Icy weather, hot springs and an ancient city

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 entrance to Jan and Jack’s “boutique” hotel
The hotel was very cute

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.

We had a sumptuous breakfast
Stairs leading from the dining room

On the road in cold and misty weather, we headed for Pammukale – famous for its mineral-rich thermal waters flowing down white travertine terraces.

On the road in cold and misty weather

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.

Whose right of way is it?
A majestic Anatolian Mountain Dog made sure the cows behaved

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.

The beautiful natural rock pools in terraces created by hot springs has been drawing visitors since several centuries BCE

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.

The Ancient Greek city of Hierapolis

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”.

Our conveyance made us feel a bit crumbly but we were glad of it in the end

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.

The latrine building off the Main Street

He was very knowledgeable about the well preserved Roman ruins and we enjoyed his commentary as he drove us round.

Our driver was very knowledgeable about the well preserved Roman ruins

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!

We stopped at a massive necropolis
One of the many sarcophagi

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.

The tiny pool with deliciously warm 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.

The paved Main Street of Hierapolis

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.

One of the monumental gates at the end
of the Main Street
The Domitian Gate – the grand entrance to the Roman city
One of the round towers that flanked the Domitian Gate

The most spectacular sight for me however, was the fabulous amphitheatre – constructed under the reign of Hadrian after the earthquake of 60 AD.

The fabulous amphitheatre

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.

The antique thermal pool

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.

Despite the freezing weather one man was enjoying the pool

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.

The fragments in the pool were a result of an earthquake in the 7th century AD
The remains of a marble portico can
be seen clearly

From the antique pool we travelled the short way to the magnificent travertine terraces.

The top section of the 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.

One of the artificial pools constructed in the valley below for bathing.
Access to the area has become very strict to protect the travertine terraces

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.

It was too cold to peel off our socks and shoes
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.

Even though it was a cloudy day the terraced shimmered and sparkled like snow.
This amazing place became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988

Jan had done some research and found a great wine bar in the town very close to the hotel.

Jan had found a great wine bar

We enjoyed some delicious local wine sitting as close to the large wood fired stove as we could get.

We sat 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!

Piping hot Tarhana soup – delicious!

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.

On our way to Konya
It was pretty snowy in the mountains
Fortunately it wasn’t snowing while
we were driving
Part of the Taurus Mountain range

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.

Another night another cute hotel
The colourful lounge at Jack and Jan’s hotel

Chance encounter on Turkish road trip

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.

Frieda ready and waiting

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).

Frieda’s new hose
Tea served and help at every turn

We decided to make a day of it and head for the amazing archeological site of Ephesus which is reasonably close to Izmir.

The Main Street in Ephesus which once
led to the harbour

We had been twice before but it still captivated us. Every time we visit this fascinating archeological site we see more and learn more.

Every visit to Ephesus we see more a
nd 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!

One of the many cats we met in
Ephesus that day
Cat-agorically the best way to see the remains
This puss cat decided to be our guide in the terraced houses
So much to see!
Spot the cat!
Amazing mosaics

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.

The lovely sunset on our return to
Didim Marina

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.

Buffet brunch in the Yacht Club restaurant
A great catch up

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.

Sue and Jonathan learning about Sadun Boro
Rather worse-for-wear information
on Sadun Boro
The lunch was excellent!
Bodrum castle at sunset

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!

Breakfast of champions

The only negative was the guy sitting at the next table solemnly slicing up a massive mound of meat while we ate.

The guy on 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.

Our parking spot outside 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 remains of the Basilica which was believed to have been built over burial site of St John
A gorgeous rose in the grounds

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.

The “Gate of Persecution”
A closer view of the gate
The site purported to be the burial place of St John the Apostle (right)
Jonathan and Jack trying to figure out what the engravings in the stone were
Remains of the basilica

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.

A model of the Basilica
The Basilica was once an extremely impressive piece of architecture

The view from the site was immense and in the fertile valley below we could see the beautiful Isa Bey Mosque built in 1385.

The view from the site was immense
The Isa Bey Mosque
Jan and Jack enjoying the view

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.

A quick coffee break before climbing up
to the fortress
The impressive fortress which was originally built to protect the basilica
The entrance to the fortress
The fort was rebuilt and expanded in the Selcuk and Ottoman eras.
The imposing fortress walls
A great view from the battlements

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!

What a coincidence – bumping into Liz and Steve (centre)

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.

Some of the sculptures found in Ephesus
A beautiful frieze found in the remains of a burnt out house in Ephesus
Clay figurines on display
Gorgeous glassware
A lovely statuette of Eros on a dolphin from the second century BC
I loved these gold artefacts

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.

Another detailed frieze in the
archeological musician
Statue of an Egyptian priest
A gigantic bust of Domitian, the emperor of Rome from 81 to 96 AD. The head alone was almost as tall as me!
A statue of the goddess Artemis – arguably the most important exhibit in the museum

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 food was plentiful and delicious
A brazier of hot coals that our hosts popped under our table! Blissfully warm but
a little hazardous!

The cat-astrophe continues – causing concerning and almost calamitous consequences!

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.

Our daughter and son-in-law

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.

Soon we were in the Ford garage

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!

How many guys dies it take to fix a cat-alogue of problems?!

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 thought the cat-astrophe was hilarious!

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.

Off to the bus station in a 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.

Our bus back to Didim
A familiar sight near Didim bus station – the mosque next to the Saturday market
The bus was quite luxurious

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.

We had a quiet few days pottering around
The entrance to Didim Marina

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.

Back at the carpet shop again

As many of you know, we always jump at the chance to visit this beautiful shop so of course we said “yes”.

We always enjoy looking at the amazing
array of carpets

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.

As always, the owner Öztan was very welcoming – this time he served us fresh fruit

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.

Jack and Jan’s rugs look great on their
boat “Anthem”

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.

The magnificent Temple of Apollo
An amazing carving that I hadn’t
noticed before
The high walls of the Temple of Apollo

As we wandered round we were accompanied by a very happy and friendly dog who decided to be our guide!

This dog decided to show us round
He was very thorough!

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.

The ancient site of Miletus

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.

An aerial view of the Temple of Apollo in the museum at Miletus
A relief in the Miletus museum
An impressive statue on display

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.

A map of the sacred road between The Temple of Apollo and Miletus

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.

Findings from along the route
of the “Holy Road”

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.

Sculptures and statues were placed either
side of the road
Findings from Miletus

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.

The site was quite spread out
Then incredibly amphitheatre at Miletus
This must have once been an impressive view

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).

It was easy to imagine the wonderful panoramic views of the harbour

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.

Following a flock of sheep through
an olive grove

In a clearing we came upon a tiny mosque which turned out be the İlyas Bey Mosque, built in 1404.

We came upon this tiny mosque
The İlyas Bey Mosque, built in 1404

Inside the mosque was very simple but the windows were covered with pretty lattice work and the walls were of many different shades of marble.

The windows were covered with
pretty lattice work
The walls were of many different
shades of marble.
In the courtyard

While we were having a look round the mosque we heard the sheep bell clanging once again and noticed – trotting up the path – the guard dog who lives with the herd to protect the sheep. Then the whole herd followed him into the grounds of the mosque and started munching loudly!

We heard the sheep bell clanging once again
Spot the dog! Once in amongst the sheep these beautiful dogs are so well camouflaged

Once in amongst the sheep these beautiful dogs are so well camouflaged that you really can’t tell them apart from their charges – a very useful element of surprise if a predator tries to attack the sheep!

Is there a dog amongst these sheep?

We meet an old dog with (new) tricks

Time was short as our daughter and son-in-law (Hannah and Pieter) were leaving Turkey on New Year’s Eve so we crammed in as much sightseeing and cultural experiences as possible in the short time we had left.

A vital cultural experience – eating free doughnuts outside the mosque!

One day we went to Bodrum – a lovely harbour town a couple of hours drive south of Didim.

The shopping streets of Bodrum contain many old buildings and interesting corners

An impressive castle built by the Crusader Knights dominates the the town and with its fabulous museum of under water archeology, is one of the major attractions.

An impressive castle dominates the the town

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go round it on this occasion although Jonathan and I love the museum and would gladly revisit it again given the chance!

We saw Bodrum Castle up close as the sun set
We would gladly revisit the museum of underwater archeology any time

We had a great time wandering the lanes of the old town and had lunch in a quirky little restaurant that we found in the back lanes.

We had lunch at a quirky restaurant
A beautiful door near our restaurant

Later we walked along the seafront (known as “Bar Street” for obvious reasons) where we met an interesting character – a very old street dog who has a clever (new?) trick!

We met an old street dog who had learnt a great trick!

A restaurant owner told us that if we gave him a 50 lira note ($5 Australian) he would walk you to a particular store with the note in his mouth and buy his favourite dinner.

Walking with our new friend to the store
This is the one, he tells us

So we gave him a note and followed him along the seafront until we came to a grocery shop where he stopped and put the note down and waited patiently for the owner to bring him his favourite snack- a packet of salami.

He drops the 50 lira note

We wondered if we should help him open it but within seconds he had not only opened it but gobbled up the meat and given the whole packet a big lick!

The shopkeeper takes the cash and delivers the food – our furry friend gobbles up the meat!
The local cats wish they’d thought up this idea!

We met another beautiful dog in a bar/restaurant on the beach. The manager said the dog lived in a good home but every morning took himself off to the bar where he stayed until closing time.

Sooo fat but a very happy dog

He was absolutely enormous from all the leftover food (including a lot of chips we suspected) and we wondered how he managed to heave his bulk home every night!

We finished our visit with a drink in a small bar in the water’s edge with a magical view of the castle.

The perfect spot for a sun downer
Christmas decorations in Bodrum

The following day we took Hannah and Pieter to another of our favourite places – the wonderful ancient city of Ephesus.

The Main Street in the ancient city of Ephesus
Exploring the bouleuterion

This was our third visit and we were still awestruck by its grandeur and found new things to be amazed by.

We found new things to be amazed by

We hadn’t explored the Great Theatre on our previous visits. Building of this magnificent structure began in the reign of Claudius (41-54 AD) and was completed around 100 AD.

The Great Theatre

The entrance to the theatre sits at the head of a fine arcaded street that runs all the way to what was once the harbour.

This imposing avenue, built by the Emperor Arcadius around AD 400, was constructed to impress – and that it still does – most effectively!

The entrance to the theatre sits at the head of a fine arcaded street
This was our third visit and we were still awestruck by its grandeur
The Celcus Library
Looking at the Celcus Library from
another angle
One of the many cats in Ephesus

As always one of the highlights was a walk round the beautiful terraced houses where the wealthiest and most influential citizens of Ephesus and their families once lived.

One of the highlights was a walk round the beautiful terraced houses

The once magnificent homes with their intricate mosaic floors and frescoed walls are sheltered by an amazing roof structure designed by Austrian engineers.

The once magnificent homes are sheltered by an amazing roof structure

This mighty stainless steel structure supports a modular membrane roof which provides protection for the fragile historic fragments in a way that maximises the view of visitors and enables archeological work to continue.

The mighty stainless steel structure supports a modular membrane roof

Inside, a glass-floor walkway winds through the complex, so that you can look into the rooms from above.

Inside, a glass-floor walkway winds
through the complex
An excellent view of the intricate mosaic floors and frescoed walls

Ephesus- another fabulous place to put on your bucket list if you haven’t already been there!

Ephesus- another fabulous place to put on your bucket list!

The sun sets on a very special Christmas!

Our Christmas decorations aboard S/V Sunday were complete except for one nostalgic item – the sweet fragrance of a genuine Christmas tree.

All we needed was the sweet fragrance of a genuine Christmas tree

On our travels around the Didim area we had seen plenty of the hardy little pines so beloved of Europeans at Christmas and decided to try and find somewhere to stop and find a suitable tree from which we could “trim” a couple of small boughs.

Eventually we found a place where we could stop with suitable “victims”. Using our very superior Dille and Kamille bread knife from our camper van Jonathan managed to lop off two branches from a healthy looking pine (the tree needed pruning anyway he said afterwards.)

Telltale legs under the pine tree

So finally, on Christmas Eve, our decorating was complete and S/V Sunday smelled like Christmas!

Hannah making last adjustments to
our pine branches
It’s beginning to look (and smell) a lot like Christmas!

Christmas Day dawned magnificently – despite the forecast of rain, dawn was a shimmering rosy pink, full of promise for a glorious day.

Christmas Day dawned magnificently

We had a lovely breakfast with Hannah and Pieter who were staying at the Yacht Club Hotel – taking advantage of a fantastic offer which included a three night stay with breakfasts, Christmas lunch and party, a Boxing Day brunch and a massage each in the hotel spa.

The view from Hannah and Pieter’s room
Christmas breakfast!

Then it was back to S/V Sunday to open our stockings before returning to the restaurant at the Yacht Club Hotel to meet up with our fellow yachties for a fabulous Christmas lunch.

Opening our stockings on S/V Sunday

After a very protracted and delicious lunch we partied the night away to the sounds of a really good band.

Christmas lunch with our fellow yachties

As well as all the traditional fare (Turkey, ham, beef and all the trimmings) there were countless delicious desserts. In the interests of research, Pieter tried so many that he lost count!

After lunch we enjoyed the band

On Boxing Day we had a lovely day aboard S/V Sunday with our friends Jack and Jan from Anthem. We played our traditional Christmas present game in which a dice is thrown and depending on the number, you either open a present, pass your “winnings” to the left or right, or “steal” a gift from someone else. As always, it was great fun.

Boxing Day breakfast
Hannah checking out the rules for the present game with Jan and Jack

After the obligatory Boxing Day walk on the beach and more food we rolled into bed ready for more adventures the following day.

Lovely views on our obligatory
Boxing Day walk

We were keen to show Pieter and Hannah some of our favourite places in the Didim area while they were with us, so the day after Boxing Day we drove the van to the lovely village of Kıyıkışlacık.

The lovely village of Kıyıkışlacık
Rural Kıyıkışlacık is still very traditional
We loved all the cows
Such pretty waterside views

Once again the weather was fantastic and we were able to enjoy a wonderful meal on the quayside in this sweet little fishing village before going to explore the ancient remains of Iasos.

We were able to enjoy a wonderful meal
on the quayside
The local cats enjoyed it too

Jonathan and I have paid several visits to this atmospheric site and every time we go we learn more about its history and the lives of its inhabitants since it’s inception.

Every time we go to Iasos we learn more
about its history

The visible ruins date from around 400 BC but archeologists have found evidence that the site was first occupied in Minoan times – around 2,000 BC.

The visible ruins date from around 400 BC
Exploring the ruins

When we’d finished having a look round we walked along the water’s edge to look at the fortifications in the water that date to mid-Byzantine times. Pieter and Hannah started to walk over the remains of the wall that poke up from the water like stepping stones but they turned out to be very slippery!

Heading for the fortifications in the water
The submerged wall turned out to be very slippery to walk on

It was early evening when we departed for home and on the drive back along the narrow road that runs from Kıyıkışlacık to the main road, we saw a sarnıç – a water storage cistern dating from Byzantine times.

We parked up to show Hannah and Pieter
the water cistern
A sarnıç -a domed building used
for water storage

There are 250 of these curious domed water storage structures just in the province of Muğla.

Hannah discovered that it had great acoustics

We stopped to show Hannah and Pieter what it looked like inside one. Hannah discovered that it had great acoustics and broke into song.

Before long, the lady we had noticed working in farmland on the other side of the road came over and started to video her.

The lady working in nearby farmland filmed Hannah singing

Later the lady proudly showed us footage of a famous Turkish clarinetist playing for a television programme in the same cistern.

It was almost sunset

As luck would have it, the sun was just about to set and the place where we’d stopped was the perfect location to watch it dip into the sea below. A wonderful end to a very special Christmas!

The place where we’d stopped was the perfect location to watch the sun dip into the sea below

Close shave for cool cat creates havoc

Although we had vowed to have joint birthdays from now on, our yachtie friends at Didim Marina had other ideas!

Jonathan’s 70th birthday breakfast

On Jonathan‘s special day we started the celebrations with a sumptuous breakfast at the Yacht Club restaurant with our sailing buddies and next door neighbours, Sue and John.

Some of our sumptuous breakfast arrives

Jonathan opened some of his presents and then it was back to our camper van to open his gift from me. He had no idea what was in store!

Enjoying breakfast!
Jonathan opening presents

With the help of Sue and John I had purchased the gift in Didim and had managed to hide it without Jonathan cottoning on.

Back to the van to open his gift from me

His face was a picture when he discovered he was now the proud owner of an electric scooter – something he had wanted for a long time!

Yay! An electric scooter!

I have to admit I was a little bit shocked when I saw on the packaging that the scooter was only recommended for use by people between 17 and 50 years old. Whoops, this was his 50+20th birthday.

It also said on the package “do not ride near water” but of course the first thing he did was ride it along the dock we are moored on!

Flowers, balloon and cake arrive from our son and daughter-in-law in Australia

Later that day we met up with our Didim Marina friends for drinks followed by dinner and a birthday cake. It was a great evening!

Pre-dinner drinks
Jonathan’s candles are lit by Maître D. – Nuri
Happy birthday Jonathan!
Our Didim Marina friends (some absent at the moment!)

The celebrations continued the following night when a group of us went for a meal in a new-to-us Didim restaurant.

Another dinner out!
Good food and a band too

There was a good two-man (plus backing track) band playing. We all had a dance which was excellent fun (yes I know, ewww – old people dancing!)

We all had a dance which was excellent fun

A couple of days later our daughter Hannah and son-in-law Pieter arrived by air from the Netherlands and landed in Izmir.

After being told by the airline that they would arrive in the Domestic terminal they actually had to exit via the International terminal as that is where their luggage had ended up.

We waited patiently for them outside the appointed meeting place and when it was apparent they weren’t coming out, Jonathan left me there and drove round to the International terminal. He returned saying there was no sign of life there, let alone any sign of Hannah and Pieter. Eventually, we spotted them as they arrived by foot from the International terminal having already walked miles to find their luggage!

The slight delay in picking up Hannah and Pieter felt like a small price to pay for
their safe arrival!

Considering that the Netherlands was enduring yet another lockdown and we were half expecting them to have to cancel their flight, the slight delay in picking them up felt like a small price to pay for their safe arrival!

The first day of their stay dawned sunny and bright so we decided to go for a drive to the nearby beach suburb of Altinkum.

Hannah and Pieter in Altinkum

As Jonathan started up the van, Pieter noticed a cat shoot away from underneath the front of it. We didn’t think anything more of it, mainly because we were all distracted by the discovery that the power steering appeared to have stopped working!

Jonathan decided to keep going – thinking we could drop into a garage to see what was up. We hadn’t got far down the road when horrible shrieking noises came from under the bonnet!

No, the screeching wasn’t another cat – it was the fan belt emitting the dreadful noise!

It was decided that Jonathan would cycle back to the marina (fortunately we had the bikes on the back of the van) and call for a mechanic to come. In the meantime, the rest of us would walk into Altinkum.

It was decided that Jonathan would
cycle back to the marina
Hot chestnuts for sale!

Jonathan joined us later as we sat in the sun enjoying our delicious coffees/fresh orange juice.

Enjoying our delicious coffees/fresh orange juice in the sun

He told us that a mechanic had come to the van and in order to replace the fan belt had to get underneath the engine.

Apparently he could hear the guy chortling away to himself as he repaired the fan belt and between titters was calling out “kitty kitty kitty”.

Turns out, there was cat hair all over the fan belt and this had made it first slip, then come off completely! The cat that Pieter had seen shoot out from under the van earlier must have actually been asleep inside the lovely warm engine compartment. When the engine started, the poor animal must have had such a fright – and literally a close shave!

While Jonathan organised a mechanic the rest of us enjoyed Altinkum
Enjoying the beautiful weather

Later that day we visited the remains of the wonderful Temple of Apollo in Didyma, on the outskirts of Didim.

The ruins of the Temple of Apollo

Now in ruins due to a series of earthquakes, the Temple of Apollo was once the fourth largest temple in the Ancient Greek world.

Once the fourth largest temple in the Ancient Greek world

In its heyday the temple had an oracle – second in importance to the one in Delphi. Many rulers including Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar visited or sent emissaries to the oracle to seek guidance and favour from Apollo.

In its heyday the temple had an oracle – second in importance to the one in Delphi

The last iteration of the temple (construction began around 300 BC and was still ongoing in the 4th Century AD,) was enormous – well over twice the size of the Parthenon in Athens.

The last iteration of the Temple of Apollo was well over twice the size of the
Parthenon in Athens

A total of 122 massive columns, each 2.5 meters in diameter, rested on a podium of more than 5,500 square metres. Some of the columns are still in evidence today.

There were 122 massive columns like these

The walls of the temple rose to a towering height of nearly 28 metres above the ground!

A carving of Medusa
Looking at these remains it’s hard to imagine how impressive the temple once was
The walls of the temple rose to a towering height of nearly 28 metres above the ground
Hannah and Jonathan emerging from where the oracle once was
The stone masons would have
been kept very busy!

We couldn’t visit Didyma without calling in to our favourite store in Didim – the local carpet shop!

Our favourite store in Didim

The proprietor Öztan Çalli, delights in showing you almost every carpet in the shop. He is very charming, is a superb salesman and a has excellent English.

The proprietor Öztan Çalli, delights in showing you almost every carpet in the shop

His father who ran the business before him, stands by proudly, adding little nuggets of information about the history and meaning of different designs and colours.

Öztan’s father addslittle nuggets of information about the history and meaning of different designs and colours

We had a lovely time looking at carpets, eating Turkish Delight, biscuits, drinking apple tea and then later, a plate of fresh fruit from Öztan’s farm.

We had a lovely time eating Turkish Delight while we looked at carpets (photo credit Hannah King)
Pieter took up Öztan’s suggestion of placing a piece of Turkish Delight in between
two biscuits! (photo credit Hannah King)
Home made apple tea – very refreshing! (photo credit Hannah King)

Torrential rain!

We had encountered plenty of snow on our drive through Europe from the Netherlands to Turkey but once we crossed the border it was rain and more rain that we had to endure.

The rain had turned the lane in which we parked into a mud bath

It poured all night and after a broken sleep due to the incessant drumming on our roof, we left our slippery and muddy parking spot just over the Turkish border in Edirne and found that we had spent the night very close to a historic Ottoman bridge that spans the River Tunca. The bridge has six arches, and was constructed between 1484-88.

The historic Ottoman bridge that
spans the River Tunca

We also drove past another Ottoman classic – the 16th-century Selimiye Mosque, which has a massive dome and four minarets and is very close to the nearby 15th-century Üç Şerefeli Mosque. The many minarets belonging to the two mosques dramatically filled the skyline as they came into view.

The many minarets dramatically
filled the skyline

When we left Turkey just a month earlier everything was brown and shrivelled – there had been absolutely no rain for months! Literally a few weeks later and the land was transformed. The copious rain had turned everything to a vibrant shade of green!

The copious rain had turned everything to a vibrant shade of green!

At Gelibolu (also known as Gallipoli we found out later!) we boarded a small car ferry to cross the Dardanelles (Çanakkale Strait) that connect the Sea of Marmara with the Aegean and Mediterranean seas.

We boarded a small car ferry to cross the Dardanelles

This important narrow body of water forms part of the continental boundary between Asia and Europe and separates Asian Turkey from European Turkey.

Things at the quayside were extremely chaotic. First we were waved onto a ferry that was about to leave and had scarcely any room left on it. We could see there we were definitely too long for the tiny space but obediently drove aboard.

Once on, we discovered that our assessment wasn’t wrong and had to reverse back off the boat and park off to the side of the traffic queue waiting for the next ferry! Fortunately, we were first on the next vessel which was loaded very soon after the previous ferry left.

At last aboard a ferry!

As always, we thoroughly enjoyed being aboard a boat, even though the weather was pretty foul and the trip was really short!

The weather was pretty foul
We always enjoy being on the
water – whatever the weather!
Another car ferry making the short crossing

Back on dry land again, we decided to make a small diversion to the ancient site of Troy – the setting for the Greek myths about the Trojan Wars and the powerful kingdom of the Heroic Age.

Troy – the setting for the Greek myths about the Trojan Wars

The approach to Troy is along a winding country lane and a few minutes before we arrived we came across a herd of sheep walking along the road in front of us. I love these typical country scenes in Turkey and never tire of watching the shepherds hurrying their charges along to make way for the traffic.

I never tire of watching the shepherds hurrying their charges along

In the car park in Troy we saw a group of street dogs – ubiquitous everywhere in Turkey – helping themselves to food remnants in the nearby rubbish bin. These dogs are often part (or even full) Anatolian sheep dogs, a beautiful natured animal, protective to sheep and gentle to humans. The Turkish look after these dogs (and multitudes of cats too) by putting out food and water for them, come rain or shine. Of course, they love to forage too!

Street dogs in the museum car park
The dogs were having a great time raiding the rubbish bin!

Fortunately there was a really nice camper stop just a few minutes down the road which we heard about when the owner came into the museum car park to tell us all about it.

It was another rainy day when we woke up the following day so we decided to visit the ultra modern museum and save the site for another time.

The ultra modern museum at Troy

We walked down a ramp to enter the museum and at each side there were niches on the walls containing gravestones, large statues, scenes and mural-sized photographs from the various levels of the excavation in Troy.

There were niches at at each side of the ramp containing various archeological finds

In the interior of the museum a wide range of wonderful historical artefacts from Troy and some other nearby ancient sites were displayed.

There were some amazing treasures on display
Wonderful pottery
An unusual jug

There were so many fabulous objects to admire including gorgeous glassware, pottery and gold jewellery – we could have spent all day there but we had to keep heading for Didim Marina to prepare our catamaran for Christmas and the arrival of our daughter Hannah and son-in-law Pieter.

Fabulous glassware
A spectacular find
The gold jewellery was really stunning
Intricate gold jewellery
Some fantastic pottery

The weather didn’t lighten up at all and by mid-afternoon we were driving through massive puddles under stormy skies.

By mid-afternoon we were driving through massive puddles under stormy skies.

Driving along the seafront at one point we dodged both plumes of water from vehicles going the opposite way to us and waves breaking over the sea wall.

We spent the night outside a beachside camper park that said it was open when we looked on-line but which definitely wasn’t when we arrived!

The car park was very muddy and we had visions of getting bogged so we left early the next morning – thankfully with no problems.

Near our muddy stop for the night

As we made our way through the narrow streets of Bademli we came across pools of water stretching right across the width of the road. There were very few pedestrians braving the horrible weather but those that did were wading through the water in their gum boots.

The narrow streets of Bademli were awash
The rain water completely covered
the road in places

The run off caused by all the rain could be seen from the waters edge way out to sea – an unpleasant brown stain tainting the normally bright blue water.

The run off caused by all the rain could be seen from the waters edge way out to sea
There was an unpleasant brown stain tainting the normally bright blue water.

It was such a relief to be back in Didim Marina on our catamaran Sunday.

It was a relief when we were out of this
Ahh! First sight of Didim marina!
It was so good to be back for the sunrise view

Our friends and near neighbours Jack and Jan had watched over her while we away and we came back to find everything absolutely fine – much to our relief (thanks guys!).

Getting ready for Christmas

Christmas was approaching fast so after unpacking and settling in our first task was to put up our Christmas decorations – all ready for the festive celebrations!

All ready for the Christmas festivities

Three countries in 15 minutes, freezing weather and two lucky finds

We had diverted to Hainburg an der Donau in Austria on our road trip between Turkey and the Netherlands in order to fill up with water. Finally successful, we had a good night’s sleep outside the local sports centre.

We had a good night’s sleep at the
local sports centre

We woke to freezing temperatures – the pond which we had camped next to was completely frozen and there was a layer of ice on the bonnet of the van! It had been very cosy and warm inside the van despite the plummeting temperatures.

There was a layer of ice on the
bonnet of the van
Even the puddles were frozen

Since the beginning of our trip we had driven through four countries – the Netherlands, Germany, Czechia and now Austria.

Since the beginning of our trip we had driven through four countries – the Netherlands, Germany, Czechia and now Austria.

Four countries in a couple of days seemed pretty good going but that morning we managed to visit three countries in just the first quarter hour of driving – Austria, the Czech Republic (Czechia) and Slovakia!

On our way out of Austria
Entering Slovakia

An hour and a half after that we were in Hungary which was very bleak – deep snow everywhere and leaden skies. Within another three hours we were Serbia!

Hungary seemed very bleak
Then we were in Serbia

We found a very pretty place to stop the night by the beautiful, calm but chilly Lake Palić. We went for a lovely walk as the sun was setting but we were very glad to get inside the van out of the bitter cold.

We found a very pretty place to stop the night
The beautiful, calm but chilly Lake Palić
We went for a lovely walk as the
sun was setting
A lovely setting to wake up to

The following day we motored through some stunning snow scenes – the sky was blue and everything was sparking white. The fir trees were weighed down by snow and I was reminded of those fir tree decorations on the Christmas cakes of my childhood.

We motored through some stunning
snow scenes
The fir trees were weighed down by snow
I was reminded of those fir tree decorations on the Christmas cakes of my childhood
A stunning snowy vista
Everything was sparkling
The snow looked so beautiful

By early evening we were in Bulgaria and negotiating a very narrow, slippery and treacherous road.

Arriving in Bulgaria
Negotiating a very narrow, slippery and treacherous road

Fortunately, it became a little wider and not quite so slippery and within an hour we were in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. We found a small camper stop just off the main road. Thankfully a couple of workmen were doing some building work there (despite the frigid weather) so the gate was unlocked.

We found a small camper stop just
off the main road

Other vans at the stop were being wintered over there – we were the only crazy ones to spend the night in our van!

Despite everything being completely covered in snow we were very grateful to have a safe place to spend the night – what a lucky find!

We were very grateful to have a safe place to spend the night – what a lucky find!
Everything was completely covered in snow

Before we left in the morning we wanted to fill up with water again but the hose belonging to the site was completely frozen! No amount of hot water would unfreeze it!

Jonathan working on getting water

Eventually Jonathan managed to get our own hose attached to the tap in the bathroom inside and we were able to fill it up that way. Meanwhile, we discovered another water issue of a different kind! While washing up I found that the kitchen tap had broken. First of all it just caused a small amount of water to leak onto the floor but the crisis escalated quickly and the tap wouldn’t switch off at all! Arghh!

We needed to get it mended as quickly as possible. I thought I’d seen a camper van store on the way into Sofia and a quick look on line showed that there was indeed one quite nearby. We couldn’t find it at the location marked on the map but we continued retracing our steps of the day before and at last found it. What a stroke of luck (our second lucky find!) to find assistance there, particularly as we discovered that it was a brand new business and hadn’t actually officially opened!

What a stroke of luck (our second lucky find!) to find assistance at the Campershop

The proprietors of Campershop, Katerina and Luben were absolutely delightful and extremely helpful. Keen camper van travellers themselves, their new business officially opened on 3 February 2022. It includes camper van sales and rentals, repairs and an excellent store to supply every need for campervan enthusiasts. They told us of future plans to make a camper stop there as well.

Katerina and Luben

While the technician repaired our tap (he did an excellent job!) we browsed round the show room and bought a really well designed collapsible strainer and matching fruit bowl.

While the technician repaired our tap we browsed round the show room
It was an excellent store with every need for campervan enthusiasts
We bought a really well designed collapsible strainer and matching fruit bowl
The bowl and strainer in their collapsed state

By the time we set off again it was well after midday and fortunately the roads were in a much better state.

Fortunately the roads were in a much better state by the time we left

Although the roads were clear there were plenty of snow scenes at the side of the road which were really beautiful.

Such beautiful snow scenes

That evening we finally made it to the Turkish border! It took about three quarters of an hour to get through the immigration process. We were expecting to be asked about our vaccination status and to produce negative test results but Covid wasn’t even mentioned. The main thing the officials were concerned about was getting proof that the van was truly ours.

Entering Turkey
There was a mosque right at the border

Just over the border we stopped at a shop to buy phone credit for Turkey and obtain a vignette for the toll roads.

We stopped at a shop to buy phone credit

We were successful in getting our phones topped up but the toll payments had to be made at a post office. We didn’t have to rush to do this as there was a grace period during which we could access the toll roads and pay later.

While we were in the store a man had washed our filthy van from top to bottom! It was positively gleaming.

We came back to find our van gleaming!

We asked the shop keeper how much we should pay him. He told us 20 Turkish Lira (two dollars)! Of course, we paid him more but it was still an absolute bargain!

It had been a long day so we headed straight for a side road near the Tunca River where according to Internet advice, overnight street parking was allowed. Apart from the road being one big mud slide and we couldn’t even see the river, the location seemed OK. However, as our heads hit the pillow we discovered that it was extremely noisy!

The road we camped in was one big mud slide!

We heard trains trundling by, screeching to a halt and shunting; trucks going up and down the road at speed and people calling out to each other on top of their voices! We seemed to have landed in an alternate universe where people stayed up at night and slept by day!

Our parking place was next to this
innocuous looking cottage

Despite all the noise, no one asked us to move or disturbed us in any way and eventually we managed to sleep, ready for the last push to get to our destination – Didim Marina where we have our catamaran S/V Sunday moored.

Nearly there!

On the way to Turkey in our “land yacht”

Our stay in the Netherlands was drawing to a close and we were busy getting ready to drive our “land yacht” (aka our camper van) back to Turkey.

Our “land yacht”

Loaded up with enough food and other essentials to last us for at least a few weeks, we set off on a rainy, miserable day.

We set off on a rainy, miserable day.

As usual, it was sad to farewell our daughter and son-in-law but as they were booked to fly to Turkey in just a few weeks for Christmas we didn’t feel as sad as usual. However, with Covid numbers rising and the threat of restrictions being reintroduced, it was by no means a done deal that they would arrive as planned.

One last selfie before leaving!

Our first stop was Bremen in north-west Germany. We had ordered some new equipment for our boat from the sailing megastore SVB Bremen which we had expected to be delivered to the Netherlands. When the items didn’t turn up we called to find out why and were told they hadn’t been couriered because the store didn’t accept credit card payment from new customers. Would have been good if they could have told us beforehand!

Crossing the border into Germany

So, having paid by bank draft, we once again eagerly waited delivery of the goods, hoping they would arrive before our departure date. But no, at the eleventh hour the store let us know that their bank had charged a fee when the transfer came through and they couldn’t release the goods until we had paid them the shortfall created by the charges.

By then it was too late for the goods to be couriered so we had to drive there to collect them. The irony was that because we picked the goods up, the bill was reduced and we were owed a refund!

Having finally picked up our boat bits with no further issues we looked for somewhere to stay the night. We thought it would be easy to find a spot but the camper van park in Bremen was packed to the rafters!

The campervan park in Bremen was full!

We squeezed into one of the last spaces with some difficulty as the ground was incredibly muddy and the space extremely small with bushes in front of it that we had to plough through to get into the space!

We just about managed to squeeze into the last available space!

The weather was still rainy and dull the following day but before setting off again we had a nice walk to the nearby River Weser which is the longest river to flow entirely in Germany.

The River Weser

All along the lane we walked along there were holiday homes – some reasonably large and others tiny but they were all very neatly kept and each one had a cute sign on their gate.

One of the smaller holiday homes
Each gate had a cute sign
A family and their animals!
This one was a bit fishy

Our next stop was meant to be a nice looking farm site in Leipzig Nordost but when we arrived we quickly realised that the place was well and truly closed.

Driving out of Bremen
The camper stop at this farm was well and truly closed

The proprietor was busy splitting logs with a power saw and had ear muffs on. When he eventually realised we were there, he told us that the authorities had declared the whole area closed to tourists due to Covid. He advised us to drive to Halle where there were no such rules.

Arriving in Halle – lots to see!

So we were back on the road again but before too long we were in Halle – birthplace of my Mum’s favourite composer – George Frideric Handel.

A punny sign!
A statue of Handel
A portrait of Handel

Fortunately we found a car park where we could free camp amongst circus vehicles, trucks and one other camper van.

We eventually found this car park close to the centre of Halle where we could stay

Halle has some truly magnificent buildings but we were shocked to see how much graffiti there was everywhere.

There were some truly magnificent
buildings in Halle
We were impressed with the architecture
But we were amazed by the graffiti!
The graffiti was terrible!
An antidote to all the graffiti- a dolls house sized milliner’s shop

Walking around the town we felt very moved to see on the exterior wall of the Cathedral, a memorial for the East German uprising of 1953 which was violently suppressed by tanks of the Soviet forces.

The memorial for the East German
uprising of 1953
Halle Cathedral

After finding the “Handel Haus” where Handel was born in 1685, we found ourselves near the Domplatz (cathedral square) where a kind of Christmas market was set up in the grounds of what was once a monastery. Because of Covid there was nothing actually on sale but there were plenty of Christmas trees, baubles and other festive decorations in little huts. Each hut was decorated differently – we weren’t sure if it was a competition or just different interpretations of Christmas decorating but it was fun to experience a bit of pre-Christmas festivity.

The house where Handel was born,
now a museum
The ancient monastery where we found a Christmas market
Reindeer maybe?
One of the little huts at the Christmas fair
Each hut was decorated differently
We weren’t sure if it was a competition for the best decorations or just self expression!

A couple of hours drive out of Halle we arrived at the border of the Czech Republic. As soon as we crossed the border we saw snow! Great big piles of it by the roadside and all the trees were sparkling in the weak sunshine. It looked very Christmassy!

Driving out of Halle
The Halle water tower completed in 1899
We enter the Czech Republic
Great piles of snow!

We stopped to buy our motorway “vignette” just over the border and were hoping to fill up with water but the promised taps were switched off because of the extreme cold (to prevent burst pipes.)

Here’s where we bought the vignette

We weren’t too worried as we were still had enough left for that day and we were bound to find somewhere to fill up again in Prague where we were heading next.

The snow was sparkling on the trees

Alas! Absolutely all the camping places in and around Prague that we had picked as potential spots to spend the night were closed. We ended up parking near the Zoo car park (not actually in it as there was a police car parked in there).

We were underneath a steep hill with what looked like a lonely monastery on top and close by a very austere and creepy house was the only sign of habitation.

The lonely monastery on top of the
hill in Prague
Our only neighbour – an austere and creepy house!
We had a lovely walk along the banks of the Vltava River
There was quite a lot of snow in the ground!

The great thing about a van is you can pull all the blinds down and you could be anywhere! Once you sit down to a good meal in the cosy and warm atmosphere you can forget the world outside.

Once you pull the blinds down you could be anywhere in the world!

We drove through the outskirts of Prague the following morning and the impressive buildings we passed gave us a hint of what a glorious city it is. We will definitely be back!

The impressive buildings we went by gave us a hint of what a glorious city it is
More gracious buildings in Prague’s outskirts

We still hadn’t filled up with water. This was a worry as we were almost running out of the most essential of resources.

A very wintery view in the Czech Republic

Jonathan turned to the Internet to research for a solution. One of the very helpful websites for people travelling in a van mentioned a tap in a village just over the border in Austria.

A few hours later we were at a very small border crossing and were stopped by a very forlorn and extremely cold soldier who asked us our purpose for visiting Austria.

The small border crossing into Austria

Bearing in mind that Austria was in complete lockdown, we were a little anxious that we might get turned round but when we told him we were looking to fill up with water he waved us through with as much cheer as could be mustered when standing in the freezing cold!

We found the small village of Wolfsthal quite easily, we even found the tap but sadly it was switched off!

The good news is that we found the tap. The bad news was that it was not working!

Our only option was to keep going to the nearest town – Hainburg an der Donau and hope we could find water there.

As we drove towards the town we were interested to see a massive castle perched on top of the hill. The original was built in the 11th Century AD and it was destroyed in 1683 by the Ottomans but rebuilt in 1709. We wished we could go and look round it but of course it was closed.

On top of the hill we could see
the massive castle

Hainburg an der Donau was a lovely town with a 13th Century gate – the largest existing medieval gate in Europe. It also has a 2.5 km long town wall and a total of 15 towers!

The largest existing medieval gate in Europe
We could just squeeze through it!

The town also happened to have a small fuel station with a very friendly manager who kindly agreed to let us fill up with water much to our relief.

In the meantime, the local post office van nipped in front of us and blocked access to the tap. We had to wait for ages while the post woman sorted out the post she had collected at the garage.

Waiting for the post woman
to sort her mail collection.

By the time we had filled up it was getting quite dark and we set off in search of somewhere to stay the night.

By the time we had filled up with water it’s beginning to get dark!

First we headed for the nearby river, thinking there would be a car park or somewhere else suitable there.

We ended up travelling along a very narrow lane through a deserted area of farmland. It didn’t seem to promising so we headed for a sports centre – a good option that we have used in the past when we have had no luck finding somewhere to stop.

We ended up travelling along a very narrow lane which did not look promising

This one was by a pretty pond and was surrounded by fields so we had a very peaceful and quiet sleep before heading onwards towards Turkey.

Our parking spot at the sporting centre was next to a pretty pond

Dots in the Belfry – ringing in 70!

This is a hard blog to write because it’s about me having a significant birthday – something I’d rather not talk about too much! However, I had such a wonderful shared celebration with Jonathan (who is three weeks younger than me) that really I cannot pretend it didn’t happen – so here goes!

We were staying with our daughter Hannah and son-in-law Pieter in their home in Pijnacker in the Netherlands and we came downstairs on the morning of my birthday to find the living room beautifully decorated with bunting, balloons, candles and fresh flowers.

The living room was beautifully decorated with bunting, balloons, candles and fresh flowers

A pile of presents and cards sat invitingly on the table and after a delicious breakfast we set about opening them.

A pile of presents and cards sat invitingly on the table

We had some fabulous, thoughtful gifts and some really special surprises.

We had some fabulous, thoughtful gifts
Champagne to celebrate!
A beautiful brooch with a n enamelled
sailing yacht

Jonathan really excelled himself by commissioning a beautiful pair of gold earrings made by the jeweller who designed Hannah’s engagement ring.

Designer earrings!
Wearing my new earrings

Later in the day the biggest bunch of flowers I have ever received arrived from our son and daughter-in-law in Australia. We haven’t been able to see them for almost two and a half years so their thoughtful gift and then the arrival of the flowers meant so much.

The biggest bunch of flowers!

Hannah and Pieter’s gift came in the form of a mysterious rhyme (see below). How exciting!

What an exciting gift!

We set off in their car in the late morning. All the way “there” we were trying to guess where we were staying. “Is it a windmill?”, “No”; “a castle?”, “No”; A lighthouse, a canal boat, a sailing barge, a shepherd’s cottage, “No, No, No, No!”

Just as we arrived at our final destination (Arnhem) I looked up and saw a Church, and not even serious, I blurted out “is it a Church?”

One look at Hannah’s face and I realised I’d hit the nail on the head! Minutes later we arrived at our destination – The Sint-Walburgisbasiliek, dating back to 14th Century and the oldest Church building in Arnhem.

The Sint-Walburgisbasiliek

It was rebuilt after it was extensively damaged in World War ll when a German Messerschmitt crashed into one of the towers and started a huge fire.

Now deconsecrated, the Church itself is being turned into a museum about the Battle of Arnhem (17 to 26 September 1944 – remember the movie A Bridge Too Far?)

Meanwhile the two towers have been transformed into six gorgeous luxury apartments, each one decorated to depict a local tourist attraction.

There are three apartments in each tower

Ours had a zoo theme (The famous 110 acre Burgers’ Zoo lies within easy reach of the apartments) and everything from the decor to the plates reflected this theme.

Even the plates reflected our
apartment’s zoo theme

We entered the building through the ancient Church door and just inside the entrance sat the original baptismal font. A few steps in and we were in an ultra modern four person lift which took us to our lodgings.

The baptismal font in the entrance

For our front door we turned right but to the left was an extraordinary piece of engineering- a stainless steel and timber bridge that stretched across from one belfry to the other.

Hannah on the bridge between the two towers

Perched high up above where the congregation would have once sat, Hannah couldn’t resist trying out the acoustics and to her surprise received a round of applause from the people working down in the museum site.

Looking down into the Church – that’s a WWll parachute on display in the museum!

Once in our front door, we had a staircase to climb that took us into a cosy and warm living room with a fully equipped kitchen in one corner and a floor to ceiling window.

The staircase up to our apartment
The cosy and warm living area

Up another set of stairs we came to a mezzanine floor that looked out onto the living area below with loads of plants hanging from the gallery – referencing the Burger’s Zoo tropical rainforest exhibit.

Looking down from the mezzanine floor
Looking up at the hanging plants and the
jungle-themed ceiling

On this level was a funky bedroom with a “jungle” ceiling and floral cushions. A very swish bathroom that had a stone basin and copper fittings was also on this level.

The funky bedroom
All the rooms were lovely and warm from the underfloor heating
The bathroom was very swish

Up another set of stairs a and we arrived at a second tower-shaped bedroom with a fabulous four-poster bed and in one corner a ladder.

The other bedroom had a four poster bed
Where did the ladder lead?

Of course we wanted to see what was on the next level! At the top of the ladder there was an easy to open trapdoor.

Lifting it up we entered a magical sitting area and to our surprise – right next to it – were two gigantic bells! We were in the belfry!

Dots in the belfry!

What a unique and spectacular place to celebrate our birthdays!

Naughty Pieter trying to ring the bell!

That evening it was cold and rainy but fortunately the fabulous restaurant that Hannah and Pieter were taking us to was very close by.

Recommended in the Michelin Guide, this intimate restaurant has a delectable French-Asian fusion menu and all the fruit and vegetables are grown on the restaurant’s own farm. All the meat and fish were raised organically. Every course was paired with a local wine. What a treat!

Mmm delicious!
Every course and “amuse bouche” was delightful
Delectable French-Asian fusion food
All the fruit and vegetables are grown on the restaurant’s own farm
All the meat and fish were raised organically
Every course was paired with a local wine
Pieter and Hannah
The two of us!

Then it was back to our quirky apartment for birthday cake and champagne.

It was back to the apartment for birthday cake!

After a great sleep in our very cosy bed we woke up to another amazing surprise- it was snowing! Proper big flakes that settled and made the world a shimmering masterpiece! How lucky were we?!

We woke up to a white world!
It was still snowing!

Breakfast was a collection of delicious treats- croissants, scrambled eggs, mushrooms, smoked salmon, fresh fruit, lovely coffee and of course, left over birthday cake.

A wonderful breakfast to start the day
“Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow“

We were very keen for a walk to enjoy the snow so we packed up ready to leave for the nearby Hoge Veluwe National Park. As we were about to leave we met up with the charming lady who looks after the property and she very kindly let us look round a couple of the other apartments.

Each apartment had its own theme – the first one we looked at was based on the wonderful Kröller Müller Museum which is full of wonderful Van Gogh paintings and drawings. Furniture and walls were decorated in Van Gogh style.

A Van Gogh themed chair
The walls were inspired by
Van Gogh’s paintings

The other apartment had the Church’s war museum as its theme so there were khaki director’s chairs, an aerial battle mural and 1940’s style furniture.

The decoration of the second apartment depicted life in world War ll
An interesting splash back in the kitchen!
The Sint-Walburgisbasiliek in the dark days of World War ll

What a fantastic place! Our stay will always remain a really special memory for all of us.

After loading up the car we drove to the National Park and had a beautiful walk.

The forest was sparkling white

Everything looked magical with the frosting of snow glittering and the last of the autumn leaves clinging to the trees.

Everything looked magical
A frosting of snow glittering

What a fantastic way to finish our fabulous birthday weekend!

It was lovely to get back to Hannah and Pieter’s to enjoy the flowers

Back on board and then off to the Netherlands!

Back at Didim Marina after the most fantastic trip of South-East Turkey with a group of fellow yachties, we were happy to find all was well aboard S/V Sunday.

Good to be back on board!

There was no time to get back into the daily rhythm of life aboard however, as we were booked to fly to the Netherlands in just a few days to visit our daughter and son-in-law and to pick up our camper van for some more land adventures.

Look carefully and you will just see a rare Monk Seal -a regular visitor to the Marina!
A slightly closer view of the Monk Seal!

Other marina residents were also departing that week to visit family and friends – some to Portugal, others to Australia and Thailand. With so many people leaving it was decided to have a Friday night farewell barbecue.

BBQ time at Didim Marina!

It was a great evening!

Boat twins!
It was a great evening

The following day we flew off to the Netherlands and had a very smooth trip with none of the possible hiccups that we have have come to expect in these Covid times.

It was wonderful to see how lush and green the Netherlands was. It had only rained once or twice since the beginning of March in Turkey and on the drive to the airport everywhere looked so parched. There was not a scrap of green grass to be seen – everything was brown and lifeless.

It was wonderful to see how lush and green the Netherlands was.
In contrast, Turkey looked so parched and everything was brown and lifeless

We had brought with us a lovely carpet we had bought earlier in the year in a small carpet shop in Uçağız, a small fishing village in the heart of the landlocked bay of Kekova Roads.

The carpet we bought at Uçağız

We didn’t have room for it aboard Sunday but we were very happy to find it was the perfect fit for Hannah and Pieter’s hallway!

It was the perfect fit for Hannah and Pieter’s hallway!

We had a quiet time the first week or ten days of our stay as we took the Dutch Government’s advice and quarantined at home. However, we went for lovely walks every day and had the occasional lunch at a cafe (outside!) with Hannah and Pieter.

We went for lovely walks every day
A delicious lunch out!

We so enjoyed seeing the last of the late autumn leaves in the gardens and woods nearby to their home.

We enjoyed seeing the last of the
late autumn leaves
This little man was dressed as one of the helpers that accompany Sinterklaas (St Nicholas or Santa Claus)
The last of the late autumn leaves
Autumn was unusually late

The second weekend after our arrival we had an extra special visit from my sister Sarah and her husband Martin. Due to all the Covid restrictions, the last time we had seen them was just before Christmas 2020 and then it was only for a brief lunch in their garden (fortunately it was a relatively mild day!)

Such a lovely reunion after too long!
Jonathan ending a celebratory Dutch beer!

It was so exciting to welcome them as they came off the Eurostar train from London to Amsterdam.

On the Saturday we all went for a tramp and ended up at the windmill cafe in nearby Nootdorp.

We met some miniature horses on our tramp
Glorious colours
A heron waiting to catch its prey

Very fortunately for us the windmill was not only working but also open for tours. We were able to go up into the miller’s loft (two at a time) and be shown round the various working parts and have a demonstration on exactly how the sails worked – listening all the whike to the delightful clack of them going round and round.

It was wonderful to see the sails going round on the local windmill
Fortunately the windmill was open for tours!

We also paid a visit to the local farm shop and purchased some lovely fresh produce for dinner that night.

The cows at the farm were very friendly
Sunset in Pijnacker

The following day we all went to the local garden centre which according to Sarah and Martin was bigger than any they had visited in England!

Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer alive and well at the local garden centre
Miniature Christmas scenes

It has become an annual ritual to go and see the Centre’s wonderful Christmas displays and decorations and stake out which Christmas tree looks the best, and buy Christmas plants, fairy lights and other festive goodies.

A tiny version of the Church near Hannah and Pieter’s place
Santa looks a bit different?!
Christmas carols from the polar bears
Such gorgeous decorations!
Love seeing this giant bunny any time we visit the garden centre!

The other part of the ritual is to have afternoon tea in the garden centre cafe where they serve (among many other lovely things) Dutch apple pie with lashings of slagroom (whipped cream)!

Apple pie – definitely part of our
Christmas rituals!

We also took the bus into beautiful Delft – the canal-ringed Medieval town just 15 minutes cycle ride from Hannah and Pieter’s place.

Beautiful canal-ringed Delft

It is always lovely to walk around this gorgeous place with its massive market square, the graceful Renaissance- style 17th Century City Hall , the Oude Kerk (old Church) and the Nieuwe Kerk (new Church) which was actually completed in 1496!)

Nieuwe Kerk (new Church) which was actually completed in 1496!)

Best of all, it’s just wonderful to wander alongside the canals, crossing them when the fancy takes you and discovering new alleys and path ways along the way.

It’s just wonderful to wander
alongside the canals

All too soon it was time to farewell Sarah and Martin as they joined the Eurostar to head back to London. It had been a lovely weekend but like all good things, it went far too quickly!

All too soon it was time to farewell
Sarah and Martin

Ingenious Roman engineering, a massive mosque and more delectable delicacies

Our tour of south East Turkey was drawing to a close but there were still some fabulous things to see and do.

So many wonderful sights to see

We left the incredible and innovative Museum Hotel in Antakya and drove for around 50 minutes to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea near Samandağ (the medieval port of Saint Symeon).

Almost at journey’s end
The incredible Museum Hotel – built over an important archeological site

It was wonderful to see the sparking blue waters of the Med as we walked up the hill to visit the next amazing historical landmark – the Vespasianus Titus Tunnel.

It was wonderful to see the
sparkling Mediterranean

The tunnel is part of a water diversion system built during the 1st and 2nd Centuries AD to divert floodwaters that ran down the mountain carrying sand and gravel and threatening to silt up the harbour.

The entrance to the Vespasianus Titus Tuncel

This ingenious piece of Roman engineering transferred flood waters to the sea through an artificial canal and tunnel.

The tunnel is part of a water diversion system built during the 1st and 2nd Centuries AD

According to the archaeological records and the various epitaphs on the tunnel, around one thousand people – mostly slaves – constructed this technological marvel.

Around one thousand people – mostly slaves – constructed this technological marvel

The tunnel has been recognized by UNESCO as one of the Roman Empire’s most incredible engineering feats.

The tunnel is one of the Roman Empire’s most incredible engineering feats

We were able to walk along most of the tunnel’s 1,380 metres (4,527 feet) and imagine what a ghastly time the slaves (many of them from the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 66-79 AD) would have had during its construction.

What a ghastly time the slaves would have had during its construction.
Around one thousand people – mostly slaves – constructed this technological marvel

The tunnel is seven metres high and six metres wide and was built with no heavy machinery and no explosives. Just those poor slaves chipping away with hammers and chisels, day after day – for years on end.

No explosives used here! Only poor slaves chipping away with hammers and chisels
We were able to walk along most of the tunnel’s 1,380 metres (4,527 feet)

We walked back down the hill to our mini bus, taking a closer look at other Roman remains including some tombs in a cave and a pretty bridge.

Steps to a tomb carved out of the rock
A tomb in the hillside
The pretty Roman Bridge

By this time we were feeling peckish and our guide Baran, knowing how much we all loved being by the ocean and near to boats, took us to a small fishing harbour for a late lunch.

Time for a late lunch but first we had
to look at the boats

The wharf was a hive of activity with fishing boats being made ready for sea and lots of comings and goings.

The wharf was a hive of activity

After watching one of the larger craft leaving to fish in the open sea, we went to sit down at a “pop up” restaurant where we ate absolutely divine “Balik Ekmek” (a grilled fish fillet inserted in a half-loaf of bread along with a scoop of “salata” (lettuce, tomatoes and onions,) made all the more delicious by being washed down by a bottle of beer obtained from another restaurant nearby.

Balik Ekmek (fish in bread) – delicious!
Waiting for our Balik Ekmek
In the meantime we enjoyed our beers!

The following morning was taken up with the drive to Adana from where we would all fly back to our respective boats. Before going to the airport there was still some brilliant surprises! First of all, Baran – our guide – took us to the second largest mosque – and one of the most marvellous – in Turkey, called the Sabancı Merkez Mosque.

The Sabancı Merkez Mosque – the second latest mosque in Turkey

The mosque was largely paid for by the Sabanci Foundation (run by a mega wealthy famous Turkish family) – hence its name.

The mosque was largely paid for by
the Sabanci Foundation

Located on the banks of the Seyhan River, Sabancı Central Mosque is a majestic structure with six minarets. Eight massive pillars carry the main dome that has a diameter of 32 metres (105 feet).

Eight massive pillars carry the main dome

The interior of the mosque was breathtaking – everything about it was designed to inspire and impress. The sheer scale of the auditorium (built to contain 28,500 people) the massive tiled panels, the wide expanse of luxurious wool carpet, the immense lighting structures – everything was designed to be awe inspiring.

The interior of the mosque was breathtaking
Enjoying the feel of the wide expanse of luxurious wool carpet
Everything about the mosque was designed to inspire and impress.
Posing by one of the massive tiled panels
The ancient design and colours used for the tiles were just so beautiful
A lovely detail from one of the many tiled panels
Due to the light this photo doesn’t do justice to the vibrant colours

Next was a very pleasant lunch on the terrace of a restaurant/patisserie overlooking the Golden Lake where there were some very tempting and delicious looking cakes on offer.

Lunch overlooking the Golden Lake
There were some very tempting and delicious looking cakes on offer

We were then whisked off for a quick look at some of Adana’s main sites, including the 32 foot Great Clock Tower, (Büyük Saat), the bazaar and the Oil Mosque, (so named due to an Oil reservoir in its precincts) which was once a crusader Church and converted into a mosque in 1501.

The Great Clock Tower in Adana
Pigeons outside the Oil Mosque
We enter the precincts of the Oil Mosque, a Crusader Church until 1501
A peep inside the Oil Mosque
The minaret at the Oul Mosque

Parts of the madrasa (Islamic school) in the courtyard were used as craft workshops and we were able to see some of their marbling and felting work during our rather brief visit.

Chatting to one of the marbling artists
Some of the artist’s handiwork
Who can resist a Simit vendor?

By this time the sun was becoming low in the sky and Baran hurried as back onto the bus as he wanted us to experience the sunset in a very special spot.

Our driver Cezar, dropped us off on the banks of the Seyhan River near the majestic Taşköprü (stone bridge) – a historic Roman Bridge known as the Ponte Sarus when it was built in the second century AD.

The the majestic Taşköprü (stone bridge)

Since 2007 it has only carried foot traffic but up until then it was one of the oldest bridges in the world open to motorized vehicles. The bridge has 21 arches but some of them are now not visible due to stabilisation work on the river banks.

Walking onto the bridge we were surprised to find a festive atmosphere with lots of people milling around, vendors selling snacks and drinks and a group of people launching Chinese paper “sky”lanterns.

There was a large group of people trying to launch Chinese paper “sky”lanterns
“Where did that one go?!”
A successful launch!

The views from the bridge were stunning – especially those of the Sabancı Merkez Mosque that we had visited earlier in the day.

A stunning view of of the Sabancı Merkez from the Stone Bridge
Just before sunset

The river was completely calm and serene with not even a ripple of wind to disturb the perfect reflection of the twinkling lights of the mosque as the sun set.

The river was completely calm and serene
We gather again for a group photo

It was almost time to head for the airport but there was one last stop to accomplish something very important – something that everyone one who visits Adana is urged to do – eat an Adana kebab!!

Baran took us to the famous Cik Cik Ali restaurant where we feasted on the delicious kebabs cooked on hot coals and served on a wide metal skewer.

Baran took us to the famous
Cik Cik Ali restaurant

Made from lamb mince meat, mixed with red bell peppers, the Adana kebabs are served with charred peppers and tomatoes, an onion-sumac-parsley salad, and lavaş (thin flat bread).

All ready for our kebabs!
Getting into those Adana kebabs!

These delicious kebabs are hand minced with two rather curious implements more reminiscent of scimitars than kitchen utensils!

These curious implements are used to make the mince for the Adana kebabs

Ali, the owner was delighted to demonstrate his prowess with his “swords”, twirling them in the air above his head like an oriental warrior.

Ali was very adept with his “swords”

Too soon it was time to drive to the airport to fly off to our various yachts. All that was left to do was say a goodbye to our new friends and to say a huge “çok teşekkürler” (thank you very much) to our amazing guide Baran and our ever patient driver Cezar for giving us a trip of a lifetime round South East Turkey.

Time to say a sad goodbye and “çok teşekkürler” to our brilliant guide and now friend, Baran
Thanks for keeping us safe Cezar –
great driving!

Antioch – foodie heaven and incredible sights

It was a lovely drive from Gaziantep to Hatay, Turkey’s southernmost province – bordered by Syria to the south and the east.

The route of our SE Turkey road trip. Hatay is at the bottom of the “loop” on the left
Hatay is bordered by Syria to the south and east

Out of the minibus windows along our way we gazed at vast fertile plains that extended as far as the eye could see – with mountains looming in the far distance.

The fertile plains we drove passed on
our way to Hatay
The plains were extended as far as
the eye could see

Antakya, the capital of Hatay, had a quite different vibe to some of the other places we had visited on our marvellous tour of SE Turkey. This was hardly surprising as the city is very cosmopolitan and home to Sunni and Alawi Muslims, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholics, Protestants, Maronites, Greek-Orthodox Arabs and Armenian communities.

Walking in the old quarter of
cosmopolitan Antakya

Sovereignty over the province still remains in dispute with Syria and a substantial proportion of the population are of Arab origin.

Sovereignty over the province still remains in dispute with Syria

The busy town which in Biblical times was known as Antioch, has been described as “the cradle of Christianity” and fact is was here that the term Christianity was first coined.

Because of its diverse population Antakya is full of exciting sights and sounds and there is a plethora of delicious foods and drinks to try.

Our friends Jan and Jack sampling some of Antakya’s delicious food

Our fantastic guide Baran took us to some amazing eateries. First we visited Pöç Kasabı ve Kebap – a busy three-floor restaurant where all the food is cooked in a roaring wood-fired oven in a tiny kitchen at the entrance to the shop.

Pöç Kasabı ve Kebap was full
when we first arrived

Our tasty Tepsi (tray) kebab (the region’s most famous meat dish) made with spicy minced meat disappeared very quickly – it was delicious!

All the food was cooked in a roaring
wood-fired oven

We went for a delightful walk through the bustling bazaar and were fascinated by the stalls making something that looked like a cross between shredded wheat and fine noodles that was being spun like candy floss. This turned out to be one of the main ingredients of künefe – an Antakya specialty.

The shredded-wheat like pastry that is
used to make künefe

Baran took us to a a tiny cafe under a centuries-old plane tree near an equally old mosque in the Long Bazaar where we tasted this wondrous confection.

The centuries-old plane tree near an
equally old mosque

The strange thin strands of pastry that we had seen being made were steeped in a sweet sugar-based syrup and then baked around a core of mozzarella-like cheese and finished off with a sprinkling of finely chopped pistachio nuts. Even though I’m not normally a lover of desserts, I have to admit it tasted divine!

Waiting for our künefe
Even though I’m not normally a lover
of desserts, I have to admit the künefe
tasted divine!

We also stopped at Çayırcı Bakla Humus Salonu – a hole-in-the-wall cafe which has two items on the menu, bakla (a mashed fava bean spread) and humus.

We arrive at Çayırcı Bakla Humus

We were able to watch as both these delicious dishes were made by hand. No whisks or mixers were used – just old fashioned mortars and pestles and elbow grease!

We watched while the bakla (a mashed fava bean spread) and humus was made by hand

Both dishes were served with beautiful garnishes of various pickled vegetables, rosy tomatoes and chopped herbs as well as fresh flatbread known as tırnaklı ekmek. The food looked and tasted superb – I don’t think I have ever tasted such creamy hummus!

Both dishes were served with beautiful garnishes of various pickled vegetables, rosy tomatoes and chopped herbs
Ten out of ten for presentation!
Just some of the pickled vegetables
bottled at Çayırcı Bakla Humus

While wandering through the bazaar we came across a drink seller with a colourful sash around his waist and a silver ledge over it on which plastic cups were placed.

We came across a drink seller with a
colourful sash around his waist

He had a massive silver jug with a long spout and a bunch of flowers attached at the top from which he flamboyantly poured a rather ghastly viscous-looking brown liquid into the plastic cups – rather like a fez-wearing cocktail waiter.

The drink seller had a massive silver jug
with a long spout and a bunch of
flowers attached at the top

It turned out that this was a cold (non alcoholic) liquorice-based drink. It didn’t look very appetising so I didn’t try it and judging by the faces of those who did, I made the right decision!

As well as being a foodie heaven, the town has some intriguing sights. On a walk round some of the streets in the old quarter of Antakya we had the good luck to find the Italian-born priest “at home” in the tiny Catholic Church, set in a beautiful courtyard garden.

The priest leading us into the
tiny Catholic Church

The padre welcomed us cordially and told us some history of the building and of the Catholic Community in Antakya. He said that the location of the Church was important as it was located where several of apostles, had lived.

Inside the Catholic Church
The priest told us some history of the building and of the Catholic Community in Antakya

From a flat roof of a church building we were able to see the Church, a nearby mosque and a Jewish Synagogue all within a stone’s throw of each other. The priest explained that their proximity to each other typifies the friendship, respect, tolerance and peace between the different communities in Antakya.

The proximity between the Church, a mosque and a Jewish Synagogue typifies the friendship, respect, tolerance and peace between the different communities
A lovely courtyard in the old quarter

One of the fascinating places we visited was the cave Church of St Peter, one of the oldest Churches of the Christian faith.

The entrance to St Pierre’s (St Peter’s) Church

The original simple grotto dug out of the soft volcanic rock is said to have been by carved out by St Peter himself. The oldest surviving parts of the church building date from at least the 4th or 5th century and include some pieces of floor mosaics and traces of frescoes.

The original simple grotto is said to have been by carved out by St Peter himself

There is still a tunnel inside the Church which opens elsewhere on the mountainside and is thought to have served as an escape route in case of attack on the early Christians.

A tunnel inside the Church opens out elsewhere on the mountainside

The Church facade was constructed by the Crusaders in 1100, and rebuilt in the 19th century.

The Church facade was constructed by the Crusaders
Beautiful sunshine flooding into the Church
A star-shapedwindow in St Peter’s Church

From the Church of St Peter we headed to the splendid Hatay archeological museum where we saw many fabulous treasures including the impressive two-tonne, 3,000 year-old statue of the Neo-Hittite King Suppiluliuma, found in 2012 at the ancient site of Tayinat, 35 kilometres from Antakya.

The impressive two-tonne, 3,000 year-old statue of the Neo-Hittite King Suppiluliuma

Inscriptions on the back of the statue provide a whole catalogue of information about his victories and border expansions.

Inscriptions on the back of the statue provide a information about his victories

There were many fascinating exhibits including some amazing mosaics. One of my favourites depicted a skeleton enjoying a drink which was unearthed in 2013 and dates from the third century AD.

The museum had some amazing mosaics
A mosaic featuring the head of Oceanus – the god of the seas

It apparently warns people “Enjoy life as much as you can because tomorrow is uncertain.”

“Enjoy life as much as you can because tomorrow is uncertain.”
A Ninth-Century sculpture of a lion
A stunning piece of sculpture

Another stand-out exhibit of the museum’s huge collection was the Antakya Sarcophagus (Antakya Lahdı), a spectacularly carved marble tomb from the 3rd century with a reclining figure on the lid that has remained unfinished.

The Antakya Sarcophagus (Antakya Lahdı), a spectacularly carved marble tomb
from the 3rd century
Some amazing heads, including one of a satyr from the 1st/2nd Century AD, found in Antakya

Moving on from the archeological museum we went to what turned out to be the absolute highlight of our visit to Antakya – the Museum Hotel.

The Museum Hotel was an absolute highlight

This is a unique archeological site where ancient remains lie exposed under an ultra modern hotel.

This is a unique archeological site where ancient remains lie exposed

The extensive archeological findings were discovered when the foundations of the hotel were being dug. Work halted immediately and the hotel owners told that the site would have to be excavated before any more work was carried out.

The extensive archeological findings were discovered when the foundations of
the hotel were being dug

Because of the importance of the findings which included the largest intact mosaic ever found, the original plans for the hotel were scrapped and an innovative and impressive design to incorporate the archeological site into the hotel structure was created.

The largest intact mosaic ever found – damage caused by floodwaters and earthquakes in the distant past

The result was a combination of engineering marvel and architectural beauty.

An innovative and impressive design to incorporate the archeological site into the hotel structure was created

The hotel is an astonishing combination of contemporary steel columns with stacked rooms that “float” above the archeological remains. These are linked by walkways and bridges.

The hotel is a combination of contemporary steel columns with stacked rooms that “float” above the archeological remains

The mosaic under the hotel is a 1,050m² work of art which was started around 300 BC and, it is believed, was a work in progress for more than 15 centuries.

The mosaic under the hotel is
a 1,050m² work of art
It is believed the mosaic was a work in progress for more than 15 centuries.

Walking on the labyrinth of raised glass ramps and bridges we were in close proximity to the remains. We were able to gaze down not only on the mosaic but also a Roman streetscape complete with a bath house, forum and other buildings.