Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mama Mia - Here we go again!

At least I don't have to chisel our blog!
My how time flies in the blogosphere! In recent posts - Michael told a great football tale, and answered the first of several questions we received from readers of the New York Times story and the Huffington Post Live interview. His post is about our budget and we welcome your feedback. I am the one behind on travel tales!

Since my last post from Malta, we've been to Rhodes, Symi and Kos in the Greek Islands, spent time in Turkey, including a mind-boggling trip to Ephesus, and are now settled on the Greek side of the divided island country of Cyprus. All that in just twenty days! Not our usual Senior Nomads pace, but there was still so much to see in this part of the world.

Some of this whirlwind travel included a few hotel nights, and I have to say I didn't mind someone else making the beds and preparing breakfast, let alone going out for lunch and dinner! And we were within budget, so that made it even better.

Here's a quick recap of the past twenty days. Let's begin with my birthday, March 6th. We started the party early - as in a 2:30 am wake up call for a 5:00 am flight from Malta to Athens. Note to travel planner: Not your best planning, even if we saved a few bucks.

We arrived in Rhodes just in time for a national holiday - and that came with a parade!
One of the quirks of our nomadic lifestyle is "we always have to be somewhere" - as in not at home and not on vacation. Traveling these past few weeks  included stops in Greece with hardly another tourist in sight because "the season" doesn't start until early April. After a layover in Athens our first stop was Rhodes, a lovely fortified city with  history around every corner.  Our hosts picked us up at the airport and we settled into our home in the old city (as in really old city). https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1037492. Our back door opened onto to the courtyard of a church built in the 15th century.

The Byzantine church out our backdoor.
On the way to town along an alley that hasn't changed in 500 years. Well, maybe the restaurant has a new name.
Our first stop, as always, was the closest grocery store - since we were inside the walls of the old town it was more of a place that offered snacks, beverages, staples and limited fresh products. Nothing exceeded a 500 year sell by date, but there was dust on some of the cans. A small, random selection of fresh meat arrived on Thursdays (this was a Saturday) and produce got a top-up twice a week - another sign that we were on an island that was still gearing up for tourist season.

That's okay. We made fresh orange juice everyday and found some fun new ways to use eggs, potatoes, canned food, cured meats and pasta. And of course the delicious kebabs, Greek salads and fresh seafood at local restaurants (if they were open) filled in the gaps.

Not taking reservations quite yet
It turns out this time of year, once you've had your fill of ancient ruins all to yourself, there is not much else to do. Shops and cafes were closed or getting a fresh coat of paint. Museums and other tourist attractions were open sporadically if at all, and, again we were so far ahead of the hordes we couldn't even find a scoop of ice cream! But we did get noticed and appreciated by the locals who assumed we didn't get the memo about arriving in early April. It was nice though, because everyone had time for leisurely chats and were very friendly. I am sure that's not the case when four cruise ships have dumped thousands of tourists on your doorstep for the day.

Road repair Unesco World Heritage Site style
We took a lovely day trip to the island of Symi on a modern catamaran. In port we watched a ten minute performance that could have been a modern dance titled Unloading. The daily delivery of human cargo, a few cars, crate after crate of fresh food, mail, newspapers, building materials, flat screen TVs and whatever else needed to keep this community humming was critical. However, to keep on schedule and meet the needs of about 6 more islands the choreography was tight.

Off-loading the daily delivery of goods to the small island of Symi
Again, the town was deserted, but our same ferry and other day trip boats will soon flood this picturesque village with tourists. I am glad we got to see the sleepy side of the harbor full of fishing boats and lazing cats. We took the local bus around the island and saw two other villages - we didn't get off, we just enjoyed the ride, the view and peppering the locals with questions.

Symi harbor on a picture perfect day
Another highlight was a day trip to the historic hillside city of Lindos to visit the "must see" Acropolis. I'd read about donkey rides up the side of the steep hill to the ruins and that sounded like fun! But like the rest of Greece, the donkeys were still resting up for the season, so we climbed 600 stairs to the top - it was worth it.

Halfway to the Acropolis in Lindos
The site at the top of the climb - I am sure crane would have been welcome  in 300 B.C.
The view of the sea from the top was worth every step
Ten days later we left Rhodes on very choppy seas for a quick stop on the Island of Kos. We were lucky not to be sea sick - a lot of people were. We had just one night in a hotel there before heading to Bodrum, Turkey the next day. We walked the town and bought our boat tickets then we took it easy as we prepared for another sea journey. Perhaps it was due to the candle we lit at the Greek Orthodox church service in the morning, but our Sunday afternoon ferry boat ride to Bodrum was, as they say, smooth sailing.
The Greek Orthodox church in Kos was stunning
Bodrum is considered the "St.Tropez" of Turkey. It is a sleek and stylish city with a harbor filled to bursting with giant yachts, sailboats, charters, ferries and fishing boats. We wandered the marina on our way to our hotel and were awed by the size and magnificence of most of the boats. On our second day we returned to the marina and found a gregarious French couple living aboard their 60 foot sailboat. They invited on board for a look around the good ship Kavira and libations. They have been cruising throughout the Mediterranean for the past four years - and spent the winter in Bodrum.

Michael hard at work in the hotel lobby in Bodrum
Our small hotel, the Akkan Luxury Hotel www.akkanhotels.com  (don't take the word luxury too seriously) was near a maze of lively shops and restaurants that all seemed more than open for business - including the gelato store! The sun was out, the beach was beautiful and we were happy to relax for a couple of days before moving into our next airbnb home in Izmir.  The hotel was great. It was small but well staffed, served an interesting complimentary "mezze" breakfast and boasted a reserved spot for guests to lounge on the beach across the street - starting in April, of course. I don't know if we would have found this wonderful city if we were not Nomads. Bodrum is worthy destination if you ever find yourself exploring this wonderful country.

Admiring the boats in the harbor in Bodrum
Note: I seemed drawn to eating octopus while in this part of the world. I don't know why, really. It's ugly and chewy and never seems to meet my expectations - but I persevere, and I have had some that was tasty. Stewed in wine with garlic was best - lightly grilled came in second.I guess it had to do with it being so fresh - and it's definitely not something I would wrestle with in an airbnb kitchen!

Grilled octopus and a Greek salad makes for a perfect lunch
From Bodrum we took a pleasant four hour bus journey north to Izmir. Our ultimate goal was to visit the ancient ruins of Ephesus and Izmir, Turkey's third largest city is just an hour away. The city itself felt bigger than Istanbul - crowded and full of high rises jammed together.

 A stone carving of  Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey gazes down on Izmir
Our airnbnb https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1626650 was downtown, but our neighborhood felt almost tranquil. When we search for our apartments I can easily get sucked into photos (especially of the kitchen and outdoor space) and put my tick mark in the yes box without going too deep.

Michael is more thorough and looks at practical things like location, accessibility, local transportation, reviews, and cost. Good thing, really. More often than not however, we circle back and agree to my "gut feel" choice. In this case, everything about it was awesome - except we both overlooked (or chose to ignore) the notation about 5 flights of stairs with no elevator. This particular gauntlet was a winding stair case in an old building. We had to off-load some things in the lobby and carry them up in shopping bags before we could tackle bringing the actual suitcases up. Luckily, our host was helpful (although winded at the end).

Ready to tackle 5 flights on stairs in Izmir
 One of the challenges is we have packed for a year - and that equals heavy suitcases (23 kg each) I always want to explain to our hosts, taxi drivers,  and anyone else who handles our bags that we travel full time, blah, blah, blah.They don't care - they have already decided we are crazy Americans and I must have 20 pairs of shoes in my suitcase. I should stop trying.

Ephesus is not easily described. I feel like we had been teething on other sites like Pompeii, Lindos, and Rhodes just so we could truly appreciated the magnitude of this place.

Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has visited Ephesus more than a dozen times, says the city "is almost like a snapshot in time. You get the sense of what walking down the street of a Roman city was like without having to use your own imagination."

So true. We decided to splurge on a guided tour and it was worth it. Our mini-bus picked us up in Izmir and again, since it was early in the season, we were the only guests. We had the bus and our very knowledgeable guide, Sky to ourselves. As we entered the grounds of this 3,000 year old city called Ephesus we fell under it's spell - probably because we were able to explore it with just a couple of hundred visitors. In the peak season over 10,000 people visit every day!

I am sure in another life time, Michael was putting on events in this huge stadium
I am also sure Nike was a sponsor and this was the signage
One thing that always struck me from Florence to Paris, and certainly in these ancient sites, is that we sit and rest with a water bottle on stones that are hundreds or even thousands of of years older than any revered structure in America. I love that our country is still new and shiny and full of the ambition and the bravado of a teenager, but the awe that comes with being able to perch on a bench that Caesar might have passed on his way to have lunch in the Forum is an amazing experience.

The library building at Ephesus - an amazing sight.
We could call the last month The Old Stones Tour - and I don't mean the rock band.
Five days later, we left Turkey for the island nation of Cyprus and are having a wonderful time here. I'll catch you up on this divided country next time. From here we head to Israel for a much anticipated visit. We will be there during Passover and The Orthodox Easter celebration.

Thanks for following along,

Debbie and Michael
Senior Nomads




6 comments :

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. My husband and I visited Ephesus in October 2012 as part of a four-month trip around the world, which of course pales compared to your amazing journey. I know from experience the time and effort it takes to write a blog like yours. I look forward to following along as you document your nomadic life. If you return to Turkey, you might want to pay a visit to the charming coastal town of Kas and its surroundings, where we stayed for a month. So nice!

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  2. I was in Antalya, Turkey, in February and was glad to be there when most of the tourists were not. I fell in love with Turkey and the people. If I ever go back, I won't miss Ephesus or Bodrum. I'm so enjoying your posts. I found you from a fellow blogger (timegoesby) and am sure glad I did! :-)

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  3. Fascinating post and lovely photos! Thank you so much for sharing.

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  4. What precisely is in your suitcase? I've travelled for 3 months and found what I needed was the same as if I were traveling for a weekend. Yes, taking my pillow always! But for a year or more, I'm curious. How many pants, underwear, etc. And things you can't be without? Or the "Rick Steves" essentials like a sink stopper? Thanks. Sally

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  5. I loved reading about you in the Seattle Times today. I can't wait to hear about your time in Jerusalem. It is life-changing. We were there for Holy Week and Orthodox Easter three years ago. Be sure to visit the West Bank, Palestine, for the full picture. Xoxo

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  6. Wow very beautiful post. Thanks for sharing. Ephesus is an amazing place. Ephesus is one of the most important touristic places in Turkey. Each year many local and foreign tourist visit Ephesus and they also visit other historical sites around Ephesus area. There are many travel agencies that organize Ephesus tours for travellers. Keep blogging like this.

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