On 15 September, we returned from a two month vacation to Canada and took respite from the heat in Tunisia. This strategy mostly worked, but a hot spell started up as soon as we arrived! A few days ago, we (Diane, Kevin and I) took a one-day excursion to actually see the sites in Tunis. Although we have passed through, or driven to Tunis (to fetch our luggage), we had not yet taken the time to see the city.
Downtown Tunis looks very similar to many streets in France or Italy, with large stone buildings, shaded walkways and trees.
We started with Tunis’s old Medina (an old walled part of an African town) classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – entering through this gate in the city wall (which has largely vanished through history).
Founded in 698 around the original core of the Zitouna Mosque, the old Medina of Tunis continued to develop throughout the Middle Ages. Today, it is a bustling, crowded narrow shopping “lane” (I hesitate to say street), where you could spend a day wandering around and looking in shops.
We stopped at the exterior of the Zitouna Mosque, but unfortunately it was closed. This mosque is the oldest in the city and covers an area of 5,000 square metres with nine entrances.
There were other places of worship evident, a synagogue and this cathedral, for example.
Later, we drove to the neighbourhood of Sidi Bou Said, a picturesque village overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Known for its cobbled streets and blue-and-white houses, Sidi Bou Said is a charming town on a promontory overlooking the Mediterranean, with al fresco cafes, Tunisian eateries, and small art galleries.
Lastly, we visited the ancient city of Carthage which offers a superb view of the surrounding coast. It’s predecessor ancient Carthage was one of the most important trading hubs of the Ancient Mediterranean and one of the most affluent cities of the classical world. The city developed from a Canaanite Phoenician colony into the capital of the Punic empire which dominated large parts of the Southwest Mediterranean during the first millennium BC.
Ancient Carthage was completely destroyed in a nearly-three year siege by the Roman Republic in 146 BC. It was re-developed a century later as Roman Carthage, which became the major city of the Roman Empire in the province of Africa. It was one of the largest cities of the Hellenistic period and was among the largest cities in preindustrial history. Whereas by AD 14, Rome had at least 750,000 inhabitants and in the following century may have reached 1 million, the cities of Alexandria and Antioch numbered only a few hundred thousand or less. Carthage and Alexandria Egypt were the next largest cities in the Roman empire. Sadly, history has not been kind to the remaining amphitheatre.
As an added bonus, our guide (Najd) stopped by Port Yasmine Marina in Hammamet on the way home. We have heard many good things about Port Yasmine Marina, but the reason we did not stay there is that historically – there was little, if any, of a live-aboard community. It seems that most cruisers berthed their boats, and flew home. This is not what we were looking for. However, it does seem to have one now, and although slightly more expensive than Monastir, does look to be in much better condition. It has a 150T travel-lift and very good protection from swells. I have heard though that with the presence of super yachts, the management are much more fussy about contractors working in the yard, and it is consequently more expensive than the popular Port-a-Peche (fisherman’s harbour) at Monastir.
We have been acclimating to the differences here in Tunisia, some subtle, some are obvious. Our marina is situated only a few hundred metres from downtown Monastir, within easy walking distance of grocery stores, the market and hundreds of shops and stalls. Although, we most often take our bikes, preferring to bike rather than walk.
This is a landscape view of the marina and the adjacent city of Monastir.
One evening, we went for a walk downtown with Kevin, stopped in a few shops and had a hamburger at a small restaurant. Not surprisingly, the prices were about 50% less than in the plethora of restaurants in the marina complex. We were surprised to see people milling about downtown, and enjoying the urban spaces there. This is what it looks like at early evening, compared to daytime.
With the heat, obviously more people are out in the early evening.
The downtown area is clean and modern in most places.
One thing I’ve noticed is the distinct lack of motorcycles, or even scooters. Nearly everyone rides around on a moped, probably an indication of the economic wealth of the average citizen. None appear to be new, but this one is pretty average.
This photo shows the entrance to the marina, which is well protected from storms and surge.
Walking around the marina grounds, our boat is situated very close to this travel lift and haul out yard. It looks tidy and professionally run (maybe a 50T lift?).
We see that there are some ruins near the marina, and several private swimming holes.
Although it seems that most people go to these beaches instead.
There is a “castle looking structure” right in the town centre and I’ve learned that they were called Ribat’s in the beginning of the Muslim era. These were small religious communities in charge of watching over the Tunisian coast. The people lived in fortresses, looked out for enemy attacks from a high watchtower, and warned the population in case of danger.
Apparently, a line of ribats stretched all along the coast of North Africa. The capital city of Morocco is named Rabat, and right through to Malta, there are the remains of ancient ribats. It is said that thanks to their high towers, a light signaled-message could be conveyed in one night from Ceuta in Morocco all the way to Alexandria Egypt.
One day, Diane and I stumbled upon a fancy looking restaurant downtown called “Smokehouse 67”, obviously part of a chain. Here, we bought beef by the kilo, and they cooked it and brought out “all the trimmings”. It was delicious, and with plenty of leftovers for the next day.
We are also situated right next to the Bourguiba mausoleum, containing the remains of former president Habib Bourguiba, the father of Tunisian independence, who died on April 6, 2000.
Inside, it is quite simple, but clean and well built – like all Muslim mosques.
Most other people are buried here, in the adjacent cemetery. Diane noticed something peculiar. For a Muslim burial, the grave should be situated perpendicular to Mecca, with the deceased’s body positioned so their right side faces the Islamic holy city. They are not positioned on their back, as Christians are, but on their side – facing Mecca. Just looking around you can see that there is obviously some variance in the actual direction.
This looks like the city mosque, located downtown. Another odd thing is that we have seen many round-a-bouts, but not a single traffic light yet.
The marina does not have wifi broadcast throughout. Instead, they have a “cruisers lounge” where very slow wifi is available. So, we head to the cruisers lounge when we have updates required on our iPhones, iPads and MacBook Airs. Our wifi on the boat comes from a mifi device (MiFis, or Mobile Hotspots, are small, portable devices that allow multiple users to connect to the internet through a mobile network). They tend to be battery powered, so they can be used to connect your laptop or tablet on the move – wherever you can get a mobile signal. The term MiFi is a combination of ‘Mobile WiFi’.). Cellular data and service is very cheap here.
One downside of Cap Monastir Marina is that most of the spaces are open to the public. I suppose that is so that they can use the restaurants, hotels and diving shop – just like we can. Most of the docks where the boats are berthed do have locking gates, that you need a key fob (RFID device) to enter. However, we are positioned on the outside wall, near the travel-lift, with the other “big boats”. We do not have any locking gates, but we do have 24/7 security guards. People walk by the stern of our boat, looking us over – but we have had that kind of situation before, and it is of little concern. All electrical and water consumption is included in our year-long contract, with a total cost of 2,000 euros (about one quarter of the cost we were paying in Türkiye. That’s not why we’re here though. We really wanted to show some “westward” progress in our very slow circumnavigation, and it is far cheaper than any European marina in the Mediterranean. It is also an easy solution from an Immigration perspective. We are permitted an entry of 120 days. We can easily fly out for a week, and re-enter with a new visa. In Europe, we are strictly governed by the Schengen Agreement, which limits us to 90 days in, followed by 90 days out. This is not a good solution when we live on the boat. It is also possible to get a national, year-long visa where we could stay for a year in Spain, or France for example, but then we are confined to that country and the marina fees are “crippling”. We also have to apply from our home country, a few months beforehand. So, here we are, in another Muslim country, where they speak Arabic and French – positioned on the coast of North Africa.
We have been to 3 grocery stores, namely Monoprix / Monoprix Max and Magasin General (MG). Most things that we expect to find are there, with few exceptions. The selection of cheese and yogurt is very good, and prices are similar, if not cheaper than Türkiye – and definitely cheaper than Canada. The MG store right at the base of the marina also sells wine and alcohol products, much cheaper than what we would pay in either Canada (our home) or Türkiye (where we spent the past 3 years).
We have also been to the local Monastir marche (market) which operates 7 days a week (everyday but Monday). There, we found nearly all fruits and vegetables that we normally buy with the exception of bananas and strawberries. It seems that some of these fruits and vegetables are only on offer when they are “in season”, so we will likely see different things available throughout the year. The watermelon is very good, and also very cheap.
I’ve had to revisit the alternator installation when we were at Pylos Greece several weeks ago. Here is what happened. I passed the dead alternator to a Greek mechanic called Peter. This is what the back of it looked like.
Peter pronounced it non-repairable, and got me a new one 24 hours later. It was pricey at 340 euros, but I had nowhere to turn. On arrival, he “offered” to come out to the boat (on anchor) and help me install it. Why? Because I was puzzled with the electrical connections at the back. Onsite, Peter actually struggled with both the mechanical part (the belts) and the wires. He had no tools. He had to borrow a pair of reading glasses. The belts were poorly aligned by him. With the wiring – evidently, he had never seen crimping pliers or heat shrink tubing, and wanted to wrap the connections in black electrical tape. I offered him ring terminals, heat shrink tubing and crimping pliers – but I didn’t want any sticky electrical tape on those wires! When he was finished, he left a single black wire dangling – and when asked about it, said it was unnecessary. Don’t worry about it……
When we tried to start the engine, it would not turn over. Peter used a big screw driver to short the starter solenoid, and the engine started – and then he pronounced his work complete! Um, OK, but not what I was expecting. A few hours later, I connected that single dangling wire to the nearest connection (looks like ground) and the engine started and worked fine, EXCEPT for the two inductor lights (coolant temp and battery) that continued to remain on, when the engine was running. I measured voltage and current – and the alternator was certainly working. I also confirmed that the engine was not running too hot. I measured it with an IR gun and the gauge. The engine has run for over 100 hours like this, and I did another oil change on arrival at Monastir. So, a few days ago I was paid a visit by Youssef, a very gentle and capable Tunisian mechanic who spoke Arabic, French and English. It took him a few hours to figure it out, but by troubleshooting with me, he managed to get it connected correctly this time. No material cost, just about $75CDN for his labour. Essentially, he just swapped the wires that were connected to the voltage sense and tachometer (W) and it seems to work fine now.
In fairness, I should point out that replacing an alternator on a marine engine is rarely going to be an easy job. Volvo (which doesn’t “make” alternators) considers my engine, circa 1992, to be well out of production and has very few spare parts available. I replaced the original alternator when in Malaysia 5 years ago, and it wasn’t easy then either. There are no off-the-shelf plug-and-play alternators that fit easily.
More “looking back at Türkiye ….. With the last blog, I reported that “By way of comparison, just the “registration” of a phone in Türkiye currently costs more than 7000 TL, nearly $400 CDN!”. When we arrived in Türkiye in June 2020, this import charge was only about 450 Lire. At least twice a year it was raised by the government, and in January 2023, it was raised to the “sky high” price of 7000 Lire, but I read just this morning that the government has raised it again (6 months later) to over 20,000 Lire. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – the Turkish government is DRIVING inflation, and the prices are unsustainable.
In preparation for off-season storage, we removed and bagged our sails, and took them to the local sailmaker for inspection, cleaning and repair. We will revisit this in April 2024.
Walking around the marina, we also saw many boats that had made covers for their furling gear, presumably to keep out the sand that invariably falls from sandstorms or rainstorms laden with sand or dust. This was the first time we have seen this. So, Diane whipped up two custom covers for our jib and staysail furlers using her skills and residual materials.
Next week, we are flying back to Ontario to visit with friends and relatives, and to buy things that have been on our list for the past two years.
Continuing on from the previous post, we enjoyed our short stay at Pylos Greece, and reconnected with Steve and Liz (SV LIBERTE) and Anita and Pierre (SV XAMALA). We enjoyed a nice Greek dinner at a local restaurant the night before leaving (all three boats were bound for Sicily).
Early the next morning, we set sail for Syracusa Sicily, an expected motor-sail of 308nm. A few minor things broke during this passage: one side of our lazy-jack lines for capturing the mainsail, a mainsail reefing line (too much chaffing) and our water maker is acting up again. Oh well, that is what cruising is all about.
A small bird “hitched a ride” as they commonly do. During the 3 day (two night) passage, this little bird was seen perching at various locations, and several times flew into the cockpit when we were sitting there. This, I thought, was a little strange that he came so close to us. A few hours before arrival in Syracusa, much to my surprise – this little bird was dead, laying on the deck. Even more surprising, a few feet away was his cousin, also dead and laying on the deck! We had not one, but two birds! I felt very sad for them, and wondered if we should have made an effort to put out some water and food?
We anchored for one night in the very large bay at Syracusa, but the next day moved on to the city wall, and berthed “stern to” and laid the anchor out front. We were permitted to stay there like this (no services, no utilities) for 5 nights free. It was great being right down at the city waterfront, with tons of restaurants and shops to explore.
In this “rearward looking view”, you can see our friend’s Steve and Liz’s boat LIBERTE just beside us.
We explored the old and the new city, mostly by Tuk-Tuk (who knew that there were Tuk-Tuks in Italy?) with a driver who was eager to show us the sites. There was a stark difference between the old city, with walls that were damaged by machine gun fire during WWII – and the new city that has been established nearby.
We had to go see Castello Maniace, constructed between 1232 and 1240. This castle guards the entrance to the harbour at Syracusa, possibly one of the oldest harbours in the world. Yes – it was windy!
The old downtown area was particularly beautiful.
Since we were right downtown at the waterfront, we really liked walking through the small streets with a plethora of different shops and restaurants. We just wandered around here, discovering new things.
Interspersed in the area were many old Roman and Greek ruins.
Who can turn down the famous Italian gelato for dessert?
At the entrance to this grocery store in the old city centre, there was a cannabis vending machine. This was the first time I’ve seen one of these.
We rented a car one day with Steve and Liz, and drove to the region of Mount Etna. Mount Etna is the highest volcano in Europe and considered to be one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It extends for approximately 1,250 square km and reaches a height of 3,350m. It often has formidable lava flows, and is surrounded by the spoils of frequent, volatile eruptions. I’ve read that it is even possible to ski down the slopes in the winter, literally only a stone’s throw from the sea. We were really impressed with the evidence of hundreds of years of eruptions.
On the road, there were small pebbles, almost like gravel – that the volcano spits out on a recurring basis. We saw lots of motorbikes on these winding mountain roads, and for me – all those little stones would be cause for concern on a bike.
At the visitor centre, there were many great views, including this old crater that was not nearly at the top.
These people were walking up a very steep slope, which still wasn’t even near the top.
To get even closer to the top, you had to pay 50 euros per person to ride on the cable car – well beyond our price range. After spending the day at Mount Etna, who could turn down the cheap Italian wine?
After a week at Syracusa, we felt we had seen enough of Sicily and decided to move on. We had many meals ashore, and sadly expressed that we wouldn’t have wanted to return to any of the restaurants. We mostly found the meals to be bland and uninteresting. On reflection, I suppose that is to be expected from Italian or Sicilian cuisine. We seemed to enjoy our meals in Greece and Turkey much more. While eating at one restaurant, we came across four young tourists from India, who had just come ashore from a gigantic cruise ship. They were desperately searching for “hot” or “spicy” food, and sadly – that was not to be found.
Steve and Liz on LIBERTE stayed longer, and will reconnect with us at Monastir.
We again motor-sailed down the coast (27nm) to anchor in the very well protected fishing harbour at Porto Palo. Although we did not go ashore, we did enjoy the quiet, tranquil anchorage, occasionally rocking when a fishing boat came or left. This was in stark comparison to being “on the wall” in the city centre of Syracusa with tour boats and onshore restaurants blaring competing music till late in the evening.
The next day, we again motor-sailed (mostly into the wind) to anchor at Mellieha Bay Malta, an uneventful trip of 56nm. I say uneventful, but there was lots of shipping traffic! Before coming to this bay, I had exchanged emails with a marina in Malta – inquiring about getting a berth for a week. Roland marina answered that they could provide us with a berth for 770 euros, plus any metered consumption of electrical and water – plus 18% VAT. I’m sorry, but I’m pretty sure that we could fly in, at some future point, and actually get a room with a bed cheaper than that. That would be more than 1,000 euros for the week, half of our YEARLY berth cost in Tunisia! Therefore, we opted to anchor – somewhere. There are many, many anchorages in Malta, but there are also many, many boats – and most of them are on mooring balls, clogging up the very best anchorage spots. Also, the only “all weather, well protected” anchorages to be found are in the capital of Valletta – and those are completely occupied with local boats. Consequently, we anchored at the extreme edge of Mellieha Bay on the west of the main island, and it looked like an attractive, “happening” kind of spot with lots of local traffic buzzing around, but it was just not our “cup of tea”. We enjoyed a well deserved day of relaxation, watching the locals on boats zipping by and the car and pedestrian traffic on shore. On reflexion, it occurred to us that we stayed in this bay during a weekend, arriving on Saturday afternoon and leaving on Monday morning. When we left on Monday morning 90% of the anchored boats had cleared out. Did they come from the marinas for the weekend? Our view of Malta was apparently jaded because of the hordes of local boats cluttering the anchorages.
At Malta, we linked up with Kevin and his son Christopher, of SV NOCONA MOON. The last time we saw Kevin, he had onboard his wife Sandy (who flew home to Texas with a fractured ankle) and Christopher and Christine (of SV SCINTILLA) but they had also departed. Kevin had arrived in Malta several weeks before we did, and was also headed to Tunisia. Diane made us excellent pizzas on anchor the night before we left.
After resting for two nights, we left for our end destination of Cap Monastir Marina in Tunisia, a trip of 175nm.
Despite being warned that we were transiting through “migrant alley” (hundreds of boats carrying African migrants looking to get into the EU), fortunately we did not encounter any. It’s a very, very big ocean. I did hear some VHF radio traffic concerning a migrant boat with hundreds of people onboard, taking on water – about 200nm from our position. We also read in the news about a migrant boat sinking south of Pylos Greece (which we left a few weeks ago), but saw nothing on our horizon.
We arrived in Monastir Tunisia late in the day on 13 June, and completed our in clearances. The next day, we secured local SIM cards and service for our phones using ORANGE. We “registered” our phones (otherwise your phone will stop working if you’re using a local SIM card for more than 10 days), picked up new SIM cards and secured a one month plan (with 25GB of data) for a total of 57 Tunisian Dinars (about $24 CDN). By way of comparison, just the “registration” of a phone in Turkey currently costs more than 7000 TL, nearly $400 CDN! We considered this very good value compared to both Türkiye and Canada.
Our initial impressions are favourable, but we have a steep learning curve since we plan to spend “a year” here. People are friendly, but mostly Arabic/French speaking, although we have met a few who speak English.
On 1 May, as planned, we finally sailed out of Alanya and went along the Turkish coast to Kas, where we checked out on 6 May – and checked into Kastelorizo Greece. Along the way we stopped at several familiar Turkish anchorages.
This is new territory and a “new country” for us! The minor changes between these two countries were immediately noticeable in the shops and restaurants. Buildings were frequently painted in pastel colours with white/blue accents being the most common. Pork was offered on the menu, and yes – we had pork gyros with tzatsiki.
On Monday morning, 8 May, we hauled anchor at 0515 and sailed 75nm to Lindos on the island of Rhodes. As I was picking up anchor, the UP anchor windlass foot switch was “sticking” in the ON position (this switch was over 20 years old), but I was able to safely stow the anchor. Along the way, Kevin nursed a transmission oil leak that was getting worse by the hour. When we arrived, after turning the windlass switches ON, I noticed that the UP switch was still stuck in the ON position, with the capstan continuously turning, wearing the friction plate. I immediately shut the electrical off, but I continued to lay the anchor, by hand. After the anchor was set, I had a closer look and decided to just cut away the foot switch (cut one wire in the chain locker) and use the wireless remote (that I installed 4 years ago). The next day, I realized that I was carrying a spare foot switch, and subsequently replaced it. I also ordered two new foot switches and a replacement friction plate (which was still OK) to be delivered to our home address.
There were more observable differences between Greece and Türkiye. First, there were no calls to prayers with “Allah Akbar”. If there were mosques, they were very quiet. Second, it seemed strange to see that very few of the houses had roof-top solar hot water heaters – a common feature in Türkiye on the roofs of single homes and especially apartment buildings. Many were installed, but it seemed to be less, and more camouflaged.
We rented a car for three days on the island of Rhodes and discovered another cultural difference when comparing it to Türkiye. When we picked up the rental car (at Rhodes and later on Crete), we were told to return it “with the same amount of fuel”. In Türkiye, we rented cars many times from different providers. Every time, the car was picked up empty of fuel, so empty that the warning light was flashing. It was always our challenge to return the car empty. Without exaggeration, several times I saw these guys siphoning the fuel from the car after return. You have to stay there a while to realize this.
This little park in the city of Rhodes even had an aqueduct.
We went to a very well stocked chandlery just opposite Rhodes Marina. Eric had a long list of things he was looking for, and found nearly everything. In Rhodes, we visited the Medieval City of Rhodes, and specifically the Palace of the Grand Master, and the Archeological Museum (site of the 15th century hospital).
The Medieval City of Rhodes was constructed around 1309 to 1523 and the site was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1988.
We marvelled at the grandeur of these fortifications and exhibits. We only spent a few hours there, but you could spend months and still not see everything.
We sailed further SW along the coast to the furthest point on the island of Rhodes – Prasonisi Beach. This was a windsurfer’s paradise. Although these days, there are also kite surfers and hydrofoils – all kinds of self sailing devices.
After a night motor sail, we made the 111nm passage to Crete, anchoring in the protected waters of Spinalonga Bay. The small city of Eloundas is a tourist town, but a very pretty one with many appealing shops and restaurants along the waterfront.
The protected bay is huge, and has very good holding to keep your boat safe in strong winds. With a car rental, we drove to the other side of the island where we saw greenhouses and many Pakistani migrant farm workers. The other side of the island looked quite a bit different from the touristy side.
We also took a tourist boat ride over to Spinalonga Island, which was formerly a military fortification (Greek / Italian / Ottoman / Greek) and even a leper colony for nearly a century.
This was the remaining text of one of the leper colony inhabitants: “My life has passed, full of sickness. I came as a guest, but no hospitality did I receive. Oh God, well you know, help comes from you. I found no better way than to worship your throne. Fatiha for the soul of the forgiven Mrs Raslye, daughter of coffee-shop owner Bilal Aga. Year 1280, 21 Ramazan (29 February 1864).”
As a group, we visited Knossos, the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete – which has been called Europe’s oldest city. Settled as early as the Neolithic period (this is before the Romans, before the ancient Greeks, and even before the Egyptians), the name Knossos survives from ancient Greek references to the major city of Crete. The palace of Knossos eventually became the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilization and culture. The palace was abandoned at some unknown time at the end of the Late Bronze Age (1380–1100 BC) – the reason is unknown. The population of the urban area in the First Palace Period (around 2000 BC), is expected to have reached a size of as many as 18,000 people.
Both at Rhodes and on Crete, at government operated tourist attractions I requested “senior’s admission prices”, which tended to be about 30% cheaper. However, the response was that these seniors prices were only available to EU citizens. This was very disappointing and reminiscent of the same response when in Australia and NZ. I am certain that this is not the case in Canada (where we come from) or our neighbours in the USA. Very disappointing.
On the way back to Eloundas, we stopped at a mountainside taverna for a very authentic, economical and excellent lunch.
After a few days at the Spinalonga anchorage, it was time to leave – and our 3 buddy boat convoy moved further up the coast. We went on ahead to Soudhas and waited for PIED A MER and NOCONA MOON. Unfortunately Eric and Pam on PIED A MER went back to Heraklion with a mysterious engine problem (oil leaks, inconsistent and erroneous oil pressure and tank level readings on their Axiom display) on their starboard Yanmar diesel. At the time of writing this blog, the exact reason for their oil leaks was not known, but suspected to be related to incorrect oil level (over spray) and incorrect oil filters. They remained at Heraklion. After another day, we split from the group and sailed directly to Pylos on mainland Greece. This solidifies our strategy to sail from Pylos to Sicily, and then to Malta and Tunisia. After all, we did not have an aggressive schedule to follow. Kevin and Sandy on NOCONA MOON left Crete as planned (with their guests Christopher and Christina of SCINTILLA) and took the narrow weather window direct to Malta. This is NOCONA MOON under sail.
On Pylos, we anchored for several days – just exploring and waiting for the right conditions. We wanted to fill up with diesel. I discovered a problem with our Volvo alternator, and replaced it (ordered one at the chandlery, and it arrived within 24 hours). Also, we are waiting for our friends Steve and Liz on LIBERTE to arrive. They may be sailing with us to our next port, Syracuse on the Italian island of Sicily. While shopping at a supermarket we found that ground beef is nearly half the price of that in Türkiye. Astonishing!
Sometime in mid-March, I tried out an inflatable Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) for the first time. I’m a big guy, so standing and balancing was a challenge. I lasted about 5 minutes before I toppled into the water. Later, when reviewing YouTube, I discovered that the best way to maintain balance is with forward motion, like riding a bike. Balancing in still water and not moving is quite difficult for a beginner.
On 24 March, we made another quick trip to Austria to visit with our son Raoul, his wife Amelia, and our grandson Thorsten (now 2 1/2 years old). We have weekly video chats with Thorsten, and try to visit him in person when possible to reinforce family ties.
We bought and used an “e-sim” for our phones, and setup a 30 day plan (covering 35 EU countries) with 3GB of data for $18 CDN. This took effect from the moment the plane touched down in Vienna, and was very convenient as we travelled through Austria and onwards to Prague.
Thorsten is now going to Kindergarten, so with his busy weekly schedule, we decided it was time for us to visit someplace new. This time, we took a train to Prague Czechia (the Czech Republic), a country and city that we have never visited before. That brings the tally to 76 countries. The train was a great experience, on time and economical. As senior citizens, we are getting discounts now.
This, of course, gave us the opportunity to sample some local delights. We had a few beers.
One day, I had a hot dog (long awaited pork) for lunch and Diane had what she described as the best hamburger in a decade!
Prague is the capital and largest city in the Czech Republic (Czechia) and the historical capital of Bohemia. Now that is something that I did not know. The city is situated on the Vltava river and home to about 1.3 million people – and receives more than 8.5 million international tourists every year. Prague has a rich history and Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architectures. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia and the residence of several Holy Roman Emperors, most notably Charles IV (1346–1378).
Prague is home to a number of well-known cultural attractions, many of which survived the violence and destruction of 20th-century Europe. The main attractions include Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, Old Town Square with the Prague astronomical clock, the Jewish Quarter (where we stayed in our AirBnB). Since 1992, the historic centre of Prague has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
We took a stroll across the Charles pedestrian bridge. It was cold but still swarming with tourists.
The city has more than ten major museums, along with numerous theatres, galleries, cinemas, and other historical exhibits. An extensive modern public transportation system connects the city. The City centre was surprisingly busy, despite the cool weather conditions. This is probably the coldest environment we have been in since leaving Canada 14 years ago. This did not seem to deter the thousands of tourists though. If it’s this busy now, I’d hate to see what the crowds are like in July!
We had a traditional lunch of slow roasted ham, bread dumplings, potatoes with cabbage.
One morning at precisely 11am, we observed the changing of the hour at the Astronomical Clock, constructed on the southern wall of Old Town Hall in the Old Town Square. The clock mechanism has three main components – the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details; statues of various Catholic saints stand on either side of the clock; “The Walk of the Apostles”, an hourly show of moving Apostle figures and other sculptures, notably a figure of a skeleton that represents Death, striking the time; and a calendar dial with medallions representing the months.
Afterwards, when we climbed the stairs, we had a look inside at the mechanism.
The rooftop views were very scenic.
Along the street, we sampled TRDELNIK, a rolled and cooked pastry.
One day we ventured to the National Museum, but mistakenly visited the National Museum of Technology, which was also right next to the National Museum of Agriculture. When we did visit the real National Museum, we were very impressed with many of the exhibits. This particular exhibit of sea birds was the best I have seen.
I ate potato soup in bread, and a spicy goulash, while Diane had regular goulash.
One day, we walked (and those cobble-stone streets are murder on our feet) over to visit Prague Castle, built in the 9th century. It is the official office of the President of the Czech Republic. The castle was the seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world, occupying an area of almost 70,000 square metres (750,000 square feet), at about 570 metres (1,870 feet) in length and an average of about 130 metres (430 feet) wide. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept within a hidden room inside it.
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vitus, Wenceslaus and Adalbert is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Prague, the seat of the Archbishop of Prague – and inside the complex of the Prague Castle. This cathedral is a prominent example of Gothic architecture, and is the largest and most important church in the country. It contains the tombs of many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors.
Inside the cathedral, we found the Chapel of St John of Nepomuk, and the vault containing the remains of St Ludmila. These are the remains.
We visited the statue of “Good King Wenceslas” (positioned just in front of the National Museum) – and I recalled that there is a Christmas carol that tells a story of a Bohemian king who goes on a journey, braving harsh winter weather, to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen. What is “the Feast of Stephen” then? Saint Stephen’s Day, also called the Feast of Saint Stephen, is a Christian saint’s day to commemorate Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr or protomartyr, celebrated on 26 December in Western Christianity and 27 December in Eastern Christianity. King Wenceslas refers to Saint Wenceslaus, sometimes called Václav the Good, who was the Duke of Bohemia from 921 to 935 and venerated as “the righteous king” for his great piety and charity. After his murder in 935, he was sainted and Holy Roman Emperor Otto bestowed on Wenceslaus the posthumous title of King.
We also stopped by to see Kafkova Hlava or Kafka’s Head. This eleven-metre-tall statue is a technical marvel of the 21st century in the centre of Prague. Forty-two moving panels rotate to create the face of the famous Czech writer Franz Kafka. The statue created by the artist David Černý is situated near the Quadrio Shopping Centre, it combines art with modern technology adopting the traditional “golden hands” of Czech craftsmen. If you haven’t already seen it, watch the “The Metamorphosis”. Wait for all of the panels to align and reveal the face of Kafka!
After returning to Alanya, we are on a schedule now, aiming for departure from Alanya and Türkiye in “early May”.
The days on the calendar are flying by, as we approach our departure from Alanya.
The first big news is that I ripped out our 220V Jenn-Air Electric Cooktop. This was a good product when I bought and installed it in 2000, but it has never really done what I expected. Due to the very high wattage (almost 4000W), I could never use it on shore power and was only connected to the generator. In North America, I would have had to use a two-phase 50A shore power cord (much more expensive than a single phase 30A cord), and at a marina – those dock pedestals are not nearly as common as the 110V single phase 30A receptacles. Therefore, we had a bit of a “white elephant” in place – with this cooktop that could only be used with the generator. The next kick in the head is that the Onan generator has never been all that reliable either. I bought what I believed at the time to be a very good product, but as I’ve learned from others – there does not seem to be such a thing as a “very good generator”. With all this in mind, I have been thinking for years to get away from relying on the generator and build up more solar.
This photo shows the space where the Jenn-Air used to be. You can see that the downdraft extraction pipe is still there. I have filled the void with plywood, as a base for the new stove.
With Ahmet’s help, we found a shop in the industrial area (the Sanaya) that could produce a countertop special to our needs. We researched granite, Corian, and quartz, and eventually decided to buy a quartz “off-cut” from someone else’s project.
As usual, Ahmet got us a bargain.
Once this new quartz countertop was in place, we needed to focus on the small details. A small, but important piece of wood trim was needed here, outlined by the red oval.
When I was building the boat more than 20 years ago, I would make this kind of trim myself, since I had a table saw and router table on the boat. So…..back to the Sanaya with Ahmet to see the “Master Carpenter”.
This is the same area, now showing the trim pieces added and the quartz cutout for the stove.
By the way, the little green can to the left is a small propane cylinder attached to a gimballed mountain camping stove. It is rarely used, but usually for hot beverages when underway.
When we are underway, there is a bit of motion inside the boat (side to side) and since we don’t have a proper gimballed stove, this is how we cook. We use a rice cooker, or in this case – our InstaPot – fastened to the side. As long as the pot isn’t full, this works very well for soup, curries and stews. Diane is very skilled at making tasty meals when underway, in an anchorage or at dock.
A few weeks later and our friend Jean Yves returned from a visit to Canada, carrying our new 110V stove (sourced on amazon.ca and delivered to our brother and sister-in-law in Canada) with his luggage. The stove fits perfectly. Our friend Kevin (on NOCONO MOON) brought back the necessary GFCI receptacle and box for us, because there is no possibility of sourcing those 110V components here in “220V-land”.
As you can see, once the Jenn-Air cooktop was removed, so was the pipe connected to the down-draft extraction fan. I bought a “grow-op” 110V extraction fan (on amazon.com and delivered to Türkiye and stuck it up into the ceiling, using the existing on deck piping. It seems to work well and the pipe is now gone.
The galley also got a new light, directly over the cooking area, which means that Diane has a much better view of what she is cooking.
This winter has been a bit severe at times, but seemingly very short. It already seems like it’s over, nearly a month earlier than last year. In order to help cope with the high humidity and condensation on the hatches and port lights (when it is very cold outside), we bought a small dehumidifier. This device plugs into 220V shore power and consumes less than 200W. We leave it running when the boat is closed up, and it pulls 5-6L of water per day out of the air. With the dryer air, it is warmer – and, there is no sweating on the hatches and port lights.
We did get hail twice during the winter. Here is some looking forward on the raised cabin deck.
We even had to use our electric blanket for a couple of weeks.
Another inside project was the construction and installation of a new LED light positioned over the saloon table. This light provides a great illumination for dominoes games, and even sewing or electronics projects. Why didn’t I think of that years ago? This required LED purchases from AliExpress and another trip to the Master Carpenter.
Our neighbour Pam Sellix (with her husband Eric) celebrated a birthday, and we had many of the neighbours over for cake and coffee.
When Jonathan was here during Christmas, he brought us a replacement Magnum Energy MS-2812 Inverter/Charger (30kg in checked baggage). Although it was “possible” to use the existing remote and programmed for Constant Current / Constant Voltage charging, I thought it best to go the next step and acquire a new remote ME-RC50. This model has the latest firmware and together with the MS2812 has all the programming features necessary for LiFePO4 batteries.
Finally, I decided to replace two more solar panels. Since arriving in Alanya in July 2020, I have now replaced 8 of our 10 solar panels. These last two are identical to the two flexible panels I replaced a few months ago. Our total solar array is now 1740W, although 720W of that is in flexible panels and they rarely give out more than half their claimed wattage. In any event, we are now well electrified for living on the anchor. As long as the suns shines, we have power for hot water, cooking, battery charging, refrigerator and freezer, ultrasonic anti-fouling, phone and computer use etc. This is pretty much everything.
This post is just a few days late, but contains some updates. First off, at this time, I usually provide a map and summary of our travels in the year. However, we sailed ZERO miles in 2022. For one reason or another, we never sailed anywhere! We did leave the dock for a daysail, but really – never clocked any miles. We will correct that in 2023. We have plans ……
Secondly, we were recently blessed with the Christmas holiday visit of our daughter Joana and her boyfriend Arend (both coming from the Netherlands) as well as the visit of our son Jonathan (coming from Halifax Canada).
One activity that Alanya is known for is paragliding. Although Jonathan’s knee injury prevented him from taking part, he was an active observer, watching both Joana and Arend taking their first flights.
We had an enjoyable drive up into the mountains surrounding Alanya, and stopped at this restaurant for afternoon tea. What a vista!
Alanya Castle itself is not much to look at, but there are some nice views. There is a very long wall, but not much of a building remaining.
Mamure Castle, is situated about 2 hours drive East of Alanya along a beautiful, but twisty mountain/seaside view road. If you drive too fast, you can actually get seasick on the switch-backs! Mamure Castle was built on an ancient foundation, a previous Anatolian Castle and Roman city, constructed in the 4th century.
Between 1300 and 1308 AD, Karamanoglu Mahmut Bey captured the castle with 35,000 soldiers and restored it to a large extent. That is why the castle has been called Mamure Castle (Mamure means “prosperous”). During that period, a mosque with cupola and outside baths were constructed within the castle walls.
The castle was repaired and enlarged in the 15th and 16th centuries and built on 20,000 square metres, formed in 3 parts. There is a courtyard in the east, a fortress in the west and an inside fortress which was constructed to the south. It has 39 towers and the main entrance is in the north of the courtyard. There is no furniture inside the castle, but it does offer impressive views.
Our friend Kevin on SV NOCONA MOON had recently taken delivery of new sails, new jib and main sails. So, we were treated to an afternoon sail in remarkable winter temperatures.
We had our LazyBoy sofa recovered in India. It was a bargain, but the material was not leather and really did not last with the heat and humidity. The issue was that it was cracking in many places, and although we paid for leather, and we thought it was leather – it wasn’t leather. So, we again unbolted it from the floor and took it to a proper furniture reupholster shop here in Türkiye.
We had it recovered with a “leather-like material” that is 97% PVC and 3% Vinyl Acrylic. This time, we actually paid for a separate, removable, washable slip-cover. Hopefully that will help to keep it looking good. This photo shows both the cover, and underlying material. We are very pleased with the quality of workmanship.
Jonathan brought with him our replacement inverter, so we are back in business again with our 110V distribution. What I believe happened two months ago was that an intermittent short developed inside the inverter. This meant that the inverter wouldn’t run to make 110V AC 60Hz power, and it tripped the 400A Class T fuse protecting the battery bank. When I had no more Class T fuses (these are getting hard to source), then it tripped the BMS protecting the battery bank. Although the inverter is protected by an ANL fuse, this just doesn’t trip fast enough for a LiFePO4 battery bank. So, I have added an additional MRBF 200A Terminal Fuse, (sold by Blue Sea Systems) to the terminal of the inverter. Hopefully, if this new inverter fails in a similar way, with an intermittent short inside the box, it will burn this terminal fuse, before the battery main fuse – and not cause a loss of power to the boat.
Since it has been nearly two months since my last blog, I think it is time for an update. Yes, of course, we are still in Alanya Türkiye.
We have had irritating problems, of one kind or another, with our Volvo tachometer for years. With an upgrade in mind, I purchased and installed this innovative little tachometer called a Tiny Tach. I placed the supplied sensor on a fuel line, and it senses the fuel pump pulses and produces a very nice, accurate display. We have tested it, and are very happy with the result.
Several months ago, we decided to upgrade our E-bikes (that were just one year old) and bought much higher quality models, again made in Türkiye. These Bison E-bikes have the motor built into the pedal gears rather than the back wheel hub. The bike is lighter and smoother. We added baskets and Diane made custom Sunbrella seat covers. Although they do not have fenders, or even lights, they are a much higher quality product. We don’t ride at night anyway.
We are playing Mexican Train dominoes again. This time with Kevin and Sandy from SV NOCONA MOON. They are relative newcomers to the yachting and live-aboard life, and it is our pleasure to introduce them to this popular cruisers board game.
We experienced an unexpected and traumatic fault with our Magnum Inverter/Charger 2800W. This device is almost the only way of supplying 110VAC to our 110V appliances (vacuum cleaner, rice cooker, insta-pot, coffee bean grinder, small battery chargers etc). When the device was turned on, it produced a short, and burned the battery fuse, many times. This fault occurred after a big lightening storm, so there is that possibility also. After removing and testing it for several days, the fault was narrowed down to either a series of MOSFETs on a main circuit board, or the transformer. Neither of which conditions, we were told can be repaired in this country. We need parts. After seeing the cost and lengthy timelines (9-10 months) associated with getting replacement parts in from Magnum, I took the unprecedented decision to replace it, with an identical but new replacement. It was, after all, more than 12 years old. A new one is “on it’s way”. This is our source of 110V power, so we have had to make do with a 3000W transformer and a few extension cords, in the meantime.
One day, we took a day trip to Gazipaşa, to the East of Alanya. This is where the Alanya airport is, and there is also another marina there, although it is not yet complete and ready for use. We had lunch in a small restaurant with a beautiful park-like setting.
Although we rarely go out in the evening, we were recently introduced to a restaurant called “Lost in Alanya”, and it has turned out to be our favourite restaurant. We have since learned that the owner has opened another restaurant right next door called “Found in Alanya”.
We went for dinner with Kevin and Sandy (of SV NOCONA MOON) to the home of our friends Ahmet and Muse. It was absolutely wonderful to have real Turkish dinner in a local home with friends.
They surprised us with a Christmas tree in their living room.
One of the reasons we like this cruising life so much is the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, from all countries – and sometimes see them again and again. To prove my point, a month ago, we went to a small social gathering of the marina live-aboard community and “re-met” Robin (of SV KATYDID), who we last saw in Cochin India in March 2019.
On 29 October, Türkiye celebrates their national day. We were delighted to be spectators to a cultural dance organized by the marina.
The spectators cheered, and some of the children even got in the mood. Lilly, a 3 year old member of the live-aboard community really enjoyed the dancing!
Finally, I’ll talk about our solar panels. We have 10 panels in place. I purchased and installed 4 flexible solar panels on our hard top (hard bimini) when in Malaysia 2018. When these 4 panels arrived, they were rolled in a tube, and one had stress cracks in it. I was always suspicious of the output of this panel, but could not tell with any certainty if the cracks impacted the performance – because all four panels were connected to the same controller.
Earlier this year, I replaced that single controller with two Victron MPPT controllers, and then it became obvious that one side was dramatically under-performing. So, I have been thinking about replacing that single panel for nearly a year. In the end, it was impossible to find an identical replacement (physical size, power output and performance), so I decided to replace two 200W panels with two 175W panels, giving the best fit and best performance. This photo shows the old and the new panels, side-by-side, and I’m happy to report that the new panels, even though they represent 350W of power compared to 400W of power – deliver 50% more power!
Christmas will be here soon, and we are excited because both Jonathan (who lives in Canada) and Joana (who lives in the Netherlands) are flying to Türkiye to visit us.
Diane and I have just returned from a long-awaited and very interesting 8 day tour of southeastern Türkiye, reported to be the origin of civilization itself. Unlike most of eastern Türkiye, the southeast is not mountainous, but rather an arid plateau at about 600 meters altitude. The region is more or less bordered by the great historical rivers, the Tigris (Dicle) in the east and the Euphrates (Fırat) in the west. Many of the people living here are Turkish citizens of Kurdish descent.
Evidently, the land can be fertile if it is irrigated. That is why the Turkish government has invested decades of work and trillions of Turkish Lira in the Southeastern Anatolia project. This giant public works venture has brought dozens of dams and hundreds of kilometres of aqueducts to the region, vastly increasing its capacity to grow crops and supply electricity. This once poor region is beginning to show the results of massive long-term investment.
We started on a Thursday, when we were taken by van from Alanya to Antalya, where we spent the night in a hotel and then took an early morning flight to Adana, connecting with a tour bus to Antakya (a distance of 210km). On the way Friday morning, we stopped for a group “Turkish” breakfast.
At Antakya, we visited the Hatay Archaeology Museum – known for its extensive collection of Roman and Byzantine Era mosaics. There are many important artifacts from the Paleolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Bronze Age, Hittite, Hellenistic, Roman, Eastern Roman, Seljuk and Ottoman periods in the museum. Of particular interest, we looked at a display about cranial deformation. Recovered skulls appear elongated as a result of being bound during infancy and early childhood when the cranium is still soft. A few of the human figurines recovered have been depicted in ways that suggest elongation of their heads. In this photo, Eric stands behind one of the recovered skulls to provide a baseline for comparison.
This statue of the Hatay Hittite King (soldier) is one of their most popular exhibits.
The Hatay museum is well known for it’s collection of mosaic floors that have been removed, carefully transported and relocated for display. Amazing.
Of course, this sarcophagus, discovered in the basement of an apartment building under construction is pretty significant as well.
Under the Romans, Antioch-ad-Orontes (Antakya) was the capital of the province of Syria with about 500,000 inhabitants. It became one of the empire’s largest cities – only Rome and Alexandria were larger – with a sizeable Jewish community. Saint Peter came here to preach, and Saints Paul and Barnabas used it as a base for missionary work. There were many converts from the local Jewish community, but it was here that the Saints decided to extend their mission to the Gentiles and call their followers Christians. We visited the first cave church in the world, originally built for the Apostle Peter – and modified to a three nave church in the 11th century AD. Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus came to Hatay and made his first religious meeting in this cave. According the the Catholic Church, he is the first Pope and Jesus’s heir. He was killed by crucifixion in 67AD by order of Emperor Nero of Rome.
Next, we stopped to see 23 centuries of history on 3D display at the Necmi Asfuroğlu Archaeology Museum – also known as the Museum Hotel. When construction started on this hotel in 2010, they discovered what ended up being the world’s largest intact mosaic floor. Thirteen different civilizations (over fifteen centuries) are believed to have contributed to the mosaic, beginning in 300BC when the Greeks were ruling this area. Naturally, construction of the hotel was halted for six months while excavations took place. Then it was decided to shift gears and incorporate the antiquities into the modern hotel. The owners invested ten years in excavations and hotel construction.
Afterwards, we stopped in at the first mosque of Anatolia – the Habib’i Neccar mosque. In Antiquity, there was most probably a pagan temple in place of this current mosque. During the Christian era, it was converted into a church named after John the Baptist. In the Medieval Age, the city was captured first by the Rashidun Caliphate in 637, by the Byzantine Empire in 969, by the Seljuk Turks in 1084, by the Crusaders in 1098, and by the Baibars of the Mamluk Sultanate in 1268. Each time, the building was changed from church to mosque and from mosque to church, and of course has suffered from earthquake damage over the years.
Saturday morning, we stopped at the Harbiye waterfalls, located in a pleasant natural park full of cafes and restaurants. This photo (taken at 9am) shows restaurant seating where your feet are in the cold water while dining – a popular feature during the summer heat. The water rushes down the slopes, supporting dozens of restaurants and scenic views.
I bought this little stone carving of a Hatay region Hittite King (symbolic of the Iron Age), a memorable souvenir from a local stone carver for only 50TL ($3USD).
In the valley, on the way to Gaziantep, we saw a lot of different crops growing (corn and cotton being the most common), and farm workers were picking cotton by hand. We continued on to the city of Gaziantep (a distance of 205km), one of the oldest cities of Hittite origin. The city was part of the Kingdom of Armenia, the Hittite Empire, the Persian Empire, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Ottoman Empire, among others.
Gaziantep, we visited the world famous Zeugma Mosaic Museum with a rich collection of Mosaics from the ancient city of Zeugma – largely flooded by the construction of the Biricik dam.
Here we saw the famous Gypsy Girl (comparable in Display to the Mona Lisa).
We were very impressed, but had our fill of mosaics by now.
After lunch, we stopped at Gaziantep Castle, first built by the Hittite Empire as an observation point and later fortified by the Roman Empire into a main castle on top of a hill in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. It underwent further expansion and renovation under Emperor Justinian between 527 and 565 AD. The circumference of the round castle is 1200 meters. The walls are made of stone and the castle consists of 12 towers. Inside the castle the story of Türkiye’s war of independence is told using posed figures and story boards – very similar to what we saw in Ankara at Anitkabir (Atatürk Mausoleum).
We walked through the authentic old quarter of Gaziantep and the very cozy coppersmith’s bazaar. Here, we were amazed by the quantity of peppers on display.
In the evening, we went out for a cultural evening and dinner. Although this was planned for 7pm, and our group arrived at 7pm, there were problems. There was no printed menu, so you had to use your phone to read a QR code, and see the menu online. When the waiter came to take our orders, he went on to explain that despite the lack of printed menus, most items had different costs than what is displayed (even on the Internet – due to inflation (which made everyone very suspicious). For example, my meal was 170TL instead of 169TL – so, no big deal. But, when the food was delivered at 8:15pm, of 14 guests – both Diane and I were the only ones who did not get a meal, any meal. To make matters worse, it was obvious that several groups who arrived after us were already midway through their meals when “most of ours” arrived. So, Diane and I, announcing our zero tolerance for idiots – simply walked out and opted out of any further evening group meals. It was simpler for us, and Diane went on the Internet later that evening to write a scathing review of the restaurant’s service. Very fitting I would say. One of the not talked about challenges for this trip is to actually find good restaurants that have alcohol on their menu. Apparently, many of the locals will not frequent restaurants that serve alcohol. As we realized in the coming days, alcohol was nearly never on the menu.
On Sunday, we passed groves of pistachio trees, where the nuts are harvested in July/August every year. The trees were only 2 – 2.5m tall but can bear fruit up to 300 years. There were also many olive groves, trees that can bear fruit for 2,000 years.
We took a boat trip on the Euphrates River, the longest and one of the most historically important rivers of Western Asia. Together with the Tigris, it is one of the two defining rivers of Mesopotamia. Originating in Turkey, the Euphrates flows through Syria and Iraq to join the Tigris in the Shatt al-Arab, which empties into the Persian Gulf.
These are the remains of a Roman era castle, currently under restoration.
This trip took us to the half-flooded village of Halfeti. flooded when a damn was installed some years ago. The water is about 60 feet deep at this point, evidenced by the partially submerged minaret.
Several times over the course of this trip, we happened upon women, and also men – dancing to their traditional music. They didn’t dance for us, not for any money – just because they wanted to. It’s their culture.
Later, during a lunch stop, we saw some men playing OKEY at a coffee shop.
As we closed in on Mount Nemrut, we drove alongside a rare site in Türkiye, a producing oil well near the Karakus Temple. Remarkably, I discovered that there are 4 oil refineries in Türkiye, although national oil production is very low.
We walked over this Roman Cender bridge, built over 2000 years ago, made entirely of stone blocks, no iron (250m long, 7m wide). Up until 10 years ago, it was in regular use – until they built a new modern bridge nearby.
In the UNESCO-listed area of Mount Nemrut, we visited the Karakuş burial mound. This is an ancient burial monument known as a Royal mausoleum. It was built at the time of the Commagene Kingdom by King Mithridates II for his monther Queen Isias and two sisters, Princesses Antichos and Aka I in 30-20 BC. The monument consists of three Doric columns, each 9m/30ft high on top of a hill that rises high above the surround terrain with views for miles in all directions. The columns are topped with reliefs and statues of a bull, lion and eagle.
Next on the agenda was Mount Nemrut: a majestic burial mound at the top of the mountain constructed over 2100 years ago – and named one of the 100 must-visit places by the International Association of Travellers. After driving to a parking spot “near the top” of Mount Nemrut (starting temperature 18.5C), and a challenging uphill march of about 50 minutes (with thinning air), we reached the large burial mound that King Antiochos of Kommagene had built for himself (altitude 2150m) in the year 100BC.
After viewing the great statues of the gods at sunset on the east and west terraces and enjoying the unbeatable view (temperature had now dropped to less than 12C at bus level, not mountain level), and taking a few sunset pictures we (together with a few hundred other tourists) proceeded to the hotel for the night (departing at 1815).
We stayed overnight at a hotel in Adiyaman and on Monday, we drove to Urfa (distance 242km) and first stopped at the Ataturk dam, essential for the electrical and agricultural improvements in this area. It was constructed by Turkish engineers in the 1980 – 1992 timeframe and has 8 turbines.
We had a chat with two women picking cotton on their father’s farm. The one who has her hair covered is married. This farm is a good example of how the GAP agricultural project has enriched these people’s farms and livelihood through irrigation.
At Urfa, (the city of the prophets), there was a lot to see. The Prophet Abraham lived around 2000BC. He rejected the claim that Nimrut, the ruler of Urfa was God. Abraham destroyed statues worshipped by the people of Urfa and this incited the local idol worshipers to burn and “support their Gods”. A great fire was set on the place where we now see the lake. Abraham was thrown into the fire, and God cooled the fire. According to tradition, the place of the fire turned into water and the glowing embers of the fire into goldfish.
We visited the cave of the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham (2000BC).
Later, at Harran, there is a display of the last remaining Syrian houses built with mud. The city of Harran is mentioned in the Old Testament in the Book of Genisis and has a history of more than 6,000 years. The people living there are descendants of Akkadian and Sumerian peoples, and speak Arabic as a first language, together with Turkish and many also speak English. The city is well positioned along the historic Silk Road. These houses are located a mere 10km from the Syrian border, yet we saw no sign of refugees or any increased military presence.
These old-style beehive style houses were warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Overnight, we stayed in Urfa and of course, had some very tasty kebobs.
On Tuesday morning we drove to Göbeklitepe (a UNESCO site) (literally “Potbelly Hill”), the place where human history is being rewritten. This historic site is the oldest discovered temple in the world and was built between 9,000 and 10,500 BC. It is more than 6,000 years older than Stonehenge in England and the pyramids of Egypt . As of 2021, less than 5% of the site has been excavated. Some have suggested that the site was chosen because of it’s high vantage location and proximity to good hard quarry stone.
The site comprises a number of large circular structures supported by massive stone pillars – the world’s oldest known megaliths.
Evidence indicates that the inhabitants were hunter-gatherers who supplemented their diet with early forms of domesticated cereal and lived in villages for at least part of the year. Tools such as grinding stones and mortar & pestle were analyzed and suggest considerable cereal processing. Archaeological evidence hints at large-scale hunting of gazelle between midsummer and autumn.
I noticed that the fabric side tarps (for shade) are held taunt with lines and Harken self tailing winches – 13 of them. I examined them. Every single winch was loaded counter-clockwise instead of clockwise, and none used the self-tailing feature. All were loaded with “riding turns” and would be very difficult to tighten or loosen. The person who installed these 13 $3500USD winches had no idea of how to use them. I notice stuff like this.
Then we drove to the beautiful historic city of Mardin (210 km), founded as early as 150BC and under UNESCO protection. One of our stops was the Mor Behnam church, one of the most important historical sites in the old part of Mardin.
This Assyrian/Orthodox church dates to the fourth century. Although we were not permitted to take photos inside, I did notice that the bible on the pulpit was written in Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ. How cool is that? Who speaks Aramaic now? Google says that Aramaic remains a spoken, literary, and liturgical language for local Christians and also some Jews. Aramaic also continues to be spoken by the Assyrians of Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Türkiye and northwest Iran, with diaspora communities in Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and southern Russia.
As we walked uphill towards the castle on the top of the city, I took this photo. Sadly, it was not possible to actually visit the castle.
We walked through many of the side streets and up the slopes below the castle and went upstairs to a coffee shop to see over the Mesopotamian plain. We stayed overnight stay in Mardin.
Wednesday morning, we visited the Deyrulzafaran Monastery, a silent witness to Anatolia’s ancient Christian past. This monastery was founded in the 5th century but has been endlessly expanded and renovated over the years.
The original site is said to be a pre-Christian Assyrian Sun Temple, attesting to the ancient Syrian presence in the region. At the monastery, and in the local area – I saw many young people wearing a crucifix around their neck. This photo depicts the cave area and hole for sunlight worship.
Armenian bishops are “buried” in this monastery sitting in a chair with their robes on waiting for the rebirth of Jesus, not prone in a coffin.
Then, we went to the ancient ruins of Dara, one of the most important settlements in Upper Mesopotamia, founded in 505 as a military garrison town to protect the eastern frontier of the Eastern Roman Empire from the Sassanids. This ancient city consists of structures carved into the rock and is spread over a large area. It has been preserved with a wall 4 kilometres in length. There are remains of churches, palaces, bazaars, dungeons, armouries and water dams. There are also cave dwellings around the village, dating back to the late Roman period.
First, we looked at the rock-cut chambers of the necropolis, following the tradition of pagan beliefs. Paganism is a very old belief system relying on respect for nature and sanctity of everything be it an animal, earth, plant or rock. With the spread of Christianity, simple graves became more popular than these rock-cut tombs (obviously less effort required as well).
Next, we saw the Church cistern (also in Dara), which was later used as a jail. The columns and stone block walls are very impressive, but wait until you see the inside. The sign said that it held 2,000 cubic meters of water.
Sadly, the sanctity of this piece of antiquity has been spoiled with hundreds of cigarette butts left by scores of uncaring visitors (likely not foreigners).
Driving only only 5km from the border with Syria – there was still no sign of any military presence, but then, suddenly – we drove right alongside the border and did see barbed wire and a wall less than a hundred metres from the highway. This wall is apparently 564km long, 2m X 3m concrete. The space between the wall and the fence is mined, and a variety of electronic surveillance is weapon systems are employed.
In the afternoon, we visited the Mor Gabriel Monastery, the oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox monastery in the world. It is located on the Tur Abdin plateau near Midyat, founded in the year 397. It is in amazing condition, and incredibly clean.
The monastery is an important centre for the Syrian Christians of Tur Abdin with about fifteen nuns and two monks occupying separate wings, as well as a fluctuating number of local lay workers and guests from abroad. I asked to take a photo of one monk, but he refused. The monastery is currently the seat of the Metropolitan Bishop of Tur Abdin. In its history, the monastery has produced many high-ranking clergy and scholars, including four patriarchs, one Maphrian, and 84 bishops. There are, apparently – 12,000 people buried inside the walls of this monastery.
We stayed overnight in Midyat, the heart of the motherland (the Tur Abdin plateau) of the Arameans. A town known for the beautiful architecture that can be found in the historic district. The old quarter of jumbled honey-coloured stone buildings amid a labyrinth of narrow streets is truly beautiful. The streets wind around tiny houses and ornate mansions, passing under arches and through ancient doors that open into cool courtyards. Here is where I’d like to mention an odd subject – bedsheets, or how to make a bed “Turkish style”. We are accustomed to sleeping on a bed fitted with a bottom sheet, a top sheet, and a blanket or cover of some description. In Türkiye we have stayed in many different AirBnB’s, and Hotels, and it seems that they never include the top sheet. The blanket lays directly on your skin, and what blanket there is – is never big enough. Single people that were on the same trip were not fussed about this because they had a double/queen/king sized bed with a blanket that was the same size – and it’s not tucked in at the foot end, and it is just barely the same size as the bed, not larger at the sides, not at all. With one person sleeping in the bed, this is no problem. However, I can’t understand how two people can share a bed fighting over this skimpy little blanket! Consequently, in most hotels – we asked for additional pillows, another top sheet, and even a second cover.
Since we have seen so many Orthodox Churches here, I questioned what is the difference between regular Christianity. Google says: “The Orthodox Church believes the Holy Spirit “proceeds from God the Father,” while for Catholics and Protestants, the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son”.
We first visited the Virgin Mary Church. According to the local Syrian community, this 6th-century church was originally founded by the Three Kings of the East.
In the city centre, we stopped in at a silversmith shop, where the craftsmanship was truly amazing.
We then proceeded to the Staats Gasthuis, one of the famous places where popular Turkish TV series and movies are shot. The state guest house has 3 floors and offers a wonderful view. Today, the state guest house is run by the Midyat Municipality.
We looked out – and saw many rooftops where there was a metal bed frame, always painted blue. This scene, we recalled from our visit a few days ago with the “bee-hive” houses. Apparently, in the summer heat people like to sleep outdoors and above the reach of scorpions – and BLUE repels scorpions.
We had some fresh squeezed orange juice.
Pam had some henna applied to her hand.
Then, we drove to Hasankeyi, an ancient town and district located along the Tigris River in the Batman Province in southeastern Türkiye. It was declared a natural conservation area by Türkiye in 1981. Despite local and international objections, the city and its archaeological sites have been flooded as part of the Ilısu Dam project. By 1 April 2020, water levels reached an elevation of 498.2m above sea level, covering the whole town.
I was told that this relocation of the town was not without problems. The people protested to the government and most apparently without housing for 4 years, and many left the area never to return. They just moved here to this new town 3 years ago.
The houses were not free, many people could not afford to buy the provided houses – and some people from outside the area (who were not displaced by the rising water levels) even tried to get in on the deal and buy a subsidized house. Also, the constructed houses were identical, which made it difficult for seniors to return to the right home in the evening.
This is an old mausoleum originally built in the 14th century by a Persian leader buried there. It is round on the outside but octagonal inside. It was moved uphill and seems to be in it’s original spot (but it’s not).
We heard that there are still 3 families living in the caves because they have domestic animals – not permitted in the new town. These people have electricity and running water, but have remained living in the caves – basically because they cannot afford to move. The water level in this photo (Fall) will rise 3-5m in the spring.
In summary, the damed area runs for a length of 180 Km along the river and impacted on more than 200 villages. This particular village dates back 12,000 years, and was inhabited at the same time as Göbekltepi.
Back to the subject of oil wells -we saw more as we drove through the Batman region and even one exploration well drilling just outside of the town of Karpuzla.
This is a photo of one of our group members, Wolfgang (on the right), together with a local.
We stayed overnight in Diyarbakır (Midyat – Savur – Diyarbakır (149 km)).
On Friday, we enjoyed a walking tour of Diyarbakir, the entire city centre is within the ancient city walls, making it effectively one big open-air museum. The city wall was built in 346AD and much of it has been renovated. The 5700 meter long city walls of Diyarbakir are 10-12 meters high in places. It is remarkable with its 82 bastions and the main gates that open in 4 directions. The beautiful reliefs on the bastions can be seen almost everywhere. The walls of Diyarbakir, one of the rarest castles in the world and considered the longest city wall in the world after the Great Wall of China, bears witness to a long history.
Along the way, I stopped to get new foam insoles in my sandals. We were clocking 10-15,000 steps per day, on rough ground – so my feet were getting pretty sore.
I took a photo of this local, relaxing at the Ulu Mosque.
These pictures were taken at the Four-Legged Minaret, part of the Sheikh Mutahhar Mosque, built by Akkoyuniu Kasim Han in 1500. It is interesting because the minaret is built on 4 monolithic columns.
We visited St. Giragos Church, the largest Armenian church in the Middle East. It was damaged by PKK Terrorists in 2015, underwent 7 years of renovations and reopened in 2021. I did not go inside, dissuaded by a very officious sign clearly listing 14 restrictions – I was wearing shorts. Also on the list was “no photography” and “no handguns”.
There was a group of 4 plainclothes police officers who just walked out of the church, all with guns – but no shorts.
Unfortunately while our group was walking down a small alleyway, a teenage boy stole Wolfgang’s gold necklace from around his neck and ran off with it – disappearing in the maze of streets and alleys. The police response was swift and concerned – and remained with us for more than an hour. But – even more amazing, we were informed later that day (while at the airport preparing to fly back to Antalya) that the thief has been arrested and the necklace recovered!
We saw the Virgin Mary Syriac Church. This church was first constructed as a pagan temple in the 1st century BC, and the current construction dates back to the 3rd century. The church has been restored many times, and is still in use as a place of worship today. I saw another Aramaic Bible on the pulpit.
We climbed the city wall for a great panoramic view of the city and the Mesopotamian plain.
We then drove to the The Ten Eyes Bridge over the Tigris River. This magnificent bridge, is known by four different names: Ten Eyes Bridge, Tigris Bridge, Silvan Bridge and Mervani Bridge. In some sources about the history of the bridge, it is known that it was built in the 6th century during the reign of Anastasias I. The bridge was destroyed by the forces besieging the city over time, and was later repaired.
At the end of the day Friday, we took an evening flight to Antalya, and then an organized bus to Alanya. As we returned to the boat at 0230, we were exhausted. This trip was a memorable one, we saw so many of the wonders of Türkiye, all rolled up into one 8 day trip. However, it comes at a price, not a significant financial price but a different kind of “price”. Even with a small group of only 12 tourists, everyone has different interests, and different capabilities. The older people get, the more uncompromising they become – and sometimes for good reasons. Three of the 12 were unfit to visit many of the sites. There are a lot of steps, a lot of stairs, rarely any ramps for wheelchair or walker bound tourists – and often not even a handrail. The safety standards for touristic sites in Türkiye are well below that of North America and Europe and it has become much more noticeable with this trip.
On 30 July 2022, the cruising community lost a valued member with the tragic passing of our dear friend Nazer Muhammed Ali. Nazer has been a great friend to all cruisers that stopped at the Cochin India International Marina since it opened with the Vasco de Gamma Rally and even for decades before. My wife Diane and I, as well as hundreds of international cruisers – have been invited to Nazer’s home for a meal and to meet his immediate family. It was there, surrounded by his family and his very modest possessions that we came to really understand this man.
Many cruisers cared for Nazar like family and he remains dear to them. For those world sailing cruisers passing through India, Cochin (Kochi) is a common destination, one of the few ports of entry with a convenient marina. For a very modest fee, Nazer helped hundreds of cruisers to navigate the myriad of Indian bureaucratic requirements on arrival and departure. His fee for this “all afternoon effort” was a paltry 1000 Indian Rupees, about $16 CDN. My experience with agents in other nearby areas, shows that they demand $250-500 for similar services.
With practically no formal education, Nazar spoke and understood five (5) languages, with English being his weakest. He could slowly read English, but only CAPITAL LETTERS. Sadly, not all cruising sailors treated Nazer kindly. I have witnessed the unwarranted, rare but hurtful insults sometimes said of him. Some people saw him as a caricature rather than as a warm and helpful soul. Nazar could make happen whatever you needed, quickly and cost-effectively, accomplishing magic almost daily and with a smile. Through great effort, he got us hard-to-get supplies and arranged hard-to-find technical services. He constantly advised us on navigating Indian culture. He was our personal Tuk-Tuk driver, and frequent tour guide during our 10 month stay. We came to know Nazer and all members of his family, and had lunch in his humble home where his wife Zakeena, where with next to nothing, treated us to a meal fit for royalty. Our’s is a common story, repeated again and again.
The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, with it’s resulting lack of international sailboat movements, combined with Indian federal and state laws and regulations forcing him to retire his two-stroke tuk-tuk, literally destroyed Nazar’s earning ability. This put a great deal of stress on his heart, which sadly gave out over the past two years. His ongoing medical needs rose, and became unaffordable. Nazar epitomized kindness, forgiveness (of mean cruisers), generosity, resourcefulness, devotion, and Indian pride. He loved his family, his faith, his country, and his clients. We love him. His spirit lives on through all who had the pleasure and privilege to meet him. Our condolences are extended to his family and friends, and to those future cruisers who won’t enjoy the supreme pleasure in meeting him. India lost a wonderful ambassador.
Nazer was an orphan, and his wife Zakeena is too. They were both raised as orphans in a Catholic orphanage. They have no parents, brothers or sisters. Nazer always said the the cruising community was his family. In this photo, Diane and I took him to his first fast food hamburger experience. He was elated.
Nazer is survived by his wife Zakeena, son Nisam, daughter Nis Ni (in Dubai), daughter Tazini (in Canada), youngest son Nizar and several grandchildren. Zakeena is entitled to a state widow’s pension of about $10 per month, and in my estimate – this is less than 3% of Nazer’s former monthly income. Nazer’s burial and funeral expenses have already been paid, through the generous private donation of two couples.
I have created a fundraising page to solicit contributions to meet Zakeena’s immediate and intermediate needs, lessening the distress caused by the unexpected loss of her husband’s income. To that end, I will disburse funds on a regular and as-required basis to Zakeena – until the fund is empty. India in general, is a very poor country, and my belief is that Nazer would have been very proud to know that the Western friends he has made over the years have come together to help provide for his widow, with the strength of Western currency donations.