Drove Greece and Turkey

We enjoyed a driving tour of Greece and Turkey, May 3–26, ’05. We visited all the usual places, so I will limit comments to recommendations.

After we spent four days in Athens and again after four days in Istanbul, we rented a car in each country and drove to places of interest. We booked the car rental for Greece online with Auto Europe (Portland, ME; phone 888/223-5555 or visit www.autoeurope.com) for six days at $336.90. The car rental for Turkey was through Cheaptickets.com (Parsippany, NJ; visit www.cheaptickets.com) at $224 per week. Both rentals offered unlimited mileage, which came in handy because we drove over 5,000 kilometers.

In Greece, the tollways were excellent and signage was good, but off the tollways the signs were not so plentiful. Bigger cities, such as Thessaloniki, had terrible traffic congestion, and finding a place to park seemed to mean just stopping the car wherever.

Food in Greece was good everywhere.

In Thessaloniki we stayed at the Queen Olga Hotel and decided to eat at the restaurant connected with the hotel, The Lazy Lizard. Facing a seafront park, the restaurant seemed a popular place for specialty coffee drinks and cocktails and additionally seated about 40 for meals. The menu was ambitious, varied and pricey. Our meal was excellent and cost €53 (about $68). We were there at 8:45 p.m., the usual latish hour for dining in Europe.

My husband, Juris, and I both ordered soup, and he ordered grilled salmon and I shrimp risotto. The waiter returned shortly, asking my husband if he would change his entrée, as “The chef is not here yet,” so he changed to rack of lamb. We nibbled on bread and salad while awaiting our soup course; however, the waiter brought our entrées.

“What about the soup?” we asked.

The waiter had a pained expression and went back to the kitchen. Soon he returned saying there was no soup, as “The chef is not here yet.” Embarrassed, he apologized and brought us complimentary desserts.

Roads in Turkey were excellent also and had much better signage. However, hotels, even when we had a name, were difficult to find in larger cities. In Karaman, after getting directions from several people, all of which involved going 600 meters and then left, we finally were guided to the hotel by a taxi driver who led us there in his cab; we never would have found it on our own. He would not take any money for his help.

Later that evening the owner of the little restaurant across the street enlisted the aid of two lovely students, Phyllis and Daria, to help us order. (We could read the menu, but I think he was nervous that he would give us the wrong thing.)

The girls were eager to practice their English, and we had a pleasant chat while waiting for our food. Daria spontaneously gave me her necklace. They left but returned bringing each of us a flower and a gift of a figurine of a little girl they thought looked like our granddaughter in the picture we’d shown them. We were so touched by their friendliness.

In fact, we were made to feel very welcome everywhere in Turkey.

In the region of Cappadocia we stayed at Saksagan Cave Hotel (www.cavehotelsaksagan.com) in Goreme. Our room was carved out of one of the so-called “fairy chimneys.” It was very comfortable and quiet and cost 40 YTL ($30) for two, breakfast included.

We ate both lunch and dinner at Sedef Restaurant (www.sedefrestaurant.com), on the main road in Goreme. Including a bottle of excellent Cappadocian wine, dinner cost us 65 YTL.

We spent a day visiting the National Military Park at Gallipoli. The park is a cooperative effort between the Turkish government and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to honor and commemorate those who fought and died in the 1915 Gallipoli campaign. The park, monuments, museum and information center are all beautiful and well presented.

We had lunch at a seaside restaurant, Konaklama, in Seddülbahir on the southern tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula. We were the only customers and spent almost two hours enjoying both the food and the misty blue spectacle of the Dardanelles plus the various seacraft. Our meal cost 28 YTL ($21) and included grilled chicken, salad, potatoes and two vegetable sides plus beer and coffee.

Returning to Istanbul, we stopped for lunch in Tekirdag at the Ilhan Restaurant, on the waterfront on the highway. Again for two, our meal of grilled, freshly caught whole sea bass, a huge salad and local white wine cost 85 YTL.

If you are not intimidated by fast drivers and unusual passing practices, we would recommend driving in Greece and Turkey.

Des Moines, IA