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.