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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Captivating Cappadocia

At the end of each summer sailing season we like to do a bit of inland travel before heading to the UK for a long winter working.  Travelling by boat is fantastic but you often are restricted to seeing the coast and coastal towns unless you make an effort and venture inland.
After a fantastic few months sailing in southern Turkey in 2008, we opted to leave Bandit in Marmaris, which presented opportunities for exploring inland.  We’d heard lots about the Cappadocia region and decided it would be a good place to head.  People had spoken about the amazing landscape, strange rock formations and cave houses…..but nothing quite prepared us for this spectacular place.
The only bus from Marmaris to the town of Goreme in Cappadocia was an overnight one but the service was said to be luxurious.  We’re always dubious but were pleasantly surprised to find a huge air conditioned bus with reclining seats, television screens and waiter service.  It would have been fine if the locals hadn’t chatted the entire trip or watched the movie with the volume turned high. With all that happening as well as several toilet stops and the waiter parading up and down the aisle with apple tea – we didn’t get much sleep.
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We arrived in Goreme at 5.30am – just as the sky was lightening. Our hotel wasn’t expecting us until 9am so we sat at a cafe sipping apple tea weighing up our options.  Didn’t take long for us to be spotted by an eagle eyed hot air balloon tout who offered us a dirt cheap dawn ride.  Seemed as good a way as any to start the day!
He whisked us off to a paddock on the outskirts of town where the very first balloons from the pre-dawn flight were landing.  They made a spectacular sight as they glided over the landscape before gently coming to earth.  Before we had a chance to change our minds (or check safety issues) we were being ushered into the big cane basket.
Hot air ballooning is huge in Cappadocia – the balloons are a magnificent sight as they fly at dawn and dusk weather permitting.  It’s an almost ethereal experience to drift above the amazing lunar landscape.   We got pretty high in our balloon which gave a panoramic view but it was more fun when we dropped low and glided between the phallic like limestone towers that dot the area.
After the hour long ride we landed smoothly in a paddock and were served a champagne breakfast.  What a fantastic start to our magical week in Cappadocia.
We’d booked our cave hotel on the internet and got a pretty good deal and were stunned to find our room luxuriously appointed and the rate ($40) included a huge breakfast of fresh fruit, nuts, cheeses, meats and breads as well as plenty of hot options.  There were some great areas to just chill and enjoy the wonderful views.
Cappadocia presents many hiking opportunities and, armed with a good map, we set off on several long walks through amazing gorges and lush valleys.  On one walk we stumbled across a Turk in the middle of nowhere brewing up apple tea over an open fire and selling it for $1 a cup.  Enterprising but he was hardly doing a roaring trade!
One day we hired a motorbike so we could explore further afield.  We discovered a town where fruit grown throughout Turkey is stored in huge underground caves.   Because the fruit is stored in a natural environment with even temperatures it lasts for ages which probably explains why we can buy delicious stone fruit all season.
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The country we rode through was astonishing – amazing sculpted rocks shaped and weathered by thousands of years of volcanoes, rain, sun and wind.  Everywhere you would see holes in the rocks where people had carved out caves.  Many of these cave refuges were used by villagers as cold storage or wine cellars.  In some areas hiding places were carved into the tops of towering rocks and it is said the religious people hid here to avoid persecution from invaders.
Some rock formations looked as if they had been created for a movie set and in fact one of the first Star Wars was filmed here. 
Another day we took an organised tour to an area of extensive underground villages.  These were built so the residents could hide when there was a threat of invasion.  The underground villages were amazingly complex with kitchens, sleeping areas, areas for animals and all accessed through narrow, winding tunnels and steps.
We also visited a vineyard – the hot and dry climate of Cappadocia is perfect for growing grapes.  Cultivation was mostly done by hand and not many of the grapes we saw were trellised.
We absolutely loved our time in Cappadocia and one of the highlights was eating out and sampling the regional foods.  A specialty of Cappadocia is food slow cooked in a clay pot over hot coals.  The pot is brought to the table and broken open.  Other times we’d go for mezze which was always a magnificent selection of beautifully prepared and presented vegetables such as marinated eggplant, olives, fried peppers, stuffed tomatoes and vine leaves.

What surprised us was just how basic life in Cappadocia is.  We often saw women gathering firewood, picking fruit or vegetables and men tending small flocks of sheep or goats.  Few had cars – most seemed to use horse and cart, ancient tractors or just hoist things on their shoulders.  In fact the only people who appeared to be affluent were the dozens of carpet sellers who ran fairly slick operations.
From Goreme we flew to Istanbul where we enjoyed a few days wandering the Grand Bazaar, visiting the Blue Mosque and soaking up the sights in this east meets west city.  Highlight was visiting the magnificent underground Basilica Cistern – a complex water storage tank right underneath the streets of Istanbul.  Built from marble in the 6th century, during the prosperous east Roman Empire rule, it was used to store water carted in from a spring 80 km away.
We did get a bit sick of being hassled…mainly by those aforementioned slick carpet sellers!  But, when the price was too good we refuse, we couldn’t resist picking up a few pieces to add to the collection rapidly filling Bandit’s storage lockers.
Then it was onto London for another winter house and animal sitting.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tantalising Turkey 2008

Our first introduction to Turkey wasn’t great.  We arrived in Bodrum in high season July to clear customs and immigration and found the holiday crowds ghastly after the tranquillity of remote Greek Islands.  We also got stung with a 60euro a night marina fee – and they charged on top of that for wifi!  Highlights were the intriguing Bodrum museum with its wonderful artefacts from ancient shipwrecks and the amazing produce markets.  We filled Bandit’s lockers and hammocks with amazingly cheap and fresh fruit, vege, cheeses, eggs and olives and then high tailed out of there.
We headed east from Bodrum into the beautiful Gulf of Korvezi and spent a week exploring the dozens of indented bays with crystal clear water.  Unlike the barren Greek Islands, Turkey is green with trees, mostly pines, growing down to the water.  Anchoring was tricky as the water was deep so we often had to take a line ashore.  We visited “Cleopatra’s Beach” – a beautiful white sandy beach that Cleopatra created for Anthony by barging in sand from Egypt.   Scientific tests have proven it’s definitely African sand.
It was fun going ashore and sampling wonderfully cheap and delicious Turkish food especially that made by local women on the side of the road or outside their houses.  After a week we decided to head further east and went to Fethiye which we absolutely adored. 
But we found the bays crowded with Turkish tourist gullets and charter boats so decided to just keep going east – to Kas, Kalkan, Kekova Roads and Fineke and then all the way to Antalya! 
It was on the coast from Fineke up to Antalya that we found the remote anchorages we were looking for.  Often it was just one or two cruising boats and lots of turtles to snorkel with – magic. 
On the way back we spent a lot more time in the beautiful Kekova Roads area.  It was getting late in the season and all the people seemed to have gone – wonderful. It is a beautiful undeveloped (as yet) area that is mostly boat access only.  The popular Lycian Walkway skirts the area so the odd backpacker stumbles by and you see a few kayaks but generally it’s fairly quiet.  We loved it and just enjoyed small village life for a while.
We met up with Ross and Jo Blackman and Pippa Blake in Kekova Roads.  We’d first met them in Bozuk Buku on our way to Marmaris and had a fantastic night at a local Turkish restaurant where Ross produced his guitar and put on an impromptu concert.  He is one mean guitarist and sings beautifully.  We had some great nights on Sojourn with Ross playing a range of amazing songs from Jimmy Buffet to Simon and Garfunkel with Jo on backing vocals.
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The season was slowly winding down and it was time for us to start heading back to Marmaris where we were wintering Bandit.  We moved from anchorage to anchorage – savouring every minute of life in these pristine Turkish waters.  Discharging effluent is illegal so our holding tank got plenty of use but such regulations result in wonderfully clean water for everyone.
Back in Yacht Marine Marmaris it was time to strip Bandit of sails and do an end of season clean up and carry out maintenance. And we had an unexpected visit from Will Oswald who was completing an epic road trip through Poland, Russia, Iraq and a few ‘stan countries as well as Turkey.  He pulled up into Marmaris marina in the battered Volvo he and mate Henry Willis had driven thousands of miles.  Sadly Henry had become ill and had to be airlifted out of Antalya.  Undeterred Will carried on alone and we were thrilled he found time to visit us.  He left us headed for Holland!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Greece to Turkey

Our second sailing season began in May 2008 with hot and sunny Greek weather and those amazing clear blue skies.  We enjoyed Preveza – the town where we had left Bandit – but were keen to explore new ground.  Our plan was to head south around the Peloponnese peninsula.DSC_0288
First up though – visitors.  Adie and Pete McLean and Chick Anderson joined us in Preveza and we sailed to Ithaca, Skorpios and Menganisi before dropping them in Kefallonia where we picked up Barry and Fiona Shearer. From Kefallonia we sailed south to Zakynthos and then across to the mainland where they set off for some inland travel.  We took a train and explored the amazing ruins at Olympia.
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The three pronged Peloponnese peninsula is actually an island – separated from the mainland by the Corinth Canal but often referred to as a peninsula which it was of course before the canal went in.
We loved the Peloponnese.  There were few cruising boats there, hardly any tourists, some staggeringly beautiful anchorages and quaint towns.  Provisioning here was wonderful.  From Bandit we’d hear a horn or a loudspeaker and quickly learnt that it would be a local selling something – from fresh sardines to ripe tomatoes or eggplants.  We’d quickly rush ashore and fill a supermarket bag with whatever was on offer.  It was always fresh, cheap and delicious.
Our best buy was when a friendly chap came to the back of Bandit (we were stern to the dock) and ask if we’d like some of his home produce.  We handed over $20 and the next morning he arrived with a huge bag of lemons, a massive jar of black olives preserved in oil, two litres of delicious grassy olive oil and, to our horror, two litres of home made wine in a plastic water bottle!
We gingerly put the wine in the fridge thinking our days of drinking wine out of plastic were well and truly over.  About a week later we decided to try it – it was crisp and dry and so good we were tempted to go back and buy more! From then on we bought homemade wine whenever we could.  These Greeks know how to make wine.
We met Richard and Wendy Batchelor in Astros, near Naphlion, and with them on board sailed the Saronic Gulf to Hydra then up to Poros before heading across to the Cyclades.  It was Richard’s 70th birthday and we celebrated it in style on Mykonos.  It was high season on the party island and the restaurants, cafes and bars were absolutely buzzing.  Everyone was here it seemed.
We realised that when it came time to catch a taxi back to Bandit where she was safely tied up in the marina a few miles away.  The queue was a mile long so we opted to walk… was a very long way home! 
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After a few fun days in Mykonos we sailed south to Naxos where we dropped Wendy and Richard.  We hadn’t been to Naxos before and it was a revelation – a lovely island with a gorgeous old town.  We hired a car and explored it and it quickly became a firm favourite.
From there we made a slight detour to Paros to meet up with German friends Katrin and Frank on Atares.  We met them in our first season in Sardinia and again in Sicily and it was fantastic to meet up again in Greece. 
We had a wonderful night in Paros before sailing down to the Small Cyclades together, well reefed down as the meltemi was doing its thing and blowing about 30 knots.  Still….it was downhill.
The Small Cyclades were amazing – totally off the beaten track and therefore completely non touristy with few cruising yachts.  And best of all, the Meltemi wind seems to completely avoid these islands.  We spent a wonderful week here.
One day when I went ashore to buy groceries a friendly local directed me to a house where the owner had tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini and peppers fresh from her garden.  As we went our separate ways he made me promise not to tell many people about these hidden gems in the Cyclades.  So I won’t be too specific!  From the Small Cyclades we sailed to Ios and had another magic few days before saying goodbye to Atares who were heading to Crete.
The Cyclades were absolutely beautiful and we could have lingered longer but had booked Bandit into Marmaris Marina in Turkey for the winter and needed to head east.  And we knew we would be sailing back through the stunning Greek Islands next season anyway.
And we had to get to Kos to meet family friend Rosie Todhunter and her mates Kate, Millie and Julia for five fun filled days.  The group was driving around Europe as part of the “van tour” and had first contacted us when they were in Portugal and we were in Greece.  They drove many hundreds of miles and left their van in Brindisi, Italy and then caught ferries, buses and trains and eventually arrived on Kos at 5am in the morning.  
We sailed to Simi and stayed a few days and then went across to Turkey for a day and night before heading back across to Rhodes where we dropped them off so they could catch a ferry back to Athens.
Our time in the beautiful Greek Islands had converted us – we LOVED it and couldn’t wait for the next season so we could explore more islands.  We loved the friendliness of the people, the crystal clear water, the amazing whitewashed buildings, beautiful bougainvillea but best of all…..octopus and ouzo.  We were hooked! We’ll be back.