Saturday, January 05, 2013

crossing borders

It has been a long day. A charming, fascinating, delicious, warm, tedious, surprising, annoying, tiring, frustrating, enchanting -- ultimately long day.


We wake up to a sunny day in Alacati. Our hosts at the b&b are perfect and their staff prepares an incredible breakfast (the husband, that's him in the photo below, makes small batch jams and marmalades as a hobby... imagine, just as one example, blackberry jams in three stages of ripeness). With Turkish eggs, omelets, crepes...

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I say to Ed -- take two brilliant minds and add hard work and there's not end to what can happen. These two, here at the small Incirliev b&b, have perfected the art of innkeeping. I don't think you can do better than what they have done.


On their recommendation, we go to the fish auction (it takes place in the morning, each day). It's a gloriously sunny day and Alacati shines in the morning light.

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The fish auction -- now that is is truly unique.

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We cannot understand what they're saying or how they're bidding, but the very idea of a fish auction is, to me, unusual and therefore cool to watch.The people are keenly tuned to what's on the table. The cats -- they are, for once, territorial and also fixated on what may come their way.

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Alright. We leave the men and women and cats (mostly men and cats) to their fish.


With the end of the fish auction comes the end of our stay in Alacati. We bid our perfect (this in no hyperbole) innkeepers goodbye, pat their dog and set out. A dolmus delivers us to the heart of the port town of Cesme. From here, the ferries take off: for Greece, for Italy, for the world. We had chosen a modest destination: Chios. A Greek island a mere 8 miles off the coast of Turkey.

The ferry is sets sail at 5. We have many hours to kill until then. We leave our backpacks at the ferry offices and set out to explore this seaside town. First, let's take a look at the boats. Men, fixing nets. Sailboats wait for the season.

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Perhaps the best view comes from  is the climb to peak of the hill where the castle stands. (You can see the big freighter, then, in the next row, the ferries and finally the fishing vessels.)

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There isn't an entrance to the castle there, but we do have brilliant sunshine and we rest on the castle walls and soak in its warmth. I feel that life could not be a whole lot better.

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I had asked at the tourist office where the good bakery in town was and after a too long of a rest period, we return to the commercial center of Cesme in search of treats. The baked goods are not just good. They are excellent. The baklava is superb.

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A man from across the street brings us chai (tea). It appears that there is always just one place that makes tea and then a man with a tray carries full glasses to whoever has called in for it. Considering how much tea Turkish men consume, I think it's quite the plum job to be the tea maker on the block.

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Hours pass in this leisurely way. We stroll the streets and finally, it is time to walk over to the ferry terminal. (The ferry for Chios runs just a few times each week, which tells you something about the relations between the two countries.)

Taking the ferry is a complicated undertaking. You have the printout of your online booking. You need to show up at the ferry office early to pay some tax or other. We do that. But you still need to go to the ferry station early. Once you've gone through passport control, there is no place to sit except at the cafeteria where you are compelled to order chai and the waiter will tell you it's 3 Turkish Lire -- which is at least three times the cost of a chai anywhere in town. (If that's even the real price. Upon noting your surprise, he'll tell you that these are Cesme prices. Since you have just had a chai elsewhere and know that to be incorrect, you begin to doubt the veracity of anything else that he says. Including that the price really is 3 Turkish Lire.) Okay, you pay, you sip. You get on the boat, reach into your pocket for candied ginger because you are the type that gets sea sick upon any roll of any boat. (Your traveling companion, meanwhile, is utterly thrilled to be out on a boat again. Even a small ferry boat with the name of San Nikolas.)

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The departure is delayed because the crew is trying to figure out how to allow a second car to get on the small boat. Since everything else thus far has been so punctual in Turkey, you start wondering if you'll miss Turkey. Then you feel terrible about forming preconceptions. You settle in for the journey.
Good-bye Cesme and Turkey.

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Hello Chios and Greece, there across the waters.

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It's dark when we pull into Chios town. We'd been warned that the town is not too attractive. In the summer, people take day cruises that include a stop in Chios and they all complain (on TripAdvisor, for instance) that Chios is a sad state of affairs as compared to Cesme. Expecting the worst, we are pleasantly surprised. It could be that twinkling lights prettify the town, but it looks just fine to us, though very different from its neighbor across the sea.

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We have to take a taxi and that's slightly annoying. We had mapped out the location of the Mouzaliko b&b and found it to be about five kilometers away from the port. That's an hour's walk. We can certainly do an hour's hike. We have only our backpacks and I have a shoulder bag for my computer. But it's dark and the roads are complicated and street names are in an alphabet we cannot fully decipher. So we do what we hate doing: we hail a cab. And the cab driver, upon learning of our destination passes us over to his buddy. Who agrees to take us, but consults with his friend in long Greek sentences as to the location.

We finally get inside the car. He has been smoking just seconds ago so the car is filled with tobacco fumes. Ed opens the window. It is now both smokey and cold.

The driver takes us into the countryside where you can't see a thing because the roads are very narrow and on each side there are stone walls more than six feet high. So that even Ed, at 6'4" wouldn't be able to see a thing.

The driver does not turn on the meter. I'm thinking we're screwed.

Therefore, I am shocked when he finally pulls up by the Mouzaliko and charges us only 10 Euro, which is what our host had emailed me it would be.


Our hosts are a combination of Greek and Quebecois. (He is Greek, she is from Canada.) Neither speaks English well, though she is better at it. I can speak French with her. She's good at that. She doesn't speak Greek perfectly. She communicates with him in French. He is sort of okay in French, so I wonder how they proceed in a life together. Whereas Turkish people speak very very quietly, this couple speaks very loudly. Especially when they are agitated. And we cause them to be agitated. Here's why:

She shows us our room, which is really a huge suite of rooms. Cavernous. And each room is heated separetly with a loud heating unit perched high, near the ceiling. You feel guilty running it in the room that you do not inhabit. So one room is cold, the other is warm.

But that's not the source of frustration. We are paying very small prices. We have no expectations of luxury. (Though you should never go to another b&b after experiencing a perfect one. Comparisons are inevitable.) The real problem is that the internet does not work. The password she gave us is rejected. Both by my Mac and Ed's PC.

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We try caps, we try spaces we try everything. Finally, Ed goes to chat with our hosts. They tamper with this and that. Nothing. They think maybe our computer is not working properly. I bring over my computer to show them. It is dark, it is cold. We are standing on the steps outside their private residence having this conversation about passwords.

Our host calls the Internet providers (he brings his phone outside). He speaks loudly at them, then he speaks loudly to his wife and she reminds him he should speak Greek to her because otherwise I can understand what he is saying in French. Which I gather is private. Possibly it is an assessment of us. They just had Turkish guests and their computer worked fine. True, they had internet problems a few days ago, but the company fixed that. Maybe it is that our American computers are different? Though they had one American guest this summer and he didn't complain. They hand us the phone so that we can talk to the Internet guy who speaks a modest English. He asks us to run through some clicking of this and that and I have done this already, many many times, but here I am on the cold dark steps of the hosts' residence doing it again, balancing the Mac in one hand and plunking away with the other. Nothing.

We spend a good half hour like this. I feel sorry for them, but I feel more sorry for us. Finally, we suggest that we attack this problem tomorrow. It is late, I am cold. I am unfairly perhaps thinking how our previous b&b hosts treated us to warm tea and cookies after our journey.

We go back to our room to leave the computers and set out to the only taverna within walking distance. Our hosts assure us it is decent food.


Just as we set out for what they say is a half a kilometer's trek but is really more like a mile, our hosts knock and tell us that at 9 pm, a 'friend' is coming over to help us with our American computers.

So we hustle over to the taverna. When we enter, we realize that Greece is the only country in the EU that has not yet banned smoking in restaurants. But, the room is large and though there is one family dining there, they are at the opposite end and only one person is smoking. Still, you can tell. And you have to wonder why those who do not smoke put up with this lenient attitude toward those who do.

The menu has an English translation, but it is very basic. Fried this fried that. Meats without a description. Chicken. Liver. Etc. We pick a Greek salad (why not!) and I take a plate of calamari and Ed takes some shrimp dish, even though we know that these shrimp are going to be small and most likely from some distant place. Possibly Vietnam.

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The waiter brings our food and the salad is delicious and the little jug of wine is fantastic and the calamari plate is huge and fresh and, with a squeeze of a lemon, very very tasty.

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I cannot finish it all and Ed refuses to eat calamari because he says octopuses are a lot smarter than we think. The waiter looks at my plate with one piece of calamari left on it and he is honestly aghast. You do not like it? He appears seriously offended. I say -- too much! In response he brings more wine. For free. You have to smile at this different attitude toward wine consumption. In Sirince, on New Year's Eve, we had paid a huge sum (at least it was huge by our standards) for a not too complicated dinner and it included two glasses of very indifferent wine from who knows where as we never saw the bottle. We split a third glass (because the evening was long and the glasses were very small) and got charged 12 Turkish Lire (about $9) for it. Ufff! Here, the waiter is pouring delicious wine as if there was no tomorrow (and perhaps that's the Greek attitude toward life right now) and refuses to charge us for it. In fact, the entire meal is 20 Euros (about $25) - cheaper than any we've had thus far. By a lot.

We ask if he has dessert and he said yes. What is it? I cannot explain it. He brings us (again, without charge) a plate of small fruits bathed in a sugar syrup. Kumquats.

We leave a very large tip. It's hard not to feel empathy for the Greeks right now.

Back at the b&b, we do not see our hosts, but two men are lingering in the courtyard. They approach us as we enter and tell us that the problem with the Internet has been fixed. And you know what? They are right.