Monday, October 23, 2006

Ancient Lands and Azure Seas

Our last two fun-filled days in Portugal were spent in Lisbon. We stayed at the Bairro Alto Hotel, a fabulous small hotel overlooking the Tagus river, located at the cross section of the Bairro Alto and Chiado areas of old Lisbon. On our first night in Lisbon, Antonio Portugal - a Lisbon lawyer and business associate of Carol's - took us to dinner at a wonderful restaurant where we had to-die-for chocolate mousse. Antonio told us where to hear the best fado music – ancient melancholy music of the Portuguese sailors and their lovers. We took his suggestion and wıth dinner, heard fado in a medieval building in the Alfama district that survived the 1755 earthquake. Joined by a Houston couple, Susan McRee and Jeff Bell, whom we met at the Bairro Alto, they added greatly to all our merriment.

Next we headed for Turkey, the cross roads of civilization, interesting people and land of ancient ruins, azure seas - and fantastic shopping. En route, David and Betsey McKearnan from Stockbridge, MA and Ed and Gina Kozek from Charleston, SC joined us. As many of you know, we have various people joining us in different parts of the trip.

Our first stop was Kayseri where we stayed in a beautiful setting just above the harbor which sits on the Aegean sea. Here our purpose was to experience the awe inspiring ruins of Ephesus. We had the great fortune to have Cengiz Icten, the head archeologist of the Turkish team for 40 years, share his insights and discoveries with us. His passion for Ephesus was obvious and as we walked through the sites, many of his former students and workers came up to warmly greet and hug him – he is quite the popular guy. As we have traveled through Turkey, many of us are learning just how much history there is in this wonderful country. . .

On the way to Bodrum, we stopped at Didyma and visited the Temple of Apollo where emperors came to see the oracles to get a peek into the future. In Bodrum, Christine and Dan Gill from Alexandria, VA joined us. Bodrum is a beautiful seaside town on the Aegean where many Europeans come to vacation. Here we happened upon a parade for the opening of the Bodrum Sailing Cup and an exciting performance of acrobatic whirling and tumbling dancers from the Caucasus area of Turkey.

We boarded the Batuhan, a gorgeous 100 foot wooden sailing yacht (gulet in Turkish) in Marmaris. Ten of us stayed on the boat for six days, cruising from Marmaris to Demre. The captain and crew were personable, fun and worked extremely hard to give us spectacular service. As Patricia, our travel agent for this leg of the trip promised us, Erden, our captain, was definitely eye candy and had a great sense of humor. Among our many adventures, we thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful Aegean and Mediterranean seas, visiting incredible ruins such as tombs carved into mountains, theaters where gladiators fought, and villages that have remained as they were centuries ago. In addition, we have a few other stories.

On the first evening on the boat, we were all out on deck admiring the beautiful stars and the Milky Way which many of us have not seen in a long time due to the light pollution back home. We did not yet know the boat and as Gina was looking up at the night sky, she missed a step on the boat and down she went twisting her foot. She hurt her foot badly and still we do not really know if she broke it as she has been able to get around. It seems that the blacker and more bruised it gets, the better it feels to her. She has been a great sport about it and did not let it get in the way of her good time.

Another adventure occurred in Dalyan where we went by flat bottom boat to see the extraordinary tombs scattered high in the mountain cliffs. Doing it by thıs type of boat is the only way to see the tombs, which are carved into the cliffs and have marvelous castle-like facades . We had an amazing day cruising through the wetlands which reminded many of us of the Charleston Low Country except for the huge mountains in the background. As we motored there, we noted the tide was dropping, but the boat seemed to get through easily.

Returning to our sail boat, however, was a different matter. We soon discovered our guide did not know the river and we got grounded. He kept gunning the engine and got us even more grounded. Then he asked all of us to stand on one side. Still we were grounded. Soon a boat came by and we yelled for it. But to our dismay, it continued in the opposıte direction. So we started to run from one side of the boat to the other, trying to rock it off the sandbar. Still we were stuck. What we soon realızed was that the boat we thought had abandoned us actually had gone around the sandbar avoiding low ground to come rescue us. After a few tugs and us rocking the boat again, we were finally off the sandbar. The captain of the rescue boat then told our rookie driver how to get safely out of the bay and into deep water, and we got back to the beautiful Batuhan without further incident.

Another boating adventure occurred the next day when we cruised into Gocek. This was the first real town we had encountered and all went exploring. It had been raining off and on and the captain told us that a storm was approaching, but not to worry because we would go to a safe cove for protection. After an evening of shopping and a little partying, Carol and Edith were working on the blog and others were in bed when all of a sudden, a huge gale wind came and blew the big canvas bimini off of the aftdeck. The captain bolted out of his cabin and began barking orders to the crew and calling for them to cast the lines. The wind and rain continued to get stronger, lightning began to crack and the waves frothed - even at the dock. The docked boats began to buck like wild broncs and others in the harbor pulled loose from their moorings in the wind and chop. Boaters began running around their boats in a panic. Captain Erden remained cool and collected and calmly picked his way across the bay to safety with boats crisscrossing in our path within feet of the Batuhan's bow - it was a wild ride indeed! We reached the cove and were safely secured by about 2am.

It was a wild couple of hours for everyone (except Rick and Dan - who unbelievably slept through the whole thing). In fact, the next morning Dan thought we were teasing him when we told him about the excitement. Christine came up with an appealing Turkish tradition. She said according to Turkish custom since the captain saved our lifes, we were obligated to run off with him - all of the women agreed.

Stay tuned! We have no idea what other adventures await us!!