It was an early start today because we had a nine-thirty ferry to catch to another country – Turkey, another continent in fact – Asia! We were travelling to the modern city of Bodrum which was once the ancient city of Halicarnassus of Caria, birthplace of Herodotus, the ‘Father of History’ and home of one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum of Mausolus.
Passport control was surprisingly thorough but I suppose there still remains a bit of diplomatic tension between these two countries but soon we were in the sun on the top deck of the Nissos Kos and leaving the harbour and as soon as the boat was out of site of port the crew hoisted the scarlet flag of Turkey which, once released, danced provocatively in the strengthening wind.
Territorial waters give a nation state full control over air navigation and shipping and the standard width of territorial waters that countries are entitled to has steadily increased during the twentieth century and is currently twelve nautical miles or twenty-two kilometres. As this is barely the distance between Kos and Bodrum this is something that is always going to cause disagreement. In the Aegean the territorial waters claimed by both sides are still at six miles. Turkey refuses to accept the twelve mile limit and Greece has so far not tried to apply it.
Tensions over the twelve mile question ran highest between the two countries in the early 1990s, when the Law of the Sea was going to come into force. On 9 June 1995, the Turkish parliament officially declared that unilateral action by Greece would constitute a casus belli, i.e. reason to go to war. This declaration has been condemned by Greece as a violation of the Charter of the United Nations.
It isn’t just a matter of control of the sea of course but rather the economic opportunities that lie beneath the surface. In the context of the Aegean dispute, the term continental shelf refers to a state’s exclusive right to economic exploitation of resources on and under the sea-bed, for instance fishing and oil exploration. The dispute between Turkey and Greece is to what degree the Greek islands off the Turkish coast should be taken into account for determining the Greek and Turkish economic zones. Greece would rather like to retain control over all the Aegean and Turkey would like to expand its ownership westwards which would subsume the Greek Islands and leave them as virtual enclaves.
Anyway, I didn’t concern myself greatly with international maritime law as we sat in the sun on the ferry that took just under an hour to travel the twenty-one kilometres to Bodrum and as we approached we could see barren, treeless khaki hills decorated with occasional villages strung like pearl necklaces around a Dowager’s neck. The sun sparkled on the Aegean like Christmas glitter and ahead of us we approached the city of Bodrum with its concrete fingers groping their bony way up the dusty hills that surround it behind the sea.
There was more passport control to negotiate but before we could pass we had to acquire an entry visa which cost €15 each. There were no forms to complete and no checks to establish our suitability for visiting the country because this is not a formal visa in any way but rather a crude Robin Hood tourist tax and the uniformed official might as well have held a pistol to our heads as we handed over and he added our cash to a wad of money in his hairy hands and nicotine stained fingers.
For a change I had different banknotes in my wallet but despite the fact that Turkey has its own currency, the Lira, there was an insistence, but no explanation, that the visa should be purchased in Euros. The euro is useful because it has simplified travel to Europe but I miss the old pre-euro currencies. To have a wallet full of romantic and exciting sounding notes made you feel like a true international traveller. I liked the French franc and the Spanish peseta and the Greek drachma of course but my absolute favourite was the Italian lira simply because you just got so many. When going on holiday to Italy you were, for just a short time anyway, a real millionaire.
It was only a short walk to the Hotel but the pavements were busy and this made progress with luggage quite difficult and arduous. As we passed a Mosque the sudden call to worship made me jump. This was the Ezan, which is the Islamic call to prayer, recited by a man called the Muezzin who repeats this several times during the day. In total the Ezan is called out in every mosque five times a day, traditionally from a minaret, summoning Muslims for mandatory prayers. In the old days this would have been done by the man with the loudest voice shouting from the highest window but now it is done with the help of loudspeakers.
The room wasn’t ready so we left our bags and walked back into the city through narrow streets and little shops with shopkeepers at every door trying to persuade us to go inside. It was reminiscent of Marrakech and Fez in Morocco but not nearly so pushy or unpleasant and a simple ‘no thank you’ was generally sufficient to signal no shopping intentions.
After a first authentic donner kebab in a side street and an overpriced beer at the water’s edge we returned to the Hotel Atrium which was a good price at only £40 a night, bed, breakfast and evening meal. Because it was cheap the hotel wanted to maximise bar sales and there was a sign forbidding minimarket beers from being brought in so I smuggled some in anyway in my backpack but then realised that I would have to smuggle the empties back out again just in case the room cleaners reported me.
Although Turkey is only a few kilometres from Greece it did feel very different, our hosts were friendly but there was a more restrained hospitality, it is a Muslim country and there are obvious differences in dress, food, beer (no Mythos now, Turkish beer Efes instead) and the general atmosphere and interaction.
After a late afternoon and early evening resting around the pool we walked once more into the shopping streets and found a bar for pre-dinner drinks before returning to the hotel for an unexpectedly excellent evening meal; the hotel, it turned out, was a good choice based on an excellent recommendation, which can be risky but on this occasion turned out fine.