Monday, July 15, 2024

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Greece, The Land of Blue and White

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Today I would like to tell you about a trip to Greece many years ago.

A blue and white country like the colors on its flag that resembles Turkey with its history, nature, culture, music, and food, which I had the opportunity to visit several times because it is close to Turkey.

This time we chose to go to Greece by cruise. I boarded the ship from Izmir with my college friend. One of the nice things about cruises is that you can travel without constantly packing your luggage and changing your room.

Although this is a comfort, the time spent on land is limited, so it is necessary to evaluate it well and travel quickly. After getting the keys to our rooms and finding the location, we placed our belongings and went upstairs for the lifeguard drill. During the drill, where we met the captain and crew, we received training on what to do in an emergency, and where and how to find and use life jackets. Then the ship manager gave us information about the trip in English. The guides from the travel agency that sells and markets the ship informed us in Turkish about the tours in the ports we will visit. Instead of taking the classic tours, we decided to make our discovery. While talking amongst ourselves, we met a mother and her young daughter and decided to make the tours a foursome. Our conversation progressed During dinner, and we discovered that we had much in common.

The first port we arrived next morning was Thessaloniki. During the embarkation, they collected our passports and gave us ship cards that we would use to enter and exit the ports. These cards could also be used to shop on the ship and charge extras in the room. After breakfast, we left the boat for Thessaloniki. We did not take an extra tour here and chose to visit on foot. Our first stop, the White Tower, was very close to the harbor. As we were walking on the beach, we were intrigued by its resemblance to Turkey. The White Tower is a must-see historical monument when you go to Thessaloniki. We saw a street bagel seller there. He spoke Turkish very well. Despite his accent, we understood what he said. We were interested in the fact that the bagels we bought were harder than Turkish bagels. We got the necessary information from him and started walking. Historical walls, mosques, and churches were all within walking distance of each other. The tiny framed boxes in front of the churches were for prayer and attracted our attention. Then we went to Atatürk’s house next to the Turkish consulate and visited the house where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was born in 1881. We had the chance to see his belongings, his wax sculpture, and the room where he was born in the museum, which was closer to the original in the years we visited. Then we visited the Thessaloniki Bazaar and bought souvenirs and did not forget to buy the famous Kavala cookies.

After we returned to the ship and rested in our room for a while, we went to a restaurant. After a nice open buffet dinner, we watched the entertainment at the poolside at the back of the ship. On this ship, as on the others, the next day’s excursion plans and ship entertainment programs were left in the rooms in the evening. So, we had the chance to plan the next day.

After sailing all night, we docked at Piraeus harbor in the morning and had breakfast on board. Since we did not take a tour, we were going to take a taxi from Piraeus to Athens. We had been warned that the taxi drivers would overcharge us, so we bargained and arrived at the Acropolis Ancient City in Athens by taxi. Our fellow passengers had also arrived by bus and were listening to the information given by the guide.

In ancient Greek cities, these special areas with castles and temples built on high hills right next to the city were called Acropolis, which means high city in Greek. The most famous of these Acropolis is the Acropolis of Athens, The Parthenon, considered the most important work of ancient Greek architecture, was built in the 5th century BC and dedicated to the goddess Athena. Important parts of the Propylaion temple, the Erechtheion temple which is dedicated to Athena and Poseidon, and the temple of Athena Nike are still standing.

Did you know that very high-rise buildings are not allowed in Athens so that the Acropolis can be seen from below?

After wandering around this ancient city that fascinated us with its history and looking at Athens from the top of the hill, we visited the museum below and started to travel around the city in mini trains. The train passed through the historical and touristic places worth seeing in Athens. It was a train where you could get off, walk around, and get on again. We were very interested to see the palace and the Greek soldiers in skirts waiting in front of it. We got off at the bazaar and had dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Acropolis. Then we went to a cafe for coffee and waited for a long time for a waiter. I think it was siesta time. No one took care of us for a long time. On the way back, we decided to go for a walk in Piraeus. While we were walking in the port of Zea (formerly Pasa Limanı) we saw the Cruise ship in the distance and when the Ship’s whistle blew, we ran out of time. We were worried that we would be late for the ship. We had difficulty finding a taxi and we had a big scare and we barely made it to the ship. When we went to the dining hall, we were out of breath, we had seen the capital of Greece today and witnessed how history was preserved in this region, which was the center of many civilizations.

At night we went to watch the Cruise entertainment and afterwards, we sat on the deck and enjoyed the cool Mediterranean breeze.

Photo: Ayşe Zeynep Özcan

Our next stop was the world-famous island of Santorini. There is no big harbor on the volcanic island which is famous for its blue and white houses, so the ship anchored offshore. After breakfast, we took boats to the island. We preferred to take a tour from the ship in Santorini, so we traveled to the top of the hills in buses and reached the village of OIA, famous for its beauty. On the way, our Tour guide gave us information about the island. He told us that the reason why the window frames were blue was to prevent scorpions and insects from entering the house. He showed us the house built by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt on the island. Then the bus parked in the square. We received historical information from the church and started to visit freely. We took beautiful photos of the magnificent view. We loved the architecture of the white houses and the terrace balconies in front of each house. We had a nice couple of hours with nice restaurants, and Greek music coming from the souvenir vendors. There were three ways to get back down to the small harbor, either you walk down the steep stairs, ride a donkey, or take the cable car. We chose the cable car option and after we went down, we took the boat to the ship. On the ship, they had prepared various entertainments to keep us busy. First, we learned sirtaki and danced like Greeks then we joined the children’s entertainment and played musical chairs.

We arrived in Mykonos. This Greek island was known for its world-famous night entertainment, they transported those who wanted to go to the village by bus. We preferred to walk again. On this island, we had the opportunity to swim in the sea and shop in the bazaar. When the Greek shopkeepers realized that we were Turkish, it was very nice that they spoke Turkish to us and talked about Turkish Television series. We walked to the Mills area of the island which impressed us with its beautiful Mediterranean architecture. The sunset was very beautiful. We understood why there were so many crowds gathered. People were watching the sunset with various light plays as if they were watching a ritual. We watched one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world.

After last night on board, we arrived in İzmir the next day. Thus, our little tour to Greece was over, we had docked in four ports, seen four different places, and had a pleasant vacation with ship entertainment.

Greece is a neighbor to Turkey, so we have a lot in common. Especially the food and music are very similar, and even the appearance of people is similar. Even though there are different religions and languages, these common tastes make the two nations very close to each other.

Greece, the cradle of Western civilization, raised many scientists and philosophers and hosted the first Olympics. Greece lived through the Roman and Byzantine empires between 323 BC and 1453 AD, and the Byzantine Empire became history after Fatih’s conquest of Istanbul. The Ottomans allowed the Greeks to keep their religion and language. It is still possible to see traces of the Ottoman period in Greece. Declaring its independence in 1830, Greece today is governed as a republic.

If you still have not seen Greece, you should put it on your list of places to visit. Especially you should see its islands. Greece is a country that I can easily recommend because of the beauty of its Mediterranean climate and food, and the sincerity of its people, but remember that life in Greece is slow. people do everything very slowly to enjoy life. it is not for impatient people. If you want to have a comfortable and enjoyable vacation and expand your culture with its history, I recommend you to go to Greece.

Your fellow traveler Canan…

Canan Sezgin

Instagram: @cansez2013

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