Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Beer Tour of the World #12

Beer, Food & Liquor Reviews

 
#12th  Instalment of the Beer Tour of the World


Yes, it's that time again beer lovers.  I've been a bit on the quiet side for a long time.  Being in Turkey, there is not a great range readily available and what is available is not cheap - Turkish social policies prevail, and that is their prerogative.  Besides, I'm happy drinking Efes as long as it's available.  I was under the misapprehension that Efes was a sort of a euphemism or shortening of Ephesus but how wrong I was.  It is actually a Turkish word for something like a local warrior chief.  I didn't know until I read "Halikarnassus Balikcisi", or "The Fisherman of Halikarnassus" (the old name of Bodrum) about a famous Turkish writer exiled from Istanbul for killing his father, Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı.


Brooklyn Brew


Had this in our son’s new Bar/Restaurant. Has been brewed for a long, long time and is a very good beer. Liked it a lot but not at $10 a stubby.  I’ve become too accustomed to beer costing 1 max in a supermarket or 9 in a restaurant (about $4.50 AU).  Tried their Brooklyn Lager when I was in NY City – cost 1/3 of what this cost in Australia.

 
Timothy Taylor Landlord –  Pale Ale


Not a fan of IPA, I am nevertheless a fan of Pale Ale (been drinking Coopers PA for something like 44 years now).
 
This is a good one.  Only 4.3% but tastes big and strong.  500ml bottles.  Again, in our son’s new place of employment so I wasn’t keen on the $12 price tag.  Have a look at the website – the brewery is worth a visit on scenery alone.
  

Tuborg Special

 
Strong – 7.5% –   the first Turkish beer with extra alcohol in it.  Not generally a fan of Tuborg but this is quite sharp and full.  Like it a lot but you would certainly need to be careful.
 

Marmara Malt

Given this by a former Isle of Man TT Racer and world-renowned author* who knows his beer, him being a northerner an’ all, at dinner on his boat.  Not too bad.  Good to share, not sharp but at the same time no as sweet as some malts.  Cold, this is very drinkable and not to be turned down.  Not commonly found in retail outlets.  Try it if you see it.
 
*Said author ordered some boat bits in Gibraltar in Sheppards.  Asked for his name, he gave it.  The sales guy said in amazement “not THE Mac McDairmid?”.  To which our Mac said “Well, I suppose I am at that”.

 
Alfa Strong.

Back in the land of Achilles (well, we are 5nm south of where Achilles departed from for Troy, and we all know how that ended).  This is 7%, hence Strong.  I picked it up by mistake, thinking it was normal Alfa but no.  Don’t like it.  The extra alcohol does nothing for the taste.  This dislike only applies to the Strong, as I like Alfa well enough.  Had a second one after a long day walking up and down Delphi and my opinion’s the same.  It’s drinkable if cold but it has little taste, overridden by the extra alcohol.  Had a normal Alfa with my lunch in Delphi and it was very pleasant indeed.
 

Henninger

I may have commented on this before.  Been around for a couple of hundred years.  Drinkable without being remarkable.  Usually quite cheap in supermarkets so it’s worth grabbing when you see it.
 

Sparta

A “name only” beer produced probably by Mythos for a supermarket chain.  Unremarkable but drinkable on a hot day.  Not to be confused with the Milton Brewery bitter of the same name which is part of that brewery’s “Ancient Cities” range.  Will have to try that later.

 
Fix Royale

A wheat beer.  Normally I am not a fan of this style.  I find it too sour and sharp but if I had to drink a wheat beer this would be it.  Very nice, restrained sourness, lots of nice bubbles.

 
Fix Special

Wasn’t.

I still prefer Fix Pils to any other Greek beer, though.


Fischer

From Strasbourg, but widely available in Greece.  Perhaps a little sweeter than a Fix but nevertheless, with a meal matched to it, a very nice beer indeed. 
 

Crest 10%
http://www.wellsandyoungs.co.uk/

 No point in finessing it, it is a 10% lager.  I didn’t like it much, and in future will probably avoid high strength beers in general as they all seem to have high alcohol override a pleasant taste.  This is double-hopped, which made it fruitier than I like and also a bit sweeter than I like.  Would avoid it in future.

That said, the brewery itself is worth a lookies-at.  They’ve been brewing for over 100 years in Bedford, UK and produce quite a range.  Unfortunately, one of them appears to be a Banana Beer, which to me is a sop to modern wusses.  Provided they produce it for good reason, i.e. to make money so that they can continue to make lagers and ales, then OK, go ahead.  Bedford is now on the list of cities I have to visit in the UK.  Looking like I’m never going to get out at this rate.
 

Dreher Lemon Beer 2.0%
http://dreher.it/dreher-lemon/

I’m confused.  Dreher is a large Hungarian brewery, now owned by SAB Miller.  The sign on the bottle here says 1773 but Dreher was founded only in the 1850’s or so, and not purchased by “the King of Brewers”, Dreher himself, until 1862 or 4. Also, this is brewed by Heineken Italy, not SAB Miller so what gives here I have no clue.

Trivia aside, this is a great drink.  Carol was looking for a non-beer, non-wine drink and they didn’t have iced lemon tea so she opted for this.  Call it Adult Lemonade if you will.  They do now make a 0.0% version but this, with a little 2.0% kick, is good.  Nominated as Drink of the Year by the Admiral and on Pusser’s list of approved ship’s stores.
 
We are now back in Italy so there will be much Nastro Azzura'ing and plenty of other fine Italian stuff.


 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Piraeus to Galaxidhi


The time was getting away from us, and we had a problem with our gas supply (no-one to fill US tanks, and difficulty finding a suitable connection between European gas bottles and out boat’s system), so we made an executive decision to head back through the Corinth Canal rather than going the long way round the Peloponnese. That way we could also call into Zea Marina in Piraeus, fill our US tanks and, as a bonus, do the laundry, buy a few small bits and pieces from John the chandler and find some real cheese!
 
Marina Zea, Piraeus.
By complete chance, Terry's photo of Zea was featured as the lead photo in this quarter's "Cruising Outpost magazine, which he opened to read while we were in Marina Zea.

It was fun to be back in Piraeus, that grimy old port of Athens where you can get anything you want and where the evening perpeta along the waterfront takes you past some of the priciest superyachts in the world (when you see YCM on the stern, you know the owners play in high circles).  We had two days where we managed to tick off every item on our list, from refilling the gas, to getting new bolts specially machined for the helmsman’s seat, getting a load of washing done, finding a nifty gadget for unsnagging the anchor, sourcing cheddar cheese and dry ginger ale, getting a haircut and much more. Then we even managed a night out at our favourite little family restaurant, Posidonia, for our 35th wedding anniversary!  A visit to Piraeus also means a chance to get your Vodafone sorted out by John Kounas.  John is a) a very nice guy who is always cheerful and helpful and b) very good at what he does, which is make Vodafone work on your tablet, PC, phone.

 John and Terry
Then onward to brave the Canal once again, preceded, of course, by a visit to the ATM ready to transit the most expensive three nautical miles of water in the world. This was balanced out by saving about 120 nautical miles plus the definite advantage of being able to cook our food. The east to west transit was complicated by strong westerly winds and a significant current, but the Captain employed the time-honoured method known as “more right hand” and we were through the cut in no time. It is quite a sensation charging at near-top speed through a deep, narrow channel of limestone. In ancient times, ships made this transit on land, on a type of early ‘rail’ system powered by slaves or animals.
Through the Canal again
 
The weather in the Gulf of Corinth was anything but the gentle five knot breezes of the weather reports – more like 25 to 35! The anchorages we’d planned were completely untenable in these conditions so we ploughed on up to a group of three tiny islands, the Alkionidhes, and managed to find reasonable shelter behind Nisos Dhaskalio.  Here an abandoned monastery overlooks a miniscule bay with a mooring and a constructed breakwater. We manoeuvred into the bay, tied up securely to the mooring and I swam a long-line to the shore. The wind howled and the sea rose but we were OK in our little nook.

Next day was another beat to windward until we reached the very welcome shelter of the Bay of Iteas and the beautiful harbour of Galaxidhi. This is a jumping off point for a visit to the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, but it is worth a visit in its own right. The town has beautiful buildings, great views of Mt Parnassus and a relaxed, convivial waterfront, complete with a floating duck house for the resident ducks. They even have their own speedboat tied up alongside


Duck Condo

 A local character, the unofficial ‘harbourmaster’, helped us tie up and gave a lot of very good, but incomprehensible advice. We enjoyed terrific home cooking at the Porto restaurant and a show of traditional dancing by a local community cultural group, along with a spectacular display of lightning by the gods up on Parnassus.

Mt Parnassos


 

A local bus does the trip through Itea and up to Delphi on the shoulder of the mountain, once home to the nine Muses and the famous Oracle, known for its accurate, yet often cryptic and misleading predictions.
 
 
 
Great bus trip around a scenic bay full of tiny islands, then a slow climb through the world’s largest continuous olive grove (1.5 million trees) to a truly spectacular site. From the ruined temple complex, you look out over the grove which winds like a grey-green river through the valley below. Clouds hover amongst the surrounding peaks, with sudden storms reflecting the capriciousness of the old gods. The artefacts in the museum are tantalising: exquisite fragments, very few of them intact. The exception is the famous charioteer, with his penetrating dark eyes and reins still grasped in his hand.
 
 
The Temple of Apollo must have been an absolute wonder to the pilgrims who made the journey up the mountain to make sacrifices and hear the words of the priestess. We consulted the modern oracle (on the i-pad) but sadly, all we got was another wildly inaccurate weather forecast.
 
Galaxidi, looking towards Parnassus

Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Bridge of Khalkis. (Terry)


We arrived at the dockside of Khalkis and were assisted in going alongside by Geoff, a Frenchman who has spent 30 years living in Wales(those old wine smuggling routes die hard, eh?) – His wife, Simone, speaks English with a strong French accent but he speaks English with a Welsh accent.  They were a very nice couple on a very nice 31’ cruiser.

The bridge with its currents

The transit is an ancient one.  The Emperor Justinian was the first to bridge the distance (that we know).  It can be a terrifying piece of water.  The current reverses up to 7 times a day, and even at times has north current in the mainstream and south on the periphery, a sort of whirlpool.  The reason for all this has yet to be explained and Aristotle himself was so perplexed by his inability to understand it he is reported to have jumped in in frustration!  Maybe it was just an August day?

The current

You have to find the Port Police to book your transit – not easy, as they are in back alley with no signs until you see the building’s doors.  It costs E18.77 to pass, and you are instructed on the procedure.  The Port Police control the nightly passage but it is Khalkis Municipal Employees who determine slack tide/slack current and decide when the bridge will open.  You are instructed to be on standby from….x, usually 10:30pm or so.  From then, the Municipal guys monitor the flow and then hit the “go” button and you have 10 minutes to get your bum into gear. 

Your radio call comes “Common Sense, Common Sense, Prepare Your Boat!   To which you answer “Port Police, Port Police, this is Common Sense, Understood.”

To get out of our berth was the stuff of nightmares.  In front was a 70’ Plastic Fantastic which we dare not hit, and behind were 2 yachts rafted up, cutting off an easy escape.  The plan was to have the Admiral hold fast at the bow with a forward line (extra fenders added) whilst the lackey on the wheel hit reverse and full left rudder to rip the stern out to midstream, at which point the boss could let go and we would proceed in a stately fashion backwards into the channel.  Worked perfectly.  No boats were damaged in the filming of that exercise, and we then ponced about in the channel waiting for the bridge to part (it falls down a little, then retracts to each side from the middle).  At one point in the procedure, me foolishly assuming I was first, I glanced upstream and saw the massive fishing boat Konstantinos bearing down on us.  This is a bridge where might-is-right and big guys go first.  I let him pass.  Then the call came from the Port Police “Common Sense, pass the bridge.”  I swung in behind Konstantinos and then found a cheapskate plastic dude trying to cut me off – a couple of these motorboats arrived late and we knew they hadn’t had time to register and pay.  Suddenly he backed off and Carol said he had just been told by the Port Police to get back in line!  Didn’t know her Greek had improved to that level, but back off he did.

Through we went.  Now we’ve done this a few dozen times going down the ICW, but this one is apparently a drawcard.  There were hundreds (hundreds!) of sightseers on the bridge waving and cheering as we thundered through, hoping for all get out that the tide didn’t suddenly kick in.  Once through, we ambled off to starboard to a huge wide open bay that is 30’ deep almost to the edge and anchored for the night in still calm waters.  The tension was all relieved, we hadn’t hit anyone and we hadn’t hit the bridge and the Australian flag was flying high (we had a young girl come along earlier in the night asking it we knew so-and-so because they moved to Australia.  She was a bit young to understand how big it was but I’m sure if her friend’s brother plays for Carlton I’d know).  We also met a man called Peter who lives in……Karrinyup.  Milverton Avenue to be precise.  He is mostly retired, the kids run the business and he has bought an apartment down near the bridge.  He wanders to Greece each year then heads home when it starts to go coldish.  He offered to help us out by driving us to hardware stores but I’d already gone all over town not having any success so we missed a later catchup.

Out in the bay, it was a couple of dry-and-dry’s and off to the bunk.  (Cinzano Bianco, 750ml, €6.00, not even on special!)


Down the channel

Today was a big one.  51.8 nautical miles.  We passed a superb new bridge over the channel to Evioa, 128’ high from memory, with a whole mess of guys in small boats fishing in the narrows.  Each one had a beach umbrella on his boat and a small inboard motor and tiller.
 

 Bridge fishing, Chalkis style

Farther on down we passed one of the signs of “Le Crise” in Greece – an entire modern cement plant idle and shuttered.  Then, three or four small ships laid up, rusting away.
Cement plant - out of commission 
 
 
Rusting away 

We came across a man out chest deep in the water fishing for ?  Maybe occies?  He had a pole which didn’t have any net on it so it wasn’t for scooping and he was way out in the water.  Any suggestions?
?
  
We were intending to anchor in a small village only 12 miles from the last night’s anchorage but we got there so early we decided to make some more miles. 

Old lighthouse
 

Bad move.

The Meltemi kicked in and we were then hunting for a home for the night in 40+knots with one 52kn coming off a mountain.  Long story short, we motored right across the channel and are in…..
 
The Bay of Marathon

What a beautiful bay this is.  We are at least a hundred metres from shore and are still only in 14’ of water.  The charts lie.  We couldn’t get a hold in close (so we couldn’t swim in to the beach bars L ) but further out we are in tight.
 

The Bay

This is where Darius the Persian dickhead got his arse well and truly whipped by the Athenians in 490BC.  Darius didn’t like the fact that the Athenians and the Eritrian cities combined to assist in the Ionian revolt.  (We passed Eritria earlier in the day.)  He sent two guys with a bucketload of men and ships and took Eritria but then when he tried Athens, he came up a little short and all his guys got killed a lot.  We are only 17.4 nautical miles from Athens here, about 30-something kilometres.  Looking into the west here we can actually see the two passes the Athenians blocked off to bottle the Persians up.  This setback, and then Darius’s son Xerxes' unfortunate encounter with Leonidas and the Spartans, gave rise to 200+ years of Greek ascendancy and then the rise of Western Civilisation.  The wind is still howling somewhat but the Greeks camped in the trees are enjoying themselves - it is the final week of Greek holidays and some are still making the most of them here.

The Admiral and I are enjoying Gilbey’s G&Ts in the cockpit - the wind might blow, but it is a hot wind and we are still in our bathers.

 

Oreis, Oreios, Orei? Even the locals call it by different names.


  
We wandered into the start of the Evia channel on a pleasant enough day, with the sun shining on the water and the wind blowing gently for a change.  The Express Pegasus inter-island ferry passed us again showing as going astern at 17knots on the AIS.  Somebody on board has programmed the Heading and the GPS heading as a reciprocal, so they show as heading 180  from where they are actually heading.  On day one it was simply amusing but it still hadn’t been corrected on day 2 and I also saw it on the screen on day 3, still going backwards.  You would think someone would wake up.
 
We wandered into Orei and looked around the harbour – an elderly chappy waved us over to a spot on the outer dock and took our lines, then gave us some restaurant and supermarket pamphlets.  We used the first restaurant pamphlet (photo on the front) to locate the Nautica and wandered off for a late lunch.

Having no cooking gas is becoming tiresome, so we tried to locate a gas fittings place.  No luck, not in Oreis, which doesn’t even have an ATM.  It is a holiday destination for mainland Greeks who mostly come over in their cars, so they can drive in to Istaia, 6km away, if they need cash.

We found out the bus timetable (1 ½ hours to wait) and eventually headed off into town.  We found an EU gas regulator for our bottle but unfortunately, wrong one.  Didn’t fit.  Still no gas.

 Oreis has a pleasant night life as the residents and tourists emerge from the heat of an August day to slip into the Perpeta.  We spent the nights in the Nautica with salads, mezze and seafood together with cold red wine or Fix.  Relaxed dinners overlooking the marina.

 

This wouldn’t be the Med if it was short on castles and Oreis does have one.  It’s not remarkable in any way, and is largely run down but there was a Geocache up there so I had to go.  An easy find and one more logged in.

 

From the Castle of Oreis

Some of the well-travelled in this readership will no doubt be aware of the 6-ton marble lion in the British Museum, taken from King Mausolos’ tomb in Bodrum. (The Mausoleum).  It’s the one that the Fisherman of Halicarnassus tried to have returned to Turkey, using the argument that it wasn’t meant to spend its days under grey and leaden English skies.  The British Museum wrote back and told him they agreed and painted the ceiling blue.  Well, Oreis has a marble bull, also 6-ton.  It is not in the British Museum, it simply sits in a glass case in town alongside the main church.  Bit hard to nick, it being 6-ton and all but it is a wonderful specimen.  It was washed ashore in a very heavy storm in the late 50’s or maybe the early 70’s?  Don’t remember.

 

 
We met a lovely couple of cruisers, Sue and Brian on Dawn Surprise, who keep their boat in a nearby hard-standing area over winter.  They were just about to relaunch and unfortunately the list of jobs kept them away from a later catch-up for a drink or dinner.  They live in Poole and we hope to catch up again when we get to the UK in a couple of years.  They live very close to one of the oldest pubs in England so that’s another drawcard as Brian’s promised me a beer there.

Swimming in Orei takes a bit of a leap of faith.  Within 10 metres of the beach (30’, 10 yards, not very far) the water plunges down to 70’ – 100’.  We could sail up to the shore and throw an anchor out and wouldn’t touch bottom.  They also have a simple Beach Bar, which generally has as its clientele a group of men who don’t seem to have much else to do except sit around and smoke all day. 
 

They're in 100' of water
 
We went over at sunset one night and enjoyed the company of two young mothers and their children plus a few Amstel beers (€1.5 each).  I made faces at a bub in a pram, which he thought highly entertaining, so he did it too.  This kept us both amused for a while but he was short of a beer and his mum didn’t seem to want to buy him one, so he decided to have a little sleep instead.
 
There is a geocache in the tree we were sitting under but with so many Muggles around we couldn’t locate it with anything resembling stealth so it has gone unlogged by us.  Frustrating knowing it was within about 1m but that’s Geocaching for you.  Another Mediterranean sunset picture follows:

 

 From the Beach Bar at Oreis - sun setting over the Greek mainland

 

Goodbye Turkey


The return from Kars to Canakkale was a very long trip. First the sleeper train to Ankara, through mountains and fertile farmlands, then the new fast train from Ankara to Istanbul, where yet again a kindly Turk dropped everything to escort us to the bus depot. The bus spent most of the five hour trip trying to escape the bedlam of peak-hour Istanbul, but once free, the route was quite a scenic one, skirting the Sea of Marmara. All fine until the very last bit – it was 2 am and we could see Common Sense on the other side of the channel, but the ‘hourly’ ferry was not running until 4am, so the passengers dozed or wandered about Eceabat for a couple of hours. Then, at last the ferry arrived, a short zip across the Dardanelles, a hundred metre walk and we were asleep at last in our own cabin. Bliss!

Istanbul Bridge Traffic

The next couple of days we spent catching up with Russ and Mary Kay on Once Around, friends from our winter in Finike, and by a wonderful coincidence also with Barbaros – the go-to guy (with special responsibilities for marketing!) at Finike Marina – and his family. Clean up the boat, buy a few provisions, an easy straightforward check out of Turkey at Canakkale Marina, then it was time to go.
 
Barbaros and his daughter, Mary Kay, Russ, Me, Terry
August 12th saw us head out and down the Dardanelles, an exhilarating ride with the current behind us and water traffic of every kind including freighters, tankers, endless ferries, tiny fishing boats, the Rainbow Warrior, and even a yacht race which included two yachts from the Turkish Naval Cadets. One final unofficial overnight stop on the Turkish island of Goceada, one unofficial overnighter in Moudros, Greece, then to Myrini in Limnos and the Greek Port Police for official check in, much more efficient and straightforward than our check in last year in Preveza.
All the green triangles are moving! 
 
Turkish Naval Cadet yacht 

We will miss Turkey. It has been a revelation to spend ten months exploring such a fascinating country, with its amazing range of experiences – the soaring Taurus Mountains, capped with snow in winter and vivid with flowers in spring; glorious blue Mediterranean bays and the life of the waterfront; the vast steppes of the east; the astonishing alien landscapes of Pamukkale and Cappadocia; rich agricultural lands and frenetic cities with their surprising contrasts between traditional life and the twenty-first century. Eastern and Western cultures have collided, mingled and cross-fertilised here for thousands of years, and Turkey has some of the world’s best preserved evidence of ancient civilisations and how they lived – awesome sites like Ephesus and Pergamon, but also hidden gems that few tourists get to see (such as Arykanda and Apollon Smintheon  - see previous blogs). And everywhere without fail, we met friendly, hospitable Turks who couldn’t do enough to help us out and make us feel welcome.

Myrina on Lemnos

But there’s a lot to be said for being back in Greece: a palpable feeling of freedom as people enjoy the beaches and bars in their colourful summer clothing; Greek salads with creamy feta and sweet, vine-ripened tomatoes, grilled calamari, sardines, octopus salad … pork … and cheap, drinkable wine at the supermarkets!  The Turks make the best yoghurt in the world but the Greeks make better cheeses!  Terry says Efes is a great drinkable Pilsner for everyday consumption but Fix Hellas beats it.

So far we’ve made our way west to the Sporades – beautiful islands with much less charter traffic than the Cyclades – and down the channel between the large island of Evia and the mainland. My favourite was Kyra Panagia, partly because it offered us a refuge after a tough passage from Lemnos, but also because it is inhabited only by herds of horses, donkeys and goats.

At the moment we’re holed up in the Bay of Marathon, under siege from a strong northerly wind. If it eases tomorrow we will head down to Olympic Marina for some work on our gas system, then west towards Italy to pick up friends for the next cruising adventure.
 

 

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Istanbul to Armenia by train. (Terry)


 

The Istanbul to Ankara high speed train is up and running at last.  For the past two years, you had to get a bus from Istanbul to Eskisehir (see earlier blog for more info on this wonderful small city.) and then catch the train on to Ankara.  One way, Ankara to Istanbul, business class, is TL113.  More space than flying business class and easier boarding experience. 
 

The YHT (Yuksek Hizli Tren) stops 35 km from Istanbul. It’s still called “Istanbul” but not if your hotel is around Taksim Square.   It’s an outer suburb by a long way.

You get to Ankara to nearly the middle of the city, opposite Genclik Park.  A new station is under construction.  The way the Turks build, it could be ready next week!  They blocked off the underground passage to the other side of the tracks (pity, it was where our hotel was) and the next day they already had lines of concrete trucks and a concrete pump truck pouring the foundations for the new station.
Genclik Park

From Ankara station, you catch the Dogu Express.  Dogu simply means East because that’s where it goes.  It’s not an express, it stops all the way along the line, even at crossings where an informal drop point has grown up over the years and cars gather to retrieve passengers or put them on.

The trip takes 27 hours and a sleeper cabin is highly recommended.  It leaves Ankara at 18:00 each night and arrives in Kars around 21:00 the next night.  It leaves Kars around 07:45 in the a.m. and arrives back in Ankara around 10:am the next day.  Although it is only about 900km direct from Ankara to Kars, the journey is about 1400 because you follow a) the rivers and b) go between towns as the train is a service train, not a sightseer’s train like the Canadian ones.

The Sleeper bunks

The one way fare to Kars is only TL 79.25, or about $40 Australian dollars.  The sleeper cabins have a fridge, a wash basin, power point and a cupboard.  Beds are premade so when you pull your bunk down, it’s ready to get into.  Toilets are clean - forward toilet in each of the sleepers is Western, aft is Turkish-style.

The best all-round view is in the dining car, usually two up from where they put the foreigners.  Beer is same price as in bars around Istanbul and Ankara, about $4.50 for a 500ml bottle of Efes (good stuff, see my Beer Tour of the World in our blog).  Food is basic Turkish and the range does diminish over time.  Certainly on the way back your options reduce.  Still, it’s good quality and enough on the plate to keep you happy.  The old chef doesn’t speak any English at all but you can draw what you want and out it comes.

You will find the dining car is where the Turks will want to talk to you.  These Turks tend to be less exposed to westerners as many come from the far east where there is little interaction as the few tourists who do visit sit in big buses and stay in their groups.  Many of them will be curious as to why you are bothering to go out there.

The landscape of the Taurus Mountains is quite spectacular, and the train follows rivers most of the way.  A large SD card in your camera is advisable.  Circular Polarising filter necessary to snap out of the windows.

Following a river gorge - the headwaters of the Euphrates River are here!

In Kars, we stayed in the Hotel Temel.  Very basic, no aircon in the rooms but designed to stay cool.  Showers hot but no curtains so the water goes everywhere (we figured it was their problem, not ours – if they didn’t want water all over the floor, they would have put curtains up, eh?)  Beds were good, linen sharp and inviting.  The hotel staff are unfailingly polite, and the owner (big boss the others call him) presents every day in his suit and tie.  Breakfast was simple Turkish cold meat and fruits and cheeses.  We were waiting for a taxi to the train station when we left and the boss arrived for work and took us instead.
 

We wandered around Kars a bit to see the old sites - the castle is quite spectacular and you can drive up there despite what Lonely Planet says.  There are a few other sights to see also and the new museum, quite a ways out on the edge of town, is worth a look.  It’s about 2.5kms from the main drag.  We walked it. 
Kars from the Castle

Restaurants are all over – alcohol service is rare.  A specialty of Kars is Goose, but because it costs TL60, it is not always ready and waiting.  If you really want it, perhaps pick your favourite restaurant (the first two in Lonely Planet are OK) and ask the day before.  Goose flocks are all over so we were careful walking past the stone farm fences in case there were some we didn’t see – they are cranky sods.  There are also very large woolly Anatolian Sheep Dogs.  Good luck trying to steal a sheep when these guys are watching them.  They’re usually quite placid but that’s only when they don’t own the territory you meet on.  If they own it, they get all proprietorial and put on quite a threatening display, followed by a very nasty bite if you are a bit slow on the uptake.
Not the type to pick a fight with for sure

A lot of Turkish cheese is quite mild but in Kars they sell Kasa Eski (eski means old in Turkish) in any one of maybe 20 or 30 specialty shops with cheeses, village butter (don’t tell your cardiologist about this stuff) honey, nuts, dried fruits etc.  Kars is famous for its honey and you can actually do “The Honey Walk” if hiking is your bent.  The shops are a feature of Kars, as are the specialty shops way down west in Datca where they sell almonds and olive oil, or in Elmali where they are famous for apples (and where they make darn good cider also)

 

The abandoned city of Ani.

 The ruined city of Ani

The city of Ani was fought over for thousands of years.  It was eventually abandoned in the 1700s.  It lies about 40km east of Kars.  There is no real tourist industry in Kars so you will need to negotiate with a taxi driver for a trip out there.  There is one guy who has a deal with the hotels – when you are checking in, they ring him and he will talk to you about a trip to Kars.  He speaks good English.  HOWEVER, despite him saying he himself will be there in the a.m., this is not necessarily the case.  See my review of Kars on Trip Adviser (surprised they published it).  If you do get a taxi from the train, see what he will do.  You MUST specify a 3-hour wait, not two.  The site is very spread out.  They will try to wriggle down to two, two and a half but insist on 3.  Should cost you around 120TL maximum for the two of you, or $60 Australian. Less if they try and cram more people in.
The Church of the Illustrator - you literally cannot see this until you are on it.

There are numerous buildings on the site, quite spread out.  The Church of the Illustrator is out over by the river and down a slope – you cannot see it until you are almost on it and it is quite large.  The fence around the bottom is the Turkish border with Armenia.  It is the point beyond which you cannot pass, although the actual border is a little further out – the Turks have military bases in this “no man’s land”
 
 
Guard tower on the border - war was not that long ago.
 
 
 The Old Silk Road crossed here

One of the most striking points of interest is the ruins of a bridge that crossed the river once upon a time.  On the far side, you can see a track leading to what would have been the on-ramp.  This is where all the caravans on the Old Silk Road crossed over for hundreds of years, on up into the city of Ani for shelter, rest and food.  It is worth taking a moment to sit and consider the trade that walked this way. For those who have watched numerous documentaries on the Old Silk Road, the Taklimakan Desert, Tamerlane and the Trans-Siberian Railway, this single spot affords a powerful reflection on trade between very distant cultures. It is down by where the Nunnery was, or the Church of the Virgins.
 
The Church of the Virgins

There are three more churches within driving distance.  Just going to one of them added another $20 Australian to the bill and despite them all saying they know where they are, our guy was on the blower phoning a friend for directions. 

For the biblical minded, you are not very far from Mt Ararat when you are in Kars.  You can climb Mt Ararat but is costs a very large dollar and takes about 3 days.  Permits, guides etc. (you are not permitted to climb without a guide) will set you back around Australian $1,500., big money in the scheme of things.
 
The Cathedral of Ani
 

The family that occupies the land on which the ancient monastery buildings stand (see Lonely Planet) has daughters with reddish hair and freckles. (Where the church is, not the monastery building.  If you go out there, even the girls warn you about next door’s dogs!)  Yes, the Celts invaded here around 300BC from areas around Germany and set up camp.  (They were referred to as the Galatians so dig out your St Paul).  It is not uncommon to see Celtic features in the East of Turkey, as Galatia was centred on Ankara and points east – lots of red and ginger hair, ginger beards, freckles and fair skin.  The church on their land dates from 870AD.  They use it to store hay.  They have a hay cutter with a sort of blower on one end.  They feed hay in the blunt end and it gets blown out in small bits into the church.  They’ve blocked up the windows so it just fills up and doesn’t blow back out.  Better use for it than just letting it sit there for 1,200 years doing nothing.

Block up all the windows and pour chaff in.

Red hair and freckles on the Armenian border with Turkey
 
We booked our return when we booked our out-ticket to make sure we could get back – it is usually full days in advance and we had to wait a week for a spot.

The land is rich and fertile, with large herds of cattle, complete with cowboys and cowgirls, sheep, goats, geese, and many horses.  Kids use their horses to get around on.  It is a major wheat growing area, and they also grow a vast range of vegetables to boot.  Plenty of water, rich brown dirt but unfortunately heavy snow in winter so they lay up large supplies of hay.
 You might have a tractor but you still pitch by fork.

 
Bee farmer's collection of hives - magnificent honey in this whole area.