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Turkish Delight!

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

As we had a seven hour drive from Cappadocia to the Antalya on the Mediterranean Coast, we decided to break the journey in the Turkish Lake District. Having spent time in the Chilean and English versions so far this year I had high hopes but I am afraid I was sadly disappointed. They were in the middle of no where and whilst the lake we landed up on was fringed by mountains, there was precious little else of interest. We ended up finding a view of the lake on the edge of a field where we had our picnic. The most interesting aspect of our visit was going to the end of peninsula projecting in to the lake and turning round in a town square. Besides the ubiquitous mosque, there were lots of men sat round playing backgammon and drinking in the middle of the afternoon. Not a woman to be seen! They stared at us as if we were aliens!

Back on the road, we crossed the Taurus Mountains, a spectacular range that seemed to go on for hours before we hit the Mediterranean coast. Our hotel was in the old town with a spectacular view of the bay and coastal mountains. The only problem was the parking. The narrow old streets were not designed for cars. I felt as if I was in a Bond movie as I tried to negotiate the tight corners and streets lined with restaurants. I hasten to add that I wasn’t in an Aston Martin and I was doing 7 mph not 70 mph! Once we’d dropped our luggage at the hotel we tried to find the old town car park but failed miserably so we ended up parking just outside the old town and keeping our fingers crossed that we would be able to find the car again!

Up on the terrace I got talking to two men who did not know each other but were both thinking about moving to Turkey for the climate and low cost of living. One was originally from Iraq but hadn’t been back for 45 years and was now living in Surrey. He had recently been through a costly divorce. He asked me what I was running away from. Contemplating this one, I said I didn’t think I was running away from anything. Perhaps, the boring day to day of routine. I said I was in pursuit of my passion for travel. Pretentious, I know but I didn’t want to get in to a long discussion about British weather, politics and the cost of my favourite brand of coffee!

The other man was originally from the Lebanon but had lived in America since he was 16 years old. He’d returned to live in the Lebanon five years ago and was there when the Beirut explosion occurred. He was 28 miles outside the city but still felt the shock waves. In addition, he told me about trying to sell his mother’s house after her recent death. The local mafia boss had built a well under the house and concealed this fact for many years. This had been revealed during the sale of the house and when legal action was threatened, it had got nasty. A knife fight and guns were involved!

We had dinner in the lively and atmospheric old town but it was a bit of a tourist trap when it came to prices. We had got used to dinner for two for between £5-10! At one place near Ephesus we had Turkish pizza, a large salad, drinks and dessert for £5. And that is for two! We even had enough for a doggie bag!

As I looked out on the coastline of Antalya from the hotel terrace, it was with sadness that I realised that the campsite where I taught English in 1992 was probably now covered by one of the monstrous all-inclusive hotels. One of them even has a Venetian Canal and gondolas! Say no more!

On our first day we went to the famous Aspendos amphitheater. They were advertising a performance of opera songs accompanied by the Antalya Orchestra so we got tickets. It was a bit of a palaver because first the credit card took ages to process and then he couldn’t print the tickets. We had to return to get them just before the performance. Whilst we were waiting, I got talking to two Russians from Moscow. I asked them what they thought of Putin and they said they were fans!

We got the best seats in the house for £15 each. It was wonderful and we were in good company because the Turkish Minister of Culture was in the audience.

On our second day, we went to a very different amphitheater. We had to climb high into the mountains to reach it but it was good to see an amphitheater that had been left untouched since ancient times.

On our return to the old town we stopped at traffic lights and a Turkish driver did the usual trick of jumping the lights. Just as I was thinking ‘where are the police when you need them?’ an unmarked police car came out of nowhere and pursued him. We applauded as we passed him being questioned about half a mile further on!

We moved on to Kas, an attractive area on a peninsula on the Mediterranean coast. The cost of the hotel for one night was four times any of the other excellent hotels we had stayed in. Unfortunately, it was sadly lacking. The receptionist was very non-communicative. She didn’t speak English but a smile costs nothing. In addition, reception smelt of smoke. The balcony with sea view we had booked had a tree in front of it and the room was dirty and hadn’t been serviced so it had no toilet paper etc. When I complained, the attitude was “What’s your problem?”. I think the area is more geared towards Russian tourists. Perhaps they don’t complain. I said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s all going down in the review!’ The so called manager, who was married to the receptionist, got very upset at the thought of us giving him a bad review and said go elsewhere so we did. We went up the road to another hotel full of Russians so I could work on my review now on Trip Advisor and translated in to four languages including Turkish, Russian and German. I sent the manager a message with a link!

Luckily, the wonderful family run hotel in Fethiye restored our faith in Turkish hospitality. We had a large suite with an enormous balcony uninterrupted by a tree. There was a great restaurant so not only did we have breakfast at the hotel but we had dinner too. The charismatic waiter said I reminded him of an English actress but he’d forgotten her name. I suggested Emma Thompson and he agreed!

We visited Kayakoy, an abandoned Greek ghost town. In 1923, after the formation of the Turkish nation after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, there was a population swap with Greece which left 400 Greek houses in this town abandoned. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The former citadel which has an Ottoman appearance flew a large Turkish flag which made me feel rather uneasy. The Turks love their flags. They are everywhere. Some are massive. I mean four story high flags. Another popular symbol is that of Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish nation whose statue, image and signature is found all over this relatively young nation.

The hotel organised ‘The Twelve Island Boat Trip’ for us. Not only was it twelve islands but it was only twelve pounds and that was with a fish lunch thrown in. We were picked up at the hotel and joined our traditional wooden gulet sailing ship at the harbour. The boat, of course, was only half full and we had a glorious day weaving our way past rocky islands and the mountainous coastline. Some of the other passengers were English on ten day package tours and we got talking. Two lovely women on the loungers on the top deck declared that they were “Gobby Cows”! They were carers for the disabled and had worked throughout lockdown. I said that I too identified as a “Gobby Cow” so we had much in common but I did have to revise that when one said she was a big Donald Trump fan and the other said they had complained to their hotel because the evening entertainment didn’t include bingo!

Another British family told me that the cost of holidays is shooting up now that Turkey is about the only country not on the government’s banned list. They had been due to go to Tenerife but had to change their plans. They seemed happy with the alternative. Friends of theirs had just booked and a week was now about £1,000. I don’t think it’s going to cost me that for three months!

One British man I didn’t talk to had his biography tattooed on his torso so I still found out much about him. His Union Jack tattoo had a banner beneath it that declared he was ‘Made in Brum’, he was proud to be a Birmingham City Supporter and he was a cat lover.

On our last day in Fethiye we went walking in Saklikent Gorge, a spectacular location. The towering cliffs make for a very dramatic walk. We had to buy water shoes as you have to wade through water for much of the time. At the start of the walk, a mountain river joins the main river and it was absolutely freezing melt water, a great contrast to the sea which is like bath water! It was painful to wade through this powerful torrent for about twenty metres but once past it, it was a trickle. The further on you went, the more enclosed it became. It reminded me of a gorge we walked in in the Canadian Rockies. There was a board walk all the way along this gorge and all of a sudden, a woman coming in the other direction, cried out excitedly and gathered up our rather shocked kids into a big hug. Richard was also shocked but those of you who worked at Woodlands School will guess that it was the wonderful Margaret Marquis who gives hugs like no others. I knew Margaret and her husband would be in the area but it was a surprise to see her here. We all went out for pizza that evening in Vancouver.

Having investigated Battlefield Travel Insurance, I now think I may need it. Turkey and Greece, according to the media, are on the brink of war over a dispute over natural gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean. As we travelled along the coast we saw numerous small Turkish battleships. These two countries, of course have form. They are always squaring up to each other over islands that are Greek but intertwined with the Turkish coast and then there is the not so small matter of Cyprus. I noted with interest the description of the conflict at St Peter’s Castle and Maritime Museum as ‘The Peace Operation’. A friend, Paula, whose paternal family is Greek Cypriot had to flee northern Cyprus and only in recent times have they been able to get access to property that had to be abandoned in 1974. I will look forward to discussing this sensitive issue with my homestay hosts but I guess I will have to tread carefully as I did in Argentina when discussing the Falklands Islands issue.

At Dalyan, we did a boat tour to see the beautiful rock tombs in the cliffs and loggerhead turtles. The price started at £70 for two for a two hour boat trip. Having paid £24 for two people for a full day trip with a fish lunch, I decided this was not good value for money. ‘It’s a private tour,’ they told me. ‘Yes, only because you can’t find anyone else to go on it,’ I told them. I hunted down a Russian couple looking for a boat trip and got them down to £20 for two people so we were good to go. We worked our way down the meandering river to the mouth of the river. The young Russian couple went off to the beach but we stayed on the boat to maximise our chance of seeing loggerhead turtles. We went beyond the sand bank partly blocking the mouth of the river. There is a blue crab boat there that feeds the turtles but they weren’t playing the game and were no where to be seen. Luckily, when we picked up the Russians again, the turtles decided to put on a show and popped up all around the boat. It wasn’t the premier turtle watching experience we had in Guadalupe when we were swimming in a bay and encountered a large number of green turtles. We could get so close that we could touch them. But it was still a good experience.

Our hotel in Marmaris sent a message saying they had decided to close so we couldn’t stay there. It’s rather annoying that if I cancel my booking dot com hotel then there are penalties but they can do the same in reverse without penalty! In the end, however, Kathryn booked an airbnb cabin on the peninsula about one hour west of Marmaris and it turned out to be paradise. Bozburun is a harbour town on a circular bay that is dotted with islands. The turquoise waters around the sand bank at the entrance to the bay make it look like the Caribbean! Our airbnb cabin, which is high on the hill, has stunning views of the surrounding area and longer peninsula just to the north. The harbour is full of large traditional gulet sailing ships and when you stroll along the promenade, the gentle thwack of water against their side is very relaxing.

It’s location reminded me of a few other places I have stayed where you can just sit and watch the world go by. Last year we stayed on the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro. Our villa had picture windows the length of it and you could watch the life of the whole bay coming and going. Opposite was a small island with a monastery on it and tourist boats ran backwards and forwards all day. In 2005 we did a house exchange to Santorini, that very instagramable Greek island. We went before instagram was a thing but we stayed in Oia, which was considered to be very photogenic even then. The bay is a caldera and we had a cave house with a terrace that overlooked the in demand sunset view. If we ever went out and returned within half an hour of sunset, we had to fight our way down narrow steps full of people giving us dirty looks as if to say, ‘Why the hell are you pushing in on our sunset view?’. This is before we waltzed on to our terrace with a flourish and kicked back with acres of space to watch the sunset and a glass of crisp white wine. ‘Who’s laughing now?’

One of the biggest advantages of our small patch of peace is that there are no mosques in the vicinity as there were in the various places we have been so far. Now I don’t want to denigrate one of the great religions of the world or have a fatwah put on my head but at 5am in the morning, I really want to tell him to stick his megaphone where the sun don’t shine!

As our time sitting on the idyllic hillside watching the world go by from the balcony came to a close, a herd of goats trouped past in single file on the stone terrace just above. All shapes, sizes and colours. It reminded me of a house exchange we did to South Africa. Every so often a troupe of about 50 vervet monkeys would pass through the garden. Mums, dads, granny, teenagers, toddlers and babies! The whole extended family. It was important to keep the patio doors closed or they’d be straight in raiding the kitchen! The goats of Turkey, luckily, were much better behaved.

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