Bicycle Travel in Greece and Turkeyby ExperiencePlus! - Tuesday, July 27, 2010
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Bicycle Travel in Greece and Turkey
If, as Pico Iyer wrote "we travel initially to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves," there is no better place to travel than Greece and Turkey. Bicycling through Classical Greece you can be lost in the heartland of Western Civilization. After all, American democracy has its roots in Athenian democracy where city-states were about the size of a New England township. You could walk across the city-state or township in a day or two and on our tours you pedal across the city-state of Argos or Corinth in a day. Both of these political units prided or pride themselves on direct, participatory democracy.
Cycling the Turquoise Coast of Turkey takes you even farther back in history to the antecedents of Classical Greek democracy in the first and second millennium B.C. It is from the Aegean Coast of Turkey and the coast to the south that the Greeks came, bringing their culture and traditions with them across the "wine dark" Aegean Sea.
Along with the deep history of Turkey, though, pedaling along this coast you realize that this is really the “new Europe.” Turkey and the European Union are struggling to agree on how and when Turkey might become a part of Europe. "How," many ask, "can this country with such a split personality become a part of Europe?" Indeed, Turkey is both conservative and progressive at the same time. It has one foot in Islamic and Ottoman traditions dating back centuries while the other foot is solidly in Western Europe with modern traditions, dress, relatives in Germany and more. Indeed, walking down the street in Istanbul this split personality is striking: look one way and it seems you could be in Paris, glance another and you think you are in Damascus.
Modern Turkey, struggling to reconcile its historic traditions with the modern movement to become a part of Europe, reminds me of the U.S. Like Turkey, the U.S. is at once conservative and progressive.
Oh yeah, and about the food . . . .
Bicycle travel gives us the opportunity to stretch body and soul but I’ve rarely had a customer who didn’t bicycle so they could indulge in a delicious meal at the end of the day as well. Turkey and Greece offer wonderful opportunities for indulging the culinary senses. You’d be surprised, too, at the similarity of culinary traditions in these two countries. Greek coffee anyone? Or would you prefer Turkish coffee? There’s little difference – in the western US we call it “cowboy coffee.”
Greek yoghurt is delicious. Mixed with grated cucumber and garlic you get tzatziki, a great sauce on fried zucchini, gyros, souvlaki, or alone on bread. The Turks add dill, mint and sumac for an equally delicious sauce. They also make another version of this yoghurt garnish with purselaine (Portulacaceae oleracea sativa), a delicious leafy vegetable. High in omega three vitamins, so high in fact, that most of the purselaine grown in the US goes to feed laying hens for eggs rich in omega three.
You could eat your way across southern Turkey, into Greece and on to Puglia, in Italy and think you are following an ancient culinary route. And, indeed, you are! All three cultures enjoy small appetizer dishes of similar origin with delicate spices, olive oil, garlic, cheeses, beans (including fava beans, garbanzo beans, and the relative dips made from each).
The bottom line is, if you’re searching for the new-old Europe, culinary traditions that go back millennia, great bicycle rides, classical history, and rural traditions unchanged in centuries, join us bicycling in Turkey or Greece this fall. And if you have questions about these rides, give me a call. I began my travels in Greece and Turkey in 1968 and they are still two of my favorite places!