Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Turkish Delight 2019!

Tessekur Ederim, Turkey.  We give thanks to this wonderful exotic exciting country that we have just travelled through, October of 2019. Istanbul has it’s treasures, more on that later but we decided to discover ancient Anatolia and follow the footsteps of the Lycians. 

Who were the Lycians you might ask?  They were the ingenious tomb carvers, the ancient city builders before the Romans, the population who held fast against invasion of those Romans, sometimes succumbing to suicide or burning their own cities instead of conceding defeat.  The Lycian trail took us past columned rock tombs carved high in the cliffs and sarcophagi purposefully placed to honour their dead in perfect position to spend all of eternity.  Fethiye to Antalya was a coastal highway dotted with azure waters, the clearest in the Mediterranean, and quaint Cliffside towns to spend every magical evening under lamp-lit terraces.

After flying Istanbul to Dalaman, our modest hotel was on Calis beach in Fethiye.  Isabelle arrived in a deluge of water,  but that was all the rain we got in our 10 day adventure.  It was a memorable storm for sure, but soon we were enjoying rainbows and beach sunsets offered along this bay.

In Fethiye there is much to do, the Blue Lagoon at Oludeniz beach welcomed us alongside pirates, parrots and pirate ships.  That afternoon we kicked up the adventure scale with a jump off of a 2000 m high mountain, organized by Gravity Paragliding.  Thrilling indeed, G forces pulled with screams of delight as we three hurtled toward the beach and peninsula – some of the best views we had… and the landing was perfect, easy, just like a bird.  Would I take up flying?  I think so.

A visit to KayaKoy ghost town was eerie, but interesting.  The population “exchange” of 1923 had Greek inhabitants’ wells poisoned so were forced to desert their homes.  Turks did not claim the city for their own so it remains rubble to this day.

Turtles on mountaintops seemed to be everywhere.  We followed the google map from St. Nicholas island to Help Beach, a zen like beach bar with cool décor, like old cars and paintbrushes for sandy feet. But the road leading to Help was anything but Zen, our little rental car went up and over the mountain on a rocky road while turtles took to smashing each other, either fighting or mating, we’re not 100% sure.
A final swim in the warm Mediterranean waters was worth it since we were headed high up in the mountains to the Ancient city of Tlos ruins and the Saklikent gorge. Tlos is like an historical lasagna, ruins of Lycians, Greeks, Romans and Ottomans are perched on a hillside.  At the gorge we trudged through the clay mud and the cold stream into the slot canyon called Saklikent.  We did not reach the end waterfall however since a few drops of rain caused risk of flash flooding.  We turned around and enjoyed some hot salted corn on the cob by the riverside instead. We did get to feel the spray of another waterfall nearby after the river shoe rental for 5 turkish lira and a 300 m trek up the silty water deep in a lush canyon. It was amazing how many people of all walks of life took on this dangerous pilgrimage, but the 25 foot waterfall at the end gave us the reward with negative ions indeed.

We stopped in at the ruins of Xanthos, Letoon and Patara with a late lunch at the sandy beach.  The ruins offered something different at each most with well preserved theatres and agoras sitting atop tombs and byzantine churches.  So much history and occupation of this area, and it’s no wonder since the Turkish Riviera is stunning at every turn. 

One night in Kalkan had us cosied up amongst he hillside houses at the Turkuaz Pensyion.  Sukran and Hassan have decorated down to the last detail and the terrace breakfast overlooking the marina was tasty. It is nice to have tomatoes, cheese, eggs and cucumber for breakfast – you get your salad in first thing so you can enjoy a glass of rose or red Okuzguzu in the evening at sunset. We ate fish and drank Raki, sitting on the floor just enjoying the calm starlit evening.

Kas was our next stop on the coastline after a magical morning spent at Kaputas beach.  A Cliffside staircase gave access to the blue water and sandy beach.  At Kas we rented an apartment with sunset view and set our sights to Greece, the island of Meis (TR) or Kastellorizo (GR) was only 3 kms away.  Passports in hand we took the express boat since we had had a Raki with the capitain only the night before.  We had a splash of Greece for the day, much to our delight we were offered free wine in order to watch the amazing Loggerhead turtles play with each other in the bay.  A quick boat ride to the Blue Cave with a tight squeeze through the rock opening, and pretty soon we were diving off the boat into the bright blue water inside the cave.  Amazing!
Our next adventure took us around the peninsula to discover the sunken city at Kekova with Captain Mehmet at the helm of his Gulet Boat.  He showed us Aqvarium bay by snorkel and he even jumped in with us for a dip!  Earthquakes have caused the Lycian and Roman Ruins to sink into the sea and you can easily snorkel over the area marked by a Byzantian Church once upon a time.

Just when we thought that it couldn’t get any more beautiful we crossed the peninsula to join a steep road leading down into the jungle.  Canada House Bungalows was our next accommodation just 750 m from Cirali beach, Olympos Ruins and the Fumiroles of Chimera.  A rickety road in the dark was a bit of a scramble but we were rewarded with 15 odd warm flames coming out of the rocks.  People were roasting marshmallows on the flames said to be the breath of the Chimera, defeated and buried alive 7 stories into the rock cliff by Zeus.

The ancient city of Olympos was built on a creekbed canyon and was once a powerful port of the Lycians.  The town of Cirali was so charming with treehouse like restaurants, lanterns hanging in trees.  Sea bass, lahmacun and all of the Turksish treats were available to eat.  It is said that this canyon offers a peaceful place to relax and wash off the stress of the whole year.

The old city of Antalya was picturesque and peaceful with parks and gardens and the Duden waterfalls.  

Back in Istanbul we were welcomed by our dear friends at the Best Point Hotel is Sultanahmet.  We had a Turkish Hammam bathroom which we took advantage of, and the buffet breakfast on the rooftop has you gazing up at the Blue Mosque, not 2 blocks away.  So well situated we revisited our past footsteps at the Hagia Sophia, the Sultan’s tombs and the Basilica Cisterns.  Washing away the travels, a massage and Hammam at Cemberlitas 1598 was a relaxing way to end our time here.
We came away with a feeling that we wanted more since Turkey is a safe, modern, organized and zen-like country. The people, charming, witty and welcoming.  There is no theft, and we never felt hassled or in danger, quite the opposite with so many offers from locals to facilitate our adventures.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Meeting the Impressionists in France

­Meeting the Impressionists in France
with Artist Christina Thoen

Along the French Impressionist Path as been a theme tour for VM Travel since 2005 and every year I manage to find some new gems to help us better understand the lives of these renegade artists!
This June, Christina Thoen, artist and certified art teacher and eleven of her students landed in Nice, France to learn their stories.
The first day we gathered in the 15th century artist town of St Paul de Vence.  After perusing the art boutiques of this village we delighted in a gourmet lunch in the gardens of Colombe d’Or, a favourite of Picasso and Matisse whose works still adorn the walls of the antique dining room.
Close to Nice and the Mediterranean Sea lies Les Colettes, Renoir’s estate where he lived with his wife Aline and their children. His motivation to move to the Côte d’Azur was to ease the discomfort of his rheumatoid arthritis in order to finish his days as an artist. Many of his compatriots joined him under the ancient twisted olive trees which still adorn the gardens to this day.
Further along the autroroute in Aix-en-Provence, Cézanne’s studio remains untouched. One feels his presence in this small space.  His cloak and umbrella in the corner remind us of his daily treks along the country road to Mont St Victoire which he captured on canvas 142 times. 

That afternoon at the beach in the pastel fishing village of Cassis resulted in some reference photography before we headed off to the Mas St Antoine just south of Avignon to our garden lodging.  The Kiwis, gardeners and cooks shared the culinary delights of Provence with us under the Platane trees. We were to enjoy five warm, sunny days in this gite lodging. In fact our first day we spent at the Mas with a breakfast of croissants, cheeses and delicious coffee before taking a dip in the pool before Christina gave us our first lesson in water colours!
The next day a refreshing rain cleared the air so the colours popped in the Provençale countryside. After our visit to a winery in the reputed Chateauneuf-du-Pape which gave us the scoop of these world renown wines, we were anxious to capture these intense colours with our brushes.
Every Wednesday St Remy de Provence hosts one of the most colourful markets(more reference photography) in the south of France. Close by is St Paul Maussole where Van Gogh was hospitalized with roaming privileges, resulting in some of his most famous pieces: Sunflowers, Irises, and Starry Night. We chose to sit amongst the Olive Trees, as he did, to capture the light and shadows of these cranky trees with the blue Alpilles mountains looming in the background. Just by chance, we enjoyed a Van Gogh presentation in the Image Cathedral of Les Baux de Provence!
Thursday we continued down the Van Gogh path in the Roman city of Arles as I led us along his footsteps, past the Yellow House (no longer standing), the Arles Arena, the Hotel Dieu where he was hospitalized and painted the garden, then on to the Place du Forum (Roman) where we enjoyed a pastis and lunch at the Café Van Gogh. This is the Café La Nuit, Christina’s favourite so we all painted the bright yellow awning just a Vincent did!  What a lovely connection!

Gourmet Pizza Night around the pool was our farewell dinner with the Kiwis (Keryn and Kerrin) as we prepared to leave vibrant Provence for Paris!
With the theme of Impressionist Art our Paris visit included the Musée d’Orsay (the former Gare d’Orsay turned into the impressionist art museum) and the Orangerie housing Monet’s giant water lilies. The morning on the Butte Montmartre where the impressionists regrouped helped us understand the support they got from each other as they initiated their own Salon des Refusés of which there were 7 before they became accepted into the art world.
Our day in the country in Giverny, Monet’s Gardens was busy with tourists, but the garden and the lily ponds were in their glory for everyone to see. We returned to Paris via Auvers-sur-Oise, the small village where Vincent Van Gogh died and is buried next to his brother Theo in the village cemetery. The Cathedral (famous Van Gogh Painting) is also in this village so we spent our fourth lesson with Christina in the shadows of this ominous structure. A touching final moment was standing in Vincent’s bedroom in Auberge Ravoux as our guide described the final days of his life. It was a somber ride back to Paris!
Our farewell dinner at the 120 year old Chartier Restaurant and our evening cruise along the Seine, around Notre Dame and past the twinkling Eiffel Tower was a glorious finish to our tour to Meet the Impressionists in France!
Thanks Christina! Merci beaucoup to all of you: Janelle, Bonnie, Simon, Kelly, Colleen, Cory, Denise, Nicole, Phoenix, Diane, Madelaine and Maria. You were great travellers!
2021! Venice and Croatia!