We were on a mission – to show Michael’s parents, who came to stay with us for a few weeks, some Turkey, including one of our favorite places here – Çıralı. Now judging from this photo you might think we were moving house but nope, that’s just 4 people packing lightly for a week-long holiday at the seaside.
Michael hasn’t been driving since he left the US, refusing to drive in Russia and only venturing for a drive while on holiday in Antalya a few years before we came to live in Turkey and once in New Zealand where he had to master the art of driving on the wrong side of the road on the go. He managed beautifully except for one
huge gash tiny scratch on the rental car which, let’s face it, could have easily happened while the car was waiting to be picked up in the airport parking lot.
Once the giant puzzle that was squeezing all of our things into the car was solved, we set off, with me playing the navigator and the DJ. The first was easily achieved with the help of Google Maps on my phone, second was much harder as I kept skipping song after song amid Michael’s complaints of “Your music sucks”, “That’s a terrible song”, “Can we not listen to pop please?”. Just so you know, it’s not ALL pop. I pride myself on the eclecticism of music on my iPod, where Britney Spears is followed by Elvis Presley, Eminem, Abba, 80s Italian music, a Balkan gypsy band, Cake, Muse, and some more Abba. Apparently, arguing over music IS the number one reason for arguing in the car, but it did help pass the time. So on and on we drove, munching on fruit we’d bought at the farmers market, trading stories with Michael’s parents and watching the landscape become lusher and greener as we left Anatolya behind and neared the coast of the Mediterranean. After about 8 hours, we reached Side, a small seaside town and a popular seaside resort. Normally, such touristy place would not be our destination, but we wanted to break up the long drive and I couldn`t go much longer without swimming, especially after driving along the coast where clear turquoise sea was beckoning. So we decided to stay in tourist hell for one night and explore the ancient ruins (Mike and his dad) and swim in the warmest sea I had ever experienced (me and Mike’s mom). At +29C (85F), it was like swimming in warm soup. The city beaches were tiny and crowded, but at least the beach was sandy, because as nice as Çıralı was, I am still having nightmares about sharp pebbles digging into my feet as I stumble into the sea, much like the mermaid from the fairytale.
Now, what looks more attractive on a hot and humid August evening, this:
At night, Side was bustling with activity and on our way to the restaurant we had to dodge scantily clad tourists (how can you tell if a tourist is Russian? If it’s a man, he`ll be wearing Speedos!) and pushy souvenir sellers and waiters waving menus at us. Still, you could easily ignore all that once you stopped and looked around at the sunset bathing everything in golden light.
There are dozens of restaurants and cafes on the marina and around the old city centre, but we knew where we were going – Tripadvisor search yielded a name and an address of a highly recommended establishment, Ocakbasi (Zambak Sk 46 Opposite Roman Bath, Side, Manavgat, Turkey). It was a perfect place to celebrate Colleen’s birthday with lovely atmosphere, friendly, English-speaking waiters (a huge novelty after Kayseri!), great food and wine. I think I might have growled a bit as I was tearing into my perfectly baked lamb shank (tandir kuzu), served on a frying pan with sizzling vegetables.
Breakfast with a view
Apparently, I was too hasty in celebrating my lucky escape from sightseeing duties as the following morning Michael insisted we couldn`t leave Side without seeing at least the amphitheater, so we applied some sunscreen to our already sweaty faces and limbs and walked the narrow streets of Side to the old part of the city. Once there, I shamelessly eavesdropped on a tour led by a Russian-speaking guide, who claimed that in Roman times, one-armed people would applaud the performance by slapping any bold head they would see in the vicinity with their remaining arm. I`m sorry, what? But you at lest have to give him credit for vivid imagination.
Side, what a strange place. On the one hand you have serene ancient ruins and centuries of history. One the other, there are traffic-clogged narrow streets, throngs of tourists and garish souvenirs. It seems that one day was all that we need there.
Getting into our scalding hot car, wincing at the searing heat of the seats under us and the hot sticky air streaming through open windows, we cranked up the AC and set off to our next destination, what in our memory was the opposite of tourist hell – Phaselis. Phaselis, once a bustling Greek and Roman city, now lays in ruins alongside three harbors. There’s an aqueduct surrounded by pine trees and a central street which runs 24 meters long with ruins of various building on the sides of the street – from public baths to stores and theatres. We first came here in 2011, while we were on holiday in Antalya. We were living in Russia at the time and buying a package holiday to Turkey was the easiest and the cheapest way to go on holiday. It was mid-May, and the sea was too cold for most tourists, especially Turks, so there were fewer people around and when we stopped in Phaselis on our drive from Antalya to Kemer, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We explored the ruins and then swam in the cosy harbor, marveling at the shallow clear water, the peace and quiet and the indescribably gorgeous surroundings.
Now, we were here at the height of the tourist season, and Phaselis looked pretty much like Side. Still, the sea was warm and inviting, so I jumped in and swam the whole 1,5 hours it took Michael and his mom and dad to explore the ruins.