Ionia Guest House

Luxury accommodation in the Aegean countryside

Tag: animals

Strange days

It’s been a year since we last spoke. Apparently you’re supposed to write a post at least once a month, otherwise your blog is a ghost town… but let’s not dwell on that.

On the bright side, a lot has happened and I have plenty of photos to share. By the way, if you’re interested in far more timely updates on what we’re doing, please do have a look at Sirem’s Instagram account.

Obviously COVID-19, lockdowns, and quarantine have profoundly affected millions of people’s lives over the last few months. We hope everyone is getting through this difficult period as best they can. It must be particularly tough for those of you living in apartments with not much access to outside space. The embarrassing truth for us is that the pandemic has hardly changed our lives at all. Of course Turkey had a strict lockdown period, and we now wear a mask to go to the shops. But most of the things we do continue as before. Turns out we were already pretty socially distanced!

Swallow using our pool as a drinking bowl.

Let’s start back at last summer. Every year as it gets warmer swallows start to appear in our skies. Presumably they’ve flown up from Africa. They particularly like drinking from our pool. This year I was ready for them and lay in wait with the zoom lens. They move so fast that it’s really hard to get a good photo: for every decent shot there were dozens that were out-of-focus. This was the best one I managed.

Last summer was our busiest so far in terms of guests. (Ah, the “before times”.) Most days were spent cooking, cleaning, and looking after people, and thus construction slowed right down. Not to complain though: it was great to have some money coming in, and it’s always very satisfying to see people enjoying the place.

Dean and Nala were two guests we won’t forget in a hurry. One fine morning Dean pushed his bicycle up our steep driveway. (I knew we would get on as we were both wearing Crocs.) He then revealed Nala, his lovely cat, sitting in a basket on the handlebars. Dean is on a mission to cycle around the world, and he had found Nala as a lost roadside kitten in Bosnia that he couldn’t bear to leave behind. They’d had a tough couple of days on the road from Izmir and a couple of flat tyres in a row and I think our place was a nice break for them both.

Visit from intrepid cyclist Dean and his cat Nala.

They had a really close bond, unsurprisingly. Nala was amazingly good at travelling and sitting in the bike basket for hours on end. There was much discussion about how none of our cats would tolerate it for more than ten seconds.

Their travels have been interrupted a bit by COVID-19 and border closures, but they’re still on the road and you can see their further adventures here. I should add that Dean is a great guy and is raising a lot of money for animal charities.

Street kitten living in our old barn.

Speaking of cats, as we often do: this is a shot of a beautiful grey and white kitten who we first noticed in late summer, when we realized her mum was raising her in our old barn. We still have roughly the same number of official pets, but a lot of the local strays, especially cats, have a kind of satellite status. They know that they can always drop in for some food, basically. The little one in the photo is now fully grown and a bit wild, but definitely still around. I regret that we missed our window to catch her and take her to the vet for vaccinations and spaying.

One thing that surprised us last year was the number of times we got requests from families to set up the room for mum, dad, and two kids. We thought that maybe we should have seen that request coming and promptly built a couple of single beds on wheels. Combined with the existing sofa in each room this gives us a lot more flexibility. Also, when they’re not in use, and with some appropriate cushions added, the single beds can double as flat sun-lounges by the pool.

Room set up with an extra bed for families. Back to front: original double bed, new roll-in single bed, and sofa-that-doubles-as-a-single-bed.

Summer turned to autumn, as it tends to do. We decided to pick our olives earlier this year, so that we could try for extra-virgin olive oil, using the cold-press machinery that our local pressing plant has had installed. You get a lower yield (maybe 20% less oil?) but it does taste amazing.

Olive harvest comes around again.

And then suddenly it was winter. The weather can still be nice here all the way through November, but there’s always a day in December when it’s properly cold and you realize you have eight or ten weeks of chilly weather and frequent rain to look forward to. The cats of course respond by spending more time inside and more time lying around (if that’s possible).

Coco and Suzie on the sofa.
Cezmi in the cafe.
Our little village in winter.
Zorro looking handsome, during a break in the rain.

With guest numbers naturally tailing off as the weather got colder, it was time for us to re-assess where we stood on building the house. Here’s how it looked on the 5th of December 2019.

State of the house, 5 Dec 2019.

We had managed to get some of the rafters up, but in truth it didn’t look all that different from the way it had a year earlier. (In our defence, there’d been a lot of work to do on finishing rooms three and four in the intervening months.)

Comparison shot: state of the house, 6 Dec 2018.

One of the reasons progress was so slow was that with just Sirem, Çisem, and myself doing the work, we had to do all the heavy lifting of rafters using ropes and pulleys. That’s all fine, it works well and is safe, but it takes ages to set up the rigging in a new position. And so we would typically manage only a couple of rafters a day.

Sirem and I raising a rafter with rope and pulleys. (Thanks, JP, for the photo.)
Roof from the inside, late Dec 2019. Slow going.

So we decided we needed some help. We thought that the timber frame of the house had been exposed to the elements for long enough and it was time to get the roof on as soon as possible. We hired a couple of local guys and that worked out well. Progress was much faster.

State of the house, 2 Feb 2020. Main rafters complete, flying rafters still to go.

We also rented some proper scaffolding, as you can see in the shot above. That helped a lot in making it safer to do work at height. It’s 5.4 metres from the main roof beam down to the concrete slab, so you really don’t want to come down the hard way.

By the 24th of February it was starting to look like a proper roof. The flying rafters were up (that’s the pair that seem to “float” at the front there). All the planks were on except that we’d left a nicely framed hole for the chimney flue to go through. We’d also started building the posts for the south veranda.

State of the house, 24 Feb. This is the south end of the house and that will be the front door, to the left of the central column.

Around this time I took the camera up on the roof and got a full panorama of the view. With the extra elevation up there you can see down to Germencik and the Meander Valley beyond. I really like this shot because it’s the best way I can think of to place the house into the surrounding landscape. (The centre of the photo is north if you’re curious.)

Rooftop 360 degree panorama. Try right-clicking and opening in a new window or tab as it’s quite a large image.

Then it was time to lug rolls and rolls of bitumen membrane plus a couple of thousand tiles up onto the roof and actually do the part that keeps the rain off. Laying the tiles isn’t so bad; it’s getting them up there that’s hard.

Roof tiles are on at last: 25 Mar 2020.
From this angle you can see the veranda structure and the framing for six upstairs windows.
One day soon this will be the open-plan kitchen and lounge room.
Detail of some of the south-facing windows upstairs.
Chimney successfully installed. Got to be careful to make sure everything close to it is heat-resistant.
Google maps helping out by updating their aerial imagery to show all three buildings with a roof on.

And then at the end of March, people finally realized how serious coronavirus was and the country closed down, basically. Regrettably we had to let our two new guys go: we had hoped to give them at least a month or two of additional work. (Apologies, Recep and Murat. You worked really hard and we appreciate it.)

So the early months of 2020 were mostly about getting a roof on the house, but that doesn’t mean we did absolutely nothing else. There is always time to take photos of the dogs, for example.

Zelis being shy and adorable.
Zeytin with baskets.

I never get tired of the rich colours of winter sunsets around here. (I know, I know, I have posted similar photos before, but bear with me.)

January sunset.
Sunset with minaret.

I had a very unusual day out when I was invited to the Germencik camel wrestling festival. I’ve known about this one for a while but hadn’t seen it before. (I confess to being disappointed when I learned that the wrestling was camel vs. camel and not man-against-camel.)

So, a surprising number of local families keep camels. I think that many decades ago they were used as a proper pack animal and now they’re more of a prestige thing. You don’t see much of the camels throughout the year but in January everyone dresses their camel up in a fancy harness and takes it down to the local showground for the main event.

Two camels wrestling. Each is using its neck and shoulders to try to force the other one to the ground.

I’m not 100% sure how I feel about this one. Clearly it’s a big thing on the local calendar, and it was nice to see some of our neighbours getting a rare opportunity to socialize and drink rakı and watch some wrestling. It’s not quite clear how the camels feel about it. They seem to lead a very quiet life for the rest of the year so perhaps they’re up for a bit of aggro. And to be fair, they’re seen as much too valuable to allow them to seriously hurt each other: if two camels really get stuck into it they’re quickly dragged apart with ropes.

Camel wrangling.

Definitely something different. Come in January if you’d like to see it.

Just before the lockdown hit we had a visit from an old friend and that gave us an excuse to take him to Miletus, one of the ancient Greek cities in the area, and one we hadn’t seen much of. Miletus was the home of Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes, so you can make a case for it being the birthplace of philosophy, apparently.

Philosophy aside, they certainly knew how to make monumental things out of stone. It’s yet another really impressive site in our valley.

Stone arches at Miletus.
Conversation in the temple, pre social distancing.

We’ve been slowly teaching ourselves how to make videos, and we used the emergence of spring colour in the garden as a theme for our first effort. You can choose between Sirem’s version that uses only ambient sound and has a calm, Zen-like atmosphere…

…or my version, with an entirely inappropriate blues-funk soundtrack and some jarring “I just learned how to edit!” cuts.

And of course we can’t go a whole year without adopting any new animals. So here is a quick look at Leo, who was found wet and miserable and angry and hungry on a cold day in January. He had grown up a bit by the time this video was filmed, and he’s now a very happy and extremely annoying cat. But we love him.

That’s almost everything. Thank you to everybody who came to visit last year, and a shout-out to all the people who had bookings for this year and have understandably had to cancel. We hope to see you all again one day when the world has gone back to normal.

In the meantime we’re back to working on our own and we’re pushing on with the house. On the north side there’s going to be a raised porch with insect screens, and we finished the framework for that a couple of weeks ago.

North porch taking shape.

One of the current jobs is putting in a floor for the upstairs bedroom area. Careful work as you have to get the nails in at 45 degrees inside the groove of the tongue-and-groove floorboards. That way they don’t show later on.

Starting to put in the upstairs floorboards.

And things move fast enough that my photos are already out of date. In fact the straw for the walls was delivered two days ago, and is now stacked neatly in what’s going to be the kitchen. But I don’t have any photos of that yet (Sirem does though!).

Thanks for reading.

Hello again

Well that was quite a gap between updates. Sorry! Not that it’s any excuse, but I was ill with a mystery bug and didn’t feel like making blog posts or doing anything much else for a while. Feeling better now though, cheers for asking.

We were also busy with guests, which is a good problem to have. Thanks especially to the growing group of people who’ve stayed with us more than once. It’s a fantastic vote of confidence when people want to come back.

Pool still looking inviting in November.

Or sit, have a drink, and watch the sun set.

Latest news on the construction front is that, by mutual agreement, Koray is no longer working with us. He was on the job for over two years, he did a huge amount of work, and we’ll always be grateful for his contribution. We wish him all the best in his new worm-compost business.

Of course there’s still a lot to do before rooms three and four are guest-ready and before we have a new house. And now it’s all on us (with some help from family and friends). Exciting but also a little scary. For example, lifting the big beams into place on previous buildings was always a job for Koray and me. With half of that team gone, it pushed us to think about how on earth we were going to get the beams and rafters into place on the new house.

So we went out and bought rope and pulleys in order to set up a block-and-tackle system. Probably should have done it years ago actually. Three pulley wheels at the top and three at the bottom makes for a six-times mechanical advantage, not counting friction on the rope. And they work really well. I know this is not exactly new technology but it does feel very cool to be able to lift a 180kg beam a couple of metres into the air with one hand.

Lifting one of our largest beams with the new block and tackle.

In fact it was Sirem and Çisem who did the actual lifting when it came time to put up the heaviest two beams in the whole project. I had the easy job of shepherding each end into place and getting some safety screws in to hold them there.

Here’s a shot of both beams in place. The one on the left is down the spine of the house and has the important job of holding up a column that will support the ridge beam for the roof. The one on the right is to make a pair of them so we can build a catwalk upstairs, heading out over the double-height space of the main room. All just so people can appreciate the view from the south window up there. Anyway, I’m sure the cats will enjoy it one day.

Support for the roof beams and a catwalk.

Catwalk completed!

The catwalk is not the safest place to be right now, particularly after it’s been raining, as there are no railings yet. The view is worth it though. And it provides some much-needed scaffolding for the roof work that’s coming soon. Currently we’ve put up the upstairs columns, so the next step is to get the ridge beam up. After that it’s the 48 rafters, then planks, membrane, tiles, and voilà, we’ll have a roof.

Upper-level columns going up with plenty of temporary diagonal bracing.

You can just about see what the roof line will be like.

We’re rushing to get the roof onto our house right now because it would be great to get the timber frame protected (parts of it have been up for about a year) and a covered space would be very handy for storing equipment and straw bales. Before that, though, we did get room three to a habitable condition: here’s the bathroom looking a lot more civilized than the last time you saw it.

Bathroom looking better now.

Room three front door. Changed the design a little.

Room three feels so habitable now that we are in fact inhabiting it. Such is life. It’s good to no longer be competing with our own guests for winter accommodation in rooms one and two. And getting back to work on room four (which is currently plastered but doesn’t have windows) is the next big part of the project once the house has a roof. We’ll get there.

We took time out from house-building the other day for a minor safety improvement to building one: we have this loft space above the kitchen (which will be even more useful once we put some better shelving in). It’s been dangerous to be up there as there was nothing to stop you from falling down the ladder back into the kitchen. So, some angle iron, a bit of welding, a bit of painting, and we have a safety railing. Backing down the ladder doesn’t feel nearly so weird now.

New safety railing for the kitchen loft; should stop us breaking our necks.

It hasn’t all been work. My old friend Richard came to visit, and to celebrate we all went to the beach in Dilek National Park. I’ve known Richard since 1995 and have missed a few important developments in his life since moving here, so it was great to be able to catch up.

Richard came to visit. Wow, I really need a haircut.

Candid shot of Sirem and me. (Thanks, Krista, for both of these photos.)

And the national park is always a relaxing place to be. Plenty of things to point a camera at certainly.

Still good beach weather in late September. Well, maybe not for actual swimming.

Finally got a good shot of the wild pigs that live in the park.

What else has happened?

Because we are such publicity hounds, we said “yes” last summer when CNN Türk asked if they could come and film the crazy straw-bale people. Their program aired a few weeks ago and they did a fantastic job with only a couple of hours of raw footage to work with. In particular they took some great drone shots that showed our work from an angle we’d never seen before. The program is available on YouTube if anyone is curious. Obviously you’ll get more out of it if you speak Turkish, but the drone shots go beyond language. :)

Also in the publicity department: a week ago I finally made a “hey, we built a straw-bale hotel!” post to reddit/diy. And then sat at the computer for 11 hours answering people’s questions and comments. It’s nice to get feedback though and the feedback was almost entirely nice.

And, déjà vu, the olive harvesting season has come around again, a little early this time as it was a dry summer. I admit I did absolutely no work on this important job, because I was building the catwalk. Or something. The hard-working olive pickers were Sirem, Çisem, their mum Nadire, and local farmer Mustafa who was our hired expert.

Gently shaking the olives from one of our trees onto a sheet.

Sirem and Çisem doing it old-school: picking up fallen olives from the hillside.

Shaking the trees and gathering the olives is the hard part. It gets a lot easier and more rewarding when you take your crop to the local factory to be pressed into olive oil.

Rainy day at the olive oil factory. Each pile of bags is from someone’s olive farm. Our pile was very small compared to these!

Our olives going into the system.

Leaves and branches blown away, only the olives remain.

Recently the factory has brought in fancy new pressing equipment from Italy to make cold-pressed olive oil possible. This gives nicer oil but a lower yield than the standard warm-pressed method. Decided to give it a try and we couldn’t be happier; the oil is really magnificent.

Where the (cold-pressed) magic happens.

You might remember from last time that we adopted a little white puppy called Nina. She has turned out to be all-labrador, or we’re pretty sure she is anyway. She is wonderful and beautiful and extremely naughty and likes to chew on things that she shouldn’t. And she grew so quickly! I should never have given her all those eggs and all that milk…

Nina a few months ago.

Nina now: huge!

And just for some dog-cat balance, here is a photo of Suzie. She’s been with us for ages but you don’t get to see pictures of her very often as sometimes she decides she is shy, and disappears for a week or two.

Suzie looking soulfully into the distance.

And finally a couple of photos to try to show you how nice the light gets around here as the days get shorter and the air hazier.

I know, I know, like the world needs another sunset photo. But look at those rays!

View of distant hills.

Will try not to go quiet for so long this time!

And now for something completely different…

Perhaps we didn’t get as much done this month as we would have liked. But we had the best possible excuse: we’ve been really busy with guests. Which is great.

Two of those guests were my mum and dad, and they felt for us in that we’ve been working on our construction site almost without interruption for a couple of years now. They invited us on a short trip down to Bodrum to stay in a charming centre-of-town hotel they know from previous visits. We allowed our arms to be twisted and went along: call it a research trip, we thought.

Visiting the competition! Hotel Su in Bodrum.

Hotel Su was fantastic. They’re a bit bigger than we’re ever planning to be, and they have about a 20-year head start on us, but it was interesting to see how other people do things and to note down ideas for later shameless copying. Particularly great work by them on the garden (and bar) arranged around the central courtyard. The staff and the owners were extremely nice and we can happily recommend the place if anyone is heading to Bodrum before or after staying with us.

Lovely architectural details at Hotel Su.

Bodrum (formerly Halicarnassus) is always fun. It’s very much centred around the harbour, with lots of good restaurants along the shore. If you were thinking of chartering a boat for an Aegean cruise it’s definitely the place to go.

Gülets (Turkish yachts) moored on the quayside in Bodrum.

More boats in the harbour.

Back in Hıdırbeyli we had some drama. We were out by the pool one night when we saw flames on the opposite hillside: there was a fire in somebody’s olive grove. I think we were the first to call the emergency services as we had a clear view of what was happening. The fire looked really bad for a while, and we thought it was going to spread along the hillside and possibly threaten some houses. Very impressed though when the fire brigade arrived in seven minutes and had the fire under control shortly afterwards.

Fire on the other side of the village.

Fire now under control: that’s the fire brigade, top left. Remains of the fire smouldering on the left edge of the frame.

Surprise, surprise: the cats were completely unimpressed by the fire. Here are a few shots of them relaxing on the pool terrace that same evening.

Panini reclining.

Pablo, who we don’t see enough of because he is shy.

Cezmi inspecting his pool.

So, golf has never really been my cup of tea, but I realize it’s a big deal for some people. We’ve known for a while there was a serious golf course over in the hills near Kuşadası but hadn’t found an excuse to visit. More than one guest has mentioned that we should list the place on our  “Local attractions” page, and I really should.

Kuşadası International Golf Club.

Anyway, we drove over there as my dad wanted to see their accommodation options in the event that a future trip with some Australian friends turns into too many people for our place. I can’t tell you whether it’s a great golf course, but the views were very nice.

View from the club house looking west towards Samos.

We did do some construction work this month, of course. Room three is getting really close to habitability now: all the window frames are in and the tiles are down in the main room and in the bathroom. Only some grouting to go.

Room 3 has floor tiles now.

Bathroom tiles looking OK.

Thanks to Sirem’s sister Çisem, all 48  six-metre rafters for our new house have been sanded and are ready for mounting. But four of them were a bit of a mess: they had twisted when drying and looked more like bananas than nice straight pieces of wood. So we tried an old carpentry trick and put them in the pool for a week. (Don’t tell any guests, eh?) Unbelievably it actually worked, and we have nailed and strapped them together so that this time they should dry straight.

Rafters for the house being straightened.

And the last piece of news: we know we really don’t need any more animals, but we found a very beautiful and sweet puppy abandoned on the side of the road below our place. We normally try to do the sensible thing and take animals to the local shelter (where they’re vaccinated and spayed and eventually released if no-one adopts them). But this time we looked into the eyes of little Nina and we just couldn’t do it. Maybe the photos will explain why.

Meet Nina. (She was going to be Misha but then we realized he was a she.)

Nina looking content.

Nina fighting a mop.

Nina looking cheeky.

Until next time!

Sunshine and how to escape it

One day, not too far in the future, the feel of this blog is going to change. It will be great, one day, to make a post called “Hotel and house finally finished!”, or something similar. Then I guess we might switch the focus to food photos and landscapes and shots of undiscovered local oddities. But for now, we are still in the realm of incremental construction progress. So I hope you are all OK with another post that feels like a small step forward from the one before.

Overview of the project.

One bit of news is that the cafe is now open for business — at least it is on Sundays! And some local people have come by for long, leisurely Turkish breakfasts. We’d love to open more than just one day a week (and we do if someone books especially) but at the moment it’s hard to justify too much time away from the building work. Sadly we just can’t afford to have one or two of us sitting in the cafe all day waiting for potential customers.

Terrace looking welcoming, we hope, with a few more tables and the dog houses moved to a more suitable location at the other end of the property.

Terrace and cafe by night.

We’re still experimenting with exactly what goes into our breakfasts, but there are some staples that are always there: eggs in some form, fried vegetables, fruit, cheese, olives, lots of different jams, and of course bread.

Front to back: boiled eggs, tahini pekmez (sesame paste mixed with grape molasses), olives, butter & honey.

Front to back: apple, kiwi fruit & banana; peppers and aubergines in a tomato sauce; various jams; sigara börek (fried pastry rolls stuffed with cheese).

Spring seems to be rapidly turning into summer: today’s high will be 32 °C. And once again the warm weather has been great for the gardens. The wet winter has made it an especially good year for green things to launch themselves out of the ground.

Rose bush gone wild in the front right.

Gardens outside rooms one and two.

Garden with a view at the north end of the pool. Note the fast-growing mulberry tree just behind the trellis.

All this sunshine reminded us, though, that the pool was always going to need more shade before summer comes in earnest. The pavilion we built earlier is great, but it’s at its best in the morning. The late afternoon sun shines straight in and makes it much less hospitable. For a long time we considered going with big umbrellas (and you’ve probably seen the green umbrellas that the nice people at TwoFour Productions bought for us).  Still, the trouble with umbrellas is that a strong wind coming up the valley will often as not send them into the pool. So we sat down with Sketchup and designed a more permanent solution.

New sunshade.

One nice feature of the new sunshade is that from about 2pm in the afternoon it starts to shade one corner of the pool, making it possible for easily sunburned people (e.g., me) to get out of those UV rays.

Two layers of green shadecloth seems about right.

Middle of the day sees lots of shade around the pool now.

It’s not only the human population that have been enjoying the new and shadier pool environment. Cezmi and Sasha claimed two of the deck chairs for themselves. (Which reminds me, I need to build some nice wooden sun lounges as these chairs have seen better days.)

Cats enjoying the shade.

The cats, being cats, have been trying to claim territory all over the place. We had some guests who were far too nice and let Lucy sit on their laptop for a bit. I had a word with her afterwards though and she assures me it won’t happen again.

Cat enjoying laptop of tolerant guest. “Don’t look at gmail, look at me!”

The dogs are much more helpful and reliable, as ever. They’re not very keen on where we put their dog houses when we moved them up from the cafe terrace, so instead they have installed themselves as watchdogs in rooms three and four. They seem very happy there but I will have to break it to them eventually that rooms are for people.

Zeytin: straw dog.

And we have of course done some actual construction work. The second building has really taken shape now, with all the straw bales in. Just the fabric and mesh work to go before plastering begins.

Building two progress.

Interior progress, room four. Strips of wood define the bathroom walls, ready for old-fashioned lathe-and-plaster work.

The good weather has also given us more excuses to get out and about. Here are a couple of shots from Dilek National Park, 50 minutes south-west of us.

National park view. Greek island of Samos in the background.

Coastal drive with tree.

Finally, something we’ve never thought to include before. Opening the cafe meant we had to make sure the cafe bathrooms were finished and ready for business. You get to them by going outside, onto the veranda, and then around the corner. Thus nobody’s table is too close to the loo, which is good, but there’s a side effect of giving the bathrooms quite a nice northerly view. Here’s a photo of one of the bathrooms with an attempt to catch the view in the mirror.

Cafe bathroom.



Let me warn you up front: this blog post, and probably future posts for a while, are going to be variations on the theme of “look at this thing we made!”

With that said… I am learning, too late in life, that a huge part of construction is just moving stuff around.  Here are three of our most recent deliveries, more or less neatly stacked.







That last one is not just a gratuitous night-time shot: the timber really did arrive late in the evening.  In fact it was delayed for a week or so longer than we were expecting.  The 10cm x 10cm pieces on the right are chemically treated to resist moisture, and those took a while to get hold of.

It wasn’t really a problem though.  We have so much to do if we’re going to hit our target of real guests by late summer, so we just worked on some landscaping instead of timber framing.  This next shot is yet another Sketchup model showing our plans for around the pool.  A steel railing to stop people falling off the terrace after one Tuborg too many, and on the other side a little pavilion surrounded by gardens and incorporating two built-in seating areas.  In summer we’ll hang some canvas or cotton at the front of the seating area to keep people in the shade during the hot afternoons.

Some of the planned landscaping around the pool.

Some of the planned landscaping around the pool.  The shadows are as they would be on the summer solstice at around 4pm.

Sharp-eyed readers will note that we haven’t really decided what’s happening at the back of the pool: probably a wooden fence with a lattice to grow climbing plants on.  It would be nice to have a rendered and limewashed brick wall but we’re thinking it’s a bit too close to the edge of the hillside for a heavy wall to be 100% safe.  Anyway, here’s the progress we’ve made in the last week on the seating area.

Poolside seating pavilion, under construction

Poolside seating pavilion, under construction

Koray, the guy you saw welding a door in the previous post, is now working with us full-time.  We really needed some more people power if we’re serious about opening the first two rooms this summer.   One of the first things he did for us was to install that door.

The door Koray was welding in the last post, now safely installed.

The machine room door, now safely installed.  (I did the twirly bits, honest.)

Koray has also done great work on building a stone retaining wall up the left side of the driveway, as well as a dozen other things.

Stone retaining wall on driveway nearly finished

Stone retaining wall on driveway nearly finished

Which reminds me, a big thank-you to my cousin Stephanie and her partner Mick.  They visited a couple of weeks back and helped carry a lot of the stones into position.  (We are officially becoming terrible hosts: “Had enough breakfast?  All done?  OK, great, now carry this 40 kilo rock.”)

At the foot of the stone wall there’s a concrete gutter.  Previously this ran into a large hole that connected to the storm-water drain.  Health and safety concerns suggest we shouldn’t leave a large hole lying around long-term, so I got to improve my bricklaying and rendering skills by building a drain cover.   We tried using powdered dyes to colour the rendering coat: two scoops of red, four scoops of yellow, and one scoop of black.  Not too bad a result if you like the Santa Fe adobe look.

Here's one I made earlier: drain cover

Here’s one I made earlier: drain cover.  Note modernist grille made by welding scrap rebar pieces together.

Here are a couple of photos of things we’re making with all those deliveries.  The bricks are for parts of the guest bathroom walls.  We’re still committed to straw bale, but we lost our nerve at the thought of the waterproofing needed to be sure that a straw bale in the wall behind a shower would never get wet.  So the external walls of the bathroom, and the wall between the two bathrooms, will be brick.  Still, they’re big 30 x 20 cm bricks with some air holes in them, there’ll be a double wall, and the 10cm gap between the inner and outer wall will be filled with polystyrene insulation.  It won’t quite be as good as straw, but should still be reasonably well insulated.

The first two guest bathrooms laid out with bricks

The first two guest bathrooms laid out with bricks.   Each bathroom is about 3 metres by 2 metres: big enough for everyone?

The steel is for pool terrace railings as shown in the Sketchup picture above.  They’re nearly done; they just need some twisty decorative bits (“ferforje” in Turkish) and a coat of black paint and they’re ready to go in.

Pool terrace railings under construction

Pool terrace railings under construction

And all this welding seems to be catching:  Sirem has now joined the party.  It looks like she’s been doing it for years, doesn’t it?

Sirem getting in on the welding action.

Sirem getting in on the welding action.  (Thanks to Stephanie for the photo.)

We’re still some distance away from the straw bale and plastering stage, but we’ve done some more testing recently to decide between clay plaster (which has the benefit of basically being free) and lime plaster, which stands up to moisture a lot better.  I think we’ve decided on the lime plaster solution, but it’s a shame to have to say no to the clay as the texture is really nice.

Plaster testing: three coats of mud plaster

Plaster testing: three coats of clay plaster on a straw bale (second coat still showing at the top there)

Plaster testing: two coats of lime plaster on a straw bale

Plaster testing: two coats of lime plaster on a straw bale

The pool has been properly filled and we are pleased to report that it didn’t fall over or spring a leak.  There was even a warm day in late February when I was stupid enough to try a first swim.  The pool was very nice but the water needs a bit more sun on it, I think.

What the pool looks like now

What the pool looks like now

And finally, a few shots of plants and animals to show that it is not quite all-construction, all-the-time.

Spring returns: almond blossoms in the neighbour's garden

Spring returns: almond blossoms in the neighbour’s garden

Zeliş relaxing

Zeliş relaxing

Zeytin is in a good mood, as usual.

Zeytin is in a good mood, as usual.

Cezmi, Sirem's sister's cat, maybe now our  cat, who believes he is the construction site manager

Cezmi, Sirem’s sister’s cat, maybe now our cat, who believes he is the construction site manager

Thanks for reading!

Planning permission is go

Big news: the council has finally granted planning permission for our revised four-hotel-rooms-plus-a-house idea.  Like every bureaucratic process it took longer than we expected or wanted, although we did get some reassuring feedback on the structural soundness of our designs.  Anyway, we’re really glad it’s all sorted, and now we can move on to getting quotes for the concrete-slab foundation work and the pool.

Now we can build all this!

Now we can build all this!

A while ago we passed our one-year anniversary of being here.  It would be great if more had happened up in the orchard by now — at the moment it’s just the fig trees, dry grass, marker pegs, and one steel telegraph pole with a light and a power connection box.  But we’re optimistic that with all of the red tape out of the way, some earth should start getting moved around very soon.

One thing that we did manage to finish before the one-year mark was the kitchen.  I know it has been drawn out over many blog posts, but it is now finally, properly finished.  Here are some shots showing the tiled worktop and the finishing touches on the woodwork.

High-angle view of the kitchen.

High-angle view of the kitchen.  Hope everyone likes the tiles.

The kitchen sink view looks out into the street at tractor-wheel height.

The kitchen sink window looks out into the street at tractor-wheel height.

Free-standing cabinet between the fridge and the door.  Plus added cat (Maya).

Free-standing cabinet between the fridge and the door. Plus added cat (Maya).

My mum and dad came to stay with us for the first half of August — we are trying to talk them into coming at a less outrageously hot time of year for their next visit.  But it was good seeing our progress through their eyes, as they were last here almost exactly a year ago.  Dad was extremely helpful in the garden, as he was the first time around.  And they talked us into taking a seaside break for a few days: the first nights we had spent away from this place since we arrived.  (A huge thank you to Sirem’s sister Çisem for holding the fort and feeding all the animals while we were away.)

We spent three nights at the Panion Park Hotel in the coastal town of Guzelçamlı, close to the entrance to the Dilek National Park.  It was a really pleasant, quiet hotel and we can recommend it.  They have a lovely pool and an equally lovely bar by the pool.  They’ve only been open for six years and we were impressed with how well their landscaped garden had come along.  Lots of ideas to file away for future reference.

The view from our room in the Panion Park Hotel.  Great garden.

The view from our room in the Panion Park Hotel. Great garden.

What else have we been up to?  A recent carpentry project was the door to the second bedroom.  The old door was a bit of a mess and we had to lock it with a very amateurish chain and padlock around the handle.  More importantly, the doorway was much lower than it needed to be, with a small window over the door for no good reason.  More than one taller visitor had smacked their head on the low lintel (sorry, Mark). So we came up with a plan for a full-height door that included a central window with shutters for extra ventilation in summer.  Sketchup again, of course.  We think it all turned out OK.

New door from the outside, shutters closed.

New door from the outside, shutters closed.

From the inside: going for a medieval look with all the black iron hardware.

From the inside: going for a medieval look with all the black iron hardware.

And with the shutters open to let in a breeze.

And with the shutters open to let in a breeze.

The weather has been really hot, of course, but never humid.  We found that the sun was tracking so far north that we weren’t getting enough shade on the sedir in the middle of the day.  So we’ve rigged up some sheets to make it feel more pleasant.

Dealing with the heat: sheets as shadecloth.

Dealing with the heat: sheets as shadecloth.

The grape vines do well in all that sun.

The grape vines do well in all that sun.

Summer also brings the insect population to life.  (Which is mostly fine, honest: even the wasps have their role in pollinating the figs.)  One day we found some ants struggling to lift something up the wall and into the garden.  Turns out they had stolen a cat biscuit, and were cooperating admirably to get it back to the nest.

The ant helpfully standing on the biscuit must be the one in charge, surely.

The ant helpfully standing on the biscuit must be the one in charge, surely?

And to conclude: some readers will be unsurprised to learn that our four kittens have not found new homes yet.  We still haven’t named them, because we are clinging to the (perhaps foolish) belief that we’re going to successfully give most of them away.  In an effort to show potential adopters how cute they are, here are some photos at 2 weeks and at 5 weeks.  Incredible how much the ears grow over that time.

The tabby one.

The tabby one.


The black one.

The black one.


The white one.

The white one.


The grey one (who Sirem refuses to give away).

The grey one (who Sirem refuses to give away).


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.

lambs-4 lambs-5 lambs-6 lambs-7

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.


Only 24 hours old.


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!


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…

A sofa at last

The courtyard here is our living room: we have three rooms and a kitchen, but the place to sit, relax, and eat is usually outside. (At least while the good weather lasts!) We got a lot of use out of our plastic camping chairs, but eventually we wanted something more comfortable. So we decided to build a sedir: a kind of low, long, wooden Turkish sofa.  We put our ideas into Sketchup and then bought some wood.


The original plan in Sketchup.

Construction took a few days and lots of cups of tea. Jason worked very hard and luckily my mum was around to help. I was responsible for photography but that means you can’t see how much I was helping too.  :)


Jason testing the strength of the wooden beams. No middle support yet.


The second part of the “L” taking shape.


Working into the night: Jason was determined to finish it before dawn. Luckily we have tolerant neighbours.


That is me with the important job of putting some weight on the corner.


Woodwork finished at last.

After a late night finishing the construction, we sanded everything down and used our new compressed-air spray gun to stain the sofa. I bought some blue and white fabric, and found a local tailor who specializes in cotton-filled cushions and duvets. He put together some very nice fat stuffed cushions within a few days.


Spray gun time. Jason says everyone should own an air compressor. I am not sure whether I agree with him.




Cushions arrived. It is as comfy as it looks.

The whole thing cost us 200 lira for timber and screws, 30 lira for a tin of wood stain, 75 lira for fabric, and 500 lira for the tailor to make the cushions. That’s a total of 805 lira or £226. Not bad! (Jason wants me to add that these calculations assume he works for free.)

We also felt bad that our dog Zeytin was still living in a cardboard box as winter approaches. So we knocked together a little dog house for her. She is again pleased with her new accommodation.


Another house! For me?!

Finally, you are never very far from animal-related drama in a small village in Turkey. The other day we came home to find four beautiful puppies had been abandoned on the road near our house. We had to do something for them: I think the pictures show how impossible it would have been to leave them out in the street. It was a long night of feeding them milk and cleaning up their pee and cuddling them.


So much cuteness in one box.

Unfortunately we just couldn’t keep them because we already have five cats and a dog. So we made some phone calls to animal charities in the area, and luckily we found there’s an excellent dog shelter in Aydın run by the local council. They assured us that all four puppies would have no problem finding a new  home, so that made us feel a bit better about the sad moment of having to part with them.


OK, where are we going? Is there food there?


Cats and dogs living together

A few people have asked how our cats are doing, so I thought I should post on the animal situation here. (I know that not everyone reading this feels the same way about cats as we do, but don’t worry: once the hotel is built, the animals will be safely confined down here in the farmhouse, honest.)

So: Marlowe, Molly, and Maya were safely delivered by the nice people at Paws Bulgaria the day after we got here.  I think the heat was probably a bit of a shock to them, but they’ve adjusted very well. The first week they were confined to a bedroom and a chicken-wire covered verandah. After that we let them outside, and they now sleep in the shade during the day, and run around hunting cicadas and grasshoppers at night.

Marlowe looking statesmanlike as ever.

Marlowe looking statesmanlike as ever.

Molly on the roof, looking wistfully through the vines

Molly on the roof, looking wistfully through the vines.

Maya: blurry and hard to pin down.

Maya: blurry and hard to pin down. But happy, we hope.

We also have some other cats, because that’s just how it works in Turkey. Regular readers will already have met Tarçın (“Cinnamon”), who was a very small and very hungry stray adopted by Sirem’s dad before we got here. There’s also Şurup (“Syrup”), who was fed by the previous owners we think. He is a very sweet-natured cat and Tarçın’s chief playmate. The English cats are still deciding what to think about Tarçın, although Marlowe seems to be mentoring him in serious cat business.

Tarçın: does he know how cute he is, do you think?

Tarçın: does he know how cute he is, do you think?

Şurup, who has endless patience with Tarçın's attacks.

Şurup, who has endless patience with Tarçın’s attacks.

There’s also Oğlum (“My son”), one of Sirem’s family’s cats, who is just visiting from Istanbul. He was one or two problems, including epilepsy, so he needs some extra attention. He also likes to complain loudly if he thinks his food is a bit late.

Oğlum managing our power supply.

Oğlum managing our power supply.

And last but definitely not least, there’s Zeytin (“Olive”) the dog. She used to live in the street outside the house, and was fed by the previous people and some of the neighbours. We felt bad for her out there and thought we should get her spayed to avoid having to adopt litters of puppies. Since we let her in to recuperate after the operation she doesn’t really want to leave. But that’s OK, we needed a watchdog anyway.

Zeytin looking pleased.

Zeytin looking pleased.

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