In 1983, near the end of the year, Kathy and I embarked on our first trip to Greece. Unlike travel for work, whose timing is dictated by job requirements, travel for pleasure usually enjoys a wider latitude. Over the years, we’ve learned that matching a vacation with the right social season and weather conditions is important. I might have learned that lesson in early 1979 when I took my mom to Hawaii during its rainy season. Apparently I needed a second lesson, though, and got it in Greece during the end-of year holidays, a family time when many hotels and restaurants close for the season and travel is restricted. Those facts, combined with our chronic fatigue made for the kind of moments we smile about only after having survived them.
FARIT (Friends of the American Research Institute in Turkey) has been sponsoring guided tours to destinations near and far for years. Since we’ve lived in Turkey, Kay and I have subscribed to quite a few. Although organized touring is not our favorite way to travel, we make an exception for FARIT’s because a) the number of participants is not large, b) they attract an international group of well-travelled, well-educated participants, and c) they are led by exceptional guides. This last feature has special importance for us.
The long, narrow peninsula known as Mt Athos extends south-east like a gnarled finger from the northern mainland of Greece and its region of Halkidiki. Unlike its two neighbors to the west, Mt Athos does not feature beaches or resort hotels. In fact, there is hardly any commercial development of any kind. It stands apart, as it has for centuries, sheltering hundreds of Eastern Orthodox monks among its twenty monasteries and other hermitages. Its terrain is rugged and dense with small trees and vegetation. It even has a true mountain with a soaring peak that looms grey over the green growth below.
They’re there, just off Turkey’s Aegean Coast, the Greek islands of the Dodecanese, the Twelve. Actually, there are many more than twelve, some so small they are uninhabited. The thing is they are so close to Turkey (Kos is only 20 minutes away by hydrofoil) that I’ve felt for a while I’d be missing something if I didn’t explore some of them.
Rhodes, the largest, is an island I’ve waited a long time to visit. It has a significant history. Remember the legendary Colossus, one of seven wonders of the Ancient World? Well, the Colossus, if it ever even existed, is long gone, but the harbor and the walls of Medieval Rhodes are intact, as is the Palace of the Grand Master of the order known as the Knights of St John. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.