I have always been disproportionately excited about things happening out of season, like the summer in New Zealand which means winter for the rest of the world, or snow in May (in Siberia). So when we found out we were going to have a week off in October for Kurban Bayram (see this Wikipedia article for more on this holiday http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eid_al-Adha), we decided to go to the seaside, although the prospect of being able to swim in the sea seemed a bit unrealistic at the time considering that here in Kayseri the weather dropped to -2 C at some point in the preceding weeks. But as we woke up on the day we were to leave, the sun was shining, our bags were packed, sandwiches made and everything seemed possible.
Our destination was Kizkalesi (Maiden’s Castle in English), a town named after an ancient castle built on a castle only 50 meters or so from the town. In the antiquity, the town was called Corycus (Korykos). Kizkalesi is in Mersin province on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. There is an interesting legend associated with the Maiden’s castle, but more on that later.
The Kayseri bus station is somewhere on the outskirts of the city, so before you can take a bus out of town, you have to take a (free) shuttle bus to the bus station. The intercity buses are pretty cool – they have TV screens and bus attendants who serve drinks and a cookie. We had also made sandwiches for the ride, forgot them in the fridge, but still had some snacks as I also made guacamole in order to use up two very ripe avocados. With hindsight (which came to us about 1 minute after opening the container), I should not have put garlic into something meant to be eaten on the go. So when passengers started giving us dirty look and finally the only person who spoke English on the bus asked us to put ‘the smelly food’ away, we weren’t surprised, but still completely mortified. Oh well. At least if there were vampires on board, they were now well and truly dead.
Our bus journey ended in Erdemli, from which we took a dolmush (a mini-bus) to Kizkalesi, where we quickly found our hotel. We had booked our hotel on booking.com, painstakingly reading hotel reviews. We have stayed in our share of inexpensive hotels with mixed reviews, and the negative comments were usually left by people having a bad day – never had we encountered any major problems. Well, our luck must have run out, for everything said in the bad reviews was true. Yaka Hotel must have been lovely once upon a time, with a beautiful fruit garden and an English-speaking owner who is a treasure trove of local knowledge. However, the hotel is now well past its prime, with rusty ceiling fan, moldy bathrooms and dirty floors, but worst of all, a room full of mosquitoes – the live ones buzzing in the corners and the dead ones decorating the walls. We were quite disgusted and immediately made plans to move out the following morning, even if it meant paying a cancellation fee.
The only saving grace of Yaka hotel – their beautiful garden where we had (a rather small) breakfast.
Luckily, there was a wonderful hotel right next door! Hotel Luvi lived up to its 3 stars. It was clean, the staff were very friendly and welcoming, and we were invited to have breakfast upon checking in. I love hotel breakfasts so I was immediately won over. We checked in, and hurried to the beach – the main reason for our vacation.
The fist glimpse of the beach did not disappoint. The water was crystal clear, the sea was shallow and therefore amazingly warm. The tourist season had been over for about 3 weeks, so the beach wasn`t overly crowded. I was in heaven!
We took turns swimming (and taking photos). I got an inflatable floaty tube and Mike a water weenie (or a pool sausage). It was a perfect day – alternately swimming or just bobbing in the gentle waves on my floaty toy and then lazing around on beach chairs reading a trashy novel (me) or Thor Heyerdahl book (Mike)
A cool simit seller. Simit is a sort of bagel, covered with sesame seeds, is a favorite snack or breakfast food in Turkey. Unlike Antalya, Kizkalesi seems to be be a vacation spot mostly for the Turks themselves, which frankly was a relief. Russian tourists are not something to make you proud of your compatriots.
Once the sun went down, it got a bit chilly on the beach so we stopped at a beach bar to have a drink before dinner (After Kayseri, this seemed like such luxury! A drink in a bar! Out in public!). This would have been just another beach bar, except that they had two dogs – a mutt puppy called Nikita and a pug called Jackie. My wine forgotten, I went to work hugging the dogs. The next time we came over, Ahmet the waiter, having noted my excitement over the dogs, picked up the pug and plopped him in the seat next to me before taking our drinks order. Now this is what I call customer service!
The following morning I woke up bright and early and headed downstairs for breakfast which was served on the roof terrace. You could see the sea from there – as well as water tanks and solar panels, ubiquitous along the Mediterranean coast.
After some swimming and sunbathing, we went in search of lunch. Our friends Leyla and Aslan recommended a restaurant, and even Facebooked us a map and a list of dishes – isn’t technology (and our friends) great? Our lunch of grilled fish and a mixed kebab came with two giant complimentary salads, as is the custom in Turkey (although they are usually aren’t as big)
After lunch, time came to do what Mike likes best – exploring crumbly old rocks also known as historical sights. We headed to one of the two ancient castles of Kizkalesi – this one on the shore, called Korykos Castle.
Korykos Castle was linked in ancient times to the sea castle by a causeway. The castles were a link in the chain of coastal fortifications eastablished by the Byzantine admiral Eugenius in 1104 to defend and protect the borders of Byzantium. Here is a bit of history: (and feel free to scroll down to the pictures):”Historically, Kizkalesi was founded by settlers from the Aegean in the 4th century BC. The name Korykos was first mentioned in 197 BC when the Cilician coast was recaptured from the Egyptians by Antiochus III the king of Syria. After the Romans conquered Cilicia in 67 BC it became a Roman province. In 67 AD the Roman Emperor Pompeius rescued the settlement from the ever attacking pirates. The settlement got the name Korykos (Corycus) and became part of the Roman Empire. During this period it grew into a prosperous harbour city. During the Byzantine era the city’s defences were strengthened with two castles. In the 13th century AD when Korykos was part of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia the two castles were extensively rebuilt. Unfortunately, in building and rebuilding the castles the builders pillaged the ruins of ancient Corycos. In 1482 Korykos became part of the Ottoman Empire. During this period the site became abandoned, until just some eighty years ago, when people began to settle here again, calling it Kız Kalesi meaning Maiden’s Castle after the name of the sea castle.” (http://www.anatolia.luwo.be/destinations/kizkalesi.html).
Aside from all the historical significance, the castle was beautiful – in parts overgrown with weeds, in parts crumbling, it was very peaceful and charming.
This partially-crumbled wall resembled a dinosaur, so here is a shot of me pretending to feed it. I went on the other side to possible get a better shot and discovered that from the other side, it looked like a dog! So I pretend-fed it too.
Hot from climbing up and down rocks and steep stairs of the castle, we went to the beach for a quick swim. The sun was about to set, so lots of people were already wearing sweaters and cast us funny looks.
We decided to have a quick drink on the beach before dinner, fully prepared to camp out on our towels, but a nice man gave us to chairs. So here we were, sitting on our chairs in the middle of the beach….
We loved the dinner at Luvi Hotel. It was served buffet-style, with a soup and a hot dish and a selection of salads and sauces.
Part 2 to follow shortly!