Best laid plans

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Since we leave on Friday, I had been hoping for one last trip to somewhere new before I had to spend the day cleaning and packing. Yesterday wasn’t possible so M had promised that we could do something today. Unfortunately the boys were less than keen and started moaning about having had enough of beaches. What?

I tried to persuade Fatso that it would be exciting because we could visit Silifke castle. But he seemed to be in a negative mood, declaring that he’d ‘seen enough history’. This is the boy who loves history and we haven’t seen that much this holiday. In fact we avoid it mainly because it’s all open air with little shade and way too hot. I think the Knidos experience may have stuck with him.

In the end we managed to get everyone in the car and head out to the castle. It’s about an hour’s drive from our flat and looks quite impressive – high up on the hill. Hmm, we should have checked though because it was closed. Turns out there was restoration work and an archeological dig going on. Many of the archeologists in Turkey spend their year as university academics and their summers on digs. It doesn’t always mean the closure of an entire site but the combination of restoration work meant this time it did. Restoration is a word that makes my heart sink here because I have been to many places where it has actually meant destruction in my view.

It was a bit of a bummer but the views across Silifke and down towards the coast, across the plains, were definitely worth it. Sadly the site was littered with the usual filth. But we weren’t deterred as we had also planned to try a new beach: incekum. Back in the car M mentioned that there was another historical site called Azize Thecla. I didn’t realise that this was the underground church I had tried to look up a few days ago so was in two minds about going. What the heck, lets go. It was closer to the castle than I had thought and definitely worth it.

The site itself is managed by the local council and its free to enter. Officially there is an old cistern, part of the old church that was above the ground, and a few caves which were the main attraction housing Saint Thecla’s church. In reality there is far more to see. Walking round the back of the cistern you can see two stone wall pillars still standing and if you walk round the gorse bushes to them you can see the ground drop away to a sort of valley filled with walls that clearly belonged to the old settlement. We also found two archways that were almost completely filled with soil now but you can still clamber inside one of them. M took some persuading to join our expedition. Fatso ran off to the other side of the valley to clamber on the walls and raise his newly found stick. He can’t go anywhere without finding a new stick to act as a sword or some other weapon. M wasn’t too impressed when he felt over and scraped his elbow but eventually he, Smelly and Lai were busy discovering new things. I even managed to get him down to the lone olive tree that was clinging on despite the ground under it’s trunk having eroded.

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The views again were spectacular but it was hot and the boys started to get thirsty and grumpy after a while. We headed back up to the  main site with Fatso not doing a great job of avoiding being scratched by the gorse bushes. Tired and grumpy they retreated to the car, while M and I followed the official path a bit further to find Azize Thecla cave church. It may be small but it’s a real treasure.

Our next part of the trip was to see what incekum beach was like. It’s a bay just before the naval base (which never seems to have any ships) and Bogsak is the bay after the base. The beach turned out to be a bit of a disappointment and quite crowded. It was pebbly and the sandy part was not very accessible because of how everyone had parked. We decided to head to our safe place instead, so back in the car to Bogsak.

When we got there the tide was right up so I wasn’t sure that we would be able to drive along to get to our usual spot. M was undaunted and we made it. The boys had a great time but definitely needed the picnic asap to sort out various grumps and grumbles. This time though, before we left, instead of just packing up and heading home we decided to have a wander. Quite a few people come and camp round the rocks and hills at the end of the bay. this is wild camping as there are no facilities. The trouble is not all these wild campers are very keen to keep the place clean. But ignoring that the boys were off, with Fatso out front clambering over rocks and trying to get close to the sea. Smelly and Lai weren’t far behind in hot pursuit and keen not to be outdone.

A sudden scream made us think Fatso was hurt but he’d actually made a discovery: a rather large lizard. It took a bit of explaining that he needed to be quiet if he wanted us to see it as his screams would scare it off.

The paths we followed were pretty much only easy for donkeys or goats but the boys wanted a greater challenge so clambered over the sharp rocks. We walked quite a way round and got a better view of Bogsak island, as well as the castle within the naval compound. Sadly that means off limits to non military families. Closer to the sea the rocks were jagged and had holes so the sea made a gurgling sound as the waves pushed the air out.

Thankfully no more injuries despite the gorse and thistles. One camping couple popped up to ask us the time. And Smelly is now determined that he will come and camp there for a few nights.

By the time we got back to the car we were all hot, sticky and still covered in salt from hours in the sea earlier. M needed to pray so that meant a chance to pop by the local mosque and clean up a bit. As a general rule I no longer enter mosques as I refuse to cover my head but one of the great things about village mosques is that outside prayer times they are completely empty. This one was a real treat and beautifully decorated inside with ornate tiles, colourful glass windows, and lovely painted ceilings. A bit or peace and calm before the mad drive home.

Our original plan may not have gone as we’d hoped but the back up was well worth it. We’ll just have to hope the castle is open next year and that the restoration is sensitive rather than destructive. If not, there are still plenty of places yet to explore around Mersin.

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Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Each time we come to Turkey we do a lot that is familiar: Bayram brunch at Narlikuyu, visits to family, picnics at the beach and such. But we also try to find somethings that are new and we haven’t experienced before. Having been coming back for over seven years now it’s good to find that there are still plenty of new places to explore; some closer than others.

This year M had arranged to spend a day meeting friends but this fell on a Monday when the pool was closed. We’d already spent the Sunday by the pool as he went up to his nephew’s farm for the third day of Bayram. The thought of spending another day with the kids but no pool and their constant cries of how bored they were without devices here other than a TV, I managed to persuade M to lend me the car. And that is where the fun began:

My plan was to find somewhere new. The drive to Bogsak had shown me signs to Silifke castle and a cave church that I had never noticed before. Forgetting the name I used the magic of Google to find out where they were and how to get there. The things was that typing ‘cave church Mersin’ into Google maps it came up with something quite different. It showed me a cave mosque (Eshab-i-Kehf) and other caves near Tarsus. Giving the boys the choice they opted for the caves in Tarsus.

The problem was that outside the house we do not have wifi or 4G because only M has a Turkish mobile with a data allowance. He gave us his UK phone (mine died while here) so we tried to send the directions to it through his Google account but as a back up I printed off the directions and Smelly set up the phone. (As long as he didn’t close maps it would be able to direct us without wifi). But to make the trip just a bit more ambitious I also planned to go from the caves to Karatas beach, south of Adana.

Petrol and a picnic sorted we were off, Taskuyu cave here we come. The routes seemed fairly simply as they were mainly on the motorway but the bits off the motorway would need concentration and Smelly to help guide me. Pretty much as soon as we were off Smelly accidentally closed maps, so Google based navigation was gone for the day. Only written instructions to guide us this could go very badly wrong.

Fortunately Eshab-i-kehf being a mosque was very well sign posted and the caves were close to there, so it was just a case of follow the signs. M had taken the boys to the mosque last year but never even thought about the caves. What an oversight. Not only are the walkways better than in Gilindir it’s also free. The only downside is that there is music playing almost constantly. Unlike Gilindir, it is very dry and cool inside. Only a few of the stalactites still have water running down them. The lighting is also quite bright so you can see the floor beside the walkways and it looks like a preserved riverbed or seabed with ripples that you get when the tide goes out on a sandy beach. You can also see the roof off the cave which is made up of what looks like areas where water swirled around making it smooth as it eroded the rock. It also created amazing shapes that looked like swallows diving, men with beards, a broken Ironman mask, unmentionables, Slimer from the original Ghostbusters, and a frog.

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These are just a few of the photos the boys and I took while we were underground . My favourite has to be the eccentric formations. I wasn’t quite sure what the were referring to as all the formations seemed eccentric. As for the rock pearls, I was clueless as to what they were too. But what made it fun was the walkways were not in a perfect circle. there were quite a few off shoots and so exploring them all meant you could come back to points you had been to before but at a different angle. It also meant you weren’t constantly bumping into people trying to get back to the exit.

We stayed there for about an hour but could have spent longer. As the boys had already been to the mosque we decided not to revisit. There is supposed to be another cave called the Well cave according to Google maps, but as we had no wifi or 4G and there were no signs to say it was anywhere near, we couldn’t go there. (Well we could have but I really didn’t feeling like venturing blindly as I felt pretty blind as it was).

Next stop Karatas. This meant getting back onto the motorway, by reversing the written directions and then negotiating the centre of Adana. This was where it really could go horribly wrong. Smelly had the notes. I was in charge of the car. It was the blind leading the blind. Two turns later and all was going OK until a wrong turn meant I could see the motorway but was heading directly into the centre of Tarsus down some industrial back streets. Quick U-turn and we were soon on the right road again. What I hadn’t bargained for was the fact that the motorway sort of ended by running through the centre of Adana and we still hadn’t come to the hospitals exit. Don’t panic, don’t panic. Normally all new adventures were reserved for either M driving or some better navigation. This was my first time truly doing it by myself.

Exit found, I then discovered I had about five roundabouts to negotiate. When I say roundabout, what I really mean is a central Adana free-for-all. In the UK roundabouts are (usually) nicely laid out, with clear lanes that guide a driver round to their exit showing where to merge into outer lanes. Not the case anywhere in Turkey. A two lane road suddenly has three officially but more like five. Being in the right-hand lane does necessarily mean you aren’t going to turn left. It’s essentially a free-for-all along side a game of who can squish all the other drivers into submission followed by ‘there might be two lanes in the exit road but there are fours lanes of cars trying to get into them.’ Oh and then of course the weird rule that drivers on the roundabout have to give way to drivers entering the thing. Fortunately all of them were managed by lights so that last scary part averted. Apart from the fact that I am an English driver and trying to do things right, I was also trying not to crash the car that we need to get us to the airport in a few days time.

I made it. I have no idea how but I negotiated each and every one of those roundabouts with Smelly clearly telling me which exit and me counting (thank you red lights for giving me the time to do that). I even managed them when I was clearly in the wrong lane or some bus decided to play the ‘I’m bigger than you’ game.

Next was 48 clear kilometres of straight road. Huzzah! I can do this. Except Smelly had suddenly become convinced I had taken a wrong turn at the last roundabout and we were going the wrong way. My visual memory is very poor (like the rest of my memory) but I knew from studying the map over the years that there is only one main road to Karatas and we were on it. Smelly started to fall asleep so relented in his insistence that we were all going to hell.  I needed to wake him up for the last bit though because for some reason we had opted to go to a beach in a national park rather than the one at the end of the road in the centre of town. This required us to know street numbers and streets here definitely did not have signs. Let the guess work begin. We found a beach, I doubt it was the intended beach but it was away from the main town and long. What’s more it seemed we could drive the car onto it and park up where we liked, everyone else seemed to have done that.

High fives all round. I had made it with no wifi, 4G or google maps. The beach was long, sandy, a bit windy and massive crashing waves in the sea. After Alanya we were all a bit wary so decided to have our picnic first. A man on a motorbike drove up and told us the charge was 10 lira a day and we could use one of the set up tents with table and chairs in. There were bins all along the beach and, for Turkey, very little litter. It felt clean and well cared for. Smelly had not packed his trunks. What can you do when you give instructions a thousand times, no one listens and you have decided to stop doing things for kids who are capable of sorting themselves out? Smelly would have to go in in his pants or not at all.

On the plus side the was very little undertow from the sea. What it did was drag you sideways away from your starting point and towards where there was an outcrop and small cliff. Also it was sand all the way, no hidden rocks or stones. Also you could wade out quite a way and still only be up to you knees. On the downside the waves were powerful and packed quite a punch when they hit you, even after crashing. Unlike other beaches, like in Datca, Bogsak, and Fethiye this was not a place where I could relax. I had to be uber vigilant mum and went into panics when I couldn’t see any of the boys. Lai and Fatso loved it though. Fatso decided to fight the sea, punching and jumping at it and even scaring the crap out of me by lying down and letting it crash over him. Lai went out quite a way and even though only waist deep when still the waves crashing down would mean he could be far deeper than he thought. There were places where there were small sandbanks before the sea came to shore so some parts you could be knee deep then walk back a few steps and be a few inches deeper.

Then the cows came. No to where we were but further down the beach near the outcrop. It was quite nice to see them being brought to graze on the grass that grew just behind. They didn’t stay long, just about an hour or so. Sadly I was too tired to walk down and the boys were still in the sea and there was no way I could just wander off. We saw them later though as I had to drive round them on the way back.

After a few hours of fun and building sand castles, the sand was perfect for that and that is a rare find here, I realised that we needed to head back while it was still light. Even if that meant rush hour in Adana: holidays over and so people had gone back to work. More scary was the thought that Smelly might struggle to reverse the directions, third exit now meant first and first now meant third and so on. Fingers crossed that Adana would just have clear green signs to the motorway as I did not fancy following Fatso’s advice of ‘just following signs to Mersin.’ Even Smelly knew that would take us on the awful D400, which would be chaos.

Smelly did a brilliant job and relaxed when we saw that there were clear but intermittent green signs. A bit of guesswork, and probably going a different way to the way we came, we found the motorway relatively quickly. Rush hour was a bit bonkers and a couple of times I was in the wrong lane but I didn’t crash. Poor old Fatso wasn’t too impressed when I growled ‘shut up!’ at him when he decided that the perfect moment to tell me his future plans was on a particularly tricky and unfamiliar roundabout. This is usually Smelly’s job, to ask probing or tricky questions when  I pull up to a junction or roundabout, but since he had a task as navigator he finally understood mummy’s requirement of ‘For god’s sake be quiet when I am concentrating on driving in an unfamiliar place!’

We made it. I didn’t crash. I did get stopped for speeding on the Karatas road on the way back though. The police were a bit confused at a foreigner driving a Turkish car that wasn’t a rental and who wasn’t a Turkish resident though. I got let off with a ‘Dikkatli ol’, which means drive carefully. Technically they could have done me but the policeman looking at my passport was unsure if his colleague had meant to stop me and he couldn’t find my entry stamp. So I think he felt it was too much hassle.

Back home, more high fives. But mummy had a massive headache from the wind and the concentration required for the journey, plus a serious lack of caffeine throughout the day. The boys headed straight for the TV before being ordered into the bath to wash of the sand and salt. I just about managed to wash them, empty the cool box and put everything in the washing machine. The rest of the evening was a fend for yourself affair with the boys having a tea of crackers and cake while, watching Ironman 3.

Our day trip was a success and has certainly made me more confident that I can do it again. Taskuyu cave is a brilliant place to visit and probably a treasure that most people miss by just going up to the mosque. It’s unlikely that we will make it to the castle or underground church this year but that just means we still have some new places to explore next time we come.

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Bendy, Bendy, Snap!

A few years ago I took my boys to see Michael Rosen on his latest book tour. They came out loving his toothbrush poem for the line bendy, bendy, snap. This summer I have been reminded of this poem again but not for altogether positive reasons.

Each year there is usually a point at which M snaps. It’s not an easy thing to do but Turkey seems to bring it out of him and the transformation is a sight to behold. To be fair we have been letting quite a few things go, even though they got on our nerves. Our site is one that, up until recently, appeared to love rules. No matter how illogical, irrational, or just plain annoying, they could find a rule for anything.  But this year there seems to have creeped in a weird flexibility that has never been there before and a certain tolerance being given that was never afforded us.

I’ve said before how there are 17 pool rules, and occasionally a few more added throughout the summer. This year’s new rule was no swimwear to be worn in the garden or the lifts. A bit hard being as you need to use the lifts and walk through the garden to get to the pool and that no normal clothes are allowed round the pool. But in the spirit of Frozen (which we all hate) we let that go. So it felt odd when I saw that they had invited some private school to come and do a ‘thing’ at the pool one afternoon. M says that this is all part of their attempt to get more parents to bring their kids to the school. So again, in the spirit of Frozen we ignored it.

A few days later though, something happened that really did annoy me and has now led me to despise a certain family here. Happily sat by the pool while the boys played we noticed the lady from the poolside/garden cafe bringing out two full plates of chips to this family. It was utterly blatant and had we done it pool guy would have had our guts for garters. All they got was him wandering over, a quick reminder that this was against the rules, all followed by ‘nolur, nolur’ from pool guy after said family decided they didn’t give a shit and were staying put. What makes them so dang special? ( we did actually ask pool guy that and apparently there is nothing special about them other than he can’t be bothered and they think they rule the place).

A few more days pass and we’re off to Bogsak, our new favourite beach. Except we’re not. The lift is at floor eight and doggedly not moving. It finally comes up and we find out why. Guy on floor eight is moving stuff out of his flat, big stuff. Here we go again. What happened to the rule about not using the lift to move stuff? What happened to everyone having to hire special external lifts? Aha, its the day before bayram, which has been declared a full week long holiday because it starts on a Tuesday. Floor eight man clearly thinks the manager won’t be around and so no one will see him, aside from the fact that you’re not meant to do jobs like this over bayram. Bit annoying and there’s no room in the lift for us so the boys run down the stairs and we decide to wait till he’s dropped his stuff at the ground floor and it comes back up. Except floor eight guy is not a polite or reasonable man. He’s a selfish git and the lift stops at floor eight again, for a LONG time. It’s hot, M is sweating, we have a cool box to take to the car and M does not want to carry that down 14 flights of stairs. We look out the window to see floor eight guy unloading yet more of his shit. M starts to bang the lift door and yell. When we eventually get down that is when it all starts to go snap.

M, not unreasonably, informs floor eight guy that what he is doing isn’t allowed and asks why he has chosen to do it today. Floor eight guy is not a reasonable man, and clearly not one for respect for his elders. So light the blue touch paper and withdraw. Floor eight guy is practically threatening to punch M for daring to challenge what he is doing. God forbid you ever challenge a Turkish man, it would appear they have an inalienable right to do as they please and will rage like a madman if you say this is not so. Somehow it becomes, as it always seems to, that everyone is pulling M away and trying to calm him despite the fact that he was never in the wrong. Manager guy turns up, and despite having sent spies to our flat whenever we had work done and challenged us on just about everything, he cannot be bothered to deal with floor eight guy. Then there is a policeman trying to calm M down. Admittedly I have been trying to tell M it’s really not worth it, especially as everyone seems to just let all their once inflexible rules have the flexibility of a Wham! bar left in the sun too long.

Things calm down a bit but in a very Turkish way – a few aftershocks from both sides. Then I turn to see Fatso asking the policeman if his gun or his car keys are his most dangerous weapon, and then trying to explain to policeman that this was something he saw on youtube. All the while I stand in the middle of the fall out wondering how come, if we infringe one of the sacred rules they’re down on us like a tonne of bricks, but others seem to do it and if we challenge: we’re in the wrong. This is definitely the weirdest site I have ever been in.

We get in the car eventually and head off to the beach. Before we get there we need to pick up some supplies. Bendy, bendy. Off again thinking all is well. We get to the beach. Smelly decides to have a sulk because of something Fatso did. Bendy, bendy. I have a swim after his sulk is one of epic proportions and I chose to ignore them all. Picnic time: one of the reasons I like this beach is we can park up the car, open the boot and use it as a sunshade and then have our picnic under it. Bendy, bendy. The downside is that we do get cars passing but not too often.

Bendy, bendy. I should have seen the signs. I suspected when I took it off the shelf that it might not be quite right. It wasn’t until we were all enjoying our picnic and I decided to have a drink that…SNAP!

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Ok my snap was not of M’s epic proportions. But ugh, what the hell is this abomination? Gazoz is a traditional Turkish fizzy drink, usually lemon or some fruit flavour and was what many Turks drank before Coke became it. But this! What idiot decided that damla sakis (gum) flavour should be a thing? It’s a surprisingly strong flavour and one that is popular for their traditional Falim gum. They even have it as an ice cream flavour. But gazoz? OK it might not seem a big but just imagine something that you love as a small, cheap treat that you have very infrequently. Now imagine someone stamping on it.

The rest of the day at the beach was great. Although, Smelly did keep opening the bottle just to see if it really was that bad. It was. As for the snapping, we’re just going to have to let things go, even if it seems unfair or a really bad decision (Efsane I’m looking at you). We’re not here for much longer and the storks have upped and gone already.

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Something old, something new

This year we went on our travels again quite soon after getting here and I didn’t take my laptop with me. Our travels this time round were governed by family visits and my desire to catch up with old friends. Even so, as well as visiting familiar places and people we discovered some great new places too.

On our visit to Ankara we discovered what a difference a year makes. Certain parts were almost unrecognisable. The central reservation of the Konya road now has very mature trees that have definitely not grown that much in a year. The grand (false) gate into the city, which is a pointless waste of money in my view, is let down by the fact that as soon as you go through it you are presented with a rusty old footbridge that they could have at least painted. The district of Cukurambar seems to have undergone a radical transformation with high rise apartments and business buildings covered with glass all along the Konya road. In Sogutozu the massive metal structure that stood unfinished for years has finally been clad in blue glass and earned the name the Skate Ramp from my boys.

Some things haven’t changed though. Cafe Miz still continues in Arjantin Cad. and seems to get better each year. Going in for Sunday brunch we found they had changed this to a buffet style affair, which had the boy’s eyes popping out at all the choice. Turkish brunch is something I have yet to see a real competitor for when done well. Tunali Hilmi Cad. and around are all very familiar and I was able to take the boys on a Dolmus ride from the same place I used to commute from.

After Ankara we set off on a very long journey to Datca to see a friend. We’d booked a flat while in Blighty and with the Lira doing a nosedive while we were there it worked out much cheaper than when we originally booked it. A nine hour journey, according to Google, turned into 11 with stops. So driving through the mountains in the pitch black was an experience and one where I was glad not to be driving. We missed the windmills this year but we did find a beach (almost) all to ourselves near Knidos. We’ll gloss over this disappointment Fatso had in Knidos after discovering historical sites in Turkey are not nearly so child friendly as elsewhere, and focus on the beach.

We discovered it from the main road and drove around trying to work out how we could get to it. We were warned that the access road was really bad. It was a good job that we have a tough car because most family cars wouldn’t managed the huge, deep potholes. In fact we had an ‘everybody out’ moment when driving back up, which left me and the boys walking up the steep hill. The beach was lovely, with white sand and clear blue sea. We had it all to ourselves for about 10 minutes till other families started to appear. Thankfully only a couple more came. It was quite funny to see M explaining to one family that there was far better shade further down the beach when they tried to park themselves inches from us. Why do Turks do that? Anyway, this was definitely the best beach day of our trip.

The day before we had gone to the town beach, which is quite crowded so an unusual choice for me, but like most of the beaches in Datca the sun loungers are ‘free’ so long as you buy something from the associated cafe. It felt like a proper holiday as I bought the boys chips and enjoyed a beer. As for the boys, they just spent all afternoon swimming and playing. A real break from the constant moan of ‘I’m boooored’ that I have been subjected to since I made the (clearly stupidest) decision to leave all devices back in the UK.

On our last day we went to an unserviced beach just past Palamutbuku.  It had a semi decent access road and parking, meaning it was pretty crowded. Unfortunately, on every single beach we went to on this trip M spent at least 20 minutes gathering rubbish that other people had left. To the point that it became soul destroying. The message about plastic and the environment just hasn’t got through to so many people here. I just cannot understand how people can bring a whole picnic but cannot be bothered to take any of their rubbish away. It doesn’t seem to matter how remote a place is, every one of them is filled with plastic bottles, bags, broken beer bottles, cans, not to mention footwear, broken crates and the like.

After Datca we travelled to Fethiye to catch up with a couple of friends and stay with friends I knew from my days in Istanbul. The boys were under strict instructions not to break anything or embarrass me. Of course they failed on both counts. A friend gave me the book ‘why mummy swears‘ before I flew. Smelly got hold of it and asked me if I had written it. Sadly no, otherwise we would have shed loads of money.

Fethiye was great though. My friends have always been feeders and provided a fantastic barbecue. The boys were in heaven, while I was liberally plied with gin and tonics. So much so that the boys put themselves to bed, as I was then invited to sample various other delights such as a visne liqueur and home made limoncello. Somehow I managed to make it to bed, find my pyjamas, take my contacts out and clean my teeth but on waking I had no idea where my contacts were or quite how I had done all of the above. Thankfully a pot of painkillers and a glass of water saved me from the worst effects and I managed to enjoy our gozleme breakfast in the market. But I was certainly not fit to drive, even at 3 pm when we had to head off.

Our next stop was Alanya and a cheap and cheerful(ish) apart hotel for a couple of days. We couldn’t find the place we’d stayed in near the prison five years before but two nights  this time gave us more leeway to see a bit of the town. It was here that we discovered the Mediterranean sea is not as friendly as you might think. The part of the beach we were on is quite a way from the sheltered marina area. It’s more exposed and the waves much bigger. But with the waves came a fierce undertow. I generally don’t go out of my depth and we had been fine the first time we went in. The second time though, it had become a bit rougher. I got caught by three big waves, which instead of pushing me back to shore seemed to suck me further out. After realising I was out of my depth I tried to swim back to shore but realised I was getting tired and moving nowhere. Out of my depth in more ways than one. I called to Fatso, who was nearer shore, in the hope of getting him to call his dad. Bad move. He realised I was in trouble and started to swim to ‘save’ me despite may screams of ‘No!’. After he realised how deep we were and how hard it was to swim he panicked and started to sink. I managed to hold him up and tried to throw him forwards while screaming for his dad, who just waved. By the time, he realised I was not saying hello a young Turk was charging down the beach, throwing off his shirt and diving into the sea. Having flung Idris forward that seemed to be enough for him to get far enough to find a rock and climb out. The young Turk was dead set against me going anywhere near the rock so I was hauled sideways before being yanked forwards.

After I’d got out another young Turk came and changed the beach flag to red. Asking him what it meant we got a mumbled comment about police patrols and it meaning they wouldn’t be held responsible to accidents on the beach. I’ve since learnt that all areas along that stretch have to show the red and yellow flag, which actually means a life guard is on duty even if that’s clearly not true. If a yellow flag flies under it, it means risky and if only a red flag it means do not swim. Clearly it pays to know these things but also explains why many holiday makers stick to their hotel pools.

We had a recommendation to go to a local restaurant in the evening. This allowed us to walk along the sea front of the town. Alanya has some interesting play parks along here and quite a bit of street art including this:

I just found her fascinating. We also saw our first cicada (August bug). In all the years I have lived and visited Turkey I have only ever heard them. This one was clinging to an Oleander.

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It amazed me how big it was and how I had never seen one before, despite them waking me in the summer. They are amazingly loud and this one meant I finally understood that it wasn’t always lots of them waking me. Luckily the boys were equally fascinated by it, and later by a huge metal one in yet another park area.

The restaurant recommended to us had amazing food and, for a family of five, potentially eye watering prices. But again, the lira had plummeted further and so a fabulous meal that included a lovely glass of rose for me, was less than £50. We decided to walk back along the beach to have a last paddle. The castle and walls were all lit up making that part of town look pretty. Paddling was fun till Lai announce he had lost his sandles because he hadn’t bothered to carry them after taking them off (can’t make this stuff up).  Then later the sand turned to shale whereupon M announced ‘this isn’t fun anymore’. Thankfully it turned out we were very close to our hotel.

The last leg of our journey was back to Mersin. It had been five years since we last drove that way and the roads were horrible then, with the new road still under construction and tantalisingly close. This year however, parts of the new road have been opened. It still took us eight hours but that was because we had a couple of long stops along the way. This time I did all the driving, even the mountain roads that I had handed over to M before because they had scared me so much.

Our first stop was at the campsite where Fatso had found hermit crabs years before. Unfortunately they no longer allowed day trippers in. We double backed to a beach lower down the road. Fatso ran down and got soaked, coming back up only for a picnic that was meant to be a snack but turned into 11am lunch. The borek I had bought from a baker in Alanya turned out to taste weirdly of fish. Smelly and Lai couldn’t be bothered to go down to the beach so I wandered for a paddle but after seeing M was scouring the areas with bags and filling them with other people’s rubbish I started to do the same. He filled four bags in less than 20 minutes and I filled two. Needless to say, he did not feel like paddling after that.

I carried on driving and soon found we were avoiding the worst parts of the mountain by going through the newly opened and very long tunnels. The boys celebrated as we finally entered the provincial boundary for Mersin and we were soon in Aydincik. M then announced that there was an amazing cave we could visit. So, I agreed to come off the main road and discover this treasure.

Absolutely no need for cynicism. This time Turkey delivered big style. First the very scary views with people taking rather precarious selfies and me screaming at the boys to come away from the edge:

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Previously there was no way to access this cave other than by boat from another accessible bay nearby. Now there is an access road and facilities. The cave it turned out went very deep into the hillside and the steps they had put into the cave took sightseers far down so they could see the inner lake.  The cave is filled with the most amazing stalagmites and stalactites, which on the translated info boards are called drip stones. Smelly reminded us that stalactites hold tight to the ceiling and stalagmites might reach the ceiling.

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It was one of the most amazing places I have seen in this country so far. It’s now two hour’s drive from Mersin, thanks to the new road being mostly open. It is a long hot walk down with many steps, and even more inside though. You do need to be reasonably fit to go and there is no access for people with disabilities. But it’s so cheap. It cost us 25TL for all of us to go in and they don’t let you go down without a bottle of water. The photos above don’t even show half of what we saw.

These caves, seeing old and meeting new friends, and discovering other new places, definitely made this trip from west to east worth it. Now though, we’re back in Mersin. With a Bayram and a birthday coming up, plus those caves to compete with, I’m note sure we’ll find many new treasures this year. But let’s see.

 

Posted in culture, Family, Food, Mersin, Touristing, travel | 1 Comment

And so, its time to go (again)

Once again we have to leave. M would have liked to stay longer but the boys have to be back and school and I have to go back to work. So, like the storks, we are migrating back. While they are off back south, we head north to a cooler climate. We managed to see the storks this year as they set off on their migration, it’s an amazing sight and for a massive bird they are very graceful in flight.

This year has perhaps been the most relaxed I have had here for quite a while. That may be due to having three weeks to myself while the boys travelled around Turkey. But what is quite surprising is that this year I actually have a list of things I will miss, in no particular order:

Scents of jasmine and fig trees. Nothing quite beats the wafting scent of a fig tree as the fruit are ripening. While in Gozne we kept catching it on the breeze but could not see a tree nearby. In Troy standing under the fig tree means you are surrounded by this glorious smell. As for jasmine, that is a beautiful night time scent that follows you on evening walks. There is something about scents that are released at night that make them magical.

The swimming pool. I say this but I also know that they empty it as soon as the kids are back in school here, around mid September. It’s a shame because Brits would probably like to carry on using it till November. Lai had wished we could get a magical crane and take it back home but he didn’t quite understand that perhaps he wouldn’t like to swim when it wasn’t heated by the sun. I think the reason this is the first time I will miss this is because, despite the 17 rules (they have a new board so they are much clearer) it feels more relaxed and pool guy is not constantly on his whistle. He even ignored me wearing my sunglasses in the pool because I can’t stand the glare from the sunlight on the water if we go down in the morning.

Night swims. These are always a favourite. They aren’t quite as peaceful as they used to be as more people are taking their kids along. They have also changed the pool lights to blue this year and that gives it a different feel. Nothing quite like floating on your back, breathing in jasmine and watching the bats fly overhead or the stars appear.

Being totally cut off from work. This has probably made me more relaxed. Last year I was working so it was hard to switch off even when my annual leave started. this year I was totally uncontactable. Given that the past few years have been very stressful work wise and I haven’t been able to disconnect, which was really what I needed.

The sea. This year as we drove to Bogsak, the further away from the city we got the brighter the sea appeared to be. It felt as though it was a turquoise that was almost crystal-like. Seeing that can’t help but make you feel more relaxed.

Of course there are several things that I won’t miss, so let’s have a few awards again:

Most unidentifiable thing: a mysterious smell of wee. That’s right, a very strong pong of urine wafting through my window each day. At first I thought it might be the balcony drain but after putting bleach down, and the fact that it wafted in from the opposite direction made me realise that was not the origin. Sadly I have not been able to find the source and no one else seems to be able to smell it. And it is definitely not coming from me!

Things I will miss least (apart from the obvious) = This:

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Turkish electrics. I simply cannot understand why they have such a crappy system. They are forever falling out of the wall and regularly spark when you remove the plug. If France and Germany, and frankly most of Europe, use the two pin plug system why is it that Turkey has such a crappy socket system? looking forward to sockets that stay in the wall.

Most persistent irritation: (Obviously) Bloody turkish drivers. I know I say this each year but I just can’t believe half the things I see. Mad lorry drivers trying to chase me off the road (his lorry may have been registered to the Netherlands but that was no Dutch driver behind the steering wheel); parents who put a child in a car seat but neither strap the child in or fix the seat into the car; racing up mountain roads without a care for themselves or anyone else; and best of all the moped families where dad wears a helmet but wife and kids?

Strangest feeling while here: that even skin is too much to have on. I know it hasn’t been the hottest year here but it has been pretty close. The real killer is the humidity though. This is the first year I have felt that removing some skin would have a cooling effect. Obviously there would be other dramatic consequences but even so, it’s not a country you can wander around starkers (even in your own home–some people have a tendency to leave the front door wide open).

The ‘vaguely frustrating award’ goes to:

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This book. I bought it while at Hayfest because they had run out of Elif Safak, who I had gone to see. It sounded like a Turkish version of Thelma and Louise. Normally I get through a couple of books in the short time I am here but this took me ages. The ending is really good but working up to it was hard work. I nearly gave up 300 pages in. First work of fiction that can send me instantly to sleep, normally non fiction is guaranteed to cure my insomnia. But then I have been drifting off for little naps quite easily here. Clearly I am becoming a biddy. Even worse, I am now reading And the mountains echoed and have a distinct feeling I have already ready it.

Happiest time: meeting another Brit in the site, even for the short time she was here with her son. My boys and he played really nicely together and he even celebrated Lai’s birthday by coming bowling with us.

Nicest meal (and cheapest): an evening out in the Syrian streets eating falafel, fette, humous and salad. Rather a lot of chickpeas but a nice break from cheese pide.

Most brilliant discovery: kolonya is the most underrated cleaning fluid. I’m using it for everything now. Even cleaning ladies over the years haven’t managed to sort out the mess on the bedroom doors created by someone sticking stickers al over them. My um would swear by her ‘sticky stuff remover’ but I have kolonya and that is way less toxic. I now also have clean doors, no tar on the car, and no permanent marker on my furniture. Get in!

Weirdest thing I discovered: Some Russian hooker retweeted my blog. I don’t really do twitter twatter, even though I have an account, so I am not sure why I looked today. But there it was, a notification that someone had retweeted my blog link and after a quick nosey I found out it was some Russian ‘lady’ wishing to give strange men a great time.

All in all I have really enjoyed my shorter stay in Turkey this year. But I am looking forward to going home (if not the flight). It will be nice to see my garden again and find out whether the bees have been busy this year. It will also be great to get the kids back into a routine and back to school. Sadly my lot do not switch to holiday mode where later nights translate into later morning waking times. Their internal body clocks are firmly set to 5am so they have maxed out and are thoroughly mardy now. Here’s hoping they sleep on the plane and on the drive home but for Smelly and Fatso even the fall asleep while in the car setting seems to have broken or they removed it. However, they have compensated for it’s loss by ramping up their ‘stir up into a frenzied hyper’ setting, which is not a great exchange in my view.

Things I am looking forward to the least: school uniform shopping. I have a day and haven’t even prepared by doing any online. Even if I had they would still need shoes and that part is most definitely something I would rather not do. Fun times.

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Everything changes 2

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Last week we drove up to the yayla in Gozne to visit M’s sister but I didn’t take my phone with me. As we drove closer to where she lives in the summer months we were shocked to see so many large construction trucks on the roads. We initially put this down to the growth of the small town and the increasing number of yaylas and villas being built. When we turned the corner we saw the real reason.

They’ve only gone a built a bloody great dam. And by the looks of things they have carved half the mountain out with it. To say it looks pug ugly is an understatement. Of course his sister is happy with this new development believing all the stuff about it being the only way to provide enough water. And while that may be true up to a point I can’t buy into it. To find out more just go and research Arundhati Roy’s essays on dam building in India. To give a very abridged summary: dams are outdated technology promoted by the world bank and those that are for hydroelectric purposes rarely produce the predicted amount of energy. Also, the promises of the water being for the public tend to be lies, as water hungry industries frequently come to build factories very close to the dam lake and reduce further the promised irrigation water for farmers.

Anyway, that aside, I wouldn’t mind so much if it also came alongside a message promoting water conservation. It’s not just dripping taps you see all over the place but constantly running taps. For a country that supposedly has little water, Turks seem to be very liberal in their use of it and lax in fixing leaks. Plus, it is just so ugly.

This year it has felt that wherever I drive there are great gouges out of the mountains in the name of progress. Either to build new roads/dams or to provide the necessary materials for all these huge projects. And yes the benefits of a wider road are ones I enjoy but that is only because it gives me more space to avoid the idiot drivers who think that playing chicken with the mountain is a great display of their masculinity.

Sadly I have little faith that following this devastating effect on the environment, the authorities will work to make sure they do some restoration. Why do I have such little faith? Because in this country they clearly are madly in love with concrete and the dubious progress it represents.

Gozne is growing, it seems impossible to stop. That is something I have known for a while as each year there are more signs showing new developments and more individual yayla projects popping up. But this monstrous dam was a real unexpected shock that has forever altered the mountain. Fortunately M’s sister’s yayla faces away from this towards the valley that eventually becomes Mersin. But turning your back on something doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Gozne might not be as historically significant as HasanKeyf, which is soon to be flooded and lost forever, but it perhaps shows some truth in the idea that by keeping everyone’s eye on Hasankeyf there are plenty of other smaller dam projects getting built with barely a whimper. This doesn’t mean that no one protests these projects but environmentalists have little political strength here. They are not helped by the fact that for most people they just want a way out of poverty and protecting the environment is not high on their priorities. That said, there is a growing awareness and social media is certainly helping. But for now progress comes in the form of masses of concrete and huge environmental change.

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Happy Bayram? Musings

This is the first time in a long time that we have been in Turkey for Kurban Bayram (or the feast/festival of the sacrifice), which is why we are staying slightly longer than normal. This is the Bayram I really struggle with because of the whole sacrifice thing. Everyone is in this big race to find a suitable animal to slaughter, usually a sheep but for families clubbing together or those who wish to show their wealth or greater piety a cow. It’s not just because I’m a veggie that I struggle, there are quite a few reasons.

I struggle with the idea of all these animals being slaughtered on one day. Islam being so prescriptive means that this is the day the slaughter must be done. But it also instructs people to divide the meat into thirds. One for the family slaughtering, one for the wider family and one for charity. The thing is, in a large family, when everyone wants to slaughter their own animal it does mean that there is rather a lot of meat to go round. The whole charity part is great and some people now make financial donations rather than kill an animal they don’t really need to. Yet, the very nature of Islam means that people will stick rigidly to the rules even if it makes no sense to–no difference with many faiths I suppose.

The fact that it all has to be done on a certain day is another part I struggle with. In the beginning there were few believers but now it’s the biggest religion in the world. So I find it hard to put together that God, who is supposed to be all knowing and all seeing, would make such a rigid rule that would end up with so many animals being killed in one day, and particularly at a time when preserving meat was not as simple as today (no fridges or freezers). I suppose it’s not that different from what goes on in abattoirs around the world each day but this isn’t always done in abattoirs. Many people prefer to slaughter their own animal, often in their own street or garden, even though this was banned years ago by the Turkish government. And, as a friend pointed out, perhaps it’s no different to the mass slaughter of Turkeys for Christmas and Thanksgiving, which are only shared amongst family. At least there is the important element of giving a good portion of the meat to the poor.

The whole idea of animal sacrifice to God bothers me. Which is odd given that, as a Christian, I should buy into the idea of Jesus being the ultimate sacrifice being human and everything. Not sure why that is more acceptable to me but perhaps I think about it in terms of Jesus being human and so having a say in what happened, whereas animals don’t, they are completely controlled by our desires (unless they are wiley and escape). Then again my own faith is built on quite a bit of doubt and scepticism that personally I find a healthy thing. If you don’t question and accept things as written then your mind is not open.

One of the rules about this bayram is that people are not supposed to sacrifice an animal if they are in debt or doing so gets them into debt. Unfortunately for a very prescriptive religion this appears to be one of those pick and choose rules that people frequently ignore. Many people don’t acknowledge they are in debt, often they treat credit cards as magic money and fail to see that when they buy an animal or pay the butcher with a credit card they are actually creating debt for their sacrifice. But then you can’t get people to understand this, in the same way that people will insist on fasting despite being ill, on medication, or any of the other reasons that Islam specifically says people must not fast.

Again, any of these things you can see in all faiths and people will pick and choose rules to suit them or not. Either way, we stayed for the bayram as M (and I) believe that it is part of their dual culture and we have always said we want them to fully understand both and not end up being kids with just two passports.

The boys are happy, they have been given quite a bit of bayram money, something they tend not to get when they are back in the UK. While they are busy working out how to spend it we did put a rule on it this year. M and I agreed that whatever M gave they would have to give away half to charity. Unfortunately when we explained this Fatso misunderstood and thought they only had to give 10 lira out of all their money rather than half their money from M each. He has been plotting for a while how he could afford a new Ben 10 figure and so this news has caused some disappointment. As for me, while I think it is important that they learn how lucky they are and to share what they have with others who don’t, I have been driven mad by his Ben 10 obsession because it is only because we are here and they have seen cartoon network again that it has emerged. Only a few months ago we gave away a load to charity because they never played with them. But it is their decision and hopefully it means he won’t be nagging me when his birthday comes around.

We have come up to the yayla in Gozne this bayram because Emine invited us for breakfast. My contributions were a peach sponge, lemonade, and some helva. Not really breakfast things but I have to use up some stuff before we go back to the UK. This led to a rather eclectic meal last night, so it’s nice to have a meal elsewhere that won’t cost us. It does also mean that I am here with a few but not all of the extended family. M’s other kids never visit while I am here. M’s brother has stayed in Germany and his older brother is in Bodrum. So we’re here with his younger brother, who unfortunately drives me mad and the boys don’t really like either. He has this horrid Turkish habit of grabbing the kids by the cheek and fails to understand that it hurts and then compounds this by laughing at them if they protest or cry. I hate this habit but his wife is no better because she has just grabbed Lai complaining he hasn’t said hello or given her a hug: why would he? He hasn’t seen you for over 3 years so has no memory of you. But being Turkish she doesn’t care to understand this and manhandled him, trying to force him towards him until I shout for her to leave him alone. I am not talking about a gentle tug here. All too often Turks do not understand that kids do not like you being right in their face particularly if they don’t know you.

Fatso has been really fascinated by the sacrifice element of this bayram and announced several times that he wants to witness the sacrifice or even do the cutting himself! I know that many Turkish kids do see this and perhaps it’s a good thing because at least them they fully understand where meat comes from and what it entails. Too many kids in the UK, and adults, merrily eat prepackaged meat from supermarkets and then balk at the idea of animals dying. “Oh I couldn’t eat a….” That is exactly my reason to not eat meat, if I can’t kill it myself I won’t eat it. But I do fear that Fatso doesn’t really understand what he is so eager to witness. He can be an incredibly sensitive boy and gets affected deeply by things that upset him, and this could be really upsetting. I doubt he will get to witness it but this could be an obsession for a while to come. The moveable nature of bayrams means that the next few summers we will be here for kurban.

This is also the bayram where Muslims are supposed to go on Haj/Pilgrimage. (I have similar feelings about having to do all this on certain days for it to be true Haj, to those I have about everyone sacrificing an animal on the same day but hey ho. M has announced that he wants to take the boys in a few years. This, I can see, is going to cause some arguments. Aside from the fact that Smelly is becoming more adamant that he is an atheist with humanist leanings, I really cannot agree with him taking them. For me a pilgrimage is a solemn journey that you can only take when you feel you are ready and have reached a point in your faith that you feel it is time. The key thing here being YOU. For me, it would be cheating or deceitful for the kids to be to be led to believe they have completed the Haj when they had not done it of their volition or had a deep enough knowledge of the faith to understand what they were doing. Many people may disagree with this and argue that children can make significant faith decisions. In fact, my former church now accepts children for communion before confirmation. A decision I supported but not one I necessarily would agree with for my kids, mainly because I don’t particularly buy into the child baptism bit. Plus I tend to think that it’s not a true faith decision if that is the only faith they have ever been exposed to. Let’s see, who knows what will happen in a few years time.

For now though, the kids are playing happily, their cousin has been told not to use them as an opportunity to try out his crappy English on them and to speak to them in Turkish, the men are on the balcony talking about whatever while the women have only just sat down from serving and cleaning, and the cock is crowing because he is in no danger of being killed anytime soon–no matter how much the neighbours may want to turn him into soup to stop his infernal crowing at ungodly hours.

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