Greece


At the end of a road trip across Eastern and Central Europe in 1989, my parents and I had stopped over Salonika before crossing the border and entering Turkey. We had arrived in town late at night and were keen to go to sleep at the hotel where we had made reservations. However, the receptionist would not allow us to check-in because she had noticed that we had Turkish passports. In her opinion, we were not suitable to stay in that hotel.

So late at night, we had to find another hotel, which wasn’t the cleanest or the most comfortable. The visual memories I retain from that hotel are the cracks on the walls and the brown bedcovers. The next morning, we devoted our time to explore the city. The first thing that we had noticed was the fact that people seemed happy and they were smiley. This was so unlike what we had experienced in Central and Eastern European countries. People of Salonika were clearly enjoying life. Cafes, restaurants and taverns were buzzing.

As all Turks who go to Salonika do, we visited the pink house where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was born. This is the same building where the Turkish Consulate is now. I still have the picture where as a child I am signing the guest book. I also have another picture as a child in 1989 under the big tree where Ataturk used to play as a child.

Exactly 19 years later, I had the chance to visit the city once again with my parents and also with my husband. We visited the pink house again. It was exactly the same as 19 years ago except for the guest book. Unfortunately, it no longer existed. But my pictures were again taken at the same spots. But this time, we got to see and understand more of Salonika with its museums, and the old town in the hills.

I must say that I definitely prefer Salonika over Athens as it has that buzz that the seaside adds to any town.

Its people seem to be more outgoing and quite fun as well. On more than one occasion, the drivers of the taxis we took spoke Turkish. They told us they either studied it as a second language at school or were taught by their parents at home.

We also made a quick trip to Halkidiki and a local village.

It was amazing to see how similar the stone built village houses are to the ones on the Aegean cost of Turkey.

In 1989, we left Greece through the northern part of the country. We stopped by certain villages on the way from where my parents bought me a blue pony doll, which I keep to this day. I also remember a highly clever parrot we have seen in one of the shops here. The parrot could repeat everything we were saying, even the Turkish words! We crossed the Meric River to go to the other side of the border. The bridge over this river was half painted in blue and white (colours of the Greek flag) and the other half in red and white (colours of the Turkish flag). Each side of the bridge had its respective national soldiers, who weren’t too far from each other. We heard stories that they could hear each other and often had conversations, and sometimes they even shared meals. As a child and adolescent, I spent most of my summers on the Aegean cost of Turkey, be it Ayvalik, Bodrum etc. As we would travel on the Aegean cost, we would be fascinated by how close the Greek Islands were and how easily the radio and TV channel transmissions would mix up. I used to enjoy listening to Greek radio stations from our summer house in Turkey.

So I always wished to see and experience the Greek islands with my own eyes. Especially, since a part of my mother’s family may track its lineage to Crete, I was particularly keen to see this island. Bless the cheap holiday packages offered in Britain. Our direct flight to Crete and holiday package in 2006 was fantastic. Our first experience at the Hania Airport was actually quite hilarious. All the EU passport holders were made to pass before us. It took quite some time for the custom officer to work the computer to find Bangladesh in the system. He cursed the computer, he mumbled certain things to himself, he mumbled some words on the phone and at the end he gave up and asked my then boyfriend, now husband: “Bangladesh?! British Colony, yes?” Just to get out of there, we gave him a positive nod and he let us through. We had a lovely and quiet beach holiday in Crete whilst visiting some sights from time to time.

We spent most evenings in Hania, which I believe looks very much like Ayvalik.

One evening, the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, Dora Bokayannis was giving a speech by the harbour.

We sometimes lost our way with the car and had to ask the locals how to get back. On one occasion, a family appointed their teenage daughter to help us. They would give directions in Greek and she would practice her English by translating for us. Thank God, I could tell “right” and “left” in Greek, because the poor girl was confusing “right” and “left” in English. On another occasion, we decided to ask a shopkeeper, who took me by the hand and pointed towards the sky. He asked: “Do you see that airplane?” I thought to myself: “Oh no!” He went on to say, “The airport is that way, so to get to the place where you are staying you need to go in that direction.” During our stay in Crete, we made trips to Knossos (my archaeological enthusiasm got the better of me) and some other small towns on the island. I was very keen to understand the history of the island and its people. Whilst what you see in Knossos is not exactly the true depiction of history (some British enthusiasts have tempered with this site in the old days), it is worthwhile to visit.

Later in the year 2006, I finally made a business trip to Athens. This has been a city I was always very curious about. Due to work, on the first days of my stay, unfortunately I didn’t get to see much of the city. Though, I was staying in a room with wonderful direct views to the temple of Zeus and thanks to work, we were spending our evenings in the best restaurants of the city.

Thanks to local friends, I and my then boyfriend – now husband were pointed at the right direction for places to visit in a couple of days. So we’ve done all the major sites including the Acropolis and even had the chance to listen to traditional music.

We walked around Kolonaki (apparently this is the high-end neighbourhood of the city), and near the university area. We watched the changing of the soldiers in their interesting uniforms in front of the parliament.

Athens is an interesting capital city. It has the areas with the grand avenues, which you would expect from a capital city but it also has small, historical neighbourhoods, which have a local community feel. I guess I was disappointed with the fact that the proximity to the sea was farther than I thought it would be. So far, if I would have the rank the places I visited in Greece, I would put Santorini at the top of the list, then Crete. These two would be followed by Salonika. With our trip to Rhodes, we have completed our visits to the 3 locations where the Order of the Knights Templer were settled: Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta. The first thought that came to my mind as we arrived in Rhodes, entered through the city walls and walked through the peppled and narrow Medieval streets at night time to reach our boutique hotel in the old town, was that we can already live in heaven here on Earth and that we are very lucky.

Rhodes proves once again that what makes Greece, Greece, is the islands. People are incredibly polite, friendly and helpful. The food is FANTASTIC ve Rhodes Town is full of surprises. I especially did not expect to see so many mosques, Ottoman libraries and other remnants which have been preserved. The Street of the Knights and the Grand Master's Palace make you forget that you are in Greece and gives you the illusion of being in France.

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