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From Athens to OOPA! Seven Days in Turkey & Greece

Four twenty-somethings leave the modern world behind for seven days to cruise Kusadasi, Turkey to the Greek Isles

Graduate student Laura Albers decided last year to spend her summer this year traveling Europe and she made it her personal mission to convince her sister and two best friends to join her on the journey. Lucky for Laura, they didn’t take too much convincing. They met up on the other side of the globe for a holiday in Greece. This is their story…

Day 1: Arrival in Athens
My friend Katie and I land in Athens in the early afternoon and wait for the arrival of our two co-voyagers – which takes nearly the entire day, but by the end of it we’re together, the four of us, and are finally ready to begin our adventure.

 We make our way to the hotel, wash away the travel dust, and go for a nice dinner in the Plaka – a beautiful area of Athens with plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants. The food is delicious – souvlaki (think meat on a stick), tzatziki (an amazing white sauce that will leave you wondering what else you could put it on), olives and much more. The combination of a great meal, a late night, and jet lag had worn on us and we were ready for bed. There would be plenty more nights to get into trouble.

Day 2: Touring Athens
Waking up late in Athens, we hurry out of the hotel before the owner chases us out – he looked as though he just might! We head to the next hotel – Hotel Hermes – in the Plaka area; it even has air conditioning, a real treat for travelers on a budget. This is where we would later meet our cruise ship companions and cruise manager, Ryan. 
After check-in, we set out for the Acropolis, foremost of the wonderful ancient sites we would see during our time in Greece. First, we come upon the Theater of Dionysos, the birthplace of Greek tragedy, built around 342 BC. (I write “342 BC” as if seeing things from ancient times is a common occurrence – I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around it.) The day is extraordinarily hot so we don’t marvel too long at Dionysos; we still have to climb to the top of the Acropolis and stare in awe at the Parthenon.
At the top, we pose for the obligatory pictures when viewing an Ancient Wonder, but the heat is getting to us and we duck inside the nearby museum for a bit of shade. Walking around, I begin taking a few photographs of the relics and statues – it is allowed. But I guess there must be a limit of one photo per statue because as I was trying to get just the right angle of one particular piece, a very frantic woman starts after me asking “Why?! Why!? Do you need more than ONE photograph?! What are you going to do?!” I calmly assure her it was only for personal use, but that didn’t work and she made me erase the photographs. Luckily it was a digital camera – I shudder to imagine what she would have done had I brought my film camera.
Later on, we find ourselves in the Plaka again. An overzealous, but very charming, older man convinces us to have dinner at his restaurant. We have more terrific Greek dishes like moussaka for dinner, which is similar to a lasagna but with eggplant and baklava, a scrumptious pastry, for dessert.
After dinner, we make friends with three Greek guys, Nickos, Fotis, and Takis. Only two of the three speak English, making for interesting conversation. We wind up at a nice outdoor bar; have a few drinks and a lot of laughs. The guys try to teach us a couple of key Greek words and it only takes me about forty tries before I can properly pronounce the Greek word for “thank you” – efharisto. (Try to say it like F-Harrys-Toe and it’s close enough). Everyone kept laughing at my attempts but I had the last laugh: I learned to say it so well that, when I would thank people in Greek, they would say “OH! You speak Greek!” And I would have to say “No, just this one word.” Who says practice doesn’t make perfect?
Day 3: Setting Sail
6:00AM seemed to come early, as we hauled our bags downstairs to the hotel lobby – for today we are due to set sail to Mykonos. Famous for its nightlife, it turns out that the island of Mykonos has an island mascot, Petros. He’s a pelican who long ago lost his way in a storm and made Mykonos his home. Everyone loves Petros and he knows it; he stops traffic everywhere he goes, creating traffic jams of people lined up to pet him and take photos, he puts on quite the show.
This being our first Greek island, we are beyond thrilled and are literally dancing around with joy. The architecture is breathtaking and the winding roads are fun to get hopelessly lost in. We then grabbed a gyro for only 2 Euro, an excellent deal. The key ingredients of gyro consist of a warm pita, lettuce, tomato, lamb or chicken, tzatziki sauce, and French fries. (You may raise an eyebrow at the French fry part but trust me on it.)
Unfortunately, we weren’t staying in Mykonos past 10:00PM and were unable to experience the nightlife, which apparently doesn’t get rolling until 2:00AM, so we head back to the boat. Instead of tearing it up in Mykonos, we intend to hit up the ship’s nightclub – Club Maritim. However, that wasn’t on the cards for us either, as the ship started rocking – a lot! People were actually falling over. It would have been much funnier if the four of us weren’t so seasick. We ended the night early, taking extra strength Dramamine, and going to bed.
Day 4: What’s Greece without Togas?
Today’s schedule is action-packed and on a strict timeline, as we only have four hours to explore Kusadasi, Turkey, before the ship sets sail again this morning. Even though we set alarms in the rooms, everyone fails to hear it, oops! Somehow, my sister Melissa wakes up and gets us moving but the tour has left without us over an hour earlier.

It’s a small world when you can meet up with friends from back home in Turkey, but that’s exactly what we do. We hire a cab to drive us to the first site, where we meet with our friends. Once everyone arrives, we pile into a van and go to nearby Ancient Ephesus. Ephesus, I later learned, was a very wealthy port town until the middle of the 3rd century AD. The people of Ephesus believed the Amazonian Queen Ephesia founded the town, hence the name.
I say “I later learned” advisedly, because our tour of Ephesus is what can only be described as, well, rapid. By the time we actually arrive in Ancient Ephesus, we have less than a half-hour to explore – or risk being left behind by the ship. Did I mention Ephesus is one of the most extensive and well-preserved ancient cities in the world? Well, our tour goes something like, “Run, run. Ancient Columns. Run. Ancient Toilets. Run, run. run. Look at that! What do you think that is? I don’t know. You’ll have to look it up when you get home! Photo Op. Run, run. RUN!!” It is tons of fun with a dash of nerve and we make it safely back to the ship with a memorable experience in Turkey under our belts.
Later in the afternoon, we stop in Patmos, a small island famous for the Monastery of St. John the Theologian. According to tradition, St. John wrote the book of Revelation in a cave during a time of exile. It is a lot of hiking to reach this little monastery but the view from the top made the trip worthwhile.

 Back on the boat that night, it’s Greek Night, a.k.a. Toga Party. In order to have a successful toga party, you must have a toga and so begins the hunt for extra bed sheets. Enter Svetla. Svetla is in charge of linens and isn’t the type of woman you’d want to cross, but we’re on a mission now. Michelle takes charge of this situation and asks for extra sheets because the rooms are so cold (true statement). However; Svetla had already provided additional blankets earlier that same day. A wary Svetla proceeds to inspect the rooms, showing us the additional linens but Michelle stays strong and insists on a few more. After a few moments and a lot of cross looks, success! Svetla hands over the prized bed sheets.
We each come up with our own a variation of how to best wear a sheet – and pull it off rather nicely. We head to dinner, togas in full effect, only to discover most of our ship companions didn’t share our spirit and had opted to not “toga” along with us. A few of our new-found ship friends did, however, and we finally made it to Club Maritim and danced most of the night away in our sheets. I mean, togas.
Day 5: Bus Tour and a Sing-a-long
Today we opt for the bus tour of Rhodes and Lindos. Rhodes has one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus of Rhodes. Not only was it a giant statue but also a symbol of unity for the people of the island. The statue is said to have stood only 56 years before an earthquake brought it down. After an oracle forbade the reconstruction, it was never rebuilt. After the bus tour, we spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the beach.

That evening turns out to be “elegant night” on board the Sea Diamond. The four of us put on our best outfit. We didn’t know there would be an elegant night as this was more of a budget cruise than a luxe one – but we do our best. After dinner, and before Club Maritim opened, there’s a lounge-act “happening” with Tony. Tony is a character and has us all laughing. Our all-inclusive drink card, purchased at the start of the cruise, certainly gets used tonight. Tony plays the piano and sings some songs and we start singing along and pretty soon, my sister’s friend Michelle is on stage singing and then Katie is on stage singing. Together, they bring the house down.

Day 6: Arrive Santorini
Early in the morning, we dock in Crete but I couldn’t tell you what it was like because the four of us slept right through it! In our defense, our cruise manager Ryan told us that, if we were going to miss anything, we should choose Crete because we wouldn’t be there long enough to see much anyway. We weren’t too upset, especially since we were still awake when the ship docked. When we venture out, we go straight to the top-deck pool area. We spend the remainder of the day hanging out with all of our new friends that we’d made during the week.
That evening, when we arrived in Santorini, Melissa, Michelle, Katie, and I disembark for the last time. We decide to stay in Santorini for some quality “island time” instead of returning to Athens the following day, one of our very best decisions.
We check into to our hostel, Villa Holiday Beach in Perissa, late that evening and are pleasantly surprised. It can be a crapshoot to book a budget room online in a distant country – but we hit a jackpot. The room is large; it has a private bathroom (not often found in hostels), a refrigerator, and a small kitchen. There is also a beautiful private pool with a bar area outside all for only 15 Euro per person, per night. It’s unbeatable and the hostel owners are terrific, they even drive us to the airport at the end of the week.

Day 7: A Pirate Ship Adventure
Since it was our last day all together, we try and make it the best one of all. That morning we hop a bus to the port and board what we affectionately call the “pirate ship.” In reality, it’s a sailboat with just enough “charm” to pass as a pirate ship. (If only there had been a skull and crossbones flag…) Aboard the ship we meet two guys traveling together – James, from Australia and Peter, from Sweden and two girls – Aicha and Ciara from England. We’re friends instantly and the pirate ship adventure begins.
First, we go to the volcano responsible for sinking half the island of Santorini hundreds of years ago. (Sidenote: I would recommend not wearing flip-flops if you want to hike a volcano.) Next, we sail to hot springs where we jump off the boat and swim around. The water is very rich in minerals and we become mud people, covering ourselves in mud that didn’t come off very well. Next, we head to another part of the island for dinner, more authentic Greek foods. We board again after dinner and set sail for our final destination of the day – only eight short, wonderful hours later – to Oia (pronounced E-aaa). Oia is located high on the cliffs and the only way to get there is by means of donkey ride to the very top. What a laugh!
Once we reach the top, we walk around until it’s time for our real reason for being in Oia – the sunset. Everyone in Santorini knows Oia has the best view of the setting sun, so it’s packed, but we find a way onto a low roof for an uninterrupted view. The eight of us line up along the edge, feet dangling, cameras ready, for one of the most naturally spectacular sights that, while of course it happens every single day all over the world, somehow seems altogether different in a place like Santorini.
We watch as the sun goes down, down, down, until the very last bit of fiery light glows above the ocean. The excitement in the air is palpable. Finally, the last bit of light is swallowed up into the sea and the sky is streaked in color. I am so impressed with the sun’s glorious goodnight, I yell out the best Greek word there is, a word that encompasses everything in a moment like this – OOPA!
The crowd catches a breath and then shouts ring out: OOPA! OOPA! OOPA!
Give it a try yourself sometime. You’ll know when the timing is right, it’s the word of words. It’s my new favorite word and it’s the only way I can describe one of the most beautiful countries in the world and best times of my life. OOPA!

More Stories By Laura Albers

Laura Albers, who both wrote this article and took the photos, is a graduate student.

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