Offending Australians and turtle love with travel writer guy

Turns out one of the only other guests at my hostel in Selcuk is an actual travel writer.

You know the type that travels the world, writes for a guidebook (he won’t let me say which one, hence why I’m calling him Travel Writer Guy) and best of all – gets paid for it.

Given it’s currently my dream job I decide to tag along with him on a day tour I had no intention of doing, to learn a few tricks of the trade.

Because it’s spring it’s just me, Travel Writer Guy and newly divorced American woman living in Mexico on the tour, which begins at one of the seven ancient wonders of the world – the Temple of Artemis.

It’s pretty underwhelming.

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Yep, that one column there is all that’s left of it.

Luckily the ancient ruins of Ephesus are far more impressive.

It takes a long time to get to them though, as Travel Writer Guy decides he needs to buy a hat.

In his camo pants and stripy salmon short-sleeve shirt he’s eyeing up one of those full brimmed nude hats with the drawstring.

The American and I convince him that the hat screams dorky tourist and will ensure he’ll never get laid again in his life. He reluctantly agrees to buy a Nike cap instead.

When we finally get to Ephesus it exceeds my expectations. The ruins are fantastically preserved to the point you can still see the carvings in the marble where they played backgammon type games. It baffles me that even though the excavations began more than a century ago they reckon Ephesus is still 80 per cent un-earthed.

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The library is my favourite part of Ephesus and the reconstruction of it is with 70 per cent original materials.

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After our tour ends (and amazingly not at a carpet, leather or onyx factory) Travel Writer Guy and I go in search of a cold beer.

Mid-way through his beer Travel Writer Guy mentions, albeit fleetingly, how in his experience he finds Australians to be well travelled but un-educated and quite stupid.

An hour later the girl sitting at the table next to us makes her way over to us and almost in tears says – “excuse me, I just wanted to let you know that your comments about Australians were not only wrong but deeply offensive. Next time you want to offend someone else’s country you should be more considerate of who’s around you.”

Then her sturdy looking boyfriend backs her up with – “rude man, very rude.”

They storm off.

We’re lost for words, we just stare at each other with a combined look of – did that just happen?

When words return to me I say – “I bet they’re going to be staying at our hostel tonight, don’t ask me why, I can just feel it in my bones.”

Sure enough when I head for beer-o-clock who’s sitting next to me around the fire…

As my former PR colleague used to say – ‘if you’re gonna eat shit eat it while it’s hot’ – so I apologise profusely and tell them I don’t have anything against Australians, I actually quite like them.

Done. Dusted. We move on.

Oblivious to all of this Travel Writer Guy emerges for dinner and plonks himself down right next to the Australians. I’m in hysterics, I’m literally crying with laughter. It gets so bad I excuse myself and hang out in the bathroom until I regain control of myself. Luckily the Australians are laughing as well, proving they do have a sense of humour.

When I return Travel Writer Guy is looking at me like – what the hell is so funny? But then five minutes later I see his pupils dilate and he gives me this look of – oh my God how did you know?

I give him a look back of – see, told you so, felt it in my bones.

So there I guess is what I’ve discovered about travel – you spend a day seeing amazing things like one of the seven ancient wonders of the world and the ruins of Ephesus and you remember the fact that you offended some Australians and of course my highlight of the whole day – watching turtles make love.

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And, I think this photo may be proof that it’s not just humans and dolphins that get pleasure out of sex.

Dalyan: home of my first full-blown travel meltdown

My well-travelled English friend told me when in Turkey you must go to Dalyan.

So I did.

To set the scene I hadn’t had a hot shower in a week and to get to Dalyan involved an entire day of travel on five different buses, a large portion of which I was sitting backwards next to a morbidly obese Turkish woman, with only one arse cheek on the seat, while a French kid with a rude mullet-esk haircut stared at me.

I also forgot to charge my iPod, so it was impossible to zone out of the driver collecting money, texting and talking on his phone while overtaking on seemingly blind corners.

When I miraculously arrive in Dalyan at sunset I discover my hostel is in fact a two kilometre walk out of town.

I swear I’m the only tourist in Dalyan and have many a panic attack as old cars driven my solo Turkish men drive past me slowly as I’m lumping my huge backpack past beautifully creepy deserted-looking buildings like this one.

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I arrive at my hostel at dusk only to discover it’s still deep in winter hibernation.

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In fact I’m the only person there, there’s no lights on, the staff don’t speak English and there’s nothing to eat.

I decide I’ll just have a hot shower and go to bed. I strip off and wait for the shower to heat up. Fifteen minutes later and nothing – still ice cold.

It’s about now I loose the plot. I’m sitting on the bathroom floor, naked, crying.

Dark thoughts follow. I’m travelling by myself around the world, I don’t know what I want, I don’t know where I want to go, I don’t know what I want to see, in fact, it’s even a struggle for me to decide what I want to eat for breakfast. What the hell am I doing?

I crawl into bed, it’s 7pm on a Saturday night. I crack open my emergency bottle of Efes beer and watch the heartwarming movie ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin.’

I tell myself all will be better in the morning.

But in the morning I awake to find that no-one in the town will take me to Turtle Beach and Dalyan’s famous mud baths for less than 100 lira.

They’re taking the piss.

That’s it. I pack my bags and board yet another bus this time for Selcuk, home of one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, the fantastically preserved ruins of Ephesus, and the house where it’s claimed the Virgin Mary spent her last years.

Five hours later and I arrive at the bus station. The hostel sends someone to collect me for free, they upgrade me to a private room with a double bed for the price of a dorm, there’s hot water, they’re playing Fat Freddy’s Drop, they crank the barbie, they give me Cadbury’s chocolate, the brothers who run it are Turkish/Australian, and they have toilets which you can actually flush toilet paper down – a rarity in Turkey.

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And so that’s me for the next five days as I slip into a food and Efes coma. If it wasn’t for the fact I had to get back to Istanbul for my Anzac Day tour I might have never left.

Ok I admit a ruggedly handsome Turkish/Australian man and his dog (and seriously I don’t even like dogs) might have had a little something to do with that too.

But who knows I might be back – they might make a bar wench out of me yet.

Blue cruising Turkey’s med in spring

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I don’t quite know why I thought it was a good idea to cruise Turkey’s Mediterranean at the beginning of spring.

I think it’s even less of a good idea once I discover I’m stuck on a boat for four days, in feral weather, with a silver-spooned toff couple from Canada.

Charles and I don’t get off to a good start. My first conversation with him and a New Yorker ends abruptly when he extends his hand out in front of my mouth and remarks – “anyway back to my story.”

That’s the first and last time I have a direct conversation with Charles.

Despite that I learn a number of things about him through osmosis.

My favourites and I quote – “I played piano, to a very high level.”

Then it’s déjà vu when a group of us were talking about how college sport neglects those just wanting to play socially and he pipes in with – “I had the opposite experience, I played college football to a very high level.”

His wife’s equally as grating with her loud almost American sounding voice telling countless long-winded and seemingly purposeless stories.

Luckily there’s an eclectic mix of other easily likeable boat passengers. My roomie is a 60-year-old expat kiwi who freakishly has had the same career in radio and politics as me, there’s a guy who decommissions chemical weapons for a living and I can’t not mention the fantastically funny, intelligent and musically gifted Englishman called James.

Then there’s Captain.

Captain, which we all call him because it’s easier to pronounce than his real name, is a 25-year-old Turk who has pretty much lived on a boat since he was 11, much to his farming parents’ dismay.

He looks a lot older but has a lot of mana and is a total cruiser to the point he drives the boat with his feet while sitting on a beanbag.

He’s also got a wickedly dry sense of humour.

My favourite was when James had a builder’s crack and Captain walks right up to him and says -“James your arse showing, people looking, but not me.”

He’s also ridiculously good at jenga, although he’s a bad loser and whenever he collapses the tower he pulls the ‘boat jenga’ card.

One night and one too many Efes beers later I decide we should up the stakes and bet on jenga.

Big mistake.

By the end of the night I owe the boat a bottle of raki, Captain a big box of baklava, and I somehow find myself in the boat kitchen cooking Captain nutella flavoured instant pudding.

I get my revenge though when he tries, like many others, to teach me to play backgammon. I can tell I frustrate the crap out of him and it finally boils over when he remarks – “most people two games understand, you many more.”

But perhaps my most embarrassing moment was on the last night when we were all looking at the stars and I point and ask – “what’s that one?”

Captain’s reply – “an airbus.”

Smooth.

Due to the feral weather our tour ends right where it started in Fethiye, but as luck so often has it on the last day we managed to get the sails up (even if they were around the wrong way) and some blue sky.

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We then bussed to Olympos, home of camp scout type treehouses, ice cold showers and the ancient Chimera flames which have apparently been burning for thousands of years. Given they’re now a mere shadow of their former fiery self they’re still pretty damn cool.

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Only regret – forgetting the marshmallows.

Turkey: eating myself out of house and home

It occurred to me today as I was eating possibly the best fish dish of my life that I’m in serious danger of blowing a New Zealand house deposit sum of money on food.

Then I thought to myself with no significant other in sight (seriously where the hell is he?) to buy a house with I mise well keep eating.

And that I did.

It was in Fethiye, a small coastal town in southern Turkey where I had this thought, right after buying a sea bass from their local fish market, taking it to one of the ubiquitous fish restaurants around it and getting them to cook it for me.

For the equivalent of $12 New Zealand dollars I get myself all of this.

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I think it’s the simplicity of the Turkish food which makes it so genius.

Their traditional breakfasts, which are included pretty much everywhere you stay, are a strangely perfect combination of bread, jam, honey, cucumber, tomato, a hard boiled egg, cheese, olives, and yogurt.

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But when you don’t have time for that there’s always simit. A bagel-type object coated with sesame seeds and costing the equivalent of 70 cents.

Then there’s their desserts. I’ve tried most of them apart from the one with chicken, yes chicken in it.

My favourites has to be the $7 mixed box of Turkish Delight I picked up at the Istanbul Spice Bazaar.

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Of course I can’t talk about Turkish desserts without mentioning baklava.

My first piece somehow magically transported me back to my family dining room table in Nelson and the sensation of tucking into a piece of my Mum’s bacon and egg pie.

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And, I’m not the only one who believes baklava has special powers. My Turkish friend told me that some new mums’ believe if they eat about 10 pieces of it a day they will produce copious amounts of breast milk.

Of course doctors’ dispute this and argue it’s the copious amounts of water your body needs after eating that much sugar that makes the milk.

I agree with the medical experts. After eating five pieces in one day I get the sugar shakes and the next day a full-blown sugar migraine. And like so many foods I binge eat, I haven’t been able to face it since.

Turkish coffee on the other hand is something I will never tire of. Like Vietnam they serve it short, minus the condensed milk.

I’m also fortunate enough that my Turkish friend just so happens to be judging the country’s barista competition while I’m in Istanbul, with the winner going on to represent Turkey at the world champs.

I don’t speak a drop of Turkish but I do speak the international language of coffee and happily spend a morning watching this guy in particular, who I reckon looks like the Michael Jackson of Turkish coffee, take out the title.

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The next day my kiwi friend who lives and works in Istanbul takes me to Ortakoy, famous for its baked potatoes.

It’s an overwhelming experience. Basically a 50-metre row of same same potato stalls all yelling at me, “Lady Gaga, Lady Gaga.”

Seriously I couldn’t look less Lady Gaga in my jeans, hoodie and jandals, just the blonde hair.

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As a end note, a reliable source told me a recent survey found that Turkish people eat for around four hours a day. I can attest to that. I can also tell you now when I get back to New Zealand that’s how much time I’m going to be spending at the gym each day to work it off my arse.

Cappadocia: the land of fairy chimneys, hot air balloons and a Turkish man called Ali

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I’m a firm believer that things happen in threes.

So when I arrive in Cappadocia and learn there’s been another hot air balloon crash in New Zealand, after the one in January which killed 11 people, I know I can’t do it.

I’m gutted. I always wanted to see Cappadocia’s lunar-like landscape from a balloon but I know how my mind works. I’d be up there thinking – nice view, I’m going to die.

The cave hotel where I’m staying even manages to find me a free flight, but I’m so tired from my week in Istanbul I sleep through the guys frantically knocking at my door at dawn trying to rouse me.

The next morning I do manage to drag myself out of bed but I keep my feet firmly on the ground and watch the balloons from the safety of my morning run.

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And in typical small world fashion, it turns out that possibly the only other girl staying at my hotel is a 25-year-old kiwi, currently living in London.

We spend the rest of the day perusing the Goreme Open Air Museum, where all the best cave churches are found and the Red and Rose Valleys, which house these sorts of formations.

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We end the day in typical Turkish fashion drinking raki, an anise-flavoured spirit you drink with water, affectionately known by the Turks as lion’s milk.

I hate to say I was quite underwhelmed with raki but totally overwhelmed by the pottery kebab which accompanied it.

It’s the simple things in life for me…

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The next day I do an organised tour of the underground city, Ihlara Valley, Selime Monastery and Pigeon Valley.

And it seems like the more I travel the more I dislike organised tours, especially when there’s a vapid tourist on them.

It’s directly after the tour guide is telling us about the fact the underground city was discovered in 1964 and excavated by foreign archeologists that this fingers down the blackboard sounding Australian woman asks – “so what year was this discovered?”

The tour guide gives her a look of you must be f$&@ing kidding me, before very politely saying “1964.”

Then she ponders out loud – “so was it the Turks who discovered it or foreigners?”

Shoot me. Shoot me now.

Despite the frustration Cappadocia has me so at ease that I let my guard down and get stiffed by a 8-year-old local at Goreme Panoramic.

I was just standing there feeling sorry for this poor camel and before I know it the kid’s got my camera out of my hands, is taking photos, and then demands $5 lira for the privilege.

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I need a day to recover from that tour so I spend it at the hotel learning to play backgammon. I’m terrible. So terrible in fact my teacher finally remarks in a moment of sheer frustration – “you know they say blondes’ quite dumb, you walking proof.”

I secretly wish though that I was playing backgammon with Ali. He’s what the two guys who run the cave hotel call their ‘bitch.’

He’s in his early 20s and is utterly beautiful. Problem is Ali’s English is about as good as my Turkish. About the only thing he can say is ‘you’re welcome’ when I say thanks for my breakfast, which my Turkish friend has helpfully put in phonetics for me – ‘tea sugar lar’

Just for the record Ali is taken.

I eat my feelings upon learning this.

It helps that there’s a ridiculously cheap and delicious Turkish restaurant opposite my hotel to do it in.

I’m there so often that whenever I go to leave the owner says – “I see you soon.”

I reply ‘”evet” – Turkish for yes.

Then on my last night when I reply ‘”yok”- Turkish for no, he delivers me a perfect glass of Cappadocian red wine to commesorate my departure on the night bus.

It goes down as the first and last night bus I’ll be taking in Turkey. I don’t sleep, although I’m sure the slit-your-wrist type breakup music I was listening to on my iPod, the two coffees, the glass of vodka orange, and the obese Turkish woman farting next to me all night didn’t help.

Again, another time when I had to take deep breaths and repeat after myself – ‘the journey is the reward.’

How New Zealanders have butchered the English language

I’m probably going to get yelled at for saying this but New Zealanders have butchered the English language.

I’m not exempt, if fact, ever since I hung up the microphone as a radio journalist my pronunciation has progressively gone to the dogs.

But I do feel like I can speak with authority on the subject considering I spent two long years of my life in speech therapy at Broadcasting School to make me sound not like myself – an 18-year-old.

I ended up sounding so old-school BBC with my pompous and perfectly rounded vowels that they failed me for not sounding like myself – an 18-year-old.

Apologises for getting side-tracked but I’m like an elephant – I remember these things.

Anyway here’s my problem with the way we speak.

We shove a w in where an l should be – schoowl, milwk, powl.

We’ve replaced our t’s with d’s – if you need a perfect example listen to the way a New Zealander sings our national anthem with sentences finishing with the words feet, meet and entreat.

We’ve replaced words ending with r’s with a’s – lata, matta, betta.

We end our sentences on a high note even when we’re not asking a question (my former speech teacher called high rise terminal).

And because we’re a small country we’re incredibly colloquial and forget that to the rest of the world sayings like nek minute don’t translate.

However, I did manage to teach the phrase to one English traveller and she emailed me the other day to say she’d seen nek minute in an urban dictionary. The definition: a phrase used to describe a dramatic turn of events.

I’m also a chronic user of the phrase, ‘I’m internalising a really complicated situation in my head’ from the recent kiwi anti-drink driving ad . I use it to describe how I feel when I’m trying to order off a foreign menu.

Again, doesn’t translate well. In fact, most people just look at me like I’m mental.

My conclusion that Zealanders have butchered the English language though was cemented after numerous people on my tour group in South East Asia said that I was harder to understand than the two German girls – and one of them spoke pigeon English.

Then in Thailand when I was describing the Bangkok gem scam to a Welsh lad he thought I was talking about a ‘gym scam’ and asked if they forced me to buy a treadmill.

But more awkwardly, a few days later when we were signing our friend we nicknamed ‘Scuba CC’ up for a day of diving the English instructor thought we were quite up ourselves for nicknaming her ‘Scuba Sexy.’

And just one last thing about being a New Zealander while I’m on the subject.

The other day a Turkish man asked me what our national symbol was. I replied a kiwi. He’d never heard of it so asked me to explain what it was.

I began, “it’s a short, fat, flightless bird, with a really long beak who’s hopelessly endangered and almost extinct.”

Then it dawned on me, we’ve possibly chosen ourselves the most un-inspiring national symbol. Yes, it’s unique to New Zealand but surely we could have picked a bird that could at least fly.

The one thing you don’t want to be called when you’re butt naked at a Turkish hammam

After my incredibly awkward Vietnamese massage you’d understand why I was packing myself about visiting a Turkish hammam.

It doesn’t help my nerves that it takes an hour and the assistance of at least 20 different Turkish men to find the place in the pouring rain.

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The price is exorbitant but I’ve walked around for so long I just want to get this over with. And I guess that’s the price you pay to visit the oldest functioning hammam in Istanbul.

After I pay I’m led to my private changing room. I strip down to just my undies, cover myself in a tiny tea-towel looking wrap, slide on impossibly impractical clogs and head for the hammam.

As I enter one of my clogs falls off and jandal slaps the marble floor making a loud echoing thud. There’s about 20 naked woman staring at me now. So much for blending in.

I gingerly de-robe and lie on my back starfishing the warm marble slab.

It feels good. It helps that I’m almost hypothermic from the walk here and a bit hung over from my first Turkish party.

30 minutes of sweating later and there’s a tap at my foot.

It’s time.

A large Turkish woman extends her hand and guides me to a secluded area of the marble slab for my sand-papering.

Before I lie down she grabs my undies and rolls them up into a g-string. I’m mise well be totally naked.

I lie face up as she begins to scrub. She’s giving me a look. I know this look. It’s the same one the lady who gave me a pedicure in Vietnam had after having to take a cheese grater looking object to my feet. It’s the look of: I’m not paid enough to deal with this shit.

I embarrassedly apologise and try and explain that it’s all South East Asia’s fault.

Just to make a point she grabs my hand and rubs it against my legs which are covered in layers of rolled up dirt-blackened skin.

She must hate me.

She continues the vigorous scrubbing but then out of the blue she grabs my cheeks and remarks, “like a baby.”

Ok, that feeling of being naked and vulnerable from my Vietnamese massage is returning.

What the hell does she mean by “like a baby?”

After she’s scrubbed my tan off she leads me by the hand to a big fountain of water in the corner. On the way we pass a group of four Turkish woman and she again remarks “like a baby.” They all giggle.

Next she makes me sit on the marble floor crossed-legged as she shampoos my hair and again as she’s throwing buckets of warm water over me she’s exclaiming, “like a baby, my little baby.”

I interpret this to mean one of three things.

One: she thinks I’m under-developed for my age.

Two: I look like a total newbie to the hammam.

Three: she’s done such a good job with the exfoliating my skin is now like that of a babies.

Just like in Vietnam I’ll never know what she meant, but here’s hoping for option three.