I absolutely cannot believe it that today is the last day of my hiatus away, and the days of vacation are now a memory! I am sitting in Fiumucino airport just now, having said goodbye to Ajith earlier because we’re on different flights. It’s a great opportunity to catch up on this blog that I’ve been ignoring….well, sort of. He’ll tell you I had good intentions daily to write on it but we were so tired every night that it seemed impossible that I could put in what I wanted to. Considering this, here’s a recap to the last week or so:
After Santorini, we took a flight to Crete, one of the other (and largest) Greek Isles. What a fantastic 35 min. flight this was! I loved seeing many of the islands from above. We arrived in Crete, and were picked up by Harris, the husband of the hotel owner.
What a Flop…Flipped
Harris seemed nice and was very chatty the whole way to our hotel. We had raving reviews from many people Ajith knew about this hotel we were going to stay at, which sounded wonderful. We were really looking forward to having a few days to relax some more without a care in the world. Everyone told us we’d really “be taken care of” here (i.e. pampered). I should’ve known something was up when Harris asked us if we needed something at the grocery store. He told us we had a bottle of water there, toast and jam for breakfast, and that was it. We passed on the offer, and that was a mistake.
We arrived at our hotel in the dark, and saw quickly it was in the middle of nowhere. Basically before he left, Harris told us the nearest store if we did want to buy anything was a 20 min. walk away and that most restaurants were closed because it was not tourist season anymore. We were like…ok!? He also said the owner Areti’s parents would be around if we needed anything at the reception area. With this, he left and we were on our own. Literally, we were also the only guests!
Once we got settled, we started to admire the beauty of the property we were on. This hotel had been converted years ago into a hotel. The property is owned by the owner’s family (and was her grandfather’s home) many years ago. This Greek family absolutely must’ve been doing well because it was beautiful and large. They did a fabulous job turning the rooms into lovely areas for guests with their room, balcony, a kitchen, dining table, etc. However, what Harris said was true. There was a bottle of water, dried toast type things that you can get at a grocery store, with jam in the fridge. That was our ‘breakfast.’ Nothing else.
The next morning we went to the reception area to find it closed – Areti’s parents weren’t there. We also had seen on the website they had a washer we could use (and by this time we needed to do laundry). I didn’t know where to find this, either. Eventually we heard some noise and it was Areti’s dad, who spoke 1 or 2 words of English, so he had to get his wife who spoke maybe a few more words than him. In all, they figured out we needed the washer and helped us get that going.
We were really confused at this point, wondering what kind of hotel this was, and why had so many people raved about it? We were complaining as we were walking to and from the hotel trying to find food to eat at a grocery store, which in Greece is sort of hard considering we were in the middle of nowhere with few people speaking English. Ugh! We found some pasta and sauce, fruit, and water to bring back.
Upon returning we found they’d been in our hotel room. They left us a guest book for us to write in. We started to read about it and couldn’t believe how differently we were treated than the others. It all made sense to us at that point why people raved about it, and how unequal our experience was. Everyone thanked them for serving them homemade food at times, bringing them homemade limoncello by the pool (which was empty, by the way), etc. It sounded like the people who go in the summer get absolutely pampered, and here we were in the fall without barely being recognized that we were there! We got quite annoyed reading this.
We left to go find the beach, which again we heard good things about. It was the furthest south on our trip we went (minus me being in Sicily) and knew the weather would be good for it. We walked some more to find the beach. We did, and I basked in the sun while Ajith read his book (for all of 20 min.) before we were cold.
At this point, we came back feeling utterly stupid for having chosen to come to Crete and for reading what a great place this was for others, when our experience was completely different.
With this, we decided to go find somewhere for dinner before it got too late and then get a good night’s rest before leaving the next day, while laughing about our experience of being left alone in the middle of nowhere with nothing to eat and nothing to do but walk around aimlessly.
We chose this little place nearby called the Black Lantern Taverna and Bar, which was the only place we knew was open after passing by it earlier in the day. This is where we met “Captain Graham,” the owner who was a former English Naval officer. He chatted with us for hours and we had a lot of fun with he and his girlfriend who works there too. There were a few others who came in but mostly it was just us. He kept us entertained with his stories, and he kept pouring us more drinks (it was at first a free dessert, then a Greek drink called Uzo, then more wine, etc.) and this is how the hours passed. By the end of the night, we had fun, and momentarily forgot about where we were. Thanks to Captain Graham for making this flop of a trip better!!
We were ready to get out of Greece at this point and were very excited to get to the next portion of our trip in Turkey. We planned to stay in Istanbul for a few days, then head down to Ephesus.
Upon arriving in Istanbul, we figured out the Metro and got ourselves to our first hotel. I booked all these hotels online based upon Trip Advisor reviews. We found our hotel, and after we got in we realized we wouldn’t be staying more than the night. This was the WORST, most DISGUSTING place I’d ever stayed in my life. Initially, I’m like, it’s ok…it’s one night….get through it… As the night went on I couldn’t wait to get up and get out. I didn’t even shower there! Stuff was falling from the ceiling that was fuzzy (I don’t know what it was but it wasn’t paint), the room was soooo small, the walls were ridiculously thin (I could hear a conversation going on next door perfectly), and the room was sort of cold because the windows were thin. The night went on and we were okay but both slept with one eye open I think. In the middle of the night a horrible smell came in our room, like burnt rubber or something and I couldn’t sleep. It was unreal. We agreed to look for someplace new right away. We consulted our Lonely Planet book for recommendations, and scored another hotel not too far away. Luckily the owner didn’t give us a problem and gave us our money back for the nights we weren’t staying and we got the heck out!
The new place was perfect – comfortable, clean, spacious, wasn’t falling apart, etc. 🙂 We got an even better price there and were happy the whole time. It was a great place to come back to in the middle of the day to relax if need be. I can’t rave enough about it…so much better!
We checked out typical touristy things in Istanbul – Aya Sofya (a mosque museum) as well as the Blue Mosque, one of the most beautiful religious places I’ve ever seen in my life. It was just stunning! The details in Turkish buildings is so ornate. I really enjoyed it a lot!
Here are photos of the Blue Mosque by day and night, and some of the inside. The photos don’t do justice of course, but it was just amazing!
We had to remove our shoes and also women had to wear a scarf over their heads to enter the mosque. I didn’t have a solid colored scarf like most people do, so this is the best I could do with what I had. I already get stared at a lot, at this point it didn’t matter any more! It’s more comical than anything!We went to the Grand Bazaar, which is a marketplace for all kinds of things. It was really big!
The next day we took a boat tour down the Bosphorus strait. It was really neat to be able to see where Europe ends, and where Asia begins! Very cool! This bridge connects the two continents.It was another cold and windy day…eventually rainy, too!The next morning, we were up at 4:45am to be sure we were ready to catch our ferry boat to Izmir where we’d connect to a train to get ourselves down to the Ephesus area eventually. We hauled our luggage around a lot only to realize when we arrived our ferry was cancelled for no known reason! We were lucky enough to have encountered a guy around our age who spoke English and told us it was cancelled so we weren’t nervously waiting around. Also we were fortunate to get all our money back without hassle…and we decided to stay the rest of our time in Istanbul. The other option was to take an overnight train (which I’d have hated to do), sightsee for one day, then turn around and hope that the ferry was running back to Istanbul so we could catch our flight to Rome. We decided we’d lose sleep, we’d be rushing, and the time/money wouldn’t be well spent. We remained in Istanbul for a few more days, and it was useful.
We saw a protest in Taksim Square, where lots of protesting happens:We toured the Topkapi Palace, explored the shopping district of Istanbul, and went to Istanbul Modern (the modern art museum). I didn’t stay long there as I was starting to feel sick so I went home and slept for a few hours, which is always my cure.
Our last few days went by fast. Istanbul is a beautiful city with lots to see and do. I will never be able to be called “Lady” again without thinking of my time here, as everyone calls a woman walking down the street “Lady” as they try to entice you into their stores.
In fact, I find it funny how store owners lure customers in. We often ran into men who were well dressed hanging out by the popular places. They would strike up a conversation with us, usually asking where we were from or if we were heading to the next nearest tourist destination. They would tell us they also lived in the US at some point and come up with a location, then ask how Turkey was, etc. We even had one guy walking with us (uncomfortably) to our next spot. He then told us he owns a rug shop and he’d love us to come look at it, as it isn’t far from where we are, etc. I was like, whoa!! Other times when restaurants wanted our business people would be on the streets saying “Yes please, Lady…take a look at our menu!” or “Come here, lady.” It was more intimidating than welcoming, and they would even try to touch you (like a pat on the shoulder, a welcoming gesture as if you were their friend). It had such an opposite effect on us – we wanted to run from those places and go where we wanted to, not because we felt pressure from someone on the street inviting us (forcing us) in. I wonder if this tactic works with selling rugs???
Praying to Allah
Going to a Muslim country was very interesting for me. I have a few Muslim friends (who are from Turkey) but I don’t know much about the religion really, other than what I studied in 9th or 10th grade in Global Studies. The first (and most striking thing) about visiting Turkey that I noticed was the early morning call to prayer that’s announced over the loud speakers of each mosque every day, 5 times a day, as the Muslims pray to Allah.
Normally, I’d probably be annoyed by this because I am not a religious person, and have generally felt when someone has religious beliefs, they don’t need to attend one building in masses and sing the same songs together to express it. I realize everyone is different with their view points on religion so I’m not trying to offend anyone reading this who does attend a religious ceremony regularly or anything, but just stating how I have viewed organized religion in the past. Coming to Istanbul helped me see something differently. I found the calls to prayer (which start at dawn, and happen throughout the day) a nice way for everyone to stay connected to their community and be aware of what’s really important to this culture. It would wake me each morning very early. In fact, the first day I didn’t know what it was and it sort of scared me because it reminded me of things you’d see on TV where you hear bomb sirens in a city, only this was someone on a loud speaker announcing something quite loudly…and then before long, you hear it coming from every mosque around! Ajith told me this happens in India too, and helped explain a bit more to me about it. It was quite fascinating. The Blue Mosque doesn’t allow tourists during the Muslim prayer time, which is respectful.
This entire process opened my eyes to how important religion is in other parts of the world still, though in the US I see it becoming less and less of a priority.
I Don’t Follow Politics…
Nor do I care to, but I will admit that my time in Europe has been fascinating because of the fall of governments in both Greece and Italy. Both Prime Ministers have stepped down within a week of one another and new leaders have been selected. We didn’t have any problems because of the unrest in the countries we visited but it was really interesting to see happen right in front of our eyes. A day after leaving Athens and visiting the outside of the Parliament building – on TV, there it was and we knew just where the reporter was. It was neat to be a part of it though we weren’t really part of it. I have to say, traveling with Ajith (who is crazy about his world news and politics) forced me into learning more about the situation. 🙂 I can certainly appreciate it!
One More Night
After Istanbul, we flew back to Rome because we bought round-trip tickets to/from Rome. What a welcome change it was to be back! First off, the weather was 100x’s better. Istanbul was cold, rainy, and very windy the whole time we were there. It is the fall, I realize, but such a contrast from beautiful Santorini and other places we’d been. Rome was 65 and sunny – absolutely beautiful!
Upon leaving Termini Train Station, we walked to our hotel where we ran smack dab into a protest happening in front of our eyes. Ajith was in his glory realizing this, and would’ve probably liked to jump in…but we had our luggage and needed to find our hotel. Haha. He did manage to snap a few photos, of course.
This morning we got a late start, but both made our flights on time and are headed back. What a beautiful trip this has been, and am glad I could’ve shared it with one of my best friends!
No Complaints About Food
As you know, it’s fun to blog about food. I got to eat a lot of different types of things during my time here, which was great! Many of you are aware of the fact I’m one of the pickiest eaters around and I had no problems on this trip. Are you shocked?
Ajith reminded me how much progress I’ve made in the 6 years we’ve known one another. When we went out on our first date (not knowing if it was a date or not) he chose to go eat at a Mediterranean restaurant in Raleigh called Neomonde’s. I can remember being nervous literally for days because I wasn’t sure what I was going to eat when we went out, and didn’t want to look like a fool in front of this new guy I wanted to impress. That seems ridiculous, right? I know…I laugh at myself now thinking back about it. You have to realize, the way I grew up I had very American foods all the time with little ethnic food. I didn’t try Mexican food until I was 24, nor had I eaten Chinese, Mediterranean, or Indian food until I was 25. Here we were, exploring the Mediterranean together eating all kinds of things! Granted, I didn’t go buck wild trying to eat lamb dishes in Turkey or Greece, but I would have a bite of his to know what it tasted like. It was yet another aspect of our trip that was very enjoyable!
I think when I’m back in Rochester I’ll want to explore some new restaurants that I was blind to before leaving purely because my taste buds have changed. Recommendations??
When I went back to Raleigh in May I got lunch at Neomonde’s, and felt like there was more food I wanted to try that I wasn’t able to in that sitting. Funny how things can change! Mmm something good to look forward to next time I go back (hopefully for good!).