Turkey’s Riviera and the City of Bodrum

Bodrum Fortress and Harbor - Turkey

As the tepid water runs across my extended fingers in the bathroom in my small Pensiyon in Bodrum I find it a fitting parallel.  The shower head is in need of a soak with most of its nozzels obscured by calcium deposits. The water itself is slowly warming to the touch, though I can’t truly tell if it is just my flesh adjusting to the luke-warm water, or if hot water has finally made its way up to the third floor of the building and to my room.

Masts in Bodrum Harbor - Turkey

The room itself is unremarkable.  Despite a higher than normal number of errant black hairs on the sheets, it is clean enough.  After a sniff to confirm that the sheets are, in fact, freshly washed (they are), I settle in.  It’s nothing special – but then again, it’s a Pensiyon in a beach town.  That’s what you would expect. At 40 Turkish Lira a night, the private room with a small Queen sized bed is a decent alternative to the local hostel, which boasted one of the lowest ratings I’ve ever seen on HostelWorld and HostelBookers.  The bed is comfortable enough, though too short for me to sleep in it normally. Luckily, I’m not sharing the bed with anyone which allows me to sleep sprawled diagonally across it.

Turkish Butcher - Bodrum, Turkey

My room seems the perfect parallel for my time in Bodrum.  I go through phases where my opinion of the city is stone cold, then others where it warms slightly, and then the occasional moment, albeit brief and fleeting, where I am hot for the city and feel tempted to advocate it and the surrounding area.  It’s not really Bodrum’s fault.  As with oh-so-many relationships it’s more that we’re just not an ideal match and that my timing is off – in this case by a matter of a few days.

The Shipwreck - Bodrum, Turkey

This city and those on the rest of the peninsula are resort cities.  They consist of overpriced restaurants  gimmicky nick nack shops, sprawling harbors full of gorgeous yachts, specially designed tourist boats, and a smattering of local fishermen’s multi-colored one-man boats.  It has a smattering of pebble beaches that ring crystal clear water that is so inviting it’s easy to forget that summer hasn’t quite yet arrived. Unfortunately, this time of year the beaches are littered with old construction materials, debris, and unattractive flotsam.

Colorful Fishing Nets - Bodrum, Turkey

The challenge is, I don’t like resort cities.  I’m not an all inclusive resort type of guy.  I also don’t like gravel beaches. I grew up on the golden sand beaches of northern Mexico and am perpetually spoiled.  I go stir crazy if i’m supposed to just sit by the pool (or seaside), drink, eat, and do nothing.  I’m a history and stimulation junky.  I need old streets to explore, pristine natural beauty, and rich culture that smacks of authenticity – not postcard-poised tomfoolery.   As a result, all of Bodrum’s greatest assets are things that I’m disinterested in and apathetic about.

Boat Sailing Sea of Flowers - Bodrum, Turkey

When deciding to head to Bodrum, I failed to realize just how new the whole area is.  It’s a resort peninsula and it is fairly obvious that most of the construction has occurred in the last 30 years.  Even today there is heavy construction to be seen everywhere.  The hills are blighted by massive white and beige scars where new developments are being dynamited into the side of the hills.   The architecture that has been used and marks the area reflects modern Turkish design which revolves around ugly squares and rectangles.  It’s an odd mash up between old soviet architecture, the nightmarish cement architectural movements in the 60s and 70s and an almost Asian influence.   On the upside, the use of whitewash on almost all the buildings does help offset their lack of character. Yet, this is far from unusual.  It’s the same in heavy resort areas all around the Mediterranean and reminds me of parts of the Costa Del Sol in Spain. It’s also perfectly in line with what a lot of people want and are drawn to.  There’s a reason Bodrum is a huge tourist destination and for what it is, it really does have a lot going for it.

Sailing at Dusk

If you peruse a history book, you’ll find that Bodrum has a rich history spanning back thousands of years.  The city sprawls around the base of an impressive, and extremely attractive crusader castle which is highly unusual and the city’s defining landmark.  The streets in the city center are white marble and boast a fair amount of greenery.  They’re not unattractive, and have a clean feel to them.  There are even a few winding alleys and old side streets that cut between them and which tease of the historic city that Bodrum is built upon.  Yet, unlike Antalya which still boasts a fairly robust old city, Bodrum’s is more or less non-existent. Its main attractions can be seen in a matter of hours, and despite boasting the ruins of one of the ancient 7 wonders of the world, all that is left is a smattering of column chunks…most of the ruin was carted off by archaeologists and by the Crusaders who built the Castle.  Bodrum knows what it is, and seems to have committed to that identity fully focusing on the water and all that is connected to it.  There are a line of old windmills that overlook the city – the type of thing that the Greeks have leveraged to great success and which could be a not-insignificant tourist attraction.  Yet, only one of them is restored, and even that is in dilapidated shape.  The rest are more ruin than windmill and in such a sad state that they’re barely worth the visit, let alone a photograph.

Castle Peacock - Bodrum Castle, Turkey

And yet, I came to Bodrum largely for the sun and it has delivered. The moments I’ve enjoyed most here have been, perhaps unsurprisingly, when the sun was out.  The sunsets are beautiful, the food is delicious, and the water…well, the water is its own attraction, even if it is still too cold to swim.  I’ve entertained myself by day wandering the city, eating, and then relished the late-afternoons which I’ve spent at small beach-front cafes enjoying a beer, smoking my pipe, watching people, and the gradual shifting shades of Aegean sunsets watched against the backdrop of castles and sailboats.  It is a fantastic way to recover and recharge after Denmark’s long and dark winter. Forcing myself to slow down and to just relax also has its benefits.  It may bore me slightly, but it is no doubt good for me.  I can feel myself finally catching up on sleep, and that my mind is sorting through and planning things that have been pushed to the side as more pressing needs draw my attentions.  I’ve even managed to finish the latest Game of Thrones book and to do some recreational reading.

Bodrum Windmills - Turkey

At night the city’s fish market turns into an intertwined and charming combination of fresh fish stalls and chaotically organized restaurant tables overflowing with Turks, Russians and Germans.  The official tourist season started April 1st – the day after I departed – which meant that all of the secondary attractions (the hamams, some restaurants,  the ferry to Rhodes, etc.) were all shut down.  The city’s nightlife was also much less than I imagine it might be during high season.  Despite how quiet the town was, I did manage a day-trip to the nearby Island of Kos which was charming, if equally sleepy. At some point I’ll have to re-visit Bodrum during high season and with friends or a romantic partner in tow.  I suspect that if I do, I’ll enjoy the city in a whole new way.  So, Bodrum – I bid you farewell … until next time.

A Cat In Kos Castle’s Court – Weekly Travel Photo

Cat Guarding Kos Fortress

While the sound of men at arms, craftsmen  local officials, and traders has long since vanished from the stone walkways and carefully fitted walls that shape Kos Fortress one small army still remains.  The fortress of Kos is manned by a small band of warrior-hunters. Predators that seek out vermin, set upon them, and then plop down in the grass to carefully lick themselves clean, paws stretched high into the air.  Some might argue that they’re the purrrfect guardians for a castle that served its purpose in times of peace and war for generations but which has now retired from service. These guardians casually tolerate visitors – the occasional tourist who makes his way across the site of the old draw-bridge, pays his three lira and gains access to the castle grounds.  Grounds that, at the time of my visit, looked more like a garden for wild flowers than former military instillation. The scent of pollen was thick in the air, mingling with the fresh aroma of ocean salt to add a wonderful sweet perfume to the air. The low rumble of purring cats was accompanied by the audible buzz of the fortress’ airforce – thousands of bees hard at work darting from flower to flower while being equally careful to avoid the casual swat of bored cats relaxing in the late-afternoon sun.

The old crusader castle at Kos, built in part by the Knights of St. John in 1315, was one of my favorite parts of my day-long visit to Kos. The mixture of wild grass-filled moats, and wildflowers so thick they covered the ground with bands of color reminiscent of a rainbow, was deeply relaxing and soothing. It led to an hour of pure relaxation and bliss, made that much better by the nearly complete absence of other tourists.  As far as the guardians?  Well, the cats kept a close watch on me – suspicious but hospitable – as only cats can be.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Tallying Up The Cost: 17 Days in Turkey

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Turkey:  A country that spans two continents, has seen the rise and fall of numerous empires, and offers an amazing melting pot of contrasting cultures and geographic terrain.  When the time came to choose the destination for my winter break the choice was clear.  After years of dreaming about a visit, I was more than ready to pack my bags for Turkey.  After doing some research, perusing the excellent posts on the Turkish Travel Blog and talking to my brother, David Berger, who recently visited Turkey, I decided on three destinations. Choosing the three was a challenging task.  The rich history of Turkey, combined with its size and geographic location mean that Turkey has an amazing depth and richness which might initially surprise those not overly familiar with the country.  While I considered several popular destinations such as the ruins at Ephesus and the natural hot springs at Pamukkale, I ultimately decided to focus instead on Istanbul, the Cappadocia region, and Antalya.

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Istanbul was a must.  The former location of Byzantium and Constantinople, it offered an incredible opportunity to visit one of the centers of modern civilization and the heart of some of history’s most captivating empires. The reports I had from friends and peers in the travel industry also suggested a city that was far more compelling and engaging than your standard capital city.

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Cappadocia has captivated me for years.  Fairly unknown outside of Turkey, Cappadocia’s unusual cities are carved into the sides of the local hills and delve deep underground into  sprawling chambers. Ever since stumbling upon the first photos I’ve had it at the top of my list of unique and unusual places to visit.  However, it wasn’t until recently that I learned that Cappadocia is actually a rather large region, which encompasses a number of small towns and not a stand alone town.  After doing my research I eventually decided on the small town of Göreme to serve as my base while exploring the region.

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The final city was Antalya.  I chose Antalya, which is situated at the heart of the Turkish Riviera in part due to climate and in part because I had a strong interest in seeing the unusual Lycian ruins at Myra.  Located along Turkey’s southern coast it offered the allure of significantly warmer weather and the chance to catch up on some time in the sun – something I’ve been sorely missing here in Copenhagen.  While far larger and more widely known, my concern about visiting the ruins at Ephesus stemmed from the belief that they are likely heavily stabilized to handle the number of visits they get annually.  I know it is necessary to protect the site but it diminishes the life of a place. The ruins of  Pompeii are another good example. Despite the small size of the ruins at Myra, and the excessive tourist infrastructure in the Antalya region, I still found them to be charming and well worth the visit. Antalya also offered the opportunity to see the Düden Falls which is located in the heart of the city. It is a picturesque waterfall which cascades over the side of the cliffs and into the Mediterranean below.

 Analyzing The Cost

One of the reasons I chose Turkey was the relatively cheap airfare to and from Istanbul from Copenhagen.  My round-trip ticket cost $245 USD. Even though it was slightly more than I might have paid using a budget airline within central Europe, it was still reasonable.  The three cities I selected are relatively far away from each other.  This posed a challenge from a transportation standpoint.  The cities are also connected by long-overnight buses, a viable option, but one which I hoped to avoid.  To my surprise Turkish Airlines and their subsidiary AnadoluJet were running specials which meant I could get airfare from Istanbul to Kayseri (Cappadocia), Kayseri to Antalya, and Antalya to Istanbul for virtually the same price as a bus ticket.  In total these in-country flights ran me $179 USD.  The combined cost of all airfare/long distance transportation, excluding regional tours, was $423 for the trip.

For the duration of my visit the US dollar was performing fairly well against the Turkish lira and was typically about 1.75 lira to the USD.  This gave me a significant amount of added buying power as most Turkish prices are structured at what would be 1:1 between the lira and the dollar.   My hostels were usually 20-30 lira per night.  After facing the brutal food prices here in Copenhagen for 6 months, I was eager to splurge on the relatively cheap food in Istanbul.  As a result, instead of opting for the 2-8 lira kebabs, I tended to seek out more filling meals which ranged anywhere from 10 Lira to 30 Lira a meal. I’ll do a more comprehensive post on food in Turkey at a later date. It is worth noting that the area around Sultan Ahmet Square in Istanbul and the old city in Antalya were significantly more expensive as they cater heavily to tourists.  Another item that was surprisingly expensive (but more available than expected) was alcohol.  Beer was typically priced between 6-10 lira per bottle.

Unfortunately, due to the need to use cash for many of my purchases, I don’t have an accurate breakdown of individual expenses by category (eg: food, lodging, etc.). However, the sum for all non-airfare costs over the 17 day period was $1,086. This includes approximately $100 in added expenses for unnecessary clothing purchases.

The total cost for the trip including all primary and secondary expenses, transportation, food, entertainment, etc. was $1509.55 or about $89 USD per day.  I suspect that a traveler operating on a tighter food budget, and doing fewer organized regional tours (I did two expensive day trips in Cappadocia and Antalya) could drop that fairly easily to $60 a day. Similarly, budget travelers moving at a slower speed and adding more legs to their trip could reduce or at least spread out a significant portion of the $179 USD in transportation costs I paid.

Turkey is a wonderful budget friendly destination that has a lot to offer.  Have a specific question not covered in this post?  Let me know and I’d be happy to answer it if I can.