Jack Scott’s Postcards from the Ege

Jack Scott’s Postcards from the Ege

Not much of the news coming out of Turkey these days is positive – refugees, bombs, riots, censorship and the usual rhetoric from the imperious Erdoğan. The western media do so love to stoke up a drama. You could be forgiven for thinking the place is falling apart. Well, it isn’t. But the headlines are putting visitors off. According to some estimates, bookings by Brits are down by over a third. A glance at the travel agent’s window reveals the bargains to be had, reflecting a tourist trade going through lean times. It would be foolish to suggest there aren’t any problems but Turkey remains one of the safest holiday destinations anywhere.

It’s been four years since we returned from Turkey and we’re content with our lot in old Norwich Town. The slowish pace of life suits us well. But, we’re often nostalgic for our easy come, easy go days of Bodrum. During one particularly wistful afternoon in the boozer, Liam and I took a drunken stagger down memory lane. Over the last few years I’ve scribbled a word or two about my best bits of Turkey and I’ve even won writing competitions with my musings. So to cure me of my melancholy, Liam suggested I put them all together. So that’s what I’ve done. And very cathartic it was too. I’ve called it Postcards from the Ege, Jack Scott’s Turkey Trail.

Here’s the blurb:

With such an immense political and cultural heritage, it’s no surprise kaleidoscopic Turkey is such a feast – a prime cut of authenticity, seasoned by the West and spiced by the East. Jack Scott knows a thing or two about the country. He lived there for years and travelled widely – to Istanbul and along its south-western shores from Izmir to Alanya. In Postcards from the Ege, Scott shares some of his must-sees and personal highlights. Follow Scott’s trail. Come to Turkey.

The e-book has just been published on Kindle by Springtime Books. It’s a steal at a couple of quid and if it encourages people to sample the extraordinary land we used to call home then that’s all to the good.

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Türkiye’ye Hoşgeldiniz!

Poisoned by the Pansies

I was casually surfing around Perking the Pansies. I often review older posts and add a word here, change a word there. I do it purely out of personal pickiness as once a post is read it’s dead. I clicked on the ‘Go! Overseas’ badge and, to my horror, found ‘Being Koy’ top of the blogs in their Turkey chart. ‘Perking’ is inexplicably second. Enraged by irrational envy, I hatched a dastardly plot to knock ‘Being Koy’ off the top spot by fair means or foul. Veteran author Kirazli Köy Karyn and I correspond regularly and have made a guest appearance on each other’s blog. Keep your friends close but keep your rivals closer, I say.

Lulling Karyn into a false sense of security with phoney flattery, she was cleverly duped into inviting us to stay for the weekend. This was to be my one chance to dis the idyll, spike Karyn’s cocoa and ‘accidently’ spill my wine into her laptop. Just a dribble though; I am not one to waste even a poor vintage.

Saddled with yet another underperforming hire car, we set out at first light taking the usual Izmir route past dreary Milas, sweeping along the shores of the perpetually pretty Lake Bafa and descending into the Meander basin towards Söke. After a naughty McDonald’s burger break, we pushed on to agro-town, Ortaklar, where we took the Selçuk road. Leaving the impressively dull agrarian plain behind, we climbed into verdant Tuscanesque hills replenished by the recent rains. As we snaked through the forested slopes my resolve to nobble began to wither. Perhaps this is the Eden that Karyn exalts.

Kirazli Eco-Koy

We rendezvoused with our host on the wrong side of the railway tracks in Çamlık. Karyn shepherded us into the hills along an uncharted way towards her high hamlet where I expected the men to be men and the goats to be nervous. Nestling in a natural caldron, Kirazli is a visual treat of higgledy-piggledy dwellings with pitched terracotta roofs and gently billowing chimney stacks that warm the cool air with aromatic wood smoke. I’m afraid to admit that this particular working köy does exactly what it says on the tin.

Rutting Reptiles

Rutting Reptiles

With the weather set fair, we accompanied semigrey hedonistas Greg and Sam on a road trip to reconnoitre some of the tumble down sites north of Bodrum, establishing ourselves at a secluded hotel on gorgeous Lake Bafa. We wanted a cute log cabin with charming rustic fittings. We got a Spartan concrete bunker decorated with blood red squashed mosquitos, a lumpy hard bed and stiff, thin towels. The entire complex is shabby chic but without the chic. However, the views across the lake are spectacular and the genial proprietor, Wilhelmina the beefy, bearded lady, is welcoming and helpful. She attempted to persuade us to participate on a five hour eco-trail walk. Not unless there’s an organic bar at the end, I thought.

Our first excursion took in Euromos where there’s little to see apart from the well preserved Temple of Zeus so a five minute stopover is enough for most. Onwards we drove to Didyma in search of the Temple of Apollo. We journeyed across miles of tedious, treeless, tatty flatlands broken only by occasional heaps of building rubble and skeletal erections. This is not the best of Asia Minor and provides an unappealing gateway to the truckloads of tourists who flock to Altinkum during the summer scurries. Now I know why Thomas Cook prefer to ferry their clients after dark. We passed through dire Didim, an ugly and unfinished urban sprawl, and arrived at the temple to find it fenced in by a shanty town of scruffy establishments. Despite this encroachment and the vandalism of Christian fanaticism, earthquakes and frequent plunder, the vast shrine is an impressive pile and well worth the entrance fee.

The hilarious highlight of our visit was tripping over a pair of horny tortoises. The smaller, younger male pursued his ardour with all the steely determination of a spring-loaded waiter chasing a VOMIT, banging his head on the rear of her shell until she relented. Typically, the no nonsense, no foreplay intercourse ended as soon as it started and the old broad looked bored throughout.

After a couple of hours surveying the ruins we travelled onwards to Altinkum, the playground of choice for those on a budget. We expected little and the resort lived down to our expectations. Few seaside towns look appealing out of season (and Southend looks unappealing in any season) but the pretty beach is utterly wrecked by the paltry parade of trashy hassle bars lining the frayed promenade. I don’t mind down market resorts for those on a fixed budget. I’m partial to a full English and a tuneless, tanked-up karaoke myself from time to time. Nevertheless, Spain does it so much better. It’s small wonder that a holiday home in Altinkum is cheaper than a Bournmouth beach hut.

We returned to the woods to drink the night away, star gaze and UFO spot. The frequency of alien sightings rose as the wine bottles drained.

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.