Faith, Hope, and Love Remain

Alei's adventures in Ukraine

Turkish Delight May 24, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — aleicook @ 10:03 pm

At exactly this time last week I was shoveling in my last plate full of spicy Turkish vegetables at a breakneck speed in order to make it on time to what would turn out to be my first of two accidental group dates for the evening.  In other words, vacation was fun.

The secret to the trip may have been that we had absolutely no grand expectations going in.  To this day we can’t really pinpoint how it even came about other than the shared desire to go somewhere warm that Ashley, Katelin & I vented about all winter.  Somewhere down the line we emailed a travel agent looking pretty much for anywhere that included a beach, & thanks to his amazing planning & our blind faith we ended up with a dream vacay that was equal parts cushy resort & captivating culture.  The only thing we had to go off of were truly terrible website reviews, hope that our post-PC standards left our bars satisfactorily low, knowledge that the alternative involved policing the ceaseless cheating that happens during test week at school, & confidence that the good company would make it all worthwhile.  Apparently that was more than enough.

The adventure started with an overnight train to Kiev for our 4am flight Saturday morning.  My friends & I have discussed changes in ourselves that our service has brought about & one of them that we’ve all noticed is that we no longer let ourselves believe that something is actually going to happen until the very last minute.  The airport was no exception & while we were pretty stoked, it wasn’t until we actually touched down in Anatalya that we finally believed it was real.  The airplane also made us realize that we’ve effectively morphed into country bumpkins as we freaked out over the coffee creamer packets offered at breakfast, savored our airplane food in its cute little compartmentalized trays, & hoarded away our wet wipes for later use.  Simple pleasures.

Despite running on empty sleep-wise I couldn’t convince myself to shut my eyes on the two-hour ride to our hotel (in a coach bus…holla!) because the scenery was so unexpectedly beautiful.  In very uncharacteristic, non-Alei fashion, I did almost no research about our destination & didn’t even know that I was going to Asia until a few days prior, so I was blown away by the panoramic of sparkling turquoise water on the right & ragged mountains dotted with mosques, villages, & kebab stands throughout on the left.  The amazement continued when we pulled into our busy town & saw the view from our room complete with an ancient castle & fortified walls nestled in the mountains past the Mediterranean bay.  I was really mostly focusing on the all-inclusive beach resort aspect beforehand, so the exotic sights were quite an exciting & appreciated hidden benefit.  It was culture shock in the best of ways as we were greeted with warm smiles & shown around the luxurious hotel while a hauntingly stunning prayer call rang out in the background.

Then we were ushered into the dining room where we did a very convincing impression of people who had never seen food before as we threw our arms up in total disbelief of all of the fresh options abounding.  It was literally table after table of spicy vegetarian concoctions incorporating everything from smoked eggplant, to hummus, to brussel sprouts (brussel sprouts!) with plenty of tzasiki sauce to liven it up in case it wasn’t flavorful enough already.  Factor in the coffee machine that doled out as many cups as my little heart desired (an average of 4 per meal it turns out) to go with the honey & sesame soaked desserts that I tended to favor, & I was in complete & total ethnic cuisine heaven.  Who knew how much better food is when it’s not white & starchy?  We were the only Americans that many of the hotel staff had met before (the rest of the clientele was mostly Russian with a few Polish & Dutch people thrown in for fun) & I’m afraid that I single-handedly perpetuated the obese stereotype as I regularly had to puppy guard my plate so a well intending bus boy wouldn’t clear the table before I soaked up every possible drop of sauce.  Sorry America, but it was worth it.

When we weren’t savoring both the delectable free fare & the chance to sit on an outside patio, we were lounging at the hotel beach.  There were a few clouds & showers on our first day, but other than that the weather was solidly sunny & h-o-t which left me more than content to spend my days baking in the sun.  I did get up occasionally, but only to wade in the frigid water or rotate my chair for more direct exposure & even then it was done somewhat grudgingly.  I brought my ebook but hardly needed to use it since the conversation was so ridiculously entertaining.  I really couldn’t have asked for better or more hilarious travel companions & the sound of our laughter (or more accurately cackling in my case) resounded down the otherwise peaceful beach.

Surprisingly our kind-of-constant giggling made us pretty popular with the rest of the hotel guests & staff.  Personally I would have found us obnoxious, but we were also a rarity being under age 40 & were able to make all sorts of friends while playing cards & chatting on the patio at night that made the trip that much more enjoyable.  We also decided to leave the hotel long enough to embark on a fishing excursion.  I’ve never been one for impaling worms, but Katelin is a seasoned fisherwoman & I’m pretty game for any opportunity to sit on a boat, so we set up a tour & made our way to the harbor with our guide Villi.  After getting an amazing up-close view of the castle walls we headed out for the open seas & spent a lovely 6 hours floating & fishing.  It turns out they use congealed pieces of chicken instead of live bait, so I pretended it was candied ginger, baited all four of the hooks on my line & found myself really enjoying the whole process.  Villi didn’t speak much English & had a habit of making unaware yet offensive comments, but he did take all of the fish off of my hooks so I didn’t have to touch them so I called it even.  Overall we caught at least 50 little guys including three rather adorable puffer fish that we threw back.  He even cooked up a few of them for us to eat (with our fingers) for some of the freshest seafood I’ve ever had.  I would have never thought of planning that part of the trip, but it was definitely a blast & very memorable experience.

There were what seemed like hundreds of hysterical moments that unfolded, but we’ve found that when we retell them it’s mostly only us laughing until our stomachs hurt, so I’ll spare you most of the details.  Suffice it to say the trip was an excellent reminder of why it’s more fun to not live alone.  I guess the anecdote alluded to at the beginning of this is as good as any to illustrate the ridiculous shenanigans we got ourselves into though.  While laying & laughing on the beach a random dude (in a speedo of course) came up & asked if he could show us a card trick.  It failed colossally, but then he started telling us about Turkish history which was pretty darn interesting so we eventually talked down his dinner invitation to just an early drink thinking it was the less committal option of the two.  It was at this point that we also remembered that Ashley had told our hotel friends that we would go check out the town with them at 11 & thus realized that we were the shady tourists with back-to-back engagements.  Granted there were three of us so we assumed that it was understood that these were not dates.  Now what was it that happens when you assume?

Bachelor number one met us (at a completely safe & public place, Dad) & escorted us to a swanky restaurant on the harbor overlooking the castle.  We started the night off on a typically weird note when the watermelon drink that one of us ordered turned out to be an entire watermelon spiked with various liquors, 8 twisty straws & lit sparklers.  It became painfully obvious a few minutes in that he thought we were on a date & I absolutely did not & proceeded to harness a truly impressive command of all things awkward in order to forcefully steer the conversation into platonic mode.  I knew it was bad when I heard myself ask about festivals as a neutral conversation topic.  Eventually we were boring enough that he shared with us the ever-popular saying “Every time there’s silence at a table an angel dies” & then told us about his interest in Battlestar Galactica before we could claim an early wakeup call & promptly bolt.  We made it back in time for our next rendezvous which was equally bizarre as it was basically a double date that I crashed.  Except neither of the girls were interested either so I pretty much took up the role of romance-ruiner & ran blatant interference on all of their attempts.  Despite our completely innocent actions throughout, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the motto of the evening was “It ain’t easy being sleazy”.

Basically we had a solid 5 days of fun, evidence of which you can see via facebook album here, & I would absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for a vacation off the beaten path.  This is already super-long, & my internet sitch is a little sketchy at the moment, but later this week I’ll post again detailing my two birthday celebrations (so Mariah Carey of me) because they’re definitely worth remembering as well.  I love & miss you all!

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