At the tail end of summer, we took an afternoon excursion to Wroxham, gateway to the Norfolk Broads. We expected pretty and quaint with teahouses, old pubs and happy holiday-makers splashing about in boats. We were disappointed. Anything worth preserving got bull-dozed in the Seventies. The small town is entirely dominated by someone called Roy – Roy’s Supermarket, Roy’s Pharmacy, Roy’s Toys, Roy’s Garden Centre (and, no doubt, Roy’s Baby Care and Roy’s Undertakers – a company town from cradle to the grave). Even Ronald McDonald, that global corporate clown, has thrown in the towel by flogging his sweaty burgers and thin chips inside one of Roy’s gaffs. It’s probably a franchise. Far be it for me to criticise anyone who provides local employment but what’s the special deal if Roy kicks the bargain bucket?
It can be reasonably argued that Indian cuisine began the transformation of the British palate from the drabness of the bread-rationing years to the all-corners-of-the-world flavour it is today. Liam and I love a bit of South Asian and Liam cooks up a mean curry (from a recipe, not a jar). Since our return to Blighty, we hadn’t actually stepped out for an Indian. Until recently. We decided to give the Merchants of Spice a go, a highly recommended eatery located in a fine old building on Colegate, a short stroll from our Weaver’s cottage. Did we enjoy the experience? Yes and no. Inside its antique shell, the restaurant was minimalist chic without a hint of the flock wallpaper and chintzy gilt of old and the mood was sophisticated and buzzy. The bhajis were disappointingly dry but the rest of the food was fine, plentiful and served up in elegant dishes. So why my reticence? Well, the set-price three course menu advertised on a board outside was off menu by the time we took our seats. But my main gripe was the service from the over-familiar waiters. They pestered us like wasps at a picnic, interrupting every conversation and force-filling our glasses. It brought back unhappy memories of certain Turkish restaurants we learned to avoid. The rapid-fire courses prevented us from making a meal of our meal and our gentle pleas to slow things down fell on deaf ears. If we’d wanted fast food, we’d have gone to McDonalds.
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.