Greece, Croatia and Turkey are popular travel destinations — and the recent Greek financial crisis won’t make much of a difference for travelers.
In the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece, Croatia and Turkey remain popular with tourists and present some important transportation and sightseeing changes for 2016.
Greece is one of Europe’s great destinations, but concern about its financial crisis and the thousands of Syrian refugees entering the country is impacting travelers’ vacation plans. While the country is digging out of a massive economic hole — and I wouldn’t want to be a Greek worker counting on a comfortable retirement — its fiscal woes should hardly be noticed by visitors. And although Greece happens to be on Europe’s receiving end of refugees from the east end of the Mediterranean, it’s my experience (from recent personal travel and from the many tours my company guided there throughout the year) that the tourists’ world and the refugees’ plight rarely intersect. And, when they do, it’s little more than an inconvenience for vacationers, and a valuable firsthand peek at the realities of our world.
Tourists traveling to Greece will experience higher prices next year, as the Greek government tries to pay down its debt. Specific increases include ticket price hikes to the great archaeological sites and museums, and new hotel taxes that will be passed on to visitors. Some good news in Athens: The wonderful new Acropolis Museum was previously closed on Mondays, but is now open seven days a week.
Two hours by boat from Athens, the idyllic island of Hydra has long dealt with water supply issues, as it has no natural water source (except private cisterns). Until recently, islanders had to barge in fresh water every day. But with recent help from the European Union, Hydra now has a plant for desalinating seawater, giving the island a reliable water supply and drinkable tap water.
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On the island of Mykonos, a cheap shuttle boat now runs between the New Port and Mykonos town, giving people arriving by ferry from Athens or Santorini an easy way to reach the old town. Near Mykonos, the archaeological site of Delos, reachable only by boat, is more accessible than ever to sightseers. It’s now open every day (previously closed on Mondays), and in peak season, travelers may be able to tour the site later in the day, when the sun is more forgiving, thanks to a late-afternoon ferry that returns in the early evening.
North of Greece, in Croatia, transportation upgrades are making a big difference for travelers. A new express bus from the remote Plitvice Lakes National Park runs frequently in summer, connecting to Zagreb in the north and to the city of Split in the south. Visitors can now connect several coastal destinations by seaplane (European Coastal Airlines). Traveling by boat in Croatia is easier now that you can buy tickets online for national ferry operator Jadrolinija’s catamarans and smaller Krilo catamarans. This eliminates the need to get up early and wait in line at ticket offices. (Tickets can sell out quickly, though, so book well ahead in busy times.) Boat service has been revamped in Dalmatia, and Dubrovnik is now better connected by fast catamarans.
At the far eastern end of the continent, Istanbul straddles both Europe and Asia. Though not the capital of Turkey, it is the country’s largest and most touristed city. And several upgrades are making things easier for sightseers.
In 2016, the city will offer a revamped set of sightseeing passes. These passes (about $30 for three days, $40 for five days) cover the city’s top sights. They can save substantial money and time, allowing you to bypass ticket lines. If not buying a pass, purchase tickets online in advance for the top sights, especially the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace, to avoid long ticket lines.
At the Topkapi Palace, the Imperial Treasury may be closed for renovation throughout 2016, but the stark interior of Hagia Irene, an early Christian church on the palace grounds, has reopened. Much of the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum has reopened after extensive renovation.
A third bridge over the Bosporus strait — the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge — is under construction, and after several delays, should open sometime this year. Due to renovation of the Karakoy Limani cruise ship port (until the end of 2017), cruise ships are docking at Salipazari Limani, located in the New District.
From the Eastern Mediterranean to France to the United States, countries throughout the world are being rattled by economic challenges, an influx of migrant workers, and perceived threats from terrorists. As a result, right-wing and nationalist political forces are emboldened. With the political direction of these countries in flux, a fascinating part of traveling these days is talking to people to see how they are dealing with fear, fear-mongering, security interests, and anxiety, all of which are threatening long-treasured societal norms.
Edmonds-based Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. His column runs weekly at seattletimes.com/travel. Email him at email@example.com