There’s nothing like work-related international travel to stretch your vacation budget farther than you thought possible. A conference brought me to Istanbul this July, after which I tacked on a week of much-appreciated R&R while visiting my friend Anna in the Turkish resort town where she is teaching English.
Bodrum stretches out along the coast of the Aegean Sea at Turkey’s southwestern tip. Low-slung, flat-roofed buildings, uniformly white, line its narrow alleys and dot the surrounding hills. Life revolves around the sea here, which brings tourists from all over Turkey and beyond during the hot summer months. Despite the throngs of beach-goers, the water is a transparent turquoise blue, the clearest I’ve ever seen.
I wake up in a puddle of sunshine each morning, skin moist from the already stifling heat inside. It’s better outdoors, because the breeze off the sea wafts down narrow lanes lined with white stone walls, wrought iron gates, cypresses, vines, and stubby palms. The best way to cool off is to jump in the sea, which is never far away. Cafes, bars, and restaurants line the beach, their tables so close to the water that you can almost dip your toes in without standing up.
Anna and I took a shared taxi van (the preferred mode of public transportation throughout most of Turkey) to the nearby town of Yalikavac one morning to meet her friend Bagdagul for breakfast on the beach. To me, “breakfast on the beach” sounded like a picnic, but Turkey has elevated this concept to luxurious heights. The beach is served by an on-site restaurant. Bagdagul conducted some kind of negotiation with our waiter in Turkish, instructing Anna and I to go sun ourselves on enormous pillows set out just for that purpose while our breakfast was being prepared.
Ten minutes later, the same waiter called us over to a table in the shade overlooking the water. Bagdagul had ordered each of us a full Turkish breakfast. Anna and I grew giddy as dishes began appearing before us: first comes fresh cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes, green and black olives in herb-flecked oil, crumbly cottage cheese; pressed goat’s milk cheese, and a mild yellow cow’s milk cheese. Then a basket of fresh-baked white bread and a platter of spreads for it: sour cherry and strawberry jams, candied orange and lemon peel, a mixture of sesame seed paste and thickened grape juice called pekmez tahin, like a Turkish PB&J.
Best of all is a small bowl of honey surrounding a puff of kaymak–a sweet, airy, mildly fermented cream that I’m now desperate to find at home. I first tasted the combination in Georgia, where it’s called kaymaghi. My host family’s relatives would bring it to the city from their village in the hills where the cows are. If ever I have come close to tasting nectar and ambrosia, the food of the gods, this must surely be it.
The table is so full now that there’s no room for more plates unless we stack them–so stack we do. There are eggs cooked any way we like, long cigars of fried dough stuffed with slightly salty cheese that we dip in jam and chase with strong black tea. And of course coffee, ground fine and boiled together with water and sugar to make a strong, silky brew. You’re meant to drink it directly off the grounds, leaving them in the bottom of your tiny cup when you’re finished.