Bodrum: Musings on Cheese, Pirates and Nutcase Drivers

A favorite part of breakfast - cucumbers & yogurt, slices of feta and tulum cheese, and chunks or ripe tomato with olive oil

A favorite part of breakfast – cucumbers & yogurt, slices of feta and tulum cheese, and chunks of ripe tomato with olive oil

Those of you who’ve loyally followed my travel blogs for the last two years have probably wondered why I haven’t talked about cheese – especially Dutch cheese – in over a year. (And for those handful who roll your eyes over my “cheesy” posts, well, you can stop reading right here and skip to the pictures & pirates section of the Bodrum peninsula down below.) I would never categorize myself as a cheese “fanatic,” or worse, a “foodie” (although I did participate in a partial “foodie” tour in Odessa), but I do love trying new foods. And travel provides ample opportunity to sample local goodies.

Most of the hotels we stayed at in both Greece and Turkey included breakfast as part of the rate, thus providing a nice way to sample local and traditional breakfasts, which rely on cheese in both countries. Predictably, the cheese and vegetable platters were the first stop I made. The above picture depicts one of my favorite combinations for breakfast – a little unorthodox for typical Western tastes, but oh, so very tasty.

In our first stop in Turkey, Bodrum, I fell in love with a popular Turkish cheese called tulum. It was similar in taste and consistency to a Greek cheese I learned about in Athens, manouri. Both are of a creamier, smoother consistency than feta, and less salty, with a mildly sweet (but not sugary) taste, and, both are based on goat milk, but with an infusion of cream. And just as an aside, the feta we consumed throughout Greece was totally different and far tastier than what we get here in the States, which is, among other things, saltier, drier and more crumbly than in native Greece.

The Most Popular Turkish Cheeses

This and next photo from: http://turkishfood.about.com/od/DiscoverTurkishFood/ss/The-Most-Popular-Turkish-Cheeses.htm

Curious about cheese consumption, I did a bit of research and found some interesting facts:

  • most sources named Greece as the leader, by far, with estimates on per capita consumption ranged from about 55 to a whopping 71 pounds per person. I think the latter included both personal purchases as well as consumption through restaurants.
  • Interestingly, the U.S. was usually in the top 10 for cheese consumption.
  • Turkey was 9th in the world on the most recent list of the top 10 lead consumers. (http://www.statisticbrain.com/cheese-statistics/)
  • Cheese-making began in the Mesopotamia region, which encompasses parts of modern day both Turkey and Iraq.
  • The largest region producing cheese is – no surprise – the European Union.
  • The largest producing country is the U.S.

(and just because I have relatives who are real cheeseheads in Wisconsin, this if for you)

  • Despite all those cheesy ads from the California Dairy Association, Wisconsin is STILL the leading cheese producer in the U.S.

Back to Turkey….Cheese is consumed throughout the day. It’s a staple at breakfast, and it’s offered in many forms and varieties as mezes (small appetizers, somewhat like Spanish tapas), and both side and main dishes.

The Most Popular Turkish Cheeses

Braided cheese — lovely!

Now onto Bodrum, pirates and nutcase drivers…..

Lighthouse on route to Bodrum

Lighthouse on route to Bodrum

Driving the Bodrum Peninsula

We took a fast catamaran ferry from Rhodes to Bodrum. The ferry itself was comfortable; the ride was not, but no one got sea sick that I saw despite the crosswinds and rough seas. The best part of the trip was seeing this beautiful lighthouse as the sun was winding down. I never learned the name of the lighthouse or the small, (seemingly) deserted island it was on, but if anyone out there does know, let me know!

Fishing boats in Bodrum's outer harbor

Fishing boats in Bodrum’s outer harbor

Bodrum Castle, also known as the Castle of St. Peter, built in 15c. by the Knights of St. John.

Bodrum Castle, also known as the Castle of St. Peter, built in 15c. by the Knights of St. John.

We’d sailed into port after sundown, and explored the crowded town the  next day on foot. Our attempts to see the Bodrum Castle and Museum of Underwater Archaeology fell through the first day because Fodor’s had the wrong info on their openings. (Lesson learned: stick with the Lonely Planet series, no matter how bulky they are!)

Bodrum Marina. Notice how arid the landscape is.

Bodrum Marina. Notice how arid the landscape is.

Bronze statue of deep sea diver in Bodrum Marina. There was no English translation provided on the plaque, but my guess the statue commemorates the divers and sponge diving industry for which Bodrum was once famous.

Bronze statue of deep sea diver in Bodrum Marina. There was no English translation provided on the plaque, but my guess the statue commemorates the divers and sponge diving industry for which Bodrum was once famous.

Bodrum city, itself isn’t all that attractive; it’s overrun with tourists, and traffic is a nightmare in the narrow, one-way streets. (Well, at least “one-way” for most drivers.) Besides a few ruins, there aren’t that many truly interesting sights beyond the castle and the  museum. (Or, at least, we were just burned out!) Despite our recent “misadventure” in Rhodes, we decided to rent a car and drive around the Bodrum Peninsula. Our rental vehicle was delivered to us with the gas needle in the red, way beyond simply “Empty,” so finding a gas station shot to the top of our priorities for the day. And, of course, we promptly got lost in the labyrinth of one-way streets.

Once again, I will spare you the car “conversation” because this blog is supposed to be “PG-rated” per the host site rules. (Those of you who continue to think Michael is the gentlest, most tolerant person on earth may want to reconsider your assessment.) But once we had gassed up, we headed west for our circumnavigation of the peninsula.

Both Bodrum, the town, and the peninsula have been, for centuries, sleepy little fishing villages with sparse agriculture due to the extremely arid clime.  In the mid-20th c., “outsiders” discovered the beauty and turquoise waters and quickly became a tourist and sailing destination. At one time, however, the town of Bodrum was strategically important to European Christian nations – and to the Knights of St. John, in particular, those fearless “Defenders of the Faith.”  The Bodrum Castle, built by them in 1437, was along with Rhodes, the Knights’ – and Christianity’s – last eastern holdouts against “the Infidels” after getting shoved out of the Holy Lands in the late 13th c.. When Rhodes fell to the Ottomans in 1522, the Knights wisely perceived the danger of being squeezed from both sides, surrendered their fort to the Ottomans, and hightailed it to Malta.

But the Carians, Greeks and Romans had been all left remnants of their occupations on the peninsula over the centuries, and some interesting ruins and presences remain. Herodotus, the “Father of Historians,” was born here; King Mausolus ruled, died and was buried here, and most famously gave his name to any tomb of grandiose structure. Another native son was Turgut, the notorious corsair – opponents claimed “pirate” — who later became the chief Admiral of the Ottoman Fleet under Suleiman the Magnificent. The town of his birth, west of Bodrum, was renamed “Turgutreis” in his honor, and this was one of our destinations for our road trip.

Turgutreis - we never made it through the maze of cobbled streets to the harbor

Turgutreis

Turgut – whatever his foes thought of him in his own time – was a brilliant seaman and military tactician. He and his “mentor”, Barbarossa (the pirate, not German monarch), both wreaked havoc on the Christian outposts in the Eastern Mediterranean for decades. Suleiman the Magnificent, one of the longest-reigning Ottoman sultans, had the foresight to elevate first Barbarossa, then Turgut, to Admiral of the Royal fleet. In their wake, both men changed history for all time. By steadily beating back Christian crusader outposts or self-appointed “defenders,” such as the Knights of St. John, the Ottomans came to conquer and control the eastern Mediterranean for centuries after both died. Most historians cite Suleiman as the great Ottoman conqueror, but in reality, it was his great admirals and armies that pushed back the borders of Europe, thus changing the face of southeastern Europe, with ramifications to this day.

Twin lighthouses mark the entrance to the old harbor of Turgutreis, named after the pirate turned Royal Admiral

Twin lighthouses mark the entrance to the old harbor of Turgutreis, named after the pirate turned Royal Admiral

And back in the modern-day…We quickly found out that Fodor’s had been correct about a few things, perhaps. When Bodrum and its peninsula were “discovered” mid-20th century, modern tourism hit the peninsula with a vengeance. Many sleepy little fishing villages now look like a Turkish version of Monaco, with thousands of holiday villas and hotels sandwiched into the terraced hills looming over the turquoise bays. In fact, Golturkbuku is nicknamed the “St. Tropez of Turkey,” thanks to the waves of wealthy Turks and Europeans flocking there in summer.

Akyarlar, complete with cheek to jowl hotels and sunbthers, with a waterpark to boot.

Akyarlar, in the southwest coast of Bodrum Peninsula

Akyarlar, complete with resort hotels, packed beaches and water theme park

Akyarlar, complete with resort hotels, packed beaches and water theme park

Ocean City-style vacation complexes

Ocean City-style vacation complexes

Golturkbuku, the Turkish St. Tropez, shows off its string of jet-setters' yachts

Golturkbuku, the Turkish St. Tropez, shows off its string of jet-setters’ yachts

In between these pockets of incredibly tacky tourist “hot spots,” the countryside is incredibly arid, sparse in agriculture and people. I spotted some olive and fruit groves, mostly figs, and, indeed, we bought some figs at a roadside stand that were the ripest, juiciest figs I’ve ever tasted. But for the most part, so much of the countryside was such a lifeless brown, there wasn’t much point in photographing it.  Miraculously, there were a few naturally sandy – and deserted – beaches along the way. In most areas, however, the steep, rocky hills sloped right down into a rocky shore.

Deserted beach on way to Turgutreis

Deserted beach on way to Turgutreis

Along many stretches of the mostly 2-lane highway – which was in excellent condition – the only vehicles we’d see were the ubiquitous Dolmus mini-buses, which run people all over the peninsula. There are “real” inter-city buses, with a set schedule; these are a cheaper if somewhat irregular alternative. The driver has a sign posted saying where he’s going, and takes off when the mini-bus is full or almost full. Unlike the bigger buses on set schedules and stops, the dolmus drivers will usually make unscheduled stops to let people off (or on) along the way.

The ubiquitous dolmus mini-bus

The ubiquitous dolmus mini-bus

We did find two lovely towns that were less commercialized than most. Gumsluk is a small town renown for its excellent seafood in the west coast of the peninsula. There are many restaurants to choose from, but you run a gauntlet of shills pulling you into see their shining displays of fish and seafood. We stopped to eat at the first place that actually left us alone for two minutes to look at the menu ourselves. I had my favorite, grilled octopus, and went out on a limb for  a version of sarma I’d not tried before. Sarma is the Turkish version of Greek dolmades, or stuffed grape leaves. Usually sarmas are also grape, cabbage or chard leaves stuffed with a rice and minced meat mixture; these were stuffed squash flowers, and while good, weren’t as good as the dolmades.

Restaurant in Gumusluk

Restaurant in Gumusluk

Stuffed squash flowers and grilled octopus

Stuffed squash flowers and grilled octopus

Gourds, dried, decorated and used as lampshades.

Gourds, dried, decorated and used as lampshades.

The other pretty town was Torba, which along with Gumusluk, was much smaller and quieter than any of the other tourist destinations. Yet Torba had its share of expensive yachts anchored outside the harbor, just not quite the same level of frenetic tourist activity as other towns on the peninsula: smaller hotels, more houses, no water parks, people weren’t sardined onto beaches.

Torba harbor and bay

Torba harbor and bay

With Torba, we had pretty much followed our itinerary for the day. Not wanting to be on the hilly roads when the sun went down, we headed back towards Bodrum,  our one-day road trip at an end. We made it safely back to the hotel without one incident.

Well, there was one. I did start this blog by saying I’d be commenting on “nutcase drivers.”

Despite the fairly universal acceptance of the road rule that traffic in a circle or round-about has the right of way, Turkish drivers blatantly ignore this rule and just drive into the circle regardless of how much traffic is already swirling through. We discovered this driving “peculiarity” early in the day the first time Michael got yelled and honked at for pausing at a circle to wait for an opening.

That traffic circle accidents seem to be a common occurrence is reinforced by the fact that many circles actually have a “Stop” sign at the approach. We nearly got back-ended on our way back to Bodrum when Michael stopped at the “Stop” sign at a busy circle to wait for an opening in the stream of traffic. The small box truck behind him screeched on its breaks and blared its horn continuously as the driver wrenched the wheel and swerved the truck around us into the on-coming traffic. Just to punctuate their anger at our stupidity, the guy in the passenger side leaned his full torso out the window and screamed invectives at us along with some universal sign language with unmistakable intent.

We just stared, mouths open. Michael finally sputtered, “There’s a *!@#$* stop sign – what did he expect me to do?”

“Just drive,” I said. “You can’t win with these drivers.”

But we got back to the hotel safely. Which is all that counts. But I attribute it to the worry beads that were hanging off the mirror of the rental car.

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