Sailing on a Gulet

A traditional Turkish Gulet is a wood boat with two or three masts that sails the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea. We boarded our ship in the cute port town of Marmaris for a 4 day adventure.

The Sadri Usta was our beautiful teak boat with an amazing outside eating area. After meeting our wonderful crew, we went to one of 7 cabins to unpack. Queen-sized beds, shiny teak woodwork, and plenty of light from our large back windows that opened. This ship has private en-suite bathrooms with showers. There isn’t air-conditioning but I didn’t even notice as the ship sped across the waves. Wine glass in hand while reclining on the aft deck after an excellent meal and viewing stunning sunsets–Life doesn’t get any better than this. After our tours there were options for swimming and kayaking.

Day 1: After anchoring in Ekincik Cove, we transferred onto a smaller boat to ride up the Dalyan River to visit the 2 century (AD) seaport city of Kaunos. It used to be a seaport until silt filled the harbor and the site was deserted.

Kaunos is very close to another ancient rich city( Lycia), so we puttered along to view the 4th century cliff tombs. An interesting side-note is that Lycia is mentioned in Homer’s Iliad.

Don’t miss the little town of Dalyan for super shopping deals, especially for shoes and leather purses.

The next day we dropped anchor near a spot called Cleopatra’s Baths. It’s rumored to have been built by Mark Anthony for his love but there’s nothing to support the claim. Ol’ Mark should have gotten a historical pat-on-the-back notation if he actually did this for lovely Cleo. After landing, we went on a nice hike and were able to see a Lydian cistern and ruins before dropping down the hill to the turquoise sea once again.

Later in the afternoon we landed on Gemiler Island which was a resupply destination for pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. Not all of them made it. There are tombs all over. The most famous resident was Saint Nicholas. Santa was in Turkey all this time–not Scandinavia. He was buried here in 326, but his relics were removed in 650 for safer keeping to the nearby town of Myra. The ruins of Christian churches built between the 4th and 6th century are fun to explore, and if you hike to the top of the hill, you’ll find a small lighthouse. The views are top of the world from up there.

Day 3 we landed near Gemiler Beach to go to the Kayakoy Greek ghost town which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town originated in the 14th century but in 1920, after the Greco-Turkish war, the people were forced on a death march. Any survivors were shipped to Greece where they became refugees. The population exchange was based solely on religion. Turkey wanted a Muslim country untainted by Christians. This is what happens when countries are led by theocracy. Furthermore, Turkey insisted that the lesser population of Muslims living in Turkey MUST return and occupy the deserted Greek Heritage homes. However, the Muslims feared the ghosts of the tortured people. The returning Turks were farmers and this saved these ruins because Kayakoy was settled high up on unfavorable land. The original residents were exceptional craftsmen and didn’t need fertile ground. Another interesting fact is the remaining non-conforming religions in Turkey were eliminated in one swoop by one edict: If you became Muslim—you didn’t have to pay taxes. Currently, a few artists live here.

We disembarked in the lovely town of Fethiye. I so could live there during the winter. I see myself in a small place with a built-in pool and maid service with delivery of fresh fish to my door.

A few more. I can’t resist!

Keep a lookout for my next and last post for Turkey : EPHESUS

Ruins of Perga and Aspendos Archeological Site

We drove from Cappadocia on a well-maintained highway that takes you up and over the jagged-peaked Taurus Mountains. (**side-note–they drive on the right side.) When we crossed the summit a whole different world appeared. We went from captivating dessert to a lush Mediterranean landscape ripe with citrus trees heavy with fruit.

Antalya, on the SW coast, is the perfect place to stay to visit Perga and Aspendos. Have I told you that I could easily live here during the winter months?

Perga was an ancient Greek city founded in 1209 BC. although bronze-aged people lived here earlier. It was a big city covering 9.3 miles although it’s not all uncovered yet and extensive repairs have the theater closed this year. Alexander the Great used Perga as an important base to spread invasion inland around 334 BC.. He made Greek the language and written word of the land. The Hellenistic gates were built during the reign of Emperor Hadrianus (117-138AD). Currently, archeologists are repairing this area but the surrounding (later) Roman expansion with niches for marble statues can be explored.

Perga really sparkled with the Romans occupation (1-2AD) when the town grew past the Greek Gates with the additions of a Theater, stadium, a marble floored Agora (market), and a pretty amazing Roman bath. After St. Paul and St. Barnabas set up a mission here, there were 2 basilicas built that I believe are in ruins.

STADIUM–held 12,000 spectators to all kinds of games and races.

AGORA–the marble tiled floor is covered for protection but it’s still there! Imagine this space with vendors under a covered roof and a little temple in the middle?

Main Street—imagine cascading water that flowed down fountains in the middle of the street. The marble street has etched grooves from many chariots that traveled on it. Did you know that the ancient width of a chariot’s wheels is the width of track for a railroad? True!

The Roman Bath had 4 marble mosaic floored rooms: Changing room, cold bath, warm bath and hot bath. You can see in spots where furnaces and waterpipes were under the floor. This place had exquisite marble statues all over the place! When you return to Antalya, go to the archeology museum to see them.

Benefactor fountains–there were beautiful fountains all over, fed from the nearby aqueduct pictured below, bottom left. The fountain was so large, I couldn’t get it all in one picture and it isn’t all repaired yet. The statues installed here are also in the museum.

Nearby is Aspendos , another ancient city in ruins but the theater is the most intact in the world. For this we can thank the Turks who rebuilt it and used it as a caravan stop. This is also another check-mark for Atlas Obscura enthusiasts.

Originally, this was built during the time of Marcus Aurelius ( 160-180 AD) and held up to 8,500 seated and standing spectators. The width is 315′ across. There is a beautiful 2-story backdrop and two towers that flank the stage. Today, this theater is still being used for opera, ballet and music.

Nearby is a little street side restaurant serving Gozleme—flatbread with melted cheese and spinach.

Fairy Land

The Cappadocia region of Turkey is enchanting with narrow canyons covered in cone-shaped chimneys formed from volcanic ash (tufa) that fell 14 million years ago. Dwellings date to 4,000 BC, but The Hittites dug out the soft stone in 2,000 BC and named this place “Cappadocia” which means “Land of beautiful horses.” The name and love for horses stuck and the two volcanoes seem to be extinct.

Some of these homes were multi-roomed with central firepits and crop storage rooms that remained cool year-round. Many had pigeon nests. If they needed more rooms, out came the tools and an addition was dug out.

Somebody got the great idea of moving certain businesses underground, such as wine making where temperature is important. That action developed into another question, “Maybe we should build underground cities for times of siege or attack?” Especially with invasions by the Greeks, Romans, and even the Turks. Animals remained on the upper floors. Narrow and short tunnels were created allowing only one person to enter at a time. This made it easier to whack invaders. Huge boulders were rolled and locked in place from the inside on each level.

I visited Ozkonak and met the farmer (Latif Acar) who discovered this 8th century AD city in 1972. The underground could shelter 30,000 people for 3 months. Only 4 of the 10 floors are currently open. Quite amazing that people could live with water from the well and fresh air through ventilation shafts.

During the middle ages, St. Basil and other Christians settled above ground in the hope for a little peace and quiet. These people lived in communal towns where each home had a church. The Goreme Open Air Museum is really interesting. There are many pigeon nests because they sold the fertilizer before commercial products. Although with current prices, farmers may go back to this simple plant nutrient for the surrounding vineyards. The frescoes in the churches range from simplistic ( and somewhat puzzling) to quite detailed and beautiful. ( 10th century AD to 12th) . Check out the naked saint with a cactus hiding the genitals. I’m not sure what the cockroach or louse figure had to do with religion, bottom left. Send me a note if you have the answer.

A hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia is worth every penny spent. Quite magical to see so many balloons lifting up in the dark while watching the sun rise over the unique landscape.

Istanbul

Istanbul is a vibrant, crowded city of 15.46 million people with a history stretching back to the Hittites ( 13 century BC). Peel back the layers of many conquerors to discover an intriguing weave of cultures that tickle the senses.

There are restaurants, such as Deraliye Ottoman Cuisine where you can feast on authentic recipes from the Ottoman Sultans, or try any place serving Greek inspired Doner ( Gyro) and Kabobs. The best Baklava is a Syrian owned place called Karakoy Gulluoglu. If you want Turkish delight, bypass the cheaper fructose products in the Spice Market and sample the real-deal—varieties made with honey, nuts, fruit ,chocolate and even caramel.

After you’ve satisfied your tummy, listen to the music floating through the night air—from Arabic inspired folk or rap to the haunting call to prayer. Why does light seem more golden in Istanbul? Ottoman Empire tiles further delight your sight with intricate colors and patterns.

Vendors in markets will invite you to sit and enjoy a cup of tea or Turkish coffee and all negotiations begin with shared conversations about delightful things. This is a time-honored courtesy, so keep your heart open to the experience.

HAGIA SOFIA

Roman emperor Justinian built this former Orthodox Christian church in 532-537 AD. The very same guy who accomplished this feat of architecture also burnt the worlds most extensive library in Alexandria, Egypt. Who in the world burns books? Those who don’t want education about things that don’t jive with their religious viewpoint. This should be a warning to us in the States right now with the extreme right fractions taking control of our government and education. Banning books is as bad as burning them.

This church had a bloody history. Do you remember reading about the Chism between the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic church? Crusaders decided to fight under the banner of the Roman Pope to sack Constantinople. In other words, killing and forcing Greek Orthodox Christians to eliminate the division. That senseless violence escalated in 1453 with the rise of (Muslim ) Mehmet the Conqueror. He turned Sophia into a mosque. Now mosque’s around the world follow this signature architecture with a huge dome and open space. Although statues and anything with a face have been removed, a few mosaics have been saved, such as the one above right depicting Justinian handing Mary ( and Jesus) this church. Look for the one Seraphim angel whose face has been fully uncovered.

Hagia Sophia is once again an active Muslim Temple. Head scarves are required for all women and shoes are removed before entering. Bring a bag to put your shoes in and carry them. Otherwise, you risk not being able to find them again. Before you enter, stop to look at the beautiful marble panels in the hallway. These were taken from the Roman temple of Artemis in Ephesus and reused here.

Topkapi Palace

entry to the palace grounds

Mehmet the Conqueror started the cosmic rise of the Ottoman Empire with a ferocious 55 day siege of Constantinople ( AKA: Istanbul). Afterwards, everyone wanted to keep the Sultan happy. This palace was built for him and 5,000 workers kept it humming. There are many buildings with exhibits in some –such as the holy relics of Muhammad (no photos and head scarves for women to enter). There are displays of the sultans armor and weapons that’s interesting and sometimes beautiful. But the biggest deal is the Spoon Sellers Diamond. The story spins that the spoon seller found this diamond in the dump. It’s 42 carat diamond surrounded by 84 smaller carats.

Then there’s the haram. It’s an additional ticket to enter this fascinating place where the girls were kept and trained. The sultans were allowed 4 wives and as many concubines as they wanted. Many ladies were the most beautiful slaves taken from other lands. Also living in the harem were unmarried daughters and young sons. Next door to the harem is the (castrated) black Eunuch’s living quarters. These guys were taken by Arab horsemen raiding in Africa. Although they were slaves, some of them became quite powerful because they had the ear of the sultan.

Bosphorus Cruise

On a warm day, it’s quite the treat to tour the Bosphorus on a boat. One of the later sultans wanted a palace that was more European, so he built it at the water’s edge. There’s two medieval fortresses and beautiful mosques. Homes you view sell for millions and millions of dollars.

Roman Hippodrome

Located in Sultanahmet square close to both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.

The word Hippodrome means “Horse” and “Way” which describes what this place was—a place for gambling on Roman chariot races (203-330 BC-2 AD). But it was also used for gladiator fights, executions, and ceremonies. 40,000 people could attend games for free, so it once was immense. Remains of the serpent column from Delphi and the obelisk from Egypt are here and were used to show how vast the Byzantine empire was at the time. The Ottomans also used the hippodrome as a square, but created damage when the Blue Mosque and the Pasa Palace ( now the Turkish and Islamic Art museum) were built.

**** The Blue Mosque is under a several year construction repair project and you can’t see a thing. I visited during the highest holy days of Ramadan, so the Grand Bazaar was closed. Add them into your itinerary if they are open when you visit. Blue mosque at night pictured below.

Sweet Georgia On My Mind

Pause for one moment. I don’t mean Hoagy Carmichael’s place. I mean the bona fide country that borders Turkey, the Black Sea, Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The war between Russia and the Ukraine continues and truck traffic is backed up for many miles with supplies being shipped through Turkey and Georgia heading to the war zone. Trucks pull off the road and wait their turn to be called to another pullout a wee bit closer. Hurry up and wait.

It wasn’t that long ago when Georgia won their own independence from Russia (1991). These heart-felt signs are right at the border expressing support and unity. I’m certain that Georgia fears that they could be next. It appears there’s no love loss as it took about two seconds to remove Lenin’s statue from Batumi’s freedom square after independence was declared.

There’s culture shock simply crossing the border into Georgia. First, you can’t read the Kartvelian language which has some connection to ancient Aramaic. There are 33 letters in the written word but it looks like computer code. In Batumi along the sea walkway there is the Alphabet Tower with letters swirling up the hard metal surface. I don’t know. Looks Greek to me!

We’ve left the Muslim faith behind and now embrace Christian Orthodoxy. It’s very clear with a chapel at the border and nearby there’s a small waterfall with a statue of a saint offering a blessing. No more head-coverings and welcome mini-skirts.

About 15 miles before Batumi there’s a Roman Era castle in Adjara, Georgia. The archaeology digs show an early layer from 7-8 BC. The Roman’s expanded this fortress later in the 1st century A.D. It’s believed that 1200-1500 soldiers were stationed here. There are remains of a Roman bath, barracks, and parts of 18 towers built into the walls. In the 4th century AD the Romans abandoned the compound, but by the 6th century it was taken over by Byzantines. As time marched on, the garrison was later controlled by the Ottomans. Sounds like we’re playing Russian Roulette.

Speaking of gambling, Batumi is THE Las Vegas on the Black Sea. The city has grown rich from gambling Turks, Russians, and visiting Saudi’s. There are building cranes all over town and construction is booming, even in this COVID era. The architecture runs the gambit from sleek modern to soviet era housing to kitschy fun. And the skyline at night is gorgeous from a roof-top deck.

There are several squares:

Europe Square with 19th and early 20th century buildings. It was fun to walk around and experience old world charm. I couldn’t get enough of the blooming wisteria as I’ve always wanted to grow it—but it won’t grow where I live.

Piazza Square is decorated with mosaic and stained glass to look like something from Italy.

We didn’t visit Freedom square near the water, but there’s a beautiful pedestrian walkway through a park all along the Black Sea. It’s a fun place to people watch and eat at various restaurants. The locals are friendly, even when we crashed a birthday party.

Batumi is famous for many murals. Anyone fond of geocaching or treasure hunting will like to see how many they can find.

The Batumi Botanical Garden, a little outside of town, is also along the sea and is a nice place to stroll through huge magnolia trees and sections of Japanese Maples. The tepid Mediterranean climate allows many sub-tropic plants to grow here.

On the road to Riza, Turkey

The featured picture in this post isn’t taken in Switzerland. It is a Turkish village called Hamsikoy at the base of the Zigana Mountain. This area of Turkey has lush green forests and alpine plateaus with a backdrop of snow covered peaks. This was such a surprise to me. The view is great but you’re coming to Hamsikoy for the best rice pudding in all of Turkey. Look for the Sutlac sign on the right as you enter town.

On the way to Zilkale Fortress, you will pass medieval bridges. In the surrounding hillsides there are centuries old wooden homes peppering the green forest.

Zilkale Fortress is a castle built during the Byzantine Empire in the 14th century. It is in a stunning location high on a cliff above the Firtina River. The views from the upper walls of the surrounding Pontic mountains (12,917′ ) and the wide panorama to the river below is simply breathtaking.

This fortress was an important place along the quicker, but more dangerous, silk road route to the port in Trabzon where items were loaded onto ships. I cannot imagine a caravan of animals and packs making it through this terrain. Remains of a chapel, the garrison, outer and inner walls, tower and chapel can be explored. This route for the silk road was so rough it required defensive fortresses every 30 km.

6 km away from the fortress is Palovit Waterfall in the Kackar Mountains National Park. It is 49′ high and thundering with water. Rainbows dance in the afternoon sun and settle on lush plants. Climbing down the walkway is wet and potentially slick. When you get to the barrier at the end, you can’t see the whole falls. The real view is better from the road a little higher up from the stairs.

and a little further on is a short hike to the Tar River waterfall. This is a paved river-side track. Through a dark green forest with flowers blooming and we found watercress too. I’d like to return to this part of Turkey and do some hiking in the mountains.

Oh, the amazing people we meet

There are many reasons to travel, but the best is local people I’ve met along the way. These interactions are rich experiences that I will never, ever forget. From now on, I plan on posting pictures people and will include how we ate together, laughed, reached out beyond our differences to find a common core. I hope to catch the glitter in their eyes or perhaps a tear. Look for passion in their faces. These are a few of the people I met in Turkey.

From upper left: Near Cat Village, Irfan Yuzer and his family grow grapes for wine in a hostile environment. They had us over for the best homemade breakfast and shared their dreams, hopes for their 3 daughters and talked about the difficulty for farmers across the globe. Since Covid, Mrs. Yuzer is back in school working on a degree. The next 3 are artists who hand glaze pottery using tiny brushes. The next two are from a women’s coop (NGO) for rug weavers, which is becoming a lost art. I learned so much about wool and silk, to dyes used, to knot counts for quality rugs. This coop kept the women working all through COVID and the government supplemented their craft.

In the Trabzon area there is “an ocean of Hazelnut trees” that cling to every steep hillside. We met this local man who explained about growing and harvest. The next picture is a cheeky employee at a tourist shop who had fun posing for me. Negotiating is an art that works better when you have fun ! 3rd: Artist Ebru Kursu. Right: Chef Necati Yilmaz in Istanbul ( near Hagia Sofia). This is one of his special dishes, duck encased in salt. After flaming, the salt case is hammered away exposing the cooked meat. Necati owns Deralliye Cuisine where he replicates meals served in the palace to the sultans. bottom left: We ate a homecooked lunch in Ceceva Village, high in the mountains where this family grows tea. Upper right: What a fantastic crew on our Gulet ( traditional boat) named Sadri Usta. Bottom right: We stopped for a great lunch here. Ladies were making grilled flatbread with spinach and cheese. Dish is called Gozleme.

On the upper left: Ismail is the 5th generation to be living in a fairy house in the Cappadocia region. In the middle is a picture of his wife. Bottom left is our fearless exceptional tour guide, Aykut. He stopped at a roadside fruit stand to buy us some Turkish bananas. Next is Somatci Restaurant owner who just won an award for this book containing ancient recipes. Ismail’s wife is far right

Last is Galip pottery’s 5th generation master. He trains new potters from around the world in his studio in the Cappadocia region. Yes, he does look like Einstein! Check out Chez Galip.

Trabzon, Turkey

Trabzon is nestled in a lush green valley hemmed between mountains and the sea. Flags were draped everywhere for their football team, Trabzon Spor. Even though we visited during Ramadan, there was an undercurrent of excitement for the upcoming final game where they cinched the National title.

Typical of anywhere in Turkey, Trabzon has a long, distinguished history starting as a Greek settlement in 756 BC. Justinian expanded the Roman defenses in the 6th century and the fortress walls still stand. Today, they form a backdrop for the beautiful Zagnos Valley Park.

When Istanbul and #1 Hagia Sophia (Aka: Holy Wisdom Church) fell to the Muslims, the Orthodox faithful escaped to Trabzon and built #2 Hagia (out of 3 total) in the year 1260 AD. The beautiful frescos remain, even though this is a mosque ( and has been on and off since 1584) where depictions of spiritual faces are not tolerated during prayer . It’s a miracle that this survives today. I love the painting of Jesus without a beard, which would have put him at the age of 12 when He was teaching in the Temple.

DRIVE TO SUMELA MONASTERY

The 4th century Sumela Monastery is about an hour drive from Trabzon through dark green forests that rise up the Zigana mountains to snowy peaks. It’s May and waterfalls thunder with ice melt. The spray catches rainbows in the afternoon sunshine.

Sumela means virgin of the black mountains and was built into a cave decorated with frescoes. It was already an important Orthodox center when Selim Grim invaded in 1461. He was wounded and the monks healed him which was great– because the monastery was spared. The larger buildings were added in the 17th century. We could not tour inside due to a dangerous rockfall and reinforcement work on the mountain. Still impressive, and the walk in is lovely. Don’t miss the mini chapel and ruins of monk quarters to the right.

We had a lovely fresh trout lunch at Sumer Restaurant near a rushing creek. One of the dishes we ate was Kuymak which is melted butter, cheese and grain. Kind of like macaroni and cheese with a deconstructed noodle.

Back in Trabzon, wander the old town to see mosques and old wood buildings, visit the silver workshop of Saray Gumus, and wander the pedestrian walkway (Uzun Sokak). Try some Kome ( mulberry paste with walnuts) and Cig Kofte ( bulgur wheat and spicy tomato paste balls served on lettuce). Some impressions of Trabzon below:

We had a lovely stay at Grand Zorlu Hotel and it’s convenient for restaurants and shopping.