Wacky Races

Clement invited us and Karen to inspect his new country pile. Charlotte, Alan and Charlotte’s mother, Lucia, were also asked along. They knew the way so we decided to follow them in their car. We took the Torba Road, one of the most perilous on the peninsula. It had been raining earlier in the day and the pot-holed, uncambered road was liberally puddled. As we approached a tight bend a coach conveying early bird tourists careered towards us. Liam slammed on the breaks. The car skated uncontrollably towards the coach, bounced off the side and performed a pirouette the great Margot Fontaine would have been proud of. Miraculously, the car came to rest neatly at the side of the road. Shaken but not stirred, Liam looked around to see which of his petrified charges had snuffed it. It was a relief that we were all still in the land of the living but my lower half had moistened uncontrollably.

Charlotte and Alan realised that we were no longing tailing them and returned to find us. They parked up on the opposite side of the road and crossed over to our car leaving Lucia in the front passenger seat. Within minutes, like a set piece from ‘Casualty’, a car sped around the same bend, skidded on the same oily wet patch and hurtled towards Lucia. The car ricocheted off the driver’s door and crashed into the ditched verge. Liam fretted that the driver had not survived the impact and ran to the rescue. Others ran towards Lucia fearing the worst. The ditched man climbed unscathed and smiling from his battered Fiat. It seemed he rather enjoyed the theatre of it all. Before we knew it we were all up to our ankles in mud attempting to haul his sorry wreck back onto the road. Lucia was extracted unharmed, a little shaken but otherwise in fine fettle. As the fiasco unfolded more cars joined the elaborate ice dance, skids and near misses piling up like a scene from ‘Wacky Races’. Fearful that she might join the casualty count Karen sensibly disappeared into the woods for safety. Lucia joined her.

The damage to both our cars was astonishingly slight and the matter was glossed over with the coach driver in a typically Turkish way – a nod, a wink, a half-hearted exchange of details and rounded off with a hearty handshake. Needless to say, we didn’t make it to Clement’s that day.

Hello Dolly

Hop Aboard

We are finding local people to be warm, welcoming and obliging. We’re having fun riding around by dolmuş (or dollies as we call them) though it’s taken us a while to get used to dolly drivers collecting fares and dispensing change as they drive at speed along the highway, swerving to avoid pot holes and untethered cattle. Kindly strangers occasionally stop to offer us a lift, including a sweet little old lady with impeccable English, who pulled over in her beaten up Beetle and gave us a ride into town. She seemed unperturbed at inviting two strangers into her car. Perhaps this is because Turkey is blessed with a low crime rate when compared to the West and, therefore, the associated fear of it is also blessedly absent.

By comparison, Clement fled England because his fear of crime had reached hysterical levels. He’d become terrified to venture out after dark, lest he might be mugged by the drug addicts and beggars who loitered menacingly at every corner. He considered himself lucky to have survived the ordeal. We listened sympathetically and enquired where he had lived thinking it might have been Moss Side or Brixton. ‘Dorchester,’ he replied.

Burning Rubber

We said our goodbyes to Marina the Shitting Kitten and closed the door on the holiday let for the last time. Weighed down by heavy suitcases and boxes of groceries, the under-powered hire car struggled to reach second base camp on Mount Tepe. The smell of burning rubber filled the air. Liam kept his eyes shut and I got out and ascended on foot.

Are You Being Served?

Despite our genuine fear of death or permanent disability, we left for Izmir at first light, driving by hire car due east to Milas, the next sizeable town from Bodrum. From the outskirts, Milas seems to have little to commend it; a nondescript minor provincial town of concrete awfulness. We swung north inland. Ascending into the hills (well, mountains by British standards) we passed alongside Lake Bafa, a stunning expanse of water that reminded Liam of the Italian lakes. Reaching a high plateau, we stopped off near Soke at a long row of giant discount outlet stores built in the middle of nowhere. We breakfasted in McDonald’s: a fondness for egg mcmuffins is a guilty secret of ours. Replete with 50% of our daily allowance of saturated fat, we continued onwards towards Izmir. We hit the toll motorway near Aydin which came as something of a relief. Neat, newly constructed and four lanes wide, it wouldn’t look out of place in Germany. As we descended from the plain back towards the coast, Izmir stretched out impressively before us.

Izmir’s IKEA is located in suburban Bornova, adjacent to a smart shopping centre. We had already pre-selected our major items by thumbing through the catalogue and ambling around the Edmonton branch in London, so I asked a nice young man if there was anyone available to help us. He duly obliged and presented us with our very own personal shopper to guide us around the store. We simply pointed at items indicating “one of those, two of these” and she did the rest, checking stock levels and suggesting alternatives as needed. I felt like a Harvey Nicks celeb and loved it. Liam, on the other hand, found the whole exercise rather unsettling. I’m very much a smash and grab shopper, whereas he’s more of a grazer and likes to take his time, lots of it. We had a bit of a row; our first in Asia. He eventually tolerated the experience with sullen resignation.

After we concluded our business, we took tea in the restaurant and went to accessorise in the market place. The genius of IKEA is the canny strategy of pricing so much so low as to seduce shoppers into buying things they don’t know they want and probably don’t need. Naturally, we complied like proverbial sheep. Two trolley loads later, we sauntered towards the tills. There waiting was a trolley train assembled on our behalf by half a dozen co-workers (as IKEA likes to call its shop assistants), all arranged by our efficient personal shopper. The same brigade of eager workers then packed our market place goodies and wheeled the whole lot to the home delivery desk. I was staggered. What an experience: inconceivable back home where IKEA has taken self-service to an entirely new level of indifference.

Darkness had fallen by the time we left the store, and we were in urgent need of somewhere to bed down for the night. The thought of driving through the bustling city centre during the rush hour terrified us, and so we headed out towards the airport. I thought it reasonable to assume that the international airport of Turkey’s third city would be ringed by hotels. Not a bit of it. The entire vicinity is devoid of inns. As time had marched on and we had grown weary, I suggested a diversion to nearby Selçuk, a small town south of the airport. I had a vague recollection of a decent hotel from a previous visit. We were decidedly relieved to learn that my powers of recall were still in reasonable working order and that the hotel was open for business so late in the season. The Kalehan Hotel is found on the main road into town nestling beneath the citadel. It is a bit of a treasure crammed with gorgeous Ottoman-style antiques and bric-a-brac. Though a little tatty around the edges, it was, nevertheless, a clean, reasonably priced and comfortable place to stay. The breakfast, though, was inedible.

My Shattered Chassis

Driving in Turkey is not for the faint hearted, best only tried by the foolish or the suicidal. Though much improved in recent years, many roads are still perilous with lunar potholes, boulder-sized loose chippings and chassis-shattering unmarked concrete speed bumps. All these hazards, however, pale into insignificance when compared to the insane driving of the locals. The basic rules of the unofficial Turkish Highway Code are straightforward enough – drive fast, jump lights, never indicate, overtake on blind bends, tailgate dangerously and sound the car horn loudly and often. It is also the ‘law’ to ignore pedestrian crossings (purely for street decoration and EU compliance inspectors), bounce a new born baby on your lap when weaving in and out of the traffic and yell down the mobile phone that has been surgically grafted to your ear. The rules are observed religiously. Obligingly, local municipalities even provide traffic lights that count down to green to encourage boy racers to champ at the bit to be first out of the traps. Unsuspecting foreigners need to keep their wits about them to preserve life and limb, particularly those like me who are genetically programmed to look the wrong way.

Conversely, it all adds to the wonderfully anarchic nature of the Turkish psyche and a healthy disrespect for authority which I have long admired. It’s also a welcome relief from health and safety obsessed Blighty.