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Turkey, Thrace and back

August 27, 2013

Two months to catch up on!  It has been a great summer and we have managed to carry out our plans to head up to Thrace (North Eastern Greece) and are now back in Sigacik, Turkey, not far from Kusadasi. I am rushing to get this finished while we are on mains power and I can use the computer with a fully functional Word package!

As planned, we headed back down to Bademli after a couple of nights in the anchorage outside Ayvalik bay.

Basilica ruin on the channel to Ayvalik

Basilica ruin on the channel to Ayvalik

One morning I was sitting on the back of the boat and a tiny swordfish came to visit!  It was gone before I could get the camera.  We managed to sail down to Bademli without the engine for about 3 hours, and anchored in the same place as before.  In the night the wind picked up and turned us around by 180° but after a worrying hour or two the anchor seemed to have held.  A large motor cruiser next to us had moved by the next morning so must have dragged.  The next day all was calm again.

The water was lovely and warm and we swam, relaxed and explored.

Bademli

Bademli

The small village on the other side of the peninsula was quite pretty in parts, although the centre had been built up with modern buildings.  On our way back we spied some strange large black and white birds stalking around in the marsh at the head of the bay.  On striking out across the field to get closer we disturbed a black winged stilt that squawked at us for a long time.  The large birds turned out to be black storks – quite special.

That night we managed to eat dinner outside in the cockpit – the first time for some weeks as the wind has been cool and strong until now.  The next day we motored and rowed the dinghy up to the shallows to look at those storks again – great fun!

Black stork in Bademli

Black stork in Bademli

While we were in Ayvalik the previous week we found that they would not refill or replace our cooking gas canisters.  Mytilini on Lesvos was not very far away, so we headed there and spent a couple of nights in the marina.  Arriving on Saturday, we had to stay until Monday to get our gas canisters exchanged, but it gave us a day to do a lot of housekeeping, washing the boat and general maintenance.  One of the things you get used to here is planning your itinerary between Greek opening hours (mornings and evenings and not Sundays) and Turkish opening hours (all day every day mostly although banks and offices close on Sundays)!

Castle at Mitilini

Castle at Mytilini

Our mail had arrived in Ayvalik by this time, so we set off again and anchored outside Ayvalik in our favourite bay after another good sail without the engine for a few hours.  The next day we headed back to Ayvalik marina – it had turned very windy and remained so for the next week.

Ayvalik market - a whole aisle full of eggs!

Ayvalik market – a whole aisle full of eggs!

One of our items of mail had arrived, but not the other (which was all our replacement debit and credit cards) so an anxious day or two were spent waiting for them to arrive – which they did by the end of the week.  Strange. While in the marina this time we met Dave and Melinda on Sassoon – Australians who were preparing to leave their boat for a month and visit friends in France and the UK.  The weather in the UK was looking better than it had for the last few years so they were lucky!

Spice stall

Spice stall

Cargo hauling - Ayvalik style

Cargo hauling – Ayvalik style

It was Brian’s 60th birthday coming up, which we celebrated early with Dave and Melinda at the marina restaurant – including a birthday cake for Brian with candles!  The weather looking severe, we took advantage of our enforced stay, renting a car for a day to visit Pergamon – the remains of an ancient acropolis which had a famous library with the first books with parchment pages rather than scrolls.  The remains of the library were minimal but the massive arched tunnels supporting the altar and temple area were very impressive.  The better ruins were at the Aesclipion – health sanctuary built by a wealthy resident along the lines of Epidavros where he had had a bad foot cured. These Greeks got around!

On our way to and from Bergama (the town where Pergamon is located) we passed through lovely forested hills and gorges.  Some of the forest was a strange pine tree that we had not seen before. On researching it they are called stone pines.  Alongside the road we had noticed a large concrete area covered with a layer of pine cones – curious.  The research revealed that stone pines are a key source of pine nuts – so the cones must have been set out to ripen to retrieve the pine nuts! So now we know…

Part of the altar temples in the Acropolis

Part of the altar temples in the Acropolis

The vaulted tunnels holding up the main altar and temple platform

The vaulted tunnels holding up the main altar and temple platform

The road leading from the Aesclepion to the Acropolis

The road leading from the Aesclepion to the Acropolis

Finally the wind abated and we set off again on our planned travels north.  There are a couple of long (50 NM) passages to our destination – first to Limnos and then to Thassos so we headed as far north and west  to a sheltered anchorage on the Turkish coast as possible – Sivrice bay.  An early night there, and then off to Limnos and Moudros bay where we eventually decided to anchor south of the town.  Amazingly the wind was in the right direction so we sailed without motor for 5 hours before the wind turned to the west – on the nose as usual.  This passage crosses the main channel for shipping coming out of the Dardanelles, Istanbul and ports in the Black Sea –  very busy.  Brian took a picture of what we had to avoid at one point!

Alixora is the black boat shaped image - the green triangles are big ships!

Alixora is the black boat shaped image – the green triangles are big ships!

Moudros bay is long, so it takes a while to motor up and down it searching for the best place!  If you remember from two years ago, we spent a few days on the jetty in the town and read all about its history as the fateful Allied base for the offensive on Gallipoli.

Dawn in Sivrice

Dawn in Sivrice

Now we are in Greece and it was Saturday the next day, and we needed to get our phone and 3G dongle topped up for the next month of our stay in this country. So we headed round to Myrina, a lovely town on the west coast of Limnos, anchored in the sheltered inner bay and rushed into town to do this.  Amazingly for a small town (but I guess the main one on the island) there were the appropriate shops and we got ourselves set up very easily.  The 3G dongle we have purchased (Wind) is 3 times more expensive than that in Turkey – 30€ for 3Gb and a month of usage versus 10GB and 3 months for the Turkish one at the same price.  Hmm.

Myrina has a nice beach with showers, so we spent the rest of the day there relaxing after our long passage, swimming, topping up the tans and getting clean.  The water is fairly cool and refreshing in this northern part of the Aegean – either cold springs or Black Sea influence.

Myrina, Limnos

Myrina, Limnos

The next day we set off again on another long passage to Thassos – 54 NM or more this time, getting all our heavy passages done as quickly as possible! We record the number of nautical miles we do from the reading on our main GPS which interfaces with our charting software.  It always seems to record about 10% less than we really seem to have travelled or the chart shows – possibly the satellites go down some of the time or something.

Setting off at dawn is lovely – usually the wind is light and the sun appearing over the island or sea is very atmospheric.  Unfortunately this passage we were unable to sail as the wind was either very light or directly ahead, and the waves were pretty severe as well so it was an uncomfortable trip.  Nevertheless we found a seemingly calm anchorage on the east side of Thassos (Potamia bay) and after a refreshing swim settled down for an early night.  Unfortunately the swell built up overnight and we were woken by a massive roll of the boat at 3am with loose objects flying in all directions. In the end we managed to settle down again but sleep after that was fitful!

Thassos, Potamia bay

Thassos, Potamia bay

Yawning, we set off for Porto Lagos that a fellow CA member had recommended as a safe berth for our “summer holiday” when we leave the boat for a week or two.  We negotiated our way in up the channel to the harbour.  It is a commercial port with a small area for leisure craft, managed by Tsoukas Marine – a family boat business.  We were able to warn them of our arrival and Peter and people from Tsoukas were on hand to take our lines and help us tie up.  It was a funny arrangement with hinged metal steps to get on and off the boat, but worked fine after we pulled ourselves well off to avoid hitting the steps in the gusts of wind.

We were immediately invited on to another British boat, Sondela, friends of Peter and Pauline on Forever Freedom for drinks.  That made a lovely change as we had been pretty isolated for some time apart from meeting up with Dave and Melinda.  Another night we had a barbeque which was great fun – all chipped in with a salad and brought our own meat, so we could mix it all together.  As the sun set we all fled indoors to avoid the mozzies!

Porto Lagos harbour

Porto Lagos harbour

Tsoukas helped me book a hire car (as they had promised to do when I booked our place), but we had to go to Kavalla airport – about 60km away!  But Eleni, Mr Tsoukas daughter was so kind and took me there as part of their service and included in the price of our mooring.  Eleni also took our laundry into Xanthi to be done and gave us a cheery wave every day, as did the rest of the Tsoukas workers.  Their main office was further round on the commercial side, but their yard was next to the moorings we occupied.  Following Peter’s advice, most of our communication with her was by email, using Google translate to convert our English requests for information into Greek – then she would understand!

Once we had the car, we were free to tour the area and investigate the shops in the nearest town – Xanthi.  We found Lidl for major supplies of soda water which Brian likes, and a huge shopping mall with a massive Carrefour and a DIY shop called Praktika – we loved that!  We never got as far as going into Xanthi itself.

When I was planning our stay, I saw that the area was famous for its bird life and that was really the principal focus of our visit.  For a few days we just toured the Porto Lagos area – Vistonis lake is a huge lagoon inland with hundreds of pelicans and flamingos, but all the coast has small lagoons and rivers running into the sea that support an enormous number of different wading and sea birds.

DSCF2397Right next to the harbour, on an isthmus separating it from the sea, lies a small pine forest.  A colony of herons (grey, night and purple) and egrets (large and small) have made their home here.  We had never really seen egrets and herons perch in trees before!  There were hundreds of them, just a 10 minute walk away from the boat.  A small gang of kestrels (lesser?) came in to roost every night too. On the other side of the isthmus is a rather tatty beach.  The sea is very shallow here and I never got water above my shins after wading out for 200 meters or so, so we didn’t swim there!

Beaches near Porto Lagos

Beaches near Porto Lagos

On the beaches and sandbars there were lots of curlews, oystercatchers, plovers (various, difficult to differentiate, sandpipers (as for plovers but definitely some spotted ones), black winged stilts, dunlins, red shanks, and so on – too many to enumerate and many hard to identify as the different varieties look very similar!  Other raptors were in the distance, one possibly and Eleanora’s falcon and others either Marsh Harriers or some kind of eagle.  Inland we spied hoopoes, bee-eaters and lots of unidentifiable warblers and flycatchers.  A kingfisher zipped around the harbour on some days.

Aesclopean Snake

Aesclopean Snake

One day we were walking along a beach and suddenly a stick of wood started to move!  It was a huge Aesclopean snake (as per the one winding up the staff of the medical symbol).  It moved pretty fast, but I managed to get some pictures and a video.

I had identified a couple of areas further away for good birding excursions.  One was the Evros Delta (on the Turkish border) and the other was the Dadia Forest.  So we piled a few things into the car and set off up the coast to Evros, stopping in Alexandropoulis to find our bearings and look at mooring possibilities there – not very extensive as far as we could see.

On the way we detoured to visit the Mesembria ruins (one of three ancient coastal defense forts along this part of the coast), stopping off in a nearby village for a very good lunch.  However when we arrived at the archeological site it was closing – only open until 3pm!  You could see most of it from the road – just a pile of old rocks as usual.  We arrived at Loutra Trianopolis, found the Evros Delta nature reserve information centre and found the hotels nearby. There are four fairly large hotels to serve the reserve tourists – all empty!  We selected one, booked in and then went off to explore with the map supplied by the centre.  We drove down a dirt track then walked along one of the irrigation banks – there were hundreds of birds!  The same sort as above, but with the addition of spoonbills and terns of various denominations.

Levees in Evros Delta

Levees in Evros Delta

We had booked on a bus and boat tour of the delta the next day – but we didn’t really see any more than we had independently – although it was interesting to have the guided tour.  But we were told that the eagle like birds we saw were marsh harriers and got very close to one, and also that some small waders were little stints.  The next couple of days we carried on with our own tours along the tracks and banks of the delta.  There were some very dark brown herons – must have been purple herons we think – and night herons in the marshes.  They flapped up as soon as we approached!  Lots of dalmatian pelicans and flamingoes, and a few masked shrike too.  Of course there were loads of the more usual birds – swallows, martins, bee-eaters etc.  Finally I managed to get a good picture of a bee-eater!

Hurray - a Bee-eater!

Hurray – a Bee-eater!

One evening we saw a big fox, and a glimpse of an otter.  There are supposed to be lots of ground squirrels too, but didn’t see any of those.

The hotel we stayed in was fairly basic, but very pleasant and quiet with cool shaded rooms and lots of trees (and lots of mosquitos) and a restaurant where we were the only people eating!

The next part of our trip was to the Dadia Forest, where a reserve looks after vultures and eagles.  We stayed in Soufli (many of the smaller pensions and hotels have shut) and drove up to the visitor centre where we booked on a bus ride up to the main hide.  Unfortunately the hide was being reconstructed and the work there probably frightens off the birds.  We probably saw an Egyptian vulture and an imperial eagle but they flew off fairly quickly after we arrived.  The park feeds them with dead animals in a clearing about ½ mile away from the hide on the next hill, so you can see them land and eat.  However the dead animals (a horse and a goat) didn’t seem to be desirable the day we were there!  Brian and I walked back to the centre along a marked footpath through the woods.  We got thoroughly bitten by mosquitoes and didn’t see a bird the whole time!  Ah well.

Flamingos and spoonbills

Flamingos and spoonbills

Another black stork

Another black stork

Marsh Harriers

Marsh Harriers

...and the odd tortoise or two

…and the odd tortoise or two

We returned to Soufli, had a very good, large late lunch, had a rest then drove back up to the park and walked along another route in the evening – this time well protected!  The scenery was lovely and we spied another vulture, but not much else.

Storks in Soufli

Storks in Soufli

Having exhausted that idea, we carried on the next day to the Nestas river and drove along the banks.  We stopped at a small shack on a dirt road for lunch – and as we sat quietly enjoying the view what I assumed was an otter padded up the bank of a sand bank opposite.  When it reappeared we took pictures and followed its progress.  On researching it later, we found it was a European beaver – wow!  Brian found out that there is an enormous kind of nature reserve all along the old border of the Iron Curtain countries and Europe – and that beavers are one of the species that has repopulated that area.

The River Nestas - there were beavers here

The River Nestas – there were beavers here

From there we headed south along the Bulgarian border, through Metaxades, Macro and Micro Deria.  The route in that area was lovely with oak forests, views to the east over forested hills and deep river gorges where we saw another eagle of some kind.  However there was a distinct lack of accommodation anywhere useful.  As it wasn’t very far back to Porto Lagos we cut our travels short and headed “home”.

The following week we carried on touring the local birdy sites, and started tidying up the boat ready to leave on 5th August.  The boat was covered in cobwebs, tiny and not so tiny spiders and dead mosquitoes and flies!  It took a while to try to wash them all away, indeed we still have some passengers on board!

Okra plant and flower

Okra plant and flower

The whole coastal area is backed by blue mountains in the distance – it is a very pretty place.  The plains are given over to intensive agriculture. We now know how kiwi fruit grow (on low tree like bushes that are trained like vines over a low framework, what okra plants look like (with hibiscus like flowers and that they are harvested by hand), what tobacco plants look like, and of course there were huge fields of maize and sunflowers too.  All of this is intensively irrigated by huge sprays and miles of flexible piping on big reels.  The whole area is lush and green – it is a total contrast when you travel south to Limnos where the south eastern part of it is totally arid and barren!

Another trip to the wonderful DIY store resulted in the acquisition of a new cordless drill with 2 batteries and a cordless vacuum cleaner to replace the 12V one that came with the boat.  The latter is a bit more convenient and seems to hold its charge and last very well. A final massive purchase of Greek soda water and we were set to go, returning the car on the Saturday again ferried back by Eleni. Unfortunately due to a misunderstanding we didn’t manage to leave very early on the Monday, but eventually managed to get our documents stamped and everything sorted out.  We headed for a small bay on the south side of Thassos to keep out of that swell we experienced all the way down, anchored and relaxed.

The next day was another dawn start – a long trip back to Limnos.  The wind behaved itself (in fact was rather strong) so we put up a small amount of sail, set the autohelm and sailed for 6 hours!  Wonderful.  Then the autohelm started to misbehave so we got behind the wheel.  We got wet a few times – there were massive waves pushing almost side on.  Sometimes they rose above the bimini so must have been about 3 metres from top to trough.  As we got into the lee of Limnos the waves subsided, but massive gusts down the valleys meant that it was safer to drop the sails and motor the final few miles.  It was great to get into the calm of Myrina harbour again!  We anchored in the  middle of the bay and relaxed, enjoying a quiet night and a late morning.  The next couple of days we just chilled out, lying on the beach in the late afternoon and having a drink at the local café before returning to the boat.  We topped up the Wind 3G dongle again.  The forecast for the next few days looked pretty dire for the next passage to Lesvos, so we headed round to Moudros bay again for another few quiet but windy days, while Brian fixed the autohelm and I started to sort out UK tax return details! Joy!

DSCF2378

I also put together a description of work needed to get Butte Farm and the Stables gardens back into shape – they have been let to run riot over the past 4 years and need some severe reconstruction.  During the various communications about this, I found out that our top vegetable garden has been taken over by a neighbour and who has now sent pictures of an immaculate plot! He is really pleased to be able to use the plot and we are really pleased that he is looking after it so well!  Excellent news.

By Monday 12 August it was time to leave and the forecast looked better.  Again the sea was turbulent but not as bad as the previous week.  The wind died, so we had to motor all the way.  There were a few cargo ships to avoid on the way again, but at least one of them changed course to avoid us – that made a nice change!  We arrived in Sigri and anchored in the bay at a quite reasonable hour, setting off after a good nights sleep to one of our favourite ports – Plomari.

We sailed without the motor for a good 3 hours, but as soon as we rounded the south western tip of the island the wind started to gust down the big valleys and we struggled to keep control.  We headed inshore to get out of the swell, dropped the sails and motored the rest of the way.  There were a couple of other yachts in the harbour (moored stern to with anchor out the front).  Our anchor chain jammed in the locker on the first attempt which would otherwise have been perfect. Never mind, by the third time it all went smoothly and we tied up comfortably, putting out side warps and chains as we know it gets a bit bumpy in this harbour – which it did!  Plomari now has very smart electricity points along the quayside – a great boon and free too.  Still only one water point though – so we all chip in to provide hose extensions for yachts further down the quay.  Despite the dire reports of Greek financial meltdown, Plomari looks a bit more affluent than last time we were there.  A passer-by said hello, turned out to be from New Zealand but parents were from Lesvos, and commented that foreign visitor numbers seem to be constant but that Greek holiday makers had diminished.

Red Starfish in the harbour wall by our boat in Plomari

Red Starfish in the harbour wall by our boat in Plomari

That evening we treated ourselves to gyros (donner kebab wraps with salad and chips all in one package!) and icecream to polish off – wonderful and was repeated a couple of times!  Other boats came and went – one other British boat called Ariel of Hamble.  They are going to Pythagorio, Samos at the same time as us in September to join the Cruising Association Dodecanese rally led by Richard and Barbara on Breakaway who we met there last year.  Chris (Brian’s sister) will be with us then in Pythagorio for her annual visit.  Another yacht (another Beneteau, with windows above the saloon like ours but a bit smaller) called Fantastico! (including exclamation mark) was the other side of us – along with their boat cat which was so desperate to get on land that it jumped onto our boat when they arrived and departed along our gangplank!  They also have been liveaboard for 4 years, like us.

We stayed for a few days enjoying the gyros, fish and icecream as well as beaches with showers, then set off on Saturday 17th August towards Sigacik where Gill on Petronella was on her own while John visited his parents in the UK.  We anchored off an island to the east of Oinousses and spent a very pleasant if windy couple of days there before heading back into Turkish waters, changing the courtesy flag and eventually checking in to Teos Marina, Sigacik last Thursday.

Bakery queue - wood fired ovens

Bakery queue – wood fired ovens

The facilities are very good here although I have had a bad experience with laundry services which has been a pain as they failed to wash our big load properly and then closed down!  There is even a free salt water swimming pool which is lovely after a hot day and electric cart shuttle service around the huge marina.  Gill and I went to the excellent market in the nearby town of Seferihisar, we have cleaned the boat inside and out, Brian has been working on our recurring problems with the depth sounder, and so on.  And of course, Turkey has those wonderful opening hours and a supermarket next to the marina!

Cake stall, Sigacik market

Cake stall, Sigacik market

Tomorrow we set off again in company with Petronella, John having returned yesterday, will anchor again in quiet Kirkdilim bay (just round the corner) where we will celebrate Gill’s birthday, then cruise around the bay to the east of Chios and its islands, before heading south to Samos in time to find a mooring spot in Pythagorio harbour and where Petronella will carry on to meet their friends who are coming out to Turkey.  Oh, and I must get on with that tax return!

Wheatear, Bergama

Wheatear, Bergama

Kingfisher, Porto Lagos

Kingfisher, Porto Lagos

Pelican, Porto Lagos

Pelican, Porto Lagos

Hoopoe

Hoopoe

Raptor of some kind!

Raptor of some kind!

Night Herons, Evros delta

Night Herons, Evros delta

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From → Greece, Turkey, Wildlife

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