Saturday, July 14, 2012

Balloon Flight over Cappadocia

Today was our last official day and it started very early for some members of the group who elected to experience the sensational hot air balloon ride over the valleys of Cappadocia.  The balloon trips starts just before sunrise and the views from the basket are spectacular.  The balloon pilot expertly navigates the balloon over the fairy chimney towers, down into valleys where you can see the villagers waking up and starting the day, and high up into the sky for panoramic views of the landscape with vistas of the large snow covered Argues volcano.  

At times the balloon is just a few feet from the top of a fairy chimney and one marvels at the skill of the pilot to use the micro currents at different levels to steer the balloon.  It is certainly a one in a lifetime experience and a unique place to fly in a balloon.  

After a wonderful breakfast we went to the famous underground city of Kaymakli where early Christians carved a city under the earth 8 stories deep.  The level of sophistication is stunning...they had kitchens, wine and olive presses, air shafts, secret chambers, sleeping quarters and several churches in this amazing complex.  The city was built underground to avoid persecution from the pagans who would attack the Christians.  Talk about living history - wow!  

For lunch we had wonderful kebabs, Turkish pizza (pide), lamb, and chicken at a nice restaurant by the river in Avanos. The dessert was a local specialty of shredded wheat with a layer of salty cheese baked in an oven then drizzled with honey water - delicious.  We are back at the hotel now resting up and getting ready for our final cocktail hour where we plan to taste more local wines and celebrate the great journey that we have all shared in this wonderful and welcoming land...

Cappodoccia Churches & Flying Carpets

Today we enjoyed a nice breakfast on the terrace overlooking the valley and then headed to the Goreme Open Air Museum which is set in a narrow valley behind the village of Goreme.  The site is renowned for some of the best examples of early Byzantine churches that were hand carved into the cliffs made of soft tufa stone deposited by nearby dormant volcanoes.  The churches have beautifully preserved frescoes depicting Christ, Mother Mary, St. George, the 12 Apostles, and many scenes from the bible.  The colors are brilliant and the artistry was at the highest level.  It was fun to weave our way trough the maze of passages which revealed hidden treasures like the Dark Church resplendent with frescoes that are in superb condition. 

After touring the site some of the kids took another camel ride while we enjoyed tea and coffee in a nearby cafe.  Our next stop was Pasabag Valley where the kids had a grand time scrambling up into the cave dwellings and trying to climb up into the upper levels of these abandoned homes.  The towering formations here are called Fairy Chimneys and they resemble a giant sand castle that one might make from squeezing wet sand into a tower at the beach.  Some of the towers have huge boulders precariously perched at their tops because the boulders are made of harder stone which did not erode as fast as the tufa stone below.  Locals carved their homes into these towers over centuries and there are some amazing multi level houses built into the cliffs.

We were treated to lunch at our driver’s village home where we feasted on local specialties and the we were invited into the home to have tea and discuss village life.  It was one of those “real deal” cultural encounters which make travel so rewarding.  

Our last stop was at a carpet weaving cooperative where we received a fantastic educational demonstration of how carpets and kilims (flat weaves) are made. We saw how they were dyed using natural plants found locally, how the wool and silk was spun, how the loom was set up for each specific carpet and how the nimble fingers of the village women weave the famous Turkish Double Knot which makes Turkish carpets so strong and durable.  We learned that silk carpets can have as many as 900 knots per square inch and that a large silk carpet can take 2 women almost 2 years to weave...
Then we went into the showroom where we were shown various regional carpets and told of the symbolism in the patterns. Several of us picked our favorites and will now have a memory of the trip for life whenever we walk on our “magic carpets” back home.

 Jale treated us to a “dinner and a show” which was lots of fun.  There were a wide range of dancers from Black Sea to Whirling Dervishes and even a belly dancer.  Several people from our group joined in the dancing at various points in the evening and it was good fun to see the kids joining in without any hesitation.  The live band enhanced the atmosphere and a good time was had by all.  We returned to our wonderful hotel and fell asleep the second our heads hit the pillow after a long day.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Today we awoke early and bid a find farewell to our wonderful crew and our deluxe floating home.  It was hard to leave the comfort and hospitality of the crew and several people mentioned trying to kidnap our chef and take him with us to Cappadocia. We drove 30 minutes to the Dalaman airport and then boarded our flight to Cappadocia via Istanbul.
  We landed and were treated to a great meal at an old Greek mansion where we tasted various local specialties including delicious dolmas, fresh beans, borek, and more.  The house is set in an old Greek village and the local architecture is stunning.  Lots of stone buildings, churches, and arched bridges are woven throughout the little sandstone canyon where the town was built.  

After lunch we went to a local pottery workshop where we learned  about the 1000 year old pottery tradition of this region.  It was very informative to see the various stages of pottery production and at the end the kids all got to try throwing pottery on a traditional pottery wheel.  It was a total blast to watch their faces as the clay transformed before their eyes.  We then toured the finished products and marveled at the incredible artistry that the crafts people hand drew onto these pieces.  
As the sun set we made our way to our amazing cave hotel situated on the cliffs of Uchisar village.  We checked in to our fabulous cave suites that are hand carved into the local stone and beautifully furnished with antiques and rugs. The rooms are huge with enormous bathrooms that make you want to take a “shower several times” a day as the Travel and Leisure reviewer wrote.  The walls are cream colored and local stone arches help support the chiseled roof.  We met in the stylish lounge for wine tasting and appetizers and had a great time recounting the trip to that point.  The views over the local valley were superb.  

We had some local wine made of Okuzgozu grapes, on the terrace of the hotel, overlooking the valleys. And we were completely satisfied as we lay our heads down to sleep in the enormous beds in our cave hotel...

Islands of Gocek Bay

Today we spent our time exploring the beautiful islands and coves of Gocek Bay.  We found a wonderful anchorage next to a beach and all jumped in the water to enjoy our last day on the Med.  Eventually one of the large day boats came by and anchored near us.  These large day boats have between 50-100 people on board and they visit 12 islands during their tour.  They can be quite noisy and it reminded us how lucky we were to have spent a week on our private gulet in peaceful bays away from the main tourist areas.  We decided to make the best of the day boat’s appearance so we stormed the day boat like pirates and snuck on the triple decker boat to use their waterslide and to jump from the very top deck to the welcoming sea below.  It was great fun for the kids and Jordan Robertson (age 9) bravely joined the older kids in launching himself off the 25 foot drop without any hesitation.  Good fun was had by all!  We then snuck away from the big boat and went to one of our favorite anchorages off the port of Gocek where we enjoyed our last swim and tea time on the boat.  
Then we headed into port and explored the charming village of Gocek which is a quaint town with only one main street filled with lots of artist boutiques and cafes.  The town is very laid back and has a great vibe to it.  Perry took some of the men to his favorite barbershop for one last shave and Jale took the women to some of her favorite boutiques for shopping.  We met back on the gulet for cocktail hour and then sat down to a magnficent farewell dinner that the chef had prepared for us.  
The crew had carved a gorgeous centerpiece for the table with great imagination having carved watermelon and other fruits to resemble flowers...just spectacular.  Our chef, Ekrem, went all out this final meal and prepared almost 15 different dishes.  We gave him and the crew a rousing round of applause at the end of the meal and then retired to our cabins for the last night on the gulet.  It has been an amazing and rewarding week with a fantastic captain and crew and we were all very grateful for the stellar service they provided to us.  

Tomorrow we fly to Cappadocia in the heartland of Turkey where the landscape will be the polar opposite of the Med!  It will be sad to leave the boat but exciting to see traditional Turkish culture and a fantastic landscape of slot canyons, red cliffs, and panoramic vistas...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hiking to the Temple of Athena and on to Cleopatra’s Bath

Bahadir serving fresh fruit

Today we had a nice leisurely breakfast consisting of fresh eggs, toast, cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, yogurt, cereal, filtered coffee and tea.  After a refreshing swim we set off for Aglimani bay where we disembarked the gulet and headed to shore to start our hike to the Temple of Athena in Lydae.  A strong scent of sage drifted across from the shore coming from piles of freshly harvested sage drying in the sun that had been picked by local semi-nomads.  Our hike took us up a wide rocky trail that followed the contour of our turquoise anchorage and soon we had magnificent views down onto our elegant gulet floating calmly in the azure waters.  

From this vantage point you understand how crystal clear the waters are because you can see all the way down the anchor chain to the sea bed almost 50 feet below.  Amazing!  Our group were fast hikers and we soon reached the summit in record time having passed under shady pine trees along most of the trail.  The payoff at the top after 45 minutes of hiking was a magnificent ancient site which was dedicated to the Goddess Athena.  We had the entire ancient site to ourselves and Jale told us the history of the temple as we sat under a huge Carob tree in the shade.  We wandered around the well preserved structures noting the fine precision with which the large stone blocks were fitted.  The mix of architectural styles was also impressive; Greek lentles, Roman arches, Byzantine walls gave evidence to the successive civilizations that loved in this ancient land.  

Clavey, looking at Ceren's book...
Our host Mutlu is serving sage tea to Nicholas...
The highlight of our hike was a visit to a semi-nomadic family which Jale and Perry had befriended over the years.  We sat and enjoyed sage tea with them in a shady covered area in the middle of their garden.  It was fun to learn about their life in the mountains and the kids even got to ride their donkey around the garden.  We bought some nice souvenirs from them including wild mountain honey, hand carved cooking spoons, and beautiful scarves with hand stitched sea shells on the edges. 

Perry took some of the younger kids back to the gulet and Jale led the more adventurous on a longer hike which followed a single track trail through the pine forests to a deep canyon.  The group enjoyed great views at the canyon rim and then descended a steep rocky trail to the valley floor where they crosses a dry river bed and then hiked up the other side where a cool breeze greeted them at the summit.  Then the descended down a forest path to the ruins of Cleopatra’s bath where the gulet came to meet them.  Everyone swam and kayaked around and through these submersed ruins on the shoreline.  Local legend holds that Marc Anthony built this Roman bath for his great love, Cleopatra.  It is easy to imagine how incredible the baths must have been as they are situated on a gorgeous turquoise bay fringed with pine trees and rock outcrops.  After a great lunch on the gulet we found another perfect anchorage to swim in and spend the night.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming....

Today we had an awesome “down day” with lots of swimming, reading, board games, and more. Our captain found some beautiful anchorages in turquoise bays with dramatic limestone cliffs above. The green pine trees made a gorgeous contrast to the turquoise waters. One of the highlights of the day was snorkeling and some of the younger kids had their first taste of life under the sea. Sightings included black sea cucumbers, striped wrasse, needle fish, horn back rock fish, yellow sponges, and a solitary squid that came very close to the boat. The squid was bright orange and over a foot long. It was fairly shy of the swimmers but those who approached by kayak were treated to good views.

The other highlight was another banana boat ride at high speed.  The smiles on the  kids faces were visible from almost a half mile away!  The driver dumped the kids right on front of our gulet and laughs were had all around.  The only kid to stay on was Sam who apparently is a master at hanging on to high speed water toys like tubes.  Of course the day would not be complete without a visit from the ice cream boat which was a big hit.  The kids seemed to have an inner radar because they started shouting for joy when the boat was just a speck on the horizon...our chef treated us to more amazing meals including fresh “dolmas” (stuffed peppers) and pasta at lunch, “borek” (filo pastry stuffed with feta and greens) at tea time, and a grand feast of grilled lamb and chicken at dinner...yum!

Kayakoy, Fethiye, Turkish Shave

Today we had a relaxing breakfast followed by a nice swim before we went to shore and boarded our waiting mini bus for a 20 minute drive to Kayakoy Village. This village figures prominently in Luis de Berniers excellent book entitled Birds Without Wings which chronicles the devastating forced population exchange of Greeks and Turks after WW1 made mandatory by the peace treaty that both countries signed.  Over 100,000 people we uprooted and forced to return to their native country even though many had no knowledge of the language of customs because they had been born and raised in a foreign land.  
19th Century mosque at Kayakoy village
Kayakoy village stands as a lonely ghost town because the Turks that were repatriated from Greece refused to live in the "Greek houses" on the hill so they took all the salvageable timbers and rebuilt here own houses down in the valley where the farming land was better.  The result was that a city of 10,000 was left as a shell of its former self and all the building were raided for their usable material.  Only the walls and roofs remained standing.  The group spent an hour walking through these strange ghost houses and then gathered at a nice cafe in the valley floor for some cold drinks and local gozleme (savory crepes).

The kids in our group had a grand time riding two local camels and lots of laughs were had by all as these comical creatures rose and trotted down the dirt path. We then went into the bustling town of Fethiye for a nice lunch in the old quarter after visiting the lively fish market and provisioning our gulet for tonight's meal. 
The guys headed to Perry's favorite barber shop for a traditional Turkish shave which involves a double shave with a straight edge razor followed by a quick trim of all ear and nose hair by scissors and then a real flame is whacked against the ears and cheeks to burn off all remaining hair.  The shave finishes with a great massage and a bracing lemon cologne face wash. The shave takes about 20 minutes and costs only $10... Several people decided to get hair cuts as well and the results were great. The women joined in by getting pedicures and massages so the whole group ended up getting into the act..good fun for all. 
Jeff, getting a Turkish shave 
Our gulet came to pick us up in the picturesque harbor and we went to anchor in a beautiful bay were we all jumped into the earn waters and the enjoyed a fabulous cocktail hour as the sun set on another great day.  Tonight we ate fresh fish, shrimp, grilled octopus and calamari.. all served on a magnificent platter with potatoes and greens...

Then we celebrated our son Jordan's 9th birthday with fresh baklava and a cake that we bought in town today.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Oludeniz and Gemiler Island...

The photographer of the group: Henry Swisher
All of us loved to hear the bell ring- call to eat....
Today we left early before sunrise and cruised east down the Turquoise Coast to Gemiler Island where we anchored near Olu Deniz (Dead Sea) and enjoyed a full morning of water sports including a banana boat ride for the kids.  
Jordan jumping into Mediterranean... His record was 37 today..
The more adventurous of the group climbed up a steep cliff face near our anchorage and jumped about 35 feet down into the inky blue sea.  
Kevin, jumping in Oludeniz....
We all had good fun kayaking, swimming and snorkeling in the clear blue waters until lunch was served. The chef on our boat is fantastic and every meal is a great creation.  Today's lunch was orzo, green salad, roasted eggplant with yogurt, grilled meat balls, and as always, a huge plate of fruit from dessert.

We watched as the para sailers floated down from nearby Baba Dag mountain which is over 6,000 feet tall and rises straight up from sea level in dramatic fashion.  In the late afternoon we took our tender to the shore of Gemiler Island where we hiked to the summit to watch a spectacular sunset from our vantage point.  On the route up the island we saw churches from the 5th century built by the Byzantine monks who inhabited this island.  There are still frescoes on the ancient stone walls and several of the churches are well preserved.  
View from the top of the island.. Gemiler Bay...
Gemiler island was a very important stop for pilgrims en route to Jerusalem.  There are more than 1o churches on the island and many monks cells were the devout would sequester themselves in solitude to pray and worship.  
Visiting Byzantine ruins on the island...
As the sun set we made our way down the island trail back to our lovely gulet where a magnificent feast was awaiting us.  That evening we were joined by some friends from Marin and the Silicon Valley that had a gulet charter near and we enjoyed some local raki (anis flavored liquor) together under the stars.  Another great day on the water!!! 
Wonderful family shot...

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pirate Olympics, Kaunos ancient site and Dalyan River

This morning we had a lazy and relaxed swim session with lots of fun for all.  We had water fights, jumping contests, ball toss, and a pirate Olympics where we tries to climb hand over hand up the line tied to shore to see if anyone could make it up onto the boat from the water as you see pirates do in the movies.  We had three successful pirates in our group!  

After a nice lunch featuring lots of salads, green beans, fresh yogurt with cucumbers and garlic, and grilled chicken we set off cruising down the coast 2 hours to the ancient site of Kaunos.  We had good weather and calm seas as we passed tall mountains and deep pine forests along the shore.  We arrived in the late afternoon where we boarded a small local boat at the river mouth and entered into a nature preserve that is dedicated to the rare and endangered loggerhead turtle.  We were lucky to get good views of these giant turtles when we pulled up next to a local fisherman who was feeding the turtles blue crabs.  

Banana Boat is everybody's favorite motorized water sport!
The turtles had beautiful green shells which were as large as 4 feet in diameter.  As we continued up he river we entered into an area of tall reeds and narrow channels.  This area was featured in the film African Queen which starred Humphry Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.  When we reached the town of Dalyan we walked up a small hill to a wonderful ancient site called Kaunos which was the capital of the Carian civilization.  The Carians were a matrilineal society which meant that the Children took their mothers last name and the daughters inherited the family wealth when the parents died.  There was even a Carian Queen who ruled the territory.  
Kids sitting on the 2nd Century BC theatre seats....
As with most ancient sites in Turkey, later civilizations came and built upon the ruins so in this site we witnessed a well preserved Greek theater, Roman baths, and Byzantine defense walls high on the cliff above.  The site represented a span of almost a 1000 years from 600 BCE to 400 AD....eventually the river silted up and malaria drove away the inhabitants which had become known as the "purple faced" due to their high fevers and chills.
Dalyan River and Carian Royal Tombs from 6th Century BC
The late afternoon light was gorgeous as we looked out from our hillside position over the double harbors below and across the large marsh we had travelled to the tall mountains and Mediterranean Sea in the distance.  We then walked back through a grove of pomegranate and fig trees to our boat and cruised up close to some amazing cliff side tombs that were carved into the solid rock cliff face over 2000 years ago.  These tombs were made for the Royal Family and housed the remains of entire families.  Carians and Lycians believed in life after death and buried their dead with their prized possessions so that they could have them in the after life.  The cliff side tombs are some of the most impressive ruins in Turkey and are very similar to the ones in Petra which are featured in the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie. 

 We then made a quick visit to the charming town of Dalyan where we walked through the quaint streets and restocked our boat supplies.  On the boat ride back Jale purchased some fresh pomegranate juice from a local farmer and we all enjoyed the refreshing tart taste as we cruised back through the turtle sanctuary at sunset.