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||Travel article about Kastellorizo
The Kavos Headland on the east side of Kastellorizo's main harbour.
|Aboard the Meis Express|
from Kaş to Kastellorizo
including a duty free shopping tip
|Enjoy your trip
At 10 am nearly every summer morning an armada of small boats chug determinedly out of Kaş harbour hauling chirping tourists to various beaches, villages and Lycian archaeological sites along the southern Turkish coast. Among the vessels, the largest is the ferry Meis Express, on its way across the Steno Vathi channel (in Turkish Kaş Kanali) to quite a different destination: the Greek island of Kastellorizo (or Megisti, in Turkish Meis) which lies 7 km and 20 minutes due south.
Anybody who has spent time in Kaş will know that the island is plainly visible from all over the Turkish town. Every morning the great limestone rock frees itself from the previous night's darkness to shine on the Mediterranean horizon. It is possible to see details of the craggy cliffs and the brightly painted houses with the naked eye. Every evening its lights seem to beckon enticingly across the water. Or is it just the wine? The Greek culture of the island, like the geographical distance between the two places, is so near and yet so far apart from the Turkish world. In one place church bells ring, while just across the water muezzins chant. Both soundscapes can seem plaintive, beautiful, evocative. The cliffs above Kaş, with their high shallow caves, mirror those on Kastellorizo. A young Turkish man tells us that the locals call these mirror images the "darlings" or "lovers", and that they call to each other across the long-sunken valley which separates them.
If you are in one place, it seems natural and inevitable that you should want to visit and explore the other. The temptation is is as irrestible as the call of Sirens.
So, it should come as no surprise that you find yourself one fine morning, the great explorer on a micro odyssey, boarding the Meis Express with a feeling of pleasant excitement and anticipation, a bottle of mineral water and maybe some snorkling gear. These last two things Odysseus could never dream of.
The lower closed deck of the ferry has rows of comfortable seats for those who prefer that kind of thing, while most passengers head upstairs to the open upper deck which is provided with orange plastic mattresses for lolling about on. A large canvass awning provides shade, so altogether its a comfortable, relaxed journey, especially in summer.
Then, of course, there is the view. Kaş lies at the foot of the western end of the high Taurus mountains whose steep limestone slopes plunge into the clear sea. As the ferry approaches Kastellorizo it passes the pebble beach of Büyük Çakil cove and then the many low islets like giant's stepping stones to Kastellorizo.
Nearing the island, the height of the sheer cliffs which surround it appear even more impressive. It is these cliffs, which appear red at dawn and sunset which are said to have given the island its Italian name "the red castle". The ruins of the port's castle tower soon loom above, and directly below it (for those with keen eyes) the 4th century Lycian tomb hewn into the rock. Entering the harbour you are surrounded by the colours of the mosque, houses and churches and the not very bustling promenade where sunbathers sit at the water's edge or take a swim, while others enjoy the delights of the harbourfront bars and tavernas. Welcome to Kastellorizo.
The great little divide
The 7 km, 20 minute journey costs 20 euros (40 Turkish Lira). Hey, that's 1 € per minute, or 2.85 € per kilometre. Some consider that expensive, especially by Turkish standards. A 36 km bus journey in Turkey can cost as little as 2.50 €. You can travel to Rhodes, over 10 times the distance, for 20 €. Crossing the short distances between Turkey and Greek islands has always been an expensive business. During the 1980s, when political relations between the two countries was at a low, it cost as much as 25 US dollars or the equivalent in deutschmarks (then the preferred currency among Greeks and Turks) - a lot of money 20 years ago. That's if you were lucky enough to find a ferry at all. Mostly you would have to pay a small fortune in hard currency to cross on a fishing boat.
Thankfully, those days are over. Relations between Turkey and Greece, and especially between Kaş and Kastellorizo, are now much warmer. Both harbours are now official border crossing points, Kastellorizo being Greece's easternmost frontier.
The ferry organizers claim that it is expensive to run and maintain their boats, that they have to pay hefty port and customs dues and that they can only earn money during the summer. That is, from you, the happy tourist. Are they right? Is it a fair fare? You decide.
The 20 euro fare is actually a day return, although if you decide not return you pay the same. If you want to stay overnight at either side of the channel, you may be able to negotiate a reduction. In this case, friendliness, tact, poise and reason work better than moaning or complaining.
Ferry funny business
Despite the new conditions governing travel between Greece and Turkey, the business of paying your fare is still a bit arcane. On paying your fare your name is entered on a list which is read out before boarding. They call out your name and you can go aboard. It feels a bit like a school roll-call.
You also have to give your passport to the ferry operator at the latest the evening before you travel. They then take care of acquiring any necessary visas, for which you may have to pay (see our introduction to Turkey, practical information for Turkish visa information). It is then given back to you at the end of your return journey. If you need your passport back beforehand (for example to cash traveller's cheques) ask one of the crew.
All in all though, the whole process is painless and the value for money lies as much in the experience as in the journey. The staff and crew are friendly and helpful and above all they know their business. It has become one of the most easy-going international journeys you can take anywhere on the planet these days.
Duty free trip tip
The tiny trip from Kastellorizo (European Union) to Turkey entitles passengers to purchase duty free goods. Kastellorizo's 24-hour duty free shop (Hellenic Duty Free Shops) is excellent value, especially if you come from northern Europe: you can save upto 300% on the price you would pay at home for such heavily taxed sinful goods as perfume, tobacco and spirits. The prices are even cheaper than in Turkish duty free shops. Example: 400 duty free cigarettes cost 36 € in Turkey, while the same brand is only 26 € in Kastellorizo. The normal taxed price in Germany would be 98.82 € ! You may find that what you save pays for the ferry fare and dinner for two in a taverna. Kali orexi!
See page 3: getting there for further information
about travelling to Kastellorizo.
|Maps, photos and articles: © David John.
Additional photos: © Konstanze Gundudis.
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Olive Garden Restaurant
+30 22460 49 109
+30 22460 49 286
in Kavala's historic Panagia District