Greece & Turkey
For the past few weeks we've been enjoying the comforts of Western life in Greece and Turkey. Jennifer had a birthday and our friend, Kim, met us in Istanbul. After being vegetarians in India for a couple of weeks, we've really enjoyed the spicy meats that this part of the world has to offer.
We took a great walking tour around Athens with a fun and really smart archaeologist named Ãéþñãïò (George in english). Ãéþñãïò was extremely informative and we learned so much. At one point when we were near the Acropolis, he pointed and said, "do you see that rock over there, that's where democracy was invented." Wow. He also told us of the legend of Pheidippides who ran from Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated. The story explains that it was this Greek victory that was responsible for the creation of Western civilization. It's an inspiring place to be.
As you know, the financial situation in Greece is not good. We were surprised to see so many well-dressed people (who look just like us) begging for change in the streets. Public employees have taken a 40% paycut in the last year, while taxes on everything have increased. They're really suffering. We couldn't help but think that our own country, while much better off at the moment, is headed in this direction.
We met some great people and came to understand the kindness of Greek hospitality during our 2-week visit. We found Athens a tranquil and safe place to spend a few days.
After a fun and educational time in Athens we took a massive ferry (it was the size of a cruise ship) to the Greek Island of Santorini.
We enjoyed a couple dinners at the wonderful Naoussa Tavern. We were treated so well there and the food was AMAZING. We made promises to the chef and staff that we would return someday.
After a weather delay in Santorini, we made it to Istanbul where we met our friend, Kim. After 5.5 months traveling it was great to see a familiar face from home. We really enjoyed the chance to explore this beautiful city together.
On St. Patrick's Day we went to Taksim Square, the place to be for pubs and nightlife in Istanbul. While we were there, we met some Turkish guys who invited us to watch 'The biggest football match of the year for Turks' with them. In fact, the only reason we were able to get into a bar to watch the game was because we were with them--every single table had been reserved. It was a lot of fun listening to the passion in their chants and songs during the game, which, thankfully, ended in a 2-2 tie.
According to Wikipedia, Baklava is a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey. It is characteristic of the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire and much of central and southwest Asia. According to us, it's the best dessert on Earth:
The 3 of us decided to get out of the city for a few days so we booked a cheap flight to Cappadocia; a region in Southeast Turkey that is characterized by presence of fairy chimneys, ancient underground cities and for being a stop on the Old Silk Road.
What was especially interesting for us was our visit to Derinkuyu Underground City. This unique city is carved out of soft volcanic rock; it's 11 stories deep, about 85 meters (279 feet) in total. The Turkish Department of Culture estimates the city to have been built in the 8th-7th centuries B.C. There is a church down there as this city was used by early Christians escaping persecution. Also, there are many other underground cities in the area, several miles apart, which are connected with each other by underground tunnels! It can be a very tight squeeze down there!
Fairy chimneys are spires of rock that rise up from the bottom of badlands. They were created by the erosion of different types of volcanic rock and ash. They are all over Cappadocia. For thousands of years people have been carving homes and churches out of them.
We had a blast in Turkey. After a long night of bus/train travel, including a 4 hour wait at the train station and a customs officer stamping our passports in our train cabin, we arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria this morning. Robert's good friend and roommate from college, Phil, and his wife Erin live here in town. They teach US History and Literature at a local high school. We're excited to meet them for dinner in a couple of hours!
Until next time,
J & R