Ionia Guest House

Luxury accommodation in the Aegean countryside

Tag: tourism (page 1 of 2)

Days of wine and plaster

Summer is here, guests are slowly starting to find us, and we keep working on construction as usual. That’s the short version.

The long version? OK. My mum and dad were here for a few weeks recently. It was great to see them and they were a huge help. And, as often happens, visitors gave us a reason to take a few days off to enjoy the local area. First stop was the village of Kapıkırı, by Lake Bafa — we mentioned it on the blog a couple of months ago. It’s such a tranquil and beautiful spot that we thought my parents needed to see it too.

Restaurant and ruined castle on the lake.

Lakeside houses dwarfed by the rocky mountainside.

We went back to the same restaurant, where the menu is fantastically simple: it’s basically either fish or köfte (meatballs). This time we were up on the terrace instead of down on the beach though.

Shady table at the restaurant.

We had a small team of professional restaurant cats lurking under the table hoping to get some scraps. (Yes, of course we gave them some scraps.) Here’s a shot of the smallest and cutest one. We didn’t actually take this little guy home, but we made sure he got the most fish. If you look at his face you can hopefully see why we have trouble with adopting too many cats in Turkey.

Kitten under the table.

Our second tourist stop was a hidden gem we’d learned about from one of our guests: Ayda Vineyards & Winery. They’re about 20km west of Izmir airport, way up in the hills. Their wine is really impressive, but we were also blown away by how good their restaurant was. And they have a few hotel rooms in case you drink a little too much for the drive home. Overall a fabulous place, and I’m sure we’ll be recommending it to future guests.

Selection of wines.

I should add that they took wine-tasting really seriously, too. Everyone gets eight glasses and a water glass!

The tasting room.

So many glasses!

I didn’t get a perfect photo of the setting so this shot of their lawn terrace will have to do. But it’s a glorious spot with views in all directions.

Terrace with a view.

Meanwhile back at our place, it was great to have the pool and the gardens so much further along since my mum and dad’s previous visit. The poolside area really feels like a comfortable place to spend time now.

Morning sun on the pool.

Lucy relaxing.

Rainy day by the pool.

Not sure if it’s clear from the photo above, but it was raining that day. It has been a strange wet summer so far, with afternoon thunderstorms a lot more common than usual. Good for the garden though.

And yes, that is a piece of wood floating in the pool. Don’t ask. (Well, since you asked: it’s the best way to straighten them out when they warp from uneven drying in the sun.)

Now for your regularly scheduled dog, cat, and flower photos.

Sleeping dogs.

Leyla at full speed.

Leyla looks concerned. She is probably thinking about biscuits.

Roses and figs.

I think that’s a daffodil? No? Maybe?

On to the serious stuff: with my dad on mixing duty and Koray on plastering duty, lots of progress has been made on the second building. The outside plastering is pretty much done. Currently the interior of room four still looks a bit rough, but room three is getting close to complete. Almost ready for guests — we just need to do the tiling, the bathroom, and the mini-kitchen area. Oh, and I have to make all the windows. Details, details.

Room four is the sanding workstation right now.

Room three is getting there!

Lathe and plaster, rear view.

In parallel with all the plastering work, we’ve made some progress on our new house. The floor joists for the second, mezzanine floor are now in, and I’ve tossed up some temporary floor boards so we can walk around up there. I sort of wish I’d planned for more upstairs windows as the views from the top floor are going to be great.

Our new house: view from the lounge/kitchen looking through to the bedroom. Upstairs floor joists now installed.

Home-made joist hangers, as seen in Sketchup!

Interior shot. This will be our bedroom one day.

Temporary floor boards so we can work upstairs.

View from upstairs looking south.

Next step is to get the big beams and columns in that will make up the spine of the house. Then to finally get a roof on it!

TV show delay

This isn’t a proper update; it’s really just a quick word of apology to our readers in the UK to let them know that our episode of “Our Dream Hotel” won’t be going out on Tuesday 27th June after all. We’re really sorry about that.

The series is three episodes in at the moment, and we were due to be next week’s episode. However, Channel 5 have decided to juggle their schedule around a bit and it looks like they’re going to be inserting a new six-week series of “The Hotel Inspector with Alex Polizzi” at the Tuesday 9pm time-slot. We’re not quite sure of the reasoning but it’s their schedule to adjust of course. We think it’s likely that our episode will therefore be delayed by six weeks, which would move it to the 8th of August. However that date is just a guess on our part and we’ll certainly let you all know when we know more.

To anyone who was looking forward to watching it, apologies. But please don’t worry: we’re sure it will screen eventually. Apparently the ratings are quite good and the three hotels already featured had a rush of bookings after each of their episodes went out — music to our increasingly broke ears!

In the meantime we’re rushing to finish the cafe, the kitchen, and the terrace area. Here are some progress photos to tide you over, plus a couple of cat pics to stop certain people from complaining. And we hope to bring you more specific news about a date soon.

Small retaining walls define different areas on the terrace. (Really wanted to respect the existing slope rather than impose one big flat area.)

Cafe area is now tiled, so the doors can go up shortly.

Kitchen is ready for benches, ovens, fridges, etc.

Coco in his boudoir.

Pablo showing his excellent table manners.

Open for business

Two big announcements this time around.

The first one: we’re now officially open and taking bookings via Airbnb! Rooms one and two are ready for guests, and the cafe will be close behind.  Anyone and everyone is welcome to book from June 30th onward.

Ready for guests at last

Our site has been rearranged a little, too — www.ioniaguesthouse.com is now a front page for the hotel. The blog has been pushed down to become one of the main menu items. We’ve added Airbnb links and a photo collection, as well as updating our “how to get here” and “local attractions” pages. If you have the time to browse around, please do. We’d really appreciate feedback on how the site flows, whether it looks OK on different devices, how easy it is to find important information, etc.

Room 1: like room 2, only mirrored!

There’s been a big rush to put the finishing touches on the room interiors, as you might imagine. We’ve shown off our handmade beds previously, and now we have more furniture in a similar rustic style.

Sofa and coffee table.

Everyone needs a wardrobe.

And the second big announcement? After being sworn to secrecy for months, we can finally tell you that we’ve been visited by a British TV crew multiple times over the past year. Our project is going to feature as part of the Channel 5 series “Our Dream Hotel”. Think “Grand Designs” but with hotels and B&Bs instead of houses. Our episode goes out at 9pm on Tuesday the 27th of June. If you’re in the UK, we hope you’ll watch it. It definitely covers both the highs and the lows, and does a fantastic job of condensing our adventure down to 40 minutes or so.

Huge thanks to Vikki, Tim, and Jonnel of TwoFour Productions for being such consummate professionals.

All right Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.

In fact we were surprised to find we’ve already been broadcast on the Dutch version of the show (“Ons Droomhotel” on RTL4). For those of you not in the Netherlands or the UK, we’re waiting to hear about whether there will be other ways to watch it. We’ll certainly let you know.

Pool weather approaching — why not book now?

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.

Summer

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

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

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

The theatre at Priene.

The theatre at Priene.

Sirem among the columns.

Sirem among the columns.

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

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

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

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

Blue shutters.

Blue shutters in Eski Doğanbey.

Renovation project, would suit first-time buyer.

Renovation project, would suit first-time buyer.

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

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

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

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

Joe enjoys a mug of ayran by Lake Bafa.

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

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

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

Sunset over Lake Bafa.

Sunset over Lake Bafa.

Fish restaurant on the lake.

Fish restaurant on the lake.

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

The Temple of Zeus at Euromos.

The Temple of Zeus at Euromos.

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

Kittens, less than 24 hours old.

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

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

Going up-river

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

Our third and final farmhouse bedroom, tiled and painted.

Our third and final farmhouse bedroom, tiled and painted.

Two dogs means two dog houses.

Two dogs means two dog houses.

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

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

Kitchen progress.

Kitchen progress.

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

The Menderes valley looking from west to east.

The Menderes valley looking from west to east.

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

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

View across the Menderes valley near Pamukkale.

View across the Menderes valley near Pamukkale.

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

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

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

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

Stone tiles from Denizli.

Stone tiles from Denizli.

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

More local discoveries

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

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

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

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Distinctive Greek architectural influences.

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View from the window of the old Byzantine church.

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Looking across the rooftops as the sun sets.

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Shop selling fabric.

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

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

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Restored house with fantastic bay window.

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Streets of  Eski Doğanbey by moonlight.

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

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

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

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

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

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More kittens.

Ephesus

More from our backlog of tourism activities…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stone arch featuring Medusa?

Stone arch: look at the detail!

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

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

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

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

The reconstructed facade of the Library of Celsus.

The reconstructed facade of the library of Celsus.

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

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

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

The agora.

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

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

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

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

Magnesia underestimated

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

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

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

Truck driving through ancient Magnesia.

Truck driving through ancient Magnesia.

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

The stone is at its best as the sun sets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concrete is cool

Bear with me. I know concrete may not sound like the most exciting subject in the world. I also know that Portland cement is not exactly the most environmentally friendly building material around. But we’ve been blown away by how useful it is, and how easy it is to do small jobs around the house with it. I confess that for years I assumed concrete work was something you had to pay a professional to do, but that’s just not true.

A man and his wheelbarrow. (Thanks for the shirt, Paul.)

A man and his wheelbarrow. (Cheers for the shirt, Paul.)

Our first job was pretty modest: after the work on our new bathroom, the trench through the yard had messed up some of the garden borders. So we made a new one. It’s not going to win any awards for style, but it works.

Lime-washed concrete garden border. Our very first job!

Lime-washed concrete garden border. Our very first concrete job!

Then we really got started. In the courtyard, the stairs up to the garden had a strange first step that was twice as tall as it should have been, making the stairs very awkward. So we built a new step, out of formed concrete with wire mesh for reinforcement, and tiled it to look like the others.

That bottom step didn't use to be there. Much more comfortable to walk up now!

That bottom step is new. Much more comfortable to walk up the stairs now!

We also made a new curved concrete ramp for the door to the barn, and a new sill for the kitchen window (the previous one had crumbled when they took the old window out).

This used to be a sudden step down to the barn floor level. Curved ramp makes it easier to roll things in and out of the barn.

This used to be a sudden step down to the barn floor level. Curved ramp makes it easier to roll things in and out of the barn.

New window needed a new window sill. Further plasterwork needed around the edges...

New window needed a new concrete sill. Further plasterwork needed around the edges…

We’ve even started on some bricklaying, adding a few courses to a wall at the front of the house to help with privacy. No photos of that yet, though.

Concrete is of course a bit grey, so I thought I should add some photos of more colourful stuff. Here’s another insect visitor to our garden: a praying mantis that  helpfully sat right next to one of our outside lights one night and watched us as much as we were watching him.

Praying mantis wants in on the photography action.

Praying mantis wants in on the photography action.

And some shots of local places, thanks to our visitors Berkan and Sofie who dragged us out of the house for a bit.

Harbour at Güzelçamlı.

Harbour at Güzelçamlı.

Evening street scene in Eski Doğanbey, a conservation village nearby.

Evening street scene in Eski Doğanbey, a conservation village nearby.

 

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