Have a dose of what life is really like living here – from my single-handed destruction of the Turkish language, random arguments with random relatives about everything from apples to vaginas to learning the secrets to making the perfect içli köfte! Highs or lows this is my observations from the melting pot of crazy that is my life in Mersin.
You guys all remember my infamous “One Finger Salute” post from wayyyy back in 2019, yeah?
Well, The Turk recently told me that he thinks he might know who the crazy T-1000 Terminator is!
Apparently The Turk was recently playing Okey (Turkish tile game) at a local kıraathane (coffee house) in the Village recently when he got talking to an acquaintance (who will for the sake of this post be called T-1000). What follows is a “probably” accurate account of the conversation:
T-1000: Is your wife yabanci (foreign)?
The Turk: Yes.
T-1000: Did she give have an altercation in Çamlıbel a while ago?
At that moment, the Turk realised that T-1000 is the crazy feck who threw his entire body on our car so was very particular with how he continued.
The Turk: Yes, she did. She was waiting patiently in traffic and was being respectful to the driver in front of her that was trying to park. Some impatient prick (my words, probably not The Turk’s) behind her kept using his horn. So, she gave him the finger.
T-1000: She was in the wrong.
The Turk: Was she? Or was the micro peen (again my words) in the wrong for not respecting the road rules.
T-1000: She would have been at fault legally.
At that point The Turk said he was steaming, and told me it took everything in him to not lose his shite.
The Turk: The fecking prick (yes, yes, my words) is lucky that I wasn’t there because I would have beaten him senseless for disrespecting my wife!
T-1000: *stares back down at his tiles and says nothing more*
The game resumes and fresh çay was brought to the table. The Turk (being a champion at times) coughed lightly into his hand and “accidentally” nudged T-1000’s çay glass causing it to spill all over him.
I have never been prouder of The Turk than I am right now!
Did you know that Janey in Mersin was named one of the Top 20 expat blogs in Türkiye by Feedspot? Ch-ch-check it out here!
As you all know I love to take my cross poodle / bishon fraise, Hurley, out on adventures. He’s 12 now and becoming a bit of a grump so we want to keep him happy and active as much as we can.
Recently Daughter and I took My Hurley Dog to the Kanlıdivane Archaeological site north of Ayaş, Mersin.
The entire archaeological site is built around a natural sinkhole. Among the highlights, there are: the Tower of Zeus Olbios, the Armaronxas Family’s Relief, the Church of Papaylos, and a temple mausoleum. The mausoleum was built by Queen Aba for her husband and sons who are said to have perished in a plague.
Like most archaeological ruins, Kanlıdivane has a rather gruesome back story attached to it. It is said that the Turkish name, Kanlıdivane, derives from the ancient name Canytelis, which translates to “bloody crazy”. Now, technically, it no doubts refers to the red colour of the walls of the sinkhole; however, I prefer the legend that in Roman times criminals would be executed by throwing them into the sinkhole: Totally plausible reaction if you ask me.
A five-minute walk up the road from Kanlıdivane leads you to Çanakçı rock tombs. These four tombs have figures carved into the walls and an inscription condemning any grave robbers that happen upon them.
Kanlıdivane has been extensively restored by the government with pleasant walking paths (although those cobblestones are not high-heel friendly so wear walking shoes), good parking, clean toilets (always a bonus) and a small café and shop.
I met Nancy a few years ago when she first moved to Mersin. Nancy allowed me to join her on many photography expeditions around Mersin (and even further afoot), introducing me to places that I would probably have never found by myself. She is a well-renowned photographer, having taken part in photography exhibitions and festivals around Türkiye and internationally, with her most recent exhibition in Istanbul this month being a near sell-out!
One of the things I love about Nancy is her desire to get the best photo possible. She doesn’t hold back and will climb over rocks, wade through silt up to her knees or even dodge traffic to get the shot. For those of you who follow my Instagram stories you would have noticed a number of stories featuring Nancy and her crazy high-jinx’s as we travelled around Mersin taking photos and researching for the book.
These are a few of my favourite photos of her:
Sunrise at Kizkalesi. Beautiful, yeah? Gorgeous? Breathtaking?
Sunrise at Kizkalesi is all of those things and so much more. In an effort to get the photo for our cover Nancy climbed onto a long-abandoned dock resulting in her slipping in the pre-dawn light, nearly impaling herself on a metal pylon and looking like she had just done five rounds in the ring with Mike Tyson.
She also had quite a few encounters with the local dogs who were more than willing to model for her and a few even more curious four-legged friends who thought that she may or may not be available for, ahem, other things.
Nancy was never afraid to climb to the highest point of any sinkhole, ruin, mountain or cliff face dragging me kicking and screaming along for the ride!
And on-coming traffic is never really a concern… I mean they’ll stop, won’t they? Won’t they?
Mersin: All Over comes is available on Amazon on 1 June 2022. If you’re visiting Mersin, or just want to know more about the area you can pre-order your ebook here. Paperbacks will also be available on Amazon from 1 June 2022 and hopefully for those of you living in Türkiye I’ll have some available for you as well.
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I know I’ve been threatening to do this for a while now but it looks like it’s really happening… Mersin: All Over is being formatted as we speak and will soon be live to purchase on Amazon, IBooks, Kobo, and many more!
If you’re thinking of visiting Mersin, or maybe, like me, you visited family each year and always found yourself wandering around aimlessly having no idea where to visit next, then this is for you:
Written with 20 years of experience, expat Jane Gundogan, has assembled her knowledge, anecdotes and research into Mersin: All Over. This is the ultimate guide to uncovering the real story of this fascinating part of Türkiye. For the first time ever, this area is getting the recognition and resource it deserves, catering to a little of everything, from hidden castles to the author’s favourite restaurants. You’ll be surprised by what this often-overlooked part of the Mediterranean has to offer.
In Mersin: All Over you’ll visit the Big Five of Mersin including the incomparable Kizkalesi, historical Tarsus, the stunning dining experiences at Mersin Marina, the almost hidden Alahan Monastery, the recently-discovered Gildiere Caves and, of course, the unspoilt beaches of the Mediterranean coastline. This book will give you the inside information to discover little known places and the juicy stories behind them that bring the area to life.
Inspirational colour photography by the well-renowned photographer, Nancy Habbas, does more than just provide pictures of Mersin, her images prepare you for the beauty of what you will see. Mersin: All Over doesn’t stop at giving you helpful guides and information on places to avoid, it is also filled with hilarious anecdotes, and tips to fit everything into your day. Jane shares her expert advice for exploring the wonders of this little-known province so you can make the most of your time in Mersin.
Release date: 1 June 2022
Pre-order available soon.
And for those of you living in Türkiye I am currently in discussions with a Turkish publisher so you can buy direct at an excellent price (none of those pesky international postage charges that we all loathe).
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Thanks to Andrea Lemieux from The Quirky Cork, it has recently come to my attention that there are a few wineries in the region.
If you are an amateur sommelier or (maybe you’re like me) just drink too much wine, you might like to look at her book on Turkish wines here.
I recently visited Selefkia Wines, which is located outside of Mukaddem, Silifke. They hold regular wine tasting and tours at their production warehouse (their vines are high in the Toros mountains). Ebru speaks excellent English and is ready for you to tour the winery if you are passing. Selefkia Winery is unique in that it is a vegan winery.
But isn’t all wine vegan? It’s just grapes, right?
Not quite. Many wineries use animal products in the processes of winemaking. This could mean egg whites, gelatine, fish bladders and milk proteins. These are all used to clarify the wine. Lots of vineyards also use animal products in their fertilizer like fish emulsion, blood and bone meal.
Ebru tells me that Selefkia Winery ensures that their wines are organic and animal-friendly from the soil up and use the proteins from peas to clarify their wine. This process has no effect on the quality, taste, and alcohol content of the wine.
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I’ve been thinking about food quite a bit the last few weeks. Maybe it’s the cold weather, maybe it’s the only thing I miss about living in the Village, but either way, I’m hungry.
Food in Mersin is rather unique with its mix of Turkish, Ottoman and Arabic, and a flavour all of its own. Food is always better when it is produced locally, when it is distributed locally and when it reaches the table locally. One of the biggest attributes to Mersin food is everything is fresh, straight from the pazar to the table. Here are some of my absolute favourite foods to enjoy in Mersin.
Mersin has many dishes that originated from the province. My favourite and probably the best known of all Mersin dishes is – the tantuni!
Tantuni is a traditional street food dish consisting of thinly sliced beef that is seasoned with Turkish spices and herbs, usually cooked with onions and tomatoes. The combination is cooked in specially designed tantuni pans.
Traditionally, the dish is served rolled in a durum wheat wrap, with ground sumac and a lemon wedge on the side. Since every tantuni chef has his own method and secret technique of preparing the dish, it is said that the flavours of tantuni are never the same.
Anyone who has been to a Middle Eastern or Lebanese Restaurant would have tried the similarly made Kibbe, but I know that a Turkish Icli Kofte is just that little bit better. They are incredibly difficult to make, and the few times I’ve tried have been nothing more than a disaster, but if you happen upon a local making them do not leave before you taste one (or a dozen).
Künefe is a crazy ass desert served here in Mersin and throughout Turkey made of cooked cheese, syrup and icecream. Künefe is well known throughout the provinces of Mersin, Gaziantep, Hatay, Kilis and Adana, although it is served in many Arabic countries. If you do want to make an attempt of this amazing dessert I suggest you go check out Ozlem’s recipe. She is, as usual, my go-to person when attempting Turkish food but this one looks a little out of my league.
Made with caramelized grated carrots, sugar, and nuts, this sweet concoction is rolled into balls and usually covered with shredded coconut before consumption. When I was in Tarsus recently, I was told that Cezerye is an aphrodisiac, so consume with caution.
A classic Turkish salad made with thin bulgur wheat, tomatoes, mint, garlic, parsley, and either lemon juice or sour pomegranate molasses. Red pepper flakes are often added to the salad to make it spicier. A must-have for your mangal.
People may try telling you this is an Adana dish but don’t you listen to them, it’s definitely a Mersin tradition. Made from the same bulgur wheat as the kısır, they are rolled into tiny balls and boiled. After cooking its topped with a sauce made with garlic, lemon, salca, parsley and oil. Delicious.
Similar to kısır, batkırık is my go-to for a quick and easy meal. These are so easy to make but the secret to a successful batkırık is the sauce. Onion, cumin, salca and oodles of garlic. Mix it into the bulgur wheat before making patties. Batkırık is also sometimes made as a cold soup with tahini and water added.
A specialty from Tarsus, these are easy to snack on at any time of day. Topped with mince meat, herbs, red peppers and spices, these have the added ingredient of hazelnuts before being baked to perfection.
When you’re driving down the D400 you’ll probably pass tiny shacks on the side of the road selling sıkma and çay. Usually made with flat durum wheat break or rolled pastry they are filled with onion, white cheese and parsley. Sıkma means handshake so I imagine these little morsels were thus named because they fit in your hand so easily.
A traditional dessert originating from Camliyayla, a small town high in in the Toros mountains. Similar to a snow cone, but completely unique, Karsambaç is made with a combination of clean mountain snow (straight from the mountain) and a sweet syrup such as sugar syrup, or molasses.
Crispy on the outside, walnut in the middle, and coated in a decadent sugary syrup.
A local dessert unique to Mersin, is made with semolina and is often served during Ramadan.
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No, I’m not talking about my monsters-in-law (although they would run a very close second). I’m talking about my inability to get a fecking decent hot chocolate here in Mersin.
I love me a good hot chocolate. Always have, always will. As a child, my mother would make hot chocolates with cocoa and marshmallows, and as an adult non-coffee-drinker, I would usually buy myself a hot chocolate as a treat for my morning pick-me-up. Today, and particularly in winter when Mersin’s temperatures resemble the Artic circle, a hot chocolate is my go-to to warm up my weary bones.
Türkiye is famous for its excellent kahve (coffee) and its çay (tea) served in tulip-shaped glasses. Sipping on a çay as you shoot the breeze is practically a national sport. People just don’t drink hot chocolate. And I appreciate that, in fact before Starbucks arrived in Mersin getting a decent hot chocolate was as rare as hen’s teeth. If you were lucky enough to find a place that serves them, they usually varied from bad to an abomination that will live in infamy in certain circles. But hear me out, if a restaurant has sıcak çikolata (hot chocolate) on the menu, then damn it, they should know how to make one, at least.
“If you’ve ever wondered what tar and the tears of children taste like – drink their hot chocolate.”
This quote refers to the most God-awful concoction that was purportedly passed for hot chocolate that I and my friends had the misfortune to try from a very well-known restaurant here in Mersin. I will not name the restaurant, mostly because I don’t need the blow-back, but let me tell you the story.
After a lunch with a group of my yabancilar friends, a few of us decided to hang around enjoying the pleasant ambience of the restaurant. We would frequent this place regularly. The food was pretty good and the prices were always reasonable. At this point I should mention that there was in fact a Starbucks located directly across the street but we chose to stay put, mostly because we couldn’t be assed standing in the queue.
Hot chocolates were ordered.
Within minutes a glutenous concoction in a small white mug was delivered to each of us. It was thicker than mud, hotter than the sun, and as stomach-churning as kokoreç (well-known Turkish offal dish) on a good day. Honestly? It resembled the packet pudding that is so often served in Türkiye and tasted like it as well. After a polite explanation as to how a hot chocolate should be made, the apologetic waiter retreated to re-order. We stared longingly at the people sitting in the sunshine opposite us, no doubt sipping on their perfectly made Starbucks hot chocolate, until our waiter returned with attempt number 2. I crossed my fingers for him and for us, I even prayed to all the deities available to me that it would be good.
It was not good.
Am I a Karen? Have I become an entitled expat who expects the niceties from my homeland having no regard for local custom? I took a Buzzfeed quiz to check whether I am, in fact, a Karen and can thankfully report that I’m only half Karen… the other half is pure Janey with a little bit of bitch thrown in for good measure.
And while I’m just having a little whine for comedic purposes it doesn’t take away from the fact that I just want a fecking decent hot chocolate!
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It’s well known that I love me a good legend and while in Tarsus recently I came across a doozy.
This is the story of Shahmaran and Camasb.
Camasb is a young man who lived in Tarsus. While out foraging in the forest he explores a cave where he finds Shahmaran. Shahmaran is a mythical creature, half snake and half woman. He falls in love with this exquisite creature (no judgment) and they live together for many years in the cave. Eventually Camasb decides he wants to return home but promises he will never share the secret of Shahmaran.
Many years pass and the king of Tarsus becomes ill. The only treatment for his condition requires the flesh of a Shahmaran. Camasb double-crosses Shahmaran (well, duh!) and discloses her whereabouts. Shahmaran is killed but before she dies she gives a dire warning to the vizier “blanch me in an earthen dish, give my extract to the vizier and feed my flesh to the sultan”. The king eats her flesh and survives while the vizier drinks the extract and dies.
Personally, I think that Camasb deserved that extract more than the vizier who was only doing his job.
If you visit Tarsus there is a hamam called “Shahmaran Hamam” where, it is said, she was killed. I’m not sure that’s a great endorsement for any hamam but that’s not for me to question.
A statute of Shahmaran remains in Tarsus today to commemorate her sacrifice to save the King.
If you visit Kırk kaşık Bedesten (Forty Spoons undercover market) you can find a range of souvenirs of Shahmaran and many vendors ready to tell you her story.
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I had an interview with an UK-based blogger recently and he asked me this question. I’m not usually lost for words (in fact you can rarely shut me up), but I was in this case.
How much have I really integrated into Turkish culture?
After over eight years here, I don’t think I’ve integrated that much. I still crave bacon and a variety of different countries food (that usually includes pork). I still struggle with Turkish but I can at least order a bottle of red wine so that’s progress. And Oh.My.God I still roll my eyes at the inconsistency of the bureaucracy here.
However, I respect this country and abide by the laws when I am out. I wear a mask (and at the rate we’re going probably always will), rarely speed (total bollocks but then to be truly Turkish you must speed, am I right?), never litter (why is it so hard for someone to put something in the bin?) and always pay my bills on time.
I may have jumped into my life here in Turkey with blinders on but now that I am truly out in the world with no buffer (aka The Turk) I think I am beginning to really come into my own. It was easy to integrate in the beginning. I was the new plaything for the family and was lovingly introduced to every facet of Turkish life. I worked in the kitchen perfecting my baba ganoush, and learned to accept tomatoes despite a lifetime of hate. I love, love, loved making salca and harvesting the olives, and I loved nothing more than sitting with my mother-in-law drinking Çay and listening to her and her friends make fun of their husbands, but after the breakdown of my marriage I found living in the village stifling. Why after all these years, you might wonder? It was fun, don’t get me wrong. It was a completely different way of life. Definitely a slower way of life and a much healthier lifestyle. But as time went on the dust that never goes away, the constant electric cuts, the non-existent internet, the village dramas, the weddings (or funerals) that I have to attend even if I’d never met him, her or them, and last, but certainly not least, his fecking family who I’m quite certain have a voodoo doll with my name on it squirrelled away somewhere, sent me so far over the edge that I found myself in freefall. Now I’m living in the city and I’m loving every second of it, despite COVID lockdowns and restrictions, despite my sometimes dire financial situation and despite the fact that our swimming pool hasn’t been opened this season (which is the real kick in the pants).
So now I’m going to ask you, how much have you integrated into Turkish (or other) culture? Let me know in the comments below.
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More than a few weeks back My Hurley Dog (who as you can see by his mug shot below, is the epitome of a gentleman’s gentleman) and I were in the garden with my various in-laws making bread when who should appear over the back fence but my nemesis, asshole rooster. For those of you not familiar with my nemesis he is currently a rather handsome black rooster but over the years he has been many shades of asshole and I’m pleased to say that each and every one of those noisy bastards were delicious (and don’t come at me again Karen all BBQ (mangalar) were done with the full knowledge and approval of Crazy Eyes, the owner of said asshole roosters).
One of my favourite things about My Hurley Dog is his willingness to protect his humans, and so, with a flick of my wrist, he took off across the garden after my nemesis who apparently had grown a set since our last alteration and decided to Cobra Kai his ass. Needless to say my precious poodle did NOT expect a fight, and came to a dust-screeching halt when the asshole rooster turned his beady dinosaur eyes on him. At that point, the supposed adult, me, intervened and chased my nemesis back to his side of the fence where he sat and screamed rooster profanities at both My Hurley Dog and me for a good 15 minutes.
Now I may not know many things, but one thing I know for sure is that that asshole rooster took a hit out on My Hurley Dog that day as he has had numerous attempts on his life since then.
The first attempted assassination happened a couple of days later when we passed a flock of sheep while we were on a walk through the village. Anything larger than a fat poodle is generally given a wide berth, and sheep definitely fall into that category. We crossed to the other side of the paddock, but it was too late. They spotted us and decided that My Hurley Dog was either (a) one of their own due to his similar styling; or (b) an infiltrator that needed to be taken out. Suddenly we were surrounded. My Hurley Dog bravely stepped up to his sworn duty and protected me, barking louder than a horny howler monkey until he finally gained the shepherd’s attention who meandered over to round the little bastards up.
Were they merely being curious or were they acting on the order of a crazy asshole rooster, I guess we will never know… but then this happened.
We changed our early morning walking route to avoid that particular paddock and instead decided to loop the block. When we stay closer to home, our numerous kediler usually join us. This means it’s me, My Hurley Dog, the dog next door and one, two or three cats. I’m pretty sure the entire village calls me the Pied Piper of Stupid behind my back (or to my face because let’s be honest my Turkish is crap-tastic at best).
There we were enjoying our early morning constitutional when a mama crow swooped down low on us, no doubt warning us to keep away from her nest. The cats were enjoying that game and stayed behind while My Hurley Dog and I continued along. A few minutes later plop… a huge poop landed on My Hurley Dog’s back and then plop… another one, this time on his head. The crow pooped on him with assassin-like precision. He was most unhappy, not because of the pooping but because he knew what would happen next. A bath!
Not long after these first two suspicious incidents, My Hurley Dog joined me on a trip to the ancient city of Uzuncaburç. A few hours from here it’s an archeological site containing the remnants of the ancient town of Diokaisareia, and I wanted to take some photos of him amongst the ruins. They would be Insta-fabulous!
Anyway, the day started off well, despite the oppressive heat, and we travelled up into the mountains. We stopped for strawberries (a steal at 20TL) before exploring an aqueduct at Olba. Finally arriving at Uzuncaburç, we wandered around the theatre where My Hurley Dog sniffed to his heart’s delight before making our way down to the Temple of Zeus.
And that’s when it happened.
We were set upon by a gang of Turks! Well, more correctly we were attacked by turkeys, wild turkeys. Angry, ginormous, ugly as shit, wild turkeys with their bumpy red heads and that hideous fleshy flap of skin. Bleugh! And don’t get me started on their thoroughly unfriendly behaviour (although if I was as ugly as them, I’d probably need an attitude adjustment as well).
Anyway, these nasty, evil, would-be assassins, appeared out of nowhere and chased My Hurley Dog (and me because yikes!) clear back to the car park. We darted left, they darted right and with a wiggle of their waddle they had both of us pinned against the car. There was a lot of yelling by me, My Hurley Dog, and the hapless employee who worked at the ruins as he tried to separate these disgusting, delicious, creatures from my poodle and I. Needless to say my Hurley Dog was in no condition to further explore Uzuncaburç so another trip in the future will be on the cards (for me because I’m certain my dog is not interested in visiting again).
Fast forward to yesterday: my Hurley Dog and I were in the garden with my various in-laws making bread when who should appear over the back fence but my nemesis, asshole rooster. My Hurley Dog and asshole rooster eyed each other off. No doubt threats were made by both parties via growls and clucks, but an unwritten agreement appears to have been reached. Asshole rooster returned to his side of the fence where he could be heard muttering profanities as he rounded up his women. At the same time, My Hurley Dog came and sat beside me, practically in my lap, where he was given a piping hot piece of fresh bread as a reward for being such a good boy.