spring in aegean turkey

Turkey and Greece – as I remember them

It is two years since we left Turkey and there are days when the memories rise up thick and fast and I yearn to go back and do it all again. We were so lucky to live there at the time we did. It gifted us some beautiful bittersweet memories.

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Kirazli village turkey in spring
I remember Kirazli in the Spring, when the first of the cherry trees burst into blossom and the last of the snows on Gul Dag caught the pale pink of their blush and glowed too; in the sunset, in the dawn, in the waking warmth of a high speed spring after a hard fast winter of soba smoke and cold hands in the olive groves.

My neighbour would take the young goats in graze in the edges of the pine forests. Slowly she would meander along and the goats trailing behind her would stand on their back legs to reach the highest, sweetest, newest buds on the branches, hovering stilt legged and precarious. I saw a gold statue once of a goat doing the same thing, a gorgeous thing of black and shining metal on copper with lapis lazuli and shell. It’s in Phillidephia now, it was in the British Museum before that. But four thousand years ago it was made in Ur, far to the east of here, close to the root of here. Nothing has changed in four millenium, not really, certainly not for the goats.

poppies in kirazli
Phil’s poppies
It’s poppy time in Kirazli right now. I know that, I can still feel it, across all the miles. They will be blooming in the disturbed soil of the verges and in the edges of the vineyards. Blood smudges of drenched red amongst the multiple shades of green.

In the cemetery at the village edge they grow on the graves, driving up through the pale dirt and crying their hearts out under the shade of the yew trees. They were blooming like that the day returned to Kirazli after my husband’s funeral, eight long years ago. I think I should have buried him there, and let the poppies bless him every spring.

He took this photo, his last spring in Kirazli. I just make it more vivid with new software. He would have liked that; the instant results from apps on tablets, the software revolution we sit in the midst of. Thanks to him I notice how marvellous these things are, how they make fresh and enticing the old memories, rewrite them again and make them new.

priene
Priene
In the blessed bright days of winter we would explore. Before the crowds of summer and the tour groups playing follow my leader through ancient thoroughfares we would have the most beautiful sites to ourselves.

Priene was a favourite. Sitting above the flat plain of the Mendares delta it is bijou and beautiful. There is a sense of idealism about it, its history is one of wonderful ideas, and it is laid out in convenient, classic style. Up tight against the flanks of the mountain it is a joy to photograph and its pine fringes and long views give it a romantic appeal; one senses Apollo is loitering nearby, ready to seduce some comely nymph and just out of sight Artemis is having a refreshing bath with her maidens in a secret pool.

dillek milliipark
Dillek Millipark
There is a sadness now in the seas between Turkey and Greece. When we lived there they were a playground and summer was all dreamy cruises along the sunlit coasts where rare lillies grew in the sands and on the way home, laved by sun and lightly salted by a day in the sea, there was the hope of dolphins in the sunset.

The quiet beaches we loved so much have been made silent in a sorrowing way. Before they were peaceful now they have been marked with death and the sad crisis of the refugees has made the Aegean again a sea of bodies as it has not been for millennia.

This too shall pass, this too must pass and the cliffs and the coves and the opal waters will not be threaded with fear and despair. Let this pass.

fishing boat samos
Samos Fishing Boat
We took our holidays on Samos, nipping across the strait between Turkey and Greece thanks to the blithe insouciance of our British passports. Fancy a few days away, okay lets go, no visa hassles or bureaucratic blocking for us!

We would pick up a car in Vathi and drive the smooth freshly tarmacked island roads, marvelling at them compared to our pot holed tracks in Turkey. Back then the Euro funds were flowing in and tiny islands had beautiful roads from end to end.

We saw Greece change over the years. We saw when the infrastructure started to fail; you could telephone Athens but not make a call to your neighbour. We saw the ferry schedules slashed and the supermarkets get less well stocked and the businesses close. But for all that Greece remained beautiful and the islands were picture postcard perfect and the days when we would explore ancient churches on remote headlands and paddle in the waters where Pythagoras bathed are happy memories.

Funnel weed
Funnel weed
I remember the perfect diving days. I remember the moment I took this photo. It was a day in late summer, diving with my friends at Active Blue. The last of the tourists were clumping the beaches in their little groups, the sunbeds were more empty than full and we were doing a cavern dive so it was a Tuesday.

Not being a huge fan of caverns I asked Emin if I could stay outside the cave mouth; I wanted to photograph some bristle worms – not glamorous, actually vicious little predators, slow moving and downright painful if their bristles get into your skin but vivid in colour and extravagent in costume, like a centipede going to Mardi Gras.

Emin agreed and after the descent from the dive boat he led the group into the narrow slit of the cavern and I hovered outside with the high walls rising above me, straight to the surface. The sharp rock faces were patched with Coralline algae in shades of purple and rust. The Corallines are encrusting species of calcareous algae; they cover rock in a hard skin a few millimetres thick. Bristle worms climbed amongst the coloured rocks and clung to the surface, looking like gummy worms from the pic n’ mix, all juicy colours and long fat bodies.

After photographing the worms I retreated to the tumble of rocks outside the cave entrance and waited patiently.

I breathed easily, ten metres down, nicely level in the water, rising and falling gradually as my buoyancy fluctuated with the air in my lungs. Above me the surface was dark blue, shaded from the hot autumn sun by the high cliffs at Adukale whilst below me the rocks glowed pearl with the extravagant frills of Funnel weed (Padina gymnospora). Delicate curls, like pencil shavings clustered together into pastel bouquets this delicate algae is found in shallow waters growing on dead coral heads and in patches on reefs. Also known as Curly Algae and Fan Algae it has a chalky appearance due to the presence of calcium carbonate on the upper surfaces.

I remember breathing out, slowly sinking down in the water as my lungs emptied, falling towards the garden on the rocks. I could see every ring growth in the weed, the delicate bands of time. The funnels swayed in the current and I was entranced by their dance, their wide open welcoming curls and I knew I could float there until my air ran out, just fascinated by the feel of their life in the sea.

I hovered, relaxed, with the clicks and tweets of the sea around me and the slow tickle of my bubbles against my face. That was a good day, there were so many good days there, under the sea, sometimes I wonder what kind of idiot I was to leave!

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strumble head pembrokeshire
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summer-light-port-madog-estuary

Entranced by the light – Glaslyn Estuary, Porthmadog

The every changing light from Rose Cottage
The every changing light from Rose Cottage

The right kind of light wakes me. I was deep in a weird dream and the light must have prodded and poked at my closed lids until I opened my eyes and looked out of the low window and saw the sunrise on the long ridges of ripples in the sand. “Finally, golden light!”
          I wriggle to the end of the bed, accidently kicking Nick who grunts and mutters “What?”
          “Sunlight,” I say, “Dawn sunlight.”
          I grab my small GoPro camera from the cluttered dressing table and kneeling on the carpet, my elbows on the cold smooth slate, I press the lens of the camera to the window and take a couple of shots in case a rogue cloud ruins it all before I can get outside.
          I throw on a hoodie and wriggle sockless into boots before I creep down the stairs. At the bottom Dilly pushes her face against the baby gate that keeps her in the kitchen. “Nick will let you out in a minute” I tell her, because he will, he won’t stay in bed now he has been disturbed and he is bound to let her out even though she isn’t his dog, he’s like that, all dogs will be made into friends.
          Outside on the slate terrace the thin rain of yesterday has mottled the glass top of the dining table with fat glittering globules that run together and gleam in the glass. The dew lies heavy on the wooden benches, the air is thick with the slow hand light of dawn and below me, on the sands of the estuary, the edges of the ripples in the sand catch the sunrise and for a few moments are thrown into sharp gilded relief. Welsh gold chains across the sand.
          Across the wide acres of sand the other side of the estuary is a symphony of low hills in soft blues and umbers whilst the hard edged mountains of Snowdonia rise black behind them. Above it all a sky of summer blue is made dramatic by high mackerel stripes and low nimbus clouds flare at the edges in the shallow sunrise and stay dark at their heart.
          I start shooting. The GoPro has no viewfinder and no screen but use and habit and experience lets you feel the span of its wide angle lens, your memory draws invisible lines out from its black eye. I will cut and crop later but now I want the light on the sands and the clouds and the widest vista I can get in the crystal clear light that only comes at dawn and dusk, and paints the world in rich tones and acid etched detail.
          “Good shots?” Nick asks from behind me. I turn round; Dilly sits at his feet looking up, her pale pink nose twitches, her liquid Labrador eyes trusting and hopeful. He is feeding her crisps. He just can’t help it; all dogs must be given treats and bound to him.
          “Brilliant!” I say, “Just the light I’ve been waiting for.” Apart from a good day at Llangollen when the light on the falls and on the canal was rich and burnished this trip has been mainly low skies and dim light, no good for the rich coloured shots I prefer.
          “Coming down onto the beach?” Nick asks.

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The rising tide at Glaslyn Estuary Porthmadog

          Dilly follows us down the steep embankment to the narrow slice of hidden cove beneath the house. She looks away in embarrassment when a roguish rabbit sneers at her from the edge of the garden; apparently she doesn’t like rabbits, which must be a problem as the headland here is inundated with them. We don’t have many rabbits where we live; I tell Nick the panthers ate them all!
          Down on the beach the sand is soft and our feet sink in leaving deep tracks. The wide ribbon of the river that carves through the estuary is flat calm, the tide hasn’t turned yet and the river’s road to the far off sea is untroubled and easy.
          We sit on the smooth rocks. Below us an elliptical pool at the foot of the rocks, fringed with weed, teeming with glass shrimp, reflects the sky. I bore Nick rigid with tales from the Mabinogion and the Black Book of Carmarthen. He is very good about it. He puts up with my mystical drivel with good grace.
          “Out there,” I say, pointing to the wide sands, “Legend says that Pryderi was killed by Gwydion, the trickster magician and hero of the forth branch of the Mabinogi. They fought in single combat after Gwydion stole Pryderi’s magic pigs.” Nick looks dubious, he likes bacon as much as the next man but hell!
          “It’s called Traeth Mawr, ‘big sands’,” I add, “and the whole thing was originally the tidal estuary of the River Glaslyn. It’s shorter now since they cut a chunk off it when they built The Cob that the narrow gauge railway at Porthmadog runs on.”
          We sit for a while, watching the light change on the water and the hills. I have always preferred the coast of North Wales, the mountains are pure drama; waterfalls of stone and great glassy slides of grass but their height and deep shadows oppress me and I prefer the wide seascapes where if I look carefully I can see the palaces of the Lost Lands through the blues where sea meets sky.
          Cantref y Gwaelod, the lost lands of Welsh legend that allegedly stretched from Ramsey Island in the south to Bardsey Island in the north. A flat, fertile, wondrous kingdom of shining cities, fields and orchards, lost beneath the waters of Cardigan Bay. I like to think they are still out there below the restless waves. The dykes that held back the sea have tumbled beneath the iron hard storm waters but the old kings in their halls still sit listening to their bards as the sea rushes in. I imagine them, caught in the silent stretched instant between the time it takes the bells in their towers to toll, forever waiting under the frozen break of the wave.
          “Look,” I say to Nick. I point at the slow growing cast where a razor clam burrows beside the rock pool. The looping noodle cast it is pushing up is darker than the sand on the surface, dark as the rich soil below, dark as the fertile silt of the lost lands buried just beneath the shifting sands.
          We watch the clam cast until it stops growing and the tide turns and the river through the sands becomes boisterous with current as it fights and loses the battle it wages twice a day with the relentless sea.
          We make our way back up to Rose Cottage, the single room B&B that we have been lucky enough to find and book. We eat breakfast (aga cooked, local eggs) at a huge wooden table that looks out at the wide angle, Technicolor view.
          Our stay here had been too short, just two nights, but it has been long enough to fall in love with the location and the easy going charm of the owners who encourage us to stay and relax and just enjoy the quiet and the rabbits and the view and the low impact company of Dilly the Labrador.
          We leave with promises to return. When I have a horrible deadline or my brain is even more fried than usual or I just need to again touch the places of myth that remind me how Welsh I am then we’ll be back, to watch the light and the tide and the patchwork shadows of clouds on the distant mountains.

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Summer dawn light on the Glaslyn Estuary at Portmadog

If you want to stay at Rose Cottage Bed and Breakfast near Porthmadog then you can book direct here – Rose Cottage B&B – but book soon because they fill up quickly. I can’t wait to go back in winter and see that view in snow, it will be amazing.