Mediterranean Blue

The water was an iridescent blue; the best description I can muster is “sapphire” for this northern stretch of the Mediterranean Sea. We were sailing in an 85 foot 14-person“gulet,” a double-masted sailing boat (ketch class) chiefly powered by a diesel engine. Our two gulets cruised the Mediterranean Sea off the southwestern coast of Turkey [the country was the subject of Carole Lieff’s column (“The Art Advisor” MJ # 13/38), in which she lambasted both the architecture there and its residents]. The water turns this special blue color due to calcium carbonate salts that drain from the craggy surrounding cliffs, dissolve, and reflect light that eyes see as a beautiful blue. The water is also crystal clear and a cool but swimmable 67 degrees. Our gulets could enter smaller coves along miles of coastline, which would have been unapproachable by a larger vessel.

It was early morning as I watched our captain and his helper pull away from our boat in their skiff to set some fishing nets. A glass bulb or plastic float fixed at the top kept the net vertical as it descended under the stone weight at the net’s bottom. This was repeated in several spots close to shore and visible from our boat as we dropped anchor and were secured to a tree by a thick rope. Later that afternoon, the skiff returned to the nets, slowly pulled them in and collected and tossed back things caught with careful hands. This was the serene scene as our Blue Voyage took us along the jagged Turkish coast with its coves, hideaways, and coastal islands. It was how I had always pictured Greece and, in fact, this coastline is indistinguishable and was once part of ancient Greece.

This was the trip Sue and I took through the UCSB Alumni Association led by coordinator Melinda Glasgow and shared by a number of locals; of our 27-person group, nine live in Montecito or Santa Barbara. We began in Istanbul, formerly Constantinople of the 1000-year Byzantine period, built in the sixth century when the roman emperor, Constantine moved “New Rome” to this, more eastern and strategic location. When you come here, take a short boat ride along the Bosporus, which looks like a large river but is really the saltwater strait connecting the Black Sea and Russia with the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean. You will pass the splendid homes and palaces that line Turkey’s coastline on both sides. To the east is Asia & Anatolia and to the west is Europe, the smaller triangular part of Turkey called Thrace.

Other Istanbul stops were the massive multi-domed structure called the “Blue Mosque” with its majestic minarets, the Topkapi Palace, complete with jewels and harem chambers, the Hagia Sophia a 1400-year old cathedral that demonstrates the sophistication of sixth-century architecture and of course the colorful Spice and Grand Bazaars. There was too much to see in our short stay here.

Our trip continued south along the Turkish coast to the quaint & active fishing village of Assos, an ancient Roman site along the Aegean Sea. Two dozen small fishing boats bobbed in the protected cove ready to use nets and hand lines. We supped on their catch and slept five steps from the sea. We traveled on to the legendary site of ancient Troy of Homer’s “Iliad,” then to Ephesus of Alexander the Great, the Romans, and the Apostle Paul. We saw other important ancient Hellenistic Greek, Lycian, and Roman sites less familiar to many, such as Pergamum, Izmir, Myra, Perge, and Aspendos & Antalya. We also visited Gallipoli and the World War I memorial that lies on the Turkish peninsula guarding the strait to the Aegean Sea.

Yes, we saw the very historical country of Turkey, which was the middle of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires. Presently, it is a moderate secular Muslim country, friendly to the USA, separating the troubled and often radical Mideast from the West, the land “west of East and east of West.” Turkey is exotic and beautiful, both the natural Mediterranean landscape of snow-capped mountains rising above the jagged turquoise coastline and the artistic colorful geometric patterns on their tiles and rugs, with architecture of domes, curves and spires.

We found the Turkish people courteous and most friendly but it definitely helps to have a guide in order to communicate better. We had a great one named Ahmet, secured by our UCSB sponsor. Sure, we had salesmen trying to sell us their wares as we passed by shops and bazaar stalls, but few were very aggressive and none hostile. We easily waved them away if we were not interested and slowly strolled by. The Turkish carpets are famous and it is easy to buy one that is “Made in China,” so let buyer beware; it’s best to locate a reputable dealer or location sponsored by the government, which strives to preserve the quality and authenticity of its slowly-crafted carpets. The good ones vary from $1,000 for a small one to over $30,000 for a larger or more intricate one. A Turkish carpet is a work of art and we all appreciated them more once we saw women crafting them before our eyes. Scarves of silk and intricate silk carpet-like wall hangings are also of interest and available at various prices.

The entire tour group agreed that this trip to Turkey could not have been more perfect. Did I mention the exquisite food and spicy flavors? Or gazing up at fully bellowed sails carrying us over the sapphire-blue water to marbled ruins? Or a Turkish bath & massage, belly dancers & Raki, the potent local alcoholic beverage? And, we were lucky to have such a compatible friendly group of fellow travelers; new friendships help on such a journey. I urge all to visit the fascinating country of Turkey, which, when planned correctly, is something not to be missed. For more information contact: UCSB Alumni at 805-893-4611 or email--Gaucho.getaways@ia.ucsb.edu. Turkish guide Ahmet Memis: Ahmetmemis1@gmail.com