Saturday, July 9, 2011

Back in Paradise: Our Return to Islamlar, Turkey - Part I

Last year my wife and I, along with our dear friends, visited the tiny village of Islamlar, Turkey in search of a quiet getaway that was inexpensive, but interesting and comfortable. We fell in love with the place and the local people. We chose a different villa this year, but I do not want to get ahead of myself.

Now, to be sure, it is not exactly a hop, skip and a jump to get to Islamlar. Using frequent flyer miles (yes, even travel agents use them!), we flew to Munich, then to Istanbul, grabbed a day room at the Tav Airport Hotel, then flew to Dalaman, Turkey and then drove for 2.5 hours. In short, you really gotta wanna be here…and we do.

Our flights themselves were nothing of note, other than the Continental flight attendants were quite pleasant and when I asked for a whisky other than Dewars, I was told there were three Glenlivets for the entire flight, so if I wanted them they would get them for me. I did…and I knew I would need them. Why? Because it is Iamboatman flying.

Our bulkhead seats were very nice except for the young woman sitting next to us who had a child on her lap (in theory) for the entire flight. The good news is she found a playmate. The bad news is that her playmate was in the seat behind me. Noise-cancelling headphones only work so well…and they do nothing for the kicks in the back of your seat. After about 5 hours things settled down…and so did my nerves.

When we arrived in Munich we headed to the Lufthansa Lounge…which was closed for renovation (of course), so we were given vouchers to have a couple of drinks and a bite to eat at one of the two better eateries in the airport. It is remarkable to me how the service and food is so much better in European airports (overall). A coffee and a sandwich later it was time for our flight to Istanbul.

Due to our history of losing luggage my wife insisted that we retrieve our luggage in Istanbul, lug them (where the name comes from I believe) to the hotel day room and then recheck them…requiring me to check-in again in Istanbul. But SWMBO was obeyed…and things worked out fine.

The day room was a very good value at about $80 for free shuttle, a four hour sleep, a hot shower and a drop off at the domestic terminal. (Note: If you have an international connection, you can actually enter the airport hotel right from the customs area.)

Another nice feature at the Istanbul airport is that if you are a Star Alliance Gold or better member or have Priority Pass or a Continental President’s Club membership, you can use Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge. While it does not serve alcoholic beverages, it has some tasty hot and cold dishes, free internet and, most importantly, a private shuttle to your flight. That way you miss the boarding gate hassles and literally walk off the shuttle, up some stairs and onto the plane.

We arrived – yes, with our luggage – and retrieved our rental car. When the agent said, “We have your information because you rented from us before” I paused. It has been a yearlong running joke that I would not be allowed back into Turkey or, worse, would be taken to the “factory” (If you have seen Midnight Express you will understand!) because I was given a speeding ticket last summer which I wrote objecting to, but never heard back.

We then picked our friends up at the international terminal who arrived at about the same time and, with far greater confidence than last year, drove off into the darkness…with a sense of where we were going and a new GPS to guide us for the next 3 hours.

And it was going oh so well…right up until I said, “I think we should have taken that turn towards Fethiye”, but the young Australian lady residing inside my GPS told me to take the next turn until we reached “Kaktus Sokak”. And for the next two hours, in total darkness, we drove through tiny villages, over mountains, down ravines, traversed forests on a one lane poorly paved road hearing that little Australian girl say “Turn left to Katus Sokak”, “Turn right to Kaktus Sokak” and I heard the Scottish woman (my wife) saying, “I bet this would be pretty in the daylight!” and the English woman (my mate’s wife) saying, “Where are we?!” and the Englishman saying, “This village looks interesting. Maybe we should come back for a visit.” And the voice in my head kept saying, “Don’t drive off this god forsaken road” and “I should have turned around at that sign for Fethiye.”

But then we paused at a fork in the road, and as I turned to the right…listening to the Australian girl in the GPS, the English woman in the backseat says, “There’s that sign to Chops!” (Chops is our least favorite restaurant in Islamlar, but its sign is a marker we used to found our villa last summer.” We was home!!!!

Cihat (pronounced JEEHAAT) met us on his motorbike at Mamut’s Restaurant and we follow him for the very short ride to our home for the next two weeks, Villa Ruyam (It means “dream” in Turkish.) We made it in record time…so the little Australian girl may have been totally disrespectful to my nerves, but she knew the fastest route to Islamlar!

You know I raved about our villa last summer; well Villa Ruyam blows it away. The photos on its website are very accurate, but simply cannot capture the size of the views or the comfort of the place. More importantly, the villa has a great friendly feel because of its owner. Pat is a lovely English lady who just could not possibly be a nicer, more caring, person. When she rents out the villa she lives in an apartment below the villa. In fact, my wife has taken to getting up early so that she can have a long chat and a cup of tea with Pat every morning.

And while she is doing that Cihat cleans the pools and marble deck and then delivers fresh bread to us every morning. Unlike last year when the infamous Harry was the obnoxious and intrusive tender, Cihat quietly and discretely waters the flowers and tends to anything that needs fixing.

But more about that later.

After we settled in, the four of us sat out on the pool deck, enjoyed some wine, and then some whisky, and each other until just a little bit too early in the morning. But then again, we had no reason to get up in the morning because everything was done, we knew where we were and we were very happy.

Did we ever find Kaktus Sokak? Stay tuned!