A word of thanks to my new parenting guru, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan

Prime Minister Erdogan, I was a bit doubtful about you when you came to power but over Erdoganthe years you’ve really proved yourself as one of the great leaders of our time. In fact, I’ve realised many of your strategies and tactics would work great if I applied them to my own daily life. I’m a parent of two young children and I can see many parallels between my role and yours. We both are in a position of responsibility, and our dependants don’t always appreciate that “mother knows best”! If the kids think they can do and say whatever they want, however and whenever they want, not only will it be wildly inconvenient and potentially embarrassing (being impolite to old ladies in the supermarket queue, or climbing up to the highest point of the climbing frame when it’s time to leave the playground) but also it could be dangerous: at the end of the day, you need them to stop when you say stop or they might get run over by a car. Like you, I have their best interests at heart when I expect unquestioning obedience. It’s about being a parent, not a friend.

And not just that, it’s also about building a foundation of respect for authority. One of the great obstacles the western world is facing is the erosion of the value of respect. I want my kids to grow up to respect those in authority (me), and if there’s one thing that, for me, symbolises lack of respect, it’s when my children ignore what I’m saying to them and carry on with what they’re doing, no matter how loud I shout. Especially at dinner time. It really makes me crazy when I’ve spent hours making their favourite meal and when it’s ready they don’t want to eat it and want to eat snacks in front of the telly instead.

Of course, there are differences. You were elected by the people of Turkey whereas I’m a parent by a happy accident of biology – or by God’s will, if you prefer. You were elected. By a huge majority. The people spoke, and they chose you. If a few dissenters don’t like it they should have worked a bit harder and won the election themselves, am I right? High five!

And another key difference: my kids – or my people, if you like – are both under four. In fact, one of them can’t actually speak yet. So they could be forgiven for not yet having learnt the lesson that it’s wrong to disagree with mum and dad. Whereas your people really have no excuse for playing up! By law, the electorate is over 18 – plenty old enough to understand the concept of respect. What do they expect if they choose to defy you, publicly, when you’ve put your foot down and made your position absolutely clear? They’re a bit old to be sent to the naughty corner, though you’ve made an example of a few loudmouths by sending them to the naughty cezaevi.

And as that hasn’t worked, the logical thing is to move the game up. Tear gas, water cannons and a good bop with a truncheon. Super Nanny doesn’t recommend it, but Super Nanny never had to deal with this level of disobedience! I’ve yet to work out how to translate that to the home though – do you have any thoughts about issuing domestic-grade tear gas at all? I guess the garden hose would do for a smaller scale water cannon, but I don’t really want to get the furniture wet and all that water would play havoc with the TV.

And yes, we get that it’s not always everyone who’s being naughty. In fact it’s generally a few bad apples ruining things for the rest. But the best thing for sure is to clamp down hard on everyone involved, no matter how loosely, just to make sure that you get the message across that bad behaviour will not be tolerated!

Another tactic that I admire, and realise that I have actually been using myself, is subtle control of the media. I’m sure everyone would agree that some things are just not appropriate for young children. I’m happy for my kids to watch pretty much anything on CBeebies; Sesame Street is nice, and educational too; and there are a good few cartoons that have well-considered themes that help reinforce good values. But of course I don’t let them watch shows with themes I think might encourage them to behave badly. If they see too much bad stuff on TV they might think it’s okay to do the same. And no way do I let them use Twitter or Facebook! They could come across all kinds of nasties on there. So, once again, a big thumbs up from me on that subject.

And naturally I want my kids to grow up to share my own values and I do my best to steer them in the right direction – not only leading by example but enforcing when necessary. I’m not so hot on the topics of immodest dress, public shows of affection and alcohol but I guess you can draw similarities with my stances on smoking and, say, religious intolerance or racism? If I was Prime Minister I’d be pretty tempted to discourage those things by law, so I’ve got to say, kudos to you for using your position to boost the values you yourself hold dear.

So, on the whole, Prime Minister, I want to thank you for showing me the light. A family is not a democracy and it’s time for me to stop pussy-footing around and show the kids who’s boss around here!

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Turkish Barbie goes (Cillit) Bang


This is me with my laundry

So it was Saturday morning and I was watching the weekly Barbie film dubbed into Turkish, with my eldest daughter. Actually, she watched and I folded the laundry mountain (crampons would be useful) and tidied the kitchen. The adverts came on – all 34 of them (yes, really), and as they lasted a really long time they started to invade my consciousness as well as my subconsciousness. Here is the spread of products advertised in that one looong ad slot:


One of the chocolate adverts is supremely irritating. It features a pregnant woman and her extremely loud and demanding unborn child, who is a buck-toothed, freckle-faced cartoon character and shouts “AN-NEEEEEE!” at the top of his voice to demand his fix of chocolate spread, eaten straight from the tub. (The ad is so effective that when I Googled the brand name for pics and got a load of chocolate spread pictures my 3 year old daughter immediately said “the boy likes this, doesn’t he, Mummy? And he’s a very funny boy.”) The advert’s strapline: your baby eats what you eat. This advert is doubly annoying because my daughter mimics the little boy as soon as it comes on and chases me around the house going “AN-NEEEE!” so I can’t escape. Here it is, so it can haunt your dreams too:

The advert has a sequel – the mum-to-be is having an ultrasound and explaining that her unborn baby is really energetic and moves around constantly. Despite the inconveniences of being constantly kicked in the ribs and not getting any sleep because baby wakes up when you lie down, having an energetic bump is a good thing, because energetic = healthy, obviously. And as your baby eats what you eat, this baby is healthy because his mum nourishes him with chocolate spread! Of course. I don’t remember seeing that on the recommended foods list I was given by my obstetrician, he must have forgotten to include it.

Anyway, so, 33% of the many, many adverts in this ad break were for chocolate. The next largest slice of soft-sell pie goes to… cleaning products. A very popular range with Barbie fans. One of the adverts is notable by having some men in it, or rather, one man and one boy. They have been roped into cleaning the bathroom tiles with Mum as her current cleaning products just involve so much hard work. But what is this? Father and son go into the bathroom later, Mum is on her own in there cleaning and the tiles are shining! She’s only gone and bought some Cillit Bang. So life can return to how it should be: Mum doing the cleaning and Dad and Junior can go and kick a ball about, or play Scalextric, or something masculine like that. There’s a life lesson for you, my 3-year-old Barbie fan daughter.

ImageIn fact, apart from one rogue ad for men’s razors, these are the only men selling products in Barbie’s world. Turkish advertisers clearly don’t think Turkish men watch Barbie! And they obviously don’t think Turkish men do much cleaning. How sexist. So me and my daughter will get back to watching Barbie while I do the housework. I wonder where my husband is?

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How to kill a Didim dinner party: sexuality, religion, politics, violence, residency permits

There are a few topics of conversation you should probably not talk about in polite conversation. But I am a fervent believer in free speech so here are some of those topics rocking Didim this week:

Death penalty, terrorism, unlawful arrest: Didim BDP supporters will take to the streets on Monday to protest for the release of PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan, who was sentenced to death until the death penalty was abolished, and has been in prison for 14 years. Some say the BDP is to the PKK what Sinn Fein was to the IRA not so long ago. Others say that Ocalan is responsible himself for countless deaths, and yet more say Ocalan is being held without the right to appeal and it’s an infringement of his human rights. What a pickle.

Imposing religion, or maybe vegetarianism: My chemist told me today that chewable vitamins for children will soon be banned in Turkey because they contain pork products. However, children’s vitamins containing alcohol will continue to be sold. So presumably the banning of gelatine-based vitamins is a win for Turkey’s many and vocal vegetarian lobby groups.

Journalists in jail: According to an article in Hurriyet Daily News a couple of days ago, there’s a strong belief in the AK Party that a) the British press believes Turkey doesn’t have freedom of speech, and b) Britain throws its journalists in prison. In fact, the Deputy Chair of the AK Party is preparing to throw that little tidbit of hypocrisy out to the wolves of the British media if they raise the subject during his pending visit to London. Unfortunately according to the British Justice Ministry no-one in Britain is in prison for Facebook_like_thumbcrimes related to being a journalist, not even Rupert Murdoch. Whereas even the Turkish authorities admit to imprisoning 8 journalists, while others cite numbers closer to 100.

Being Gay on Facebook / in Turkey: A recent study shows that the data collected by Facebook can identify if you’re gay – even if you’re still in the closet. Your Likes are enough to reveal your sexuality even if you don’t acknowledge it openly. Which presumably is the situation for most gays in Turkey: as Westy points out in this witty and interesting article, 84% of Turkish people in a recent survey would not want gay people moving to their neighbourhood.

Stretching the 90-day rule: Turkish Deputy PM Ali Babacan mentioned plans to allow foreigners who own property in Turkey a longer stay on a tourist visa than the current 90 days out of 180, according to Hurriyet Daily News.

Ufuk Beton might lose its head: The owner of giant Didim firm Ufuk Beton was arrested this week after allegedly shooting someone in the head over a debt. The victim was a relative with a car wash and mechanic business, while the accused (who called police himself and turned himself in) is owner of a very visible and presumably influential concrete company, son-in-law of an MP, father of two and so on. Given the apparent imbalance of economies involved, one can’t help wondering how much the debt was and who owed who? I’m sure no amount of money is worth the devastation to the families of the victim and perpetrator alike.

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Violence in Didim as prominent businessman commits murder

Shock News: Ufuk Ergenekon, 42 year old owner of Didim cement factory Ufuk Beton and local philanthropist, shot and killed relative Gokhan Sevgi with a gunshot to the head, according to allegations. The tragic incident took place at D-Marin Didim, on the businessman’s boat, Ufuk 8.

Ergenekon, who built one of Didim’s middle schools, turned himself into police after the incident.

The tragedy happened at 1am on board Ufuk 8. Ergekenon, 42 year old owner of Ufuk Beton and donor of Akbuk’s Cemal Ergenekon Middle school, met with distant relative, 44 year old car mechanic Gokhan Sevgi, on the boat.

The men began to argue about a debt, and Ergenekon took out a gun and shot his relative in the head. He then called the police, who arrested Ergenekon at the crime scene. Sevgi was declared dead at the scene.

Ergenekon is son-in-law of AK Party’s MP for Aydin & has two children.

(Roughly translated from national Turkish daily Star newspaper: http://haber.stargazete.com/sondakika/isadami-akrabasini-basindan-vurdu/haber-735228?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter)Image

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Why Kipa in Didim will fix all our problems

Come to Altinkum! We’ve got sun, sand, sea, cheap(ish) beer and nice food.

Just a word of warning, though, while you’re sunning yourself on our beach don’t look too hard at the sand or you’ll see all the broken glass and plastic water bottles left by other sunseekers. Once you’ve had your cheap(ish) beer, watch your feet on the way home or you might fall into a pothole, and when you finish your meal tip your waiting staff well, they’re probably working 18 hour days, seven days a week and receiving their pay in cash with no contribution to their national insurance.

Didim’s town planning has been a bit mishandled, kind of like what happens when I let my two year old daughter brush my hair. The only recent big investment by the local council into tourism here left many seafront businesses stricken and caused hundreds of cancelled holidays… but at least we have a full line-up of dead palm trees along the promenade to raise our spirits a bit! As for the marina, it’s lovely but most of the employees were brought in from out of town and there’s been no attempt to tempt those rich yacht owners off their poop decks and into the resort – maybe the beer’s not cheap enough, or perhaps the music in the bars needs to go off a bit earlier? Or perhaps they’d be interested in a few more dead palm trees.

Didim’s official population is already 4/5 that of Soke (even before the drastic drop in residence visa prices), but if you’re in Didim and having a heart attack, or a baby, you’d better factor in that one-hour drive to Soke to their disproportionately better equipped state hospital.


Of course, the magic that is Tesco-Kipa could change all that with a wave of its blue-striped value wand.

  1. Kipa is big enough to attract plenty of interest from the taxman so generally their employees have a shot at receiving minimum wage, limited working hours, and their social security payments paid. Abracadabra, more families willing to settle here as their kids stand a slightly better chance of finding employment with Kipa in town, and fewer burglaries as there are more jobs to occupy those would-be burglars who are worried about their pension payments.
  2. Those families with family members employed at Kipa have that little bit more income to spend at Didim restaurants, shops, services (or just in Kipa), thus spreading the wealth (or keeping it in Kipa).
  3. Big Kipa stores offer a range and standard of goods and prices not currently available in Altinkum, your current best destination for poorly-made tat at exorbitant prices. And lo, and behold! Kipa’s presence would provide a new benchmark for Didim businesses, driving up standards and driving down prices (and possibly driving other businesses out of business, but that’s the price of competition).
  4. The statement made by a big, successful multinational business like Kipa opening up a big branch in Altinkum says, “look at us! We ruthlessly pursue BIG profits and we’ve decided to open up shop here so there are obviously big profits to be made – why don’t you come here too?”, thereby magnifying all the magic-wand effects of Kipa opening by bringing other big companies who also will do all of the above. Kapow!
  5. All these new big companies will raise the profile of Didim on a national level so it’s not just a down-at-heel resort town with no prospects but a town with a future, worthy of serious investment. Hocus pocus, Altinkum will start to regain popularity as a place to hide your wealth from the taxman by investing in cash in real estate and those unsold apartments will start to shift once more.
  6. The presence of the big companies will reassure Turkey’s talent that Didim’s not a backwater deserted by the powers that be and is a decent place to bring their families, a place with facilities to compete with higher-profile towns and cities, so, as if by magic, they’ll come here and stand for Mayor, transfer here as Police Chief, accept that job as Head of Tourism, fill those vacancies in the cardio and obstetrics departments at the hospital – thereby also prolonging Didim’s life expectancy and increasing its birth rate.
  7. Those ambitious, talented people will recognise that a bit of investment in cleaning, maintenance and tourism facilities might slow down the drain of better-heeled, deeper-pocketed visitors to posher resorts like Bodrum, and being ambitious and talented (and honest) they’ll do it right and Didim’s tourism will start to do justice to its sandy beach and shallow water (can’t get that in Bodrum), historic Temple of Apollo practically inside the town (can’t get that in Kusadasi), location between two international airports, traditional village culture right on the outskirts, nearby nature reserves, etc etc etc.
  8. All of these things will bring tourism money back to Didim and the core business of the resort will thrive once more until everyone is happy and rich and can afford to do their shopping in Izmir Forum every week.


And what about the street dogs? They will become well-fed and healthy on the food waste generated by Kipa, and will thrive and multiply until the only people who come to Altinkum are the ones who love street dogs, thus ending the street-dog debate.

Yes, I believe Kipa coming to Didim will do all that and so much more. It’s not just that I want somewhere I can buy a half-decent pair of new socks for my kids without making a two-hour return journey. Didim for Kipa, Kipa for Didim!

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Teatotallers: Tea culture in Turkey

I was really proud of that brown dress...

When I was a child I joined the Brownies – the junior, female, British version of the Scouts. I had a brown uniform with a yellow scarf held in place by a woggle, and, according to the Brownie handbook at least, I would venture into intrepid places and do good deeds (like rescue sheep with broken legs from cliff ledges using only my woggle) in order to earn Brownie badges that I would proudly sew onto the arms of my uniform and wear like medals of honour.

Unfortunately our Brownie pack leader, Brown Owl, was advanced in years and under her arthritic wing we never ventured anywhere more intrepid than our school hall. The only badge I earned was my tea-making badge, and (my mother having long realised that I was too clumsy to be let loose with hot water and teabags) I earned it by making milkshake with a packet of powder and a cold cup of milk.

These days I’ve pretty much mastered the art of combining hot water and teabag to end up with a nice cuppa rather than a terrible accident, so I feel I truly deserve that tea-making badge. But recently I’ve had to adapt my skills to a new technique as Turkish tea is a totally different kettle of fish leaves.

Lots has been written about the Turkish obsession with tea, most of it repeatedly, so I’m going to go with minimal repetition here. I just read Inspiring Travellers’ post about Discovering Turkish Tea and it reminded me of something my mum mentioned while we were travelling through the tea plantations of Rize: that Turkish tea is a recentish import, brought here as a crop in the mid-20th century to give the people of Rize an income. If tea was an illness it would wipe the floor with bird flu.

Our friend's tea field in Rize

Tea in Turkey is ubiquitous. It’s drunk at breakfast, after lunch and after dinner, as well as in between. Men hang out all day at teahouses to sip their glasses, smoke and play Okey or backgammon while their wives do all the hard work sit at home drinking tea and gossiping with their neighbours – especially with cake or pastries as part of the civilised beş çay (five o’clock tea) ritual, which they believe to be an ongoing part of English life and are always unbelieving when told that no-one in England under the age of 80 actually takes beş çay any more.

When it comes to buying and selling tea is an essential part of the bargaining process – serious negotiating takes place at length over glasses of steaming hot tea. Even children are initiated at an early age, given “paşa çayı” or “pasha’s tea” from the time they’re old enough to hold a glass themselves: a drop of tea, a lot of water and enough sugar to seal the deal for any sweet-toothed infant.

Apparently tea first became a domestic crop in Turkey some time between 1937 and 1947*. Today Turkey’s the 5th biggest tea producer in the world & the highest per capita consumer and it was a government-backed initiative, designating Rize as the tea-growing centre, that started it off.

Tea in Turkey is still grown in steppes on the hillsides of Rize, and harvested by women with shears and a basket to collect the leaves. We visited friends in the village of Askoroz in Rize who gave us cases of their home-grown, home-harvested tea leaves to take back to Didim. Mustafa’s wife is university educated but chose motherhood and tea-harvesting over a career in economics.

Two sugars for me please

Turkish tea is brewed in a double-potted tea kettle that sits on the stove throughout the making and drinking process, until there’s no tea left to serve. Plain simmering water goes in the bottom and tea leaves stewing in boiled water in the top. It takes about 10 minutes for the tea to brew. It’s served – first a bit of the tea, then topped up with the water – in those little tea glasses with teeny little spoons to stir in the sugar. Only diabetes sufferers and foreigners have theirs without sugar which might explain why there do seem to be an awful lot of diabetes sufferers here. Some prefer strong – which all the internet sources claim is koyu (dark) but I’ve only ever heard as demli (stewed) – and others favour açık (light). Only girls and foreigners have theirs açık. I shamelessly make use of my girlness and foreignness to get my tea as weak as possible so I can drink it without sugar. Others have it eye-wateringly strong with enough sugar cubes to build a small house.

Not much need for warming milky tea when you fish in sunny Akbuk bay

Turkish tea’s a very economic drink, which I’m sure is part of its popularity. Unlike Turkish coffee, where a lot of grounds are used for each tiny cup, or nescafe or english tea which are served with milk, each Turkish tea glass only uses a little bit of tea with the rest topped up with water – and of course sugar, but that goes without saying. My husband claims he and his fellow fishermen used to drink tea with milk on the fishing boats in the Black Sea but I’ve never come across any other Turkish milky-tea drinker.

Tea runs in my veins. I’m Turkish by adoption, British by production with a bit of Russian influence in there too, by way of America. There my grandpa used to commit tea sacrilege by sticking a bag of Lipton in a cup of water and popping it in the microwave for 30 seconds, despite my protests that you need boiling water on the tea leaves for it to brew properly. To give him credit though, he made a lovely iced tea, which has nothing to do with what the supposedly tea-loving British and Turkish people drink out of cans with fruit flavouring, nor with the misleadingly-named cocktail I made in my bartending days from gin, vodka, coke, ice cubes and a slice of lemon. I bet if Baden-Powell had ever dropped in at Joe’s Bar and Grill I would have earnt an extra-special Brownie badge for that!

Old Rize lady in traditional dress in the tea fields

* In case you want to check my facts, Burak Sansal  in his excellent site All About Turkey agrees with my mum that 1947 was a key date, while Pelin Aylangan (who’s written a book on the subject, so I guess she should know) mentions imported tea in 1878 and Turkish-grown in 1937.

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My list of must-pack items for your travel bag

Are undies a travel essential?

I’ve done quite a lot of travelling on my own and it’s never been at the luxury end of the scale, where in my imagination there is always someone around to resolve your issues for you – a personal concierge or perhaps, a la early 20th century upper class ladies, a travelling companion whose job is to amuse and take care of the boring practicalities while one admires the scenery and talks down to the natives.

These days when I travel I have responsibility for others as well as myself: most often my two-year-old daughter, but occasionally my husband who, while definitely the practical, problem-solving one in most areas of our relationship, seems to cede that role to me when it comes to non-boat-related travel.

So over the course of my wanderings I’ve developed an essential list of 5 travel basics that I won’t leave home without.

1. Pashmina scarf (the real thing).

Dyed in the wool - destination carpet, not pashmina, but still beautiful

I once had a fantastic, lilac pashmina scarf. It was two metres long and one and a half metres wide, and it was made of a beautiful, soft mix of pashmina wool and silk. It had cool points, being bought for me in Nepal from traders representing the local women who created it (though the cool points will disappear when I mention I was in an office in Surrey at the time, and the purchaser was the marketing manager Arabella’s far more intrepid brother). It was as light as a feather, about half a centimetre thick, and folded up small enough to be stuffed into a biggish trouser pocket. During its life as my top travel accessory it metamorphosed from glamorous, drapey evening scarf, through travel pillow, knee blanket, picnic blanket, muslim-woman disguise (probably not that convincing given my amateur headscarfing skills but did the job of keeping away unwanted attention on a long and crowded bus journey), to toasty duvet in an icey-cold hall of residence in Malmo, Sweden. I lost it on a bus journey: I have a habit of leaving items of value under my seat or tucked down the side, so do feel free to have a rummage if you ever see me on my travels, getting off at my final destination.

If this was in your loo, you might opt for wet wipes instead

2. A pack of wet wipes.
My godmother, who has far more travelling experience than I do and in places of higher dysentry risk, swears by antibacterial gel cleanser but for versatility I’ll go with wet wipes, preferably alcohol-free. Savlon have great ones which are antiseptic, sting-free (there are places on your body you definitely don’t want to be rubbing with alcohol-soaked cloths) and come in individual packages. Pre- and post-food, in unsavoury lavatorial facilities, on burns and cuts, freshening your face, wiping your feet, as a general shower-in-a-packet, wiping off fish scales… Mothers of small children know the value of a good wet wipe but for me they’re a travel essential I’ll never grow out of.

3. Long trousers.

Not everyone needs trousers to be accepted in Monte Carlo

No matter where you’re going, don’t leave home without long trousers. The precise style might depend on your destination but even in the hottest or ruggedest places, long trousers could come to your rescue. Mine have kept me warm when marooned at an icy air-conditioned US airport despite outside temperatures in the high 30s. They have protected me from ticks and snakebites when camping in France. They have permitted me into a posh restaurant in Copenhagen, and helped me feel a bit more appropriately dressed for a last-minute wedding invitation in Rimini and a mosque visit in Istanbul. I expect if I ever did do any high end travel they’d get me onto the captain’s table on the cruise ship, or in through the doors of that luxury hotel in Monte Carlo too. Or who knows, they could double as a tourniquet, a slingshot, a thingy for sliding down the cable of a broken ski lift… Long trousers are the new black.

4. A packet of dried fruit and nuts.
I don’t know whether I just have blood-sugar issues but I’m one of those people who need to eat frequently. Sometimes food is easy to come by but sometimes there just isn’t the time to stop, or there’s too much time thanks to transport delays but nowhere to find food, or there’s food but it’s too expensive, or of provenance too dubious to risk. Nuts and raisins are a great travelling snack option. Healthy, high in energy, aroma-free, don’t crush easily (and it doesn’t matter if they do get squashed), don’t spoil easily, clean to eat and the only rubbish they generate is the container you brought them in. Also they’re a very acceptable thing to offer your neighbour as a gesture of friendship (as long as your neighbour doesn’t have a nut allergy in which case you’d better hope they decline or you’ll be wishing your travel essential was an anaphylaxis pen!).

No entry - would a credit card buy my way in, I wonder?

5. Credit card.
I know that seems a bit obvious and should be on a desert-island-discs -style group of “free” items that are just so basic they come as a given, like the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. But I find a credit card fits into my bag much better (even in these Kindle
days) and that little piece of plastic beats even my mobile phone for helping me out of a travelling jam. As well as sundry purchases, my card has bought me these things:

  • An alternative flight home when I got on the wrong train at Sants in Barcelona and ended up stranded at El Prat de Llobregat, watching the non-stop trains hurtling their happy passengers to their homeward flights, little realising that, had I but known the way, I could have walked from the station to the airport in less than the two hours it took before a stopping train finally arrived and deposited me, five minutes and a missed flight later, at Barcelona airport.
  • Medical attention on several occasions, happily all minor, at a variety of hospitals, dentists and pharmacies.
  • Into a country, and out of a country, both times Turkey (proving that no matter how hospitable the people, passport officers are rarely happy souls). The first was due to an insufficiency of cash dollars, despite having carefully got a Turkish friend to call Dalaman airport in advance and check exactly how much was required for a US passport holder and two Portuguese ones to buy their tourist visa on arrival. The memur was unsympathetic to the plight of these foreign women and their 3-month old baby at 3am and was quite willing to turn us away to wait in no-man’s land for the next flight out. Fortunately we were with a French citizen, who needed no visa to enter Turkey and found a friendly police woman who berated the passport officer until he agreed to accept payment by credit card for the difference. The exit issue was for an inadvertently overstayed visa at Istanbul. I was sent away at the first passport control and not allowed back through until I’d found the correct police department, been presented with my fine, dispatched to a cash machine for the money to pay it (which I withdrew on my precious credit card), back to the police and finally back to passport control, who broke with hostile passport officer tradition and very kindly let me jump the queue so I didn’t miss yet another flight.

What have I missed? And I realise this list is very low-tech – what’s your must-have app or piece of technology you won’t travel without?

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Following James Bond to Istanbul

More DC photos & how to achieve the look on the Daniel Craig Bond Workout website

According to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News, James Bond is planning his third trip to Istanbul. He’s been twice before, once with Sean Connery’s face in From Russia with Love, and once looking remarkably Pierce Brosnan in The World is Not Enough.

But this time James Bond has the face – and other assets – of ruggedly beautiful Daniel Craig and I’m dreaming about reviving plans for another trip to Istanbul, possibly timed to coincide with a bit of star-stalking…

The difficulty is, filming’s due to take place within a few months, and this time I have a toddler in tow and a bump that’s due to become a baby sibling for the toddler, also within a few months. I’ve travelled to Istanbul plenty of times, but not sure I have the appetite for getting myself and my energetic two-year-old there now, not even for Daniel Craig as 007.

Torso: Armless mannekin in Kadiköy

That said, getting to Istanbul is relatively easy from Didim. If you prefer low-maintenance, low-cost travel, you can get on a bus from Didim bus station that’ll take you straight there. Admittedly, it’s a 13-hour journey and you’ll have to negotiate the service bus that takes you from one of Istanbul’s satellite bus stations into the centre when you’re done, but at least for most of the journey there’s nothing more strenuous required than reclining in your seat, adjusting your ipod headphones and admiring the Turkish countryside as it goes from sweeping meadows through to jagged mountains before flattening out (hopefully) on the ferry across the Marmara to Istanbul.

Or you can fly – flights are hourly from Izmir airport, though you’ll have to arrange to get there first: two hours by private car or airport transfer, or more by intercity bus and then connection from bus station to the airport. Istanbul Ataturk airport’s pretty close to the tourist spots of Istanbul, Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen airport right out on another continent (literally) and way beyond the destination hotspots of Istanbul.

The beautiful Blue Mosque

As a solo traveller, or without children but with husband, I’ve very happily done both (though my tolerance for the bus journey is a lot better one-way, can’t think of a time when I’ve done the trip in both directions by road!). And Istanbul’s well worth the effort taken to get there (at least for adults). My first and second visits were solo. First time I stayed in Sultanahmet somewhere and booked a two-day guided group tour via the hotel. Normally I’d shy away from such things but I can’t recommend it enough: Istanbul’s transport system is traumatic, even for locals, so it’s worth the money for the guided tour just to get from one amazing Istanbul highlight to another without stressing in the horrendous traffic – informative and entertaining guides a bonus! Mine took me under their wing and out for the evening afterwards and on to two different bars, one underground with live rock and the other open to the stars with live crooning. I’d certainly never have found them on my own, or as a lone female traveller dared to go in on my own, for that matter.

Grand Bazaar bling

My second visit to Istanbul was more of a rush job – needing a break from the stresses of my job, I hopped on the bus yet again, this time unplanned. In need of luxury and escapism I walked straight into the lobby of the Hilton Istanbul and asked for a room; they took one look at my bus-mussed hair and said they only had suites available. Needless to say the price of a suite sent me on my way and I ended up in a more modest Taksim Square hotel where the room service menu featured a lamb dish interestingly called “lamp hands”. Still haven’t sussed out what that might have been. The next morning I was woken by gunshots, an air-raid siren and a city of empty streets. Fearing war, I was relieved to learn this was an annual memorial to the death of Ataturk.

My godmother at the Blue Mosque

My next two Istanbul visits were at a fab hotel, the Best Western Empire Palace, and in great company: best friends from London, Laura and Chantal, and godmother from Japan, Anne. Over those two trips we had Turkish baths in two of Istanbul’s historic, marbled Hamams; marvelled at the winter views across the Bosphorus from Topkapı Palace; saw Dervishes whirling at Sirkeci train station; tried $20,000 dollars of necklace in a jewellers in the Grand Bazaar; and admired armless mannekins modelling support garments in the back streets of Kadiköy.

The Flying Fish moored in Istanbul, Christmas 2007

My last (and I hope not final) visit was with Hakan at Christmas 2007. He’d found the right boat (later to become the Flying Fish) and I flew up to join him for the final sales negotiations. The deal was done in a notary office in Beşiktaş, and on the back steps of the office I handed over a plastic bag full of more dollars than I’d ever seen to the seller’s right-hand man as the seller and Hakan signed the paperwork with the notary as witness.

So it’s been four years since my last visit and we now have responsibilities. Yachts and children both need round-the-clock attention and it’s a lot more difficult to get away than it used to be. And I don’t think I can face the journey. But I really want to go back to Istanbul. I’ve even sussed somewhere to stay at a discount in Sultanahmet where the new Bond movie’ll be filming, courtesy of AirBNB’s great offers for first-time bookers: Discount accommodation direct from the owner. So the question is, Commander Bond, any space on your private jet?

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October 2007 – Intro to The Ramazan Diaries

Written 4 October 2007:

This diary started life as a piece I wrote for Altinkum’s local newspaper, Voices, about Ramazan. I remember when I first came here [ed’s note: in 2006], I didn’t really “get” it as a concept – possibly because most of the people around me didn’t really DO Ramazan. My boss at the time restricted himself to only coffee and cigarettes during daylight hours, but seeing as that’s what his main forms of sustenance were anyway, it wasn’t exactly a massive hardship, I imagine!  So remembering that, I thought it might be interesting for non-Muslims in Turkey to hear more about Ramazan, seeing as it has such a big impact on the lives of those taking part. And to best understand it myself, it made sense to give it a try, and document my efforts…

First though, the original article, written September 2007:
Ramazan – Fasting & Feasting

This morning, Muslims all over the world woke up, showered, brushed their teeth, got dressed and set off for work or school like they do every day. But with one crucial difference. Today, and every day until Friday 12th October, our neighbours are fasting.

As visitors or residents in a tourist area, you may not immediately notice any difference between Ramazan and any other time of year – cafes and restaurants will still serve food, bars will serve alcohol – but for those observing the fast (and those close to them) this is an important and challenging time.

All healthy adults are encouraged to join in the fast (“oruç”) by taking nothing into the body during daylight hours. No food, no drink, no cigarettes, no coffee, not even a sip of water, from the time the first call to prayer signifies sunrise, to the time the fourth signifies sunset. Every morning, drummers come round the neighbourhoods to wake fasters in time to eat before daybreak – so light sleepers should find some earplugs if they don’t want to join in!

With drums this size, success is guaranteed...

The fast is supposed to be an opportunity to fast the mind as well as the body – jealousy, anger, dishonesty and other vices are all out, while generosity, patience and thoughtfulness of those less fortunate are in.

In reality the fast can have some interesting side effects – certainly, taking extra care on the roads, around heavy machinery, and serious nicotine addicts is strongly recommended! The fast is extremely challenging, even for those who have done it since late childhood, so try to be considerate of your neighbours when you light up a cigarette, crack open a cold beer or tuck into a sandwich: at least til sundown, try to keep those things to restaurants, cafes, bars and your own home.

Of course, as well as the daytime fasting, Ramazan’s also a time to share good fortune with friends, family and neighbours and you may be invited to join Muslim friends as they sit down in the evening to break their fasts. Expect a table laden with different types of food: soups, main courses, side dishes and dessert, and expect to leave with a very full stomach! But out of respect for your hosts, don’t tuck in until everyone else has had some water and the head of the table has started eating, and keep your glass of wine away from the table until after the meal.

The timetable for Ramazan changes in line with the movement of the earth around the sun. At this time of year, as winter approaches, the sun rises later and sets earlier making each day of fasting slightly shorter. Ramazan falls approximately 11 days earlier each year so in 2008 it will start around the 1st September, meaning longer days – and of course once it falls before the summer solstice, each day of fasting will actually be LONGER than the day before! [ed again: by the time of posting on this blog, 2011, Ramazan covered the whole month of August – just imagine no water all day in 40+ C temperatures!]

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Just starting out…

This blog is the public face of a personal journey, mostly a metaphorical one but wherever possible geographical as well.

The first posts I plan to publish are several years old and I’m not planning to reread them before posting them because if I do I’ll probably want to change my mind, being howevermany years older and wiser now.

So please bear that in mind if you read this blog and wonder what sort of idiot’s coming out with this stuff. The answer, thanks to the inexorable progress of time, is an idiot who doesn’t exist any more! And the same goes for any newer posts if I get around to writing them, and that’s my get-out clause for anything I say here that seems a bit unwise in retrospect.

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