A Summer of Boats, England and Turkey

For someone who doesn’t do boats and knows nothing about them, this has been a boaty summer. It began on a glorious April day with a short trip across the Tamar River in Plymouth, Devon on the Cremyll ferry with my lovely daughter in law and granddaughter.

One of the best things that Plymouth has ever done was to buy the Cremyll along with Cornwall Council, for fifteen minutes you have the most wonderful view of the Sound, Royal William yard and the spectacular coastline.

The boat was full of day trippers who like us were heading for Mount Edgecumbe Country Park, on the Rame peninsula that’s actually in that foreign land of Kernow.

Plymouth is a bustling city with little charm having been badly hit in the blitz, but stepping onto the ferry really is another world.

Everyone is excited to be going on a mini holiday to the countryside, the ferry ride is less than five pounds for a family of four and the destination has acres of grounds and gardens to walk, picnic and relax for free!

My next boat experience was crossing the Dardanelle straits, which both connect the Aegean to the Sea of Marmara and also separate Asian turkey from European Turkey. The Dardanelles have been an important stretch of water throughout history and strategically relevant in the Crimean and First World War After an emotionally moving time in Gallipoli I crossed to Canakkale on a large boat where I’d foolishly chosen to sit upstairs for the best view and nearly froze in the draft for an hour. Soon after landing my travelling friends and I reached the site of the ancient city of Troy but that’s for another blog.

Ten days and around eighteen hundred miles and I’m back at another ferry port, this one takes me back to the European side of Istanbul. It’s a large ferry this time with lots of strange chunks of metal, cables, ropes and good strong coffee. The view in all directions is amazing and it’s a real thrill to arrive in a cosmopolitan city I have waited so long to visit.

Later in the day it’s time for a cruise on the Bosphorus, we are just a few on Edim, a posh boat that had the capacity for fifty people with a bar and café. We cruised along one bank beside painted wooden houses, stylish restaurants and clubs frequented by Istanbul’s’ glitterati.

Pootling along for what seemed like hours, the waterway was busy but with space enough for everyone it was quiet and relaxing. The size of the city became apparent from the perspective that the water gave, I lost count of the number of domed mosques and minarets.

Some of the grandest buildings were foreign embassies, palaces and military colleges. The Bosphorus was a lovely place for a relaxing cruise, next time I’ll go by night.

In August I had a brilliant day out with friends in Gloucestershire, a couple of hours on the train. Gloucester Dock, a very ‘Gentrified’ area has the prettiest of canal barges,  well   maintained with shiny bright paint jobs. I’m very curious about who lives here and just what they are like inside. I imagine it’s like being in a wobbly caravan,lovely in summer but a bit bleak in winter especially if the canal froze.

A complete contrast for my last boats of the summer, on Exeter quay where there is a working boatyard. It’s one of those places that look out of bounds and until last year I had only stood at the gate to peep, until one day a man said that it’s public and okay to go in. It looks like a very male environment until you see pots of geraniums flowering their little heads off. A very sensory place with smells of engine oil mixed with oily fry-up, sounds of oars, hammers, rap and classics and boats of all shapes and sizes. I’ve watched this one

develop and now it’s nearly completed it may be gone next time I go down. I’d love to see it hit the water.

This one saddens me, the council have deemed it rubbish and an eyesore.

An official letter is pinned to it stating that they will dispose of it unless the owner removes it by a date that has now passed, and they will charge for doing so. Someone has been working on its restoration, just not as quickly as the council would like, it’s a massive money pit of a project. I talked to one of the boat owners and he said that the mooring fees had been paid and apparently it’s a trawler, obviously very old. Who knows what its history is?I believe it would be beautiful once done, surely the purpose of a boat yard is to mend and build boats? Bureaucracy drives me mad.

Konya, Mevlana-Rumi and Selimiye Camii Mosque

Konya is reputedly the most devout city in Turkey and when we arrived in the hot late afternoon it certainly had a different feel to the other towns along the way. We were directed towards the exquisitely tiled tomb of the Sufi mystic Mevlana, also known as Rumi.

The mausoleum holds a collection of ancient Korans, some very tiny, some gilded, and a carpet that is supposed to be the world’s most valuable. We were the only westerners and attracted a lot of warm, curious stares especially from a group of teenage girls. They giggled at us behind their hands and never one to miss an opportunity I said hello in my best Turkish, merhaba. They blushed and giggled even more. I tried ‘Where are you from? What is your name?’ and a slightly older girl was pulled to the centre of the group. ‘Do you speak English?’ I said ‘Yes I am English.’ There followed a sweet conversation where through her they asked questions and looked at me strangely. I knew they didn’t get me – I was wearing a scarf around my head and shoulders, so because of my skin they thought I must be Muslim. I explained that I’m from England but am half Nigerian and watched the quizzical frowns smooth to happy smiles. I could have stayed all day but eased myself away to look around and every so often I’d turn a corner and catch one of them smiling.

I was drawn to a crowd gathering around a glass case and edged closer to investigate. There was an ornate casket inside and people seemed to be taking turns to press their nose to the corner of the case. I tried to keep a respectful distance, but again the friendly glances and they started to talk to me. I understood nothing but a woman took my hand and led me closer. I was instructed to follow them in the nose pressing activity, and saw a tiny hole that they were inhaling through. A sniff revealed a jasmine frankincense aroma, and a sign in English, that the casket contained the beard of Mohammed. Later there was a debate among friends as to whether it was supposed to be a hair from the Prophets beard or that of Rumi, this remains cloudy, maybe someone knows the definitive answer?

Through abundant rose gardens stands the Selimiye Camii mosque, 450 years old with sumptuous decorations in the Ottoman style. Friday prayers had ended and I approached the door. In contrast to the bustle of Rumi Mevlana’s tomb hardly a soul was around and my friend sat in the sun while I tried to find out if I could go inside. I was nervous, in one of India’s most important mosques, the Ajmer Dargah,  non Muslim women were not allowed to enter and I had felt uncomfortable even in the courtyard. Here though a gesture from me and a nod from a local gave me permission to enter. I tidied my scarf, slipped my shoes off and crept inside.

The silence was the sort that makes you hold your breath. The domed ceiling was as high as heaven and the carpet was the richest red, velvet to my feet. I sensed, rather than saw, a woman glide beside me to the door and taking stock I realised there were just three men and a small boy there now. My first instinct was to go right back outside but I stood like a statue (that would NOT be allowed in the building) and made sure that no-one was going to shoo me away. It was amazingly peaceful; I wandered around and found the niche which shows the direction of Mecca for prayer. I felt quite overwhelmed with emotion, nothing that I could name, but very spiritual, as if I was being safely held. 

Konya may be a lovely city, I don’t know, we only had an overnight stop in an okay hotel. I enjoyed the encounters both earthly and ethereal. For my friend the town itself had a heavier, darker atmosphere. I wonder, if she had gone into the mosque, would she have seen another side to Rumi’s ancient resting place?