While we ate breakfast and tried to overcome jet lag in an Athens, Greece hotel three weeks ago, a handsome younger man walked over to us and extended his hand.
"Mark!," Janet exclaimed.
It was Kent businessman Mark Seaholts, who told us he was completing his vacation in Greece and about to return home. As we were about to start our vacation, we briefly shared notes, Mark assuring us we were in for a great time, the encounter underscoring the old refrain that it's a small world.
Except for Canada, I had not traveled outside of the United States in more than two decades, so when Janet and I decided to join my brother, Bob, and his wife, Nancy, on an Aegean cruise with stops at historic sites in Greece and Turkey, I was not sure what we'd find.
Our Tauck Tour group, nearly all of us in our 60s, 70s and 80s, most retired, sailed on the Windstar, a small vessel with about 100 passengers, of which those in our tour group numbered 40. Most days we would dock at a port, disembark and, led by knowledgeable guides, trek through ancient sites.
We made a stop at the small island of Mykonos, a colorful playground for Jacqueline Kennedy when she was married to Aristotle Onassis. We visited Santorini, a slender island caldera ascending more than 1,000 feet into the air with homes and buildings painted white up much of the slope. It is a volcanic site where an eruption 3,600 years ago is said to have caused a tsunami that wiped out the comparatively advanced Minoan civilization of Crete 70 miles to the south. We spent a day on Rhodes, an outpost for the Knights of Malta until the Ottoman Turks removed them to Malta.
Highlights for me were sites from classical Greece, 2,500 years old, and, in Istanbul, Turkey, the mosques and palaces of the Ottoman era, a "mere" 500 years old.
Our group climbed to the top of the Acropolis to view the Parthenon, a temple honoring Athena, the mythological goddess of wisdom worshipped by the Athenians of that era. There, we found ourselves among thousands of tourists, mostly Europeans and North Americans, but a significant number from the Orient, Japanese groups plus smatterings from India and China.
The amphitheater at Epidaurus, 50 miles southwest of Athens, which we saw the next day, proved heavily visited, too. Built more than 2,000 years ago, its acoustics are said to be nearly perfect. That marble facility is used even today for musical festivals and was once the site of a Maria Callas concert. Janet and I climbed up the marble steps to the top of the amphitheater and then, as we came back down, listened to a spontaneous vocal performance by another tourist, a Scandanavian.
World full of travelers
The entire world has taken up travel, I realized as we wandered about during our first day out with our group along the top of the Acropolis in central Athens. We had jostled our way in a throng of people climbing up and then back down on a paved pathway through olive groves.
The scene of tourists by the hundreds, sometimes by the thousands, kept repeating itself as we progressed. Ephesus on the coast of western Turkey, one of the Mediterranean's best preserved sites of the Graeco-Roman period, was home in its heyday to more than 50,000. The site has no inhabitants now, but the day we were walking through, I bet we were among 5,000 tourists, all of us doing the same thing.
The busiest tourist destination was Istanbul's Topkapi Palace, the immense home and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans, who at their zenith ruled their Turkish subjects and held sway over most of the Arab world and most of southeastern Europe. On the palace grounds were school tours and innumerable tourists from North America, Europe as well as East and South Asia. We also saw tourists from the Middle East, the women conservatively dressed, their heads covered, some covering their entire bodies with chadors.
Balloon ride in Turkey
Bob and Nancy Dix, who planned our tour, tacked on side trips. One of those was to Cappadocia, Turkey, a province whose terrain was created by heavy volcanic activity a million years ago. The landscape has been shaped by erosion into formations that give it a resemblance to Bryce Canyon in Utah. Because the rocky formations of Cappadocia are soft, they could be carved out and during early Christianity they functioned as cave-like homes for followers of that then suppressed religion. Later, during the Byzantine era, the caves served as homes for ascetics, monks and nuns.
A favorite tourist activity in Cappadocia is to take a hot air balloon ride at the crack of dawn, which we did, 12 to a balloon basket. As I scrunched up close to Janet to make room for a good-looking Chinese couple, the woman spoke up and said, "You don't need to do that. We have plenty of room."
I complimented the woman on her English and she said, "It should be good. I've grown up with it."
"Are you an American?" I asked.
"We're from Singapore," she responded with a smile.
Our pilot that day flew us up 6,000 feet above sea level to view the volcanic terrain. My sister-in-law, Nancy, good naturedly called him "Cowboy" because the pilot, an athletic man in his 20s, had a daredevil swagger and when we landed, put us down squarely on the back of the trailer that had come to fetch us.
The pilot had played American football on a team in Turkey that had visited the United States and scrimmaged with the Baltimore Ravens.
"Ray Lewis is one of my heroes," he said in nearly flawless English.
A small and interconnected world, I kept thinking and how about this?
As our tour began in Athens, we learned that one of the couples in our tour group, Jeff and Pat Einbond of New Jersey, have family living in Kent, their daughter, Elizabeth Pryor and her husband, Richard, with their children, Richard and Grace. The grandson, Richard, is enrolled at the STEM+M school at NEOMED in Rootstown.
A small world, indeed!