Onrus Beach South Africa’s Whale Coast

Rooi Els Whale Coast

There’s nothing better than a South African beach – except maybe the surrounding mountains! I spent some time at Onrus Beach yesterday and fell in love with the sky, surf, dogs, shorebirds, surfers, and children playing in the sand – a gorgeous place! This time of year you need a pair of binoculars to help with whale watching.

The area is known as the Cape Whale Coast. It’s pristine white sand beaches and easy-going atmosphere are popular with an eclectic crowd of beach bums, locals, retirees, and tourists from all corners of the earth.

I had lunch at Milkwood Bistro – a cozy neighborhood restaurant on the water. The service was great and food delicious.

“Close to the very tip of Africa, just outside Cape Town, you will find the Cape Whale Coast –  a place that can easily be called ‘Heaven on Earth’. This pristine stretch of the South African coastline surrounded by mesmerizing mountains and the Atlantic Ocean runs from the coastal hamlet of Rooi Els in the west to Quoin Point in the East.

The main towns of the area are Kleinmond, Hermanus, Stanford, and Gansbaai. The Cape Whale Coast is made up of a collection of villages, farms, rivers, bays, coves, and valleys – each filled with its own special magic. Explore the whales, sharks, wine routes, fynbos, birding, golf courses, penguins, mountain biking, kayaking, hiking trails, and adventure activities in a beautiful region of South Africa, the Cape Whale Coast.”

Sea Birds Quoin Point

 

Table Mountain Hike Devil’s Peak

Cape Town Vista

Yesterday was wonderful hiking Table Mountain for the first time since returning to Cape Town – a euphoric day! I was feeling tired from recent travels, but my friend Jenny encouraged me to join the hiking group – so glad I did!

Jenny and Willemien

Sue and Jenny

It was perfect hiking weather and an easy-going group. We missed substantial rain on Friday and it’s raining lightly today – a welcome phenomenon for everyone!

The hike began at the Devil’s Peak trailhead. We climbed to the contour path enjoying spectacular panoramic views of Cape Town and the coast. The hike wasn’t difficult, but trails on Table Mountain are strewn with boulders and loose rocks.

Next week I head to Hermanus Bay – about a 1.5-hour drive from Cape Town. Hermanus is famous for the migrating whales that visit to have their calves in the safe, peaceful bay. July is a few months early for whale watching season, but the beautiful Bay is always active with dolphins, seals, and other sea life.

Princes’ Islands Istanbul

On my last full day in Istanbul, I decided to revisit the Princes’ Islands – known as Kızıl Adalar in Turkish. The Princes’ are a chain of nine small islands in the Sea of Marmara. I first discovered them during a visit in March 2013 when I explored Büyükada Island. This time it was Heybeliada Island.

Festival of Eid-al-Fitr?

Somehow, I got the date of the festival of Eid-al-Fitr confused and incorrectly thought it was Sunday, not Monday. With everyone celebrating, Monday was hectic around Istanbul – especially on the ferries!

A trip to the islands on Eid-al-Fitr was a unique experience, but doubt I would vote for a repeat. The ferries were overcrowded with people crammed in and standing in the aisles, and it took forever to get from Eminönü’ (emmy new new) to the islands.  I saw a sign for 453 life jackets – total. There were three times that many passengers on the ferry, but maybe it was per level! Unbelievably, the ride back was even more crowded. I got stuck on a level with lots of babies. At the end of the day, they were hot, tired, hungry, and cross!

I watched frazzled parents trying to soothe and control their children, fights between siblings, and the rare mellow baby that hung through the whole ferry ride cute, cool and never making a sound. I took quite a few “people” photographs, mostly because everyone was so relaxed and festive they didn’t mind. Got a harsh stare from a Muslim woman – but since I wasn’t photographing her…. On the way back, many passengers succumbed to the heat and rocking, swaying motion of the ferry and fell sound asleep.

When we finally arrived back at Eminönü’, the Muslim family I’d been hanging with on the ferry gave me a hug. In their best English, they said “have a wonderful day” ;o) – it was very sweet. Even the naughtiest little boy I’ve ever observed peeked out from behind his mother’s skirt and waved bye, bye…

About the Princes’ Islands

“The Princes’ Islands evolved from a place of exile during the Byzantine era, to a popular destination for tourists and Istanbulites to escape hectic city life for a day.”

Of the nine islands, four are open to the public:

  • Büyükada – biggest and most popular
  • Burgazada
  • Heybeliada
  • Kınalıada

Peace and Quiet on Princes’ Islands

The skyline is dotted with beautiful untouched pine-forests and wooden Victorian cottages. In addition to natural beauty, the main feature is silence! Except for ambulances, “motorized vehicles are banned, making the islands an oasis of peace and quiet. Among the sounds heard are bicycle bells and horse hoofs on the cobblestone pavement. That’s right, horse-drawn carriages and bicycles are the primary mode of transportation.”

You can travel to the islands via sea buses (fast ferries) or regular ferries. They depart from Eminönü or Kabataş. Depending on the number of stops, the sea bus trip takes about an hour and the regular ferry twice as long. Neither mode of transportation is expensive. The islands are popular summer spots and colorful clumps of beach umbrellas line the coast. On Heybeliada, I noticed an especially diverse population, with many Greeks and Bulgarians.

The summer sun is strong on the islands, so visitors should be prepared! If you come to Istanbul, the Prince’s Islands are a must see. For smaller crowds and a less hectic trip, I recommend visiting earlier in the day during the week.

I’m sad to leave Turkey. Next blog post will be from Cape Town!

Hodjapasha Turkish Folk Dancing

I booked a whirling dervish performance through my hotel in Beyoğlu – or so I thought…. Communication isn’t always easy in Istanbul since few people speak English. The person I usually ask for help wasn’t available, so I talked to a Turkish concierge who misunderstood me. Instead of the Mevlevi sema ceremony, he booked me for a cultural show of traditional Turkish folk dances. The surprise turned out to be an incredibly entertaining Saturday evening!

The talented dancers performed expressive harem, traditional, and belly dances from diverse cultures and regions in Turkey:

The music, choreography, and costumes were extraordinarily! I had a front seat, and the strength and talent of the young dancers was impressive. The principal belly dancer performed several flawless solos, and the fire dance was spectacular!

Amateur photography – no flash – was allowed. I plan to start using video but need practice first. Parts of the dance performance would have made incredible video. This website has video versions of most dances performed last night.

Turkish Doumbek Drum

Hodjapasha is in Istanbul’s Fatih District and their performances are held in a transformed 15th-century Hamam. The performance area has a circular glass dance floor and a musician’s stage. Spectators sit around the circular floor surrounded by dramatic lighting and decorations that turn the intimate space into a mystic place!

I saw a sema performance several years ago and wanted to attend another. Sema, a Turkish custom inspired by Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi, is a religious ceremony. The entirely different dance performances last night opened a new chapter of Turkish culture for me – understanding these diverse regions and their influences on the country!

Traditional Turkish Bath

Vezneciler Turkish Bath Göbek Taşı

Yesterday I experienced my second Turkish Bath – Hamam. Travel can be stressful and a sauna, soak, scrub, and massage sounded appealing. Hamams in Istanbul are inexpensive and the one I visited – Vezneciler Turkish Bath – in Fatih District is said to have “curative water” – yeah!

Vezneciler Turkish Bath

Ottoman Ruler Sultan Beyazid II built the small traditional Hamam in 1481. Renovated in 1950, the private bath opened to the public to provide income for the madrasa.

Why take a Turkish Bath?

The benefits of a Turkish bath include:

  • Deep cleansing the skin
  • Discharging toxins from the body
  • Accelerating blood circulation
  • Stimulating the immune system
  • Improving muscular and arthritis pain
  • Helping heal respiratory issues by expanding air passages
  • Diminishing inflammation

Vezneciler Turkish Bath

The woman who helped with my Hamam was gentle, but it’s an extremely thorough process which I’ll try to explain below. I highly recommend having a Hamam – but parts of the procedure are not comfortable. The result – feeling clean, rejuvenated, vibrant, and refreshed – is well worth any discomfort.

Lathering

Turkish Bath Procedure

Loosening Up

The first step is relaxing and “loosening up” your body. It’s important to sweat during this process. After undressing and wrapping myself in a Turkish towel, I proceeded to the marble Hamam room and the heated central marble platform. No one else was in the room, and it was totally silent. I laid flat on my back on the heated platform for about 15 – 20 minutes. I was looking up at a large circular ceiling dome with small holes where the sun was shining through in golden beams.

Sauna Vezneciler Turkish Bath

“The loosening up part of the Hammam process is a perfect time to explore the architecture of a Turkish bath. In most cases, an impressive room completely covered in marble featuring a big dome, several decorative water basins, and an impressive göbek taşı – the central, raised platform above the heating source.”

Vezneciler Turkish Bath

While I slowly “baked” on the marble slab and wondered how long it would take to become well done – suddenly the attendant came back to save me. She led me into an adjoining room with an extremely hot sauna where I remained for another 15 looooooong minutes. If the marble slab seemed hot – yikes for the sauna!!! I tried to relax but just as I was about to wimp out and escape the sauna, the attendant came back, handed me a bottle of water, and led me to the “scrubbing” room.

Türk Hamam

Soaking and Scrubbing

The soaking, scrubbing, and washing part of the process took place in a small room off the göbek taşı next to an ornate water basin. The attendant soaked my body with soap and warm water and while slippery and wet I received a “peeling” with a rough cloth mitt (kese) used to scrub and exfoliate the skin. A finer mitt was used for the face and neck.

Washing, Rinsing, Cooling, Oil Massage

The vigorous scrubbing was followed by a second more thorough lathering with a sudsy cloth swab and a wet full-body massage – head, face, and hair included – then a refreshing rinsing with cold water! After the bath, I sat in the tea room covered in Turkish towels and sipped a cup of green tea followed by a 30-minute oil massage – absolute heaven!

Bath Circular

The Hamam sends a driver to your hotel to pick you up and then takes you home afterwards – an excellent idea since at the end of a Turkish bath you’ll be feeling a bit rubbery. Ladies should lose any thought of maintaining their hair or makeup during the process.

Dome Vezneciler Turkish Bath

There was no opportunity to take photos so I’ve attached media shots from the Vezneciler Turkish Bath website. In comparison, the experience was like the first Hamam I had in Cappadocia several years ago. It’s a lighter version of massages experienced at an Ayurvedic spa in South India about 10 years ago. Those intense body cleansing treatments and deep tissue massages have no rival!

Bosphorus Cruise to Anadolu Kavağı

Yesterday I took an excursion from Eminönü to Anadolu Kavağı, a small seaside village on Macar Bay at the entrance to the Black Sea. It was a mesmerizing day enjoying astonishing views of Istanbul and the Bosphorus!

In a matter of hours, the weather changed from partly cloudy to overcast to clear and back again. Even with sunscreen, I got sunburned. The ferry leaves Eminönü at 10:30 and returns at 5:30 – we had less than 100 passengers, a mere handful on the huge boat. The excursion cost 25 Turkish Lira ($7).

Houses Along Bosphorus

Tea Garden Near Yoros Castle

Including stops to pick up passengers, it took about two hours to get to Anadolu Kavağı. Before the trip I was getting bridges, palaces, and mosques mixed up – now, I’m even more confused. From the middle of the Bosphorus you can spot landmarks and Istanbul’s different districts and neighborhoods – Ortaköy, Arnavutköy, Kanlıca, Bestikas, Karakay, Uskudar, Sultanahmet, and many more places with long Turkish names …. I lost count of the number of bridges we passed.

Anadolu Kavağı

Trail to Yoros Castle Overlooking Macar Bay

Yoros Castle and Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge

The boat anchored at Anadolu Kavağı for several hours, giving passengers time to enjoy lunch at a seaside restaurant, take a walk, drink cay in a Turkish tea garden, or climb to the ruins of Byzantine Yoros Castle. With the help of a local fisherman I found a beautiful, less-traveled shortcut to the castle. At the vista point, I gasped at views of the Black Sea, Bosphorus, and Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge!

Ferry on Macar Bay Near Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge

Yoros Castle

The Byzantines built Yoros Castle in 1190 to protect the straits. The fortress originally had eight massive towers and was restored and reinforced by the Genoese in the 1300s and later by the Ottomans. Today it’s a military protected area.

Meeting of the Seas – Marmara and Black

Anadolu Kavağı is like “a gate opening from the Marmara to the Black Sea”. After climbing to the castle – the reward is nature’s spectacular treat – unforgettable views of “green turning blue” when the Sea of Marmara meets the Black Sea!

Bosphorus Dinner Cruise

Dolmabahçe Camii at Dusk

Over the weekend, I went on a Bosphorus dinner cruise with traditional Turkish music and dancing – hoping it would be as enjoyable as the Vltava River cruise in Prague. It was completely different from what I imagined but lots of fun!

Ortaköy Camii and Bosphorous Bridge

I sat at a table with three lively women travelers in their 30s. One was an Australian now living in England and the other two, friends from California’s Santa Cruz. They were well-traveled with interesting lives and so much fun! The other cruise members were mostly Turkish families with children under ten.

We enjoyed chatting and dancing and it was fun hanging out for the evening. They were on 2 – 3 week trips and unlike me, spending only a few days in Istanbul. It was a rainy evening so going outside to take photos was difficult, but I managed a few interesting shots and got wet again….

Palace on the Bosphorous

When the weather clears, my plan is to spend time riding day and night Bosphorous ferries to explore the Princes’ Islands and admire Istanbul from the water. I booked a Hodjapasha dervish performance this weekend and am looking forward to it! The dancers perform in the circular of a 550-year-old converted Hamam – Turkish Bath.

Hillside Mosque at Dusk