Ionia Guest House

Luxury accommodation in the Aegean countryside

Category: Around us (page 1 of 2)

Things to see and do nearby.

Summer

In another few weeks, we will have been here for a year.  Predictably, the time has flown past, and I suppose I should be more worried that we don’t have any new buildings yet.  But I’m still happy with our progress: we’re getting there.  The bureaucratic checklist is nearly complete and we should be able to break ground on the foundations for the cafe and bungalows soon.

In the meantime, summer has definitely arrived.   Afternoon temperatures are in the mid 30s, and we can go for a couple of weeks without any rain.  The sea has warmed up and an afternoon swim at Pamucak Beach or in the Dilek National Park is always tempting.

Visitors continue to give us a good excuse to get out and discover all the fantastic places around us.  I know I keep going on about ruined Ionian cities, but there really are dozens of them around here.  Priene was one we hadn’t seen before.  It sits up on a bluff overlooking the mouth of the Meander river, and is only a few kilometres from the site of the Battle of Mycale where the Greeks destroyed a retreating Persian force in 479 BC.

The theatre at Priene.

The theatre at Priene.

Sirem among the columns.

Sirem among the columns.

Priene is big enough and famous enough to have a ticket office and a very reasonable admission charge, but like Tralleis and Magnesia, we had the place pretty much to ourselves.  It is a great spot to visit on a hot day, because the elevation means you get a breeze coming in from the sea, and the encroaching pine forest gives a lot more shade than at other more exposed sites.

View from the ruins of Priene out across the Meander Valley.

View from the ruins of Priene out across the Meander Valley.

Priene is also close to the half-abandoned, half-restored village of Eski Doğanbey, so we dropped in for another visit.  I can’t help taking photos there.

Blue shutters.

Blue shutters in Eski Doğanbey.

Renovation project, would suit first-time buyer.

Renovation project, would suit first-time buyer.

Our guest that day was Mark, an old friend of mine from Australia.  Here he is getting comfortable at Priene.  Mark was only here for a few days but I hope we helped him to unwind.

A game of thrones: Mark briefly appoints himself king of Priene.

A game of thrones: Mark briefly appoints himself king of Priene.

The day after Mark left, Joe arrived for a two-week stay.  Joe is a friend of ours from Southampton, and a former work colleague of mine.  He wanted to get some sun before an imminent move to Norway.  Anyone considering visiting us in the future should know that Joe has set the bar very high in terms of helping to build things.  He helped do the last of the cabinet doors in the kitchen, as well as a large (and very heavy!) storage cupboard for the verandah, and a computer desk on wheels that makes it much easier to watch movies at night in the courtyard.  Joe, thanks again.

Joe enjoys a mug of ayran by Lake Bafa.

Joe enjoys a mug of refreshing ayran (yoghurt, water, and salt) at a lakeside restaurant.

The storage cupboard and the computer desk deserve photos but I’m going to wait until they’re sanded and stained, etc., so Joe’s efforts get the best possible presentation.  Also, for anyone who wants to see Ephesus but only has 37 seconds to spare, I give you Joe’s GoPro video of his visit.

Most of our visitors have arrived at Izmir airport, about an hour to the north, but Joe flew into Bodrum/Milas, which is south of us and a little further away.  The drive down there is interesting, as the middle section runs along the shore of Lake Bafa, which was once part of the Aegean Sea until the Meander River silted up and blocked the connection.

Sunset over Lake Bafa.

Sunset over Lake Bafa.

Fish restaurant on the lake.

Fish restaurant on the lake.

On the way back we saw brown tourist signs for “Euromos”, a city we’d never even heard of.  Very glad we stopped though, as we got to see the sun setting behind the Temple of Zeus.

The Temple of Zeus at Euromos.

The Temple of Zeus at Euromos.

Summer has also brought a different species of visitor.  We try to be responsible pet owners and get all of our animals spayed as soon as they’re ready.  But our youngest cat, Sookie, got pregnant sooner than expected and we missed our chance.  (If your vet tells you six months, do it at five.)  So we are now the proud and slightly alarmed grandparents to four new kittens.

Kittens, less than 24 hours old.

The proud mother with her kittens, less than 24 hours old.

We are of course looking for good homes for them all.  It would be crazy to keep four more cats.  Totally crazy.  Out of the question…

More spring weather, more ruins, more plans

OK, this will be a quick one.  It’s a beautiful day and I’m supposed to be putting in irrigation pipes for the new trees, not sitting around at the computer.

Things are going well.  Spring continues to mean that plants are just erupting out of the ground: it’s amazing how quickly things grow here.  Here are a few shots of flowers and the garden to show what I mean.

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The grape vines are definitely back.  We missed them!

The grape vines are definitely back. We missed them.

The season has also brought some new lambs to the farm of our friends at the other end of the village.  The lambs are very cute and Sirem could not resist having a cuddle.

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Only 24 hours old.

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Ready for her close-up now.

Sirem with her favourite.  The lamb also looks pleased.

Sirem with her favourite. The lamb also looks pleased.

And visitor season is also continuing.  Our recent guests Enrico and Bethany gave us an excuse to check out one more of the archaeological sites in the area.  We took them to see the ruins of Tralleis, up on a bluff above the provincial capital of Aydın.     It must have been a very imposing city in its heyday.  The biggest feature still standing is a distinctive triple arch that looks out over the valley.  All very Ozymandias.

The arch at Tralleis.  Some people for scale.

The arches at Tralleis. Some people for scale.

The arch from the other side.  Notice all the construction on the lower level: cellars or tunnels perhaps?

The arches from the other side. Notice all the construction on the lower level: cellars or tunnels perhaps?

Again we had the privilege of walking around a site like this without paying any admission fee, and seeing almost no other visitors.  I think those people in the first shot were our only company.  It’s not that Turks and tourists don’t care about these places; more that they are spoiled for choice about where to go.

Finally: we put in our revised plans for the hotel bungalows a couple of weeks ago, and we’re waiting to hear back from the council about whether the new version can be passed as just a minor revision of the old.   The differences weren’t huge, so we’re optimistic.

Probably the biggest change is that we’re now building a house for ourselves at the top of the orchard.  It’s quiet and peaceful there, and the view is fantastic, so  we can’t resist.  That means two fewer guest rooms up in the orchard, but in the long run we’ll make up the total of six by converting some rooms down here in the old farmhouse.

Another change is that we combined one of the guest bungalows with the cafe / kitchen, rather than having them as two separate buildings.  We think it makes the overall plan look less cluttered, and the thick straw bales mean the guests shouldn’t hear anything from the adjoining kitchen area.

An overview of the new plan.  You can see the existing farmhouse buildings on the far left.  Then, from left to right, it's the cafe plus two guest rooms, the pool, another two guest rooms, and then our new house at the end.

An overview of the new plan. You can see the existing farmhouse buildings on the far left. Then, from left to right, it’s the cafe plus two guest rooms, the pool, another two guest rooms, and then our new house at the end.

The cafe will have big french doors out onto the terrace area.  There's also a higher ceiling as the roof is common but the floor is lower. This seems to make the building blend into the slope a bit more.

The cafe will have big french doors out onto the terrace area. There’s also a higher ceiling as the roof is common but the floor is lower. This seems to make the building blend into the slope a bit more.

Plan view of the cafe, kitchen,and two guest rooms.

Plan view of the cafe, kitchen,and two guest rooms.

The double bungalow above the pool.

The double bungalow above the pool.

Interior of a typical guest room.

Interior of a typical guest room.

Interior view of our house.  Always wanted a mezzanine!

Interior view of our house. Always wanted a mezzanine!

 

Spring is here

Fantastic news: spring has arrived in south-west Turkey. We had some long cold nights through winter, but now there are wild flowers in the fields and new growth everywhere.  The first buds and leaves are out on our grapevines — soon we will have our green canopy again.

Our village by night.  (One day this will be the view from the restaurant terrace.)

The village on a cold winter night.

Spring flowers.

Spring flowers.

Cherry blossoms near Şirince.

Peach blossoms near Şirince.

And it’s not just plants coming out. One sunny morning a chameleon turned up in our back garden and I was lucky enough to get some pictures. At first we thought he was an escaped pet, but it turns out they’re native to Turkey and some other parts of the Mediterranean as well as Africa and India.  He was an impressive character, although he didn’t do a lot of colour-changing.

Chameleon suns himself on the roof of a dog house.

Chameleon suns himself on the roof of a dog house: both the dogs and the cats were not sure what to make of him.

The warmer weather has brought human visitors too.  My brother Sean and his family flew in from Vienna last week.  It was great to see them, and also great to have an excuse to put down our tools for a while and revisit places like Magnesia and Şirince.

The theatre at Magnesia — looking a little flooded with spring rain.  it was too dark for photos last time we were there.

The theatre at Magnesia — looking a little flooded with spring rain. It was too dark for photos last time we were there.

We also got to explore the Dilek National Park (Milli Park in Turkish) out on the Mycale peninsula.  (This had started to become a bit of an embarrassment for us: on two previous attempts last summer the authorities foiled our visit plans with the simple countermeasure of a 4pm closing time.)  So glad we finally got there.  The park is fantastic and we will be recommending it to all our future visitors.  It has beautiful, secluded beaches that look across to the Greek island of Samos.

Stone tower on a quiet beach in the national park.

Stone tower on a quiet beach in the national park.

A picnic table as close to the sea as anyone could want.  That is my brother being dynamic and sporty in the background.

A picnic table as close to the sea as anyone could want. That is my brother being dynamic and sporty in the background.

Much of the park isn’t accessible by car but only on foot.  We tried the first section of one of the many walking trails.  Doing the whole trail would have been quite a walk: it goes straight up and over the ridge of Mount Mycale (1237 metres).  But at least the first part, walking through deep canyons with little streams running through them, would be the perfect escape from summer heat.  And I really enjoyed getting an impression of what the landscape around here might have looked like before human settlement.

Walking path in the park.

Walking path in the park.

Stream coming down from the mountains.

Stream coming down from the mountains.

I’m sure we’ll be back soon.  As spring turns to summer we have lots more visiting friends and family lined up.  And that beach in proper swimming weather will be amazing. (We hear that it’s also an excellent spot for diving.)

On to construction and renovation topics: well, the kitchen is nearly there.  If I was a more disciplined person I would hold out and only show you the photos once it was 100% finished, but I can’t help myself.  I’m quite proud of what we’ve done with it, and the work definitely makes our life more comfortable.

The current state of the kitchen: ready for floor-levelling, tiling, and building a new worktop.

From this…

From Sketchup plan...

via a Sketchup plan…

to this!

to this!

We like the new splashback tiles a lot, and we were very happy when, having wrestled the corner wall cupboard section into position, it stayed up as the plans suggested it should.  Not much left now: there are a few cupboard doors still to build, and the worktops need to be tiled.  But then it will finally be done.

Wall units above the worktop, with a corner shelf for cookbooks.

Wall units above the worktop, with a corner shelf for cookbooks. The walls are made from clay bricks, so I didn’t want to drill into them: everything is supported from the floor upwards.

View from the doorway showing the sink, the dishwasher, and the new marble-tiled splashback.

View from the doorway showing the sink, the dishwasher, and the new marble-tiled splashback.

With the perfect weather for laying concrete nearly upon us, we’ve been talking to our favourite civil engineer and architect team, as well as surveying our block with a tape measure and a home-made water level.  We’re making a few revisions to our original plans, now that we’ve lived here for a while and know the land better.  We’re also happy to move our planned buildings around a bit if it will save some trees — will show the new layout in a future post.  The day we actually start pouring foundations up in the orchard will be our biggest milestone.

And I can’t let you go without at least one pet picture, can I?  Here’s Zeliş looking sad and dignified at the same time.

Our beautiful dog Zeliş.

Our beautiful dog Zeliş.

Going up-river

We hit a minor milestone last Friday: we finished the tiling and painting work on the third of the farmhouse bedrooms. This will definitely help with accommodating future visitors, but it also gave us the space to unpack almost all of the remaining boxes from our move. It was good to see our books again, for example.

Our third and final farmhouse bedroom, tiled and painted.

Our third and final farmhouse bedroom, tiled and painted.

Two dogs means two dog houses.

Two dogs means two dog houses.

Zeliş needed a dog house to keep warm just as much as Zeytin did, so that was one afternoon’s construction work. Still needs to be painted though.

The kitchen is still not finished, which makes me feel guilty. But there’s progress all the time: here’s a shot of the new pantry, and you can see our rustic handmade drawers on the right.

Kitchen progress.

Kitchen progress.

We’ve reached the stage now where it’s time to lay the backsplash and countertop tiles. We already bought ornately decorated hexagonal tiles for the worktop, but we needed something complementary for the backsplash. Sirem had heard that there were great stone tiles to be had in Denizli, a city a few hours away up the Menderes Valley. It was time to take a drive up-river.

The Menderes valley looking from west to east.

The Menderes valley looking from west to east.

A brief geography reminder: we live on the north side of the valley of the Menderes river, which for the Ancient Greeks was the Meander or Maiandros. Nowadays the valley is known as a great place to grow figs, but in the ancient world it was the start of the main route from Europe into Asia. Most of Turkey is one big mountainous plateau, and the valley of the Meander gave an easy approach into the Anatolian interior, avoiding the steep mountains of the south coast. It’s weird to think that Xerxes, Xenophon, and Alexander the Great all travelled up or down the valley and probably within a few kilometres of our house. (For more historical background, if anyone is curious, we recommend Jeremy Seal’s excellent book Meander: East to West along a Turkish River, which two different sets of friends gave us as a very appropriate gift.)

On the map above, Denizli is right up at the top of the valley, near Pamukkale, which is a big tourist attraction because of its unique limestone terraces. We visited Pamukkale on  a holiday years ago, and we must have driven west down the main valley road as there’s no other way to get to Ephesus, our next stop. But we don’t have a clear memory of that drive, and this time around we have never gone further inland than Aydin. So the day felt like an expedition into new territory.

View across the Menderes valley near Pamukkale.

View across the Menderes valley near Pamukkale.

The mountains either side of the upper valley reach 2000 metres and more, so there was still plenty of snow on the peaks. We stopped at Pamukkale but it didn’t photograph well on an overcast day, so I have shamelessly stolen a picture from Wikimedia Commons. As you can see, it’s worth a visit in summer.

The terraces at Pamukkale. Not my photo: credit goes Antoine Taveneaux and Wikimedia Commons.

The terraces at Pamukkale. Not my photo: credit goes to Antoine Taveneaux and Wikimedia Commons.

After some searching we found the tile place we were looking for. I think the guy who helped us was maybe used to larger pallet-sized orders, but he graciously did not complain about helping us to count out several hundred individual tiles and load them into the back of the truck. In the rain. We’re very happy with them: the lighter marble squares are for the kitchen backsplash, and the chunky stone tiles are to make a kind of skirting-board in the oldest bedroom that should protect the base of the mud-brick walls.

Stone tiles from Denizli.

Stone tiles from Denizli.

And now I should go and feed some hungry dogs. Until next time!

Winter brings more animals

It’s February already. How did that happen?

I have to confess that January wasn’t our most productive month. We’re not too worried though. More than half of our rainfall comes between December and February, and on rainy days there’s nothing for it but to sit inside and drink coffee and watch movies. That should change in the future: as we empty out the last of the moving boxes in the barn, there’ll be more space to do carpentry in there. But for now the courtyard is our workspace and so if it’s wet, we have a quiet day.

The bigger confession, and maybe another reason for low productivity, is that our animal population has grown again. I know, I know: that’s not what we’re supposed to be doing. We’re supposed to be building a hotel / fig-farming empire, not playing pet rescue with all the local strays. The problem is it’s very hard to say no when the animal in question is cold and wet and hungry and outside your front gate.

Meet Zeliş, our new dog.

Meet Zeliş, our new dog.

This is Zeliş. We found her out in the street, looking dangerously thin. We tried feeding her by the roadside for a while, but during the January cold snap we were worried she might freeze. She didn’t have a protective layer of fat, and she seemed to have  had a tough time in general: just a very skinny, submissive, and sad-looking dog. So she went from being a street dog to a yard dog, like Zeytin before her.

Zeytin and Zeliş at play.

Zeytin and Zeliş at play.

Luckily the two of them get on very well. Zeliş is a kangal which means she’s been bred for guarding sheep and fighting off wolves (!).  She’s already big and she’s going to be huge once she puts some weight back on. But, luckily for us, she is extremely sweet-tempered. She barks if there’s a noise in the night, which is good for security I suppose, but I think an actual intruder would probably get licked to death.

Sirem with Zeliş. Dogs love hugs.

Sirem with Zeliş. Dogs love hugs.

Unfortunately for Zeliş, her previous owners chopped off her ears. There’s a misguided belief around here that says you have to do that so the dog will hear better and won’t have floppy ears for another dog or a wolf to latch onto in a fight. It’s a real shame, but we try not to make her feel self-conscious about it.

Sookie the kitten.

Sookie the kitten. Could you reject this animal?

We also have a new kitten, Sookie. We did try really hard not to have a new kitten. We told the neighbour who brought her to us (as a crying wet little bundle in the middle of a thunderstorm) that this was not on, and never to do it again. We even found a new owner via the internet, and drove Sookie to Izmir to meet her new adoptive family. She lasted about four days. Bothering the other cats in the apartment, constantly growling, and crapping everywhere. She seemed to be of the firm opinion that our place was her real home. So we drove to Izmir again and brought her back.

Sookie yawning.

Sookie yawning.

Sookie stretching.

Sookie stretching.

Sookie is named for one of the characters from the show True Blood (if you’re a fan of that show, note that I am increasingly thinking we should have called her Jessica because of how much she enjoys biting people). She has almost exactly the same calico colouring as one of our other cats, Sutlaç, who is also from the village. So we’re thinking they’re probably sisters, and somewhere around here is a mother cat who really needs to be snipped.

Sam looking all grown-up and handsome.

Sookie’s nephew (?) Sam looking all grown-up and handsome. Don’t tell the other cats but I think he may be the best-looking one.

All the other cats are doing well, although some of them think Sookie is a bit of a pain.  There’s still a bit of an apartheid system with the Turkish cats living outside in a heated cat-box and the English ones tending to come inside, but the boundaries are blurring now that we have installed some cat flaps in two of the bedroom doors. We will see how long the outside cats take to figure out that they can potentially be inside cats now.

Sookie's other nephew Sezar looking intrepid.

Sookie’s other nephew Sezar looking intrepid.

Donkey is feeling a bit morose.

Donkey is feeling a bit morose.

We’ve also adopted a donkey!

No, I’m kidding. We are not quite that crazy. This is a picture of our neighbour’s donkey grazing on the side of the road. She doesn’t look too happy but I guess donkeys usually don’t.

In other more practical news, we have made some progress in the kitchen. But I’m determined to stop showing you embarrassingly incremental photos of that and just get to the end of the process as soon as we can. In the garden we’ve started building a big hügelkultur bed: basically a raised bed with lots of old, rotting wood underneath the soil to act as a water reservoir in the drier months.  We’ve fixed some leaks in the barn roof by taking sections of the old Roman tiles down, cleaning them, and replacing the cracked ones. And we are only one more tiling and grouting session away from having all three bedrooms renovated.

Finally, after being told off by our postman for not having a letterbox, we built this one.

Our new letterbox.

Our new letterbox.

Although we’ve had a run of rain over the last week or so, I don’t want to give the impression that there are no sunny days. In late January Sirem’s sister Çisem was visiting so we took her over to Kuşadası to see what the beachfront promenade looked like in winter. Some of the cafes were still open and we had a really nice lunch.

Winter sun at the beach with Çisem.

Winter sun at the beach with Çisem.

Taken from the same spot: a view of the Greek island of Samos.

Taken from the same spot: a view of the Greek island of Samos.

Sunset in Kuşadası.

Sunset in Kuşadası.

A few days later we had a chance to see one more of the amazing ancient Greek sites in the area. We were in Didim, a seaside town about an hour down the coast, and stopped off at the Temple of Apollo, which was the religious centrepiece of the ancient city of Didyma.  Most of the other ruins we’ve seen are in splendid isolation out in the countryside, but the Temple of Apollo just rears up from its surroundings in suburban Didim.  Incredible stuff.

The Temple of Apollo.

The Temple of Apollo.

It must have been spectacular in its day...

It must have been spectacular in its day…

Not in the script

We moved to this warm, sunny corner of Turkey partly because we were tired of UK winters. You can therefore imagine how thrilled we have been to get a blast of cold weather from Siberia. On the coldest day, the maximum was only two degrees, and at night it got down to minus seven. I know that’s nothing for readers from places like Canada or Scandinavia, but it felt pretty cold to us!  Very tough conditions for the local stray dogs and cats, too, so we’ve been trying to help them out as much as possible.

Snow on the peaks.

Snow on the peaks.

People in the village are telling us it’s the coldest weather they’ve seen for fifty years.  Neighbours have lost crops like spinach and broad beans, which is a shame — these weren’t crops for sale, but to make their winter diet a bit more interesting.

We switched bedrooms to help stay warm: we had been in one of the newer farmhouse rooms as it’s a bit larger, but moved back to the small bedroom in the old house. Compared to the basic breeze-block construction of the newer buildings, the half-a-metre-thick mud-brick walls of the old place make it so much easier to stay warm. Which is probably a good sign for what we can expect from our straw bale walls in winter.

The truck has coped well with some winter mud.

The truck has coped well with winter driving conditions.

I suppose the good news is that this was just a freak weather event, and not something we should expect every year.  And the dusting of snow on the hills and mountains did look great.

Not so much snow in this shot, but you can see how green the landscape looks from all that winter rain. That's the town of Selçuk in the distance, with part of the ruins of Ephesus in the left foreground.

Not so much snow in this shot, but you can see how green the landscape looks from all that winter rain. That’s the town of Selçuk in the distance, with part of the ruins of Ephesus in the left foreground.

Yesterday things turned warmer so we got some work done, but today there’s been a big downpour of rain: we’re expecting about 30 mm.  A great excuse to sit in a warm room with a coffee and write blog posts.

Sam looking fat and happy: the warm-milk ration has been increased because of the cold weather.

Sam looking fat and happy: the warm-milk ration has been increased because of the cold weather.

Marlowe drinking from a bucket and thereby doing his best Nosferatu impression.

Marlowe drinking from a bucket and thereby doing his best Nosferatu impression.

 

 

More local discoveries

It’s getting colder now. Late last night the thermometer went into single figures (9 degrees) for the first time. But most days are pleasant and sunny, and we’re pushing on with a long list of projects. Small steps, but we’re getting there. For example, we had a solar hot water system installed on the roof today, and I spent the afternoon pulling down the last of the old shed so we can re-use the bricks to make raised beds in the garden.

Still, that kind of activity doesn’t necessarily lead to good photos. So I’ve decided to use this post to show you more of the beautiful towns and landscapes we’ve found on our days off,  touring around what was once Ionia.

First, Şirince: this pretty town in the mountains is very popular and worth the drive up from Selçuk. Local mythology says it was founded by escaped slaves from Ephesus. Until 1926 it was called Çirkince (“ugly”) which was apparently a strategy to discourage too many visitors.

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Distinctive Greek architectural influences.

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View from the window of the old Byzantine church.

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Looking across the rooftops as the sun sets.

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Shop selling fabric.

On another trip we visited some friends who were staying in the much quieter village of Eski Doğanbey, on the south side of the Dilek National Park peninsula. This place has a similar Greek heritage to Şirince. Both villages were inhabited by Greeks during Ottoman times, and it was only in the earliest days of the new Turkish state, during the population exchanges of 1923, that Turkish farmers first moved in. In Eski Doğanbey those farmers found that they preferred working the flatter, more fertile land down in the Menderes valley, and so the town was abandoned for many years. In recent decades  people have started restoring the traditional stone houses, but the village remains a quiet place to get away from everything.

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Looking south from  Eski Doğanbey to the mouth of the Menderes and the Aegean sea.

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Restored house with fantastic bay window.

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Streets of  Eski Doğanbey by moonlight.

We also returned to the mountains behind our house. We tried a different road this time, east to İncirliova (halfway to Aydın) and then north, across the hills to Tire. It is very special up there.

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Pine forest, lake, and sweeping views in the mountains.

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Top left shows geological strata in a road cutting; bottom right there’s a tiny farmhouse.

And finally, the latest animal-related drama: we always suspected that Sütlaç had had a litter of kittens in summer. They must have been under our noses all along, as the three of them are now living in the field across from our house, and we’re feeding them regularly. Aydın has a shelter for dogs, but there’s nowhere to take cats, so the responsibility is on us.

They’re just a bit too timid to allow themselves to be picked up (yet), but are very sweet nevertheless.

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More kittens.

Ephesus

More from our backlog of tourism activities…

The ancient city of Ephesus is around 3000 years old and around 30 minutes drive from our place. It’s by far the biggest tourist attraction in this part of Turkey. I read somewhere that it’s the third most visited site in all of Turkey, after Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia and Topkapı Palace. With all those visitors, it does tend to get a little crowded; especially in summer when there are multiple cruise ships per day docking at nearby Kuşadası, disgorging Ephesus-bound passengers by the coach-load. Still, all those people visit for a reason: it’s utterly spectacular. It’s also, I think, one of the best places to get a sense of what everyday life might have been like in the ancient world.

So if you come and visit us, assume that we’re going to devote at least a day to Ephesus.

Ephesus is surrounded by dry Mediterranean hills. This used to be the shoreline, before the harbour silted up.

Ephesus is surrounded by dry Mediterranean hills. This hill would once have looked out over the city’s harbour, before it silted up.

It’s a big site, and it can be hot, so it’s important to bring some water. There is, however, no shortage of shops willing to sell you freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice (or pretty much anything else) at either exit.

The view down Curetes Street: the ruins of baths, shops, private houses, temples, etc.

The view down Curetes Street: the ruins of baths, shops, private houses, temples, etc.

Like most of the tourists, we started at the upper entrance and worked our way through town. It’s quite a walk: about two kilometres. In some places you’re looking at tumbled stones with an archaeological sketch suggesting what once was, and in other places there have been painstaking excavations and reconstructions. You get to see both the big, spectacular stuff — the theatre, temples, the famous library, two different agoras — but also smaller things like houses and even the remains of a public bathroom. For me, the smaller-scale buildings made it easier to imagine what life might have been like here. There’s also impressive tile-work and sculpture all over the place.

I wish I was enough of an expert to tell you what this frieze is depicting.

Bas-relief sculpture. That’s definitely a sheep so I am assuming he is a shepherd. [Correction! A sharp-eyed and historically knowledgeable reader has pointed out that the winged sandals and winged staff mean this is the god Hermes. In my defence, he is at least the god of shepherds.]

Mosaic tiles. I don't know for sure, but I think this might have been the porch of someone's house.

Colourful mosaic tiles. I don’t know for sure, but I think this might have been the porch of someone’s house.

Stone arch featuring Medusa?

Stone arch: look at the detail!

Pomegranate trees among the ruins. I'd like to think the tree is a descended from the original Ephesian orchards.

Pomegranate trees among the ruins. I’d like to think the tree is descended from the original Ephesian orchards.

The library of Celsus is Ephesus’s most famous landmark. Being a photographer who embraces cliché, of course I had to get a picture of it.

Ephesus was founded around 1000 BC by the Ionians (Greek colonists) but the library dates from the much later Roman period, around 100 AD. You can imagine that the original building was very imposing.

The reconstructed facade of the Library of Celsus.

The reconstructed facade of the library of Celsus.

When I first saw the library, on a previous trip to Turkey years ago, I thought that the builders must have done very well given that it was still standing so many centuries later. And in an earthquake zone, too! The truth is more complicated: the library did indeed fall down in an earthquake in 262 AD. Only the facade remained, but that collapsed too in a later quake. The columns and sculptures of the facade are so well preserved because they were buried for many years, before a faithful reconstruction was carried out during the 1960s and 1970s.

Looking back up Curetes Street. More people than Magnesia, that's for sure.

Looking back up Curetes Street. More people than Magnesia, that’s for sure.

The agora.

The larger of the two agoras, close to the old harbour.

Stone pillar with inscriptions; 25,000 seat theatre in the background.

Stone pillar with inscriptions; 25,000 seat theatre in the background.

That was our day at Ephesus. Afterwards we took our visitors for dinner and a swim at Pamucak beach, which is just down the road. (The Küçük Menderes river used to flow into Ephesus’s harbour, but after centuries of silt deposits it now reaches the sea five kilometres away at Pamucak.) History followed by a beer on the beach seems a good day out to me.

Magnesia underestimated

We’re still feeling pretty low after the events of last week — and thanks, everyone, for all the support. Fortunately, I guess, we have a backlog of earlier activities to talk about.

In August we visited the ruins of Magnesia for the first time. We were especially interested because it’s the closest of the many ancient sites around the Menderes valley. That first visit we were impressed, but we missed out on seeing the stadium and the theatre as a walk up into the hills didn’t feel like a great plan in the heat. We should have been more adventurous…

In mid-September we went back with our visiting friends Berkan and Sofie. I was struck again by how the road and the railway line cut right through the old city walls, making for strange pairings of ancient and modern.

Truck driving through ancient Magnesia.

Truck driving through ancient Magnesia.

The honey-coloured stone is at its best as the sun sets.

The stone is at its best as the sun sets.

Don't blame Berkan for this: I asked him to pose like that.

Don’t blame Berkan for this: I asked him to pose like that.

It turns out that you don’t have to walk up into the hills to see the stadium. There’s a dirt access road that’s separate from the official entrance to the ruins, so a) you can drive in, and b) you can do it any time. The road goes past orchards and farmhouses and then you park by a massive wall of stone blocks. But nothing prepares you for the scale of the place as you walk around the corner and see row after row of stone seating dug out of the hillside. It’s an experience that will stay with me for some time. (Here’s the spot on Google Maps, if anyone is curious.)

Forgive the cheesiness, but in the three photos below I’ve circled the human figures in red. It was the only way I could think of to get across some sense of scale.

Taken from up on the western side of the stadium. That's Sirem sitting inside the red circle.

Taken from up on the western side of the stadium. That’s Sirem sitting inside the red circle.

Parts of the stadium are still buried; that huge ramp of dirt is what remains for the archaeologists to dig out.

Parts of the stadium are still buried; that huge ramp of dirt is what remains for the archaeologists to dig out.

The open end of the stadium looks out to the north, across cotton fields and towns.

The open end of the stadium looks out to the north, across cotton fields and towns to the hills beyond.

Half-buried column showing the fantastic colours in the stone.

Half-buried column showing the fantastic colours in the stone.

So, Magnesia is even more amazing than we thought, and we’re lucky to live so close to it. We spent nearly an hour wandering around the stadium, and the four of us were the only people there the whole time. I think that shows just how rich Turkey is in archaeological treasures: if this sort of structure was in most other countries, there’d be a crowd and a queue to get in.

The theatre was not quite on the same monumental scale, but was very beautiful, and also totally devoid of people. Unfortunately it was dark by the time we got there, so no photos yet. But that just gives us an excuse for another visit.

It’s a new car!

Well, not new exactly. More like 2007.

We were feeling increasingly guilty about borrowing Sirem’s mum and dad’s car. And we needed something capable of carrying a load of timber or tiles or plants home, but also able to pick up four people and luggage from the airport. So we bought a double-cab Toyota Hilux. We heard they were tough and reliable: you do tend to see them on the news being driven around conflict zones, for example. Very happy with it so far.

The new truck. Our transformation into proper rednecks is now complete.

The new truck. Our transformation into proper rednecks is now complete.

Better have a road trip to test it out, right? We had to go to Izmir anyway, to sort out some paperwork for our here-any-day-now container. So on the way back we got off the highway and drove to the town of Tire, in the next valley north of ours. Then home via some narrow, winding roads across the mountains.

It was a bit of a gamble, as we weren’t 100% sure there was a proper road going all the way across. But we’re so happy we took the chance: the scenery was breathtaking. We knew that our place sat in the foothills of a decent-sized mountain range, but we didn’t realize how beautiful and secluded it was up there.

Looking north, with Tire in the distance.

Looking north, with Tire in the distance.

The view across to the other side of the Kuçuk Menderes valley.

The view across to the other side of the Küçük  Menderes valley.

The first part of the drive we were climbing with views of the farmland around Tire. Then we got over the ridge and we were up into a different world. Steep hillsides covered with figs even at that altitude, and deep ravines sheltering villages of old stone houses. It was so quiet up there, and at least 5 degrees cooler than down on the plain.

Range after range of hills, looking east.

Range after range of hills, looking east.

You get the feeling they don't really need the fence. There was nobody around.

You get the feeling they don’t really need the fence. There was nobody around.

We have to go back soon…

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