Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Sunday, November 29, 2009
During April and May vibrant wild spring flowers, orchids included, in myriad variety swathed the hillsides and valleys of the Ionian islands of Lefkas, Odysseus's Ithaca and Cephalonia and the shores and islands, tiny Trizonia in particular, of the Gulf of Corinth. Snow capped mountains and soaring eagles and hawks were the perfect backdrop to the carpet of colour beneath.
As if the mighty but somewhat dilapidated Corinth Canal is an impenetrable barrier, the barren and windswept Cyclades Islands to the east with their typically 'white' villages are in stark contrast to the lush vegetation and colour to the west. The idyllic anchorages of Paros, Kithnos and Levitha and the bustling, yet laid back, town quays such as that at Amorgos are etched in our memories whereas the summer wind, the Meltemi, which may blow for days on end, is etched into our skin!
Of the few islands we have visited in the Dodecanese archipelago so far we were not impressed with Kalimnos or the resort ridden Kos but we adored Symi and believe the small and southernmost island of Greece, Kastellorizon (or Meis) to be one of the most wonderful places into which we have sailed since we left the UK.The much indented shoreline and the pine forested slopes that fringe the water's edge of the superfluity of bays and inlets along the Turkish Carian and Lycian coasts make for the perfect cruising ground. We recall with affection the beautiful anchorages of the southern shores of the Gokova and Hisaronu Gulfs north of Marmaris, the bays of the Skopea Limani in the Fethiye Gulf and those in the Kekova area. Rickety wooden restaurant pontoons come and go depending on their legality or perhaps the whim of local dignitaries can on occasions dominate otherwise lovely anchorages. Town quays vary from those not frequented by Gulets to the resort centres dominated by these craft.
A word about gulets or gulettes, whichever spelling takes your fancy, and their drivers; these vessels are large ships evolved from traditional cargo or fishing vessels. They are built primarily in the vicinity of Istanbul, Bodrum and Marmaris and the Black Sea with cedar frames, pine planking and mahogany superstructure. They are ketch or schooner rigged ships and, although for some the wooden spars are for show alone, most carry sails. Depending on their size, and some are massive, they carry anywhere between eight and twenty people on the 'Blue Voyage' along the coasts of Turkey. Gulets at the top of the market are beautifully maintained craft offering five star service, accommodation and food. Those at the other end of the market do not and there are various levels in between! Gulets are prolific in the extreme and it is fortunate for us yachties that there are so many anchorages along the coast that not all are taken up with the things. As it is there is very little room for yachts on town quays, the space being taken mainly by gulets and day tripper boats. Gulet drivers are, on the whole, skilful at manoeuvring their craft at close quarters. Whilst the majority of gulet captains seem courteous and sensible there is a minority who are belligerent, single minded and uncompromising.
It is always our intention to travel overland and experience the sights and culture of the countries in which we find ourselves. This year has been no exception and before Christmas 2008 we travelled through North West Greece with its stunning Pindos mountain range and Meteora where 10th to 14th century monasteries perch precariously on top of sandstone pinnacles. In the Peloponnese we trod where others had trod millennia ago in the ancient cities of Corinth, Mycenae, Olympia and Epidaurus with its outstanding theatre. We visited, amongst other remarkable places, Nafplio, the home of the first parliament of liberated Greece and the Mani with its fortified tower houses vacated by feuding families in a mass exodus to America in the early 20th century. We rode on the Diakofto rack and pinion railway snaking its way upward, sometimes very steeply, through the Vouraika Gorge.
The weather has been superb, so good in fact that we found it necessary to fly back to the UK to escape the extreme heat and humidity in late July and August. Miggy started swimming in the Cyclades on the 10th of May and is still taking to the sea every day here in Finike. Even Neal took to the briny in the heat of September days. Fresh water springs abound in the anchorages along the Turkish coast creating refreshing cool patches within the maximum 28°C sea water. The water is doubly inviting in Turkey being clean and free from the pollution we have experienced in other parts of the Mediterranean; Tunisia and Greece in particular.
Food and eating are one of life's supreme pleasures. Turkey is grows such a variety and quantity of food as to be self sufficient. Fresh fruit and vegetables flourish in the outdoor markets and the excellent grazing on the Anatolian Plain produces top quality meat, except of course pork, and dairy produce. The cuisine does not consist entirely of kebab dishes but is as varied as the Persian, Ottoman and European influences have dictated. Mezes, or appetising starters, are a delight and the 'flat' bread is such a joy as be lucky to survive intact on the walk back from the Baker to the boat! Food, with the exception of fish, is not expensive and eating out is cheap provided one eats in one of the plentiful Lokantas where the locals eat rather than the posh restaurants.This has been an exciting, varied and thoroughly agreeable year which we are continuing to enjoy during our winter break here in Finike. More of that and of our plans for the forthcoming year later in these pages.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
At the southern extremity of the Cappadocia region lays Mustafapasa, the former Greek village of Sinasos. Unlike other ruined Greek villages we have visited, such as Kayakoy near Fethiye, that were the subject of the Population Exchange in the early twenties, the place is remarkably well preserved and the houses have a wealth of carved stonework, fine balconies, wall paintings and reminders of the former inhabitant's lives.
Our final glimpse of fairy chimneys, rock churches and pigeon coops cut into the rock face; the guano is and has been used as fertilizer for centuries; was in the quiet and undisturbed Soganli valley, two beautiful deep gorges running at right angles to one another.
From the Anatolian Steppe to the Taurus Mountains the rich soil in fecund valleys amongst rolling hills supports a vast array of produce including potatoes, giant cabbage, plums and apples. The Anatolian region must be one of Turkey's agricultural powerhouses such is the extent and variety of vegetables, grain, sugar beet and fruit grown.
The Taurus Mountain range has been our backdrop whilst sailing east from the Bodrum area and in fact dominates the entire Mediterranean coast to Turkey's border with Syria. Once again we find ourselves transiting its pine slopes, rocky summits and deep gorges this time retracing the route of Alexander the Great through the Cicilian Gates, a narrow pass in a seemingly bottomless gorge carved out by the River Tarsus. Eagles sore overhead and partridges scurry through the undergrowth.
As we descend to the Cukurova coastal plain the temperature rises 10°C and we start to see olive groves again and, surprisingly, cotton fields. The industrial city of Mersin has little to offer neither does Tarsus albeit that a covered well named after St Paul remains a place of pilgrimage. We did have a superb lunch at a Lokanta attached to a petrol filling station in odd surroundings crammed between the main road and the railway track and shunting yard.
North of Silifke, another coastal town through which St Paul passed, at Uzuncaburc deep within the foothills of the Taurus Mountains lie the remains of the Roman city of Diocaesarea, or Olba as it was known to the Greeks, the centrepieces of which are the Roman temple of Zeus with its thirty massive standing Corinthian columns and the 23 metre high 3rd century BC Hellenistic 'High Tower'. One of the joys of visiting ancient sites in Turkey is the lack of fencing and the freedom to walk on the ruins albeit that, in the long term, this may prejudice their preservation. In this place the present day villagers live within the site and have ancient ruins in their gardens. An old lady sold us a Roman gold coin and ring for about £2! We can't get the authenticity of these objects verified as we would probably be locked up for desecrating the site.
From Silifke to Gazipasa cliffs fall steeply to the sea and the road is tortuous and, in places, quite hair raising with a sheer drop of a hundred metres into the torrid waters below. Bananas grow in the few valleys that intersperse the cliffs as they do in great quantity in the environs of city Alanya, a vast holiday resort and its associated tat where we stayed the night in a hotel (£30 for dinner, room and breakfast) on Cleopatra's beach overlooking the impressive castle and citadel on the promontory called the 'beautiful mountain' that was the entire medieval and Ottoman town.
The remains of the harbour moles built in antiquity at Side, meaning pomegranate, are still visible and the harbour is still in use today, not by the pirates who profited from slave trading here in the 2nd century BC but by gulets, tripper boats and yachts. The town was sacked by the Arabs in the 7th century AD but settled by Turks from Crete during the Population Exchange Programme in the early twenties. The modern resort town encompasses the port and its buildings have been erected along streets previously used by the early Greek, Roman and Byzantine inhabitants and in between the ruins of the ancient, mostly Roman, monuments of which the theatre, the main city gates and nymphaeum, the Agora, the Vespasian Monument with its exquisitely carved pediment and the temple of Apollo are the most notable. To see these 2500 year old monuments intermingled amongst the relatively modern souvenir shops, restaurants and hotels is an anomaly.
Built in the 1st century AD the 15,000 seat Roman theatre at Aspendos is the best preserved in Turkey and, perhaps, throughout the Roman Empire. Its present good state of repair and completeness is due to its use by the Seljuk Turks as a medieval caravanserai, or lodging place for merchants on their travels, and place of entertainment. Ataturk decreed in 1930 that the theatre be restored and used again and so it is to the present day.A settlement from the time of the Bronze Age, Perge flourished during the Hellenistic period in the 3rd to 2nd centuries BC, the Roman period in the 2nd to 3rd centuries AD and the Christian period in the 5th to 6th centuries AD when many churches were built. Somewhat earlier than this it is known that St Paul; yes him again; sailed from Paphos on Cyprus to Perge during his first missionary journey. The ruins include the Hellenistic entrance with its massive towers, the main Roman marble street complete with cart tracks built as a dual carriageway with a wide rainwater gully as the central reservation for coolness, the Agora, a large theatre and a well preserved 12,000 seat stadium, the largest in Asia Minor. Between the arches of this stadium the ancients built shops and taverns although every third arch was kept as an entrance to the arena.
Three natural harbours around a long pine tree shaded promontory make the Lycian then Greek and later Roman city of Phaselis a most attractive ancient site. Today's visitors can take a swim or anchor their yacht where Greek and Roman ships loaded construction timber and farm produce for Alexandria over 2000 years ago. Olive trees and shrubs have overgrown the quays and jetties and the marble streets but the ruins of some monuments survive including a massive Roman aqueduct and three Agoras and a small Greek theatre.
Turkey, lying between Europe, Asia and the Middle East, is a vast country of some 815,000 sq km with a population of over 70 million. Bounded by the Black Sea to the north, the Aegean to the west and the Mediterranean to the south its coastline runs to 8330 km. Who is aware for instance that 5,200m Mount Ararat, said to be the resting place of Noah's Ark, is on Turkish soil? It is although this is disputed by Armenia, Turkey's nearby neighbour. During our seven day trip covering just 2,300 km we have seen a miniscule part of this diverse and beautiful land. We have trodden in the footsteps of the ancients, travelled along the routes of the latter-day kings, saints, conquerors and merchants through the high fertile valleys, the bleak Anatolian Steppe and the Taurus Mountains. We have looked down on the placid waters of the Lake District and explored and ballooned over unique and fairy tale natural landscapes. We have experienced the underground refuges and churches of those oppressed from around 3000BC until the period of the early Christians and we have had a taste of the life and customs of the Turkish people in the countryside far from the tourist havens along the coast. This has been a remarkable and fascinating trip and one that we have enjoyed immensely and will remember forever.
Sunday, November 08, 2009
Christians fled to Cappadocia to escape persecution as early as the 4th century and by the 9th to 11th centuries had built an estimated 3000 churches underground and into the rock faces. The Goreme Open Air museum has the greatest concentration of churches and monasteries hewn out of the rock, most of them completed from the 9th century onward.Many have fine Byzantine frescoes depicting Biblical scenes. The Karanlik or Dark church has a fresco of Jesus Christ within its dome reputed to be a copy of a mosaic at St John's church at Ephesus with the inscription 'Dominator of the world and earth'. Some 800 years later a similar mosaic of Allah appeared with the same inscription.Our final destination in this remarkable region was the Ilhara Valley, a gorge 10 km long by just 80 m wide. There were rock churches here but by this time we were rockchurched out so we stopped at the village of Belisirma at a resturant table straddling the clear babbling waters of the Melindiz River with a cold beer in our hands; Heaven!
Saturday, October 31, 2009
A short detour took us to the remains of the city of Sagalossos which reached the zenith of its prosperity in Imperial Roman Times. 'Cultural superstition' whereby settlements continue to be inhabited and expand throughout 'classical' antiquity thus obliterating older remains masks all but a very few of the remains of former inhabitation of the area from Pre Neolithic times (9000BC) through the Hittite, Luwian (2000-1500BC) and Hellenistic (300BC) dynasties to its incorporation into the Roman Empire. The remains of the Agoras (market squares and meeting places), Nymphaeum (ornate strructure housing fountains), Library and stone paved roads complete with cart tracks are quite well preserved.
The smell of apple pervades the air as we travel through extensive orchards and stocks of the fruit piled by the roadside. Maize, melon, cabbage and corn also flourish among the poplar trees and tiled dwellings with their hanging strings of red chillies. Some 70 kms to the north of Egirdir close to the town of Yalvac, in which we got thoroughly lost, is situated Antiocheia-in-Pisida and the synagogue , replaced in the 3rd and 4th centuries with churches, where St Paul first preached to the Gentiles in 46AD, now a place of Christian pilgrimage.
Scholars on these matters will know whether or not the above passage displays an element of local, if not regional, self interest but it is true to say however that, if the New Testament account is correct, Paul was here. Acts 13 tells us that he came from Paphos (Cyprus) by way of Perge on the Turkish Anatolian coast to Antiocheia-in-Pisidia and that on the Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear him preach in the synagogue.
Our sole intrest in this city, the former capital of Turkey, was to visit the historic centre of the Mevlevi sect of Sufic nystics better known to us as the Whirling Dervishes. Far from being rabid zealots the Dervishes practice a highly tolerant, undogmatic creed that prizes poetic beauty, love and generosity. The 13th century turquoise domed sanctuary houses the tomb of their founder Afghan born Mevlana Celaladdin Rumi in a compound that includes the Dervishes' cells, their library and the hall in which they performed their whirling dance, the sema, which symbolises the sharing of God's love among earthly beings. Rumi believed that music and dance represented a means to induce an ecstatic state of universal love and offered a way to liberate the individual from anxiety and pain of daily life. Sadly Ataturk all but banned the dance in 1927 allowing the Dervishes back into their city to dance the sema for just one week annually to commemorate Rumi's death. He transformed the compound into a museum housing Rumi's sarcophagus in a hall with walls adorned with gilded calligraphy, the Dervishes musical instraments and costumes, ancient illustrated Korans and a casket said to contain the Prophet Mohammed's beard.