Crazy yabangeeelar

Only living boy in New York  (this link contains other tracks too, unfortunately I couldn’t get the single track links to work because….Turkey)

For ages I thought this song was ‘only little boy’, not quite a classic Peter Kay mishearing of a song but regardless it describes how I frequently felt while living in Turkey. Particularly in Ankara. In the end my perceived isolation was what really drove me to fight to get out. I did have friends but it was a bit like moving to London and having friends, then finding them scattered throughout a sprawling mass of a city that takes ages to cross and is incredibly costly. In addition, the limited number of foreigners and fleeting nature of expats, as well as the expats always having way more money than the rest of us plebs, meant they just didn’t get why some of us couldn’t nip to starbucks for their weekly catch ups.

Moving back to the UK and having Mersin as a base for when we come to Turkey, now means the lack of foreigners or fellow English speakers is not something I am too bothered about. I do notice that there are decidedly fewer here than in Ankara but then perhaps that is because I don’t feel the need to seek them out. Our Mersin base being away from classic tourist areas of the west has its advantages in that I don’t have to see the more embarrassing elements of the ‘Brits on the lash’ culture, or ‘what goes on holiday stays on holiday’ rubbish that does quite a lot of harm to those people who live in the country all year round. It also means that I have never got sucked up into the bitchy expat set that some foreigners report, or have to put up with those who decide Turkey is a great place to live only to find – shock horror – pork is not on the menu.

Of course that paints a very stereotypical picture of Brits overseas and not a particularly pretty one. I should point out that I have met some brilliant people over the years here and continue to do so. I really admire those of my friends who love it here and have set up really great lives. I also admire those who understand and respect the fact that I always felt like a square peg here and never quite grew to love the country.

Since buying the flat here I have met some foreigners though. In our first year there was a curious old lady who seemed to have a vague story of trying to avoid some dodgy German Turk that she felt may hunt her down and destroy her life. Never got to the bottom of that, although I did keep her card which described her as some kind of spiritual life coach. I avoided following that one up. Then there was the English speaking Turkish lady with a daughter who sort of befriended me at the pool, when it was convenient, but who was trying to sell her flat and never saw her again the next year.

More recently there have been a couple of black girls who seem to appear on Sundays and speak English. I haven’t yet worked out who they are connected to and because they are girls my boys go all silly and avoid them.

For the most part I try not to speak too much English. Not because I am trying to avoid drawing attention to myself – that would be utterly pointless given that I stick out like a saw thumb with my blue eyes, blonde (ish) hair, and appalling attempts at preening. Rather it is a vain attempt to encourage the boys to speak more Turkish when out and about, to try and encourage the other kids to play with them, and to stop Turks (both adult and child) from using my kids as an opportunity to use their appalling English. So for the most part, attempts to communicate with me and the boys are met with responses in Turkish and a request to speak to the boys in Turkish not English.

Today though was different. A small family, clearly listening to us, came over and asked where we were from. I couldn’t possibly respond in Turkish as the woman spoke with a thick London accent. Wow a proper yabanci. And on replying she turned to her husband and said ‘Northern, I thought so’ (midlands actually, northerners don’t like midlanders saying we’re northern but she is south of the Watford gap so all of us are to her). From that point we had a really good natter. They don’t live in Mersin either but have family in  our site. What was really good about meeting her was that I discovered that many of my worries for the boys she mirrored with her son: Turks not playing with him and excluding him; other kids not speaking Turkish to him; husband having a humungous family, and so on.

Not only did we have a good old natter but the boys seemed to get on really well. Her son is an only child so feels quite lonely in Turkey. So my boys have already arranged a play date and they’re all really excited. We even managed to arrange to meet in a park this evening for more nattering and playing. Her son is a bit younger that Lai but physically much bigger – not hard given that Lai refuses to grow.

It makes such a change because often I will meet someone but the arrangements to do something together never materialise. Sadly, as they only come to visit family they aren’t staying as long as us, and may not come back next year. But for now it’s really quite nice to have someone who also sees herself as the crazy yabangee, managing kids and a husband’s extended family. Plus her whistling loudly to call the kids back from running off made me feel less weird about sticking my head out of sister-in-law’s yayla window to shout at M, who was sitting in his aunt’s yayla a bit further up the hill. Fellow fishwives.

Have another song why don’t you

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Big fat hairy monster

Each year before I arrive, or even after I arrive, I get sucked into the world of pointless vanities. For the most part I am not a laydee and I struggle to find time to get my hair done, let alone nails or other stuff. In fact my hairdresser in the UK tries her best not to say no when I fly in on a Saturday asking if she has any possibility of squeezing me in. Yep, that organised am I that every 3-6 months I finally think the mop on top of my head needs taming but still don’t get round to organising an appointment beforehand. So utterly useless am I in that department, that when a friend posted on Facebook about taking her daughter for a manipedi I couldn’t work out what on earth she was on about.

I call ladies who manage to preen themselves the nails and hair ladies. Partly because I am in awe that they can find time or have childcare to escape their brood for the necessary time to get this stuff done to themselves. And partly because I see it as a futile waste of time, money and effort.

In the UK I get away with it because I don’t tend to hang around with the nails and hair ladies. And none of my friends tell me that I actually look like a shocking bag of shit that should sort herself out. (I can’t be all that badly composed as a woman chased me down the street the other day to tell me she loved my jacket, perhaps she had a shock when I turned round but I’ll take the compliment when it comes).

Turkey though is a different matter entirely. Whereas in Blighty I can get away with certain things by wearing trousers, jeans, or thick tights for much of the year, that isn’t going to cut it here. Plus, I have yet to meet a Turkish woman, other than village types, who don’t preen.

They like to get ‘kuaffed’ (quaffed), as I put it. They go to their kuafor (hairdresser), who’s usually male, and their hair is boufant. Big hair is big here, no flat as a pancake, straight as a die style here. Back combing, big curls volume ladies, volume, as much as you can create. Doesn’t quite work for me with my fine, straight hair that flops with even the whiff of moisture in the air. When I got married in Ankara the hair dresser spent hours roasting my hair in one of those 1960’s dryers, back combing, sticking all manner of pins in it. After all that it should have been a nightmare to comb through at the end of the night. Ha! Nope. Took all the pins out, ran a comb straight through it, style vanished instantly. And that’s in a dry city. In Mersin my hair flops while I am doing it, and that’s even if I’m doing it with the aircon on.

Then there’s the waxing. Everybody waxes or epilates here. No stray hairs in site. No memes about furry trousers and summer coming for Turkish ladies.

And…add the judgemental looks. You know how I have previously said that commenting on weight gain is a passing comment here? Well that is only the tip of the iceberg. And yes, I know, all women are just as bad. It’s a universal rule that women are just the worst at judging each other. Most of the time I ignore it but for some reason I find it a lot harder here. While I am tempted to respond to “you’ve put on weight” from relatives with ‘so have you’, I am good and hold my tongue. The one that always gets me is when I put make up on (rarely) and instantly get told “oh you look so beautiful with make up”, thanks for that. I also get told I should wear it more often or, better yet, wear more of it. Make up is frequently applied with a palette knife here or so it seems to me, given that I wear so little.

So when the time comes to get ready to come here I fall into the trap of preening. I actually think it will be fun, that somehow I will be transformed from a manky, middle-aged, mum of three into something beautiful, or at the very least a tidier version of myself. It doesn’t quite work out like that when I find myself staring in a mirror at myself with wet hair slicked back as it gets cut revealing a face that feels like a balloon. I even subject myself to having hot wax slapped on my legs so the hairs can be torn out. This won’t hurt, this won’t hurt, I’m hard, I’ve had it done before and it hurts less when you’ve had it done before – yes but that’s when you have it done frequently not once a year and the hairs have made sure their roots are well embedded once again.

Ok, ready to board that flight with my hair and legs, no nails. I can go in that pool and feel only vaguely judgemental eyes looking at the yabanci. Except….it never quite works out that way. Is it me or is waxing just a con? Or I am just going to someone who’s a bit crap? I thought it meant hair free for weeks. Ten days in and I’m beginning to look like the Bigfoot.

I can’t be arsed, and can’t afford, to go through all that unpleasantness again. Plus I really don’t want to subject a judgemental Turkish waxing lady to the state of me. In England they may say “Oh, I’ve seen worse” but I never believe them and am utterly mortified through the whole thing. Plus, I still have the remnants of the delightful massive graze from my humiliating fall and I’m not sure I could subject that to unnecessary pain, especially as it’s all gross and peeling. Ew.

Out comes the razor. New. I have no idea what I do wrong, I mean I have done this countless times before. OK the odd nick but even so. Somehow I seem to have ripped my legs to shreds. All these bright red dots start appearing, and blood. Not masses of blood, just dots that become round and start scabbing. What the hell have I done? I’m supposed to be taking the boys to the pool, there’s no way I can go like this.

After a bit of a think I decide a cologne soaked wet wipe is the only thing that will take the blood off and hopefully prevent a rebleed. Painful but effective. Now I just have angry, bright pink dots all over my legs. I am looking goooood.

Ah well, off to the pool I go and hope the judgey housewives ignore me. Well they will but they’ll still stare. Oh what the hell, it’s not like I don’t have cellulite and ever increasing varicose veins, what’s a few hundred bright pink dots to add to the look.

I either need to get better at this preening malarky or just give it up.

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What’s yours is mine….

Turkish people love to talk about how sociable they are and how important family is. Family can sometimes verge on the Mitchell’s from Eastenders side of “we’re FAMLY” but for the most part there are a lot of upsides to having a large and supportive extended family. For some yabancis becoming part of the extended family is a really great experience, while for others they will always be the outsider with the famly thinking they will steal their precious son to another country.

Yet, even for those who have a great experience, they soon encounter the fact that their belongings are no longer theirs. For most Turks this is sort of normal but for foreigners this can be really hard to get your head around. I have heard stories of family members thinking nothing of going through the gelin (bride’s) suitcase in the hope of finding some treasure the gelin is then guilted into sharing, never to be seen again. Other stories involve husbands buying their wife a car only to discover that they can’t use it whenever they want because it’s not actually theirs and anyone (male) from the family can use it when they claim to need it. On the flip side the family may be keen to share with you and you find yourself having to accept stuff you really would rather not have, but then that’s only the same as getting  really ugly Christmas present that you have to try and smile and be thankful for.

The whole sharing in the family thing is mostly great for Turks, and it can even extend to close friends, but…….

It kind of doesn’t extend to community in city life. There is a point at which what’s yours is mine but what mine will never be interfered with. And this is a classic example:

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The view of our roofs (wonkiness due to bright sunlight and guess work)

Pretty ugly? This is a really common site all over Mersin, as well as other cities. Flat roofs full of satellite dishes and solar hot water systems. Each block in our site has 28 apartments, so each roof has 28 solar hot water systems and 28 satellite dishes.

I complain a lot about the site management here. They love their rules and increasing the service charge. But recently they have started to make a few quite sensible decisions. (Still a no on fun in the big pool but choosing battles and all that). The thing is these decisions fly in the face of what the Turks here find acceptable and they are fighting the Turkish equivalent of  NIMBYs.

The management want to do two things:

  1. Get rid of all the individual satellite dishes and have communal ones for the main satellite TV providers.
  2. Get rid of all the individual solar hot water systems and have a single shared one.

It has been well over a  year since they made the decision but nothing has changed. People do not want to share. Perhaps they are concerned that they will pay for hot water that they don’t use on a shared system but that is hardly a reason to hold out.

In terms of the satellite dishes they really don’t want to share. It might be that they naively think they will have to pay for systems they don’t want. And as far as DigiTurk goes I am with them all the way. They are one git of a company that merrily screws people out of thousands of lira when they try to end their contract. If you do escape your contract they come back months later claiming you haven’t paid and demanding thousands of lira more. Put up a fight and they send their lawyers in, and they win-every time. It has happened to countless people I know.

But M says it may be more to do with the fact that some people don’t want the big providers at all. Rather they want Arabic or Kurdish channels. Even so, it’s all doable and would reduce the number of dishes massively.

The management may even be forward thinking enough to think that if they can create enough roof space they could then put solar panels for energy up there. Lots of businesses are doing it, the car dealership over the road for one. We also saw quite a few solar fields on our travels across country.

I am not sure how long it is going to take to persuade the other people living/owning apartments here. I am quite disappointed to find they haven’t managed to do it already. Then again, things don’t exactly happen quickly.

If we were a small block full of family making the decision, all would be well, things would get done – at some point. (I say all would be well, it would probably involve quite a bit of male posturing, chest puffing, and even fisticuffs but you know what I mean)

For the time being though this place does not have the sense of shared community of the village and so what is theirs is definitely staying theirs.

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A little bit of magic

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This morning I found this on my chest of drawers in our Mersin flat. It brought back memories of last year and a reminder to be more careful when I buy things over here.

Last year the boys went up to Ankara with their dad for a few days leaving me alone. I like to make the most of these rare occasions as they allow me to nip out and get a sneaky beer and basically do nothing except eat badly and read books. Sometimes I even venture out to a local shopping centre. I am not a great shopper but browsing while not having to heard cats can be a sort of treat.

The trouble is that M often thinks that I am not capable of this type of adventure alone. He forgets how long I lived in this country and got quite a few buses and dolmuses by myself. So he tries to be helpful. Usually this involves persuading a family member to give me a lift or even accompany me. I should be grateful for this help but it then means that this person will stick to me like glue and I end up trailing round doing what they want. This can be quite distracting when I actually want something as I either get lots of advice or feel guilty for taking my time.

On this occasion the help came from niece, which meant I had to contend both with her ever so slightly crazy driving (and added little child not in car seat that always freaks me out) and her children. Hmm, thanks M for that not herding my cats but having to put up with “I’m bored” and “can I have…” and “Annneeeee ya!”

So…I was a little distracted. Wouldn’t have been so bad but this time I did actually want something. I had lost my lip balm, my really useful sunscreen lip balm. Simple thing to try and find but most of the brands were foreign and that means extortionate prices. Well relatively extortionate. They’re probably similar to prices back in Blighty but I wasn’t there and didn’t want to pay UK prices in Turkey. Plus anything that smacks of foreign sun screen seems to double the price. Being tight I felt resentful at the idea of paying more than a £1 for glorified vaseline. That is when I spotted Watson’s ‘magic lip balm’. Ha! Up yours Nivea. Except……I didn’t notice the word magic or really register what it meant.

Back home again, after another hair-raising drive courtesy of niece, I went to the balcony to enjoy being alone with a book once again. Remembering my dry lips I got out the new stick and liberally applied. Little did I know what magic took place. I have no idea how but the magic lip balm had got on to other parts of me. I noticed a bright pink streak on my arm and another on my leg. At first I thought I was having some weird allergic reaction. (Yep, bit slow on the uptake at times).

It wasn’t till I happened to pass a mirror I realised that I had transformed myself into Coco the bloody clown.

This year, I remembered the magic and carefully put lipstick on the pig while looking in the mirror. I also put some on Lai. And yes, it does go as pink as the picture.

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A big wooden horse and a bunch of rubble?

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A trip to Canakkale wouldn’t be complete without going to Troy. And since Fatso is our budding historian/archaeologist we simply had to go.

A visit to Troy is actually split into two parts: The archaeological museum in Canakkale city centre; and the main archaeological site of Troy about 25 km south of the city.

Because we were visiting on our way to Ankara we didn’t have time to stop in Canakkale and it also meant any time in Troy itself was limited. We had woken up at 5am to get the 7o’clock ferry from Gokceadi and then the 9am ferry to Canakkale. The drive to Ankara would be another 8 hours according to Google maps and that was without the necessary stops. It’s a shame because we definitely could have stayed a lot longer.

Even though it is mid August, the Canakkale coast and Dardenelles get a lot of wind meaning it didn’t feel as hot as the 30 degrees on the thermometer. Plus the site is filled with plenty of mature trees, mainly oak and gorgeously scented figs, so lots of shade. Recognising that people will want to sit and take in the site there are also a good few benches under the trees.

Unfortunately Lai was to be disappointed early on because the promise of a big wooden horse did not materialise. In the car he had got increasingly excited about the prospect of pretending to be a soldier hiding in the horse to trick the Trojans. It was cordoned off and no climbing allowed. The signed said it had been constructed in 1984 but a friend told me she had heard Brad Pitt donated the one after filming his Hollywood blockbuster. If he did it isn’t here.

My kids have got used to being able to clamber over castles in the UK, but being a historical site with active archaeology continuing much of it is roped off. This didn’t bother Fatso, as although he also loves to climb and re-enact battles, he also loves to learn. For Smelly and Lai this became and exercise in testing my patience as they increasingly expressed their boredom. Unless you have kids like Fatso, who adore Horrible Histories and drink in history without having to touch absolutely everything or climb, I would say that this isn’t perhaps the best place to bring them. Fatso also faced disappointment when we encouraged him to ask questions of the archaeologists and was roundly ignored. Turkey has a long way to go to make museums and sites like these attractive for kids but it will get there slowly.

The site is well organised with walkways and ropes showing what is off limits. There are a few parts to climb on, such as the outer walls. The are just enough information boards with timelines and descriptions to give a good overview without overloading you. They also show just how long the city of Troy was around for and how it expanded. Most kids will just learn the story of the Helen and the horse. In fact, Trojan history includes way more than this and shows the city was there for centuries.

The site is on top of a hill that overlooks a plain of what is now farmland. From what we could guess most of this would have been covered by the sea in the past.

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Although it doesn’t look much when you first park up and enter the site, once you start to walk around you soon start to marvel at what they achieved. While quite a bit is piles of rubble, the archaeologists haven’t attempted to reconstruct it but rather they have revealed what is there and described it. Except for one part. When you get to the inner city walls, that would have surrounded the largest temple area they have recreated the mud brick walls to protect the existing ones. This is covered by a large awning and allows you to get closer than anywhere else on the site. Touching is encouraged here, sadly that didn’t thrill Smelly and Lai.

There are other temple sites and these were expanded and divided as the city grew. In one area there are what look like wells that are now covered with metal grates and sparrows dive in and out of them. Huge birds of prey soar above the plains below. In another bit you can see where the outer walls expanded as the city grew.

We easily could have spent a lot longer there. It would have been nice if the archaeologists were willing to engage with visitors. Especially as their current excavation they were uncovering what looked like water pipes. An earlier display had described how the Trojans used three types of systems to pipe fresh water to the city: stone, lead, and terracotta. We did see what seemed to be gullies that would act as sewers and only one clear path that was the entrance to the main inner city temple area.

Much of what you see at Troy is stone or mud brick that formed the foundations of buildings but there is some marble that remains in a few places. It would have been preserved for the visible parts of the building for ornamentation. And probably, as with most sites like these, a lot been taken over the years by people using it to build houses later, treasure hunters, and foreign archaeologists. Even so, the fact that they are still digging, and quite deeply too, shows that there is still much to discover and quite a bit preserved by the land that later covered much of the city after its destruction.

Fatso said he had read they had uncovered a mosaic recently. If they have they must have moved it to the museum. He was impressed by the amphitheatre. Not sure how much of that they put back together but they have added a wooden stage at the front. That may be for effect as it clearly wasn’t for clambering on and playing.

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I had been told that Troy was a bit of a disappointment. Whoever said that clearly has no interest in history. Ours was a whistlestop tour of the place but we could have stayed much longer. You can really understand why people chose to establish a city there, it’s a beautiful place and strategically brilliant as you can see for miles. It’s far more than a big wooden horse and a pile of stones.

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Gokceadi, holidaying Turkish style

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Our original plan was to pop over to an island on the other side of the peninsular for a night. Mainly because I keep hearing about my friends who still live in Turkey coming here for a holiday and because I haven’t visited many of the few Islands round the Turkish coast that belong to Turkey.

Although we got up fairly early and made it to the ferry port at Kabatepe by 9am it would seem that we were less than reliably informed and the ferry didn’t leave till 10:30. Also, it did not take 30 minutes but 75. I still don’t get this liberal with the truth stuff, why can they never just say they don’t know? On arriving we saw that there was a line for online tickets. We have since tried this online system for our return and I can safely say it does not work. Apparently, after calling the office it only works on Explorer. Who uses that browser these days? Well it didn’t work so we have given up on that one.

We made it and that was the important thing. We didn’t have a map but we did have google and some data that M was hiding on his Turkish mobile. Trouble is the mobile is about four centuries old and so the navigation was random at best so we just took to guessing. We found the apart hotel, which was a nightmare in itself because M seems to have picked one where their idea of graphic design was to spell out their name in sea creatures rendering it illegible. It got better though. Turns out M had booked the next night, so no place to stay and no rooms. I was in no mood for this shit. After the awfulness I had put up with in Eceabat for two days I was not about to hang about while we had already wasted half a day.

Next door said they had rooms, so I just stomped off, asked how much and arranged to pay in cash later that evening. In the meantime M was farting about trying to get a refund and I was moving the car and lugging suitcases. Apart hotel is a stretch to be honest. Basically its self catering at it’s most basic. But once again I didn’t care. As long as we all had a bed and a shower I was reasonably happy and this had both, with much more space as there were two rooms and a kitchenette. Fair enough the boys would be on sofa bed but they have extremely low standards and think everything is the height of luxury.

Vague happiness restored it was time for us to find a beach. The hotel owner gave us some vague instructions but driving up a single track hill with insane Turkish drivers coming at me from all angles I kept stalling, which enraged M. He forgets I have to get used to our Doblo which has a temperamental biting point and loves to be revved. He stomped off to discover that the beach we were heading for was, by all accounts a bit crappy. So armed with our ‘map’ that turned out to be a vague approximation of the roads on the island rather than a true representation, we headed off to try and find the beach. Turned out there are two of the same name but my repeated stabbing of the map showing the one at the bottom eventually got M to head in the right direction. That was after a debacle of entering the town to find 5 roads on a junction with absolutely no signs. I do love that. Seems to be a universal thing, they’ll signpost you to a town centre but not out of it.

We got to the right place in the end and I was soon as happy as larry. This beach had a huge sand filled expanse behind it for parking that made me think of my favourite beach as a kid: Aberech in North Wales. No men hovering to take money for parking, yay! But it did have facilities, one of them being windsurfing and kite surfing hire. There were wooden sunbeds and parasols, and they weren’t extortionate. This was holidaying for Turkish people without lots of money. No preening women, no poser men, just a bunch of families with cool boxes out to have fun. (Although I did see one woman changing her baby’s nappy using a surgical glove, ah well each to their own).

As soon as I plonked myself down on the beach, and wasn’t immediately pounced on by the sunbed commander demanding money, I knew I wanted to stay another night. Even if the hotel was basic, even if it did mean I would run out of pants before getting to Mersin, and even if it did mean that M would yet again have to change the Ankara reservation.

The boys went off to play, swim and build sand castles, while I had a bit of a plunge in the sea but discovered my arm hurt too much to swim. The whole of my right side was really battered. The sea was clear and bright and did a power of good to my grazed shin that was still fiery red. I fell asleep and the boys carried on playing. We didn’t leave till after 6pm.

There is a little port for fishing boats near where we are staying in Yeni Badem (New Almond). We wandered down to find expensive fish restaurants and watch the sunset. The boys were exhausted and Fatso decided he was going to demand the most expensive thing on the menu. I had to explain the concept of taking the piss to him. I had agreed to let him have one thing, swordfish kebabs, but he decided that gave him permission to demand the swordfish dish that cost a further 5TL. While the others had kofte because it was cheaper and Lai doesn’t eat fish, I had a glass of wine. One of those that tastes OK on holiday but would be rank if you bought a bottle to share with you horrified friends back home.

In the morning I thought we could make the most of our second day by finding another beach on the other side of the island. Laz Koyu beach, pictured above, can be found either by driving along the coast of straight through the middle. We chose the coast road and despite the boys moans of ‘how far is it? why couldn’t we go to the other beach?’, it gave us great views of the island along its mostly single track precarious road. The beach turned out to be a great find with lots of parking and no charges, cheap sunbeds, and lots of families with cool boxes. Again no preening and when I mentioned to M, when we left, the lady with dubious choice of swimwear he laughed and knew exactly who I meant.

Laz Koyu did not have as soft sand as Aydincik and I worried the boys would be fed up at not being able to make castles as they had yesterday. But I was proved wrong, they were as happy as larry and we had to drag them away just before 6. They all fell asleep on the drive home, when we took the straight through the middle road that allowed us to see the landscape change from barren hills to forest as well as a deep cut through the earth with a riverbed at the bottom. This island has what looks like an extinct volcano and plenty of hills that appear to be formed from eruptions and earth movement. There are old Greek villages and churches that we haven’t had time to see because we just needed a bit of time to slow down after all the rushing around.

We had been warned that the island was a bit dull with little to see. I am really glad we came though. Dull is what I needed, and my preference in a holiday when I need to wind down. It’s not somewhere to come for two weeks, especially if you want people, bars, and party atmosphere. If you want peace and quiet, and a slower pace, it’s a really lovely island to visit.

Update: I forgot to mention that the island also has a huge military presence. There are at least two huge army bases and associated buildings, such a social clubs. Personally I think this reflects Turkey’s ongoing feelings of insecurity. It’s not a navel base or even airforce but army. M explains this as being because it’s strategically important but in an age where warfare is very much airborne it feels odd to have such a large army presence on such a small island these days. At least it gave the boys some excitement to see all the tanks lined up. Even so, to say there are so many soldiers posted here it doesn’t feel too imposing as it does in other places, and they haven’t taken all the best land/beaches like they have done in other parts of the country.

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Lest we Forget – A Canakkale Tour

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This year we decided to have a bit of a holiday/trip to see parts of the country neither I nor the boys had seen before. So after a couple of days in Istanbul and the bloody great fall, we headed south down the Cannakkale peninsular. Our intention; to visit the battle fields of the Galipoli campaign for our history loving Fatso, who it turned out loves ancient history more, and for Smelly who has started to take a bit of an interest in military history.

M had booked a rather dubious ‘hotel’ in Eceabat. Eceabat is basically a port town which still sees it’s main purpose as being to ship and receive people from the city of Canakkale on the other side of the Dardanelles. It does not seem to have woken up to the fact that tourists pile in with the main purpose of seeing and hearing about the history of the area. As such the hotels are quite dire, in the town that is. Most of them being little more than back packer hostels and I am slowly beginning to realise that certain hotel owners don’t exactly put photos of their own places on booking.com.

Hotel and town aside, I’m not a massive snob and thought for two nights I can put up with it. A bed and a shower would do. More than that would have been very welcome but we had plans to be out each morning so that was that.

We were persuaded to take a tour with the one run by the hotel owner. He reckoned that even with a car a tour would be better as we would see more. The thing is there are two tours: a full day Turkish only tour, which it turned out vaguely mentioned the British, French and Anzacs while whizzing past any related sites; and the half day Anzac tour. We took the full day one as it’s only fair that the boys hear history from both sides. And hear history they did.

Our tour guide was a man boy called Volkan, who when he got on the bus I didn’t believe he was Turkish until he started to speak. And boy could the boy speak, almost non stop for the whole day. I think he took two twenty minute breaks while people were off the bus and either eating or free to wander in the time he gave. He had a lot of history to tell. the trouble was that I knew that Fatso and Lai couldn’t tolerate that much talk because of their age. A bit of an argument ensued when I managed to make Volkan understand that as long as he told us the time to be back on the bus we would wander freely and be back in time. M did not appreciate this and we had a bit of a set to but he eventually relented when he realised that trying to force bored boys to listen to Volkan’s spiel, that could last up to 20 minutes at a time, as they stood by buildings, was not exactly fun.

The first place we stopped at Volkan stood outside and talked for about 15 minutes then took us inside to see a video that lasted who knows how long. I decided to venture off on my own at that point and look at lots of objects then read the stuff beside them. I knew that the language would be quite jingoistic but even this surprised me with it’s descriptions of ‘superhuman efforts’. I mean this is a tour of war sites and most nations present stuff focussed very much on their own terms. Plus Turkish history does get told/taught with the purpose of building nationalist fervour, particularly anything that involves Ataturk and the birth of the nation. The thing was, where we had stopped was close to an Ottoman defensive fort, which I knew the boys would loved to have explored. And above where the museum was (a converted ammunition store) there were other buildings overlooking the sea to Canakkale. I took Fatso and Lai for an explore to find that they predated the conflict having been built in 1862. While we were there we saw another tour group below, outside the museum and suddenly they all started to applaud–not something I have ever seen on a guided tour unless the guide had performed some trick.

We didn’t have much time to explore before we were back on the bus again and going further south round the bottom of the peninsular. The next stop looked fun for the boys. It was another battlement overlooking the mouth of the Dardanelles with ammunition stores connecting seven gun positions. From here it was easy to see how the Ottoman army picked off the British and French ships as they attempted their entry up the straight. Now the view shows a wind farm on the other side but there were still rails where the enormous guns would be turned into position and the ammunition brought up from the stores. In addition to a monument to two key officers in the battle there was also the remains of a trench.

After a while I start to get history overload, which is why it might have been better to have gone by ourselves. It would have also meant that poor Volkan didn’t have to talk even more when M followed him with lots of questions, even during lunch. But M was really enjoying it and we went to a memorial garden, or as the Turks call it a martyrs grave but no one is buried there. ITtwas a peaceful place to wander and show the kids why almost 50% of the plaques had Mehmet Oglu on them.

While we were on the bus Lai was eagerly reading a brochure M had picked up for the “Canakkale Epic Promotion Centre”. This has to be one of the weirdest names ever for a museum/centre that explores the history of a region. Admittedly the brochure starts with a quote from Ataturk saying Turks must “build huge and colossal memorials” when the time and opportunity presented itself, so Erdogan was only doing his patriotic duty in opening this massive place in 2012. The thing is, although Lai is only 7 and can read quite well, he couldn’t understand a word. What he could understand was the tone. We often think that tone is lost in the written word but it certainly wasn’t lost on Lai. He was most impressed and incredibly disappointed that we didn’t get to go. As we past it, Volkan said it would take over an hour to go round it so I wasn’t sure if he was avoiding it because he wasn’t really in favour of it or because it would cut short his own talking time.

Just to give you a flavour of the brochure:

“Handing down such a major war to future generations and incessantly reviving its spiritual aspects will be a unique treasury to bring us to the future. Rather than being a story of a historic place, the Canakkale Epic Promotion Centre situated at the Gallipoli Historic Site is the story of strength, ambition, and faith of men who have remained amongst the most brilliant pages of a glorious and victorious history”

The other strange thing about it was that it seemed more interested in describing in great detail the technology in the centre rather than the history. So it read as a bit of an epic fail in terms of what a great museum could offer, as in not really great for kids but totally adult focussed.

So the tour did give me that. I don’t think we could have avoided it if we had driven round ourselves. I do like museums, don’t get me wrong but I do like them to be a bit more than a bunch of films, which is the only thing the brochure was boasting about.

M accused me of not liking the tour because the Brits lost. But he totally missed the point. I was enjoying the tour (as much as I could because I really don’t like tours in general, I like to wander freely and take as much in as I can rather than having it all talked at me). but I was getting tired. The fall the day before had left me in quite a bit of pain and walking was hard. Plus it was getting hotter.

After lunch we went to the biggest Turkish monument and graveyard. I decided to wander off and enjoy some peace in the shade while M took the boys to see the reenactment. It was rather loud, lots of patriotric music and punctuated with shouting. The boys really enjoyed it and came back with hats. Fatso had persuaded M to but a Ottoman soldier’s hat, rank: Private. Smelly wanted to be an Officer, and Lai was happy to copy Fatso. Fatso did not take his hat of until he went to bed and wore it much of the next day too. Thankfully M said no to the wooden replica guns. It was great to see them enjoying and engaging with Turkish history, as they get little back home and this is the whole reason for us trying to explore Turkey with them.

Next we whizzed past Anzac cove so I tried to take a couple of snaps from the bus. I knew that I wasn’t taking loads of photos but M was taking enough for both of us so I took the ones he was less likely to. Plus I was on the side of the bus where I could take better shots. We saw lots of the remains of trenches as we carried up to our next to final stop. While M, the boys, and all the Turks walked up the hill to the monument I walked down to Quinn’s post where there was a commonwealth war grave, probably the only one I would have the opportunity to visit. I’m not the sort of person to get emotional over these things, in fact young men being sent to fight a war that was not their making, however willingly at first, tends to really annoy me. But what did strike me here was the repeated inscription of ‘believed to be buried here’ before many young men’s names. Not all the stones had that inscription and there was one lone Brit amongst the Australians and New Zealanders. It was quiet, simple and overlooked the gulf below. Also, in amongst all the crosses there was a lone Jewish star.

Our last stop was at the top of another hill that looked down over flats where the  British troops landed after their failed naval campaign. Here there was a line of reconstructed trenches. Not very deep but the boys had a great time playing in them and reenacting battles, even to the point of Fatso dying and Lai attempting CPR.

It is difficult to comprehend that 102 years ago, in this beautiful place that is now a protected national park, such a bloody part of history took place. It’s almost impossible to comprehend the numbers on both sides that died. While I did find it a bit of a shame that the tours are separate and it’s thought that each side only wants to go and see their ‘own history’, I was glad we went on the Turkish tour. We got to see far more than we would have on the half day. If you like tours and your Turkish is great I would say that it’s worth going. But if you’re like me and like your independence, and have a car, it is doable by yourself. It would just require some research and a better map. I would also suggest that more than one day would be good as it can be exhausting trying to cram it all in. I would also say, don’t stay in Eceabat, or if you do avoid the town. If you have a bit more money there are nicer places a bit further out. The problem for us is we are a family of 5 and that can make finding rooms hard or doubles the price when we have to pay for two.

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