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Turkey’s Riviera and the City of Bodrum

by Alex Berger on May 6, 2013

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.

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