Monday, 30 November 2015

Back in Bodrum

We've moved back into the centre of Bodrum town just before November turns to December.  The evenings in the village were getting a little chilly and the heavy dew over the countryside made the mornings just a bit too damp to be enjoyable. Now we are back in a south-facing, seaside town we are much warmer. It's amazing how 35 kms can make so much difference to temperatures.  

Jake is adapting to being a town dog again.  He has already dragged us down one alleyway where last winter he spent many happy lunchtimes eating crispy fish heads. Unfortunately the restaurant has closed and turned into a tequila bar; attractive to neither dog nor owners, so we will have to find another eatery with a dog-friendly patron and chef. 

We shall continue to see which shops and offices are canine friendly.  We got shouted out of the Population Office last year, but Jake was welcomed into the Town Council building and Property Tax office.  He was also invited into the Paşabahçe glass and crockery shop in The Avenue Shopping Mall ın Konacık but both of us decided this wasn't a good idea; far too many expensive items on low shelves just waiting for one swipe of a shaggy tail. 

"Are you sure this is a good idea?"

The Billabong sports shop in Oasis Shopping Centre were very accommodating but Marks and Spencer made him wait outside, so I know where I'll be buying my socks this year. 

As much as I love living out in the sticks, it's great to be back in town, two minutes walk to the baker, butcher and market.  The car can stay parked up for weeks and there's plenty going on in the run up to New Year to keep us busy and hopefully give me something to write about. 

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

A Corner of the Castle.

If you visit Bodrum castle in November, there is a strong chance that you will have most of the exhibits to yourself.  The cruise liners have finished docking for the year and just domestic flights are landing at Bodrum airport. Only the very determined visitor will be travelling around museums and archaeological sites.  It is therefore the best time to explore our most obvious monument and perhaps pay attention to the smaller, less showy displays.
“Packaging” is not a very compelling subject, but one that we should take more care over. Our beaches and coves are full of discarded plastic bags and bottles and our lanes littered with discarded cans and containers, an ugly sight but fast forward 3,000 years and these remnants of our throwaway society will be the archaeologists’ data. Going by my early archaeological training, they will probably deduce that we worship at the shrines to Pepsi and Coca Cola.

The first exhibit one encounters on entering the courtyard of Bodrum castle is a display of ancient packages.  Amphora - the word derived from the Greek ‘amphi’ meaning ‘on both sides’ and ‘pherein’ meaning ‘to carry’ - come in many shapes and sizes but to be defined as amphorae they must have two handles and be portable.  They can be large or small, round or slim, squat or tapering, short or long-necked and with a narrow or wide mouth,  (sounds like I am describing the human race). An amphora should not be confused with a large storage jar too heavy to be carried, this is commonly known as a ‘pithos’.

We have been making clay amphora since the Early Bronze Age (approx 3,000BC) and they have been used to carry wine, milk, olive oil, honey, meat, poultry, fish, cheese, cereals, pulses, fruit, herbs, nuts, sugar, kohl and gum arabic and they are always a happy discovery for the archaeologist as these clay containers are recognisable by both date and provenance, for example, amphorae from Rhodes were stamped with a rose design, Kos used a crab and those from Knidos have a bull.  A pile of amphorae on the seabed is often the first indicator of an ancient shipwreck, the woodwork of the ship having long since decayed.  A ship might have carried up to a thousand amphorae, transporting goods from one side of the Mediterranean to the other. The display in Bodrum Castle shows how easily the pointed bases of the containers stacked inside the hull. 

The projecting base also acts as a third handle when tipping to pour out the contents.  The shape of the amphora would be instantly recognisable to the consumer and could be changed to attract new custom when demand dipped; we shouldn’t assume that the advertising industry is a modern concept. 
The durability of the amphora would suggest to our minds that they would be constantly recycled but evidence suggests that used oil amphora were considered a problem and often smashed and either left around the countryside or piled up outside ports. Waste packaging disposal is not just a nuisance of our era.
Wandering up and down the display of amphorae in the castle, I would rather my oil and wine came in these attractive clay containers and at about 6 gallons a time, my biceps would be considerably more toned had I had to fill my goblet from an amphora rather than from a wine bottle.  

Monday, 23 November 2015

What kind of whisk?

We took a break from gardening to spend an afternoon in Milas and I have a few posts in the pipeline about this unassuming town which was once the capital of the Carian region. However gardening is still consuming nearly all our time as we make use of the beautiful weather, so I'll leave you with this picture and see if you can work out to what use this whisk-like object is put.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Bonum vinum laetificat cor hominis

 "Good wine gladdens a person's heart." -- Latin proverb

"Iyı şarap kalbini neşelendirir" --  Latince atasözü 

This blog is nearly 4 years old and this is the first time I've mentioned the vineyard 45 minutes walk from our house. There's a good reason. Despite walking past many times and chatting to the owner at various social events, we hadn't ever ventured inside. Considering the number of 75cl empty bottles I bag up and take out every week, this seems a serious and unexplainable oversight.  It took a visit from  a friend from my university days who, unlike me, recognises a good vintage when she tastes one, to inspire us to visit. 

Mehmet Vuran is the brains behind the establishment. He has planted several different grape varieties on his family farm and runs a hobby winery, i.e. all the produce is for home use or entertaining friends, he doesn't sell his wine. He opened a bottle of zinfandel for us and knocked us out - I get to try some serious wines when I'm at work and I can swear that Mehmet's wine was as good as any of the $75 plus wines I've tasted this year, in fact better.  I would have loaded up with enough cases for the rest of the year if I could have, but this wasn't an option.  

Helen, wine tasting in Pınarlı Belen. 
Mehmet kindly gave us a bottle to take away and we've kept it in the cupboard as it needed an appreciative audience to share it with us.  The opportunity came on Sunday and our label-less bottle got decanted into a vessel suited to its quality.  Second tasting was just as good as the first. 

Beautiful decanter thanks to Claire and Chris

So the good news is that fantastic wine is being made locally in the Bodrum area. The bad news is that you can't buy it. But the better news is that Mehmet's wine has received such good feed-back from vintners all over the world that he is considering turning his vineyard into a commercial enterprise. If he does, I'm thinking offering my services if he opens a cafe - as long as he pays me in wine. 

Mehmet writes a brilliant blog Garova Günlüğü, if you speak Turkish, it is a mine of information on agriculture, viticulture and local lore, if you don't, it's worth looking at just for the photographs. 

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

November warmth

We are still being blessed with warm, sunny November days and on a walk through Dereköy today, I passed these massive pumpkins in an orchard of citrus trees and couldn't resist stopping to take a photo.  The mix of oranges, greens and sunlight captured for me the essence of a perfect November day. 

Apart from feeling good, November smells divine as the loquat tree on our terrace is in flower. The blooms aren't much to look at but their scent is heady. It drives the bees wild and as I step out every morning I first hear frenzied buzzing before the perfume hits me.  It's a great way to wake up.

There wasn't much left in the garden and a bout of unaccustomedly energetic gardening has left the flower bed pretty bare.  I collected all the last blooms to make the largest bunch of the year only to find that I didn't have any big vases and had to leave the flowers in the sink until I found a bucket to accommodate them.
I'm sure that posting this is an open invitation to the gods to send us rain but at least I can look back in a week's time and remind myself how blissful November can be.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

An Autumnal Dessert.

Somethings take a bit of getting used to and for a born and bred Brit, sweet pumpkin is one of those tastes that seems strange on first acquaintance. If you hail from the USA, you will have grown up with pumpkin pie and wonder what I am talking about, but most of us from the British Isles find pumpkin just a bit too vegetably to be eaten for dessert. But it didn't take me long to acquire the taste and now Kabak Tatlısı is one of my favourite puddings. (I will be taken to task by some because the definition of pudding is a dessert with a creamy consistency but where I come from, pudding is what we eat after our dinner). Baked pumpkin is the perfect colour for autumn and takes no effort to make which is great when we are busy outside getting the garden ready for winter.  I buy my pumpkin ready cut from the market, I can watch the stall holders prepare it so I know it's fresh, then all that is needed is to transfer it to an oven-proof dish, pour over a cup of sugar, leave for 4 hours or overnight until the flesh has given up it's liquid and dissolved the sugar, then pop in a 180 C oven for 45 minutes until soft. Cover with a lid if you like your pumpkin in syrup, cook uncovered if you like a stickier sweet, but stir every 10 minutes so it is well coated.  I recommend Özlem's Turkish Table recipe, but admit to grating half a nutmeg over my dish before putting it in the oven, which gives it a hint of a British comfort pudding. A good dollop of clotted cream or Turkish kaymak adds some serious calories, but with all the shovelling and earth moving going on in the BacktoBodrum flower beds, they are well earned.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

A Pleasant Homecoming

It's always nice to get home, especially when one lives in a town featured in many holiday brochures, but for once my actual journey back to Bodrum was very agreeable. My usual trip starts with a 7 am embarkation at Hydra Port, then a noisy and anxious 2 hour hydrofoil ride to Piraeus; the anxiety is not misplaced as these metal tubes, laughingly named 'Flying Dolphins', are not the most reliable form of transport. I have, in the past, spent two hours wallowing outside Athens' main harbour being subjected to ear-splitting metal-crunching noises coming from the engine room.  If all goes well, I catch the X96 bus to the airport and if the traffic is light, get to check-in with 30 minutes to spare. If the traffic is bad, I'm biting my nails the whole way.  The metro is more reliable but goes into central Athens and then out again so takes longer than the bus. By the time I arrive at Departures, I probably don't look my best!  Sometimes the sea is too rough and schedules are abandoned, leaving those of us with planes to catch, on the quay. The only option then is to take a bumpy sea-taxi ride to the mainland, which is a bit like being on a roller coaster with someone throwing buckets of seawater over me, and then hail a taxi to Athens airport. I've had to do this a few times and I always get a 'John Wayne' driver. If you've travelled anywhere east of Rome, you will recognise this term. The driver propels his vehicle as if he is an extra in True Grit; left shoulder forward, left hand holding the  reigns  steering wheel, right shoulder back and right hand either swinging worry beads (older driver) or sending texts and looking at Facebook (younger river) and seemingly only one buttock on the seat, thus he is facing his passenger rather than the road. Disconcerting at the best of times, but nerve racking on narrow mountain roads. When I arrive at check-in after a 3 hour drive with John Wayne,  I am covered with a salty crust and a bit green around the gills.
This time my flight was booked for Thursday 5th November.  All ferry staff were on strike on the 2nd and 3rd, but were due to return to work on the Wednesday. This being Greece, the first ferry out of Hydra was on Friday afternoon.  BUT, instead of having to travel with an unknown  lonesome cowboy, a fellow staff member was driving up to Athens airport on Wednesday, so I had a lovely safe drive in a new Audi, with chance to stop en route for a meal overlooking modern Epidavros.

I was booked into The Sofitel at the airport and was expecting the usual airport hotel experience. I'd stayed at the Thistle Terminal 5 at Heathrow 10 days before and been glad that I hadn't been planning any feline oscillation. I'd checked in late and left before dawn so hadn't been subjected to the depressing decor and claustrophobic room for long enough for it to affect my mood.  The Sofitel was completely different - a proper 5 star hotel, with plump pillows, comfy beds, impressive bathrooms and completely soundproof, airy rooms. There was a rooftop pool and spa, if only I'd packed a swimming costume.  I was hoping my plane would be cancelled. On Thursday morning I lazed in bed reading The Times on my iPad, had a long shower and even managed to put on a bit of makeup before I pulled by bag the 200 meters between hotel and airport.   As I arrived in check-in, I looked so unlike my normal self, I doubted I'd get through passport control.