Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Finike Winter

Autumn was predominantly sunny with temperatures in the mid twenties or higher but Miggy giving up swimming on the 1st of December marked the onset of the Finike winter. Although we still have glorious sunny days with temperatures in the low twenties, colder periods with rain and high winds are becoming more common. During a recent spell the wind blew 70 knots and violent thunderstorms heralded ice the size of golf balls falling from on high. The aftermath of the storms filled the water in the marina with tree trunks, branches and vegetation washed from the hillsides by the swollen rivers.

In the town trees were felled by the tempestuous conditions and parks, pavements and roads were littered with fallen leaves and debris. The Turkish people take this in their stride and within hours large gangs of council workers, mainly ladies, had restored the town to its usual clean and orderly state. Similarly in the marina a huge effort over three days by pitchfork wielding marineros transformed the apparently muddy field in which our yachts were floating back into the clear Mediterranean waters that we expect.

The gusto with which these simple tasks were carried out is a mark of the conscientiousness of these delightful and hospitable people and of the efficiency and effectiveness of their institutions and services; the town council even have a town crier, albeit by way of a tannoy system, who broadcasts local interest information throughout Finike. The towns, villages and countryside of and the waters surrounding this vast state are without doubt the cleanest that we have encountered during our travels.

There is an active social programme for those of many nationalities; Brits, Australians, New Zealanders, French, Dutch, Swedes, Danes, Finns, Austrians and Germans; wintering aboard thirty or so yachts. As well as the quiz nights, the 'come rain or shine' Sunday BBQs, an Art Club (Miggy's pastel pictures are superb), keep fit sessions and walks in the surrounding countryside there is some culture with regular trips to Antalya, about two hours away, to watch Opera, Ballet and Orchestral concerts. We have seen the Antalya State Opera performing 'Tosca' and 'Rigoletto' and the Antalya State Symphony Orchestra playing some Sibelius and Mendelssohn all to an extremely high standard.

Bearing in mind that the majority of the Christian world celebrate Christmas Eve we will have an 'International Finger Buffet' that evening where people will bring their traditional national dishes and we will sing carols from the many nations represented accompanied by organ complete with professional organist. On Christmas Day we will be forty people of many nationalities sitting down to a traditional English Christmas dinner in a Turkish restaurant cooked by Turkish chefs with a little help from Miggy. We have had a rehearsal where the 10Kg free range turkey such as we might have had in the UK many years ago was cooked to perfection in the uncontrollable temperatures of the bread/pizza oven. Roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, carrots (parsnips being unavailable), leeks, stuffing and perfect gravy made from the juices of the bird were excellently prepared. We fed a dozen of the
Restaurateurs family who were somewhat bemused, but as always politefully complimentary, having never witnessed such a style of cooking before.

The marina management and staff are very capable, friendly and helpful. The facilities are very good with excellent shower rooms a small supermarket and chandler, a clubroom for social functions and, something we have never encountered before, a pool specifically for washing and drying sails. The marina is just ten minutes walk from the town centre which is one of the reasons for choosing Finike.

In ancient times the Finike was known as Phoenicus and was noted for the export of cedar of Lebanon from the surrounding mountains for building the Ottoman fleet. The ancient town is buried under silt and the modern town itself has little of merit architecturally except a few remaining but generally dilapidated Ottoman houses of the old village. It is a market town with a population of 12,000 that prospers through the export of citrus fruit from the blanket of orchards that covers the valley as well as other agricultural produce.  The orange has become the symbol of the town. The centre has all that we need with a vast Saturday market, principally selling fruit and vegetables, spreading through street after street, a good supermarket, two excellent butchers and a superb baker. Lokantas (cheap local restaurants) are plentiful and the hamam, as well as cleansing, soothes the aches and pains of an ageing body (Neal's that is)!

Finike sits in a fertile valley located at the foot of the Gülmez Dağlari, a long spur of the Taurus Mountains, the peaks of which, including Mount Olympos to the east, rise to over 3000 metres. As well as the stunning scenery of the hinterland the remains of ancient Lycian, Hellenistic and Roman cities are numerous. We wrote about a few of them in our previous blog and will no doubt write about others as we visit them although we are getting somewhat blasé about these piles of old rocks!

There is however one such city that we should mention and that is the 5th century BC Lycian and later Roman city of Myra. There is little left to see now after the ravages of earthquake and flood but the Lycian rock tombs with their exquisite carvings are the finest that we have seen and the Roman theatre is magnificent. This is another city which St Paul visited during his travels but its greatest attraction at this time of year is that it it is the home of the Church of St Nicholas.

St. Nicholas was born in Patara, 80Km or so from Finike, around 300, became bishop of Myra, and died around 350. Only these basic details are known to history, but legends abound concerning the life of the saint. A much-embellished hagiography was written by in the 10th century. St. Nicholas is said to have been born of wealthy parents and to have travelled to the Holy Land in his youth. He was tortured and imprisoned during the persecutions of Diocletian, and released when Constantine ordered official   toleration of Christians.

Many of the legends of St. Nicholas involve him helping young people and the poor. It is said that he  saved from a life of sin the  three daughters of a poor merchant who were about to be forced into prostitution since they had no marriage dowries by dropping three bags of gold into the merchant's chimney thereby enabling them to wed.

After his death, Nicholas became the patron saint of sailors and seafarers, and many pilgrims came to visit his tomb. Over the centuries, the legends and great popularity of St. Nicholas of Myra led to the Christmastime figure of the bearded man who secretly brings toys to children. He is still known as St. Nick in most of Europe bringing his gifts not on Christmas Day but on December 6th. In America and, of course, the UK he came to be known as Santa Claus.

The saint was buried in his church at Myra, or Demre as the modern town is now named, a mere 30Km from Finike. Damaged by earthquakes and Arabs the church structure that largely survives today is of the 8th century. In 1087, a group of Italian merchants raided the church, broke open the saint's sarcophagus and took the relics to Bari, Italy, where they were placed in a shrine in the cathedral. The empty tomb of St. Nicholas can be seen in the south aisle of his church in Myra.

So here we are at Christmas with snow on the mountains and Santa Claus so close.