Sunday, February 26, 2012

We have wheels again!

Our latest rental car for next 2 months
Finally got another rental car this week.  The Swiss guy who shared in the contract last autumn didn't want to rent another car.  He is thinking of berthing in this marina for another year.  If he remains here, then he will purchase a car rather than renting one.   We and the German couple feel a tad picky about with whom we wish to share a car.  Personalities must mesh well if this arrangement is to work amicably.  Bill finally asked a Canadian couple if they would like to share in the contract and they agreed.  Again we have 3 boats sharing a car for 2 months -- Tatti & Hoenning on M/V BARACUDA and Helen & Dennis on S/V DREAM PROVIDER and us.  When the contract expires the weather should be good enough for us to head north to Turkey.  Timing is everything.

On Friday we made the initial trip to the south side.  Someone at the marina needed a ride to Ercan airport and we volunteered to drive him there since that airport is not too far from Nicosia and we needed to go to the south side at Nicosia to buy auto insurance.  On the first trip across the border in each new rental car it is required that we purchase liability insurance for the vehicle for the south side.  This is only 25 Euro per month -- for the vehicle, not per driver.  25 Euro per month divided by 3 is nothing -- about $11 USD.  Try buying liability insurance for that price in Houston!!!  

We visited Lidl, the German supermarket; and stocked up on pork chops and ham.  Lidl has the best of those items.  Lidl also has delicious little apple turnovers and other pastries baked on-site.  Great late breakfast after getting up at 05:00 to get our friend to the airport.  These German-style pastries are not nearly as sweet as American baked goods.  About half the sugar.  I like the slight tartness better than the overly-sweet American version.

Wildflower season has begun!
Next we drove to the Sun Tower Mall for the routine visit to Carrefour, where I purchased a couple kilo of smoked streaky bacon for the freezer and a few American name-brand items that are not available on the north side of Cyprus.   We will return at least once more before heading to Turkey.  Our freezer will be fully-stocked with the excellent pork from Lidl and bacon from Carrefour when we leave Cyprus.  Chicken, beef and lamb are available everywhere but pork is difficult if not impossible to find in Turkey since it is a Muslim country.  So I won't waste freezer space on chicken or beef; that freezer will be dedicated to pork. 

We strolled through Ikea, where Dennis & Helen treated us to a lunch of Swedish meatballs.  Helen thought it was funny to be eating Swedish meatballs in an Ikea in Cyprus.  Not what one usually would think of having for lunch in a Greek area.  I was surprised how good these tasted since it is just a frozen product.  Next trip I will buy a bag or 2 and their unique meatball gravy mixes.  This trip my cold-bag was already filled to bursting with pork chops, ham, cheeses and bacon.

We had fully expected to be stopped at the border exiting the Turkish side because the Swiss guy who was on the previous rental car contract said that Bill had an outstanding speeding ticket.  TRNC has speed cameras all over their side of the island.  It is funny to us because there are numerous signs posted warning drivers that a speed camera is ahead -- giving drivers plenty of time to slow down to the posted speed before passing the camera.  They sure don't warn drivers at home about speed cameras.  Anyway, apparently Bill didn't slow down one time and was caught on one of the cameras.  The system checks each person when they exit the country (clear out on a boat, clear out on a ferry to Turkey, or cross the border to the southern side of Cyprus).  If you have an outstanding speeding ticket, then you are not allowed to leave the TRNC until you pay the fine.  Good system.  Except that sometimes it takes months for a speeding ticket to show up in the system.  Bill's ticket did not show up in the system when we crossed the border this week.  We know it is just a matter of time, so next week we will find a police station and pay the fine.  Better to get it over with rather than be delayed crossing the border one day.  The reason the Swiss guy on the previous rental contract knew that Bill had a speeding ticket is because he was stopped when exiting TRNC for a recent trip to Switzerland.   His name was first on the car rental contract, so his name was flagged at the border crossings for all tickets issued for that vehicle.  He protested that all the speeding tickets probably were not his, and he visited a police station to view the camera tapes.  Sure enough, only 8 tickets were his; 7 tickets to the other man on the contract; and 1 ticket for Bill.  Obviously Bill pays more attention to those speeding camera signs than the other 2 guys.

Market--Karpaz Gate Marina
The mini-market has opened at the marina.  Shelves are not yet completely stocked and the freezers have yet to be filled, but there was sufficient inventory to open for the anxious yachties in the marina.  The market has an excellent selection of products available, including fresh breads and produce.  But knowing some of the people berthed in this marina, I'm sure there will be complaints.  Now those folks who kept complaining about not having a mini-market can now complain that the prices are not as cheap as the local produce markets or the big supermarkets. 
Market--Karpaz Gate Marina
Having once owned a small grocery store, I understand completely that a mini-market cannot sell items as cheaply as a large supermarket and would never expect this to be so.  I am very pleased with the selection of products in the new marina mini-market.......AND with the prices.  

Playground at Karpaz Gate Marina
And the marina has a new children's playground.  There are no children on boats in this marina now -- in fact, we have been surprised at how few cruising boats in the Med have children aboard compared to how many 'kid boats' we have met everywhere else in the world.  But the playground will be nice for local kids to use.  And for guests who will frequent the large resort hotel that will be built on-site.  The hotel must be built before the casino can open.  This complex is a huge project.

Gym--Karpaz Gate Marina
Gym--Karpaz Gate Marina
The marina gym is also open.  It opened the week before we returned from our trip to Houston.  Bill and I have been working out for about an hour almost every day and enjoying it very much.  This is the best gym we have found at any marina.  The equipment is top-of-the-line and it is open every day.  Nice TVs in front of each treadmill, elliptical and stationary bike.
Gym--Karpaz Gate Marina
Good, loud upbeat music to boost your energy while on those machines.  Very, very nice.  We will miss this gym when it is time to move on.

And, speaking of moving on; we have decided to contract with a marina in Marmaris for one-year and obtain a Turkish residency visa.  This will solve the problem with the new 90-days in/90-days out visa rules in Turkey.  The plan is to sail to Alanya and clear into Turkey, which should give us the normal 90-day tourist visa.  We should be able to do this in late April or very early May.  Then work our way northward along the coast of Turkey to Marmaris, where we will check into the marina.  Once in the marina and we have the annual contract in hand, then we can obtain a residency visa.  Supposedly, this process takes a week or so.  Then we will be free to come and go as we wish for one year.  Each time we sail to Greek islands, then it will involve obtaining a new transit log when we return to Turkey; but at least this way we are assured of a place to stay next winter and won't have to worry about that 90-in/90-out rule.  I hate to waste so much money doing this, but it makes sense to do it this way.  When you compare 6-month marina rates to 12-month marina rates, paying for the full 12 months makes sense even if we won't use the marina for many of those months.

Outside seating for marina restaurant
As warm and beautiful as the weather is today, it feels like we could leave now.  But it will be back to cold, rainy and very windy later this week.  So best to wait awhile longer.  No point in leaving this lovely secure marina.  Better to be warm and safe here than to be cold in a rough anchorage.  Today was so warm it was tempting to sit outside for coffee at the marina restaurant.

BTW, when we crossed the border back into the TRNC this week we again received 90-day visas with no hassle whatsoever.  We didn't even have to ask for 90 days; that is what is automatically given when the visa is stamped when one crosses the border at the drive-through crossing.  Many people in the marina have encountered visa problems.  When they have crossed the border, upon re-entry to the north side they have been given only 10 days or 30 days rather than the standard 90 days.  Several people have been told they must obtain residents visas because the regular tourist visa can be renewed only once.  Everyone who has encountered a visa renewal problem has experienced this problem when crossing the border at a pedestrian crossing.  Those of us who cross the border at the vehicle crossing always receive automatic 90-day visas again.  Sort of makes that rental car even more attractive.

Monday, February 13, 2012


For 3 months last autumn we shared a rental car with a Swiss guy and a German couple.  It worked well for 3 boats to share the car because none of us need a car full time, although a car is absolutely necessary when berthed at this isolated marina.  I guess strictly speaking a rental car is not mandatory because buses are available to Famagusta at 0600 and 0700 with returns at 1100, 1300 and 1500.......a 2-hour bus ride in each direction with nowhere to place your purchases except in your lap.   And some people have walked or biked to the nearest village.  We don't bike and there is no way Bill will walk there.  For us, a rental car is required.  When we returned last week we could not arrange a new rental car because the Swiss guy was still away on a home visit.  He returned this weekend and hopefully we will be able to arrange another rental car in the next day or so. 

And our first excursion will be a drive down to Nicosia (Lefkosa) to the south (Greek) side of Cyprus......where we can purchase some real bacon.  Not the British style bacon that is really thinly sliced ham of some sort.  That is not bacon to us.  We want real bacon....American style smoked "streaky" bacon as the Europeans call it.   It is worth driving all the way to the other side of Cyprus in order to buy the right product.

Hope we get that car soon.  We also need hot chocolate for these cold mornings.  Another product only available on the south side.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Back to our real home -- aboard S/V BeBe

The trip back to Cyprus was totally uneventful.  Houston to Heathrow via Continental/United and Heathrow to Larnaka via Aegean Airlines.  We had a row of 3 seats to ourselves on both flights and could stretch out for comfort.  Due to strong headwinds across Europe we arrived a half-hour or so late.  There was plenty of snow in England and LOTS of snow all across Europe visible from the plane.  While America has enjoyed an abnormally warm winter, Europe has suffered under heavy snow and abnormally cold temps.  Fellow yachties Jim and Elaine kindly met us at the Larnaka airport and transported us and our 240 lbs of luggage to the marina.  Jim and Elaine have a home in Southern Cyprus and berth their catamaran in Karpaz Gate Marina.  We are very grateful to them for going out of their way to transport us back to the marina.  It made for a late night for them and they were very gracious to help us with this transportation.

The next evening a group of 7 of us enjoyed dinner at the marina restaurant.  As always, the food was superb and beautifully presented.  Then we all gathered on M/V Dora Mac for apple pie dessert.  Randal has perfected baking apple pies.  BTW, thanks very much to Randal for looking after BeBe during our absence.  His sharp eye and attendance to our chafing dock lines kept BeBe safe during the high winds that have inundated Cyprus during the past 2 months.  

The following evening we joined Ruth and Randal aboard M/V Dora Mac for a delicious dinner of bon fillet.  This was the best meat we have eaten since arriving in the Med!  Bill and I had never heard of a bon fillet.  It is what we know as a beef tenderloin.  Randal had sliced the bon fillet into steaks and he cooked those steaks to perfection.  Now we know what to ask for at the local butcher shop in the village.  This is not a cut of meat that will be found in the supermarkets.

On Friday evening we again joined Ruth and Randal for the regular weekly Fish & Chips at the local Dek's restaurant.  Dek's is owned and operated by some British folks and they do know how to prepare 'proper' fish and chips.  I always opt for the fish accompanied by salad and garden peas rather than the chips (french fries).  I think my dinner pictured on the right looks more appetizing than Ruth's.  
Fish and mushy pease

Ruth opted for the fish and 'mushy pease' that are usually served with traditional British fish and chips.  Yeah, I know it should be 'mashed peas' but for some reason the Brits call this mushy pease.  The taste is not objectionable, only the appearance.  It tastes like solidified split pea soup.  

Ruth has been taking Turkish lessons which are offered at Dek's one morning each week.  We should also try learning a few words of Turkish but that is not likely to happen.  I am too old to clutter my mind with a language that I will never use once we leave the western Med area.  Better to save my limited brain cells for Spanish......a language that would better serve me to know more about once we are back in the Caribbean or in Texas.  The folks at Dek's also do guided walks one morning each week.  Ruth and Randal have participated in several of these walks and recommend the activity highly.  Maybe........maybe......when we don't feel so lazy.

The mini-market here at the marina is supposed to open next week.  The on-site gym also recently opened.  And the Customs and Immigration offices are ready to begin operation as soon as the authorities arrive to staff the offices.  That means boats will be able to clear in and out here at the marina rather than having to go to Girne when arriving or departing.  It will be great to be able to clear out directly from this marina when it is time to sail to Turkey later this spring.

Turkey changed visa regulations effective 1 February.  No longer can visitors stay 90-days in Turkey; ferry over to one of the Greek islands for a day; then return to Turkey and start another 90-day tourist visa period.  Turkey has changed laws to emulate the EU states.  (I now refuse to consider Italy, Spain, France, Greece, etc. to be separate countries.  These are now simply states.  That is how the EU refers to these previously individual countries:  states.)  Like in the EU that Turkey wants to join, visitors can now stay only 90 days within Turkey; then must leave for 90 days.  This is very sad news to yachties who have enjoyed Turkey for years and to those of us who had planned to winter in Turkey next year.  In order to avoid the 90-in/90-out new ruling, one must obtain a residency visa in Turkey.  

There are a number of requirements for a residency visa; the most important of which is that one must have a contract for one year with a marina.  We are not thrilled to committing to a single marina location for a whole year because we want to cruise the coast of Turkey and see the country, not sit in a marina the entire time.  We would be paying for a marina we most likely would not use even half the time.  I have been shopping marinas via emails.  We do not need to make a decision just yet but it is best to gain as much information as possible.  Karpaz Gate also is offering a limited time 50% discount on berths for next winter, so returning here is also an attractive possibility.  And returning to Northern Cyprus would get us out of the new Turkish 90-in/90-out rule for next winter....assuming that TRNC does not also effect this new visa rule.  Right now we can re-set our TRNC visa by simply driving to Southern Cyprus for the day and returning across the Green Line and obtaining a new 90-day visa in Northern Cyprus.  If TRNC changes their visa rules to the same as Turkey, that will create horrendous problems for yachties berthing in Northern Cyprus.  Others are considering wintering next year in Israel, but that is not an option for us as we have no intention of going to Israel.  And we are not yet ready to move father west to Tunisia.  We contemplated renting a beach cabin in Crystal Beach and returning to Texas for next winter, but after checking out rental rates we have scratched out that possibility as too expensive.  For now, our choices are either commit to a marina in Turkey for one year and obtain a residency visa OR return to Karpaz Gate Marina in Northern Cyprus next winter. 

For the past 6 years whenever someone asks us what our biggest challenge or difficulty is while cruising round the world, we always answer "adhering to immigration and customs regulations."  Here in the Med, that is proving to be most definitely the case.  The restrictive tourist visa rules are ruining what should be a great place to cruise.  And the situation only gets more difficult as we sail farther westward in the Med.

 One of the things we bought while in Houston is a Western Digital Live Hub.  Bill has been ripping our DVDs into avi files and copying onto the WD terrabyte hub drive.  I think we are going to like this very much.  It will be nice not to have to keep all the hundreds of DVDs taking up storage space on the boat.  Bob Bradford also gave us 80 gigs of music that we have also loaded on the WD drive.  We are enjoying that a lot!  Last year we had bought small Bose speakers and the music sounds pretty darn good.  This year we also brought back a set of Altec-Lansing speakers which I dearly love.  The Altec-Lansing speakers are very tiny and sound far better than the small Bose speakers.  Unfortunately, the Altec-Lansing speakers will not work correctly with our DVD player.  Work great with the TV or the computer, but sound like crap when played with the DVD.  Bill wanted to throw them away or give them away, but I am holding firm on keeping these speakers.  Sure as sh*t, if we get rid of these speakers then the DVD player will fail and the replacement DVD player would work with the speakers.  Besides, if he rips all our DVDs and copies them to the WD drive, then we can use the Altec-Lansing speakers and have killer sound both with movies and music.  We are going to really, really like this WD hub drive. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

This visit is almost at an end

Finally, Bill's biopsy results..........non-malignant.  In our ignorance we are considering that the same as benign, with full expectations that the next physical might require another biopsy if the labs are still not within normal parameters.  

Waiting for the biopsy results was not a pleasant experience, especially since it took so danged long.  We knew on 5 December that Bill likely had a health problem.  The labs were repeated......same results.  Drugs administered for 10 days.  Labs repeated......almost same results.  Biopsy scheduled -- required 2 weeks to get into the scheduling queue.  Biopsy performed.   Then had to wait 3 full weeks for official results to be provided.  That was the difficult part.  Online research revealed that the biopsy results should have been available in 1 week or less; yet we had to wait 3 weeks to meet with the doctor and learn the specifics.   And Americans think we have the best health care.  HAH!

I'm sure the family members on whom we have relied for places to stay and vehicles to drive for the past 2 months are more than ready to see the last of us for awhile.  Our thanks to Bill's brother, John, for the use of his townhome and cars.  Even more thanks to our elder son, Trey, and daughter-in-law, Kristina, for allowing us to hang out at their home so often and for such long periods of time, displacing grandson Zachary from his bedroom to sleep on the sofa for weeks on end.  And thanks to Trey for loaning us his truck; we are sure he didn't really want to drive his old hot rod Mustang for the commute to work all those days.  Our younger son and his family lucked out because we didn't stay will them as often; their daily lives are much too busy to be bothered with us; but we managed to see them several times for a night or so and spent one weekend babysitting while the parents enjoyed a weekend in the California wine country.

Embroidery machine
Barbara & Judy in embroidery room.
The wet mark is sizing to remove the hoop imprint.
One week we drove up to NE Texas to visit friends Barbara and Bob.  They have a lovely small spread and it was so relaxing to be in the rural town areas.  Barbara operates a business embroidering logos and names on hats and shirts, etc. and applying heat transfers.   She digitized the semaphore (nautical flags) spelling out BeBe and embroidered this onto a number of shirts and hats.  Great job!!  Everything turned out looking great.  We very much like having 'crew shirts' with the boat name spelled out in flags rather than in letters.  Wonder if any sailors will recognize the flags and understand our boat name.  

Smiling Pete
Barbara and Bob have 2 horses, 4 dogs and a cat.  One of the dogs was a country stray that they adopted shortly after moving to this property.  His name is Pete.  Pete is a sweet dog but a character.  He smiles or grins to get what he wants.  It looks intimidating at first.....with those lips pulled back and teeth bared.  But that is his smile.  He is a rather large dog and I think there must be some boxer somewhere in his lineage.  When he comes up and smiles at you then you know he wants something.  Pete would make a great second dog for our grandson but I don't think Barbara and Bob would ever part with Pete.

A touch of the old days.  On a narrow twisting country road in East Texas we passed a ranch that is breeding bison.  What a sight to look out the car windows and see buffalo spread out grazing on the rolling hills.  Made us sort of expect to see an Indian come riding over the horizon on a paint pony.  

native Texas Longhorn steer

We also passed 2 ranches that are breeding the almost extinct Texas longhorn cattle.  Didn't stop to snap photos of the longhorns, but they were impressive.  You have to respect the breed of animal that was able to survive desolate topography and weather conditions.  Since we didn't take our own photo, here is an image taken from the Y.O. Ranch photo album on Facebook.

One weekend we visited Bill's youngest brother and his family in College Station.  We didn't have much of an opportunity to visit with them at Christmas......simply because it is impossible to really visit when there are 22 people talking at once.  We wanted to catch up with them and this weekend was the perfect opportunity.  Bryan/College Station has really grown!!  It looked like just about anything one might want could be found in Bryan/College Station today.  What a great area to live.  The student population at Texas A&M University must help keep prices low.  For example, matinee movies still are only $3.50 to $3.75 rather than the $6 to $7 that we have been paying in Houston.   And it is only an hour or 2 to Houston, depending on your in-town destination.  Maybe we should retire there.

Galveston old homes
Another weekend we visited our home town of Beaumont again; then down to Galveston.  Found a particular area of the old Galveston style Victorian homes where  homes are being restored to their original grandeur.   Many are completely restored; some are under restoration now; and some are very dilapidated and awaiting new owners to begin the process.  It would be easy to let ourselves be sucked right into that!  Found ourselves reaching for cell phone to call realtors before we had a sanity check. We had to keep reminding ourselves that we do have a boat in Cyprus waiting for our return.  Now is probably the right time financially to buy one of these homes because of the poor real estate market; but now is not the right time to buy one of these homes because we intend to remain cruising full-time for years to come.  

East of Crystal Beach.  Very close to the water now!
We also drove down Bolivar Peninsula to check on the progress of reconstruction after Hurricane Ike.  We drove through Winnie and High Island and turned west on the beach road.  In the opposite direction, TX Hwy 87 is closed between High Island and Sabine Pass because the Gulf of Mexico has reclaimed that area.  That highway is long since covered in sand and water.  
This photo shows TX Hwy 87 headed west towards Galveston, just west of the intersection of the highway from Winnie.  Wonder how long this section of Hwy 87 will remain usable.  The sea is awfully close and the efforts to keep it at bay appear minimal.

Very old horse still pumping oil
Driving this route puts one close to dozens of horses.  Not the breathing type of horse.....the oil field type of horse.....the kind that pumps oil up from those deep wells.....24 hours per day, 7 days per week for over a century.  One would think these oil fields would have long since been depleted. 
Oil field horse

Folks from other places might consider these eyesores and blights upon the landscape.  Not us.  This is home.  The beach is supposed to have oil field horses slowing moving up and down.

Driving onto one of the ferries
Following this route took us to the Bolivar Ferry.....then across over to Galveston.  The new ferry docks are really nice and can handle at least 6 times the vehicle traffic than the ferries of our childhood.  Your taxpayer dollars at work.  

Driving on top of Galveston Seawall

Enjoyed driving the Galveston seawall and out down off the seawall onto West Beach.  Those big homes now built out on the low-lying west end of the island look like big mistakes.  Why anyone would spend that much money to build such large fancy homes in such a low place makes no sense.

A hurricane will clean those all away one day.  And then insurance rates will skyrocket again for every homeowner in Texas.
We had driven the Crystal Beach/Bolivar beach road about 3 months after Hurricane Ike and the devastation of that area was surreal.  Block upon block of homes wiped away by the storm.  And the sea moved inland about 3 blocks in most places.  We had no doubts that the area would be rebuilt; just no idea how long it would take before people would brave the elements again.  
Bolivar light house

It has always been in the back of our minds that we would buy a small place on the beach for final retirement after we eventually tire of boat life. Now we are kicking ourselves that we did not stop on our last drive through the area and inquire about buying some property.  Right after the hurricane the average lot near Crystal Beach was selling for $10,000.  Today those lots are selling for $35,000+.   Now, as saying goes, we are a day late and a dollar short.  

The Bolivar lighthouse still stands.  Bolivar Lighthouse  Wonder how many hurricanes and storms this old lighthouse has withstood. 

Return of the pelicans
When we were small children Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston were filled with pelicans.  The pelicans almost became extinct because of the prevalent use of the pesticide DDT.  DDT caused the pelican eggs to have such thin shells that the eggs could last for the chicks to grow inside.  Good news is that since DDT was banned all those years ago, the pelican population has replenished and now live back in their native grounds.

One day we watched the implosion of an old building in the Houston Medical Center.  We knew it was scheduled to be imploded that day but had no idea of the scheduled time.   Driving through the area we noticed a lot of people standing around and decided to stop and join them.  Five minutes later a series of 10 or so very loud booms vibrated the air and a huge dust cloud rose.  Lucky for us, the wind took the dust cloud away in the opposite direction.... along with all those nasty things one would not want to breathe.  We took a series of photos using an iPhone.  Unfortunately, regardless of how I edit or save these photos, they appear sideways when uploaded to this blog.  So, no photos.

Tonight we are meeting up with fellow Amel owners, Jan and Craig.  They own an Amel 54 named S/V Lone Star.  Lone Star recently sailed crossed the Atlantic and they are now cruising in the Caribbean; but due to a death in the family they are now home in the Houston area for a short time.  We last saw Jan and Craig in Marmaris last April.  Looking forward to hearing all their stories of cruising westward through the Med this past summer.  If you look on the left-hand side of this blog you will see a link to the blog site for Lone Star Times.  In case anyone else wants to follow their adventures.