Friday, August 31, 2012

Life Lesson #48 - Never Look a Belly Dancer in the Eye

Today, for the second time in a month, I ended up naked in front of my entire tour group and an ensemble of assorted strangers. Well, almost naked.

It was this woman's fault. I'm going to call her Jezebel.
After being entertained by her display of belly flexibility, I think nothing of it when she starts pulling out random men from the audience. She gets to about five, then puts them all in a line.

I’m looking straight at her, when suddenly I realise she’s returning the gaze. Apparently five men isn’t enough. I do the obligatory “who, me?”-face-of-sweetness-and-innocence, but it’s too late. She already has an evil gleam in her eye.

Seconds later I’m onstage. And she’s tugging my shirt upwards. Awkward giggles are exchanged as the other men suffer the same indignity. 

Then, she’s back for more. With her finger and her thumb, she expertly undoes my pants and whips them off. Good thing I didn’t go commando. 

Next, she pulls out a hanky-sized strip of fabric and ties it around my waste. It’s pink. And covered in bells. Of course it is.

“Now dance, white boys!”

She doesn’t actually speak, but that’s what her eyes are saying.

If there’s one thing my time at High School taught me, it’s that there’s only one way to keep your pride during moments of humiliation. Go one up on them. Turn the other cheek, if you will. So, I stand there with a big grin and wiggle my hips like Beyoncé’s androgynous cousin. Then I try a shimmy for good measure. And a booty shake.

Once we’re all decked out like a hairy harem, she cranks the music up and starts teaching us moves. Shimmy around, roll your arms, stick out your bum, then belly roll. Now she makes us do it alone, one by one.

Determined to beat the shame by over-delivering the ridiculous choreography, I tart the whole thing right up. I may feel like slitting my wrists on the inside, but outside I’m smiling! 

After a few more rounds of belly rolls, she starts eliminating men. And it’s down to two of us. I was never introduced to the other guy, but he looks to me like the sort of bloke who would be a plumber from Essex named Phil.

But hang on, the eliminated guys get to put their clothes back on. No fair! And what’s she pulling out of her bag of tricks now? That would be the top half of the outfit. It’s purple. And also covered in bells.

Oh, and a wig.

Oh, and lipstick. Bright red lipstick.

“Now dance, white trannies!”

She doesn’t actually speak, but that’s what her eyes are saying.

I feel excruciatingly ridiculous. I have no idea how to sexy dance, but I give it a shot. When I’m out of moves I progress to the chicken dance. The only think keeping me from jumping off a ledge is the realisation that Phil the plumber is far, far more uncomfortable, and far, far worse at this than I am. It’s a sick world where schadenfreude, rather than solidarity, brings comfort in the most mortifying moments, but there you have it.

After what I could swear is 20 minutes dancing alone for jeering crowds (who can’t quite believe their eyes), suddenly Jezebel returns, grabs our hands, bows with us, then laughs at us and kicks us off stage.

I put my clothes back on and return to my seat. Everyone’s laughing, saying I was hilarious. I’m a little confused... clearly they weren’t watching the humiliating series of events I just participated in.

Shortly afterwards, Jezebel leaves in plain-clothes. I start to feel self-righteous. Where is my prize? Surely if the evening’s entertainment is to laugh at me, I deserve some sort of remuneration?

With Jezebel out of the building, I have only one option, and make my way up to the bar. I deliberately pick the girl with a kiwi Mr Vintage tee, and explain the gross injustice of my plight.

She laughs and pours me a shot. It’s blue and smells like raspberries. My indignation evaporates.

Belly dancing? Pffft, it’s not so bad.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sail Turkey: Highlights

The Turkish riviera is often called the Turquoise Coast. After a week exploring it on Busabout's Sail Turkey trip, it's easy to see why. These are the highlights of a week afloat.

Fethiye harbour, shortly before departure.

1.  Butterfly Valley
The butterflies may be seasonal, but the steep cliffs blocking this bay off from overland access are a glorious sight year round.

2.  Sunsets onboard
Dinner is served quite late on board the Sail Turkey gulets - around 8:30pm. If you ask me, it's because nobody wants to miss the stunning daily sight of the sun exploding in every shade of orange and purple.

3.  Kekova sunken city
1,800 years ago, the Lycian town of Kekova was destroyed by an earthquake, crumbling into the sea. The captain drives slowly along the coast, allowing you to catch a glimpse of an ancient world lost to the sea like Atlantis.

Ölüdeniz (the Blue Lagoon)
The water at Ölüdeniz is so turquoise it almost appears to be glowing. And the high nearby mountains make it a perfect spot for paragliding.

Watersports in Smuggler's Cove
Smuggler's Cover is an old pirate's hangout. Boats come round to the gulets offering group watersports. This banana fitted most of our boat on it - and you can't really go wrong when falling in means a chance to relax in  25° water!

6.  Kaş
Kaş is a cute little town that used to be a tiny fishing village. Now it boasts great shopping, especially for those who are fond of silver. But my favourite thing about it was spotting what the locals have dubbed 'the sleeping man' on the hillside behind the town.

Can you spot the sleeping man watching over the town?

7.  St Nicholas Island
The Byzantine ruins on St Nicholas Island make for a great photo. But the real prize comes when  you reach the summit (about a 20 minute climb) and see the irresistable view just in time for sunset.

Crepe boats
I was beaten to the ingenious business idea of a floating crepe stall by a little old Turkish lady who sails around from boat to boat offering the delectable treats for a murderous sum. But they're so good you'll still want seconds.

9.  Kale
There's a ruined castle above the idyllic town of Kale, and the view from the top is epic. Plus the locals make great Turkish icecream.

10.  Smuggler's Cove sea cave
While it's beautiful during the day, the cave at Smuggler's Cove is something really special at night. It's pitch black, but when you jump in the water you discover that there's something phosphorescent in it. the more you splash, the more the water lights up as though you're swimming with glow worms. It's sadly unphotographable, but truly amazing.

11.  Myra
Myra was the capital city of ancient Lycia. It's believed to have been established as early as 500 BC, but was mostly abandoned by 1100 AD. Make sure you bring your camera - the rock-cut tombs are a memorable sight.

12.  The water
All the other highlights pale in comparison to this one. I've never encountered water so strikingly warm. After sleeping under the stars and being woken by sunrise, a quick dip is the perfect way to kickstart the day. And it's great before lunch too. And in the afternoon heat. And at midnight. If the Sail Turkey trip was just mooring the boat in these turquoise waters for a week straight, I'd have been happy. Everything else is a bonus!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sail Turkey: Preview

When contemplating the stifling heat of August, nothing sounds more attractive to me than a week on a boat. Jumping off the bow to cool off. Reading in the late afternoon sun. Sleeping on the deck, under the stars.

That's exactly what you get with Busabout's Sail Turkey trip. And it's not just any boat; but a traditional Turkish gulet.

The coastline around the Turkish riviera is sublime. I've been told to anticipate clear turquoise waters, 25 degrees or warmer.

I really can't wait.

I'm travelling on the Sail Turkey trip as a guest of Busabout and Flight Centre UK. Some of my highlights of the trip will also be published on Flight Centre UK's blog. I'll link to them after they're posted.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

One Day in Rhodes

Rhodes is a bit of an anomaly in Greece. It’s got the largest continuously inhabited medieval old town in the world. In a nation that celebrates the Classical period, it’s quite a strange feeling to find yourself in the middle ages.

The ruins are considerably less ruined because they’re so much younger.

The city gates allow you to snatch a glimpse of the crystal blue Aegean.

The medieval castle is like a fortress within a fortress – the last post for the residents.

The old town of Rhodes was a fascinating place to spend a few hours. I could have happily booked a few days here and explored the rest of the island – but, alas, I’m on the move again!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Santorini (in Photos)

Our three days in Santorini didn't start so well. First, I discovered I'd booked the ferry for the wrong month. Had to happen eventually. Luckily there were still tickets for the correct one.

Then, after we arrived, on the bus trip from the port to the main town of Fira, we hit a motorcyclist. Or rather, he hit us. It was all rather dramatic. There was blood and a very damaged bus, but he was conscious and I'm pretty sure he would have recovered ok.

The bus post-motorcyclist.
After the rocky start, we kept waiting for something else to go wrong. These things are supposed to happen in threes. But Santorini must be enchanted or something.

I could repeat a thousand clichés about the magic of the island (especially in the morning, when the streets are quiet and the shadows are long), but rather than say the same thing as countless others, I'll let the images do the talking.

Oia, as seen from the ferry.
Oia by day.

The secret cocktail pool we were thrilled to get a map to!

Everyone turns up for sunset in Oia, and they're silhouetted beautifully on the whitewashed walls.

Oia shortly before sunset.

First night sunset in Oia, from a restaurant.

The tiny fishing village of Amoudi, 300 steps below Oia.

A Santorini taxi fleet.

Second night sunset in Oia, from the lookout.

Possibly the most picturesque dinner view I've ever had.

Akrotiri, the archaeological site of the ancient Minoan town destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1600 BC.

Red Beach.

The cliffs by white beach, near where we swam through caves.

Final night sunset, from a restaurant in Fira.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Naxos: To Be Or To Do?

My parents aren’t really the arguing type. But if there’s one topic sure to fire them up, it’s how to spend a holiday.

My Dad is a do-er. He wants each day to have a purpose. No matter where we are, he’ll fill up his time with excursions and activities.

My Mum, on the other hand, is a be-er. She wants to relax when she’s away. The less her day resembles its usual frenetic pace, the better.

To a certain extent, they’ve both got good points. When you’re taking valuable time off work, it’s important to recharge your batteries, but it’s equally important to make the most of your time away by exploring your destination.

I definitely take after my father. I have trouble sitting still on holiday. I always have a long list of things I want to do and I cram as much as I can into every day. It makes me quite an effective traveller, but I’m hopeless at relaxing.

And that’s why I found Naxos so tricky. I was sick for a while before leaving for Greece, and struggled my way around Athens. There’s plenty to do in Naxos, but I was too unwell. I had to make do sticking around the campsite, just being.

I’d love to say it afforded me a much-needed rest time, but I’d be lying. I was miserable the whole time and couldn’t wait to recover enough to eat and do again!

Luckily, the sunset made up for everything.

Naxos Port.

Apollon's Gate.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Athens: Modern Ruins?

For a city so dependent on tourism, I find it fascinating that Athens doesn't have any attractions from the last few millennia.

The Parthenon.

The Erechtheum.

Like most visitors to Athens, I found the Acropolis and the ancient Agora enchanting. They're the only places where we encountered crowds, despite coming in August. The modern part of the city is a distinct contrast - filled with boarded up windows and abandoned building projects. A sort of modern ruins. And the Acropolis, high on its proud hill, casts the entire modern city in its shadow.

It's undeniable that Athens was in its prime thousands of years ago, and I find it curious that what Athens used to be, even in ruins, is so infinitely more interesting to modern visitors than what the city is today, even compared to other 'ancient' cities like Rome and Cairo.

The Parthenon.

The effects of the global recession and ongoing eurozone financial crisis are easy to observe in Athens, and despite its remaining charm, I can't help but wonder if the Acropolis will remain intact long after modern Athens has itself descended into ruin.

The Agora, and the city of Athens.