A Cup of Turkish Coffee helps Jay Artale appreciate Turkey’s Bodrum Peninsula
“Türk Kahvesi Lütfen.”
I’d ordered my first cup of Turkish Coffee seamlessly, or so I thought. But my request was met with a barrage of Turkish I had no chance of understanding. After a moments silence and my blank stare, the waiter came to the rescue with his pigeon English “Sugar? Little? Medium? Lot?” I opted for “Little”, and then sank back in my chair as he wandered towards the kitchen.
It was just after dawn, and most of the town was still sleeping. But my jet lagged body had woken me early, and I set out to explore Bodrum at first light. I made my way to the waters edge, and headed to the only sign of life in the bay; a huddle of fishing boats, moored up in front of the Bodrum Belideysi Tea House.
Municipal Tea Houses & Bar Street
Municipal tea houses are one of the hidden gems of Turkey. Most local communities have one, and they’re a lot more budget conscious than tourist cafes. Their menus and settings are basic, and you may not be assured of a beaming smile or fluent English, but they’re open long hours, and in most of the coastal locations they’re close to the fishing harbour, with captivating views.
The Bodrum Tea house was no exception. We were perfectly positioned to enjoy an uninterrupted view of Bodrum Castle, which sat at the opposite end of Bodrum Bay. In between us, was the arc of restaurants and bars known as Bar Street. By night this street is a throbbing hub of activity, servicing a continual stream of tourists. Restaurants and bars huddled shoulder to shoulder, vying for attention by emanating a dizzying array of International music. But this early in the morning, Bar Street was still sleeping off after another late night, and not quite ready to face the day.
At the dock, fisherman ambled around in the early morning light. While some absent-mindedly swept remnants of yesterday off peeling decks, others worked together and fumbled to untangle their nets. These daily rituals were conducted in silence. Repeated so often, no words were necessary.
I got lost in the surroundings, and was jolted back to the present with the arrival of Turkish Coffee and a glass of water. Turkish Coffee is designed to be sipped slowly, and I settled in to enjoy the bitter-sweet coffee, as I watched a cross-section of Bodrum’s population slowly filter past. First workers on their way to open up local businesses, followed shortly after by groups of uniformed children, heading smartly off to school.
Each day, the population of Bodrum expands gradually. Visitors from nearby towns and villages arrive via dolmus, and the day trippers from the Greek Islands of Kos and Rhodes arrive via Ferry. As well as these day trippers, Bodrum attracts the sailing-set.
On the other side of Bodrum Castle, lies the state-of-the-art Marina. Bodrum is a port of call for owners of million Lira yachts, and those enjoying the famous Blue Cruise Tours through the Aegean. On the Marina’s doorstep, is an expensive selection of restaurants and bars, and an elite selection of shops and designer boutiques.
Those with no budget for designer goods, can explore the warren of tourist shops behind Bar Street advertising “genuine fakes”. As well as clothing and jewelry, shops sell locally crafted and mass-produced souvenirs. These include intricately painted tiles and pottery, stained glass light fixtures and hand decorated gourds encrusted with coloured-glass gems.
Off the Beaten Track
It’s convenient to have all the trappings of tourism centrally located in Bodrum Harbour, but if you want to immerse yourself in some local Turkish culture, you’ll need to go further afield. Wander off-the-beaten track and discover restaurants, cafes and shops frequented by locals.
These can be found down any of the back-streets in Bodrum as soon as you distance yourself from the Castle and Bar Street. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can hop on a dolmus at the Otogar station and explore the rest of the Bodrum Peninsula.
Bodrum is the nucleus of public transport for the local area, and you can venture into the unknown frequently and cheaply.
Over the next two weeks, I became adept at navigating the back-streets of Bodrum, and hopping on a passing dolmus to explore yet another small secluded bay or market town. It was nerve-wracking at times, and I got lost more than once. But the gems I discovered, are the memories I’ll retain.
My Last Morning
I headed back to the Bodrum Belideysi for one final cup of Turkish Coffee. It seemed fitting that I ended my holiday at the same place it started. A similar scene replayed itself. Although this time around my Turkish had improved, the fisherman still swept and untangled in silence.
As I savoured the scene, I realized that immersing yourself in the local culture is like appreciating a cup of Turkish Coffee. It’s sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet, but if you approach it one sip at a time, you’ll eventually acquire a taste for it.
I found it deliciously satisfying, and I left wanting more.