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From Turkey to Greece in the time of Covid

We were intending to return to Greece soon after our trip to Ireland at the end of February. This was held up slightly by Ashley’s appointment with the cardiologist which required follow up. This delayed us until after lockdown. At that point, as Hilary is over 65, she was not allowed to leave my house under any circumstances. She applied for permission to travel to the airport towards the end of March, but our flight was cancelled. Having applied for the permission, it was no use pretending to be younger as the authorities and local police knew her age. We kept our eyes on things – it soon became clear that the ferries were unlikely to start any time soon and we saw flight after flight disappear. We kept telling ourselves that the sensible thing to do was to stay put, but we wanted to be back home on Lesvos, we wanted to take care of the garden and get on with the other tasks which should, if all had gone according to plan, have been accomplished by early spring.

There were hints that flights might happen, certainly Turkey was hoping flights to Europe would happen, not to Greece, but perhaps to Germany. So maybe we could go via Munich. It would have been fairly ugly, flight from Izmir to Istanbul. Overnight in airport hotel, flight from Munich, then to Athens, then testing, and overnight in Athens and finally a flight to Mytilene. Transiting 5 airports, two overnight stays in hotels. It looked like it might be doable, but apart from the immense health risks of so many airports, we judged that the flights from Turkey were far from likely to happen. We got that right, as we expected, they were cancelled.

In the end we gave up on waiting for ferries and flights and decided to do the trip by road. This became feasible after 1st June when Turkey lifted the ban on inter-city travel. So we looked once again at the land border.  The problem being that normally, one drives across the bridge at İpsala-Kipoi, and we were unsure whether we would be allowed to walk it.  We knew that if we could get to the Greek side we could get in, we had cleared this with the Greek Consulate in Izmir – who were fantastic. They gave us the phone number for Kipoi Gate so we could call ahead and get clearance to pass. It was however our responsibility to get to the Greek side of the border and we would have to show evidence of our onward journey to Lesvos. We also needed to make the journey all fit together, ideally without hotels or other risks.  

Working backwards. We knew there was a ferry sailing from Kavala at 15.00 on Tuesday 9th  June, getting into Mytilene at 22.30 so early enough to jump a taxi.  We knew when we needed to get to Kavala, and we booked the ticket, giving us confirmation of onward journey.  We also had paperwork from the tax office showing our residence on Lesvos. Our plan was to get to the border for 09.00, giving us plenty of time to get across. We contacted a taxi company in Alexandroupolis and semi negotiated a price for the 200 kilometres from Kipoi Gate to Kavala.  Next up, the Turkey side, how to get to İpsala Gate by  09.00 on 9th June?  It’s 550 kilometres and takes about 7 hours non-stop, though we could go part way on a bus, hotel overnight, and then continue.  In the end we opted for a somewhat more expensive hire car plus driver, leaving shortly after midnight and heading straight for the border.  

The final problem was that those over 65 were still not allowed to leave their homes except for a few hours on a Sunday. Oh, and we were allowed to do a ‘one off’ journey to a home (usually, I guess, a summer home) provided we stayed there for 30 days. Hilary applied for one of those on the government website. She eventually got all the fields filled in correctly and it told her she was not entitled to one until she was 65. It kept returning the same result so, instead, she applied for a different permission (with a full explanation in English and Turkish of what wewere actually doing) and this was approved. She also wrote to the British Consul in Izmir as suggested on in the FCO advice for people trying to leave Turkey. She got a letter to take to the Kaymaktan (who issues the permits) in which Bulgaria and Greece were confused. We didn’t use it. She was a bit worried about getting stopped and showing the ‘wrong’ permit but decided to live with that. In the event, we were not stopped and had no issues with travelling whilst over 65.

Our driver arrived just after midnight on Tuesday. He drove steadily, we dozed on and off. We were awake when we passed Ayvalik which is where we would normally catch the ferry. That’s a 90 minute crossing (less if you get the fast cat) and it would be 18 hours till we passed the same spot again, this time in the opposite direction, on the ferry.

We crossed the Bosphorus in the early hours of morning, arriving at the border at around 8. It took two and a bit hours to complete the formalities.

The Turkish border police pored over our documents for quite some time, before taking us upstairs to meet their colleagues. Who passed around various documents. Eventually they were satisfied and asked us to wait for a lift to the Greek side. We slightly misunderstood this and, after buying some duty free for our neighbour and hanging around for fifteen minutes, we set off. Only to be told we had to wait for our lift, which soon arrived.

The Greek border police pored over our documents for quite some time. To be honest, they were not as communicative, or rather their communications went on behind darkened glass, so we had no idea what was happening. They seem to have had no knowledge that we had phoned them the previous day to warn of our arrival. Eventually they emerged and asked for our phone number and told us to phone our taxi. Which we did. They took the taxi’s licence plate number then returned our passports and other documents. They told us to go home as directly as possible and to quarantine for 7 days, we said we would do this.  By 10.00 were were through and done.

The taxi from Kipoi to Kavala was alarmingly fast but we both dozed in it. We got set down outside a favourite café and ordered freddo espresso. Then club sandwiches and more freddo espresso. We proceeded to the ferry port where we swapped our text message for tickets and filled in a form with our address, phone number and ticked boxes to indicate that we had not been in contact with any covid-19 to the best of our knowledge.

No one in Kavala was wearing a mask, except the waitstaff, sometimes. Social distancing was observed. Much the same was true on the ferry.

It was still too early to get on the ferry, so we sat and drank lemonade whilst watching the harbour. Then onto the boat which left harbour very promptly at 15:00. There’s not much to say about the boat trip really. It takes 7.5 hours. We sat on the outside deck, which was pleasant. We read a bit, we had a beer or two, we ate in the self-service restaurant (not knowing when we would have a chance to eat again)

There were masses of taxis in Mytilene so we got into one of those and came home. Total duration 23 hours, from 00.15 to 23.15.  Total travel cost, 650 Euro for the two of us. It was a very long day, stressful at times, and not without expense.  But we did it.

Winds of Change

One of the first things we did once were were back on Lesvos was go to customs in Mytilene and enquire about reregistering the bike, changing it from UK registered to Greek registered.  This should in theory be a great deal easier than trying this with a Turkish registered bike and was always part of the plan.  The plan is to have this done before March of next year because after then there are simply too many unknowns. The added benefit of doing so is that if we do not then the bike would need to go back to the UK every year for an MOT and doing that would be a pain, fun maybe, but a pain and not something we want to be forced to do.  So the Triumph needs to become Greek registered and plated.  As said we went to customs, papers were taken, stuff was photocopied,  the engine and frame numbers were photographed, and Gregory at customs said it should all be possible and that he would be in touch.  So now we are waiting, and at some point assuming it all goes to plan there will be some money to pay.

This task done the weather took a bad turn.  First was a cold wind storm.  Temperatures dropped, the wind gusting at near gale force.  This went on for a couple of days, then there was a brief lull.  We’d seen the news, a Mediterranean cyclone was heading our way.  There was not much we could do, ferries were cancelled due to the cold wind storm, all we could do was sit it out.  So we made some plans and watched the forecasts.  Reality was that by the time it crossed the mainland it would have weakened so worst case scenario was more gale force winds and a lot of rain.  The cold went, it got warm, the air became really humid.  The forcasts started to suggest we would get off very lightly, but to be on the safe side we stocked up on supplies, nothing major, food for a few days, plenty of beer.

We know other places got hit really bad, there were flash floods, there were some deaths.  It was a very powerful storm with some very strong winds, storm surges, and torrential rainfall.  Obviously our hearts go out to those who got it far worse than us, to those who lost loved ones, to those who had homes flooded and property destroyed  All we got was 30 hours of near continual rain and some gusts of wind, even our internet remained working.

Storm

Then slowly the skies cleared.  Wind and storms become a memory.  For now, once more it is warm and sunny, there will be more autumn and winter storms, some will in all probability seem more intense than the so called Medicane.  There are still birds heading south, flocks of House Martins and Swallows are passing through, as are Pelicans and more.  In a week or so we’ll move south to Selçuk for a while, we have things to do in the meantime including hoping to hear about the bike.  Winter is coming, but not yet.

Things we almost didn’t mention

Ashley-building

 

I’m not sure that we have photos of any of this but….

Early on in the spring or summer we took the bike to Pamucak beach and parked it up whilst we went for a walk.  Whilst we were walking ‘something’ happened to the bike.  We didn’t notice till we were a way down the road but, one way or another it had been knocked over and the end of one of the handgrips had come off.  We rode back to the carpark and, after some digging around, managed to retrieve it.  For a while we hoped it might be repairable but it had just sheared off through the metal.  The price of those grips in Turkey does not bear thinking about.  They’re quite expensive in the UK (and we weren’t due to go to the UK for quite some time).  Fortunately they are far cheaper in America and we were expecting a visit from some friends in March.  Parts were duly ordered, delivered to our friend and put in his suitcase so he wouldn’t forget them (thank you Wes).

Then Hilary got bitten by a spider.  Hardly noticed it at first, then enough pain to prevent sleep.  She let it go for a few days, at which point her leg swolled up most horribly and red lines developed, necessitating a trip to the local hospital and two courses of antibiotics, along with some magic water to apply to the bite and instructions to keep the leg elevated.  It soon started to improve and the two courses of antibiotics cured the problem.

Meanwhile, one morning when Ashley was watering our garden, our neighbour called us in to witness his carpets floating on at least 18 inches of our watering water.  It had seeped through from our tiny square garden into the lower part of his house.  We promised to fill that bit of garden in at the soonest opportunity.  Sadly this meant uprooting the bougainvillea which had grown up to cover our roof.  Ashley dug stuff up and, in the course of so doing, decided to use his rib as a lever.  And yes, it did break.  This made the rest of the work harder than it should have been not to mention more painful.

So, in between trips to Greece, we had a great week with our friends from America, got the part fitted, destroyed our tiny square of garden and paved it over with tiling.  It looked very sad at first but we’ve got some pots on there now and we intend to buy a lemon tree in spring, so it is filling up quite nicely.

Oh, and did I mention that Ashley built us a permanent barbecue on the roof?

He made an excellent job of it and has cooked some excellent meals on it.

With all this work, it’s hardly any wonder that if he’s not got tennis elbow, he’s got something pretty similar.  But it’s not slowed him down at all.

Hilary, meanwhile, has been working on costume for Conscience, a larp based on Westworld we shall be attending at the end of January.  This has included a full set of victorian ladies underwear, including a corset.  She’s still working on designing a hat!

In which we almost acquire a cat

duman-and-the-tiles

Hilary has long been in the habit of feeding the local stray cats by the bin – especially in winter.  We do try not to let them become too dependent on us.  We travel a lot and cannot really take responsibility for a pet.  However, this grey cat was very friendly.  We called her Duman (with is Turkish for Smoke).  Because she was entirely grey.  We got back from our long Central American trip very late at night and there she was, on the doorstep, chatting away and…. very pregnant.

We took her to the vet who said we should bring her back four to six weeks after she had her kittens.  She had two kittens.  One was killed by one of the local tomcats.  The other…. well, she kept trying to hide it under our bed and we had to stop her from doing that because it would have been impossible to continue with that whilst we were not at home.

We were quite concerned about the situation when we went to Berlin for a few days so we built a kind of blanket fort on the terrace.  Sadly it was not enough protection as we never saw the other kitten after we got back.  Duman was fine though, so we took her to the vet.  She had her inoculations, she had her internal and external parasites dealt with, she was spayed.  The vet phoned us to come and collect her but, sadly, when we got to his office, she had died.  He was as distressed by this as we were.  He thought it must have been a reaction to the anaesthetic.  Whatever…. We never bought her home.

This year has been very tough on the feral cat population.  There has been a devastating viral disease (feline infectious peritonitis) which has killed a great many of them.  However, this winter there are a lot of kittens about.  The population is very resilient. But I am very wary of ‘adopting’ a street cat again.  I don’t seem to be very lucky for them.

Spring is for new beginnings

 

Ibis1-24March2017We have neglected this blog for a bit, we think this happened because after being here in Turkey for more than 5 years we ran out of new things to blog about.  This and we got lazy or busy or something – we never even blogged the trip to Athens and the museums there.  This is about to change and if truth be known there are always things to blog.

Ashley-buildingThis spring Ashley built a brick barbecue.  A new thing for Ashley, and a whole set of skills to learn.  It is done now, ready for summer and pretty soon we’ll be inviting friends around and making more use of it.  One of the great things about being retired is learning new skills, and doing new things.

We’ll be writing more on the Central America trip.  This got delayed because we never got it together to sort out the photos.  There is an absolute mass of photos, mostly from archaeological sites or of wildlife and nature.

On the subject of photos we bought a DSLR and a decent lens.  There will as a result be more bird photos.  We got lucky, on the first test run we happened to be wandering around Pamucak and found migrating glossy ibis.  No doubt in summer we’ll be off to Kerkini for some bird photography.

Another thing that will appear is material about a project we are planning.  We’ll be poking around a few places in Greece looking at property in need of a little restoration.  Before anyone asks we have no plans to move from Selçuk, this has very little to do with events here.  The new place will be a means of maintaining our European Citizenship, something which is very important to us, so this project has far more to do with events in the UK.

We seem to have acquired a cat.  This is fine, but we need to not make her dependent, we go awayduman-and-the-tiles too much for that to be fair on her.  Truth be told she adopted us.  When we got back from the 8 weeks away in Central America, she greeted us, and…..  It all went from there.  We took her to the vet, she was pregnant at the time, so she’ll need to go back after kittens.  She is no longer pregnant but she is keeping her kittens hidden.  Still turns up two or three times a day for food!

So there are going to be lots of things to blog about, learning new skills, life and living here in Selçuk, our travels and more.

 

Berlin – October 2016

 

 

berlin-l04

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

greek-islands-20165

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

butterfly-valley

 

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

pelicans-pygmies-and-friend

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.