For those who came in late, what’s CouchSurfing?
Superficially, CouchSurfing seems like any other community website, such as Orkut or Facebook. The basic idea, though, is to open up people’s homes and hearts by using travel to enable cultural and ideological exchanges. For some people, it is also a simple means of getting a place to stay and shower for free.
I came across the idea a while ago, but I initially dismissed it as yet another community website. Then, around the time my wife and I were planning this trip, I decided to test the idea for what it was worth and enrolled (www.couchsurfing.com). Though we did have doubts: What if we got thrown out of someone’s home? Or if we landed up with a psycho?
On the road: Gupta and wife on a quadruped in a village in Greece. Ashish Gupta
How did you plan your itinerary?
I’ve been fascinated with our culture and history since I was a kid. I wanted to trace back India’s Mughal/Turkish roots and see for myself how close we were in today’s context. And Greece interested me as the source of some of the most powerful mythology in the world. The CouchSurfers community was extremely helpful with its tips about getting around and about each location, e.g. taking ferries between the various Greek islands or travelling between Turkey and Greece.
How did the community enhance the experience?
In Istanbul, we started by visiting the regular touristy places in Sultanahmet, such as Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia, Galata Tower, etc. But once we met the CouchSurfers, they helped open up a completely different world to us. They suggested we go to an authentic hamam (we went to Cemberlitas) and experience the way the Ottomans bathed, and told us where to buy the best Turkish Delights (Koska) and baklava (Güllüoglu) in town. Among other memorable experiences was watching dervishes in an old room with stained glass and simple seating.
But the CouchSurfers were the most interesting lot of all. We learnt Turkish words that are surprisingly quite close to Hindi, for example, badem (almonds), duvar (wall) and sabun (soap). Coconut is Hindistan chivezi, translating into Indian walnut! There are many similarities between our cultures, possibly because of the Persian or Arabic influences on both. I even managed to find serious (or maybe not!) Mithun Chakraborty and Awara Hoon fans in Turkey—and they recommended some Darbuka players whose music we picked up. We met a German fellow who had fallen in love with the Turkish language through rock/pop Turkish songs and spent a year learning the language. He was in Istanbul to test his language skills and had even dyed his blond hair black to pass off as a local.
From Istanbul, we went on to Kusadashi, a port city we used as a base for our day trips to Ephesus (one of the best-preserved ancient cities in the eastern Mediterranean) and Pamukkale (literally, cotton castle). We travelled by bus from Kusadashi to Bodrum, from where we took a ferry to Kos, in Greece.
How was Greece?
Each of the Greek islands has a lot to offer. For instance, Kos is a great favourite with package tourists, but it’s also the home of Hippocrates. Kos is a bicycling island and we made the most of the opportunity. We hired bikes and rode along the harbour and coast, which stretches for miles altogether. We also visited Asklepion, which was essentially Hippocrates’ hospital.
The highlight of the trip was the quadruped we rented to get to remote old villages such as Pily and the mountain top of Zia, and the ruins of the Castle of Antimaxia.
Athens is a conventional capital city, where we stayed for two days at the home of Greek CouchSurfer Lena Bampasaki, who lives with her son and a naughty Siamese cat called Zoe. She introduced us to Greek music, specifically Manos Hadjidakis and Melina Mercouri, and also local desserts, and Priyanka visited the Thursday weekly market to get a feel of Greek family life, local customs and fashions.
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at firstname.lastname@example.org