Saturday, October 29, 2016

Turkey -- October 2016 -- Part 2

We have now finished our second and final week aboard the “Ya Selam” and have left the coast to start our trip home. The boat became our home, and we greatly appreciated the competent and ever-smiling crew, who practiced their English on us as we practiced our Turkish on them. The guest cabins were full, with a Turkish-English family of 4; our English guide and historian, John; a South African resident of Turkey who lived in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, speaks fluent Russian and is currently trying to trace the travels of St Paul in Turkey; and the four of us. Conversations at meal times were lively and wide ranging as we all sat around a large table where a wide variety of delicious dishes were served family style, while Turkish wine and beer were dispensed liberally by the attentive crew.

The weather has been so far uniformly wonderful, with cool nights and warm sunny days in the 70’s. The day starts with a beautiful sunrise at about 7:30 over the Greek islands, which are only a few miles away. Breakfast at 8:30 with thick yogurt, 5 different sorts of cheese (including fried cheese), toast, jams and honey, scrambled eggs, cucumber and tomato salad, tea and coffee. After breakfast each day we either sail in the morning then hike in the afternoon, or vice versa.

Some of the notable sights we have seen and things we have done…

We anchored in the ancient port of Knidos at the tip of a beautiful peninsula. The ruins of a 2,500 year-old city still exist, with shops, theaters, temples, and a huge plinth that once housed a gigantic nude statue of Aphrodite – designed to attract tourists. The statue is long gone, and an equally ancient statue of a lion from the other side of the port is now in the British Museum.

We were dropped at a tiny, wild and stony beach at the tip of the uninhabited  Bozburun peninsula and hiked up a steep rocky track lined with thorny bushes to an old Greek church abandoned since 1923 when the Greeks left Turkey. Then on to a small equally abandoned village of stone houses, with an old windmill tower. The roofs of the cottages have long since collapsed from the earthquakes that occur regularly in the area, but we found red roof tiles, marked with the name of the manufacturer in Marseille, France.

We stopped for the night in the tiny village of Selimiye, and scrambled up the steep slope through terraces of olive trees to an ancient 16th century Ottoman castle, with spectacular views over the sea and the surrounding mountains. The town is so sheltered that it is full of citrus and palm trees.

Each day, our “gulet” anchors in a sheltered bay where we enjoy a swim in the crystal clear and buoyant Mediterranean water. It is bracingly cool and refreshing. The gulet has two little kayaks that we have paddled around the bay. At night we can sit on the front deck on a moonless night and see infinite stars and the Milky Way against the blackest of skies – a rare sight for Americans and northern Europeans.

We spent one day in Datca, a pleasant small town mostly given over to Turkish retirees who seem to enjoy sunning themselves and swimming in the sea as much as we do. Elderly gents sit in cafes drinking hot bitter Turkish tea and playing backgammon and “okey” – a cross between rummy and Mah Jongg. A hike through the town brought us to extensive ruins, so old there is little but rubble left, though much excavation is being done by archeologists. Enterprising local farmers grow peppers and tomatoes among the ruins. Everywhere there are shards of broken pottery and tiles of ancient origin among the rocks..

With a strong north wind and a due east coast, the captain decided to raise the sails and cut the engine. It was thrilling to see the huge white sails hauled up by our trusty crew and to feel our gulet moving along as fast as it did with the engine. It is a big heavy boat, but designed for sailing in these waters.

There is very little evidence of the State of Emergency in Turkey, or the refugee crisis. We did have an armed member of the military board a bus we were riding on, but they did not ask for IDs. One day, however, a fast Coast Guard cutter came up on the gulet and asked us to cut the engines. They tied up alongside, and demanded all our passports, plus the captain’s log and maintenance records. They also asked Lin to delete photos she had taken of their boat. After a few minutes, during which they presumably checked with the immigration authorities that we were all legitimate, they roared off. According to the captain they were acting on a tip-off that there was some people-smuggling in the area – we were only a couple of miles from the Greek island of Rhodes. A couple of days later we were stopped again, and woken up by the Coast Guard at 6 in the morning with bright searchlights. The captain was very annoyed.

Anthony and Sandy have been on the lookout for birds, though they are few and far between in this arid countryside. We have seen long-legged buzzards circling above the cliffs, and regularly hear the beautiful song of the rock nuthatch, but apart from that, not much of interest. We have seen goats, sheep, and donkeys on shore, and flying fish in the bays.

Now (Saturday) we have taken a taxi to Dalaman Airport and a plane to Istanbul, where we will get. Flight early tomorrow to Frankfurt, then Philadelphia, sadly leaving behind or on-board life of relaxation and rich indulgence.

We have posted some more photos on DropBox:

Friday, October 21, 2016

Turkey -- October 2016 -- Part 1

Turkey October Part 1
Turkey has beautiful scenery, an interesting and ancient history, friendly and charming people, fabulously fresh and interesting food. But, thanks to some terrorist activities and an ill-advised attempted coup there are hardly any tourists.

We spent a couple of days in ever-fascinating Istanbul after meeting up with Lin’s sister Brenda and her husband Anthony. Our little hotel near the Blue Mosque was quiet, disturbed only by a highly amplified call to prayer 5 times a day. We spent a day visiting the amazingly overblown Dolmabahce Palace, built by the Ottoman sultans in the middle of the 19th century beside the Bosporus when they found the ancient Topkapi palace too old fashioned and drafty. The rooms are encrusted with enormous chandeliers, parquet floors and beautiful carpets. Part of the palace, in much more modest style, is given over to the harem where the sultan’s several wives lived with their children and various other cloistered ladies. Of course, all this extravagance was much too late to save the Ottoman empire, which fell apart after the First World War.

A walk through the Egyptian Spice Bazaar led to many encounters with stall holders. “Let me sell you something you don’t need….because I need your money” declared one inventive spice seller. At the gorgeous and impressive Sulemaniye mosque, elegantly dressed Istanbullus were parading with their families and admiring the wonderful views over the Sea of Marmara, the Bosporus and the Golden Horn – the waterways that surround and define Istanbul. It is a huge and impressive city, and there was little sign of the recent troubles apart from the striking  number of Turkish flags flying from many buildings and even from the minarets of mosques.

Part 2 of our adventure involved an hour-long flight to Cappadocia, an area in central Turkey famed for its extraordinary rock formations, ancient churches carved out of the rocky cliffs, and underground cities. We spent 5 nights in the cute and curious town of Goreme, where many of the buildings, including the hotels, are partly or completely carved into the sides of the strange stone pillars and cliffs throughout the town. Goreme has a wonderful “Open Air Museum” – a deep and steep valley outside the town where churches were carved into the solid rock in the 9th and 10th centuries. The intricately carved and painted stone churches are a wonder to behold – it’s amazing the effort that people will expend in the name of religion.

Days in Cappadocia were warm and dry, the nights cool. It was perfect weather for walking, which we did – at length. There were picturesque paths through the rocky valleys, each view showing cliffs and towers of different colors. Most unusual of all were the “fairy chimneys” – a strange formation with a hard rock protecting the softer rock below, while the area around is eroded leaving a tall cone of stone with a rock on the top.

One day we used the efficient dolmus  – shared taxi – system to visit a huge underground city. There are many such underground cities in Cappadocia and they are still being discovered. They date back to ancient prehistoric times and were used by the local population to hide when their town was invaded. The one we visited was 8 floors deep with places for animals, churches, speaking tubes, wells, ovens, wineries, food storage areas, and family homes – everything that 5,000 people needed for 6 months of living underground.

Food in Cappadocia is excellent. Breakfasts consist of fruit, multiple different cheese, juices, jams, olives, salad, bread, omelettes, thick yogurt and fruit. We tried a different restaurant each night. Because of the dearth of tourists the restaurateurs were delighted to get our custom and went to great efforts to provide delicious dinners with soups, salads, appetizers, and main courses all prepared with excellent fresh ingredients. Tomatoes, cucumbers and potatoes just seem to taste better than elsewhere.

On Saturday, we flew from Cappadocia to Bodrum in the southwestern corner of Turkey, where we were warmly welcomed on board our beautiful home for the next 2 weeks  -- a traditional wooden gulet sailing boat with cabins for 12 people and a crew of 4. Each cabin is fitted in well-varnished wood with a nice double bed, ample storage space and a cute little tiled bathroom with washbasin, toilet and shower. There is only hot water when the engine is running but that is of little importance as the clear blue sea is always available for a swim when we are anchored. The captain is incredibly proud of his boat and when the crew are not rustling up delicious meals, they are cleaning and polishing.

Our first day we spent walking round Bodrum, a small city that has been occupied by every ancient civilization you can think of – Greeks, Persians, Spartans, Romans, Byzantines and Turks – as well as some we have never heard of – Lycians, Carians, etc. All of them left buildings and stonework lying around and the whole area is one huge archaeological site. Bodrum was once Hieropolis and the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the World – the tomb of Mausoleus, now reduced to a pile of rubble, and a few walls and pieces of pillar. The most intriguing sight was an ancient Carian tomb, 2,500 years old, in the back interior wall of the supermarket among the bottles of Coca-Cola and Sprite.

After lunch we  set off on our 2 week trip, the boat working its way around the coast, stopping at small bays and inlets, where we can swim in the evenings, and in the day time take strenuous hikes along parts of the Carian Way – a coastal path which gives wonderful views of the deep blue sea, dusky green olive orchards, steep cliffs and dark green forests.

On board are the four of us, our guide – a well educated Englishman who speaks fluent Turkish – plus a friend of his who knows all about the paths and the ruins we encounter and a Turkish/English lady from the tour company. We are amazed at the meals that are produced by the crew in the little ship’s galley. Every meal has 4 or 5 dishes, always including a salad, some thick creamy yogurt and vegetable dish, rice or some other grain, and meat, fish or chicken.

Yesterday’s hike was a steep and strenuous 9 miles through spectacular terrain, but today was more relaxing with a visit to “Cleopatra’s Island”, complete with a beach of golden sand reputedly brought there by Mark Anthony in 50 BC(?) for his lady love. I think we can take a few more days of this lifestyle…warm, dry days under blue skies, peaceful nights, healthy food, interesting sites and sights, Turkish wines and coffee or tea on request….

(It is too tricky to post photos with the flaky WiFi connection we have on the boat, so here is a link to some photos on DropBox – hope out works