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The Semi-Regular Newsletter


Turkey, May 3, 1999

Little Russia on the Med

Every May, Russia invades Southern Turkey with a vengeance!

Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Howard, Dr. Howard
The blonde for 20 olives!
You know they are all burnt to a crisp by now!
Nice breeze but no sails!
When I lived in DC, I would see them and laugh. Sometimes, if I was feeling a bit rowdy, I would even point and yell loudly, "Look Ma, tourists!" Its those tour group tourists I'm talking about, the ones all crammed into a tour buss, seeing Washington through a window, or a ten minute walk around the Jefferson Memorial. I've always though that this view of DC, or any city for that matter, robed the visitor of the true enjoyment of traveling, those serendipitous finds that can only happen when you wander off the beaten path, by design or by ignorance. So it was with a bit of shock, that when Lidia and I walked out of the Antalya airport, we were greeted by row upon row of tour guides and tour buses, with not a real bus or even a wandering local in sight!

Now, I'd known we were taking a package tour to Turkey, all the Russians use tour agencies for their travels, and I was expecting a bit of mothering by the company, like a driver at the airport, but the extent of the Turkish tour efficiently left me in awe, nothing like last year's trip.

First, that sight of row upon row of tour buses really put a zap to my head. Then, when were directed to one of the buses, instead of a little taxi as I expected, I almost flipped out. I hate traveling in a big group, mainly cuz your always waiting for the slowest person, you cannot explore anything on your own, and here I was on a bus build for 40! After waiting till everyone found their merry way, and eliminating the time savings I gained by working the visa/immigration lines in the airport, we were driven right past Antalya, directly to our hotel.

I was glad that our hotel wasn't in the center of Antalya, it's a port town and didn't have the best beaches, but to be an hour outside of the city, on a secluded little beach did have a disadvantage. Because we were miles from any respectable civilization, we were essentially prisoners of our hotel, and the hotel knew it. They gave us these little cards, for a $50 deposit, that we could use to buy anything we needed from the hotel, or any of the five hotels on the small strip, but they wouldn't change money for us, even at the bad rate they advertised. At first, I thought it was an annoying gap in service by the hotel, then I realized the method behind the madness. If we couldn't change money, we would have to buy everything from ice cream to sunscreen from the hotel, and not spend a single lira with the small stores just across the street.

In my American brilliance, I did find a lone ATM machine, after I was repeatedly told there was none, when we went for a walk looking to change money. We had planed to walk just to the next hotel, but when it, and the rest of the hotels on the strip refused to change money, I became determined to get around this conspiracy. My efforts were rewarded by the ATM, which was just outside the super-swank hotel on the strip, and by another round of Turkish Lira fun. Like last year, I was taken by a Turk pulling a fast one with their look-alike and ridiculously devalued money. At 380,000 lira to the dollar, it was a mess trying to figure out what was a million-lira note and what was a 100,000-lira note. I got taken when I mixed the two up, but it was a $2 loss I could afford. Still, that puny little sum did tarnish the whole Turkish experience for me. Ok, enough on that rant. Back to the fun stuff before I get angry all over again.

When we were leaving the airport, Lidia looking at the incoming flight list and did a double take. Listed on the board, were twelve flights from Russia, all arriving that morning. I didn't realize the magnitude of those twelve flights until we were at the hotel. Everyone was Russian! Everyone on the bus, the tour guides, everyone at the hotel, absolutely all the guests we saw at all the hotels we walked by, and on all the day trips we took, were Russian. The Turkish staff even spoke Russian! I swear I was the only non-Turk, non-Russian in that whole scene! It was really funny when people would hear us speaking English. When they asked us where we were from, and we said Moscow, they always complemented me on my language skills and American accent. Lidia and I would try to keep a straight face when I said that I had a bit of practice, but usually we would break into a fit of giggles.

We really had a good laugh when we went on a yacht excursion. First, everyone, after a winter in Moscow, was ass-white. Not a decent tan among us, ourselves included. The real white ones were smart enough to start putting on sunscreen, but a few were too brave or foolish to follow that lead. Later, they were seen huddled under the boat's awning, hiding from the intense sunlight with bright red bodies.

When we took a close look at the boat, while we were waiting to leave, we noticed something quite interesting. Although the yachts were built with masts, and a few even had sails tied to the booms, not a single ship could actually sail! They were all fake yachts, built to look like sailboats for the tourists, but really powerboats designed to be driven everywhere. I guess the average tourists, not knowing how a sailboat works, and not really wanting to experience the yawing and pitching of a real sailboat, still wants to feel like they are on a sailboat. How odd!

Actually, the whole tour was a bit odd for me. As a dedicated independent traveler, it was interesting to see how a tour worked, and to confirm my personal dislike of that mode of traveling, but I could see that it did have a benefit for those travel-challenged among us. The Russians, with their lack of travel knowledge, visa headaches, and language barriers, were more than happy to be herded around like cattle. And for the two of us, just looking for some sunlight after a long, cold winter, it was a great deal that I'm glad we took. (Not that I would do it again!)