Due to a heater failure we missed seeing most of the Romantic Road (Romantische Straße) but we were fortunate to visit two absolute highlights – Würzburg and Füssen – one at the beginning and the other at the end of this picturesque and meandering 460-kilometre route in Southern Germany.
We drove to Füssen at the end of the Romantic Road once our heater had been fixed and we were very pleased we did! It turned out to be an utterly charming town with a gothic castle in its centre (although all you can see of it from the town is the clock tower).
We had a great walk around the snowy medieval town centre with its cobbled streets, many pastel-coloured houses and shops selling everything from lederhosen to tourist paraphernalia.
We decided to have a look at the High Castle (Hohes Schloss), which is apparently one of the best preserved medieval castles in Bavaria but it wasn’t that easy to find the entrance.
We climbed up a flight of steps to a wooded parkland on the banks of the River Lech – a tributary of the Danube, fed by the snow melt from the nearby mountain range.
Our wanderings took us to the base of the castle but we still couldn’t see much of any of the buildings. We walked up a steep bastion and through an archway and suddenly the castle came into view.
The castle is the former summer residence of the Lord Bishops of Augsburg and much loved by King Ludwig ll who stayed there more than 30 times. It is now a museum and art gallery- housing the Bavarian State Collections of Paintings.
The most amazing thing about the castle, which was built between the 13th and 15th Centuries, were the Trompe l’oeil paintings on the exterior walls.
Originally created in 1499, the paintings trick the eye into perceiving the two dimensional surface as if it was in 3D. So windows appear to have lintels and sills, or look like bow windows – a very cleverly executed illusion!
We enjoyed the galleries which among other items, houses late Gothic panel paintings and sculptures which provide an excellent overview of the art of the 15th and 16th centuries in the region. Also on display were many treasures from the nearby Monastery of St Mang which was dissolved in the early 19th century.
The highlight of the museum was the knight’s hall with its marvellous carved wooden ceiling from the late 15th century.
We also enjoyed walking along the battlements to the clock tower and climbing up the wooden stairs to the top of the tower where we had a great view of the snowy rooftops of Füssen.
We walked back “home” to the van through the very snowy and slightly slippery wooded park, passing a beautiful villa painted in a very pleasing pale lemon.
The car park we had left our van in didn’t appear to have 24 hour parking so we drove a short distance to a side road on the edge of town that had not just one but three camper van parks!
It was the perfect spot to stay the night as just up the street were two supermarkets where we could stock up on our provisions!
It had long been an ambition of mine to travel the Romantische Straße (Romantic Road) in southern Germany – 460 kilometres of road linking picturesque castles and historic towns.
At last we were there at the start of it in the delightful city of Würzburg which sits on the banks of the Main River.
Unbelievably 90 per cent of this ancient city was completely destroyed by 225 British Lancaster bombers in an aerial attack that lasted 17 minutes during World War II.
The city centre, which mostly dated from medieval times, was destroyed in a firestorm in which 5,000 people perished.
Walking round the lovely centre with it’s beautiful cathedrals and other striking monuments it is difficult to imagine the level of destruction that occurred less than 80 years ago.
It took 20 years of painstaking work (mostly by women – due to the loss of the male population during the War) to reconstruct, brick by brick, the important historical buildings that stand proud once again.
We were very fortunate to arrive just in time to be squeezed into the lovely camper van site on the banks of the river and just a short walk away from town.
We decided to walk into town before the sun went down and were soon strolling along the riverside path enjoying the warmth of the winter sunshine.
Arriving at the ancient bridge which led to the compact city centre we were immediately impressed by the twelve 4.5 metre high statues of saints and historically important figures that adorned it.
Building of the bridge started during the late 15th Century and it was completed in 1543 but it wasn’t until almost two hundred years later that the bridge was enriched with the famous statues.
We crossed over the bridge and came across quite a lot of people gathered in small groups sipping large glasses of white wine – very civilised!
Of course wine drinking is a “thing” in Würzburgt – the city is famous for the Wurtzburger Stein vineyard which is one of Germany’s oldest and largest vineyards.
We resisted temptation to join the drinkers and kept on walking to explore the centre a little more.
There were many beautiful buildings to admire from the outside but when we arrived at the Romanesque cathedral we stepped inside for a closer look.
There were many works of art to marvel at including numerous ancient tombs and effigies of bishops. One of my favourite items was a relatively modern and very striking seven-armed candelabra.
On our way back to the van we stopped on the bridge to watch the process of a double barge going through a lock.
There was only a really tiny amount of space on either side of the barge so the skipper had to be deadly accurate.
I was curious as to why a river would need a lock at all and it seems that large parts of the river have been “canalised” with 34 large locks to allow vessels of up to 110 metres by 11.45 metres to navigate the total length of the river.
The following day we decided to visit the city’s most famous landmark- the Würzburg Residence which was completed in 1774.
Apparently the palace was inspired by Versailles and is now considered to be “the most homogeneous and the most extraordinary of the Baroque palaces”. Some of the highlights include some marvellous frescoes, a grand staircase, a chapel, and the Imperial Hall.
Unfortunately we ended up not being able to see these treasures for ourselves as we discovered campervans were not allowed in the car park.
Somewhat disgruntled but not too disappointed, we contemplated driving up the hill on the other side of the Main river to go round the imposing Marienberg Fortress. In the end we decided to continue our meandering along the Romantic Road as there were lots of other interesting sights to see.
We followed the signs to the Romantic Road and before long we were driving through a very snowy landscape.
Our “domestic” heater had been playing up ever since we left the Netherlands and we realised that although we had been able to nurse it along and were able to keep reasonably warm thus far, it was going to be much harder to do so once we hit the mountains with deep snow and freezing temperatures.
Suddenly the Romantic Road lost its romance and we agreed that we should do our best to get the heater looked at. Sadly the romance was over almost before it had begun.
We diverted to a small town called Ansbach where there was a large camper van repair workshop. The engineer there had a look and told us that the boiler had been installed incorrectly from day one. The net result was that the emergency drain that should pop open when the water in it begins to freeze just didn’t work. This could mean that the boiler had been damaged.
He directed us to another camper van workshop very close by that was a dealer for Truma (the manufacturer of the heater). Another engineer looked at it and confirmed what the first chap had said and suggested the quickest solution would be to go to the Truma factory which fortunately was only about two hours drive away, at a village called Putzbrunn on the outskirts of Munich.
By the time we got there the Truma workshop was closed but we were able to park for the night just outside the factory.
The next morning Jonathan went to have a chat and thankfully they were able to give us a 1 pm appointment. While we were waiting I decided to get a bit of fresh air and went for a walk and found quite a cute village nearby.
The van was in the workshop by the time I returned and not long after, the engineer came back to tell us the bad news that the whole heater (including the hot water tank) would have to be replaced. The good news was that the boiler could be replaced straight away, the bad news was that it would cost the equivalent of a small second hand car to replace it.
Fortunately we have a credit card for times such as these and so by the end of the afternoon we had a brand new boiler installed.
We could have stayed the night for free at the factory but because we needed to empty the toilet cassette and there were no facilities there to do this, we headed into Munich to the Allianz Soccer Stadium where camper vans can stay overnight.
We were sorry to have missed the Romantic Road but were only a couple of hours from its end point at Füssen, very close to the Austrian border, so we decided to head there.
There was lots of snow en route and we felt that we had definitely done the right thing in getting the heater fixed!
After ten chilly days aboard our catamaran in Viaport Marina, Istanbul, I can confirm that a yacht isn’t the best place to be when the temperatures are literally around freezing! Nevertheless, we were counting our lucky stars that we had managed to get there at all because at the end of last year it looked touch and go as to whether we would be allowed back into Turkey again.
We had started the application process to renew our Turkish residency way back in July but come October we were still waiting to hear if we had been successful. We had already booked our flights back to Australia in November assuming the process would be all done and dusted well before the time we were due to leave.
Just weeks before we were leaving we finally heard that our applications had been successful. That was all well and good but the regulations state that you cannot leave Turkey until you have obtained your physical residency card and we certainly wouldn’t be allowed back into the country without one!
As the time of our departure grew nearer we became very concerned and soon it became apparent that we would need some assistance. We contacted a local Immigration agent and after much signing and stamping of documents it was finally arranged that the agent could pick up our residency cards at the post office on our behalf. The agent promised that they would courier our cards to us in Australia once they had arrived.
So we left Turkey still not a hundred per cent sure whether our dodgy (and probably rule-breaking) strategy would work and just a little nervous that the post office wouldn’t release the cards or that they would get lost en route to Australia. In the end, they arrived in Brisbane early in December – to our great relief!
After Istanbul our next destination was The Netherlands where we were staying with our daughter Hannah and son-in-law Pieter for a week and a half.
We had an uneventful flight from Istanbul to Amsterdam and had no problems meeting up with Pieter (Hannah was at work).
Fortunately the following day was the weekend and Pieter and Hannah decided to take us to Kasteel (Castle) Duivenvoorde just a short drive away from where they live in Pijnacker, near Delft.
The original castle was built in 1226 and until relatively recently, had been lived in by many generations of the same family for centuries.
Unfortunately, the house was closed for a private function so we weren’t able to go round it but we did have a lovely walk in the grounds and a coffee and pie in the stylish cafe.
On the way home we took a small diversion to Stompwijk to look at a row of three 17th Century windmills originally built (with a fourth one) to keep the nearby polder (reclaimed land) drained.
In 1951 electric pumps were installed to take over this job and the three windmills were decommissioned and gradually restored to their full glory. Now they are all used as dwellings and as a tourist destination.
Even though the weather was really cold there were definitely signs that spring was on its way in the Netherlands – lots of snow drops, colourful primulas and vibrant narcissi on display.
Over the rest of the weekend we had a great catch-up with all Pieter’s immediate family at his niece and nephew’s 4th birthday celebration which was good fun.
During the following week we went walking in the open spaces near Hannah and Pieter’s, wandered around beautiful Delft and discovered a new mosaic depicting the a historic city, had a relaxing time at home and prepared the van for our departure.
Then suddenly it was the weekend again and we were off on our next adventure – heading for Montenegro to check out marinas for the winter months of 2023/24.
Our first stop was Cologne – our first time there – and we were fortunate enough to find a great camper stop right on the mighty Rhine.
It was fun being so close to the barges that were making their way up and down this, the second longest river in Central and Western Europe and one of the world’s busiest inland waterways.
We noticed that most of the barges were from the Netherlands which is hardly surprising as the Dutch have roughly 6,000 ships sailing on its inland waterways at any one time and the Dutch inland waterways account for nearly 80 per cent of all the vessels that sail inland within Europe.
The day after we arrived we decided to go for a walk along the river side in the morning and then ride our e-bikes into Cologne in the afternoon. However, we were enjoying the walk so much that we decided to keep going all the way into the city.
Once there, we had a delightful stroll around the reconstructed old town – the 2,000 year old city centre was almost completely obliterated by allied bombing in World War II but select buildings were reconstructed due to their historical importance.
We heard a band was playing not far away and like the Pied Piper the music drew us towards the town’s main square (Alter Markt) where there was some kind of gathering. We soon realised that it was actually a union demonstration.
Minutes later we were at the entrance to the cathedral – the tallest twin-spired church in the world and the second tallest church in Europe. Unlike the rest of the city it was fortunately spared from major damage during the bombing raids despite suffering 14 hits.
Viewed from the outside, it looks as though the Cathedral needs a darned good clean. It’s once beautiful, translucent, exterior is now streaked with black. Apparently this is caused by the sandstone reacting with sulphuric acid which is contained in polluted rain. I’m not sure if this discolouration can be treated or if it is permanent but it is such a shame that it has happened.
When we entered the Cathedral our eyes were immediately drawn upwards towards the phenomenally high vaulted ceiling. As I gazed up above I had a dizzying touch of vertigo – that cathedral ceiling really is immensely tall!
One of the treasures of the cathedral is the high altar, which was installed in 1322. This dramatic and eye catching piece is constructed from black marble, with a solid slab 4.6 metres (15 feet) long forming the top. The front and sides are overlaid with white marble niches into which figures are set.
Behind the altar is the most celebrated work of art in the cathedral – a massive golden shrine. Created towards the end of the 12th Century, it is traditionally believed to hold the remains of the Three Wise Men.
There were many sculptures and other treasures and of course some stunning stained glass windows that were dismantled before aerial bombing began and then reassembled after the war.
After visiting the Cathedral we were thinking of visiting the Museum Ludwig – apparently an excellent modern art museum – but we still had a couple of items to buy at a supermarket and a long hike back so we decided to give it a miss.
Our trip to the supermarket took us through a pretty park and past some interesting sights including an old city gate complete with portcullis.
Back at the van we settled in for the evening with a glass of wine and an easy to make pasta.
It felt so great to be on the road again and we were really looking forward to all the new places and experiences that were in store for us.
Suddenly our visit to Australia was over and we were hurtling through the skies towards Istanbul.
This trip, instead of travelling through Singapore, Dubai or another hub we flew via Bali – a very pleasant place to stop over and actually right now, a cheaper option.
After our big dash to the airport in Australia it was a relief to get on board and even better to arrive in Bali where we had a night’s stopover to relax before flying to Turkey.
We were feeling pretty exhausted by the time we arrived at our small hotel in Sanur and didn’t have the energy to do much except eat a delicious nasi goreng in a nearby restaurant and go to bed!
After breakfast the following day we went for a long walk to the village, through the local market and along the seafront admiring all the the colourful offerings, Balinese carvings, doors and other beautiful objects that make the island so attractive.
We arrived back at the hotel feeling whacked out again and ready for a rest before going to airport to catch our direct flight to Istanbul.
The change from the intense Brisbane heat to the balmy weather in Bali was easy to adjust to but arriving in Istanbul to the shock of snow and ice was a real assault to the senses!
We arrived in Istanbul on Wednesday 8 February- just two days after the catastrophic and tragic earthquake in South-East Turkey.
The first indication of this devastating event was seeing a sea of orange a long way ahead of us as we disembarked from our plane.
As we walked towards the orange apparition we could see that it was a group of around 50 people all dressed in orange overalls. Drawing closer we noticed there were a number of dogs with them and some of the people were carrying equipment in large stainless steel cases. It was in fact a contingent of search and rescue workers freshly arrived from Japan and ready to swing into action. They were about to pick up a connecting flight to the disaster zone.
It was quite emotional seeing them as it brought home the reality of the terrible earthquakes and we could imagine what a terrible and traumatic job these brave souls were about to face.
We had a quick chat with a couple of them and wished them well before heading off to Immigration and Baggage Collection.
When we looked out of the window in the baggage collection hall the whole world was white. A recent blizzard had covered everything in a blanket of snow.
We arrived at Viaport Marina in Tuzla just as another snow storm hit and we had quite a job staying upright in the freezing slippery conditions wearing unsuitable footwear and trying to pull multiple suitcases!
The hydraulic oil in our passerelle (electronic gangplank) was affected by the freezing temperatures and lowered at snail’s pace as we stood shivering on the jetty wondering what on earth we were thinking of arriving in Istanbul in February?! Fortunately, our stay was to be a sort one.
Our lovely taxi driver and one of the marina workers very kindly helped us across the icy passerelle with our luggage and once we had fired up the fan heaters and made a steaming cup of tea, we felt heaps better.
The next few days were spent unpacking our light summer clothes, washing them and storing them away and then finding our winter stuff ready to take to the Netherlands.
Jonathan realised that he didn’t have much in the way of winter clothes so he hit the sales in the local shops that are just metres away from where our boat is moored.
Meanwhile the snow melted away although it still felt extremely cold. By the weekend the sun began to shine brightly and for a few hours it felt almost warm so we decided to have a stroll along the seafront.
It was great to see the local street cats were still thriving despite the freezing weather. There was plenty of dried food around so they definitely weren’t starving.
On Valentines Day we decided to go into central Istanbul and be tourists for the day. We had tried to visit the wonderful Basilica Cistern on previous occasions but the lines to get in were always ultra long and seemed to move extremely slowly.
Fortunately this time there was hardly anyone queueing and we hadn’t been waiting more than five minutes before we were at the head of the queue and inside!
There are several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul but this fantastic historical attraction is the largest of the lot. It is also plum in the middle of the main tourist area – a stone’s throw from Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace.
Built in the 6th century – purportedly by 7,000 slaves – the cistern provided a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople and other important buildings. Later it provided water to the Topkapi Palace. It is capable of holding 80,000 cubic metres!
As we entered the vast cistern (9,800 square metres) and climbed down the fifty-two stone steps that descend into its depths, we were amazed to see a forest of hundreds of columns – and at their base the whole of the floor of the cistern was covered by the clearest of gin-clear water.
As we wandered around, unexpected modern-day sculptures appeared as the lighting changed – here some jelly fish – there a mysterious goddess-like figure reflected on the ancient wall of the cistern behind.
There was a walkway suspended just above the water, and as we walked deeper into the cistern we suddenly noticed that the 336 columns that hold up the vaulted ceilings, aren’t all the same. Some are made from marble and others from granite. Some have a smooth polished surface, others are rough like unpolished concrete.
Many of the columns in the cistern appear to have been recycled from the ruins of older buildings and a good example of this are the two that sit on carved faces of Medusa – one upside down and one with the head facing sideways.
One stunning column is known as “the Tear column” but the teardrop-like embellishment apparently represents a stylised tree trunk not tear drops – either way, it was stunning.
In the afternoon we visited the Museum of Archeology once again and this time we made a beeline for the Museum of Islamic Art which is part of the museum complex.
Housed in the Tiled Pavilion set within the outer walls of the Topkapi Palace, this little jewel of a museum not only features ceramics and tiles from the seljuk and ottoman periods, it is also the only non-religious institution to have its own walls clad with spectacular tiles from these periods.
Commissioned in 1472, the façade contains glazed bricks with a definite Persian influence, and the main entrance is surrounded by a beautiful tiled green arch.
Later we had a refreshing cup of çay in the museum garden restaurant and strolled around the display of sculptures and other artefacts in the garden.
One of the interesting exhibits was another head of Medusa – very similar to the ones we saw in the Basilica Cistern. The question of where they came from originally and whether they had the same origins remains a mystery.
The train was very crowded on the long ride back to the marina but fortunately we were able to get seats to rest our tired tourist legs!
With just over a week left before we were due to leave Australia, Jonathan finally went for a skin check – a vital medical examination for anyone who has lived in the Southern Hemisphere and especially if they happen to be yachties!
Unfortunately, a small lesion on the end of his nose that had refused to heal, turned out to be Basel Cell Carcinoma – a form of cancer, rarely fatal but untreated can grow wide and deep and destroy skin, tissue and bone.
Fortunately the skin doctor swung into action quickly and had Jonathan booked into a nearby brand new (and expensive) private hospital within in a couple of days to have the offending cancer chopped out and covered with a skin graft taken from his neck.
Six days before we were due to fly out he had the day surgery – all was good although the surgeon had to have two goes at the BCC before he managed to get all the offending tissue out.
There was just one hitch – Jonathan would need to see the surgeon before we left the country to have the skin graft examined and some stitches out.
The appointment should have been a week later but thankfully the surgeon said six days would suffice. We were very fortunate that he was willing to see Jonathan very early in the morning on our way to catch our plane – which was taking off at 10.10! It was going to be tight!
We were nervous about getting to the airport in time – especially as post Covid there have been so many delays getting through immigration etc and the advice is to arrive at least three hours before your flight.
Our wonderful son Ben and daughter-in-law Sarah drove us to the hospital and we arrived well before 7am and loitered outside the doctor’s rooms while Ben and Sarah were in the car poised for a quick get away.
Thankfully, the surgeon arrived bang on 7am and didn’t seem to mind us door stopping him as he arrived for work! He saw Jonathan immediately and organised removal of the stitches from his neck and half the stitches on his nose before sending us off with care instructions.
After the appointment we just jumped into the car and made a dash for the airport. Amazingly we made it in time (two hours before take off) and there were no delays going through passport control/immigration.
Although it was exciting to be on the move again, we were of course, feeling devastated to be saying farewell to Ben and Sarah and to be leaving their gorgeous 100 acre property with the grand doggies and grand duckies. It was also very sad to say goodbye to other family members, especially our great nieces and nephews who change so quickly when we are away.
We had spent three wonderful months together but it all seemed to have gone in a flash!
During the last two weekends before we left, Ben and Sarah – with the help of friends and family – built an amazing duck pen now known as the “Duck Mahal”.
With roomy living quarters and a spacious “ run” the new accommodation even boasts a deck and a chandelier! More importantly it is large enough to leave the ducks in if Ben and Sarah are going away for a couple of days.
The finished product is testament to Ben and Sarah’s vision and determination – and to having the assistance of Sarah’s very skilled Dad plus friends and other family members who contributed in their various ways.
The night before we left there was a glorious sunset and as we drove along the long and winding road to Ben and Sarah’s one last time, we watched the sky turn from a dazzling cobalt blue to a fiery, vibrant red glow. It was spectacular and as we stared up to watch the last vestiges of sun disappear we started to feel homesick for Australia – before we had even left!
What a start to 2023! Two road trips, many brunches, lunches, dinners and other get-togethers, a night of music to celebrate a birthday, and lots of beautiful moments enjoying the Australian bush on our son and daughter-in-law’s (Ben and Sarah) glorious property!
There have been so many precious times during our last few weeks in the Southern Hemisphere. Some of these include catching sight of animals we don’t see in Turkey or anywhere else we have travelled recently – green tree frogs, scary-looking spiders, kangaroos and wallabies and amazing goannas and other large lizards.
We’ve taken our grand duckies in the 4WD to swim in the creek and watched wild ducklings grow up, helped paint a fence at the front entrance to Ben and Sarah’s, lit big bonfires, and experienced a drenching tropical downpour!
We have also unpacked our belongings stored in the garage of our townhouse, given away and chucked heaps of “stuff”, scanned thousands of photos so we could throw the hard copies away, and prepared the townhouse to rent out furnished and organised an agent to find tenants.
We have now honed down our belongings in Australia to the items in the town house and ten boxes stored in one of Ben and Sarah’s sheds.
One of our road trips was to the coastal resort of Mooloolaba where our sailing friends Mike and Jill from S/V Yantara have recently bought a fabulous apartment.
It was a fantastic surprise that other sailing friends from our adventures in South-East Asia were joining us for some of the time.
We had a brilliant catch up with Cindy and James (S/V YouYou), Andy and Kelly (M/V Quintessa) and Rita and Dave (S/V Beach House.)
A few days later we were heading south to Sydney where we stayed with long-time and very special friends and godparents to our kids, Libby and Tas.
En route we stayed a night in Coffs Harbour where the small marina looked almost the same as it did when we stopped there on our 28 foot timber yacht “Rondo” on the way to Papua New Guinea more than 35 years ago!
In Sydney we met up with Raylee who we spent time with last season sailing north from Didim towards Istanbul when Raylee was a guest on our sailing buddies’ (Sue and John) boat S/V Catabella. We were joined by Raylee’s daughter Brooke and her partner Sue and John’s son Matt, who we had met briefly when they stayed on Catabella towards the end of last year. What a great reunion and a lovely lunch together!
We also stayed a night with another very old and dear friend and former work colleague, Jackie. We had a great day visiting the Australian Museum and later, the fabulous new Sydney Modern – part of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Back in Brisbane, as well as making precious memories with various local friends, we had a great evening with more sailing friends from Turkey – Deborah and Peter from M/V Entre Nous who we had met at Didim Marina and who also have a land base in Brisbane.
A special highlight was a wonderful seafood lunch with Ben on a “retired” prawn trawler on the Brisbane River. Fabulous oysters, prawns and Moreton Bay Bugs!
In mid January we celebrated our good friend Bruce’s birthday at his traditional annual gig when musicians gather to play some of his favourite music. Over the years these evenings have featured various genres from rock to classical. This year was a fabulous mix of big band sound and Gypsy jazz- a fabulous evening!
It’s been such a busy month that we felt quite exhausted by the end of it and ready for a bit of slothful rest before embarking on our next adventure!
Our typical Aussie Christmas continued with a wonderfully relaxed Boxing Day at the home of our long-time and dear friends the Hannigans – lots of delicious food again with great conversations and cooling off in their pool.
After a recovery day there were more celebrations as it was Sarah’s (our daughter-in-law‘s) birthday.
Sarah’s favourite gift (which was made by our son Ben) was a wonderful “duck cuddling” bench – built from a large slice of raw wood onto which he had attached four short legs. Perfect for purpose!
After gift unwrapping the six of us (our son and daughter and respective partners) went for a fabulous celebration brunch at an outstanding Shakespeare themed restaurant called “Method to the Madness”.
The following day we all drove to Alberton on the Gold Coast to watch Pieter our son-in-law enjoy his Christmas gift – ten laps around a dirt circuit in a V8 Race Buggy, followed by a couple of “extreme” hot lap circuits being driven by a professional driver.
He was very thrilled with the experience and even managed to get the buggy airborne!
In the lead up to New Year our son Ben with Pieter’s assistance, constructed a very mighty and fine fire trailer, complete with tank, pumps and fire hose – an essential item for the New Year’s party as we were planning to have a massive bonfire!
First we had to get permission from the local Fire Warden attached to the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services who came to examine the huge pile of timber that had been sitting in the “picnic paddock” since long before Ben and Sarah moved on to the property.
Judging by the big smile on their faces, Ben and Pieter had had good fun constructing the trailer but even better fun trying it out!
At New Year Ben and Sarah and their best friends decided to camp in the paddock where the bonfire was to be. They started making camp mid afternoon and by 5pm a small village had been erected – complete with gazebos, a fully equipped home made bar, barbecue, tables and chairs, as well as fairy lights in the trees and tents set up for sleeping.
As darkness fell the bonfire was set alight and we soon became mesmerised by the flames leaping up to lick the sky.
The party was amazing! The bonfire was absolutely enormous and there was lots of good music, good laughs and a great BBQ.
Having been in the fresh air for most of the day, by 11.30pm most of us were ready for bed! But we stuck it out and did the big countdown to see in the year 2023.
Shortly afterwards the non campers headed up the hill to our comfy beds in the house leaving the campers to enjoy the fire for a little longer!
As we made our way back up the hill, I reflected on what a great year 2022 had been – visits to some of Türkiye’s most amazing ancient sites including Ephesus, the mineral rich thermal waters of Pammukale and the Ancient Greek city of Hierapolis; a trip to Konya where we witnessed the strange hypnotic dance of the “whirling dervishes”; then onwards to Cappadocia where the fairy chimneys looked enchanting in the sparkling snow and we were amazed at the open air museums where rock formations were filled with caves that were once dwellings or churches, and then on to an incredible six or more-storey underground city. We slid our way down the mountains escaping the minus six (and descending further) temperatures to the coastal town of Side and from there visited old haunts along the coast on the way back to Didim. After driving from Turkey to the Netherlands in our camper van we had a great time with our daughter and son-in-law. Covid restrictions were then lifted by Australia and we were able to pay a long awaited visit there after two and a half years of not seeing our son and daughter-in-law and other family and friends due to Covid restrictions. That was the real highlight!Then back to the Netherlands, a quick solo trip to the UK to visit family and back to Turkey to sail slowly, slowly, from Didim to Istanbul, once again stopping in some amazing places including up the famous Dardanelles Strait. Later on in the season we had lots of guests to stay (which was another highlight!) and explored Istanbul by land and by water (heading up the Bosphorus). We also visited Gallipoli and the City of Troy and made another wonderful trip to Cappadocia (this time without the snow!). And finally back to Australia again for a much longer stay. What a blast we have had – we feel so very lucky and look forward with bated breath to whatever 2023 has in store for us! Happy New Year all!
Our Christmas celebrations started in a a truly Australian way – drinks and snacks on the deck of an old “Queenslander” (an iconic architectural style of a timber house with wraparound balconies), surrounded by dogs and horses, listening to the sounds of the Australian bush on a warm steamy night.
The Queenslander, which is the home of our son and daughter’s lovely neighbour Jan, had a typical Aussie bush Christmas tree – a bare stick from a gum tree – decorated with sparkling lights and with presents arranged around its base.
It was a lovely prequel to the following day!
Back home later that evening we set the table for the Christmas feast and did some other last minute decorations and preparations.
Christmas Day started with Champagne and (for some) orange juice and while we opened presents we ate our usual festive breakfast of fresh fruits, pastries and croissants.
The grand dogs were very excited as they knew they would also be receiving gifts. When it was their turn they joyfully ripped off the paper to discover what new toy they were getting.
Lunch was a wonderful family affair – the six of us and Jonathan’s brother and sister-in-law, their two adult children and partners and four grandchildren – 16 of us in total.
Everyone brought something to share for lunch and in true Christmas tradition we loaded our plates full of turkey, freshly baked salmon, various vegetarian alternatives including an amazing stuffed baked cauliflower, gorgeous salads, roast potatoes and much more besides.
At the table small envelopes instructed each of us where to sit. When we opened our envelopes there was such a beautiful surprise – organised by our daughter-in-law Sarah. We all received a beaded bracelet and a card which informed us that a donation had been made on our behalf to help save an individual wild animal. Some of us had turtles, others had elephants, polar bears and even sharks. The wonderful thing about these gifts is that you can use them to track “your” animal through online. If you’re interested in doing this next Christmas or for a birthday for that hard to buy for person, search here for myfahlo.com.
After we had recovered somewhat from our long and delicious lunch we played the “present” game where cards instruct you to open, exchange or steal a gift. The great nieces and nephews did a fabulous job of compering the game, delivering the gifts and keeping us smiling and laughing the whole time.
Although there wasn’t much sun we still listened to Tim Minchin’s sentimental but heart tugging song “White wine in the sun” with tears in our eyes – just as we had during the two year’s of Covid when spending Christmas with our loved ones was impossible.
“And if my baby girl
When you’re twenty-one or thirty-one
And Christmas comes around
And you find yourself nine thousand miles from home
You’ll know whatever comes
Your brothers and sisters and me and your mum
Will be waiting for you in the sun
Whenever you come
Your brothers and sisters, your aunts and your uncles
Your grandparents, cousins and me and your mum
We’ll be waiting for you in the sun
Drinking white wine in the sun….”
Unlike the past two Christmases, we had tears of gratitude and happiness in our eyes rather than of sadness and longing. How marvellous it felt!
After our big surprise 70th birthday party, secretly organised by our two adult children and their partners, you’d think that would have been the end of unexpected but wonderful events. However, the following weekend brought about not one, but two, such astonishing happenings.
The first event was one I had known about for some weeks before. I can tell you it was a struggle for me to keep from inadvertently “letting on”! Fortunately, I didn’t let the cat of the bag and the surprise belated “hen’s do” for our daughter Hannah was a huge and happy success (she and her husband Pieter married with only their parents present during Covid).
Organised by two of her best and oldest friends, Tilly and Nina, the day began with a surprise picnic breakfast followed by a private yoga session.
That wasn’t the end of it! After the yoga session her two friends suggested they went for lunch. Little did Hannah know that a group of her besties were waiting for her at a beautiful rooftop cocktail bar and restaurant in Brisbane’s famous Fortitude Valley!
The surprises didn’t end there either, as later on, Hannah’s husband, the two of us and some more of her oldest friends, were waiting to see her at another popular spot – Felons Brewing Company situated on the Brisbane River under the Storey Bridge at Howard Smith Wharves.
What an amazing post-wedding hen’s “do”! Hannah was completely overwhelmed – happy tears were flowing all day and she was just so grateful to her friends for all the surprises.
The final unexpected event was one that I had organised for Jonathan’s birthday, not knowing that a joint party had already been arranged for us (and which happened the previous weekend.)
It was his actual birthday and I had invited a few good friends to a special lunch at Ben and Sarah’s home – including our yachtie pals Mike and Jill from S/V Yantara and one of our Sydney friends, Jackie.
I had done very well keeping it all under wraps until at the last minute I sent a message to our son Ben and daughter-in-law Sarah about sleeping arrangements – completely forgetting that Jonathan was also in the Whats App group I used!
It didn’t spoil the fun however, and we had another really fabulous day of eating, drinking and reminiscing with excellent company.
There were plenty of other highlights sandwiched between all the unexpected events!
Both the Bookclubs that I have belonged to for many years had Christmas get togethers to which I was invited. Well I actually offered to host the first gathering at our tiny townhouse. Sadly I was so excited to see everyone that I forgot to take any photos but it was a great night despite being a little squishy!
The second bookclub (of which I was one of the founder members) was started in 2007 and now consists of a lovely group of ladies some of which I have been good friends with for many years and others who I don’t know well but are great friends of the members I know.
Partners were invited to this celebration and we had a fabulous time catching up and amongst other things, discussing the latest book!
Interspersed with these events have been some great catch ups with friends and family including a visit from our good friends Lesley and Denis who we had known from the time our children were in kindy and playgroup together in Sydney. We hadn’t seen each other for more than 25 years (although we had been in touch via social media) so there was much to catch up on!
In amongst all these lovely events we also had some great family times – making memories to help sustain us when we are far apart.
A windy day at the beach with a fish and chip lunch and the whole beach to ourselves; long walks with the dogs on Ben and Sarah’s property; sunset drinks at their lookout and having goes with the yellow tractor are all things we will look back on with the greatest of pleasure and re-live once again when we return to our wanderings on the other side of the world.
Almost a month to the day since we arrived in Australia, we picked up our daughter and son-in-law from Brisbane airport.
This was their last port of call after a three month trip through Central and South America, India and Bali before their return home to the Netherlands.
Their arrival in Australia meant that for the very first time ever we were going to have Christmas with both our kids and their partners!
But first there was all kinds of other celebrations to be had – one of them a complete surprise!
Just a few days after they arrived, Hannah and Pieter suggested we drive to Scarborough Beach about an hour and a half’s drive from Ben and Sarah’s (our son and daughter-in-law’s) property.
We thought that Ben and Sarah were going for a barbecue with their friends when in fact while we were out they were preparing their house for a surprise 70th/71st party for Jonathan and I!
In the meantime, totally unsuspecting, we went for a lovely walk along the seafront at Scarborough the highlight of which was revisiting the gnarled cotton tree “forest” that my kids loved when they were growing up.
It’s a magical place for a child as the branches of the trees intertwine with each other so they can move from one tree to another while their imaginations take them off on amazing adventures.
Of course Hannah had to relive her childhood and climb up into these fabulous trees with Pieter.
Later on we walked a little further along the coast, admiring the vibrant cliffs that give the Redcliffe Peninsula its name.
It was then our turn to take a walk down memory lane – having lunch at the Yacht Club near the marina where we kept our two previous boats – first Sunbird and then Bali Hai.
After lunch we strolled back to the car and set off homewards. On the way back Pieter and Hannah suggested we stop and have a look at a vintage car meet (we didn’t realise this was a delaying tactic!)
We all enjoyed our stroll round looking at all the magnificent old cars. Our favourite was a VW Microbus in fantastic condition dating from the 1970s and still with the original decor! Ah, Jonathan and remembered well the orange and brown psychedelic fabric from our youth!
On the road again and almost home, we received a phone call from Ben asking us if we could make a trip to the hardware store to buy a washer as the kitchen tap wouldn’t turn off properly (another delaying tactic!). We ended up getting five different types costing a total of $75!
When we arrived at Ben and Sarah’s the dogs came out to greet us as normal and still unsuspecting we went inside. As we entered the hallway I noticed the door to the living room was closed but didn’t think anything of it until Jonathan opened it to big yells of “SURPRISE” and a bombardment of streamer with blowers going off! We were stunned to say the least!
Everywhere there were the familiar faces of old and dear friends. The room was beautifully decorated with balloons and streamers and there were party lights on the deck where we danced the night away!
During the evening we grazed on lots of nibbles prepared by Ben and Sarah and their lovely friends, and later on an absolute mound of delicious gourmet pizzas of every variety was delivered!
Our beautiful family had also organised a fantastic vegan and gluten-free birthday cake which disappeared fast!
What a wonderful surprise and a special belated celebration of our 70th birthdays last year (during Covid) and this year’s 71st. A massive thank you to our Ben and Sarah and Hannah and Pieter and of course to everyone who celebrated with us!
The following morning we had an excellent recovery breakfast for those who stayed over and then had a lovely walk with the dogs and their friends around Ben and Sarah’s property.
A couple of days later we finally got round to decorating the Christmas tree. It was so special doing this with the six of us for the very first time.
It’s always difficult to get into the spirit of Christmas when the weather is hot and the sunrises at 4.30 am! However, with the help of Christmas music, the tree decorating and a few bubbles to imbibe we soon felt surrounded by the magic of the festive season!
Our first few weeks in Brisbane, Australia have been a delightful combination of enjoying the peace and beauty of Ben and Sarah’s (our son and daughter-in-law’s) glorious 100 acre property on the fringes of Brisbane, unpacking storage boxes in our townhouse and catching up with family and friends.
It has been so special spending precious time with our Australian tribe and particularly with Ben and Sarah and our granddoggies and grand ducks in their new home.
We have so appreciated the opportunity to totally unwind from the busy-ness of getting our boat ready for her winter’s rest and to explore Ben and Sarah’s rolling acreage in this really stunning part of the world.
One of the things we have enjoyed so much is the bird life here. Every morning we wake to a cacophony of raucous, rumbustious, birdsong.
We lie in bed with the sun shining brightly at 5am listening to the kookaburras cackling and laughing, the screeching of the sulphur crested cockatoos, the magpies carolling with their flute-like voices, the male whip birds “cracking their whip” and the females replying with three bright chirps, the storm birds high pitched and haunting “coo-ie” and many more squawks, chirrups and melodies from birds we have yet to identify.
We have also loved the evening walks, seeing deer and wallabies grazing in the paddocks and the turtles and wild ducks swimming in the three dams.
One evening we drove in four wheel drive vehicles with Ben and Sarah and their best friends to the creek to give the dogs a swim.
After the “wolf pack” had enjoyed leaping into the creek to catch balls we headed to the top of the highest point on the property to watch the sun go down.
What a fabulous view and brilliant sunset!
Most of the many trees on the property are eucalypts but there is also a variety of coniferous trees and when we first arrived there were a scattering of jacaranda trees in bloom – their vibrant violet foliage glowing amongst the profusion of greens.
One of the unusual things about some Australian eucalyptus trees is that they shed their bark at the beginning of every summer. This seems very strange to people brought up in the northern hemisphere!
Once all the bark has peeled off, the trunks of the trees are left looking smooth and fresh, clean and beautifully renewed.
We have spent most days travelling the 25km to our tiny townhouse so we could unpack the many boxes we had stored in the garage and set up the house to rent out again – but this time fully furnished.
It was like Christmas – unwrapping all the bits and pieces we had in storage for seven plus years but honestly, we wondered what had possessed us to hang on to some of the stuff!
Once we had set up the house we decided what to take to the local “recycling recovery centre” (otherwise known as the “tip”), what we were going to keep in storage and what we were going to take to a charity shop or give to the charity “Bookfest”.
In the meantime, I celebrated another year around the sun and had a low key but lovely celebration on the day because poor Ben came down with Covid!
The following weekend Ben and Sarah took us to a lovely winery in Tamborine Mountain where we had a wonderful wine tasting session followed by a delicious lunch. It was a very special day!
Ben and Sarah also had a very beautiful but very energetic visitor – a handsome border collie named Jessie. He certainly pepped up our elderly grand dogs who loved playing lots of games and going for longer walks than usual!
This will be my last blog of the year so I would like to wish everyone who reads this a very Happy and healthy 2023. Thank you so much for travelling with us this year. I have been writing this blog for almost eight years now and it still amazes me that people actually want to read it and from so many places across the world – 80 countries this year which just blows my mind! So thank you everyone and happy travels (armchair or otherwise) for 2023!
We had finally finished getting the boat ready to leave for the winter months and had our cases packed for an extended stay in Australia where we would spend time with family and friends.
Everything went smoothly on the trip back and although we could have done with a longer time there, we were glad to break the journey in Bali.
We literally only had one day there and we were so tired after all the preparations on board Sunday, not to mention the long flight via Kuala Lumpur to Bali, that we spent most of our time there doing nothing!
We arrived in Bali in the evening and by the time we had cleared customs and met our driver it was quite late so we went directly to our modest hotel in Sanur.
The place we had chosen was the same one we had stayed in when our children (now both in their thirties!) were very young. It hadn’t changed a bit!
The small villas looked exactly the same from the outside but had definitely been renovated both inside and out. The gardens were still a profusion of palms, flowering trees and tropical plants with pools and delightful stone carved figures dotted about the place.
After a great late breakfast we dived into the pool – again, it looked just the same as it did when our son lost his tiny Thunderbirds 4 in it all those years ago!
Later we took ourselves for a very pleasant stroll along the seafront, ending up at Little Bird restaurant that had been highly recommended by our good friends in Brisbane.
We were extremely happy to be back on this beautiful island again and among other things, very much enjoyed admiring the gorgeous carvings, the incense offerings, the painted doors and all those crafts the Balinese do absolutely brilliantly .
The flight to Brisbane the following day went smoothly and soon we were hugging our son and daughter-in-law in the arrivals hall. It was absolutely wonderful to see them!
We were amazed to see all the improvements they had made to their new property since moving there in early April.
Acres and acres of grassland reclaimed by days and days of slashing and mowing, the driveway and shared road regraded, painting inside and out organised, water tanks cleaned and refurbished with a water purifier installed, Wifi up and going with the installation of Starlink, solar panels and smart switches installed, new fans and fly screens put in throughout, and much more besides.
A new addition to the property since our last visit in February/March this year – before Ben and Sarah moved in – was a spectacular “tiny home” – a perfect little house on wheels with two sleeping areas, a tv lounge, fully equipped bathroom (including a washing machine) and a fabulous kitchen/dining area with a dishwasher, double sink, large fridge and loads of cupboard space. A perfect size for those of us who live on a boat!
The plan is to let out the tiny house to people seeking a peaceful haven in the bush. With their 100 acres and the massive Lake Manchester Reserve which abuts the d’Aguilar National Park right next door, it will be an absolute mecca for bush walkers and mountain bikers too.
On our first evening after our arrival we drove up in Ben’s 4WD to the highest point on their property to watch the sun go down and drink champagne. The perfect way to celebrate- and what an amazing view!
It is such a joy to be with Ben and Sarah and the grand dogs and grand ducks in their lovely new home!
Cappadocia is famous for its hundreds of hot air balloons but we didn’t see a single one during our stay until the very last day – even then there were only just a few that managed to launch due to the cloudy and windy weather.
Thankfully we weren’t hanging out to take a balloon ride!
We decided to leave the land of fairy chimneys and head back to our boat Sunday at Viaport Marina on the outskirts of Istanbul.
After a smooth seven hour drive we were safely back at the marina. Both our guests (Jonathan’s younger brother and his partner) and Jonathan were unwell by this time but fortunately for me, I didn’t succumb.
It was such a shame that we had illness aboard as our sailing buddies and marina neighbours Sue and John were back from their youngest son’s wedding and had so much to tell us about. Also, they had boat guests too – their eldest son from Australia and his partner and her two boys. Sadly, we weren’t able to socialise as we were worried that our boat guests and Jonathan might have Covid.
However, Jonathan and I did manage a socially distanced drink on their last night and we were joined by Sue and John’s youngest son who “popped over” from Switzerland to organise his boat (moored just over the way on our dock) for her wintering over in Viaport.
The next few days passed enjoyably with walks along the seafront, feeding the street cats, shopping in the Viaport shopping mall and going out for delicious medicinal cake!
The cake worked and our guests came good just before they were due to fly home! Before they left we managed to have a sightseeing day in Istanbul.
We decided to catch a cab in and when the driver asked in a curious mix of Turkish and English which way we would like to go I thought I agreed to using the (Eurasia ) tunnel, and agreed to pay the toll. Imagine our surprise when we arrived at the ferry terminal in Kadıköy!
The ferry ride was actually the nicest way to cross from the Asian side to the European side of Istanbul. Obviously I had agreed to pay for the cost of the car ferry rather than the bridge but it was a happy mistake!
After a quick trip over the Bosphorus the taxi dropped us off close to the “Egyptian” spice market (Misir Çarşısı) near the Galata Bridge in Eminonu.
This atmospheric market was built in the mid 17th Century and has been the centre of the Turkish spice trade since that time.
Jonathan and I had only recently visited this extremely crowded market with members of my family but it was still enjoyable to explore such a colourful and fragrant place once again.
After a stroll round the market we headed towards Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet Square.
Just as we arrived the call to prayer (ezan) began to ring out from the minarets of the Blue Mosque. In the silence after the initial call the muezzin at Hagia Sophia (which is only a hundred metres away) started up and so began a haunting exchange between the two. It was part battle, part duet, and it literally stopped people in their tracks. Everyone in the grounds of the Blue Mosque were captivated by the exchange.
The day after our short exploration of Istanbul we waved a sad goodbye to our guests but there would be plenty to keep us occupied as we only had a few short weeks before leaving for Australia.
We had a lot to do to prepare to leave the boat for winter – deep cleaning, taking down of sails for storage and maintenance, flushing engines with fresh water, putting the water maker into “sleep mode”, defrosting and cleaning out fridges, reorganising all the items we had squirrelled away while we had visitors. There was also winter clothing to be found and packing for summer in Australia and a hundred and one other jobs.
One of the tasks we had on our list was to fill Sunday’s diesel tanks as when you leave a vessel (or any vehicle) for a protracted length of time it is best to leave them full to avoid condensation which can cause all sorts of issues. Unfortunately there is no bowser at Viaport Marina so we decided to take the short trip to another marina in nearby Pendik.
It was so wonderful to be on the water again even though it was just for a couple of hours. Fishing season had begun and we had to dodge between boats, lines and nets as we left Viaport.
At Pendik the fuel dock was a little difficult to locate – basically it was a case of go past all the super yachts and turn left at the end! The staff there were very friendly and of course brought us a “çay” to drink while waiting for our tanks to fill.
We didn’t have much time for socialising before we left as there was so much to do but we did have a lovely evening with our friends Izzet and Ayşe and their younger son Doğuhan at their (and now our) favourite fish restaurant in Tuzla. A very pleasant way to end the sailing season for another year!
Cappadocia – famous for its spectacular “fairy chimneys”, hot air balloons and underground cities is also renowned for its beautiful horses.
It is said that the name Cappadocia stems from the Persian word meaning “Land of good horses” (the Persian Empire ruled Cappadocia from 547 BC until Alexander the Great conquered it in 332 BC).
If you arrive in Cappadocia by road, one of the first things you notice are the countless models of horses on roundabouts, median strips and along the side of the road – now you know why!
Even today there are hundreds of beautiful horses in this region – many of them used for tourists to trek through the stunning landscapes.
As we drove in towards Goreme we couldn’t help being bowled over by the beauty of the uniquely shaped rock formations that surrounded us.
These strange looking and dramatic expanses of soft volcanic rock shaped by erosion into towers, cones, valleys, and caves rocks, took our breath away even though we had visited earlier in 2022 and seen “it all before”.
We were there with Jonathan’s brother and partner who had come to visit us in Turkey for two weeks. Unfortunately the weather on the coast was chilly with intermittent rain so we decided a road trip was a good alternative to a sailing trip!
After we had settled in our accommodation we explored the delightful and magical village of Göreme which sits at the heart of a network of valleys filled with those astonishing rock formations.
As night fell, the place looked like a massive fairy land – especially with all the lights from the rooftop restaurants, shops and hotels sparkling in the clear air.
A testi kebab was the best dinner choice – a mouthwatering casserole cooked for hours in a clay pot in a tandoor (clay oven). The seal is broken by using a small hammer to tap it open and as it breaks the most wonderful aroma wafts out of the clay pot – delicious!
The following day we spent some hours at the Göreme open air museum. We had wanted to go there last time we were in Cappadocia but thick snow and ice prevented us from driving along the steep and windy road to get there.
The Goreme Open Air Museum has been a member of the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1984, and was one of the first two UNESCO sites in Turkey.
The museum is made up of a large Christian monastic complex dating from 10th – 12th Century composed of eleven refectory monasteries scattered around the complex – each one in a cave and with its own fantastic church carved out from the rock. Beautiful colourful frescoes adorn the walls in many of the churches.
Later that day we went to “Love Valley” which isn’t far from Göreme. This was another place we tried to get to last time we were in Cappadocia but prevented from doing so by the snow.
Love Valley is home to hundreds of phallic rock pinacles – hence the valley’s name! These huge natural structures seem like some sort of ancient homage to male fertility. However, they are far from being man-made – they have developed over the Millenia from eroded volcanic stone.
Later that afternoon we left our guests (who had unfortunately fallen ill with a nasty cold) to rest while we headed to the village of Uçhisar.
Situated on the edge of Göreme National Park Uçhisar is an ancient village built on an elevation and huddled around the base of a huge rock cone castle.
The highest point of Cappadocia, the 60-metre-high ‘castle’ is in reality a maze of tunnels, passages, stairs and rooms carved out of the massive cone which from around the 7th Century AD was used to defend the region from attackers.
The glorious panoramic views would have ensured excellent early warning of any threats – you can see for ever across the surrounding countryside.
After our visit to Uçhisar we headed over to the other side of Göreme planning to explore the Rose Valley near the village of Çavuşin (which also boasts a cone “castle”.)
We arrived in Çavuşin in the late afternoon and followed a dirt road off the main square out of the village which led to a group of interesting rock formations that looked as though they could still be inhabited.
We hopped out of the car and went to explore the caves that had caught our eye. The first one we entered was empty but definitely felt and looked like it had been someone’s home recently.
Then we saw a notice that welcomed guests to step in and see a genuine cave house that was still lived in. Of course we went in! There was a central courtyard which contained a kitchen area with a tandoor (clay) oven buried underneath the stone floor.
Surrounding the courtyard were rooms going off on each side. One of these rooms was a reception/living room complete with long comfortable couches along the walls and a wood burning stove to keep the room warm and cosy on winter nights (which as we discovered on our previous visit are extremely chilly – we experienced minus 12 degrees one night).
Other rooms included a nursery and various bedrooms. It was fascinating to see what it was like to live in a cave dwelling.
By the time we had finished chatting to the home owner who told us more about what living in a cave house is like, it was starting to get late.
Rose Valley would have to wait as it was time to travel back to Göreme to meet the others for dinner.
My brother-in-law announced he had dreamt that he was in a jungle with lions and tigers roaring around him – when he woke up he was surprised to find he was actually aboard our catamaran at Viaport Marina in Tuzla, Istanbul.
It wasn’t his vivid imagination and love of wildlife that led him to have this dream however, – if you wake up in the early hours here, the roaring of big cats is genuinely something you can hear. The reason? Just 300 metres away from our boat is a Big Cat Park!
Aslan Park Tuzla, is the only “predatory cat park” in Turkey and is home to 30 different species including lions, tigers, leopards, black panthers, jaguars and a pair of rare Anatolian lynx. And at 6.30am they are all roaring – calling out for their breakfast!
I don’t normally like zoos but having done a bit of research I’m now quite keen to visit this park as it appears to be doing a good job of conserving a number of rare species, with a significant number of babies being born since its establishment in 2018. This includes a new baby White Lion – one of only 30 White Lions in the world.
My sister and brother-in-law (of the jungle dream) joined us aboard for just under a week and during their short stay we managed to pack in quite a lot of activities including a sailing trip to the Princes’ Islands, walking in Heybeliada and some delicious meals out.
The weather was quite wild when we arrived at our favourite anchorage on Heybeliada in the Prince’s Islands – a fairly stiff wind was (very unusually) blowing straight into the “lagoon” and waves were crashing onto the shore and breaking over the jetty that we had recently discovered as a good place to moor the dinghy.
We had to find a different landing place and ended up on a tiny scrap of a beach in a more sheltered spot. From there we made our way through the trees up to the road and strolled into the Halki – the only town on the island.
It’s a very pleasant stroll with no cars to contend with as the only vehicles allowed on the island (apart from fire tenders, ambulances etc) are slow moving battery driven golf cart style vehicles.
In town we had lunch in a leafy cafe by the water and later we took the battery powered dolmuş (share taxi) back to our anchorage.
Early next morning I was enjoying an early morning cuppa when I became aware of a strange scraping sound coming from somewhere nearby. Intrigued I popped up on deck and saw the noise was coming from the beach – a man and a woman were raking over the stones in search of something – shells to sell? Shellfish to eat? Whatever they were looking for it looked like a gruelling task.
Back in Tuzla on my sister and brother-in-law’s last night we revisited the fish restaurant that had been introduced to us by Turkish friends. Such fabulous food!
A couple of days after my sister and brother-in-law returned to England Jonathan’s younger brother and his partner arrived on board.
This was the first time they had a holiday abroad since well before Covid began so they were hoping for some sunshine and swimming which sadly was not to be.
It was quite cool and a bit drizzly on their first day so we organised massages for them at a local hotel to get them in a holiday mood.
On the way back we popped into the tiny museum dedicated to the Greek/Turkish population exchange in 1923.
There were paintings, maps and photographs of Turkish people arriving on boats from places like Thessaloniki where they had until the population exchange, had lived side by side with Greeks for generations.
Also on display were clothes and personal belongings dating from the era. Before we left, the owners insisted on taking photos of us outside the museum.
Being a devoted cat lover, Simon’s “better half” fell in love with all the street cats along the water front of Tuzla. Although none of the cats could be described as skinny she immediately bought some cat food to distribute!
The weather wasn’t expected to cheer up in the days immediately ahead so we decided to do a road trip to Cappadocia.
Last time Jonathan and I had visited Cappadocia it was winter and there was a really massive snow storm. We got snowed in and had to be pulled out of a drift and we were restricted to visiting places on the main roads that had been cleared. While it did look really pretty we were looking forward to seeing the sights without all that cold white stuff!
We decided to break our journey in Safranbolu – a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Black Sea region of Turkey.
In the old part of town which is situated in a deep ravine, there are many marvellous historic buildings including numerous old Ottoman mansion houses that have been converted into hotels, three caravanserai (ancient roadside inns where travellers and their animals could rest and recover from the day’s journey along trade routes) and numerous other historical buildings.
The reason there were so many mansions in Safranbolu was because it was a trading place for that most valuable of spices – saffron. Many merchants made their fortunes trading in this highly priced commodity.
Saffron is still grown in a village called Davutobası 22 kilometres east of Safranbolu. It has always been the world’s most expensive spice and today sells for Ana incredible US$5,000 or more per kilogram. No wonder this was such a wealthy area!
The town of Safranbolu is a little off the beaten track and the last part of the journey was on a very narrow, steep and winding road which we negotiated in the growing darkness before descending into the ravine in which the town sits.
We stayed the night in one of the old mansions and although it was perfectly comfortable and you could definitely see that at one time it would have been a very fine home, it had definitely seen better days!
We had eaten a big meal on the road so all we wanted was a wander round the town and a nightcap somewhere nice.
Although there were plenty of cosy bars none of them served alcohol! We ended up having cold drinks and coffee in one of the caravanserai and were back in the hotel for an early night as we were leaving early the next day for Cappadocia.
The short visit my brother and his family had made to our catamaran Sunday, at Viaport Marina in Tuzla, Turkey, was rapidly drawing to a close but we had an excellent last day together seeing some of the sights that Istanbul has to offer before they flew back to England.
The day was made all the more special because my eldest sister and her husband had arrived the previous evening so they were able to join us for our sightseeing excursion.
We took the metro in – a very cheap way to travel but quite slow on a very crowded train. However, once at Sirkeci station in the centre of Istanbul it was only a short walk to the wonderfully atmospheric Mısır Çarşısı (Spice Market).
The grand market buildings, constructed in 1664, have majestic domed ceilings and at each side there are stalls that extend much deeper than their narrow shopfronts would suggest.
The colours and fragrances of all the spices on display were mesmerising but there were also many more gorgeous items on sale that heightened our senses and made our mouths water – wonderful floral teas; Turkish Delight in every flavour you can imagine; wonderful shimmering strips of colourful confectionery – often embedded with piercing green pistachio nuts; dried fruits such as apricots, figs, dates, strawberries and kiwis; honey and nut soaked baklava; olive oil soaps; brightly painted ceramics; fragrant Turkish coffee and much more besides. An absolute visual and olfactory feast!
From the spice market we walked a short way to the diminutive but fabulous Rustem Pasha Mosque which was completed in 1563.
This small mosque is lavishly decorated with the most beautiful traditional Iznic tiles in an array of colours – predominantly the traditional iridescent blues and turquoises.
After a quick lunch of one of our Turkish favourites Balık Ekmek (fish sandwiches- delicious fresh fried fish served with salad between two halves of the scrumptious local bread) we strolled through the streets of Istanbul towards the old city district of Sultanahmet.
We gazed in wonder at the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, pondered whether to queue to see the Basilica Cistern (we didn’t, the queue was too long) and decided to go and have a look at the Istanbul Archeological Museum.
On the way we stopped in front of the Topakı Palace to take some photos and a very obliging local person offered to take one of all of us!
We spent some time wandering through this wonderful museum – Turkeys’s oldest – which has more than one million artefacts on display.
There was wealth of well preserved sculptures, pottery, art and jewelry – all beautifully displayed and arranged chronologically and by origin (Roman, Greek Ottoman, Byzantine).
We hadn’t realised at first that there are three parts to the museum – the main building which we explored thoroughly, the Museum of the Ancient Orient (which we missed) and the Tiled Kiosk Museum which several of our group found and described it as an absolute highlight! Unfortunately Jonathan and I lingered too long in the main museum but we will be back!
It was getting late and there was packing to be done and a last dinner all together to enjoy so we all hopped on the metro again and headed back to our catamaran, “Sunday”.
What a wonderful week it had been with a lot of different activities packed in as well as plenty of relaxation and “catching up” with family!
Due to the high level of traffic and the strong and variable currents along the Bosphorus Strait sailing yachts are obliged to use their engines when they travel on this internationally significant waterway.
For the most part the marine traffic is very well behaved – especially the cargo boats that sweep up and down this important narrow body of water that links the Black Sea and the Aegean. However, there are scores of ferry boats, tourist boats and fishing vessels dashing back and forth the strait which kept us on our toes!
On our way back towards the Princes’ Islands we motored down the Asian side of the strait and were amazed at the impressive and imposing waterfront mansions.
Once in the Princes’ Islands we decided to take a quick look at tiny Sivriada Island which is uninhabited but is used by fishermen for shelter. The island’s little harbour was actually even smaller than we thought it would be and there wasn’t room to anchor in there. We could have tied up to a very rough sea wall but with the winds blowing us onto it there was the risk of damage to our topsides.
The main reason we didn’t stop there and probably would never go back was because of the dreadful atmosphere emanating from the island. Whether it was just in my head because I knew of the terrible and dark events of 1911 or if it was the waves of terror and suffering still rippling through the atmosphere, I don’t know, but I felt full of foreboding and distinctly uncomfortable while we were there.
So what happened in 1911 I hear you ask? Well the Governor of Istanbul decided to fix the stray dog problem by rounding them up and exiling them to Sivriada without any care for what happened to them. It is believed that at least 80,000 dogs tragically suffered this cruel ordeal, many dying from thirst and starvation on this tiny barren island. Others drowned while trying to escape the island.
Soon after this forced mass exodus a severe earthquake caused great damage to the island and locals put this down to a punishment for abandoning the dogs. The surviving animals were returned once more to live life on the streets of Istanbul. To this day the jagged scar left by the earthquake can be seen and serves as a reminder to treat all animals with kindness.
On the way back to our favourite anchorage on Heybeliada we had a look at another island that we hadn’t got to know yet – Assıada, officially renamed Democracy and Freedom Island in 2013 to commemorate the 1960 military coup which is now regarded in Turkey as a shameful episode in its history.
The island was used to imprison members of the ruling Democrat Party and at trials held on the island several members of the ousted government were sentenced to death, including the Prime Minister, Adnan Menderes.
In 2013 Assıada was renamed Democracy and Freedom Island in order “to eradicate the negative associations attached to the name ‘Yassıada’ after the 1960 trials.”
A few days after our trip up the Bosphorus we were very happy to welcome my brother, his wife and their two adult offspring for a week’s stay on Sunday – their first family holiday since Covid.
We had a wonderful time together, sailing, eating, drinking, hiking, lots of talking and taking another great trip down the Bosphorus to view Turkey from the water.
A couple of days before their stay was drawing to a close, my sister Sarah and her husband Martin arrived in Turkey and we had a lovely weekend all together- starting with a great dinner at one of Tuzla’s wonderful meze restaurants.
Almost 20 years ago our daughter Hannah met her great friend Crystie through the Australian Girls Choir (AGC). Hannah was in the brand-new Brisbane chapter and Crystie was from Sydney.
Over the years they travelled the world together with the AGC Performing Choir and stayed with each other in the holidays. In the intervening years they have met up in Australia and England and Crystie has visited Hannah once in India and twice in the Netherlands. Now they have reunited in Turkey!
Hannah and her husband Pieter had paid us a surprise visit so we had taken them out to the Prince’s Islands for a few days. Coincidentally Crystie was also in Istanbul and was able to slip away for the day to join us aboard “Sunday”.
She caught the early morning ferry over to the island of Burgazada where we met her. After a coffee and pastry breakfast we motored back to Sunday on our dinghy and then pulled up the anchor and returned to our favourite spot in the “lagoon “ at Heybeliada.
The girls (and all of us!) had a lovely day together swimming, jumping off the boat, eating and talking. A fabulous day all round.
Just before sunset we pottered back round to the anchorage near the ferry terminal on Burgazada and Crystie left to take the ferry back to Istanbul.
The next day we travelled back to our home base of Viaport Marina as sadly Hannah and Pieter had to fly back to the Netherlands to prepare for their big trip to Central and South America, India and Australia.
Back in Viaport Marina we had some work to do – Jonathan set to the task of stopping the creaking and groaning in the forward cabin that made it sound as though we were on an old timber sailing ship – rather than a modern catamaran.
He discovered that the noise was caused by the plywood cabin partition becoming separated from the fibreglass deck and the two moving against each other when the sea was rough or when we were at anchor and there was a bit of a swell.
After much grinding out and filling with of one and a half kilos of two-pack epoxy, the join was much stronger and the noise had completely disappeared!
We have been constantly surprised and delighted by the amazing welcome we have received from the Turkish people during our time here, particularly from fellow sailors here at Viaport Marina. You couldn’t meet a friendlier or more helpful bunch of people.
One such friendship arose from a chance meeting Jonathan had with Izzet, in a local chandlery store. Izzet stepped in to translate when Jonathan was trying to buy some “boat bits” and since then has been a regular visitor on “Sunday”, sometimes bringing his lovely wife Ayşe and one or both his two sons (in their early twenties).
We enjoyed a fabulous farewell dinner with the family at a wonderful nearby fish restaurant to send off Batuhan, the older son, just before he departed Turkey to travel to the USA to do his PhD. It was a fun night with wonderful food!
After a few days back in the marina we decided to head out again – this time to explore the Bosphorus Strait. We were keen to view Istanbul from the water and also to see the Black Sea with our own eyes.
We stayed the first night in the Princes’ islands and then set off the next day to fill up with fuel at Fenerbahçe Marina before heading up the Strait. When we got there we were told the fuel pumps weren’t working but if we wanted to wait they should be working in “ten minutes”. This was a Turkish ten minutes of course and more than thirty minutes later nothing had happened, and no one had arrived to fix the problem.
We had left the Princes’ Islands half an hour earlier than Catabella and had arranged to meet Sue and John outside Fenerbahçe Marina but when we heard we had to wait to fill up we suggested they go ahead and we’d meet later.
We gave up waiting in the end and decided to try Atakoy Marina – way over on the European side of the entrance to the Bosphorus Strait.
By the time we had got there, filled the tanks and paid, it was too late to try and catch up with the others so we decided to anchor in the quiet little bay round the corner from the marina.
The next day we wove through an astonishing number of ships waiting at anchor before being loaded or unloaded.
Close to land we saw a long line of service boats waiting to load the cargo ships with water, fuel and other supplies or take off their rubbish or black water.
Before too long we were right at the mouth of the Bosphorus and could see in the distance the striking and distinctive minarets of Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque.
We could also see parts of the ancient sea walls that had protected the city over hundreds of years.
What a skyline! Soon we were passing the iconic 15th Century Topaki Palace, and then the famous Galata Tower. This really is the way to see Istanbul!
Round the corner, at the entrance to the Golden Horn, three enormous cruise ships dwarfed the city buildings, blotting out our wonderful view!
While I can appreciate how much some people enjoy going on a cruise, I do find these monsters jarring when they are tied up in the middle of an ancient and beautiful city. Can’t they unload their passengers and then go and moor somewhere else?!