My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Sunday 30 June 2013

I didn't sleep much last night. We arrived in the town of Alexandroupolis at about 7pm and parked up in a huge empty car park just off the sea front. Dave went for a swim before we took a stroll along the promenade returning to the van at about 9pm for a bite to eat. There were few people around - it seemed like a quiet little town.

We hadn't bargained on the hotel opposite hosting a huge wedding which didn't get going until about 10pm and the live band were still belting it out way past 4am, even a quick rain shower didn't dampen their enthusiasm to have a good time. The car park was now crammed full so we couldn't have moved if we'd wanted to. So as the old saying goes  'if you can't beat them join them' we went out for another walk at about 11pm, well past our normal bed time, to find the town had come alive with families, couples, groups of girls closely followed by groups of boys - all out walking, cycling, roller skating, buggy pushing and chatting away. The restaurants which has been completely empty earlier were now heaving with customers and the bars very lively.

It had been quite a long day as we had earlier crossed the border from Turkey to Greece through the small town of Ipsala in the Thrace region. Turkish border posts employ lots of staff all with specific roles - initial document checker, passport control, customs, final document checker and plenty of guards in between. The initial document checker person didn't tell us that campervans had to be x-rayed so having breezed through steps 1 - 3 we then had to drive back to the beginning and wait in line with all the TIR lorries. Thankfully they took pity on us and we were allowed to 'jump' the huge queue - it still took half an hour to get scanned and given the all clear though.

We wondered whether the x-ray could have spotted Dave's broken toe!

Having now jumped through all the hoops, although not in the correct order, we were off and crossing two long bridges over the vast marsh area that forms the 'no-mans land' border between the two countries. We passed four lots of armed guards on this section before arriving at the ramshackle Greek border post - all smiles and waves and a very quick process. Welcome to Greece.

It's all Greek to me!
Big sunflower or little bird?
I am looking forward to joining the Greeks in their 3 hour 'siesta' this afternoon to catch up on my beauty sleep!

Melting away

Saturday 29 June 2013

Heading north and retracing our steps we parked up on a beach we had stopped at 5 weeks ago – finding a very different scene now. Then we we were the only visitors, the sea was decidedly chilly and the van was sand blasted by strong southerly winds all night. Now plenty of stalls and cafés are set out, the sea is warm and inviting and the wind much calmer. It’s a bit of a hidden gem this 12km stretch of golden sand north of Kusadasi. The locals arrive in all manner of vehicles cramming in as much paraphernalia as could possibly be needed for their day out with all their family and friends.

Not far from the beach is the ancient site of Notion. Parking up on the main road we walked down the rutted track and wandered around the free and largely unexcavated site. The only recognisable building was the theatre but we walked around for a good hour under the mid-day sun looking for other remains trying to avoid the prickly undergrowth and huge flying insects. It was probably the heat playing tricks with my mind but I couldn’t get the lyrics to the 70’s hit ‘Rock the boat’ out of my head the whole time we were there. The song writers must have had a mental block when they were trying to find words to rhyme with devotion and ocean......

"So I’d like to know where you got the notion...."
Back on the road we headed inland and up into the mountains – and this is the point at which the road started to melt! It was like driving on treacle – with sticky black tar oozing out of the surface. We slowly overtook a council vehicle with exhausted workers half-heartedly throwing out small shovel fulls of grit every meter or so – it was hardly worth their effort really as it made no noticeable difference. As our thermometer (best purchase yet from the Lidl ‘man-aisle’) peaked at 41.6 C (107 Fahrenheit)  we found a shady tree to park under for lunch and were joined by a string of other vehicles needing to stop to let their engines cool down. We get plenty of curious stares and cheery waves in Turkey – campervans still very much a novelty here.

Down the other side of the mountain range we arrived at Sardis, paid our 8tl each and tried to see as much of the site as possible by staying in the shade. Whilst we were sweating and stripping off layers a young couple in full wedding regalia were having their photos taken together with assorted props - the renovated bath-gymnasium complex providing an amazing backdrop. The synagogue has also been extensively restored and there are many colourful and intricate mosaic floor panels resembling carpets dating mainly to the 4th and 5th centuries AD. It felt wrong to be walking over these delicate 1500 year old floor coverings but there were no signs or barriers indicating otherwise.

Mosaic montage.....using Picasa's clever collage tool

The ancient site covered over 300 acres and sits in a fertile area of mountain pastures,  flowing rivers and alluvial plains. It has an interesting history having been occupied for over 3000 years by different civilisations and is a real hotch-potch of architectural styles. The Lydians occupied the site in 7th C BC and when metallurgists found a method of minting almost pure gold and silver coins, and thus a trusted currency, the kings became fabulously wealthy. Their burial mounds in nearby Bin Tepe, visible from afar,  were a testament to their power and wealth.  

Further up the valley lies the temple of Artemis – the photo below, taken in 1910, shows the soil level at that time and all that could be seen were the top half of two columns. Slowly over the past 100 years of painstaking excavation and reconstruction the ruins of the temple and altar have been revealed. Information boards explain how the temple was built and the different stages of its construction – and later destruction, through earthquakes and latterly removal for stone quarrying. Travellers  reported seeing 12 columns in 1444, 5 in 1750, 3 in 1812 and 2 in 1824.

In amongst the huge pieces of rock is a little piece of British engineering. A crane, with a lifting capacity of 5 tons, which was manufactured by Dorman Long in Middlesborough then shipped out and reassembled at Sardis in 1911. 

We headed back towards the coast in search of the sea and a cooling breeze and found quirky Dikili. A very traditional holiday resort with the Turks with no foreigners around at all - it reminded us of Altinkum when we visited over 20 years ago. We had a drink in a seafront cafe watching the sun go down and camped up on the beach. Just brilliant... sad to be leaving Turkey but looking forward to Greece and hopefully Albania. 

Food, Glorious Food

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Along with the hospitality of the Turks an abiding memory for most visitors has to be the fantastic food in Turkey and I defy anyone who comes here not to put on weight. Whether you are buying from a roadside stall or the weekly market, a tea house or bakery, a traditional pide salonu (pizza restaurant), a simple 'tost' hut or flashy restaurant, you can be sure the food is fresh, flavoursome and always good value. 

'Afiyet olsun' - 'Bon appetit'                             Our colourful collage of Turkish food

Yesterday, after breakfast, we set off for the seaside resort of Ören where we feasted on a huge 'tost' each for lunch. This consists of half a loaf of bread, stuffed with an assortment of fillings - we had cheese, tomato and salami, although köfte and fish are popular fillings too . This is then squashed flat under a heavy weight and cooked on a griddle.

On our way back we tucked into an early evening selection of meze's (starters) at Captain Ibrahim's restaurant on the beach in Çökertme, overlooking the large bay which slowly filled up with yachts and Turkish gulets on their way up the Gulf of Gokova.

It took me 3 months to lose about 2 stone while we were working in France. I think it has taken less than a month to put most of it back on here in Turkey - d'oh! As well as the occasional meal out we have been spoilt with Annie's fantastic food - she turns a fridge full of raw ingredients into a table full of delicious dishes in no time at all. 

We are leaving Annie & Teo's today and will be heading north to the border with mainland Greece where I am hoping the food won't be as tempting. Back on the road - and back on the diet!

Pool rules....

Sunday 23 June 2013

Dave and I probably have a bit too much time on our hands.

Remembering the poolside posters from our youth.........


we set about to create our own version........


 Annie & Teo haven't blown the whistle on us yet......

(bottom RHS is Dave 'smirking' - much healthier than 'smoking')


Famous Five's Adventure

Friday 21 June 2013

We are still at Annie & Teo's. Our excuse, as if we needed one, is that we are sitting out a heatwave as the temperature has been up to 38 degrees over the last few days . Having been lazing around the pool for days on end we decided if we were going to get out and do something we needed an early start and a plan! Both were a bit of a shock to the system. So at 7am the five of us were up and away, stopping to buy fresh simits and ayran (Turkish yogurt drink) in Mumcular on our way. 

On arrival at Lagina we parked up under an ancient olive tree, said to be 2500 years old, and tucked into our breakfast before setting off to discover the ruins.This was a new adventure for the 'Famous Five' as none of us had been here before and there is very little information on the internet or at the site itself. Another free site and one we had all to ourselves as it is some distance away from any major road. Partly excavated it has an interesting history - which Annie & Teo gleaned from the friendly and hospitable site warden over a cup of tea in his hut.

The Famous Five in 2013

Dave and Teo (aka Dick & Julian) solving the mystery of the carved stone symbols
Stratonikeia, a short distance away from Lagina and said to be linked by a sacred procession way, is a site which we had visited together in the 80's. Annie has been back a number of times since then and has watched the site emerge with each period of excavation. It has been occupied during many era's from the ancient Greeks to the Ottomans to the 'modern' Republic. Only a few people live in the village now as most were moved out to make way for the huge lignite mine that spreads across the nearby land. The photo below shows the ancient ruins, with Ottoman engraving on one section and 'graffiti' from the Republic era on the lower blocks.

The theatre which is thought to have seated 15,000 is, even today, still being excavated. The two photographs below, taken over 25 years apart, show how much work has been undertaken in excavating the site but it is a slow process. 

Kath, Dave & Annie exploring the site first in the 80's

The theatre today - still being excavated

As the temperatures soared we headed back to the van and tried to find a riverside spot for lunch  but the fast new dual carriageway has very few quiet shady stopping places unlike the spot we managed to find in our younger days.

Dave, Annie & Kath (plus Brian under the table) in the 80's

In Uyku Vadisi (Sleepy Valley) Dave and Teo walked up through a gorge in search of some caves only to find them locked. Annie and I saved ourselves the effort and waited in a shady cafe beside a waterfall enjoying refreshing drinks until they returned. Another steaming hot day meant Dave had no hesitation in cooling off under the pummelling water on his return!

Back at the house we all tucked into a glass of Annie's lovely home made Ginger Beer - yes even me!! 


All quiet on the Western front

Tuesday 18 June 2013

In the news headlines recently there have been some dreadful scenes of the clashes between demonstrators and police in Istanbul and other major cities across the country. Some visitors are understandably questioning whether it is safe to travel to Turkey.

We've been here before. We know how big the country is, we know what to expect when we get here and we have never been put off travelling to and around Turkey. 

The Turkish tourism industry has been here before too. A number of unexpected and unpredictable events in the past have resulted in making foreign visitors nervous to travel to Turkey. These have included the Gulf War, major earthquakes, 9/11, attacks by PKK terrorists and most recently the Syrian war. Slowly but surely the tourists return.

Here on the western coast of Turkey though, where we have been travelling for the past month,  we have seen nothing of the troubles  - the beaches are beautiful, the harbours are bustling, the town centres and markets are buzzing and the people are as hospitable as ever.

Bodrum castle and harbour
Kırdak beach - quiet bay south of Fethiye
Mazı beach
Boats on Bafa Lake

Sarsala bay
Our friend Annie, an avid Radio 4 'The Archers' follower, told us that a recent storyline saw the characters cancelling a trip to Turkey in favour of one for Montenegro. After our recent trip through Montenegro we know which country we would go to faced with that choice! Turkey is a fantastic holiday destination and we are finding it hard to tear ourselves away and get 'on the road again' heading for Greece.

Ruins, history and memories....

Saturday 15 June 2013

 "A land without ruins is a land without memories
- a land without memories is a land without history"

A land without ruins by Rev Abram Joseph Ryan (An American poet in the1860's and chaplain in the Civil War)

Turkey has more ruins than you can ever see in one trip, and we are still discovering sites we've never visited before despite having travelled around the country for many years. The temptation to go back and see the 'biggies' like Ephesus, Troy, Aspendos, Aphrodisias and Pergamon is strong. But in the words of our trip tune - Willie Nelson's 'On the road again' though we want to be "goin' places that I've never been, seein' things I may never see again" so seeking out new sites is exciting for us.

Some are free to enter, overgrown and almost completely untouched. Others have nominal entry fees (£1 - £3 pp), are partly excavated and provide basic information on the sites history. In the heat of the day visiting ancient ruins probably isn't everyones idea of a 'great day out'. But we just love ambling around, admiring the stonework, imagining the towns in full flow at the height of their existence and marvelling at some of the beautiful settings - most often whilst sat in a ruined theatre overlooking the sea.

Theatre at Amos

All bar Knidos were places 'we'd never been before' - plenty of pictures and a little personal information from me on them below. If you want more in-depth historical information then follow the place name links to Wikipedia (most include maps of where the site is) or Google them.

Alexandria Troas 
We stumbled across this massive site which covered 990 acres in ancient times near the village of Dalyan. Today only some of the ruins are visible and are scattered across a vast area through which the road runs - sadly with very few stopping places for us in our van. In one tiny car park a guardsman was sitting in the shade and welcomed us to the site, there was no entry fee, it was completely overgrown but had some immaculately carved pieces of stone.

Apollon Smintheus 
Situated in the heart of Gϋlpinar village we paid our 5TL entry fee and wandered alone around this huge site at the end of a hot day. After issuing our tickets the guardsman returned to the tea house opposite where he probably sits for most of the day and we watched the locals walk through the site as a short-cut back to their homes on the other side of the village. Life is still very much going on around the ruins. The site is partly excavated and has a museum which opens in the height of summer when the archaeologists arrive to unearth more treasures. What catches your eye is the lush green patch of grass with sprinklers and the flags and leaflet showing it is sponsored by Efes (the main brand of beer in Turkey) - how much longer that will be allowed, as the government clampdown on alcohol continues, is unclear. Like most sites there is very little public money being invested in them as tourist attractions.

Signposted for miles we had high hopes for this site but it took some determination on our part to find the 'best bits'. Not short of visitors, Turks and foreigners, it has a flashy ticket booth, 4 guards on duty, bar-code reader turnstile gates and sits at the top of a hill lined on each side with loads of stalls selling all manner of 'tat'. We paid our 8TL and wandered around admiring the Temple of Athena but couldn't help thinking there had to be more to it than that. We went back to the ticket booth and asked if they had a leaflet (as it was also sponsored by Efes) - they said not and directed us to their bookshop. Undeterred we went back to the faded site map and fathomed out we were 'missing' the necropolis, theatre, gymnasium, stoas and a number of other buildings. Back at the ticket booth we finally managed to get them to tell us we needed to go to the lower gates but they couldn't explain how we got there. We ran the gauntlet of the stall sellers again, not needing olive oil soap, a headscarf, a rug or a wooden spoon today, got back in the van and drove about half a mile out of the town - not a single signpost in sight. The rusty turnstiles at these gates were open and unmanned, the lower site was largely overgrown and sprawled over a huge area. It was fascinating and very peaceful - obviously as no-one else could find it!

The Temple of Athena in its heyday.....
.....and reconstructed today

The mystery is how we get to the rest of the site down there

Quite close to one of Neilson's Beach Clubs we followed the road to its end and found Teos - once a flourishing seaport, now another overgrown rambling site. Free to enter and wander around we walked further than the roadside ruins and found a little theatre in amongst the olive trees.

Tunnel beneath the theatre

Claros (or Klaros) 
Another free site we stumbled across and being only 1 km off the main road decided to take a 'punt' on this one. Some of the brown signs we have followed have taken us nowhere or down lanes we just can't squeeze through. The track to this one was tight as we negotiated the fruit trees on each side but the rewards were well worth it. An important centre of prophecy in ancient times it has been partly excavated and there are a number of information boards dotted around the site. It floods during the winter and spring and when we visited a large proportion of the site was underwater and was teeming with wildlife including terrapins and dragonflies.

Another 'drive-by' ruin not far from the slightly touristy but very attractive town of Turunç, near Marmaris.  The theatre (see photo above) is in a beautiful setting overlooking the sea. Little else survives apart from statue bases and large city walls but it's free and we're not complaining!

Doesn't quite look like the illustration at the entrance

With Annie, Teo and Jake we set off for a 'Famous Five' trip to this site on the shores of Bafa Lake, 3TL entry fee for people, dogs get in free! The village of Kapikiri has a population of  about 300 people - most of them friendly and going about their daily life unaffected by the few tourists that venture off the main road. We watched the farmers moving their livestock, bought cold drinks and honey from the local shops and chatted with the old boys in the tea house. However there is a small 'gang' of very determined local women who follow you around trying to sell their scarves, embroidery, rugs and trinkets. Two sweet looking little girls, who you might think would be their apprentices, actually wanted protection money to get the 'gang' to back off. Anyway they gave up at the theatre and we carried on up along the paths behind the village to view the panoramic hills in the distance where small sections of the city walls remain intact. 

Knidos / Cnidus
This ancient harbour was the first place Dave arrived at when he sailed to Turkey back in 1984. We have both revisited it a number of times since then, for us its remoteness, at the westernmost tip of Datca peninsula, its position on the headland and its size just keeps drawing us back. Books have been written about it and excavations have unearthed many new treasures. We paid our 8TL entry fee and wandered around for hours, Dave played with the sundial, I posed where Aphrodites naked statue used to greet the visiting sailors and we both sat in the theatre watching the yachts trying to anchor in the very windy and weedy bay. Happy memories....