Friday, September 06, 2013

Alas, our Underground City is closed

I took my boyfriend to Turkey. This was a test. Of what, I don't really know. There are some places that, once you discover, you can't stop talking about - Glasgow in the rain, the shores of a Loch, a clean toilet in India... and pretty much all of Turkey.

I prepared carefully. I got a Turkish teacher to try and get my Turkish working again. She tried. She failed. I was, as ever, fine in restaurants, if everyone spoke slowly.

But still - Turkey was very Turkey. Our first hotel claimed to have a private beach. It turned out to have no electricity and be a mile inland, so we just wandered around. My boyfriend saw a hotel in the grounds of an old Roman temple. How wonderful, I thought, but not for the likes of us.  "Can we stay there?" he asked. And so we did.

We went to Cappadocia. I'm now too old for a nightbus to Cappadocia and can't believe I used to do this with my parents when they were still in their 60s. The seats are more comfortable, the children are better behaved than ever, but they turn the lights on more. Just when you finally think that some sleep will come, they slam them on, and you're in a petrol station in the 1970s being shouted at by a large woman smoking by a petrol pump. She's your driver. So you get off and go for a walk.

Cappadocia is still the best place in the world. And the oddest. A geographical oddity that is soaked in cash. They have neat pavement. The young men drive sportscars. There's a lidl (only they call it Bim, pronounced "bum"). Travel a few miles in either direction and you get "the real Turkey" - villages where life goes on pretty much as normal, with thousand-year old buildings neatly turned into cattlesheds. But the tiny village of Goreme is still awash with tourists. These are farmers, so they're used to dealing with cattle. Kindly and humanely the cattle are loaded into white vans and taken to wherever they can be milked of some more of their cash.

Numan's hotel was run by Afghan refugees. To think of all the horrors they'd been through in order to sit around listening to tourists discussing which hot air balloon trip to take. We did, by the way, do a hot air balloon. It was a terrifying hour with each of us worrying the other was about to propose. 

Mostly, I just love it there. I love living in a cave. A cave with plumbing and wifi, with a balcony with the best view in the world, that you can sit on at night and read books while the valley gets on with being the most beautiful thing on Earth. "Oh, just try it in Winter," said Numan. Well, I think I'd like to.

Being in my 30s, I now can't go on holiday anywhere without wondering what the property prices are. Turns out, a decade ago, you could buy a cave complex for a steal. Even now, my London flat could get me a 30-room cave. That's room for a lot of trains sets and cats. It's practically an underground city.

Talking of underground cities, I wanted to show my boyfriend one of the ones "off the beaten track". Because that's simple tourist snobbery. The best way seemed to be to go to a town and get a cab. We went to the town. We stood in a car park. We asked where the taxi rank was. The car park attendant shrugged and phoned his dad.

So it was that we became a Family Outing To The Underground City. Dad and Youngest Son in the front. Boyfriend and me in the back. "Do you speak English?" the dad asked in perfect English. This turned out to be the only English he knew. He was taking us to the next village which, last time, had had an undergound city. We got there. Passersby shrugged and smiled "Alas, our Underground City is closed" (to be boring, the Turkish word for "alas" is "maalesef" which does the job very well). And so it was. You can, it turns out, padlock an underground city. Why, I don't know. Maybe the man with the key was on holiday.

It doesn't matter, we said. These things happen. It's all fun. We laughed. But Dad and Youngest Son did not laugh. We can, Youngest said, take you back. Or, there's another underground city... And so we bombed on into the middle of nowhere. Valleys came and went. Street signs gave up. Little ladies toiled in the baking afternoon at empty fields while their husbands sat in tea gardens. And suddenly, carved into the cliffs were a nest of roman tombs. Little perfect temples. Just there. Next to a tea garden. And a handpainted sign saying "Undergound City".

And it was perfect. Being led round an underground city by a man who, by rights, should be running his tea shop, but really wanted to show off his ancient wine press. These things are good.

Travelling with a vegetarian in Turkey was either the best way to get ripped off, or a delight. We gave up on proper restaurants with their oily, thoughtlessly rude waiters and instead were oily and thoughtlessly rude to puzzled chefs in small canteens. Suddenly Turkey stops being expensive. You can still get a meal for two for about £6 and not want to eat for days. And I got very good at quickly picking the meat out of the broad bean stew and giving it to a cat. This is the best thing about Turkey - every restaurant has a cat. If it doesn't, don't eat there. Cats know.

Istanbul I got wrong again. I think if I lived in Istanbul, I'd enjoy it. As a tourist, I get Istanbul wrong like some people get email wrong. Half of it was closed. The other half was crowded - even the Cistern is unbearable now Dan Brown's mentioned it. I can't get it right. I once tried to get a taxi to a chic club near Taksim. I ended up standing on a roundabout. Yes, I'd tried to go clubbing on a roundabout.

When people say "Leaving our holiday was the hardest thing about it" they often mean it fondly. But with Istanbul it's true. They have a direct tram to the airport (you have to change five times). And even then, Ataturk Airport has won an award - it's the least punctual airport (outside China). 38% of planes leave on time. Several hundred flights a week are cancelled. You can buy a bottle of vodka in duty free for the same price as two cups of tea. And it was very, very tempting.

Of course, the boyfriend wants to go back. He fancies studying the sufis, going to a caravanserai, and going along the Black Sea. I think that'll be marvellous. I'm already looking forward to ordering meals very slowly.

1 comment:

The Guyliner said...

"It was a terrifying hour with each of us spent worrying the other was about to propose."

Haha. That is heavenly.