Even though we have been travelling more or less full time for six years we never quite get used to saying goodbye to our friends and family.
However, the sadness we feel at the parting of ways makes reunions all the sweeter – especially when you meet people again who you last saw in a completely different part of the world!
And so it was that we sadly farewelled my sister Julia who was returning to England and then the very next day, welcomed our friends Jan and Jack who sailed into Didim marina on their yacht S/V Anthem after crossing the Atlantic from Florida via Bermuda the Azores, Spain, Portugal and Greece.
We hadn’t seen these two since February 2018 when they had joined us on our previous boat S/V Bali Hai for the Sail Thailand Rally. Such a long time between drinks but of course, as soon as we saw them it seemed as though we had met up just last week.
Fortunately Jan and Jack had arrived just in time to join us on a fantastic trip of South-East Turkey organised by travel agent Tarik Toprak.
Tarik is based at Finike Marina where we spent a couple of months earlier in the year. He had already taken two other groups of yachties from Finike Marina on trips to this fascinating part of Turkey.
We had first heard about the tour from Sue and John on S/V Catabella when we had just arrived in Finike Marina at the beginning of April. They had just returned from South-East Turkey and absolutely raved about it. From then on, we were determined to see this incredible part of the country for ourselves.
Tarik had very obligingly opened up the third tour to yachties from outside of Finike Marina. In addition to Jan and Jack, other recent arrivals to Didim Marina – Aussies Brian and Lyn from S/V Ariel – joined us on the new adventure which took us from Izmir in the South-west of Turkey right over to the other side of the country – 1421 km away in Diyarbakir where we started our tour.
Because we had an eye wateringly early flight to Diyarbakir and the airport at Izmir is a two hour drive from Didim, we decided to spend the night before in an airport hotel. This meant we had the chance to stroll round the sprawling Kemeralti bazaar (which has been in existence since Medieval times) and then along the seafront in Izmir before catching an early night.
The bazaar is a maze of narrow lanes, some covered and some open to the elements, and covering a vast area. You can buy almost anything you want there from girdles and trusses to wedding dresses and everything in between.
In the middle of the bazaar we came across the 16th Century Hisar Mosque several times in our wanderings. This historical mosque is one of the biggest in the city centre and its interior contains one of the most striking examples of Ottoman Islamic artwork in İzmir.
Despite the early hour we made it on to our flight without too much drama although the flight was very full. Our guide Baran was waiting for us and suggested a quick breakfast stop at a nearby bakery while we waited for the Finike based group ( English couple Colin and Maggie and Canadian traveller Marje) to arrive.
Within minutes our driver Cezar delivered us to our breakfast stop and after a reviving coffee and various Turkish pastries shared between us we boarded our minibus once again for a whistle stop tour of Diyarbakir before we headed back to the airport.
We drove past the ancient city walls which stretch almost unbroken for about 6 kilometres and surround the historic fortress of Diyarbakir.
We made a quick stop at the famous 11th Century Dicle Bridge built over the mighty Tigris River. The bridge is made up of ten arches and known as “the ten-eyed bridge” by local people.
The black volcanic stone bridge (built in 1065) is usually thronged with tourists but the early hour meant we had the place to ourselves.
Then it was back to the airport to meet our fellow travellers for the first time and drive to our destination for the first night – the ancient Mesopotamian city of Mardin – such a wonderful place to start our adventure!
This gem of a place has recently suffered from dropping tourist numbers due to it’s proximity (35 kms) to the Syrian border but I would highly recommend a visit!
The town is dominated by a ruined Roman citadel, rebuilt in medieval times which rises behind the the limestone houses that cling to the side of the hill and look out over the famous plains of Mesopotamia which lie between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers.
The plains stretch as far as the eye can see – all the way to Iraq and Kuwait.
Mesopotamia is known as the “cradle of civilisation” and it is believed that some of the most important developments in human history, occurred here including the invention of the wheel, the planting of the first cereal crops and the development of cursive script, mathematics, astronomy and agriculture.
After we had settled in our hotel which had fabulous views over the plains, Baran took us on a walking tour of the narrow alleyways and cobblestoned streets, through the bazaar, stopping frequently to marvel at gorgeous buildings such as the Ulu Camil Mosque, and to buy local delicacies such as Elmali Kurabiye and other sweet delicacies tasting of wonderfully exotic ingredients such as almonds, cinnamon, dates, honey, pistachio nuts and sesame seeds.
We visited a 4th Century Assyrian (Syriac) Orthodox Church called the Kırklar Church by its congregation. One of the Church members talked about the history of the Church and the fate of many Assyrians who had fled to Sweden and Germany. He also explained that the Church members read the bible in Aramaic – the language that Jesus is thought to have spoken.
That evening we had a fabulous meal in spectacular surroundings at a restaurant called Bagdadi. Perched high on the hill that leads up to the fortress the restaurant was entered via a steep stairway.
At the top of the stairs was a terrace where some people were eating but we were led to a private room where we were served a sumptuous meal of traditional dishes from Mardin and the region.
What a great way to end an amazing first day on our tour of South-East Turkey!