Ionia Guest House

Luxury accommodation in the Aegean countryside

Month: February 2015

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…

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