Friday, December 23, 2011

To Market

Friday is one of the three market days in Fethiye, when farmers from the surrounding countryside (as far away as the Banana Coast) come to sell their wares. Heaps of greens, from nettles to bunches of arugula (25 cents each!), sit alongside 3 foot long leeks, sugar sweet seedless mandarins (50 cents a pound!), home cured olives and olive oil, raw milk, strawberries, kiwi fruit, quince, and an endless assortment of the freshest fruits and vegetables... it is a foodie's paradise.  Products are priced by the kilo, and the vendors don't seem to like dealing with less than 1/2 kilo, so it would be hard to shop for one person! After they weigh your selection using old fashioned iron counterweights, they usually throw in a couple extra pieces of what you just bought as a kind of bonus.

After the Friday market is a stop at the fish market, probably the best thing about Fethiye. Fresh locally caught fish, calamari and prawns from the Mediterranean and hamsi (anchovies) shipped from the Black Sea crowd for space in an open air square in the middle of town. If you want to eat your selection on the spot, any one of the restaurants around the square will cook it up per your specifications and serve it up with bread and salad for around $3 per person.

Clear weather after a week of rain

Tomorrow is Christmas and Helena is cooking dinner for 15 people - a collection of expats from various countries. Otherwise, I would probably just forget that it's Christmastime since it is all business-as-usual in this Muslim country.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Muzistan (Bananamur)

Anamur (which Helena termed Bananamur) is the banana capitol of Turkey and is filled with large greenhouses and fields of banana trees.  Bananas in Turkey??? Yes, I was surprised too. Yet I didn't take any photos of the many roadside muz (banana) stands, including the one calling itself Muzistan (meaning Banana Land). Sorry.
The Banana Coast - looking west

Actually, it looked like most of the southeast coast was planted with bananas.  But only Anamur had not one, but two banana themed statues in town (again, no photos!).

Ruined Large Bath House 
The real draw for the area is Anemurium - an ancient city now just stone ghosts, occupied by the Phoenecians starting in the 4th century B.C.  The ruins still there date from the late Roman and early Byzantine periods, and the general belief is that a massive earthquake in 580 A.D. ruined most of the buildings and drove people from the town.

The site is remarkable for its setting and its number of intact living structures. Helena and I spent a good deal of time wandering through, speculating on the  way people utilized the small domed stone structures (some of which still had visible frescoes on the walls and mosaics on the floors, although most have been moved to a museum in town). We even spotted a couple tortoises taking it easy and many different species of birds thriving in this peaceful ghost town.

Anemurium 2,000 year old houses

Looking east at Anemurium and beyond
Mamure Castle

After Anemurium we raced the incoming weather to visit Mamure Castle, just south of Anamur, and from a completely different time in history. It dates from the 13th century, built on the site of an old Roman fortress (it is common in Turkey to see the "repurposing" of old stone foundations). The castle was taken in the 14th century by the Seljuk Turks, who added a mosque and baths.

Although the castle has been renovated several times, it has retained its medieval feel - which sparked our imaginations with tales of guards and kings and escapes to the sea.
Tortoise friend at Anemurium

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Running from the Rain

Inside our Pansiyon
Morning broke cloudy. More rain on the way. Helena and I decided to rent a car and head east for a few days, hoping to find promised warmer and drier weather (Fethiye is notoriously cold and damp in comparison to the rest of the southern coast).

Old Ottoman Era building

Morning in old Antalya
We made it to Antalya, at the center of Turkey's south coast before the early darkness of winter, and found a pansiyon in the kaleci (old town).

We were pleasantly surprised at the tidy cobble streets and restored Ottoman buildings, as our previous time in Antalya was only at the boat harbor outside of town.  The old town also held Roman ruins and later fortifications - all a continuous flow of history, punctuated by souvenir shops and shuttered-for-the-winter nightclubs.

Me at Hadrian's Gate
Goddess Athena
In the morning we walked around more of the old town before heading to the Antalya Museum, known for its collection of fine marble statues, as well as prehistoric artifacts from a nearby cave that is believed to have been continuously occupied for 20,000 years.

It was a lovely walk in the warm sun; we were basking in it! Unfortunately by the the time we left the museum the rain had caught up with us and we drove out of town in a downpour that instantly flooded the streets.

So we outran it. Straight east along the coast and after a short while it was again sunny and warm and now looking a lot like the coast of California. Citrus trees heavily laden everywhere (including orange trees in the traffic medians) have replaced the ubiquitous fruiting fig and pomegranate trees of September. But harvested pomegranates are still at full sweet and juice stalls are set up everywhere for a fresh squeeze.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Fresh snow on the local mountains
Friday brought the weekly local food market (a smaller version of Tuesday's with just food stalls), and torrential rain, thunder and lightning. Luckily we were able to do our shopping in relative dryness before the downpour started, at which point we retreated to a lokanta for some cheap eats and hot tea. e puzzled over one of our purchase (see photo), a local product only available in December. Thank god for Google, as we later were able to identify it as the fruit of the Japanese raisin tree - something I definitely have never seen before. And the funny looking fruit tastes like, you guessed it, raisins!

Saturday was dry so we met up with Jake and Lucia and Eldar and some of their American friends for a hike back to Kaya town - the abandoned village we visited the first day. The hike was the draw, as we ascended steeply through damp and fragrant pine forests, to meet up with an old Roman road linking Fethiye and Kaya, complete with ruined stone cisterns spaced periodically along the way.  By the time we arrived we were all starving and descended on one of the few open cafes in search of goezleme (Turkish kind of quesadilla) and many glasses of tea. Luckily there is a dolmus (mini-bus) linking the towns too, since we were pretty knackered from the 4 hour hike.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Walking Around

Wednesday was the day for a big walk. The sun was out, and in the sunshine it was blessedly warm, evoking memories of the long ago summer. Helena and I got the dogs (Badger's 2 Jack Russell terriers) and set out on what turned out to be a 3+ hour walk around a hilly peninsula west of Fethiye. When we reached the back side we were rewarded with stunning vistas of the Mediterranean and Greek islands to the west. The photo shows the typical pine trees that form the coastal forests, and the crystal clear water of the Med (away from the stinky Fethiye marinas).
Above is the view from the eastern side of the peninsula, looking out at Fethiye and its many bays and marinas. In the distance are snow capped mountains of the coastal range. We all enjoyed the chance to stretch our legs and sweat a bit after being so cold the last few days. We have been riding bikes around but they are all made too small for us - we can't get the seats high enough so that we can fully stretch out our legs!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Balik Ekmek

I finally had a fish sandwich! Considered an Istanbul classic, a balik ekmek (literally translated as fish bread) shows up anywhere along the coast, kind of like fish tacos in San Diego. But I had never had one before, so I was pleased to plop down my 5 lira (about $2.50) for a crusty French roll stuffed with a battered fish filet, arugula, tomato and chopped onion. More than a meal, served from a floating kitchen on the waterfront.

After the fish sandwich Helena and I went to the Tuesday market, the largest one with all the fruit and veg sellers, plus purveyors of all manner of home cured olives ($2 a pound!), crumbly white cheeses, pine and citrus honey, nuts and spices. This market also had a hundred or so clothing and housewares stalls where you can buy cheap cotton and acrylic knockoffs made in Turkey. We loaded up on supplies for a home cooked dinner (including freshly ground lamb from the butcher for kofte (meatballs)).

While lamb is relatively expensive ($10 a pound), other food is very cheap in Turkey. You can buy enough fruits and vegetables for 2 people for a week for between $5 and $10. Olives, cheese, and yogurt are also ridiculously cheap compared to the States.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Frigid in Fethiye

My left pinky turns purple
I arrived late at the small regional airport for Dalaman after a short stop in Istanbul, and here I am back in Turkey! My sister decided to live here in the coastal town of Fethiye after our trip here together in September; I had no idea I would be back so soon. I knew the temperatures would be cold at night, akin to San Diego winter temps, but I was wrong and it is much colder. I thought packing all the wool would be overkill but I was wrong. So my hands were quite cold as I was pushing the luggage cart at the airport and I inadvertently crushed a finger in the push mechanism.

small black and white stones make the floor

My first day we rented a car and drove over the hill to Karakoy, a largely abandoned village that was formerly occupied by Greek Orthodox Christians. Now over 4,000 structures stand abandoned as a result of the Turkish - Greek population exchange in 1923 after the Turkish war of independence. Helena and I strolled through the ruined ghost town (the stone houses toppled by the 1957 earthquake that also flattened Fethiye), and enjoyed the warm daytime sunshine. 

Not bad for my first day!

One of the many ruined churches

Monday, September 26, 2011

At The Palace

Me on the ferry leaving Meis/Kastellerizo

We left serene Meis by ferry yesterday, picked up our car in Kas, and drove back to Fethiye, again staying at Jake and Lucia's. Then it was up early to drive to the airport and fly back to Istanbul - nearly a full day's journey with the traffic of this great city.
Meis/Kastellorizo harbor

I will attempt to describe the verdant valleys through which we passed on our drive: the red dirt and pine studded mountain range to the north (I am not sure how high it is but it gets snow in the winter), the red tiled roof houses set amid fields of corn, vineyards of grapes, olive and avocado trees, women in flowery loose pants and colorful headscarves everywhere working in this undeniably fertile landscape.  Last evening we were still driving as the sun went down and a thick, warm dusk filled the valleys  and warm air rushed through the car windows.

This morning we stopped for breakfast at a restaurant on the road and were reminded of the Turkish hospitality we felt so keenly on our last trip.  Our breakfast consisted of 17 different items, from bread to eggs, 2 kinds of olives, 6 kinds of cheese, crepes, butter, honey, cherry preserves... unfortunately we didn't take a photo.  After we were done and washed up, we were met at the exit by a waiter bearing the trademark Turkish lemon cologne freshener - a farewell gesture that is just so civilized! The whole experience was so unexpected in this roadside restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sea Creatures and the Blue Grotto

I don't know why I seem to attract all the biting and stinging insects and animals out there...mosquitoes love me, but fortunately we have only had a few of them on this trip (I had to play the great white mosquito hunter the night we spent by the Bodrum airport as they were biting both of us).  But the minute we got in the water at Fethiye, I was stung on the legs by unseen jellyfish. Unwisely I ignored the stings and in the morning they were the itchiest welts ever. Over the next few days I attracted more jellyfish and more stings but am now armed with vinegar to neutralize the nematocysts.  They can't keep me out of the swimming pool-like water!

Someone told me a long time ago that the Med is a "dead" sea - that all the coral is dead and that there is not much life. While the coral may be long gone, I have seen a surprising number of colorful tropical fish and we even saw an enormous sea turtle in the harbor at Meis/Kastellorizo.

On the second day on Meis, we took a water taxi to see the Blue Cave. The ride in itself was nice and it was surprising to see that the island is quite large, as the only current habitation is on the east side around the harbor.  Ancient monasteries still dot the rocky hilltops but it is quite a hike to see them.

Through a tiny opening in rocky coastline we slipped into the Blue Cave - a luminescent cavern that has been aptly named as the water glows blue, which is reflected and forms a blue ceiling. It looks like there are electric lights illuminating it from below!  There is a small beach inside the cave and we were told that seals make their home there to pup - a very sheltered area in an otherwise very rocky and unforgiving coastline.

Friday, September 23, 2011

East to West

Friday dawned clear, calm and warm. Another gorgeous day on the Mediterranean coast. We spent the night in Kas, a very touristy town we had visited on our last trip.  We had a less than favorable reaction to the swarms of tourists and were happy to board the ferry for Meis, a tiny Greek island just 20 minutes off the coast of Turkey.

Tiny islet off Meis
Known as Kastellorizo in Greek, the island promised to be a quiet haven to swim, read and work on our tans.  It proved to be very - almost eerily - quiet during the day, but starting at about 9 p.m., the restaurant outside our hotel started live music and dancing that went on until after midnight, and loud revelers walked the streets later than that. So another night of the interrupted, fitful sleep that has plagued our trip.

The tranquil natural harbor of Kastellorizo
Jumping from the "eastern" country of Turkey to the "western" country of Greece - even though technically we moved south - there is such a big difference! From the lack of squat toilets to the preponderance of churches (just one mosque left from the Ottoman era), lack of tea drinking, and of course the Greek alphabet instead of the Roman on all signs, menus, etc. It's an interesting change but I am completely unprepared with no book on Greece to reference.  We'll survive though - there are lots and lots of English expats and we are here for only 3 days before heading back to Turkey.

Greek Church

Thursday, September 22, 2011

North to South

Since I last posted to the blog Helena and I traversed the country north to south, traveling from the Black Sea in the north to the Mediterranean Sea in the south. We descended by mini-bus, then mega-bus, through deciduous forests starting to show their autumnal colors, to the desert scrub in the middle of the country - Ankara.  It was another plush bus experience, with a steward serving drinks and a mid-point tea stop.  

In Ankara (the capitol of Turkey) we boarded a plane for Bodrum-Milas, on the Aegean Coast. But that wasn't our final destination. We were bound for Fethiye, further south on the Med coast. So we rented a car and drove, very reminiscent of our 2000 road journey when we drove Antalya to Bodrum and back on the same roads. 

The roads were fantastic and uncrowded and we made good time to Fethiye. Helena was driving and I was back backup to keep her on the right side of the road (since she hasn't driven in 6 months, and before that it was only NZ!)

In Fethiye we met up with Lucia and Jake, friends of Helena's from Budapest, and their son Eldar, and they were nice enough to invite into their home for the night. And a what a night it was!  Crashing thunder, bolts of lightening and torrential rain - either a late summer storm of early winter, but it was back to sunny and mid-80's the next day, so who knows.  In any event, no one could sleep much that night.

Fethiye didn't have much draw for us other than seeing Helena's friends. It is a large harbor for yachties and expats, pretty charmless and overrun with English and German retirees.  We did get in a brief swim before the storm hit at a small cove far outside the town frequented only by the Turkish. The first dip in the swimming pool temp of the Med was heavenly!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sesamos by the Sea

From Safranbolu, it is only about 80 kilometers due north to the sunny little Black Sea port of Amasra, but  by minibus it took nearly 3 hours. The roads are good - surprisingly good, but the bus stopped everywhere!

We arrived to find the town engulfed in blustery cold winds out of the north, making a white-capped mess of the Black Sea. The ports are fairly sheltered, and many Turks were out splashing around off their muddy beaches, but we were too cold to partake.  Instead we walked around the rocky promontory jutting north into the sea which once held a Roman fort (est. 70 B.C.) before the fall of the empire.

The area's history actually dates to the 15th century B.C., with the Phoenicians establishing a trading colony in the 12th century B.C. - they named the city Sesamos. The name was later changed by Alexander the Great to "Amastris" in honor of a Persian princess.

I had my first fish meal in Turkey - a super fresh bonito out of the Black Sea, served with salad of local fresh and pickled vegetables (mmmm, pickled cabbage!)  Our waiter was the Turkish version of Ernie from Cheers, and although he only spoke 2 words of English, we had a successful dining experience.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Relaxing Ottoman Style

Our second day in Safranbolu broke bright, clear and crisp. The temperature dipped into the 50's at night, but heated up again to the low 80's during the day - even hotter in the sun.  We happened to be in town during the 12th Annual International Documentary Film Festival (we didn't attend), an "antiques" bazaar a.k.a. junk on tables (but interesting junk), and a folk dance demonstration.  So we drank cay (Turkish tea, pronounced "chai"), wandered about, and ate more lokum (saffron-flavored!)

 Our pension was run by a nice Turkish Muslim couple who spoke English fairly well, and Helena took the opportunity to quiz them about all the different spices and fruits she saw in the market (Turkish cranberries, jujubes, Hawthorne apples, etc.). They also made us a lovely vegetarian lunch - the best food we had in town (we are both over the whole meat thing).  The only downside to the pension was the proximity to the loudspeaker on the mosque which blasted a call to prayer at 5:30 a.m. every morning.  While we have heard this every morning in Turkey (you can hear the calls across the city in Istanbul), this one was particularly loud.  There is no way anyone could sleep through it!

We have been drinking cay like the locals - several times a day, although Helena tells me that normally she drinks much more tea at home.  Which led her to query - which country consumes more tea per capita, Britain or New Zealand? Well, as it turns out, it is nearly a tie between Britain and ..... Turkey!  Since most people in Turkey don't drink alcohol, it is the tea shop that replaces the pub for a place to gather with friends (backgammon is the game of choice in this country).  The photo shows the typical Turkish tea glass, saucer and spoon, and you have to hold the glass at the rim as the tea is piping hot.  I usually don't put sugar in my tea, but the intense brewing of Turkish tea leaves it begging for a couple cubes.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hamam Oh Man

From guest blogger, Helena:

The twin domes of the hamam are a landmark
We had been to one hamam in Istanbul and I have been to others previously but this one in Safranbolu was by far the most authentic experience for both of us. We had the whole place to ourselves which was luck but felt like absolute luxury. If you have never been, imagine a huge old stone church with a marble altar in the middle and smaller alcoves radiating off it at right angles. There are big marble basins at regular intervals along the walls where you can scoop up bowls of water to douse yourself. There are tiny star shaped holes in the domes that let in light, lots of hot steam, constant sound of running water and all sounds reverberate like mad. I thought of many of my friends that can sing well and how nice it would be if they were there to liven it up. It was quite hot and while I waited on the hot slab marinating till my turn, listening to the staccato slaps of Elizabeth's massage ringing through the high stone cupola like gun shots. I was forced to get up and cool off in a stream of cold water a few times. Our "telallin" or washer took every last bit of skin off, first using a rough black mitt and lots of pressure, then a scratchy pad with soap on it, my skin literally squeaked. We had been peeled and came out all bright and shiny. It was exhausting but we both felt gratifyingly clean.

Inspite of this we still managed to do a fair bit of exploring,  discovering the small town and making friends with many of the resident cats and their 'owners'. Some ownerless cats followed us on a long walk, just wanting cuddles and probably out of boredom. We went to visit a huge old house that has been turned into a museum complete with mannequins in exhibits, beautiful old kilim rugs and original features like bathtubs in cupboards and revolving cupboards for women to be able to serve food and not be seen by strange men. it was a fascinating look at Ottoman architecture and lifestyle back before the fall of that empire.

We named these two Stripey and Fluffy


About 300 kilometers east of Istanbul is the small UNESCO World Heritage listed town of Safranbolu, so named because it is one of the few places in the world that produces saffron.  The town was built mainly during the height of the Ottoman empire and reflects the classic Ottoman architecture of half-timbered stucco houses.  Set in a narrow valley, the old town is a microcosm - a step back in time, with mainly tourist shops aimed at the mainly Turkish tourists. Think rough cobblestone streets, vine covered alleyways, tea shops and bakeries....and lokum shops (Turkish delight).
This from Helena on our 7 hour bus ride (!!!) getting here:

Turkish buses don't have onboard toilets. This is good and bad. If you are used to keeping yourself hydrated during the day you need to prepare when faced with a 7 hour+ journey that has unclear stopping times/frequency. As it turned out we were able to pop out several times during the journey "just in case" as the potential discomfort was daunting. It really dawned on us how big the city is seeing as it took us 2 hours to reach the city limit. A bit less than half-way we stopped at a rest station just as you know them in the west. I was astonished to note many differences along the road and this modern rest-stop was so different from the rustic stations of 15 years ago when I was last on a Turkish bus. Here you have the same kinds of tacky souvenirs and overpriced food as the west, but all Turkish. We stocked up on nuts and dates and water. There was some pretty interesting landscape and mountain ranges visible during our journey. Toward the end of our journey we came over a huge high plateau where the air was fresh, cold in the dusk, and dry before heading down toward the coast and our little valley of Safranbolu. We put up in a 300 year old Ottoman house (as they all are here) and our room was typical with a carved wood ceiling and a closet toilet/shower combo which as bright and clean but I can't say that Elizabeth was particularly enamored of our "squatty" toilet. We decided to deal with it and that was fine for a couple nights. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Leaving Istanbul

Tonight is our last in Istanbul. Tomorrow we move on to Safranbolu, to the east.  We are just taking care of a few things, packing up (we had sprawled out in our large flat), and preparing ourselves for the 7 hour bus trip on the morrow.

Yesterday I tried unsuccessfully to visit the Aya Sophia, the famous Byzantine church from the mid 6th century. Four cruise ships are in town, and there was a long line all day, which I just couldn't face in the sun and heat of the day. So I took a stroll through the park below Topkapi Palace, a lovely and rare spot of green in this city.  It's there that I spotted the statue of Ataturk (see photo).

Ataturk (Mustafa Kemal) is a national hero - THE founding father of modern Turkey.  Not only did he lead the Turkish forces at Gallipoli during World War I, he organized the last vestiges of the Ottoman empire into a unified Turkey, and fought back invading Greeks who had made a major push east after the end of the war (parts of western Turkey historically were part of ancient Greece).   As the leader of the new state, he set about modernizing Turkey and making it closer to Europe than the Middle East.  Throughout the 1920's and 1930's Turkey adopted the Gregorian calendar (bringing it in line with the West), reformed its alphabet (adopting the Roman script), standardized the Turkish language,  outlawed the fez, instituted universal suffrage, and required that Turks adopt surnames, something they had previously gone without. Reading up on Turkey's history, one can understand why there are photos of him everywhere!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Catstanbul... formerly Catstantinople... A guest blog from Helena TCOCL* in the making.

Ada cafe cat - a rascally thing that loves cuddles
During my last trip to Turkey back one freezing week in November 2008, I discovered two things of note: 1) this fabulous neighborhood of Cihangir in a corner of Beyoglu perched above the Bosphorus and 2) the myriad cats that lounge, decorate, entertain and pervade this corner of the magic ancient city. The chic low-key but super hip neighborhood coupled with the cats and the piles of cat biscuits that cat-loving istanbullus serve up in doorways, street corners and convenient nooks for their feline friends made a huge impression on me then. Now I am back enjoying it in the glory of late summer breezes, amazing food, the civilized blend of a east-west amenities and general yummy exoticness.
{Some may know that the past 6 months has seen me riding out the interminable, unbearable noise, heat, smells and chaos of Delhi - so Cihangir and its cats provide healing balm to my battered senses.}

If you are a cat hater then read no further.
Greeter of tourists
Chora church museum resident will jump on you given half the opportunity - cuddly!

Not only are there many cats but it turns out that they all want to know me, I am assailed by purred greetings, miaos, raised tails in salute when they see me coming REGARDLESS if I am holding anything edible. This is a source of extreme gratification to a TCOCL*.This especially after months of enduring streets full of battered wild dogs and cats that are unloved, run-over, kicked and generally badly treated in India. 
Cats enhance the tourist experience

I am daily surprised by seeing the most unlikely men stoop down to pat a cat, invite one onto his lap at a cafe or call out to one in the street. I'm not talking about sensitive intellectual types but all kinds from the crusty old fisherman to the mustachioed tough-guy.

Cat lodging on Buyuk Ada Island
Island cat
Island cat
Island cat

Chora Church resident
Young member of the Chora church cat community

Metro cat at Aksaray

Cats are everywhere - except the mosque. Cats in the museums, cafes, shops, restaurants, parks, hanging around the waterfront,  

and of course in the bazaar.
Luxurious lingerie store cat

Not only are cats everywhere but also the cat theme is prevalent in shops and art around the city.

Cat art

The Red Cat bookstore

While I am not quite sure that the cat theme is exactly top-of-mind in the Istanbullus psyche, it nevertheless warms my heart to experience a city and its people so obviously loving towards these animals.

* TCOCL: That Crazy Old Cat Lady
yes.. I know... why fight it?