Stuff, Wanderings

Several Birds . .

J and I have travelled much of Turkey in the twenty-odd years we’ve lived here but we’ve never made it across the Hellespont or Dardanelles  as it is known these days. European Turkey remained a place unexplored to us.

one of the most strategic waterways in the world

Our Turkish ‘son’ was recently appointed to an important post near the Greek border and so, as we hadn’t seen him and his family for a few months, we needed no further encouragement than an invitation to a local rice festival. The area is one huge paddy field and supplies much of Turkey’s domestic rice needs.

2 kilo bags of ‘Festival Rice’ proved to be welcome gifts

Now, we had other friends whom we had not seen for a while who were holidaying near Ayvalık so what better than to combine a visit with them! They were delighted and promptly suggested that we all traipse off to Bozcaada (a small island just off the coast) for a couple of days.

Bozcaada is very pretty, very popular, the resort of choice for the ‘beautiful people’ from İstanbul and very expensive! Let me give you a couple of examples; what amounted to no more than a decent lokanta meal for four, admittedly with 3/4 of a bottle of rakı thrown in, was over 400 Lira! A double rakı weighs in at 40 Lira – although they do ‘give away’ a small bowl of nuts when you sit down! Now, if like me you enjoy your daily dose of duble rakı then forking out the price of a bottle for a couple of doubles rather takes the shine off.

Meanwhile, a few impressions:

the most splendid of friends

As I said, it’s a most beautiful place and with friends such as ours there is nothing more to add!

Bozcaada behind us we motored on and crossed the Dardanelles at Çanakkale, the narrowest part. It’s a busy place . .

Our ‘son’ was working much of the time so as is usual on these occasions we amuse ourselves most days and fit in the socialising when we can. The highlight was joining him on a trip to Edirne where I was able to fulfil a long-time desire to visit the Selimiye Imperial Ottoman Mosque. Said to be the finest masterpiece of one of the greatest architects to have ever lived – the Mimar Sinan – it was commissioned by the Sultan Selim II and built between 1569-1575. It is a remarkable sight to behold!

 

 

the massive main door – these pieces fit together like a jig-saw – no glue or nails

Look carefully at the image below and you might just make out a relief carving of an upside down tulip. There is a story; the woman who owned the land where the mosque now stands repeatedly refused to give it away for the greater glory of God or Sultan! She used it to grow tulips on the site which you may recall were worth more than gold back in those far-off days. Anyway, she was adamant until eventually she was assured that there would be tulips inside the mosque and so she agreed with that as guarantee. She should have known better than to trust the elites because all she ended up with was this one ‘dead’ tulip! If you go back four photos you can see someone pointing out the location.

There is a small but very interesting museum attached to the mosque with lots of amazing examples of Ottoman craftsmanship. It also has a disturbingly realistic figure of the great architect Sinan – J freaked out!

Koca Mi’mâr Sinân Âğâ – Mimar Sinan 1488/90 – 1588

Now, Edirne is famous for something else – liver! Whenever a Turk, friend or stranger, heard we were off to Edirne we were told that we simply had to eat the famous Edirne Tava Ciğer! So we did and they were right, sliced thinly before frying it is delicious!

Edirne Tava Ciğer

We did a number of other things and went to a few other places but this is enough for now apart from one other thing. On the way back we stopped briefly at Ezine a town famous in Turkey for its cheeses. There we bought Ezine Göbekli Kaşar Peynir (cheese with holes) which is OK if not special. (J and I are in dispute over Ezine or Kaşan – whatever!) The prize, however, goes to Peynir Helvası a not too sweet cheeeezy-as-anything pudding – wonderfully delicious!

Peynir Helvası

If you plan to ‘go’ this is the way to do it!

Alan, having got several ‘birds’ with one stone, back at the cabin with J making chutney and pickled cabbage!

Wanderings

Operation Market Garden 2.0

Well, we are home in Okçular after a couple of weeks up at our mountain retreat. One thing has to be said (after ‘it’s great to be here’), efficient central heating and a glowing open fire in a concrete house at sea level isn’t a patch on a soba in a well insulated wooden cabin at 1200mts! That is a fact!

soba

not ours, but you get the picture!

So, what have we been up to these past two weeks? Getting utterly knackered slaving away on the plantation – up at sunrise and collapsing, exhausted in to our pit by eight thirty in the evening, that’s what! Certainly too knackered to write some silly blog post! I tell you, this village small-holding lifestyle is no walk in the park!

salda sunrise

I know, you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all!

The prime objective this trip has been to clear the land of scrub, brambles and the most evil, thorny stuff you’ve ever met plus, to get a terrace retaining wall built from local stone. Our secondary target was to get the land prepared and planted with fruit and nut trees. Did we succeed? Let’s find out . .

The first wall building crew to put themselves forward were nothing if not everybody else’s brother who was an expert on sweet f-a! They disappeared back down the track a bloody sight faster than they arrived with much ‘Allah allah’ing! (Good God/My God!).

After taking more advice we were introduced to Hussain from a neighbouring village who proved to be not just a hard-grafting, stonewall making  usta (craftsman) but a true gentleman to boot. Next day he and his equally hard-working side-kick got started,

Hussain usta

Hussain usta – a gentle giant

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The first day was spent collecting trailer-loads of large stones

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and the next on getting started

Then, as happens with the best laid plans – the weather took a hand, site work paused for two days and we were left to gaze out of the window as the rain poured down followed by a healthy dusting of snow.

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familiar views as you’ve never seen them before

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another day, another sunrise

By this time, and remembering that this was only day five of our little sojourn . ,

frazzled

I was feeling a little bit glum and a lot frazzled – J has warned me that if I dare to put up the photo of her, taken a few minutes earlier, she will kill me or, worse than that, haunt me for all eternity. I am a bit silly sometimes but I am not a total idiot!

So, back to our narrative – whilst all this stuff was going on J and I were attending to a few things of our own like building fences, grubbing out nasty, brutal thorny stuff, layering hedges and building shoe racks and towel rails.

fence making

shoe rack

gulay's Gallery

Gülay Çolak’s beautiful nick-nack box

Week two and the workers are back on the job and progress is a joy for us to behold – what is appearing is exactly what we wanted.

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It’s also been an interesting period for us as we have learned a little about managing our supply of solar electricity when the weather is overcast. In the summer we can clearly see that there will not be a problem with long sunny days and short nights. This started as a project for Summer time but we love it so much here that we want to spend time in the Winter too. There is always the option to up the number of solar panel and batteries if needs must.

As an aside I want to show you some of J’s beautiful needlework together with some felt-work we picked up in Mongolia  that are quite at home up here in the cabin . .

needlework

Mongolian feltwork

In the middle of all this we had a surprise visit from our very dear ‘son’ who had somehow engineered it to bring a great friend of ours and fellow eco-warrior, Süleyman, a man who is perhaps better described as a ‘blood brother’ after some of our exploits together. They came for breakfast and had the good sense and manners to bring everything needed to feed a family of six plus the workers!

friends

old friends and new – the best breakfast surprise (our ‘son’ 2nd r (suitably masked), Süleyman r with two of his colleagues)

tea making turkish style

everybody has an opinion about making tea

9th SS Panzer Div

9th SS Panzer Division – Mark IV Tiger tank

Now, in the midst of all this jollity we had momentarily forgotten that we had come to a financial arrangement with the muhtar (village headman) of our next-door village to hire their digger machine. They used to be a town until the recent reshuffling took place and so they happen to ‘own’ a number of useful toys one of which is the above pictured.

The Panzer man’s job, as carefully described to him, was to level and smooth off the areas above and below our new stone wall. Simple enough, you might think, but you would be taking too narrow a view! In this monster’s driving seat sat an individual trained by the devil and crazy enough to fight the Battle for Stalingrad single-handed! The man was a Berserker! Between our chatting and a few sips of tea and a bit of bread and cheese he had pretty much undermined our wall. People screaming and throwing rocks at his cab did little to stop him until the red mist lifted for a moment and we were able to get him to put most of the soil back where it came from!

digger frenzy

It was the same on the top section, he had to be watched like a hawk or he’d be digging holes, apparently at random, all over the place. Eventually we got what we wanted, sort of, the top was level and the bottom bit was gently sloping albeit with a great mass of bloody great rocks we didn’t know we had until Atilla the Hun dug them out!

digger frenzy2

that’s pretty good, considering!

In the end, we didn’t get on as far as we had hoped. The mad SS Panzer Grenadier had unearthed so much rock that we have to get a tractor with a ‘hook’ plough in to drag it all up and the wall builders will come back and do the heavy lifting to get it out of the way.  The ground is too wet after the rains to use the tractor so we have to wait for a few drying days before the job can be finished. In the grand scheme of things I don’t suppose it will make very much difference but it would have been nice to get those young trees in and settled.

There is also a nice little ‘top terrace’ that will be perfect for lounging, brewing tea, cooking with my wok and tin chicken roaster and taking in the view with a glass or two!

top terrace

Not to mention this character whose owner, we heard, is very ill – the dog seems to have adopted us while we are around and he has proved to be a very well-mannered and gentle creature. He is welcome!

Dog

A number of you have commented that you would like to see a ‘full-frontal’ view of the cabin so here you are . .

cabin shot

Alan Fenn, back from the Eastern Front

Wanderings

Is There Life On Mars?

The lake that lies just below our mountain hide-away is almost unique. ‘Almost’ because there is one other like it on Earth in Canada. These lakes have one other attribute that adds to their uniqueness – they are believed to have many similarities with the surface of the planet Mars!

mars

NASA image

Really, I kid you not! You can read the reports online from such organisations as Glasgow University. Looking out from our cabin I can’t see what they see, but they are the scientists after all!

Anyway, J and I will grab any window of opportunity to take ourselves off to our hidey-hole. The air feels fresh and clean and the peace and quiet is so good for the inner and outer being. This time around we agreed to take a couple of friends and lodge them at the new hotel on the other side of the lake. They could join us during the day as we did our thing and then, in the evening, we could relax and enjoy the quiet we love and they could relax in centrally heated luxury instead of dossing on the cabin floor!

Our time together was spent gazing, spellbound, at the amazing views, eating spicy rabbit casserole and non-stop talking.

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view from the top

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view turned around 180*

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It was a short stay and on the way back to Okçular we stopped off in the village of Yazı Köy which has one of the most beautiful small mosques to be found anywhere. S,  J’s long-time friend who is on a longish visit from the UK, had never been inside a mosque. What better introduction than this:

Yazir mosque1

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yazir mosque2

part of the beautiful, hand-painted ceiling

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from the women’s gallery

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J in ‘conversation’ with the delightful imam – he remembered us from our visit three years earlier. The other guy is a local who insisted on translating from Turkish to ‘Dutchlish’ – hard to know who was the most confused!

yazir mosque5

Three years ago many of these beautiful alabaster window frames were damaged. What a delight to see that they had been restored to perfection. The mosque is in everyday use, it is cherished and really cared for. You can read about this and other amazing village mosques by following the link to earlier posts. There are also a lot more photos. You will also read about J and me being deep inside some local caves when the lights went out! Having been thwarted back then we took our friends off for another go – this time the force was with us!

keloglu cave1

keloglu cave2

Not the greatest photos for an attraction well worth a visit. The Keloğlu Caves are close to Acıpayam in Denizli Province. Legend has it that entering the caves is a cure for baldness – didn’t do anything for me, and the guardian is a bald as a coot!

Finally, is there life on Mars? Yes, and here’s the evidence!

Crocus chrysanthus

Crocus chrysanthus

Colchicum burttii

Colchicum burttii

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Wanderings

The Camels Are Coming Oho,Oho!

I remember being taught that song at primary school – it never made much sense but then not a lot does at that age as we soak stuff up like blotting paper (the link is for those under 25 years of age). And like blotting paper our memories may be blurred but the marks and the lyrics are permanent. Which is why I still hum the ditty whenever J and I go to camel wrestling!

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the camels coming – or possibly going

So, together with a couple of camel wrestling virgin friends, we headed for the village of Sinirtepe near Aydın for their annual, much advertised, Camelus dromedarius festival. The place was suspiciously quiet when we arrived and with good reason – they’d had their tourney on the 3rd of January! Ho-hum!

deve-güreşi-bayraklı-2015

different venue, right idea

J and I prefer local, non-touristic venues and the price we pay is that information is sometimes lacking. The locals in Sinirtepe were sympathetic and in very short order they sent us on our way to a match being staged about 50 kms away at Bağarası. It could not have been a better introduction to the spectacle for our friends, It had everything – staged on a football pitch set in the middle of the shambolic industrial area, the parking was chaotic, the sights, smells and sounds exotic and the people wonderfully welcoming and friendly. Just our sort of place!

I know some of you might feel concerned that what we were supporting is some form of blood sport. It is not! The events are a continuation of a tradition from the days when camel trains and caravans criss-crossed Turkey and much of the Middle East and Asia. Traders would encourage the bull camels to do what they do naturally during the four month breeding season. The events brought camel owners together where old and new friendships were cemented, information and breeding stock were exchanged and a lot of feasting, drinking and wagering took place. Camel owners are easy to spot due to their distinctive dress: cornered caps, traditional scarves around the neck, jackets, special trousers and accordion-like boots.

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old time camel owner

I love these boots

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his job is to secure the camel’s jaw to prevent biting and injury

These days the camels are bred for strength and fed and trained to build them up. Like football and much else it is no longer a poor man’s sport. J made some enquiries and a young animal will set you back around six thousand lira. A mature 12 year-old bull with much of its wrestling and breeding career ahead would cost between eighty and one hundred and fifty thousand lira. Bulls begin wrestling at about seven years of age and continue for about ten years some up to the age of twenty. When you add in the cost of food, veterinary care, transport and pre-festival partying you are talking a pretty penny!

camel wrestling5

that said, there was one very vocal lady owner

bull camel

bull camel in all his finery and glory

With these magnificent creatures being so valuable great care is taken to ensure that no harm comes to them apart from a bruised ego if they go out in the first round! If an animal is reluctant or afraid to engage then the referee calls a halt. A win is signalled when one animal succeeds in pinning, tripping or totally dominating his opponent and two teams rush in to drag the beasts apart. Some contests can be like watching paint dry whilst others, especially in the later rounds with the best bulls, can be very lively.

Of great value is a good cazgır. He is the person who announces wrestlers or the wrestling camels – calls out the camels’ names. The cazgır reads poems praising each camel, adding colour to the contest. The cazgır, just as in two-legged wrestling contests, is the most important and colourful person in the competition. He treats a camel wrestling match just like a sport commentator at a soccer match.

bull camel3

Perhaps the most entertaining sights are when one camel has had enough and makes a bid to escape pursued by the victor. With bulls weighing in at between seven hundred and fifty and fifteen hundred kilos there are a couple of tons of tunnel vision thundering about. When pursued and pursuer head for the hills behind the spectators with their tables, chairs and barbecues the chaos and antics are like something from a Buster Keaton film. Do people get hurt? Rarely.

Whilst the stars are, without question, the magnificent bulls decked out in all their splendour and slobbering at the scent of battle (or is it female pheromones?) they are not the only attraction. The sight of thousands of Turks eating, drinking, socialising and dancing whilst wandering folk bands compete with each other for the rolled up bank notes that get stuffed into their instruments is something to experience. Add in the smells from countless barbecues and vendors selling camel sausage sandwiches and köfte with the aroma of rutting camels and your experience is complete!

camel burgers

camel sausage in a bun

wandering minstrels

our virgins getting the musical works whilst J is masticating again!

camels decorated saddle

pack saddle

camel muzzle and bridle

muzzle and bridle

camel pheromones

The name of the competing camel is written on a piece of embroidered cloth called a peş hung behind the saddle, which is called the “havut.” Beneath the camel’s name is written the word Maşallah (May God protect him). ‘Arza’ in heroic pose and spraying pheromones all over the place!

Is it worth going to camel wrestling? Absolutely! For the spectacle, the colour, the noise, the smells, tastes and the welcome for a visitor. The camels love to have their ears scratched!

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Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

ps Here’re the real Cam(pb)e(l)ls Coming Oho, Oho!

piper

Wanderings

Self Indulgence

There was a time, when vicars, elders and assorted priests had a role in society and pleasuring oneself was considered a sin, when a bit of self-indulgence was thought to lead to blindness and/or paralysis! Not true, folks! J and I are living proof that a little of what you fancy does you good. Repression leads to all sorts of strange hang-ups, as my mother could have confirmed were she not ‘bereft of life’! This chap has been caught early as his eyesight has only just started to dim!

spoof

before you rush to order, this is a spoof ad – I know, I checked it out!

So, onwards and upwards – things can only get better! Having had a few weeks of feeling the need to be around because of the geothermal drilling business (see here, and here) in the overwhelming heat at this time of year plus dealing with some residence permit issues (who hasn’t had those!), we needed to indulge our inner and outer selves and escape to the tranquility of the mountains. There is something about being pretty much alone and surrounded by a world much bigger and wider than those irritations that tend to seem so large at the time – somehow, they just melt away – at least temporarily.

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We didn’t want to spend much time on the road and so we decided to head for Girdev Lake and spend a couple of days at the Girdev Camp owned by İlhan and İnci Kurt. Situated 1800mts above sea-level the lake is always beautiful and at this time of year the herders will be there with their sheep and the environment should be wild with life! We were not to be disappointed. Whilst there we also met a young woman named Raz who woke up one morning in her native Cornwall and said, ‘Raz, old girl! You are at a crossroads in your life – why not take a walk to Istanbul.’ (or words to that effect) So she did! Read her  intermittent blog. Then she bought a bike and cycled off and ended up at Girdev Camp for a while. Where next Raz?

Day one it rained cannonballs for a bit, but mostly the sun shone, the clouds were fluffy and the air was like champagne!

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raining . .

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. . cannonballs!

Girdev is a bit like the wilderness with the edges rubbed off – sufficiently off the beaten track to discourage the casual visitors and yet close enough for those willing to trash their tyres if needs must (of which more later)! How long it is going to remain free of mass tourism is open to question because the machines are out in force scraping and rolling in preparation for asphalt. Will they go all the way? It looks very likely. Add in the electricity that is now there and the hopefulless business ventures lining the side of the road won’t be far behind.

Anyway, whilst it lasts, let’s make the most of it and enjoy the wonders! Here’s one that left me amazed – countless billions (not a typo) of Erythromma viridulum – Small Red-Eyed Damselflies everywhere. I have never seen anything like it!

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 Erythromma viridulum – Small Red-Eyed Damselfly (female l. male r.)

Erythromma viridulum - Small Red-Eyed Damselflies

. . and then there were these:

Large Skipper Ochlodes venatus

Ochlodes venatus – Large Skipper

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Melanargia russiae Russian Marbled White

Melanargia russiae – Russian Marbled White

. . and then there are the mountains:

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ancient juniper Girdev

with ancient Junipers

mosque in the middle of nowhere Girdev

. . and a mosque in the middle of nowhere

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a lesson in cheese making from a local expert

lunch with goatherders

. . and lunch with delightful goatherders

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. . who live down there

Some random flower pics:

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final view of Girdev Lake

So, what do you think, folks – splendid, or what?

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

ps when we got back down from Girdev and on to a bit of tarmac we realised we’d probably been driving for miles on a flat rear tyre. It was utterly trashed! The inside and outside walls were ripped like this all around! In the nearby little town the ‘Lastikci’ dug-out a nearly new replacement for the spare, checked everything over – 100 TL/£25 – job jobbed!

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pps for those of you who have been totally enthralled by this scintillating post, here’s a link to an earlier expedition with a certain professor who shall remain nameless to protect his reputation!