Traveling halfway around the world can be a scary thing.
Maybe it’s not nearly the adventure that it would’ve been in another era, when a much larger part of the uncertainty would lie within the journey itself rather than the destination. No longer do we need to take a rickety wooden ship across a violent ocean or encounter potentially hostile natives and dangerous creatures along the way. Nowadays, it’s really as simple as a long airplane flight from point A to point B, with a possible layover or two in points C and D. Beyond that, the infinite resources of information available via the Internet can be utilized to give someone a pretty good idea of what to expect upon arrival.
But some of the same concerns that would’ve existed decades or even centuries ago can still persist even in this modern era. How will I communicate with the locals if I haven’t learned the language? Can I adjust to the customs of a foreign land so as to avoid accidentally offending the natives? How can I avoid looking like an obvious tourist (or at least minimize the risk associated with being one) to protect myself against the unscrupulous types hell-bent on preying upon unsuspecting visitors, whether through the highway robbery of exorbitant prices or through literal robbery at gun- or knife-point?
These were the sorts of questions I had to ponder when deciding whether or not to accept my cousin Keith’s offer to spend a week in Istanbul, Turkey. But what ultimately alleviated my fears and convinced me to say yes was the simple fact that I would be taking this trip with a seasoned traveler who has been there and done that before. Sure, Keith had not yet been to this particular corner of the world, but he had certainly visited a number of other foreign destinations where many of the same concerns would be present, such as spending a month living in China. I figured I could lean on the wealth of information that he had already acquired from such trips and follow his lead as needed.
So after carefully weighing everything out, I finally agreed to go, and even upped the ante a bit. Realizing that an entire day would be lost just traveling out to Istanbul, with another lost on the return trip, I suggested that we make the whole thing more worthwhile. Pulling up a world map, I noticed that Greece wasn’t terribly far from Istanbul, and consequently pitched the idea of spending an additional week visiting Athens and whichever Greek islands we could get to in that amount of time. With the wheels already in motion, I now became excited by the possibility of seeing the ancient ruins of a legendary culture, and not to mention relaxing on an island like Santorini. I’d seen it in photos and you probably have too. Those iconic white buildings with the blue roofs on a cliff overlooking the sea? You’d be hard-pressed to find too many more picturesque settings anywhere. Sign me up!
But then I remembered one of my other initial concerns–the food. You see, I’d never had Turkish cuisine before, and really had no clue just what to expect with it. Even the Internet has its limitations–you can’t exactly taste-test samples online. For a true foodie who is open to all kinds of new and exciting dining experiences, exotic and unfamiliar cuisine would be a major selling point for taking the trip, rather than a possible detractor. Unfortunately, I’m a pretty picky eater who doesn’t have a particularly great relationship with vegetables or a particularly adventurous spirit in trying strange foods, so this could get dicey very quickly.
Adding stops in Greece to the itinerary would do nothing to ease such troubles. In fact, if anything, I was actually more worried about what sort of food awaited me there than in Turkey. I could only recall eating Greek food once before, as a kid. The experience was, well, less than great. Somehow, I ended up eating some sort of kabob that had various meats and bell peppers on the skewer. In case I hadn’t already known it yet, I quickly learned on that day that I absolutely despise green peppers, which is every bit as true today as it was twenty-odd years ago in that restaurant.
On top of that, my mom’s side of the family is largely of Hungarian descent, and based on some of the dishes that she and her mother often liked to cook for themselves, I had come to believe that bell peppers are a very prevalent part of the cuisine. As Hungary and Greece are both Eastern European countries not terribly far from one another, it would also stand to reason that the cuisines of both countries would likely share many similarities. So let’s just say I didn’t exactly pitch Greece for the food.
But once again, I decided to take a leap of faith based largely upon the experiences of my cousin. Beyond actually traveling to foreign countries, Keith had also proven to be far more likely to dine at local ethnic restaurants than I had. And as I would eventually come to find out, he doesn’t think much more highly of vegetables than I do, so we would most likely be either intrigued or repulsed by the same menu items. Our tastes were, thankfully, similar enough that I could probably trust his judgment regarding what to order and what to avoid.
Anyway, considering the way I’ve described my cousin, it should probably come as no surprise to you that he was almost immediately on board with the concept of adding a week in Greece to our potential trip. And thus, it was settled, and a rough itinerary was laid out. We’d still spend our whole first week in Istanbul, and then fly to Athens, where we’d figure to spend a couple days in the capital city before ending our trip with two or three Greek islands. Among said islands, we’d picked out a couple of leading candidates to try and visit, but agreed that Santorini, at the very least, was a must-see destination. Neither of us is really the guided tour or regimented schedule type, so we figured we’d worry about the details as we go.
So, how was it, you ask? More on that next time…