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Part III:  Beyond the Kefaluka Bubble

Bodrum Castle overlooking Bodrum Harbor.

It was tempting to spend the entire ten-day trip hunkered down in beach chairs, umbrella drinks in hand, supervising sand castle construction and attempting to break up sisterly spats without leaving the lounge chair.  But, since this was our one and only trip to Turkey, we knew we couldn’t waste this opportunity to explore the historical lands that lay beyond the Kefaluka bubble.  A bit begrudgingly, I pried my bottom off the beach and joined Jim and the girls (and 40 physicists) on a bus trip into the ancient city of Bodrum.  We were getting quite used to traveling with a throng of physicists, but I am not sure I could say the same for the poor scientists.  On the hour-long bus trip into Bodrum, the girls happily sang songs and exclaimed over the desert-like scenery, and although these were joyful noises, they were still shockingly loud.  Jim’s colleagues may have been tired of traveling with two giggling, wiggling, snot-dribbling (leave it to my children to catch a cold in paradise) children, but I, myself, found it completely reassuring to be accompanied by a group of people who could convert the price of a trinket from Turkish Lira, to Euros, to U.S. Dollars in the blink of an eye.  It was like I was surrounded by a group of superhuman calculating machines, with a penchant for rattling off historical facts about the Bodrum peninsula, Alexander the Great, and crusading knights.  Who needs a tour guide when you have friends like that?

Bodrum is a beautiful Turkish port that is home to countless gleaming white yachts, beautiful wooden schooners (or pirate ships, for the three and under set), a formidable stone castle that sits sentry above the harbor, and a bustling marketplace.  It was the site of ancient Halicarnassus, the home of Herodotus, and housed one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.  (Which, if you are interested, was built as a monument and tomb for the ruler Mausolus, by Artemesia II of Caria, who was both his sister and his wife.  I have to admit that I wasn’t really paying attention to the history of Bodrum until that fun little fact caught my ear.)  The Mausoleum stood proudly in the city for seventeen hundred years, until it was finally leveled by earthquakes.  Sometime in the fifteenth century the crusaders used stones from the quake rattled monument to fortify Bodrum Castle, so there is not much left to see of the Mausoleum today.  But, I spent a great deal of time chasing Maggie around Bodrum Castle, therefore I may or may not have saved my daughter from breaking her face on a stone that was once a wonder of the ancient world.

Emma with an extremely important Roman Governor at Bodrum Castle.

Bodrum Castle, though extremely toddler unfriendly, was pretty awesome.  Emma loved it because it was home to not only knights, but a special breed of knights that also moonlighted as pirates.  To a three-year old with a fondness for all things medieval and a pirate costume hanging in her closet, this fact was almost too much to bear.  She loved the “knight pirates” and I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the crusading soldiers who built the castle were brutal, bloody fighters, not quite the jolly pirates she pictured.  The castle showcased breathtaking views of the Aegean Sea with no unsightly railings to mar the scenery, or to protect streaking toddlers from plunging headfirst over the side of a turret into the crystal blue waters below.  It also had some spectacularly steep, narrow staircases, but so are the perils of castle exploration with a toddler.

Toddler launching pad at the top of Bodrum Castle

After extracting Emma from the “knight pirate castle” we wandered through the narrow streets of Bodrum where I attempted to work up the courage to barter with shopkeepers selling fake Louis Vuitton handbags.  I am not really a handbag-type of person.  I have a mysteriously sticky, sometimes smelly, but very convenient diaper bag that houses everything from my wallet to emergency bubbles to a first aid kit.  I also have a ten-dollar Old Navy cloth purse that I purchased six years ago that is my “fancy bag.”  Although, I’m pretty sure that if you can throw your purse into the washing machine it no longer qualifies as “fancy.”  Alas, such is my bag situation, so I went to Bodrum hoping to purchase a shiny, new, fake “fancy bag.”  I was not prepared, however, for the vast selection and the in-your-face shopkeepers.  I walked into several bag shops, only to be faced with floor to ceiling displays of heavily patterned leather bags and a man yelling a string of prices into my ear.  On my first two attempts I walked in, freaked out, turned on my heel and bolted back to the comfort of my whining children.  In one shop I finally gathered up the courage to pick up a Burberry bag and ask the man how much it cost.  He told me an absurdly high price and I panicked, practically threw the bag across the store, and once again retreated outside to my family.  I am a horrible bargainer.  I needed an ally, a shrewd shopper to aid me in my quest to find the perfect, cheap knockoff.  Jim is many, many things, but a shopper he is not.  He had no sympathy for my purse problem (“What’s wrong with that one?” pointing to the grungy diaper bag on  my shoulder).   My quest for the perfect bag ended before it really began, and I left Bodrum purse-less, which is probably for the best because I have heard some scary stories about Swiss customs confiscating knock-offs and levying unbelievably expensive fines on poor, unsuspecting purse neophytes.  But sometimes, when I am soaking up sour, spilled milk and gluey cracker crumbs off the bottom of my diaper bag, I still think about that perfect fake Burberry purse in Bodrum market and I concoct elaborate, eloquent bartering dialogues in my head.  Ahhh, the bag that could have been.

Fishing boats in Kos Harbor, Greece.

After our trek to Bodrum we spent a few days relaxing within the Kefaluka bubble, but we returned to the outside world to take a trip to the Greek Island of Kos.  Feeling especially adventurous because we had left the throngs of scientists behind, we boarded the shuttle to the Turgutreis.  The drive to the ferry was gorgeous as we wound up and down hills and in and out of harbor towns; the blue Aegean glistening in the sun on our left and the brown, hillsides towering above us on our right.  The ferry over to Kos was a bit tiresome, as we had to muddle through passport control and customs on both ends of our trip.  Luckily for us, Greek customs officials are the most family friendly people on earth and went out of their way to pluck us out of long lines and shuttle us up to the front.  We felt like movie stars, or maybe just extremely lucky, frazzled parents with two children, one badly in need of a diaper change, and the other fighting a losing battle with a squeezable apple sauce container.

Emma and Maggie exploring the Asclepeion at Kos.

Kos was beautiful.  It is definitely a tourist destination, as evidenced by the hundreds of shops selling postcards, small replicas of Greek statues, and t-shirts boasting questionable slogans.  But Kos, to scholars of ancient Greece, is more than a tourist destination.  It was the home of Hippocrates, often called the father of modern medicine, and we visited the site where he learned and practiced medicine, the Asclepeion of Kos.  It was there that I discovered a place more terrifying for the mother of a wandering toddler than a castle, an ancient ruin.  The ancient ruin of the Asclepeion was dusty, with crumbling steep stone steps, tempting cracking pillars that were just perfect climbing height, and so many stones, bricks, and marble chunks to trip over that it was mind-boggling.  I think between the two of them, the girls fell at least one hundred times, and the ancient ruin police (aka old ladies with floppy hats, blue blocker sunglasses, and ear-piercing whistles) had to crisply tweet in Maggie’s direction five times for climbing on relics.  I spent so much time trying to keep Maggie from scrambling onto what was probably the first operating table ever made, that I didn’t really stop to appreciate the history of the deathtrap in which we wandered.  I am glad that we have photographic evidence that I was actually there, and I can look back on those pictures and finally feel the appropriate awe for the ancient grounds where I chased the girls, wiped bloodied knees, and tried in vain to evade the whistle blowers.

An aerial view of the deathtrap that was the ancient ruins of Asclepeion.

After touring the Asclepeion of Kos we walked through the Marketplace at Kos, or the Agora, which was once one of the biggest, most bustling marketplaces in the ancient world.  It was amazing to wander through the ancient square, and because Maggie was safely strapped in her stroller, I had a chance to truly gaze upon crumbling ancient archways, and stone pillars.  I grew up in a town that prides itself on the old historical buildings that line our main street, most of them dating from the mid to late 16oo’s.  As a child I would visit these old buildings and imagine the early colonists churning their butter, and drying and salting their fish while the children played outside with wooden hoops and stilts.  I used to think my little town was steeped in history, but standing in the Agora at Kos, amidst stone structures built in the second century BC,  I was truly in awe.

Jim, the one time classics scholar, escaped the gluttonous walls of the Kefaluka for a final excursion without his girls.  He took a three-hour bus ride to the ruins at Ephesus where he saw another of the famed Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis.  I am glad that he was able to wander around the ancient city without three whining, hungry females trailing after him, tripping over rocks and scaling headless statues.  (Truth be told, in sightseeing situations I am often the biggest whiner of the bunch, but at least I don’t attempt to climb statues.)  Ancient ruins are to Jim what castles are to Emma, what a playground with a tall, twisty slide is to Maggie, and what my computer, when streaming American television, is to me.  He deserved a day to himself to truly take in all the sights, read all the boring placards, and actually listen to his tour guide.

 

The Library at Celsus

Dionysus, Hermes, and Jim

 

Temple of Artemis

And so ended our ten-day trip to Turkey.  Our first family vacation was a success, filled with unending sun, swimming, exciting day trips, and lots and lots of yummy Turkish food.  Some of us worked (poor Jim), some worked out (one half hour session on the treadmill while in paradise deserves to be commemorated forever in blog form), others dug countless castles, colored pictures with multi-lingual camp counselors, danced the night away at Mini Disco, and were treated like princesses by the staff at Kefaluka.  It is a trip that we will remember always.

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PART II:  Ladies Who Lounge

Maggie digging on the shore of the Aegean.

The girls and I took an immediate liking to the Kefaluka resort.  Maybe it was the breakfast buffet with overflowing bread baskets, fruit towers, pancake bar…I really could go on all day.  That first morning we frolicked in the restaurant for so long we almost forgot about the five pools and the Aegean Sea that lay waiting just below the balcony.  I lazily sipped Turkish coffee, making every effort to appear nonchalant and act as though I was accustomed to the incredibly strong brew, while the girls feasted.  If whining children threatened to interrupt my caffeine revelry, I merely tossed them a nutella covered pancake in a move akin to throwing a slab of meat to quell a pack of wild dogs.  Breakfast on that first morning, after a horrific day of travel, was nothing short of bliss.

Emma, getting used to the kiddie pool at Kefaluka.

We could not resist the call of the water for long, though.  After rolling ourselves out of breakfast, we headed to the kiddie pool conveniently located beside an enticing play structure, two seesaws (because who doesn’t love to seesaw in a soaking wet bathing suit), and swings.  On that first morning the girls were timid in the water.  Although the pool was intended for small children, it was still pretty deep on Maggie, and she could not be trusted to wade in the water on her own.  The first time she slipped she didn’t seem to mind the unintentional dunking, but the second and third times were not pretty.  Emma, eager to wear her brand new water wings, splashed and played happily, but I don’t think she got a drop of water on her upper torso.  Those water wings, though worn faithfully every day, did not get a proper dunking until four days into our trip when Emma finally braved the depths of the kiddie pool and began “swimming”  (i.e., crawling around on her stomach in shallow water and tentatively kicking one foot and paddling with one arm, Michael Phelps, she is not.)

After a few hours in the pool the girls were ready for a little break, but it was not quite time to meet Jim for lunch, so we explored the hotel for a bit.  We happened upon the Kid’s Club, a wonderful indoor play place with craft tables, a pirate ship climbing structure, and shelf upon shelf of toys.  The girls played happily in there for an hour, and I was tempted to forge new birth certificates that would prove they were four years old so that I could leave and do some solo poolside lounging.  (Emma, ever so mature, could easily pass for four.  Maggie on the other hand, well, her stinky diaper would be a dead giveaway.)  Alas, I was stuck with the girls, but the Kid’s Club offered some comfy pillows on which I could perch and with minimal physical exertion I could govern my flock.

The Kid’s Club was run by an adorable girl named Amandine, who Emma and Maggie took an immediate and affectionate liking to.  Amandine spoke five languages, I am not kidding, five.  She grew up in French-speaking Belgium, so she spoke French and Flemish.  She learned English in school; married a Turkish man, hence the fluency in Turkish; and had picked up a little German since working at Kefaluka.  When she first met the girls she spoke to them in perfect French, confused by their French activity books that are impossible for me to understand, but somehow keep the girls busy.  Her French pleasantries were met by our tried and true befuddled stares, and so she adeptly switched to English.  She was nothing short of amazing, and I felt like a dunce as I watched her dazzle a room full of children, alternating effortlessly between Turkish, English, and Flemish.  (She is also the bestower of our first European cheek kisses.  When we bid her adieu at the end of the week she gave us delicate kisses on each cheek.  Jim was the last to be smooched and I could see his face getting redder and feel his anxiety heightening as she turned her smackers upon him.)

Amandine was just one member of the famed Kefaluka “Animation Team,” a group of 20-something party people whose job it was to entertain (i.e., torment) guests with games, strange, ritualistic poolside dances, and evening variety shows.  The girls and I spent a great deal of time trying to avoid members of the Animation Team.  We all had our reasons.  Maggie and Emma quickly grew weary of the cheek pinching and tickles doled out by the overzealous crew, and I was terrified that they would force me to play one of their embarrassing pool games.  On our first day I witnessed a group of Animation Team members haze an innocent sunbather.  They forced the poor man to abandon his book, and play a game in which he stood on a lounge chair and attempted to drop a coin into a Dixie cup while six crew members jeered, poked, and harassed him.  When he failed to successfully drop the coin in the cup they pushed him in the pool.  No joke.  I waited for him to yell at the team, but he emerged from the pool with a huge smile on his face and jovially accepted the complimentary frozen beverages that they were offering as consolation prizes (not a very enticing prize considering that Kefaluka is an all inclusive resort).

I have a phobia of situations that demand audience participation.  It took root during an assembly featuring puppeteers in grade school and has been fed by a wide variety of street musicians, magicians, and jokesters.  I had a very, very bad experience involving a high school improv group and have tried to steer clear of audience participation assailants ever since.  And now, here was another group of seemingly innocent, amiable youths stalking me on my Turkish vacation, hindering my poolside relaxation with the threat of public humiliation, unwanted drenching, and watered down frozen beverages.  Luckily, my children provided me with the perfect excuse to opt out of their sadistic games.  Sorry, you can’t push me in the pool, I have a small child attached to my hip.  No thank you, I don’t want to play a raucous game of water polo with you and some other guests, I need to take my three-year-old to the bathroom.  Maggie and Emma spent a great deal of time being pulled and prodded in different directions in an attempt to shield their poor mother from the dreaded “Animation Team.”

The girls and I quickly fell into a grueling, harsh routine at Kefaluka that included waking up at the crack of 8:30, hitting the breakfast buffet, and then making the bothersome decision of whether to go to the pool or the beach.  The beach, though not as good for swimming, offered lots of sand to dig in and rocks to throw.  It was a very difficult decision.  Most days we went to the beach for a little bit, hit the snack bar for a morning treat, and then visited Amandine in the Kid’s Club.  We would meet Jim for lunch, trying not to gloat too much about all the fun we had while he was stuck in meetings, and then the girls would nap.  Nap was by far the best part of my day, because Jim, who was not really on vacation, held down the fort on our balcony and did more work, while I got a few hours to truly lounge by myself.  The Kefaluka provided ample cozy spots for quiet repose with a book, and I took advantage of each and every one.  After naps, we would head to the pool for a few more hours of sunshine and an ice cream cone.  It was a glorious schedule.

Emma demonstrates her "swimming" abilities. Next stop...Rio 2016.

Jim and Maggie trying to understand the physics of an authentic Turkish water slide.

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PART I:  The Journey

After two solid days spent unpacking, laundering copious amounts of stained, sweaty, sea-salt encrusted vacation clothes, and reintroducing myself to the kitchen, things are finally back to normal at Chateau Hirschauer.  Our return to the real world after ten days of cloudless beach weather in Turkey was shocking; Emma had a tearful morning at school after carefree days building sand castles, splashing in pools, and pillaging the all you can eat dessert buffet; and Maggie, exhausted from endless water play, baby disco dancing, and looking a bit haggard after a diet consisting exclusively of french fries, oranges, and ice cream, wandered around the house like a zombie until finally collapsing in a pile of dirty laundry.  It didn’t help our vacation fatigue when we returned to Thoiry to find that our quaint, often sleepy French town had morphed into a carnival site complete with cotton candy machines and mini roller coasters in the school parking lot.  So, this weekend, meant to be a recovery weekend, was instead filled with late night torch parades, missed naps, wild marching bands, flower floats, and lots and lots of candy.

While there will be more, much, much, more on the bizarre awesomeness that was the Fete de la Saint-Maurice in a future post, let me return to the subject at hand; our adventures on the Bodrum peninsula in Turkey.  Two weeks ago we pulled Emma from school (gasp, the former teacher pulls her child from school in her second week to indulge in a beach vacation…I am still working through the guilt), packed our bags and headed for a physics conference at a resort on the coast of the Aegean Sea.  I should have known when we arrived at the airport and queued up (I’m not learning much French here, but am becoming fluent in British) in back of a throng of 80 physicists all headed for the same hotel, that the flight was bound to get complicated.  There was the fact that we were in possession of the only two wriggling, shrieking, kicking, jumping small people in a flight of middle-aged, computer wielding, serious looking physicists.  It is one thing to annoy an entire plane full of people you have never met and will never see again, but it is quite another thing to torment a group of Jim’s colleagues, some of whom are senior to him, and all of whom we were to be vacationing with for the next week.  Our troubles began in the check-in line when Maggie grew weary of the cereal I was so kind to shove in her face and took up her new favorite pass time of covertly pushing Emma’s buttons (think hair pulling, toy snatching, unwanted tickling).  The “torture thy sister game” rarely ends well, but on this particular day, in this particular line of impatient, technology deprived scientists, the howling reached catastrophic levels.  By the time we made it up to the check-in counter to be informed of the 2 and a half hour delay that awaited us, I was ready to chuck the whole beachside vacation idea in favor of turning tail, heading home, and watching Disney’s Robin Hood on repeat for the next ten days.

If you have to be delayed for two and a half hours with scores of your husbands nerdy colleagues, however, the Geneva airport is the place to be.  For starters they apologized profusely for the delay (the first “I’m sorry” I have ever heard at an airport counter, I nearly fainted) and gave us vouchers worth 40 CHF to use at any restaurant in the airport.  So, we collected our free lunch, including an obnoxiously expensive Starbucks latte (the first I have had since arriving in Europe) and sought out the fabled airport play area.  I am leery of airport play areas, they are usually sticky with mysteriously tacky toys that I find disturbing.  Also, I swear I can see the germs snaking their way through the nooks and crannies of the grungy toy planes that Maggie will inevitably decide are delectable snacks instead of plastic disease vectors.  The Geneva airport, I am happy to report, has an inconceivably pristine and decidedly unsticky play area.  If you happen to be in the Geneva airport with children I urge you to visit this germ-free wonderland.  It is a sterile oasis of wooden climbing toys, kitchen sets, slides, and popular children’s books.  There is a sparkling toddler sized potty, comfy changing table, and free diapers and wipes.  In a word it is airport heaven.  We happily passed the two hours, the girls in their stocking feet and I with medical booties over my shoes (I’m telling you the Swiss are fanatics about their cleanliness), sliding, reading, and cooking the delay away.  It was divine.

After working out some energy in the immaculate Swiss play place, the flight to Istanbul was relatively uneventful.  Thank goodness because we happened to be sitting directly in front of the Physics Analysis Coordinator (translation: head honcho) of Jim’s experiment.  We arrived in Istanbul aware that we had missed our connection to Bodrum, but seeing that eighty other people also missed their flight, we weren’t too worried.  I was concerned with the unfathomably long line at passport control.  On the three-hour flight to Istanbul the girls had reached their bribing limit, and no amount of pretzels, granola bars, or stickers was going to keep them quiet while we slowly snaked our way toward the customs official.  So we spent a lovely hour or so inching our way forward, trying desperately to quell our unruly, crabby, and excruciatingly loud children.  I feared that we would be kicked out of Turkey before our passports had even been stamped.  Finally we reached the unusually cheerful passport control officer who smiled and cooed at our two wild-eyed monsters, writhing and struggling in their umbrella strollers.  His enthusiasm for the children that I had long grown weary of was disarming.  I had never in my life met a more friendly passport official.  It was like he was a kindergarten teacher wearing a Turkish customs uniform.  He somehow managed to pacify the girls and their whining faded into giggles as the magical (yet extremely slow-moving) passport official stamped our books and welcomed us to Istanbul.

The Istanbul airport was huge, crowded, and super stressful.  We weaved our way through the bustling mob of travelers, searching for the domestic terminal and the group of physicists that we had somehow lost in the passport control maze.  Sweating and breathless after our sprint through the airport (including a frantic trip through security where I nearly had to be restrained from punching an impatient business traveler) we arrived at our gate, reunited with the scientists who I’m sure were hoping that we were lost forever, and discovered that our connecting flight was an hour and a half late.  Deep breathes were taken by all, and we set Emma and Maggie loose in the Istanbul domestic terminal, which was not as kid friendly as the play area in Geneva, but offered plenty of space for the girls to run laps.

We finally arrived in Bodrum a full five hours behind schedule.  Next up in our marathon trek to our hotel was an eighty minute bus ride over bumpy, winding, extremely small roads.  We did not put our bags down in our room until after midnight.  All in all the trip to Turkey, originally intended to take roughly 5 hours, took us 16 intense, sweaty, maddening hours.  I think that our transatlantic flight from Chicago to Geneva was easier.  But, when we were finally able to toss the girls into bed and retire to our balcony with a much deserved glass of wine, I declared our 16 hour exodus from Thoiry  to Turkey to be a success.  The light from the moon, which on our first few nights in Turkey echoed the crescent shape from Turkish flag, glistened off the Aegean Sea, and the sound of crashing waves upon the shore lulled us to sleep.  We were officially on vacation, the girls and I that is, Jim had to wake up early for conference meetings.  Science never sleeps.

The girls and I atop Bodrum Castle.

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