Find Me A Seat

Some people come into your life for a reason, and my friend Nancy is one of them.

She and her husband moved to Mersin a few years ago, with no real plans other than to explore a part of Turkey that they had never visited before. She would often invite a few friends to explore with her, and it soon became a highlight when we would day-trip somewhere new. During her time in Mersin, we went far up and down the Mediterranean coast, as well as inland to Mut, Kahramanmaraş and Cappadocia. I would never have made the trek to these places by myself so always appreciated the invite.

Nancy is a very skilled photographer and would always arrive with her camera in hand, ready to photograph our adventures. She is completely fearless and while I would wait safely back on terra firma Nancy would more often than not be found climbing to the top of mountains or traversing cliff faces to get that perfect shot.

She recently had an exhibition of her photographs in Istanbul, which was a great success, and right now her photographs can be seen at another show in Bursa.

These two exhibitions came into being after Nancy undertook a photo essay with an Istanbul-based photography group did called “Disconnected”. Her idea was that long-abandoned sofas, found on mountaintops or by the beach were disconnected from their “natural” habitats, and yet are fulfilling their destiny by providing comfort in unexpected places.

We were all on the hunt for sofas for Nancy to photograph. I can’t tell you how many times I would pull over on the side of a road, and message her with a stealthy “red sofa on D400 near Kipa” or sent her a whatsapp location pin of a sofa on the side of the road.

I spotted these beauties near Susanoğlu. Nancy was in Istanbul at the time, but luckily they were still there a week later so she could take the shot.

I also spotted this one on the train line. Nancy had been looking for a sofa near train tracks that had that “trainspotting” feel. This guy was just outside Pozanti, and I think Nancy’s shot eludes to the dark, shabby-comedic movie, don’t you?

Following on from the success of her exhibitions, Nancy’s photos have now been made into a coffee table book. If you are interested in purchasing a book or want further information, send me your email address below, and I will pass it onto her. You can also peruse a great selection of her work here.

Us Mersin ladies are a very creative and successful bunch, aren’t we?

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Gülek Kalesi, Take Two

You guys might remember this post from March when my friends and I took a road trip up to Gülek Kalesi. That road trip turned out to be a complete disaster, and we ended up drenched, discouraged and downright depressed, but at least we made it out alive. Just to recap it was a little touch and go at times on the single-laned, pot-hole ridden track disguised as a road with its thick fog, sharp turns and blind bends that in my mind would have been more befitting Bolivia’s “road of death” than this little mountain outside of Pozantı.

We recently made a second attempt at visiting the Kalesi, travelling the same road up into the Tarsus Mountains. Thankfully we didn’t get lost, but we also didn’t recognise much of anything either.

Case in point:

After some accommodating locals pointed us in the right direction (and practised their English on us), we finally found ourselves at the top of the mountain and at the historical site of Gulek Kalesi.

Yeah, I know, it doesn’t look like it was worth the effort … but it was!

As my friend Moe put it so succinctly, “this Byzantine, then Armenian, then Arab, then Ottoman and now tourist destination has sat on this mountaintop, casting a shadow on the village below for almost 2000 years. Yadda, yadda, we trip over that shit down here.”

I laughed so hard at this – but it’s all true.

We came for the photo, the famous ledge that hangs out over the mountain and looks straight down the otoban connecting Adana and Ankara. Sadly none our photos are as fabulous as those that are floating around on the internet, but the pride that we felt as we stood on that ledge was just as rewarding as if we had climbed Everest (and if felt like that at times as we traversed the craggy rocks to reach our destination). 

We did it!

For those of you based in or around Mersin it’s totally worth the trip (about 20 minutes outside of Tarsus) but do yourselves a favour and do it is summer or check your weather apps because shit gets real up in them there hills when the weather turns bad.

Oh and take water – lots of water!

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One Finger Salute

I had a road rage incident here in Mersin a few months back. Full disclosure it was (kinda) my fault and I regret the whole incident but thankfully I lived to tell the tale to you guys now and, who knows, maybe my story will be a lesson on what not to do while on the roads here (or anywhere in the world these days for that matter).

Driving in Turkey can be a little *ahem* challenging at times but I can play Super Mario Kart as good as any nine year old so I feel I have the skills necessary to dodge bananas, shells or out of control turtles as I manoeuvre through the chaos of Mersin traffic.

Actual photo of driving in Mersin

So recently I was meeting a friend from Adana for lunch. Regrettably, we had chosen the weekend of the Portakal Festival which meant that everyone who had ever owned a car here in Mersin was out on the road and traffic was completely gridlocked. Neither of us minded too much as we weren’t in any great hurry, however and as usual, the impatient drivers of Mersin had all taken on their alter ego of Mario Andretti and believed that they were on the final straight at the Daytona 500.

Fast forward to 1 km from our destination… the train station in Çarşı and that’s when it happened.

We were stuck behind a car who was attempting to park on the busy road. Yes, the driver may not have had the best parking skills but as I said we weren’t in any great hurry so came to a stop behind him and waited. However, the wack job behind us in a banged-up white Fiat wasn’t as patient.

“HHOOOONNNKKKKKKKK!”

My reply (to myself mind you). “Dude, chill.”

“HHHHHOOOOOOOONNNNNNKKKKKKKK!”

Now (and mostly because my ears were actually bleeding at this point) I threw my hands up in the air very dramatically ensuring that the nut bar behind me could clearly see I was frustrated by his behaviour.

My reply (out loud but not out the window). “What the hell do you want me to do, ya bloody dickhead!”

It happened a third time.

“HHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!”

I moved forward slightly to enable the hot rod enough space to nudge into the traffic beside us. He passed. Slowly. And I did the unthinkable… I gave him the finger!

Yep, I flipped him off. I showed him the bird. I gave him the highway salute.

Hindsight and all that I knew I shouldn’t do it but on very rare occasions my Aussie-ness explodes out, and I’m drinking beer, calling people “flamin’ galah’s” and, well, giving people the finger. In Australia it’s endearing. That’s how we Aussies say hello. I swear! Okay maybe not.

Anyhow… Mad Max came to a screeching halt about thirty metres ahead, and he jumped out of his car and raced towards us like Usain Bolt while being chased by two other car occupants who were attempting to tackle him to the ground.

“Holy shit!” said I.

“Oh my!” said my more eloquent friend.

I became my very own version of Mario Andretti and floored it, swerving through the traffic in an effort to get as far away from this wack-job as possible. And then it happened.

Dude threw himself at my car, like his whole body, flying through the air at the passenger side of the car! I didn’t stop. I looked through my rear vision mirror and watched him roll neatly into the gutter, dust himself off and immediately give chase again. There was no stopping him! He was the T-1000 from Terminator 2. Holy shit!

Thankfully we lost him in the chaos that is every day Çarşı, and I dropped my shaken but not stirred friend at the train station. I drove home in a state of panic to update The Turk who immediately took me and the car to the polis merkezi to report the incident and to obtain paperwork for the insurance claim on the body-sized dent in our front passenger door.

Unfortunately, the polis was not as helpful as we had hoped and informed me I had “antagonised” the other driver so nothing could be done, in fact he had the right to make a complaint against ME! They also gave me a warning about driver safety and road rage because if you piss someone off here, the other driver could pull out a gun/axe/knife/pitchfork and really go to town.

Being a sensible kind of Aussie and wanting to learn my lesson I did a little research on road rage around the world and do you know what? In a recent report commissioned in Belgium, it seems that 77% of Australians have been subject to an “obscene gesture while driving”. Crikey! I wonder how many of them were me???

In Turkey, authorities are at constant loggerheads about how to control the trafik canavari (traffic monster) and road rage that seems to be an everyday occurrence.

The moral of my story is to never, ever give anybody the finger; you never know what type of looney tunes is in the car behind you, or beside you, or in front of you.

Lesson learned.

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Gülek Kalesi

Gülek Kalesi is a small castle between Tarsus and Pozantı , an easy drive of approximately 90km from Mersin. Visiting the castle is not the main reason people visit this little known ruin. The main reason anyone visits Gülek Kalesi is for the photograph. I mean just look!

Google Images

Definitely memorable.

Google Images

A little deli perhaps?

Google Images

I know!

It was decided we should visit Gülek Kalesi as one of our friends was relocating to Istanbul and we wanted one final group photograph together. We were a merry bunch as we left Mersin behind on our drive to the castle. It might have been slightly overcast but it was surprisingly warm with patches of blue sky. Winter seemed to be behind us and we were ready for the long, never-ending, fire ant on crack, summer to begin. I will admit to you, dear friends, that the weather app that I check so vigilantly every morning “might” have suggested storms were imminent and, yes, there “might have been” in the distance, the very far distance mind you, some menacing looking clouds that could “possibly” be moving in our direction, but all in all a pleasant day was expected for our drive into the mountains.

Well, possibly turned into probably which turned into holy hell we were all going to die and by the time we reached the lower hills of the Tarsus Mountains it was bucketing down but we’re a resilient bunch and wouldn’t be put off by a little itsy rain. We were making memories and the photograph would probably be amazing with the natural light and slightly grey backdrop.

We thought of ourselves as valiant explorers and pushed on through the rain, then the sleet … then the snow (a real WTF moment considering it was March), yavaş yavaş ever higher up the mountain on a road that slowly disintegrated into nothing more than a muddy death trap with potholes the size of small cities, sharp turns and deadly cliffs on either side. The only other car on the road flashed his high beams as he sped down the mountain, away from the once in a lifetime storm (a slight exaggeration on my part). I bet he checked the news that night to see if there was any information about the car filled with yabancıların that had disappeared Amelia Earhart style never to be seen again.

We finally made it to the top of the mountain and we all tumbled out of the car to take in the fabulous view.

Are you ready?

I mean it’s totally amazeballs.

Ugh!

I guess another trip up the mountain is in order and perhaps we might wait until summer really kicks in but most importantly perhaps we bloody well SHOULD pay attention to my weather app that never, ever seems to be wrong.

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Starry, Starry Night

Anyone who has driven down into Mersin on Akbelen Boulevard has no doubt seen Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” or Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” painted onto one of the old buildings along the street.  If like me, you wondered who did these paintings, I can now give you the answer as I recently had a chance to connect with the artist Ertuğrul Çavuşoğlu.

Toroslar 7

Originally from Van, Ertuğrul is a self-taught artist that has been employed by the Toroslar municipality, along with Nazife Bilgin Hazar, to beautify the area and I think they are doing a splendid job, don’t you?

They have completed ten buildings but they are hopeful that their work will continue well into 2018.  They have chosen a range of famous works by Turkish and Arabic artists as well as the European masters mentioned above.

Toroslar 3

Ertuğrul is hoping that his work will inspire younger people into wanting to learn more about the famous paintings that he has replicated and the artists behind the work.  He wants his adopted city to know that art is important.  Art makes you feel and art can take you places you have never imagined.  Art is fundamentally the same all over the world and is a common language which (for me at least) still allows us to all enjoy the work together.

I love this last photo.

Toroslar photos

All photos are courtesy of Milliyet with Ertuğrul’s full approval.

You can follow Ertuğrul’s progress on his Instagram – ertugrul1828 – here.

 

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How about a colouring book from Amazon so you can make your own masterpieces –

F*ck Terrorism

Update:  There was little information in relation to the attack in Mersin as authorities had issued a media ban.

Further 11 suspects have been detained in connection with the attack. It was also revealed that it was suspected that the PKK, a terrorist group active in the country since 1980s, is the likely culprit.

The PKK resumed its armed campaign against the Turkish state in July 2015, unilaterally violating a cease-fire agreement. The organisation rose to prominence in the early 1980s in southeastern Turkey, which has a large Kurdish population.

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Yesterday afternoon a bomb exploded as a service bus carrying polis passed by here in Mersin.  Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said 17 police officers and one local were wounded in the attack. He also added that it was a “terror attack”.

bomb 1

The blast occurred on the main road which was full of commuters on their way home from work and children on their way home from school. It took place in the densely populated area of Yenisehir. I had friends on that road. I myself was with Daughter only a block away.

Of course, Daughter and I had no idea. I mean mysterious explosions happen in Mersin all the time anyway. The other night I was on my terrace and the loudest bang I had ever heard nearly blasted me out of my seat. No idea where it came from. No idea what it was. No one seemed perturbed and went about their business in the Village so ‘whatev’s’.

Whatev’s has been fine up until now. Now, for the first time, a terrorist attack has come within spitting distance of me, my family and my friends.

I have always felt safe here in Mersin.  There has always a very large polis presence on the streets and security at government buildings, shopping centres and community gatherings.   Roadblocks and licence checks are common (hell it happens to me all the time). In fact, you can rarely drive through the city without passing polis on main corners carrying big-ass guns and checking cars as they pass. On the news, we get regular updates on terrorism threats and the polis efforts in thwarting these attempts. Arrests. Crackdowns. And with Mersin’s polis force on the hunt, we have not suffered from any significant attacks. Until now.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing although the initial word is that it is Kurdish militants who frequently target police vehicles and transports vans. I expect the polis investigators will be all over this and arrests will be made very soon.

My heart goes out to the 17 polis officers and one civilian that were injured in this attack.

This shit has got to stop.

To those of us living in Mersin and Türkiye – be vigilant guys.  Be aware of your surroundings.  If shit looks iffy its probably for good reason but my hope is that this was an isolated incident.  I also believe that security in Mersin will be even more heightened in response to the attack.

And my response to terrorism, we owe it to those injured in this attack and to all the other victims terrorism attacks around Türkiye and the world to not let the terrorist win by being terrorised.  That’s exactly the response they want.

Feck Terrorism!

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Spirit in the Sky

Mersin is full of so much history and gorgeous scenery and yet, living here, I seldom get further than my front door so the opportunity to join a couple of amateur photographers as they travelled deep into the Tarsus Mountains to explore the ruins of a monastery was an opportunity just too good to miss.

Alahan 2

After an early start, we left the shimmering Mersin coastline behind us and followed the Gosku River up into the winding mountains, past fertile plains and sweet smelling pine forests before finally arriving at our destination – Alahan Monastery.

Alahan 7

Built over 1500 years ago the monks of Alahan must have known they were onto a good thing when they chose this spot.  It’s a prime location rising 1300 feet above the surrounding valleys with numerous caves, natural water courses and good crop land below.   The ruins are still in excellent condition despite earthquakes, a few wars and no doubt general tomfoolery of locals and can be traversed fairly easily (even with my banged-up knee).

Alahan 4Alahan 5

We entered the Monastery via the Basilica where the reliefs on the columns and remaining stone are a good example of the Byzantine era.  Past the Basilica is a small Baptistry for pilgrims to be baptised before following the remains of the colonnade to another larger Basilica.  Archaeologists believe that the larger Basilica is a good example of domical construction using carefully cut and assembled stone without mortar to build the domed ceiling.  The larger Basilica is highly praised for its resemblance to Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia (and arguably built before the famed Hagia Sophia).  The stone and slabs are decorated with reliefs of fish, foliage as well as clearly defined Christian crosses.

Alahan 8

Credit:  N. Habbas

Alahan 9

Credit:  N. Habbas

The Monastery has been extensively restored and was re-opened to the public in 2015 and is included on UNESCO’s Tentative World Heritage List.

After spending an hour at the Monastery, we travelled back down into the valley passing fields of red poppies as well as row after row of kayısı (apricot) trees before returning back to Mersin, stopping along the way for the well-known Mersin favourite – tantuni.

Entrance fee: 5TL or free if you have the Müze pass (Museum pass).

Getting there:  Approximately 3 hours (including 2 stops), take the D400 to Silifke and then follow the D715 to Mut.  Alahan Monastery is located about 20km past Mut.  Keep an eye out for signage as it is easy to miss due to current road works.

Best time to go:  We were here on a weekday and had the place to ourselves.  Locals tell us that weekends can be quite busy with bus tours visiting from neighbouring cities.

Tip:  If visiting in summer it will be hot, hot, hot.  Take water and wear sunscreen.

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No Winter Blues

When we lived in Oz we always arranged our holiday to Mersin during September.  It was still deliciously warm but there was that cool breeze that soothed the rocking hell-fire that usually descends on the province during August (which has been known to send even me a little deli).  Winters, on the other hand, were a non-starter, no way I was skipping my summer in Sydney for the grey backdrop that would no doubt be Mersin during December or January.

Now that I live here I realise that that was my loss because while Mersin in the heat of summer no doubt rocks, it’s also got some pretty cool moves in the dead of winter as well.

Mersin snow

Falling temperatures sprinkle new magic on the small villages in the mountains and the medieval kalesi (castles) along the Mersin coastline and although I have not done much in the way of exploring thanks to my bung knee this winter I can say that over the years the chill brings a moody new perspective to the province.

snow in mersin 2

Daughter and I did zip up into the mountains a few times this winter and while the city of Mersin or our little village may be grey the Toros Mountains were gloriously sunshiny.  We took My Hurley Dog for a doggy snow day as Daughter had recently seen a video with dogs having a sensational time frolicking in white stuff but, of course, our asshole dog hated every moment of it.  He did, however, manage to find the carcass of some poor animal in the snow and try to drag it back to the car – I swear that dog disgusts me sometimes.

hurley-snow-3

With a smattering of snow the traditional Turkish villages are so enticing that a trek through the lower hills of the mountain range is something not to be missed.  Oh and for those of you who actually want to attach those silly wooden planks to your feet Kayseri is only 3 hours away with 8 lifts and no doubt more than enough apres-ski nightlife to suit everyone.

The coastline takes on a new role as well.  The beaches are still pristine but now they are empty.  Surprisingly the water isn’t icy either.  I mean I wouldn’t swim to Cyprus or anything but a paddle is pleasant enough.

kizkalesi-winter-4

One of the bonuses during winter is it is much easier to visit the ruins (without self-combusting in the heat) although my most recent visit to Kizkalesi was a bust when there was no transfer to the castle nor where any restaurants open – at all.  Regardless I love the ruins and I have been known to lose myself for hours while exploring the many antiquities that dot the coastline and winter allows me to continue my exploration without breaking a sweat.

Winter also has salep, which is a mix of hot mastic milk, sugar, and flour made from orchid tubers served with cinnamon.  Sold from street carts in the old part of the city you can enjoy your salep alongside a paper bag stuffed with kestane kebap (freshly roasted chestnuts), also purchased from street carts.

Today The Turk and I are off to Sarniç, a village 15 minutes outside of the city.  I’ve visited there so many times that he is beginning to question whether I’m having an affair with a local goat herder so today we will go together for lunch to celebrate our wedding anniversary (see we still adore each other – sometimes).  There is a fantastic lokanta on the main road that serves traditional Turkish food (the sucuk hummus is to die for) while you warm your weary bones by a roaring fire.  Yet another great reason to visit Mersin in winter I think.

sarnic-2

I mean if you really need another reason that is …

Disclaimer: my expat friend who lives up in the Yayla would not agree with anything said in this post.  She has had enough of the snow.  She (and her recently Home Alone kedi) wishes that the snow would feck off!

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The Hot Groom

Last night I went to a wedding.  I hate a wedding on a weeknight.  I wasn’t prepared, in fact I knew nothing about it thanks to The Turk’s inability to tell me shit.  I had been in Adana all day (went to check out the incredibly disappointing H&M that had just opened) so when I arrived home to the news that I was expected to attend a wedding I was mildly (read that as totally) pissed off.

The wedding itself was as expected.  You know the usual Turkish, completely over the top wedding.  The music was way too loud and the women were ridiculously overdressed while, on the other hand, the men turn up looking like gigolo wannabe’s in jeans and open shirts.  Of course there was no food or booze but they did supply us with juice boxes (true story).  And sadly as I didn’t have any warning of said wedding I didn’t have time to buy some booze.  FML!  A booze free Turkish wedding on a freaking Wednesday night.  Could my life get any worse?

And then I saw The Groom.  No that’s not explaining what I saw properly – let me try that again:

And then, standing at the top of the stairs was a man, but not just a man, it was a man with god-like qualities.  His strong nose complemented his prominent cheekbones and his hair, so thick that I felt the need to run my fingers through it, finished just below the collar of his perfect black suit jacket.  He was tall but not too tall and he filled out that perfect black suit jacket perfectly.  My new crush scanned the room with purpose and I swear to God his eyes connected with each and every one of us.  I swooned.  I did.  I was Olivia De Havilland and I was swooning at the hottie at the top of the stairs – until it clicked in my pea size mind.  The hottie at the top of the stairs just so happened to be The Groom.  Sorry – The Hot Groom.  Bummer.

Of course I am well aware that I can’t try it on with The Hot Groom at his own wedding and yes I am obviously also aware that I am, in fact, a fat, middle aged woman who is very much married to The Turk who was, at that moment, sitting right beside me as I swooned and tittered over The Hot Groom at the top of the stairs but I just need to say – yes please!

burak

The Hot Groom had it all.  He was a dead set ringer for Burak Ozcivit and seeing as Burak Ozcivit was actually born in Mersin I have decided that The Hot Groom must be related in some way to Burak Ozcivit.  For those of you who don’t know of Burak he has graced my blog before when I discussed the do’s and don’ts of the great Turkish moustache and now, standing before me, was a perfect facsimile of that perfect man.  Yes indeed my new favourite relative aka The Hot Groom was rocking it with his thick black locks and a decent amount of facial hair that gave me the shivers (but thankfully no moustache).  OMFG!

The Turk looked from the Hot Groom to me and back again before rolling his eyes.  The following conversation then took place:

The Turk:  I see what’s happening here.

Me:             I don’t know what you are talking about.

The Turk:  Darling there are two reasons that your new love isn’t going to work.

Me:             Oh?

The Turk:  One, he’s half your age.

Me:             I could be a cougar.

The Turk:  (shook his head while looking at me in pity and a little bit of contempt) And two … check out your competition.

Me:             Who?

The Turk:  The Bride.

Damn it but he was right.  The Hot Groom was marrying an even Hotter Bride.

Of course.

Edit:  Despite the desperate requests of my readers to obtain a photo of the Hot Groom I must let you know that my one compromise on writing about his family is that I do not post any photos.  I’m sorry.  I have promised.  I know I hate me too.  Yes he was hot.

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Waiting For Rain (and hot flashes)

Despite the fact that I only returned from Down Under a month ago the never ending heat in the Village is sending me a little deli.  I mean yesterday is the perfect example.  There was talk of rain.  In fact no one spoke of anything else.  Adana had rain.  The Yayla had rain.  I believe even Mezitli had rain but here in the Village?  Nada.  Nothing.  Hiçbir şey değil!

And before any of you point out to me that it is Turkiye and of course it will be hot in summer I say this to you …. I am peri-menopausal and am pretty fecking agitated right now so before you start on me …. you have been warned!  I mean its fecking hot so why not add a hot flash to the hot.  Why fecking not???

sweating

I have decided to make a list about how many ways Mother Nature is screwing with us or screwing with me personally.  I do think it is personal.  Bitch must be peri-menopausal as well.

Anyway many of these are meme’s running around on the internet but, honestly, tell me I’m wrong folks:

  • Power blackouts. That shit will kill you because your air conditioning won’t work, your fan won’t work, nothing will fecking work but on the bright side if you have your air con blasting all night you will no doubt die of the grip (or so says your favourite teyze) so yeah power blackouts = death!
  • Hot shower? Or hot shower?  Hot water comes out of both faucets now.  The effort to towel dry just makes you sweat more and another hot shower is needed AND you have to dress in front of the fan or air conditioning so you stay dry!
  • Your thongs melt on the bitumen (no not “that” kind of thong).
  • The bitumen melts as well.
  • The temperature drops below 33 degrees. Woah!  Grab a jacket!  Wait!  Don’t grab a jacket!  You’re not Turkish silly!
  • Storm on the horizon? YES!    It’s now a Swedish sauna outside.  Steam non-optional!
  • You are prepared to drive great distances because the air conditioning works in your car.
  • You drive your car with your fingers.
  • You are afraid of your seatbelt.
  • The best parking spot is one with shade and yes you are prepared to go and move your car as the sun revolves around the earth.

steering wheel

On the bright side with no rain – probably ever again – it means that today’s chore of making the salca (I’ve got 100kg of biber waiting for me downstairs) will mean it can be done in one day.  Sure I might finish at midnight and sure I will no doubt be covered in bites and stained a bright red but in 2-4 weeks I will have my homemade salca ready for consumption.

The things we do!

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