Waterfalls, rivers and a police checkpoint

My fellow, and more regular, Mersin blogger–Janey in Mersin, recently posted this video advertising Mersin as a place to visit. The province itself is quite large and so some of these places are around 400km away from us. Many of them I recognised but not all. In particular there was one waterfall that seemed impressive. After asking Janey where it was it turned out to up in the mountains and we had past it on our way up to see farmer nephew.

I must be drawn to water. I lived close to the Bosphorus for a few years, and  now live close to canals, rivers, lakes and reservoirs.

With the waterfall being relatively close, we planned a trip. It’s in a place called Santuras, which translates as Saint Iris. Not being Catholic I know nothing of saints but no bother it was the waterfall I wanted to see.

We had hoped that we could take a picnic and have a wander. A quick chat with brother-in-law informed us that it wasn’t really a place to do that. The place itself is lovely, with glorious views up into the mountains. Our new purchase of binoculars turned out to be a good one.

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The waterfall is quite impressive. But no way as impressive as the video makes it out to be. In fact parts of the video are a demonstration in how it’s possible to make anything look good, recognising certain parts as I do. Sadly even a walk was out of the question. The waterfall is down a very steep hill, which most Turks drive down. Then there are a set of about 100 steps, that the local council recently put in. The steps then open out onto a sort of viewing area that is pretty much a dead end. Much to my brother-in-law’s amusement though, my boys were not deterred and aimed to get as close as possible.

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First they attempted a descent to the pool at the bottom of the fall. Not deep but slippy and I had no spare clothes so they didn’t go far but they enjoyed getting sprayed by the splash back and falling water. Then they attempted to climb up to discover caves. They were the only kids doing this so brother-in-law was busy saying ‘mashallah’ a lot. That’s pretty untranslatable but basically means he is impressed. They made the other kids look dull and unadventurous in comparison.

After that, with it being a dead end, there was the choice of turn back or head up to the restaurant. We chose the restaurant because part of it was on stilts and gave fantastic views of the mountains and valleys below where the water form the fall continued through. The restaurant was also part of a kiwi fruit plantation so we were surrounded by the vines.

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The restaurant also had its own fish farm for trout. But while the boys were amused by watching the fish in all the tanks, Smelly was less than impressed by the squat toilet. He is such a privileged western boy.

Our water based adventures are pretty topsy turvey, as I am not presenting them in any particular order. But as well as the waterfall adventure M was soon to be amused by my interest in this:

IMG-20160812-WA0005 An ice factory. Right in the centre of Mersin there is an ice factory. It’s not an enclosed place but instead, in this humid and sweltering city a guy is battling against the elements to produce ice. I made M take photos so all around though he was the nutter. He also took a close up of the Bici Bici motorbike (pronounced biji biji). He was there to collect the ice so he could go around selling his concoction of shaved ice, cubes of muhalebbi (a set starch and milk thing like blancmange with no sugar or flavour), and bright red rose syrup. I have tried it but it most definitely is not my favourite. Mersin bods love it though. Traditionally it’s made with mountain snow but now they shave ice from Emin the ice maker.

The a few days ago, because it’s part of our annual routine and at Dosh’s bidding, we went up to Doctor’s Place in the canyon near Limonlu (Lamos, or lemony as I like to refer to it). Finally managing to go on a week day meant it was much quieter. But for some reason M decided to scare me shitless with his exciting driving so I took over. All good until we hit the single dirt track, hairpin bend strewn section. Of course no Turk coming the other way will drive at less than 50kph and M was busy screaming that I was too far to the right and we would sink into the ditch. HA! now you know how being a passenger on a Turkish road feels.

We had a nice lunch and played in the river. This time no one fell in. Typical, must have been because I bought spares. Oh my the flies though, that is the biggest downside of the place, the bloody persistent, greedy flies. They are making improvements but I think they need to invest in some of those electric tennis racquet thingies. Die evil swines die! The boys asked me the point of flies, to this day I don’t have an answer. To me, of all the beasts the fly is the most pointless. All I could come up with was they are food for birds and spiders.

Dosh has been particularly grumpy this year and so started pressing to go. It was then we learned his croc must have gone on a journey downstream. We did find a fetching pink flip flop wedged under the platform in front but he decided he would rather just wear one shoe. We then decided to try and investigate further up the river. The picnic area has an interesting play park, read that as sad and dilapidated. So the boys played there for a bit attempting to all slide down the spiral slide together. Smelly fell out of a very similar one a few years back so I waited for a similar disaster to unfold. Thankfully it didn’t but I didn’t have my phone and M was too slow for a shot.

We headed away from the barbeque smoke and up to find the source of the river. Dosh wasn’t complaining about the stones on the track but Lai was moaning that he was tired. The river has been tapped for irrigation. Sadly aesthetics are not a priority so huge pipes obscure the potential beauty of the river. We did find a nice spot though. We climbed down to capture the table placed in the river directly under the sign instructing people not to do that. I persuaded Smelly to cross a very rickety bridge and go sit there. The other’s soon followed joined suddenly by another boy. I found a rock opposite that was a perfect seat and just above the waterline had ferns and other plants growing on it. As I looked into the clear water I saw a few waterboatmen floating about. Nice to have something unusual to show the boys.

After freezing our feet we headed back. Dosh did start to feel uncomfortable but despite our offers and attempts to fashion a shoe from discarded materials, such as other broken flip flops or water bottles and twigs, he rejected them all. Admittedly the twig Smelly chose had sharp spikes and so didn’t really hold the bottle in place. Dosh did not see the comedy in our efforts.

We ended our trip by washing at the abdess area of my favourite mosque–no one there so I freely walk around unheadscarved with no stares. M drove down the hill but later proved that he clearly wasn’t up to the task of getting home terribly safely so I took over again. This time though the police in Erdemli had set up a road block to check for elusive coup supporters. I would have been fine but not realising I was in the lane they had blocked off meant I got stuck as traffic in the left lane streamed past. Not being Turkish I don’t have the confidence to just edge out and hope they will not crunch into the front of the car, so M was being very helpful by shouting at me to ‘just go’. Panic setting in meant I didn’t realise I was also in 2nd gear at a standstill so stalled the car 5 times. I was actually thankful the police pulled me over. I was also very thankful that they didn’t care that the yabanci wasn’t carrying her driving licence. They were more interested in checking M wasn’t on their list. Satisfied we weren’t coup supporters they let us go.

 

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Que sera sera

There are times I wish I could be a bit more like Doris Day, but that would mean her carefully manicured studio image rather than the real lady. In fact, I think after events of yesterday I am far closer to the real Doris of disappointment than of happiness and fluffy clouds.

Things did not start well yesterday. To begin with I felt an abscess developing in my mouth as toothache built up on Sunday night. Thank goodness the internet was back again so I could look up emergency pharmacies (nobetici eczaneler) and find one really close. Thank goodness the pharmacists continue to defy the rules and hand drugs over the counter that should only be given with a prescription. Anyway, M acquired the antibiotics and some mystery painkillers that are probably some brufen based thing.

Next morning, after not a very good night’s sleep, I did not feel great. We had planned a trip to the beach as it was Monday–pool filtering day. I had the drugs and paracetamol as back up so we rather lazily got our act together. I very nearly pulled out of going altogether. Not because of the abscess but because of the kids. They have a rather annoying track record of not listening to a darn word anyone says. Then they wonder why the responsible adult has been pushed over the edge and starts shouting at them. I think 5 times at increasing volumes until full ballistic mode sets in would push most people beyond. And while I am certainly not a mum who asks my children in a soft, weird, almost patronising tone of voice, to do things, I do start polite and say ‘please will you do X for me?’

Cue shouty, sulky, in pain mum, who is now the bad guy for saying she hasn’t the energy to cope with this shit and wants to stay home with her solitude and a good dose of parental guilt. It probably would have been better if I had. The next few hours involved poor decision making, arguments, threats, and a walk out.

We had been told about a beach in a place called Bogsak (Bowsak is the closest phonetic pronunciation guide I can give as once again WordPress doesn’t allow me other alphabet options to type the silent g letter). We didn’t know much about it and M thought it was a stoney beach. Our new door selling neighbours–we bought a new door, another story– assured us it was sandy. M asked nephew-in-law who confirmed sandiness but said it had no facilities and had two restaurants that only allowed you to use theirs if you bought a meal. It was past Silifkele, 100KM away and so didn’t seem a great idea to me. I thought sticking with the small beach between Koryos and Kizkalesi was simpler. Oh man oh man.

We finally got in the car, drove for about 5 KM before realising no towels, turned back, got towels, then M announces he wants fuel, so another stop. Grumpy is getting grumpier but hopes once we start again the grump will lift. It did for a bit. M agreed to go to our usual beach but had wanted to explore the new one. The tourism ministry, once again, has given a licence to a bunch of people (I shall refer to as the beach mafia). We knew this from our previous trip, but that had been late afternoon. This was midday. 10TL duly paid for parking (rip off) we head through the gate. A sense or foreboding descends when I see two enormous speakers, so this was now ‘disco beach’. I hate loud music being imposed on me. I go to a beach, or the country for peace and tranquility not for thumping bass of really crappy music. We asked about the sun loungers, 30TL. That’s about £8, so yes, a rip off. I then spied the newly constructed cafe in the corner. These guys had gone all out on their take over. In fact they had taken hints from our site and created a whole list of rules, that are in fact against the law. Their licence does not turn it into a private beach. And so the fun began.

We sat under a tree, laid out the towel and started to put up a parasol. Along comes minion 1. Oh you can’t do that here. M pulls rank, tells them he is a lawyer, knows the law and they can’t force him to pay for theirs as it’s a public beach. Grumble grumble, off the minion goes to bring back more minions. Great, a fight. This time it’s about us putting up the beach shelter for the kids. Oh you can’t put tents up here. It’s not a tent, it’s open fronted, it’s a shelter. More minions. Apparently not just the tent but the colour, colour is banned. They say this is because it’s next to a historical site and this is a rule of the tourism ministry. But that is in the terms of their licence from the ministry, it’s not a ban for the public. Oh yes it is. M pulls rank with them all, we get ALL the stares plus a lady from behind the fence joins in to support us. I walk off to the sea because the boys have run off amidst all this and I need to find them.

It’s meant to be a blue flag beach but there is crap everywhere. Last time I felt like a bin man picking bits of plastic, bottles, bags, etc out of the sea and taking them to the bin. How it has gained this status I do no know. This time though there was scum on the sea. I did not have good feelings. M came to join us by the rocks. Lai seems to have rediscovered his ridiculous confidence level and was swimming everywhere in his ring, no matter how deep. I left the scummy water and went back to the tree to read a book. Three minions and a security guard now to threaten me. Nice. A bit of shouting from me, then opting to ignore them by saying ‘talk to my husband’. After I refuse to pinpoint him for them and only say that he’s in the sea playing with the kids, they wander off.

Round 4. More heavies and a lady with a lanyard round her neck. Turns out they went to the entrance to Koryos castle next door to drag her in to represent the tourism ministry. I tell them to talk to my husband. Any attempts by her to talk to me are met with a response in English from me, and not polite. I am in pain, my face is swelling, the incessent shit music is driving me mad, and the fact that they just keep coming back to hassle us pushes me over the edge. Smelly comes out of the water, I tell him to ignore them, to get dad and tell him  we are leaving. I start to pack up. M comes back with Dosh and Lai. Dosh tries to join in with the more arguing. I give him jobs, I carry on packing up while M argues some more. We’re ready to go. As we head for the car I pick the biggest guy of the beach mafia and tell him he has destroyed this place, it is not a family beach anymore.

Sadly the beach mafia are all over the country. I experienced this years ago in Oludeniz with a friend. She speaks fluent Turkish but the first time I saw her so angry and unable to speak in Turkish, was when a beach mafia guy was telling her we could not sit on the beach if we didn’t pay for a sun lounger. Or rather, that we could not move his tightly packed together sun loungers that were so close there was nowhere to sit if we didn’t. And if we couldn’t move them, we had to sit on them, and to sit on them, we had to pay.

The Tourism ministry makes money from giving licences to these people. It believes in return they get beaches being cared for. They don’t, it’s a joke. The beach mafia are there to make money and effectively turn anywhere they have a licence for into private land. That goes way beyond what their licence allows. And they are a mafia, the people who apply for the licences are connected. Foreign tourists see nothing wrong with this as it is convenient for them, it means they don’t need to bring or buy parasols or beach chairs etc. But they would soon understand if the same happened on a UK beach.

I was gutted. It’s not the best beach, it’s very close to the main road, but it’s sandy and you can walk out quite a way before it gets deep. It’s really good for the kids and not as crowded as the main Kizkalesi beach. The beach mafia have destroyed Koryos for us. Another place struck off our list.

We got in the car and M decided we should try Bogsak. It is quite a way away. Beyond where we went last year to go on the boat trip, which ended in Smelly being…well extra smelly and ill through seasickness. But it turns out to be the first stop for the boat trips, or the last. There are several bays, and one split by a river. One was surrounded by a hotel, effectively private so we past that. The next was surrounded by a campsite that charged 25TL for access. But the guy turned out to be a lovely human being who saw us consider and decided to tell us how to get in for free round the corner. A kind man not a money grabbing git. My faith in humanity started to feel a bit better.

We ended up driving in circles for a bit because his instructions were wrong. He said left after the mosque, when it was actually before. We drove past the river down to the bay but it’s mysteriously split into two–a very thin strip and then opens to a wider beach beyond, where we saw tents. How to get to the bigger bit was a mystery indeed. More pointless driving (my fault) confirmed that there was no access. People must drive along the beach and though the sea. This was confirmed when we returned and sat by the thin strip. Soon several cars past by us, determined to get to the bigger beach, no matter the damage it might inflict on their car.

I was tired, and as long as they didn’t run over the kids I was happy (ish). The sea was much cleaner it was properly turquoise, there was no pounding bass, and behind us were ramshackle caravans and huts for people who holidayed our style–simply. The restaurants were basic and not imposing. The kids could build brilliant sandcastles. We didn’t get the stares for being part foreign. There was a jetty and the boys found friends and enjoyed jumping from it. Despite my pleas not to, M dived from it. The views were lovely, a bit obscured by the huge road above on one side but basically rocks and trees down to the sparkling sea.

Perhaps I was seeing things so positively because I was tired. The drugs didn’t seem to be working that well and my face was becoming fat and lopsided. We left as the sun started to set. We had eaten salty sweetcorn, the boys had really enjoyed themselves, and I managed to read a massive chunk of my book (The House at the End of Hope Street, I heartily recommend it). The day had been saved. We will definitely return to Bogsak. But it was tinged with sadness too.

I have never asked M to pull rank, but someone has to do something about the beach mafia. They are a terrible blight on the country and too many people silently accept them.Watch out tourism ministry and beach mafia, you can try and bully us but we do stand up for ourselves.

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The Farmer and his farm

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This is Hayrettin. He is M’s nephew and has recently bought a farm. Neither his nor M’s family  come from farming backgrounds. He is learning this as he goes. Most people think he is mad. I think he is brave, energetic, and highly motivated. I also think that he should be congratulated for trying to do something no one else would dare to. I really hope he proves all his naysayers wrong.

He is the son of M’s sister Ayse, who died a few years ago now. Before that he lost his dad and elder brother. The past few years have not been kind to Hayrettin, or his elder sister. He has also struggled to try and find something that suits him. He has been a soldier in the Turkish army, commissioned not conscript. He was the first Turk I met who was fascinated by survival skills and outdoors activities. I’m not saying that there aren’t others like him, just that I hadn’t met them and the outdoors, camping, diving, survival lifestyle is not one you meet often here.

His dream had been to do a Ray Mears/Bear Grylls type TV show. Sadly that didn’t pan out. But this year he bought his farm. The farm he bought is certainly not an obvious or easy choice. It is past the highest village in one of the Taurus mountains just outside Mersin–Arslankoy. As it’s a village that we hadn’t been to before, we decided to go and pay a visit.

Arslankoy is quite a drive. They are still busy widening the road but haven’t managed to do it all, so precarious twists and turns remain. Often I think widening makes drivers even worse as they just think it is like a motorway and pelt along at mental speeds. We got to the village but didn’t know where the farm was, plus the mobile signal was pretty bad so calling him to find out didn’t work. After several shouty and pointless phone calls, plus a trip to buy simit and bread, we decided to ask the local butcher. I’m not sure if M asked if he knew the crazy (Turkish) yabanci who had bought a farm but he knew who M meant and gave directions–turn right and follow the road, carry on after the tarmac ends till you reach the end. That sounds like fun.

After joggeling along the dirt track for a while, with ominous scraping sounds coming from beneath the car, we had a sharp bend. I feared that it wasn’t wide enough for our car, plus it was very muddy so I also worried we would get stuck.

We got to the farm to find he has an enormous truck. I later learned that he also drives like a nutter, phone in one hand, and only went slowly down the hill as we left because he was behind us. His farm is basically up the side of a big hill. So far he has built a large and long hut to house his chickens and has fenced off a large part of the cherry orchard so that they can roam as free range. The chickens are still a bit young, so not laying regularly. He has also bought a couple of Sivas Kangal puppies to guard the chickens and scare the foxes. At four months they are already massive, but very cute. The cherry trees fruit a white variety, not often found on market stall here. But his plans are to replace these with Walnuts as he thinks they will be easier to manage and bring better profits.

After looking at the chickens, feeding the puppies, and scoffing some cherries, we went up further up the hill to where his has built a rudimentary home. To say it is spartan is an understatement. But the views he looks out over are simply fabulous. He is also blessed with being so far away from the village he could also be classed as living in a pure dark zone–perfect for star gazers. He described how he had a fantastic view of the meteor show at night. I would have loved to have stayed to see it for myself but in all honesty even I need a touch more comfort than he can offer.

His floors are bare concrete. He has two beds, both solid wood with no mattress or bed roll. He has one alaturka (hole in the floor toilet) with a hose pipe. His kitchen is a work top, sink and one gas ring. He is perfectly happy but the home is a work in progress as he has plans. He has already sunk a pool that he plans to make into a small swimming pool but at the moment it only houses frogs. He wants to put a swiss chalet style roof on top with panoramic windows to house guests. He hopes that at first his guests will come to help on the farm. Perhaps later he will build others as a way to make money.

It is a lot of hard work and investment ahead of him. Being so high up it is also significantly cooler, by almost 8 degrees, than Mersin. It felt blissful, like an English summer and it even rained on our way up. Proper rain with some thunder thrown in. He described how in the mornings he could not see the chicken house because of clouds that had come over from Mersin and settled and that you could sit and watch them roll away as you ate breakfast. In winter though he has snow to contend with, and this could leave him isolated. We’re not talking a smattering here either. No, it will be proper snowfall. the markers on the roads show how it can be metres in depth not centimetres. He is aware that he needs to insulate his home quickly and that his wood burning soba will work hard. He is not afraid of this. Having lived in Ankara during deep snow falls and -10 degrees and lower temperatures, with ineffective radiators and large drafts, I know how hard it can be.

My only wish is that he would take some courses rather than fly by the seat of his pants or rely on ‘advice’. Advice here can range from really useful to absolute uninformed balderdash. I think that is pretty universal really but a course or two would arm him so he knew which was which. He also plans to keep bees. So he was very interested to learn that M had started to keep bees himself just over a year ago.

After a picnic, chat, and wandering round it was time to go. Hayrettin had a weekend of diving planned. He is PADI certified but has now progressed to, and prefers, free diving. For us it was a bit more mundane. We were off to Findikpinari to visit the rickety wooden yayla and Uncle Mustafa again. We left really impressed and can’t wait to return, perhaps next year with sleeping bags and bedrolls to stay for the meteor shower next year.

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The kepekli pig

We have quite a few animals in the site garden. Mostly cats, not pets but strays. People in the site leave out food for them but they are still a sad, scrawny, unspeyed bunch that continue to reproduce and increase the sad scrawny stray population. Unfortunately there was one pedigree cat among them, which I am ashamed to say belonged to a nephew before he decided he couldn’t care for it and dumped it in the garden here. I haven’t seen that one this year. A pedigree British blue was never bred to be a stray and, taken from it’s mum as a kitten, could never be taught the survival skills needed that the stray kittens are taught here.

We don’t have dogs in the garden, thank goodness. There are dogs about that seem to roam in packs and bark incessantly at 3am. I’m not a dog person but I really fear stray dogs here as they do hang around in packs and can become quite territorial and aggressive.

This year though we discovered the garden also has a tortoise. We’ve only seen it once, much to the delight of the boys who have two as pets back home. Coming here as often and for as long as we do means that pets aren’t really practical. Having to find someone to take care of them while we are away can be a bind for the people we ask. Tortoises though are fairly easy to look after so even mum  is fairly happy to have them dumped on her.

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Here they are, our pets and a plastic cheese grater.

Anyway, back to the garden. Last week, my boys and I discovered something even more exciting than the resident tortoise. On our way to a night swim they pointed out something shuffling about in the garden. It turned out to be a hedgehog. The younger two had already seen a real hedgehog at school, when someone brought one in, along with eggs with chicks about to hatch and caterpillars in chrysalises mutating into butterflies as part of their spring educational stuff. They had never seen one in the wild though, and I had never seen one at all–that I can remember. So we all crept over and said hello, freaking the poor thing out so it froze, but didn’t curl up into a ball.

The Turkish word for hedgehog is Kirpi. The boys didn’t know that for some reason so I told them. Lai lai was particularly excited and kept talking about the kirpi. Except, he spoke so fast that I misheard him. The boys fell about laughing when I turned to Lai lai and said ‘it’s a kirpi not a kepekli pig.’

Kepekli in Turkish roughly translates as bran. Pig, well that’s obviously English. But now it’s stuck.

We don’t have a hedgehog, we have a kepekli pig in the garden.

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You couldn’t make it up

I lived in Ankara for nearly six years give or take. In that time I was lucky enough to make a few friends, most of whom have since moved on. So basically there is very little to keep me returning. But that is not the case for M. He still has family there as well as various friends and connections to draw him back. The trouble is our brood is a bit big to be manageable when trying to find somewhere to stay. Well, we could do the Turkish cram an entire family or more into a two bedroomed flat by sprawling on the roll out beds and taking up all available floor space. Except, well, we’re not that Turkish. It’s not that I would mind and the boys would probably find it really fun, but M’s family in my experience have moved away from that kind of thing.

We did all stay at his nephew’s one year, but I felt it was a real imposition for nephew’s wife (herself a non Turk) especially as nephew wasn’t around much. And M’s son did offer, after we had arrived in Ankara but sister/daughter was already there. That would have been 3+1+5 in a two bed flat where the second bedroom was really an office come playroom for him and his daughter.

So to cut a long story unnecessarily long, we made sure to arrange to stay elsewhere. At least M did. Now being who he is, he has the right to stay in any of the many state misafirhanesi (guest houses). We stayed in quite a few while doing our tour of the south east in 2001, there was only one that I walked straight out of but that is a tale for another day. All state institutions and industries have their own guesthouses, from parliament to the police, teachers to the electricity board and highways agency. I thought M had promised me parliament. It turns out we were guests at the state electricity board or TEDAS (TEDASH still can’t get wordpress to give me the letter for sh).

We arrive at about 8pm. I can’t actually recall the time but it was dark and my brain was fried. I’d stupidly let the boys have a very late night on Saturday in the hope that they would sleep for at least part of the journey on Sunday. How wrong was I? Instead we got Dosh demanding soup at the ‘best place ever’ despite having packed a picnic. He meant the service station called agacli, where apparently they did the best tomato soup. I really have to do some work on making his appreciation of food more sophisticated. Before the soup I had driven and we went past some great twisters forming in the fields. I would post a video but M only manage to capture the wing mirror and dashboard–I have no idea. After the soup M took over driving and the boys ramped up their level of irritating behaviour to max. At least Lai had the decency to sleep but as we got ever closer to Ankara Smelly and Dosh seemed to step up their level of hysteria. It wasn’t really helped by my pointing out a licence plate with the letters prt (pert or purt in Turkish is an onomatopaic word for fart).

So we arrive. Two boys in sleep deprivation induced hysterics, one dead to the world, and one completely brain fried mum. I don’t have massively high standards when selecting hotels. I’m happy if it has a bed, a shower, and most importantly is clean.

First impressions were that it was all a bit tired, and full of men. Hardly surprising as men dominate here and the only women I saw next day were all villagey headscarf wearers. So cue the stares again. Unsurprisingly they don’t have rooms to accommodate 5, so we were split into two. I took asleep child and gave M the hysterical two. Rooms sorted and paid for we then get the lift. Is it just me or does a lift with carpet on the walls say something about the place? I had misgivings. We got to the rooms, they were OK. They had a shower, one that I discovered in the morning didn’t drain properly. You know the kind; floods then the water sits, then suddenly it just decides to suck it all away in a monstrous instantaneous vacuum. The loo had this bizarre box behind it labelled ‘nano’ something or other. I have no idea what that was all about.

The room itself was very much designed for men, as many hotels are (ask my mum, she is always complaining about men designing rooms). Only one visible plug socket, lots of dark laminate furniture, and the most bizarrely positioned mirror ever. Standing you could only see your waist, and seated your chest. Clearly there is no need or desire to see my face. The beds were OK but an odd choice of greying bedspread and sheets that didn’t entirely cover the mattress, as well as a stain on the carpet, did not give me the sensation that this place was cleaned well. Plus lots of beige, beige never fills me with confidence. Beige is the colour that has lost all hope.

Shut my mouth, don’t complain, it’s cheap, it’s no Hilton but it’s cheap and even the cheapest places that could accommodate us had rather dodgy reviews on Booking.com.

I hadn’t realised though that the price did not include breakfast. So perhaps it wasn’t that cheap as breakfast was 10TL a head. I did feel that was a tad steep for a state place and 5 would have been fairer but the boys took one look as were full of glee: CHIIIPS! Yep, chips for breakfast. They were in heaven. Who knew chips were an acceptable breakfast food? Even if rather luke warm, chips and tomato ketchup made this guest house the best ever. It also gave me the opportunity to introduce the boys to the idea of soup for breakfast. That is a real Turkish thing. Smelly decided he was open to new ideas and would try this strange custom. Lai, however, discovered the nutella and so continued with his carb and sugar only diet. (don’t judge me, this child takes food stubbornness to a whole new level. He frequently doesn’t eat because I refuse to serve his preferred diet)

I was offered tea (blerch) never drink the stuff. Happy with water for the time being.

Turks can be a little, hmmm, stuck in their ways. It’s something I have encountered before but there are times when it becomes faintly ridiculous. TEDAS decided it was going to go for ridiculous. M asked for a coffee for me “oh no, sorry sir, we only have tea”.  Ok no coffee. A few minutes later I thought, really? no coffee, not even shitty Nescafe? M asks again. “No sir we don’t serve coffee” Really? none at all? “well sir, we have coffee upstairs in the coffee lounge”. Could you bring some from there to my wife here? “No sir, sorry sir. She can go upstairs and have coffee but we can’t bring one here”. Oh dear, they cannot break the separation of coffee place and non coffee place.

I would love to say it’s a state employee mentality “No madam, I cannot stamp your paper [even though the stamp is right next to me] it is not my job to stamp your paper. That is my colleague’s job, and he is on a tea break now, you will have to wait”. But sadly it’s not. Perhaps it’s an Ankara thing:

Can I have a cheese pide with tomatoes and pepper? “No madam, sorry we do not do that” Do you have cheese pide? “Yes madam.” Do you haaave tomatoes? “Yes madam.” Do you have peppers? “Yes madam.” Can you make me a cheese pide and put your tomatoes and peppers on it? “Oh no madam, we can’t do that.”

These are all real conversations. Admittedly they happen less and less these days. But ask for anything off the menu and you will see a fleeting look of horror. Or if you’re really lucky you’ll get a flat “no” where they simply cannot see the ridiculousness of what they then explain.

Weirdly, after the whole coffee place–non coffee place thing, I grew to like the slightly tired, carpeted lift, and overly beige TEDAS guest house. It sits in a era that is now fading in Turkey. It’s dogged refusal to move with the times for customer service, while embracing bizarre and apparently useless nano things for loos is almost endearing.

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It’s the bombs that will bring us together

The Smiths are one of the few CDs that we have in Turkey so it becomes one of our rituals to play their greatest hits on our travels, with the boys attempting to understand Morrissey’s complex lyrics. So their song Ask has especially apt lyrics towards the end that fit well with recent events.

Unless you have been living under a rock there was a certain major even that took place and almost scuppered our chances of making it here this year. Plenty has been written about it, and for a while at least it was all over the European newspapers. There is still at least one story per day in a non Turkish newspaper or on European TV news, but here in Turkey it remains a major story dominating the papers and television.

When we arrived in Adana and Mersin there was no real sign of anything being any different. Except perhaps for the number and size of flags flying. Mersin has always been pretty big on flag flying anyway but outside Bayrams they’re not often on buildings. They are now.

Since the event there have been a number of rallies. They’re designed for people, supposedly from all political parties, to come together for democracy. This culminated last week in the ‘unity rally’, which dominated all the TV channels, even the sports ones by interrupting coverage of the Olympic games. The big rally was in Istanbul and relayed to all the various towns and cities, including Mersin. We only learned about it because we past them setting up on Sunday morning as we went to church.

The bombs, it would seem did bring people together. Well, that is if you were invited. HDP (the Kurdish party) most certainly were not. Also, people who were invited but did not wish to attend have become persona no grata too.

The thing is, life appears to go on as normal, and nothing appears to have changed here, at least not visibly unless you are unfortunate enough to have worked for a certain institution that has been forcibly closed. The reality is that things have changed dramatically for many. Yet there aren’t clear, visible signs of it here. Cue the Ankara trip.

I have friends in Ankara who were at home while it was all kicking off. Some closer to the action than others. So while some just heard the jets flying overhead, at least one of my friends (who had only come over on their annual trip from Jakarta) were at home in Cankaya hearing the bombing. If you don’t know Ankara, and you certainly won’t know where they live in relation to the parliament, then to give some context their home is literally less than five minute’s drive from Parliament. Add to that the fact that parliament is the bottom of a big hill, with their home about 3/4 of the way up, then it’s a perfect amphitheatre to amplify the sound. Not great. What a time to pick to come, but then who knew this was all going to happen?

Ankara is certainly no Aleppo, not even close. But unless you go to certain places you wouldn’t even know a bomb had been dropped, let alone several. It wasn’t till I demanded we go to Ankamall to buy the kids some new clothes that we saw the first scarred building. The emniyet mudurlugu (or police headquarters) is a place I am very familiar with. Every year I used to have to make several trips to renew my ikamet (residence and work permit). It is right next to Ankamall. It has two buildings. One was very clearly a shell now, a high rise with almost no widows left and below it, where a concrete public security entrance was, now a collapsed mess of concrete and steel. The building now draped in two enormous flags and people walking by getting on with their daily lives. I didn’t stop for pictures, I didn’t want to be a gawker.

Next day M wanted to go to his old place of work to see the damage for himself–Parliament. It was an almost comical exchange with a policeman where he explained who he was and that he wanted to show the kids the bombed areas. We were allowed in. Quite a few stares, not many kids roam the floors of the parliament building, if any. What they saw made them finally understand why dad had been glued to the news endlessly and it was all about the ‘darbe’.

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This is just a few of the photos we took. The damage is in quite a contained area. It felt rather odd to take photos of this. The ornate doors to the debating chamber were damaged and had to be replaced with ugly cheap laminate. The grand front entrance doors and one side of the hall way were badly damaged too. Outside one of the glass boxes, where the ceremonial police guard in red uniforms, were cracked but the policemen still stood there.

There is now only one vehicle entrance open on the Dikmen Caddesi side, all the others are blocked off. The gardens on the street to the front of the building now have their paths cordoned off so the public can not get closer to parliament than the pavement of the street. The water cannon were also more evident than in the past on the roundabout outside. There are also bomb damaged trees on the Dikmen Caddesi side.

Weirdly at the back of the building it looks like they are clearing away bomb damage. But actually those buildings are the old MPs’ offices, long since vacated after a new building was finished last year. They want to demolish them but it turn out they are listed, so can’t. The interior of those offices are dark and gloomy, with very little natural light getting in. They are also a celebration (poorly) of brutalism concrete architecture. Had a bomb targeted those it would have meant they could demolish them.

Everywhere else is still pretty calm and serene. We went for a drink in the parliamentary gardens after getting kicked out of the AKP weekly meeting of the parliamentary party. Apparently they didn’t mind the kids being there, it was M and I they asked to leave. M took them back to hear the Prime Minister speak. Oh he was dull, a delivery style straight out of the 1950s, though not too shouty. His eminence still favours the shouty delivery, but just the very dull PM today.

On our way out we saw a room with with HDP flags, they were getting ready for their weekly parliamentary party meeting. Selehattin Demirtas, their leader had not arrived. I wanted to wait and try to meet him. From what I have read he is a great guy with a real understanding on democracy, who attracted many non Kurds to vote for him and finally get past the baraj to gain seats in Parliament. We waited a bit, but M wanted to get on and I had a friend to visit.

It was a sobering visit to Ankara this time. The bombs have created a sort of warped unity, or have they. I know many who have decided this event is the one to push them to leave. Not from panic but from a vision of the future that starts with: first they came for…..

Whether the ending is as they predict remains to be seen.

As for Morrissey, it’s a definitely a shame that it’s not love but it’s the bomb, the bomb, the bomb…………

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There’s a hole in my bucket

When I was a kid, my sister had an old fashioned portable turntable for vinyl records. The kind that is all retro and trendy now. Ours was boxy, faded red, and pretty old even then, but we loved it. We could pile on on 45s and have them flick down as each finished, till the last one was a wobbly mess as we had piled on too many. We didn’t have too many records of our own. We had a rather bizarre collection made up of most of our dad’s old records from the 1950’s. In between Elvis and The Beatles we had strange American comedians and this one. I’m not sure why we kept playing it, it is after all incredibly irritating and repetitive. Today though, it pretty much sums up how I feel.

I’ve been lucky enough to work from home for over 5 years now. It gives a lot of flexibility, and apart from last year, allows me to come on our annual trek across continents without taking unpaid leave. The main downside of working from home is that it can be quite isolating. When I was working part time I didn’t feel that so much. The boys were still young and I had plenty to do that was quite sociable. Other jobs meant a one or two day commute, so it wasn’t fully home working but I had a bit of the best of both worlds–being social in an office and isolated at home.

Now though, my job is full time. It means I have less time for social stuff like meeting other mums or doing the school run. I can hardly complain, my hours are flexible, I don’t have to spend time in traffic, and I’m there when the kids get home. Most of the time I don’t feel isolated and enjoy the flexibility.

Yesterday though, I felt like the bottom dropped out of my bucket and it was the first time in a long time that I felt quite isolated. Usually when I hit a snag or get some criticism, I just plod on, or have a rant to a friend or colleague, or mum. I can get out of the house and blow the cobwebs away, have a cuppa and a moan, and put the world to rights with someone. I don’t have that here. And sometimes, when your buckets gets a hole, you need someone to take you round in circles while you explain how you don’t understand how to fix it, hopefully to find that the first step isn’t to have a bucket without a hole–which is exactly what you don’t have.

This should the  be followed by another friend suggesting you get off your bum, chug a vodka jelly shot and dance round the retro turntable to the scratchy sound of the Swinging Blue Jeans.

I really should get out more.

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