Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Since then I have traveled extensively, and have been to nearly 75 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on I have made friends all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met in the past and present and hopefully will meet in the future.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Right 'Side'

Actually, it’s pronounced “See-day,” and it’s a small peninsular town on the southern Turkish coast, about 65 kilometers southeast of Antalya. I’d always heard good things about the “Turkish Riviera” and, after significant Web searches, I settled on this area. It’s a touch awkward to get to – fly from Budapest to Istanbul, then to Antalya, then bus or taxi or private car to Side – but, as it turned out, it was definitely worth the effort.
Side is an ancient Roman port city, and the stubby peninsula on which it is built is surrounded by a seafront wall which encloses the entire touristy beach resort town. I arrived from Budapest (after a too-brief connecting time at Istanbul airport, where I had to jump the visa line and then do an OJ run through to the Domestic Terminal, skidding up to the gate just as my flight was boarding) and was met by Huseyin, the driver arranged by the Beach House hotel, my home for the next five days. After a fairly quick fifty-minute drive, we wound our way through the old town and pulled up in front of the hotel, located on the southeast side of the town, on top of the seafront wall, around 8:30 at night.
I was hot and sweaty and dirty, the temperature was in the 90s (around 33 degrees C) and the humidity had to be at least 85%. Southern Turkey was experiencing its most unseasonable heat wave in decades and I had stumbled into it. Oh, frabjous joy. For the next five days, not a breeze, not a moving leaf on any droopy tree, not an inch of dry skin anywhere on any of the bodies ambling around the town. It was so hot and humid, my plastic medication capsules melted together. Really.
The family-owned and operated Beach House hotel, small (20 rooms) and cozy and nice and filled with character did not, unfortunately, have air conditioning. Just a ceiling fan. As a result, I sent most of each day chest-deep in the Mediterranean Sea at the small private beach just below my hotel.
But what a relaxing, pleasant stay it was. Side has something for everyone: generally good weather, a cooling sea, water sports, boat rides, Roman ruins (including an amphitheater still used for concerts), good Turkish food, sand beaches, amazingly friendly and happy and generous people, pretty young girls in bikinis, Turkish baths, families who have been coming here for years, generally good prices, cold beer and, best of all, no McDonald’s. Or Pizza Hut, Burger King, KFC. In fact, virtually no Americans. One shopkeeper called his staff to welcome me as the first American he had had in his store all year! Cool; I remain unique.
I checked into my clean and neat room (small, but what do you expect for 18 euros per night – about $23 US), turned on the fan, showered (didn’t take; 2 minutes later I was soaked with sweat), changed into the coolest clothes I could find (light shorts, tank top and sandals) and went down to the open lobby area in search of a cold beer.
At that point I met up with Pat and Norman, and elderly English couple from Chester who had been coming to the Beach House for more than 20 years. They pointed me in the direction of the cold beer, which I got and chugged down half of it immediately, which was necessary in that heat as within two minutes the cold beer had turned warm. I’m telling you, Readers, it was HOT! I called my Hungarian friend Natali, who was in Side working for a local travel agency, and we arranged to meet Saturday evening for a drink. I finished off my beer and another while talking to Pat and Norman about the area, restaurants, hotels, shops, etc.
I finally decided a walk was in order, to check out the town, so I staggered away down the top of the seafront wall toward the end of the peninsula (Hey! After two beers with alcohol content of 5%, and in temperatures above 100 degrees, you’d stagger too). I walked past restaurants and souvenir shops and finally came to the tip of the town, marked by the ruins of the Temple of Apollo. Great setting. I turned right and wandered toward the small harbor, encountering a heavier concentration of the aforementioned tourist sights, then came to the eastern side of Side (looks silly when you write it, doesn’t it?).
In short, Side is a tourist town. Every street is packed with restaurants, souvenir shops selling much of the same crap you find anywhere, bars, tiny markets and beach resort stores. The town was alive with tourists: English, German, Scandinavian, Russian, etc. The Germans were the heaviest lot, and even the local merchants all spoke German, the better to separate the German tourists from their euros. All the people from those cold countries came here to get warm.
Anyway, it was just a quick stroll to check out the area. I made it back to the hotel a ball of sweat. Another shower didn’t help, and there was virtually no breeze even on my seaside terrace. So I lay down on my soon-to-be sweat-soaked bed, under the ceiling fan, and eventually managed to fall asleep. A good but hot first evening.
Next morning I was up and at ‘em at 7 o’clock, ready for breakfast at 7:30. Naturally, they didn’t start serving until 8. Story of my life, always too damn early. So I went for a morning swim instead. The water was nice and cool, as even at that time of the early morning the temperature was in the 80s. Dried off and walked back up the stairs to find my typical Turkish breakfast in the hotel: tomatoes, hard-boiled egg (in an egg cup, no less!), two cheese slices, sliced cukes¸ bread, watermelon slice and some small unidentifiable raisin-type things. The hotel also advertised a full English breakfast served all day (at an extra price), but it was just too hot to eat so much so early.
I whiled away the rest of the morning at the beach, mostly in the water. I lunched back at the hotel’s seafront wall around noon, then scampered back in the water. To my surprise, the beach was actually sand instead of the rocks I had anticipated, so I didn’t even need my Teva sandals. After spending most of the afternoon in the water and lazing on a lounge chair, I showered and met Natali, my Hungarian friend, at the hotel around five for cocktails. We chatted and walked around the town, with her giving me some of the local history and tips on which restaurants to avoid.
After she left I was once again a ball of sweat, with beads of moisture on my arms, back, legs, face, etc. The sweat just rolled off me. I grabbed a burger at the hotel, as I was just too tired and hot to walk to a restaurant. My room fan tried its best, but was just barely able to cope with the heat. I tossed and turned and finally drifted off again.
Sunday morning, August 1, I arose around 7:30 for breakfast at 8. My sheets and pillow were damp with perspiration. I showered off then took a morning walk to the Roman ruins at the entrance to Side. I came back after a stroll around the peninsula, had breakfast (the same as the previous day; in fact, the breakfast was the same every day), and hit the sea again as quickly as possible.
Since I was back in Turkey, I needed to visit the hamam (Turkish bath), so I made arrangements with one of the big tourist hamams to pick me up around 11 AM. The hamam was definitely a modern representation of the older ones I had visited in other cities. And it was coed! The entire procedure of steam rooms, Jacuzzi, wash, cool down, face mask and massage (I looked like the Green Hornet) ran 100 euro – expensive for what I got. Next time, back to the older, more established hamam. My masseur made certain to hang around the desk when I paid so I’d feel guilty and give him a tip. As a result, his tip wasn’t quite as big as it could have been. The Turks obviously need to bone up on tipping etiquette.
The hamam’s car drove me back to town and I stopped off to check out the amphitheater. What an anti-climactic ripoff. It cost 10 Turkish Lire (TL) – around 5 euro, or $7 US, to enter. I walked into the entryway, up some stairs and was standing inside the amphitheater. There was no place to go and nothing to do except look at the stones and seat and rows. Turn left, walk about 20 meters, then back down some inside stairs and out. I was inside all of five minutes. Boooo.
Walked slowly back to the hotel and jumped in the sea again – I told you, that’s where I spent most of my days. Had a nice chicken kebab for lunch, accompanied by a nice breeze for a change. Showered in the late afternoon and decided to walk the town again, checking out all the tourist shops – and there are legion. But the merchants were really nice and courteous. Several of them offered me some tea, not to entice me into their shop to buy anything, just as a nice gesture. Picked up a few souvenirs for the grandkids anyway, then headed back to the hotel where I showered (again!) and walked down to a small bar called Kiss, where I had a nice cold Efes beer.
I got the name of what was supposed to be a good seafood restaurant from one of the merchants, and went over there to meet the maitre d’ named Imran. He was pleasant and courteous, and told me he’d fix me up with a mixed seafood platter: lobster (a small amount), two giant shrimp (love that oxymoron), some fried calamari, potatoes, a dish of mezes (dip appetizers with veggies and bread) and a nice bottle of white wine.
Well, it was quite good and filling and I drank most of the wine. I was supposed to be getting a good deal, so you might imagine my surprise when my bill came; on a piece of paper was written the figure 260 TL. 260 Turkish Lira, which equals around 130 euros, which translates into about $170 US. I almost shot Imran on the spot. But I hadn’t checked a menu or asked the prices, so I was stuck – again. The meal was good, but not THAT good! I must have a sign on my forehead that says ‘Stupid Tourist.’ Ah, well, that’s what credit cards are for. Thus endeth Sunday.
(Ed. Note: The seafood in the area is not particularly wonderful, as there is no local fishing industry)
Monday I was up early again, true to form, and back in the sea by 9 AM. I stayed there and on the beach until lunchtime, when I dried off and walked into the main part of town for some cheap food. I found a nice kebab place (after the previous night, I couldn’t afford much more than that) and had a kebab and soft drink. At least the tiny kebab shop was air conditioned in the rear. I stayed as long as I dared, then went shopping again for souvenirs. I finally found a gift for Tony, my son-in-law, who is very difficult to buy for: a Harley Davidson T-shirt (because he has a Harley) with the country name on the back: Turkey. I try to find these for him wherever I go, but haven’t always been so lucky.
I walked by Imran’s place and he rushed out to greet me (as well he should!). He offered me two colas, so we sat and chatted for awhile, which was nice, but not worth the price I paid for dinner. Ah, well, when in Turkey.
I showered and relaxed and had a beer on the hotel’s terrace, waiting for the 8 o’clock dinner hour at the hotel, when a barbecue would be served for the guests who were interested. Naturally I was, as the cost was only 20 TL and I got to meet several of the other guests, including a couple from Edinburgh and two teachers from Yorkshire. A really pleasant dinner.
After dinner I made arrangements to go on a river rafting trip the following day, pickup at the town entrance at 8:50 AM, so I turned in early. Sure enough, the van arrived on time to pick up myself and another couple, the first ones on the list. For the next hour we ran around gathering up the rest of the rafters, then finally headed into the nearby mountains to the raft site. We had our briefing, got our life vests and paddles (and helmets for some, but not for Yours Truly; I have rafted the Taos Gorge and a Nepal river, after all), trudged over to a nearby small waterfall for a photo op (the Turks used every opportunity to try and squeeze that last little bit of cash out of our grubby little hands) and finally to the rafts.
We were separated into nationality groups, so I got on an English-speaking raft. There were nine of us, but three were children who weren’t allowed to paddle and who just hung on for dear life. The six of us, plus our Raft Master, Ali Karim, headed out into the Yoprulu Canyon River, which had to be one of the prettiest rivers I’ve ever seen. It put the trashed US rivers to shame. It was green and clear and cold, around 55 degrees F, which made it invigorating when we wanted to escape the hot air in the canyons; all we needed to do was flip over the side of the raft and we were cool again.
For all you rafters out there, it was a nice outing, but it was just a Class 2 river, so no real challenges at all. But we floated down the minimal rapids and had water fights and rammed other rafts and chanted our rowing chants and swam alongside the raft and just had a generally good time. We stopped for a drink break and lunch, and finally emerged four hours later to head back to the hotel. A good day. And yes, I did buy a couple of photos of me rafting, plus a CD which goes to Morgan eventually.
Back at the hotel for a shower and a walk around looking for dinner. I had my only bad experience that night at a restaurant called Nergiz, right on the harbor. Overpriced, the waiters had a bad attitude and hassled me regarding my order, so I paid for my water and took off. I guess every trip has to have at least one bad experience. I posted a very negative review of the place on Trip Advisor, and I hope no one ever goes there again. So there.
I wandered some more and finally found myself at Stones restaurant. The host/hawker was friendly and courteous and we discussed the menu and my choices before I sat down. Another good experience. This time I had the durum kebab, which is like a chicken (or beef) stew made and served in a clay pot, which is surrounded by fire. Once the waiter puts out the fire, he takes a hammer and begins tapping the outside of the pot in a circle, eventually getting to the point where the pot breaks at the tapping area and he just lifts it off. A cool dinner show.
Back at the hotel, I was informed the Jacuzzi was once again filled with cool water, so I took advantage of it and took a dip. Aaah, it felt good and was a much-needed balm to my poor sweat-covered bod.
So, Wednesday, my last day in Side. I slept late for some reason, but had breakfast and spent much of the morning in the sea. The weather was still brutal, no breeze at all and the temp still over the hundred mark. I managed as best I could, and spent part of the late afternoon in the cool Jacuzzi talking with an English couple. Another shower (didn’t take) and off for dinner.
I walked around awhile, but finally wound up at the Gül restaurant, right around the corner from my hotel, which had been highly touted on Trip Advisor. I check these things out before I travel, just so I can choose the best places to visit. Anyway, the dining experience at Gül was perfect. Maybe better! The price was right – steak and garnishes and chocolate cake and a beer for around 24 euro - $32 US. A bargain. Plus, the manager gave me a complimentary small plate of mezes appetizers, some nuts and grapes after dinner, and two (count ‘em folks, two) shots of raki, the local Turkish answer to ouzo. Great place, highly recommended. Gets the Gary Seal of Approval.
I came back to the hotel and packed up my stuff. My plane was scheduled to leave at 6:45 the following morning, so I decided, rather than go to sleep, just to stay up until my driver appeared around 4:30 to take me to the airport. So I read books and lazed around and then managed to nap during the drive. Got to the airport around 5:30 and was told my plane would be an hour late. Figures. I could have slept after all.
The plane finally took off and I napped again to Istanbul, where I followed my previous trek in reverse to the International Terminal. I had plenty of time this time around, so didn’t have to hurry. Cleared Passport Control and found my gate (after an abortive search for the wrong posted gate) and the plane got off around 12:30, only 45 minutes late. Once again, a nap into Budapest, and arrived home around 3 PM. Unpacked, showered and crashed. I slept until 7 o’clock the next morning. I was bushed.
So, it was another successful vacation. I really like Turkey, international and government concerns notwithstanding. Every time I’ve been there, the people have been pleasant and helpful and welcoming and friendly. The country is generally very clean and trash-free, much more so than some of the western countries I’ve been in. The ‘riviera’ is quite popular with tourists from the northern climes, especially Englishmen, who can run around all day and night without their shirts. The English (men only, as far as I can tell) have this penchant for removing their shirts whenever they can, especially when drinking. I’m not sure why, and so far no one has been able to enlighten me.
I’ll be at home for a month, then off to Helsinki, Finland, for the wedding of a couple of friends of mine. Never been there before, so should be another interesting time. No plans yet for my winter trip, but will start looking soon. Maybe some diving in Jordan. We shall see. Until then, So Long, Bloggers. Catch you next time.