In so many ways, Bodrum is a study in contrasts: it is Halicarnassus, the ancient trading city that gave birth to Herodotus, the father of modern history. And it is the modern paean to youthful beauty, fame, fortune and all else that is transient, home of the largest and most famous nightclub in Asia Minor. The clubs start rolling at midnight, and don’t stop until the sun’s warm enough for all the tired partygoers to drag themselves out to the beach to recover.
And what a beach it is. Whitewashed cottages rise on arid hills above the perfect crescent of perfect sand, where gentle waves and a steady breeze are as predictable as the sun that burns down from dawn to dusk. And it does burn, wicked hot.
But it’s breathtakingly beautiful, and packed with Turks, Brits, French seeking a brief escape from the mundane (we’ve not encountered any other Americans, oddly, but everyone asks – guardedly – what we think of Bush).
Our beach is actually Bitez (“bee tez”), two beaches down from Bodrum proper. Our room looks out over the timeless beauty of an Agean seascape, and is set above the complex’s rib-thumping disco. In most contexts, this might be a problem. But Beach Club 3S houses only a “starter” disco, that closes down at 12:30, when people go out to the real clubs. And since we’ve not been in bed before midnight since arriving, there’s no inconvenience at all to having the view.
Bitez is just one of the many dozen beaches scattered throughout the fingers of the rocky Bodrum peninsula. Han tells us that in generations past, the local farmers would pass property on to their children as follows: “To my son, I give the high, fine arable parcel inland; to my daughter I give the salty, rocky parcel by the shore.” Now, with the coming of the tourists, the sons are worrying about subsistence farming, while the daughters are worrying whether their new maitre di is really up to the five-star standards her bayside restaurant’s clientele expect.
But from the water, it’s all beautiful. It feels as if you could just pull up anchor and drift from bay to bay, stopping when you felt the need to go ashore for ice cream, or longed for a foofy drink with a paper umbrella. Not coincidentally, that’s our plan for next week.
We’re here to spend a few weeks with our longtime friends Han and Sila, whose kids have known ours most of their lives. Han’s parents live in the hills of Bodrum, looking down at the harbor, beach, and its centerpiece: the crusader castle of St. Peter. Han’s father owns a sleep-aboard motorboat, and we’re going to join him, Han, Sila and the kids for a 5-day exploration of the Bodrum and Datcha peninsulas.
Before that, though, we’ve got a week of kicking back and taking in the beach, restaurants, pool, shops, beach, restaurants, pool, shops, etc. to get ourselves on the Turkish equivalent of “island time”.
Aside from the castle (tomorrow morning), there isn’t a lot of impressive history visible in Bodrum. The 4th century BCE Greek amphitheatre is well-preserved – they hold concerts there on Friday nights – but it would be charitable to even call the town’s most famous claim to antiquity as being “in ruins”. The eponymous “Mausoleum” – the massive tomb of King Mausolus designed for himself in 355 BCE – sat on a hill above the harbor. It was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, standing over 130 feet high; but with the passing of the Carian empire, people clearly found other uses for tomb’s marble columns. Apparently the crusaders found them a convenient source of building materials for St. Peter’s Castle. We’ll look tomorrow, but I have a vague suspicion that we won’t be seeing a plaque at the base of the castle:
“The Knights of St. John wish to acknowledge generous contributions of marble from the people of Halikarnassos in memory of their king, without which, the building of this castle would not have been possible…”
No, somehow, I just don’t see it.
Yesterday we joined Han’s family for a day trip on their boat, the “Colo 2” (pronounced “joe-low”, not so as to suggest a floating data center). An idyllic day. Best described with few words and many pictures – out to the isolated beach at Kara Incir for a swim in the bay, putt-putt into town for lunch, swim back to the boat, and generally laze around.
Next day (that would be “today”, by local standards) was much of the same. Made it down for breakfast around lunchtime, catching some of the more youthful Bodrumians on their way back from last night’s parties.
Hung out. Didn’t get it quite right, so practiced hanging out until we were satisfied that we were doing it right. I sallied out to the boardwalk to buy snorkel, mask, fins etc. for myself and the kids. Ventured out again for an hour on a windsurfer.
Evening brought something new, though – Han and Sila picked us up to drive us out to a restaurant at Myndos, Mausolus’ the old capital of the Carian empire. Offshore is a place known locally as “Rabbit Island”. Like a back-country Mont Ste. Michelle, you can walk to the island at low tide. You can walk at high tide, too, but your knickers are going to get a lot wetter. The island used to be teeming with a legally-protected colony of rabbits. We didn’t quite get the explanation for their disappearance, but I was assured that it didn’t have anything to do with rabbit stew on the menus of the restaurants lining the bay. No, sorry, I’m kidding – the only thing they serve in Myndos is fish, and they do it very well. Han’s father treated us (again) to a stunningly good meal of fabulous fish after fabulous fish, served in half a dozen wonderful ways. To give you an idea of how good the food has been here, it’s going to be hard going back to the Cafe at work when this is all over.
Tomorrow, maybe the castle. Or maybe we’ll just laze around some more – we’re still not quite sure we’ve gotten it right, and this seems to be the best place in the world to learn.