The Ballards - Turkey Side


Turkey has always seemed an exotic place: not quite as upstanding, European and...well, us, as Greece.
The thought of insanitary conditions, stomach upsets and, not least, the shadow of Midnight Express and that theme tune looming over the country has tended to put one off.
But the good news is, it's really rather pleasant...

We went in April to avoid the worst of the heat.
We were warned it might be rainy and to be fair, it did rain one day.
But the rest of the week was glorious.

We stayed in a good quality hotel rather than try to save a few ££s, as we have found that in the long run this is a false economy.
We booked the Sunrise Queen in Side over the Internet and were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the hotel: we were made very welcome and it is a measure of the excellence of the place that we found very few things wrong.

We did, however, pass on the evening entertainment which was, for some reason, every night of the week exclusively old show tunes for the over 60s, danced to by young Turkish waiters with great gusto.
Slightly surreal and most definitely for the blue rinse brigade...

That aside, we ate well in the entirely buffet style restaurants on Half Board (why don't all hotels do it this way? It's cheaper on staff and more satisfying from the clients' perspective: you can eat what you want), swam in 6 of the 7 pools (the 7th pool had been abandoned to its fate at the back of the hotel and resembled a mad professor's chemstry set...) and visited the bars.

The hotel has an astonishing number and variety of swimming pools and despite the earliness of the season I swam in all of them (besides the aforementioned chemistry set...).
They were beautifully refreshing, clean and not over-chlorinated.

I went diving with an English firm - the owner claimed to be ex-Marine and alluded to SBS experience.
We had an interesting chat on the way back in his 4x4 after we had dropped off all the Germans: I had become increasingly eager to discover whether I was right in concluding the Turks didn't really like the Germans at all.
He agreed and told me the problem was the old one of the Germans treating the Turks as a race of inferiors, resulting from the Gastarbeiter experience of mainly Turkish workers helping to rebuild Germany after WW2, doing the most menial of jobs.

I did see some examples of German arrogance towards the Turks, which was a shame as my experience with Germans has hitherto been universally good.
I suspect that, like the English and the Americans, people you meet in business are not the same people as these, and they are at their worst abroad.
The Turks have a symbiotic relationship with the Germans: they need the money and the Germans need the warmth.

The Euro has made it's appearance since our last foreign trip: in Turkey it is preferred as a more stable currency than the inflation-ridden Turkish Lire, currently exchanging at 2,000,000 to the £ (I looked, but couldn't find, any Turkish Estate Agency advertisements - imagine the zeros!).
The Turkish court is stil out on whether it is preferred to the mighty DM.

There is still a great deal of deference to Kemal Ataturk, the founder of Modern Turkey. His face appears on posters, his life history was in a book next to a bust in the Reception area of the hotel.

Turkey is an interesting crossroads of Europe and the Middle East: the bazaar culture is prevalent but Western-style supermarkets abound, Islam is practised but not pushed, the emphasis is on practical solutions.
In the resorts, the men and women both work, it's like anywhere in Southern Europe, but an hour away in the mountains (and in the backstreets of some of the non-tourist towns) the tradiitonal life is still there, the old men playing cards and getting raki'd up while the women do all the work.
Women wear a lot of black in these places, they must be so hot!

The hotel had a Turkish Bath.
Being British I can't help feeling it's vaguely improper: the sexual overtones of being in a hot, sweaty environment with total strangers, wearing only a loose towel is somehow evidence of "Going Native", somehow letting the side down by weakening to it.
Plus the Midnight Express overtones, the hot, enervating, echoing rooms, the smell of Turkish cigarette smoke.

Donald Sinden, in his memoirs, recalls visiting a public Turkish Bath and in the Changing rooms finding two Turkish men matter-of-factly copulating in plain sight; something that would appal his exquisitely English sensibilities, yet in Turkey wouldn't be thought twice of.
Different country, different values.

We had an overall massage and an exfoliating scrub by a pair of dark-eyed Turkish girls who, on closer inspection, both had a body odour problem.
This was hardly surprising given the extremes of temperature they worked in (and they worked very hard).
But again, alone in the massage room, the English sensibilities crept in - was she going to offer me an "all over" massage?
Would I embarrass her by refusing?
Did I pay extra?
Would it be good?
She certainly rubbed her breasts in to my face suggestively whilst massaging my neck, perhaps she wanted to see if I would "rise to the occasion"?
Perhaps they have side bets on which men they can arouse.
So there I was, desperately trying to think of other things as I was overwhelmed by her musk.
Ah, TCP/IP subnet masks, always useful in these difficult occasions...

I managed to escape being forced to have a Turkish shave; again that English reserve, and the thought of cut-throat razers and burning cotton-buds (for defuzzing one's ears, I understand).
I'm sure it's a castration thing...


A visit to Blackwells prior to the holiday yielded a couple of truly excellent Turkish Guide books including one on the local area around Antalya and Alanya describing both driving and walking tours, assiduously explained in terms of navigation (sensibly assuming no signposts, giving directions only in terms of landmarks), quality of road/track (although we thought they were a little over-cautious) and what you were seeing along the way.

Following the guide book we drove to up the valley to the Roman amphitheatre at Selge.
The scenery changed from coastal plain to surprisingly Phillippines-like agricultural scenery (where, for some reason, many fields contained single untethered cows munching contentedly, chaperoned by a farmer who appeared to stand all day looking at the cow. A very strange form of pastime that we never fully explained).

The road then wound up in to the foothills and entered the Kopru River canyon. Rafting was on offer (we declined, like cats avoiding water), before a climb and over the incredible Roman Oluk stone bridge only just wide enough (and, I suspect, strong enough) for the 4WD.
A steep pull up a hairpin-infested road with absolutely no barriers whatsoever (but bracketed by Turkish rural electrification poles and cables) brought us to Selge.
Although it rained, the amphitheatre was quite stunning and well worth the precipitous journey.
Interestingly the coastal plain, only 40 minutes drive away, received no rain whatsoever.
Such is the power of meteorology.

Within the remarkably well-preserved amphitheatre grazed a cow, which was quite incapable of getting out due to the tumble of rocks within the single entrance tunnel and had, apparently, been carried in as a calf and left to graze in this natural corral.
We clambered in, pursued by local guides and hangers-on, resisting the urge to buy handmade crafts, tea, and other assorted offerings, eventually escaping by clambering on to one of the more inaccessible parts of the amphitheatre in pursuit of that elusive "perfect" camera angle (or so we said).

On our return, we visited Aspendos, which has absolutely nothing to recommend it at all, being full of nothing, seemingly, but tatty tourist leather shops.
Presumably, some leather fetishists have set up a commune nearby and are keeping the shops in business, because we saw no other tourists visiting (but then it was early in the season...).
I mean I like a bit of leather as much as the next man, but there wasn't even any good stuff!

Aspendos has, however, a fine, medieval bridge across the Kopru which is now, fortunately, closed to traffic and bypassed by a surprisingly good dual carriageway. It has been beautifully restored and you can walk across it in peace. There was little tourist infrastructure, so we were left in peace.
We both hate being hassled by touts who want us to buy leather, or gifts, or "visit my shop" or whatever.
If we want to go in and look, we'll go in and look, so just bugger off and leave us alone, OK?

This is the worst part of visiting anywhere in the East: the "bazaar" culture.
Us Westerners are just not used to the Eastern way of shopping, we like our shopping supermarket-style: browse, add to shopping basket, know the price and check out.
We don't want hassle, the more you try and enthuse us the less we will want to buy from you.
It's a real culture barrier and puts a lot of Westerners off travelling.

The coastal foothills do not extend far inland: it was easy to view, through gaps in the hills, the heart of Turkey still covered in snow. You don't have to go far inland for the scenery, and the people, to get wild.
Within a year of these scenes, Turkey would become part of the front line in the war against Saddam Hussein, another reminder of Turkey's position as bridge between Middle Eastern and Western cultures.

Turkish drivers have an awful reputation: apparently the accident rate per mile driven is 20x the UK rate.
Having experienced it, I can understand why: the roads are not well maintained (although they aren't badly built), there are very few lane markings, non-road users have a very casual attitude towards motor vehicles, and there is a macho "I must drive as fast as possible / get past at all costs" culture.

We saw some horrendous accidents in some very obvious places, usually on junctions where it is not macho to Give Way.
We drove very defensively and had no problems at all, but you need your wits about you.

We hired a 4WD which came delivered to the hotel but with virtually no petrol in it. The car rental man was very vague as to where the nearest petrol station was, or even whether it took petrol or diesel (we sniffed the petrol tank in the end).
We visited most of the back streets of Side trying to find the one blasted petrol station, before finally spotting it about as far away from the hotel as it could be and trundling in to the forecourt on fumes...

Turkish petrol stations are great: they fill you up (ever tried "fill her up" in sign language to a Turk?), wash your windscreen, fill up your washers, check your oil, wipe your seats down.
Why can't we do that here any more?

The following day we traded in our 4WD for a Fiat something-or-other with a sewing machine motor and little skinny tyres like the old 2CVs had. Same story with the petrol, but now we knew where the petrol station was.
Then we went off in the general direction of Alanya.


We took a diversion up in to the hills to see Alara Castle, described in the guide book as "fairy tale" but it looked more like a badly decomposed lump of rock to me.
We stopped strategically, midway between two sets of touts just long enough to take some pictures and zoom off again before they could converge on us and offer us camel rides and Alara Castle mint tea, or perhaps vice versa.....
Then we took an unmarked but surprisingly good road in the general direction of Guzelbag, up in to the hills.

All along the coastal plain and up in to the foothills we noticed a highly complex and obviously expensive to build and maintain irrigation system of concrete open-lidded pipes and cisterns, with ingenious underground siphons to cross roads and tracks.
Up in the foothills we came across complex junctions and sophisticated bridges and tunnels.
But the entire system has been abandoned and is falling in to disrepair, I am told, in favour of less brute force methods using less water, such as drip irrigation.
It seems a shame, though, that such a system having been built up should be allowed to decay.

The scenery up in the hills was refreshing and unspoilt: we saw a Wedding party populated by old boys with huge moustaches and bustling women in headscarves, driving along in a pick-up with horn blaring, tiny villages with raki-sodden men playing cards and smoking cigarette butts (always butts, never a proper cigarette... why?).
The road meandered this way and that, following the contours of the hills betraying its former existence as a footpath and, despite being the only contact with the outside world, outrageously lightly trafficked.

We eventually arrived on the main road near Guzelbag having re-entered the world of maps.
The Turks are funny about maps: it's indicative of their military mindset that no decent maps are available, and the guide book even warns against asking for large scale maps as this can upset the jumpy military very easily.
Recent events in neighbouring Greece with English aircraft spotters being imprisoned for photographing planes (well, what do you expect at a bloody Airshow?) show the sensitivities here.

We trundled down the road and in to Alanya, an unprepossessing and workman-like town enlivened only by it's magical castle mount in the centre of town.
We left the car by the fishing port and climbed the mount, through ruins and grassy tussocks, to the top where the views across Alanya, the mountains and the sea were magnificent.

The guide book told us of spectacular views East of Gazipasa so we returned to the car and headed east along the coast road.
All along the coast this road was being straightened and turned in to a dual-carriageway.
Near Gazipasa new tunnels were being bored through the cliffs to allow easier access to the town and one of these widened carriageways will pass literally inches from a block of flats.
That is somewhere I would not want to live...

East of Gazipasa the road turned inland and ran through a beautiful valley of orange groves before finally cresting the coastal hills and emerging spectacularly and very suddenly at the coast, high up on a cliff.
The road apparently runs through wonderful scenery for 100 miles or so to the next town and on for 400 or so miles to the Syrian border (a name to conjure with...) but we were weary and hungry, so stopped on the clifftop for our picnic lunch.
We dubbed it "the end of the world", because it felt like it.