greeted by the host/owner Eren who recommended a lovely restaurant for lunch then a drive through the countryside to start seeing the unique, tufa-shaped rock formations and old churches (earliest from the 5th century C.E.) carved inside caves and into these rock formations. The Old Greek House in Mustafapasa town was literally an old house once owned by Greeks before the Turks booted them out of the country. In the open-air inner courtyard we ate one of the best meals we’d had so far.
Keslik Monastery with “Host Man” Cabir then Sobessos and Soganli
Mahmet, our driver, transported us in a lovely, new, roomy van. Our 1st stop after lunch was the Keslik Monastery which was “hosted” by a very enthusiastic caretaker for the Tourist Ministry, named Cabir COSKUNER (his business card listed his title as Host Man), who proudly proclaimed that the area was his “Complete Garden” which he had taken over from his father who had taken over for his grandfather. His English was good, and with his flashlight he showed us amazing frescoes that were nearly blackened completely by fires from vagrants in the 1700 and 1800s who left graffiti! His home was a small tent inside one of the caves, with pillows for a sofa (divan in local language) and his dining table outside. There were also two churches–Archangelos (13th Century) and St. Stephanos (9th century), Taskinpasa medresesi (Ottoman theological school), winery, vineyards, etc. in a small complex of cave-like buildings.
Our next stop was Sobessos, an ancient Byzantium city being excavated. Mostly the ruins were stone foundations and some lovely mosaic-tiled floors. The site warned us to take no photos, but the little old Turkish caretaker said it was ok to use cameras without any flash. Then he opened the gate to the outer rim of the mosaic floor area where we could walk much more closely than allowed normally.
Our final stop was at Soganli valley which had walls and walls of caves, “pigeon holes” and weird rock formations. Rick and I climbed up and into Karabas Kilise church from 5th century, then Rick and Geoff went into the Church of the Snake. We skipped the rest of the ancient churches, figuring that tomorrow’s all day tour would encompass all this and more.
We reached the Hotel about 6:30 pm, confirmed tomorrow’s all day tour and a little before 8:00 pm we walked down the hill to Ziggy’s Café for a nice “meze” meal.
THURSDAY, SEPT. 30, 2010
Kapadokya’s Rock Churches, Fairy Chimneys, and Troglodytes
After a lovely breakfast on the terrace of Serin House overlooking the Kapadokya region, at 9:30 we were picked up by our driver from yesterday, Mahmut, and our guide Mustafa, a college grad who spoke 4 languages, studied/majored in English Literature and had previously conducted a tour of eBay employees. Highlights of the day:
UCHISAR ROCK CASTLE – We climbed to the top of a hillside village for an amazing view all around the valley.
PIGEON VALLEY. Holes created in the tufa cliffs and formations encouraged pigeons to roost so the farmers could use their guano for fertilizing their crops (guano’s more concentrated acid content made it more productive). Farmers re-create the roosts every year after guano collection.
DERVENT VALLEY contains multiple rock layers and the beginnings of future “fairy chimneys.”
ZELVE underground city of “troglodyte homes” which had been a refuge for villages of farmers were threatened by invaders, starting in B.C.E. (Before Common Era = Before Christ or B.C.) times. This city was a whole apartment-like complex underground for self-preservation from the regular invaders. No cooking was allowed inside, but food was brought in so they could stay inside for up to a few weeks until the threat was over. They carved into the tufa rock which is hardened volcanic ash. It crumbles like talcum powder when touched, making it easy to cut out storage, holders for pots*, burial places, living quarters. There was a community room for food preparation and meetings. Only torches and oil lamps were allowed, not fire. The caves’ ventilation was impressive. Some passages required us to bend over for several meters. Huge stone wheels could be rolled to block the doors against invaders. If an invader was able to enter, they would just find the farm animals in the outer rooms, allowing people to scatter to other areas of the warren. The farmers could then defeat random invaders who had to enter into total darkness one at a time, generally bent over, and not knowing that some holes overhead could allow weapons to kill them.
*Pot holes supposedly derived from the concave carvings into which were fitted their clay pointy-bottom “amphora-shaped” storage jars.
GOREME Open Air Museum consisted of a village of churches and seminaries with frescoes, refectories, and living quarters for the 30 – 50 religious students living there at any given time. The oldest church, with frescoes painted directly on the tufa walls from 4th and 5th century C.E. (Common Era = A.D.). The more elaborate, plaster-based frescoed churches were from the 10th – 13th century C.E. Each church had different names over time, including Church of the Snake, Apple Church, Santa Barbara Church, with different stories behind each one. St. Basil’s church and seminary is the simplest and oldest. St. Basil was responsible for starting monasteries and seminaries in Christian times.
AVANOS* is famed for its Red River clay ceramics used by Hittites to create their very detailed ceramic pieces. Today the whole town is still known for its pottery. In fact as we crossed over the Red River there were red clay pots in the island mid-river to symbolize its pottery specialty which continues to use red clay. After lunch at “Uncle’s” restaurant in Avanos, we went to Guray Seramik Factory which is owned by one family which has been producing fine Seramiks (aka ceramics) for nearly 200 years.
PASABAG’s Fairy Chimneys are whimsical formations made from the erosion of different composite layers of tufa rock, which erode at different speeds enabling the weird shapes. Lichen then grows on the outside of the beige-color tufa, creating a blackened look. The website shows the fantastical landscape that I cannot begin to describe.
MAGIC VALLEY has more really unusual formations like Bryce Canyon, Utah with the chimneys looking like animals (including a camel) or people. I also had my picture taken with a real camel that looked cranky so I kept my distance. I felt much safer with the rock-shaped camel.
*Avanos: a Tale of Guray Seramiks and Iznik Platters
Mustafa left us in the capable hands of Sayim (“generous man” in Turkish), one of the youngest generation of the family owners. We learned that many famous Americans had visited them, such as Kevin Costner and recently Martha Stewart, whose custom-made large plate we saw before shipping. Sayim explained that his family was involved with the Istanbul technical institute to try to re-create the process for making Iznik tiles which decorate most of the famous mosques in Turkey, especially Istanbul. Iznik refers to the ceramic being 75% quartz for strength and 25% feldspar and white clay for color absorption. We saw some men and women paint very detailed Hittite reproduction ceramics made from the local river’s red clay and which can take up to 45 days depending on the complexity of the design, size of product, and number of hours per day the artisan can focus on the care required (typically 2 – 5 hrs per day). We also watched 2 other artisans—one nicknamed “Crazy Man”–hand design two huge Iznik-style platters. Then another artisan demonstrated how to “throw” a pot/vase on the foot-spun wheel which allows more control than an electrical-spun wheel. Mass-produced ceramics are made using stamped designs, with chemically created not natural glazing and paints. His family is mainly known for the all hand-thrown, designed and painted products. We then moved into the “retail salon” where we were served apple tea while scoping their high quality products for sale. After spending about an hour, Rick and I selected a very typical Iznik plate about 20” diameter with a design from Istanbul’s Golden Horn, hand-made and painted by “Crazy Man”. That’s my birthday present!!!
FRIDAY, OCT. 1, 2010
Bodrum by Roundabout Way of Istanbul
We flew from Kapadokya to Bodrum by way of Istanbul (not logical but there you have it) so it was a long day of flying. We picked up our car for the next 2 days then drove to our hotel, El Vino, which was a very pretty B&B with a pool. However, it was very confusingly laid out to get from our room to the pool or dining room: you either had to go down stairs then up stairs or vice versa. After briefly unpacking, we met Phyllis and Geoff for dinner upstairs on the rooftop terrace.
SATURDAY, OCT. 2, 2010
Journey to the Turquoise Coast
At breakfast, it became clear from the map that the distance to where the Turquoise Coast started was at least 4 hours away, one way. But our friends were only willing to drive for 4 hours total. I had been the one insisting on visiting Bodrum in the 1st place, with my goal to see the Turquoise Coast, Turkey’s Riviera. I was adamant about seeing the reason I flew here, so after intense discussion, Rick offered to drive me to Fethiye, the beginning of the Turquoise Coast, while Phyllis and Geoff would stay in Bodrum. 30 minutes later, about 10:15 am, we were on our way.
Getting out of Bodrum was our 1st challenge, with incredibly narrow streets barely allowing 1 car. We drove up one, ostensibly a 2-way rd. that really was not. Rick had to make a 7-point not 3-point turn to head back the other way. After about 10 – 15 minutes of this, we were on the way to Fethiye. Apparently this dual-carriage-way road was built only in 1980 and hadn’t existed before. We occasionally were stuck behind huge-load trucks. Plus to see the more scenic spots along the coast, we had driven on a smaller, 2-lane road. After about 4 hours, we stopped at a roadside café to share lunch: Turkish pancake (“Gorzelme”), cheese bourek, and a chicken kebap sandwich. We reached Fethiye at nearly 4:00 pm. It is a lovely town on the Turquoise Coast. Unfortunately, the day had been overcast and though the sun was finally shining, the ocean was not its famous color. But we walked for a while along the seaside promenade, visited the Roman Tombs embedded in the hills above Fethiye, then about started driving back to Bodrum about 5pm. Rick had given me a wonderful gift to drive to Fethiye—whether it was worth it in actuality was beside the point—but I truly appreciated his effort and our being on our own for the 1st day in 11 days. As we drove back a more direct route, we saw a nice sunset which colored the sky for the next 2 hours. About 9:00 pm we pulled into the El Vino parking lot, had a light dinner again on the rooftop and went to bed.
SUNDAY, OCT. 3, 2010
Bodrum Castle then Zeus in Didyma
We met Phyllis and Geoff for breakfast and then planned our activities for the day. We walked down to the main area of Bodrum, visited the Bodrum Castle for about an hour, did some souvenir shopping, packed the car and started driving north toward Selcuk (SELL-chuk). We stopped about 2:30pm for lunch in Didyma, another ancient city established between 2000 and 1000 B.C.E. We briefly toured the Temple of Apollo with an Oracle considered 2nd in importance to Greece’s Oracle of Delphi. The original temple was destroyed about 500 B.C.E. then reconstructed through the early Roman period. Though it was never completed, it was designated one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World thanks to Pausanias the world’s 1st travel writer.
Then we continued driving up to Selcuk where we got lost trying to find the Bella Hotel on St. John Street. We drove up and down streets in the Sehir Merkezi (Central or downtown area), asking directions to people who didn’t have a clue. After about 20 minutes, we pulled over so Rick could go into a store to ask directions. He finally was approached by a man who was viewing the email Rick was holding with the hotel info. He asked Rick if the email address was the hotel’s. When Rick said yes, the man said “that’s my brother’s hotel.” He called his brother who sent a car to lead us to the hotel. The stranger on the street was actually Erdal’s (the hotel owner) brother-in-law.
Our Entrepreneurial Host
Erdal is a very gregarious, extremely hard-working entrepreneur who runs the hotel with a very nice restaurant (where we ate for breakfast and dinner both days we stayed at the Bella), a carpet store, and a high-end ceramic art gallery in the same building. It seems as though at least one brother-in-law works there almost as many hours as Erdal does. Once we settled into our rooms, he met us on the rooftop terrace to tell us about where to go, what to do in Selcuk and Ephesus, including arranging a guide (named Can but pronounced John) for the next day to take us around Ephesus, and he or his drivers would shuttle us between sites as needed. A bit later, we had a delicious dinner of mezes and lamb kebaps.
MONDAY, OCT. 4, 2010
After we developed neck and hip cramps from sleeping on an excruciatingly hard mattress, we did have a nice breakfast, and Erdal drove us to one end of Ephesus with Can (JOHN). As we arrived, so did what seemed like dozens of buses which dumped 1000s of people swarming down the main, narrow ancient road through Ephesus. As it turned out, 3 cruise ships had arrived with about 6,000 passengers! But Can predicted that they would leave after less than 2 hours so if we let them set their pace, we could work around them, which was true.
Ephesus was amazing. At its peak in the 1st – 4th centuries C.E., 250,000 people plus 3x slaves lived in or nearby the city. They had aqueducts carrying water from 35km distant, a sewage system that prevented water contamination, beautiful artwork (sculptures, reliefs, frescoes, mosaic floors, etc.), lovely pottery, very large sophisticated homes, and impressive temples/fountains/monuments. Can was very knowledgeable about the culture, history, arts, etc., giving us lectures then letting us spend some time looking on our own. He recommended we take the extra tour into the hillside terraced homes that were being excavated and slowly restored through the partnership of the Turkish and Austrian governments.
Turkish Pancakes Before 7 Sleepers
We spent about 5 hours with Can including lunch at a Turkish restaurant near the entrance to another ancient site, The 7 Sleepers. We had Turkish pancakes (Gorzelme), which we saw being created from scratch in the restaurant kitchen as we walked in. Little old ladies in babushkas sat on low stools in front of flat surfaces, rolling out the dough into thin, stretched ovals, and then formed into rectangles which another man or women would place on the grill in the wood-burning oven. Each pancake was flipped for thorough cooking, then stuffed with meat, veggies, and/or cheese, and cooked in the oven for a bit more. After lunch, we walked the short hill to the caves and eventual church and tombs of the 7 early Christians who lived here together to escape persecution. Legend says that the Christians fell asleep for 200 years, emerged, got confused, and returned to sleep for another long time. Eventually they died and were buried in tombs on the site, and a church was erected in their honor, but which eventually became ruins.
Crusader Fortress, Isa Bey Mosque and Artifacts
Erdal picked us up, drove us back to Selcuk, and told us what to see there. We walked up hill a few minutes from the hotel to St. Stephans church and the Crusader fortress nearby, built about 1300 C.E. Rick and I walked down to Isa Bey mosque then over to the Archeological Museum where we viewed some ruins, remnants, statues, etc. on display.
Buying More Iznik-Process Ceramics
We walked back to the hotel, but I continued shopping. I knew I wanted to buy some more hand-made Iznik ceramics in Erdal’s shop. However, his prices were fixed and high, so I walked up the street, at his suggestion, to see the machine-stamped ceramic products. They paled by comparison, so I negotiated with that shop owner to buy 12 kilim-style/fabric pillow cases and 2 tablecloths with US$ since I had no Turkish Lira and he didn’t accept credit cards. He wrapped them up, I walked back to the hotel to get a final $20, and went upstairs to meet everyone for another meal on Bella Hotel’s rooftop terrace. After dinner, Rick and I went downstairs and I negotiated a price for several pieces of ceramics, which Erdal shipped to CA. All told, a very full, successful day!
TUESDAY, OCT. 5, 2010
Starting Our Cruise of the Greek Islands
We were driven via a scenic route to the port of Kusadasi where we boarded the Louis Cruise ship named Aquamarine. Our state room was actually larger and more efficiently set up than our room at the Bella Hotel in Selcuk. We met Phyllis and Geoff for a mediocre buffet/cafeteria-style lunch after arranging for an afternoon tour to Patmos then tours of Rhodes and Crete/Heraklon for the next 2 days. Before our tour, Rick and I sat on the promenade deck to read, write the blog and stare at the stunningly beautifully blue Aegean Sea.
Patmos and the Legend of St. John the Apostle
We anchored off Patmos about 3:15, and headed off by “tender” to the port of Patmos, boarded 1 of 4 bus-loads (~44/bus) to reach our tour of the Cave and Monastery of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. He supposedly wrote the Gospel of John plus when Emperor Dominitian exiled him from Ephesus to Patmos for preaching that annoying “Christianity thing,” he also wrote the Revelations in about 95 C.E. Supposedly when he lived in Patmos, he was 96 years old, lived in a very Spartan cave, and had one assistant to scribe his visions. Eventually he returned to Ephesus where he lived until he was 106.
Now a World Heritage Site, the St. John Monastery was built in approx. 1088 by St. Christodoulos who traded his property on a different island for Patmos, with permission from the then-current Byzantine emperor. Our guide explained how Orthodox imagery, with lots of gold and elongated and 2-dimensional figures, is different from 3-dimensional Christian and Catholic imagery. Greek Orthodoxy does not permit sculpture or realistic painting because they prefer to leave the actual human body to imagination.
We returned by “tender” just in time for dinner. We headed for the early sitting in the main dining room, jammed with humans. Our table-mates were a talkative and fun Aussie couple Anna and Victor who were about our age and an older Dutch couple (a quiet woman and man with strong accent). After dinner, rather than attend the Greek-themed show performed by the dominantly Pilipino crew, we walked around the Promenade deck then returned to our room.
WEDNESDAY, OCT. 6, 2010
Rhodes Blends Many Cultures and 3 Major Religions
Very early in the morning, the Aquamarine docked in Rhodes. At 7:45 am we gathered in one of the lounges to be assigned a bus for our tour of Old Rhodes and Filerimos. 4 busses of about 45 passengers each headed from the dock to the old city.
Filerimos was a hill with a great view of Rhodes, a church and monastery with frescoes built in 1400s, and leading up to that 12 stations of the cross the with the crucifixion being the final. Lined up with the rest of the tourist herd, we trooped through the site that the Nazis had used for target practice during the Greek occupation then traipsed back to the busses.
Knights of St. John Crusaders’ Palace of the Grand Masters
The busses drove through narrow twisting streets to the Palace of the Grand Masters in the center of the Old City. The then-current leader of the Dodecanese Islands gave Rhodes to the Knights of St. John who ruled from 1300 to 1522. Once they conquered the local population, the Knights of St. John built a fortress and castle within a walled city to house 6,000 people. There were several gates leading into the walled city. For about 1.5 hours we toured through the many impressive chambers of the castle, walked down the Street of Knights by the Inns which housed/represented the 7 different nations whose knights were committed to the St. John order. The Turks aka Ottomans eventually expelled the Knights of St. John and ruled until WW1. Knights Street is now mostly shopping. Apparently the castle survived until 1856 when an accidental explosion destroyed it. The Italian Fascists rebuilt the Palace to honor King Victor Emmanuel III and Mussolini, neither of whom actually visited, but incorporated some priceless relics and mosaics from the island of Kos into the Palace. The little other furniture remaining were period pieces but not original to the castle.
Practical Problem of Currency Exchange
About 11:30 the tour ended, so we walked down Knights Street to find a bank where we could sell our Turkish Lira and buy Euros. After Rick and Geoff stayed in one bank line for 45 minutes not moving forward, I asked a bank manager if we could even do what we wanted here, which we could not. In sign language and some English, he told us to go to the Bank of Greece (not the National Bank of Greece in which we were waiting) a few blocks away in the “New Town” of Rhodes. We successfully found the bank, exchanged the Turkish Lira paper money at a poor rate, recognized an Aquamarine staff person in the bank, and happily gave her our remaining Turkish coins (for her trip back to Kusadasi, Turkey) which banks don’t accept.
Jews of Rhodes
The 4 of us then walked back into the Old Town to the Square of Martyrs which has a monument to the Jews who were removed by the Nazis during the island’s occupation. We learned more about this tragedy at the nearby remaining Jewish Synagogue: only 37 Jews remain on Rhodes; 1,600—virtually all of the local Jews–were taken to Auschwitz; 42 were saved from that fate and 150 survived the camp. Starting in the 1960s, this synagogue was funded for preservation by a lawyer from Los Angeles who was a descendant of one of the Rhodes Jewish families. Murals illustrated the history of the Jews of Rhodes who settled there to escape the Spanish Inquisition—encouraged by the Ottoman Sultan who “owned” Greece and the islands–through their destruction during World War II. Though the Istanbul synagogue was similar in many ways, I was deeply moved by the pictures of these families, some of their typical clothes, many of the Synagogue’s old utensils, and the facility’s beautiful preservation. These Rhodes families were decimated just 65 years ago, and in the synagogue were a few descendants from the families who returned after World War II. It was overwhelming to meet the living proof of the irrepressible human spirit contrasted with the Nazis’ tremendous cruelty.
More of Rhodes’ Old City
We returned to the ship for a late lunch in the “sit-down” dining area rather than the buffet room where we had eaten at the day before. After lunch Rick and I walked back to the Old Town on our own. We stopped in the Ahmet Havuz Library built in 1793 which houses the chronicle of the Siege of Rhodes from 1522 when the Turks defeated the Knights of St. John along with other ancient Arab and Persian documents and books, some of which were displayed with their lovely colorful illustrations. We then wandered through the streets and alleyways to see 2 mosques which were actually closed for refurbishing and 1 mosque which was just crumbling: Sulieman the Magnificent, Ibrahim Pasha and Rejep Pasha. We tried to peek into the Hamman (Turkish bath house) built in 1765 but because it is still used daily, we only entered the doorway.
“Captain’s Dinner” Sort-Of Special
We returned to the ship about 4:30. The last “All Aboard” was at 5:30. And boy, were they serious. By 5:40 the ship was steaming out of the harbor toward Crete. We were told that dinner started earlier tonight because it was the “Captain’s Dinner” so we dressed up (Rick put on a long sleeved shirt instead of his daily golf shirts) and got in a long line to have our picture taken with the Captain. Then after all the early-seating dinner people had traipsed through to take pictures, we gathered in the Aqua Marine Lounge to receive a free drink then hear the Captain tell us how glad he was to have us on board, etc., etc., etc. We all then flooded into dinner, had an enjoyable chat with Anna and Victor again, skipped the floor show and went to bed after a very long day hiking around the very charming city of Rhodes.
THURSDAY, OCT. 7, 2010
Knossos Palace on Crete from Nearly 2000 B.C.E.
The next morning we left the ship at 7:30 to briefly tour Crete, with many more busloads of people from our ship as well as the 3 other Louis cruise ships also in the harbor. Our bus was full but apparently, 4 Japanese people were supposed to be on it to be with the other Japanese people and their translator, so the 4 of us volunteered to move to another bus which was slightly less packed.
We were drive to the Knossos Palace, originally the main Palace built about 1900 B.C.E. Crete’s Minoan inhabitants, always as peaceful tribe, initially arrived in 7000 B.C.E. The Knossos Palace was destroyed by an earthquake in 1700 – 1750 B.C.E. rebuilt and then destroyed by fire in 1370 B.C.E. The Dorians invaded in about 1100 B.C.E. and other invaders conquered over the centuries, including the Romans in 67 C.E. Eventually the destroyed Minoan Palace was beginning to be excavated in the late 1800s C.E. In approx. 1900 C.E., Sir Arthur Evans bought the land on which the excavations had begun, continued excavations and eventually decided to restore parts of Knossos Palace to its 1700 B.C.E. condition. However, Sir Arthur’s vision and efforts have been questioned by a number of archeologists in more recent years, with whom I agreed that his reconstruction is not well done, particularly the very colorful sections of frescoes. This is too bad because Knossos represents the peak of building and design 1000s of years ago with sophisticated systems for plumbing, heating, sewage removal, religious complexes, etc. Huge Pithoi storage jars–to minimize rot of foods and oils–were found in “magazines” large enough to contain 400 of them. Knossos’ shored up and brightly painted reconstructions often felt a bit Disney-like. Ephesus and Rhodes seemed to be more in keeping with the spirit of excavating ruins.
Crete to Santorini then off the Cruise
Our brief visit to Crete ended with a quick stop at the Venetian Fountain and we were told that Crete’s airport was named Kazantzakis, the author of Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ, who was born on Crete. We boarded the ship again by 11:00 am, packed our bags to have them picked up for removal at Santorini, had our last lunch on board, then hung out in the Aqua Marine Lounge. About 5:00 pm after all those who were scheduled to disembark for touring left by “tender” to Santorini, we were taken to a different port that could handle our luggage. A taxi drove us across the island after 6pm to arrive at our hotel Venus Beach Hotel in Kamari.
Problems with Website Pictures of Hotels
The street side of the hotel was bland and ascetic-looking so we thought our travel agent and the hotel website had wildly oversold its real features. It didn’t help that the local travel agency had cancelled one room reservation just that day. Eventually, after seeing / rejecting 1 of our 2 assigned rooms, we resigned ourselves to staying since the hotel since breakfast and dinners for all 3 nights were prepaid. Rick walked around the property and, when we met for drinks about 45 minutes later, he comforted us with the niceness of the promenade, pool area, and the Kamari Beach community. After an expensive but low alcohol drinks at a bar down the promenade from our hotel, we returned to a tasty buffet at our hotel.
FRIDAY, OCT. 8, 2010
NOTE: The Aegean Sea is gorgeous in blues of all shades, none of which I have seen elsewhere. Breathtaking, stunning, etc.
Santorini is a Former Volcano
The volcano imploded on itself 1000s of years ago, creating a steep caldera and semi-circular island. Kamari is on the flat beach side, the town of Fira (FEE-rah) is mid-way up the mountain and Oia (EE-ah) is at the top of the ridge, from where you can see 360o of Aegean with supposedly the best place for viewing sunsets.
Towns of Fira and Oia
After breakfast, we took a bus to Fira aka Thira but different from “Ancient Thira”. We walked around the town for a while, shopped, and delightfully lunched overlooking the gorgeous Aegean Sea. Then we took another bus to Oia at the top of the caldera, arriving about 3:00 pm. Since sunset was to be about 7:00 pm, we wandered about the town for a couple of hours, including scoping a place to see the sunset. One guidebook mentioned Kastos restaurant, but because we had to commit to dinner there if we stayed past 6:00 pm, we continued up to the “Sunset” restaurant, literally at the top of the island. We sat down about 5:15 pm to have Mythos beer and snacks: excellent eggplant dip, different from baba ganoush or other dips we’d had so far in Turkey or Greece, and of course kalamata olives).
Oia’s Sunset Sky Show
By 6:30, the top of the landscape below our viewing terrace was filled with 100s of people preparing to watch “the sunset show.” There was even a group filming what was probably an ad, with a young guy flipping over a wall. The sunset was quite lovely though I’m not sure that it qualified as an entertainment blockbuster. We scampered from our viewing perch down the street to the bus station make the 7:05 bus back to Fira. But the line was so long, we needed to wait until 7:35, and it was becoming a cool, windy night. so we opted to take a taxi all the 20 km back to our hotel, had our pre-paid dinner, then went night-night.
SATURDAY, OCT. 9, 2010
Quiet Day on the Black Sand Beach
We walked on the volcanic black sand beach, stuck our feet in Aegean and mostly hung out by the pool or in our rooms for the 1st less active day on the trip.
SUNDAY, OCT. 10, 2010
To Athens and the Acropolis Archeological Museum
We flew to Athens, arriving early afternoon at St. George Lyceabettus Hotel. After lunch in the hotel’s rooftop restaurant (~$25 Caesar salads!!!) we meandered down the hill to Symtagna Square Metro stop where we purchased 3 Euro tickets for 24 hrs. Our 1st stop was the Acropolis Archeological Museum, where we arrived at 4:45 and left at 7:45pm. It was an absolutely beautiful, detailed history of the site. The museum displayed a special exhibit on Pericles and the role he played in creating Athens’ Golden Age several hundred years B.C.E.
Geoff chose Cuzina restaurant for dinner. We ended up walking for 45 minutes all over central Athens then after consulting/arguing over the map we eventually found it on La Plaka Street. We ate a wonderful meal, including Fisher Beer, the best so far on this trip, and then took a taxi back to our hotel since Lycabettus is on top of a hill with hundreds of steps to climb.
MONDAY, OCT. 11, 2010
Acropolis, Agora and Other Ruins of Athens
We got back on the Metro (Monestariki to Akropoli stations) then walked to our mission for the day: the site of the Acropolis. We hired a guide named Stavros (his name really fit him!) who told us multiple times that he’d been a guide for 35 yrs., and boy, was he passionate, knowledgeable, and probably unintentionally, quite amusing. All the ruins were much more impressive than I had anticipated. It was incredible to imagine what the many temples would have looked like at their peak. Pictures speak better than words so view our main website.
Good and Great Greek Food
We lunched back on La Plaka at Didyros Cafe which was also very good. During shopping we split up so I could look for some more gifts. We found a small shop on Plutarchou St. then climbed up the many steps to reach our hotel. We overshot the hotel street by a block so as we were walking down the steep rain-and-moss-slicked sidewalk when I slipped and fell. My instinct was to protect the fragile gifts I’d just bought so I landed on my left butt cheek then rolled to my right onto my free, right, formerly broken hand, with the breath knocked out of me. After the initial shock, I was able to stand then walk the rest of the way to our hotel. Ice for the next couple of hours calmed my hand, then alcohol and good food calmed my spirits (pun intended).
Dinner at a nearby Taverna was fine, but we then went to another restaurant for dessert. We had tried to go there for dinner but it was closed from 7:00 – 9:00 pm for a private party. Dessert was probably the best we had on the trip: Halvah ice cream, a rich chocolate ice cream that was probably 80% dark chocolate and a chocolate torte made with rum and honey–all to die for.
TUESDAY, OCT. 12, 2010
Driving Across the Peloponnese Peninsula
We said good-bye to Phyllis and Geoff who were flying back to Calif., and then at 9:30 we hopped into a 40-Euro taxi to the airport. We arrived about 10:30 only to hear that they wouldn’t have a car for us until 12:00 noon! T.i.G. (This is Greece, like T.i.A., This is Africa)?!? About 11:00am they did tell us that a car had been returned and would be ready in about 15 – 20 minutes. Over 40 minutes later, we were on our way to Corinth. We crossed the “straits” or canal between mainland Greece and the Peloponnese Peninsula, and then headed for Ancient Corinth and Acrocorinth (nearby famous fortress).
Acrocorinth Fortress from 300 or 657 B.C.E.
Despite poor signage, we found Acrocorinth and wandered around the very impressive fortress originally built about 300 B.C.E., though we learned the building may have started as early as 657 B.C.E. Acrocorinth has been held and refortified by every occupying power in Greece since Roman times, though now abandoned about 200 years after the Turks were defeated. In addition to having a mixture of pagan, Christian and Muslim ruined buildings, it once contained a temple of Aphrodite attended in antiquity by 1,000 scared prostitutes. This was supposedly what inspired St. Paul to write his two “letters to the Corinthians” in the New Testament. Now it has one of the most sweeping views in Greece, about 60km in all directions.
Ancient Corinth from Neolithic Times
We then drove to Ancient Corinth, a very large city founded in Neolithic times, razed by Romans in 146 C.E. along with Acrocorinth, but at its peak of also licentious living, was home to approx. 750,000 people. The ruins are the largest Roman township in Greece. The surviving columns of the Temple of Apollo were the highlight among two theaters and many other foundations, walls, and partial buildings. By 2:30pm we were tired and hungry so stopped at a nearby tavern for lunch.
By 3:30pm we were back on the road again, having been advised to drive along the more up-to-date dual carriageway going along the northern coast of the Peloponnese, then down to Ancient Olympia. After more than 3 hours we arrived at the lovely Europa Hotel, where after a brief stop at our room we headed to the enclosed terrace for a very tasty dinner. We then snuggled down eventually into the softest beds so far on our whole trip!
WEDNESDAY, OCT. 13, 2010
Impressive Ancient Olympia
After a lovely buffet breakfast, we talked with the hotel manager whose family owned the hotel and hoped the US economy would improve so that more Americans would travel to Greece. He advised us on what to visit in Ancient Olympia and the Archeology Museum, then how to drive to Lousios Gorge which was supposed to have amazing scenery.
A few minutes downhill from the hotel was Ancient Olympia, as impressive as Ancient Corinth. It originally dated back to Mycenaean times, peaking approx. 1600 B.C.E. and was the 1st site of the Olympic Games. Pheidias, the designer and builder of the Athenian Acropolis in Athens, also designed and built the Temple of Zeus in Olympia in the 400s B.C.E. with its huge statue of Zeus that was one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World (thank you Pausanias).
We visited where athletes prepared immediately before the games, including the ruins of where athletes who cheated were forced to pay to build compensatory statues dedicated to Zeus. Apparently there were quite a few cheaters and thus Zeus statues…some things don’t change. However, the games were disapproved of by the Christians and stopped in the 300s C.E. Party Poopers!
Olympia Archeological Museum
Here was an amazing array of artifacts, statues, etc. found in the large site. While everything was quite beautiful, I must admit that the pots, statues, and even jewelry were starting to look like Rhodes, Create, Corinth and would blend with Mycenae’s museum pieces, too.
Back Across the Peloponnese Peninsula toward Lousios Gorge
We started driving east, planning to stop in Dimistana, at the closer end of the Lousios Gorge. However, the road was much slower going so we ended up stopping in a lovely hillside town, Lagkadia for a late lunch with a fabulous view overlooking the gorge. There were more lovely towns perched on the canyon-side, including Dimistana and Stemnitsa, but we never did find the Moni Aimyalon church and monastery built in 1605 which was supposed to be close to the road. However the literally breath-taking, twisting, narrow (sometimes one-lane) road we used was too scarey, time was getting late, and so we retraced our “steps” to head east again toward Nafplio. We arrived about 7:00pm at The Amalia hotel on the outskirts of Nafplio. It was nice but sterile, clearly catering to the “bus” crowd (2 were in the parking lot). Nothing wrong. Clean, well-kept, but boring.
Palamidi Castle in Nafplio
After briefly unpacking, we headed into the town of Nafplio for dinner at a seafood restaurant, Kipos, near the port. We enjoyed the little bit of wandering we did to find the restaurant, and totally admired the lit-up Palamidi Castle on the ridge above the town. I ordered “Gilthead Bream” which took about 45 minutes and arrived whole, so asked the waiter to remove the head, tail, spine, etc. then proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes enjoying the fresh fish and picking the little bones out of my mouth. After dinner, we wandered back toward our car, stopped to have gelato that was not great, and drove back to the hotel.
THURSDAY, OCT. 14, 2010
Mycenae Ruins from 1700 B.C.E.
About 10:00am we headed toward Mycenae, the oldest of the ruins we’ve seen, with some places on the site dating from 1700 – 1100 BCE. Most notable and different from the other ruins were the walls that were supposedly built by the giant people aka Cyclops (hence Cyclopean Walls) and the Tombs of Mycenae, especially the tholos (beehive) tombs, including the Tholos of Klytemnestra and the Treasury of Atreus*. In addition to the huge beehive burial buildings, there were unusual “grave circles” where royalty was specially buried upright in such a way that only 1 stone was needed to seal the tomb at the top. We wandered in the 3,000 year old ruins for quite a while,
*Atreus was a miserable Mycenaean king who hated his brother Thyestes so much that Atreus killed Thyestes’ children and fed them to him. The gods were so outraged that the laid a curse on Atreus and his descendants who eventually died out.
Tiryns then Back to Downpour in Nafplio
On the way back toward Nafplio, we took a 30 minute side-trip to Ancient Tiryns with a large fortress mostly still in un-reconstructed rubble-like ruins. It was more impressive when lit up the night before.
We returned to the port area of Nafplio near where we had dinner last night, found a nice outdoor café that also had free wifi. We sat down under the umbrellas to order tuna sandwiches which were enough different to not feel as if we were eating American food. Since Rick had signed into his yahoo account, we planned to sit there for a while. The sky got dark, the staff began to gather pillows for the chairs totally outside of the umbrellas, and it started drizzling. I darted inside to use the toilet, then came out to find a torrential downpour. So Rick and I sat about 20 feet away from each other watching the rain—me inside the café and he under the umbrella. After almost an hour, we paid our bill, and walked back to the car.
Views from Palamidi Castle
We drove up to the top of the mountain to the Palamidi Castle which had been so beautifully lit up the night before. We hiked around for about an hour, almost to the very tippy-top to see magnificent views of the coast, the town, the surrounding orchards (citrus, olives), vineyards and crops.
We went to dinner along the seaside in town, walked along and through the streets, took pictures of the magnificently lit Palamidi Castle, probably the most impressive lighted ruins we’d seen, then returned back to the hotel.
FRIDAY, OCT. 15, 2010
Corfu by Way of Athens
We left Nafplio mid-morning, drove back to the Athens airport a bit differently than the way we had headed to the Peloponnese, and arrived in plenty of time for lunch then our flight to Corfu.
We picked up our Corfu rental car and drove to the opposite side of the island—maybe 4 miles—where our Aquis Pelakis Hotel was located on the beach at Pelakis. The hotel was laid out to take advantage of the cliff down to the beach, with levels of rooms angled along the slope and an ascenseur or funicular to carry guests up and down the 4 floors from beach to highest hotel rooms, most of which had a view of the classic resort beach with chaise lounge chairs and umbrellas.
Luxury Hotel Operated with a Budget Mentality
After briefly unpacking, since all meals and drinks were inclusive, we walked down to the pool level to have a drink and hopefully walk along the beach. That’s when we began to notice that despite the hotel’s location and facility being lovely and upscale, the guests (except for us, of course) were not. They were mostly middle-class pensioners or families from the UK, Germany, France, etc. on a fall school break, with the good news being very few Americans. The free drinks were fine, but the snacks were definitely downscale. A torrential rain began, which prevented our walking on the beach, so we just read our books under the large umbrellas for a while until that became too difficult/wet, so we decided to have an early dinner. THAT’s when it was confirmed that the hotel was built for luxury but operated for economy. Dinner was in a cafeteria with tables mashed close together. The lines for food were lots of loud people of all ages crowding to take big portions of food that was at best mediocre. We went to bed dissatisfied with the weather, food and facilities.
SATURDAY, OCT. 16, 2010
Finally a Day on the Beach in Corfu—at Least for a While
Today after breakfast we put on bathing suits, headed to the beach to sit under an umbrella. We walked both ways on the beach, and I finally put me feet in the blue Aegean. It was relaxing and lovely. We went to the cafeteria/dining room for lunch and I was told that bathing suits were not allowed (I was wearing a cover-skirt). I mean, really? Really? In this facility? So I stomped up to our room, put on more clothes to look “appropriate” then we had a dreadful lunch.
In the afternoon it rained again, so again we sought shelter under the big umbrellas by the pool, but after a while, the downpour became too much. After another barely adequate meal that night, we vowed to clear out as early as possible in the morning to spend our time before our afternoon flight in the town of Corfu.
SUNDAY to MONDAY, OCT. 17 – 18, 2010
Wandering in Quaint Corfu Town to Find Another Synagogue
We left the Aquis Pelakis Hotel by 9:30 and drove into Corfu town. We wandered through the town and noticed a sign for the Jewish Community. So we wound our way down through narrow streets to the Jewish Synagogue renovated by a Jewish lawyer in Los Angeles whose family had lived on Corfu before WW2. He just raised money from his friends to revive the site that had served his family for generations before the Nazi invasion chased them away. There is also a sign commemorating the families who died in concentration camps though some were saved by the personal efforts of a local Orthodox bishop.
Corfu to Athens to Calif.
After lunch in lovely Corfu town—actually the best meal we had in Greece—we drove to the airport. Our flight to Athens took us to an overnight stay at the airport Sofitel, also a nice meal, and the next day, after 28 hours awake, we landed in Calif. Home Sweet Home with our comfy bed.