No Winter Blues

When we lived in Oz we always arranged our holiday to Mersin during September.  It was still deliciously warm but there was that cool breeze that soothed the rocking hell-fire that usually descends on the province during August (which has been known to send even me a little deli).  Winters, on the other hand, were a non-starter, no way I was skipping my summer in Sydney for the grey backdrop that would no doubt be Mersin during December or January.

Now that I live here I realise that that was my loss because while Mersin in the heat of summer no doubt rocks, it’s also got some pretty cool moves in the dead of winter as well.

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Falling temperatures sprinkle new magic on the small villages in the mountains and the medieval kalesi (castles) along the Mersin coastline and although I have not done much in the way of exploring thanks to my bung knee this winter I can say that over the years the chill brings a moody new perspective to the province.

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Daughter and I did zip up into the mountains a few times this winter and while the city of Mersin or our little village may be grey the Toros Mountains were gloriously sunshiny.  We took My Hurley Dog for a doggy snow day as Daughter had recently seen a video with dogs having a sensational time frolicking in white stuff but, of course, our asshole dog hated every moment of it.  He did, however, manage to find the carcass of some poor animal in the snow and try to drag it back to the car – I swear that dog disgusts me sometimes.

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With a smattering of snow the traditional Turkish villages are so enticing that a trek through the lower hills of the mountain range is something not to be missed.  Oh and for those of you who actually want to attach those silly wooden planks to your feet Kayseri is only 3 hours away with 8 lifts and no doubt more than enough apres-ski nightlife to suit everyone.

The coastline takes on a new role as well.  The beaches are still pristine but now they are empty.  Surprisingly the water isn’t icy either.  I mean I wouldn’t swim to Cyprus or anything but a paddle is pleasant enough.

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One of the bonuses during winter is it is much easier to visit the ruins (without self-combusting in the heat).  I have been known to lose myself for hours while exploring the many castles that dot the coastline and winter allows me to continue my exploration without breaking a sweat.

Winter also has salep, which is a mix of hot mastic milk, sugar, and flour made from orchid tubers, served with cinnamon.  Sold from street carts in the old part of the city you can enjoy your salep alongside a paper bag stuffed with kestane kebap (freshly roasted chestnuts), also purchased from street carts.

Today The Turk and I are off to Sarniç, a village 15 minutes outside of the city.  I’ve visited there so many times that he is beginning to question whether I’m having an affair with a local goat herder so today we will go together for lunch to celebrate our wedding anniversary (see we still adore each other – sometimes).  There is a fantastic lokanta on the main road that serves traditional Turkish food (the sucuk hummus is to die for) while you warm your weary bones by a roaring fire.  Yet another great reason to visit Mersin in winter I think.

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I mean if you really need another reason that is …

Disclaimer: my expat friend who lives up in the Yayla would not agree with anything said in this post.  She has had enough of the snow.  She (and her recently Home Alone kedi) wishes that the snow would feck off!

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Hey Berat! Why be an asshole?

On Wednesday Daughter and I took Daughter’s favourite cousin Tatlim to Kizkalesi for the day.  It has been a few months since our last visit to my favourite beach but this time was no quiet visit.  The beach was full.  Music was blasting from every doorway.  Restaurants and hotels were at capacity and teenage boys could be found on every street corner chatting up every female who walks past.

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After staking out our space on the packed beach Daughter and Tatlim disappeared into the water leaving me to laze away in the sunshine.  Goodness it was hot.  I did what I do best and that is watching the world go by.  Vendors were everywhere touting their goods including su (water), çay, Nescafe, misir (corn on the cob) and even balik (fish) were all on offer for a price.  There were women strutting in bikinis, old men covered in sand (a strange Turkish tradition) and little kids playing on the water’s edge under a guardian’s careful eye.   This is what living in Turkey is all about.

Tatlim had never been to the Castle on the sea so we hopped the ferry (20TL for 3 people) over to the island.  Daughter and her cousin went off to explore leaving me to thoroughly examine the mosaics (Daughter always knows how to make me happy). 

The only blight on an otherwise perfect day was the excessive amount of new graffiti that has appeared throughout the castle since my last visit.  I had noticed it before but the sheer number of tags (Daughter tells me that this is the correct terminology) throughout the castle is deeply disappointing.  The local belediye (council) is attempting to combat the problem with security guards now roaming throughout the little island but my guess is that they just cannot be everywhere at once plus their time is also spent patching up swimmers who injure themselves on the rocks surrounding the castle plus picking up garbage and cleaning up after people *sigh*.

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The thought of these idiots defacing a beautiful piece of history is repugnant to me.  It’s not just at Kizkalesi though.  I recall seeing tags on the ruins at Soli Pompeiopolis as well.  Mersin (and Turkish) authorities have been trying for a long time to cope with not just damage to antiquities but also the theft of their treasures. 

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So I write this to you Berat or Mehmet, Fatih and any other tagging asshole currently skulking around in my general vicinity.  Firstly, how stupid are you to spraypaint your name?  Dumbass.  Secondly, be thankful that it is not I who catches you because I would give you a whopping and send you home to your parents with your spray can shoved where the sun does not shine.  And no i am not joking!

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Traversing Tarsus

When I was young I watched the movie “Cleopatra” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.  This movie embedded the idea of wanting to have it all.  Be an amazing woman and have that once in a lifetime romance. 

Fast forward a couple *cough cough* of years and here I am living my life being totally amazing and I got my Marc Antony (of sorts) as well.  So not only did I get my dream I now live my life not far from the city of Tarsus where, according to legend, Cleopatra was reunited with her lover after a separation of many years.  “If the tent is a rocking, don’t bother knocking.”

Tarsus is located smack dab between Mersin and Adana and, over the years, I have passed by the city while on my many travels but I have never stopped to have a look around.  Just before my overseas jaunt I found myself spending the day in Tarsus with The Turk and I can say without question this city is overflowing with historical and theological ruins. 

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My first stop was, of course, Cleopatra Kapisi (Cleopatra’s Gate).  Legend has it that this was the spot where Marc Antony was reunited with Cleopatra.  A romantic notion.  The Gate is pretty much still intact, standing strong just like their love although, of course, she drove Marc Antony to suicide before killing herself but, before that, they had a powerful love for each other.  Very Romeo and Juliet. 

Not all sites are walking distance but from Cleopatra’s Gate do a 180 and pass the Gözlükule Tumulus (mound).  Not an awful lot to see now (it forms part of a park) but this tumulus shows settlement in the Neolithic and ancient age.   Turning back and after passing the Tarsus Museum (we didn’t have time to visit on this trip) before arriving at the Antik Yol (Ancient Road) and Roman city excavation.  This excavation has been going on for some time and is a great example of Roman roads and architecture. 

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 A few more minutes will bring you to Paul of Tarsus Church and Well.  Who is Paul?  Theologians are already rubbing their hands in glee at this point.  Paul or Saul as he was also known is, of course, St Paul or Paul the Apostle and was born in the ancient city of Tarsus.  Now I do not know a lot (read that as anything) about the Bible or St Paul (or Saul) but according to the guide at St Paul’s Church he apparently wrote 13 of the 21 New Testament Epistles.  Along with the Church is St Paul’s Well which is over 100 feet deep with fresh drinking water.  Will it miraculously heal you?  Nah – it’s just a well but you can have a sip.

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As you wander in this area have a look at all the historic houses.  These are a good example of how Tarsus would have looked in the past, in its glory in the old city.  The markets are also close to the Mosque, both definitely worth visiting if you get the opportunity.

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Before we left Tarsus we stopped by the old Roman bridge before making our way to the Tarsus Waterfalls for cay and cezeryea (caramelised carrots with pistacios and nuts).  The waterfalls were tranquil and very beautiful and the cay and cezeryea was refreshing and tasty.  The waiter who brought us our treat informed me that the cezeryea is thought to be an aphrodisiac.  The Turk laughed and replied, “Don’t tell her that, she won’t eat it!”  Too true Turkey Boy.

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Tarsus packed a great little punch for a tourist and definitely worth stopping by if you are passing through to Adana or westward to the beaches.  We ran out of time to visit the Cave of Seven Sleepers and we also did not see the Prophet Daniel’s grave (of Daniel and the Lion’s fame) which is supposedly located inside Makim Mosque.  so do yourself a favour people.  Visit Tarsus.

Soli Pompeiopolis

I think we have already established that Mersin province is full of ancient sites.  On Saturday (and before the shite hit the fan at home) I went to Viranşehir (Ruined City) to meet with my friend Alana.

For me Viranşehir was a bit of a track from our home in the Village (probably about 60 minutes on public transport) but for anyone staying in Mersin it is located about 20 minutes from the Forum or 30 minutes from the Otogar (catch the Eğriçam bus).  It is quite central.  Viranşehir is a residential area jam packed with high rise apartments blocks and shopping centres so to discover the Roman ruins of Soli Pompeiopolis smack in the middle of this residential area is certainly a surprise.

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Sidenote – One of my main issues with Mersin Turizm is that they have virtually no information for a tourist visiting this city or the area.  If you are a history buff there is abundance of ruins and archaeological sites to explore but with little or no information it is incredibly difficult to visit or even to be aware of its existence and Soli Pompeiopolis is the perfect example.  The only reason I knew of it is that Alana had put some photos up on her FB page.

I digress though, let me talk about this site.

Soli Pompeiopolis was once a large town and a most important harbour.  It was the capital of a Persian province before succumbing to the Greeks, Alexander the Great and King Antiochus III.  After all this carnage Soli recovered with the arrival of Roman Pompey who renamed the town Pompeiopolis (because he was obviously full of himself) who, not only held off the Persian Army, also used it as a base for fighting the pirates that preyed on boats in the area.   In 527AD Pompeiopolis was flattened by an earthquake and eventually the town was left to disrepair.  Today the main, and frankly the only thing that you can view as the ruins are surrounded by wire fencing, is the Colonnaded Street (cardo maximum).  It is over 350m long with Corinthian columns and I imagine it would have been very grand in its time drawing you down towards the harbour.  There is also a theatre, harbour, a bath and the monumental tomb of Aratos currently under excavation.  Archaeologists have found many coins, pottery and other artefacts of interest which are currently on display at Mersin Museum.

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As mentioned the Turkish Government is currently undertaking excavations on the site and in fact there is talk of building an archaeology museum to incorporate the site nearby which, for a history buff like myself (yes little known fact), would be great.

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Worth visiting?

As you can only view the ruins from the street there is little to hold your interest.  If, however, you make a day of it and incorporate a pleasant walk along the promenade, visit a couple of the bars for an ice cold beer (which Alana and I did) or perhaps have a picnic at one of the many beaches then it is a day well spent.

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Love Poem

I have not had a chance to write over the past few days due to a family emergency.  I will write again when time and opportunity allows.

In the meantime I was recently reading about Sultan Suleiman and his wife Hurrem Sultan.  Suleiman I was known as “the Magnificent” in the West and “Kanuni” (the Lawgiver) in the East.  He was the tenth and longest reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1520 to 1566.

Suleiman married Roxelana, a former Christian girl converted to Islam from his harem, who became subsequently known as Hurrem Sultan.  Apparently she was a fiesty character that with her feminine wiles became extremely influential over the Sultan and over the Empire herself.  Well good on her I say.  The original Beyonce!  Daughter said he was whipped.  I now question how she knows what it means to be whipped but perhaps that should be for another day as well.

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Throne of my lonely niche, my wealth, my love, my moonlight.
My most sincere friend, my confidant, my very existence, my Sultan, my one and only love.
The most beautiful among the… beautiful…
My springtime, my merry faced love, my daytime, my sweetheart, laughing leaf…
My plants, my sweet, my rose, the one only who does not distress me in this world…
My Constantinople, my Caraman, the earth of my Anatolia
My Badakhshan, my Baghdad and Khorasan
My woman of the beautiful hair, my love of the slanted brow, my love of eyes full of mischief…
I’ll sing your praises always
I, lover of the tormented heart, Muhibbi* of the eyes full of tears, I am happy..

*Muhibbi (Lower) is the nickname of Sultan Suleiman in his poems)