I was initially going to write one of my more ‘normal’ pieces, but I decided this Friday night to give you a piece instead on my two trips to Turkey – if you ignore my two additional trips to the Turkish side of Cyprus which unfortunately have not been properly documented and as such, I do not wish to make note of them – for a bit of light entertainment. Also, I’ve noticed lately that Turkey seem to be driving home the tourist message through TV and particularly with ads for Turkish Airlines cropping up like there’s no tomorrow. And it obviously works for them too, because I used to work out at the airport and I can assure you there’s no duty-free passenger (when you’re trying to flog a load of product) like a duty-free passenger en-route to Turkey – and I don’t mean en-route to Istanbul either, I mean to one of the tourist destinations like Bodrum. So, as it turned out, I found myself in Kos, a small Greek island facing out towards Turkey a couple of years ago and elected to take a trip to the nearest Turkish port, Bodrum, for something of a day trip. It went something like this – beginning with taking the boat out from Kos. When I say boat, it was really more like an old-school car ferry like the ones they continue to run across the Strangford Lough up in the North of Ireland (as in, designed for journeys of no more than 15 minutes at a go), except it appears to have been crudely converted to a passenger-only vessel with the addition of around 100 plastic garden chairs. Probably the most unusual portion of the journey was the departure, which involved sailing across from our dock to a building on the other side of the harbour, getting back off to pass through Greek customs, before getting back onto the ship again. It was very unusual and I haven’t, in all my travels since, seen such an unnecessary usage of a boat’s engines.
Upon arrival, the boat dumped everyone off, quite conveniently (for me anyway) in a duty-free area, where you can purchase as much as duty-free as your heart desires, before then passing through the immigration & customs section some 10 metres further down the path. From there, the place pretty much descended into chaos. Taxi drivers, boat owners, tour operators, beggars and stall owners more or less wait outside the ports perimeter and as soon as you emerge out into the heat, you become the unwitting moving bullseye of this tourist dartboard. And Turkey, for all its potential efforts to join the EU, hasn’t quite grasped a hold of basic manners when it comes to ‘welcoming tourists’ shall we say. People will literally grab each arm and pull you in opposing directions, while you continue to struggle to walk in a straight line. From there, in Bodrum anyway, the next thing you get to see is the ‘market’. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the whole ‘market’ atmosphere is just what a lot of holidaymakers need, but for me, it just doesn’t really do it – particularly when you know that it’s the tourists that are actually supporting such junk in the first place, which means, as markets go, it’s not really particularly genuine – it’s only there because tourists love to buy imitation t-shirts for â‚¬2 and as long as they keep buying, dodgy stallholders happily line the streets, smoke in hand, pulling at every arm that goes past. For me, the combination of the heat, the throngs of people all vying for business anyway that they could, the smell of kebab meat, and the being pulled into every second stall along the way began to grate on my nerves. A lot.
Eventually we found what was presumed to be the local tourist attraction – a large castle that seemed to guard the entrance to the harbour. It was actually good value to get into, and of course it was, because as it turned out, they were more or less retailing off every single historical artefact they’d managed to recover from the place, and that’s saying nothing of the Ryanair-esque charging policy that seemed to be in place that required you to donate a little extra to see something exciting or go to the top of the tower or whatever it was. As I say, the combination of my dehydration, the earlier-mentioned heat, and the newly-introduced lack of anywhere to shade in the castle (for some reason you weren’t actually allowed inside it, just walk around the top walls of it) meant that I very rapidly began to get not only cranky, but anxious to find a way out. And from when I initially began to want to find a way out to when I actually did a find way out, seems to have taken around 50 minutes or so if the time my pictures were taken are anything to go by – and I’d say they are, because I definitely remember reaching a situation where I was actually wandering around the top of the castle seeing the same people over and over again, who also seemed to be reaching desperation in what felt like an eternal quest to get out of this everlasting Turkish historical monument. I was very fortunate in finding the exit within my lifetime and made for the ferry back as quickly as possible – stopping on the way for a well-earned bottle of rum out of the duty-free, to last me the ferry journey home and possibly longer. And I was never happier to be back on European soil as I was that evening back in Kos. Until it seemed inevitable, for reasons I won’t disclose, to make a return journey. It was like a nightmare – only many times worse.
So, it was with tremendous sadness and a heavy heart that I agreed to set sail again, this time heading for another supposed tourist destination, the undoubtedly beautiful township of ‘Turgutreis’. In actual fact, it ended up being quite similar in departure and arrival to the previous trip, in so far as we wound up in a duty-free shop staring at cheap bottles of alcohol. The only difference was that included in our ticket price this time was actually an entire ‘minibus tour’ of the local area. As it turned out, the local area was the boat port and nothing else, so we set off, very much unwittingly on my part, to another neighbouring town – surprise, surprise; Bodrum. Only this time, rather than just be harassed at the markets, we were also taken firstly to some old mills of some sort. Only since they served no real purpose any longer and were mostly vandalised, the focal point of the stop was that for the Turkish currency equivalent of about a euro, you could have your picture taken with a camel. Failing that, for the same price, you could just take a picture of the camel. Or you could sit on it. No doubt, the options were endless. I instead elected to stand a healthy distance from the decrepit creature, zoom in on it from afar with my camera, and take a picture for free. From there we paused briefly alongside an old amphitheatre, except unfortunately it now has been very much cut into about a third of its former self owing to a recent motorway project that has cut right through what was presumably the centre of the old thing. Then, before long, we got to hop out of the tourist bus right in the heart of Bodrum’s ‘famous markets’ for another tour through hell. And by the way, if you try to haggle enough you can actually get a t-shirt for closer to 30 cents. Other than that, I spent the rest of the bus journey back trying to shun the ‘native Turkish music’ that was pumped through the bus and the Spanish tourists that had decided to lovingly embrace it and dance (awkwardly) in their seats with the seatbelts still on.
And, by the time I got back to Ireland, I was bordering on a duty-free induced rum addiction…