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.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hello Mediterranean...

We flew on a mid morning flight one hour to the coastal airport of Dalaman and then transferred to the charming town of Marmaris where we boarded our gorgeous gulet and enjoyed a light summer lunch.  

The kids went crazy for the gulet which is over 100 feet long and 25 feet wide with lots of raised decks and rooftop sunbeds.  Our gulet has 8 cabins and each cabin has an en suite bathroom with flush toilet and enclosed showers.  We spent an hour exploring Marmaris which is full of quaint shops and winding narrow alleys dominated by a crenelated castle set next to the sea.  

The area is surrounded by tall mountains with green pine forests that roll down to the waters edge.  After stocking our bar with fruit juices, cold beers, local wines, and some goods for mixed drinks we weighed anchor and set off to a nearby turquoise bay where we had our first swim in the clear waters.  The water temperature was about 72-75 degrees and perfectly refreshing.  
Kids jumped into the turquoise waters and swam for hours...

Andrew jumping into the Mediterranean
Dinner was served al fresco in mid ship where we had a huge mahogany table set for 16 guests.  We immediately realized we had a great chef on board and knew we were in for a treat.  The menu consisted of mushroom soup, grilled eggplant and potato mezzes, flavorful bulgur salad, mixed shepherds salad, fresh bread which was followed by a main course of fresh caught fish from the sea poached in a wonderful white wine sauce accompanied by roasted potatoes. Desert featured fresh regional fruits such as plums, nectarines, watermelon, cantaloupe, apples, cherries and more...yum.  In Turkey most people eat fruit for dessert which is probably a good thing given the generous quantities the chef provides at the main meal.  After dinner we all gathered our pillows and blankets and climbed up to the raised sunbed on the roof to sleep out under the stars in the perfectly warm evening air....ahhh back in the Mediterranean!!!

Bosphorus Cruise, Spice Market, Best lunch at Ciya, Grand Bazaar, shopping and loving it....

Today we set off on foot to the Golden Horn where we enjoyed a tour of the lively spice market as the kids got to try various sweets like Turkish Delights and the adults sampled the various spices that come from the four corners of the world.  Saffron, cardamom, caviar, and much more can be found here.  

Shopping for a chess set at the Spice Market, Photo by Henry Swisher

Turkish Sausage and pastrami shop at the Spice Market, Photo by Henry Swisher

Craig, petting one of the hundreds of cats on the streets of Istanbul....
We picked up some spinning tops for the kids and they spent almost the whole day playing and competing to see who could spin their top the longest.

Rumeli Castle on the Bosphorus, photo by Henry Swisher
Next we headed over to the waterside where we boarded our enormous ferry and cruised up the Bosphorus between Europe and Asia.  As we cruised we marveled at the myriad of architectural styles that dot the shores on both sides and guests were amazed to learn that this is some of the most expensive real estate on the planet with prices ranging from 10-30 million dollars for a house with a view.  We passed palaces, castles, two suspension bridges, summer homes of the rich and hunting lodges of the Ottoman sultans.  

15 course lunch at our favorite restaurant in Turkey, Ciya Sofrasi, Photo by Henry Swisher
Lahm-i Kiraz, everybody's favorite dish today....
Our favorite chef in Turkey, Musa Dagdeviren
The big treat today was a stop on the Asian side in the Kadikoy District where we we met by Chef Musa at his fantastic local restaurant named Ciya.  We were treated to an amazing tasting menu as we sampled regional Turkish dishes that Musa has preserved and recreated here in modern Istanbul.  Our menu included various mezzes such as thyme salad, hummus, bulgur salad and our main courses featured sour cherry kebab and roasted lamb over grilled eggplant.  We were happy to see the kids were open to exploring this wonderful cuisine and everyone left completely satisfied and sated!!! 

Kids loved every bite at Ciya.... Happy kids, happy parents...
Fortunately this gave us lots of energy to attack the overwhelming Grand Bazaar back in the Old Quarter where the silk road has brought treasures from across Asia for centuries and the shop owners are expert bargainers.  

Karen and Maureen, shopping in the Grand Bazaar...
Tomorrow we are off to the Mediterranean to swim in the turquoise seas and hike to ancient temples along our route.  Our home will be a wooden yacht known as a gulet which is over 100 feet in length and made by hand of teak, oak and mahogany.  We can't wait!!!

Welcome to Istanbul

Welcome to Istanbul, Turkey. Every year in June-July, we organize a family trip where families with kids ages 8 and up can join us to explore Istanbul, cruise the Turquoise Coast and then visit Cappadocia.

This year, we had 8 families joining us so we organized two groups going parallel to each other. One group has 15 and another has 10 people. Each group has a guide throughout the trip. We'll keep you posted every day about our adventures, sites we visited, food we ate, activities kids liked, etc,...

Today our group of 4 families from Marin set off on a comprehensive tour of the Old Quarter of Istanbul which is home to most of the major monuments which reflect Turkey's rich history.  We started with the magnificent Aya Sofia which once boasted the largest dome in the world when it was built as a Byzantine Church in the 7th century.  
We marveled at the massive domes which were ornately decorated and perched in perfect architectural harmony one atop another.  The effect was stunning, as if one were looking up into the heavens.  After viewing the well preserved frescoes we walked across to the Blue Mosque where we soaked in the religious atmosphere of this venerable mosque which features some of the most beautiful blue Iznik tiles on the planet.  

Hobie and Jordan, in front of the beautiful tiles of the Circumcision Room, at the Topkapi Palace
Then we headed over to lunch at the famous Pudding Shop to sample some great local food.  This restaurant was a focal point during the height of he hippie trail from Europe to India and you can still read the articles about that era on the walls.  Our next stop as the atmospheric sunken cistern which was the water storage that supplied Istanbul for over a thousand years.  As we walked down below the city streets we entered into another world dominated by ancient columns that were salvaged from Greek and Roman ruins around Asia Minor.  The air was cool and the lighting was superb...Jale spoke of the famous James Bond film hat had a scene shot here in From Russia with Love where agent Bond sneaks under the Russian Embassy.  It is easy to imagine and feel the sense of mystery and intrigue here under the streets of Istanbul.  
Sunken Cistern, Photo by Henry Swisher
Our last stop of the day was the Topkapi Palace which was home to the Ottoman empire for over 700 years.  Courtyards spill onto inner courtyards as one makes there way through a maze of rooms and chambers dedicated to various aspects of the palace life including the amazing wooden carriages, the huge kitchens, the treasury, harem, living quarters and diplomatic greeting rooms.  Jale lectured about Ottoman history as we wandered through the Palace.  It was great to see kids were so interested in the history of Ottoman Empire.
Sam, trying on Ottoman style noble man's headwear
We needed our day with a big treat - a grand welcome dinner on the rooftop of our hotel which is strategically located just steps between the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque.  The views of Istanbul and the Sea of Marmara are outstanding and our group quickly bonded as we soaked up the city vibe.  As we drifted off to sleep we could hear the haunting call to prayer emminating from the Blue Mosque next door.
View of Blue Mosque, from the rooftop terrace of our hotel, Photo by Henry Swisher

Turkish wine tasting before dinner

Everybody loved eating imambayildi, an eggplant appetizer