Next stop in Greece – and our last, for now at least – is the island of Kos, still in the Dodecanese Islands and just barely off the coast of Turkey. We’re still amazed (as you’ll see from the pictures here) by the beauty of the Mediterranean, the boats, the beaches, and all that. At the same time, though, we’re eager to spend a month or so in Turkey so after four days in Kos we’re crossing over to Turkey.
The proximity of Kos to the Turkish mainland added a layer of interest and complexity to our visit: Kos is just three miles from the Turkish mainland and thus is one of the major entrance points for Syrian, Afghani, and Iraqi refugees able to move overland into Turkey and who are then just a short hop – crammed into barely seaworthy boats at night – into Europe.
We had read a little about the refugee issues before arriving, and it could be a reason why we were able to find a nice hotel on short notice at the peak of tourist season. The press has not been good, with thousands of frustrated refugees trying to get documentation to get beyond their temporary status and the small town of Kos simply overwhelmed by the numbers. It breaks your heart to see all the people, mostly young men, doing what they can to escape ISIS, Bashar al-Assad, the Taliban, and all the evils of war. So they go overland through Turkey, cross the three-mile sea channel at night, and then wait for the rest of Europe to do something for them. It’s ugly and terribly sad.Still, Kos is a pretty fabulous place. Like everything in this region it has an impressive history. Kos fought along with the Greeks against Troy in Homer’s Iliad, and in classic mythology Heracles (Hercules) was said to have visited. The Knights of St. John were here, too, in the 14th and 15th centuries; they controlled Kos along with Rhodes when they were kicked out of Jerusalem and left a pretty cool castle right on the harbor.
Its biggest claim to fame is that Kos was the home of Hippocrates, generally thought of as the father of Western medicine, who practiced and taught there in the 5th century BC; he is credited with being the first person to teach that illness was caused naturally rather than being a function of the gods. The Plane Tree of Hippocrates still sits in the same spot where he supposedly taught his students. While the 500-year-old tree that stands there is pretty clearly not 2,500 years old it is believed that it may be a direct descendant of the tree under which Hippocrates (and Paul of Tarsus!) taught.
Today you can enjoy all that history, along with lots of good restaurants and all that. Best for us, though, was life on the water. We spent a couple days at a crowded but still fabulous beach right in the city. It’s a place where, if you lunch at a beach restaurant, you can use their daybeds for free. That made for pleasant and relaxing days.
The highlight, though, was the day we rented a car and drove to the southeastern section of the island where a series of beaches stretch for seven miles down the coast. We ended up at Sunny Beach, which I thought it might be the single most perfect beach I’ve ever been to. Great sand, perfect water, remarkably uncrowded, and a picturesque Greek restaurant on a hill behind the beach. That’s about as good as it will ever get.
So that’s it for Greece. For now, that is; we’ll be back in a year or two. Meanwhile we’re going over to Turkey and see what a difference three miles across the sea can make.