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Breakfast in Turkey and Lunch in Greece?

We are going to visit  the  island  closest to Turkey …..Meis (Megisti) now  more romantically known as Kastellorizo!  The island went through the same row of rulers as the other Dodecanese. A staging post between  Rhodes and Cyprus it had a population of up to 9000 in 19th C.   At the beginning of the last century  the island was occupied by the French, then in  1923  by  Italy  and eventually ceded to Greece in 1947 when the population heaved a sigh of relief….’home at last’! 

But the logistics were not so easy! … Kastellorizo  is a large triangular barren  rock all of 115 km from Rhodes and a stone’s throw from the Turkish mainland. It has no water, no livestock ….just plenty of fish. The Island’s pride is its  horseshoe-shaped harbour which practically interlocks with its opposite number at  Kas 

Behind the harbour’s pristine  waters rise rows of stone cottages in four tiers. Prior to the arrival of modern technology an ‘upper-tier conversation’ could be had from the island with a Turkish quayside neighbour  aided  by a flag, or a whistle. When the Islanders  needed meat,  binoculars were used to view the purchase of possible livestock.  Rhodes too busy running touristic ferry services to the other Dodecanese Islands had little interest in Kastellorizo, except  intent on supporting the diminished population, sent boatloads of much welcome charitable nonperishables every few weeks.  As Turkey was not then in  the European  Customs Union such non-perishables as Whisky and Nescafe etc found their way to  Kas  and beyond  via a sophisticated barter system set up in view of ….but not by…. the pertinent Harbour-masters!

 In return from  the mainland fresh vegetables, spring water, livestock and most importantly fresh white loaves of bread would be exchanged …

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According to custom on the appointed day the Turkish  bakers would rise earlier than usual for a busier bake, and  any pre-ordered goats and sheep would assemble on the Quay, while vats  of  spring-water  and vegetables would arrive from the surrounding hills: all to  await the  large fishing boat  generally carrying the priest (who preferred  Turkish tobacco to the everyday Marlboro) and the  precious cargo. Within an hour and the time it took for the two harbour masters to agree that value was given for value accompanied by  a conciliatory glass of Raki, the operation would be  completed.


Almost at war Kastellorizo needed re-populating……

Over the next decade  second-generation emigres from the island to Australia …all with Greek surnames but little of the language….. were invited to return to their fatherland with the promise of housing and financial aid…..they  were known as ‘Kazzies’!

And they came!

They restored the  beautiful harbour  houses  so typical of Dodecanese architecture, repainting the large wooden fronted doors in emerald, mustard, indigo….Those close to the harbour  extended their front terraces; sea-food  restaurants opened.

Regular ferry services started from Rhodes… a 4 hour journey.

In 1991 an award-winning film  was made on the island  and tourism truly arrived.

Today there is a 20 minute service every day from Kas to Kasto….passports being handed in for scrutiny the night before. For yachts there is good but limited anchorage in the harbour.  Many of the houses are now Airbnb. There are two small hotels and as far as the writer knows the Island is deemed suitable for sustainable development only…..and that is its great charm…’small is beautiful’.

Apart from a good meal in a very picturesque setting there is more than enough to do on a day-trip from Kas.

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If a swim is essential…and the sea is  super-clean…to the west of the Island is the small sandy beach plus a pebbly beach 'Mandra'ki to the east.

For those interested in history walk up the cobbled street to the 18th C. mosque,  now a small  museum with  Byzantine artefacts, articles of  clothing and documents.  On the hill behind  are the remains of a  double-walled Castle….extended by the  Knights of St John  in 14th C. Further to the east is the pebble beach of Mandraki with a Lycian house tomb on the hill beside it!

Further on the  Cathedral Church of St Helen and Constantine is open to all. The desalinisation  plant nearby is not ! The highest point on the Island is 270 m….which is also out of bounds…a military area from where the Turkish Navy’s  sea manoeuvres are scrutinised.  The more adventurous can climb up to the ruins of the fortified monastery dedicated to  St George. The views are splendid. The  amphi-like symmetry of the harbour, a turquoise sea as its stage and  the multi pastels of the houses backed by the  light charcoal  of the rock  are inspiration for any `artist or poet. So to the accompaniment of a Greek coffee or Ouzo why not just relax and take up your pen!

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