Athens to Istanbul, Step by Step

Ioanna Kopsiafti, a Greek-American educated in England, set off on July 29to fulfil a vow she made in her student days. After 52 days and 1,300km she reaches the end of her epic journey

Mission statement

This walk is undertaken to highlight the belief that individuals have no borders, and that acrimony between the Greeks and Turks is fostered by some people in positions of power who have vested interests in division. Scottish anthropologist Arthur Keith best summarises the spirit of this sojourn: "The course of human history is not determined by what happens in the skies but in the hearts of men."

From maps to compasses, a traveller's
survival kit is laid out for the journey

It started out badly with our determined trotter
suffering sharp pains around her ankles just
three days into walking. After a brief stop at a
hospital outside Thiva she was ready to hit the
road again

'He sauntered across the square and sat behind
me as if we had had a rendezvous...At dawn my
new friend was waiting outside my hotel and
followed me all the way to Aliartos, 25km away.' Boo- short for 'Bounatsa' - shared Ioanna's passion for walking but the heat and the long kilometers were too much for the part-golden Labrador who ended up receiving first aid by
the local vet

On her way from Polydrosso to Lamia Iaonna
crosses paths with Barba Stathis. Trying to negotiate for a donkey to carry her heavy backpack, she is offered a flock of sheep

'For three hours I climbed with my heavy load
up into the dense pine forest. It was a crisp
cold morning as the sun rose over the Parnassus'

'The road to Lamia was an arduous 45km,
the most I had done in a day thus far. Along the way I met a cyclist, Petros, who gave me more detailed maps and even wrote me directions in pebbles on the road, with arrows indicating shortcuts'

'As we arrived at the Proerna castle, near
Domokos, we happened upon a new
discovery - some sort of grinding apparatus.
One round object had the same star motif
carved upon it as those found in a royal tomb, possibly belonging to Alexander the great's
father, Philip'

'Kafsonas was the word on everyone's mind.
Every newspaper, radio station and television
programme was discussing it. Meanwhile, the
majestic peaks of Mount Olympus still had remnants of snow... I walked past Olympus, yearning to climb its summit but having to content myself with the promise to return'

'The next wonderful discovery was a real tomato. At a roadside tavern where I stopped to rest, I came upon Mrs Sophia, who was making tomato sauce for the winter with her garden tomatoes. The smell of them launched me back to my father's garden, and I was treated to a salad which confirmed it was the long lost tomato I had feared was extinct'

Apollonia was to my great surprise a spa
resort with natural therapeutic hot springs
located beside the lovely Lake Volvi. I could
not believe my good fortune

Nestos' meandering footpath offers an idyllic view of the river which makes amends for all the physical pains

Every kilometre counts when travelling
on foot

'Inside the Kavala castle was a vibrant neighbourhood with elderly ladies sitting on their balconies talking, children playing ball in the street and people coming and going, greeting each other with the air of intimacy that comes from growing up in such close proximity'

'Reaching Kavala was an important milestone. En route up the cobbled streets of the Panagia district inside the castle I stopped to admire the fine views over the gulf to Thassos, the northernmost island in the Aegean which is almost perfectly round. The castle perched above the city was built by the Ottoman Turks and Venetians and later renovated and expanded by the Byzantines'

'Homer tells us that during his travels Odysseus stopped in Maroneia, so I spent a night there. It was Maron (from whom the town gets its name) who gave Odysseus the wine with which he lured the Cyclops into a drunken slumber to blind him. The path passed an ancient wine press, megalithic gates, the walls of the ancient settlement of Ismaro and other ruins, including a Hellenistic theatre, which is currently being restored'

'We visited a mosque where - after I took off shoes to enter the holy place - I met the hodja, who made a gift of some prayer-beads. It was
the oldest mosque in the city, dating back to 1500s, with the customary quibla wall, which signifies the direction of Mecca towards which
the faithful pray. From the slender minaret the faithful are called to prayer five times a day beginning at sunrise and ending at sunset'

'Before crossing the border I spent a couple
of days in the Evros Delta where the Evros river separates the two countries while belonging to both. There are military lookout towers on either side with hunting lodges along the banks.
Kalives is a more appropriate term than 'hunting lodge' as these makeshift shacks are made of random materials'

Street vendors in Malkara

'An official line painted blue and red separated the two nations. I stood on one side and the chief of police and the governor stood on the other. The police chief pointed out in soft tones that it was only a line, nothing really separating us as he pressed my hand in solidarity'

'On September 17, the feast day of Saint Sophia, I entered the city, officially passing through its ruined city walls to bring this epic journey to a close. With vivid images from Steven Runciman's description of the fall of Constantinople I felt the need to wipe my eyes from the smoke amidst cannon fire as the walls crumbled around me. The Byzantine Empire that began in 323, officially ended on Tuesday 29 May 1453. It is alleged that one of the first things that Mehmet II did was to ride his horse up to Agia Sophia, the church of Holy Wisdom, to have it converted to a mosque. All these images ran through my thoughts as I approached the city which I could see in the distance shrouded in mist with its many minarets and domes scattered across the sprawling cityscape'

'I had a letter ready to give to Mr. Erdogan
outlining the nature of my trip to Turkey and
the message it carried. I had expressed my
desire to meet with him in several interviews
with the Turkish press but I did not know that
within a week I would be standing there shaking
hands with the prime minister of Turkey, delivering
my message in person'

Crowned with six minarets and a great cascade
of domes, Istanbul's imperial Sultanahmet is
also known as the Blue Mosque owing to the
tiles in its interior

'On the morning of September 18 I had the honour of meeting Patriarch Vartholomeos when I was invited to visit him at his historic seat known as the Fanari. My family accompanied me to meet him and were all impressed by his warmth. No one expected him to be so open to discussing the many subjects I broached, including Greek-Turkish relations and other contemporary issues. He is well loved by many Greeks and Turks and has worked tirelessly to enhance relations between these countries. An avid walker himself, he felt that such initiatives as walking from Athens to Istanbul were important in overcoming problems between our countries' Vartholomeos is here pictured with Ioanna's mother
'The memorable close to my journey, arranged by Consul-General Mr. Alexandris and Vice-Governor of Istanbul Mr. Tasbasi, was the planting of an olive tree to symbolize peace and friendship between Greece and Turkey and commemorate my walk. In the presence of my mother and father, who had flown over from the United States to be here with me, as well as other relatives, friends and various officials and dignitaries, we planted this olive tree in the Topkapi Gardens between Agia Sophia and Sultanahmet. There, in that splendid park, I felt that my walk had indeed bridged countries, borders and cultures and was filled with hope for a new era of common dreams and aspirations from Athens to Istanbul'

* Ioanna's Itinerary

July 29: From the port of Piraeus to Agios Stephanos by train. On foot from Agios Stephanos to Avlona, Oinofyta, and Dilesi, on the coast, for the night July 30: Back to Oinofyta, then on to Tanagra, and Asopia for the night July 31: From Asopia to Kallithea and Thiva (Thebes) for the night August 1: From Thiva to Aliartos for the night August 2: Aliartos to Agia Paraskevi and Livadeia for the night August 3: Livadeia - heading towards Arahova on the E4 path
August 4: On foot from Leivadia to Distomo for the night
August 5: From Distomo to Arahova, where Eleni spends two nights in a row August 7: From Arahova to Polidrosso for the night August 8: From Polidrosso to Lamia August 9: From Lamia to Domokos for the night August 10: En route to Farsala August 1l: Slept in Domokos August 12: Domokos - Farsala, stopped in Neo Monastiri August 13: Farsala - Larissa; slept in Larissa August 14: Larissa - Tebi, camped riverside at Tebi August 15: Tebi - Plafamonas, slept in Platamonas August 16: Platamonas August 17: Platamonas - Katerini August 17: Platamonas ,Katerini,slept in Katerini August 18: Katerini - Methoni, slept in Methoni August 19 & 20: Methoni - Thessaloniki, slept two days in Thessaloniki August 21: Thessaloniki - Agios Vasilios, camped in Agios Vasilios August 22: Agios Vasilios - Apollonia, slept in Apollonia August 23: Apollonia - Asprovalta, slept in Asprovalta August 24: Asprovalta - stopped in Amphipoli, camped in Kariani August 25: Kariani - Peramos, camped in Peramos August 26: Peramos - Kavala, slept in Kavala August 27: Kavala - Chrysoupoli, slept in Chrysoupoli August 28: Chrysoupoli - Toxotes, slept in Toxotes August 29: Toxotes - Xanthi, slept in Xanthi August 30: Xanthi August 31: Xanthi - Iasmo, camped in Iasmo September 1: Iasmo - Komotini, slept in Komotini September 2: Komotini - Maroneia, slept in Maroneia September 3: Maroneia - Petrota, camped on a beach at Petrota September 4: Petrota - Alexandroupoli, slept in Alexandroupoli September 5: Alexandroupoli September 6: Alexandroupoli - Evros River Delta, slept in Delta September 7: Delta - Feres, slept in Feres September 8: Feres - Ipsala, slept in Ipsala September 9: Ipsala - Kesan, slept in Kesan September 10: Kesan - Malkara, slept in Malkara September 11: Malkara - Inecik, slept in Inecik September 12: Inecik - Tekirdag, slept in Tekirdag September 12: Tekirdag - Marmara Ereglisi, slept in Marmara Erilis September 13: Marmara Ereglisi -Silivri, slept in Silivri September 14: Silivri ­Kumburgaz, slept in Kumburgaz September 15: Kumburgaz - Buyukcekmece September 16: Outskirts of the City September 17: Entrance into the City at last! September 18: Istanbul arrival celebrations and official close

(Posting Date 31 October 2006)

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