In all my travels on this far earth I’ve never loved and felt at home in a place like I have in Greece and Turkey. In fact, despite my (as far as I know) complete Anglo Saxon breeding, it is Greece and Turkey that hold my heart and pull at my senses.
It’s the dazzling heat – dry as sandpaper and heavy like an anvil in mid-summer – the spectacular blue of the oceans, the pebbles on the beach massaging your feet, the smell of barbecue in any town at any time of the day, the sharp salty cheeses and olives drenched in green oil, the crush of people trying to use the trains in Athens in mid-July, the wind and dive of the seabirds tailing along on your ferry between the islands.
I’m not talking about a party-hard, drink ouzo and pass-out kind of Greece and Turkey – I’m talking about the long-days traveling the vast distances in Turkey only to be rewarded with a vast flat pan of salt lake or an incredible underground fortress for an ancient people hiding from religious persecution.
A crack-of-dawn balloon ride over magical fairy-castle (and somewhat phallic) Cappadocian landscapes, listening to only the wind and the rush of flame into the cavern of your balloon while the basket creaks and the dry, salt-bush-lined river beds wind underneath.
The kind of Turkey that fascinates you with its capital that spans both Europe and Asia with the mere presence of a few bridges.
That capital that is as ancient and modern as you can imagine, with a broad river that bleeds between two seas to enliven it. See Christians, Muslims and Jews live side-by-side in this beguiling city without much of a peep of the argy-bargy seen elsewhere in the world. With beautiful parks and gardens that line the dividing river, market stalls of every type and kind with a mash-up of locals and tourists and everyone trying to make a buck, or save it, depending on which side of the counter you stand.
The singular, haunting beauty of the call to prayer three times a day – a perfect, human bell bounding over the hills to you while you stand on the tiny balcony outside your hotel room at the white terraces, reminding you that this really isn’t Europe, after all.
It’s the Greece of the rocky islands peeking out of the blue, blue Mediterranean, whereupon you and your scooter can weave through the tiny, clingingtownships and see black-clad widows claiming shade in the side of toothpaste-white buildings.
People-watch at the populated beaches and see our German/Scandinavian/Dutch fellow tourists stand in ankle-deep water with arms out, turning around like chickens on a rotisserie to get that ‘all-over tan’ to go home to the chilly northern climes with. It’s the happening upon an apparently deserted beach over some rolling sand hills, only to discover you’re the only swimsuit-clad bather on the nudist beach.
Wandering through the Plaka after dinner, through markets that have been wandered by thousands of others for thousands of years, buying souvenirs and eating souvlaki. Then admiring the colossal Acropolis and the views it affords you over this amazing city.
Then there’s the heartache of seeing, and from that seeing, really understanding how tiny Gallipoli beach is and having the tiniest inkling of what thatlanding must have been like – for real.
The stony beach, the tiny smatteringof beach, the sheer cliffs almost directly in front of the beach– no wonder they were picked off like flies. Wandering the graves of Chanuk Blair and Lone Pine and wondering if the poor buggers on either side got a chance to look behind them to the spectacular coast winding below them?
Reading the memorial erected at Gallipoli Beach by the Ataturk to tell grieving mothers of the Anzac sacrifices that their ‘sons should rest in peace because they now live in the soil of a friendly country and have become their sons as well,’ and thinking how true that is.
So, yes, Turkey and Greece are my places, in heart, mind and spirit.