Yacht Retreat - Passage Reports 2003
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Passage Report Number 1
Moored in Gouvia Marina, Corfu, Greece
Saturday 5th April, 2003
A MONTH OF HARD LABOUR
As I write the sky is overcast and steady rain is dampening the world outside, but not our spirits. Other than the first two days after our arrival here on 2nd March, this is the first rain that we have seen. Day time temperatures have risen during March from 16°C to a pleasant 20°C though it has been distinctly chilly over-night making our fan heater an essential piece of equipment. Retreat is more-or-less in cruising trim and we are now awaiting a weather window to allow us on our way.
On Friday 28th February we flew from Stanstead to
The following afternoon we boarded a high-speed ferry to take us from Venice to Corfu. It was huge! We had a comfortable, though rather hot cabin and very much enjoyed the journey, especially the approach to Corfu which gave us superb views of the Albanian coast which we had avoided when we made much the same journey in Retreat last year. A short taxi ride from the port saw us back on board Retreat by 1600 on Sunday 2nd March. Shortly after we had hauled our luggage aboard friends Max and Sue from Two Smiles delivered a bag of essential groceries including a large Pizza. We were back in the supportive community of live-aboard Yachties.
Heavy rain fell throughout Monday and Tuesday though we hardly noticed. We had both been taken ill with a particularly nasty ’flu-like virus which confined us to Retreat for five days. Max and Sue bought us essentials which we hauled on-board with a rope in order to keep our distance and avoid passing the virus on. However, by the weekend we felt well enough to tackle the anti-fouling though, frustratingly, we found that our stamina was still extremely limited.
Retreat was launched by crane on Tuesday 11th March and, as always, we felt elated to be back in the water. Two days later a large packing case was delivered containing six new double-glazed windows for Retreat’s saloon and the next 10 days were devoted to taking out the old windows and fitting the new. None of the work involved was particularly difficult but it was a long and painstaking process mainly revolving around the 30 or so bolts that hold in each window. The old bolts had to be removed and their holes cleaned out and filled before holes could be drilled to suit the new windows. However, we received a constant stream of interested onlookers and, as a result, made a number of new friends along our pontoon.
Since completing the windows we have turned our attention to the normal task of fitting-out for the new season. Along with a myriad of smaller jobs we have hoisted the sails, re-erected the Bimini, re-varnished the bright-work, completed the engine servicing and mended a broken solar panel. The latter was particularly satisfying as, according to the manufacturers, the panel, worth £300, was irreparable. How long our repair will last we do not know, but if it lasts another season the time will have been well spent.
We had hoped to set sail yesterday when our winter contract expired but a forecast of gale force winds with gusts of 50 knots persuaded us (fairly easily) to stay in port. However, by the time you receive our next Passage Report we hope to be able to report that we are under way.
Passage Report Number 2
Moored on Nisis Trizonia in the Gulf of Patras, Greece
Tuesday 22nd April, 2003
THE WRONG KIND OF SNOW
The northerly gale that delayed our departure from Gouvia brought not only strong winds but sleet and snow. As we turned up our heater and huddled below we were very thankful that we had decided to stay in port. However, the depression eventually passed and we finally set sail on Wednesday 9th April. Our first passage was 18 miles to the well-protected anchorage at Igoumenitsa Creek where we stayed for two nights. We relished its tranquillity and beauty especially the snow-capped mountains of Albania to the north. However, we were less keen on the cold katabatic winds that they poured over us at night, a feature that still keeps our winter-weight duvet firmly on our bed.
From Igoumenitsa Creek we set off towards the island of Paxos but strong southerly winds quickly persuaded us to divert into Mourtos where we anchored in the bay just south-west of the harbour. From there we enjoyed an interesting walk ashore reminding us of what we really enjoy most about cruising - exploring new places. Walks ashore at this time of year bring the added bonus of spring flowers, one of the main reasons we like to set sail in early April, despite the often unsettled weather.
We made it to Paxos on our second attempt and enjoyed a peaceful night anchored in the bay at Mongonisi. The following day we made a 40-mile passage to Ormos Vlikho on the eastern side of Nisos Levkas. The north-west wind of force 6 to 7 gave us an exhilarating sail under genoa alone though the turn into the tiny basin at the northern end of the Levkas Canal was, as Nick would say, ‘character building.’
We spent two nights in Ormos Vlikho and fitted a shopping excursion into Nidri into the intervening day. With no sign of the ‘water man’ who has the key to the taps on the quay we watered ship 25 litres at a time by ferrying a container back and forth from the Neilson Charter pontoon where we were kindly allowed free use of their supply. Living on board a small boat certainly gives one an insight into the difficulties experienced by those who have no easy access to clean water.
From Ormos Vlikho we made a 15-mile passage to Port Leone on Nisos Kalamos where we were the only boat at anchor. We would liked to have stayed for several days but a forecast of yet another depression sent us scurrying to the fully-protected anchorage between Nisis Petalas and the mainland. There we spent two nights before setting off and rounding Nisis Oxia and heading east into the Gulf of Patras, our first venture into new waters this year. As if in celebration of this fact, during the course of our passage we saw four dolphins, a flock of flamingos and a turtle. We spent the night anchored in Mesolongi harbour, an interesting pool of water approached along a 3-mile long dredged channel.
The following morning we motored out of Mesolongi and made an 18-mile passage to Patras, Greece’s third largest city and the final destination of the many high-speed ferries that ply the route from various Italian ports and so link Greece to the rest of Europe. We moored in the dedicated Yacht Harbour, one of only a few such facilities in Greece. We were warmly greeted by Cruising Association member Bryan Thurlow with whom we have exchanged a number of emails but never met. Bryan drove us to a large out-of town supermarket and brought us, and our burden of heavy shopping, all the way back to Retreat. We hope one day to have the opportunity to repay his kindness but, if we don't, we shall most surely, in the spirit of cruising, ‘pass it on.’
Our main purpose of visiting Patras was realised the following day, Palm Sunday in Greece and Easter Sunday in the UK. We caught a train from Patras to Dhiakofto and then the narrow gauge rack and pinion railway that runs through the Vouraikos gorge to Kalavryta. Blessed by a clear, sunny day the journey was breathtaking. The Italian engineers must have been thought crazy when they first spoke of building the railway to carry minerals down from the mines in the mountains and there were times when we could have agreed. The track clings first to one side and then to the other of a narrow gorge that cuts deep into the mountain. At times one can peer several hundred feet down to the stream cascading over the rocks below and thousands of feet up to the snow-capped mountains above. We enjoyed the trip immensely.
Yesterday we made a 21-mile passage from Patras to Trizonia where we now lie. This tiny island in the Gulf of Corinth with only 55 inhabitants boasts a substantial, purpose-built marina. As so often in Greece, the water and electricity have not been connected and there is no authority to manage it or to collect fees making it a popular place for some to over-winter. For us it provides a safe and quiet spot to sit out the approaching storm that we can hear presaged by distant thunder and an ideal opportunity to write this report.
Passage Report Number 3
Moored in Olympic Marina on the Greek Mainland
Wednesday 7th May, 2003
THROUGH THE CORINTH CANAL
As I write we are moored in Olympic Marina, 20 miles
By contrast, the storm that threatened whilst I wrote my last Passage Report in Trizonia blew over quickly and we enjoyed a walk around the island in the afternoon. The following morning, Wednesday 23rd April, we made a 24-mile passage to yet another unfinished marina, this one at Itea on the northern side of the Gulf of Corinth. The pilot had little complimentary to say about the town but we enjoyed our stay there so much that we stayed for four nights.
We made two excursions from Itea by bus, the first to Delphi. We enjoyed our visit there immensely, not so much for the archaeology as most of the original buildings have been destroyed by earthquakes, but for the grandeur of the site. Set on a steep hillside high in the mountains one needed to be fit to walk all the way up to the Stadium but the views back over the site and the valley below made the effort well worthwhile. As an added bonus, the journey there was also interesting passing as it did through extensive olive groves before climbing into the mountains.
The following day was Good Friday in the Eastern Orthodox Church, one week later than in the west. The hypnotic chant of an all-day vigil drifted over Retreat from a nearby church that, like most Greek churches, broadcast its services from loudspeakers in the belfry. Sounding more like the Muslim call to prayer than anything heard in an English church we felt for the first time that we were indeed heading East, away from the familiar towards the unknown. In a bid to rectify this, we left Retreat at dusk and joined in for part of the Good Friday procession in which an ‘Epitafios’ (Christ’s funeral bier) is carried through the streets. The turn-out was impressive with processions from each of Itea’s three churches meeting in the town centre and bringing the entire area to a standstill.
Saturday saw our second excursion, this time to nearby Galaxidhi, a pretty town and harbour a few miles southwest and popular with yachtsmen. We enjoyed our visit, especially a long walk along the wooded peninsular that protects the town from the sea, but were less impressed with the area set aside for mooring yachts. With rocks and ballasting extending under water some distance from the quay and crowds of people walking up and down the front we were pleased we had left Retreat in Itea.
Half an hour before midnight we once again walked to the nearby church, this time to witness the climax of the Easter celebrations, the Anastasis Mass. The church was packed to overflowing and hundreds more filled the surrounding streets. We found ourselves a spot from where we could see in through the west door and stood and waited, clutching our candles bought earlier in the day. Shortly before midnight the chanting ceased and the church was plunged into darkness. After a brief interlude the Priest appeared from behind the altar screen carrying a lighted taper and exclaiming: ‘Avto to Fos’ – ‘This is the Light of the World.’ Then, with the words ‘Devteh, leveteh Fos’ – ‘Come take the Light,’ he used his taper to light the candles carried by the closest members of the congregation who, in turn, passed on ‘the Light’ to those behind them and so on all the way to the back of the church and out into the streets. An elderly man passed on ‘the Light’ to us with a friendly beam on his face and, once everyone’s candles were lit, the whole congregation started a slow walk home through the streets to a backdrop of fireworks set off from every corner of the town. It is said to bring good luck if you can reach your home with the candle still alight and hold it up to the lintel to leave a sooty mark. We signally failed to carry ours more than a few paces but we lacked the experience of the locals. Some came equipped with flame-protecting shields and others lit great bunches of candles that collectively could withstand a hurricane. We made our way back to Retreat feeling privileged to have been able to share the celebration.
When we awoke on Easter Day we looked out to see great plumes of smoke billowing up from amongst the houses and blowing out to sea. We ate a hurried breakfast and set off to find the source. When we reached the residential area we found enthusiastic groups out in the streets lighting fires on which to roast their Easter Lamb. Some were individual and others communal, but all had spits on which the whole lambs were turned. More important to the Greeks than Christmas, this was their major feast of the year.
Over the next three days we made our way to the yacht harbour at Corinth spending nights at anchor off the village of Andikiron and in the southeast corner of Ormos Vathi. The latter formed the western end of the much indented Ormos Dhomvrainas and was notable for being one of the most deserted anchorages we have ever found. Other than the evening visit of the Goatherd and his wife we could see no sign of human life and at night we could see no lights at all in any direction. The intense darkness gave a rare clarity to the stars and planets, a fitting postscript to Easter 2003.
On the morning of Wednesday 30th April we passed through the Corinth Canal from the Gulf of Corinth to the Saronic Gulf. It is said that Nero began digging the canal in Roman times by removing the first soil with a silver trowel but it took until July 1893 before it was finally opened. It is 3.2 miles long, 25 metres wide and can take vessels with a draught up to 7metres. Cut through solid limestone the vertical walls rise to 76 metres above sea level at the highest point. There are no locks to control the flow resulting in a current of up to 3 knots one way or the other depending mainly upon wind direction. Pat took the helm throughout our transit whilst I took photographs. Within half an hour it was all over, but the experience was one that we shall never forget.
Over the next week we took advantage of the stable high pressure over Greece and the resultant warm weather and light winds to explore the Saronic Gulf, all without setting foot on land. We spent nights at anchor in Korfos, Ormos Vidhi near Poros (3), Ormos Skindos on Nisis Dhokos and in the bay below the 5th Century BC ‘Temple of Poseidon’ on Cape Sounion. The week was idyllic with few other boats around, a major advantage of cruising early in the season. Within a few weeks these same waters will be teaming with charter boats and it will be difficult to find a spot to anchor or moor anywhere.
Our passage from Poros to Cape Sounion saw the beginning of the strong winds from which we are now sheltering. They gave us an exhilarating sail across relatively open water but an uncomfortable night at anchor bringing our idyll to an abrupt end. With the wind consistently above 25 knots and frequent gusts to 35 knots we took turns to keep an anchor watch through the night. Fortunately, our anchor held fast and yesterday we used the power of our Mercedes 42 hp engine to round Cape Sounion and slowly claw our way 5 miles north against a full gale to Olympic Marina where we now lie. The winds are forecast to moderate tomorrow so we hope to make a small step along our way northwards through the Evia channel towards the Northern Sporades. To find out how we get on, look out for our next Passage Report in a few weeks time.
Passage Report Number 4
Anchored in Ormos Kondia, Nisos Limnos, Greece
Tuesday 3rd June, 2003
SUNSET OVER MOUNT ATHOS
The gale that sent us scurrying into Olympic Marina
moderated overnight so that, on the morning of Thursday 8th May, we were able
to make some progress northwards along the Evia Channel to Ormos Markopoulou
where we anchored for the night off the
We weighed anchor the following morning with the intention of continuing our passage north through the Evia Channel. However, the ignition light failed to extinguish indicating a problem with the alternator. We re-anchored and spent the next two very windy days diagnosing the problem, removing the old alternator and fitting a new one that we had bought at the Boat Show in January. There was the usual number of problems caused by parts failing to line up or fit but we managed to find a way around them and, by Sunday evening, we had a functional electrical system once more.
Over the next two days we covered 50 miles to Khalkis, the mid-point of the Evia Channel, with an overnight stop anchored in the delightful harbour at Boufalo. At Khalkis the channel narrows to 39.3 metres and navigation is blocked by a low bridge that opens only once every 24 hours during the night at slack water. For us, that was 0130 on the morning of Wednesday 14th May. Having paid our dues the evening before we were summoned on the VHF radio when it was our time to pass through. Whatever happened to the principle of waiting until slack water we do not know as we were shot through the narrows like a champagne cork exploding from a shaken bottle. We then turned back into the current and moored alongside the Town Quay, the first time I have used the technique of ‘Ferry Gliding’ since leaving the UK in 1998.
Anxious to make the best use of the slack winds we motored for 81 miles over the next three days and completed our passage through the Evia Channel. We spent peaceful nights at anchor to the west of Nisos Atalandi, in Ormos Vathikelou and west of Nisos Alatas, the latter within the Gulf of Volos.
We weighed anchor on Saturday morning, retraced our wake out of the Gulf of Volos and headed East towards Nisos Skiathos, the most westerly of the Northern Sporades. However, by noon the wind had risen to Easterly Force 5 with a lumpy sea so we diverted into a tiny bay called Ormos Khondhri Ammos. By tying back to the shore behind a tiny spur we were able to escape the wind and waves completely and we enjoyed a peaceful afternoon in the sun. However, some vicious gusts in the early hours had us up tending our lines and robbed us of our sleep. With the wind now offshore and on our beam we slipped our shoreline and lay comfortably to our bower anchor.
As so often happens with katabatic winds, by the time we had recovered our shoreline and chain the wind had died away to nothing. However, having got the adrenalin pumping we could not get back to sleep so we decided to set off early before the wind returned with the sun. At 0620 we witnessed a perfect sunrise over Skiathos and at 0700 we anchored off the beach in Ormos Koukounaries. Our first goal of the season - The Northern Sporades - had been reached. After a well-earned sleep we went ashore and walked around a ‘Natural Park’ surrounding a lagoon behind the shore-line. With marked trails and slatted walk-ways it is the most organised tourist attraction that we have found in Greece so far.
On Monday morning we motored around the coast to Skiathos Town and moored bows to our anchor, stern to the Town Quay. Whilst Pat went shopping I watered ship and arranged for a nearby garage to bring 120 litres of diesel to Retreat in cans. After lunch in McDonalds (a real surprise!) we continued on our way to Ormos Panormou on Nisos Skopelos where we anchored and tied back to the shore. This totally enclosed bay is one of the prettiest we have visited this year. We stayed for two nights and enjoyed the company of different friends each evening. A delight in every way!
We left Ormos Panormos on Wednesday morning and made a 25-mile passage south-about around Nisos Skopelos and Nisos Alonnisos to Ormos Vasiliko on Nisos Peristera, another delightful, fully-enclosed anchorage. After another 16 miles on Thursday we arrived in the gem of the not inconsiderable crown of the Northern Sporades, Ormos Plantis on Nisos Kira Panayia. This fully-enclosed, double-headed bay is approached through a channel less than 100 metres wide and provides perfect protection whatever the wind. With no human habitation and only wild Ibex for company it made a fitting climax to our visit to the Northern Sporades.
The hold Ormos Plantis had over us was to prove stronger than we thought. With a favourable forecast we weighed anchor the following morning with the intention of heading North to Khalkidhiki. However, once in open water we encountered a heavy residual swell and so turned back for another day and night in Ormos Plantis. At least on this occasion, doing the right thing brought no hardships!
On Saturday 24th May, under leaden skies, we made the 37-mile passage to Porto Koufo on Sinthonia, the ‘middle finger’ of Khalkidhiki, our other major objective of the year. It rained heavily for much of the journey making us thankful yet again to have the shelter of our Pilot House.
From Porto Koufo we made a diversion to Nea Marmara, the principal town on Sinthonia, in order to replenish our stores and take on more water. The facilities there were useful and much-needed but the hustle and bustle was not to our liking. By Monday night we were back in Porto Koufo relishing the peace and tranquillity! So much did we enjoy it there that we stayed a further night to enable us to go on a long, marked country walk into the hills. Our efforts were rewarded by carpets of wild flowers, a huge variety of birds and a fox that failed to spot us until we could almost grab its tail.
From Porto Koufo we headed south-about around the tip of Sinthonia and up its eastern side. We spent two nights anchored south of Nisis Dhiaporos in a most delightful, fully-protected bay off a deserted sandy beach. Dragging ourselves away we spent a further night in a similarly beautiful bay just 4 miles away on the north of the island. There we experienced our first thunderstorm of the year with gusts to 30 knots. Mercifully it soon passed and we enjoyed a peaceful night.
On the last day of May we made our longest and most memorable passage of the year, 66 miles from Sinthonia to Mirina on Nisos Limnos. The passage took us east to the Akti Peninsular and then southeast along its coast passing many of the monasteries built on its shores. Although part of Greece, Akti is governed by a council of 20 representatives, one from each of the monasteries within the bounds of the ‘Theocratic Republic.’ Females (including farm animals) have not been allowed on Akti since 1060 and a yacht with a woman on board is not allowed closer than 500 metres to the shore. Never-the-less, it was a most interesting and inspiring passage, especially rounding Mount Athos at the southern tip of the peninsular. This dramatic mountain occupies a square of land only 5 miles by 5 yet rises to a lofty 2030 metres straight from the sea. Known in Greek as ‘Ayion Oros’ - Holy Mountain - many of the monasteries are perched perilously on its slopes, the closer to bring them to God. Should President Bush ever wish to inspire awe in anyone again he would do far better to bring them here than to drop bombs on them. A truly awe-inspiring sight.
With Mount Athos behind us we completed our passage with a 38-mile leg across open sea to Mirina where we stayed for two nights. We made good use of an Internet Cafe there to download some forms relating to the sale of our property in Brighton and then half a day completing them. Our reward was a climb to the top of the castle to witness the sun set behind Mount Athos. Invisible in full daylight, the Holy Mountain gradually took shape as the sun sank behind it, much as a print appears in a bath of developer. It was well worth the climb.
We left Mirina yesterday afternoon and made the short passage around the coast of Limnos to Ormos Kondia where we now lie. From here we shall explore a little more of Limnos and, when the winds turn North again we shall head southeast to Lesbos and beyond. To find out how we get on, look out for our next Passage Report in a few weeks’ time.
Passage Report Number 5
Moored in Ayvalik Marina, Turkey
Saturday 14th June, 2003
A NEW CONTINENT
As I write we are moored in Ayvalik Marina, our first port
of call in
We spent four nights at anchor in Ormos Kondia on Limnos. Almost fully protected from the sea with excellent holding and an unspoilt rural setting it would rate as one of our favourite anchorages were it not for one unexpected problem. The rather drab, unassuming Taverna on the shore turned out to be an all-night disco playing unbelievably loud music from 2100 to 0500 each night. Notwithstanding, we enjoyed our stay there, especially our walk to the Allied Military Cemetery at Portianou.
Our route to the cemetery took us along dusty tracks overlooking Ormos Moudhrou where the Allied Fleet gathered for the disastrous campaign in Gallipoli in 1915. The cemetery, like all those maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, is immaculately kept. 348 headstones mark the last resting places of soldiers and sailors brought back to the nearby military hospital where they lie alongside some of the doctors and nurses who cared for them. Two particularly poignant inscriptions touched our hearts:
“To live in the hearts of those they leave behind is not to die.”
“His country called, he answered. God called, he answered again.”
Throughout this season we have been making use of detailed reports written by fellow Cruising Association members Jane and Bill Curtis who sailed the same waters in 2001 aboard their catamaran Doublet. We knew that they had over-wintered in Cyprus so we were both surprised and delighted to discover by email that they were only a few miles away in Ormos Moudhrou. So it was that on Friday 6th June we made the 15-mile passage there to meet up with them and thank them personally for all their help.
The following day we made a 50-mile passage south-east to Sigri on Lesbos. With the meltimi giving us NNE5 for most of the day we completed the journey almost entirely under sail. Indeed, that one passage provided us with almost a quarter of the time we have managed under sail this year. We spent two nights at anchor off Sigri and would have liked to have stayed longer but the combination of strong winds and indifferent holding persuaded us to move on.
On Monday 9th June we made an interesting passage around the south-west corner of Lesbos to a superb anchorage just inside the entrance to Kolpos Kalloni, a huge gulf that cuts deep into the south coast of the island. The entrance into the gulf involves some fairly intricate pilotage but, as we approached the anchorage, we were rewarded by the sight of a Monk Seal surfacing very close to Retreat, no doubt to see who was invading his patch of water. Monk Seals are the most endangered species of mammal in Europe and one of the twelve most endangered in the world so to have one surface close by was a privilege indeed.
After two nights in Kolpos Kalloni we made a 32-mile passage to Skala Loutra in Kolpos Yeras, a smaller gulf cutting into the south-east corner of Lesbos. As we turned east out of Kolpos Kalloni we experienced sustained offshore winds of 35 knots in which we sailed under much reduced genoa alone. With gusts up to 38 knots it was the strongest wind in which we have ever sailed Retreat.
On Thursday morning we left Skala Loutra with the intention of sailing to Ayvalik. However, strong head winds soon persuaded us to divert into Mitilini, the capital of Lesbos. The town itself had little to offer but the harbour was secure and our stay there did enable us to ‘clear out’ from Greece before completing the journey to Ayvalik yesterday morning.
Passage Report Number 6
Ashore in Brighton
Monday 7th July, 2003
OUT OF THE FRYING PAN
As I write we are staying the night in our flat at Brighton
Marina for the first time since we sailed from here on
When we arrived in Ayvalik on 13th June we had only intended to stay long enough to complete the entry formalities before heading off again to cruise the many islands and anchorages in the vicinity. However, the Weather Gods, as always our masters, had other ideas and sent us near gale-force north-easterly winds and daytime temperatures over 30 degrees. The Meltemi had arrived with a vengeance.
Confined to harbour by the wind we decided to make a start on some of the jobs that we had planned to do when laying up Retreat for our return to the UK in the middle of July. A week later, with the Meltemi showing no signs of abating and afternoon temperatures of over 35 degrees, we took stock of our situation. The wind was grating on our nerves and the intense heat was debilitating. We were out in the Med to enjoy ourselves, but this was not fun. Furthermore, we had a very good reason to return to the UK early. A former colleague and close friend, Monica Steward, was being given a retirement party on 6th July for which we had already given our apologies for absence. Could we possibly complete our laying-up and organise flights back home in time to make the party? We decided to give it a go!
With the decision made our pace of work increased. We washed, dried, repaired and stowed our sails, sun awning and dinghy, serviced the engine and the outboard, emptied and sterilised the water tanks, greased the winches and, in the course of two weeks competed all the tasks that we normally spread over six. By the evening of Friday 27th June Retreat was safely on the hard and our bags were packed. We were ready to leave.
The following morning we caught a bus to Istanbul from just outside the marina gate. From the luxury of its air-conditioned interior we sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the spectacular countryside. As we climbed through the hills towards Balikesir we witnessed farming methods unchanged since Biblical times. We saw corn being cut with a sickle, bundled into sheaves and stacked in stooks to dry, produce being carried around the farms on donkeys and a plough being pulled by Oxen. Environmentally friendly it may have been but, in the scorching heat of mid-summer, unbelievably hard work.
The bus took us to Bandirma, a commercial port on the Sea of Marmara that has been used for centuries to ship out the product for which the region is famous and after which the Sea is named – Marble. From there we continued our journey to Istanbul by high-speed ferry allowing us to achieve one of our long-held ambitions, albeit not over our own keel: we arrived in Istanbul by sea. We had been told to look out for the sight of Minarets rising up over the horizon but before we reached that point we were greeted by the sight of a huge number of ships at anchor a few miles offshore. We gave up counting at 80 and still there were more. Istanbul has always been a crossroads for World trade and, quite clearly, still is.
From the ferry port we took a taxi (£3.50) to the centre of the city where we were dropped off at a ‘Bucket Shop’ close to the Blue Mosque. There we arranged flights for the following Monday (£116 single each), a double room close to the Blue Mosque for two nights (€50/night including breakfast for us both) and a day-trip on the intervening day.
The highlight of our tour was a boat trip up the Bosporus towards the Black Sea. This busy waterway is lined by palaces from the Ottoman era with expensive villas for the newly rich and famous built alongside. On land we particularly enjoyed our visit to the Blue Mosque and our walk through the Spice Market though our pleasure was marred by the persistent attentions of carpet salesmen. Smiling faces would offer to help us to find our way or to explain the meaning of a plaque on the wall only to turn the conversation quickly to “would you like to look at my carpets?” We soon learnt to keep walking, not to stop and look in windows and to engage no-one in conversation. What a shame, and what a blight on their struggling tourist industry.
We flew back to Heathrow on Monday 30th June where we were met by Nick. After a few days in Ash we drove down to Brighton from where we made our surprise visit to Monica’s retirement party. “You’re not here – you’re in Turkey!” she said in disbelief. The effort had been worthwhile.
From here we shall travel north to stay with my mother for a while and begin our hunt for a house before returning to Ash to look after Katy in the later stages of her pregnancy. Retreat will stay on the hard for both autumn and winter until we return once again, hopefully in March 2004.