Ionia Guest House

Luxury accommodation in the Aegean countryside

Tag: beach

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!

Big day tomorrow

Tomorrow is a big milestone for us.  At 8am the excavator will arrive and ground will finally — finally! — be broken up in the orchard.  The first job is improving the driveway so that future cement trucks can make it up there without getting stuck.  And then it’s on to digging out the slab foundations and the swimming pool.  Exciting times.

So the next few blog posts will undoubtedly be full of construction stuff.  This post is the calm before the storm, if you like.  In the meantime I thought I should fill you in on what we’ve been doing as summer has turned into autumn.

We’re getting used to the seasonal cycle now.  As the hot weather starts to cool down, it’s time to dry and pickle and preserve things for winter.  Here’s a couple of photos showing how that works for tomatoes: boiled up with olive oil and salt and sealed into jars.  Great for making pasta sauce in January when there are no tomatoes in the shops.

Washing tomatoes

Washing and coring tomatoes

Storing tomatoes for the winter

Storing tomatoes for the winter

It also seemed like a good idea to get some last trips to the beach in, before the water gets too cold for swimming.  This shot was taken on the road to the national park, just coming up on Guzelçamlı with Mount Mycale in the background.

The road to the beach

The road to the beach

And this one is a few hours later, on the way home, looking back at the sunset.  Those hills on the right are actually the Greek island of Samos.

Dilek National Park at sunset

Dilek National Park at sunset

We’re still getting warm days with high temperatures between 25 and 30, but the summer drought has broken and the rain is starting to come a few millimetres at a time.  Here’s a sun shower we had one afternoon — the photo is looking out to the west, across our neighbour’s back garden.

Sun shower over next-door's house

Sun shower over next-door’s house

Our friend Carol came to stay for a week at the end of September, and this was of course an excuse to visit our favourite tourist spots again.  Şirince is always good for a lazy lunch and a walk around town.  I feel as though I have photographed the place to death on previous trips, so this time I tried to get a sense of the colours and textures in the souvenir shops and market stalls.

Jewellery and souvenirs

Jewellery and souvenirs

Lamps

Lamps

Olive oil

Olive oil

Silk scarves

Silk scarves

Carol flew out of Bodrum/Milas airport on a late-night flight, so we all drove down to Bodrum in the early evening to look around and have dinner beforehand.  I’m not sure that my pictures do it justice, but Bodrum (Halicarnassus in classical times) is lovely.  Development has been kept reasonable with a no-buildings-over-three-storeys rule.  Fantastic harbour.

Bodrum by night

Bodrum by night

Shop in Bodrum

Shop in Bodrum

Genuine fake watches

Genuine fake watches

Anyone who has been reading the news will not be surprised to hear that we saw quite a few Syrian refugees sleeping rough on the Bodrum waterfront.  Presumably they were looking for a boat to one of the Greek islands.  (No pictures as it seemed like the last thing they needed was a camera in their faces.)  A very sad situation that looks as though it may go on for a long time.

While we’ve been waiting for the work to start up in the orchard, it hasn’t all been swanning around the countryside and taking photos, honest.  We’ve also been doing the last of the jobs down here in the farmhouse.  With the help of our neighbour John, I learned to weld (read: “John decided that I was going to learn to weld whether I liked it or not.”)  Here’s my first welding project: a little stand to stop an old amphora from rolling across the courtyard.

First welding project

First welding project

We built another new door, this time for our bedroom.  (Note the inevitable cat flap.)

Another door

Another door, under construction

And we carried in a pallet and a half of bricks that will be used to build a raised bed and a retaining wall in the garden.

Bricks for raised bed and retaining wall

Bricks for raised bed and retaining wall

Thanks for reading.

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.

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…

Meeting the locals

From the day we arrived we have been overwhelmed by the hospitality of our neighbours. Just after we landed it was the holiday of Eid (celebrations and feasting to mark the end of Ramazan) and all of our closest neighbours gave us plates of home-cooked food. Some of them don’t have much, but all of them insist on giving us bread, eggs, vegetables, olive oil, etc. We hope they will be happy with fig jam in return!

figs drying on a specially made wooden pallet

Figs drying on a specially made wooden pallet

As well as sharing the things they have grown, our neighbours have been keen to share their knowledge and experience. For instance, I didn’t know how to properly dry figs. Did you know that you first wait for the figs to fall onto the ground and then you pick them up and dry them in full sun for a week? Also, the ground should be recently ploughed to make it softer, so the figs are not bruised when they fall.

This means that fig picking can take weeks as you wait for them all to fall naturally. In some other fig-growing regions, the figs are chemically treated to make them ripen all at the same time. Doing it the slow, natural way is why Turkish dried figs command such high prices in supermarkets. Time will tell if I have both the patience and the back strength to collect figs every day for a month! But in any case it can’t be more exhausting than the job I was doing in Britain.

Days have been pretty hot but it cools down during the night and there is always a gentle refreshing breeze in the evenings. It is not like this in other parts of Turkey. In Konya or Antalya, you can’t sleep until about 4 or 5am as it is still hot and there is no breeze, In Istanbul, it can be quite humid so you are constantly sweating even when you are sitting still. We don’t have air conditioning here yet but we’re coping very well without it.

Relaxing at the beach

Relaxing at the beach

You can see on our local attractions page how close we are to archaeological sites and the sea. Alongside all the renovation work, so far we’ve managed several times to jump in the car and head to the beach for a couple of hours around sunset… it has been great! There are no traffic jams, no queues, and at that time of the day the beaches are quiet and the water is very inviting.

Building a new bed

Building a new bed

My parents have been staying with us for a while, and have been really helpful. Recently we were also visited by Jason’s parents: all of a sudden we are very popular with our families! 🙂 They also helped a lot in the garden and helped Jason to build a bed… very handy as we are still waiting for our furniture to arrive.

Rest and recreation

We can’t pick figs and tile floors all the time, so a few days ago we took the afternoon off and went to Pamucak beach to have a swim and watch the sunset. It’s a great beach that has avoided the let’s-build-a-giant-hotel-here problem because it’s down-river from Ephesus and so is protected for archaeological reasons. There’s a small beach cafe providing cold beer and shade, and the beach itself is wide and clean with perfect yellow sand. A great spot for a swim.

A quiet day at the beach

A quiet day at the beach

Three of the great features of the region in one shot: beaches, sunsets, and tractors.

Three of the great features of the region in one shot: beaches, sunsets, and tractors.

One of the fun parts of our project is that we kind of have a responsibility to get to know all of the tourist attractions in the area, so that later we can give people good advice about which ones they should see if their time is limited. With that in mind, we took another day to visit our closest attraction: the ruins of ancient Magnesia. It’s an evocative place, and must have been a spectacular sight when it was inhabited.

The ruins of Magnesia-on-the-Meander

Part of the ruins of Magnesia-on-the-Meander

Five lira to get in, which is about £1.40 or €1.75 or $2.35. Pretty reasonable! (We should have walked up into the hills to get shots of the amphitheatre and the stadium but the heat made us a bit lazy.)

Quite mournful to see all that impressive stonework lying tumbled around where it fell, perhaps in an earthquake.

Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair.

Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair…

 

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