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.