Tag Archives: Turkey

Eyes Wide Shut

Isn’t it funny how quickly we take things for granted?

One of the many beautiful views we enjoy on a regular basis.

I know how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful part of the world, but even in the short three years we’ve been here, I don’t always appreciate it on a daily basis.

Last night, driving out of the village to meet a friend for dinner – a rare occurrence; people think our lives are one big holiday but they really aren’t – I was struck afresh by the sheer beauty of my surroundings. Nothing in particular – simply that the sky was so blue and the woods still so green; Babadağ’s imposing presence loomed in front of us while the sun cast a soft, glowing light over the hills as it began its evening descent.

Due to the fierce summer heat, we’re currently walking Dill the Dog at the extreme ends of the day – around 6.30am and 8pm – and I realised I don’t always make the most of it. With the local goat population seemingly on hiatus during the hottest weeks, you feel like you’re the only person in the world as you walk in the woods sometimes – especially on the early shift. (I’m not a morning person and when it’s my turn I mutter and groan when that alarm goes off – but it’s a special time of day once you’re up and about.)

One of the storks – I disturbed it drinking from a pond.

We’ve been fortunate in recent weeks to observe porcupine scuttling across the path, a badger that’s set up home in the dried-out river bed, wild boar snuffling among the trees, a pair of eagles, a young fox, the village storks who have come back to nest for another season…. Sitting quietly and watching them go about their lives is a privilege.

Yet I know on occasion, when I’ve returned home and Steve’s asked the question we always put to each other – “Did you see anything?” – I’ve responded along the lines of: “Only the eagles.” Only? Since when did seeing a pair of eagles start out of a nearby tree and soar overhead become so commonplace? Ridiculous to think that I can get more excited about seeing a tortoise – as commonplace here as hedgehogs are in the UK – bimbling along the track ahead of me.

So, my summer resolution is to remind myself to take more notice of my surroundings. To look at and appreciate the things I see every day which I had already stopped noticing. I’m fortunate enough to live a life many would love – I should relish it every single moment.

Looking down across Fethiye from one of the mountain tracks.

The sun rising through trees in the local forest.

 

 

 

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Silver Service

When we were first married, our silver wedding anniversary seemed a very long way into the future. And if anyone had told me we’d be living in Turkey by then, I’d have laughed in their faces.

Wedding

Our wedding day, 1992-style.

 

Yet fast forward 25 years and here we were, feeling like the big day was only yesterday. Plans for a big party or vow renewals had gone out of the window – after all, who would we be doing it for? Life’s had its ups and downs, naturally, but we’re still happy together, secure in our feelings, without feeling the need for any public affirmation.

Friends, though, said we really should mark the occasion in some way. They kindly agreed to look after the furry members of the household, and we headed off on a minibus – along with 11 other travellers and our wonderful guide, Yalçın – for a whistle-stop two-day tour of Ephesus and Pamukkale. Both were stunning, and I especially fell in love with the hot springs and terraces of Pamukkale. Some places speak to your soul, and this was one of them.

Pamukkale

On the terraces at Pamukkale.

Lovely Yavuz, our travel agent, had told the hotel we were celebrating and they’d made a real effort – flowers and wine in the room, rose petals on the bed spelling out ‘Seni seviyorum’ (‘I love you’), towels twisted into intricate swan shapes. We truly appreciated it, but as always it was the less-than-perfect details that made our trip. (We have form here. Our mini-break to Oxford wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable without the hotel that had corridors too narrow to walk down facing forwards, reeked of cabbage, and had an en-suite shower that was in the wardrobe.)

As it was still early season, our party were the only guests and staffing levels were low. When it came to bar, kitchen and restaurant duties, one guy was covering them all – and with very bad grace. (He occasionally shouted at a sulky-looking girl at a nearby table, exhorting her to help, but she merely sipped a glass of water, looked disinterested and stayed put.)

The Turkish answer to Basil Fawlty was obviously irritated at the disruption these British visitors brought to his otherwise peaceful existence, and banged down plates with bad grace. The food looked ok – a butterflied chicken breast coated in spices served with chips, rice and vegetables – but it was cold. We realised all the meals had been plated up for the start of service at 7.15pm.

As we ate, we spotted a cat slinking in through the door and under a table, from where emanated a low mewling. “There’s a litter of kittens under there,” said Steve. “She’s come back to feed them.” (I was glad the hotel was being kind to them, of course, but it’s not what you’d usually expect to find in a restaurant.)

Afterwards we retired to the covered but open bar area to watch a pretty spectacular thunderstorm – but didn’t stay long. The rain dripped steadily through leaks in the canopy, and Basil had to dash around moving furniture and putting out buckets to catch the puddles.

For some, such incidents are cause for complaint or mar an otherwise enjoyable trip. For us, it’s added entertainment value. Being able to laugh together is a mainstay of our marriage – along with sarcasm and an irresistible urge to take the mickey out of each other at every opportunity.

It might not have been the grandest or most lavish way to celebrate 25 years of marriage, but it was special, memorable and very ‘us’. Next milestone? We’re going for gold.

 

 

Don’t Call Me Baby

Angry baby

I was sitting on a beach chatting the other day with friends who are not resident in Turkey but who visit regularly. Naturally, the conversation sometimes turns to the challenges we face living abroad and, although I can’t remember now which particular one I was addressing, I know I was elaborating on differences between life in Turkey and the UK.

Suddenly, in a pause, a compact, dark-haired lady sitting nearby interjected abruptly, asking: “So you live here?”

“Yes,” I replied, smiling, expecting the usual questions about what it’s like to reside in permanent sunny splendour, surrounded by beautiful scenery and such lovely people.

“How long for?” she added. And, suddenly, I knew what was coming.

“Just under two years now,” I said – and waited.

“Oh, well, you’re just a baby then…” And BOOOOM!  She was off, relating stories of her own about her 18 years in country and very deliberately putting me in my place as an inexperienced incomer.

I’m not sure why it happens but I think it’s maybe because, as a resident of a country where so many head for their annual holiday in the sun, you sometimes find yourself the subject of some fascination. After all, you are living their dream and they want to know what it’s like. Start talking about it, and you can soon find yourself the centre of attention. Personally, it’s not something I’m particularly comfortable with but I’ve come to realise that others crave it.

I’m by no means saying all ex-pats do, but some seem to believe their years in Turkey are a badge of honour which ought to be respected and they don’t want to see a relative newbie steal their thunder.

Usually I shrug inwardly and leave them to it. In the early days then yes; sometimes the interest from holidaymakers we’ve met was flattering. But now, if anyone asks about my life here, I try to keep my answers brief. It’s partly because I don’t want to stamp all over people’s dreams with tales of the reality; they don’t want to hear about freezing cold houses in winter, flaky internet, unreliable water and electricity supplies and life with no Cheddar cheese. But I’m also aware I’m still learning every day myself and one of those lessons is that there might be someone with more time under their belt than me lurking somewhere nearby ready to pounce – and sometimes, as on this occasion, I find it irksome.

I’ll happily listen to good advice and I recognise there are plenty of people who have lived here much longer and know far more than I do about the potential pitfalls. But being patronised always puts my teeth on edge and I found being called “just a baby” particularly presumptuous.

The thing is, although I may have only lived in Turkey for a couple of years, I have lived overseas before. My work has also taken me abroad many times, even to a couple of war zones. But this particular lady seemed determined to pigeon-hole me as a romantic fresh from the UK, still wearing rose-tinted glasses with nowhere near the experience necessary even to talk to tourists.

It’s by no means the first time it’s happened. If you live in Turkey, I suspect you’ll find as we have that there is often someone itching to tell you how little you know, how naïve you have been or how much better they have managed or adjusted to life here. The trick is working out which ones are worth listening to.

Of course I don’t have all the answers and probably never will. I’ll freely admit we’ve made some howlers and learned a few things along the way. But isn’t that what life is about? I certainly feel I’ve as much right as anyone to tell a few funny stories to anyone who shows an interest.

But do me a favour. If we meet and I ever describe you as “just a baby”, slap me. Okay?

“Do You Want To Phone A Friend …?”

Remember Chris Tarrant? I do … and let me explain why.

Genial and quick-witted, there was a time when it seemed Chris was everywhere. Radio shows, games, books and of course perhaps his most famous role as host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. And that’s why he sometimes pops into my mind when I try to speak Turkish.

Why? Well, in the show, if you didn’t know the answer to any of the questions Chris fired at you, you had three “lifelines”. You could ask the audience, you could go 50/50 and eliminate some of the wrong ones or you could phone a friend. And, if I’m honest, I’ve done the equivalent of all three while trying to make myself understood in Turkish.

As an example, let’s use our attempt to buy some tempered glass for the wood-burner after the last sheet detonated rather dramatically in the middle of a family evening in front of the telly the other night.

We looked up “glass” “fire” and “wood-burner” and set off for the shop in Fethiye and, on arrival at  the workshop, found three guys in conversation, the middle one stopping to raise an inquiring eyebrow. We’ve done more than a year of Turkish lessons now and I had been reasonably confident we’d be able to say something like: “Hi, we need two sheets of tempered glass for a wood-burner.” Sadly, despite the preparation, nothing came out.

Try as I might, I just couldn’t marshal the words into a sentence quickly enough and, as I became increasingly aware of the long pause, I panicked. I pointed at some glass, I said the Turkish word for “fire” and hoped that was enough.

But no. The shopkeeper replied with some quick-fire Turkish and all I could do was look at him helplessly – and that’s usually where Chris Tarrant steps in.

“Do you want to use one of your lifelines?” he asked in my head, when actually, what I wanted to do was just make myself coherent. “Do you want to ask the audience?”

I looked hopefully at Bec. Nope. No help coming from there. The other two guys in the shop had wandered off and there was no chance of catching their eye either.

“Do you want to use your 50/50?” Chris was asking. I fumbled with my phone hoping the translation app was still open so I could show the shopkeeper the words we looked up earlier in the hope he could make sense of what we’re after from that. It wasn’t.

“Do you want to phone a friend?” inquired my imaginary Chris, although in the real world, it was actually Bec with her own mobile in her hand.

“Hmm?” I asked dazedly.

“Do you want me to call Bayram? He’ll be able to explain what we want …”

“Oh. Right. Yes. I suppose so.”

And minutes later there was a telephone conversation going on between the shopkeeper and our bilingual friend while I stood ashamed that, yet again, I couldn’t string a sentence together in Turkish – or at least not one that I was confident would make any sense.

After over a year of trying to learn a new language, I’m okay in the markets, bars and restaurants and I can even manage rudimentary car maintenance phrases after a series of issues with our Land Rover. But it’s when you enter a new scenario or when you’re dealing with officialdom that linguistic shortcomings become far more evident – and it can underline just how far you still have to go.

We’re fortunate to have a teacher with endless patience and a sense of humour too. Indeed, Bülent seems to find the stories I tell about how I’ve struggled this week quite amusing. But, then we’ll settle down to run through where I went wrong.

Besides, as Bülent points out, if we added up all the time we’ve spent in lessons together, it only comes to just over 100 hours, which is about three weeks if we worked on a nine-to-five basis. Is it really realistic to expect to be able to speak a new language fluently in such a short time? Probably not.

It’s true the effort you make to speak even rudimentary Turkish is appreciated by locals, and reciprocated in their smiles and even in the price you pay in the lokantas and at some of the market stalls. It is definitely worth the effort.

Nevertheless, I suspect it’s going to be a while before I’m free of Chris Tarrant.

images

Ode to the Defender

IMG_3417“Why have you bought this?”

“Because I like them and I’ve always wanted one of my own.”

“But you will die in this in the summer. It will be so hot inside.”

“I could just open a window.”

“But no Turkish person would buy this from you!”

“Good. I have no intention of selling it…”

“You’re mad. This will cost you money after money; you are going to be so embarrassed. Why not just buy a nice little Fiat..?”

And, if we’re honest, looking back, our neighbour Tommy wasn’t completely wrong. Our big, unashamedly blue Land Rover Defender 110 hasn’t proved to be completely reliable. So far, we’ve replaced the rocker gasket, the head gasket, the clutch (twice), glow plugs and air filter. We’ve never enjoyed the luxuries of power steering, turbo power, windscreen washers (front or rear) or any form of heating, save that which radiates from the engine compartment. If it rains – and it does frequently in the winter – you get wet, rivulets finding their way inside and dripping from the roof onto knees and down the back of collars.

Progress on hills is, let’s say, sedate and, until we tinkered with the fuel pump, often accompanied by clouds of black smoke. The transfer box likes to dribble a little oil on the drive occasionally just to keep you on your toes and, after a cold snap, the engine can steadfastly refuse to start and then, five minutes later, fire up on the first turn of the key. Physically demanding to drive, it is without doubt the most challenging car I’ve ever owned.

But, despite the garage bills, the deafening engine noise at anything above 40mph, and the distinct lack of mod cons, not once have I regretted buying it. Indeed, “Lenny”, as he has become known both to us and our friends, has developed a character and become one of the family in his own right.

Our house is at the end of an unsurfaced lane which is often submerged under water after heavy or prolonged rain. To say your “nice little Fiat” would struggle with the pot holes is something of an understatement. And neither would I be that keen on chucking wet dogs in the back of a tidy family saloon after walks in the hills. Indeed, many of those walks have only been discovered because we’re not confined to roads and can explore along the old goat tracks which criss-cross the mountains around our home.

We’ve foraged for firewood, rescued broken down cars, transported up to 10 passengers – all seated and belted – to family events, all without problems. In town, a Land Rover is big enough to intimidate most drivers considering cutting you up at the next junction or set of lights and it’s somehow reassuring to know, if anything did hit you, nine times out of ten, they’re the ones who are probably going to come off worst. He may be slow, but like any Land Rover, he was built to last and, despite claims to the contrary, I have actually had three offers to buy him in the past 12 months

It’s sad therefore to know that today is the day the last Land Rover Defender will roll off the production line. The ultimate off-road vehicle, which has become a British icon as distinctive as the Mini or the Rolls Royce, has had its time.

Personally, I find it somehow demoralising to read there just isn’t the will or desire within Jaguar Land Rover to overcome the issues with emissions or whatever which appear to have led to the marque’s demise but, from today, there will be no more new Defenders to become farm work horses or heading for off-road adventures all around the world. We have ours though and, even though I’ve no doubt at all there will be more flappy clutch pedals, steaming radiators, leaky gaskets and infuriating intermittent electrical faults, I still have no intention whatsoever of letting it go …

SP

The Tale of My Pants and “The Hounds From Hell” …

Fidget and Fifi - The

Fidget and Fifi – The “hounds from hell”

Dogs were never part of the master plan. For a start, when we arrived in Turkey just over a year ago, two cats travelled with us and they had made their utter disdain for all things canine abundantly clear.

However, that was before our landlord unexpectedly ambushed our daughter with a puppy while Bec and I were out shopping one day, (https://theparsleysabroad.wordpress.com/2014/07/23/puppy-love) and before another bundle of blonde fur decided to camp on our doorstep until we lost the will to stop her moving in last Christmas Eve.

We’ve done our best with them since then. They’ve had all their shots, they’ve made their dining requirements clear (only chicken with dog biscuits and gravy will do), they get walked every day and they have bossed the cats out of their favourite sleeping spots which they now inhabit in typical untidy heaps. To be honest, we thought we were doing okay …

Then in April I met the owner of the summer season accommodation and restaurant on the northern boundary of our garden while I was walking them one day.

“Are these your dogs?” he asked with the kind of smile which usually precedes some complimentary comment about how cute they are.

“Yes,” I replied as they gambolled about his legs trying to chew his shoelaces. “Sorry; they’re still just puppies really.”

“Yes, we love your dogs – but you will have to stop them barking,” he said, suddenly fixing me with a deadpan stare.

“I’m sorry – they do get a bit excited when they meet someone new….”

“No. I mean you must stop them barking all the time. I have a business next door to your house and they disturb my guests all the time. I pay my taxes. We are going to have to agree what you do about them.”

To be frank, the sudden accusation that I was the owner of two hounds from hell came so much out of the blue I wasn’t sure what to say next.

“Um … They are dogs and they are going to bark sometimes, like all the other dogs in the village,” I heard myself saying.

“No. Your dogs make all the other dogs in the village bark. Your dogs bark all the time so you have to make them stop. Maybe you come to my house for coffee and we can talk about it more…”

I’ll admit that at that point there had been two or three nights over the past six months when I’d had to get out of bed in the early hours to tap noses and wag a stern finger in front of furry faces after half an hour of yapping at shadows, but suggesting our two were solely responsible for the nightly cacophony across the whole village seemed a bit rich, especially coming from someone only resident in the area for the summer months. Nevertheless, sensing I wasn’t going to win this particular argument, I said something non-committal, made my excuses and decided to consult our neighbour – and one of the village bigwigs – Tommy later. I didn’t need to wait though. Within an hour of me returning home and discussing our dilemma with Bec, the phone rang.

“Stiv … It’s Tommy.”

“Hi Tommy. I was going to call you actually….

“Was it about your dogs?”

“Erm …. Yes. How did you know that?”

“The man near you. He called me. He says your dogs bark all the time. You will have to make them stop or he will call the Jandarma (the local police). If you still don’t stop them, he will throw poison over the fence. You don’t need this so you must stop dogs barking …”

“And how do you suggest I do that? It takes time to train dogs to stop barking. You can’t just switch them off… I’ll do what I can now I know it’s a problem but ours are no worse than half a dozen other dogs up the lane. They all bark as well. And what about the cockerels, the peacocks, the sheep, the cows? This is a village. There’s always a noise somewhere.

“While you have dogs, you will always have trouble,” added Tommy ominously.  “It’s up to you but you have to stop them barking or people in the village can make trouble for you.”

He was proved right – at least to an extent. The same complainant has since left a terse note on our gate after we had tea with friends reasoning, as it wasn’t late, the dogs would be fine on our balcony for an hour or so.  We have also had a visit from the village head man – sent by the same neighbour – who instructed us to stop our dogs barking “all the time”, even though we’ve since had considerable success with reward-based training which has limited outbreaks of barking to no more than a handful, usually provoked by lost tourists riding up to our gates on noisy quad bikes. On another occasion, I found the dogs being deliberately provoked into a frenzy before I could reach them by an old man from another neighbouring property poking a stick though the gate and waggling it about in front of them.

With this in the background and our status as “guests” in Turkey apparently at stake, we have been forced to resort to English habits and have kept the dogs inside at night almost since the summer season began.

I was therefore horrified the other night when, after Bec and I had gone to bed, our daughter returned home from a meal out with the two teenage holidaymakers she has befriended and accidentally released the dogs into the garden at midnight.

Such had been our recent success with training them, any late-night barking has been reduced to a flurry of yaps before the dogs have remembered themselves and resorted to merely wagging tails and excited sniffing of hands and shoes. However, this time, something clearly alarmed them as I heard them run full pelt into the darkness of the orchard, barking hysterically as though our lives were in dire peril.

Without thinking, I was out of bed, down the stairs and in the garden. At that point, my only concern was warnings of poison, the visit from the head man, and possible “trouble” from villagers who, for all I knew, could soon be at our gates with pitchforks and burning torches demanding our immediate expulsion from Kayaköy.

It was only when I hurtled onto the porch and down the short flight of steps into the garden that I wished I’d also considered some additional clothing. Dressed in nothing more than what I can only describe as saggy, unflattering but comfortable pyjama shorts, I was confronted by two teenage girls and their parents, hopping from one foot to another as two excited dogs barked around their ankles.

Presented with four complete strangers turning up at their house in the middle of the night, the dogs were giving it the works, backing off to circle them and then darting in with upturned faces to bark shrilly and excitedly at any sudden movement.

With my distinct lack of decency in mind, I tried to persuade the family to walk briskly towards the house, bringing the dogs into range where I hoped our daughter would be able to intervene and bring them in – but to no avail. It quickly became evident the only way to quell the noise quickly would be to stride masterfully up the drive and assert some authority.

It worked on the dogs. One recognised the tone of my voice and was back inside like a shot. The other retreated into the vegetable garden and rolled over on her back, showing her tummy as an apology and awaiting collection. It only took a few seconds to make the detour from the drive, pick her up in my arms with some stern admonishments and then carry her back to the house.

However, those few seconds were probably more than enough for the bemused family. I left Bec to call an apology and a farewell from the house as I strode back in, contrite dog under one arm, and unflattering bottom cleavage peeping out of the top of my shorts.

To date, I have no idea if our intolerant neighbour was in to hear the barking or if he intends to make another complaint. All I can do is hope karma or fate takes into account the excruciating embarrassment and decides that’s punishment enough…

SP

Erm … What ‘Terrorism Threat’ Is That Then?

Somewhere in a newsroom in the UK:

“Right … We can’t tap celebrities’ phones anymore, we can’t pay coppers for leads on crime stories, they’ve sacked Clarkson and readers have cottoned on to us making up rubbish about the weather. So how else can we sell papers?”

“Dunno boss … I suppose it depends what else people care about.”

“Has Prince Harry dressed up in anything recently?”

“Nope … He seems to have learned.”

“Jeez, there must be something …”

“Holidays?”

“What?”

“Holidays boss. It’s what most people are thinking about right now …”

“Yeah… Don’t we bloody know it. They all bugger off out of the country and stop buying the papers. So…?”

“Well, couldn’t we find something about holidays? Are there any firms struggling who might leave them stranded at airports? Are there any exotic diseases people can catch which we could do a health scare tale on? What about ISIS?”

“What about them?”

“Well they’ve already killed a few westerners. We could flam up Foreign Office advice about travel to the Med? Turkey’s nearest to Syria; a lot of Brits go there…

“What’s the current terrorism threat level?”

“High.”

“Yeah … But the threat level here is severe.”

“I know that boss – but most people don’t. They feel safe enough at home but tell ‘em there’s a high threat of terrorism in the resort they’re heading to for their two weeks in the sun and they might buy the papers to find out more…”

“D’you know, I reckon you might be onto something. Get a quote off some PR at the FO press office and cobble something together. Let’s hint ISIS is thinking of bombing a few beaches or lobbing some grenades into hotel lobbies. They’re not exactly going to sue us are they?

“What about the hotels and resorts? They’re not going to be happy….

“Who cares? What can Johnny Foreigner do about it? Besides, it might mean a few more people stay at home, which will mean more newspaper sales, which could just keep us from making a few more of our lot redundant.”

“I suppose … We’ll get onto it then.”

Of course, there’s no way of knowing if a conversation like that ever really took place but, when you compare the real facts with what was printed in the British media a few weeks ago, it’s not all that difficult to imagine.

But then Tunisia happened of course and, suddenly all the stories that seemed to be founded on nothing more than speculation and a few half-truths suddenly became prophetic – enough to be presented many times as gospel in the wake of the attack.

But the fact remains that the Foreign Office hadn’t changed its advice on travel to Turkey before the atrocity – and still hasn’t. So just where did the Daily Express and, later, the Daily Mail get their information on the county’s heightened security risk from? Would the UK security services really reveal their hand to just a few journalists in the run-up to a terrorist attack without making some form of statement themselves? Probably not. It’s also very unlikely that ISIS has a direct line to any newsroom in the UK or would warn them of an impending attack either.

It’s hard to fathom a motive for either paper running a series of stories apparently designed to undermine the Mediterranean tourism industry and the jobs and livelihoods of thousands of people who rely on it for their income. Even if it’s true, why should we care?

Well, living in Turkey and watching early season optimism gradually shrivel up and die hasn’t been easy. The negative press has combined with unseasonal weather in the first half of the summer to create a perfect storm which has decimated the tourism industry in south-west Anatolia with some businesses recording a 60% decline in just 12 months.

That’s not going to be easy to recoup and there are now thousands of families wondering just how they’re going to pay their bills – and these people are not just “Muslims”; they’re my friends. Last year, we were privileged to be invited to attend a village celebration to mark the close of the tourist season where we enjoyed a meal and were asked for nothing more than our company in return. If things continue as they are, I very much doubt there will be much to celebrate this October.

It’s frustrating that there’s little we can do to help. We can’t even offer any cast iron guarantees that the resorts around us are safe from ISIS attack. However, what we can say is, if you are planning a holiday in Turkey at any time this year, you will be welcomed just as warmly – if not more so than usual – and, as long as you remain clear of the border with Syria, there’s every chance you will enjoy a memorable, peaceful and utterly relaxing time in the company of truly hospitable people who want nothing more than for you to feel part of the family – so much so, you will have to come back time and time again.

IMG_3881 (2)

The beach at Oludeniz … No riskier this year than in 2014, according to Foreign Office advice.