The Greece and Turkey visit:
A visit to Greece may be perceived as a passage through an ancient civilization and while for most part it is, and it comes off as a journey through a land of blue skies and seas, wonderful food and some truly beautiful smiles.
All the news about Greece has been fairly negative in the last few years , the crashing of the economy and the upward spiraling of unemployment and discontent portrays a country that would be full of despair and grump. That in itself was the best surprise when in my personal experiences I found the most warm hearted of people as I have ever seen during my travels. The cabbies, the bellboys, the waiters at the local restaurants, the coach drivers, all had always something extra to offer.
This is not just painting it rosy but when you see the stark reality being a 25% unemployment and the country still coming to grips with a retirement age of 58 and supporting its senior citizens, the path ahead continues to be difficult. These problems are further compounded by illegal immigrants (just when we thought this factor affects western Europe and US more) from Pakistan and some African countries. Not sure what this section is looking for in Greece now. It was a sorry state for sure to see some of these immigrants who do not have work permits do whatever it takes to get some euros. Bad on themselves and bad for the host country.
Greece is a country with a population of 11 million people , of which 5 live in Athens, the capital. With over 500 habited islands in the Aegean and Ionian seas and the obvious plethora of artifacts and monuments, it is certainly a tourist’s paradise. And outside of gas/petrol, the prices are just unbelievable. Unbelievably cheap that is!
Athena (patron goddess of the city) looks over the city perched in the temple of Parthenon that is located on the Acropolis Hill , one of the seven hills in the city. Awe inspiring spectacle. She apparently was born from the head of her father , Zeus (King of Gods) and is a symbol of everything that is beatific. Between her and Posiedon , God of the sea and 10 others , they signify the bounties of the Golden age of Athens circa 450- 300 BC. The plundering of the gold and statues of the Parthenon, by several marauders ranging from the Romans, the Turks and the Britishers is the unfortunate aspect of this all. Even now, some original pieces from this splendorous monument lie in the museums of London. Wouldn’t it be a good gesture on part of the UL to get these back to where it belongs?
The blue seas of the azure Aegean sea is quite a temptation for those who love cruising around and as long as the right non-touristy islands are picked , you have a fair chance of actually being in the right place at the right time. Greece has had a record this summer with over 17 million tourists and this being the primary source of their revenues, it certainly looks like Greece is doing the right things to attract tourists without fleecing them and may be some of them may desire to be back.
Some inspirational stories are about the marathon race , when a foot soldier in his armor ran the distance from Marathonia to Athens (42 km/26 miles) to tell the denizens of Athens of their victory over the Persians. The legend lives on. One person who never actually stepped into Athens was Alexander the Great, the young king from Macedonia who has had so much written about him. Such is a range of great personalities and some real insights into art and architecture from a civilization that stretched from circa 8000 BC and well into the 5th century AD.
For those inclined I got a good view of the column architecture of the buildings, Doric order of the Parthenon and the Ionic Order in the temple of Posiedon and then interestingly, there was the Corinthian orders in the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. How architecture and the styles travelled from one civilization to the other. How the artists look to one civilization and absorb and adopt certain architectural styles into their own civilizations with varying degrees of nuances. Never thought I would actually get so absorbed into something I had barely paid attention to in my college years. My civil engineering classmates may think different.
Brazil may well look into the lessons learned from Greece. With the two most prestigious events scheduled to be hosted in Brazil, the 2014 World cup soccer and the 2016 summer Olympics, is Brazil going to go overboard and then it takes an entire generation and a half to get the country back on rails? Greece looks it has had its share of some extraneous sports infrastructure and who know if they hadn’t hosted the 2004 Olympics.
And then a short hop into the mystique Istanbul, Turkey. One fact that will most certainly overwhelm anyone is the sheer population. A city that has loads of history, has two continents forming part of the city limits has over 15 million people in it. But then, you actually start to take in the sights , the chaos of the bazaars and then think of the Grand Ottoman empire. From the famous battle of Constantinople in 1453, The Ottomans, hailing from central Asia and descendants of Genghis Khan invaded the city from the Romans and then went about making it about the power nerve center of the world. Their glory is evident in most sections of the city, specifically the old Europe portion with its teeming bazaars, the grand mosques and the wonderful architecture. They probably chose the losing side in the Great War (1914-18) and that signaled the beginning of the end and that is when Ataturk took over as the father of modern Turkey.
The palaces, the mosques, the layout of this historical city make it so stand out with a character of its own. And the Turkish folks came off as a very hospitable people indeed. The flavor and character of Istanbul warms you up. With their continuing efforts to arrest the incessant traffic by means of building additional bridges and tunnels across the Bosphorus and the sea of Marmara , I hope the crowds do not become a deterrent to visitors. But the city is strong and makes Turkey proud, no doubt.
You have to get into the rug purchasing in Istanbul certainly once in a lifetime. You step into to a reputed store and it is an almost certainty you will not walk out without a rug or two. The art of salesmanship with a massive human touch is in full display here. From invoking the Ottoman Sultans to your heart , to offering the strong Turkish coffee to appealing to your culture and your ago, the salespeople make this entire rug buying experience a unique one.
Istanbul is where I truly experienced the west transitioning into the east, a hub of the world is what it seems. Remarkable is the word I would coin for this city.