The port of call today is Cesme (meaning fountain) Turkey. Cesme is situated on the Aegean coast. The town is a 15 minute drive from Alacati or 45 minutes from Izmir. This area is much less touristy than Bodrum and has a very vibrant nightlife (so we were informed). Unfortunately our excursion to an exclusive resort for an afternoon of relaxation prior to attending a nightclub to sample the vibrant nightlife was cancelled. We were thoroughly disappointed with this as the information and pictures contained on the cruise website looked amazing. Cesme has an interesting history as does most of the Greek Islands and Turkish coastline towns and cities.
After docking in Cesme we disembarked the ship, walked through customs and, before going out into the street, changed a small amount of euros to Turkish Lire. There was nothing around us except a few houses opposite the terminal, a mechanic shop and, to the right, a boat yard and marina. We deliberated for a while and discussed pricing with a taxi driver, it was very expensive so we shuffled our feet, looked around us and deliberated some more and decided to take a stroll to town, others were taking taxis but we thought a stroll in the heat would be more satisfying….plus we thought the taxi driver and his friends were overcharging us. The ship docks a little way out of the town here and it’s a pleasant walk to the centre where Cesme castle is the most prominent feature. In fact no taxi is needed at all as on the way back we discovered a very pretty walkway with shops on either side, with walls and overhead timber beams draped with beautiful pink and deep red bougainvillea, which took us from the main street directly to the port area.
Whilst walking to town we discussed what we should do for the day and evening as the ship will dock here till 11pm. ‘The beach’ was the call from the three men, I didn’t mind as long as I have a lounge to lie on and a beach umbrella I’m fine. Sitting or lying on a towel on a sandy beach does not appeal to me – I like my comforts. Reaching the centre of town we spied a tourist centre. ‘Let’s go in and see which beach they recommend and the best way to get to it’. Anyone who has visited this are of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas know it’s a very casual, laid back area so we weren’t surprised to walk in to the office and find no one staffing it. After 10 minutes or so a man stepped in through a side entrance, seemingly from another store, to inform us the agent would be back shortly so could we please take a seat. ‘Certainly, no problem’ I said as we continued to look through brochures we’d picked up. Another 15 minutes passed before the agent returned. He very pleasantly told us which beach was the best and which number bus would take us there as well as pointing us to the bus stand.
Altinkum Beach was the choice and bus stop D was a short 2 minute walk from the tourist centre. The trip would take 20 minutes and was an amusing ride. Entry/exit to the bus was via a side door. we stepped in and realised very quickly the little 16 seater was crowded so for the first part of the journey we all stood. We passed our money down to the bus driver via Troy, who stood closest to the driver at this point. There were many stops along the route and the little bus became very crowded, absolutely no more standing room so we started to pass stops unless a passenger wanted to alight with their shopping. As it became more crowded the fare for each new passenger was passed through many hands to reach the driver. It was similar to playing ball tag where a small round ball is passed from team member to team member overhead. Change was passed back in the same way.
Thankfully seats eventually became available for the final part of the journey – it was exhausting handing money back and forth to the driver, and dangerous, especially when he took a sharp corner! As we were playing our game of ball tag I’m certain our little Turkish bus driver was playing his own game of how far you can fling a standing passenger as you take a corner at 40 mph.
Several beaches came into view and the views did not disappoint. The bus finally reached it’s last stop, Altinkum Beach, and we alighted a little dishevelled from being thrown around and overheated from lack of air conditioned comfort but we still enjoyed the experience. Holidays are all about our experiences so soak them up whether you deem them to be good or bad.
I love the European beach culture of renting a sun lounge and umbrella for an hour, several hours or a whole day…Australia has beautiful beaches but our councils lack forethought in this area. Although if they did take this on you can be sure we would be paying a premium for this service rather than allowing the entrepreneur to set up a little business in a section of the beach.
For the privilege of renting 4 sun lounges, 2 umbrellas, access to a shower/change rooms and toilet we paid the young man 20 Turkish lira. One Turkish Lira is equal to approximately Aus.48 cents or US.33cents so under $10 for the day between 4 of us. A can of coca cola was 5 Turkish lira.
The weather was beautiful and after soaking up the surroundings for 15 minutes it was time to venture into the Aegean Sea. I let Ty and Troy head off first to test the water temperature, they gave the thumbs up to signal me that it wasn’t too cold and to join them. I headed across the extremely hot sand, very gingerly, to meet the water. Silly mistake I had crossed boiling hot sand to reach water that looked so inviting but was about 5 degrees Celsius. So here is my warning to you dear reader – Altinkum Beach is beautiful, the view across the blue Aegean horizon amazing and very peaceful, the water is crystal clear but it is freezing cold, so cold it’s like stepping into an ice bath! So when your friends are in the water and signalling to you that it is not at all cold do not believe them!! Did I put more than my toe in the water? Yes, I did but it took a little while, once in up to my neck and my heart had recovered from the shock it was enjoyable. Getting out was another matter once out of the water I ignored any further encouragement to get me back in. My body wouldn’t recover from a second shock in one day.
After several hours we decided to head back to town for a wander around and then afternoon tea. Food, food and more food is the main focus when travelling with men, especially so with Gorging Gonz. Troy (Lord Lunchalot) was the first to avail himself of the shower and toilet facilities at this section of Altinkum Beach. I thought I’d wait for him to report back before I went to change – I’m always a little wary as some amenities can be quite primitive (another reason not to like camping). I was right to wait…his face said it all as he looked at us whilst walking back. The shower/change room was very small and the floor was full of water making it difficult to change without getting all your clothes wet and the toilet was hole in the ground – not a fancy hole in the ground, no, no place to plant your feet or bars to hold onto whilst you do what you need to. So I decided to struggle to dry myself and change clothes inside 2 towels being held around me by Ty. We did our best to keep my modesty in tact, perhaps on a German beach I could’ve whipped my cossies off, towelled dry and redressed without anyone blinking an eye but we were in Turkey. Anyway Germany would have had very modern facilities for the beach goers…..hmmm the German sunlovers would still have stripped off in full view. Got to give it to some of the European natives they aren’t shy when it comes to nakedness.
We had a 20 minute wait for the little bus so we wandered around looking at the other beach areas and their offerings of sun lounges and umbrellas. Each little area had a different colour scheme for their umbrellas and lounges. The bus arrived but he wouldn’t be ready to leave for another 10 minutes, we could sit on the bus if we like. No, way too hot to take our seats this early, we’ll board just before he leaves!!
Ios (Niós as locals call it) is the number one party island in the Greek Islands at the moment as well as being Homer’s resting place. It is a very hilly island with most of the houses built on a hilltop…fabulous blue roofs and whitewashed walls with the rich pinks of bougainvillea’s adding rich colours to the surrounds. Houses on Ios have the same characteristics of the other islands in the Cyclades group but I never tire of seeing those colour combinations. The population of Ios is around 2100 and Chora (pronounced Hóra), the main village, is perched on top of a hill. There are a number of beaches on Ios and one popular and well-known beach is Manganari.
The ship isn’t able to dock at the port so tender boats are used to ferry us to the island. The dock area has a number of small shops and a couple of restaurants but all the action is up on top of the cliff. We took the bus to Chora at a cost of 1.80 euro each and stops a short walk from the access to the main village. A man, the image of Richard Clapton, sat beside Troy on the bus. Richard Clapton is a 70’s rock’n’roll singer still doing the rounds in the Australian music industry.
Stepping off the bus I spied a great view of 2 blue roofed, white walled churches… We headed across a car park, up several sets of modernish stairs until, in front of us, a number of tiny alleyways appeared. Not knowing which was the best alley to take we followed others. The alleys snaked their way to the left and also to the right but we climbed stair after stair straight ahead to the very top of the village, well, as far as the body wanted to go in the heat..
Many steep winding stairs later we arrived just below the The church of Virgin Mary Gremiotissa. By now we were very hot, legs starting to ache a little from all the stairs so we stopped at the sign pointing to the Church. Hmm, will we carry on? yes, it’s only a little further so on we pushed and reached the side of the Church…too many people crowded around the end of the alley plus Lord Lunchalot and Gorging Gonz were saying words like ‘coffee’ and ‘rest’. We retreated to the alley below where we saw a number of cafes. A table became vacant at one of the cafes, Louis cafe. Lord Lunchalot promptly sat! Not one of us argued..we happily parked our bottoms on the other chairs, we didn’t realise how thirsty we were even though we all carried water on our trek. By the time we had sat Lord L has already checked us in on Facebook. Which lead me to ask ‘what did we do on holidays before Fb and the desire to ‘check in’ came along’? No reply just a wry smile for LL. Anyway – our legs were also very thankful for the break as we still had to make our way down this cliff. I, for one, also needed a loo break and the bathroom in this cafe was interesting.
Most of these cafes are are built in tiny spaces so need to be creative with how that space is used – cafe Louis was particularly creative. The toilet and wash basin was at the top of a thin spiral staircase which I likened to spiral pasta it was very tight with only 1 foot fitting on each step. I certainly wouldn’t attempt it after a couple of drinks – going up might be ok but coming down could be very challenging. The room itself was indeed tiny, no room to even think about swinging the proverbial cat, even difficult to close the door without sucking as much of your body in as possible – I didn’t dare breathe out for fear of being forever ensconced in one of the tiniest loo I’ve ever visited. However I managed to get back out the door and negotiate the tiny steps on the spiral staircase without incident. Troy had to duck as he inched his way up the staircase because the ceiling became very low the further up the staircase you went. After we’d all paid a visit to the little room we talked about the fact the cafe is a bar in the evening and wondered how many patrons had fallen over the wrought iron railing whilst trying to negotiate the downhill run.
Drinks finished, body rested, we headed in a different direction to reach the bottom and eventually the bus stop. For those who want to know costs – an iced frappé cost 2.50 euro and a 500 ml bottle of water was .50 euro cents.
Ios has 365 churches but 361 of them would need to wait for our next visit…so many churches on one tiny island so little time!
Syros was another island where the excursion we had chosen was cancelled so we were left to our own devices but that wasn’t a big issue. We were happy wandering around the villages ourselves. Syros was an evening port of call so we thought it appropriate to sample the fare of the restaurants. After strolling around several streets and alleys looking at menus we came across a very pretty alley and decided we will eat at one of these places. We chose Kouzino and we certainly weren’t disappointed. Lovely open air setting with tables covered in butchers paper…odd you’re thinking? We thought it a little strange until we noticed the crayons in a pot on the table – something to keep the kids occupied whilst waiting for dinner…..in our case it was the adults!!
We were surprised to find the wife of the restaurant owner was an Australian. We were all a little envious of her idyllic lifestyle. Don’t we all dream about living on a beautiful Greek island eating the amazing fresh foods, soaking up the colours of the sea, the houses and the landscape?
The food at Kouzino was amazing, the service was friendly, good choices of wines, the evening was warm AND they let us draw on their tablecloth! What more could you want, oh, the prices, well it cost 35 euros for entrée, mains, one dessert (yes you guessed it Gorging Gonz) and a bottle of wine. We voted this restaurant 5 out of 5….could not fault anything!!
Cape Sounion was one port I was very excited about. This is where the Temple of Poseidon is situated on the edge of a very high cliff majestically facing the Saronic Gulf. The sunsets are supposed to be magic but ours was a morning excursion but I didn’t mind I was just excited to be here. The Temple was thought to be built around 440BC and knowing you’re standing in the shadows of this massive man made structure over 2000 years old leaves you in awe. So many different emotions filled my mind as I walked around the building. Thoughts of the craftsmen that created the Doric columns by hand, no modern machines to pattern the columns, the labourers assembling the columns and placing them in position. Transporting the columns too…just so hard to comprehend the amount of effort required. They did and amazing job and the view of the temple and the sea in the background is stunning, so stunning to the eye I’m sure the photos we took don’t do the view justice.
Our guide was a little lacking in her approach for the english speaking tourists. No surprise here when the english speaking were asked to wander around the Temple on our own and return to her in 40 minutes after she had completed her information session for the non english speaking on the excursion. We wandered back at the allotted time.It was extremely windy on this headland so it was no surprise when the tour guide asked to borrow a woman’s pamphlet which also held her entrance ticket that it blew away when the guide opened the pamphlet. We then watched as the guide ran after the ticket trying to retrieve it but, as in comedy sketches, the ticket would blow away in another direction just as she almost reached it. Eventually it blew over a fence – so her souvenir of her visit was gone forever and we only received a 15 minute history lesson rather then the 40 minute the other group received. Oh, well, I knew most of the history anyway and the wind was becoming annoying! I was happy to head back down to the cafe and souvenir shop.
Back on board sitting playing UNO in our favourite bar with our favourite bartender we talked about the islands we’d visited, the state of the cruise in general and unanimously agreed our favourite island on this trip was Kos. A week relaxing on Kos would be ideal.
I have enjoyed 5 cruises prior to this one including 2 with Louis cruises (owners of Celestyal Cruise Lines) and have never encountered excursions being cancelled or being offered when they weren’t available. We were disappointed but as you have read we overcame the disappointment and enjoyed our own little excursions.
My final blog on this cruise of the Greek Islands will be a like/dislike blog requested by a number of my readers. Also remember feedback is always welcome!