09.02.2013 - 09.02.2013 16 °C
We left our apartment in Athens at a reasonable time this morning (I swear, there will be no more 5 AM flights), packing our backpacks for a couple of blocks before we came upon a larger street. A taxi soon pulled up and we were off to the airport, allowing us 2 hours to get there and onto our 10 AM plane. Our driver spoke some English so we were able to talk to him about the country and its economic state. He bemoaned what had occurred in Greece over the last several years and indicated it was very bad, the worst he had seen in years. When we asked if there were many demonstrations in Athens, he said that although the news indicated there were, that hadn't been his experience up to this point. His sons were attending school here in Greece but he didn't know what they would do afterwards. He said the best of the young men and women go away to other countries and that is a concern as they need the youth to rebuild the country. It's a sad testimony and one that echoed what we saw in Italy. We lapsed into silence, each with their own thoughts. I don't know if it was the earlier chatter or not, but it was good we had allowed somce extra time because our driver made a wrong turn and ended up going through the same toll booth twice, having to pay each time. Still, with the new flat rate they've instituted (no doubt to give tourists some comfort), he still had a margin of 5 euros between what his meter said (30 euros) and what we had to pay (35 euros). I guess the taxi drivers had a very good negotiator when the city brought in the flat rate paradigm.
In recent weeks, the food on the flights has been our initial introduction to a country's food. Perhaps you've seen the Turkish airlines commercial with Kobe Bryant and Leo Messi (or is that only being shown in Europe?) Well, at any rate, we didn't get the ice cream shown in the ad; instead, they served us dried apricots/prunes; oiled and spiced eggplant; a bun with tuna or turkey, and a sweet cake. The cold eggplant was not a big hit with our family.
We switched planes in Istanbul, and the 2 hours between flights proved just enough to buy our VISAs, get through a very long customs line, go through security again and prepare for boarding. At 45 euros each, Canadians are charged the most of all nationalities entering Turkey; perhaps our foreign relations are not as good as I thought. The second flight to Antalya was smooth and we quickly connected with the car rental place.
On the road by 4 PM, we noted the GPS said we were 25 minutes away from our pension. We looked forward to getting there quickly, checking in and having a leisurely, restful dinner and quiet evening. Well, that was showing our naivete once again. In Turkey, construction abounds. And with construction come detours. We meandered as far away from the construction as we could while still trying to keep within a reasonable radius of the GPS' instructions. This just served to deflect us away from the main arteries so that we found ourselves going through alleyways and roads being used as parking lots in some cases. In one such situation, we had to squeeze through and it proved to be not enough room -- I hope that the owner of the damaged car mirror can forgive us -- there was no allowance to stop, try to find him and compensate him. We ended up turning corners we recognized from previous circuits and sitting on train tracks in blocked traffic as Abby tried valiently to inform us ("Uh, Dad, ... there's a train coming...'). While traversing new roads that weren't on the GPS maps, we found the lesser of two evils was to drive through an active construction site, bypassing the front end loader and moving the pylons so we could get back on the right road. As we shared the two lane roads with four vehicles abreast, we watched daylight evaporate, and with it, any hope of reading the Turkish direction signs, and felt our earlier hopes melt away. After 2.5 hours of driving in this tension (actually, I exaggerate: the first 20 minutes weren't bad at all), Ben pulled over to the curb. Our pension was located in the old city and this invariably means it is in a labyrinth of narrow roads; but in this case, there was something else as well: it was behind an entrance gate, which wasn't initially obvious to us that we had to pass through in order to enter the old city. When we figured this out, Abby and I elected to walk into the city, using the GPS as our guide. Wouldn't you know it, we located the pension in five minutes. The owner chastised us for not calling sooner and sent an employee with us to navigate the car back. Gaining Muhammed was a welcome relief and he soon became my best friend. He got in the passenger seat and confidently directed Ben as to where to turn. All was going well until we encountered the construction; these detours were news to him so we found we had to negotiate the path Ben had done (twice) earlier. This time, though, Muhammed confirmed we needed to go through the entrance gate, so half an hour later, we reached the pension, three hours after having set off from the airport. It was a welcome sight and there was going to be nothing to detour us from our rooms as just an hour previous, we were debating whether to drive out of Antalya altogether and forfeit the night's room. The owner explained that they too were undergoing construction (no surprise there) so offered us two smaller rooms rather than the quad we had booked. The girls got a three bed affair while we had a room with a raised floor hosting a double mattress on the floor. It looked grand enough for our tastes.
All that was left to do was to go to the nearest restaurant to sample Turkish fare, and finish a quick walk before bed. Unfortunately, the pension owner steered us to a tourist place that had larger prices but, at that point, we were just happy to have something in our bellies. We had our first taste of Turkish meatballs (round ground beef balls squished flat) and tangy lentil soup. We discussed what we had learned from Muhammed, who turned out to be a Syrian refugee who arrived a year ago. Being quite bright, he has learned Turkish already, in addition to his English, which he perfected while studying Shakespeare at his Syrian university. Not surprisingly, he said it turned out to be a much harder way to learn English than he thought! We ourselves shall have to learn a few key phrases of Turkish soon but I, for one, won't be doing it by studying a Turkish playwright's work, that's for sure!