Weekending: Bodrum/Greece

As an expat in Istanbul, I am very fortunate to have awesome opportunities for short trips around Europe and the Middle East. My previous weekend jaunt was to Beirut, Lebanon. Though the current 90+ degree weather is ruling out a lot of domestic travel for now, for my next getaway, I made like the locals and headed south to the beach.

The place: Bodrum, Turkey

The Bodrum peninsula fancies itself the Turkish Riviera, though the town proper feels a bit more like the Jersey Shore, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Bodrum coast (like the Jersey Shore) has great beaches and fun nightlife, though it lacks the sophistication of other European beach towns and the coastline is getting more developed each season. Still, there’s charm left in Bodrum town, beautiful castle and harbor views, and easy boat access to more secluded spots in Turkey and even Greece. Big and boutique resorts with private beaches (many of them jetties) line the sea though you may have to rent a car or rely on taxis and dolmuses (minibuses) to get around. As we wanted to stay in a walkable area with restaurants nearby, we chose the Su Hotel in town, on a quiet street close to the harbor, with a good-sized pool and friendly service.

  • Water is the big draw to Bodrum, though the town itself has only a few small strips of beach, with most of the beach clubs and resorts in neighboring towns like Bitez and Gümbet. The few town beaches are small but serviceable, as well as convenient and most often free, though you may be obliged to buy a drink from one of the adjoining cafes. If you’re after the wide, sandy beach experience, you’re better off in a resort outside of town or taking day trips.
  • Hop on a boat and be in Greece in an hour. From the ferry, you can walk to a beach where 5 euro will get you two chairs, some bottled water, and an umbrella. Pleasant Kos Town doesn’t have a wealth of tourist attractions, but does remind you how NOT European Turkey is, if only for the good wine, availability of pork, and sensible city planning. Alternatively, boat trips are offered all over town to nearby islands and coves in Turkey.


  • While sometimes it’s pleasant to visit a foreigner-friendly city where English is widely spoken and familiar foods are available, after seeing the third cafe in a row serving a full English breakfast, Bodrum’s popularity with Brits and Australians becomes overwhelming and almost demoralizing. I happened to be in town during the England-Germany World Cup match, and the English loss could be heard up and down the streets. On the plus side, a nice book market on Cumhuriyet Caddesi towards the east end sells English books for as little as 5 TL.
  • You don’t come to Bodrum for sightseeing, but the main attractions can still be a little disappointing. The Castle of St. Peter holds the Museum of Underwater Archaeology (admittedly, I hoped it would actually BE underwater) and while the views from the castle are spectacular and several of the exhibits are interesting, the highlights (the cool-sounding Glass Shipwreck and remains of a Carian princess) are only open Tuesday – Friday. Imagine if New York’s Met Museum closed the Temple of Dendur on weekends or the Louvre limited days to see the Mona Lisa?! Likewise, the Mausoleum might have once been one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but not much of it remains.

Getting there

Bodrum is an hour flight from Istanbul, with sporadic direct flights from continental Europe in season. The airport is 60 kilometers from town and a pricey 90 TL taxi ride, but a shuttle bus connects with domestic flights for 17 TL. If you have early or late flights, be sure to factor in the round-trip taxi fare to the cost of your travel. Ferries depart for Kos (also Rhodes) in the morning and return late afternoon for around 55 TL.

Make it a week

Get your bearings in Bodrum town and then sail a gulet yacht for a cruise along the Aegean. Booking a cabin will cost from 400 euro per person including meals (but not alcohol), crew, fuel, and taxes for a week, chartering the whole yacht can run thousands of euro but can work for a group of friends or family. Do your homework and shop around; Turkey Travel Planner is a good primer.

Carnival to remove automatic tips from Australian cruises

In many countries around the world, tipping isn’t practiced to the extent it is in the US. Here, anything less than 15% for a restaurant server is considered an insult. We tip hotel housekeepers, valets, even the people who make our coffee. We’re used to the system of tipping to supplement a worker’s wages, but in other countries, the average tip is much lower.

American cruise lines are having some trouble reconciling the American way of tipping with attitudes and customs around gratuities in other countries. It seems that Carnival‘s Australian branch, P&O Cruises Australia, had received complaints from passengers in response to the automatic tipping policy the cruise line previously had in place, so they’ve announced that they will be removing the automatic gratuity charge added to all accounts.

Other US-based cruise lines that operate in certain countries may follow suit in reevaluating their policies to accommodate foreign customs in tipping. Royal Caribbean, which does not currently add the automatic charge, said it is working on changes to its own policy because the British who cruise on its line out of Southampton don’t tip.

[via USA Today]

Brits love Thailand, not really France

More than a thousand Britons can’t be wrong, right? An online survey of 1,402 of them, by Zoover.co.uk, found France to be the least hospitable vacation destination. But, to be fair, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia weren’t included among the choices. So, it really wasn’t that bad for the folks across the channel. The Brits found that Thailand was the top spot, picking up 25 percent of the vote, with the United States good for 11 percent.

Chrit Blonden, a marketing executive at Zoover, told Reuters, “When you go to France they are not inviting you there, you are not feeling invited when you go to their country,” explaining why the country only picked up 2 percent of the vote in Britain. He continued, “I was in Thailand myself. When you go there you are treated very well…they show a real interest in you.”

The French Tourism Development Agency, of course, had a rejoinder at hand: 78 million tourists from around the world stopped in France last year. Eleven million of them were British. More than 350,000 Brits own a house in France. So, yeah, it looks like there can’t be too much beef.

But, the question the agency forgot to ask all those Brits: are they happy?

British Airways flight greeted by hazmat team after 6 passengers faint

Here is a sight you don’t want to be greeted by when you land at your destination – upon landing at London Heathrow, an ambulance hazmat team boarded the aircraft to check on the condition of six passengers who had fainted during the flight.

It probably isn’t too uncommon for one passenger to faint after the stress of a long haul flight, but six of them on a single plane usually warrants some kind of emergency response.

Thankfully, the passengers turned out to be fine, and emergency personnel allowed them to continue their journeys.

In this H1N1 panicked environment, it does make sense to be careful of anything out of the ordinary, even though in this case, it was probably one big coincidence.

British couple kidnapped by Somali pirates

A British couple sailing from the Seychelles to Tanzania was kidnapped by Somali pirates and is now being held for ransom.

Paul and Rachel Chandler, both in their late 50’s, had been sailing since March on their 38-foot sailboat and keeping a blog about their journey. Last week family and friends alerted authorities that they had not heard from the couple in several days, and shortly after, their boat was found in the waters of the Indian Ocean off Somalia.

Pirates boarded the boat while the Chandlers slept and began demanding money. They took all the items of value off the boat and then forced the couple to onto a container shipp they’d seized earlier this month.

The pirates then called a British news station and allowed Chandler to make a statement saying that he and his wife had been kidnapped. So far the pirates have not asked for a ransom, but the assumption is that they will make their demands soon. Luckily, family members of the Chandlers have indicated that they will pay for the safe return of the couple.

With all the news about pirates attacking ships off the Somali coast, I was surprised that someone would sail a small craft through the area. Pirates usually go for bigger ships, but have attacked smaller boats and yachts as well. They assume the people on board will be wealthy and, as in this case, that their families will pay a ransom for them.