Ionia Guest House

Luxury accommodation in the Aegean countryside

Tag: figs

Ground-breaking news

Since the last post a lot has happened. So many months of planning, waiting and worrying have finally started to bear fruit. Such a relief!

For some reason the council insists on the entire plan being printed on one long sheet.  This leads to much slapstick comedy when the wind is blowing.

The first job was heartbreaking but necessary: we had to cut down some fig trees.  🙁  We lost about fifteen of them and had to relocate three olive trees.  Olive trees, we were told, are very tough and will tolerate relocation as long as you prune them hard and give them lots of water afterwards.  Time will tell whether this advice is correct.

Looking up the block at some of the lost fig trees that had to go in order to make way for the foundation slabs.

The second job was improving the driveway.  With last winter’s rains we had some erosion and it had become more like a goat track than a road.

Our driveway: the “before” photo.

We needed to do something if we were going to get heavy machinery, cement mixers, and delivery trucks up there.

Starting to dig

Excavator starting on the driveway.  Jason really wanted a turn but was not seen as responsible enough.

Gravel to make a nice compacted base

One of twelve truckloads of gravel to make a nice compacted base for the drive.

The “after” photo: from goat-track to motorway.  We like it a lot and it’s so wide that it immediately solves some of our future parking problems.

A view from the top, showing how the drive curves around to allow access to the cafe.  This was about halfway through.  More truckloads of gravel were dumped on the right side of this picture.

Then the excavator moved up the hill to start digging out the soil for the three buildings’ foundations and the pool.

Digging out the base for the cafe and first two rooms.

We had mountains of soil that we didn’t know what to do with.  At first it just got pushed over the edge of our hillside, but there was so much of it we were in danger of causing an avalanche onto the road.  So we had about 20 lorry loads worth of soil taken away, and lots of neighbours turned up with tractors and helped themselves to a bit.  We did keep some, though, for the mud plaster.

“And you could have it all, my empire of dirt…”

Battling machines

Rise of the machines.

The guys worked incredibly fast and before we knew it they were putting formwork, steel reinforcement, and the first loads of concrete in.

Early layer of concrete.  This not the real slab, just a bottom layer to make a good surface for the concrete formwork.

Early layer of concrete. This not the real foundation slab, just a bottom layer to make a good surface for the concrete formwork.

Pool starting to take shape.

Pool starting to take shape.

Formwork for the second bungalow.  One day this will be rooms three and four.

Formwork for the second bungalow. One day this will be rooms three and four.

Underlay slab for our house, right at the top of the hill.

Underlay slab for our house, right at the top of the hill.

Solid reinforced concrete beams that will support the restaurant.  The step up in the slab is so that rooms one and two will sit a little higher and not cut too deeply into the hillside.

Reinforced concrete beams that will support the restaurant. The step up in the slab is so that rooms one and two will sit a little higher and not cut too deeply into the hillside.

Improvised tent so there's somewhere dry to store gear and make tea on rainy days.

Improvised tent so there’s somewhere dry to store gear and make tea on rainy days.  The workers were sceptical of Jason’s plan to build this out of scrap wood but so far it is holding up.

Panorama from the top of the orchard, looking west.  Click for full size.

Another big job that is now done was to lay 66 metres of concrete pipe in the ditch next to the main road and then cover it over.  The idea is to carry away the rain water that comes down the hill, and also to stop our new driveway from acting as a dam.  Each pipe section was 1.5 metres long and 80 cm in diameter.  I am so glad that this job is over now as it was the scariest and most dangerous of all the work done so far. Watching the excavator lift and swing a very heavy concrete pipe in the air, hanging from a chain,  44 times in succession while traffic was still passing on the road was very nerve-racking!  I don’t think we remembered to take a photo of this job because we were so busy watching it nervously.

“Before” photo, taken in March 2014.

After: you can’t see it, but there’s 66 metres of 80 cm concrete pipe buried on the right-hand side of the road there.  Smoothing it over afterwards makes more handy parking spaces.

During these exciting times we had my parents and Jason’s uncle John and aunt Marg staying with us.   In the evenings one or two drinks were had in order to celebrate the start of the building work.

John and Marg inspecting the site.

Jason tells me I have to add cat photos to a blog post or people will complain.  So, here they are.  The kittens are getting bigger every day.  They have names now, but we are still trying to adopt them out.

Panda.

Panda.

Pablo.

Pablo.

Panini.

Panini.

Coco.

Coco.

All together.

All together.

And finally, a big thanks to JP who sent us a wonderful 24mm lens that took most of the photos above.  Cheers, JP, we love it!

Sun-dried everything

Summer is winding down. Today’s high temperature was 28 degrees. Right now, at about 1am, it’s 18 degrees outside. Still very pleasant, but it’s getting too cold to spend the whole evening out in the courtyard. In the next month or two we’re going to lose the last of the leaves on our grape vines and fig trees. That will be a sad day. By the time January comes around I suppose we’ll also find out how good adobe-brick walls are at keeping out the cold.

Back in July and August we had daily highs between 35 and 40, and clouds were a rare sight. The locals use all that sunshine to dry fruits and vegetables. No cooking, no additives — except sometimes salt. Just leave it out in the sun for a few days.

We sun-dried our figs, but we also tried it with other things, like grapes, pears, and peppers. Some experiments were more successful than others, but at least we have a few things stored away for winter.

Regular readers of the blog will already have heard plenty about our fig production, but I'm still going to show you another photo of them because we love them.

Regular readers of the blog will already have heard plenty about our fig-growing efforts, but I’m still going to show you another fig photo because we love them.

OK, just this one and no more fig shots, I promise.

OK, just this one and no more fig shots, I promise.

Peppers threaded onto string, drying in the courtyard.

Peppers threaded onto string, drying in the courtyard.

Green peppers turn red as they dry. Maybe you knew this but I was surprised.

Green peppers turn red as they dry. Who knew?

Drying grapes and slices of pear. This didn't really work out, but they look cool together.

Drying grapes and slices of pear. This didn’t really work out, but they look cool together.

In truth, our grapes were much better fresh.

Our grapes were much better fresh.

What else can I tell you? In fact I’m behind on posting and there’s a lot to talk about. We’ve had visitors, we’ve been out to see a few more of the fantastic archaeological sites in the area, and we’ve been busy building a sedir (low outdoor sofa) for the courtyard. But those things deserve their own posts. I should say, though, that our cat Molly is doing much better lately. Thanks for all the good wishes sent her way.

I’ll leave you with a photo taken yesterday from a hill on the other side of the village. We used to think it was all private land up there, but we found a dirt road leading to a picnic area at the top of the hill. Great views of Hıdırbeyli, Germencik, and the Menderes Valley to the south, but also a great spot to get some perspective on our place.

We're the last house on the right, and that's the fig orchard up on the hillside. The fig trees are much greener than the surrounding olives.

We’re the last house on the right, and that’s the fig orchard up on the hillside. The fig trees are a lighter green than the surrounding olives.

Farmhouse outlined in yellow; orchard outlined in red.

Farmhouse outlined in yellow; orchard outlined in red.

What have we really been doing?

It’s been a while since our last post. Sorry about that: must do better!

We’ve been a bit distracted. We have lots of projects to work on, as usual. But more than that, one of the cats (Molly) has been ill: liver problems brought on by the stress of the move. Which makes us feel very guilty. And means a 50 km round trip every morning to get IV fluid treatment for her at the university vet clinic in Aydın. Thankfully, though, she seems to be getting better.

So: what have we really been doing? I looked back at our previous blog posts and it struck me that often I would write about something just because I had a decent photo of it. No big deal, except it doesn’t give you a representative view of what life is like here. Sometimes cool things happen and I am not quick enough to get the camera: two camels being led out of the neighbour’s front gate, or a dapper old man riding past our door on a donkey, coming down from the mountains carrying a rifle as old as he was. Sometimes you don’t get the camera because it doesn’t feel right. You don’t want to be rude and in-your-face with people you don’t yet know very well. And sometimes you’re just busy.

The point of this post is to talk about the stuff we don't have pictures of. Nevertheless, you will be needing some pictures, so here's our place from the street.

The point of this post is to talk about the stuff we don’t have pictures of. Nevertheless, you will be needing some pictures, so here’s our place from the street.

A typical un-photographed day for us starts early as we’re woken up by either the call to prayer or a tractor going past our bedroom window. Then we go back to sleep until about eight in the morning when we get up to reliably blue skies and the hope that someone else has already started making breakfast. Sirem and I take Molly to the vet clinic in Aydın: a flat, straight drive into the morning sun, with the mountains on our left. Treatment takes a couple of hours, but the staff are good people. On the way back, if Molly is in a reasonable mood, we try to do some shopping. A stop in the sanayi (industrial estate) to buy tools and building materials, or a stop in Germencik for fresh bread, cheese, and eggs.

Shopping in Germencik

Shopping in Germencik

 

By the time we get back, it’s lunch time. After lunch, if it’s a hot day (and all of them have been) a siesta is tempting. Then we get started on something that’s actually useful: tiling, plastering, painting, concreting, working in the garden — that sort of thing.

This is how the bathroom looks now. It might seem all that great but that's because I didn't give you a proper "before" photo showing how the walls and ceiling looked.

This is how the bathroom looks now. It might not seem all that great but that’s because I didn’t give you a proper “before” photo showing the crumbling walls and the dark and dirty ceiling.

The current state of the garden. The neatly dug beds are due to my dad's efforts while he was here.

The current state of the garden. The neatly dug beds are due to my dad’s efforts while he was here.

Early experiments in lime-washing the walls are inspected by Tarçın.

Early experiments in lime-washing the garden walls are inspected by Tarçın.

Around sunset on every alternate day it’s time to go and collect figs. We walk around all 65 trees, looking for figs that are already on the ground, and shaking the trees a bit to get the partially dried figs to fall. We’ve got other jobs too, like laying the figs out to dry, sorting them into different classes, and rinsing them in salty water to help preserve them for the winter. This last step gives them a fantastic shine though.

One of our better figs.

One of our better figs.

If lunch was big we don’t eat a lot in the evening. Or sometimes it’s the other way around. Dinner might be just bread, cheese, potato chips, and a beer. I say “beer” in the singular because the truth is we’re drinking a lot less than we did in the UK. I remain a fan of beer but after a day in the sun it only seems to take one to make me want to lay back in a chair and look at the stars.

As the evening goes on we referee a few fights between our cats and some of the local strays who wander in, and then eventually bed.

What else have we been up to? Just recently we found a good local welder in Germencik, and he put us onto his friend the window guy, and so we had new windows and security screens installed on some of the rooms. There’s not a lot of crime here, so hopefully we needn’t have bothered, but it gives us some peace of mind when nobody is home.

Security grille and fly screen for the kitchen.

Security grille and fly screen for the kitchen; new window in the background.

In earlier photos of the garden, you may have spotted a half-ruined shed at the back of the block. I was a bit worried about this because it looked like the roof might collapse, so last week I decided the time had come and I pulled most of it down. No cats were inside. Now we’ve got a source of roof tiles, timber, and cinder blocks to recycle elsewhere.

The shed after my amateur demolition.

The shed after my amateur demolition.

Zeytin, the dog, is still very pleased about her change in status from street dog to garden dog. It’s not really cold at night yet, but nevertheless we gave her a little house. Well, OK: a cardboard box with a blanket inside. She was incredibly happy about this development.

"Nobody ever gave me a house before!"

“Nobody ever gave me a house before!”

And finally, here’s a picture of a different sort of visitor. This guy sat on the back of one of our chairs and posed for photos for quite a while before he had to fly.

Grasshopper is ready for his close-up now.

Grasshopper is ready for his close-up now.

 

The joy of Sketchup

Almost as soon as we got here, we needed to build things. A mattress on the floor is OK, but it’s better to have a bed. And with the old kitchen knocked out by our plumbing work, we needed a better alternative to washing up the dishes with a garden hose. Surely we could rig up an outdoor worktop that would re-use the old sink?

The free 3-D design tool Sketchup has been really handy for this sort of thing. We started using it a few years ago, designing a re-modelled kitchen for our house in Southampton. We used it a lot more when we had to get planning permission for our straw-bale bungalows here in Turkey. I know that for simple jobs you can just sketch things on the back of an envelope, but having the ability to see how something is going to look in 3-D is really addictive. It’s also helpful for buying the materials: knowing exactly how much timber you need, for example.

Double bed planned in Sketchup.

Double bed planned in Sketchup.

Bed coming together in the real world.

Bed coming together in the real world.

OK, so the bed was a straightforward job, but I was pretty happy about getting it done with only a handsaw, hammer, and nails. (All the fancy power tools are still in our shipping container.) And then the outdoor sink was something I’m sure I would have messed up without Sketchup to help plan it out.

3-D model of the outdoor kitchen worktop.

3-D model of the outdoor kitchen worktop.

The outdoor kitchen: tiled and stained and seeing lots of use.

The outdoor kitchen: tiled and stained and seeing lots of use.

At this point maybe you’re thinking that I am getting a commission from the people who make Sketchup, but sadly no. I just like it a lot. The next job is designing our indoor kitchen as the room is now tiled and ready to go.

Kitchen after tiling but before grouting.

Kitchen after tiling but before grouting. (The orange stuff on the wall is meant to stop the mortar from crumbling.)

Not to mention the real work of designing our accommodation and landscaping up in the orchard, but that’s another story…

OK, so this post was possibly a bit dry for people who are not that into amateur carpentry. So, apropos of nothing, here’s a picture of some recent visitors-turned-fig-picking-volunteers crammed into the back of our truck.

Poorly paid fig pickers distracted with a ride.

Poorly paid fig pickers distracted with a sunset ride to the lake.

And finally, some more gratuitous cat photos.

Şurup reclining above our heads, nestled in the grape vines.

Şurup reclining above our heads, nestled in the grape vines.

Round 307 of Şurup and Tarçın's endless wrestling match. If you think of Şurup as Mt. Miyagi and Tarçın as Ralph Macchio it all makes sense.

Round 307 of Şurup and Tarçın’s endless wrestling match. If you think of Şurup as Mr. Miyagi and Tarçın as Ralph Macchio it all makes sense.

It’s a new car!

Well, not new exactly. More like 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

Looking north, with Tire in the distance.

Looking north, with Tire in the distance.

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

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

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

Range after range of hills, looking east.

Range after range of hills, looking east.

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

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

We have to go back soon…

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.

Fig farming

So, on the orchard block above and behind the house, we are the proud owners of 65 fig trees. (Sirem’s mum counted them.) Not surprisingly, the trees look a lot more productive now than they did in January or March when we last saw them.

Rows in the orchard

Rows in the orchard

Fig branch with village of Hıdırbeyli in the background

Fig branch with village of Hıdırbeyli in the background

We thought the fig harvest happened in late August, but it’s not that simple. Some of the fruit is still green, but some of it is ripe now and almost ready to fall off the tree. Look at the sweet nectar leaking out of this one, for example.

Ripe fig with the sweet juice leaking out of it

Ripe fig with the sweet juice leaking out of it

So one of our next jobs is to figure out who to sell the figs to as they ripen. We think there’s a co-op in the area that will come around and weigh our fruit and take it off our hands for a decent price. Time to ask Çetin, the previous owner of the orchard, what he used to do.

Sirem with the early harvest

Sirem with the early harvest

In the meantime, we’re eating the ripest ones and they taste fantastic. We’re also making fig jam from the small green ones. Here’s a shot of some jars, ready for storage. Come and visit and you could have this on fresh bread for breakfast.

Jam made from small, unripe figs: very tasty!

Jam made from small, unripe figs, sugar, and water: very tasty!

First shots of the farmhouse

Grape vines growing over the courtyard

Under the vines

Back in March we bought the orchard and the farmhouse. The previous owners moved out in April, and so the house has been empty for a while. We can’t wait to get out there ourselves, but in the meantime my mum and dad have very kindly travelled down from Istanbul to check things out for us. The garden has grown like crazy and there were a lot of leaves to sweep up, plus a bird seems to have made a nest in the kitchen, but apart from that no problems! There’s fruit growing all over the place: limes, pomegranates, pears, plums, and of course figs.

drive

Dad hosing down the driveway

Here are a couple of photos my parents sent us. We love the way the grape vines have grown to shade the courtyard: they were just bare vines when we saw them in March.

Moving to Turkey

Photo of us Hi, and welcome to our blog. Some of you will already know us, and will have heard about our crazy project in great detail.  For those who haven’t met us before, we’re Jason and Sirem.  We’ve had enough of our jobs in the UK and are about to move to rural Turkey to build a hotel.

Semi-detached Southampton house This is the house in Southampton we’ll be leaving behind. We’ve been here for seven years and it’s been a great place to live, but it’s time to go.

And here are some photos of where we’re going.  We bought a small farmhouse and about an acre of fig orchard on a hillside near the village of Hıdırbeyli.  Which is near the town of Germencik, just inland from Turkey’s Aegean coast.

The orchard as it looked in March 2014.

Sunset from the orchard, looking towards Mount Mycale.

Looking out across the olive groves.

We’ll be about half an hour from ruins of Ephesus, with many other archaeological sites only a short drive away (e.g., Priene, Magnesia, Miletus, Didyma, and Aphrodisia). We’re also about half an hour from the beach.

All that archaeology gave us the idea for what to call the hotel.  We’re right in the middle of what was once Ionia, one of the colonies of ancient Greece.  So our place will be the Ionia Guest House.

The plan is to build a small hotel with about six rooms around a central garden courtyard and pool.  We want it to work as a base for visiting the attractions of the Aegean coast, and at the same time give people a taste of the Turkish countryside. We plan to grow our own fruit and vegetables, to use great local food, and to raise chickens for eggs.  We want to build the place in a sustainable way (timber-frame straw bale construction, covered in local clay plaster). It’s going to take us a couple of years to get it all up and running, so the blog is for keeping people up to date on our progress.

Thanks for stopping by.

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