Travels to the Turquoise coast of Turkey.
At Christmas time (2011) a friend of mine who had moved to Turkey and Fethiye in particular invited me and other friends of hers to visit when we could. For various reasons I have not enjoyed a holiday longer than a couple of days for the past 10 years and so the need to travel was an imperative. In accepting my friend’s (Terri) kind homely hospitality I was looking for an opportunity to relax, to see the scenic sights of a country never visited, to taste the foods and of course the drinks, meet the people and to observe the ruins of history. Combining all on a 8 day holiday was a delight whilst there and now in retrospect as I revisit whilst writing.
Fethiye is smallish provincial town in the South West of Turkey dependent historically on its surrounding fertile agricultural land and Aegean Sea, and now home to a vibrant tourism industry. Purists will argue that even a single tourist can negate the beauty of a place but such is the inevitability of our natural born curiosity to see, experience and explore that footprints of tourists are much bigger than a decade ago. Fethiye has moved on more than most since the first tourists or more accurately warriors and conquerors over many recent millenniums and the region has been visited by many groups from East and West. This melting pot aspect to Turkey is what makes both country and region especially exciting to me as a first time visitor.
The town itself nestles between the close embrace of nearby hills, backed up by impressive mountains and the inviting sea.
Calis beach extends westwards from Fethiye for about 2 miles whilst Hisaranu is up and over the first hills.
The three areas together have different personalities and beyond this urban spread are valleys of busy green farmlands vibrant in colour and busy with Oranges, Tomatoes, Pomegranates and Olives to name a few. The Winter Mountains can be snow capped and clouds may wrap around their peaks in summer time adding an additional beauty to the scene and reminding me of Table Mountain (although not a perfect table cloth). The temperatures in late May were high 20’s at night and low to mid 30’s during the day. Winters can be cold and wet particularly from January to March made more unkind by large single glazed windows which are wonderful in summer time..
“May I see again” is not a comment from a Passport control officer that I would normally like as I accept return of my passport but at Dalaman airport it was the reason for an additional examination of my sparkling green and silver painted acrylic nails leading to a civil chat rather than interrogation. It was however typical of the friendliness of the people. The colour of my eyes were on another occasion examined closely to ensure matching with my pashmina purchases, a welcome but curious attention to detail enveloped in a sales tactic overlooked in more Western shops here at home.
Women have a far lower profile in public life than their Turkish male counterparts. More influenced by the East than the West but the freedom to experiment with hair colour contrasting with a near uniform black hair of all Turks was I hope a small pointer to more independent thinking and expression of personality. There was not much else sad to say. Clothing fashions of males same as here in UK and female fashions generally Western but not distinctive except for the display by children at the Calis beach carnival.
A polite people in general best exemplified by an incident on a local bus when a young man who was seated rose to offer his seat to a boarding passenger of older years and he remained standing for several stops before getting off. Something I do not see on local UK transport but which was nice to observe. Whilst there I heard many stories from expats about how helpful and willing Turkish people were on many occasions when a problem arose. A willingness to help beyond a commercial transaction towards one who is a stranger is a tradition we have sadly lost in the West.
The offering of flavoured tea in small glasses at market stall and in shops is a wonderful sales tactic at one level in encouraging a transaction but a delightful contrast with the normal practise closer to home of give me your money and take the goods. Time is spent on building a relationship even if one is just a passing tourist.
Another local custom that puzzled me at first was when on visiting a local shop for some early morning bread the man behind the till took my money and dropped it on the floor. I was even more puzzled when peering behind the till to see many other notes lying on the ground. I left wondering whether this was a new anti theft device as any thief would have to bend and scoop rather than just grab the till contents or maybe more likely that I had upset him. A more logical and unusual explanation came later that this was a good luck custom as to how the first business transaction of the day was to be treated. I like such practises whilst on holiday but they seem more at home to the small business than the giant multi check out stores.
Our response as tourists to such examples of new customs can be unusual and for example shirt free foreign bodies in the streets is crass in a conservative culture resistant to our customs but financially dependent. Money itself is used by us as a bribe for rudeness. Better still would be to keep the tanning off the streets.
Jobs around the world are quite similar but the role of the recycler differs in Turkey. Rubbish is collected not from personal bins but large communal bins scattered to a street rather than even to just to a group of homes. Less convenient to the homeowner but more practical for the large trucks that regularly collect. But before that occurs a small army of recycling experts will descend looking for what can be of value. On foot I could understand their personal poverty but they were also on moped with wheeled trolley in tow suggesting a small scale commercially viable business. It’s not something we would like to see here i.e. people rummaging in bins of rubbish but somebody must do it somewhere
At Hustlers bar one night in Hisaranu some five males with upper body muscles taut gyrated topless and energetically to rock music whilst the call of the minaret called futilely to them from the near distance. Much better than belly dancing which was not as obvious as I expected but will stay with the former as preferred.
Turkey has its own home grown business giants but nearly all the businesses in Fethiye were small in scale allowing a more personal touch whether in retail or hotel, something I prefer to experience as a customer and tourist.
A short drive out of town along roads undergoing large scale improvements and then on to narrow potholed unmarked roads with no improvements pending took us to the wonderful ruins at Tlos where a hilltop provided a home to various armies of conquest and defence over recent millenniums. Romans, Ottomans, Lycian and Byzantine have been here and so by legend was Pegasus. Around, there is richness in colour to what fills the valleys and decorates the hills of the region. A great reason to return on its own as ongoing excavations continue to reveal more of the past.
The gorge at Saklikent is the “3rd longest in Europe” per the literature hinting that the gorges to the East are perhaps more impressive than those of the West and thereby avoids comparison with them. The waters springing from this rock wrapped chasm are cold and excessively invigorating, but not for foot dangling too long from the platforms that adorn the riverbank and used as a place to relax from touristy exertions. It is possible to penetrate the gorge, which suggests the reality that I did not.
Above the town of Fethiye are several now unoccupied tombs offering their former once illustrious residents a pretty vista. In comparison with travels elsewhere the practise was more elaborate in architectural form but less in number than the similar cave burial practises of Surabaya in the Indonesian archipelago.
Fethiye itself is the historical town, commercial centre market and port. Calis beach is a long finger of sand of varying sand grain sizes backed up by many restaurants and hotels. Hisaranu is a touristy strip of near continuous bars restaurants of many styles interspersed by souvenir shops and cash dispensers providing the fuel to a simple formula of eating, drinking interspersed by places for recovering ie sleep.
Food and Beverages
The home of the Donner and Shish kebab confirms that as with the Indian vindaloo that here in the UK we have adulterated the original ideas and yet ascribe them to a “home” country as if genuine. Or maybe it was just the climatic warmth that made their culinary enjoyment more natural in their home setting.
The yoghurt is fresh and tasty but not first choice for my personal palate. Suggest sampling.
Fruit and vegetables are much more tasty, particularly the tomatoes as used in salads and oranges as used for local juice, something I expect in such places but continue to enjoy as if a first ever experience.
Fish in the market in Fethiye itself scream eat me eat me and can be easily transformed from fresh produce to dining table via the surrounding restaurants that provide this additional service. Much more preferable to the ice trays of the long distance truck transport that operate between distant fishing trawlers and large supermarkets. Prawns in various sizes, Bream, farmed Trout, and Calamari are common to many menus. Always fresh and best enjoyed after simple grilling.
Breads in various forms were widely available for freshly baked white loafs to paper thin doughs filled with for example cheese. Generally not labelled or factory wrapped my inability to speak the language or understand the specific descriptions meant that frequently it was a mystery as to what I was eating until tasted.
Mezes or starters were a particular delight of Turkey but the reluctance to attach a printed label to the various mezes on display behind glass made sampling an adventure. Tempting to order too many as we did once but a great way of eating with the Pita bread or other bread as served with salad at most meals as customary.
The most popular local brand label for beer is Efes was always cold and refreshing although a 2nd or 3rd never as good at the first. It has about 80% of the market (as I found out when trying to check spelling for this.) and there are many other brands e.g. Tuborg, available but they did not seem as visible.
Lions milk as the name accorded the local Aniseed based Raki when combined with water is said to be an acquired taste and I now understand why. I can only recommend trying it once unless you are seasoned drinker of aniseed based drinks and your palate accustomed to it. Without water it is called just Raki and generally appears to be consumed by middle and older aged men sitting at tables after their day of work playing cards or people watching. Personally curious as to whether Turkish women enjoy the same or similar practise after their day of work of if they are still working whilst their male counterparts relax.
Tea or Chai in its various flavoured forms is a lovely refreshing drink from the heat of the day and a welcome alternative to the alternative chilled options. Have acquired lemon, apple, orange and kiwi as samples of various flavours for when home.
Turkish wine does not feature on our western menu and I don’t recall a single mention on my various wine tasting courses over the years. I did however enjoy a particularly good red “Cappadocian” from 2006 as well as a more commercial “Dikmen” (red) which cost 25TL for 1 litre in a pub. White wine sampling found very dry examples whilst I prefer semi sweet. Glasses of house red did not reveal anything special and I wonder whether there is a lack of local knowledge on their own home grown wines. Did not see any imported wines on any menu which I understand to be due to the high import duties.
Prices found during this holiday (in case that appeals to you)
Exchange rate for end May 2012 ranged from 2.84 to 2.8TL (Turkish Lira) per £
Main meals as in beachside restaurant: 10-14TL upwards to 20TL served with bread, sauce/dipping and salad normally. Did see prices tanging 25-30TL at Shat restaurant and views from there were
Mezes averaging 5TL
20 large shelled prawns uncooked weighing a kilo cost 50TL after bargaining at the Fish Market in Fethiye (fish prices vary seasonally). The nearby restaurants would then cook and supply mezes and beverages (additional cost). This was our most expensive meal with wine and mezes
Beer (Efes 500ml bottle) cost 5 to 6.50TL
Wine by the glass approx 125mil could cost 6-7TL and bottles ranges from 25TL to 45TL sometimes 750ml and sometimes 1litre
Soft drinks cost between 1TL and 2TL
Double tot local spirit and mixer 10TL approx but prices varied and imported spirits more
Car hire £20 per day.
Local buses seem to cost 2TL up to 4TL and were great value for getting around.
Petrol 3.65 to 3.85TL and then another category high octane? cost 4.20 to 4.40TL per litre
Cigarettes (for info only) 8TL per 20
Flew from Newcastle upon Tyne direct to Dalaman (flight costs vary) and used an airport bus service (Hoppa: one of many) for a return journey of £15, which is great value for delivery collection to one’s hotel from an international airport.