This was the final week of our amazing summer cruise. Knowing that soon we would be tied to the dock for months, we wanted our final week to be swinging at anchor and untethered to land except by our hook. We specifically wanted to relax and have completely chilled family time with no plans, no expectations. Jack and I did some building legos, Alec and I had some date coffees, and mostly the week involved doing very little.
We were warned before arriving that it was incredibly crowded and finding a place to anchor very difficult. It is true that the roughly 7-mile stretch of protected bay was very deep which limits the number of places we could safely anchor and there were tons of boats – I know, “tons” is not a specific number, but it was busy even at the end of the season.
Unless you have been living under a rock or away from all media, you know about the Russian/Ukraine “situation”. For various reasons, Türkiye is the only country currently allowing Russian boats in. Some of the massive Russian pleasure boats are subject to EU sanctions meaning they cannot go anywhere in the EU without being impounded except here in Türkiye. Currently a non-EU member and with friendly relations toward both the US and Russia, Türkiye is in the unique position of being the ONLY game in town for Russians, and given that they are non-Schengen, they are one of the 3 only games in town for Americans, Aussies and UK citizens among others for stays of longer than 180 days. So, obtaining winter berthing in Tükiye has been a challenge. And Gocek seems to be a favorite spot for Russian boats large and well, larger.
Our timing could not have been better however, and we arrived to find the town very relaxed, yet the shops were open and anxious to serve. We found some specialty foods only available in the US and several amazing restaurants. We had a rainy day, something that we have been sorely missing in month after month of gorgeous sunshine (really, not kidding, even sunshine can get old without the occasional rainy day to help you appreciate it. But overwhelmingly, the only thing we did was total relax and recharge.
Türkiye has some of the strictest regulations we have encountered regarding treatment of black and grey water (euphemisms for poop and shower water respectively). Believe me when I tell you, we support it, and we thoroughly appreciate it. It is one thing to have the regulation, but it is something else altogether different when the country puts services in place which support the regulations. Not to point fingers but Italy was the worst country in terms of regulating and handling the black and grey water of boaters. The only cita we even encountered a regulation was in the island city of Venice. In a place where traveling by boat is not only ideal but mandatory, there was a regulation of no discharge whatsoever but there was no facility to pump out. We ended up hiring a barge which services cruise ships to handle our pump out at an ungodly price, but we were clearly THE ONLY BOAT to do so. After a month in the marina, we never saw anyone pump out and we saw plenty of evidence of people resorting to their own devices…. So, this was a classic case of making a regulation but then having nothing in place to support or encourage the following of it.
But not in Türkiye. The regulations regarding the discharge of Black and Grey water are strict. Once a vessel is cleared into the country, the owner/operator are issued a QR code unique to their vessel. Every time the vessel pumps out, the QR code is scanned as proof of compliance. It’s rumored that the coast guard checks compliance regularly though we haven’t been checked yet ourselves. But there is no reason NOT to comply. There are pump out stations at every marina we have visited and in Gocek, there is a mobile pump out facility in the bay as well as mobile pump out boats offering the service to all the yachts in the anchorage. This was truly amazing to us. You could get pumped out, while at anchor, without even moving. One would expect this service to be pricey, but it is only about 10.00 to pump out what amounts to 3 weeks of use for us on Gratitude. This is a BARGAIN! And we are delighted to comply and pay. And it shows! This is the first time we have stayed in a marina that we would be comfortable paddle boarding or swimming in. The water is crystal clear.
This was also the first place we found grocery stores on boats traveling around the anchorage. 2 of the biggest stores operate boats to deliver groceries and they carry most basic goods you might find in a convenience store. One could hang at anchor without taking the dinghy to shore for weeks!
Ok so not to pick on Italy but if I was excited about the pump out facilities, I was over the moon, not only in Gocek but everywhere in Turkiye, with the availability of trash/garbage/recycling disposal. In every place we went to town, we found clearly marked and convenient trash disposal. The ONLY exception was in Bodrum where we found it difficult to offload trash. In Gocek there were clearly marked, clean and large receptacles to take the trash. It is no wonder that this country is the cleanest we have visited. They should be very proud. Again, not to pick on Italy but I’m reminded of the beach cleanup we did with several families on Earth Day in which we filled 15 huge yard size trash bags in a short 100 meters of beach and then had no place to dispose the bags of trash we collected because nobody would take the trash! It is easy to see the values of a country when one lives there for more than a few weeks. And Türkiye is very quickly becoming a favorite. The parks, beaches, cities, and marinas are all pristine.
I have no doubt that Gocek has far more to offer than we experienced while lazing around at anchor but for us, it was the most idealic and pleasant week we could ever have imagined.
After a week here, we traveled the final 52 miles to our winter home, Kas, Türkiye. We were met by friends Kim and Steve aboard Mimpi and we had a delightful welcome meal right at the marina. In our next post we will do a breakdown of the miles, fuel and basic wrap up of our summer cruise, but I can hardly begin writing about Kas. It is an amazing place, and we are the most fortunate people to have found it! A complete accident of fate, we couldn’t be happier for where we landed. Stay tuned!!!
Our first trip to Marmaris was a week prior via bus from Selimye to purchase a sim card for internet and it was a good reminder that experiences of a place change largely depending on the circumstances of your visit.
We were harried and we had specific tasks on what would be a short visit on our first Marmaris trip, since we came by 40-minute dolmus (bus) ride. Now is a good time to share with you that the bus in Tükiye is called dolmus which translated means “stuffed”. All the dolmus in Türkiye involve being stuffed at least part of the way. But they are efficient and ridiculously inexpensive. I believe we spent 5 euro for 3 people to travel 60 miles. People are courteous and there is a sense of “we are all in this together” rather than “every man for himself”.
So, with little time to waste, we first went to the Turcell shop to get the sim card but as luck would have it, the shop system was “down” for the next few hours. Long story short, we managed to get it just in the nick of time before leaving on the dolmus back to Selimye. But other goals for the trip included visiting a mechanic to see if we could get Jacks AC fixed and visiting another shop to inquire about obtaining a part we need for further changes to the Victron Battery installation.
Bringing the blog up to date on Jacks AC/Heat, it broke early in the summer. To make matters worse, his ports don’t open since his stateroom is near the water line. Essentially, we needed to move him into a guest room for most of the summer. And even though the AC is now fixed, he is still in the guest stateroom because the breezes are so cool, and we prefer not to use electricity that we don’t absolutely require. That said, winter is on the way, and we would like for him to return to his stateroom, with the heat working.
We tried everything to find a repair solution in Greece and again in Istanbul. For the most part, the only solutions offered us were an unacceptably long wait (9 months or more) or changing the entire unit and replacing with different vender. If this was the ONLY solution, we would have had no choice, but it isn’t optimal. We have 6 AC units on board and Alec carries spares for them which can be interchanged one for another. Having a different AC unit would involve us having to carry spares for just that 1 unit – among other problems.
Alec discussed the issue with Buz Ali Abi (WhatsApp +90 5322722704) in Marmaris and we made an appointment for them to see us in Marmaris when we arrived a few days later.
Arriving in Marmaris by boat, everything felt completely different than our earlier trip via dolmus. We were able to get Gratitude’s black water tank pumped out simply and efficiently, and marineros offered to come aboard and handle lines for us. I’ll be honest, I did think about it for a few seconds… no dirty slime lines, no stress, no throwing heavy lines to shore and (if you will recall Gibraltar) no chance of swimming unexpectedly. I’m pleased to say that I still have my pride and declined the invitation of extra hands aboard, but it was a nice offer.
We made appointments for a boat cleaning inside and out, the carpets cleaned, and the 2 outboard motors for our dinghy’s were both serviced. The people who did the work were a sailboat charter company called Miknatis Yachting – Whatsapp number +90 532 673 3171 – email@example.com . The work they performed was fantastic, and very reasonably priced. We would give them our highest recommendation.
The people who fixed our air conditioner were also fantastic offering to rebuild and repair the old one. For us, this is always preferable as it obviously costs less, but equally important, it isn’t going into a junk yard when there is still life left in it. How much better is it to re-use or repair what we already have on board? They cleaned, sandblasted, repaired, painted, and delivered it to us working perfectly (and looking brand new) and at about ¼ the cost of purchasing a new one. Alec decided to secure parts for the additional Victron work we are doing later, and we enjoyed our time exploring Marmaris.
The Marmaris Fort which dates from the Ottoman Period sits atop a hill which feels to me like California. Inside is a museum with relics dating back to before the Hellenistic (330-30 BC) era but included the incredibly rich history leading up to the Ottoman Period (15th century). Walking up to the fort one meanders on the loveliest stone paths winding and curving and impossible to traverse in anything with wheels. Tiny shops and inviting restaurants beckon one to appreciate the stunning views offered from the top and Alec and I stopped to enjoy a new favorite treat, fresh squeezed orange juice.
The city planners have done a wonderful job of limiting the “big box” hotels and instead there are smaller boutique hotels or pensions in the city. As one might expect in a city so popular with tourists in the summer, there are tons of wonderful restaurants and shops to support them, but all the locals treated us kindly and restaurants, even at the end of the summer certainly worn out from the season, were gracious and hospitable.
Accomplishing all of this in only 1 week was nothing short of miraculous. We also visited a few chandleries for items for our list and for friends in Kas who had discovered that the inventory there is somewhat lacking.
Leaving Marmaris, we traveled a short 2 hours to an anchorage called Dalyan. Dalyan means fisheries and the river is full of life as mullet swim upstream to spawn in the fresh water. Every stop we make involves a new discovery or history lesson and this next stop involved a family fun day that we all loved.
Türikish archaeologists are continuing the work of excavations nearly throughout the country and the Western coastline is FULL of sites revealing their histories and treasures. History books are being re-written and new discoveries of ancient wrecks and sites are being added daily to the treasure trove of knowledge of the past.
Our early research indicated that while we were not permitted to take our tender up the river, there are guides who will solicit the trip on their small boats for either ½ or a full day tour. The guide we had was very nice and spoke passable English but I’m not going to include his information here because I don’t think he offered us anything that you couldn’t easily find on your own or with even the most basic guide.
We took a full day trip, so we were collected on our boat at 0800. We enjoyed a lovely day of meandering past and up to the truly unique formations of the caves, then we entered the river. Along the way we passed Iztuzu Plaji which is a beach where a very large population of the endangered Loggerhead turtle; known locally throughout Greece and Turkiye as the Caretta Caretta, nest every year. It is already well past the time of turtles nesting but we did see a few in the water on the way up the river.
Continuing our trip we stopped at a blue crab farm, and ordered some for dinner which we collected on our way back home. The only place in the world we have seen stone crab is in Florida and the only place we have seen blue crab is in the Chesapeake, so it was fun to enjoy crab that we only associate with one place, in Türkiye. This should come as no surprise as the conditions in the Dalyan river are very similar to the Chesapeake, both being brackish (salt and fresh water mixed) and very similar lines of latitude.
The first archaeological site we visited in this area was the ancient city of Caunos, which dates to the Hellenic period although relics have been found here from the 9th century BC. The fortifications present in the excavations are from Mausolus’ time (377 – 353 BC). Caunos thrived until the 3rd century AD when due to invasions by the Goths as well as disease, the city fell into ruin.
Lycian rock tombs were the other main attraction for me on this amazing day with my family. I cannot imagine how these tombs might be carved today with all the modern equipment at our disposal, but how could these tombs possibly have been carved in the 4th century BC?! They are truly a tribute to the craftsmen of the area. The largest and most prominent would have been for wealthy noblemen but there were others in a place of honor which was for soldiers. Stay tuned for more tombs from the Lycian era. We are now safely tucked into our winter home in Kas and there are tombs all over the town!
The final stop on our trip up the Dalyan river was to the mud bath and sulphur springs. Promised to improve aging skin and work miracles on one’s health, I first went to mud baths in Calistoga in California. This was decidedly not a spa experience and with our guide waiting patiently in the boat, we didn’t feel as though we should linger too long, but it was a great fun experience, and we were all good sports and covered ourselves in the mud, then trekked over rocks to the showers for our second freezing cold shower and returned with the promise of a nice hot Sulphur spring bath. The attendant sprayed us once more with the force of a firefighting hose in COLD water, then we plunged into the warm Sulphur natural spring. I don’t have to tell you what Sulphur smells like, but I will anyway, it felt divine but it smelled like we were wading in rotten eggs. We all laughed and enjoyed ourselves nonetheless and hurriedly dressed for our final stop, an amazing lunch and delightful walk around the sweet village of Dalyan.
Having eaten one of the most amazing meals we have ever had, there was no chance we could eat crab for dinner, so we instead saved them for our lunch the following day.
With the number of “summer cruise” days dwindling, we are squeezing enjoyment out of each and every moment knowing that the winter is on the horizon. Next and final stop before Kas for the winter – Gocek!
Two of my favorite aspects of living aboard our boat while traveling the world is: 1. Taking all my favorite things – (pillows, boots, blankets, and outerwear for any weather) with me, and 2. Living wherever I feel like living. I’m not someone who loves the city or loves the country but rather, I love them both. Living on a boat allows us to find the best of both worlds and it’s our time in the city that allows us to appreciate the anchorages and the quiet peaceful anchorages that help us to enjoy the cities.
We enjoyed the city life in Istanbul and Kusadasi, but we were all looking forward to some time at anchor by the time we arrived in Bodrum. To be fair, Bodrum is a big-ish city, and it has shops, restaurants, a killer bazaar, and some fun tourist stuff. So, we hadn’t really found peace and quiet, but we were only there for a couple of nights. The marina, too full to accommodate us, was massive, but I was secretly a little pleased that we would be at anchor in the harbor. And the anchorage was also large and full of boats, but we had a nice place to drop and swing freely without a problem – allowing us to be our own island in the midst of “busy”.
Under a different circumstance, we may have passed Bodrum completely since we were all looking forward to the quiet anchorage, but I’m so pleased that we stopped. One of the few regrets we had with going to Istanbul is that we were missing some of the best known and epic “cruising” that Türkiye has to offer and Bodrum is right in the heart of it. For us to have passed it by while we still had time to explore, would have made the regret permanent. Since we stopped, we had a chance to see and appreciate it – no regrets!
Likely the best-known thing in Bodrum is the castle. Built partly from stones from the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the castle has been reconstructed and is now one of the most well-known underwater archeological museums and sits prominently on the peninsula.
Jack has had more than his fill of sightseeing and Alec and I wanted to take our time in the museum, so we gave Jack the “day off” (it was Saturday and he had been working hard in school all week). When we got home, we showed Jack photos of our adventure, but he truly enjoyed his day of hanging out and resting. Win-Win and everyone is happy.
The archeological finds are amazing! Thousands of Amphorae have been recovered and are displayed all over the museum. Sometimes, when we stroll through a museum, I play a game with myself. If I could, which of these treasures would be the one that I took home? Well, I found my favorite! It is pictured below. Mentioned in Homers Iliad as the only type of writing tool of the time, it is made of wood with ivory hinges. The middle is filled with wax, and one may write on it with a stylus. SO COOL! What a discovery.
The medieval Castle of St. Peter was built by the Knights of St. John in 1402 – a transnational effort by the Spanish, English, French, German and Italians and each country is represented by a tower with the crests of the builders carved into the entrance. It served as a hospital for Christian crusaders who were fighting in Jerusalem. The castle was taken over in 1523 with the Ottoman Empire defeat. I love how the Ottomans didn’t destroy what was here but rather converted it for their purposes. In this respect, the chapel was converted to a mosque and a minaret was added.
Once one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world, The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was built in 350 BC. Unfortunately, through successive earthquakes, it was destroyed but remnants from it exist today (though we didn’t visit) and some others were taken and are evident in the Castle of St. Peter.
Bodrum was a fantastic stop but for a couple reasons, 3 days was enough in the anchorage. The nightclubs are very loud and with the ports open, music blared until 2AM. Add to that the many mosques begin the first of 5 calls to prayer at 0550 am. Once that begins, I’m up. And in Bodrum there were a few mosques with speakers pointed in our direction. I would hate for anyone reading to get the wrong idea about my morning aversion to the call to prayer. I love it all day long and appreciate the sweet reminder to have a few words with God. I even enjoy (though I obviously can’t understand a word of it) the sound and cadence. It reminds me of the catholic ringing the church bells which happened all hours of the day when we were in the Venice at the Santa Elena Marina just adjacent to the Sant Elena church and convent.
A very fun aspect of cruising is running into “friends” that we meet along the way, and Gratitude tends to stand out in a crowd, so it is not unusual for someone we have met to drop anchor next door and re-connect which happened in Bodrum. We met Jonathon, aboard Aphrodite in Bozcaada and while we were only in the same place for 1 night, we shared a mutual admiration for each other’s boat. I am such a firm believer that the right people come to you in exactly the right moment and Jonathon was that for us. We have had an administrative challenge that we have been grappling with and without getting into it here, Jonathon was the absolute perfect person we needed to meet at the perfect time. When we met again in Bodrum, we owed him a drink for his earlier help, and he generously shared more knowledge with us. Following his suggestion resulted in a most delightful week at anchor in one of the sweetest harbors we have ever been. Selimiye, Türkiye is a place unlike any other and we fell in love.
The restaurants, the hotels, the shops and beaches, the harbor are all lovely. It is a tiny little place but just what we were looking for to get off the beaten path and find a place few know about, and this is it. The challenge from a boating perspective is that the water is all very deep and except for a few tiny spits of land shallow enough to anchor, the entire harbor is surrounded by 150’-250’ depth. We have been reluctant to anchor, then back to shore to tie lines as we did in a few places in Croatia -basically because- well, we haven’t felt like it. But here we really had no choice, so we dug out the bags of lines and chain and Jack and I transported them to the rocks on shore. Here are some photos of this idyllic spot. What is particularly fun when we do this is I feel like we have our own private beach club. We can drop the SUP’s in the water to explore and Jack just spends the day snorkeling. This feels to me like the perfect vacation and just the right counterpoint to all the city stops we have made lately. We were fully stocked up on groceries from the fabulous market in Bodrum, so I was perfectly happy to stay for a week or more.
Approaching the end of our monthly contract for internet, we needed to find a Turkcel telecom shop to top up our card. This is a challenge here because it can’t be done remotely (as we were able to do in MNE) and it can’t be done for several months at a time (as we did in Italy) so we must make a monthly pilgrimage to a shop for them to top up the wifi. Alec and I may have just embraced the lack of connectivity but since Jack is back in school, we needed to get this taken care of.
Remember I said that this was a tiny place that nobody has ever heard of? Turkcell isn’t here either, so we had to take a 40-minute bus ride to Marmaris to get the internet card topped up. This turned out to be a good thing since it allowed us to see if we should come here next on Gratitude.
After a week of mostly boat cooked meals and relaxing – it was time to move on. Next stop…
Leaving Istanbul, we had a 40-hour non-stop passage to Kušadasi. A port town, but clearly an inexpensive stop for holidaymakers from the UK as well, Kušadasi is busy town with the usual shops and cafes that cater to cruise chip customers. Our primary reason for coming is that it is the closest marina town to Ephesus.
Once the former capital of Asia Minor and the second largest city in the Roman Empire, Ephesus is an archeologist dream come true and is still revealing her treasures and secrets today.
I first came to Ephesus on a cruise ship whose itinerary included Kusadasi. It was probably 3 decades since I was here, and a lot has changed since then. I remembered the amphitheater large enough to hold over 20,000 spectators. But I didn’t remember the Library of Celsus, built in 110AD as a tribute to a wealthy senator. Currently residing in a sarcophagus beneath the library, Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, was a well-loved senator and benefactor of ancient Ephesus.
2 other important monuments remaining are the Temple of Artemis completed in the 6th century BC and was designated as one of the 7 wonders of the Ancient World.
While there is evidence of some reconstruction, the original work is evident and remarkable. Directly adjacent to the Library of Celsus, once the 3rd largest library of the Roman world, sits the agora. It takes no imagination whatsoever to picture the traders from all over Asia and Europe meeting here to conduct their business. If ever there was a reason to visit foreign countries and archeological discoveries – Ephesus, is it. Reading books and watching documentaries on television simply cannot convey the spirit or energy of a place that walking in the footsteps, on the same pavement, and in their homes can convey. It was remarkable seeing the graffiti on the walls and artifacts left behind revealing the interests, and the politics of the people who lived in that time. Imagine the conversations that must have taken place whilst sitting in the communal toilets or bath houses. Walking in the agora it was easy to picture the merchants and customers conducting business. There is just nothing like it.
We were collected from our boat in the Setur Marina in Kusadasi by our guilde Ilker Avci (Port of Call Kusadasi Travel Agency. Whatsapp +90 535 559 00 57. I found Ilker on Airbnb. I find many of our guides there because unlike Travelocity and other large booking sites, Airbnb seems to handle more small and personal guides. Frequently when I book a guide from Airbnb, we get someone who is working for themselves rather than a large tour agency. With few exceptions, they are usually local, impart the spirit -as much as the information – of a place, and they have relationships with the smaller shops which I love. When possible, we try to leave whatever dollars we spend, in the local places and with the local people.
Before Ilker collected us, we gave him a rough idea of how we wanted to spend our time. I didn’t really expect or want to go to a carpet shop or leather shop since we were more interested in the archeological parts of the city but I did tell him that I would be very interested in learning about the silk process, the silk worms, the natural way of dying the yarn and I had also heard that there is a unique ceramic that comes only from this area and I would be open to that as well. Ilker suggested that we get an early start (8:00) which would give us some time in the ruins by ourselves before the tour busses showed up. Also, September is still warm here, so it gave us some cooler weather. We did enjoy probably an hour of peace and quiet before the busses unloaded and the masses descended on us. What a huge difference it made to be able to appreciate the sanctity of the place without the energy present with the arrival of thousands. I could feel the people from thousands of years ago and imagine what their life was like. The terrace houses were spectacular! Constantly being excavated, they are revealing their secrets every day. I would love to ask the archeologists who spend their days with the artifacts of these families if they feel a connection to them.
Have they given them names, do they feel their energy or presence, or ghosts left behind. It was for me surreal to look at the almost childlike graffiti on the walls and wonder about the person who left these behind. Could you imagine knowing that your etchings on the wall, the marks we pencil in Jacks bedroom marking his passage through life in terms of his growth, being discovered even 300 years, never mind 3000 years from now.
Having crawled all over the ruins we had hoped to see, and given that the crowds were now arriving en masse, we were ready to move on.
The next stop was the carpet shop. Even though this was not something I had planned on, I trust that when something comes up on a tour or doesn’t come up on a tour, it is all as it should be and I try to lean into it. As it turns out, ALL of us loved this stop. Even Jack who was clearly not going to be buying any carpets. I suppose part of my reticence in the carpet shops is the overwhelming sense that I don’t know enough about any of it to feel confident in buying them. Also, I didn’t imagine that the carpets would really “feel” at home in our Florida home.
But this was not about “selling” us something as much as it was about us learning and appreciating the cultural impact and significance of carpet weaving in the heritage of this region. And that is exactly what we ARE doing here. In addition, and a big highlight of the stop, we learned not only how the carpets are made, but how the silk is woven from the silkworms. We witnessed the silk being extracted in one long thread, from the cocoon, then weaved. I hated to learn that the worm must be killed to get the silk but that mercifully the worm dies only 2 days before they would have died naturally. Small consolation …. The dyes are natural and watching the woman weaving was at once therapeutic and mesmerizing. I’m sure sitting still to do this for hours at a time would be a real challenge, just as knitting is, which is why these women only actually weave for 4 hours total per day, but there is also something meditative about it. We truly appreciated the work and the workmanship that went into the creation of these special treasures. Of course, choosing a carpet is another matter entirely!
Have you ever gone into a car dealer or a repair shop and just known to the core of your being that you were about to be “ripped off”? I have had this unshakeable feeling too many times to count, and the less I know about the subject at hand, the greater the feeling that there is no chance that I won’t be swindled. Well, that is how I felt in the grand Bazaar in Istanbul. I feel this even more so when it is incumbent on the buyer to negotiate (something with which most Americans are very uncomfortable), there is little chance that I’m going to feel ok negotiating a price involving such a capital expenditure. We aren’t talking about peaches in the market where I am sure we are paying way more per kilo than any other shopper there. Don’t get me wrong, when I’m buying amazing fruit from the farmer with dirt under his nails, I’m delighted to pay more – and will often leave behind more money than it cost.
But I didn’t feel swindled. I felt educated well enough and the price calculated methodically enough that I didn’t think the salesman was picking numbers from the air and changing the decimal based on the person standing in front of him. Now granted, he may have been, but I just didn’t feel that the price that we paid was in any way unfair or unwarranted. Is it possible that we paid more than someone else walking in the door the following day? Of course, it is. But we were well satisfied with the price that we paid for the carpets we bought.
There were hundreds if not thousands in every shape, color, and material and only the most experienced vendor could have helped us choose but choose we did. There are a couple of long hallways in our home which need rugs so we were able to support the local economy, the local artists and we will have a treasure waiting for us at home when we rejoin them in a couple of years from now.
I can’t recommend this carpet shop enough and if you find yourself in Kusadasi, pay Can Karaer a vist. Nakkas Carpets +90 (537) 75 95
Our next stop involved one of the very best meals we have ever eaten! We love discovering new ways of eating old ingredients or discovering new ingredients we have never heard of before. Mezzes are a common way of eating the salad or appetizers in Turkey. Like the tapas in Spain, mezzes may be a cold or hot salad, or dip and served at the outset of your meal. It is common to choose from the display case which mezzes you would like. Muammara, a dip made of roasted sweet red pepper with nuts and spices, is a new favorite mezze we have found and here is where we had it first. I have all the ingredients and I can’t wait to make it on board.
Fortified and replete, we next went the house of the Virgin Mary. Dying on the cross, Jesus instructs John to take Mary as his mother and Mary to take John as her son. John’s grave is nearby (though we ran out of time and energy and never made it there) and I have only just discovered that John is believed to have ascended into heaven as his remains are unclaimed by any church. But we did see Mary’s house. There is a saint who has had apparitions instructing her that this is Mary’s house. It is now the sight of holy pilgrimages for Christians and Muslims as well.
Several hours past our agreed upon 6-hour tour, Ilker made one more pass by the town of Selçuk. Alec and I had planned to grab a cab or bus and have a walk around. It is certainly cute enough to have made the list but having seen it from the windows of Ilkers car, we were satisfied to cross it off the list. But if you are here for any time, it may be worth a closer look. We were needing to move along so we began preparations for the next leg of our trip, Bodrum. Below are a few more photos from our walks around town included Pigeon Island.
If you find yourself in Kusadasi and in need of a tour guide, give Ilker a call Whatsapp +90 535 559 00 57
Approaching the city of more than 16 million inhabitants, it looks as one might expect. Container ships abound awaiting their turn to offload or upload or transit the Bosporus canal. These ships were EVERYWHERE. Buildings and the beautiful minarets with the domes of the mosques are the most prominent land feature. But surprisingly upon closer inspection, there is an abundance of green space uncommon for a cosmopolitan city of this size.
Istanbul – Constantinople… just the names conjure images of spices and tea and exotic people and food. And with such a rich tapestry weaving its place in history, I couldn’t possibly convey the experience of this visit without a few words of the history and the geography which makes Istanbul what it is today.
A word about the geography… Few if any, countries in the world can boast a presence on 2 continents. Divided by the Bosporus canal into Europe and Asia, each side, in fact each district feels special. The other notable geographical feature is its position between the Mediterranean (Aegean) Sea and the Sea of Marmara – a totally landlocked sea bordering all sides by Türkiye, and the Black Sea. Approaching from the Sea of Marmara as we did, the most obvious feature on the European side is the former largest mosque in Istanbul, the Süleymaniye Mosque. Built in the mid- 16th century for its namesake, Süleiman the Magnificent, it boasts 4 minarets and contains the remains of both Süleyman and his wife in the mausoleum. Until 2019, it was the largest mosque in Istanbul but was replaced by the most prominent feature on the Asian side, the Grand Çamlica Mosque.
According to Wikipedia, starting with the Greeks who colonized the area and established Byzantium in 660 BC, it fell to the Roman Republic in 196 BC and was known as Byzantium until 330 CE when the city was renamed Constantinople after emperor Constantine and became the new capital of the Roman Empire. During the reign of Justinian the first, Constantinople was the largest city in the Roman Empire until the fall of Constantinople as the head and the cradle of the Orthodox Christian Church. Undefeated and impenetrable for nearly 900 years, Constantinople suffered defeat by the Ottoman Empire in 1453 and remained under its control until after WW1 and the Turkish war for independence 1923. This is truly a simple distillation, rather than a full and complete history which is so storied as to be impossible to cover here. But this snapshot will help in the appreciation of some of the places and photos which follow.
We have been wandering in and out of Christian churches all over Europe for the past 3.5 years. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that the number is easily in the hundreds of churches that we have walked into to say a prayer and have a look around. What continues to inspire and astound us is how, in every city we visit, the churches are the finest example of architecture and commitment to aesthetic beauty the city can offer. The finest workmanship, artistry and love is evident in each church we visit. The finest Renaissance art is not necessarily housed in museums but rather, breathtaking examples abound in churches all over Italy. The finest craftsmen weren’t employed to build houses but rather churches. Innovations in design and architecture were first poured out in love to God in Cathedrals. Since churches are such amazing repositories of architectural information, we love to meander in and out as well as stop to say a prayer while there. So, it has troubled me that we haven’t had the same freedom to stroll into Mosques. I was so pleased to experience our first visit to mosques in Istanbul. I may get some details wrong, but it is my understanding that the Imam, or Sheik has the authority to grant admission to non-believers in a mosque. Given that the mosques in Istanbul are such architectural wonders and given that Istanbul is such a contemporary and cosmopolitan city, non-believers are granted access to many of the mosques here. We were even permitted to take photos, though obviously not of individual people while praying. The only requirement is that all visitors dress modestly, men and women both need to cover their bodies, knees, shoulders etc, and women must cover their hair with a scarf. Additionally, no shoes may be worn inside the mosque. Americans may be surprised that the same – or similar requirements exist in monastery’s, convents, and churches in Europe. While slightly more relaxed, or probably more accurately, less enforced, most of the monasteries we visited offer a selection of fabrics to cover oneself while visiting a church. It is expected that skirts/shorts cover the knees and shoulders are covered while visiting a church. Though notoriously casual Americans wander in and out surprised such a requirement exist, I too frequently forget to bring my scarf to cover up if we find a church unexpectedly along the way.
The Hagia Sophia was originally opened in 537 CE as a Greek Orthodox church, but it was redesigned as a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 by Sultan Mehmet II. We made our debut into our first mosque in grand style! Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985, I loved the integration of the storied history on the walls of the building. Since Islam doesn’t permit any face, statue or person depicted in a mosque, the original biblical frescoes of Mary or Jesus were covered by cloth but not damaged permanently. One can make out some of these images still and just outside the walls of the mosque, in the vestibule area are images of Mary and Jesus as well as crosses. There are several mentions of Mary, Jesus’ mother in the Quran so the Muslim people have a very high regard for Mary, though they do not believe that Jesus is the son of God. (This is based on my understanding, but I do not claim an education in Islam so please, if someone reading this has more knowledge, feel free to comment). Currently a museum but still open and serving as a mosque, it is so unusual to see people praying whilst tourists jostle for photos. Our tour guide did not love that it was still a working mosque and felt that it should be converted permanently into a museum. We had a different tour guide talking about the Suleyman mosque and the new Camlica mosque and it was interesting to hear the perspectives of the younger and more progressive tour guides against the backdrop of the current and more conservative political leaders. Both of our guides felt that the newer largest mosque was not necessary (built by President Erdogan) as there are more than enough mosques for the need. Also mentioned was that during prayer times and on Friday, the equivalent of our Sunday mass, there is little more than 20 percent occupancy. Our guide said, and I quote “We are faithful, not show-ers” We don’t go to mosque, but we are followers and faithful.
Nearly as famous as the Hagia Sophia, we visited the Blue Mosque but were surprised at how small it seemed comparatively speaking. It was currently undergoing renovations so much of it was covered.
The most impressive relic of the Byzantine times was the cisterns. Built by Emperor Justinian I by 7000 slaves in the 6th century AD, this enlarged system of holding water continued to provide water to the Topkapi palace after the Ottoman conquest and into modern times.
Speaking of the Topkapi Palace…
The Topkapi palace was the main residence of the Sultans into the 17th century. Constructed 6 years after the fall of Constantinople by Mehmed the Conqueror, the rooms, the opulence, the history – wow. Our guide was fantastic and enthusiastic as he shared the history of the Ottoman Harems with us. We laughed as we all shared our impressions of what we thought the harem was, and our guide laughed as he shared what the harem was not. To be fair, as he explained, nobody knows for certain what happened in the harems. But for the most part, the Western depictions were not accurate and were wildly exaggerated in Hollywood films. It is true, the Eunuchs guarded the harems meticulously and the mother of the Sultan was the only person who had access to the harems. Essentially the harems housed slaves and young girls who would be brought here to be educated. The girls in the harem (together with their virginity) were closely guarded and from this population, the mother of the Sultan could choose a selection of women from which the Sultan could choose his wives. Or Concubines. Further, those women not married or taken by the Sultan to be the mother of his children (and there could be dozens if not hundreds of children born to a Sultan), these women would marry important people in the government.
Many important treasures are on display here including weapons clothing, manuscripts but perhaps the most amazing treasures housed here are the Spoonmakers Diamond and the Topkapi Dagger. The Diamond has many stories associated with it but essentially it is a stunning 86 carat pear shaped diamond and believed to be the 4th largest in the world. The dagger was to be a gift for the Sheik of Iran but while being transported by horse, the Sheik died so the dagger was returned to the palace. It is stunning and pictured below.
During certain times of the year, many Catholic churches will display the body of Jesus continuously around the clock with faithful witnesses signing up so as not to leave the body of Jesus (in the form of the wine and bread) unattended. The final incredible item worth mentioning is the continuous singing of the Quran in Topkapi palace. It has been continuously read 24 hours a day/7 days a week for 400 years and continues today. What a scheduling nightmare- but what a labor of love!
No trip to Istanbul would be complete without a stroll through the Grand Bazaar. The oldest undercover marketplace, the Grand Bazaar houses over 4000 shops accessed through 27 different gates. Because it continues to expand, the entire area is an enormous shopping trip with everything from the most precious and rare gems to knock off underwear available. Also, clearly no copyright laws here – one can find anything from a fake Louis Vuitton (remarkable imitations) to a fake Rolexes, or you name it designer clothes and shoes.
But for my money, the real gems were the tapestries, silks and yep you guessed it, carpets. We did see 1 shop outside of the grand bazaar which housed the most stunning collection of hand-woven silk pillow covers and fabrics I have ever seen. Here are a few samples below.
I was so proud of us for making it through the grand bazaar without buying a Turkish rug!! So much has been said about the stunning art of these incredible designs that I worried that there would be little chance that we would escape without a major purchase. Well, we did escape but our victory would be short lived – stay tuned for our memories of Kusadasi….
And finally, a word about the people. Because for us it is always about the people. I love the Turks. Evidence of their kindness, generosity and hospitality are everywhere:
Exhibit 1 – There is virtually NO homelessness. This is incredible to me during a time with run-away inflation and a city of nearly 16 million people. No homeless at all. I asked a guide about this and talked to the friend of a friend (Hi Birsen). There is such a strong social structure that it is inconceivable that someone would end up homeless. They would first be taken in by family members – no matter what! And next, the mosque would see to the person. But a person would never fall so far as to be homeless. There is a saying in Turkish that one buys 3 loafs of bread – 1 to take with them and 2 for the basket meaning that 2 loaves are given for a person in need. One can also leave money in a restaurant for a person in need to eat. And nearby the mosque – like our soup kitchens at home, is a place where anyone can get a free and hot meal.
Exhibit 2 – There are also no “old folks homes”. The families take in their elders – They aren’t sent to homes to live.
Exhibit 3 – There are no homeless cats! They all belong to the community! There are cats EVERYWHERE in Istanbul. They wander into and out of restaurants, homes, shops, and grocery stores. They jump up on counters, they snuggle up to people standing at the bus stop and they visit tables in restaurants looking for dinner. But they aren’t strays in the meaning that we associate with strays. They appear reasonably well cared for, there is cat housing and shelters in parks, and wherever one finds cats, one finds a community feeding them. There are containers for water and food stations dotting the walkways and parkways throughout Istanbul (and in fact, all over Türkiye. The estimates of the numbers range from a New York Times estimate of 125,000 but Wikipedia has the number at between 100,000 and over a million. But these cats are truly a part of the community in which they live. On our pontoon where we stayed at the Setur Marina, the crew (captain and mates) of the 2 boats adjacent to Gratitude collected fish by using old bread. They would then take fish from the traps 2X a day and feed the local cats on our pontoon. These cats were the sweetest and most loving “strays” and certainly not feral. They seemed shocked when we wouldn’t let them board (Pratt would have a fit)! And 1 cat seemed to be auditioning for the job of “Watch Cat” seeing that Pratt isn’t doing such a good job.
Exhibit 4 – The crew that we spoke of earlier – kinder more caring neighbors one will never meet! They didn’t speak English and we obviously don’t speak Turkish, but it didn’t keep us from communicating. They brought us presents of fresh fruit and eggs from the captain’s farm, and we baked them scones and sent them cookies. But they were always ready with a helping hand and kind gesture. Thank you, Babushka, for your kind hospitality during our stay in Istanbul!
Exhibit 5 – The greenspaces in Istanbul are common and well used. We explored the city by bike and wherever we found a park, we found people lounging on the grass, picnicking, having wine or beer or lunch or dinner. It didn’t matter what time or which day it was, people in Istanbul enjoy their parks. And there are parks everywhere.
1 final note about Istanbul – the transportation system.
We love our new Ebikes and we road them everywhere. To be sure, driving, walking, or riding a bike is a death-defying venture – seriously. But that is owing more to the sheer volume of cars, motorbikes, and buses on the roadways than to the attitudes of the drivers. I think. The buildings are modern and in very good repair, the transportation system was clean, modern, comfortable, and well used. We were able to ride our bikes the 2-3 km to the train station, then ride the train all over the city – for a couple of dollars. The taxis are very complicated, and they have limits on their territory so I would strongly recommend becoming familiar with the buses and trains.
We wish we could have stayed longer and seen more. We were in Istanbul for 2 weeks but unfortunately, we all got the flu – spaced out from one another so that for a week we were pretty much down for the count. But what we did see, and experience was amazing. If you ever have the chance to visit, don’t pass it up!!
One of the most difficult challenges we face is deciding which towns/islands/countries to visit and which to bypass. The sad unavoidable truth that we continue to reconcile is that no matter for how long we plan to visit, we will not see everything we hoped, planned, or dreamed of seeing.
That said, it is our most fervent hope and belief that, as with all things in life, we are seeing and experiencing what WE are supposed to be seeing.
Which is why, after seeking to re-connect with Kim and Steve after a long summer of playing leapfrog with them, we turned our boat North while they turned theirs South.
There is something very real about the pull of the winter home after a summer of managing Meltemi winds, guests, long warm lazy days, and a busy itinerary. The call of the routine, the steady of the Monday-Friday school week and the scheduled work outs replacing the gelato all feel like a warm welcome. I remember last year, begging Alec and Jack to let us make one more stop for my birthday in Slovenia before heading to the “barn” and being so rewarded by that effort, It was a resounding reminder that we still have a few months before we need to be anywhere, and the winter will come soon enough.
So, we decided to tick off a very important stop on the “goals for Turkey” list. Istanbul.
Istanbul was a bit of a hard sell – for a few reasons. Firstly, the common and most widely appreciated cruising grounds in Turkey are South. Very little is written about the cruising North of Didim. And even less was talked about amongst our small group of cruisers. Nobody had planned to make the trip North to Istanbul and there was very little input from others who had been.
Secondly, Kas, the winter home, is WAY down South at the other end of a very large country. So essentially, we will need to come this way again, after making a several days passage North.
Finally, and this was of far less of a concern but something to be aware of, Istanbul and the famed Bosporus canal into the Black Sea is very close to the current hotbed political area of Ukraine and Russia. I was not very concerned since there were no alerts whatsoever on the Americans in Turkey section of the State Department website. But to say that we hadn’t considered it would be incorrect. We even planned on bringing Gratitude through the Bosphorus and turning around in the Black Sea and heading back but changed our minds. It just seemed too far to travel for the benefit of having just done it.
Other considerations regarding heading North to eventually travel all the distance South, is that we have 90 days in Turkey in which to travel on a tourist visa. Before the expiry of our 90 days, we must be in Kas, together with our boat, to begin our long stay visa paperwork. Now 90 days may seem like plenty of time, but when one travels at 8 knots and can only travel when the machine and the weather permit it, let’s just say we hate painting ourselves into a corner.
But missing out on ISTANBUL!! With Gratitude. It’s ISTANBUL people!!! And I would forever regret not having our home in Istanbul.
So, before we get to that…. There are a couple of stops we made which are worth noting. The first, a small anchorage near Cesme, was a perfect place to hit the big “reset” button after being in the marina in Didim for 2 weeks. We had a chance to try out the davit but primarily, we swam, SUP’d, rested, cleaned, cooked, watched movies and otherwise just totally chilled. This was what we had hoped to be doing for the whole of August. Just taking advantage of the cool waters, and the open schedule with no plans, no responsibilities. I did some writing and Alec did some maintenance but mostly we just chilled.
As weather permitted, we traveled North to Ayvalik. A very local town with no tourist splashes, we enjoyed a meander through the streets soaking up the Turkish Vibe. No English spoken or on the menus, we discovered that we must be more proactive on our Turkish language pursuits. Alec and I enjoyed a day trip to Cunda and we also had a fun hike. This was another wonderful place to drop the anchor and have an explore. One item of mention is the Clock Mosque. Visible from the seaside, the clock tower had the distinct vibe of a Christian church, so we went to explore. Upon closer examination, we could see a minaret indicating a mosque. Truly a building having an identity crisis, we discovered that it was a converted Orthodox Christian church which was built in 1850. The first time we witnessed this fusion of Islam and Christianity was in the cathedrals in the South of Spain, most notably, in Sevilla. We so appreciated the lovely clock tower which was once a minaret in its previous heyday as a mosque. I loved that the consecrated building served the same purpose, though with a few different flourishes. In fact, it is that conversion which has preserved so many of the buildings from ancient Rome and Greece. The greatest examples of Roman and Greek history are those which were converted to churches, but with evidence of the previous function apparent.
The next stop North was a very cool island called Bozcaada. Mentioned in Homers Iliad, Bozcaada was known as Tenedos in Greek mythology. The island has a storied past as it was tossed around like a hot potato, belonging to Byzantium, Venice, it was fought over in the Venetian/Genoese war and was evacuated by the Republic of Venice. In the 15th century it was annexed by the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Mehmet II. It finally came under Turkish Rule when the Turks declared their independence in 1923. I’m not sure what the meaning of “It feels so Greek” is intended to imply as these were the words that everyone we spoke of the island before we went said. The guess here is that there is something more appealing to the Greek islands, but I couldn’t disagree more. It’s true, the Greek islands have a totally different vibe than the Turkish towns, and Bozcaada has another vibe altogether different, neither feeling Greek nor Turkish to me. However, one describes it, it really is its own thing. We loved it and decided to stay for a few more days. Alec and I took a walk around the Castle which has been reconstructed several times. It feels enchanting and since it hosts the market on Wednesday and Saturdays, it serves a purpose as well.
Deciding to break up the trip further so we needn’t travel at night, we stopped at a few additional anchorages between Bozcaada and Istanbul. One stop involved the largest and most fierce jelly fish we have ever seen – no swimming here. Here are some photos of the Rhizostoma Pulmo jellyfish. According to Jacks internet research, contact with this jelly should immediately follow seeking medical treatment. These things were everywhere around the boat, and they looked beautiful! But we didn’t check the anchor for holding…
While no stops looked appetizing enough to spend a few days, we pressed on and arrived in Istanbul a few days ahead of schedule. The Setur Marina Istanbul did an amazing job of accepting us, after hours and several days early for our reservation. Truth be told, the closer we get to a destination, sometimes the more excited we are about arriving.
I can’t say for certain what I was expecting. But this was not it.
While I, (Laurie), visited Athens on 3 separate occasions during our time in Greece this summer, I have not felt like writing about it.
Sometimes this happens.
Sometimes it is the place itself which fails to inspire – not the case here. Sometimes it is that the experience feels too personal to share – again, not the case here.
I have no idea why this post is coming so late after our visit and I’m sure as a result I’ll miss major points and special things about it but I’m going to do my best to share what I can from our time there.
I first traveled to Athens probably 35 years ago and it was a total blur. I can’t honestly recall a single significant event from the trip, which is to say, it may as well not have happened. We were traveling aboard a cruise ship and I have found, based on our fair share of cruise ship cruising, that sometimes when we are unfamiliar with a region, details get lost in overall impressions. While experiencing so many new inputs over a short space of time, the impressions aren’t very deep – unless they are over the top bad or good.
It could be that my total lack of recall is related to something else entirely which may explain challenges I’m having with Jack right now. I think my newfound love of history may well be a function of age and perhaps bandwidth to be able to take the time to absorb all or most of what I’m learning. Perhaps in my earlier visit, I didn’t have the mental space or emotional energy. Perhaps I was simply not interested in the remarkable ruins which have been here for 2600 years, though I can hardly imagine ever being such a human. But we change and we grow, and our interests evolve. Perhaps Jack being 12 and this being his life, means that he has no concept of how special standing in this place is. Maybe he will come to appreciate it later – maybe not. I hope at a minimum our exposing him to it won’t make him hate it. Which is why we have decided to stop forcing him on tours and experiences. He has reached an age where he can remain behind alone. I’m praying that this decision will allow him to come to these amazing places in his own time and his own way. I’ll let you know how this goes.
But I’m off track – again. Athens…
Kelly flew to visit us in Santorini, then traveled with us to Paros where she needed to leave us to fly out of Athens. Since her flight was early in the morning, she would need to spend the night in a hotel. Not wanting her to a) miss Athens or b) spend the night alone in a hotel, I took the opportunity to travel with her and we saw the sights together.
Not only one of the oldest cities in Europe (the 3rd oldest), but Athens is also the hottest city in Europe. I knew this going in and it is one of the reasons that, despite our visitors coming and going from Athens, we were not going to spend much time there. Even before I began menopause, I preferred to be in cooler climbs for summers but now in the throes of my own person heat wave, being in the continent’s warmest city wouldn’t be my first choice. That said, who can miss Athens!?
So, dressed in my loosest, coolest linen dress and most comfortable waking sandals and we hit the ground running. I’m pretty sure that we hit 25,000 steps that day as we raced from monument to monument. But Kelly is the single most motivated and active person I have ever met, and I was not about to let her down, so off we went.
Athens, continuously inhabited since at least 3000 BC holds so much history in terms of Mycenaean, Roman and many more civilizations. Most fascinating for me is that Athens holds treasures from the birthplace of Democracy in the early 6th century BC, and much of the Western contributions in art, philosophy, theatre, and government are the direct result of the work done in this era. We were in awe of the sculptures and stonework accomplished by hand in the Parthenon and later when we visited the museum with Jenn and Tracy, we experienced an entirely different perspective. Displayed in the Acropolis Museum are the actual Caryatids though there are reproductions on the actual porch of the Erechtheion (The temple of Athena) on Acropolis hill. A Caryatid is a female support taking the place of a column. A male support would be called an atlas or a telamon. We saw telamons in many of the ancient ruins in Sicily in Agrigento. But I believe these are the first Caryatids we have seen. Remarkable in their beauty and grace, they have completely changed the way that I think of sculpture. In my mind, this fluid and sensual technique didn’t begin until the 15th or 16th century, and I always gave Italy the credit. These Caryatids prove me wrong.
And if you read my post in Milos about the Venus di Milo, you may not be surprised to hear that I’m more than a little dismayed that 1 of the precious 6 of these “Maidens” is housed in the British Museum. Rumored to have been stolen by Lord Elgin, how this precious artifact landed in the UK should be of little consequence, but that she belongs in Athens with her 5 sisters should not be in dispute, in my humble opinion. But I suppose this is a matter for the courts to settle. Though it has been a source of long debates on board with Jack exercising his vast skills of debate and logic.
In Ancient times, the “Agora” was the main shopping district. There is still an Agora in the Plaka district. Closed to all but foot traffic, the area is full of cool shops and restaurants. But in the Ancient Agora is the Tower of the Winds. Perhaps my favorite of all the ancient artifacts, this was believed to have been designed by Andronicus of Cyrrhus around 50BC- but according to Wikipedia, may have been built prior to the rest of the Forum in the second century BC. The tower, standing 39 feet tall, is topped by a Triton which indicated the wind direction. Each of the “cardinal” directions (carved long before the first compass) is a carving of the 8 wind deities as well as 8 sundials. Inside the tower is a water clock which is driven by water coming from the Acropolis. This efficient and beautiful monument would be the world’s first (to my knowledge) weather station. The friezes line up perfectly with the 8 cardinal wind directions –
Given that we would soon be leaving the EU again where finding products is easy, Jack independently found a LEGO store. Agreeing that we would go with him to spend his hard-earned money, we took a train to the mall. Many toy stores have Lego – but there are very few LEGO stores, and these are truly special places for Jack. We gave him about an hour to meander and labor over his decision of what to buy. I was particularly touched that he chose a very large and expensive (Jack is more of a saver than a spender) Expert build of a bookstore- which he said he wanted us to build together.
Speaking of collecting things on our last and final stop in the EU, Alec and I had some things shipped to Athens. We have been coveting Ebikes since we used them last year in Croatia. Alec very wisely did careful research and, a year later, we are finally taking delivery of these prized possessions.
We have been riding them ALL over -ever since we left Athens. They have become our primary source of transportation, allowing long rides involving cobbled stone streets, and enormous hills. I’m not sure if their use will involve less or more exercise since we are riding bikes rather than using public transport, but we love them!!!
Our final event in Athens involved spending the day with our nephew and his bride (and our newest Niece). We are so very proud of you Michael and the amazing things you are doing in the world, and we love your choice of brides – Marianne you are lovely. Welcome to the family.
I’m writing this in Istanbul about 6 weeks late. I can hardly get busy in writing about this amazing city.
When we travel from one country to another, despite the level of research we do, I can never really know what we will find when we arrive.
It is for this reason we like to take a ““peek”” at a place before committing to an entire winter there. We were glad we took this approach in Morocco. While an interesting place to visit, it was not a place we felt we would be happy for an entire winter. We again peeked in Montenegro and that peek helped us to relax all summer long, confident that we would be happy there for the winter.
Here it is August, and we still haven’t seen our winter home of Kas, Turkey. Unfortunately, there is no simple way to travel that far South and East when so much of our summer plans are North or West. So, we are crossing our fingers.
But having arrived in Turkey only two weeks ago, what we have seen of Turkey, we love. Easy for me to say now…
I must say, I had my reservations. I’m not sure why there was so much uncertainty with Turkey. Perhaps it was comments from family or friends who don’t know the Turkey of today. Perhaps it was due to my own “Western” – centric tendencies.
You see, Tukey is – well, Eastern, or at least, middle Eastern. By the time we make it to the Bosporus canal, we will be straddling the dividing line between two continents. We can’t go any further East and remain in Europe. Officially, we are on the Asian subcontinent.
Perhaps that is why recently, I have been at once feeling like the travel we have been doing is getting, well, redundant. I suppose if you do anything for long enough it can lose its “Alice in Wonderland” feel and after our 5th summer aboard and 4th summer cruising in Europe, we are feeling …. Well, comfortable I suppose. And it is the DIS-comfort that I usually like about travel. The getting outside of our comfort zone which is where the real work and the real personal discovery happens. I just don’t want to be too far outside of my comfort zone.
So, just in the nick of time, we leave the “West” and arrive in the “East.” Of course, we have been traveling in the Eastern Hemisphere for a while now having just passed the 26th parallel East. And we are shaking things up again by being here.
Many of the islands just 10 miles away from the Turkish Coast are Greek. Why? Because the entire Dodecanese Island group originally belonged to Italy following the first World War but became Greek after the second World War. It makes traveling these islands and navigating interesting given that there is just a line on a chart separating the Greek waters from the Turkish. I have looked up to see a lovely island oriented perfectly to find a protected anchorage given the winds, only to discover moments later that its Greek – so we continue.
But it is remarkable, given that, even though many Greek Islands are a stone’s throw away, the feel of the island, the language, the religion, the currency, the flag, the food, the history… are all totally different.
When we first arrived and got settled and I peddled to the grocery store with Kim, I felt at once despondent. A Crushing feeling of overwhelm came over me – and it shocked me. Staring into the dairy case trying to discern the Turkish word for “butter” after spending 3 months learning the Greek words, left me lost. At once realizing that despite having achieved some level of proficiency finding the Greek products which I could use to prepare the foods my family loves – I realized that I was starting all over again. Rather than feeling excited at the prospect of learning a whole new lexicon of foreign words and phrases and discovering a whole new flavor profile of delicious food, I just felt exhausted with the effort of starting over again. All the new words, useful only a week ago, useless for my endeavor today. Even the word for “Thank you”, the first and most important word we ever learn even before the lines are on the dock, eluded me for the first week. I just could not learn this word. I practiced it repeatedly and the next day, it would fail on my tongue. (Tesekkurler) by the way.
An acquaintance from Montenegro sent me an article today -which was timely given the changes that I have been grappling with. This person was grappling with his own changes – far greater than those that I have been dealing with. You see, alone and while on a passage, at night, he was knocked unconscious and awoke many hours later aground. Ultimately, he lost his home, his boat, and all his plans for the coming months.
According to Dr. Robert Puff, PHD writing on Physcologytoday.com, one’s ability to adapt to change is the determining factor in happiness. We all know that change is inevitable, so being able to anticipate and adapt to the change we all know is coming will decide one’s happiness.
I have often said that this lifestyle would either attract people for whom change is no adversary or it will make a person this way. One cannot be happy cruising if they are averse to change. There is very little about this life that is known or set in stone. The stops we make, the plans we research, everything we do is left to the vagaries of the weather and a machine which, regardless how well it is maintained, will incapacitate your trip from time to time.
This is not the first time I have become overwhelmed in a new country. But this is the first time I had to fight back feelings of panic given that we will be living here for the next 6 months. This was the first time that I had to admonish myself to keep my mind and spirit and heart open to all the new experiences. And for these first two weeks, I am breathing into the change and embracing the newness of this experience.
And my disposition has drastically improved. For one thing, I may not know how to say or read “butter” but 90 percent of the food we eat on board comes from the market and the market here is second to NONE. By the time we made it to the market that first Saturday, I felt my mood lighten and my spirit lift and within 20 minutes of my arrival, I was joyful. Stunned at the feeling of love and joy that overcame me, I had to take a moment to ask why? Why did standing amongst these lovely farmers, and rural shoppers surrounded by the most incredibly tasting fruit and vegetables I have ever eaten have such a profound impact on my peace of mind. I’m not sure but I think it is this: First, all the fresh food was a reminder of the abundance that we enjoy in our life. Regardless of any materialistic thing, the fresh food, and the abundance of it, is an enormous gift and nothing to take for granted. Alec added that the energy in the market is higher, and I think it is the energy emanating from the food as well as the people who shop and grow what is sold here.
I left with very little in my bag from the grocery store that day, but the bags upon bags of fresh fruit and veg we found in the market – you can’t believe! And while, as a longstanding coffee snob, I’m struggling to adapt to a very tea centric culture, I have enjoyed a few cups and I can see that I may well be a convert, at least while here anyway. I am reminded of the grocery store trip in Italy, overjoyed I was that I finally found what I thought was tahini and bought several large jars to discover a few hours later, on board, that we had bought mustard. None of us a fan of the condiment, I found a lovely recipe for honey mustard dressing and now I can’t keep enough mustard on board!
We rode our bikes the Ancient Greek sanctuary called Didyma and it was amazing. Founded in the 8th century BC, evidence of the temples to the twins, Apollo and Artemis dominates the grounds but other deities were also worshipped here. Look for people in the photo for some idea of the size and scope of this remarkable project.
I hope to write several more posts about the Turkish culture in the coming months but what I can tell you today after this short time here is that the handful of people we have met, are kind and warm and hospitable. The fruits and vegetables are incredible. The cost of living is incredibly low – but sadly for the Turks, inflation is very high. I feel grateful that I don’t have a bank account full of Turkish lira losing value every day. The waters here are unspoiled and the country incredibly clean and the historically significant archeological sites are remarkable.
If we were lucky to have an ole’ salt in Kelly aboard for the passage from Schioussa to Paros, we paid our dues with Jennifer and Tracy going to Poros. A 12-hour passage and forecast to be off and on high winds and bigger seas than we like to see with guests aboard, we received their blessing when we asked if they wanted to give it a try.
We knew (and assured Jennifer and Tracy) that there was no safety factor in jeopardy or, of course, we wouldn’t have left. But the seas were forecast to be 3 feet at 3 seconds. The 1-meter seas were not the issue – but rather the time interval between the waves. A 3-meter sea isn’t so bad if it is a long swell with 15 seconds in between, but when the period is the same as the wave height, it indicates short steep chop which is very uncomfortable. Gratitude is a full ocean crossing sea boat though, and while we don’t love the uncomfortable ride of short steep chop, Gratitude couldn’t care less. She is in her element in big seas.
Another factor is from which direction the waves and wind will present, and for us, it was going to be forward of the beam. If the waves are not on the nose, we have found that the stabilizers do a brilliant job of coping, but any component forward of the beam increases the discomfort. So, the forecast of 3 feet (1 Meter) and 3 seconds 10 degrees off the nose did portend a lousy ride. To be honest, we would have taken a pass if it was just us, but anxious to get our guests to another island and one closer to Athens for their final few days with us, we rolled the dice.
I don’t like suggesting that gambling is something we do regularly on Gratitude – but what we got was in some places quite smooth, yet in others, 4-6 feet with 3 seconds. Really uncomfortable.
Jack and I usually take a ½ a seasick pill when we know the conditions are forecast to be lousy and Jenn took one herself. Luckily, Jack and I did fine – unfortunately Jenn did not. Alec, Tracy, and Pratt all handled the sea like pros. So, several hours into our 12-hour passage I asked Jennifer if she wanted to duck into another island. Trooper that she was, she said “Nope, press on”. To be fair, we had moments of nice weather, but it was, unfortunately punctuated with steep pitching for most of the passage.
But we made it to Poros, and we really enjoyed our time there.
Enroute, and when it appeared certain we would be going the distance, Alec and I began doing research on the 3 islands which make up the Saronic archipelago. Wanting to go to Hydra, we soon discovered that there is no transportation from one end of the island to the main town given that no cars are allowed. But by going to Poros, we were able to enjoy the lovely anchorage off one of the prettiest beaches we have seen, while being able to enjoy the main town of Poros. Additionally, there is ferry service to Hydra, so we managed to get another island visit in.
As I have previously written, each of these islands are completely different from each other and in the case of Poros and Paros, two islands couldn’t be more different. For one thing, the Cyclades Islands, of which Paros is a member, is more arid, drier, and breezier with cool winds nearly constantly pelting the island. There is little green, and olive trees dot the Cyclades only sporadically. It is lovely in its own right – don’t get me wrong – but it is totally different than the Ionian side of Greece or the islands closest to the mainland in the Aegean.
More closely resembling Italy, Poros had mountains covered in Cypress trees and olive groves by the dozen. Even the houses and hotels followed their own color scheme of terra cotta roofs with natural hued facades contrasting with the Cyclades stark white buildings with blue domes and trim. The water was equally cool, but the air was much warmer as we were now out of the heart of the cool Northern Meltemi winds.
Away from the touristy mecca of the Cyclades, we found the shop owners and restauranters’ slightly more hospitable. Arriving in the Sporades meant a return to the hospitality tradition of thanking guests with a small gesture after dinner of a sweet treat or sometimes a drink of ouzo or lemoncello. There seemed to me a higher ratio of locals/guests even though Poros was clearly a charter fleet start/finish.
We enjoyed meals ashore; sauntering around town and in and out of shops and we even hopped aboard a free bus to have a quick look around.
We spent a day swimming, snorkeling, and laying on the beach changing our view for a day.
And we took a ferry to Hydra.
Known for its beautiful if pebbly beaches, and stunning Byzantine architecture, Hydra (pronounced IIdra,) even has their own flag. Alec and I could have whiled away the entire afternoon watching the sport of boats attempting to arrive and depart in the incredible wind and waves which pounded the port. We enjoyed meandering through the cobbled stoned streets and wandering in and out of shops. Jack and Tracy took a short trip around town on a donkey.
We loved an old monastery – Panagia Phaneromeni (The most Holy Virgin Mary Revealed of Hydra). According to the information on the building, in 1656, Barbary pirates raided the island and the Monastery. They stole the Sacred Icon of Mary as well as 3 notable Hydrean citizens. While heading toward Crete, their ship encountered a storm and fearing that they would sink, pirates begged the pious Hydreans to pray. One of the pirates desecrated the icon by chopping tobacco on it, and then broke it in 2 and threw it into the sea when his comrades asked for prayers.
A short time later, both pieces of the icon were found joined together on the shore of Hydra nearby the Monastery. The clergy, with incense and candles, reinstated the icon to the place in the Monastery. Simultaneously, in Africa across from Crete, the Most Holy Virgin Mary appeared to the pirates and ordered them to liberate the 3 captives. The men were returned unharmed to Hydra. A book, published by the Sacred Cathedral in 2014 recounts this and other miracles.
Riding back on the ferry we encountered the same high seas and wind we observed in the boats coming and going. The ferry departed 40 minutes late due to the slower speeds they needed to travel and 20% of the passengers were ill on the trip. All of us were fine – but we felt bad for the steward who was busy delivering sick sacks and caring for the ill passengers.
The rough weather, due to persist over the next several days caused us to change plans – again. Jennifer and Tracy decided to take the ferry back to Athens and we would take Gratitude, thus giving them a few more hours in Athens and a smoother ride. We all met later in Athens aboard Gratitude.
The next post will consolidate my 2 trips to Athens. The first with Kelly, then Jennifer and Tracy and finally with Michael and Marianne who arrived from a cruise ship on our final 24 hours in Athens.
Until next week…
PS As I write this, we are at anchor in Turkey. We are nearing our 3rd week in this amazing country, and I have already begun writing some of our experiences – I can hardly wait to share!
Can I just begin this post by saying that moving Gratitude this summer with the Meltemi winds has been a challenge. That said, we have mostly managed to keep to our original plans – plus or minus a few days. Getting from Ios to Schinoussa to Paros with Kelly on board was nerve wracking given that the winds were high and the sea state a little lumpy, but Kelly handled it like an ole salt and we were worried about nothing at all! Even Jack and I opted to take a pill and Kelly didn’t and was perfectly fine! Brava!!!
So, after a several hour passage we arrived in Alyki bay on the South end of Paros.
Something that we just recently discovered is that as the Meltemi is a thermal wind that begins the day as calm and builds throughout the day, until around 1900 when it begins to calm once more. Some bays have a katabatic wind which funnels down from the hills or mountains on the land and pour into the south bay. This is a totally new phenomena for us which we discovered while trying to find a calm anchorage sheltered from the Meltemi. The katabatic winds were gusting in the force 8 to 9 (40-50 knots of wind). Paros winds were so high that we broke our 2nd dynema anchor snubber! Dynema is supposed to be stronger than steel cable and after our first snubber snapped in high winds, we attributed it to wear since we have used it for several years. After putting on our spare we lost it on another windy day. Alec has spliced the 2 broken snubbers and made a 3rd which has been holding up thus far.
Alyki bay seemed to have these katabatic winds since our friends, Kim and Steve on Mimpi arrived shortly after us and anchored in Parikia. Realizing that there was a big difference in the winds they were experiencing on the same island, Alec and Jack decided to move Gratitude up to the port town while I was traveling to Santorini to meet up with Jennifer and Tracy.
The absolute saving grace is that the ground holding here is fantastic. We have set the anchor and held firmly in place for days on end in 40 knots of wind. The amazing holding is the only reason we have been able to be at anchor as much as we have all summer and still travel freely off the boat with reasonable certainty that Gratitude would be safe and sound while we are gone – which is a great thing since Paros is a wonderful island to explore.
And we had the opportunity to explore it, not only with Kelly but also with Jennifer and Tracy 1 week later. So, I’m going to combine both trips in 1 post about Paros.
Taking a public bus from Alyki to Parikia, the main port town, we had explored the main “city” and enjoyed … yep … more great food, and anther very cool old town. Meandering streets filled with cobbled stone roads which have been wandered since the 4 or 5th centuries BC, is at once surreal and delightful.
Paros has become the “new” Mykonos or Santorini with night clubs and throngs of 20 something Europeans arriving (literally) by the boatloads daily. Not since the earlier days of South Beach have I seen so many beautiful bikini clad young people, backpacks slung over their shoulders coming and going on ferries all day. Since we are well past the age of nightclubbing – what follows are the attractions that interest us on Paros. Jennifer, Tracy, and I were amongst some of the new arrivals when we took the ferry to Paros from Santorini.
2 highlights of our time in Parikia include the Frankish Castle, built in 1260 by Venetian Duke of Naxos, it is comprised of “building materials” from the archaic temple of Athena. What has resulted is a fantastically interesting structure, the pictures of which are below. In town, art galleries have photographs and artistic renderings of this iconic building. We did see a similar use of past building supplies resulting in a magnificent old building in Croatia. But despite the frequent use of old building materials through the centuries, these are the only 2 buildings we have ever seen with this unique “style”
And the second highlight of Parakia is the Aghia Eleni – Panagia Ekatontapiliani (The church of 100 doors)
Our first encounter with St. Helen was when we were in Venice last year. We stayed at the Santa Elena Marina just adjacent to the Santa Elena church. Briefly decommissioned and then later re-consecrated in 1928, this church holds the relics of the Christian Saint, Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine. St. Helen was in and out of favor amongst Roman Nobility but while she was granted status as a “Noble woman” when her son rose to Emperor in Rome, and she was granted land near Rome.
According to Lewis, Jone Johnson. “Helena, Mother of Constantine.” ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/helena-mother-of-constantine-3530253, Among the notable events attributed to St. Helen – she is believed to have found the original cross of Jesus while traveling in Palestine “on an official inspection for her son of the construction of the churches he had ordered.” While having a temple to Venus removed and replaced with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the cross was supposed to have been discovered.
The Panagia Ekatontapiliani (also knowns as the church of 100 doors), was built in the mid 4th century by St. Helen or by her son, Constantine the Great who fulfilled his mother’s vow. According to aboutparos.com, Saint Helen stopped to worship here on her way to the holy land whereupon she prayed to the Virgin Mary that should she find the cross, she would return to build a bigger church. Destroyed but rebuilt in the 6th century, the church has 100 doors but only 99 can be seen. The 100th is closed and, according to legend, will only be open when Constantinople (currently Istanbul) becomes Greek again.
A 30-minute bus ride North from the port town of Parakia and you will arrive in the charming fishing village called Naoussa. We loved it so much while visiting with Kelly, it was at the top of the list to show to Tracy and Jennifer. Nightclubs throb into the early daylight hours here but during the day the quaint fishing village is charming. Winds on our second trip were so high as to make the trip to the old 14th century Venetian Castle fortification impassable but we did get to see it with Kelly. From the North side of the island and on the safety of land, the Meltemi was very impressive.
On both trips we arrived just in time for lunch on our body clocks- or breakfast for the 20 somethings that I mentioned earlier. While we were looking for a place to eat, it was clear that most of the town was still just waking up with young people lounging on chaises drinking bloody mary’s and coffee. But the shops were open while we wound our way around the labyrinth stone paved lanes, and the charming fishing boats were unloading their catch of the day in the noontime sun. Mostly what we saw was octopuses drying in the sunlight, but I can’t take photos of them because I hate to see them endure such a tragic end. Jack and I have seen some hiding under rocks while snorkeling but here they are a mainstay of the local cuisine. Meals we enjoyed on both occasions were amazing. Incredibly fresh ingredients are the star of the Greek diet and for once in my life, I could walk into nearly any restaurant and be delighted with the offering (the exception being strictly seafood).
There is also a town in the center of the island to which we never made the trip. It is purported to be the source of the crystal-clear marble that made the Venus de Milo and the Parthenon.
A short ferry ride from Paros, Anti-Paros lies just to the Northwest of Paros. Known for more upscale shops and rugged hikes, it was the perfect place to spend the day eating lunch and whiling away another lovely day in the Cyclades with friends. Steve and Kim came along for the ride and after a quick change in plans upon finding that the smaller boats wouldn’t make the trip due to the high winds, we took a bus to the larger ferry further south from Parakia and enjoyed a lovely day together.
Kelly and I traveled by ferry to Athens for the end of her time with us and Jennifer and Tracy continued on the Gratitude with the next stop… Poros…
Poros, a totally different island in the Argo-Saronic Gulf has almost nothing in common with Paros, in the middle Cyclades Island chain. But we will keep that for the next post….
Right now, I’m sitting in Didim, Turkey where we have a small mechanical issue with our davit (the crane which lowers our dinghy, bikes, and some beach toys) to the water. The timing of this issue could not be better as we had planned to take some “down time” to get caught up on life admin tasks and I’m able to do some chronicling of our adventures before we get too far down the road in Turkey.
Continuing our travel North from Santorini with Kelly aboard, we first stopped in Ios. We enjoyed Kelly for 8 days and in that time, we visited Santorini, Ios (all over the island), Schoinoussa – primarily the water and anchorage, and finally Paros.
Likely the question we are most frequently asked is: “What is your favorite xyz?” Depending on the person asking or the context, sometimes xyz = country and sometimes it is island. Sometimes xyz = food and that one is easier to identify. For me, the Greek food has been the far and away my favorite (though I remember thinking Spain was my favorite while there), and Ios was absolutely a favorite island (though I remember falling in love with Folegandros also). All of this is to say, it made the list of standout places that were special to me.
As we have been cruising the islands of the Greek archipelago, of which there are 227, we have only scratched the surface at 20 island visits. We tried to see and immerse ourselves, as much as possible, in the islands we visit -seeking opportunities to connect with the people who call the island home. We do this through arranged tours but also through random encounters. For me, my favorite is usually the place where I am now living. This isn’t a quip or lie – but honestly how I feel. Some cruisers and travelers will reply “the next stop on the itinerary” and I get that too. The reason we keep traveling is a desire to experience “the next”. But for me, I often struggle to let go of a place because where I am standing is the most amazing experience I have ever had.
So with that in mind, I’ll try to convey my loves of Ios.
Jack and I struggled to get through Homers’ Iliad and Odyssey a couple of years ago. We never quite finished it – Jack was only 9 or 10 at the time and it was foolish of me to foist it on him. But we did enjoy the stories contained within through BBCs programs of narrating fantastic stories from the Iliad. It was with those tales in our mind that we have been enjoying our tour of the Greek islands. Ios is the presumed burial place of Homer, and it is here we found his “gravestone” and small monument to his work. This visit has re-invigorated my desire to re-read and understand Homer and his famous Iliad and Odyssey.
If you read our post on the Kalamata olives from – well, Kalamata, you might have felt just a small inkling of the love of food we have and the love of the people who, through the connection of a love of food, share these experiences with us. Well, we found a similar and equally amazing experience here in Ios and utterly and completely by accident. Driving down the road we saw a sign indicating a cheese museum. Of course, I love museums and I love cheese, so we were bound to stop right?? The lovely woman who passionately shared her love of her culture with us will forever touch us. If you are visiting the Cyclades islands, this island warrants a stop if ONLY for the amazing cheese museum. You can visit online and book a tour through Diaseli.com. We learned so much about Greece in general from this visit alone.
Married into the family but originally from Athens, our tour guide walked us through the life of her Greek family and shared passionately her love of its culture. At the end of the tour, we loved it too. I’m sad to say too much time has passed and I don’t recall our hosts name, but she had so much soul – we all fell in love with her.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone and after an hour or two felt that nothing was said, no meaningful connection made? Yet conversely, had a conversation with someone and after 15 minutes felt that you knew them heart and soul? This was what happened with this guide. She had so much love and passion and soul and she generously wanted to share it with us. Walking us through her family’s 18th century home, we learned that the paved road and electricity on the island was only 40 years old and prior to that, farmers would only walk between towns with mules, donkeys, or goats. This explains why there are so many wonderful hikes on each of the islands, – they are what remains of a practical means of travel from over the centuries. What was particularly shocking to us is that only 40 years ago, life on this island would have been much as life in America was perhaps 150 years ago! Our “progress” has been so swift it induces whiplash, while the “old ways” here persist with only minor changes in terms of improvements in economies of scale or industrialization.
The result of that tie to the past is the most amazing cheese one has ever tasted! The goats, visible in the distance, still meander the hillsides feasting on wild (not cultivated) herbs. They are not penned; they eat what is growing wild and untreated with chemicals. We were not permitted access to the “factory” due to health and safety measures, but we looked in and witnessed just a small room which produced the nicest cheese we have ever sampled. Alec loathes goat cheese but with some prodding decided to try this. The purveyor explained that with no stress hormones and a rich diet of herbs – the goat cheese has none of that weird flavor that we all associate with goat cheese. She was right. Not even the slightest hint of goat cheese in the cheese from goats. Alec LOVED it – we all did.
We learned that the iconic white houses are the result of an epidemic of Cholera in 1938. The Greek dictator Metaxas mandated that each house be whitewashed in limestone to kill the infection. Later, during the dictatorship of the 60s and 70s in accordance with a military regime of order, the whitewashing persisted to be homogeneous and impersonal. But along the way it became iconic and a touristic draw and today it persists if for no other reason because it is cool.
Our guide showed us where the man of the house slept (in a bed) and where the women, huddled with children, slept (on the floor) and we gained a sense of the roots that persist today in this patriarchal society.
We enjoyed local herbs (one I have found in Turkey at the market, and I still don’t know the name) and cheese, and mostly we enjoyed a connection to this family and their very recent past.
Continuing our travel, we went to a monastery up in the mountains, the trip to which is a pilgrimage in itself. The monastery is still in use and services are held here regularly.
After a long and full day exploring, we were ready for an amazing dinner which we enjoyed in the main town of Ios. Gratitude was anchored on the South end of the island from where we took a bus to the port town. We loaded up on fresh groceries and traveled back “home”.
It is always fun to share our “real life” with people who visit us. There is no way of explaining that we are not simply laying on chaise lounges sipping drinks with umbrellas in them. No matter how we try to convey that this lifestyle, though wonderful and enriching, is challenging in ways we can’t possibly explain, we know that when visitors come, they have had their own visions of what their vacation will look like and we also know, that unless they have been here more than once, it won’t look anything like what they envisioned. Even though Kelly has visited us before, she hasn’t had the chance to see us while cruising and moving from place to place. So it was fun for her to experience what our real life is like. All the moving parts that must fall into place for us to move from one island to another. All the weather planning, all the logistical planning, and even the grocery shopping. On this trip we purchased groceries since we had a rental car, and it was simple to get the groceries to the anchorage, but from there we had to convey the groceries to the dinghy whilst climbing over rocks in winds exceeding 40 knots, at night. The dinghy was tied to rocks and stern anchored but had to be pulled in and the groceries loaded. From there we traveled to Gratitude and in pitching seas, loaded us and our precious cargo aboard. So, you can see that we may not have a lot of ice cream on board, or beer, or even wine. We don’t carry much more than that which we need because carrying only what we need is as much as 3 people can manage. It is truly fun for us to share this part of cruising because this is what real life is for us. We try to make sure we do the cleaning and preparing before guests arrive so that their time with us isn’t drudgery but sharing some of the realistic aspects of what we do is authentic and fun as well.
Ios was a fantastic stop – amazing food, swimming, snorkeling, beachcombing, and history. What more could we want? Our next stop was a request by Jack for his birthday. He specifically asked to be at an island that was minimally inhabited, and he wanted to spend the entire day in the water. Happy to comply, we thankfully and barely found an acceptable weather window to go to Schoinoussa.
While at a cocktail party in Montenegro- before we left on our 3-month tour of Greece, we met someone who had cruised the Cyclades the year before. One of the highlights of enjoying time with other cruisers is the wealth of information we can share with each other from one year to the next. Rarely do we all have the same itinerary. Even if we are wintering over for more than 1 year together, we will have varied cruising schedules. So, imagine my shock when the person replied, “they were all the same – one was as the other and honestly I can’t recall even the stops that we made to recommend or not”. Even though I had only been to Greece 30 years earlier, I had the memory of knowing that the few stops we made on a short cruise ship itinerary involved places of completely different (if similar) character. Suspecting that our conversation was unlikely to improve, I made my way to others in the room.
But as I sit here on the fly bridge approaching what is scheduled to be the last and final island on an exquisite tour of some of the most stunning and soul rich places we have been, I am in true awe of what makes the Greek Isles so special. And I can promise you that after stopping at 20 islands, each is decidedly NOT as the other. Each of the islands is as each of the people we met – unique and special and a treasure we will keep with us forever. I’m at once joyful at what we have experienced and sad to have to leave this wonderful place. (Americans are only permitted 90 days out of each 180 days in the Schengen area of which Greece is a part). I haven’t updated the blog lately because we have been living living! Living! but now, I’d like to get some words on paper so we can preserve some of the special memories we have made in this stunning archipelago.
At first glance, our routing would look haphazard and as Alec said it, “like a drunken sailor.” But we had a motive in mind when we resumed our course East ward following the Peloponnese to port. Even though Santorini was not intended to the be the highlight of OUR summer cruise, we knew from polling our guests who were joining us that it was an important stop. And why wouldn’t it be? It is so unique in terms of geology and scenery with the gleaming white buildings crowned with the iconic blue domes. It is likely the most photographed of all the Greek islands and it is an Instagram/social influencer dream.
But we are far from influencers aboard Gratitude. We aren’t looking for the perfect shot to convey the perfect image. Rather, we are looking for the perfect person who can sum up the perfect soul of a place.
So, for that reason, Santorini was further down on our list of favorite islands but what I CAN say about it – the caldera in the center, the largest in the world, with water of 300 meters depth climbing to mountains of 100 meters high was incredible. I could sit and stare in awe imagining the amazing cataclysmic explosion in 1400 BC, felt around the world, that left this gaping hole in its wake. People are an adaptable species and given the high cliffs and abundant sea life, for centuries, donkeys have carried goods up and down the 566 steps to the top. Today, that effort is augmented by a cable car operating from Thira which shuttles cruise ship passengers up and back to their ships. Speaking of cruise ships…
There is, near where the cruise ships ferry their customers to the port, a large, enclosed net which sits on the surface attempting to contain seepage from a cruise ship which sunk on April 5, 2007. I heard this shocking tail of a cruise ship, damaged and with a Captain dithering about for 8 hours, and then going to the deep commercial port to disembark the fortunate customers who made it safely to land, from someone sharing our ride to the port. Rumors abound on the island about what became of the captain, though the most credible is that he changed his name and ran off to avoid prosecution. Remembering that we have friends who were on a sunken ship in Greece, I asked them if this was their ship and, in fact, it was. The cruise company offered them compensation of 2500.00 each and a voucher for a future cruise. 2 passengers were lost and presumed dead. And the wreckage is still a ticking time bomb on the bottom of the caldera. Every day this ship sits is one more day that the fuel tanks suffer the corrosive effects of salt water. The insurance company and cruise ship company have already been ordered to contain the wreckage and remove the ship, but they are appealing the decision and the biggest loser (aside from the poor missing passengers) may well be the environment and the people who call this special place home. Today there are roughly 10000 regular inhabitants who work incredibly hard to support the 500,000 yearly visitors on this tiny island. But enough of that poor misbegotten adventure, on with ours… The weather, warm over much of the Mediterranean, is cool and comfortable in Santorini (and many of the Cyclades islands) owing to the pleasant cool air funneling down from the North. This same North wind, called the Meltemi, is also what has kept us moored in several locations a few days longer than we may have preferred to remain, and to arrive earlier.
Santorini is made up of lava, ash, and oxidized iron which accounts for the 3 beaches, black, red, and brown.
I was able to enjoy Santorini a couple different ways, first while we were moored in Thirassia while awaiting my sister Kelly’s arrival, and then later when I took a ferry to meet Jen and Tracy. Both trips were totally different but equally enjoyable. With Kelly we were aboard Gratitude, and we took the dinghy over the Oia where we hiked, shopped, and dined on beautiful food. We met a few lovely humans away from the hustle and bustle of the main island and it was these encounters which left me with a sense of the soul of the place. With Jennifer and Tracy, I met them at a lovely hotel (for lack of a better word). But “hotels” on Thira are truly in a class by themselves. The nicer of them, such as where we stayed, provided multiple rooms housed in one shared space with our own small wading pool. Truly God help the humans who daily deliver luggage to the inhabitants perched on the side of a mountain. These men (I didn’t see any women doing this job) climb up and down the cobbled stoned paths carrying cases larger than a child. They do this with a smile on their face and commitment of service.
We rented a car for a day and traveled from end to end seeing all that we could see and again, we ate and ate some of the most gorgeous food I have ever seen! If you are heading to Santorini, highlights included Mia’s, and a home cooked meal but I can’t remember the name – Jen or Tracy – Any help??
It is hard to imagine anyone being disappointed by a trip to Santorini (Thira) but I beg you to make certain to include some smaller islands on your itinerary if you come to Greece. It is the smaller islands who hold the soul of Greece and in the absence of throngs of short-term visitors, the locals have the energy to share and impart that soul to you. What will follow in the next blog entries are the smaller islands in which we stopped making our way Northward to Athens.
Rounding the peninsula of the Peloponnese, we had opted to head due East, rather than make the turn North heading to Athens. Our primary considerations for the next 6 weeks are the 7 guests arriving in 4 different increments. Since all our family and friends arriving should see, at a minimum, Athens- and most want to see Santorini. Our challenge is that we don’t wish to spend 6 of our precious 12 Greek weeks in these locales, so it has involved a bit of “visitor calculus” to make sure everyone is getting what they want after traveling 5,000 miles to be with us.
While we have only hosted 2 people thus far, we have high hopes for achieving these goals – though weather will certainly play a big role in this. The summer wind events in Greece known as the Meltemi have been causing a few disruptions to the schedule and we must plan to make sure we are where we can receive guests – i.e., near an airport or ferry. In fact, during the most intense Meltemi, even the ferries cancel service. That said, we have had 2 events so far and we arrived in Milos ahead of the first, and we tucked into Folegandros for the second. So far, so good. But back to Milos, where we entered the Cyclades….
Our first visitors arrived in Athens within a couple of days of our arrival in Milos. We planned this so that they could spend a couple of days acclimating to the time change in Athens and see the Acropolis and anything else they wanted to see, then take a ferry to us in Milos. This worked perfectly as we were then “stuck” in Milos for several days while the Meltemi blew. We had several days of 35 knot winds during which travel would have been in violation of rule number 1 on Gratitude – “Keep the pleasure in pleasure boating”. That said, by the time they arrived, we were rested, ready and had some family time “in the bank” so that our week together was enjoyable.
Milos is an amazing island and since I had never heard of it before this visit, I can only assume it is considerably underestimated. The southernmost island in the Cyclades Island group, located just north of Crete, it is known for its stunning beaches and is also famous for the location of the discovery of the Venus de Milo.
We originally planned to anchor in the south of the island due to the prevailing Meltemi from the North but opted instead to try out the harbor as the journey around the island to collect our niece from the ferry would have been a long one. Surprisingly, the harbor was very comfortable and reasonably protected with the 30 knots of wind we encountered on several of the days we were there. This can only be attributed to the excellent holding of the anchor and the ‘flopper stoppers” we deployed to counter the effects of the swell. I don’t think we would have been any more comfortable at the marina and, In fact, as it was much warmer at the dock, I can only imagine we would have been far less so.
The port town of Adamantas was busy but lovely and contained many shops, restaurants, and bakeries as well as a salon where Jack got his hair cut. He has been letting it grow long but found that it is interfering with the seal on his snorkel and mask, so he has decided to cut it. I love function over form, and I personally prefer his hair short, so this was a welcome change. We also toured the old caste near Trypiti, and after Ryan and Sarah arrived, we went to the fishing villages, Sarakiniko beach and the Catacombs. Discovered in 1844, The Catacombs of Milos are an ancient burial site for Christians as well as a place of worship during a time when it was dangerous for Christians to openly practice their religion.
Wishing to avoid further delay, we opted to head to Folegandros, to wait out another weather opportunity for our planned destination of Thira (also known as Santorini).
A smaller island than Milos in terms of occupancy and historical sites, it more than made up for any perceived deficiencies in terms of beauty and hikes. We found a perfect little anchorage, again in the South, and out the path of the Meltemi but the surge was remarkable and probably given other circumstances, we may have gone elsewhere. Still, the flopper stoppers performed admirably and, mindful of lockers closed and locked, we had a wonderful stop. We were here for US Father’s day which we were happy to celebrate with Sarah and Ryan. The Chora in Folegandros was adorable and we found one of the best meals we have eaten there. And this little shop housed handmade toys and crafts that reflected the sweet nature of the shop owner and craftsman who made them.
The final island on Sarah and Ryan’s itinerary and the place where we will continue to stay awaiting Kelly’s flight on Wednesday, we were fortunate to secure a mooring ball in Thirasia. Warned by multiple sources that the Infamous Thira – aka Santorini – would be difficult to manage in terms of anchorage or marina opportunities, Alec worked hard to find a suitable option for us. And here is why: Santorini is so incredibly well known that for us or our family to miss it -would be a shame. Added to that is the convenience of having an airport large enough to accommodate arrivals and departures from Athens. While we probably wouldn’t have planned a week here, this week is necessary between guests to clean the boat and hit the master reset on our family time. While we love having family and friends visit, having 2 back-to-back would fail to honor their visit with our best selves.
THIRA (SANTORINI) Anchoring… or not…
The island of Thira is a giant volcano which most recently erupted in a cataclysmic event in 1400 BC. For this reason, the mountains climb to 100 meters and descend to depths of 300 meters leaving little in the way of suitable anchorages. Not only are all the shallower depths littered with volcanic rock (not the best medium in which to anchor), the depth alone prohibits suitable anchoring. We typically use a scope of 5 to 1 meaning that in 300 meters of depth we would need more than 5000 feet of chain. So, you see the dilemma. There are also no marinas on either of the 2 islands. There ARE, however, mooring balls. Used primarily by the day tripper boats shuttling tourists from Thira to the smaller neighboring island across the caldera called Thirasia, the owner of the substantial mooring offered to rent it to us for several nights. Problem solved. We have the privilege of watching 5000 thousand daily tourists invade this tiny island of approximately 150 year-round inhabitants. Honestly, it’s not as bad as it sounds. They come to deliver people en masse to the handful of restaurants and have a little swim in the cool clear waters away from the main towns of Oia and Thira. I don’t blame them; the water is gorgeous and the respite from the busy streets a wonderful break. The cost of this service ranges from 1035.00 per person on the catamarans to 2200.00 for the faster speed boats. It includes lunch and drinks. I’m not sure what the charge is for the giant, filled to the rafters, tourist boats but for those lunch and drinks are not included.
But with Ryan and Sarah we only had 1 day to make the most of their visit here so with little time to spare, we enjoyed some traditional Greek music at a sweet small festival on Thirasia, and we went to Oia for the day.
Charming and quintessential, Oia is the lovely cliff top town on the North side of the island. The shops, though certainly catering to tourists, (and there are many that have the cookie cutter “evil eye “likely made in China), are many artist shops and special places that reflect the unique nature of Thira. The lovely and Jet set abound up and down the streets crammed with restaurants and those iconic white buildings with blue accented doors and domes. But it works. Arriving by dinghy at the port, we were all a bit daunted by the site of several hundred steps to the top but Laurie, Sarah and Ryan climbed up while Alec and Jack (worn out from our 2 very large and steep hikes in Folegandros) opted to take the donkey to the top.
There is a reason why Thira is the most famous and photographed island in Greece. There is simply no other place like it. End to end the island is only approximately 9 miles long but the interior Caldera is roughly 6 miles. Which is to say that much of the volume is water of depths exceeding 500-900 feet. Fascinating.
Following Ryan and Sarah’s departure, we spent a family day on the small boat, searching out snorkeling spots and in search of the famed “White” “Red” and Black” beaches. The “Red” Beach is probably the most famous and interesting with oxidized iron accounting for the red color of the cliffs.
Jack has spent some time building the huge project that Sarah delivered. Jack had ordered and paid for the immense Lego with birthday and job money months ago. And Alec and I have gotten caught up on some “life admin” tasks. Gratitude is all shiny and clean following an entire day spent cleaning her inside and out and we are ready for Kelly to arrive next week.
Correction: There are 18 UNESCO world Heritage sites in Greece as of 2021. The caves are still not on the list, however, there are far more than the 5 that I read about in my (clearly outdated) travel guide.