Archive for December 2015

December 2015 – a few friends and family, locations and birds that kept us busy for most of the month.   Leave a comment

This post covers from when we returned from Turkey on 2nd December until the end of the year.

May I take the opportunity to wish all readers of this blog a very happy 2016


IMG_2203 M, A&J, Lois and Gavin, Maldon

After we returned from our trip to Turkey we braved the M25 rush hour traffic and drove straight to Anita and John’s in Maldon in Essex. They will be in South Africa at Christmas time so we made our Christmas visit in early December. They have John’s sister Lois and her husband Gavin staying with them and this was the first time I had met them. L-R Gavin, Lois, John, Anita and Margaret (with an imaginary selfie-stick).

IMG_2189 Teal

With John and Anita at work we had time on the first two days to do a little birding, first at Abberton Reservoir where large flocks of wildfowl were present, including these Teal but also many Pochard, a bird that was once abundant in Dorset in winter but is now only seen in relatively small numbers.

IMG_2156 GG Grebe

These 16 Great Crested Grebes are just a small part of flock that numbered over a hundred.

IMG_2161 Goose hybrid

I was initially puzzled by this bird, it looks quite like a Cackling Goose, the diminutive relative of Canada Goose, but the black of the neck extending onto the upper breast and the sharp demarcation between the black breast and the grey of the belly is reminiscent of a Barnacle Goose. It must be a hybrid, either between Barnacle and a Canada, or given its small size, between a Barnacle and a Cackling. Hybridisation between geese species is not unusual in feral populations, where the ecological and geographical conditions that would normally separate them during the breeding season, are absent. Its close association with a flock of feral Greylag Geese is a further indication of its dubious pedigree.

IMG_2178 Bewicks & Wigeon

The best sighting of the day was a group of seven Bewick’s Swans, two of which posed nicely for photos.

IMG_2194 Wallasea

Last Christmas we paid a visit to Wallasea, the RSPB’s new 1,500 acre mega-reserve in Essex. A huge area of former farmland has been reclaimed for nature using literally millions of tonnes of spoil from Crossrail project ((I object to the term reclaimed land – changing wildlife rich coasts into farmland cannot be ‘reclaiming’ it as it was never the farmer’s land in the first place – turning farmland back into a nature reserve on the other hand is ‘reclaiming’). Since our last visit much has happened, sluice gates erected, lagoons, both fresh and saline at various heights, have been created to provide feeding habitat at all stages of the time and for the first time in 400 years the sea wall has been breached allowing the former farmland to revert to salt marsh.

IMG_2192 Wallasea

Although our visit in December last year was bird-filled we were a bit disappointed this year, perhaps the very low tide meant most waders and wildfowl were still offshore, leaving the lagoons on the reserve somewhat empty, or perhaps the very mild conditions hadn’t induced many birds to come this far south and west.

IMG_6692 John Gavin

A fair amount of my time was spent accompanying John and Gavin as they visited Maldon’s many pubs. I have been in Poole for 37 years but never know anyone in pubs unless I arrange to meet someone there. John has been in Maldon less than two years and Gavin as many months, but they seem to know everybody. We were often asked what was the relationship between the three of us was, Gavin would reply ‘I married his sister’ and I’d reply ‘I married his mother-in-law’.

IMG_6698 free beer

John even took us to a free beer tasting event hosted by the local brewery.

IMG_6700 Yellow Snow

Noticing an ale called ‘yellow snow’ I commented that was the title of a Frank Zappa song, the barman nodded in agreement and pointed me to the label on the barrel. They also had a beer called ‘elementary penguin’ so the brewers clearly have a good taste in music (as well as in beer).

IMG_6696 brewery

As I said, John knows everybody in Maldon, so we also given a tour of the micro-brewry by the head brewer.

IMG_6728 tree bud

Back home, mid-December was absurdly warm with temperatures reaching 15c and not dropping much lower at night. Flowers are in bloom, butterfly and bumblebees are on the wing, birds are in full song and trees are in bud. I like four seasons a year not one and half.

IMG_6769 Chris & Ginny

I had hoped to spend a fair bit of time with my two trainee ringers, Chris and Ginny, however the incessant wind that has accompanied the warm weather has reduced the opportunities.

IMG_6709 Sparrowhawk

However we have taken advantage of the few lulls between the storms and have visited several of our local patches, ringing birds like this immature male Sparrowhawk ….

IMG_6726 Redpoll

…. and this breeding plumage Lesser Redpoll.

IMG_6706 Goldfinch abnormal bill

As birds are supposed to be in normal health before they are ringed we released this Goldfinch with a deformed bill without ringing it.

IMG_6718 Chiffchaff ELR143 12 12 15 FLC

At our Fleets Lane site we trapped three wintering Chiffchaffs. One was a typical nominate collybita, but this very brown bird just might be the Scandinavian race albietinus.

IMG_6713 Chiffchaff ELR135 12 12 15 FLC

This bird, trapped on the same day lacks the yellow tones of collybita but does show some green on the bend of the wing and on the fridges of the primaries, together with the prominent supercillium and the whitish belly this could indicate that it is the race tristis from Siberia. A feather from each bird, accidentally dislodged during the ringing process, will be forwarded for DNA analysis.

IMG_6766 Holes Bay

Away from ringing, I have only done a little birding but did take part in the monthly wetland bird count. My area, the southern part of Holes Bay, failed to turn up very much, but the dramatic shower clouds propelled across the Bay by a brisk SE wind were photogenic.

IMG_6719 Star Wars premiere

Being science-fiction fans we managed to get tickets to see the new Star Wars film on its opening day. The steps of the Empire Cinema in Poole were littered with stormtroopers and Jedi knights.

IMG_6730 Phoenix Xmas dance

We only attended one pre-Christmas party, the annual Phoenix dinner-dance (the organisation where Margaret and I met nine years ago). Here Margaret found herself seated next to the only other South African in the Poole group.

IMG_6757 Phoenix Xmas dance

We never had lighting like that when I used to attend discos, a glitter ball was the highlight!

IMG_2206 B mouth Xmas market

Also just before Christmas we visited Bournemouth but paused only briefly at the entertainments near the Winter Gardens ….

IMG_2244 Jools Holland

…. as we were on our way to see Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra play at the BIC

IMG_2227 Jools Holland

A superb line up of top class musicians playing rhythm and blues and boogie-woogie. This is the third time I have seen him play and have enjoyed every minute of it.

IMG_2241 Ruby Turner

As always the ‘queen of booie-woogie’ Ruby Turner gave a splendid vocal performance ….

IMG_2222 KT Tunstall

…. as did guest star KT Turnstall.

IMG_2250 Jools Holland

All of which more than deserved a standing ovation.

IMG_6776 Adrian Dominique Francesca A&K Xmas 15

This brings us on to Christmas. This year, along with Janis, Amber and Kara we were invited over to their friends Adrian, Dominique and Francesca’s in Southampton. Amber and Kara have been friends with Francesca since nursery school. Amber has spent the last few months working in Cornwall but came back for Christmas. L-R: Adrian, Amber, Francesca, Dominique, Kara.

IMG_6777 Boxing Day dinner

We had similar good fortune on Boxing Day when we were invited for dinner to Winterbourne Abbas near Dorchester by Janis’ boyfriend Nigel. L-R: Margaret, Nigel’s daughter Ellie, Amber, Nigel’s son George, Nigel, Nigel’s younger son William, Janis and the children’s grandmother Ros. (Kara is absent as she was invited to go to France by a friend and her parents for the rest of the holidays).

On the 27th we drove up to Duffield in Derbyshire to visit my brother Simon and his family. We also visited my sister-in-law’s parent Ida and Dennis, old friends from school, Martin and Tricia and Di who I knew from University day and her husband Steve in Breedon-on-the-Hill. We also we met up with Nigel whom I was at school and university with and shared a place with for many years. We also did a little birding at Carsington reservoir, a twenty-minute drive from my brother’s house looking (as usual) for Willow Tit and Tree Sparrow – two birds we never see in Dorset.

I have posted photos of friends, family and scenery in the Derby area at Christmas several times before, see these links if you wish to see more.




2011: also a number of other posts between Christmas Day and New Year



IMG_6783 Nigel and Steve

Nigel and Steve cooking pizza, Breedon-on-the-Hill, Derbyshire.

IMG_2252 red sails

As it is Christmas we decided to treat ourselves to a very nice painting, called Red Sails. It is mounted at the top of the stairs. It was painted by Margaret’s sister Cathy in Austria.


And finally I would like to pay tribute to my dear father Brian. It is 30 years today since he died and 29th December marked 100 years since he was born. Photographed here in 1940, the year that he and Mum got married. I learned so much from my father and it was from him that I got an enquiring mind and the love of discovering places, history, landscapes and wildlife. Both Mum and Dad are greatly missed of course, but their memories are with us always.

Turkey for £99 part 3: Anatalya and Aspendos – 29th November – 2nd December 2015   Leave a comment

This, the third and final post on our trip to Turkey. covers the journey from Laodicea to Anatalya and the Roman ruins at Aspendos.

The last post ended with our visit to the ruins at Laodicea, this possibly was the high point of the trip, but then things took a sharp downturn with our enforced visit to a carpet factory!

IMG_1835 carpet

There was no doubt that the carpets on show were beautiful and would be greatly valued by some people ….

IMG_1843 carpet weavers

…. or that the ladies that weave them, (often taking months or even a year to produce one) are highly motivated, highly skilled and highly underpaid (a point that was repeatedly made) but it was the enforced demonstrations and the hard sell that lasted well over an hour that annoyed me. The salesmen simply wouldn’t take no for an answer. We had no intention in paying hundreds or even thousands of pounds for a carpet, but they just wouldn’t listen. This ‘lock in’ was all the more annoying as I would have liked to spend a further hour at the ruins of Laodicea.

IMG_1852 mountains

Later we crossed the Anatolian plateau as we headed for the Mediterranean. Scenery was lovely, many raptors were seen but of course there was no stopping. This photo was taken from the bus window.

IMG_1860 hotel

We stayed at a beautiful hotel to the west of Antalya.

IMG_6631 hot spring baths

A small ‘volcano’ has been built over the site of a hot spring and you can take an outside dip in a steaming hot pool, the temperature of which was just about tolerable.

IMG_6648 belly dancer

We were entertained with a belly dancer who insisted on audience participation (both male and female). I hid behind a pillar in case I got selected.

IMG_6675 jewel factory

The following morning it was the hard sell again – first a jewelry factory ….

IMG_1892 fashion show

….and then a leather factory where we were obliged to watch a fashion show first. With a salesman shadowing us just three feet behind, Margaret told him that ‘my philosophy in life is not to buy anything I don’t need and I don’t need a leather coat’. He replied ‘the exit is over there madam’

IMG_2016 Antalya

In the afternoon we were free to explore Antalya, although much of the city is tourist development, an ancient centre with its narrow streets and quaint shops still exists.

IMG_1927 Anatyla

We were dropped off a square near the old town ….

IMG_2017 Ataturk memorial

…. dominated by a huge statue to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern secular state of Turkey in 1923 after the demise of the Ottoman Empire

IMG_1979 Anatyla

…. we wandered the quaint streets ….

IMG_1981 Anatyla

…. and pretty courtyards ….

IMG_1985 Antalya

…. photographed ancient minarets ….

IMG_1944 Hadrian's Gate

…. until we came to Hadrian’s Gate built in honour of the Roman emperor.

IMG_1967 Anatyla

Retracing our steps ….

IMG_2000 Antalya harbour

…. we headed for the harbour ….

IMG_1998 Antalya harbour

…. with its old ships ….

IMG_2002 busker

…. and even older buskers …

IMG_1995 tourist galleon

…. but the ‘ancient galleon’ with its diesel engines appeared to be of more recent construction.

IMG_2067 White-spectacled Bulbul

In a park overlooking the harbour we found several White-spectacled Bulbuls, a common species in parts of the Middle East, here at the extreme western edge of its range.

IMG_1925 Crag Martin

Along the cliffs were a number of Crag Martins, the only hirundine of the trip.

IMG_2136 sunset

As the sun set over the distant mountains we headed eastwards to our hotel.

IMG_2029 Hotel Lykia

I have already stated that I was very impressed with the standard of hotels on this tour, especially given the cost. The best of all was the Hotel Lykia near Aspendos where we stayed for the last two nights. The dining room (above) was massive with the biggest buffet I have ever seen. You would think you had inspected every dish but still others on your table would come back with food you didn’t know was there.

IMG_2021 Hotel Lykia

The view of the swimming pool from our room ….

IMG_2122 hotel pool

….and the pool in the daylight.

IMG_2123 Cormorants and boat

A late start the following day allowed me to do a bit of birding first but there was nothing on the sea except a few Cormorants.

IMG_2070 Roman aqueduct

Our fist stop was at the ruins of a Roman aqueduct, with its attendant souvenir stalls.

IMG_2078 Aspendos

But it was the partially restored Roman theatre at Aspendos that was the focus of the day, said to be the best preserved in the world.

IMG_2081 group at Aspendos

As a measure of how multi-national and multi-cultural we have become, we discovered that although all but one of the group lived in the UK they originated from Canada, China, Cyprus, Gambia, Iran, Italy, Kenya, Malta, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania and Trinidad (plus of course the UK) so with our Kurdish guide and Turkish driver there were 16 nationalities represented out of 34 people. We all (with possibly with one exception) got on very well.

IMG_2085 Aspendos

After the obligatory lecture about the archaeology we were free to climb to the top if we wished ….

IMG_2092 Andrea

…. to explore ….

IMG_2094 Aspendos

…. and photograph the colonnade that surrounds the structure.

IMG_2097 Aspendos

Built in AD 155, the theatre was used for artistic performances rather than the gladiatorial combat. In the latter the seats would have been raised above the height of the stage to separate the crowd from wild animals.

IMG_2106 Anne and Yin at top of Theatre

We were amazed that 90 year-old Anne made it to the top of the steps, indeed I think she had to help Yin (who must have been a third of her age) get down.

IMG_2108 Anne and Yin at top of Theatre

If you have any doubt how high up it was, look at the two of the them in the centre of this photo.

IMG_2120 Roman bridge

We had our lunch by a restored Roman bridge ….

IMG_2115 shadow of bridge

…. with a beautiful view of the river and the mountains beyond.

IMG_2126 sunset

We returned in time for a sunset walk around the gardens and on the beach.

IMG_2140 group at the hotel

With quite a large group and the trip only lasting a week we were just getting to know people as the trip ended. Although from very different backgrounds and with different interests, I think we made some nice friends that week, although it is unlikely our paths will cross again.

IMG_2148 Crested Lark

As our departure to the airport wasn’t until the late morning there was time for some final birding in the scrub and fields around the hotel. Birds like Common Kingfisher, Wryneck, Stonechat, Cettis and Sardinian Warbler, several races of Chiffchaff, Water Pipit, Serin and Corn Bunting were seen but the best photos were of Crested Lark  ….

IMG_2050 Woodlark

…. and Wood Lark.

IMG_6690 from the plane

So all that remained was to fly home to Gatwick. Almost all the trips I have done have either been self-drive, self-led tours or commercial birding tours. Apart from one day guided trips around a city, I haven’t done this type of sightseeing tour since the seventies. Was it a success? undoubtedly, with the exception of the retail outlets, all the places we visited were interesting and photogenic, the company good, the hotels excellent and it was very good value. Would I do similar tours again, yes, especially if it was something that Margaret was keen to do. Finally as Margaret’s daughter and her husband are away at Christmas, we headed straight from Gatwick to Maldon in Essex to spend the next four days with them – but that’s a tale for another day.



Turkey for £99 part 2: Troy, Sardis, Pamukkale and Laodicea – 27th – 29th November 2015   Leave a comment

For an explanation of why this wasn’t really ‘Turkey for £99’ see my first post on this trip, published a few days ago.

This post covers the second, third and part of the fourth day in Turkey and our journey from Istanbul in the European part of Turkey, across the Dardanelles, to the ruins of Troy, Sardis and Laodicea and the calcite formations at Pamukkale.

IMG_1678 Dardanelles ferry

it took all morning to drive along the northern shore of the Sea of Marmora to the ferry terminal at Kilitbahir.

IMG_1675 Ferry terminal European side

Here, accompanied by many Black-headed and a few Yellow-legged Gulls, we left Europe behind. Few other birds were seen on the crossing with the exception of a distant skua which was harrying Black-headed Gulls. From its size and jizz it looked like a Long-tailed. Whilst most skuas will travel from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to more southerly waters for winter via the coasts of Europe, those in central Siberia will follow rivers southwards and then head for the Black Sea and then on into the Med. Even so, seeing a skua this late in the year was a surprise.

IMG_1684 Galipoli memorial

The peninsula south of Kilibahir on the European side was the scene of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign in WW1. There were over 200,000 British and ANZAC casualties and a similar from the Turkish side, yet little was achieved militarily. Here, photographed at some distance and from a moving bus, is the War Memorial to those who died at Gallipoli.

IMG_1690 Trojan war era walls

It was dry up to the moment we arrived at Hissarlik to see the ruins of Troy, it then started to rain and rained heavily until the moment we got back in the bus! Nine city levels have been excavated dating from 3000 BC until the start of Byzantine period, but the walls seen above have been dated to the 12th or 13th century BC, making them concurrent with the Troy of Homer’s Iliad ie the setting of the famous Trojan Wars. It is still a matter of debate whether the Homeric Troy actually existed, let alone whether any of Homer’s heroes are anything more than fictitious characters.

IMG_1695 Troy early levels

The earliest walls are not built with stone but with mud bricks and have been covered with an awning to protect them from the elements.

IMG_1700 Schliemann's ditch

The following is copied from Wikipedia: ‘In 1865, English archaeologist Frank Calvert excavated trial trenches in a field he had bought from a local farmer at Hisarlık, and in 1868, Heinrich Schliemann, a wealthy German businessman and archaeologist, also began excavating in the area after a chance meeting with Calvert in Çanakkale. These excavations revealed several cities built in succession. Schliemann was at first skeptical about the identification of Hisarlik with Troy, but was persuaded by Calver and took over Calvert’s excavations on the eastern half of the Hisarlik site, which was on Calvert’s property. Troy VII has been identified with the Hittite city Wilusa, the probable origin of the Greek Ἴλιον, and is generally (but not conclusively) identified with Homeric Troy’.


Schliemann’s young wife Sophia, wearing the ‘Jewel’s of Helen’ part of the so-called ‘Priam’s Treasure’ that he unearthed at the site. Schliemann smuggled the treasures out of Turkey to Germany where they were taken after WW2 by the Red Army and now reside in the Pushkin museum in Moscow. The level the treasure was found corresponds to Troy II, dated to about 2500 BC whilst the Troy of the Homeric tales lies at Troy VII some 1300 years later, so they have no association with Helen or King Priam! Photo taken in c1874 copied from Wikipedia.

IMG_1703 Troy layers

As I said before nine layers have been excavated at Troy and most can be seen in this photo. According to Wikipedia the layers have been dated as follows: Troy I 3000–2600 BC, Troy II 2600–2250 BC, Troy III 2250–2100 BC, Troy IV 2100–1950 BC, Troy V: 20th–18th centuries BC, Troy VI: 17th–14th centuries BC, Troy VIIa: c. 1300–1190 BC, most likely setting for Homer’s story, Troy VIIb: 12th century until c. 950 BC, Troy VIII: c. 700–85 BC, Troy IX: 85 BC–c. AD 500.

IMG_1710 Troy theatre

We were pretty wet by the time we reached this Roman theatre (apparently not an amphitheatre, as that only applies to theatres that do the full 360 degrees).

IMG_1715 the horse

The archaeology does not disprove that this site is the Troy of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey nor that there was a war between Greece and Troy; but was Helen of Troy abducted from Sparta by King Priam’s son Paris? did her ‘face launch a thousand ships’? did Hector and Achilles fight a duel? and was Achilles killed by an arrow to his only vulnerable spot, his heel? and finally did the Greeks take the city by hiding in a wooden horse? Journalists, then as now, never let the facts get in the way of a good story!

IMG_1716 Sardes temple

We stayed a bit further down the coast and we woke up the next morning to more wet and windy weather.

IMG_1728 Sardes temple

Today we headed inland to Sardis, to visit the Greek Temple to the goddess Artemis.


IMG_1726 Sardes temple

Unfortunately, like yesterday the rain started just as we arrived and eased off just as we left.

IMG_1732 Sardes temple

Dating to the third century BC, much of the temple became buried by landslides allowing for a high level of preservation.

IMG_1762 row of shops

A few miles away are a synagogue, a gymnasium and other buildings dating from the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods. These buildings were once a line of Byzantine shops.

IMG_1739 the Loo

And here the public toilets, with stone seats (rather too close for modern-day sensibilities) and channels of flowing water to provide the necessary sanitation. Apparently in cold weather slaves would be sent in advance to warm up the seats for their masters.

IMG_1746 gymnasium Sardes

We were surprised that we were allowed to walk on these wonderful mosaics close to the synagogue, but our guide said that there were so many ancient mosaics in Turkey, many with even better preservation than these, that is wasn’t deemed necessary to cordon them off.

IMG_1755 gymnasium Sardes

The partially restored Roman gymnasium was a fine sight, even on a wet day.

IMG_1757 gymnasium Sardes

The River Pactolus, that runs nearby, contains gold and silver washed down from the nearby mountains. In the 6th century BC during the reign of King Croesus metallurgists learned how to separate gold and silver by smelting and produced coins of great purity and value, which made the king very wealthy and led to the phrase ‘as rich as Croesus’.

IMG_1758 gymnasium Sardes

The legend of King Midas, who was granted his wish by the god Dionysus to turn everything he touched into gold, appears to originate in this area. The story says that after he accidentally turned his daughter into gold he pleaded with Dionysus to remove the ‘gift’ and was told to wash it away in the River Pactolus. King Midas’ golden touch can still be seen along the river banks today.

IMG_1759 Sardes

After a final look around the gymnasium we headed off to Pamukkale for the night.

IMG_1764 baloons

We woke the following morning to blue skies – at long last. These balloons are running sightseeing flights over the famous calcite formations of Pamukkale.

IMG_1765 calcite formations

It looks like snow but in fact it is white calcite formations, the name Pamukkale means ‘cotton castle’.

IMG_1777 calcite formations

The white rock is travertine ….

IMG_1784 calcite & baloon

….deposited by a series of hot springs.

IMG_1769 calcite formations

The hot water is super-saturated with calcium carbonate which comes out of solution as the water cools.

IMG_1766 calcite formations

The best views seem to from the hotel grounds at the top. I never found out if this was reserved for hotel guests but we were not offered the chance to go there.

IMG_1799 Syrian Road

We continued on to Laodicea, originally built in the 3rd century BC and occupied first by the Grecian and then Roman empires.

IMG_1789 Syrian Road

This (and the photo above) shows the so-called Syrian Road, a well-preserved Roman Road.

IMG_1812 Laodicea excavations

Excavations are still going on and we were able to walk on glass partitions that cover newly excavated areas.

IMG_1813 Laodicea

The city was destroyed by an earthquake in the reign of Emperor Nero in AD 60 but was restored by its inhabitants.

IMG_1807 Laodicea

The city is mentioned in the Bible in the Epistle to the Colossians and is mentioned as one of the seven churches of Asia Minor in the Book of Revelations.

IMG_1795 Laodicea

Many stones had interesting (presumably Roman) carvings.

IMG_1796 pipe connections Laodicea

This stone was used to connect stone pipes together, either to transport water or as part of the hypocaust for under floor heating.

IMG_1816 Black Redstart

Birding was good around the ruins with plenty of Black Redstarts (above) and Crested and Wood Larks. A group of eight Lesser Kestrels was unusual at this time of year. Of particular note was a Finch’s Wheatear, a winter visitor from eastern Turkey or Central Asia but it was flushed by a tourist before I could get a photo.

IMG_1821 m at Laodicea

Margaret enjoying the sights of Laodicea.

IMG_1826 Laodicea

A wonderful colonnade.

IMG_1808 group photo at Laodicea

We tried to get a group photo but people kept leaving the group to take their own shots. There were 32 clients plus the guide Sarkan (crouched at the front) so I suppose I did well to get 28 in one shot.

IMG_1832 Laodicea

After the tour we were given just 20 minutes to go round on our own ….

IMG_1805 Laodicea

…. I would have liked a lot more time as not only was the architecture awe-inspiring but the birding was good too. 

IMG_1829 Laodicea

So with a final shot of the colonnade (without a load of tourists in front) I had to rush back to the bus. Unfortunately the next destination was nowhere near as exciting but that’s a story for the next blog post.

Turkey for £99 part 1: Istanbul – 26th November 2015   Leave a comment

Turkey for £99 (including flights) the advert proclaimed. I said to Margaret that they couldn’t possibly do it for that price, and of course I was right. Only one departure was at £99 and that was full, then there were additional charges for food and excursions etc, etc. In the end we paid about £600 each, but that still represented incredible value, especially considering the quality of the hotels we stayed at. The tour, based around sightseeing sites of cultural/historical interest, started at Istanbul and went south crossing into Asia at the Dardanelles, on to the historical sites of Troy, Sardis, Laodicea and Aspendos, finishing at Antalya on the Mediterranean coast, a week and 1000 miles later.

I found the trip very enjoyable, my only complaint was the lengthy enforced visits to carpet, leather and jewelry factories where we subjected to the ‘hard sell’, when we could have spent the time more enjoyably at the historical sites we had come to visit.

We arrived at Istanbul late at night on the 25th and it was 0130 before we got to our rooms, so the 0800 departure the following day was a bit of a shock for some but as we are used to getting up at silly o’clock for birding, we took it in our stride. I had visited Istanbul before as part of a birding tour in 1999, but Margaret had never been. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t kind to us but at least most of today’s activities were indoors.

IMG_1360 Hagia Sophia

Istanbul is the only city in the world that sits astride two continents. we landed on the Asian (Anatolian) side and crossed by bridge to Europe, where most of the famous tourist sites can be found, most notably the Hagia Sophia (above) and the Blue Mosque, but first we would make a visit to the Topkapi Palace.

IMG_1361 Laughing Dove

I knew all along that this wasn’t going to be a birding tour, however I kept by binoculars with me and was rewarded with a few interesting sightings. Of course I also underwent frustration when interesting birds couldn’t be conclusively identified due to lack of time or because the they were seen from a moving bus. Here in Istanbul we saw several Laughing Doves, a common species in the Middle East that just gets into Europe in European Turkey and extreme eastern Greece and Bulgaria.

IMG_1398 M at Topkapi Palace

The Topkapi Palace was the royal residence of the Ottoman Sultans from 1465–1856, nearly two-thirds of their 600 year reign.

IMG_1393 Topkapi Palace

Several of the rooms contain priceless artifacts, gifts to the sultans of jewelry, beautifully worked pieces in precious metals, ivory or ceramics but photography was banned. Other rooms such as this one were closed due to the weather to prevent hundreds of wet feet from spoiling the flooring. That said I got perfectly good photo through the window without the crowds spoiling the view.

IMG_1404 Topkapi palace

A feature of Islamic art is that as representations of the human form are not allowed these wonderful and beautiful geometric patterns are favoured instead.

IMG_1421 Bosphorus

The Topkapi Palace overlooks the Bosphorus, the narrow channel of water that separates the Black Sea from the Sea of Marmora. The Asian side of the city is on the right, the Bosphorus Bridge over which we crossed the night before can be seen in the mid distance. I was able to see several flocks of Yelkouan Shearwaters from this vantage point, this must be the easiest place in the world to see this east Mediterranean speciality.

IMG_1524 Parakeet

Several cities across Europe have feral populations of parakeets like this Rose-ringed Parakeet female photographed at the Topkapi Palace, we also saw the larger Alexandrine Parakeet in the area.

IMG_1438 Hagia Sophia

Then it was time to visit the wonderful Hagia Sophia ……

IMG_1444 Hagia Spohia

Hagia Sophia (from the Greek ‘Holy Wisdom’) originally a basilica constructed from 537 AD onwards during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian. It served as a Greek Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople until 1453 (except for 57 years in the 13th century after the 4th Crusade when it became a Roman Catholic cathedral). With the rise of the Ottoman Empire it was converted into a mosque until the secular Turkish State under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk reopened it as a museum in 1935. The view from the balcony is especially awe-inspiring. The original Christian altar can be seen at the far end of the building. I last visited Hagia Sophia in 1999 and was disappointed to see that scaffolding obscured the view. I was even more disappointed to see that scaffolding was still there 16 years later (on the left hand side of this photo) but of course old buildings need renovating if they are to be preserved for future generations.

IMG_1454 shield Hagia Sophia

Continuing building work was carried out during the Ottoman period, the addition of the minarets occurred during the 16th century, whilst during the renovation of 1847 new gigantic circular-framed disks or medallions were hung on the columns. These were inscribed with the names of Allah, Muhammad, the first four caliphs Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali, and the two grandchildren of Muhammad: Hassan and Hussain, by the calligrapher Kazasker Mustafa İzzed Effendi.

IMG_1456 Hagia Sophia fresco

Fortunately rather than being destroyed when the basilica was converted to a mosque, the beautiful Christian mosaics were plastered over allowing for many to be later restored to their former glory.

IMG_1476 Hagia Sophia

In this beautiful mosaic Mary and the Christ Child are being presented with a model of Hagia Sophia by Emperor Justinian and by a model of the city’s fortifications (then known as Constantinople) by its founder the Emperor Constantine.

IMG_1428 Hagia Spohia

Originally lit by candles, it must have taken some effort to remove all the wax from the carpets.

IMG_1426 Hagia Spohia

The symmetry and beauty of Islamic art and decoration is breathtaking, from the light fittings ….

IMG_1429 Hagia Spohia

…. to the ceiling decorations above.

IMG_1482 Blue Mosque

Exiting Hagia Sophia we headed for the, rather wet, Hippodrome 

IMG_1483 Opimist Hotel

On our way to our lunch stop we passed the ‘Optimist Hotel’, amused by the name I took a photo. I was later to discover that it once belonged to Margaret’s son-in-law’s cousin’s husband. A strange connection.

IMG_1488 Obelisk

We returned to the Hippodrome (horse path in Greek), originally a circus for chariot racing, it has now been renamed Sultanahmet Meydanı (Sultan Ahmet Square). Centre piece is the Obelisk of Thutmose III, brought from Egypt in 390 AD. The Imams from the Blue Mosque were calling to faithful to prayer whilst we were there and it was very loud, but quite evocative.

IMG_1494 spiral column

Also in the Hippodrome is the Serpent Column. The Tripod of Plataea, as it was originally known, was cast to celebrate the victory of the Greeks over the Persians during the Persian Wars in the 5th century BC. Constantine ordered the Tripod to be moved from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and set in middle of the Hippodrome. The top was adorned with a golden bowl supported by three serpent heads. The bowl was destroyed or stolen during the Fourth Crusade. The serpent heads were destroyed as late as the end of the 17th Century. The original ground level of the Hippodrome can be seen in this photo.

IMG_1512 Blue Mosque

Then it was time to visit the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, more commonly known as the Blue Mosque. Unlike the Hagia Sophia this is a functioning place of worship and the appropriate dress code must be adhered to. Built from 1609 – 1616 on the site of the former place of the Byzantine emperors, it consists of one main dome, six minarets, and eight secondary domes.

IMG_1531 Blue Mosque

The interior is truly magnificent ….

IMG_1542 Blue Mosque

…. with many suspended chandeliers ….

IMG_1554 Blue Mosque

…. and the wide open carpeted floor where the faithful come to pray.

IMG_1548 Blue Mosque

An Imam speaks to his students and one point explained the basic concepts of Islam in English over the loudspeakers.

IMG_1549 Blue Mosque

After some final photographs of the magnificent dome we left and headed the short distance to the Golden Horn, a six-mile long inlet of the Bosphorus at the very heart of Istanbul.

IMG_1597 castle from the Bosphorus

In the late afternoon we took a boat trip on the Bosphorus and as darkness fell we had great views of the Rumelihisarı castle on the European side of the city, which was built in 1451 by the Ottomans as their base prior to the conquest of Constantinople.

IMG_1610 Istanbul bridge at night

Our boat trip took us out of the Golden Horn, northwards into the Bosphorus as far as the more northerly Fatih Sultan Bridge.

IMG_1622 Istanbul bridge at night

Returning down the Asian side we had great views of the floodlit palaces ….

IMG_1635 Istanbul bridge at night

…. before we approached the Bosphorus bridge ….

IMG_1637 Istanbul bridge at night

…. giving us a wonderful view of one of the great city sky scape.

IMG_1639 Istanbul bridge at night

The computerised LED lighting on both bridges constantly changes colour ….

IMG_1662 Hagia Sophia from the Bosphorus

…. finally we turned into the Golden Horn and with the Hagia Sophia spotlit on the hill we returned to the bus and then to our hotel.