Like many first generation Americans, I was brought up with a high awareness of my Parent's origin, Greece. My Spartan grandmother and Athenian father both instilled in me a great pride of my Hellenic ancestors. Grandmother, whom I lived with, spoke to me for hours about her family and life in a small Peloponnesian village near Sparta. During my childhood, I spent many hours reading Greek myths and history. I always hoped to visit Greece, but I wasn't sure I would ever be able to afford it. My honeymoon finally provided a sufficient excuse to spend the money. A trip to Greece seemed an ideal way to introduce my new wife, Pam, to my Hellenic background. What I didn't realize at the time was how much I, myself, had to learn about Greek culture.
A trip to Greece requires visiting modern Turkey as well. Greeks first settled on the now western "Turkish" coast (Asia Minor) around 1100 to 800 B.C. By contrast, the first Turks did not arrive until the end of the 11th century A.D. Homer's Illiad tells the story of the first occupation of Asia Minor by the Greeks as a result of their successful struggle against the IndoEuropean Hittites (Trojans) who first occupied that area. There are many Greek ruins there. Constantinople (Istanbul is a corruption of the Greek phrase "in the city") became the capital of the eastern Roman (Byzantine) empire in 336 A.D., 1,117 long years before it became the capital of the Ottoman Turkish empire. Turkey has always been more remote to the European traveler, so that the Greek ruins there have been neglected by tourists and are sometimes in better condition than the Greek ruins in Greece.
Greece brings to mind ancient ruins in a sun baked terrain surrounded by a deep blue sea. Turkey, however, conjures up half civilized knife wielding/gun toting natives and gloomy dank jail cells. Pam was terrified the first time I suggested going to Turkey. It took five or six months to convince her that it was a safe place to travel. Every time we talked about our plans, somebody would tell us a horror story about someone else who traveled to Turkey. Everybody seems to have seen the movie Midnight Express which is about a drug smuggler's experience in a Turkish jail. It probably isn't pleasant in Turkish jails, especially for drug smugglers. Turkey is a military state and hasn't accepted the premise of prison as a rehabilitative experience. If planning a trip to Turkey, don't bring any illegal drugs.
In the process of planning our trip, we discovered a great deal about the countries we were seeing. We read several tourist books. I called tourist bureaus and received many brochures. We studied maps for archeology sites and good roads. We obtained detailed maps and learned a great deal of geography which isn't readily available. Although they don't take up much room on a world map, Greece and Turkey can seem like vast areas to cover when you only have three weeks. It takes time to figure out where to go, and how to get there. The trip, which is just an idea to begin with, takes on a sense of reality when you become aware of everything you're going to see, exactly where it is, and what's special about it.
Travel arrangements were difficult. I must have called every travel agency in San Francisco and a couple in New York and Los Angeles as well. We chose our day because my firm decided to shut down operations for the first two weeks. We choose our airline for our flight to Europe from San Francisco because it was cheapest.
Only Olympic Airlines flies within Greece. Unless you fly Olympic to Greece, at the additional cost of several hundred dollars, you can't make flight reservations within Greece until you get there. I got around this red tape by calling Olympic Airlines in Athens instead of San Francisco. Everyone in commerce speaks English on the phone, so when I said "Hello" to the Athenian airport clerk, she said "Hello" right back and we continued our conversation in English. It turned out that the cost quoted in Athens for flying within Greece is cheaper than the cost quoted in San Francisco. Flights within Greece were also generally cheaper than flights between Greece and Turkey, which cost about five times more to travel comparable distances.
We left nothing to chance. Every day was planned, but left plenty of flexibility to schedule last minute changes. We even had alternative routes in case we changed our mind. Driving a rented car in Greece allowed us more flexibility than is possible with a bus. However, the tourist books said Turks are more likely to overcharge you if you are driving, so in Turkey we opted for the bus.