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MYHTOLOGY OF ATHENS

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Athens is the capital city of Greece and has been continuously inhabited for over 7000 years. It provided the backdrop for various myths and legends for ancient Greeks.

Its name derives from the goddess of wisdom, Athena, who became the city’s patron goddess after a contest with Poseidon. The two gods competed for who would get the honour of becoming the patron god of the city, and offered gifts to the Athenians. Poseidon hit the ground with his trident and created a spring, showing that he would offer significant naval power. Athena, on the other hand, offered the olive tree, a symbol of prosperity and peace. The Athenians, led by King Cecrops I, decided to take Athena’s gift, thus making her the patron goddess.

The city was also the starting point for the story of Aegeus and Theseus. Aegeus was the king of Athens; during some games that were organised in the city, the son of King Minos of Crete was killed, and Minos waged war against Athens, emerging victorious. As punishment, Athens was forced to send young men and young women to Crete annually, in order to be sacrificed to the Minotaur, who dwelt in the labyrinth under the palace of Minos. At some point, though, Theseus, son of Aegeus, decided to go as part of the sacrifice, planning to kill the Minotaur. He was successful in his quest, but upon returning to Athens, he forgot to change his ship’s sails to white; when Aegeus saw the black sails, meaning that Theseus had died in the labyrinth, he fell into the sea, and drowned, giving his name to what now is called the Aegean Sea.

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SANTORINI & MYKONOS

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Did you know that the whole complex of Santorini islands is still an active volcano and probably the only volcano in the world whose crater is in the sea? The islands that form Santorini came into existence as a result of intensive volcanic activity; twelve huge eruptions occurred, one every 20,000 years approximately, and each violent eruption caused the collapse of the volcano’s central part creating a large crater. The volcano, however, managed to recreate itself over and over again.

Santorini is considered to be the most sought after place for a romantic getaway in Greece, since there are not many places in the world where you can enjoy exquisitely clear waters while perched on the rim of a massive active volcano in the middle of the sea! A trip to Santorini with your other half is a dream for anyone who has seen at least one photo of the island’s famous Caldera.

A visit to Santorini is the ultimate gastronomic experience, as the island is a true culinary paradise!

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Mykonos is Greece’s most famous cosmopolitan island, a whitewashed paradise in the heart of the Cyclades. According to mythology, Mykonos was formed from the petrified bodies of giants killed by Hercules. And did you know that the island took its name from the grandson of Apollo, “Mykonos”?

Soak up the atmosphere along the lively waterfront and admire a fleet of fishing boats casting colourful reflections in the azure waters. This is where you will find the Kazárma building, which served as accommodation for the soldiers of Manto Mavrogenous, a heroine of the Greek Revolution.

On the island you can find many well-organized diving centers (some of them also offer snorkeling lessons) and stores specializing in diving equipment. Explore the island on a caicque or a boat and discover secluded beaches, or take a boat tour around the nearby islets, which are also ideal fishing spots!

In Mykonos, take the opportunity to explore the tiny archaeological gem of Delos, just a short boat trip away. Delos was a sacred island in ancient times, and according to mythology was the birthplace of the twin gods Apollo and Artemis.

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GREEK CUISINE

Mediterranean Greek Cuisine
Mediterranean Greek Cuisine

The Greek diet is the perfect example of traditional Mediterranean eating. It’s based around a variety of colourful and flavourful foods that are high in nutrients and low in animal fats.

Wheat is a staple part of Greek cuisine. It’s used to make a variety of breads including pita bread and crusty whole grain peasant bread. Bulgur, which is made from cracked whole wheat, is eaten as an accompaniment to hearty stews or added to soups and salads. Pasta, which was introduced to the Greeks by the Italians, is also a popular wheat-based food. Another important grain food in the Greek diet is rice, which is used in pilafs and bakes, served with stews or wrapped in grape leaves to make dolmades.

Like wheat, olives have been cultivated in Greece since ancient times. The golden green oil extracted from the first cold pressing of olives is called extra virgin olive oil, and it is used in some form in most traditional Greek dishes. Crusty bread dipped in a little extra virgin olive oil is also a popular accompaniment to food.

Greece is almost surrounded by sea, so it’s no surprise that fish and shellfish are eaten regularly.

Meat doesn’t play a prominent role in traditional Greek cuisine. It’s usually reserved for festivals and special occasions or used in small amounts as a flavor enhancer.

The warm climate of Greece makes it ideal for growing vegetables and fruits, and these are eaten in abundant amounts. These include tomatoes, garlic, onions, spinach, artichokes, fennel, lettuce, cabbage, horta (wild greens), zucchini, eggplant and peppers.

Fruits are eaten either fresh, or preserved by drying. Popular varieties include apricots, grapes, dates, cherries, apples, pears, plums and figs.

Many types of nuts are used in cooking or eaten as snacks—particularly pine nuts, almonds, walnuts and pistachios.

Wine is consumed regularly in Greece, but mainly with food, and in moderation. Ouzo (an aniseed flavored spirit) and beer are also popular alcoholic beverages. Strong black coffee is one of the most popular non-alcoholic beverages.

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Demre: The Home of St. Nicholas

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Demre is a town in the Antalya Province on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, named after the river Demre. Demre is the Lycian town of Myra, the home of Saint Nicholas of Myra, the historical man later developed into the figure of Santa Claus. A substantial Christian community of Greeks lived in Demre until the 1920s when they were forced to migrate to Greece after the Population exchange between Greece and Turkey. The region is popular with tourists today, particularly Christian pilgrims who visit the tomb of Saint Nicholas.
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Before the tourism boom in the 1980’s agriculture was the area’s main industry.  However, despite the tourism boom, the cultivation of local fruits and vegetables still continues today, with the flourishing growth of pomegranates and citrus fruits in addition to a many other varieties of produce being cultivated all year in greenhouses.  Fresh Mediterranean fish and seafood is the basis of local cuisine in this area.  With hot, dry summers and warm, rainy winters the climate is typical of the Mediterranean region. 

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FEATURED LOCATION: SUNKEN CITY OF KEKOVA

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Kekova is a small Turkish island near Demre , which faces the villages of Kaleköy (ancient Simena) and Üçağız (ancient Teimioussa). Kekova is uninhabited.

On its northern side there are the partly sunken ruins of Dolchiste/Dolikisthe, an ancient town which was destroyed by an earthquake during the 2nd century. Rebuilt and still flourishing during the Byzantine Empire period, it was finally abandoned because of Arab incursions.
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The Kekova region was declared a specially protected area in 1990 by Turkish Ministry of Environment and Forest. All kinds of diving and swimming were prohibited and subject to special permits from governmental offices. In later years the prohibition has been lifted except for the part where the sunken city is.

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THE STORY OF ST. NICHOLAS

Long ago, in a far off land known today as Turkey, there was a boy named Nicholas. Nicholas was a person who created numerous miracles and accomplished many good deeds. As a teenager, Nicholas inherited a vast fortune, but he had no idea what to do with it. Wanting to help those less fortunate than himself, Nicholas set out to make the wishes of others come true. While Nicholas knew the townspeople needed his help, he was also aware that they were very proud people, so Nicholas decided to help his friends secretly. st nicholas
Each night, Nicholas would disguise himself and deliver such items as food, clothing and money to the people of his village. Of all the townspeople, Nicholas felt the closest bond with one specific family. In this family, there were three daughters. Sadly, the family was very poor and the father felt much pain over the fact that he could not afford the weddings of each daughter. In his desire to help the family, Nicholas left a bag of gold on the father’s doorstep as the wedding of the oldest daughter was near. Upon discovering the money the next morning, the family was very happy!

When it was time for the second daughter to get married, Nicholas again visited the family. He threw another bag of gold into the family’s chimney. The family greatly appreciated the individual who was providing them with such a great fortune, but they had no idea as to who this person could be. As the third daughter’s wedding neared, the father decided to stand guard so that he could identify the kind person who had created such happiness for his family. On this visit, Nicholas tossed the bag of gold through an open window. Upon hearing the bag of coins land on the floor, the father chased Nicholas until he caught up with him.

Nicholas was embarrassed and did not want the father to make his identity known to the townspeople. The father promised to keep the secret, but was so grateful for the kindness of young Nicholas that he could not keep the secret no matter how hard he tried. Soon the entire town knew that Nicholas was the person responsible for the wonderful events that had occurred in their town.myrr

Every December, Nicholas took it upon himself to reward all of the boys and girls who had been good throughout the year by secretly delivering presents to them. All these years later, Nicholas is still remembered for his kindness, generosity, and undying love for children. In honor of Nicholas, many countries throughout the world provide children with gift bags in December on Saint Nicholas’ Day.

Şirince – FEATURED LOCATION FEB 2015

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Şirince is a  small village located about 8 kilometers from Ephesus.  Sirince is famous for its fruit wines and stone houses.

Apart from the historical background of the village, there are beautiful valleys to walk around. With it’s olive groves, peach gardens and vineyard Şirince is a photographer’s dream.

Apart from the special fruit wines which are the specialty of Sirince, (varieties include peach wine, blackberry, cherry, strawberry, melon and kiwi), you may also enjoy the wide variety of handicrafts, olive oil, Soaps, lavender products and natural cosmetics.

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Capturing The Essence of Cappadocia

Cappadocia is one of the most unique destinations in Turkey, and it is unlikely you’ll find another place like it in the world. The stark landscape takes your breath away, and you’ll be humbled at witnessing what nature can produce. Be it the fairy chimneys, cave hotels, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERArock cut churches; every place you visit in Cappadocia will awe you by it’s simple beauty. 

Whether you take a hot air balloon ride across the valleys of Cappadocia, watch masters turn clay into intricate pieces of art, or explore different tastes by sampling local cuisine, every moment you spend in Cappadocia will be etched in your mind.

fairy chimneysIn the evenings, sitting under the crystal clear Anatolian sky, listening to the magical notes of the Sufi music, and you’ll as the history of the region washes over you, you feel connected to an ancient way of life.

If you’re planning a trip to Turkey contact us via this form and we’ll work with you to make the perfect Turkey tour.

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Street Foods, Local Markets and Bazaars Are Worth Sampling in Istanbul

In Turkey, as in many other Mediterranean countries, there is a strong tradition of fresh, local, simple foods and those foods are prepared and consumed “on the street” as well as in the home.  In Istanbul, a fascinating, ancient, yet cosmopolitan city of 13 million people, the tradition of “fast food,” both hot and cold, is strong and anyone who participates in any of the popular Turkey tours should not hesitate to sample some traditional treats available from street vendors.

First, kebap and doner, which you may have heard of.  Both meat selections, kebap is hunks or chunks of broiled or roasted cow, sheep or chicken (or sometimes other meats) while doner is sliced from a cut roasting on a spit.  There are many varieties sold in many forms.  Be sure to try at least once.

Then there is the bread:  Pide is a thin leavened bread, akin to pita or pizza dough, which can be eaten plain, or topped with meat and/or vegetables, filled and shaped into a roll topped with salad and lemon juice, or stuffed with cheese.  Flaky-textured borek is often stuffed with cheese and eaten for breakfast, but there are numerous other fillings also.

Pogaca is a flaky pastry filled with spinach, cheese or olives; simit and acma are roughly equivalent to bagels (with sesame) and doughnuts, and also come in many varieties, sold by street vendors and also in shops.

In the summer, roasted corn is sold on the street and is scrumptious;  In the fall and winter a cone of roasted chestnuts is as satisfying in Istanbul as it is in Paris.

While in Istanbul on one of the individually-tailored Turkey travel packages such as this one, you simply must make time to visit at least one of the many area markets which display and sell fresh produce.  The scents of fresh parsley and mint are wonderful, the colors like a painting, and the variety impressive.  Also, the Arasta Bazaar, in the Sultanahmet area, makes for an interesting excursion, particularly for spices.

Visit A Real Turkish Hamam

Here in the United States, we have fancy and extremely expensive day spas where we can go and pay upwards of $500 or more for an afternoon of pampering. This may include a “vichy bath,” or a scrub-down with soap performed by an attendant, followed by a rinse, a massage and an application of oil all over the body. After we’ve paid that pretty penny and come out of the salon with a much lighter wallet, our skin may glow for a couple of hours but the pain of our empty pockets can linger for weeks or even months. In Turkey, the identical bathing experience can be had for about $50.  We recommend you consider this local treat during your Turkey tours.

There are two major types of hamams, or Turkish baths, available for you to enjoy. As you explore Turkey travel packages, keep these two options in mind so you can choose which one suits you best. The first type is the hotel hamam which caters mostly to tourists, and the second type is the public hamam which is a regular weekly ritual for many Turkish people. If you choose the public hamam, you will certainly be in a for a great experience.  For details on modesty and what to expect see our previous post here.

Both types of hamams generally employ the same methodology. You will be placed onto a heated, raised stone slab in the middle of a tiled room. After sweating for about 15 minutes, an attendant shows up to exfoliate your skin with a rough cloth, then scrub your body with soap and bubbly lather. After the exfoliation, you can opt to be massaged with oils, sometimes in a separate room. In public hamams, friends often attend to each other rather than pay an attendant. Public hamams range in price from about $20-$80.

Hotel hamams are more westernized, and offer higher quality soaps and oils. They also charge a lot more money for the same experience, so you might want to consider delving into a real, historic hamam for the most authentic visit.

There are many hamams in Istanbul, and some of the most popular traditional, public and oft visited by tourists are:

-Cagaloglu Baths: Kazim Ismail Gurkan Cad. No:24 Eminonu/Cagaloglu, Fatih, Istanbul

– Uskudar Cinili Hamam: Valide-i Atik Mh. 34664 Üsküdar/Istanbul Province

– Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami: Cankurtaran Mahallesi Bab-i Humayun Cad., Istanbul

Some of Sojourn’s Turkey tours may include a visit to a hamam, just ask. Do check and make sure that the hamam you will be visiting is one that offers an environment in which you would feel comfortable. Of all of the unique Turkey travel experiences you can have, a visit to a hamam will undoubtedly be one of the most memorable.

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