By Inka Piegsa Quischotte
When I told people with a certain knowledge of Turkey that I live in Bodrum, which I did until three years ago, I invariably got two reactions: ‘Oh my God, that tourist trap’ or ‘how lucky you are, best place in Turkey’.
Bodrum, located on the Aegean Sea on the southern end of a peninsula of the same name, is no doubt a favorite tourist destination but also home to several expat communities. The once small fishing village was put on the map in the 1950 when Turkish artists and intellectuals were drawn there by its beauty and historical past, by the sea, warm climate and welcoming locals. Foremost among them was Turkish poet and writer Cevat Sakir who was so taken by the place that he published his works under the pen name Fisherman of Halicarnassus. This brings us to the historical past, Bodrum was in antiquity the site of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Sakir stayed and many other artists joined him and formed an artists’ colony. The fame spread and about 10 years later, tourists started to arrive.
I have travelled extensively all over Turkey before deciding where to live, at least for a few years .It’s my nomadic nature which compels me to move countries every three or four years. I need to live by the sea, I crave warmth and sunshine, my interests are ancient history, art and local culture and I thrive on making local friends and blending in as much as possible. Expat communities are ok, but I have met too many expats who rigidly stuck to their own to feel comfortable to socialize too much with them. Interesting food is important too, but at my age, I also need some modern creature comforts (like European style toilets, although I have learned to manage the squat variety), good hospitals and dentists.
The climate whittled my choice down to the Turkish coasts of which there are plenty. Ultimately it came down to a choice between the Black Sea Coast and the Aegean. Plenty of ancient history on the Black Sea coast, but it can be cold and it rains a lot. The locals are lovely but they are very rooted in traditions and reserved which makes it difficult to communicate with them, especially if you don’t speak the language which, at the time, I didn’t. So I turned my attention to Bodrum.
Settling in a place which was once the site of one of the wonders of the ancient world held a great appeal. And you can’t go wrong in a former artists’ colony, can you? Coming from the 36 km away Milas Airport, the road winds down towards the peninsula, with the sea glittering on the horizon, pretty white houses (they all have to be painted white with some blue details) and the castle of St. Peter with its mighty walls greeting you from afar and a few romantic windmills dotted around, made me feel at home at first sight.
Finding a place to stay was no problem. Estate agents are pretty used to expats wanting to live in Bodrum and more or less fluent in English. At first I rented a 1 bedroom apartment (I am on my own), nicely furnished, with a communal pool which is very important to me, within walking distance of the port and all interesting sites, supermarkets close by, only three floors and a balcony overlooking the sea. I ended up buying it which involved a bit more red tape but I engaged the services of a local lawyer who also helped me to get residency, first for 1 year, then extended without any problem. Don’t think you can save money by trying to do it all on your own, it’s not a good idea and you don’t want to break any laws or encounter ugly surprises, especially if you plan to buy.
Next I enrolled in a language course because I had already found that knowing even the basics opens you the hearts and doors of the locals. It paid off big time. Turkish isn’t easy but at least it’s written in the European alphabet so you can read the names of streets and towns from the outset. It settled into the rhythm of Turkish life by starting the day with the succulent Turkish breakfast , every day in another café. It’s so rich, it keeps you full for many hours.
The more I explored the more I found my love for museums and history fulfilled. First was the castle of St. Peter. Looming on top of a promontory, it was built from 1402 onwards by the Knights of St. John. An interesting feature is that marbles from the Tomb of King Mausolus, which was destroyed by successive earthquakes, are incorporated in the walls of the castle. And not only there, if you look closely, they were also used in the construction of older houses in Bodrum. There is a lovely café in the courtyard of the castle which also brims with native birds, flowers and plants .Then you can get ready for a visit to the extraordinary Museum of Underwater Archaeology which has been housed in the castle since 1968. Most impressive is the glass collection which displays thousands of years old undamaged glass vessels recovered from the bottom of the sea. Ancient ships, a treasure from the tomb of a Carian princess and much more will keep you in awe for hours.
The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, built between 353 and 350 by Carian Queen Artemisia for her husband King Mausolos, is reduced to a few broken columns by earthquakes, but a small museum gives you an idea of its original dimensions and splendor. If that isn’t enough history for you, then there are day trips to Ephesus, Mary’s House and Selcuk. But back to everyday life. Bodrum beaches are fabulous too, there are quieter ones around the marina and those with beach clubs elsewhere. Naturally you find cafes and restaurants galore as well as bars and nightclubs for a night on the tiles if you are so inclined.
Popular are the weekend markets, especially one which sells a huge array of – fake- designer clothes, belts and bags. Not my cup of tea, but people’s tastes are different. Much more interesting are the fruit and vegetable markets where you can haggle over a kilo of tomatoes, peaches or strawberries side by side with the Turkish housewives. As soon as you have learned the basics of Turkish words, you’ll enjoy it a lot more.
One drawback of Turkish life is that vendors and traders will jump out at everyone, praising their wares and trying to entice you to visit their shops and stalls because they ‘simply have the best’. The constant assault can be irritating, just ignore them and walk on, otherwise you’ll never get away until you have bought something you don’t really want. This situation is probably where the opinion of ‘tourist rap’ comes from.
Also get used to the fact that nothing is done in Turkey without tea. Accept at least one glass, to refuse is impolite. Learn sign language. If you want to say no, don’t shake your head because that means: I don’t understand, please say again. Just what you don’t want! Throw back your head and click your tongue and that’s ‘no’. If you start making local friends and are invited to their home which takes a while to happen, remember to bring a gift, take off your shoes and, if food is served, don’t refuse a second helping.
Bodrum’s marina is a nice place to explore and walk around in and it’s also the starting point for boat trips to the Greek island of Kos. From time to time I enjoyed a visit to a hamam, a traditional Turkish bath. Be prepared for a good pummeling by the ladies who also provide you with the sandals and towels. Of course, there are separate days for men and women. This separation of the genders also applies to some tea gardens and buses, although not to the regular little buses which run around town and stop at request, called dolmus.
Lemonc cologne is the Turkish snitzer. Your hands are sprinkled before every mea, be it in a home or a restaurant and in the buses and some shops too. It’s a sweet smelling country. I also felt quite safe in Bodrum. Naturally you need to mind your belongings and to watch out for pickpockets especially in the markets, but that’s the case in just about every place in the world. Life in Bodrum is pleasant and it combines the advantages of Turkish life with the amenities of European creature comforts. Ultimately it all depends on what interests you and on your readiness to adapt and integrate.
Finally you may ask: if I liked it so much, why did I sell my home and leave? Simply, my aforementioned itchy feet and my spirit of adventure. So, after a few years, it was Spain for me where I now live in Alicante. For how long? I don’t know yet but it’s definitely not my final destination.
Inka Piegsa Quischottes is a travel writer and blogger. Her works have been published in BBC/Travel, The Culture Trip, VIE Magazine and several Inflight magazines and many more. Read more from Inka at www.inkapiegsaquischotte.contently.com