By Bence Gaál
Bence Gaál goes gonzo and dances on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.
In the Summer of 2015, I had the chance to visit a Turkish holiday resort located at the Mediterranean Coast somewhere between Antalya and Alanya. I was travelling with my girlfriend, and planned to spend a whole week in the sun with no worries, consuming a considerable amount of alcohol. The trip was memorable, but more than that, it was eye opening as well.
After we arrived at the Budapest Airport, we immediately loaded up on a 9-pack of Dunhill Blues and a bottle of scotch. Nowadays, even in Budapest, these duty free shops cater to all the needs of the travelers, ranging from booze through somewhat fancy food (it still does not compare to the ritzy Gordon Ramsey Plane Food Restaurant in one of the Heathrow terminals, though), to international press, and cheap dirty joke collections. We went for the joke book, to entertain each other during the rather uncomfortable and dull flight to the Antalya Airport, while being seated in the economy class.
Upon arrival around midnight, we were shooed to a bus with a Turkish driver and a Hungarian guide. Naturally, our hotel was the furthest away from the airport, which meant two hours of sitting tight, and trying to sleep. We were off to a great start, but what we did not realize was that the madness was just about to begin after we arrived at the Hotel. First of all, the guy who showed us the room was the cousin of the famous Turkish footballer Hamit Altintop. No joke, he literally showed us a picture. This was a huge plus, as it meant that he was actually raised in Germany, and thus spoke an acceptable version of German, with only a bit of “Kölsch” dialect. It was grand, as about 90 percent of the staff only spoke a very basic level of Turklish. The bar next to the lobby was supposed to be free until three am, so we walked down immediately after checking in to discover that we still have 20 minutes of free alcohol on our hands. We drank two mojitos, and then we ordered two glasses of 20-year-old Glenfiddich. The first premium import drink was supposed to be free. The bartender gave the drinks to us, and we were completely ready to just walk away with the glasses. Then the night manager appeared. “You gotta pay for this!” he said. “The first import drink is free; it is the Hotel’s policy.” I replied.
“The first one is free, normally the second is free as well, but this is your third one.”
“Yeah, but the first two were from the regular drink list, so they are normally free, any time.”
This went back and forth, until my partner said she had enough, and that we will have our revenge. I calmed down, and tossed 20 bucks at the smartass night manager, and firmly told him to remember that “The customer is always right”.
The plan was the following: We would drink so much from the free drink list, that the total worth of our consumption would be more than the price of the total holiday. The start was immediate, and so we were sipping our first cocktails at 10 am that morning by the seaside. Little did we know, that the amount of alcohol we would go on to drink would amount to 3.5 liters of hard liquor per person, over the course of a week.
A few things are absolutely worth mentioning here. The hotel was a 5-star one, and the holiday package was ultra-all-inclusive, meaning that the food and the local drinks were free of charge, and so was the usage of the wellness facilities. By 5 stars, I do not mean 5 stars by Western standards. The hotel literally had a barbershop and a cheap supermarket in the lobby. At the supermarket, you could get exquisite souvenirs, such as local cigarettes (strong enough to kill a chain-smoking elephant), Raki, or penis shaped key holders. Their restaurant had a midnight snack bar, open during the night, that included basically leftover salad from the dinner. The room service was also atrocious, as we called for a club sandwich at 4 am one night, and what we got was a few lukewarm pieces of toasted bread, with cheap bologna and warm cucumbers (a crime against humanity). The two waiters who served the meal were acting as janitors a mere two hours before the order.
Another issue was the number of noveaux rich Russian tourists. I have nothing against the people of Russia, but the hardcore Putinist layer of middle aged Ruskies, who gained money by exposing the economic and criminal openings of the Yeltsin era, are real tough cookies. They wear Armani, Ray-Bans, and drink whatever is the most expensive at the moment. The only thing they are missing is a knowledge of basic etiquette. According to our tour guide, every single hotel that got invaded by them became run-down in five years. Our hotel was about a year old, but these people have already infiltrated the ranks of tourists right here, “From Russia, Without Love”. I do not want to seem like a Russophobe, so I will disclose now, that there were a few instances, when we were positively surprised by how nice these people could act, if they want to.
Anyway, the first day was spent with ruthlessly drinking cocktails by the sea, sunbathing, and having a deep conversation about how damn good the whole situation is. Two young adults on the Turkish Riviera for a week with nearly all the drinks and food covered. By the way, we were also entitled to one special dinner at the special restaurant of our choice. There were three special restaurants in the Hotel. An Italian one, a Mexican one, and a Seafood restaurant. Considering that the pizza at the lunch buffet was reminiscent of a piece of cardboard, and that the Mexican food in a Turkish hotel did not seem authentic, we went for a reservation at the Seafood one, but more on that later.
The plan for the next day was to visit the nearby city of Alanya. Unfortunately, it did not happen, because we underestimated the effects of the booze therapy that we had the day before. The cocktails were quite strong, and a bit different from the classics such as Manhattan or even a Long Island Ice Tea. Nearly all of them had an exotic name and contained a very colorful fruit juice. The only thing you could have if you wanted to get away from the Fake-Hawaiian feeling was the notorious Colorado Bulldog. Anyway, things got a bit out of hand, and we woke up too late for breakfast. We had a stroke of genius, and decided to go parasailing.
Parasailing is the act of being towed by a speedboat while being attached to an oversized parachute. The idea is, that you will fly high, if the boat goes fast enough. Sailing through the air was a truly fascinating experience, but due to the rocking of the boat, and the large amount of alcohol in our systems, our faces were green by the time we went to pay after the ride. It cost us about 65 dollars. Officially, the Turks accept Turkish Lira, but they almost universally accept US Dollars, and in some cases even Euros. The exchange rate, however is a different thing. One has to keep an eye on the values, or risk getting shamelessly ripped off. We once paid 23 dollars for two slices of pizza and two espressos. Horrible.
Getting back to the story, the parasailing day was perhaps the very last one, when we were able to display a somewhat coherent thinking. At the night of Day Two, we sat down at the bar by the beach to play some cards. The bartender was perhaps the first and last person in the joint to speak proper English, perhaps due to his age and experience in Tourism. I thought that he was 40. Wrong. He was 29. He was not happy when we attempted to guess his age. He started serving us what he called “specials”, as he was extremely happy that he could strike up a conversation with two people who at least spoke a common language. The trouble began when he served us two glasses of flaming green, translucent liquid. I thought it was absinthe, but it was some cheap local knockoff version of the original. The trick in the deal was, that after you drank the glass, the bartender turned the glass upside down, put a straw in your mouth, and forced you to inhale the fumes that were left over from the burning alcohol. Throwing up after this little adventure was a relief. And the bastard laughed while he watched the scene. Oh, well…
Before I proceed to the next day, I would like to point out, that I am not trying to put together a biased piece of criticism against the Turkish tourism industry. I am just trying to explain how different it is from a holiday in the West. Ultimately, despite all the minor flaws, where would you be able to get a trip where they cover your alcohol consumption at a five- star hotel? Only in Turkey. It is also important to note, that the holiday trip occurred a year before President Erdogan’s totally-not-fake coup attempt took place, and Turkey skyrocketed its policies back to the pre-Atatürk era. As things stand now, that megalomaniac imbecile may even proclaim himself the sultan of the new Ottoman Empire. In 2015, this was not too apparent, and the public safety was absolutely on par with any other touristy areas along the Mediterranean Coast. The locals drank like wild, and you barely saw anybody wearing a burqa.
Anyway, the next day, things started to get funny. We somehow managed to pull ourselves together and left for the nearby town of Alanya, which was about a 20-minute drive from the hotel. We tried to hail a cab, as there were several around the Hotel, and finally managed to get one. It was a van. Already half-full with Russian tourists. Hell, we wanted to get to Alanya immediately, so we got in. They were loud, but all was forgiven when I tried to give my part of the cab fare to the driver and the leader of the Russian clan just smiled at me, said “NYET” and gave the driver the whole fare and some tip as well. Apparently, money is not an issue for them, and the locals know it. Almost all of the restaurants and bars have a Russian menu, and some of the staff speak half-decent Russian. Also, the famous fur and leather stores usually have a huge neon sign in Russian. They know they have the money and they tip well, so it is only logical.
We spent a bit of time looking around the coast, where pirate ships advertised costly tours of the local bay. As it started to get dark, the coast looked pretty awesome by any standard. It was perfect for a romantic stroll, and 15 minutes of extra walk took us right to a medieval Ottoman castle ruin. Whatever was left of the castle was in pretty good condition, and walking on the top of the walls with the sea buzzing beneath you is definitely something I would recommend. But hey, we forgot to drink. So after this interlude, we hit the bars.
The themes were eclectic, with Irish pubs, upscale Italian restaurants, sports bars right next to each other. Of course we chose a Las Vegas themed one, as they advertised huge cocktails for a reasonable price. In a desperate try to attract the bawdy drunk clientele, they named half of their drinks after something sexual, like “Big Tits”, or “Viagra”. Personally, I did not really care for the names, but they had an impressive range of drinks, and so we went from a romantic lovey-dovey couple mood to discussing whether we should get tattoos together at a local joint. All of this happened in just about 35 minutes. When we were ready to pay, trouble was brewing. We had dollars, but for whatever reasons, the place ran out of change. So the waiter guided us to a table in the back, where I had the privilege to explain to the owners that we only had a fifty-dollar bill and we expected some change. One of the owners, a shady guy around 40 with a potbelly and a scar on his face, nodded and yelled at the waiter to get out to the local currency exchange office and get some dollars. After a short while, we got the change and left. It was great to see that things are the same in Turkey and Europe, namely that a significant part of nightlife is controlled by a bunch of thugs.
On Day Four, we were at the Hotel, and promised to each other that we will not drink too much this time. We were scheduled for the Seafood dinner by the pool, which was pretty nice. Until then, we killed the time with the Hotel’s own set of waterslides. The funny thing is, that almost no kids dared to go near it. When the night fell, however, the situation got serious, unexpectedly. The seven-course menu of local seafood was not bad at all. We had some wine as well, but it was nothing too hardcore. The waiter that night was a total jokester, running by the name of Pikret, if I recall correctly. When the dessert came, it was only us and a slightly drunk Russian couple left at the tables. We were smoking at the time, and the waiter just came, and performed a very stupid trick with the plastic sheet covering the box of cigarettes. Then he repeated the trick to the other couple, who were smoking as well. At this point it seemed like it would end, and nothing more would happen. Boy, was I wrong.
First, my girlfriend quickly went up to the room to fetch another pack of Dunhills. Meanwhile, the waiter came over to my table and asked me how my dessert of something like a baked cream with sesame was. I said that it was tasty. He then smiled, and whispered “Good, I’ll bring another one. You will thank me, it is natural Turkish Viagra”. Well, I accepted since it was free of charge. Over the course of the holiday, I have been secretly told by waiters and shopkeepers repeatedly that something is a “natural Turkish Viagra”. It happened at least a dozen times. Anyway, my girlfriend got back, and we finished off our wine. When we were leaving, the waiter motioned us to the table of the Russian couple and told us that they will bring some special cocktails to our table, as we were the last customers that night. My memories started getting blurry at this point, as the cocktails were filled with the local cheap vodka. Next day we pieced the events together as we were sobering up. The following happened:
- The waiter, the other couple, and us were having a pleasant conversation about a variety of things ranging from smoking habits to Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms in the 1980’s. The waiter at one point asked us to sign some paper that he was the best employee, so he would get a few extra days off next month.
- My girlfriend was seated at the side of the table which was located directly next to the pool. She started joking about falling in the water after the third “special” vodka cocktail. Surprising everybody, she was not bluffing, she fell right in with a huge splash.
- After I helped her out, I noticed that the flower in her hair was missing. It was situated at the very bottom of the pool. Naturally I jumped in, fully clothed, to fetch it. This prompted the other guy, who was a 6’3” 250 pound Tatar, to jump in. He also grabbed the hands of his girlfriend and pulled her in. Everybody was soaked. The manager came screaming at us to stop doing it.
- After getting dry, we went to the deserted beach bar, which was open until 1 am that night. It was already 30 minutes until closing time, so we ordered 12 glasses of whisky and cola. They refused to give us proper glasses, and just loaded the drinks into those Coca-Cola plastic cups. We started a card game of Durak with the Russians.
- Of course we were beaten badly, as we had no idea what the hell was going on with the cards. This prompted me to swear fluently in Russian, telling them to get sodomized by Stalin. I did not mean it seriously, they knew, so they laughed their asses off.
- After the bar was completely closed down, the four of us went down to the beach. My brand new pair of white Chuck Taylor’s was ruined permanently by the wet sand. We drank the remaining drinks and went for a dip in the sea, still fully clothed. We were soaked once again.
- The Russians, who turned out to be Tatars, invited us to their hometown (Kazan, I think). Then we went back to the lobby, and ordered some more alcohol, as the bar was not closed yet. The night manager, who screwed with us on the first day, saw us being soaked, carrying a truckload of drinks on a platter we “borrowed”, and he almost fainted.
- The Russians went back to their room to check something and to bring their reserve bottle of Ballantine’s Finest. We waited, until the guy came down alone, explaining that his girlfriend blacked out, so we should probably call it a night. We said our goodbyes. We still had like 8 whisky colas on the platter, so we carried them back to our room.
- We watched the sunrise from the balcony, slowly sipping away half of the remaining drinks.
We woke up the following day, this time not only missing breakfast, but missing lunch as well. We had to resort to eating at the snack bar at the beach. Stale fries for breakfast. Awesome. We were literally useless until the night came. That night, it was a karaoke party. Being half-decent amateur musicians ourselves, we wanted to blow the crowd away. There was one obstacle. Their selection of songs included songs in Italian (I have not seen a single Italian person during the whole holiday), German, Spanish, Turkish, and Russian, and no English. Well, I went for “Jeanny” by Falco, Austria’s most famous musician ever, as the song has an English chorus. My girlfriend supported me by providing backing vocals. I realized that my voice was hoarse as hell, but I managed to suffer my way through. Not only my face, but my whole body was red by the struggle by the time we finished. We received a significant amount of applause by the guests and the staff alike. The applause was not for the quality of the performance but for managing to get through without dying. Then we went to the disco. We left quite soon, after we realized that they were nearly out of alcohol, and that the other guests were mostly over 50. We went back to our room and watched “Kung-Fury”, an 80’s spoof action flick that just came out. We called it a day early.
On Day Six, we went back to Alanya, this time for souvenir shopping. I have to give it to the Turks, they are damn good at treating the customer, and even better at bargaining. If you enter a decent shop and plan to make a relatively significant purchase, the staff will start to smile and offer you local tea, sweets, and coffee, for free. The owner will probably also try to make small talk, usually in a decent English. We ended up buying a variety of sweets and tea. It must be noted, that there are hidden gems in the shopping districts of Alanya, and probably everywhere else in Turkey. How they name the shops is hilarious. One strategy is putting adjectives like “best”, “great”, or “wonderful” in front of the name of the store. The amount of times I have seen a small corner store called “Best Supermarket!” is incredibly high. Another strategy they use is putting the name of a celebrity in the name. “Eddie Murphy Watches” is one example that comes to mind. There are amazing finds in some stores. I have seen a silver Megadeth necklace from the 1990’s in one of the jewelry stores. We also stumbled upon a classic Turkish band dressed in Janissary uniforms playing military songs with old horns and such. The whole song seemed to be weirdly off key, but there was something magical about it, that was extremely hard to grasp. We then went back to the hotel, and had a conversation with the bartender who poured us the green liquid some days ago. He was cheerful and gave us an insight of how everyday life in Turkey was like. He did not make a lot of money, even as the leading bartender of the Hotel. He still sent a quarter of it home to his elderly mother, and distributed the tips he received among his helpers, who were 17-18-year-old kids. The guy was very sincere, and what’s more, he occasionally sneaked some good quality import stuff into our free cocktails. Should I ever have a mental breakdown like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”, he will be my version of Lloyd, the bartender at the Overlook Hotel.
Finally, the day of the departure came. We made it to breakfast this time, but went back to sleep off the hangover immediately afterwards. The checkout time was at noon. We woke up at about 11 am. In a furiously fast manner, we packed our stuff together. I literally started jumping on the pile of clothes in my luggage, and it helped! We were down at the lobby at noon, ready to check out. The receptionist told us that our plane will be delayed, and that the travel agency bought us two extra hours. Great. We checked out again at two pm. We still had about six hours to kill. The hotel staff made a fatal mistake. They forgot to take our armbands that enabled us to eat and drink freely. So that afternoon became our last last, unnecessary, painful, yet somehow satisfying rush at the bar. By the time the tour bus rolled around, we were ready to bear the burdens of another two-hour bus ride.
Retrospectively, the ride to the airport was extremely educational. The tour guide actually started talking about how Syrian refugees were piling up at cities at the Southern border of Turkey. She emphasized that this was becoming an overburdening problem, and that the consensus in Turkish politics was that something was on the brink of happening. I turned to my girlfriend and told her that it was great that the EU and Hungary do not have to deal with problems like this. Just two months later, Hungary and later the whole EU was flooded with migrants from the Middle East. She also talked about various economic facts, and a growing divide in Turkey between the traditionalists and the people who had a more European mindset. The divide between the touristy areas, the cities, and the rural areas. The rural areas, where the bartender sends his money to his mother to prevent her from falling into absolute poverty. The cities where the bars, discos, and the market of counterfeit goods are booming (I once got a great looking fake Rolex in Istanbul that fooled everyone for about ten bucks, but that is another story).
We later boarded our plane. I was in my slippers, for whatever reason. In the air, we reflected on our crazy little trip of a lifetime. We came to the conclusion that, as a matter of fact, we became the kinds of guests who will be remembered by the staff. Remembered for being even worse than the middle aged Putinists, and for accomplishing our objective of creating a financial loss for the hotel due to a minor incident on our first evening. We came, we drank, we saw. We saw the reality behind the stereotypes, and the everyday life and culture of the Turkish people.