Two women’s Greek island adventure

Two Women and five Greek Islands

After a bit of a bump (illness—poor, poor Susie), the two of us headed for the Greek islands two days late. We took a bus from Izmir to Cesme (CHESH-may), and hopped on the ferry to Chios, Greece.

Though my heart remains with the warm people of Turkey, I couldn’t help but be charmed by the light-spirited Greeks. It was a pleasant shock to see women operating as equals with men—waiting tables, driving motorbikes, and working in shops. This was quite a shift from Turkey, where nearly all service workers are male (though women are well-represented in the professional world). I was also surprised to see the ample physiques of the Greeks—obesity is rare among young Turks. A friend told us that the Greeks are the heaviest of the European populations. My theory is that their diet relies more heavily on olive oil and bread, while vegetables predominate the Turkish diet.



Chios Town was a bustling port, the harbor ringed with outdoor coffee shops, bars, and restaurants. We wheeled our suitcases to a spot near our targeted hotel (no reservations) and ordered cold drinks. As usual, we were drenched in sweat, but smiling. I went around the corner to make reservations at the Hotel Filoxenia, which was another second-story hotel, up about 25 marble stairs. Oh, well. We managed. Our corner room had a well-lit make-up mirror, a tiny balcony, and huge windows. We were happy!

The next morning at breakfast we started chatting with a Greek man about our plans for the day, and he offered to show us the island. Takis lives in Athens but was born on Chios and loves it dearly. He drove us (in his father’s rickety old Volvo) over the mountains to a beautiful secluded beach near a lovely chapel dedicated to Saint Markella, who was killed as she tried to escape her father (who intended to rape her for becoming a Christian). We swam in the turquoise water, shared grilled fish at a small beachside restaurant, then swam and lazed in the shade while Takis visited his home village to finish plans for a home he was building there. That evening we treated him to dinner and dancing. It was quite a day, let me tell you!



Our next stop was Mykonos, famous for its ancient windmills and pink pelicans. We took two ferries to get there, one to Samos, then another to Mykonos. They were both slow ferries, so we were able to wander the indoor decks as well as the top open deck. We enjoyed the ferries as much as the islands, which is good since we spent a good portion of our time on them. (Note to self: plan at least three days for each island, as it takes hours to travel from one to the next.)



When we arrived at Mykonos, we were a bit slow getting off the ferry, so we missed the bus and the taxis. Oops! We decided to drag our suitcases down the road and see if we could flag down a taxi along the way. Two young men stopped to offer us a ride in their open Jeep. We were surprised at their offer, and I imagine they were even more surprised to see that we weren’t sweet young things. However, they never showed their disappointment; they were charming—two Turkish guys who worked on a cruise ship and had rented a jeep to go into town for the evening. They laughed their heads off at my Turkish, though they were tickled to chat with me. They dropped us off near our hotel, though we chose a long, convoluted route through the meandering crowded streets of Friday Night Mykonos.



We finally found the Apollon Hotel, which was more than lovely. A sprightly old woman hopped off her antique daybed in the living room when we knocked on the door. She grinned as she embraced us, welcoming us warmly to her family home of hundreds of years. Although it was midnight, we went out to seek food and dancing. We ended up at a Greek taverna where we had saganaki (fried cheese) and moussaka (an eggplant hotdish). The people watching was incredible, with people dressed in every imaginable attire (including a man in a long-sleeved black T-shirt and grey briefs—my goodness!) By the time we were done eating, it was 1:30 and we were bushed. Oh, well.

After a good sleep, we packed up again (Maria needed to clean the room for her full house the next night) and headed out to explore our charming island. The streets in old Mykonos are all flat stones, and the buildings are all painted white with colored doors. It’s gorgeous. When we went back for our luggage, Maria charmed us yet again as we took her photos. Though her English is limited, she was an absolute delight, possibly my favorite thing in Mykonos.



Next stop: Santorini, our “grand destination”. The island of Santorini is actually the top of a submerged volcano that erupted thousands of years ago. The city sits atop a steep caldera like white icing, overlooking small islands in its center. The great draw of Santorini is its spectacular sunset over the caldera. The first night Susie and I found a front-row table at a city cafe, and the second night we took a taxi to the Santos Winery, where we enjoyed a flight of wines with cheese for the big event. The wine on Santorini was delicious—far better than the Turkish wines I’d grown accustomed to. Of course, my favorite drink in Greece was Mythos, their slightly-sweet beer. I’m sure I drank my share! Needless to say, we found great dancing both nights on Santorini; I dragged Susie home before sunrise each night.





We also spent a night on Naxos, where we mostly basked in the pool of our hotel to while away the heat of the day. We explored the old city in the evening, though. The streets were strewn with oleander blossoms along the route of a Catholic procession that would happen later that evening. After relaxing on a secluded beach, imbibing in a late afternoon beer, and much searching, we found a restaurant recommended in the Lonely Planet, where we had what was easily the finest meal of our trip. Such luck we have!

Actually, we had many fine meals, incredible views, and delightful experiences in both Turkey and Greece. What a month!

No one can convince me that life isn’t truly grand.



The Mediterranean and Agean Coasts

The second leg of my summer travels was a 9-day trek with four other women across the Mediterranean and Agean coasts of Turkey. My goodness—what an adventure!

After bidding farewell to many of our Blue Cruise mates, we took off. We five were dropped off at the foot of Mount Olympus at Bayram’s Treehouse Resort near the beach—my friend Sue from Grand Marais, Jana and her friend Beate from Berlin, and Shelly, a Minneapolitan teaching in the Czeck Republic.



The first night we took a bus up to the top of Mount Olympus to see the Chimera, flames that come straight from the rocks, 24/7. The hike to the top was dicey in the moonless dark, much like a rock- strewn portage. Our friend Christy (traveling on her own) was the only one who thought to bring a flashlight, so the rest of us relied on the beams of our followers. The hike up was well worth the sweaty effort, though. We emerged on a rocky field dotted with campfire-sized flames emerging straight from the rocks. It was both eerie and fascinating, obviously the object of myths.



The next day we explored the ruins of Olympus near the beach and lazed away the heat of the day ina shady spot, reading and marveling at the pristine beachfront. That night after dinner we walked back to the beach in the dark, using my tiny penlight to guide us. Dumb. Beate twisted her ankle badly. After soaking her ankle in the frigid mountain stream, she hobbled back to Bayram’s, where we found a first-aid trailer. The doctor fixed her up with sauve, an ankle wrap, an ice pack, and ibuprofen. He offered us a drink, then walked across the stream to buy us beers. Go figure!

Next stop: Antalya. It was hot, over 100 degrees. We stayed at at the Dedekonak Pension, managed by a charismatic young surfer named Mike. He memorized our names immediately and made us feel very much at home. We followed his recommendation for a lunch spot, where we sat outdoors in the shade near an ancient castle enjoying Antalya’s incredible vista of mountains jutting from the Mediterranean.



Monday was my birthday, and Jana had champagne, mini-cakes, a candle, and gifts all set out for me in the pension courtyard. What a sweetheart!



Afterwards we piled back into the car for the four hour drive to Kalkan. It’s a charming town, and it took us a while to locate the Balikci Han. Once we found it, we were PLEASED—too lovely for words! It was clearly the gem of our trip. When Jana went to park the car, she returned with five iced lattes for us, complete with a handsome waiter carrying them on a tray. My second birthday treat.



The Balikci Han (fish peddler’s inn) has all of six rooms, and it sits at the edge of Kalkan’s old town, just a half block above the swimming beach. The rooms are charming, with hand-embroidered silk bed-coverings, antique furniture, and lovely beaded lamps and light fixtures. The breakfast tables were on a tree-shaded terrace.

As soon as we got settled, we hit their amazing beach. The water was both hot and cold, changing temperature every stroke we swam. We discovered that a frigid mountain stream empties into the bay at that beach.

We had a DELICIOUS dinner at the Kaptan’s Restaurant, just across the block from our hotel. Since the waiter had helped us carry our luggage to the hotel, this was a natural choice. We shared mezes and entrees, and everything was delicious, especially the cigara borek. It was the BEST!



The next morning we drove to Saklikent Gorge. Once we passed the tourist booths and paid our small entry fee, we followed a wooden walkway hanging along the cliff above the river. It was a bit odd to see a huge Turkish flag strung across the gorge far above us—but this is Turkey.The walkway ended at a maze of Turkish-pillowed “booths” perched over the water. There must have been 15 of them, as well as tables and chairs set along the rocks.

We forded the icy, rushing water beyond the restaurant area, and were amazed to continue along a mere trickle of warm water As we continued up the gorge, the formations became more and more amazing. It was spectacular. The entire mountain is marble, so it’s amazing to think of how many years it took the river to wear away this phenomenal gorge.



On our way to Akyaka we stopped at Kayakoy, a city deserted after the 1923 population exchange. When the Turkish Republic was established, Greek Christians were deported to Greece, while Muslims were brought back. It was a painful time for many towns, where Christians and Muslims had lived in harmony for centuries. Kayakoy, frozen in time, is a testament to the lifestyle of many centuries.

Akyakya, our next stop, is an interesting little tourist town where all the buildings follow a similar design, mostly two stories with intricate woodwork ceilings and eves. Lovely! Once we settled in, we decided to scope out restaurants up the river behind our hotel. A man invited us in for tea or coffee, which Sue fanagled into a glass of wine for each of us. Go figure! After dinner we threw fish scraps into the river, which was soon writhing with eels under the restaurant’s floodlights. Unbelievable!

The next day we took a boat cruise to five beaches on the Gokova Bay, including the famed Cleopatra’s Island. Antony developed the island for Cleopatra with a small city (now ruins) and a beach with imported sand from Egypt. The beach sand, which supposedly has healing properties, is protected. The grains are rounded rather than granular, so it’s funny to walk on (underwater), sort of a combination of mud squishy and sand loose. You can’t sit on it, and there’s a huge fine for taking any away. There were probably 15 or 20 security guards. Many people sat in the water below the roped-off beach, smearing sand on their bodies, faces, etc. Amazing. Our next swim spot had a 100-foot cliff, which some men dove from. It was frightening, but they all survived.



On Friday we headed for Selcuk, stopping on the way at the Dilek Peninsula, where we had another picnic, swam, and lay in the sun. Life is rough in the swamps!

Selcuk (on the Agean) felt like home to me, as this was my third visit. The Bella Hotel was charming as usual. The staff remembered me from last summer, but they particularly remembered my son Ross and my dog Libby. Hmmm…



We relaxed on the terrace restaurant/bar and enjoyed a lovely dinner. Saturday we drove up to Şyrince (SHEER-en-jay), a quaint mountain village which charmed everyone. Our favorite spot, though, was the little man who sits in a tiny shelter carving wooden spoons from cedar branches. We chatted with him and took many photos, though I lost them with my camera the next day. Oh, well. Fortunately, I’d downloaded most of my photos earlier. I’ve gotten great mileage out of that camera, and it’s given me wonderful memories of my adventures in Turkey. I bid it a fond farewell along with Turkey.


Let me tell you, I highly recommend you consider adding a Blue Cruise to your List of Things to Do. We just finished a 5-day cruise along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey from Fetiye to Demre, and it was WONDERFUL!

On the last day of school, I met my son Dustin and his sweetheart Aly at the airport—hugs and tears abounded. We waited another hour for my friend Susie from Grand Marais, who was delayed in the lost luggage department (her suitcase hadn’t gotten beyond Paris). She managed without it for four days, poor thing. When it finally arrived in Fetiye on Monday, she paraded it around the hotel pool, and we celebrated with Appletinis. If you know Susie, you understand.

We spent one night in Istanbul, doing the Quick-Tour, which included dinner on a rooftop restaurant, the Basilica Cistern, the Blue Mosque, a ferryboat ride on the Bosporus, and a trip to the Grand Bazaar. Needless to say, we were ready for the peace and quiet of an airplane ride to Fetiye.
We stayed at the V-Go Hotel, which is a backpackers paradise. The terrace dining room had a beautiful view over the bay, the food was great, it had a pool, and the rooms were air-conditioned. What more could we ask? The weather was HOT! It rained one afternoon, which cooled things down a tad—but just a tad.

After two nights in Fetiye, all 16 travelers had arrived and we were transported to the Sevi 5 (Sevi=love). It was a well-loved boat with lots of beautifully kept wood, both inside and out. We were all relieved to see thick sleeping mats laid out on the deck for us, certain we would never be able to handle the heat in our rooms below. Some people slept down there, though, and said it was fine with the breeze blowing through all night.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but I’ll mention a few highlights from the trip. The food was incredible, though we had been concerned at first to learn that our chef, Soner, was only 19 and this was his first summer as a cook. Every meal rated a ten.p1010008.JPG
We mostly sat around and laid around and swam and slept and read. It was tough, let me tell you. The best days were the Five Swim Days. Even the Floridians found the Mediterranean waters more than comfortable, and we had some serious cannonball contests off the top deck. The company was delightful: 5 teachers from Koc, three young couples, and more young singles. We all got along and grew to know each other well through sharing meals, sleeping side-by-side, and playing together.

One day during lunch the captain called us to the bow, where three or four dolphins were cavorting with the ship. It was a delight to see them racing along, jumping, then falling back to repeat the performance. What a thrill to see them just feet away!

On July 4th Soner made us a watermelon man, complete with sparklers. The holiday had nearly gone unnoticed, so we appreciated the effort. It tasted great, too, replete with fresh fruits of all kinds. There was never a shortage of fruit (or beer) on board.

In addition to many stops at harbors for swims, we visited a few villages. One was Kas (Kosh), which had an ancient Roman theater and many tombs carved into the hillsides. Another small town’s picturesque hilltop castle overlooked the nearby islands of Kekova. Our captain told me the town was called Castle Town. Figures. When we got off the boat, village women with baskets of embroidered scarves guided us up the streets through a maze of small shops and up to the castle. A woman named Serefe guided me all the way, pointing out items of interest. Between her limited English and my limited Turkish, we learned we are the same age. Her life has been far harder than mine—I’m always aware of how fortunate I am. Of course, she lives in Paradise, and she knows it.



On our last night we all dressed up to go to the Smuggler’s Inn Pirate Bar. We were picked up by a barge-like motorboat, the local water-taxi, which held 30 people. It delivered us to the bar, which was a thatched-roof affair tucked away in a tiny cove across from a rocky crag. It was AWESOME! Totally different from anything we’d ever seen. It took a while for everyone to warm up, but eventually everyone was dancing and sweating up a storm. It never did cool off that night.
Well, all good things must come to an end, and we all waved Captain Atilla, First Mate Orhan, and Chef Soner goodbye and hopped onto a service bus to be delivered to our next destinations, which were many.


We all shared a magical, relaxing week that I’m sure none of us will forget. As I suggested, put this one on your list.