21 January 2019

A Coastal Hike

Spectacular views along this coast.  
Another series of dolmus rides took a group of us to Mavikent, a coastal town just around the bay from Finike.  We hiked a magnificent long, deep beach and then a road along spectacular rocky coastline.  Beautiful scenery on another blue sky day.  They are precious this grey, cold and wet winter!
Great company!  We met Lea and Roland in Gibraltar.  And we spent the winter and spring with Sandy and Al in Tunisia, Malta and Sicily.  And now, more adventures!  A beer at the end of the hike while waiting for a bus back sure tasted good.

This little buddy, nicknamed Scruffy for the day, kept us company for the 11 km walk.  Sweet little guy who we left at the wrong end of the walk when we got on the bus.  He's a survivor!

20 January 2019

A Day Trip to Ancient Myra

The hikers at the castle top!
On one of our few glorious, blue sky days, a group of us cruisers headed to nearby Demre where St Nicholas (of Santa Claus fame) was bishop during the 4th C A.D.  His remains were either carried off by devout pirates to Bari, Italy or are in the Byzantine church in Demre - remains controversy!

Getting around locally is easy via the dolmus, a shared taxi/van, often packed with sardine standing room only.  The unspoken rule is that women sit beside women and men beside men.  I once hastened to sit down while talking/gesticulating to the driver, who wrote the bus schedule on my scrap of paper while driving through a town with twists and turns.  While waiting I sat beside an older gentleman without thinking.  On turning around I noticed he had squeezed himself into the far corner as far from me as he could get.  I immediately got up and swayed around in the aisle.
Tomato capital of Turkey.  Unattractive house of abundance.  Warm enough to be in a t-shirt for the first time in a month.
The ride to Demre was on a beautiful coastline of innumerable bays and inlets.  The excellent road hugged the coast and so the bus occupants felt every turn.  The woman sitting beside me clutched a plastic bag the entire way.  It is not a route for those with motion sickness.
Comedy and tragedy masks probably from the amphitheatre frieze were remarkable with dramatic background of stacked tombs.

The main event of our day was to visit the ruins of Myra, founded in the 5th C B.C. and one of the most important cities in Lycia.  A Roman era amphitheatre at the foot of the tombed cliff was an unforgettable sight.

The Roman amphitheatre was built on top of an earlier, smaller Hellenistic one.

Cliff tombs like these are all over Lycia.

The architecture of antiquity is so much more appealing than that of modern.
We couldn't leave without hiking part of the Lycian Way to the cliff top and the ruins of a castle.  A few false turns found us lost a couple of times but we made it to the flag.  I'd love to go back to continue the trail on another sunny day.  Perhaps in the spring when the wildflowers should carpet the mountain slopes.
Our destination along an ancient wall and up a steep ascent.  What a day!

10 January 2019

Christmas in Istanbul

We were very lucky to have Tom with us on Christmas Eve day.   A boat ride (you'd think that the three of us would choose land activities!) up the Bosphorous landed us at this castle that guarded the entrance/exit from the Black Sea.  A military post is still in residence in a more modern facility.
Pre-Christmas, we made the 1 hr, $60 CDN return flight to Istanbul to meet up with Tom who had just finished a training camp in Athens.  Istanbul was on our list of must-sees during our Turkish winter so Tom's visit was a perfect excuse to do it.  We also had as company, two cruisers from another boat in the marina.  Much of our exploring of sites, restaurants and bars was done in fine and fun company.

Turkey is 98% Muslim so Christmas in Istanbul is a bit of an oxymoron.  Surprisingly though, the modern Turks have picked up the pagan traditions of Christmas and attached it to New Years Eve.  Strolling about downtown to the tune of calls to prayer, we not only saw the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia, the Galata Tower in the chaotic bustle of the city but were surrounded by decorated trees, Santas, and stockings.  On Christmas Eve we followed a crowd into the Christian Orthodox church where a glorious choir of baritones was singing in Latin while swinging incense lanterns filled the nave with billows of smoke.  The place was packed, squishy standing room only, with all sorts of people enjoying the spirit.  Quite magical.
Christmas dinner with our charming hosts, Alican and Saha.

The table set with cold salads or mezes each made by Seha to begin followed by two legs of lamb for the five of us.  But two of those five were big eaters of Olympic proportions.
Tom's very generous Turkish training partner and wife took us out for a magnificent fish meal and walk in a lively, neighbourhood slowly being gentrified after a popular TV series was filmed there.  Belat is a quirky mix of galleries, coffee shops, butchers, markets and bakeries.  Not being a tourist destination, we would never have gone without them - the beauty of knowing a local!  On December 25th, Alican and Seha then had us over to their condo, decorated with a Christmas tree, on the Asian side for dinner, a homemade meal of five salads and a tender leg of lamb.  Wonderful hospitality and delicious food in Tom's company made it a very memorable Christmas - although we did miss Em and Gid!
The narrow streets and steep hills of the New City which dates from the Middle Ages - not that new.  It's gone through it's time of debauchery but is now a lively area of shops, hotels and restaurants lining pedestrian streets.  Always something to look at.

The Old City port was lined with trip boats and ferries.  The old boats in the foreground served "fish and bread" cooked on a grill on board to hungry clients looking for a fresh, cheap meal.

Easily over a hundred fishermen - all men - lined the Galata Bridge, hooking tiny fish over the restaurants below.  In the evening, some would set up fires to grill their catch, while others played music.  Boat traffic only had a small opening at the centre of the bridge to pass beneath.  The rest was fishing territory.  Poor fish didn't have a hope.
Spreading itself over the Bosphorous, bounded by the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara with the Golden Horn pointing to the east, Istanbul is defined by it's waterways.  We crossed bridges, did a Bosphorous cruise with Tom, watched scores of fishermen and ate plenty of fish with wind sweeping off the water.

The city is bordered by it's waterways while it's neighbourhoods are at least partly outlined by their location within the seven hills of Istanbul.  These hills are not to be scoffed at,at least the ones we climbed and descended.  They are steep.  So steep that on the cobbled narrow streets slick with a light rain, the tires didn't get a grip, requiring backing up for a run through the pedestrians and car lined lane.

We walked and walked but only scratched the surface of the plethora of sites, sounds and smells the city has to offer.  We both felt it would be another city to explore as we had in Buenos Aires, living in for a few months, with an opportunity to explore a neighbourhood every day followed by refuge from the pandamonium in a rented apartment.  Perhaps in our future.
There are many huge mosques dotting the city skyline but the most famous is the Blue Mosque built in only 7 years between 1609 and 1616.  With shoes removed, we were able to take a peak inside the echoing interior.  Unfortunately the dome was being restored and not visible.  Restoration seemed to be going on at every site.  Good to know they have the money to take care of their historical buildings but a bit of a shame for us.
The inside of the Blue Mosque was grand.  Unlike Christian churches, as we had learned in Tunisia, Islamic art is only graphic design, no human or animal figures are permitted and the insides are even more cavernous.
Across the Sultanahmet Square from the Blue Mosque, is the even more magnificent Aya Sophia.  Built as a church in 536AD, it is one of the finest architectural creations in the world, largely because of it's impressive dome, an innovation at the time and copied many times for over 1,500 years.  It stands 56 m high and 32 m diameter.  
Apart from the dome and minarets, the building looked a bit like a wedding cake with numerous smaller domes and wings.  Impressive, nonetheless.

The interior was astounding in it's size, decoration, and the enormity of continuous restoration that is necessary.  The original Byzantine church was converted into a mosque in 1453 after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans.  Finally, Aya Sofya was made into a national museum by Ataturk in the 1920's and has remained so.

The Islamic pulpit.

Lovely carved columns topped by golden mosaic-lined vaulted ceilings caught the light.

Four huge cartouches bearing the names of the early caliphs mark Sofya as a Islam prayer hall.  At the time they were made, they were the largest diameter ever made.

The truly remarkable figurative mosaics - looking more like paintings with their subtle colouring - were whitewashed when the church became a mosque, hence preserving them.  They were rediscovered in the 1930's.

The 1478 Gates of Topkapi Palace which became the nerve centre of the Ottoman Empire and royal residence for 400 years.  The extensive grounds sit at the junction of the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorous and the Golden Horn.  A mix of buildings and architecture as each sultan erected his own legacy.  

The harem was a warren of rooms going from small for the lesser servants, eunuchs and concubines to the opulent larger rooms of the favoured concubines and four legal wives.  The chief wife or "mother of the sultan" became the effective queen and ran the show

A room of one of the favoured.
The Galata Tower in the New City.  A lovely tower, built in 1348 by Genoese settlers.  We climbed to the top for views of the city.
The 32 km long Bosphorous is an international waterway.  Turkey can only police vessels flying a Turkish flag.  In 2015 about 80,000 ships passed through the seaway and this number is only increasing.

The Golden Horn in the foreground and Sea of Marmara behind and the grand mosques of the Old City between.

The Galata Tower is prominent in the New City.

The Bosphorous is dominated by huge ships, speedy and not so speedy ferries and tour boats.  Tiny fishing boats bob about doing their thing.  They must keep an eagle eye!  

Elegant lines of mosque and bridge.

European Rumeli castle is matched on the Asian side by the smaller Anadolu Hisari.  Together they mark the gate to the Black Sea.  In 1452 during the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, Sultan Mehmet used the castles to choke off supplies to the city.

The endpoint and lunch spot of our cruise.

This stunning bridge is one of a few that stride the Bosphorous making it possible to get from Asia to Europe in about two minutes.  The Black Sea is beyond!
The original chariot to carry guests from the Orient Express to the lovely Pera Palace Hotel.   

We toured the wonderfully restored rooms of the hotel.  Made us feel that we had stepped back in time into an Agatha Christie novel.
There were several underground passageways for pedestrians to safely navigate the busy streets above.  These were lined with shops selling all sorts of things....including handguns.  Yikes!  However, I must add that we never felt unsafe.  
Istanbul was a treat.  The pace was a bit frenetic but we really enjoyed it.  We have now returned to sleepy Finike.  More land travels to come.