Tuesday, January 28, 2014


To us overseas types, there is Athens and then there are the Greek islands. And those islands are all a blur. White houses, beaches, donkeys, windmills, some ruins, lots of tavernas with cheap Greek food. Isn't that the image?

And of course, the reality is much more complicated. And I'm not the one to tell you about it, because I don't speak Greek (yep, it's all Greek to me) and though I've been coming to some of the more popular islands since I was a teen and to the less popular islands since I've been with Ed, I haven't even scratched the surface.

But I do know this: each island feels uniquely different from all the others.

You'll have guessed that a Greek island is on our list for this trip. Which one? Well now, that's not hard! In January, if you want to take a ferry from Turkey (as opposed to fly back to Istanbul, then to Athens, then to your island of choice), your options are few. We covered two last year -- the further north islands of Chios and Lesvos. To my knowledge, the only other island with a regular year round ferry service from Turkey is Kos.

In many ways, Kos is prettier than its northern island cousins. It has mountains, it has an archeological presence. A significant one, in fact. This is where Hippocrates, the father of medicine, lived (and live he did! Must have been on the Mediterranean diet because he is said to have died at the ripe age of 104!). But Kos has suffered in recent decades: a sharp decline in tourism (blame tour companies, the big storm of 2000 and the crash of 2008). It's struggling now to rebuild and rebrand itself.

But that's not something we would notice. In January, it's lower than low season here. Just to give you an idea -- the one ferry operating today between Turkey and Kos had maybe ten people on it. At most four (and that includes Ed and me) were tourists.

So now you know that we were on that ferry. That is a minor miracle, because we almost missed it. How so? No! Did not oversleep! Not at all that!

We were up for breakfast in good time. Eight o'clock, just as planned.

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...Watching the sun stream inside the little breakfast room in thin slivers (there are still some rain clouds out there somewhere)...

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...and eying the cats, of course...

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...including a more brazen one who climbs to the roof then jumps in through the window at the smell of cooked eggs. He is well treated by the hotel owner and by us.

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The owner tells us we needn't get to our ferry too early. That seems right: I do have a prebooked passage after all (not because I thought it would sell out, but when you book, the agency keeps you informed of any changes or sailing cancellations). So we say our goodbyes and walk leisurely to the ferry boat landing, getting there just before 9 for a 9:30 crossing.

But there is no ferry.

Not today, a ferry person tells us.
Now how could that be?! I have my confirmation letter. Here, let me dig it out!
He looks over my shoulder. Ah, that's a ferry from a different port -- at the other side of Bodrum. From the Cruise Port.
How far is that?
Oh, about three kilometers.

There are many lessons to be learned from this. Here's mine for you: in travel, never, ever think you've got it all figured out! Something will always confound you, trick you, set you spinning. Or in this case -- running. Finding a taxi helped. (Had we known, we could have walked the shortcut along the shore. But honestly, who knew that there were two ports with Kos ferries running from them in Bodrum. I mean, who would have guessed!)

 Breathing a sigh of relief...

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...we get on board. Or I do. Ed loves to wait until the last minute.

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Weather, for me, is all important in a ferry crossing. You put me in a boat with waves slapping viciously at the sides and I'll be counting the seconds until I'm on solid ground again. But, today we are lucky. The seas are calm. Here's Bodrum, looking back:

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The Turkish ferries are always such small fish in the big sea of Greek ferries and so I have a particular fondness for them. This one seats maybe one hundred and, as I said, it is quite empty.

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It isn't an entirely sunny crossing. Despite the fact that it's a mere hour's ride, the weather keeps changing. First, Turkey is blessed with rainbows and a sky with patches of blue.

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And Kos looks like it's suffering a deluge.

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Then things flip: Kos is now the dazzling queen of the sea.

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The sun has dried hills and beaches. Life looks idyllic. Though to the north (and in Turkey), the skies look varied.

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Off the boat, we are reminded that travel (and commerce) between Greece and Turkey isn't as, say, it would be between neighboring countries in Europe. There are the passport rituals. And, too, we give the Greek customs officials something to do - they search our bags. Finding (what a surprise) no contraband, they wave us along.

The walk to the hotel is lovely...

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...and brief. A mere ten minutes. We're staying at a place (the Kos Aktis Art Hotel) that is different from all our hotels thus far: this one is on the larger side: it's a four story box of a place, maybe forty rooms, built in the seventies and it is trying hard to bounce back. It describes itself as "seventies, renovated as minimalist" and I think that's a fair description.

At 95 Euros per night, it's on the upper end of what we would pay (though to be fair, this includes taxes and a breakfast buffet).

And the room is so pretty with its glass wall, looking straight out at the sea!

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And I am so glad that it is this nice, because, as it turns out - we will have our longest stay of the trip here -- all of four nights. (Time to do laundry!)

Ed says - you didn't tell me it would have such a view!

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I know not to over-sell a place. Especially when it hovers so close to our upper limit in price.

As we connect effortlessly to the internet, we marvel at how much things have changed for the computer dependent types in the years we've been traveling together! Not that we don't encounter headaches and glitches every now and then, but the "now and then" is getting to be "far and few between."

We go for a short walk to get a sense of the town. They say that Kos is tourist focused, but the island has also a solid agricultural base -- the saying goes: as many cows as there are people here! That's because it has a mountain chain and, therefore, water. It lacks that Greek island dry look. And in fact, the town of Kos is prettier than Mytilini on Lesvos and even the town of Chios. Though I suppose I'm a poor judge of things. In the winter, your feelings about a place are going to be colored by how much you like where you're staying and how easy it is to access the town's few open eateries and cafes. That was a lesson learned last year. No, it was not a good idea to stay five kilometers outside of town and to have no car to get us there and back.

Our walk isn't long because the clouds start forming to the west again. Still, we get a sense of the place.

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Okay, these two last photos are actually a little bit on the unusual end here. Most buildings adhere to the color and tone of the island, but they're newer. The so called old town doesn't look very old.

The town is, of course, much smaller than Bodrum, maybe the size of Datca. And I think most would agree that Greece, even on the islands (with the exception of Crete which is a world onto itself), seems more European than Turkey. There are fewer mosques, more churches, people seem more connected to Athens (in Turkey, I never think that Istanbul or Ankara hold much meaning to the people who live far from either place).

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Greece is an easy fling for the overseas tourist: a tad hard to get to, not so hard to fit into.  And in many ways, it causes me to think even more fondly of Turkey -- of the Datca lunch by the beach, and the Akyaka salad by the river, and the pair of socks I bought from the peddler in Bodrum.

But, Kos is comfortable and, of course, it is always exciting to visit another country all in the space of one short trip across the ocean.

We continue our walk: Old town, harbor, beach side -- we cover all that. And of course, I can't help but compare. It's the old game we play when we travel. What's the same, what's different. For instance,  I see that school is not closed here this week (as it is in Turkey).

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So that's different. On the other hand, if you watch the fishermen out by the marina, you'll likely conclude that these guys feel themselves to be the most overworked underpaid segment of the population in any country. And they spend their free hours fixing nets and lines. Familiar sights the world over.

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Oops. I'm feeling the first raindrop. It's time to turn back.

In the late afternoon I totally indulge myself and go down to the hotel cafe for a cappucino. That feels decadent! I'm surrounded by customers who are dressed more for the city than for schlepping around washed out muddy roads. And there are women alongside men. Well now, that's certainly less of a Turkey phenomenon.

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Yes, I'm closer to Europe here. Just that much closer to home. No one here will pull me to her side and tell me to take more space on the bus seat.

In the evening, Ed falls asleep again. (Here's a photo of him, as reflected in the window looking out toward the sea... It's as if he were dreaming of being a sailor again!)

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If I thought I'd broken his weird cycle last night, I was wrong. Still, he allows himself to be awakened for supper. Groggy and not at all hungry, he sets out with me to a local beloved pizzeria.

Except that it's closed for the season. My traveling companion has no oomph to search out the tavernas on the other side of the bay and so we return to the hotel, where you can get a pretty decent Greek salad at the hoppin' cafe-restaurant.

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So we're in Greece now. And tomorrow, they say the rains will finally move away from the region. Though surely I have learned that in travel, there is no such thing as no surprises.