Chris and I left Sydney in the early evening, and chased the night all the way to Istanbul, arriving at breakfast time about twenty hours later. We were booked into a boutique hotel in Sultanahmet, the old city, and even though the official check-in time was hours away, they had a room almost ready and suggested we join other guests having breakfast on the rooftop terrace. Here we had our first view of the magnificent Istanbuli skyline – the water and ships; the gloriously proportioned Blue Mosque, drawing the eye with its perfect beauty; the thousand-year-old Hagia Sophia; the soaring seagulls; the red tiled rooftops dotted with satellite dishes. It was mid-September, a bright, clear, warm morning; the food was varied, sumptuous, and exotic, and the coffee very welcome.
Due to our lack of sleep, we did not acquit ourselves well as tourists on our first day. We peeked in the Grand Bazaar but decided it didn’t appeal. We tried to follow my friend Alan’s advice about visiting the Princes Islands but became befuddled: we boarded the wrong ferry and got off it again, overloaded our IstanbulKart by $25 because it kept failing to let us pass the turnstiles (probably because the public ferry wasn’t due to run for hours) and we managed to miss the afternoon departure of the commercial trip. So we hopped back on a tram and dragged ourselves around the Topkapi Palace and harem. No doubt the fact that we were seeing it feeling whacked by our flight meant we didn’t appreciate it as much as we should have.
The next day was better, although we did skip the interior of the Blue Mosque. It is actually called the Sultanahmet Mosque – the Blue Mosque tag came from Westerners and refers to the predominant colour of the tiles inside. It was closed for prayers when we first approached it, and had an enormous snaking queue when we returned later, so we contented ourselves with the Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia) and the Basilica Cistern instead.
The Hagia Sophia
Built in 530AD, the Hagia Sophia was a Christian church for a thousand years and then became a mosque in 1453 when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople. Now that it is a museum (rather than a mosque with a prohibition on displaying the human form) the plastered-over Christian mosaics from its earlier incarnation are being restored. Even thronged with tourists, it is magnificently impressive on the inside. The low, cobbled corridors leading up to the higher level feel very old.
The Basilica Cistern
An eerie place of shadowy, serried columns, the Basilica Cistern is an ancient underground water storage chamber the size of a cathedral. It was constructed in 523 AD, during the reign of Byzantine emperor Justinian, using marble columns, capitals and plinths from ruined buildings, including two Roman-era Medusa heads installed sideways and upside down respectively.
It once held 80,000 cubic metres of water, pumped through aqueducts from the Belgrade Forest 19km north of the city. Eventually closed, it seems to have been forgotten by the city authorities until a scholar researching Byzantine antiquities in 1545 was told locals could get water by lowering buckets below their floor. Some were even catching fish! He eventually found a house through whose basement he accessed the cistern. These days, the water is only a metre or so deep, but it still has the fish.
We decided to head for Beyoğlu for lunch, a district on the European side of İstanbul separated from the old city by the Golden Horn. It’s supposed to have the best eating places, and we wanted to check the whereabouts of the meeting spot for a culinary tour we had booked for the next day. Chris decided we’d walk from the Tophane tram stop, rather than taking the funicular. As I’d thought, it meant a steep ascent. I was flagging by this time but after verifying where we needed to be tomorrow, we pushed on to Taksim Square then tried to work out how to return by a different route.
We eventually found ourselves on Independence Ave (Istiklal Caddesi), the wide pedestrianised shopping street that runs for a couple of kilometres. It has a “nostalgic” tram that I initially mistook for the funicular (which is an underground train travelling at an improbable angle) but we never managed to get on it – I think it runs from Taksim down the hill without stopping. We had a long, long walk but it was worth it. It was amazing to see so many locals striding along Istiklal, presumably during working hours. Hunger and tiredness finally drove us into taking pot luck on a place selling vegetarian pide and the yoghurt drink, ayran. Turned out to be good. We passed the Galata Tower but decided not to go in. A pity, as Wikipedia told me later its upper floors command a magnificent view of Istanbul and the Bosphorus and there are two operating elevators.
Dinner at Ciya Sofrasi
Chris was keen to eat at Ciya Sofrasi, famous for its authentic regional dishes, having read a New Yorker article about it. Visiting this restaurant was a rather strange experience – it is very much about the food, which is outstanding, and seemingly not at all about the diners. Paper place mats, minimal descriptions, buffet presentation, in and out in an hour. People eating upstairs carried their own fully laden plates up a spiral metal staircase. We had three courses each for 100TL ($50). I loaded my plate with meze, thinking this was the meal. It was then weighed, and a small slip of paper was issued that was later collected by the waiter. In typical Turkish fashion (it is considered rude to leave dirty plates on the table) he could barely wait for us to eat up so he could whisk away our dishes. After appetisers, we were waved over to choose a selection for mains, with the contents of steaming pots cursorily described in rapid succession – this is cucumber, this one is eggplant, here is lamb etc. But although we may not have been sure what we were eating, it was delicious and interesting. I particularly loved the dish that combined creamy eggplant and lamb. I wasn’t so keen on the candied pumpkin we tried for desert.
The seven-hour lunch
For my birthday, we had booked an Istanbul Eats culinary tour of Beyoğlu that involved walking and eating from 9:30am until 4:30pm. Skip breakfast and dinner, we were told. Our guide was Benoit, originally from Belgium, who proved very knowlegeable and was happy to answer questions about all aspects of Turkish life, not just about food. Benoit told us about the arty Cihangir district we were in, and its gentrification, and answered Chris’s question about the stray dogs with large plastic ear-tags lying about freely in the parks and streets. They had been rounded up and vaccinated by the local government authority and then released again, Benoit said. Initially I thought he meant vaccinated for the sake of their health, but later I realised he meant vaccinated against rabies, and was glad I hadn’t asked if they were also regularly wormed.
We deliberately reined in our consumption at the first cafe, which served clotted cream and honey on bread, as well as a delicious eggy tomato dish, because of the awareness that it was just one meal of about twelve still to come over the following seven hours.
I very much enjoyed the food from the wild green mountainous area near the Black Sea where Benoit goes hiking, but I passed on trying the wares at the famous pickle shop, and also joined the vegetarians in boycotting the sheep’s head tasting. I ate the best half a kebab of my life and wished I’d had room for the bit we left behind. The toasted flat bread had been lightly oiled to create just the right crunch, the chicken had been charcoal-roasted, and the salad vegies and meat came with a deliciously spiced sauce. But by 2pm, with several restaurants to go, I was starting to hit the wall. I did manage a bite or two of the classic Turkish noodle dish, and the tradesman’s lunch, but I did have to force myself.
After the tour finished, we wandered through the Spice Markets, a sensory explosion of colour and activity that offered much more than just spices, and stocked up on that most delicious of sweets, Turk Lokum.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum
The Museum was another favourite place. We particularly liked the life-size marbles, the intricately carved sarcophagi and the Istanbul through the Ages section. It’s amazing to think that remains in a cave in Turkey have been dated back to 400,000 BC, the stone age paleolithic. And that the city of Istanbul itself, in some form or another, has been in existence for 8000 years.
We flew from Istanbul to Antalya, a seaside city that was once a Roman port. We arrived in the evening and ventured out for a late dinner, took pot luck on a restaurant, and had a very mediocre fish soup. I’d expected a range of seafood but it consisted of fish lumps, undercooked potato pieces, a watery yoghurt broth, and a slice of lemon. Not up to Istanbul standards, as we’d been warned.
Antalya’s kaleici (old town) was photogenic, quite breathtaking in places, but very much a tourist playpen. This felt a little odd after the vibrant, authentic cosmopolitan capital where tourists were only an extra, not the main game. But we spent a wonderful day exploring on foot, taking many photos.
We began our self-guided walking tour by traversing the marina. Our stroll coincided with the boat trip operators’ last minute flurry to augment their passenger list before the 11 am sailing. They were offering such cutprice deals on the two-hour trip to waterfalls and other delights that they would only whisper the amount, presumably for fear of angering the people already on board. But we wanted to tour the land, not the sea, so we refused all their blandishments after establishing that it would not be possible to get to Cirali tomorrow by boat instead of bus.
Midway through the walk, I sat down on the edge of a mausoleum, facing the Lodge of a Dervish Order originally build in 125AD, and opened one of the many bars of fine quality chocolate left in the fridge by the German couple who had occupied our room in Villa Tulipan before us. It was a 30 degree day and so the chocolate was the consistency of nutella. I had a fine time supping on it with my fingers, a process no doubt quite unpleasant for any viewers.
After dinner that evening, we set out to find the source of the loud, jolly music we had heard on arrival the previous night. Chris was sure it came from the public square where we had been earlier in the day and he proved correct, even though due to some freak of harbour city acoustics the sound became less loud as we supposedly walked towards it. It turned out to be prerecorded fountain music, with the jets of water cleverly orchestrated to mimic in colour, shape, speed and spray angles the tempo and mood of the sounds. A crowd was standing around admiringly; we joined them for five minutes or so, then began walking back to our lodgings. But we became hopelessly lost and wandered the maze of twisty, narrow, cobbled laneways for almost an hour, repeatedly encountering the same group of people celebrating a wedding in the middle of the street. Chris’s “unerring sense of direction” reputation took a bit of a battering.
The Antalya Museum
Rich pickings from the long-settled regions along the Turkish Mediterranean coast can be seen at the Antalya Archaeological Museum. It’s a couple of kilometres out of town, but is easy to reach on the so-called nostalgic tram. Some artefacts on display date back to the 7th century BC. The collection of marbles was impressive, especially the life-size statues that once graced the arches of the theatre at Perge. The sarcophagi were amazing too – intricately carved scenes from the lives of those depicted on the lid, including Hercules and his battles, and several husband and wife combos.
We had planned to travel along the Mediterranean coast to Çıralı by dolmus (minibus), but the taxi driver hired to take us to the bus station offered to do the whole trip for a good price, so we went door to door instead. This halved the travel time, but doubled my anxiety levels, as the driver hooned along the windy coastal roads at a ridiculous speed, with one hand for the gear stick and the steering wheel, and the other for smoking and checking his mobile phone.
Our destination, Canada Hotel, had a plethora of signs telling you what you could and could not do, and rooms with 1960s style orange furnishings, but it was adequate. Initially, I was not impressed by the Çıralı beachfront either: regimented deckchairs, flat water and pebbles to terrorise soft feet – but it grew on me. Ruins dating back to the 2nd century BC at the end of a beach are not your standard fare, and Olympos is particularly unusual as the site is a river valley left to nature, rather than being tidied up, and so there is plant life growing riotously through the Lycian and Roman edifices. The city was used right through to the 15th century, then abandoned.
It was picturesque but I was glad we were not visiting in summer. Early autumn was more than hot enough as we scrabbled through bushes to check out necropoli, temples and roman bath remains. Swimming afterwards was delightful: the Mediterranean was like a salty bath, warm and crystal clear down to the sandy bottom far below.
The other tourist drawcard near Çıralı are the eternal flames of Chimaera, consisting of dozens of small fires on a rocky hillside that have been burning continuously for thousands of years. Best seen at night, the fires are fuelled by gas emissions issuing from vents in the rocks. According to Greek mythology, the cause is a monster with the head of a lion, the body of a goat and the tail of a serpent, who sprouts fire from her mouth.
We travelled from Çıralı to Kaş (Kash) on local buses with no problems at all. From village to highway cost 6TL each, with the dolmus pulling in to our hotel’s yard to pick us up. It cost 18TL each for the 2.5 hour air-conditioned trip, so that was 48TL total ($24), about one-fifth of the cheapest taxi option, and far more pleasant. At the otogar in Kaş, we hired a taxi to take us to the Hideaway Hotel. It turned out to be only 500 metres away, so it was no wonder that the driver looked unimpressed when he heard where we wanted to go, and that when we got there, he didn’t leap out to help with the bags.
We were three floors up at the Hideaway, with a side-on sea view, looking directly at the 2,500 year old Hellenistic amphitheatre that is still occasionally used. Our room was white-themed, with a washing line on the tiny balcony that caught an excellent breeze. The ensuite bathroom had a huge rainhead in the shower, and a magnifying glass shaving and makeup mirror. These touches of luxury, together with the excellent quality and range of the home-cooked organic Turkish food, made Hideaway one of the best places we visited.
We booked a boat cruise to Kekova and Simena Castle, with an operator recommended by Hideaway’s owner Ahmet, for 50TL ($25) each – a bargain considering it was a full day of sailing, swimming and sightseeing, plus a lavish lunch of scrumptious meze plus barbecue chicken kebabs or fish, all prepared in the boat’s tiny galley. We spent much of the voyage prone (but shaded), apart from stints standing to take photos and disembarking for the designated swimming and walking stops. Chris leapt in at each opportunity, and saw a turtle and a large cigar-shaped fish. A gaggle of retired Brits next to us laughed almost the entire day, often at each other’s misfortunes in terms of being sprayed by waves, especially on the trip back when there was more wind and swell.
We couldn’t snorkel over the underwater ruins of Kekova as I’d expected. Perhaps the sea-kayakers have a better view, but from the boat mostly what we saw were fallen pieces of the city by the water’s edge.
I did the climb up to Simena Castle despite wearing my swimming ensemble, and was rewarded by a phenomenal view. The island is only accessible by sea and the path to the castle winds up through the village, with goods being proffered by the local most of the way. There’s a regular succession of boats like ours, and hopefully some of the tourists do buy something. Perhaps not many, because only an hour is allocated for the stop, and the steep up and down trek and the recommended pause for refreshments at a cafe selling home-made icecream uses up most of that time.
Still, it was a lovely day out, and came with a jolly laughing track from the Brits. One of the couples had an apartment in Kalkan, a nearby but more upmarket holiday destination than Kaş, and came to Turkey regularly. They said last summer, the temperature hit fifty degrees.
The Greek island of Kastellorizo (called Meis in Turkey) is very close to Kaş and a popular day trip. We should have shopped about for our ferry ticket, as we paid 135TL for the Meis Express, without sunshade on top, when the larger, more comfortable and no less speedy Meis Ferry Lines alternative was only 100TL.
It was interesting going to Greece, and it was certainly different in terms of architecture and food, but I felt a little off-colour, so the day dragged a bit. We filled in our five hours by sitting down to eat in three places (a morning tea of coffee and pastries; fish soup for lunch; iced coffee for afternoon tea) and by wandering about the town and one side of the island, noting the many locked-up or derelict houses behind the prettily-painted ones on the seafront harbour curve. According to Wikipedia, 10,000 people lived there at the end of the nineteenth century, but:
“At the dawn of the twentieth century the decay of the island’s economy set in, accelerated by the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the deportation of the Anatolian Greeks in 1923. In the late 1920s the population of the island had dropped to 3000, while about 8000 inhabitants lived abroad, predominantly in Australia, Egypt, Greece and the U.S. At that time the town had 730 inhabited houses, while 675 were already empty, and many ruined. The population, according to the 2011 census, now stands at 492… Many of its emigrants live in Australia (especially in the cities of Perth and Sydney) where they are known as Kazzies.”
Chris and I parted ways at Dalaman airport. He was flying to Istanbul, then Sydney; I was journeying on to Marmaris to meet Libby (an old friend from Armidale, now a veterinarian in Townsville) and our mutual friend Wendy (Associate Professor of Archaeology at the University of New England) and Eleanor (Wendy’s 18-year-old daughter). We were booked into a cutprice British holiday package place called Club Amaris. I’d heard via email that Wendy and Eleanor were spending the day on Rhodes, and Libby wasn’t due to arrive until late in the evening, so I had a quiet afternoon ahead. Our twin room was downstairs past the service areas, shaded and dark, which wasn’t so bad given the exorbitant extra fee Club Amaris charged its hapless guests for turning on the airconditioning. The room was spacious, and had a useful drying rack and capacious kitchen sink to which I applied my 37mm plug with enough success to do a big load of washing. I left my clothes drying in the alleyway outside the room, figuring there was nothing worth stealing. I walked past many cafés where I could have had a big meal for 24TL and found a small place near the main street that had reasonable prices. My chicken kebab was only 4.5TL and was just the right size. Marmaris was as tacky as I’d expected. Our hotel was full of severely bronzed fat middle-aged English folk working hard on their melanoma acquisition and no doubt eating from the big British breakfast places and the Chinese and curry outlets that I’d walked past in search of lunch. It was 30 degrees so I did spend an hour doing the pool thing – a couple of dips in the not-so-warm water and reading my book on a sun lounge. But I couldn’t imagine a week of that.
Wendy and Eleanor turned up around 7pm, and we set out to find one of the few authentic Turkish restaurants in Marmaris, a tiny place called Ney, on a twisty cobbled street in the old town. I wasn’t that hungry after my 2.30pm lunch and neither were W & E, which was a pity as the food was top quality – tasty and interesting.
The next day, we weren’t due to meet Doreen, our Meridian Travels and Yachting tour guide, at the Anatolia Café until 4pm, so our plan was to pack up and escape to a fishing village on the Bozburun peninsula, Seliminye. We were keen to get there on a dolmus, and so we were stern with the taxi driver who took us from the hotel to the otogar, telling him no, we didn’t want him to drive us the whole way despite the bargain price he was offering. Then, of course, we found that we’d missed the particular bus we needed to catch and the only way of getting there and back with any time in between was to go in… a taxi. Unsurprisingly, no one else was willing to match the bargain rates of the now-departed previous driver, so we paid 50% more for the trip.
It wasn’t really worth it, but I suppose it did fill in the day. We took swags of the food Libby had purchased that morning, then had the difficulty of finding a public picnic spot. A highlight was the fresh figs I bought from a streetside seller – one each and utterly delicious. We mooched around until the two hours we’d agreed upon with our taxi driver were up (he’d managed to convince us to keep him on for the return trip), then we headed for our cruise rendezvous point.
We were at the café far too early, so took it in turns to duck into the nearby market area to hunt for assorted items. We bought a succession of drinks and were joined by Lisa (a librarian at UNE), and then Annette (a counsellor at UNE) and Gabrielle (Annette’s 18-year-old daughter and good friends with Eleanor). We were a big, noisy group and 4pm came and went without anyone nautical approaching us. Finally I suggested the girls wander past a table that was occupied by a mature-aged lady and a couple of men and sure enough it turned out to be Doreen and the crew. For whatever reason, she had been sitting there for at least half an hour but hadn’t tried phoning any of us. This turned out to be a portent of what was to come, but we didn’t realise it then.
Our boat was walking distance and the crew members helped with the luggage. Surprisingly, Memo was pale-coloured and looked like it was predominantly fibreglass rather than wood. It did have sails but like most gülets, these were never unfurled. We were told it was a luxury craft usually hired for customised corporate trips at 20,000 euros per week. We got a bargain in terms of space and comfort, and it suited us better (as a group of women friends) to have twin beds rather than doubles, but it wasn’t the beautiful, traditional sailing ship that I’d been looking forward to photographing. When I took photos of Memo, it was usually from a distance. Apparently Anne (the owner of Meridian Travels) got it for a cheaper rate than usual because it was the end of the season. We also scored a top-notch chef, runner-up in some prestigious corporate cruising competition, who did a wonderful job even though his larder on this trip didn’t incorporate the no-expense-spared types of ingredients that were his normal fare.
The schedule had us setting sail the next morning, with an optional Turkish bath in Marmaris that evening. A minibus took us to the hamam, where the various offerings were explained. The basic price – which we had paid in advance – was the equivalent of 30 British pounds. The sleazy salesman describing the extras did manage to up-sell a few of us, me included, to a facial that included a mask and a honey treatment. Another option, which none of us took up, involved putting your feet into a small tank of piranha-type fish for them to nibble at your dead skin.
We left our clothes in the locker room downstairs and walked up to the sauna room. The hamam was a traditional style building: domed ceiling with skylights, beautiful tiles, a large marble heat-emitting slab in the centre, and alcoves where people sat, talked, and tossed bowls of water over themselves to cool down.
As we sat there, we watched the other people have their scrub-down and soap-up on the marble slab. The process reminded me a little of a car wash. All the masseurs were male, stripped to the waist, some younger and lithe, some older with paunches. Once on the slab, the first thing was a brisk rub with an exfoliating mitt. You lay on your front initially, and when they wanted you to turn over, you’d receive a little tap and a “Yes lady” to indicate the next move was up to you. Then a quick shower, still in the same room, and back to the slab for the soaping session, which involved a vigorous lather with something that looked like a large fluffy pillow filled with soap. Another shower, a wrap in one of the thin Turkish cotton towels, then you left the sauna area and went to the waiting room. Refreshments were offered at this point – they were extra. Then upstairs to the large, airy room filled with table-like beds, where your masseur rubbed you all over with unguents. I had my facial applied, and after it came off, on went the honey. I was very glad there was no overhead mirror, as the sight of my man pulling the loose skin on my face and neck hither and thither as he applied the honey would not have been very pleasant.
We went back to the boat for dinner feeling suitably relaxed but rather oily. Also, my face felt a little odd because my eyebrows were still stuck together with honey that hadn’t been properly removed. The captain decided we should move out of Marmaris that evening to a small bay. We were also warned, as I’d already seen on WeatherZone, that some showery weather was coming, with thunderstorms expected on Wednesday. It seemed that our schedule was likely to change significantly.
The crew comprised Captain Erjan, ‘The Chef’, and two sailors – ‘The Russian’, and a chatty young man with excellent English called Dori. There was also our guide, Doreen, a nut-brown, well-preserved marvel of fitness aged 67. She and her husband had moved to Turkey from England for their health, and it had certainly paid dividends.
Aga Limani to ruins of Cleopatra’s Bath. Walk to Sarsala
Walk in the footsteps of Romans who moored their wooden ships at Aga Limani, the starting point for our walk. Following the old Roman footpath, we reach the ruins of a Roman city [a little-known Greco-Roman site called Lydea] and take sage tea with a nomad family. Our walk continues through an olive grove and down to the ruins of the sunken Cleopatra’s Bath [legend says that Antony gave Cleopatra the entire Turquoise Coast as a wedding gift] (2-3 hours). Lunch onboard and time for swimming before going for a shorter coastal walk to Sarsala.
Everyone woke at 4am when the crew started the engines to move us to Aga Limani Bay. I felt like springing up to see what the day was like and where we were going, but stayed in bed, not wanting to get in the way. Dawn light revealed that Libby had not scrupled to go on deck, so I tried the shower (warm, but a little rocky with the motion) then joined her with my camera. Some grey clouds suggested the weather forecast for showers today and thunderstorms tomorrow might be accurate.
We chugged along, cabins smelling slightly of diesel, for several hours till we reached the start point for our walk. We had breakfast at 9am and set off soon afterwards. I would have preferred to eat earlier and have time to digest, but I supposed the travelling and the dining needed to be separated as the two sailors also served as our waiters. Boots and socks were carried onto the inflatable dinghy and donned on the stony beach. Up, up the hill we went, feeling glad it was a cloudier, cooler day. Several other boats were also moored at Aga Limani and their passengers were setting off on the same walk as us, presumably also planning to lob in on a shepherd and drink sage tea with him. It seems other operators here have appropriated Anne’s rustic contacts. Doreen told us that the shepherd regularly does the rather gruelling section of our walk, from his hut to a nearby cove, up and down narrow, steep, rocky tracks, to transport his young daughter to school for the week. He takes her on a donkey to the Cleopatra’s Bath area (the end of our walk) and then transfers her to a boat and later a small car. Her framed photograph was in pride of place in the wooden shelter shed that they had built for the walkers to sit down, drink, and check out items for sale.
I was glad of Libby’s borrowed walking pole, especially on the ravine descent section that gave me wobbly legs and sore knees. At least my boots didn’t cause blisters. Still, it was good to arrive at the boat again, don swimmers, and leap in the Mediterranean. Colder than previously, but very refreshing after a strenuous muggy walk. In the water with me were Libby, Luisa (a researcher at York University, originally from a town near Venice called Vincenzia; married to retired English biology academic Chris), and Mark (a dairy farmer from Scotland, married to Aileen).
The intrepid gang who were up for a second walk (not me) had to come back early because the weather turned bad. I had a restful couple of hours on the boat, talking to Annette and updating my diary. When it rained, we broke out Libby’s pack of cards and were taught a simple game by Eleanor called Asshole. Doreen had even better rainy afternoon entertainment in the form of a bag full of letter tiles and a scrabble-like game called Bananagrams, where each player had to form connected words with their tiles on the table in front of them, and when they were all successfully arranged you said “peel” and everyone had to take one more. You were allowed to rearrange words, which was useful. I was pretty good at working quickly to assemble my words and fellow players joked that I should have a handicap, like only being able to place animal-related words. We didn’t have a dictionary for arbitration, so play was restricted to common words that the others would accept. This tended to rule out a lot of the two-letter ones you use in scrabble.
Dinner that evening, eaten on the rear deck around a large, immaculately presented table, was utterly scrumptious – whole grilled sea bass, broccoli in garlic, and various meze dishes.
Excursions – Tlos, Kayaköy, Saklikent Gorge
This full day sees us drive out of Fethiye to the interesting ancient city of Tlos, once the home of many civilizations including Lycian, Roman, Byzantine and more. Recent excavations have uncovered full size statues of Roman emperors. We drive onto the village of Kayakoy to feel the atmosphere of this abandoned village which was the inspiration for Louis de Berniere’s “Birds without Wings”. We may be able to include a visit to Saklikent Gorge.
Our itinerary was changed because of the rain forecast, so we did the Fethiye excursions today. It took us an hour to motor from our secluded bay to the town’s harbour. Although the sea was very calm in the bays, it was choppy for the crossing between them, and we rolled a little from side to side.
Breakfast was at 9am again, after we’d moored at the Fethiye dock. We climbed aboard our minibus straight afterwards, for the hour’s journey to Tlos, a Lycian city like Olympus but with its extensive ruins excavated and in full view, as it is mostly free of plant life. The ruins, like Olympos, had survived multiple epochs, with the building materials recycled from Lycian, to Roman, to Byzantine, right through to the era of the Ottoman Turks. So there were Lycian tombs in the cliff face, a Roman bath and running track, Byzantine church remnants and a castle inhabited until the 19th century. We had a good wander around until it began to spit rain and Doreen urged us onto the bus so we could get to Saklikent Gorge.
Mark and the girls were the only takers for the walking through the fast flowing, freezing cold water up the gorge experience – the rest of us stayed on the river banks and had tea and coffee. Doreen had suggested the expeditioners go up for fifteen minutes then return, so when they weren’t back after half an hour, and the gorge was closed due to reported “big water” further up, we did begin to worry that they might be caught by an avalanche of water rushing downstream. But they turned up safely, having reached the waterfall two kilometres upriver that Eleanor had been determined to see.
By then it was almost 1.30pm, but we’d been fortified by our drinks and some fruit and nut trail mix I bought at Istanbul spice market, so the late lunch wasn’t an issue. Luckily, as the place booked for our meze + gözleme couldn’t accommodate us. Normally, a picnic is supplied from the boat, but Anne had decided we should dine in a restaurant due to the risk of rain. We moved to a nearby place and had a lovely feast at 3pm, before wandering around Kayaköy, which was right in front of us.
Kayaköy, which once held 4000 people in 700 houses, was left empty after the forced repatriation of Greek Christians from Turkey to Greece (and vice versa for people of Turkish descent who had been living in Greece). It was a sizable village, stretching across two hillsides, so it took a while to wander through. Commentary on the site plays up the idea of Greek and Turkish families who had been neighbours for generations being torn asunder, but I did wonder why the exodus of the folk of Greek origin left the whole village empty. What happened to the Turks who had lived beside them? Anyway, it seems the place didn’t agree with the new Greek Turks who were supposed to take up residence there. They all drifted off elsewhere because they were used to a different way of life, possibly coastal instead of farming?
Most houses were mere skeletons, but I did go inside one that had been left intact and had a long-haired Greek-looking man standing out the front offering to show it for free.
Unlike the rest of the buildings, which had had their wooden doors and shutters and even timber frames removed to be recycled elsewhere, this one still looked vaguely habitable, though I was a little concerned about the safety of the wooden floor upstairs. It was a simple two-room dwelling. One side had a wooden cupboard and a bed folded into a recess on the wall, which the man said was where it went during the day. He explained that the houses tended to be painted red on the outside (the colour of Turkey’s flag) and blue on the inside (for Greece – also, he said, because scorpions didn’t like blue). On the wall of the other room was a photo of a family. I wondered if there would still be people who could remember life in the village and the forced move, even if it was just from stories told by their parents and grandparents. It was only 90 years ago, almost within living memory.
Scenic Inlice walk
Follow broad tracks around the hillside with spectacular views of Fethiye Bay to the beach at Inlice, which is also the nesting ground for the Caretta Caretta (loggerhead) turtles.
Doreen told us today’s walk to Inlice (pronounced Inleejeh) was up and down steep hillsides with only views to recommend it. No shepherds, no ruins. But when she said it wasn’t on a rocky, slippery path but rather a bulldozed fire trail, I decided to go, even though she added that it lasted four hours and had been described as a forced march by previous customers. But I went, as did all the others, even Eleanor and Gabrielle who had gone to bed at 3am after a night out in Fethiye. And it was fine, with lovely views through pine trees across a shimmering blue expanse of calm water dotted by islands and yachts under sail. Doreen, Chris, Mark and Luisa forged ahead out of sight, but as I remarked to whoever I was walking with at the time, there was no way we could get lost on such an OBVIOUS trail.
But it turned out there had been a junction that I (along with Aileen and Siobhan) had completely failed to notice, probably because we’d stopped to take photos and then continued walking and talking. Libby, Wendy, Annette, Lisa and the girls had observed it going off uphill to the left but had followed us downhill thinking we had seen the vanguard go there. Of course, as we all agreed later, Doreen should have waited for us at that point to make sure we went the right way, but she had assumed her description of going up and over the ridge was sufficient. I actually thought she’d said the track went up and down a couple of times, so when we found ourselves on a pleasant downward slope I didn’t think twice about it. Not till we caught sight of a resort, with a swimming pool, and then a taxi, which offered us a lift. Wendy and I were ahead of the others so we waited for them to join us. None of us had a phone, or even any local money. I had some euro coins in the bottom of my backpack. Aileen didn’t even have water as her husband was carrying that. Mark had a phone on him, she thought, so after trying and failing to make ourselves understood at the resort entry checkpoint, we borrowed a mobile from a man there and tried to call. But Mark had a UK SIM so simply calling the phone number didn’t work. I remembered that the itinerary description for today’s excursion had mentioned Inlice, because Doreen had corrected my pronunciation the previous night, and so I gestured down the road, said the town’s name, and tried to ascertain that we were walking towards it. Yes, the woman said, two or three kilometres on the left. The resort’s dogs, a bitch and two cute pups, followed us as we headed towards what was increasingly obvious as the wrong route, given that our dirt trail was about to connect with a highway. We hurried past some beehives in a gully, remembering Doreen’s horror story about a walker who had been told not to flap in an agitated fashion if a bee landed on her, but who had done exactly that, and thereby caused the whole party to be stung multiple times. I though it might be feasible to walk along the highway’s verge to the town, and perhaps locate our boat there, but thankfully the others decided turning back and hoping to meet Doreen in pursuit of us was the better option.
My dreams of a peaceful, sunny afternoon swimming off the boat receding, I tried to adjust to the idea of retracing our steps for an hour and then doing 3.5hrs along the correct path. But after trudging a kilometre or so, and lathering my arms and legs with Libby’s sunscreen, we met Doreen coming the other way. Poor woman, she was terribly stressed, said she’d never lost a group before and had even commandeered a ride in a car to see if we were on the road to Inlice. She must have passed us when we were down in the bee-ridden gully beside the highway. Anyway, rather than retracing our steps to start the walk again from the correct point, she suggested we catch a bus into Inlice. Just then, the taxi driver we’d declined earlier drew up and offered to assist by ferrying us to the bay where the boat was waiting. Doreen accepted and half of us piled into the car. It was a lot further than 2-3km, and we never would have found the bay as it was not near a town. It was hair raising when the taxi driver decided to cross over to the wrong side of the road and drive along the verge against the traffic, because he couldn’t otherwise turn left towards the bay. The boat was there and we climbed aboard the zodiac-thingy and had a wild ride back courtesy of the captain, who was inclined to gun it and would have the boat rearing up out of the water when he was in it by himself.
So we were back on board by 12pm, a couple of hours earlier than expected, and we did have a lazy afternoon of sunbaking and swimming off the boat. I used mask, snorkel and flippers but only saw little fish as usual; yesterday, in polluted Fethiye harbour, people had seen a turtle.
Walk to Bedri Rami
Beginning among liquid amber trees at Boynuzbuku, follow the coastal path to Bedri Rami. Take an optional walk to the tombs high on the hillside at Bedri Rami Bay.
I wished I had taken the walking poles today, as there were some narrow, rocky, downhill tracks along a precipitous edge. We had sunshine but a bitterly cold wind. There was talk of snow around Istanbul, and of the temperature dropping by ten degrees to the low twenties. But it did make for more pleasant walking – both the uphills and the downhills are quite strenuous even though they are supposedly easy to intermediate grade.
I did begin to feel that a 3-4 day trip on the boat would have sufficed, and then I might have had time to visit other, more varied regions of Turkey, like Cappadocia. This section of the holiday began to seem a bit same-y. Views of water and green hills, other boats, little bays, a very similar (albeit tasty) spread of dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
A group of four – Luisa, Chris, Libby and Lisa – undertook the scramble up to the tombs at Bedri Rami (which were outside the grade for the holiday, so Doreen sat out, along with the rest of us). We had trouble contacting the captain on his mobile to come and ferry us to the boat for lunch, and eventually learned he was sitting beside Adil (Anne’s husband and the captain of the other boat, East Meets West) in a bar, and had forgotten his phone.
The wind was too chilly for swimming, or even lying about in the sun, so I lay on my bed with a book I’d borrowed from Libby, All good things by Sarah Turnbull, and went to sleep for most of the afternoon. We ate dinner outside, rugged up and muttering about the cold, then repaired to the lounge area to play cards and Bananagrams. Annette taught us Machiavelli, which was a good game, after rousting the crew to find a second deck of cards. Two packs, no cards dealt, people draw one out at a time until they are in a position to put down a run of three (same suit) or three of a kind (all of different suits). After achieving this milestone (which poor Lisa failed to do on her first game, amassing so many cards she could hardly hold them and impeding the other players’ ability to finish) you can rearrange your own or other people’s lay-downs (always leaving a valid threesome) or put down another set of three, or add to an existing one. If you can’t lay down anything, you pick up one. First to put down all cards wins. Jokers are wild, aces can be low or high.
Riverboat excursion to mudbaths and hot springs. Walk to the ruins of Kaunus and the village of Candir
We board a riverboat, cruise past ancient burial tombs cut high in the rocks overlooking Dalyan, with a trip to the mudbaths and thermal springs. The Dalyan delta is a conservation area and we are likely to see many birds as we cruise amongst the reed beds towards Iztuzu Beach, the nesting ground of the loggerhead turtle. From the ruined city of Kaunus we’ll walk to the village of Candir where we’ll meet a nomadic family before following broad tracks and donkey trails through beautiful forest to Ekincik.
We did Day Two today, but in reverse, which flummoxed Doreen momentarily a couple of times when trying to locate the trail. A little boat took us upriver to Dalyan, past some excellent Lycian rock tombs dating back to 400BC. The wind was freezing cold on the riverboat, and by the time we arrived at the mudbaths we were all icicles and the people sitting around us in t-shirts were amazed by how rugged up we were. Some masochistic folk were frolicking in the cold muddy waters, reaching down to the bottom to plaster themselves with the gooey muck that supposedly takes ten years off you. Then they stood in the sun to bake it on. Doreen assured us it was very pleasant to do on a hot day. We all just sat and had tea and coffee, then went into Dalyan for a wander around the market before lunch. I was looking for souvenir t-shirts, but already had the type that seemed to be available – red with the Turkish flag symbols of white sickle moon and star. It was odd that there was such a dearth of t-shirts promoting the tourist attractions of the country. The market was full of over-branded American stuff that didn’t appeal to me at all, but Turkey is apparently the home of the genuine fake so I expect I am in a minority here.
After lunch, the boat took us to the ruins of Kaunus, which we explored for half an hour before starting our 2.5hr walk. Like Olympus and Tlos, Kaunus had been populated from 9th century BC through to the middle ages by a succession of peoples who had added to the city. It had an amphitheathre, a Roman bath, and a castle on the top of the nearest hill. I asked Doreen why it seemed so many of these Lycian cities became uninhabited at the same time – was it the Ottoman Turk offensive? She said there was a lot of conflict around then, but that it was thought the people of Kaunus died of malaria.
Doreen was keen to get some walking under our belt as it was past 3pm, but she’d mentioned a family in the nearby village that she usually visited, and let slip that they sold chai and icecream. So we paid them a visit in their “traditional turkish home” with an icecream chest. Doreen said Anne was dismayed when the family added this feature to the house. I wondered if she gives them any money to compensate for the stream of tourist visits, or if they do have to be entrepreneurial to get something out of it. Amazingly. the man had been to Australia in his youth and worked on the Snowy hydroelectric scheme.
We began our walk proper at 3.30pm. It was a trudge, with long uphill sections that were exposed, and scary downhill bits of narrow scrabbly donkey trails with the hillside dropping sharply away. I was glad to reach the end and climb aboard the minibus waiting to take us to the boat. Neither of the girls would have been feeling too good either – Eleanor was wearing very tight jeans and coming down with a cold, and Gabi was still recovering from a 24hr hour vomiting and gastro bug.
That evening, we persuaded the crew to serve us dinner at the two smallish tables in the lounge area inside. Libby, Wendy and I had our usual G&T first. Dinner was whole barbecue fish again, with meze. Annette, who is vegetarian, can eat fish if it is presented as fillets, but can’t come at it if it still has its face. Desert was honeydew melon and pomegranate.
We cruise to a broad, isolated pebble beach close to Kumlubuk. Our walk takes us up through ancient mixed forests, leaving the broad path and taking an ancient trail up and down a steep hill for 30 minutes and onto monastic ruins. We return back over the steep hill and rejoin the broad path with a gentle finish down to the bay of Kumlubuk where the gulet will be waiting with lunch. There is an opportunity to return to the boat without completing the steeper section.
We had a late start today: the boat didn’t move until after breakfast for its two hour trip, but the meal was served at the usual time. The rationale was that they were waiting for the sun to reach the outside table. As it was, only half of us enjoyed that touch of warmth anyway.
Initially, we were to have lunch and then walk, but the call went out at 11am for everyone to gather, with the revised plan being to lunch later, at 2pm. So we grabbed boots, socks, backpacks and poles and assembled. A very short easy walk for some – those who elected to skip the steep half hour climb up to some vaguely monastic ruins. Doreen, Libby, Lisa, Luisa and Chris did it; the rest of us ambled down a slight rise and into the small town to enjoy some café time and be picked up by the boat.
Today was warmer, and we enjoyed our beers, coffees, and in my case, gözleme with lemon, sugar and icecream. Doreen et al. were expected to rejoin us around 1.45pm. But the others decided to try ringing the boat soon after 1pm for an earlier pickup, as we’d been told we could. The dinghy had to make two trips to carry us all anyway. So Mark dialled the number, and the message seemed to be that we should walk down the beach towards the boat at the other end, so we would be closer. Doreen had said to wait at a cafe, any cafe, as there were only a few and she would check them all and find us with no problems. But we stomped up the beach anyway, and stood on the last jetty waving at Memo about 100m off. Mark rang again to say we were in position, but the captain seemed confused and wanted to know who he was, and said he couldn’t see us. Eventually, both sides realised the phone number Mark had dialled was the captain Doreen had rung when she borrowed his phone – Anne’s husband Adil, and not our own boat’s Captain Erjan.
Mark explained where we were and what we wanted but somehow the message failed to get through to the right people because when the dinghy sallied forth from Memo it whizzed to the far side of the bay without noticing us waving enthusiastically, picked up Doreen and gang, and roared past us without pausing after calling in at a couple of jetties down the far end. We waved and waved to no avail. It dropped its passengers and set out again, off to the far side of the bay, then further around the headland, then came back and stopped at every little jetty except ours. When it was on its third or fourth tour, Aileen decided to redon her boots and station herself further up the beach, at the next jetty, one which didn’t have any boats nearby that might be impeding the view. This proved successful, so after more than an hour of waving we clambered aboard the overloaded little craft and were carried away. Annette and I at the front both received wet bottoms because we were so low in the water.
Why hadn’t Doreen given us her mobile number, we wondered, so that this fiasco could have been avoided? Or at least set a definite pickup arrangement? Turned out Captain Erjan had wondered the same thing, and had a little tantrum about the botched collection, apparently blaming Doreen for not nominating a specific meeting spot and claiming the tiny town had more than a dozen bars where we might have been sequestered.
Anyway, after our very late lunch, there was time for a brief, final dip. Dori, the crew member who didn’t like swimming in the sea, was tossed in by the captain and the Russian crew member whose name we never really learnt. I didn’t see it, just heard the splash and saw him in the water, but was told later he had gone over the rail in his clothes. The rest of the crew also had their last swim of the season (and the first we saw) with the Russian finding a laurel wreath on shore and paddling about wearing it.
After the swim, we sailed (dieselled) across to Marmaris, the end-point of our cruise. We spent that night on the boat before dispersing the next morning. I managed to do some successful shopping after dinner by dint of taking Libby and Annette with me. Both of them had excellent ideas about what I could buy as gifts for my family. Annette suggested a cute Turkey-themed tapestry backpack for my pre-teen daughter and enticed me into a kilim shop “just to look” and I came out with two gorgeous woven cushion covers that I didn’t even know I wanted. They cost 40TL, normally 35TL each, the salesman assured me. Libby suggested a coffee/pepper grinder made of bronze for my apprentice-chef son, and advised that the smaller, cheaper one was difficult to load. The man refused to bargain (some shops are fixed price) so I paid 40TL for the larger handmade model, which he said was his best end of season price. I also bought a boxed selection of Turk Lorum from him for 20TL, as did Libby. He said it was fresh, made in his own factory, and that Turkish Delight only has a shelf life of five months. Doreen had said something similar when advising us to avoid the prepacked boxes. My final gift ended up being a pair of capacious, elastic-waisted men’s pants for another son, an item of clothing I decided was well-suited to the young gentleman who likes to idle indoors. And for myself, some lovely harem pants for 45TL. I was glad I tried on a few different ones as the fit within the same size did vary. Some I could hardly get my feet in, others were very clingy on the thighs (‘Oh, sexy lady’, the saleswoman cooed).
After a final day and night in Fethiye, Libby, Wendy, Eleanor and I began the long haul back to Australia. I spent roughly 30 hours in transit, starting at 5.45am Tuesday Turkish time to catch the Dalaman-Istanbul flight, which was followed by a two-hour wait; then Istanbul-Singapore plus another two-hour wait; and finally Singapore – Sydney, arriving Wednesday 6.30pm Australian time, or 11.30am Turkish time. On both the 11 hour and the 8 hour legs of the international flight, I’d booked a window seat, and had two people between me and the aisle who barely stirred the whole way. So I was forced to either sit tight, or wake them up, or disturb their video watching, in order to make my escape. At least my own naps – sadly rather brief ones – were uninterrupted, and I had a little extra space to store my bag, cushion, blanket, etc. But next time I fly to Europe, I’m going to choose an aisle seat, and stop somewhere halfway. Malaysia, maybe…