Taormina, a jewel of Sicily

On occasion, James and I think, “Wouldn’t it be nice?” and the next thing you know instead of sticking with our plan, we abandon it.  In this case, we turned left 90 degrees south and headed for Taormina.  There are moorings run by George Risso ‘en vicino’ to the Taormina railway stop. This meant we could leave Mercier on a mooring and be ferried to land by the very friendly Branko and take a bus up the hill to Taormina. Perfetto!

Mount Etna is our backdrop. Today she was shrouded in mist and clouds.
Mount Etna is our backdrop. Today she was shrouded in mist and clouds.

As we are on a mooring, there is no electricity, hence no coffee.  As soon as we walk through the Porto Messina arch, we head for the sumptuous Hotel Timeo and their perfect coffee. We gaze over the Botanical gardens of Taormina with the stunning Mount Etna as the back drop.

View from the Hotel Timeo
View from the Hotel Timeo

We walk through Taormina after the coffee and call into churches and shops. Then we jump in a cab and ride up the tortuous road to Castelmola for a visit to the castle village and lunch. Etna was completely ensconced by cloud and wispy clouds seem to be floating up to us too.

View from Castelmola
View from Castelmola

The bus down the hill deposits us at the Arch again and we wait for Frosty to arrive.  After Frosty arrives we arrange a quick tour of Taormina, which includes a short visit to the Greek Theatre, which is hosting a film festival but not tonight.

Then we head down to Mercier, move to a quiet anchorage and row ashore for dinner.  Frosty’s celebratory birthday dinner was the main event. Today we have motored over to Reggio di Calabria and we found a berth in the Legale Navale.

Bronzes of Riace, circa 450 BC
Bronzes of Riace, circa 450 BC

This meant we were able to visit the Riace bronzes (circa 450 BC) at the Reggio Calabria National  Museum. The Riace Bronzes were found by a scuba diver, vacationing in Riace, lying on the seabed and they had been there for thousands of years. There was no evidence of a ship wreck, although they may have been thrown overboard in a stormy sea. Their restoration is wonderful. It is close to miraculous.

Bronze
Bronze of Riace

In this part of Italy, you can not be non-plussed by the beauty, the grittiness or the surprising. You can only enjoy it.

Note the skull and cross bones over the church door.
Church in Taormina, Note the skull and cross bones over the church door.

The heel of Italy and the soul

Once we had landed in the marina at Santa Maria di Leuca, the village on the very heel of Italy, we wandered around the town we had visited two years ago. By chance, as the tourist season doesn’t seem to have started, only Gelaterias were open. We have a gelato test – if the gelato is piled high out of the container, we walk by. If it is level or just slightly higher than its container, we order. The second test is pistachio ice cream must be a dusty olive green and not bright or flouro green. These two tests are fairly fool proof.

Needless to say, the gelato was wonderful at Crema and Cioccolatta Gelateria and afterwards we walked down the street and noticed a medieval fort built to protect against the Saracens.  The fortress is covered in beautiful caper plants, which must self seed into crevices of the hot, dry stone walls.

Fortress - Santa Marina di Leuca
Fortress – Santa Marina di Leuca

This part of the journey finds anchorages and marinas few and far between, we are sailing or motor sailing for 60 miles a day, leaving at day break and getting in late afternoon or early evenings.

Two years ago, we went into the Porto Vecchio at Crotone on a Sunday.  There wasn’t much open and we only saw the very gritty area near the fish markets.

Crotone Streets
Crotone Streets

Yesterday, we walked up to the beautiful castle built by Carlos V and the old town, then down to the beach with beautiful sands.  We commented that it didn’t look affected by tourism at all, except perhaps Italian tourism.  As we were departing this morning, we saw a cruise ship come into Crotone. We realized we were doubly lucky: we weren’t there on Sunday and the Cruise ship was not in town.

On our Western track, we passed the Promontorio di Capocolonna.  In a very small area, we see the ruins of the Temple of Hera Lacina, the Tower of Nao, a XVl century fortress, a church sanctuary and a light house.

Capocolonna
Capocolonna
Temple of Hera Lacina
Temple of Hera Lacina, in what was once a forest

 

Kalamata, Mystra and the Mani

We sailed from Porto Kayio to Kalamata on Friday to Kalamata Marina, the first marina we had seen since Agio Nikolas in Crete.  It is wonderful, with a wonderful taverna and the best AB supermarket we have seen.

Kalamata is in the Mani, a ‘state or province’ in the Peloponnesse. The Mani is abundantly beautiful, with Mountains creating a ridge down the spine. Mount Taygetos is about 7800 feet, so comparable with Aspen and the drive from Kalamata to Mystra brings to my imagination what the Leadville Road out of Aspen circa 1950, would be like. Hairpin turns, sheer cliffs, boulders fallen onto the road the size of bowling balls.

Road to Mystra
Road to Mystra

So yes, I am turning into my Mother, James’ Mother and mothers everywhere, when I tell you there was a dent in the floor where my brakes would be. Sheer fright! No photos because I was too busy holding on and there was no where to pull over.

I am not familiar with this area of Greece, but I am enchanted with it. So you can learn along with me.  Visit http://www.maniguide.info/  and read about this incredible hidden peninsula. Google: Mani.

Mystra
Mystra

We drove to Mystra to visit its Byzantine fortress and monasteries. This is the Sparta you may not have heard about. Medieval intrigue and the Crusades meant a fortress was needed but in this case, it wasn’t the Venetians but the Franks. There still seems to be some nuns here in one of the Monasteries and the buildings were beautiful.

Mystra
Mystra

We left after hours of walking. Even with tour buses full of people, the site is so vast that you are virtually walking by yourself only occasionally passing another person.

Fresco
Fresco

We decided to drive back to Kalamata by way of Gythion, a lovely harbour, where they are building a much larger breakwater and then to Diros.  This followed the same route we had sailed up so we could visit Aghia Nikolas, Stoupa and many other small villages.  The views from the escarpments were superb.

View of Mani Coastline
View of Mani Coastline

 

 

Chilling in Chania

Sometimes it takes a combination of elements to bring out the best in a place, a person or a task.

Cania seems to bring the three elements of Greek: Xania, Ottoman Turkish: Hanya and Venetian: Canea to create the superb town of Chania.

We ate in wonderful restaurants, walked Venetian fortresses, visited the mosques and the churches.  One Venetian palazzo was roofless but housed a quirky restaurant with trees growing in the midst of the tables.  The streets are narrow and winding, reminding us that a narrow windy path is easier to defend against pirates.  Pirates like the dreaded Barbarossa had a cave full of followers and ships not far away.

narrow lanes, Old Town Chania
Narrow lanes, Old Town Chania

We walked the Venetian Breakwater, that was full of fisherman, families taking walks out to the lighthouse and a film crew filming a soap opera or ad.

Barbara watching the fishermen on Venetian breakwater.
Barbara watching the fishermen on Venetian breakwater.

The town was so beautiful that we weren’t without cameras in our hands.

photogenic Chania
photogenic Chania

Barbara, wisely, decided to return home from Chania rather than sail to Kythera with us. So far we haven’t seen a ferry.  We had a wonderful dinner one street back from the waterfront.

Restaurants and bars are great in Chania,
Restaurants and bars are great in Chania, Barbara’s farewell dinner

The sunset was wonderful and James left the boat to go and take this photo of the Venetian Lighthouse.

Chania Twilight
Chania Twilight

Chania gave us a warm welcome and I can forsee a visit to Crete without a yacht to walks its gorges and canyons and see the middle and southern part of the island.

Rethymnon and the Venetian Fortress

In his book, Crete – A Notebook, Richard Clark, talks about Rethymnon being the Serene City.  Certainly, after the busyness of Irakleion, it is delightful.

Here is a city where the Venetian and Turkish heritage and architecture are still standing. You can see the old buildings and the narrow streets and walk thru Il Fortezza.  You can see the wooden balconies of Turkish and imagine the women of the harem, looking down on city streets through the shutters and feeling part of the life of the city.

Fortezza Venetian fortress c1573, architect Pallavicini
Fortezza Venetian fortress c1573, architect Pallavicini

The town began in the Mycenanean era and went into a decline. In the early 13th century, The Venetians, in their usual style, found a harbour and built a town around it. They had an uncanny sense of good harbours that could be protected and defended. Their colonies seemed to be bring prosperity to the locals and Venetians alike. The Fortezza was built as a fortress against pirates, like Barbarossa.

The city finally fell to the Turks in 1646 and they built a wonderful mosque on the site of the church Ayios Nikolas.

Barbara in the Sultan Ibrahim Han
Barbara in the Sultan Ibrahim Han mosque
James in the Complex of Magazines, which was a large storage area at the Fortezza
James in the Complex of Magazines, which was a large storage area at the Fortezza

In the tiny streets we came across a wonderful bakery Michalis Spanoudakis’s offered a fairy land of baked bread in the shape of animals.  The dolphins is my favourite.

 Michalis Spanoudakis's bakery
Michalis Spanoudakis’s bakery

Our verdict: Rethymno is a charming town.

Our journey so far:

https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zkkfRzDGj2mE.kO4m-3hTL-cs

Knossos – home of the Minotaur

Do you remember the myth of Theseus slaying the Minotaur? The Minotaur was half bull – half man and liked to feast on the children of Greece. The children who were good gymnasts could stay alive by leaping over the bulls back, but in the end Theseus slayed the Minotaur and escaped the Labyrinth. There is conjecture that the Palace of Knossos was the labyrinth because it was so large and had so many rooms and corridors.

The frescoes are painted in rich, vibrant colours.  They are so large and bright, their effect is visceral. The buildings are almost modern in construction. Here are some photos.

The Throne Room at Knossos
The Throne Room at Knossos

 

Charging bull fresco shows the building shape
Charging bull fresco shows the building’s modern shape
Olive groves flourish in the volcanic soil
Olive groves flourish in the volcanic soil
Minoan Crete fresco, circa 1700 bc
Minoan Crete fresco, circa 1700 bc
The Charging Bull fresco
The Charging Bull fresco

One’s eyes are drawn to the green in the distance and then to the bright, intense colour of the frescoes surrounded by cream stone buildings.

Farewell Turkey, hello Greece

Richard Niebuhr said “Pilgrims are poets who create by taking journeys.” James and I discuss what it means to leave Turkey, which we are very fond of, which we enjoy and its history we are amazed by. But the farewell is tinged with only a small feeling of sadness, because we hope to come back again. When sailing, we are almost by definition looking forward.
The planning, down to hours and days that one requires to sail, adds to the feelings one experiences in the new port. We pray for good weather and we wait for it. Wednesday”s five hours of sailing with fluky winds, is like a penance we do to get to a prize.

Thank you, Turkey.  We have had a great time
Thank you, Turkey. We have had a great time

Wednesday’s prize is Symi. Here is an island of Neoclassical houses, stacked up the hills surrounding the bays of the islands. It is an island where oregano runs wild by the road. Churches have pride of place and wonderful views. Another penance is walking up hills to get to the views and Symi affords plenty of hills.  Symi is a jewel, with wonderful tavernas, shops and cafes and beautiful churches.

Symi - a beautiful town
Symi – a beautiful Neoclassical  town

We hike up to the Chora and stop for a coffee at the Olive Tree, while waiting for our coffee, a pack train of horses bring building materials up the hill.

Hill town deliveries
Hill town deliveries

After our quiet respite in the Marmaris Yacht marina, we were back on a town quay in Symi. We had forgotten about the duf duf music and parties on nearby yachts. There would have been 20 people on the 70 foot yacht next to us, singing, dancing and partying until 5:00am. No amount of earplugs blocked their good-humored noise. Ah yes, now we remember. Amazingly, they left before the rosy fingers of dawn on to their next destination.  Thursday’s excitement was watching new arrivals collecting other yachts anchors. This is a game where the goal is for a boat to manage to keep its anchor ensconced in the mud, while other boats see their anchors come unstuck.  Our new arrivals brought our neighbour’s anchor up to the surface interlocked with their own. Excitement.

Symi, looking from the top of the island
Symi, looking from the top of the island

This morning we are on our way to Kalki, heading southwest and saying Hello Greece.

The journey so far:

https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zkkfRzDGj2mE.kO4m-3hTL-cs

Cappadocia Beginnings

During last year’s travel through Turkey, we were amazed at the history. We were fascinated by the various peoples who lived here over the millennia and fascinated by the Hittites, Lycians and Carians. This year, we decided to start our season in the geologically rich area of Cappadocia.

Fairy Chimney
Fairy Chimney

To say it was otherworldly, magical and surreal seems almost like an understatement. There were three volcanoes that threw tufa – a pumice-like stone, over the area of 160 square miles and later lava covered the tufa. Over the course of thousands of years the soft tufa eroded and left fairy chimneys, which were later transformed into rock hewn cave houses.

Love Valley
Love Valley

We had flown from a storm tossed Sydney to Cappadocia, with its cool April weather and blue skies. We stayed at Koza Cave Hotel in Goreme, on a hill overlooking Pigeon Valley. Our cave hotel was reminiscent of the dreamy movie, Winters Sleep. It was like walking onto a movie set: Turkish carpets on limestone floors and carved lintels and rustic artifacts. Koza Cave is family run hotel with personal attention to guests, recommendations and help with bookings. It was a lovely place to base ourselves, with views of Pigeon Valley from our room.

 

Between the 10th and 12th Centuries, monasteries and churches were carved into the tufa and a great example is at the Zelve Open Air Museum at Goreme. We viewed frescoes that have been partially restored and also saw the skeletons in their opened graves in the church floor. As busy as the Open Air Museum is, you feel it is sacred ground.Our tip would be to plan to be at the Open Air Museum at Noon, because the tour buses take their groups off for lunch and it is quickly quiet.

Frescoes Cappadocian Church
Frescoes Cappadocian Church

We ran into Mustafa*, a taxi driver, with great local knowledge. For a reasonable price, he took us to view Love Valley, Pag Basa and an old church on the Goreme-Avanus Road, which has not been restored. Mustafa was able to drive us to these sights, so that the sun was always behind us for photos and he was able to tell us about the different sights we were seeing.

There was one downside with our stay in Cappadocia. We were signed up for a balloon trip and at 5:00am found ourselves waiting to be ferried out to the balloon field, but the wind came up strongly and Butterfly Balloons weren’t able to take us up. This means that Cappadocia has to go back onto the bucket list. Now we are off to Marmaris.

Balloons over Goreme
Balloons over Goreme

*Mustafa C works for Goreme Muze Taxi.

Ten Things we did in Istanbul

We have more Istanbul fun to share, so we are going with fewer words more photos.

1) We tried new food and drinks. Here we are lining up to try pomegranate juice. We were walking back to Sultanahmet, after we had been to the Grand Bazaar. The pomegranates were picture perfect.

Drinking Fresh Squeezed Pomegranate Juice
Drinking Fresh Squeezed Pomegranate Juice
Turkish Sweets
Turkish Sweets

 

2) We visited a Harem.

Visiting the Harem at the Topaki Palace
Visiting the Harem at the Topkapi Palace

The Harem conjures up erotic images, but most of what we have seen are the beautiful Iznik tiles. You do begin at the hall of the Eunuchs before wandering through the chambers of the Sultan and the concubines. It is clear that it was the Sultan’s Mother who was the ruler of the Harem. There is a sense of enclosure and mystery behind these colourful tiles.

P1070930 (640x480)

 

3) We visited the Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar, to see shops full of fruit & nuts to gold.

Spice Market
Malatya Pazari – Spice Market

 

4) We missed the demonstration at Taksim Square, but this small boy hanging on to the trolley gave me palpitations.

Taksim Square
Taksim Square

 

5) There are so many churches in Europe.  In Istanbul, we visited mosques and listened to the call to prayer. You feel transported to a more exotic location just by hearing it. In Istanbul we saw young women in scarves together or with friends in completely secular, modern clothing. There were a few burqas but I had the feeling they were sightseers like me from other countries.

Visiting old and new mosques
Visiting old and new mosques

 

6) We met the nicest Turkish people. They are friendly and proud of Turkey. Here we met lovely work colleagues who insisted we share Pandeli’s famous walnut cookies to have with our coffee. We had a great conversation and we were warmed by Turkish hospitality in Istanbul and all through Turkey.

Friendly engaging Turkish people
Friendly, lovely, engaging Istanbulites
Parks in Istanbul
People in Istanbul

 

7) Bosporus Ferries & Castles

Bosporus Strait
Bosporus Strait

 

Castle
Castle

 

8) Street Food

Not really street food because they cook it straight from the boat, ‘Balik ekmik’ – Fish in bread, with a big serve of onions. For over a hundred years, the fisherman had been bringing their catch here from the sea of Marmara and the Bosporus Strait.  At some stage they decided to value add and serve the fish cooked. This is right at the Galata Bridge underneath the gaze of the New Mosque.

Mackerel Sandwiches at the Galata Bridge
Mackerel Sandwiches at the Galata Bridge
These fishermens' kitchens are very ornate and the sandwiches fly out.
The fishermen’s kitchens are very ornate and the sandwiches fly out.
Meat is also an option
Mussels or Meat are also possibilities

 

9) Visited Galata Tower in Karakoy. This medieval stone tower was built as Christea Turris by crusaders from Genoa in 1348. The nine story tower is a quick tram stop over the Galata Bridge from Sultanahmet. You have a 360 degree views of Istanbul and the Bosporus Strait. The coffee shop on the square at the bottom of the Tower was the best coffee we had in Turkey.

Visited Galata Tower - the medieval Genoese stone tower.
Visited Galata Tower – the medieval Genoese stone tower.

 

10) We didn’t queue.

Blue Mosque from Haghia Sophia
Blue Mosque from Haghia Sophia

The interior of the Blue Mosque is still a mystery to us, because we couldn’t make ourselves wait for the two-hour queue, even at 8:00 am. We saw it from so many other angles, but not the interior. Suggestions on beating the queue will be happily received.

That is probably it for Istanbul and Turkey until next April, but thank you for joining us.

The next post is all Sydney. Hooroo til then!

Carpet Museum at Haghia Sophia, Istanbul

We had a few more things to talk about in Istanbul.  Now that we are back at home and respectably moved in, I thought I would share a few more photos. While I am sure I should blog in order, I enjoyed this museum so much we will start here.

One of the first things you should do in Istanbul is buy a 3 Day museum pass and you can have entry without queuing for tickets at each site. Having said that the museum pass doesn’t include the carpet museum.  The carpet museum at Haghia Sophia is absolutely worth a visit and if you go early, as we did you will have the museum to yourself with the guard’s full attention, which was wonderful because he shared his knowledge of the rugs and carpets with us.

Restored carpet on display at the Haghia Sophia's Carpet Museum
Restored carpet on display at the Haghia Sophia’s Carpet Museum

Louise and Frosty were scouting out Istanbul and sending us wonderful tips, including visiting the Carpet museum. Their photos convinced us it was worth a visit.

The Carpet Museum is now housed in the circa 1742 Imaret attached to the rear of Haghia Sophia, immediately adjoining the Sultanahmet entrance to the Topkapi Palace and the Ahmet lll fountain. The Imaret was used as a soup kitchen for the poor with sinks, ovens and stoves to prepare food for the poor.

Rare and beuatiful piece from Carpet Museum
Rare and beuatiful piece from Carpet Museum

The Hurriyet Daily News describes the three different chambers lining the courtyard and their carpet: The first gallery displays carpets from the Anatolia Seljuk,  the second gallery displays Central and East Anatolian carpets from the Ottoman era, while the third gallery contains carpets from Usak,along with the ovens.

The Ovens at the carpet museum. Feeding the poor in its earliest form.
The Ovens at the carpet museum. Feeding the poor in its earliest incarnation.

If you have children or you are still a kid at heart, you will enjoy the interactive carpet on the floor in front of the oven. As you walk over this space the tiles illuminate a carpet under your feet. Our wonderful guide showed James how to spread his arms to attain the full effect. There was a bit of laughter as these two men tried to assist me in getting the perfect photo.

Interactive carpet
Interactive carpet

There are plenty of English displays, so you learn about the different carpets with the aid of our very able guide. We enjoyed this museum and we loved the fact that we were able to learn more about the carpets, musing about how long they have survived.

Our favorite Istanbul guide
Our favorite Istanbul guide in front of beautiful prayer rugs, each square for a person