Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Fair and Balanced" - You Better Be Careful Where You Get Your Cruise Information!

This is supposed to be the slow season in the cruise business because everyone is supposedly on vacation.  While I am finding business to actually be quite brisk, what I am also finding is that those in the cruise message board business seem to have also put their common sense and credibility on holiday.

I preface the following for what has become, unfortunately, a growing problem with more people using the internet and therefore being exposed to “fringe” players who falsely present themselves as “experts”.  The result is a world of misinformation that stays out there and unnecessarily hurts the cruise business and, therefore, its current and potential customers. 

When someone who postures himself through a website marketed as the place to get information (here:  CruiseMates.com), it is inexcusable because clearly that person’s desire to “make a buck” at any cost compromises your money and vacation because, as John Belushi said in Animal House, “You screwed up.  You trusted us.  That said…

Last week, Paul Motter, the editor of CruiseMates posted some pretty outrageous things on his message boards.  During what I perceived as a “meltdown” (but as you will read I think I know the pressure he was feeling), he asserted that people that go on luxury cruises are “gluttons”.  That’s right Mr. Motter asserts that the people that shell out the most money do it primarily so that they can stuff their faces.  He then went on a diatribe about how Seabourn is not actually a luxury cruise line (not that he likes luxury cruise lines) because there wasn’t enough for him to do onboard.

If you think I am making this up, this is a direct quote from him (and this after he went back and sanitized his rants):

I find small ships to be boring - especially when the primary attraction is food and wine. I don't find gluttony to be that appealing, and that seems to be the main reason why people tout Seabourn the most. I find their itineraries to be the least appealing of all the "luxury" ships BY FAR because they have the most days at sea, and to me the only difference between a day at sea on a tiny ship and a prison is the food is better.

You can read the whole thread here:  Seabourn's Move to Seattle - Was It A Good Move?  

What makes Mr. Motter’s comments not only silly, but undercutting whatever credibility he might have had, is that he has never been on a Seabourn cruise.  In fact, he hasn’t been on one because none of the cruises offered to him for free were to his liking (and he insists that his airfare be paid by Seabourn as well as the cruise…which isn’t happening).

What brought this on was, apparently, Mr. Motter’s taking offense that Seabourn’s president, Rick Meadows, or its Public Relations Department did not return his telephone call about Newt Gingrich’s vacation on the Seabourn Odyssey that made the headlines and helped derail his presidential campaign.  Why?  Read on!

Aside from the fact that Mr. Motter has just confirmed that Seabourn’s clients engage in gluttony, Seabourn is not a luxury cruise line, Seabourn has no itineraries that he likes and he felt his being shunned was a personal affront worthy of going public with, one must pause and observe: 

Seabourn is never going to comment on any of its guests’ cruises.  Seabourn hosts such important people (not Motter-defined “gluttons”) as political dignitaries, movie stars, famous singers, titans of business and, of course, You. 

Does Mr. Motter believe that he has some sort of special dispensation to invade a Seabourn guest’s private life?  Does he feel that Seabourn should stop what it is doing for his prurient interests; interests that will eventually find its way into some sort of publication intended only to line Mr. Motter’s pockets?

Well, Mr. Motter and CruiseMates have shown its colors:  Mr. Motter – somehow and not because of his knowledge of the cruise industry (since he regularly provides misinformation) – writes a column for FoxBusiness.com.  You know, the “Fair and Balanced” folks that run Fox News as part of the Republican political machine.  (Note:  I am not judging Fox News or its focus.  I am just stating the obvious.)  And, as we know, Newt Gingrich is a darling of Fox News.  Soooo:

Mr. Motter has just written an article posted on CruiseMates (and sure to be on FoxBusiness.com shortly) entitled:  On Seabourn with Newt Gingrich”.  Now, we have established that Mr. Motter would not be caught dead on Seabourn so he wasn’t onboard with him.  We have established that Seabourn didn’t give him any information.  Instead Mr. Motter allegedly found someone who was onboard the same cruise the Gingrichs were on (but not “with” them). I say “allegedly” because this person is not identified (Privacy anyone?  That’s right, the source is entitled to privacy; not Mr. Gingrich.) and Mr. Motter enjoys multiple personalities on CruiseMates’ message boards so that it can seem like there is more activity on those message boards than there really is (so does this person actually exist?).  Also, getting two sources before publishing something as true is normally the practice.  Obviously not for Motter’s articles. Just being “Fair and Balanced”.

But the thing that really gets me about the article which is truly a political statement wrapped around a cruise article is that Mr. Motter not only is two-faced about Seabourn while kissing Mr. Gingrich’s (ring), he cannot even begin to get his facts right; facts that you (the cruise customer) are supposed to rely upon. 

Let’s get a little more “Fair and Balanced”:

Mr. Motter states in his article, “Since when is $2500 (per person) a hefty price for a two-week cruise on a top-rated cruise line? Compare that to the Hotel Villa in Costa del Sol, Spain, where our First Lady spent $2500 per room per night for an estimated 60-70 rooms for her entourage, plus a flight for them all that cost an additional $146,000 roundtrip.” 

Now, I do not know what category suite Mr. Gingrich purchased, but even the lowest category suite on that cruise went for far more than $2,500 per person.  In fact, there isn’t a single two week Mediterranean Seabourn cruise selling for that price.  But, of course, with Tiffany’s $500,000 outstanding account in tow, one might think Mr. Gingrich was cruising in say a $20,000+ per person category in say a Wintergarden Suite.  And if we add $15,000 for first class air and throw in $5,000 for incidentals, it looks like Mr. Gingrich could well have been spending $60,000 for his vacation.  How could the travel expert, Paul Motter, get it so wrong? Just being “Fair and Balanced”.

I pause:  Not because of the slap at President Obama’s wife, but because there is no Hotel Villa in Costa del Sol.  (We are talking travel here aren’t we?)  Mrs. Obama took her daughter to the Villa Padierna on the Costa del Sol.  Now that is a nice hotel, but rooms start at 259 Euros a night and the 646 square foot Executive Suite is only 400 Euros a night; hardly over the top.  Now there is one two bedroom villa, but let’s not be stupid about pricing…and I am not even getting into the ridiculousness of his other figures. How can the travel maven, Paul Motter, get is so wrong?  Just being “Fair and Balanced”.

[Ed. Note:  Since originally posting this I have received a number of emails wanting to "correct" Mr. Motter's errors.  So here are a few: 

1.  Anyone can cancel a Seabourn cruise booked through a U.S. travel agent with no penalty up to 91 days prior to sailing.  To claim that it was impossible to cancel a long planned cruise is simply untrue.

2.  There is nothing special about a President's Cruise...other than Seabourn's president is onboard (and usually not for the entire cruise).  Every cruise line has them and not all of the sell out.  On Seabourn jsut about every cruise is treated the same way.

3.  Not all Seabourn guests book their cruises a year out.  Many do, but others book quite close in.  Along the lines of my conjecture about Mr. Gingrich's suite selection, the tops suites do sell out more quickly and they usually are booked far in advance.

4.  Twiggy is not the godmother of the Seabourn Odyssey (the Maiden Voyage guests are).  Twiggy is the godmother of the Seabourn Sojourn (and I am a first hand witness to it...check the plaque in the Seabourn Square). 

Hopefully now those that see all of Mr. Motter's inaccuracies will rest a bit easier.]
Remember, this is not about Newt Gingrich.  Let the guy, whether you like him or not, have his vacation in peace…and privacy.  He is entitled; just like you are.

So what am I on about?  What am I really trying to discuss?  There are a lot of quacks, crazies and dishonest people out there that will say just about anything, no matter how inaccurate, just to get themselves ahead.  Paul Motter is, in my opinion, one of them.  He can spout off all the various places his drivel has allegedly been published, but in the end, his information is knowingly or incompetently false and agenda driven.  And he does this knowing that his garbage is going to be relied upon by you,but it appears clear to me that he doesn't care.

Paul Motter disrespects you and posts whatever he wants to get ahead because its effect on you is irrelevant from what I read.  While in his mind you are a glutton (classless) for cruising on Seabourn – a line that he spurns because they won’t pay his airfare – you are also going to believe him that you can take a two week Seabourn cruise…just like Newt Gingrich…for $2,500 a person…and then might he invade your privacy by allegedly finding someone to tell about your private holiday.

As a final note, and in full disclosure, I was for a short time the moderator of CruiseMates.com luxury cruise message boards.  I quit when it became clear to me that Paul Motter was not interested in the truth or integrity. 

Be careful who you rely upon when you get your cruise information.  Just because there is a big website it doesn't mean that the information is accurate.

I know that by raising this issue my integrity may well be challenged.  That is fine.  I have earned the trust of many, many, travelers on Seabourn and on other cruise lines and vacations.  I want you to question me.  I want you to seek verification.  That is because I want you to have the best vacation you possibly…and realistically…can. And I am concerned with keeping you as a client for life; not for just one cruise.

Champagne at the hot tub on the bow?  A perfectly poached egg?  A casual conversation with a noted politician?  It isn’t gluttony, but of course!  It is a Seabourn cruise.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Back in Paradise - Our Return to Islamlar, Turkey - The Photos


A View With A Villa...Villa Ruyam

A View With A Grill

A View With A Pool

A View With A Kitchen

A View...Just A View

















Walking to the Wedding Luncheon

A Truly Special Pre-Wedding Lunch!

All of the "Family" Girls

Elegant Tea


















The Kids Hanging Out















Would You Eat This for 10 Turkish Lira?


Saklikent Gorge

Lost in Translation

Style

Not So Much

Ahhhhh

'Nuf Said!




Saturday, July 23, 2011

Back in Paradise - Our Return to Islamlar, Turkey - Part VIII

It is our last full day at Villa Ruyam in the quiet paradise called Islamlar, Turkey.  We want to relax and do nothing.  (It is not like packing  t-shirts, shorts and bathing suits is going to take a major portion of our day.)  But we have a problem…of sorts.  Our new “family” wants to take us to Saklikent and we do not want to offend them.  My wife, of course, wants to spend as much time with them as possible and I, having read about the place, was curious, but…

We decide to go for a couple of hours.  It is, we are told, less the 25 minutes away.  That is, of course, less than 25 minutes if you drive like a Turk!  So we meet our family and head off.  About 45 minutes later we arrive…with Ali, the young boy, sitting in our backseat and giving us the guided tour.  We stop at the road leading up to his school, but for some reason he would rather be going to Saklikent than school in summer.  Some things just are cross-cultural, I guess.

As we drive we see that infamous painted sign to Fethiye that I was instructed to follow.  We, fortunately, pass it and, low and behold, just moments away (the way we should have gone the last time) is Saklikent…a huge, and beautiful, gorge.  We are glad we made the trip.

Having our “local guide” we get free parking under a tree, next to – no so ironically – trout-filled tanks – and then wander past the souvenir stands towards this very imposing gorge.  We walk over a rickety bridge, next to some large, but very cool looking, restaurants with kooshs (sp?) right on the water’s edge (so you can dip your feet into the water after it leaves the gorge).  After paying a fee we walk across this (fortunately) sturdy wood walkway through a portion of the gorge; with its steep walls right next to you and the rushing water right under you.  It is beautiful.

Eventually we come to an area with babbling streams and an area to walk around under the trees and ferns.  But off into the distance I see a bridge and steps down to the water.  Folks, if you have ever been to Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica, this is akin to this…but on steroids!  In order to see the rest of the gorge, which goes back about 7 kilometers, you need to traverse the rushing waters which are about waist deep.  I stayed back with my wife and some of the family (obligations, you know), but the others took it on.

But while they were waiting, Durkadin (translated it means “Stop Woman”) and Selma take to the streams and find the granite and limestone infused mud that will make them look years younger!

I digress here to explain that regardless of what you hear, Turkey is a very secular country.  Yes, you hear the calls to prayer no matter where you are, but bikinis and shorts are common, most women that do cover their hair in the rural areas do it because that is the traditional style (not because of religious beliefs), men and women mix most of the time (but not at large family gatherings or in mosques) and alcohol is not the least bit frowned upon.

So while the women wash off their mudpacks I wander down to the stairs and see all the very wet, but smiling, faces returning from their walks down the Saklikent gorge. It is amazing how much water there is in this area which is so hot and dry otherwise.  (To give you an example of how dry it is:  when you get out of the swimming pool and the temperature outside is 100 degrees, you are instantly cold because the evaporation aided by the slight breeze is so intense.)

Afterwards we go to one of those cool kooshes, but our family tells us to follow them to nicer and less expensive ones.  (At least this is what my wife tells me they are saying.  They might well have been saying, “typical tourist”).   So off we go.  Ali shows me his favorite area with kooshes right under the vertical rises of the gorge, but everyone else heads to one more practical…right next to a restaurant.  Stepping past the ducks and ducklings we are sitting at the water’s edge drinking Efes and Cokes.  The baby is happily in a hammock which I am swinging by way of a cleverly provided rope.

It was then back to Villa Ruyam for an afternoon of…Let’s say it all together now:  Relaxing.  Of course, with no rest for the wicked, I must prepare our last barbeque:  kofte and lamb chops.  It is more than we want, but we don’t want to waste the food.  So after this we:  Relax. 

Then it is time to pack.  Ten minutes later it is time to:  Relax and have a pre-dinner glass of wine.

Of course our last meal is at Place of Huseyin.  They graciously tell us that our meal is complimentary.  (We just pay for drinks.  Yikes!!!).  They do not ask us what we want, they just bring it…and bring it…and bring it.  And, best of all, they all sit at the table with us after all the food is served…just like family.  I set up my new iPad2 and have a showing of our photos with background music of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes singing, “I Don’t Want To Go Home.”

After one last trout (alabalik), too many bottles of wine and raki, it was time to head back to the villa for our last evening.   You know the one:  The one where you say you have to be up at 5:00 a.m. so it is going to be an early evening and then at 1:30 a.m. you say you better get a couple of hours of sleep.

We are up and out by 6:00 a.m., with our hostess and Villa Ruyam’s owner, Pat, and Cihat there to wish us well.  We make the two and one half hour drive to Dalaman Airport without issue (other than an amazing amount of road construction…and we know what follows after) and are hit with reality.

I can enter the Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge because of my elite status, but my friend’s Priority Pass is worthless on domestic flights…even though he is flying on Turkish Airlines all the way to London.  Not the friendly and family atmosphere we had in Islamlar.  We board the flight and I am, again, blessed with a baby sitting right behind me.  We say goodbye to our friends and wait in the Millennium Lounge in Istanbul Airport for our next flight.  (It has a nice variety of food and drinks, but it is not exactly luxurious.) 

Then reality hits me again:  On our flight from Istanbul to Frankfurt, my wife and I have aisle seats next to each other.  With a seat in between me and the Kiwi next to me I am happy…right up until he starts coughing and coughing and coughing and doing this without covering his mouth while he is flush and a bit sweaty. I ask him to at least cover his mouth and he replies, “If you talk to me again during this flight I will kick your ass.  Typical American.”  Like I am going to take that? Right.  So I reply in my best New Jersey accent:  “And you are a typical a&(%$.”  He looked away and never…and I mean never…looked my way again.  Problem yok…but a reminder I am no longer in Islamlar.

We make our transfer in Frankfurt after an absurdly long security re-screening and after a quick stop at the very comfortable and well stocked Lufthansa Senators Lounge, we board our final flight to Newark.  Then reality hits me again:  A couple just decided to take our bulkhead seats.  What the heck is going on?  So, once again, I have to be less than laid back and they move…and then try it with the bulkhead seats across the aisle (unsuccessfully).  Again:  Problem yok, but I am yet further from Islamlar.

After an uneventful flight and, believe it or not, all of our luggage arriving with us we arrive home.  But we find the pool timer is broken and a ton of chlorine has been dumped into the pool, the dog has peed on all the bathroom rugs,  it smells like something died in the garage, the icemaker is broken…I want to go back to Villa Ruyam and our little Paradise of Islamlar, Turkey!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Back in Paradise - Our Return to Islamlar, Turkey - Part VII

As our time in Islamlar, Turkey winds down we decide we should venture out a bit more…in the tourist sense.

But not wanting to push ourselves too much, we spend the day relaxing at the villa and then about 4:00 p.m. we head out to Kas (pronounced “cash”) which is the first significantly sized town to the east of us; about 45 minutes away (25 minutes if you drive like a Turk!). We visited Kas last year and remembered the hair-raising drive with a wild bus driver negotiating hairpin turns at high speed and using both lanes (one each way) the entire time…just wondering when (not if) the accident was going to happen.

This time the drive was more relaxing (if relaxing is even an appropriate term). It is Sunday so many Turks head to the beach. What this means is the public beaches – most of which have little to no actual parking lots – are filled…as is the roadside with cars; narrowing the winding two lane roads to 1.5 lanes. Of course there are no signs that say, “Public Beach Ahead”, so you come around a hairpin turn and you go “Whoa!” And, of course, you must do this traveling at 50-60 miles per hour or you will be the subject of constant passes (on the inside) by more talented drivers.

We arrive in Kas without incident, but notice that things are fairly quiet. It is hot (I mean 100+ degrees) and people are still on the beaches, but it is eerily quiet. The economy is hurting tourism; especially the British economy as Americans are far and few between. In fact, I do not recall hearing a single other American accent during my entire trip.

We wonder the town a bit, but are focused on revisiting a little gem of a jewelry shop, Silver Harmony, where we had made some purchases last year. The Turkish owner was there and we made our purchases – with special discount for being repeat customers (as opposed to the presumed special discount we would have received for being first time customers) – and were very pleased…enough to have the single purchase turn into multiple ones.

Now in need of a drink…or three…we head off to find a place for an early dinner. We have a couple of recommendations and wander the tiny alleys of Kas examining the restaurants that are, in fact, just opening for dinner. (It is about 6:30 p.m. and the evening really doesn’t start until around 8:00 p.m.). It turns out Silver Harmony’s recommendation of Ikbal was spot on.

After spending a week in the mountain informality of Islamlar, it was nice to see an elegant, but still informal, restaurant. Ikbal is essentially a raised patio type restaurant with a huge wild purple bougainvillea-covered pergola providing shade to the entire restaurant. We have table clothes with a purple overlay. Freshly made, garlic infused, pitas with a wonderful dipping oil. I have a perfectly grilled octopus tentacle for a starter followed by a wonderfully prepared grilled swordfish and squid shish (on a stick). My friend’s steak was wonderful as was the rather large manti (Turkish raviolis). I deferred on dessert, but the others dove into a banana split and Ikbal’s signature: Apple Pancake with ice cream. (For research purposes only I tried it. It tasted like a wonderful apple strudel; which is no wonder as the very friendly – yet quiet – owners, he from Turkey and she from Germany, have their personal touches everywhere.)

With the sun setting and my strong desire not to be driving those hairpin turns in total darkness, we head back to the villa for another lovely evening. But we discover that we have been sitting in the wrong place for our evenings. We have been sitting under the covered veranda when we should have been around the corner sitting at a small table with four director’s chairs. The breeze coming up the mountain and over the peak is cooling and fantastic. Plus we have the benefit of watching just spectacular moonrises.

On our last Monday we do as we always do: Relax. We make our last visit to the local shops in Akbel to get the last items we need including charcoal for our last barbeques. (I have taken pity on my mate and have decided to not use pans cooking, but will grill to make sure he has less chores to do…further increasing the much needed relaxation periods.) We spend a good bit of time figuring out how to say “Charcoal” because we had never seen it in Akbel. The reason: There is no word for charcoal. Apparently, the word is “coal”. (I am not sure what the word is for what we consider coal.) But all of that effort was for nothing, of course.

When we arrived at our shop, there is was in the bin: Bags of charcoal. Problem yok. We picked up some veggies, whole wheat ekmek (bread), sirap (wine), locum (Turkish delight candy) and, finally, some of the corn steamed/boiled in the large metal pots we see by the side of so many roads. With that it was time for a barbeque lunch of kofte, lamb chops, mushrooms and peppers accompanied by a nice salad, yogurt and bread.

After our typical afternoon, it was time for dinner. We are still full, but $4.00 trout here we come. You may recall our drive to the villa the first night. While we were driving following our Aussie GPS girl we went through a small town that we said would be nice to revisit. Our new family, ironically, invites us for an outing to that small town of Saklikent; telling us it is much cooler there and a nice place to visit.

We only have two days left. What to do?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Back in Paradise - Our Return to Islamlar, Turkey - Part VI

I once had a horrible English teacher, Mrs. Cunliffe, who was strict and, of course, had it in for me. There is only one thing that, to this day, four decades later, rings in my ears: “Enough is enough and too much is plenty.” In other words, “Goldring, I have had enough of you.”

“Our” family, courtesy of my wife, invited us to a lunch before a family wedding. Some of us (not my wife, of course) were wondering if this was getting to be a bit much. I mean our holiday is being somewhat transformed into a Meet the Fockers come Turkish emersion experience. But, being who we are, the extraordinary compliment, our love for new experiences and the need to appease SWMBO, we were going.

Of course, we had no idea what to expect and were not sure that it was a good idea. I mean we aren’t really family, other than my wife we don’t really know any Turkish (though my mate’s wife is giving it a real go) and, of course, barging in a lunch of unknown size, location or formality…and not even knowing who was getting married was, as my children say, “awkward”.

So we organize a thank you gift (a box of salt water taffy from Asbury Park, New Jersey), I put on my Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville shirt (the most formal thing I brought with me), and met the family at Place of Huseyin’s at 11:00 a.m. for a seven kilometer ride up through the mountains. Meryem, the 16 year old, tells us to follow her and she drives with both of the mothers and the two young children.

My mate and I had ventured up the mountain a few days ago and “discovered” some ancient Lycian tombs, a small beautiful pine forest and then the top of the mountain. When we reached the mountain top that day we did a quick survey and said, “Well, there is nothing down there so let’s go back.” In once sense we were correct, but in the true sense, we were so very wrong: An entire community lives on that side of the mountain and that is where the lunch was being held.

We begin our decent down the mountain and then at a very modest and rustic home we turn in and parked. We are met by an uncle, the family dog, some chickens and a feeling of, “OK, now what?” I saw an old, and well used, cush (Turkish sitting area), but nothing else and certainly no lunch. We were then directed to walk down the road (obviously we were honored with private parking rather than parking on the road).



We walked up a dirt path and there was a group of women under the cover of a porch on of a larger, but still rustic, house. We were offered seats under a tree. OK, but now what?

Minutes later we were walked over to an open area with old canvases stretched into tents with tables and plastic chairs. We walk past the “kitchen” which consisted of six or seven women, each with a large cauldron in front of them, sitting on the ground, happily making enormous portions of each dish. Not wanting to be too nosey, I just took a quick look and hope for a better view later.

When we go to sit down, the young boy, Ali, positions himself so that he sits next to me and he lets it be known that he is the man of the table and is going to be taking care of me. He is a good boy and, I think, is enjoying being teased and tricked by me. What is interesting is that we are hosted only by the women and Ali, None of the men are with us. I am not sure if it is a separation of men and women or the men were hung over from a party last night. OK, but now what?

Newspaper is placed over the table, bread in large bag is placed on it…and then a huge tray of food is brought over…And the Feast begins! Bowl after bowl is placed on the table: Cicik (this time made with ayran – a local yogurt drink), fresh salad, a hot and sweet milk soup, beans, a lentil porridge, rice with chicken and roasted goat in a tomato, olive oil and spices, and a sweet dessert which tasted similar to the inside of a Cadbury’s Crunchie candy.

This is a true “family style” affair: You are given a single spoon and you just share the food one spoonful at a time. The food was delicious; especially the roasted goat. It was truly a feast. And just as the goat was almost finished, they brought another bowl over. Absolutely amazing and very touching.



What was really interesting to me was not only how warmly we were treated…just like the other villagers…but how many people were there. I only saw a few cars, but there were dozens and dozens of people. From what I gathered, they were almost all relatives.

As we left we stopped by the “kitchen” the women were very welcoming, with big smiles, saying things I had not a clue about…but they never stopped cooking. We thanks them for a delicious lunch and then walked on.

We noticed that some of them had henna-stained hands. (It is a rural Turkish tradition to henna the hands of the bride, so that must have happened earlier in the day.) As we left I thought it was interesting that we never met the bride to be or the groom, but in a way I was relieved, because I just couldn’t help thinking that as welcomed and well treated as we were, that we were imposing on this family’s celebration.

But now what? We headed back to the cars. Ali takes me through a shortcut. He wants to show me his uncle’s goat and kid, so we slip through the back way. Just as happenstance, his mother –Durkadin- is reaching up, backlit, picking out a couple of bunches of dried tea (chai). It is just a beautiful moment. (I wish I knew this woman’s story. There is something special about her.) Ali tells me how good her tea tastes.

But now what? We were taken further down the mountain to a relatively cooler place (maybe 85 degrees?) for a cool drink and a chat under a large cinar tree. Before we sat down we were taken over to a marble fountain of sorts which really was simply two pipes that were outlets for the plentiful spring water to wash our hands and face. The local villagers were instantly deferential and moved away their water jugs so we could partake.

After we sat down, I made the mistake of ordering an ayran as I was just too full. Everyone else ordered a Coke. I have never seen any of the rural people drinking Coke…but then again, how many times to you see them being themselves?

It was then time for the women to break out the box of salt water taffy. It was a pretty good size box and in a matter of 10 minutes it was gone! They loved it. We took some photos of each other, went back over the water fountain for a second wash and then it was time to say goodbye and drive back to the villa.

As we entered it, it really hit me. Here we are staying in the luxury villa with awesome views and most every comfort (including running hot and cold water, air conditioning, satellite tv which we never turn on, etc.) and literally just up the road there is an entirely different, simpler…and in many ways, more difficult…world. What a privilege it is to experience both, no less in the same day and right next to each other.

And how do you possibly say, “Thank you” enough when you are given life enriching experiences like today’s? I think “our” family is probably thinking the same thing…at least I hope so.

Well, Mrs. Cunliffe: Enough may be enough for you, but I crave more than enough!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Back in Paradise - Our Return to Islamlar, Turkey - Part V

Our life in the village of Islamlar always seems to throw us a curve…not a bad curve, but a curve nonetheless.

You may recall that the owner of “our” Villa Ruyam, Pat, bought my friend a birthday cake and we were concerned about not offending her because we had already organized one. Well, remembering this is rural Turkey, the baker had, unbeknownst to us, told Pat that the cake would not be ready for a few hours, but that he could deliver it to Place of Huseyin’s because he ordered one for my friend as well. Yikes? No: Problem Yok! (No problem.)

Since Pat knew the situation, and we found out about it, we simply invited her up for a lovely lunch (which I, of course, prepared): kofte, cicik, salata, ekmek (bread…that’s a new one for you) and then a second birthday cake. Of course, since the baker knew there were two cakes we had two totally different, and delicious, cakes…and two really lovely celebrations.

After the second celebration there was only one thing to do: Rest. Apparently in a matter of minutes I was snoring away floating in one of the remaining floating chairs. Hey, someone has to do it!

But today was, however, a day of adventure and challenge. We had undertaken the simple task of driving to Fethiye. The focus of our day was for my wife to pick out a nice piece of jewelry for our upcoming anniversary and to have lunch at the fish market. There was only one thing standing between our dining and personal enjoyment: The Scottish voice of my wife and the Australian voice of the GPS girl.

The struggle started immediately as logic said to drive down the mountain to Kalkan and then turn onto D-400 right to Fethiye. However, that is a long circuitous route and driving through the mountains and then farmland was more direct and, thus, was the Aussie girl’s choice. As we have absolutely no pressure and a strong desire for adventure we took the instructed left towards the mountain rather than the right to Kalkan and the highway. So the adventure begins.

We follow the road that becomes D-350 (these are not highways, but 1.5 lane roads with at best marginal asphalt) as we twist through the mountains recalling our drive on the same road in the other direction to the Villa that first night. We note that what we thought might have been a lake or river was, in fact, a very steep drop-off (It was really dark!) and that the “It must be very pretty in the daylight” was, in fact, true, but not anything like what we imagined for it was farmland; not flowers and awesome expansive views.

And then trouble: The Aussie girl said go straight and the Scottish girl sees a hand painted sign that I ignored that pointed to a bridge and said “Fethiye”. I said we should listen to the Aussie GPS girl and who the heck would listen to a hand-painted sign, but SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed) was insistent…and then it got stupid!

The Aussie girl actually said, “Continue 2.5 kilometers to Unpaved Road.” I have been dealing with unamed “Road’, but “Unpaved Road” seemed a bit dramatic, even for a GPS…but it was, to be sure, accurate. We then pass an old Turkish woman crossing the road giving us a dirty look like “What the heck are you doing here?” and a tractor pulling a plow and then we see the remnants of karpuz (watermelon) on the road…followed shortly by two carts of karpuz being towed. And all the while I was teased by the Aussie GPS girl with references to “Towards D-350”.

Well an hour and a few bare knuckles later we finally returned to D-350 and very shortly thereafter the road to Fethiye. By the time we got there (about 11 am) it was about 100 degrees (38 Celsius) and the heat was tough. But I remembered Fethiye from when we visited a few years ago on the Seabourn Spirit with my favorite captain Geir-Arne Thue Nilsen (who is now the master of the newly christened Seabourn Quest!) so navigation wasn’t so difficult.

We made our way to the Fish Market. It is essentially a central square shared by four or five fish mongers surrounded by a number of restaurants. You pick your seafood and they clean it and deliver it to the restaurant of your choice who, in turn, cook it as you wish for 6 Turkish lire. After scoping things out…and setting up my negotiations for later when we are ready to eat, we shop. Well, actually the girls shopped and my mate and I found a place to have an Efes. After their purchases I hear, “So you got a table for two, did you?” Busted!

After a bit more shopping (reminiscing about my mate’s purchase of probably the nicest goat skin bag I have ever seen when we were on the Seabourn Spirit together…because I knew exactly where the shop was…and was able to leave empty handed. Yes!) we returned to the fish market.

Now, with the table set I pounce! The fish monger with the nicest and largest prawns sees me and smiles. I walk over (having eyed an expensive and surely delicious turbot earlier) and we negotiate over the price of the large prawns. He tells me the large ones are 50 TL a kilo and the medium ones are 40 TL. I insist he must be mistaken and that the large are 40TL and the medium are 30TL. He peels two of the prawns to show me the difference. I don’t budge, but we are laughing. We go with 12 of the large prawns at my price…and then he throws in the prawns he peeled and we agree on two squid as well. Instead of change from my mate’s 50TL note (about $35) he throws in two or three more prawns.

We walk over to Cen & Can (sounds like Jen and Jan) where the girls have already secured a table and a bottle of Buzbag wine. I remember this wine: It is from Capadoccia where we had been back in 1994. (And it is not pronounced as a bag of insects, but “Booze-ba”). We order some anchovies on olive oil, cicek, salata and instruct the prawns to be sautéed in garlic, chilies and olive oil and the squid to be fried. An incredible feast…and too much to eat. If you take away the cost of the wine, it was basically 6TL ($3.50) for each dish. If you include the wine, well that is a different story!

Now, fully fed we saunter over to the same fish monger to get more giant prawns for tomorrow’s barbecue at the Villa Ruyam. He tells me they are 60TL a kilo. I look at him and he says he is sorry, it is “Cok Secak” (very hot). He corrects his price and tells me it is 35TL for 12 more prawns. I hand him 30TL and he looks at me. I say to him “Cok Secak”… and then hand him the additional 5TL. He packs them in buz (ice) and we head to the car. After my wife purchases a modest evil eye bracelet and the store owner complains of the economy and gold prices not allowing him to make the type of jewelry we are looking for, one of the girls wants ice cream so we stop. It winds up the place on the street is a Burger King. OMG, but two ice creams for 3.50 TL who is going to complain?

On the way home we decide to check out Oludeniz (Dead Sea) and it was shocking. Back in 1994 when my wife and I chartered a gulet (Turkish wooden sailing motor boat) it was a relatively quite beach. Now I just wanted to get the heck out of that crowded, touristic, place.

After refueling the car…with my lovely and caring wife repeatedly driving off as I tried to get back into the car…which was after the gas station attendants couldn’t believe my credit card didn’t have a PIN…and then asked me where I was from and when I said America they said “Canada”. I replied, “No, New York.” The man behind the counter said, “No good. See you later alligator.” and laughed with me. Of course the attendant was also laughing as I kept trying to get into the car and my wife kept driving off just enough to frustrate me. You just never know where you will find a nice guy and a good laugh.

So with that I finally got back into the car and drove on the D-400. The Aussie girl kept telling me to turn and the Scottish girl was asleep in the back seat (at least as long as my mate didn’t scare her awake…as he did twice), but I stayed true and got to Kalkan on the best highway in the area (don’t get too excited about that!) and then up the mountain to our little bit of Paradise at Villa Ruyam.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Back in Paradise - Our Return to Islamlar, Turkey - Part IV

We have had quite a few good laughs so far…while my wife seems determined to become one of the local villagers.

Last evening while at Place of Huseyin, we let the kids play with our bug zappers (they look like mini-tennis rackets, but have an electrically charged grid that electrocutes mosquitoes and midges). My wife explained to them that she hates bugs. So what does a young boy do? He finds a giant green grasshopper and brings it to her!

But me being me, I reach into my pocket and pull out a 10 Turkish Lira note (about $7.00) and dare him to eat it (using sign language because my Turkish is worse than his English). Ali struggles because 10TL is a lot of money. He thinks. Then he pulls the antennae off and gulps. Then he starts pulling the poor grasshopper’s legs off…one by one…and then gulps again. Then he takes a deep breath and shoves it into his mouth. But I see his tongue is curled under. He insists he ate it, but eventually showed it was still in his mouth…ALIVE! Yuk! He earned that 10TL.

You may remember I spoke of our $5.99 floating chairs from Leslie’s Pools. Well, the other day my mate was floating away and says, “Eric, I think I have a leak.” As he looks it the bubbles got bigger and then he looks at me like a cartoon character and says, “Oh *(^%!” and the chair collapses sending him to the bottom of the pool. I could not stop laughing…as I floated along in my chair.

Fortunately I brought along two spare floating chairs. Sure enough yesterday the same thing happened, but this time it was like a Wyle E. Coyote look of “Here we go again.” I was crying I was laughing so hard.

But why did this happen? It comes down to what we call “Birdy Porn”. What is “Birdy Porn”? You see with all of this relaxation time, we watch the birds. There is this one scruffy little house sparrow that has only one thing on his mind: Sex. While the other birds take the time to preen themselves, he just spends his time call out to females and then having his way. My mate and I watch this hour after hour, day after day. (We have even started to watch “Butterfly Porn” as yellow butterflies are, apparently, excited by the bright yellow color of the house. In fact, yesterday we thought one of “our” butterflies got picked off by a swallow, but he didn’t.)

So as we watched the scruffy male bird calling out to all of the female sparrows, we observed one of the females pecking at…the floating chairs. Mystery, if not problem, solved. But as we are pulling for our little scruffy male sparrow we have left our remaining floating chairs available to assist him in his constant…and I mean constant…endeavors.

Just an FYI, somehow my wife got us invited to a Huseyin family gathering on Saturday further up in the mountain (and we are pretty far up). From a drive I took the other day, I discovered that just above us there is a beautiful, and cooler, pine forest and some ancient Lycian tombs. It is going to be interesting, but, of course, it is truly a compliment and shows that even if you don’t know the language, just being yourself can lead to some pretty fantastic experiences.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Back in Paradise - Our Return to Islamlar, Turkey - Part III

Our days have been quiet and relaxing. But with familiarity comes some contempt…or at least gossip…and that, to a degree, tends to spoil one’s experience. It may be a tendency, but it is not a hard and fast rule.

We have heard some not so nice things about the owner of Villa Xanthos (where we stayed last year) and his property minder, Harry. We, in fact, were quite put off by Harry and his involvement was a big factor in our decision to look for alternatives this summer. Even last summer we didn’t hear anyone say anything nice about Harry. But some of the other gossip may be interesting to some, but to me it is pretty irrelevant to my holiday; especially since I chose not to deal with the owner or Harry…hence, “so what”.

We also heard gossip about the owner of this restaurant, that person, etc. As I said, it can be off putting…until you remember that we are staying in a small, rural, mountain village and when there isn’t much to do, gossip can surely fill your day as you drink tea, have a chit-chat, etc.

So with that I started to get the feeling that our little bit of paradise maybe wasn’t so much so. And then I started to quietly wonder what the motivation is of the people around me and, thus, my inner skeptic started to come out.

But with a drive through the mountains, a visit to the local butcher, a dinner in a local restaurant, etc. and a story from my wife, the reality that I am actually in a paradise…if I let it be that. And, to be sure, I feel a bit of disappointment in myself that I almost let it slip away.

My wife ventured up the road the other day, securing the perfect walking stick along the way – necessary to be sure! She came upon a local woman rolling out the typical Turkish flatbreads and putting them in a wood fired open oven. They had a chat, in Turkish…and my wife had a new best friend. Later that day as we were driving out my wife insisted we stop and buy some of her bread. The woman and her husband were furious! How dare my wife offer to pay? Friends never do that. She ordered…and boy did she order…her husband to get a bag and we were given two kinds of flat bread: one “regular” and one doused in olive oil. My skepticism was waning.

The other day we mentioned to Huseyin, the owner of our favorite restaurant – remarkably named, “Place of Huseyin” that it was my mate’s wife’s birthday in two days and we would like a birthday cake (pasta). Such a thing is a rarity…a custom made delight, if you will…so it must be special ordered from Kalkan and delivered up the mountain. We remembered the shock of the price last year (remembering that it costs 7 Turkish lira, or about US$4.00 for a fresh trout dinner) so we eventually inquired of its cost, but by that time it would have been more of an embarrassment…and then thought, “You know we give this guy a lot of business and tip his well too, so couldn’t he throw in the cake?” So with that bit of sourness and skepticism we carried on.

The next day, Sunday, my mate and I went to the local market in Akbel where we purchased some fantastic local yogurt – once again out of large garbage bin – as well as some braided string cheese and veggies including some of the biggest mushrooms I have ever seen. (Never put Turkey and mushrooms together.) The vendors were friendly, but also anxious to make a deal as business is clearly slow.

Across the way was the weekly fish market, consisting of two vans parked on the side of the road: one with a “fancy” display of many kinds of local sea fish and one with nothing other than a couple of Styrofoam boxes and a tank of water. Checking the eyes and gills, we went with the simple van and picked up four beautiful sea bass from a very pleasant and smiling man, who cleaned and gutted them as well, for only 20 TL (US$12.00), tossing the innards to the local, mangy, cats waiting patiently on the other side of the wire fence. My skepticism was waning.

That evening, we had a fantastic barbecue with sea bass, lamb chops, mushrooms and peppers along with a nice salad and yogurt. I must say that the villa’s grill did clean up nicely, but when I opened the bag of charcoal and literally found the charred wood the locals use (of course, dummy!) I was a bit nervous if I could pull of this culinary challenge. But with “our” mountain as a backdrop and with the sun setting, I was more than willing to take it on…along with a few glasses of wine for courage!

Speaking of wine, we ran out. We forgot to buy more wine when we went to the market. It was 10:00 p.m. and driving to Akbel along those narrow, winding, mountain roads – even if the shop was open – was not an option. But Place of Huseyin’s was. Baba was outside with the quiet restaurant and he sold us two bottles…at the same price we would have bought it for in Akbel (which, of course, is slightly more expensive than in Kalkan). I thought that was a nice gesture and we were set for the evening. My skepticism was waning.

The next day was “Birthday Day”. After a strenuous morning of doing nothing (I got my emails and work done before anyone else was up), we decided to all drive into Kalkan. Other than buying my daughter a great pair of shoes from a local leather shop, we walked, sweated, sweated and walked, stopping for an Efes in the shade…only to be disappointed by the whole atmosphere in Kalkan and the absurd prices…designed to extract the maximum from the British tourists. (Americans are so rare that I was asked where I was from because my accent didn’t sound like one they were familiar with.) My skepticism was returning.

After a lunch of cicik, leftover lamb chops, and salad, Pat arrived and brought over a card and birthday cake. What a nice gesture! My skepticism was waning.

But now what to do? We already ordered a birthday cake from Place of Huseyin! We had to share our cake with Pat, but how do we now pull this off as we were going to Place of Huseyin’s for dinner and a cake would be waiting there? The last thing we want to do is offend Pat. We, temporarily, put it in the too hard pile.

We had our typical dinner at Place of Huseyin…except I asked if we could pick out our own trout. This was, to the family, amusing. So off we went down the hill to the trout pond where we were presented with two buckets: one with a bit of water and one without. Huh? Huseyin’s brother picks up the net and I, waiting to be handed it, see him deftly scoop up about two dozen trout which he dumps into the bucket with the water in it. It seems the catching of the trout my mate and I were going to be doing was picking them out of a bucket! Getting over the shock of how many trout were in that pond, we promptly got soaked trying to pick up this trout…being shown along the way how easy it really was. (Yeah, right.) After we triumphantly caught our trout…the brother dumped them back in and pick two others! It seems the concept of catching one’s dinner isn’t a Turkish tradition.

Back at the table, the youngest boy flashed me a homemade birthday card he had made on a scrap of paper and then he proudly presented it. Then the little girl came over with a bunch of freshly picked mountain flowers with a little note tucked inside. It was just so simple and sweet.

After dinner, in which we were a bit quiet because the day has been sooooo hot, our “other” birthday cake was presented with candles and sparklers. The whole family came to celebrate…except for the little boy who had fallen asleep. It was then up to the private sitting area filled with Turkish fabric covered pillows and cushions for cake. Everyone joined us as the cake was cut…and then in came Ali, the young boy, very upset he was missing the celebration…until he saw we saved him a big piece of cake.

After some talking, discussion of the 16 year old’s upcoming wedding, some wine…and more wine, some raki…and more raki, the two older women presented both of our wives with beautifully hand embroidered scarves for their heads and two more for their shoulders. They were told they are “family”…and you could tell they meant it.



Why was I skeptical? What was I thinking in the first place?

Feeling good, my mate and I ventured down into Kalkan today (before the heat) and did a proper shop. As we walked into the butcher shop, he recognized us and we were greeted as friends. He then proceeded to insist I order our kofte, lamb chops (pirzolasi) and chicken (tavuk) in Turkish.

Sometimes you just need to let things flow over you rather than judge them. Travel is good.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Back in Paradise - Our Return to Islamlar, Turkey - Part II

Our first morning at Villa Ruyam was typical…typical in that there was bright sunshine, a clear blue sky, a view of the Mediterranean Sea straight ahead (with the shoreside town of Kalkan sufficiently low and distant from our towering perch to be unobtrusive) and “our” ever-changing mountain to the right (now looking green and lush, but changing to one of grey rugged outcrops and then to a rich, almost pink color in the evening).

And then there is the quiet. The silence is broken by the chirps of house sparrows and the sound of the pool; nothing more.

This morning…in fact, all the time…I look around and say to myself, “Would you look at that!” There is so much here that just makes you go, “Wow!” Along the wrought iron railing by the pool (beautiful in itself), climbing roses are creating a natural wall and there, right in between the four lounge chairs there are about half a dozen brilliant red roses each about 8 inches across. Looking over the mountain there is a shock of vibrant purple flowers rising from the ground below…but when you get closer to them you see brilliant orange bougainvillea complimenting them. (Even the view outside the guest bathroom is perfectly – yet informally – landscaped with flowers and olive trees.) The villa’s yellow color is a perfect foil. The rich colors and soft vegetation make the extremely dry and hot climate welcoming rather than one’s enemy.

Having been supplied some “starter rations”, and it being my job for the next two weeks to do all the cooking, it was time to make breakfast. While this isn’t a Seabourn cruise, we have the same sort of menu: medium boiled or poached eggs and fresh bread. This is accompanied by beyaz peynir (the very typical Turkish soft white cheese), sliced locally grown tomatoes and local olives.

While the girls lounge about (this is a very informal vacation, so putting away clothes takes about 5 minutes and the closet systems one wishes they had in their real home seem insulted by our t-shirts and shorts) my mate and I head into Kalkan…letting our Aussie GPS girl have a rest for the 20 minute drive down the mountain past the village of Akbel (where we remember there is a market every Sunday). First stop is the small market for typical dry goods, beer and Angora beyaz sirap (white wine) and then to the butcher for kofte (spicy lamb meatballs that have been flattened out), lamb kebabs, lamb chops and paprika chicken legs. Then the green grocer for our veggies…with tomatoes and cucumbers being our staple as well as patliecan (eggplant/auberguine) which is pronounced PAT-le-John.

The one thing we cannot find is a case of beer. Oh, we found a couple of six packs in cans, but there is nothing like a case of Efes (a very popular Turkish beer) in bottles making your refrigerator seem a bit more friendly. So on the way back to the villa, we ask our Aussie GPS girl to guide us and she tells us we are to drive towards Kaktus Sokak. She doesn’t mention Katus Sokak again. We then stop at “our” little shop in Akbel and purchase a case of Efes along with some breadlike coated pistachios that my mate likes.

After this grueling start, it was time to relax in the pool which somehow remains cool while the temperature hovers in the low 90s. This was followed by a period of relaxation reading my book. Which in turn was followed by a relaxing nap.

This strenuous morning and early afternoon led to my being forced into the well-equipped kitchen to cook up some kofte with yogurt, a tomato and cucumber salad and patlican with tomatoes, spicy peppers and onion….with an Efes to cook with and then one to dine with.

After the ordeal of actual effort (slight as it might have been) it was time to adjourn to my inflatable pool chair (tested and approved last summer…and available for purchase on sale at Leslie’s Pools for $5.99) with my Yacht Report floppy hat for a siesta. I am told that everyone is aware that I am instantly asleep by the snoring, but all I hear is silence and the chirp of the house sparrows. (Heck, it is my vacation, so if I am enjoying the silence they should be happy for me. LOL.)

This is followed by a bit of reading, a shower, cocktail hour (aren’t you tired just reading this?!) and then to our favorite little restaurant just down the road (literally “down’ the mountain road): Huseyin's. We are greeted like lost relatives (as I figure the folks before and after us probably are), but the girls have brought small gifts for the children. You may recall that one time last summer, my mate and I ordered takeaway for lunch and had to rock a baby stroller (pram) while drinking our beer so her mother could cook our lunch. Now the baby is running around. The two young children (one boy and one girl) have grown and the teenage girl is 16 and engaged. (It is a bit of reality that we are in a small, rural village, in Turkey.)

After the mothers have given us hugs and Baba and his brother have shaken our hands, it is time to order. We start with a nice salad, fried cheese (fried beyaz pinar - which I don’t care for that much), patlican (better than mine) and borek (a sort of fried flakey pastry roll filled with cheese). This was followed by what we have been craving for since last summer: The absolutely freshest trout simply grilled with olive oil. Each of the local restaurants have trout “farms”, which are really trout holding ponds, where they raise trout in crystal clear, cold, running spring water. You order your trout and they scoop one out, gut it, grill it and put it on a plate. Perfection!

After a bit too much wine and some raki (a local Turkish liquor similar to ouzo which you mix with water and ice) it was time to return to the villa for another raki and a late night chat.

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!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Regent Seven Seas Quietly - On a Holiday Weekend - Is No Longer "Its All Included" or Luxury

When politicians do not want something to be noticed, they announce it over a weekend.  If they really do not want you to notice, they do it over a holiday weekend. While I am not really interested in being perceived as bashing Regent Seven Seas Cruises, I cannot let its use of this same tactic go uncommented on.

In what I see as a continual backsliding by Regent, it has very quietly...that's right, in a very non-consumer friendly manner - started breaking out government fees and taxes  up to US$17.00 per day per person.

Why is this important?  In part because the whole marketing hype of Regent Seven Seas has been that everything is included?  I mean plastered all over its website is "It's All Included".  It is important because Regent Seven Sea Cruises prices have become the highest in the industry - while the quality of the product continues to flounder (more on that in a minute) - and Regent Seven Seas Cruises needed to find a way to make its prices seem, well, more in line with reality...as its ships sail less than full.  (To be fair, in this economy and with the increase in luxury berths all of the "luxury" lines are having some issues with this.) 

One cannot ignore that the timing of Regent's really unannounced, but footnote disclosed, change is in addition to an overall price hike by Regent Seven Seas. That's right, this holiday weekend Regent Seven Seas Cruises announced a double price hike.

It is reported that Mark Conroy, Regent's president asserts the reason is that Regent Seven Seas cannot continue to absorb the fees and taxes.  Huh?  It absorbs nothing.  Regent passes every single expense on to its passengers.  (I am having a hard time calling them "guests" any more.)  I am really turned off by that sort of "Isn't Regent Seven Seas so generous.  We have absorbed the burden for our passengers." when it is, in fact, simply untrue.  BTW, I took a random sample of 10 Regent Seven Seas cruises in 2012 in Europe, Caribbean, Asia and every single one had the full $17.00 per day charge assessed.

Now, let's combine this double price hike with (1) the prior price hike to include a pre-hotel stay, and then (2) the ploy to have you purchase a higher category suite because you get things that every luxury line provides to all its guests (like priority shore excursion and dining reservations) and...

A continual slipping in service and cuisine.  I scour the web, speak to clients (Goldring Travel obviously doesn't book many Regent Seven Seas cruises, but it has a number of unhappy Regent passengers that become very satisfied Seabourn, Crystal and Silversea, etc. guests), and use other methods to obtain information from as many sources as possible discussing the onboard experiences on Regent Seven Seas (and other lines).  This is what I generally find...and you don't have to trust me, you can read much of what I see if you seek it out:

- Problems with communicating with staff as a significant number are not fluent in English

- Service issues throughout the ship, but especially in the main restaurant, Compass Rose, and the casual eatery, La Veranda.   (Finding a good waiter and seeking him out is, apparently, an insider's strategy.)

- Crowds and problems finding a clean table in La Veranda.

- Repetitive and lower quality food offerings in La Veranda and at breakfast (noted consistently as being no different from premium or mass market line offerings).

- Included shore excursions having larger numbers of people on them.

I could go one, but the point has been made.

Now, if you like Regent Seven Seas and want to stay loyal (I don't understand the concept of but it does exist), why don't you try Regent's sister brand, Oceania Cruises.  With Marina and Riviera you will be getting a beautiful ship with very nice accommodations, great itineraries and service and food levels at or above Regent's...at a significantly lower cost (even if you must pay-as-you-go).  Oceania Cruises is just a better value.

On the other hand, if you want an actual luxury cruise experience I would urge you to check out Seabourn, Crystal or Silversea Cruises.  They do not engage in Regent Seven Seas' "smoke and mirrors", insult you with cheap marketing ploys, etc....and they actually provide you with different types of true luxury cruises.


 please call me at 888-SEABOURN in the United States, 020 8133 3450 in the U.K.; 07 3102 4685 in Australia; and +1 732-383-7398 elsewhere. You can also email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.