Sunday, November 29, 2009

Annual Cruising Roundup

Our season has been less frantic than last year having covered a mere 950 miles at an average speed of just under 5 knots. This brings to 6880 the total sea miles covered since we left Lymington in April 2006. Once again the proportion of miles truly sailed was low at 20% reflecting the amount of calms and light winds encountered. On the other hand we were on passage for just 51 days out of the 149 day cruising season which reflects, apart from days spent going nowhere in beautiful anchorages, the amount of time we spent sheltering from the dreaded Meltemi wind in the Aegean Sea.
Notwithstanding the relatively short distance we have journeyed this season we have enjoyed visiting diverse locations including the Ionian Islands off Greek's west coast, the Gulf of Corinth and its canal, Islands in the Aegean Cyclades, some of the Dodecanese archipelago and the Turkish Carian and Lycian coasts.
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.
Delphi, the home of Apollo some three thousand years ago, lies on the foothills of Mount Parnassus to the north west of Corinth and the city of Delos, the religious and political centre of the world at about the same time, stands on a tiny Cycladic island in the Aegean Sea.
Lately our Anatolian Adventure took us to the Lake District, Konya the home of the Whirling Dervishes, the bleak Anatolian Steppe, Cappadocia with its underground cities, early Christian rock churches and 'fairy chimneys' and a few of the numerous ancient sites in the area including Antiocheia-in-Pisidia and Perge with their association with St Paul, Aspendos with its magnificent theatre and the harbour cities of Side and Phaselis.

It is a delight to meet cruising folk of like mind, many of whom have become good friends. We have encountered yachts from 42 different nations this year as far apart as Yemen, Iceland and Vanuatu, many having come through the Red Sea.
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

An Anatolian Adventure - Episode 3

Before setting off on the final part of our journey and as we took early morning tea on our balcony overlooking Goreme the sight of hot air balloons drifting this way and that amongst the fairy chimneys and high in the sky was wonderful conclusion to our time in this fairy tale world.
From Cappadocia we headed south on the road to Tarsus. That sounds biblical and it may be so as Tarsus was St Paul's birthplace. Not that it has anything to do with the bible but Tarsus was also where Anthony and Cleopatra first met.

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.

The apartment blocks of the Mersin conurbation give way to holiday resorts with golden sand beaches and a multitude of hotels. At Kizkalesi we stayed in a suite overlooking the sea at the fine Kilikya Hotel on the beach at the princely sum of £50 for dinner, room and breakfast. Miggy swam in the sea and dinner and breakfast were served on the swimming pool terrace. Apart from its fine beaches and seafood restaurants, Kizkalesi's main landmarks are two 12th century castles, one of which is on an island just offshore. Legend has it that an Armenian King banished his daughter into the island castle to protect her from a prophesied lethal snakebite. The snake turned up anyway hidden in a basket of fruit sent by a well meaning servant and did as predicted.
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 ruins of ancient cities abound on this Mediterranean coast as they do throughout Turkey and so we had to be discerning about which to visit in the limited time available before our return to Finike.
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

An Anatolian Adventure - Episode 2

The foundation to the natural wonder of Cappadocia was laid some 30 million years ago when a series of now extinct volcanoes, the largest of which is Mount Erciyes, erupted spewing lava and volcanic ash over the region which, as it solidified, turned into a soft stone of pastel shades of red, green and yellow.
Tuff as it is known is easily eroded by the elements and over the millenia the wind and rain have formed slender rock pinnacles known as 'fairy chimneys' which contribute to a unique eerie, yet magnificent, landscape that could be from a world other than Earth. Some of these 'chimneys' have the remains of the basalt lava layer perched on top of them presenting a somewhat suggestive image!
Our drive to Urgup and through the Derwent valley and back to Goreme gave us fine views of these intriguing rock formations and an exhausting climb to the top of the castle at Uchisar was rewarded by a wonderful panorama over the entire but relitively small; just 300 sq km; Cappadocia area.Our most exhilarating view of Cappadocia was from a hot air balloon as the sun rose. The one and three quarter hour flight took us from a few feet above ground level, where we chased a fox in the undergrowth, with the skilled pilot dodging between the extraordinary rock formations to the dizzy height of 1500 feet for a birdseye view of the region.At the gasps of the passengers; there were twelve of us on board; the pilot assured us that we were not to worry as the balloon was of British manufacture! After we landed we were given a glass of champagne and a certificate to mark our adventure and a highlight of our trip.Man added to the work of nature from the 15th century BC Hittite era to the 11th century AD, the softness of the Tuff allowing it to be easily carved out and excavated to form subterranean cities and troglodyte villages. There are reckoned to be 200 underground cities in the region, such as that we visited at Kaymakli, comprising living quarters, kitchens, wineries, churches, stores, stables and combined ventilation shafts and wells. Each housed between 8000 and 15000 people and had as many as eight storeys below ground. Incredibly cities were linked with escape tunnels up to 10 km long.
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!
This is a bewitching yet tremendously beautiful land. It is also 'the land of beautiful horses', the meaning of Cappadocia in ancient Persian.