"Sailing the Greek isles..." - a phrase packed with romance and imagery. But Greece has been facing some stiff competition these past few years from next door neighbor Turkey - a relative newbie to tourism. They are so close together, and yet so radically different - which would you pick, if you're considering sailing in this part of the world ?
What are the major differences between Greece & Turkey? For starters, the two countries differ radically in their system of organisation. Turkey has one. This is very much to the surprise of many people, who expect Greece to be the more "advanced" country. It's also much to the surprise of many Greeks; their islands having been top-of-the-tourism list for so many years!
"Huh..., said a taverna owner friend of ours once, when we were discussing this sudden surge of tourism towards Turkey, "Do you know at restaurants in Turkey, their service is so bad they'll stick their thumb in the soup as they serve you.. Grubby, disorganised country. People will soon realise and they'll be back to Greece".
Alas for our friend, he could not be more wrong. Whilst Greece has many wonderful attractions, their idea of service sure isn't one of them. That wonderful Greek taverna ambiance, where it takes strategy, cunning and much perseverance to get the waiter's attention; where the drinks bill is added up at the end according to how many bottles are piled on, under or around the table...it's all laid-back and fun and just totally Greek. But sometimes when it's midnight and you're still waiting for that bill... suddenly a Turkish waiter would be a gift like a genie out of a lamp. Your plate would whisked away on cue, your wine glass filled for you. And never a grubby thumb anywhere!
There's a similar stark contrast that we sailboat folks notice real fast. Sail into a little Greek port, and it's a total free-for-all amongst local fishing boats, tangled buoys, tangled anchors, much yelling and waving of arms. Sail to Turkey - and what a difference! Even in the tiniest places, they've built out little rickety wooden jetties; there'll be someone on the dock to take your lines, "You want water, gas, bread?" Of course, it's all to get you to eat in their taverna - but hey - fair game!
They're an amazingly enterprising people. The country is not in a good way economically; their inflation rate typically runs around 110%. By the end of a 2wk trip, your dollar always buys significantly more lira than it did at the start ! But, this doesn't hold them back; they always have a smile and a joke as they chase your business.
For instance, there we were, anchored in the middle of nowhere one morning, and this little boat turns up - complete with lady making borek (similar to pancakes), hotplate right there on the boat !! Now that's what I call enterprising ! We had a great breakfast - borek with cheese, herbs, chocolate, honey, all varieties !
Another fact which surprises many people is that, if you're into ancient ruins, archeological sites, etc... Turkey is the place to be ! Scattered everywhere around the south Turkish coast. are amphitheaters, fortresses, cliff tombs - many dating back to 1000 BC or so. In the little coves where we anchor, there are former pirate villages to explore; Lycian cliff tombs to climb, the remains of sunken cities to snorkel. And the coolest thing of all, is there are no gates, no guards; no "tourist shop"... you just wander around, completely freely, and imagine how it might have been thousands of years ago.
If this so far sounds like Turkey is winning the "best place to visit" vote easily - sorry, the choice isn't really so easy! With all the bad press that Turkey had with "Midnight Express", I always feel a need to redress that balance and tell people that this impression is all wrong, it's a beautiful country and the people are soooo friendly and welcoming!
But, our taverna owner friend was right in one way; the Greek isles DO have something quite unique that will always make people fall in love with them. The stark beauty of the blue-n'-white villages; the idiosyncrasies of each of the different islands; the music, ambiance, the tavernas, and just plain feel of the islands. And, most of all, the people ! Arrive with our westernised concepts of timekeeping, and "GMT" (Greek Maybe Time) will drive you potty ! Loosen up and get into "Greek mode", and by the end of 2wks, you'll have forgotten how to get uptight.
On the little islands, the old traditional values of hospitality still hold true; and some of the best parties we've ever had have been at a local islander's home! Often when one of our Greek buddies gets into a festive mood (something Greeks are genetically pre-disposed to do), we'll be there, dancing till 3am under the stars...
Despite their differences, there IS one major aspect in which Greece and Turkey are both very similar - the basic honesty of the people. I am so used to it that I take it for granted; but every now and then, I'm reminded when someone says, "So, aren't you going to lock the boat up whilst we're all gone?" No. We don't. Never needed to, despite all the expensive electronic gear we have lying around. Nor have we ever heard of gear being taken from a boat, in all the years we've been there. Now that is cool.
Not only on the boats, but just in general around both Greece and Turkey. "My camera is missing!" came the distressed cry one day. We realised that it must have been left in a local bar on Leros - 3 days ago! I called my bar owner buddy, Savvas. "Sure, we have it, no problem", he said. "One of the local guys brought it to me, he thought it might belong to one of your people".
Now where in the so-called First World is that likely to happen ??