Tuesday, 30 October 2012

October 27 – Hurray, the Turks are coming!

(The harbour of Petra)

Last week the last charter plane left the island, normally meaning that the summer season is over. Most restaurants and shops close their doors and the people start preparing for the winter. Before the real cold strikes, which is normally in January or February, most people want to have completed their olive harvest and that’s why they’re now going to their olive orchards and putting down the nets under the trees.

The hot and long lasting summer weather has finally been replaced by cozy warm autumn weather and even though rain has been forecast several times, only a few rain clouds succeeded in invading the air above the island, resulting in just a few drops of water. It still remains perfect walking weather and many people wonder why it is that the tourist season should finish at the end of October when the last charter plane leaves the island.

Okay, the sky may not be bright and entirely blue each day and in the evenings you need a thin coat to comfort you and in some places later in the evening it’s too humid to stay outside. But as long as it doesn’t rain, the island - with a temperature around the 25 ºC - remains a Mecca for hikers, nature lovers, car tour addicts, chestnut collectors or museum visitors. Let’s say it like this: the beach season finally is over (although last week you still could bake in the sun, lying on the beach).

There are however people who recognize that Greece is not only a summer holiday destination, but that there are places in Greece, like Lesvos, that are even more attractive after the hot season. And why not? Dutch people love to visit the Ardennes in Belgium, a place not exactly known for its warm climate, nor is England - where it always seems to rain - which is another popular holiday destination for the Dutch.

At the end of the season there always be some yoga courses, meaning that not all hotels close immediately, and there are the new tourists, not coming from far, but from the other side: the Turks. They are not tied to last charters and come – especially when they have more than one day off – by boat from Ayvalik or Dikili. And they come more and more often and their number is increasing.

Relations between Greeks and Turks were not always great. For centuries the Ottoman Empire occupied Greece and for hundreds of years, here as well as on the island as at the other side in Anatolia, Greeks and Turks were living side by side. After the Greek-Turkish war of 1919 – 1922 there remained tensions and rows over islands and the territorial frontiers on sea, there was the Cyprus crisis in 1974 nearly causing war again, and even later diplomatic conferences were often necessary to keep the two countries from war.

On some islands Turkish people still are not very welcome. When there were the big fires on Chios last August, it was said immediately that the Turks had set the wildfire (although later the culprit turned out to be a volunteer fire fighter). But Lesvos, whose last Golden Century (around 1900) was thanks to the trade with the immense Ottoman Empire and its close relations with the region at the other side, does welcome the Turks back on the island.

For years now trade has been restored, it’s mainly fish that is exported. And from Mytilini a few times a week a ferry goes over to Ayvalik or Dikili. Lots of Greeks use the ferries to go shopping in Turkey. Fresh food is not allowed to be brought back, but clothes (like wedding dresses), curtains, furniture and many more things are carried away to Lesvos. There is also an increasing number of Greeks that visit tourist attractions like Assos or Pergamon, along with a growing number of people travelling to Istanbul, in Greek still called Constantinopel.

Turkey is developing at high speed and the Turks who have discovered the Greek islands as a holiday destination do spend good money here, because to them Greece is inexpensive. So from both ways the number of tourists increases and last winter there was an attempt to have a regular charter plane from Istanbul to Lesvos for the summer period (a project that did not work out for some reason unknown to me).

Another project that has been discussed for many years is to have the boats to Turkey depart from the north of Lesvos. The one and a half hour drive to the capital from the north is a lot of fuss for tourists and inhabitants in the north. Molyvos wanted to have the ferries to Turkey departing from its harbour, but the narrow streets and nature of the harbour make this plan impossible. Petra however does have an ideal harbour for ferries to Turkey and has plenty of space for tourist bus access. It is now said that there is an agreement and that customs are organized: from January onwards ferries to and from Ayvalik may arrive in Petra, meaning that the weekends may become more busy with tourists.

There are still no plans for a boat trip to Assos, a little town situated opposite the north of Lesvos. It was built around 1000 – 900 BC by Lesvorian people and it does resemble Molyvos. In its surroundings there is a temple for Athena, offering a breathtaking view over Lesvos. It could become a popular excursion, just one hour by boat from Petra.

Friday October 26 started the Festival of Sacrifice in Turkey, a holiday and on October 29 it was Republic Day, and some 500 Turks took advantage of these holidays to visit Lesvos, meaning that several restaurants and hotels reopened their doors. The Greeks also had a holiday on Sunday: Ochi Day. This holiday has nothing to do with Turkey, it is the commemoration of the day that the Greeks said “no” to Mussolini during the Second World war.

Although Greece gets poorer by the day, there are places where some hope dawns and whilst the Greeks might once have said “no” also to the Turks, they now say: “Hurray, the Turks are coming!”

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

@2012 Smitaki

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