Posts Tagged ‘knights’

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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Rainy Day Blues

Though taken months ago, this is an exact replica of the face that dominated my day. Her sister's was not much better. Also, pink hair is so hot right now.

We are having one of those days.  You know, one of those days where it feels like you can’t do anything right, or more precisely your kids think you can’t do anything right.  I served the wrong flavored yogurt in the wrong colored bowls at breakfast this morning.  (Blueberry yogurt!  Green bowls!  How dare I?)  I peeled a banana when (obviously) the recipient wanted to hold a half-peeled banana and peel the rest on her own.  These indiscretions would be much more manageable if the tiny people around me could communicate their dismay in something other than ear-splitting shrieks.  On days like this, when the natives roll out of bed already restless, I find it best to get out of the house as quickly as possible, and have perfected the art of emergency apartment evacuation.  This morning, however, mother nature squashed my dreams of taking the girls up to a mountain pasture and leaving them to caterwaul with the cows.  The rain kept us inside all morning, and no amount of play-dough, postcard writing, and library book reading could quell our cabin fever.

We managed to escape the house to mail our postcards, raid the Boulanger (furthering my belief that Palmiers make everything better), and meet Jim for lunch at CERN.  A cafeteria filled with noshing physicists surprisingly serves as an excellent distraction for ornery children.  There was one woman in particular who caught the attention of the girls.  Her bright pink hair was cut in a stylish bob, similar to Emma’s, and she was wearing brilliant green pants.  I had to remind Emma more than once to stop staring, and I half expected her to venture over to the woman’s table and start petting her head.  I will have to keep a close eye on our art supplies for the next few days in an effort to thwart any copy cat, hair-dying attempts.  Although, a pink coiffed knight, performing a complex interpretive dance with a long wooden sword at the playground may be just the spectacle we need to make new friends.

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Emma’s love of all things medieval hit a crescendo today as we attended the Grandes Medievales d’Andilly, an enormous Medieval festival in a nearby village in France.  Though I love a good castle, am fond of princesses, and think that knights are pretty cool, I am not a connoisseur of Medieval Festivals, and perhaps not a fan of the actual Middle Ages.  Medieval times were dark, dirty, and smelly.  Today as I tramped through fields, past sweaty men in chainmail I thought, why can’t somebody put on a Jane Austen Festival?  Wouldn’t those men, heaving heavy swords around and sweating in their metal hats, rather be comfortably sitting in a drawing-room at some large country estate, watching an accomplished young woman play the piano forte?  I know that I would enjoy a reenactment of the ball at Netherfield infinitely more than I enjoyed watching grown men pretend to sword fight each other in a hot and dusty sand pit.

Emma, on the other hand LOVED everything about the Medieval festival.  From the moment we got out of the car and she laid eyes on her first costumed monk, she was in heaven.  (Mommy, it’s FRIAR TUCK!)  For the duration of the day her eyes were in a permanent saucer-like state.  The place was teeming with knights.  Maggie was in constant danger of having an eye poked out as men sauntered past her with swords hanging from their waists, the sharp tips bouncing along dangerously at toddler eye-level.  There were good knights (gallant, shiny, silver sheathed) and bad (black cloaked, and frightening).  Emma really enjoyed the reenactment where we watched knights of all shapes and sizes fight each other in battle (after battle, after battle).  There was a commentator and a story to go along with the reenactment, but we could not understand a darned thing.  The girls did not care, they cheered right along with the crowd, but it drove me nuts.  I kept leaning over and asking Jim “which one are the bad guys?”

Faun on stilts

After a day filled with Medieval observations I came to the conclusion that folks in the Middle Ages were wild about stilts.  Everywhere I looked today I saw a person (I use that term loosely because most people were dressed like fairies, centaurs, or a host of other weird creatures) walking on stilts.  Our first sighting was an exciting event.  (Look at that half-man, half horse on stilts!)  But after our umpteenth stilt spotting we grew weary of the giants.  (Oh look, another absurdly tall fairy.)  Even the girls seem unfazed by the behemoths clomping up and down the wooded paths.

The festival was really quite impressive.  There were throngs of people participating in the reenactment aspect of the weekend, and everyone stayed eerily in character.  Once in a while you would catch a peasant checking a text message, or spy a page grabbing a smoke, but on the whole everyone stayed firmly in character.  I am insanely curious about these festival people.  How do they choose what role they are going to play?  I assume the roles are doled out.  How else can you explain the poor (no pun intended) people who were forced to play Medieval peasants?  No one would choose to rub mud on their faces, black out their teeth, wear tattered clothes, and roll around in the dust and dirt for a weekend, would they?  You can bet that I would object to any role other than the queen who rode regally around the ring on a white horse in between battle reenactments.

Sword-fighting Bug

The highlight of the day for Emma was the trip to the Medieval tchotchke tent, where she was permitted to pick out her very own sword.  All day she had looked longingly at the lucky children brandishing wooden blades but had not whined or complained once.  She had merely sought out a suitable stick and tried, in vain, to battle with the other swordsmen.  The sword and shield crowd is tough to break into, especially if you do not have the proper equipment, and our poor Bug was shunned.  Once she got hold of the coveted wooden sword, however, she immediately found a group of knights to do battle with.   She is a tough Bug, and held her own with a gaggle of boys that were easily twice her age.  We watched from a (close) distance, as she knocked swords with these boys, and gamely played dead whenever they poked her in the belly.  I was amazed at my little Emma and the tenacity she showed in engaging in sword fight play with a group of older, unknown, French-speaking children.  I’m not sure where she gets her bravery, but I am grateful for her willingness to leap head-first into foreign situations.  Maybe her adventurous spirit will rub off on me, after all we do spend every waking hour of every day together.

Emma dominates the boy with the water bottle as Maggie attempts to join in the action.

Emma battles the (incredibly kind and gentle) black knight.

Oh look, another crazy man on stilts.

Next weekend we are going wine tasting.  No knights, no castles, and no half horse, half men on stilts allowed.

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