Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Cherries and Chapulling

Our first full day in İzmir was spent inside, chilling and eating huge plates of cherries picked from the family mountain allotment. Although I really enjoyed it, I told Oli we couldn't do that every day, and said we should go out the next. I now understand why people in the Med stay in during the day and go out in the evening... it was bloody hot! Despite this, we had a lovely day wandering around the city, with Oli and Can (Oli's brother) as tour guides.




In the green space along the sea front, an Occupy style camp has sprung up as part of the protests. Close to this, people had written messages on pieces of paper and stuck them on the wall of a disused building. The boys translated some of these for me, some reflective, some inspiring, angry or humorous. It is certainly an interesting time to be visiting Turkey.





In the early evening, Oli and I went with his parents to the mountain house to pick more cherries and some linden tea. Whilst cherries were a total luxury for us in the UK, here they are abundant seeing as there is actually the climate to grow them locally. After picking several boxes and bags full of cherries, we moved on to the linden tree. The flowers on the tree have a beautiful aroma, and we happily picked tea, accompanied by numerous fat and happy bumble bees. The mountain setting is beautiful and so peaceful in comparison to the city, and even with the forest fire that devastated a large area two weeks previously, it remains stunning. Apparently a lot of fires start in Turkey from the side of the road, caused by cigarette butts or glass catching the sun. Sadly, this one seemed to be no exception, as Oli's Dad informed us it had indeed originated from the roadside.








We woke up excited on Wednesday, as my Mum and Dad were due to arrive in the evening. We went out for breakfast in the morning with some family friends who also happened to be Can's old teachers. Turns out nobody loves breakfast like the Turks. We had an incredible spread of bread, pastries, eggs, salad, cheese and, my personal favourite, a slab of cream covered in runny honey. Amazing. We rounded the meal off with a Turkish coffee, and had a giggle pretending to read the political future in the dregs.


Annoyingly, my parents' flight was two hours late, so they weren't due to get in until 9 p.m. Their flight was mainly full of package holiday makers, and we waited patiently for them in arrivals as loads of British families trooped out, being given directions to the coaches by the worlds most patient man. We were getting a bit worried after a while, and I checked my phone to see a text from Dad saying that somebody had gone off with his suitcase, leaving the wrong bag circling all lonely on the baggage carousel. The airport tried to track down the owner, but it appeared they had already left, so we would have to wait until they realised the mistake themselves.

Mum, believing it to be Dad's suitcase, laughed at him and was incredibly smug. However, when we arrived home, we discovered that they were labelled wrong, and it was in fact hers that was missing. After laughing so much at Dad and telling him it wasn't a big deal, there was no getting cross!

We went out the next morning to get Mum a few emergency clothes, and after this Oli and I took the parents into central İzmir, the intention being to see the Atatürk museum and the Agora. Sadly, both were closed, but we had a great day wandering the city and exploring the Kemeraltı market. We saw some interesting sales techniques, including one stall owner stopping Oli to tell him he was fat, but that my Dad was very slim. Sadly for him, this didn't entice us in.

In İzmir, at 21:05 every evening, people go on to their balconies and beat pots and pans in support of the protests. Mum and I went onto the balcony whilst Oli's Mum did her bit. It was quite inspiring to hear so many others doing the same. After this, we decided to go for a walk via the main Bornova square. Mum was enjoying breaking the FCO advice (avoid all protests and demonstrations), and even joined in with some flag waving. Since the protests have been going, the PM has derided them as looters / riff-raff, or çapulcu in Turkish. The protesters have taken the insult as their own, even making it into an English verb – chapulling. Oli and I were both proud of our çapulcu Mums.




The next morning, Oli, Can and I took Mum and Dad back to the breakfast restaurant. After eating ourselves silly, we drove on to the mountain house to pick more cherries. We had promised Oli's parents we would put Dad's height to good use, and get him to pick the high up ones.

After picking a satisfactory amount of cherries and a little sit down, we carried on to the town of Manisa. Here, we met up with Oli's cousin Tuncer, who took us on a small sightseeing tour. As well as the Gallipoli museum, we also went to see Niobe. According to Greek legend, the Goddess Niobe's fourteen children were murdered by Apollo and Artemis, and she asked to be turned into a rock in her grief. Needless to say, none of us were convinced, but it was interesting to see nonetheless!





Manisa is nestled in the mountains and has some fabulous views, which we stopped to photograph on our way to our next stop. The last stop on Tuncer's tour was Ulucami, which is a very old mosque dating from the 1300s. After a quick look around, we went back to his parents flat to see the family. We had a lovely evening, and sat on the balcony after dinner drinking tea and watching the sunlight fade over the mountains.





As we were planning to spend the next few days at the summer house in Akbük, we did the drive later that night to avoid having to undertake it in the heat of the day. It turned out that Mum's suitcase had gone on holiday to nearby Didim, so she was reunited with it the next day. We passed a relaxing few days chilling on the porch, swimming in the warm sea in the evenings, and eating lots of delicious food.



The time with Mum and Dad went far too quickly, and before we knew it, our days were up. As their flight wasn't until late evening, we decided to drive back to İzmir via Ephesus. The ancient Greek / Roman city is vast and still remarkably intact, with new parts still currently being excavated. It was fascinating to walk around and explore, but again, bloody hot. I am starting to understand the phrase “only mad dogs and Englishmen” like never before. A newlywed couple were having their wedding portraits taken amongst the ruins, and whilst I am sure the final photos will be amazing, I didn't envy them standing in that heat. The bride was wearing a big, full skirted wedding dress, which must have been pretty warm! As we left, Dad and I had a quick diversion into the gift shop under the pretext of admiring the t-shirts, which just happened to be located right under an air conditioner....

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All too soon we were at the airport waving Mum and Dad through the departure gate. It was a lot harder saying goodbye this time around, as we know that this time it will probably be a lot longer before we next see them.

I am currently sat on the sofa, hiding from the heat of the day, and eating (you guessed it...) cherries. We are going to spend the next few days planning what to do in Turkey when, as we reckon we will have about another six weeks here. If the past week is anything to go on, it is going to fly by!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Beach Life, Gallipoli and İzmir

Originally we had planned to stay one or two nights in Lichnos, but the location was incredible and it was so nice to just chill that we ended up staying four. We passed our days reading on the beach, swimming in the sea, and cooking delicious meals on the camp stove.


Just on the beach near to our tent, there was an old piece of driftwood, which we treated as our breakfast, lunch and dinner table. Sitting there drinking tea in the mornings, beer in the evenings and chatting about all sorts was a brilliant way to spend a few days. The beach was luckily very quiet, and before 11 a.m. and after about 17:30, we were pretty much guaranteed it to ourselves. I'm sure there is only so much people want to see of us lounging around, but here are some photos...










Our time there was pretty much stress free, bar a mosquito bite I had from the first night growing to epic proportions. The lady on reception advised me to go to the doctors in Parga, but luckily it started to go down after a couple of days. 

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from our happy beach bum existence, and continue making our way to Turkey. After consulting the map, we set Kavala as a realistic target for the day. Although we mainly went on the motorway, the scenery was pretty epic. The road curved through seemingly endless vistas of mountains, and every now and then we would see road signs warning that we were driving through a bear habitat (although sadly, the bears were feeling shy and we didn't see any).

On the whole, the weather for the drive was beautiful. However, when we stopped for fuel about an hour away from Kavala, we noticed huge, ominous clouds brewing over the mountains. Crossing our fingers that we would avoid it, we continued along the road. Unfortunately, we were not so lucky, and ended up passing right through it. It was intense. Visibility suddenly went down to almost nothing, and instead of the rain we expected, we were pelted with hail. The road was quiet, but we and most of the other cars all pulled onto the hard shoulder as it was just too dangerous to attempt to drive through. Even through our bike gear, the marble sized hailstones hurt a lot. We huddled together giggling and shouting until it stopped.

Things looked up slightly when we got to Kavala. I had imagined it as an ugly concrete town, probably stuffed full of drunk Brits, so we chose to stay well out of the centre. Although we weren't wrong on the ugly concrete aspect, the atmosphere in the town centre when we went in for food in the evening was a pleasant surprise. Maybe it's because we were out of season, but there was a notable absence of drunken tourists, and we enjoyed a good value and tasty meal.

The next morning, Oli went down to the bar area of the hotel to get us some coffee, and got chatting to the man on reception about the economic crisis. Although we hadn't seen many signs of it on the surface in Greece, it seems to remain very much an issue. Salaries have dropped massively, and the price of goods has risen. The person Oli was talking to had seen their pay drop from 1400 euro a month to just 400 in a short space of time. Although the situation in the UK isn't the best, it seems Greece is suffering much worse.

The drive to the border took a couple of hours, and there is definitely no missing the fact that you are in Turkey after leaving the Greek side of the bridge, as the flag was everywhere. We've had pretty easy border crossings so far, so this one was the longest and most complex. After first showing our passports, I had to go to a seperate window to buy my visa, then go back to the original window and get it stamped. From here, we had to go to another window with the vehicle registration document, then to another building to buy insurance. The border guard who had sent us to buy insurance told us he wanted to look in our luggage when we came back, but luckily by the time we returned he had gone to lunch, and his colleague was not such a jobsworth. After one more document check at another window, we were off and on our way.

Due to national service issues that most of you will know all about, it has been three years since Oli was back in the motherland, and to say he was excited is an understatement. We were also pleasantly surprised that the driving was not as bad as expected. In fact, compared to Albania, it was very good (Albania has become the benchmark against which we judge bad driving and bad roads). As we drove through Northern Turkey, although it was really warm, we managed to get very briefly rained on. We have now been rained on by every country bar Albania....

As we bombed along a wet section of road, we went past a speed camera hidden in a police car. It didn't flash us, but a few yards down the road we were waved down by a policeman. I was unfairly cross with Oli at first, as I assumed he had been speeding, but luckily it was just a routine check and they sent us back on our way, bringing our total police encounters to three so far.

Our stop for the night was to be Eceabat, on the Gallipoli peninsula. Oli remembered a cheap hotel from when he did the trip with Duncan almost four years before, but when we arrived it had been very recently renovated, and although it was still cheap, was now really nice. We had a good giggle at the name, as it was called The Boss II Hotel.

After a brief pit stop, we went back out on the bike to see some of the Gallipoli sites. The peninsula is now a national park, mainly covered in forest with some golden wheat fields. It is exceptionally beautiful, and it is sad to think how many people from different nations lost their lives there, almost 100 years ago.

We went to the main Turkish memorial area, which is on a cliff top overlooking the sea. A huge monument dominates the main square, and a little way along in rows amongst the pine trees are lots of glass gravestones, each inscribed with several names. In the evening sun it was both beautiful and thought provoking.





As it was getting late, we decided to head back towards the hotel, aiming to see one of the Allied forces sites as well. Through the trees we glimpsed a small cemetery (Skew Bridge), so decided to stop. We were the only ones there, and spent some time walking around and reading the epitaphs on the memorials. A lot of the soldiers were never identified, or their remains never found, and it saddened us to read “believed to be buried here” before so many of the names, some who had died as young as 15.

Later that evening we went out for kebab (Oli) and pide (me) on the sea front. Oli told me off for talking to the street cats... apparently I am weird! We went back to our hotel and had a surprisingly good sleep, seeing as we were sharing the place with two school trips.



After a good, traditional Turkish breakfast in the morning we set off for Izmir. The weather got steadily hotter as we rode south. Luckily as with the day before, the driving was on the whole pretty good. The hairiest moment came in a mountain pass, where we ended up in a trail of cars following a heavily loaded lorry. The lorry ignored all opportunities to pull over and let people go, and as soon as there was a vaguely straight bit of road about five cars all went for it at the same time, also trying to overtake  each other. They didn't seem too bothered by the oncoming traffic, so we hung back and watched with open mouths, choosing to stick behind the lorry and deal with the smell of its burning brakes.

Aside from this, we made it to Izmir pretty much incident free. Oli's parents had spent the day at the mountain house picking delicious cherries. Apparently there are too many, so we are enjoying ourselves stuffing our faces. Later in the evening, Oli, Can and I wandered into Bornova to see where they grew up. Almost immediately we stumbled across a protest in the main square. Unlike Ankara, it was all pretty peaceful and there were no police around. They were walking the same way we were going, so we walked amongst them for a bit before diverting and going for an ice cream. Three ice creams here cost pretty much what just one would have back home, which we were pretty pleased about. The petrol here may be the most expensive in the world, but at least you don't get ripped off on dairy products.

My lovely Mum and Dad arrive on Wednesday, and we are very much looking forward to it!

P.S. Here is a friend Oli made at the campsite. His name is Green Bernard.