Turkey beats Greece for border toughness


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The Independent Online

We were blessed with an almost eerily constant 19C and cloudless, sunny days as we made our way across Europe to Istanbul on our family “carcation”. Our luck finally ran out in Istanbul, and we had half a day of rain. I wouldn’t complain, but it was on the morning that I’d negotiated access to park our car in front of the Blue Mosque for a photo shoot. There was a bit of grumbling and some wet bottoms as I forced the family into various poses on the vehicle. I am a voracious photographer and those closest to me are well used to being shunted around for photo opportunities, and they bear it with good grace. 

Everybody loved Istanbul, which, coincidentally, appeared as the No 1 tourist destination in an online travel poll last week. My wife was livid that no North American destination was in the top 10. She is so sweet when defending her continent.

We left Istanbul bound for Greece. The Turkish/Greek border was a superb military stand-off on a rickety bridge with soldiers facing each other in a North/South Korea-type eyeball-to-eyeball scenario. For the record, the Turkish soldiers looked infinitely tougher. We arrived in Thessaloniki, a second city, like Birmingham, and, as with Birmingham, we didn’t plan to hang about too long. I wanted to visit Meteora, the place where monasteries perch on vertiginous rocks, as seen in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. It did not disappoint. The scenery was breathtaking, up there with Yosemite, and the mind boggled as to the builders’ skills in high-altitude construction. We had a drink in a café run by Austrians called “The Eagle’s Nest”. What with their country’s chequered history, you would think they might have chosen a different name, but we didn’t mention it.

On we drove to the port city of Igoumenitsa where we stayed the night before hopping on a boat that would take us up the Adriatic to Venice. For the first two hours, we cruised past the gorgeous, empty coastline of Albania. On the other side of the ship was Corfu. The crowded, ugly architecture of mass tourism was a warning of what awaits Albania’s virgin shores.

We arrived in Venice at dawn. The kids were gobsmacked. They simply could not compute how it could exist. We were staying on the Giudecca, the island opposite St Mark’s Square. This is perfect because you can escape the hordes and enjoy the best views of the city. Unlike in the rest of Italy, you can eat really badly in Venice if you aren’t careful. The answer is to stay away from the Rialto and St Mark’s Square. A friend recommended a wonderful trattoria on the Giudecca that served simple, local food, which to my delight involved a lot of anchovies, onion and squid ink.

Now we are on the home straight, a drive to Geneva through the Mont Blanc tunnel, before Holland and home. If I could, I’d start it all over again immediately.