As the adventure drew to a close last evening, the four Canadian friends gathered for a final dinner. The topic quickly turned to learnings and favorite memories. With the warm Athens breeze blowing across the rooftop restaurant, the Acropolis loomed stately at one view and the remaining eighteen meter high columns of the Temple of Zeus at another. Between the monuments the traffic roared and snaked on the eight lane roadway below. From still another vantage point at the restaurant table, an outdoor rock concert with laser light show could be seen. One can’t help but think of the ancient Greeks looking down on the scene in bewildered amazement.
In this concluding installment of Turkey Talk and Greek Gab you will find some of the thoughts from our dinner conversation last night. My sincere thanks to Deb, Denis and Dave who have been constant supporters of the capturing of our journey in this story telling, they have not only brought suggestions forward but encouraged incidents about themselves to be shared. It became a standing joke that we would become a world traveling team. I would take on the writing; they would find new adventures for us to experience and assist as needed. I told all of them they would need to train to stay up past 9:30 at night as this is always prime time for capturing the events of the day before sleep dulls the memory. By what I’ve seen Turkish coffee would need to be administered intravenously to accomplish that for the trio of faithful supporters.
In all sincerity as we close this chapter I want to share with you that my friendship with Debbie began ten years ago when I was planning a trip to hike the West Coast Trail to celebrate my 40th birthday. Deb was a new colleague of mine and one day at work came up to me and said “I hear you are planning to do the West Coast Trail. Can I come along?” I thought she was rather forward, if not even pushy at that moment. After a little more discussion she joined our team and some months later we successfully navigated the path in one of the most memorable accomplishments of my life. What followed over the past decade was a friendship I treasure and many amazing adventures that broadened to include our husbands. Here’s to being open minded. One never knows what possibilities are in store.
Below you will find some themes from our lively conversation last night. After three hours at our perfect table the waiters apologetically kicked us out. They were diplomatic and gracious in dealing with Team Canada who were still squeezing out every minute of enjoyment possible from our journey.
‘Be open to new experiences and embrace them’ – Likely this is a great perspective not only for traveling, but for life. One of Deb and my favorite memories from the entire trip is our initial Turkish bath experience in Selcuk. Although we found ourselves completely out of our element and with little idea of what was going on, the actual olive oil soaping was one of the most wonderful tactile experiences we have ever had. Deb and I chuckled that when we are in the nursing home in our senior years, old friends rocking in chairs side by side, the reminiscing of the large Turkish men gruffly ordering us about and swatting our feet to ‘encourage us’ while we wrestled with our hamam cloths may cause us to still laugh so hard we will have to call for a ‘change’ following. Being able to go with the flow and leave your expectations behind allows for experiences and memories you can’t even dream of.
‘When traveling get off the beaten path’ – A cycling holiday would not be for everyone however we can tell you that should you travel to Turkey and Greece and only hit the popular tourist haunts, you will not experience the same countries we did. Of course the classics are a must but if you can manage the time, get out to the villages or at the very least off the main streets of large urban centers. A favorite for Denis were the days that found us cycling with the cows and sheep and their owners. With his farming background Denis was always a vault of information about what the aged tools and equipment being used actually were. For me as well the livestock interaction was a high point. On more than one occasion I found myself cycling through a goat herd as if parting the Red Sea (well the goats were black so the Black Sea might be more apt) This vision will be one I smile about for years to come. Sharing that glimpse of daily life gave us a genuine appreciation of the people and we hope leaves us with a lasting gratitude of how very much we have in Canada.
In Athens Dave and I, while wandering happened upon a large, local market on a Saturday afternoon. As we entered the fresh meat aisle an enclosed walkway of 200 meters presented. With cleavers the size of my head chopping large ribs by butchers with aprons covered in blood they beckoned the locals in their native tongue. They didn’t even appear to notice Dave and I as I’m sure it was clear we were not exactly in the market for an entire goat. The crush of the crowd assessing the best hanging meats (and I do mean every part of every animal was hanging) seemed to cause the sellers to yell just that much louder. The scene is one I will never forget and perhaps leave me as a hard core vegetarian. After squeezing by a box of heads with eyeballs I let out a squeal, which thankfully the roar of the market muffled, and we found ourselves in the even more frenetic fish aisles. Here the crowd intertwined as if in an Istanbul traffic jam. The fish mongers screamed at the customers in Greek. We assume they were making a convincing argument that their catch was far superior to that in the neighboring stall. Dave said it reminded him of a Wall Street trading floor. My guess would be that the sopping concrete pathway, the smell of a few thousand assorted sea food creatures and fish being tossed to and fro as if in some new aquatic game was in play are not the things seen or smelled among the ticker tape of the New York stock exchange. I toddled out of the place stunned and amazed and thought…well they certainly didn’t pull the tour buses up for that stop!
‘Stay positive, laugh at yourself, see the humor in the situation’ – There are so many happenings in the past three weeks where one was left to either laugh or pout, to think this is a terrible thing, or this is an amazing experience. Often the refrain from the group would be, well think of it as a good story for the blog. So whether it was the condition of the washroom facilities or the morning the seagull made off with Denis’s fried egg straight off his breakfast plate and headed toward the Blue Mosque, yolk dripping from his beak in flight…well these things just happen and all go better with hysterical laughter. Deb’s squealing and leaping around the table as the seagull lifted off with his prize brought the majority of the restaurant staff running just added to the hilarity of it all.
‘Slow down and enjoy life’ – In the final days of our vacation our foursome, as if in support group mode, discussed at length how to keep ourselves off the self induced treadmill of life. Each of us have a strong work ethic and we see this as a good quality but also a quality that can become obsessive about details that really don’t matter. In traveling one gets the sense that other countries and cultures are working hard as well but taking time to have tea, to play backgammon with friends, to come out to the street to cheer on the foreign cyclists. Likely when archaeologists look at where we have lived, a few thousand years in the future, it just really won’t matter if there was an extra weed in the garden or a floor gone unswept. At the ruins of Ephesus and Miletos we saw ancient backgammon boards carved into the massive stones and marble. Perhaps the excavators of future millennia will find our bikes.
‘Pack duct tape and Krazy Glue’ – Duct tape has become a staple in my packing list over the years as I’m sure it is for many of you. This trip you will recall it held my only pair of shoes together for a day of searching for their replacement in chaotic and throng filled Istanbul. The fashion statement is not likely to start a trend.
Shortly before our departure to Turkey, Dave had the misfortune of having one of the veneers (similar to a crown) on a front tooth fall off. After two dental visits he was assured the issue had been solved. While having lunch on a cycling day, sharing space with our goat friends, there were suddenly words coming from my husband’s mouth causing the mama goats to cover the kids ears. One of the couples on the trip had packed Krazy glue after a similar experience on another vacation and offered up the liquid gold. After confirmation from the Calgary dentist that this is actually a great idea until permanent treatment is available (Who knew?) Dave started up a practice of cosmetic dentistry. He took his gap toothed hockey enforcer look in good humor. On a side note, that very same day, as if in an act of solidarity, a quarter of my back molar fell off. That kind of coincidence or connectedness is a bit eerie. I told Dave I hoped he didn’t plan to lose a hand or foot any time soon.
‘Talk to people and learn from other cultures’ – Dave’s favorite part of the trip was the interaction with the people, particularly in the smaller centers. So many greetings of “Merhaba” echo in our memory from across the age spectrum. On several occasions children would hop on their own bikes and cycle with us through town cheering excitedly as if they had managed to join up with a national parade. The moment that most warmed my heart was the day we found ourselves resting in a front of a humble home. The husband and wife walking back on the rural road had obviously just been to one of the greenhouses near their village and purchased tomatoes. You may recall my description Of her generosity in sharing what likely were such precious staples with complete strangers is just another global example of the gift of giving and the impact we can have in doing so. I will be grateful to her always not just for the delicious treat but here example of generosity.
Whether it be locals, fellow travelers, guides ( Sonja we will never be able to express our gratitude for all of your teaching , wise words, strength and sense of humor) the more tips you can get on places to eat, what is the custom as far as everything from dressing appropriately to tipping and how to use Krazy Glue in emergencies, the better your trip will be. If you can manage to learn some basic words and phrases of the language it can be particularly helpful, especially should you choose to get out to the countryside. If nothing else it’s great fun to shock bargaining shopkeepers in the Grand Bazaar with some halting Turkish. It actually leaves them speechless for a moment.
‘Mothballs or not just for moths’ – Not long into our trip we began to see in the small hotels or pensions( B&B ) where we stayed, mothballs in the sink and shower drains. Our Canadian group, always ones to tidy up, thought we would just pull those out. I confess I didn’t even know what they were. At dinner that evening the subject came up and those more knowledgeable than us, advised the mothballs keep assorted ‘crawlers’ from coming up the drains to visit the guests in the room. Deb and I practically tripped each other getting back to replace our insect repellers. Leave your mothballs where you find them.
‘Learn from others’ – Perhaps on this trip there is no one we learned more from than Jane. Her vibrancy, determination, free spirit, sense of humor and childlike joy in each new experience will inspire me always. Part way through the trip she shared that many years ago she found a quote which sits on her fridge. It has needed to be re-written from time to time as it yellowed and aged. Jane told us it was her ‘secret’ for staying so young regardless of her physical age. She didn’t want to try to recall it from memory while on the vacation, as she felt it would lose some of its vital meaning. She promised to email it to us the minute she got home.
As the story comes to conclusion, I leave you with Jane’s secret for living which we received yesterday…
“There are two kinds of people,” she once decreed to me emphatically. “One kind, you can tell just by looking at them at what point they congealed into their final selves. It might be a very nice self, but you know you can expect no more surprises from it. Whereas, the other kind keep moving, changing . . . They are fluid. They keep moving forward and making new trysts with life, and the motion of it keeps them young. In my opinion, they are the only people who are still alive. You must be constantly on your guard, Justin, against congealing.”
Excerpt from The Finishing School, Gail Godwin, 1984
Good afternoon from Calgary dear readers. We hope you enjoyed the adventure. It was such fun to have you along.
Sue and Dave