Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A flaming mountain, St Nicholas, and ancient legends.

One of the many chimera atop Mt Olympos
Another day, another sweaty hike up a mountain.  This time it was  Mt Olympos to see the chimera (fire vents)at the top.  In legend this myriad of small craters with natural gas flames erupting from them are said to be the breath of the monster, Chimera,  part lion, part goat, part snake, which roamed the hillside.  A small ruined temple is nearby,  built to offer prayers for protection from the said monster.  According to Homer, Poseidon stood on these mountains and watched Odysseus escaping on a raft.  Poseidon then invoked a massive storm which shipwrecked Odysseus on the island of Scheria.  We are finding that everywhere we go in Turkey there is something fascinating to learn!

The ruined temple on Mt Olympos

Walking amongst the chimera

It was a very hot day to start with but even hotter amongst the flaming chimera.  We picked our way cautiously across the hillside being careful not to step into a gassy cauldron.  They are not obvious until you are nearly on top of them. Apparently the flames can be seen for quite a distance at night.  Some people even make the challenging hike up in the dark to see them which must be quite an eerie experience.

Ooops!  I think it might be ice cream time!

The beach at Cirali

Our van had broken down just as we arrived at the mountain and was still being repaired when we returned to it, however, we were very happy to have an excuse to sit in the peaceful pine forest and eat ice creams from the tiny shop there.

 All fixed and ready to go we headed to the nearby village of Cirali to have our first swim in the Mediterranean. The water was crystal clear and warm.  I noted in my diary that it was "refreshing and delicious" and very welcome after the hike.  After the swim some of us wandered further along the stony beach to the entry to the Hellenistic ruined city of Olympos.  We didn't go in but took time to admire the well preserved Lycian tombs at the entrance.

We ate lunch at a beach restaurant, typical Turkish style with long cushioned benches, which we were invited to lounge and relax on between swims.  For lunch I had what was becoming a great favourite of mine, lentil soup with a half lemon squeezed into it.

Inside St Nicholas' Basilica

St Nicholas statue, Demre
After lunch we travelled on to the town of Demre to see the St Nicholas Basilica.  This Byzantine (5th centuryAD) church is on the site where St Nicholas lived and worked in the 3rd Century AD.  St Nicholas is the patron saint of Russia and Greece and there were many very devout and visibly moved pilgrims from both countries visiting while we were there. He was famous as a protector of fishermen, travellers, children and the poor and was the model for Santa Claus due to his habit of leaving coins in shoes people left out side their houses. The Dutch Sinterklass, which is a corruption of 'Saint Nicholas', is the basis of the name Santa Claus. The basilica is gradually being restored and still has quite a few of the original floor mosaics and some ceiling frescoes.  I found it to be a calming and peaceful place.  We sat and had our photos taken at the statue of St Nicholas in the town square and wondered what he would think of Santa Claus and the commercialisation of Christmas.

From Demre we travelled on to Kas, arriving at this stunningly beautiful seaside town in time for a glorious sunset.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Antalya - Turkey's mediterranean coast and Termessos, a stunning mountaintop ruin.

Drinking fountain in the main street of Antalya
We knew we were going to be staying in an ancient and historic part of Antalya when our driver told us we had to walk the last part of our journey to the Hotel.  It didn't matter, though, because it was an enjoyable short walk in the balmy late afternoon sun.  My first impressions of Antalya weren't that great.  It was busy and modern and seemed to be packed with nouveau riche tourists from all over Europe but fortunately that was only my first impression and I soon realised Antalya had much to offer.

Inside the hotel
Atelya Art Hotel on the left

Atelya Art Hotel, a lovely boutique hotel crammed with Turkish art and artifacts, is in the quaint and picturesque area of Kaleici, which means "within the castle". The surrounding streets are lined with old Ottoman houses, some having been restored and some in desperate need of restoration, and plenty of craft stalls manned by friendly, pleasant stall holders accompanied by the inevitable cats and kittens.

Hadrian's Gate

Antalya was founded by Attalus II and was ceded to Rome by his nephew in 133BC. When Hadrian visited the city in 130AD a triumphal arch was built in his honour and it still stands today, in extraordinarily good condition, guarding the modern shoppers who pass backwards and forwards beneath it. Today the city is a mix of the historic and of modern seaside tourism.  Many tourists come for both and others come for one or the other.  We were here, mainly, for the historic so after a good night's sleep and breakfast in the hotel's delightful walled garden we set off for our bus and a trip to the ruined walled city of Termessos.

Among the ruins of Termessos
We drove a long way up the mountain on narrow winding roads before tackling the

The theatre at Termessos
last kilometre on foot. It was a hot, sticky hike uphill on a rocky track but fortunately our guide stopped frequently to give us information while we slurped merrily on our water bottles.  It was well worth the climb, though.   Founded in 200AD, the time of Marcus Aurelius, Termessos is more than 1000 metres above sea level and surrounded by dense pine forests. It has not been repaired in any way and remains just as it was when it was damaged by a huge earthquake and abandoned. The city is thought to have been home to between 10,000 and 15,000 and it is really hard to imagine how on earth they built a city so high up in the mountains.  Several buildings are still recognisable ; the meeting room, a row of shops and a highly sophisticated water cistern system, but the crowning glory is the theatre, built on the very top of the mountain to seat 4,500 with spectacular views in every direction.
Alexander the Great tried to conquer Termessos three times but always failed.  he even tried to burn the residents out by setting fire to their surrounding olive orchards.  In the end it was the damage the earthquake did to the water cistern, stopping the town's water supply, which eventually drove the residents out. I think the absolute beauty of Termessos is that it has not been restored.  It has lain in the forest just as it was when abandoned many hundreds of years ago and is a peaceful and surreal place.

We wandered around for some time and then, we were back to reality and the modern world. It was, however, a gentle return, stopping for lunch at the restaurant owned by our driver's family which is set in a beautiful natural park.  We sat under fragrant trees and dined on freshly made and ridiculously inexpensive Gozlemi (Turkish filled pancakes) while our driver chatted with his family and puffed his chest out with pride.

Our evening meal in Antalya was at a restaurant high above the bay where dozens of softly lit boats lay at anchor below.  It was very romantic so some of us decided to take a walk along the sea front after dinner.  Oh dear!  There were rows and rows of touristy cruise boats bedecked with effigies of pirates and numerous touts looking for passengers, definitely not my thing.  Nevertheless, Antalya is well worth a trip, particularly to visit Termessos and to visit nearby Mt Olympus, which I will write about next time.

The beach at Antalya

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Walking the Banks Peninsula - South Island, New Zealand

With my friends on the first night at Onuku Lodge
I'm leaving my Turkish tales briefly to write about a wonderful four day hike I did recently on Banks Peninsula.  I was delighted when a friend rang to ask me if I would be interested in joining him and another friend on the hike. I had heard how scenic it was and could think of no better way to spend the week before Christmas away from "shopper mayhem" in the city. This is a private 35 kilometre walk created by a group of farmers and property owners who were looking to diversify their businesses and show off the stunning scenery of the Peninsula. A limit of 12 people a day are permitted on the 4 day walk which can also be done in 2 days (maximum 4 people), although I suggest the 2 day option is more suitable for super fit or seriously time stretched people.  We chose to do it in the more leisurely 4 days and were so glad we did.  This gave us plenty of time to enjoy the views and surroundings and to hang out and relax at the end of each day's hike.

 Our group of 3 was joined by a German couple in their 50s and a family of 4 including 2 young teenagers.  Strangers to start with, by the end of the 4 days we were like family however out on the track we scarcely saw the others.

View from the trig at 699 metres - a hard climb with a heavy pack!
Starting from an overnight stay at Onuku, a short drive from the picturesque French settlement of Akaroa (I have written a previous post about Akaroa) the first day is quite challenging as the track slopes steeply up to reach a height of 699 metres and then back down to sea level on an uneven but beautiful bush track. After that everything else seems easy in comparison.  The initial climb is well worth it, though, for the gob smacking and panoramic views.

Much of the track is across farmland and on coastal paths and there are plenty of opportunities to view wildlife along the way. The land and sea are pristine and the owners pride themselves on the fact that this is an eco walk. Apart from the stunning views and prolific wildlife, which includes penguins, seals, and many native birds, another highlight is the overnight lodgings.  Each of the 4 stopovers offer unique, characterful, clean, accommodation and the ice cold beer in the fridge is a great bonus at the end of a hard day's hike. Two of the huts have well stocked stores which reduces the need to carry much food and the kitchens are kitted out with pots, pans and dishes, in fact all equipment needed to cook a meal.

I made it!!

There is also an option to have your packs carried on the 2 most challenging days.  I kind of regretted I didn't get mine carried on the first day but was later secretly pleased with myself that I had managed to haul it all the way up the longest and steepest part of the track.

Waterfall on the first day

Our second night's stay was at Flea Bay, so named for a type of flea which lives on penguins, not because it is infested with fleas! Our farmer host, Francis Helps,  has a passion for penguins and has created a vast sanctuary for them across his farmland.  He took us out on a dusk viewing of the penguins as they came ashore to nest for the night. He has specially erected, camouflaged  stations along the cliff which make for a marvellous wild-life watching experience.  The next morning, as we ate breakfast in the quaint old farmhouse, we watched the farmer mustering sheep on the hill behind with the help of his two trusty farm dogs, a real kiwi experience.  A kayaking option is also offered here which some of the group took up and thoroughly enjoyed.
The shower Room at Stony Bay

The third night's accommodation, at Stony Bay, is a quirky, eccentric delight.  A small village built specially for the hikers out of all sorts of reclaimed and recycled materials...a bit like Hobbit land. There were even penguin chicks nesting under each hut, cute, rather smelly, balls of fluff. Fortunately there is gas for cooking but the candles for lighting and an outdoor bath snuggled in bush and heated by a log fire, which we all had turns soaking in, make it deliciously atmospheric.  In the evening we lit a camp fire and sat around it telling each other tales of our travels and scarcely thinking about the poor souls in the city caught up in the Christmas rush. We struck the only rain of the hike here but didn't mind at all, just passing  time playing scrabble, reading, writing our diaries and chatting until, by midday, the weather was fine again for us to continue on our way.

Otanerito Homestead

Otanerito Beach from the track

Our final stopover was at Otanerito in a beautiful old house set in pretty gardens beside  an isolated, sandy beach. The final day's hike is through the magnificent Hinewai bush reserve, beside the bubbling Narbey Stream, where you can safely drink the water straight from the stream - delicious! -  and up through the beech forest  to the saddle, at 590metres. The final leg was a steep but easy walk down hill to  sea level and Akaroa again.

Near the top of the saddle
From the final saddle, looking down on Akaroa

I highly recommend this hike.  It is superb.  Well designed, well organised and utterly beautiful.  Each hiker is provided with a comprehensive guide to the track, the wild life, history and points of interest along the way. Because the numbers are limited, there is a feeling that you have the track all to yourself.  It is also extremely good value - between $230 and $285 for 4 days (depending on the time of year) and between $150 and $175 for 2 days.  As I mentioned earlier, I would suggest taking four days to enjoy it as much as we did.