After a break from cruising of nearly 30 years, we are sailing to the Indonesian Islands on our yacht Bali Hai
Author: Salty tales from Bali Hai
In 2015, after a break from cruising of almost 30 years, my husband and I sailed off into the sunset - this time to the wonderful Islands of Indonesia and beyond. Three years passed and we swapped sails for wheels driving through Scandinavia and Europe in a motor home. Now we are on the brink of another adventure - buying a Lagoon 420 Catamaran in Athens. This is our story.
What a great time we had on our short visit to Australia! We did lots of socialising – catching up with family and friends for wonderful lunches and dinners plus some excellent meals out, going on walks and having coffee dates together and attending book club meetings.
A big thank you to everyone for hosting us – we promise to have all of you back to “the doll’s house” (our small town house) when we come back for a longer visit at Christmas.
Between the aftermath of the floods and most of an entire household catching Covid, we didn’t get to see enough of our extended family although we did have a fantastic family picnic day at Ben and Sarah’s new property.
Despite there being very little furniture in the new house, as Ben and Sarah were yet to move in properly, we had a lovely shared meal there and later went down to the nearest creek on their property, just a short walk/drive from the house.
There was much splashing and swimming on the part of the children and the dogs but the highlight of the afternoon for the bigger kids was to tumble into the back of Ben’s 4WD to drive back to the house.
Or maybe the absolute highlight was to be allowed to sit on Ben and Sarah’s tractor and toot the horn endlessly until it “ran out of battery”?!
Just before we arrived in Brisbane we had heard from the agents who were overseeing the rental of our townhouse that termite activity had been found when the tenants moved out.
So we had to organise termite treatment and repairs to the affected areas. There was also a big mess left in the garage wall and ceiling (and we later found, the floor upstairs in one of the bedrooms) created by an unreported leaky shower.
In the meantime, our nephew’s family had been made homeless as their apartment was badly flooded so we offered them the townhouse while they sorted themselves out. Fortunately, they were able to stay with his parents (my brother-in-law and sister-in-law) for a few weeks and then house sit while his parents were away travelling. However, they asked whether their friends who had also been made temporarily homeless, could “camp” in the townhouse for a few weeks, which they did.
As the required repairs were quite extensive it meant some repainting would be needed so we decided to have the whole house done while we were at it. New flooring was also needed downstairs as the old marble floor had some big ugly cracks and stains. So we were busy organising trades people towards the end of our visit.
We also decided to pull our remaining possessions out of storage and use our garage to keep them safe.
In the days leading up to our return to Europe it poured with rain again and we were anxious that there might be more flooding to come. The creeks near Ben and Sarah’s new place did in fact rise but we were still able to get in and out of the property for the remainder of our stay.
Although we didn’t spend a night up there, we visited most days and tried to help them with the various jobs they were tackling such as cleaning up the garden around the house, filling holes in the walls left from picture hooks, then touching up the paint and organising food for Ben and Sarah and their friends who amongst other things, helped them with fencing for the duck/dog run.
The day before we left for the Netherlands Ben and Sarah took delivery of their brand new ride on mower (more of a mini tractor really!) – one well up to the task of keeping their many acres of grass under control.
On our last evening I was thrilled to see the sweet little wallabies munching on the grass at the back of Ben and Sarah’s “old” house. I had only seen them once before at their place – the day we finally got through after the floods had prevented us from doing so for four days. It seemed like a good omen and a really lovely memory of their beautiful home. Next time we visit Australia the place will be well and truly sold.
That evening Ben and Sarah took us for a really excellent and enjoyable meal at Persone Italian restaurant at 81, North Quay – a brand new building since we were last in Brisbane.
The restaurant had gorgeous views of the Brisbane River and the city skyline and the food and service were both excellent. What a great way to end our flying visit to Australia!
It was simply wonderful being with our son Ben and his wife Sarah after being separated for two and a half years due to Covid travel restrictions and then being delayed four days longer due to the extreme flooding event along the east coast of Australia.
Once we had settled in it was as if we had never been away and we set about making up for lost time.
We had drinks in the bar they had built themselves with some of Ben and Sarah’s best friends; had an online cocktail making (and drinking) session with our daughter Hannah in the Netherlands; met our newest great nephew for the first time and went for some great walks with the granddoggies.
One week after our arrival in Brisbane we drove fifteen minutes from Ben and Sarah’s house to the glorious property that they were in the process of purchasing. Unfortunately the flood waters were still over the road leading to the new place and we had to contain our impatience for another couple of days.
While we waited to see their new home, we organised a one-night trip to Sydney to catch up with dear friends, went to a timber yard to find a good piece of wood for their new mailbox and just enjoyed hanging out with Ben and Sarah who had taken a week off work to spend time with us.
Finally, nine days after our arrival in Australia, the flooded creeks were passable and we were able to see Ben and Sarah’s new home.
We were blown away with the beautiful location, the wonderful views, the bubbling creeks (small rivers), the two big dams (man made lakes), the paddocks and the fabulous, spacious house with a spectacular outlook.
Jonathan had great fun driving the big yellow tractor and we all loved meeting the large green frog community living around the exterior of the house.
Now that the contract on the property had been completed Ben and Sarah lost no time getting on with jobs and soon hopped on their ride-on mower to start tidying up the immediate surrounds of the house. They also pulled up some fences around the house so they could increase the space to make a large run for the ducks and to improve the view from the deck.
Meanwhile the timber for the mailbox was cut to size and stained and was soon sitting proudly in the shared laneway leading to the property. A beautiful front gate was commissioned and delivered.
Ben and Sarah also organised a guy to come in and slash as much of the property as possible over three days. The contractor worked from dawn until 8pm each evening and managed to tame huge tracts of land. He did such an amazing job.
Over the next few days we explored the hundred acres in the 4-WD and marvelled at all the special spots we discovered. What a great time to have arrived in Australia – just as the contract on the new house had completed!
After being trapped in an airport hotel in Brisbane, Australia, for two days and two nights due to a “rain bomb” event (someone described it as a “sky tsunami“) our beautiful niece was able to come and pick us up on the afternoon of the third day.
It had been two and a half years since we had been able to return to Australia so it had been bitterly disappointing to arrive at the airport with no one to greet us and unable to see family and friends but now we were leaving the airport hotel and were on our way!
It was wonderful to see our niece’s family in their lovely home and to be making some progress towards our final destination – Ben and Sarah’s (our son and daughter-in-law‘s) home on the other side of town.
By early evening we heard that the main road on the way to Ben and Sarah’s was passable by boat and that there were a couple of young guys who had been ferrying people over the floodwaters in their small vessels.
As our niece and husband both work from home and have three busy and active children we decided that it would be too much for them to have us to stay the night although we were so grateful for the offer.
Our friends Peter and Cathy live on the other side of the flood waters (in the same road we had lived in) and had very kindly invited us to stay until the flooded road between them and Ben and Sarah’s place was passable.
We left our luggage at our niece’s house as we didn’t think two big bulging suitcases would be welcomed on a small craft. When we got down to the flooded road we coincidentally bumped into our nephew who for several days had been frantically trying to save his family’s possessions from their flooded apartment near the Brisbane River. He looked haggard and exhausted when we said our “hellos” in the middle of the main road!
His wife and baby son were safely on the other side of the flood waters before a massive load of water was released into the river system from Brisbane‘s main dam.
A delightful young man called Dan, who had been ferrying people to and fro all day, took our nephew and us across literally on his last crossing of the day.
On the other side waiting to whip our nephew back to their place to be reunited with his partner and baby, were his Mum and Dad (my brother in-law and sister -in-law).
It was a quick but sweet reunion with our extended family in Brisbane. Then we were off to the home of our friends Peter and Cathy who we had last seen in Rome in October 2019. We had such a lovely catch up and despite having been cut off from the shops for several days Peter and Cathy cooked up a storm and we had a lovely meal together.
The next day we heard from Ben and Sarah that the water over the road out from their place had receded but it was still closed until it could be safety checked and the mud cleaned off.
We were impatient to see them but having waited two and a half years to be reunited we didn’t mind waiting a few hours extra.
That afternoon, three and a half days after we had landed in Australia we were finally able to hug our son and daughter-in-law. Of course it was a very emotional and a very special moment.
They picked us up in a very smart looking second hand Subaru Forester which they had kindly searched for and bought on our behalf.
The reason we needed an all-wheel drive was because they were in the process of buying a semi-rural property which can only be reached via an unmade road.
We were very grateful that they had worked so hard to find the perfect car for us at an extremely good price and driven many miles to collect it.
Back at their place we were greeted enthusiastically by our granddoggies and less enthusiastically by our grandbird (unless I was playing Bananagrams!) and met our cheeky frozen-pea-loving grandducks for the first time.
We also saw all the work in the house and garden that Ben and Sarah had undertaken since we had last stayed there in 2019 – including their fantastic bar area under the house.
As I looked out onto their backyard for the first time there were two dear little wallabies enjoying the beautiful green grass. What a lovely welcome!
That evening, as we sat in the bar enjoying a drink, Ben and Sarah received a message to say that the house they’d signed a contract for exactly nine months previously – to the day – had completed! Sadly, the vendor had passed away during the process and although his son had power of attorney, the sale could not be completed until probate had been settled.
So two wonderful things happened that day proving the old adage “good things come to those who wait”!
We were back in the Netherlands once more and it felt wonderful to be with our daughter and son-in-law again!
It was only a short stay this time as finally we were able to return to Australia after an absence of two and half years due to Covid and the Australian Government’s “Fortress Australia” response.
There had been tens of thousands of people wishing to return from around the world during 2020 and 2021 but with a mandatory two-week hotel quarantine (paid for by the individuals concerned) and scarcely any flights scheduled, the majority of people were unable to get back. Friends who had tried to purchase flights during Covid had found them blisteringly expensive and they were invariably cancelled.
We were so thankful that at last, plenty of flights were going to Australia and we wouldn’t have to stay locked in a hotel room at vast expense for two weeks on arrival.
Before we left for our long awaited reunion with our son Ben and daughter-in-law Sarah and other family and friends, we had a lovely break in the Netherlands.
Despite the chilly weather the sky was blue most days and best of all, the early spring flowers were in bloom. We went on some lovely walks, had coffee and cake in cute cafes, caught up with Pieter’s parents and enjoyed delicious apple pie cooked by his Mum, and cleaned up the van before “putting her to bed” for a while.
We had been there only a few days when a terrific storm let rip causing all kinds of mayhem – sheets of metal ripped off the roof of a nearby football stadium, trees being uprooted, roof tiles being lifted and branches falling on people, cars and houses.
The wind came on quickly and before we could move the sturdy garden furniture the chairs were being tossed around the yard and we had to dash out to secure them safely.
A stroll round Pijnacker village the following day displayed the frightening force of the wind.
At Pieter’s parents commercial greenhouse several windows were blown in and there was shattered glass, bent frames and gaping holes in the roof.
In nearby Delft there were piles of roof tiles and other debris littering the pavement. Wild weather and very frightening for anyone caught outside!
Our time in the Netherlands slipped by very quickly and after a farewell meal at the local restaurant it was time to fly off to Brisbane, Australia.
We were very excited to be on our way at last although we were getting a little apprehensive about what the weather gods were going to throw us next! After deep snow in Cappadocia and cyclonic winds in The Netherlands, what was Australia going to produce weather wise?!
Before we even took off on the first leg to Singapore we started to get an inkling about what was ahead! Ben and Sarah told us that intense rain had been falling for the previous few days over a widespread area of SE Queensland and Northern New South Wales. On that day alone 175 ml (approx 6.9. inches) had fallen between midnight to 3pm!
We arrived in Singapore to hear that the rain was still coming down relentlessly. There was flooding too – including a creek near them that had risen so much it flooded the road they needed to take to get to the airport (the other way was flooded too!)
Later on, while we were waiting to board our flight bound for Brisbane, Ben let us know that the main route to the airport from the Western suburbs was flooded over, so even if they could have got through the local flooding they still couldn’t have reached the airport.
There was still a back up plan – our lovely niece who lived on the “right”side of the flooding had offered to come and meet us.
We took off from Singapore hoping against hope that the floodwaters would have receded by the time we arrived in Brisbane. After all, we had waited for the moment when we would fall into the arms of Ben and Sarah at Brisbane airport for more than two long years!
Sadly, when we landed at Brisbane we received the grim news that not only Ben and Sarah were unable to meet us but our niece was also stuck as the road she lived on was threatening to flood too!
Fortunately for us, Ben and Sarah had the presence of mind to organise a hotel near the airport for us to stay in until the flood waters had receded. Who would have believed that after two and a half years wait we would end up in a hotel – effectively in quarantine! We sincerely hoped it wouldn’t be for two weeks!
The rain just kept coming and that evening Jonathan got absolutely drenched (despite borrowing a massive umbrella from the hotel) when he ran to buy takeaways from the Italian restaurant that was almost next door!
The following day the rain let up for a little bit and we began to hope that the flooding would recede. However, Brisbane’s water catchment dams were so full that the water authorities were compelled to release huge quantities of water to avoid the dams breaking their banks. Naturally this combined with the extreme quantities of rainwater that had fallen, meant the Brisbane River and was even more unruly and dangerous.
Fortunately, by the second afternoon we heard that our niece and her children would be able to come and visit us after all as the flooding near them hadn’t become worse and they were still able to get out of their road!
It was so wonderful to see them after such a long time! We all went for a walk down to the nearby Brisbane River. It’s usual, rather easy going, flow had turned into a raging torrent with all sorts of debris floating down towards the sea – pieces of wharf, jet skis, and all sorts of building materials.
Our niece very kindly offered to collect us the following day and take us to her place while we waited for the roads to Ben and Sarah’s to be passable again.
Finally we would be on our way to start our visit to Brisbane properly! Thank goodness our hotel “quarantine “ was two days and not two weeks!
We left Viaport Marina near Istanbul having paid a deposit for an annual contract, and started the long trip back to the Netherlands in our campervan.
After our night on the side of the road in a lonely and rather desolate location, we headed for the Turkish border with Bulgaria.
When we arrived there we suddenly realised we hadn’t suspended our Turkish phone accounts so we decided to turn round and visit a phone shop in the nearby city of Edirne.
We discovered (with the help of a lovely Turkish lady who had lived in London for a long time) that the SIM cards would still work for three months without us having to top them up, making our turnaround totally unnecessary! We were very pleased that we had retraced our steps however, because Edirne turned out to be delightful.
Edirne is famed for its many mosques, domes and minarets. The Selimiye Mosque is particularly stunning and one of the most important monuments in the city. Built in 1575 it was designed by Turkey’s greatest master architect, Mimar Sinan.
Wandering along the pedestrian-only streets was very enjoyable – there was a bustling atmosphere, with numerous baklava shop windows to peer into and great sights to discover such as the gorgeous doors of the sixteenth century Rüstempaşa caravanserai (roadside inn).
Stopping off for a tasty savoury pastry with Turkish çay at a tiny cafe, we watched the world go by until we realised time was ticking by and we should get back to our road trip.
We set off for the border again after enjoying our last experience of Turkish culture for a while.
There were no problems at the border going into Bulgaria – we didn’t even have to show a Covid vaccination certificate! However we did have to drive through a special disinfection station which sprayed our van from every possible angle!
Towards late afternoon we caught sight of some snow on the side of the road but apart from that the weather was pleasant.
We stayed that evening in the same tiny little van park in Sofia that we’d stopped at on the way to Turkey.
The owner was on holiday in Austria but he was able to see us on his smart phone and unlock the gates for us remotely.
There was quite a lot of ice on the ground in the van park but nothing compared to the deep snow and compacted ice we had encountered last time.
Around 10am we left the van park and by 11.45 we were already approaching the Serbian border. Before we arrived we had to drive over the most appalling piece of “highway” that we’ve ever come across.
It was unsealed, muddy, narrow and had diversions over huge potholes. It seemed that there had been no progress with the roadworks since we had encountered them a few months earlier.
Fortunately we weren’t held up too much and were soon across the border and in Serbia where the roads were in a lot better condition.
Just as the sun was setting we arrived at the beautiful Lake Palić where we had spent the night on the way to Turkey, a few months previously.
We were able to go for a wonderful long walk around the peaceful lake while the setting sun produced a stunning light show on the glassy surface.
The following morning we arrived at the Austrian border after just over an hour’s drive.
We were planning to visit Vienna but Austria was still in the midst of lockdowns and travel restrictions so we decided against it. Instead we kept driving and found a good spot to stay the night a little further upstream of Vienna on the shores of the glorious Danube River.
The river was lovely but it was biting cold so our evening walk was a short one!
Driving for long distances day after day could become boring but we keep ourselves entertained by listening to podcasts, recorded books and by noticing the quirky and /or interesting architecture, historical buildings and other landmarks that pop up along the way.
In Austria we were intrigued to see the thought put into decorating the roundabouts (traffic circles).Within 15 minutes we saw one with a jet plane rising over it, one with some massive anchors on display, another with a mini arboretum in the centre and yet another with (strangely) a mini silo advertising a sugar museum.
The last country we drove through before arriving in the Netherlands was Germany. We spent the night at a delightful campsite near Würzburg in the Bavaria region.
We were able to camp right on the banks of the wide River Main and watch the massive barges carrying massive loads, ply their way along this important corridor.
Apart from having difficulty with getting water (the pipes were frozen) we had a good night and woke up the next day excited at the prospect of arriving at of destination of the Netherlands the following day.
After driving through snow for what seemed like weeks, it was such a pleasure to set off from the seaside town of Side on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, in bright sunshine with a completely dry and ice-free road.
We were on our way to Finike where we had wintered over the previous year (2021). We thought it would be good to show the marina to our travel buddies Jan and Jack, maybe rest over for a night or two and catch up with friends we had made last year.
After a lovely couple of days of rest and relaxation in Finike we recommenced our journey back to Didim 466 kilometres north.
It was lovely to see the snow sparkling on the mountains as we drove along the coast road and a great relief we were no longer inching our way down the steep and slippery mountain roads!
We stopped in the lovely little fishing village of Uçağız that sits within the series of stunning sheltered anchorages in the massive Kekova Bay.
We were keen to show Jan and Jack the fabulous seaside restaurant run by excellent chef and welcoming host Hassan and his lovely family.
Unfortunately, virtually every business in Uçağız was closed but by a stroke of luck Hassan and his wife happened to be in their restaurant and when they saw us they instantly recognised us and welcomed us inside.
They had no food to cook but generously made us tea and gave us juicy, refreshing oranges to eat.
This generous welcome to travellers is so typical of Turkish culture. Wherever you go, even if you are complete stranger, you are fed and watered and made to feel really special.
We continued on towards Fethiye, another favourite place of ours. On the way we came across a very typical Turkish scene – a herd of goats wandering along the road.
A little later we were surprised to see snow at the roadside and even more surprised to see a large number of families having picnics in the snowiest spots. It was obviously a really unusual event!
The snow soon disappeared and the rest of the journey unremarkable and soon we were in beautiful Fethiye, parked on the sea front just over the road from the hotel Jan and Jack had selected.
That evening we walked into the town centre for a really good meal and some great live music at a restaurant called Piraye.
It was great to arrive back at the marina the following day and we were relieved to find Sunday shipshape and looking good.
We had a lot to do in the following week before getting back in the road to drive back to the Netherlands.
One of the exciting developments was getting Sunday measured up for a new very light and large foresail that would enable us to sail more successfully in light winds.
Although a spinnaker style sail, it would be on a roller for ease of use and to enable this a new bowsprit needed to be installed.
We also needed to organise some other jobs such as finally fixing our wayward passerelle once and for all. Two unsuccessful attempts to stop the leaking hydraulic fluid had been made and we decided that new parts would have to be ordered from Greece where the passerelle (electronic gangplank) was made.
In order to avoid the dreaded Turkish customs process (we had heard of people waiting for many months to obtain boat parts) we had the bits sent to our daughter‘s home in the Netherlands.
One day we had a visit from a very curious cat who examined everything very carefully and wandered round “Sunday” as though she owned the place.
We were sad to be leaving the marina for a couple of months as we had met a great group of people there, however we were excited about our drive back to the Netherlands.
Our first stop was Viaport Marina in Istanbul. We were planning to make this marina our base in the coming year as we were hoping to go on the Black Sea Rally.
John from our buddy boat Catabella joined us on this leg as he and Sue (who was off visiting family) were also planning to make this marina their winter base (in fact Sue did the research to find it!)
We were pleased to have this opportunity to view the marina and it’s surrounds before making a decision on whether to take out a contract for a year.
We travelled over the Izmit Bay Suspension Bridge at the easternmost edge of the Sea of Marmara which connects the Aegean Sea to the Black Sea.
Less than half an hour later we were parked in front of the Crowne Plaza Hotel. John was hoping to stay the night there as it was just a stone’s throw away from the marina but unfortunately it was closed. We found a good hotel for him a little further away.
There were quite a few snack bars and restaurants behind the marina but they seemed to be more international pizza and burger style eateries rather than the more traditional cafes that we prefer. However, there was also a really well stocked supermarket, an aquarium, a water park, a lion park, a “big wheel” as well as a range of outlet stores.
The marina is only 20 minutes from Istanbul’s second airport and there is a metro station 15 minutes away from which you can travel to the centre of Istanbul.
The staff at the marina office were very charming and welcoming and willingly showed us round the marina in the pouring rain.
We were quite impressed by the cleanliness of the water, the ample turning space and good facilities, including a self serve laundry. The security seemed to excellent and there was access into the supermarket using your finger print.
Having received a good offer for year’s contract which included a month on the hardstanding and a bonus of an extra two months, we decided to sign up and pay a deposit.
Later on that day we started our long 3,000 kilometres (approx 1,800 miles) road trip to The Netherlands where we would stay with our daughter and son-in-law before returning to Australia for the first time in two and a half years.
It was pouring with rain when we set off that afternoon so we decided not to make for a specific destination but just to drive as far as we could go by early evening.
We turned off the toll road after driving about three and a half hours and found ourselves in a very rural area with tiny villages dotted between large tracts of agricultural land.
It was difficult to find anywhere to pull off! No car parks, no sports centres, no parks, not even a lay by!
After meandering along miles of country lanes we came across a very isolated, gothic looking, building at the end of a very long and lonely road. If it had still been raining, it would have evoked The Rocky Horror Show. It was absolutely miles from anywhere and definitely felt very creepy.
The sign swinging in the breeze read Bakucha and on googling the name we found the following: “Set on a leafy 200-hectare wine estate, this tranquil hotel is 23 km from the town of Lüleburgaz and 23 km from the D565 road.” We were tempted to go in and get a bed for the night but turned around and followed the lane back to a spot (the only one!) we had spied earlier next to what looked like an electricity substation.
Thankfully we had a reasonably good night there but I did wake up twice to the sound of an engine running and peeped out of the bathroom window to see headlights from a stationary vehicle just metres away. This was definitely unnerving as we were so far from anywhere and we didn’t know if the cars belonged to curious locals or someone with ill intent.
Fortunately, we woke up the next morning in one piece with everything intact and were soon on our way heading for Edirne near the Turkish border with Bulgaria, feeling that somehow we’d “dodged a bullet”.
We woke to a silent world – it had snowed again! This was the fourth day of snowfall in Cappadocia and each morning the blanket of snow became thicker and icier.
Although we were very warm inside the camper, outside was a different story – it was minus six degrees Celsius in Göreme and our home on wheels looked more like a odd shaped snowball than a mighty van!
We had to work hard to open the door to get outside as a snowplough had been along earlier and pushed a great wedge of icy snow against the side of the van.
Once out, we trudged up the hill (with a bit of slipping and sliding) to Jan and Jack’s cave hotel for another delicious Turkish breakfast.
The view of Göreme from their terrace would have been stunning regardless of the snow but with the thick layer of sparkling white sprinkled over the cave dwellings it looked truly magical.
When we got back to the van we realised that we were pretty stuck. Snow was banked up against our wheels and it looked pretty unlikely that we’d be able to get out.
Fortunately we had thought to buy a spade in Konya where we first encountered snow. Named “Jack’s shovel” as he’d been the one to find it (in heroic fashion of course) it was put to good use against the ice and snow. Another one was borrowed from a local hotel and even with two shovels going hard, we were still unable to get the van going .
We were wondering if we would be stuck there until the snow melted! With the temperatures predicted to go down to minus 14 degrees Celsius that night and minus 15 the following day/night we were becoming a little anxious about the welfare of our camper van. It really wasn’t built for these arctic conditions. The windscreen wash was already frozen and that morning we had discovered we couldn’t get rid of our waste water as the emptying mechanism had frozen solid too.
After some time of trying to dig our way out a friendly local stopped to help out. Somehow he managed to get the attention of a young snow plough driver who sped up to us, did a couple of balletic “doughnuts” in the snow and almost in one movement, gracefully jumped off his snowplough and attached a strap to the rear underside of the van. Sadly, there are no photos of this gallant rescue!
Before Jonathan had time to release the handbrake our young rescuer hauled the camper out of the snow – it popped out like a cork from a bottle!
We made the decision to leave the snowy wilds of Cappadocia and head for the warmer coastal climes. Although there were still more sights we wanted to visit we’d managed to see the main highlights and it just wasn’t worth risking anything else going wrong with the van.
We set off at about 11.30 and discovered that the roads were even worse than they had been on the way there. The route out of Goreme had some quite steep hills with severe bends in places. We were a little anxious that we would not manage to negotiate these before getting to the main highway which we hoped would be a little bit more manageable. Jonathan took it very carefully and fortunately we managed the obstacles with nothing untoward happening.
Once we hit the main road the driving was a little easier for a while but then we would come across parts that hadn’t been cleared or recently gritted and it started to feel very precarious once again. We inched our way forward just concentrating on making slow and steady progress.
We stopped for a rest and some lunch in a roadside restaurant with a lovely warm log burning stove.
Continuing our journey we admired the beautiful snow scenes but as we made our way down the mountain range, the windscreen wash remained frozen and the poor visibility contributed to the “extreme” driving conditions. We cheered with relief every time it became one degree warmer!
Soon the sun became lower in the sky and we watched the dying rays turn the mountain ranges a beautiful luminous rosy pink and orange.
We arrived in Side, a coastal town on the southern Mediterranean coast of Turkey, pretty exhausted. As it had been a very tiring day Jonathan and I decided we would have a night in a hotel so we could enjoy a longer shower than normal and be able to roll out of bed for breakfast in the dining room.
Jan and Jack found a place to stay in the “old town” which sounded interesting but when we arrived to the entrance of the old town we were told we weren’t allowed to drive the van in there! By this time it was dark and we very tired and hungry.
Fortunately we quickly found a massive car park nearby where we could leave the van overnight. To our relief there was a taxi rank in one corner and we all piled into a cab. We told the driver the name of our hotel and he took us to a place that wasn’t even in the old city and looked very closed!
Eventually we managed to convey to him that where we were staying was within the old city. We entered via the gate we had tried to go through earlier and found ourselves driving through an ancient city gate with ghostly ruins looming in the dark.
We were soon out of the ancient city and right in the village near the harbour but our driver seemed to be completely lost. He sped around the deathly quiet streets as though he was a race leader in the Monte Carlo Rally.
We were trying to navigate using Google Maps but the driver was going so fast that we kept missing turnings. It was late, it was dark, we were hungry and tired and if it hadn’t been for sharp eyed Jan catching sight of the name of our hotel I think the driver’s days would have been limited!
Even though it was warmer down by the coast than in the mountains, it was still bitterly cold. There had been a fall of snow that day – the first in the area for many years.
Thank goodness there was somewhere open for dinner a short walk away – probably wasn’t the best meal we’ve had and it was expensive by Turkish standards but we were grateful nonetheless.
Unfortunately the reversed cycle air conditioning in our room was less than functional and our bed (which we had to make) had very few coverings. As a consequence we shivered all night! If the van hadn’t been parked such a long way away we would have gone back to enjoy its wonderful heating!
We woke up feeling a little grumpy but soon our moods were lifted by the most marvellous breakfast at a restaurant close to the small fishing boat harbour.
After stuffing ourselves with food (eggs, pastries, pizza, pancakes, salad, olives, cheese, fruit and lashings of bread with every jam, preserve and spread you can think of) we waddled around the harbour wall, admiring the beautiful fishing boats and watching the fishermen mend their nets.
Later we walked to the edge of the village to catch a taxi. Beyond the taxi rank we could see archeological remains and were tempted to stay longer and wander round the ruins. However, by that time we had organised a taxi so decided to keep that for another day.
There was so much snow in Goreme, Cappadocia, that we couldn’t find a suitable place to park our campervan for the night. We ended up stopping outside a small supermarket just off the main road in a spot kept reasonably clear of snow by the steady stream of cars arriving and departing.
Once we had parked safely we were fine – although the temperature was well into minus temperatures we were lovely and warm thanks to our very effective diesel heater.
I was awakened the next morning by a most peculiar and really loud whooshing noise – and it was literally just above my head!
I quickly jumped out of bed and peered out of the window to see what was making the strange sound. Just above the roof of the shop next door was a massive hot air balloon rising gracefully upwards! It must have been very low as it drifted over the campervan roof – no wonder it sounded so loud!
Cappadocia is the capital of hot air ballooning in Turkey but because of the snow there were only a few balloons out that morning.
We met up again with Jan and Jack after breakfast and decided to head for the Derinkuyu – the largest excavated underground city in Turkey.
This very ancient and sprawling network of caves – carved into the soft volcanic rock – probably dates back to the 7th or 8th Century BC and was expanded during early Christian times.
The city was fully formed by the Byzantine era when local people used it to escape the Arab incursions from 780–1180 AD.
Reaching a depth of around 85 metres, (approx 280 feet) the city is on at least five levels (probably many more) and even connects with other underground cities in the Cappadocia region.
I thought I might feel claustrophobic but I was fine most of the time even though I did feel a bit nervous as we travelled deeper – especially going through very narrow tunnels where we had to stoop low so as not to hit our heads or backs.
We had a very good guide who explained that the city was not inhabited all the time but was used mostly during time of attack or unrest to keep women and children safe.
Having said that, there were stables, wine and oil presses, food storage areas and even a Church and a morgue so people must have spent a fair amount of time down there!
It was fascinating to see the different areas of the underground city and imagine what life was must have been like down there.
One thing I was surprised about was how fresh the air was – even on the lowest level. This is because there was a 55 feet deep ventilation shaft that ensured fresh air could enter. There would have been many of these when Derinkuyu was in its heyday.
I felt relieved to be back above ground even though it had snowed again and it was bitterly cold.
Before we left Derinkuyu Jonathan and Jack decided to use an ingenious method to unfreeze the van’s windscreen washer. Despite having antifreeze in the reservoir, and being reasonably close to the warmth of the engine, the fluid inside had frozen solid (we think the garage in Izmir helpfully topped up the reservoir with water after the “cat-astrophe”).
They started our trusty generator and plugged in the fan heater Jan and Jack had brought along in case of cold hotel rooms. The fan heater was wedged to allow maximum heat to the reservoir without melting the plastic. Genius! Unfortunately it didn’t work. The ice remained completely solid.
Apart from having to drive with a filthy windscreen, the van was behaving brilliantly in temperatures well below any vehicle’s comfort zone.
We drove back towards other “must see” sights such as Love Valley with its phallic “tower-shaped” rock formations but the snow prevented us from getting there. The roads had been ploughed but all the side lanes and entrances were blocked.
Likewise we were unable to access the Goreme Open Air Museum to see the fabulous Byzantine frescoes in the Churches and Monasteries that are carved into the rocks.
We did manage to find our way to a magnificent lookout perched high in the hills where we could see for miles across the valley with the ubiquitous rock formations of Cappadocia below.
We were the only people there so we had the magnificent snowy vistas to ourselves. There was a lonely coffee caravan so of course, we had to patronise it. Further on we found a row of tourist shops and cafes but again, no one was there.
Retracing our steps to the road we kept going towards the small town of Urgup and on the way we happily encountered the Turasan winery which had been recommended by several yachtie friends.
We spent a very pleasant time by the fire tasting some excellent wine! And of course, we bought a few bottles to take away too.
It was quite late in the afternoon by the time we reached Urgup itself and we made the decision to find a museum to look round (it was getting seriously cold).
We looked up “museums in Urgup” and followed the route on the map which took us up a narrow (snow covered) lane to a small cave-like entrance. we made the decision to find a museum to look round
We wandered in to a long hall-like room carved deep in the rock. Around the walls there were alcoves with brightly coloured cushions, some lovely rugs on the stone floor and signs of weaving activity.
There was nowhere to pay and no information so we just wandered in thinking there would be a reception desk at the next level. We followed our noses along a passageway carved out of stone that sloped upwards and twisted and turned.
On the next level was a terrace which would normally have had a great view of the town but was of course very snowy and all we could see was low cloud.
We continued to a door that was ajar and inside the room we found a young man who seemed rather surprised to see us!
The room was set up in a very traditional way with lovely old rugs, home carved tables and a cradle, lots of cushions, and more weaving apparatus.
The young man told us his family had lovingly restored the old cave house and set it up as a museum to show how people had lived in the past. It was so interesting!
Time was marching on so we wound our way back through the sloping stone passageway and back outside to find the van.
When we arrived back in Goreme was already getting dark and more snow had fallen. Our camping spot from the night before was empty but there was a bit of snow shovelling to do to with the excellent spade that Jack bought in Konya!
We had another excellent meal in a lovely warm restaurant and afterwards walked in a snowstorm back to Jack and Jan’s hotel for a nightcap in their lovely cave accommodation.
It was still snowing when left to return “home” and as we slipped and slid our way home the whole scene looked just like a Christmas card – it was absolutely beautiful!
Waking up on a garage forecourt to the sounds of a snowplough clearing yet another freshly fallen blanket of snow was just one of the many unusual experiences that we have encountered on our road trip in Turkey.
We were on our way to Cappadocia – a region of natural wonders and probably one of the most famous tourist destinations in Turkey. The day before we had driven from Konya through snow flurries and freezing conditions, travelling as far as Aksaray where we decided to stop for the night as road conditions were fairly precarious.
After a good sleep on the garage forecourt we had breakfast and then we crawled through the still snowy city streets in our van to Jan and Jack’s hotel where we found them looking bleary after contending with a burglar alarm that rang constantly throughout the night.
We decided between us to try and keep going but thought we should check to see if the roads to Cappadocia were open. Jan asked the hotel receptionist who rang the police hotline. The message was loud and clear: Do not travel, the roads are closed.
An hour or so later we tried again and the message was the same. Despite this, we decided to to go and check out the main route to Göreme – arguably the best town to stay in when visiting the Cappadocia area.
The roads were very snowy to be sure but they seemed no worse than the previous day and there were no road blocks or any activity to prevent us driving on them.
So off we went – very carefully and slowly! The all-weather tyres on our van held us steady and Jonathan drove with extreme concentration and skill.
Just over an hour later we started to see the first of the ubiquitous rock formations that Cappadocia is famous for.
We were all instantly captivated by the beauty of the so-called “fairy chimneys” made even more stunning by the sprinkling of shimmering snow, looking for all the world like sparkling fairy dust.
We caught sight of the magical Uchisar Castle which had, throughout history, been the main point of defence for the Cappadocia region.
We stopped to take some photos of the castle and have a look around. Our poor camper van looked very icy and travel worn.
Soon we were on our way again for the last bit of the icy journey to Göreme.
From what we could see the little town was delightful with lots of little cave hotels carved into rock formations and many nice looking cafes and restaurants. And it was all covered in white icing!
While Jan and Jack looked for a nice hotel we said hello to some beautiful Antatolian Shepherd dogs. These lovely animals are livestock guardians and in Turkey are often found roaming on the streets. Despite their size they are gentle and respectful and we’ve never seen one behave aggressively.
Once Jan and Jack had found a good hotel and settled in happily we set off to visit the Zelve open air museum, said to be one of the most visually stunning historical sites in Turkey.
The museum consists of three valleys where the rock formations are filled with caves that were once dwellings or churches.
Zelve was in fact, a monastic retreat from the 9th to the 13th century and then later became a village. It is one of the earliest-settled and last-abandoned monastic valleys in Cappadocia.
Unbelievably, the caves were inhabited until 1952 when finally serious erosion made it too dangerous to live in and the villagers were resettled nearby.
It was wonderful to follow a walking trail that had been mostly cleared of snow (although still slippery!) and to climb up some stairs to caves that had been part of the monastery. It was very atmospheric!
It was getting towards late afternoon and quite chilly which made us wonder how on earth the people who had dwelled there over the centuries kept themselves warm. What hardships they must have experienced!
One of the cave settlements was way up a high cliff. The intrepid three Js ((Jonathan, Jan and Jack) climbed all the way up and explored the network of caves up there (see photo).
The sun was getting very low as we drove back to Goreme, slipping and sliding all the way.
That evening we found a cosy restaurant built in a cave where we had a delightful dinner and a very enjoyable bottle of local red wine. It felt amazing to be in Cappadocia at last despite the snow and ice!
We had made it into Konya in the Central Anatolia region of Turkey just in time to grab a taxi from Jan and Jack’s (our friends and fellow yachties) hotel to go to the Mevlana Cultural Centre for the weekly “whirling dervish” ceremony.
The whirling dervishes belong to the Mevlevi Sufi order of Islam established by the followers of Rumi, the 13th Century Persian poet, Islamic scholar and Sufi mystic whose final resting place was Konya.
The Sufi dervishes aim to reach “the source of all perfection” by performing a meditative swirling dance to enchanting music.
We arrived at the cultural centre in plenty of time and were immediately impressed with the size and grandeur of the domed building.
Inside the auditorium, there was a large raked orchestra pit, on each side of which were row upon row of seats fanning out in a gigantic circle leaving a large space in the centre for the Sufi to perform their meditative dance.
The auditorium was almost empty – probably due to Covid and maybe also because of the extremely cold weather. We had prime seats!
Bang on the start time the ceremony began with the sheikh (the sacred leader of the Sufi order) walking into the auditorium ceremoniously carrying a red sheepskin.
A single ethereal voice was singing a poetic prayer written by Sumi while the sheik knelt in front of us and bowed deeply. He then walked across to greet the troop of Sufi practitioners as they filed in one by one.
The Sufi were dressed in black cloaks and wore tall felted camel hair hats on their heads.
When all the “dancers” had filed in (there were more than twenty of them) the sheik moved into the middle while the dervishes walked slowly around the perimeter of the performance area three times, each time bowing deeply to the person in front and then pivoting to walk backwards and bowing to the the dervish behind. It was quite mesmerising to watch.
After this the sheik went back to his red lambs-wool which sat in the centre of a beautiful oriental rug placed right in front of us. The sufi dancers took their cloaks off revealing a long white circular skirt with a stiff white bodice tucked in and a black sash holding the two parts together. Underneath all this they wore long white pants (trousers).
The music and singing intensified and soon the signature circling movement of the whirling dervishes began.
Each dervish launched into slow circling movements, rotating on the ball of their left foot and performing an exact 360 degree turn using their right foot. Once they had starting turning they joined the line of dancers circling around the “stage”, moving in unison like cogs in a machine.
The dervishes started their circling with their hands crossed over their body and as the rotations gained momentum their right hand slowly travelled upwards eventually rising up to the sky, ready to receive Allah’s blessings. Meanwhile their left hand, where their gaze was directed, pointed to the earth to send out to the world the grace and light they had received.
The music was mystical and unearthly – and very beautiful. The turning of the Sufi dancers became hypnotic and we felt drawn into their meditation as they whirled round gracefully like planets circling the sun.
As they twirled, a second elder watched and guided the dancers where needed, stepping in front of anyone going too fast or too close to another dervish.
The whirling meditation lasted about an hour and was absolutely captivating – even the most cynical of us agreed that it was a remarkable and haunting ceremony. We all felt a deep appreciation for the devotion of the participants and their determination to spread more peace and love in the world.
We walked back to the hotel and the nearby car park where we would stay the night in our camper van.
The night was crisp and cold and as we walked past the famous 16th Century Selimiye Mosque and the next door funerary shrine complex dedicated to Rumi, the white marble sparkled and shone in the icy air.
The following morning after a cosy sleep in Frieda, our diesel heated van we woke to a distinct hush in the air. I looked out of the window only to find that the world was covered in a deep blanket of snow!
It must have snowed heavily most of the night as it was at least six inches (15.24 cm) deep.
Jack had to go out (in boots borrowed from Jonathan) and buy boots for Jan and himself as their sneakers just weren’t going to hack it in that kind of weather!
While Jack was out boot shopping he was also on a side mission to find a spade (perhaps we would have to dig ourselves out?!) After several attempts he at last found a hardware store with a spade. Unfortunately it had no handle! Shop assistants were dispatched to look for a handle in other hardware stores and eventually one was located and he returned triumphant with boots in one hand and an excellent shovel in the other!
Fortunately we didn’t need to shovel snow to get out of the car park – leaving after midday, we just drove very gingerly out on to the small lane on which Jack and Jan’s hotel sat.
Very slowly we edged along the lane to the main road. Despite the dangerous conditions, all we could think of was the beauty of the freshly fallen snow.
Everywhere we looked was blindingly white – the trees were laden with thick bright white powder and glistened in the frosty air.
Slowly, slowly we drove out of town and all went well until we hit the main highway to Cappadocia.
We had only been driving a few minutes when we came to a stationary traffic queue. We sat going nowhere for half an hour until the traffic started to crawl along at snail’s pace.
We couldn’t work out if there had been an accident or if the police were trying to turn people round. Maybe they were waiting for the snow ploughs to go through?
Eventually we were on our way although the conditions were pretty bleak.
For a while we followed in the tracks of a snow plough but we caught up with it and found it pulling out a car that had skidded off the highway.
We were then driving on fresh snow in very windy conditions which made visibility even worse. Thanking our lucky stars that we’d put new all-weather tyres on Frieda recently, we ploughed on to Aksaray – the nearest town to the amazing region of Cappadocia.
We were hoping to reach Göreme that day but decided that as it was at a greater altitude than Aksaray, there was a good chance that conditions on the way could be worse.
After dropping Jan and Jack off at their hotel we looked for somewhere to stay the night. The hotel car park was completed snowed-in and, it turned out, so was everywhere else. Even the entry to the local sports centre – usually a useful standby parking place – was totally impassable.
We ended up asking the workers in the local petrol (gas) station if we could camp on their forecourt as that was just about the only space cleared of snow that we could find.
Fortunately, the Turkish people are as a race, the most hospitable and generous people you could wish to meet. They said “of course“, offered us their rest room to sleep in (which while sweet was of course unnecessary) and even brought us steaming cups of delicious çay (tea) to welcome us.
Day two of our road trip in Turkey aboard our van Frieda: after a cosy sleep despite the chilly weather, we met Jan and Jack for breakfast at their incredibly cute lodgings in Selçuk, Turkey.
The breakfast was sumptuous – lots of different cheeses, tomatoes, cucumber, olives, local honey, jams, preserves and copious amounts of delicious breads, fluffy omelettes and endless cups of Turkish tea.
On the road in cold and misty weather, we headed for Pammukale – famous for its mineral-rich thermal waters flowing down white travertine terraces.
The weather cleared up a little by early afternoon and before long we had arrived in the small and unassuming village of Pammukale where Jan and Jack checked into their hotel.
The beautiful natural rock pools in terraces created by hot springs has been drawing visitors since several centuries BCE. It was a place that I had wanted to visit for a long time.
What I hadn’t realised until we arrived was that the Ancient Greek city of Hierapolis was built on a hill directly above the wonderful travertine terraces.
As it was quite late in the afternoon, bitterly cold and the ruins extremely extensive, we decided to take advantage of the offer of a lift in a battery powered “cart”.
The young man who took us round told us that he had trained as a medical technician but had found it hard to find a job in his profession because in Turkey it was very important to have the right contacts (family or friends in “high places”) to make recommendations.
He was very knowledgeable about the well preserved Roman ruins and we enjoyed his commentary as he drove us round.
He told us that Hierapolis was founded as a thermal spa early in the 2nd century BC and it became an important healing centre where patients suffering all sorts of ailments were treated in the hot mineral spring water.
We stopped at a massive necropolis containing more than 1,200 tombs and sarcophagi – evidently the hot springs didn’t cure everyone!
Our next stop was at a tiny pool covered with a stone lid where we were able to feel the soft, and deliciously warm spring water.
A little further on we alighted from our “wagon” again to walk the magnificent paved Main Street which ran close to a cliff that looked out on to the travertine terraces below.
At both ends of the main street there were monumental gates flanked by square towers built of massive blocks of stone. Nearby was the Domitian Gate – the grand entrance to the Roman city – which had circular towers with three arches. It was all very impressive.
The most spectacular sight for me however, was the fabulous amphitheatre – constructed under the reign of Hadrian after the earthquake of 60 AD.
The facade is a spectacular 300 feet (91 metres) long, the full extent of which still remains standing. In the auditorium there are row upon row of seats which could accommodate 15,000 people. What a magnificent sight!
There were other areas we were unable to see – The temple of Apollo appeared to be closed to visitors and the recently unearthed entrance to the shrine dedicated to Pluto, was still being excavated.
As closing time was nearly upon us we also missed seeing the tomb of St Philip the Apostle but before we left we managed a quick look at the “antique “ pool which was originally one of fifteen frequented by people seeking cures and general good health by bathing in and drinking the waters.
Wisps of steam were rising from the hot waters of the large atmospheric pool. Despite the freezing weather there was one man in the pool enjoying the warm and silky water.
As we walked round the perimeter of the pool we noticed pieces of columns and other bits of masonry on the bottom of the pool. Apparently these fragments were a result of an earthquake in the 7th century AD when a marble portico with Ionic arrangement fell into the spring.
From the antique pool we travelled the short way to the magnificent travertine terraces.
Since becoming a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988, access to the area has become very strict to protect the travertine terraces. Tourists are only allowed to cross them in bare feet on a designated path. Artificial pools have been constructed in the valley below for bathing.
It was too cold to peel off our socks and shoes and roll up our trouser legs to walk across the terraces but we were content to walk along a side path to view this amazing phenomenon.
The terraced formation is 2,700 metres (8,860 ft) long, 600 m (1,970 ft) wide and 160 m (525 ft) high and even though it was a cloudy day the terraces shimmered and sparkled like snow.
Jan had done some research and found a great wine bar in the town very close to the hotel.
We enjoyed some delicious local wine sitting as close to the large wood fired stove as we could get.
Mouth-watering piping hot Tarhana soup was served before the main meal which was very welcome in such an icy cold night. Tarhana is made by adding vegetables, herbs and spices to yogurt and then letting the mixture dry out and once ready, crushing it to a powder. The powder is mixed with broth or hot water and various seasonings -including fresh mint – are added. Absolutely delightful!
The following day we left for Konya, home of the mystical Sufi dancers. Our journey there took us through the Taurus mountains and we saw lots of snow on the ground although fortunately it didn’t actually snow while we were driving.
There wasn’t any sign of snow when we arrived in Konya – thank goodness. We soon found a nice hotel for Jan and Jack with a car park only a stone’s throw away where we could spend the night.
After a week of waiting we finally got word that Frieda, our campervan, was now ready to go on her travels again. She had been in the Ford garage in Izmir, in western Turkey, since New Year’s Eve with a leaking hose caused by a chilly cat with sharp claws that had slept in the engine bay.
Our yachtie friends and neighbours Jack and Jan kindly drove us to Izmir to collect the van from the Ford garage. As is normal in Turkey, the consumer experience was a delight – tea served and help at every turn! And the repair only cost the equivalent of a tick over Aus$100 (67.50 EUR or £56).
We decided to make a day of it and head for the amazing archeological site of Ephesus which is reasonably close to Izmir.
We had been twice before but it still captivated us. Every time we visit this fascinating archeological site we see more and learn more.
This time we met some beautiful cats – one very friendly one decided to be our guide around the excavations of terraced houses that once belonged to the rich and famous of ancient Ephesus. Cat-agorically the best way to see these wonderful remains!
Back on board S/V Sunday we had a quiet few days as the weather was woeful. We had several shocking storms with thunder and lightening all night and boy did it rain! When the sun finally came it felt distinctly cooler than previously.
A few days later we welcomed back fellow Didim marina yachties Ken and Eiloo who had been in Thailand on holiday for Christmas. We had a great catch up in the Yacht Club only hours after they arrived back.
We needed to do a couple of errands in Bodrum so we decided to have a day out with our buddies Sue and John as Sue wanted to do some shopping for her forthcoming trip to Australia.
After some successful shopping we of course set out to find a good place for lunch and found the perfect spot – a restaurant on the water dedicated to the most famous sailor in Turkey – Sadun Boro – who was the first amateur Turkish sailor to circumnavigate the globe.
A few days later we embarked on a road trip adventure and invited our friends Jan and Jack to join us.
Our first stop was Selçuk – the charming town two kilometres northeast of Ephesus. We were especially keen to visit the archeological museum there which houses finds from the ancient site.
On the way to Selçuk we stopped for breakfast at a tiny roadside “transport” cafe where we were served a delicious soup with a mound of bread served in an enormous plastic container. With bottomless tea, the food for the four of us cost a total of Aus$10!
The only negative was the guy sitting at the next table solemnly slicing up a massive mound of meat while we ate.
When we arrived in Selçuk we headed for the small hotel Jan and Jack had booked for the night which happened to be very close to two of the town’s tourist highlights – The 6th century Basilica of St John the Apostle and the Byzantine Castle.
We paid our small parking fee and asked how long we could stay – “two hours, 24 hours, as long as you want” was the reply! Excellent, we could sleep there undisturbed!
After locating Jan and Jack’s digs for the night we set off to explore the Basilica which was believed to have been built over burial site of St John.
The main entrance gate to the basilica was called the “Gate of Persecution” by European travellers in the 1800s who incorrectly assumed that stone reliefs on the gate depicted the persecution of St Paul during his time in Ephesus.
Set on the slopes of Ayasuluk Hill just below the fortress, the Basilica was once an extremely impressive piece of architecture with five beautiful domes supported by massive marble pillars.
The view from the site was immense and in the fertile valley below we could see the beautiful Isa Bey Mosque built in 1385.
We walked further up the hill to the impressive fortress which was originally built to protect the basilica after Arab invasions in the 7th Century but was rebuilt and expanded in the Selcuk and Ottoman eras.
We were walking back down the hill when we saw two familiar figures coming towards us. It was one of those amazing coincidences that happen when you travel – the figures belonged to yachtie friends Liz and Steve from S/V Liberte who we first met in 2017 on a small sailing rally in Kalimantan, Indonesia. We had caught up with them again at Finike Marina in 2021 but hadn’t seen them for months!
They were on their way to visit the Basilica and the fortress and we were heading for the Ephesus Archaeological Museum so we agreed to meet later for a coffee and a catch up.
The museum was full of fabulous finds from nearby Ephesus – sculptures, carved stone reliefs, glassware, pottery, gold jewellery and wonderful statues of the goddess Artemis, one which is arguably the most important exhibit in the museum.
We met Liz and Steve later in the museum cafe and had a good catch up. During the conversation they recommended a nearby restaurant for dinner and joined us there before leaving to catch the bus back to their marina in Kusadaşı.
The food was delicious, plentiful and amazingly inexpensive and best of all we were kept toasty with a brazier of hot coals that our hosts popped under our table! Blissfully warm but a little hazardous!
The last day of the year started ridiculously early with a drive to Izmir Airport to farewell our daughter and son-in-law who were returning to the Netherlands after a busy Christmas holiday with us in Turkey.
We arrived in plenty of time for their early morning flight and after sad “goodbyes” we left for the two hour trip back to Didim. As we drew away from the airport precincts Jonathan told me that the heater wasn’t working and that the turbo was only working intermittently. We decided to go straight to the main Ford dealer to try and find out what was wrong.
Fortunately we found the dealership easily and soon we were in the garage with not one but eight people looking under the bonnet trying to see what was wrong.
There was a loud discussion in Turkish which sounded as though blows were about to be struck but in reality I think they were just excited to see a French camper van in their garage!
We told them about the cat-astrophe that had happened recently when a street cat had gone to sleep in the engine bay and apparently had a close encounter with the fan belt. The result was that the hair the poor kitty had lost when the engine was started made the fan belt slip and then fall off! That had been fixed around ten days previously but it seemed that the puss cat had caused more damage than first thought – what a cat-astrophe!
The mechanics told us that a reservoir of water was completely empty and this was causing the heating and turbo problems. It seems that the cat had hauled itself into the engine bay by digging its claws into a hose which was probably warm and therefore a little soft. The little holes left by the cat had become bigger as the days wore on – eventually opening right up and causing the fluid to leak out which explained the empty reservoir. We were told if we had left it any longer it could have caused calamitous consequences – possibly the engine would have blown up!
The mechanics said that we shouldn’t drive the van in its current state and they wouldn’t be able to get the spare part until after the New Year’s holiday. We decided we would try and hire a car and the garage very kindly supplied a car and driver to take us to the airport where there were several car hire companies.
Unfortunately there were no companies that hired cars one-way so we decided to catch a bus back to Didim. First we had to get to the bus station via a shuttle minibus.
Eventually we managed to book ourselves on a bus and when we went to climb aboard, were amazed at how luxurious it was! Such good value at 175 Turkish lira ($17.50 (Australian) or 11 Euros all up) for two bus fares and a huge chicken sandwich each to eat en route! We were even served snacks and a juice on the way.
That night was New Year’s Eve and a few of us gathered on Entre Nous, a 65 foot Lagoon motor yacht belonging to Australians Peter and Deb. Despite everyone saying they had no intention of seeing the New Year in, we found ourselves doing just that!
Without the van our wings were clipped, so we had a quiet few days pottering around for the first few days of the New Year.
At the end of the first week our friends and neighbours on Anthem, Jan and Jack, decided to hire a car for a few days and asked if we would like to go to the Turkish carpet shop in Didyma (on the outskirts of Didim) as they wanted to buy a couple of small rugs for their boat.
As many of you know, we always jump at the chance to visit this beautiful shop so of course we said “yes”.
As always, the owner Öztan was very welcoming and in addition to the usual apple tea, Turkish delight, and sweet biscuits, he served us luscious fresh fruit from his own orchards.
Jack and Jan chose a couple of really good looking small carpets and while they were making their choice we enjoyed looking at the amazing array of carpets in the store.
Afterwards we went round the magnificent Temple of Apollo which is just across the road from the carpet shop. I’m including some photos but as I’ve already written about this site in a previous blog I won’t go into details.
As we wandered round we were accompanied by a very happy and friendly dog who decided to be our guide!
We had discovered there was another ancient site close by to Didim (about 12 kilometres) called Miletus. Compared with nearby Ephesus, this site has very few visitors however, it was once considered to be among the greatest and wealthiest of Greek Cities. Miletus in its heyday challenged the power of Ephesus.
It was here that the Greek philosophical (and scientific) tradition originated. Scholars in Miletus were among the first to speculate about the constitution of the world and to propose naturalistic (as opposed to supernatural) explanations for various natural phenomena.
There was a small museum on site and while looking round it, we discovered that the city had once acted under the leadership and sanction of the Apollo oracle in Didyma.
There had been a sacred road from Miletus to the Temple of Apollo (where we had been earlier in the day) which was used for religious ceremonies.
Some sections of the “Holy Road” have been discovered and excavated but there are other parts that have not yet been uncovered although there are excavations currently underway.
Sculptures and statues were placed either side of the road and during the first excavation in 1857/58 a statue of a lion and ten other sculptures were discovered. Unfortunately they were taken to the British Museum in London but the museum at Miletus does have a few less impressive examples on display.
The Miletus site was quite spread out and we didn’t really have time to properly do it justice. However, we spent a good while exploring the incredible amphitheatre which was originally built in the 4th century BC, and then enlarged in the Hellenistic period. The Romans greatly extended the theatre so that it could sit as many as 15 thousand people.
Standing at the top of the structure, 30 metres high, it was easy to imagine how impressive it would have been with its wonderful panoramic views of the harbour (now completely silted up).
We wandered through an olive grove following the dull clang of the bell attached to the neck of one of the sheep feeding on the juicy grass.