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Old 29th September 2004, 16:19   #1 (permalink)
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Travels in Turkey - Part 14

All too soon, the day came to leave and return to England. The kids were as usual, upset and whilst I wanted to wail and groan with them, I knew that I would be back just twelve weeks or so further on, in the next year.

It wasn't a problem or hardship taking the boys out with me on occasions, but there were times when I felt that Mehmet and I deserved time on our own, if this relationship was to work. So out of three possible trips in one year, the kids would either come along twice for two weeks at a time or once for a full month. If it was the later, they always took school work with them and wrote a daily diary of what they had been up to.

We returned on a cold wet morning the colour of the sky simply matching our feelings. My brother was there to pick us up and before too long we were back on the outskirts of London, trying not to think too much of what we had left behind us.

Kids are very resilient and before long they were back to the pre-turkiye mode of school, homework, play, bed. It was only me who spent hours staring into space, unable to concentrate and wasting whole days doing absolutely nothing that required more than was necessary. I couldn't phone Mehmet because the phone had been cut off, mobile phones had not been invented and although letters took between a week and a half and two weeks to arrive, Mehmet was not a great letter writer. After a week or so of moping and feeling that I just wanted to say in bed, I began to buckle down and get on with day to day living.

Christmas was just round the corner, as it always seems to be and my ex husband had long vanished off the face off the earth, believed to be somewhere in Italy. Luckily my mum and brother have always been supportive, likewise my ex in-laws. With a bit of juggling and secret planning, the kids would have everything I thought they wanted for Christmas and a few unexpected extras.

That year, we had Christmas dinner at my house and it was laughter and excitement from five am, when my little darlings woke me up. Somewhere there is a photo with the time and date on to prove this fact. No doubt I shall have a chance in the future, to use it against them both!

I started preparing dinner while the kids played quietly with their stockings. No one ever opened presents until all the guests were gathered and my mother, being my mother chose to arrive half and hour before dinner or lunch was served.

I sat everyone down and we began the long process of wading through a typical Christmas lunch. Unlike my brother, who goes the whole hog, I don't do bread sauce, the stuffing is paxo and the sausage meat balls without bacon. I suppose as the boys have got older they have acquired wider culinary tastes, but in the good old days, they just ate whatever was put in front of them.

Lunch over, mother snoring loudly with her annual cherry brandy, I started on the washing up, while the boys sorted through piles of presents, squeezing, shaking and madly guessing what the contents were.

There was a tap on the front door and my neighbour walked in, saying that Mehmet was on the phone. You would never have believed the amount of food that I had just eaten, but the speed it took me to get out of the door, up the path along the pavement, down my neighbours path and into her hallway. Grabbing up the receiver I heard Mehmet say ‘Happy Christmas darling'. He said he realized that it was a special day for us and he just wanted to send his love. With that he rang off. I had forgotten that I had given him my neighbour's number and floating on air, I drifted back through the rain to my own house.
I don't know what happened after the phone call. I assume we opened presents, played games and watched television. I do remember making Turkiye sandwiches, but whenever it was that year or one before or after, I have no idea.

My mum and brother went home; I put the kids to bed and sat quietly in the glow of the Christmas lights, thinking what a wonderful day it had been. Amazing how one phone call can change the whole mood of the day. It makes people happy, sad, and miserable or in my case, as if they are completely stoned!

Boxing day soon passed, the new year when I had to trek to a phone box at 10pm in the pouring of rain to say ‘Happy New Year, love you miss you, see you soon' before the pips went. Without any warning, the New Year arrived. I spent ages running around trying to get a cheap flight and I simply cannot imagine how we managed without having the net to surf. Life was far harder in those days. I managed to get a flight with Onur Air (a Turkish airline) leaving Heathrow airport on a Sunday morning and landing at Istanbul sometime in the late afternoon.

I had never flown with a Turkish company before and had no idea what to expect. Checking in at Heathrow, I was amazed to see Turkish people with rails of clothing, huge plastic wrapped packages which I couldn't even guess what they contained, televisions, microwave ovens. It was like watching a live version of the generation game. I didn't see a cuddly toy, but it seemed that half the contents of the army and navy stores were flying with me.

As with Turkish coach companies, ladies on their own were seated separately and apart from any gentlemen. I have never worked out if this is to prevent the men jumping us, or us jumping on the men. I was lucky enough to be given a row of three seats all to myself at the back of the plane and nice gentleman steward.

The food was all Turkish as were the drinks. People smoked freely all over the plane. Unlike the usual package tour where most people are stiff upper lipped, scared stiff or just plain stuck up, the Turks were a very friendly bunch.

We made time on the flight and actually circled Istanbul airport half
and hour ahead of schedule. As the pilot announced we were coming into land, the wheels hit the runway and everyone undone their seat belts, stood up and clapped or cheered. I never did find out if it was because we had landed safely, or it is simply a Turkish thing. Even now, it is very difficult to stop myself from doing it whenever I land.

Istanbul on March 2nd is far from welcoming. It was colder than England and a cold wind blew off the Bosporus. It was dark, damp and very forbidding. Scenes from Midnight express flashed through my mind and I joined the line of stragglers heading for the terminal.
Compared to Dalaman and even Antalya airport, the place is a huge marble expanse. It seems we walk miles to buy a visa, half a mile to get your passports stamped, the length of the building to retrieve your luggage and then another lengthy walk to pass through customs. All this time, I was waiting to be grabbed and strip searched, but it never happened. Istanbul is the only airport that brings out this silly fear in me. The other side of customs I could see a welcome face. Sat there with his bag at his feet was Mehmet.

I raced through customs, giving the poor man who dared to engage me in conversation a glare or look, that would have turned a lesser mortal to stone. He just shrugged his shoulders and waved me through.
Reaching the waiting area, I rushed straight into Mehmet's arm and was given a bear hug. W e exchanged the usual small talk, how are you, how are the boys, what is the weather like. I sometimes think a list with boxes to tick is all that is required. I could fill one in on the plane; he could fill one in waiting for me to arrive and then just swap when we meet.

We walked outside to find a Taksi. The sight of rows of yellow cabs, all makes and models stretching as far as the eye can see, always fascinates me. It is like dinky or corgi has been let loose to build full scale models. Climbing into a normal taksi, the Chevy was already taken; we asked to be taken to the Coach Station.

Traffic in Istanbul is endless. It is a constant mass, moving randomly or simply just crawling. Trams and cars, Lorries, motorbikes, pedestrians fly out from every direction. There also seemed to be a massive traffic jam reaching over into Asian Turkiye and headed in the direction of the coach station. All we could do was sit back and crawl along with everyone else.

Eventually we reached the Coach Station, bought our tickets for a nine pm night journey and leaving our cases in left luggage, walked out onto the street to find somewhere to eat. We found a simple lokanta and sat down to have soup, kebabs and salad and of course çay. We still had an hour to wait before the coach would leave so we sat and watched two Turkish men playing eski okey. The game Rummy cube has similarities, but it is a fast complex game, requiring a good memory, speed and a mind like a poker player. Looking at my watch, I realized that unless we got a move on the coach would be leaving without us.

We made it back to the coach station on time, collected our bags and boarded the coach. Every ticket had a seat number and Mehmet and I were very often given the back row of seats, which are higher and also gave us privacy. On this occasion, we striked lucky again and climbed on to the coach via the back door. Unfortunately we had an escort/driver who thought that we needed to be simulated with his conversation.

Eventually, he grew tired of not getting the answers or response he wanted, curled up in his own little corner and fell asleep. Mehmet and I pulled our coats over us, knicked a blanket off a pile in the overhead locker and we were both fast asleep by the time we reached the ferry.

I don't know how I manage to sleep curled up on a double seat, with Mehmet's elbows in my ear, my leg stretched up against the window and my head at such an angle, it looks like I have a broken neck. Apart from one stop, somewhere around 2am in the middle of nowhere, which I now know, is actually Bursa we slept until the cold light of day woke us as we neared Izmir.

Stretching and staggering off the coach we everyone else, we headed into the Turkish equivalent of a Motorway Service station. Built somewhere in the late 70's, they are all identical and look like interrogation centres for the KGB. The food is at least hot and the tea always palatable. We joined the queue and very slowly we reached the metal serving area. There was the customary rice and a stew which I suppose would be called Taº. Basically Taº kebap is made of anything which is left over, which is why you never get two alike or even tasting remotely the same. I chose the stew, Mehmet the chick peas. Grabbing cutlery and serviettes we zombied towards a vacant table. Plonking ourselves on chairs we ate ravenously from the plates. Once they were cleared, we ordered çay to wash it down.
After eating and drinking, we were feeling more human and actually managed to have a conversation which didn't require propping your head in your hands to stay awake or using matchsticks to keep your eyes open.

The driver stuck his head round the door and called all his flock, back to the coach. Some like myself, shot off in the direction of the tuvalet but I was the only one who came back red-faced, asking for money to pay the lady.

With the sun climbing high, we drove into Izmir or at least drove round the edges, until the driver found the correct route to the bus station. Izmir gives the impression of an English seaside town back in the late 60's early 70's. It has neatly laid out flower beds, a clock tower, a Luna park- which is a permanent fun fair, a promenade, hilly streets and lots of white paint. In the spring sunshine it could be Clacton or Walton on the Naze. More amazing is that like Torquay, palm trees line the streets.

The coach pulled into the station and Mehmet and I got off for a walk around. Izmir is a main stopping point on the route to Fethiye and a lot of our fellow travellers from Istanbul, pulled their luggage out from the underneath the coach and headed off to waiting families, friends and loved ones. Only a small number replaced some of the vacant seats and it was a much emptier coach that drove off into the late spring morning.

Mehmet and I had already decided to stop off once more in Selçuk. We didn't know how long we would be staying but made plans to visit Efes again. Thirty minutes later, the coach pulled into Selçuk. The huge castle or Bastille of Saint John, guarding the road we travelled. Nothing had changed since we were last there and waving farewell to the coach driver and his assistant, we set off to find a hotel which was nearer than the first had been.

Walking out of the town square, we crossed the main road and started a slow climb uphill, parallel to the gleaming white walls of the Bastille. Half way up, past an eiderdown shop, we found a hotel laying back from the road and looking like it had simply been squashed into place. Unlike traditional Turkish buildings, it was very tall, very narrow and very modern.

We found the entrance and walked into reception. Everything was light, clean white and airy. Huge potted plants were dotted around the foyer and cool marble tiles took the heat of the day away. We were taken up a narrow, twisting spiral staircase and shown to the only room they had, with a double bed.

It was quite a small room. The bed standing centre stage and only two bedside cabinets, a wardrobe and en-suite bathroom filling the space. I loved it and throwing back the long lacy net curtains, I opened the windows fully so the sun could stream in.

Throwing back the bedclothes, I told Mehmet to get in. I quickly undressed and joined him. God, it had been so long since we had actually touched or held each other physically that it was overwhelming. We made love, hurriedly and urgently until we were both stated. Always believing that you can never have too much of a good thing, we continued our marathon, intercepting the bouts with little naps.

We woke as late afternoon sunshine filtered through the curtains. Looking at my watch, it was six pm. We showered, dressed, undressed, made love, showered and finally dressed ready to go out at half past eight. Strolling down the street, hand in hand we found our favourite restaurant, still selling the little skewers of meat which Mehmet loved. Walking home later, we found the man selling hot nuts and bought a mixed bag to eat in bed.

Nothing strange at all in eating nuts in bed, well no more than the carrier bag of Efes, Backgammon board, newspapers and supply of Marlboro sigaralar……………………all necessary to have a good time in out of season Turkiye. Hey, whatever you think, Turkish men know how to show a woman a good time.

The next day we walked to the bus station with our luggage to find out what time the next coach to Fethiye was due. Now unlike England, everything has a timetable which is strictly adhered to. No excuses for leaves on the line, the wrong type of snow or the feeble excuses that we have learnt to accept. The coach would be arriving in exactly 40 minutes.

We sat and ate breakfast in a little café behind the station. The steamy windows and belching pot bellied stove belying the weak sunshine outside. It was frosty and a cold wind tore down the valley. Ordering a Turkish breakfast we ate and drank in silence. Mehmet with his head buried in Foto post and I amusing myself by people watching.
The huge purple coach came into view. Paying the bill, we left to retrieve our luggage from someone's car boot and slung it underneath the coach in the luggage hold. The coach was packed solid. The day being Friday, everyone was going home for the weekend and although Istanbul is twelve hours by road from Fethiye, quite a few people do commute.

We sat together as the coach pulled out of Selçuk, heading south for Bodrum and eventually Fethiye and home.

<center>JENNI</center>

March 1995
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