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Berlin – October 2016

 

 

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I have wanted to go to Berlin for many years – the museums contain many things I  wanted to see (things that are not in the British Museum or Istanbul, or even the Louvre).  And, at the end of October I finally got to go there.

We both liked Berlin – it’s a pleasant enough city – and, whilst the weather was colder than it was here in Selçuk it was not too cold to wander around if adequately wrapped up in fleece, hat and jacket.  The metro system worked well once we discovered that you can’t feed the automatic machine notes larger that 10 Euro, and whilst we were staying some distance from the centre, it was easy enough to get around.  The first night we went to a microbrewery where we drank beer and ate sausages.  Then we had a full day of museums….

Berlin has a museum Island.  It has six museums on it and you can buy a ticket to cover all of them.  We managed four (with a brief break for currywurst).  We did (in order) the Altes museum, the Bergama museum, the Neues Museum and the Bode Museum.  At which point we were museumed out.  I was hugely determined to see the Bergama museum, even though parts of it are currently shut for renovation.  It contains many of the brick mosaics that led up to the Ishtar gate (other bits of which are in Istanbul and the BM).  I really wanted to see that.  The Assyrian items came as a very pleasant surprise.  And I had completely forgotten that the Miletus gate is also in Berlin.  You can see it at the top of the page.  Miletus is less than an hour’s ride from Selçuk so it was easy for us to visualise it in its original location.

I’m just going to leave a gallery here….  So much amazing stuff!  And some of the best red figure ware I’ve seen anywhere outside the British Museum – not even in Athens….

 

 

 

 

And, finally, Kos

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We wound up on Kos where we had arranged to meet friends for lunch.  We stayed at the same little Pansyion we stayed at last time we met those same friends on Kos.  They live in the UK but like to take their holidays in Greece!  The Pansyion is set back from the very quiet ‘strip’ in the quiet tourist resort of Lampi which is an extension of Kos Town and an easy walk from the harbour.  The hotel is set in farmland and you can sit around the pool watching the puppies chase the goats and chickens in the field next door.

Kos is genuinely a ‘holiday island’.  It has wall to wall tourist resorts all around the coast and a few farms in the middle.  We had great fun taking the hired quad bike over dirt roads through the mountains, bumping over rubble, turning round at dead ends and finding some beautiful views.

Ultimately, though, Kos is about eating and drinking and sitting on the beach. It does have some spectacular beaches and we did go swimming, though we didn’t take photographs.  Ashley excelled himself by finding the little restaurant we ate in two years ago, it’s just above the village of Zia, but, sadly, it was shut.  We hope not permanently.  We struck it lucky again though by finding a lovely restaurant (Taverna Zia no Stress – highly recommended)  at the top of Zia which claimed to have the best moussaka in Europe.  We took that as a challenge.  The moussaka was very, very good indeed and the stuffed courgette flowers were wonderful.  It was also very quiet, given that Zia itself was as busy as usual.

The next day we had a fish lunch with our friends and their young son.  We were right on the beach so he was able to run off and play safely.  We ate a lot that afternoon so, in the evening, it was mezzes  at the restaurant local to our hotel.  This was the mezze plate to go with wine.  There was a different one to go with ouzo (mostly seafood)

The one fly in the ointment was when we put Ashley’s cash card into a cash machine which ate it.  This was a cash machine attached to a bank, but it was a Saturday and our ferry left for Bodrum early on the Sunday morning.  It was at this point that we discovered that Garanti Bank’s phone line does not work on our mobiles when we are outside Turkey.  Thankfully the bank machine immediately re-credited Ashley’s account and we were able to cancel the card from the bus to Aydin on Monday morning.  A new card was ordered on Tuesday and arrived at our bank in Selcuk within a week.

 

 

 

 

Island Hopping – We moved on to Nisyros

greek-islands-20161We spent two nights on Rhodes then caught the big ferry to Nisyros in the late afternoon, arriving around sunset (and it was a beautiful sunset).  We stayed in a really old fashioned hotel with a sea water swimming pool.

Nisyros is a small island (we got round it in less than a day on our hired quad bike) with a couple of seaside towns and a couple of villages up in the mountains.  Well, I say mountains but, in fact, the island is one large volcano.  We stayed in Mangreek-islands-201610draki where the ferry (and a host of day trips) dock.  There are plenty of seafront bars and restaurants but the nicer restaurants are up in the square, away from the sea front.  We ate very well (and cheaply) on Nisyros.

There is a very nicely restored castle above Mandraki – a pleasant and not difficult walk.  That’s where the picture of the windswept trees was taken.  I don’t know why we didn’t take photos of the castle (which is mainly a curtain wall).

The main attraction on the island is the volcano itself (there’s a very interesting volcano museum) and the actual caldera.  You can walk right into the caldera and explore it.  It bubbles and smokes and smells of sulphur.  We were lucky to get the place to ourselves – we arrived as one bus tour was leaving and left as the next bus tour arrived.

Island Hopping – First Island was Rodos

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Back in September we went Island Hopping.  Apart from sheer enjoyment and recreation, we had two motivations.  Firstly, friends were holidaying on Kos and we arranged to meet them for lunch and secondly we wanted to escape Turkey for Kurban Bayram.

We started out by heading for Marmaris to catch our (booked) ferry to Rodos.  When you travel at the start of Bayram it is good to book everything well in advance.  The bus station thought we were crazy trying to book our bus to Marmaris a week in advance, right until they discovered that there were only two seats left…

As it turned out, when we got to Aydin there was a man waiting for customers to inform them that the bus we had booked had been held up in Istanbul and was running 5 hours late.  He booked us onto a bus with a different company (and we got 10 lira back as the new bus was cheaper).  All went well till just before Muğla where the bus broke down…

Hwp_20160910_16_22_11_proalf an hour later the crew got it going again and we arrived in Marmaris with enough time to grab a late lunch before our ferry left.  On the ferry my favourite waiter bought me the first espresso freddo of the holiday.  It was not to be the last…

Rodos is lovely, but somewhat expensive.  We stayed in the old town in a quiet little hilary-in-nyserrospansyon and took breakfast at the local bakery.  We had a wildly expensive dinner one night (with avocado stuffed with prawn cocktail – very ’70’s as the couple at the next table commented – and swordfish) in a rooftop restaurant with a great atmosphere.  We ate in Psinthos twice.  That’s a lovely little village with several great restaurants round the village square.  We hired a quad bike and rode around.  We took loads of photos in butterfly valley.

Last time we went to butterfly valley we didn’t see any butterflies.  It was the wrong time of year.  This time we saw….. millions.

 

And some other  creatures:

 

Traveling season

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We were in the UK and Ireland in February then, in April, at Hilary’s father’s 90th birthday party in London.  Pretty well as soon as we got back we took of on the ferry to Kavala, hired a car (with some difficulty, as it was a Sunday and everywhere was shut) and drove straight to Lake Kerkini.

Kerkini village is a delightful place.  On this occasion there was a (very well behaved) school party staying in the hotel so we were treated to three nights in a beautifully restored house.  Beers were taken at our favourite bar in the village and meals at the Oikoperigitis where our friend Vasilis is a guide.

black-kite-2On our first day we traveled around the lake, visiting favourite places and taking photographs of birds.  The next day we went up to the monastery, above which is a small reservoir where we were lucky enough to see a black kite perched, motionless in a tree for about twenty minutes. We went on to a spot near the Bulgarian border where rollers are often found but we can’t honestly say that we found any.  It was only a short drive on some extremely good roads.  We did see a very long line of trucks waiting to cross the border.

We also went out on Vasilis’ boat.  This is always a magical experience and different every time.  This year the level of the lake has been kept low to avoid flooding of the villages.  This has not been a totally good thing for the wildlife.  We were not able to enter the drowned forest (which is, sadly, slowly dying) though we did get quite close.

It was, of course, perfect biking weather (we left the bike at home).  But the next part of the trip was very windy so we were, eventually, glad of the hired car.

 

 

 

 

 

Human Catastrophe

We have not blogged for a while, truth be told it is hard to write about living in paradise when we see the growing human catastrophe around us.  When we moved to the Aegean, to western Turkey we had no idea of what was to come, no idea that those plans to see Homs, Aleppo, would never happen.  No idea that we would start to witness the tragedy of Syria and the Syrian people.

We are not exactly wealthy but we are comfortable.  We can afford what we need and many wants.  We are hardly Levantines partying whilst the country burned, but it is tough being comfortable when we see the desperation of people.  We give to the refugees, clothes, blankets, shoes, we hope it helps a bit but we know that here in Turkey they are transient, on the move.

This weekend we were on Samos, easy for us to get to.  It costs 55 Euro return.  On Samos we saw abandoned lifejackets and inflatables, not the number we saw on Lesbos, but an indication of what is still happening,  We saw families, women, children, infants who had made the crossing at night, at the mercy of people traffickers, at the mercy of the sea.  We saw lifejackets drifting in the water, hopefully washed off a beach.  And now, back home we are seeing pictures of children who did not make it across those few kilometres from Turkey to Greece.

On a point of principle we are not going to share photos of the dead.  If anyone wants to find them they are all over the media, all over Facebook.

These desperate people pay upwards of 500 Euro per person, to make that life threatening and sometimes tragic attempt to reach Greece.  One step in a journey to northern Europe, one of the riskier steps, but the journey remains hazardous, fraught with the dangers of being in the hands of other traffickers, all of whom have to be paid off on the way.  It is estimated that making the entire journey from Turkey to northern Europe journey costs more than 5000 Euro.

We are not going to get into the why travel? Why flee Syria?  We can look at causes at a later point in time.  Right now, what needs to be done is to address the human catastrophe.  To put it simply, if you lived in a city where someone drops barrels packed with nails and explosives onto the street where your children are playing you would not remain.  If someone threatened to rape your daughters at gunpoint over points of theology, you would not remain.  No sane person with the means to escape would not try.

The reality is these are people, people fleeing almost unimaginable horror, people who have dignity, people who want to have a better life, to support their children, to have education, to work, to earn money, to contribute.  The reality is they are going to try to get to northern Europe because it is there that they see safety, and a chance to hope, to live.  The reality is that they are going to get there or die trying.

We have seen compassion, compassion from Turks, compassion from Greeks, compassion from expats and other migrants like ourselves.  No doubt there are those further north on the terrible journey who try to help.  At the same time we are told of the shocking events, not the deaths at the hands of the smugglers, but razor wire fences, dragging people off trains and marking them with ink, closing borders and railway stations.  At the same time we hear the rhetoric, the “rampaging hoard” at Calais.  The whipping up of intolerance, of hatred.  The sort of xenophobia that after the Holocaust Europe vowed to never allow to happen again.

In these days of Europe it seems only Germany has taken on the gravity of the situation and truly tried to reject the politics of the 1930’s.

I am going to make this request, to everyone in Turkey and the EU who reads this.  Pressure your government to allow these desperate people to travel.  Pressure your government to take down the border control, to allow people to pass unmolested.  Pressure your government to follow the example of Germany and scrap the Dublin Protocol (this is the one which says people must apply for asylum in the first country they enter).  Pressure your government to allow movement without stamping passports – by all means scrutinise, but there is no need for a stamp.  And just as importantly, spread the message, share, and share again.

Be successful, if the borders are opened, then nobody will die in the sea, or in the back of a truck.  Nobody would be forced to scrape together 5000 Euro for a trip I can do for 100 Euro.  Nobody risks death.  End this human catastrophe.

Displaced

Lesvos 201514Something I have wanted to write for a while about our wonderful holiday in Lesvos.  Something I have been thinking about a great deal.  Something that has been on the news.  Something that was in the Guardian just after we got home.

I think we all know by now that there are more displaced people in the world than there have been at any time since the Second World War.  A lot of those people are trying to get into Western Europe.  Thousands and thousands of people every day are getting into inflatable dinghies in Turkey and making their way across the sea to Greece.

Skala Sikaminia, the very charming little fishing village where we stayed on Lesvos, is about five miles, as the seagull flies or the inflatable dinghy rides, from Assos in Turkey.  Riding from Mytilene to Sikamenia on our very expensive motorcycle we saw somewhere between five hundred and a thousand people walking.  Most of the people walking were young men, young men of military age, young men in smart jeans and smart t-shirts, carrying very little.  There were some families.  Some very young babies.  But most of the people we saw were young men.  Many of them smiled and waved as we rode past on our very expensive motorcycle.

It is a long walk for some of them.  65 or 70 km.  Though some are landing at Mytilene harbour.  We saw people sleeping in patches of shade by the side of the road, we saw people sleeping in the road.  People who were clearly exhausted from walking in the heat.  We did not take photographs.  Our feeling was that to take photographs would be to compromise their dignity.  We are not photojournalists, just individuals and bloggers.

On the beaches we saw tattered remains of the dinghies.  The outboard motors, apparently, are being salvaged by the locals.  They are worth something.  We saw piles of abandoned lifejackets (good quality) – clearly not worth the trouble of salvaging.  We saw torn up paperwork – Turkish work permits, papers confirming refugee status.  These displaced people are abandoning their own identities in order to find themselves a future in Western Europe.  A lot of the young men we saw are Syrian, but there are some from Afghanistan and Pakistan.  All seeking out a better life.

It is hard to know what to think or what to feel.  Lesvos itself is hardly rich.  The people there, on the whole, are sympathetic to the plight of displaced humans, but have a limited amount to give.  We saw people from the dinghies in the restaurant where we ate, we saw them in the corner shop, buying water and cigarettes.  The people in the shop told me that they feel sorry for the displaced people, but they can’t really cope with the influx.  We also saw them walking.

They walk to Mytilene where they get papers and a ferry to Athens.  I don’t know where they go from there.  I don’t know what they hope to find or whether what they hope for actually exists.

There are terrible things afoot in this world.  People run from those things.  People run to what they perceive as a better life for themselves and for their families.  People put themselves at risk to achieve this.  This has always been the case.

But, right now, there are more displaced people than at any time since the Second World War.  Where will those people go?  What will become of them?