A big day awaits

Setting up stage, originally uploaded by Thoroughly Good.

There’s a large crown outside our bedroom window. It’s lifting all sorts of heavy looking items from large lorries parked below us across to the poolside. Lots of bronzed men busy themselves wheeling flight cases from here to there and back again.

Inside, the hotel’s guest list has swelled considerably over the past 24 hours. The breakfast room is occupied by inconceivably handsome men with smouldering eyes and shaven faces accentuating chiselled jaws. I’m convinced they’re parading around just to irritate me as I devour my plate of cheese, salami and salad for breakfast.

The twenty-something females aren’t that much better either. They float around the corridors and restaurant, dressed in billowy-white tops. Pouting lips adorn otherwise expressionless faces decked out with designer sunglasses.

The tanned glamorous set is here at the Kempinski for what I’m told is a Turkish celebrity wedding this weekend. Suddenly I feel really awkwardly British and also fuelled by curiosity all at the same time.

Unfortunately, whilst my investigations have been productive I am unable to reveal the name of the groom (or the bride, for that matter). This isn’t because I’m not allowed to (although judging by the way the security glared at me when I took the picture above, I imagine there would be one or two furrowed brows if I did mention the names of the couple).

Part of the reason I can’t reveal the name is because I’ve only heard it once. Was it Volkon somebody? Turkish names are phenomenally hard to recall or pronounce or even spell. I won’t even try. Would hate to humiliate myself more than necessary.

What I am certain of is that the groom is a hotel owner from nearby Bodrum and that he is of sufficient standing to attract a great many glamorous individuals on yachts to come to his event and most importantly one of Turkey’s greatest pop stars, a man called Kenan Dogulu.

Shamefully, I drew a complete blank when the waiter down by the beach bar handed back my notebook with the name of the artist written on it for me. Any Eurovision fans who are reading this (there aren’t that many, I’m sure, even less now) will know that Kenan Dogulu represented Turkey in the 2007 Eurovision with his song Shake it Up. (On reflection, maybe this wasn’t quite as embarrassing as I first thought. The waiter had no idea who Sertab Erener was which is surprising in the grand scheme of things considering she actually won the damn contest for Turkey in 2003).

Judging by the considerable size of the outdoor stage being constructed by the pool and that a day before the nuptials the infinity pool has been partialled covered by a temporary catwalk (I’m presuming its for Kenan to sing and gyrate on rather than some kind of impromptu fashion show) that Kenan is still really quite successful despite his Eurovision appearance in 2007.

As partially exciting as these preparations for someone else’s party may seem, I can’t help feeling a little peeved by the sudden influx of new faces to the hotel. That’s no judgement on the hotel staff who have proved that their continued sense of priority is to their existing guests.

It’s perhaps more that this year more than ever before I’ve found myself totally relaxed, totally immersed in the laid back atmosphere. So much so that when other people break into the bubble it takes a little getting used to. It will be very difficult to resist not booking ourselves in for another two weeks when we check out later on, but for now I’m really quite relieved we’re on our way home.

BBC Philharmonic at the Bridgewater

Post-concert drinkies, originally uploaded by Thoroughly Good.

What better way to listen to Beethoven 9 than splayed out on a sun lounger on the edge of an infinity pool at a German run hotel overlooking the Aegean? Think blue skies, a gentle breeze and no queue at the poolside bar for post-concert drinkies.

I was listening to a recording of a live concert the BBC Philharmonic gave at the Bridgewater Hall on Friday 26 September, the Friday before I came away on holiday.

Whilst I have been able to meet two of the BBC’s criteria for it’s content (finding and playing) I am, sadly, unable to meet the third – sharing it. The performance has missed it’s seven day window on the iPlay-It-Again thingy. Consequently you have only my word to go on.

It was the first concert I’d listened to since the Proms, around about a month after I stood in the arena of the Royal Albert Hall listening to the Proms rendition. I was fighting to maintain my stamina in the last week of the season back then, conscious of some lower-back pain and irritated at the proximity of other concert goers. (It was late in the season.) I finished the performance that night hating Beethoven, the length of his final symphony and certain I’d never listen to any more Beethoven for as long as I could. I certainly wouldn’t be listening to any on holiday.

Not so today. I sat on the toilet this morning browsing BBC Music Magazine and was reminded about the gig. I had a satellite recording of it on my laptop (it had taken quite a lot of fart-arsing around to get it from the Sky+ box to my laptop I might add). I’d listen to it this morning and see if I still felt the same way.

Inevitably, the combination of seering heat and the stunning view added something to Beethoven’s monumental symphony. Not only that, the chance to listen to what sounded like an entirely different acoustic – Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall – was a bit of a treat too.

The performance restored my faith in the 9th symphony. The third movement was especially glorious. It always takes me by surprise. I always think it should start slower than it invariably does. “Bloody hell, that’s cracking on a pace. Should it really be that fast?” The answer is clearly yes. It isn’t long before the third movement is underway that you’re lulled into it’s beauty.

It set me thinking about something I’d quite like to see made available from the iPlayer thingyamy.

How good would it be, I thought to myself as I sipped on my cool beer, if I could download radio content via iPlayer in the same way I can TV shows. That way, I wouldn’t be tied to my laptop to listen to stuff. I could listen at leisure. I could listen in the bath, or on the tube or as I wandered aimlessly through Hyde Park or something…

In fact, if I could have a download manager installed on my portable media player then wouldn’t it be possible to impose some digital rights management on a WMA file thereby preventing me from distributing it and thus keeping all those legal types from going to an early grave? That way I’d be able to to it when I wanted, write yet another tiresome blog about what I’ve just listened to and (if it was available for say .. 14 days?) then share it?

Four hours away from London and with only 48 hours left before I get home, I can’t help wondering whether all these “brilliant” ideas I’m having about iPlayer (let’s be honest – they’ve probably already been explored) may well have provoked some people at the Beeb to look a little more closely at the contract I have. Will I be finding a slim looking envelope on my doorstep when I push the front door open on my return?

No! Of course not. That would never happen.

Best prepare myself for the worst, just in case.

Ephesus

You know when you’ve been in a hotel a long time when you realise there’s been a change of staff at the breakfast buffet. People haven’t been fired – obviously – just that some people have got some time off and deservedly so.

I’d noticed the same lack of familiar faces amongst the clientele too. All the usual breakfast grazers were nowhere to be seen. They’d been replaced by new faces, all of them very white, one of whom sat at the table across from ours running his finger over a guide book for Turkey. He seemed intent on planning how he and his American wife would crack the real Turkey.

I’d reckoned on the same only the day before. I resisted the temptation. Let him find out the way I did. It’s the only way, I thought. As you see, I may have been on holiday for a week but there’s still a mean streak which needs to be worked on.

There had been cloud cover across the bay only the previous morning. Despite Simon reassuring me that our closer proximity to the equator meant that some of that necessary UV could still penetrate the clouds and thus tinge our skin, I reckoned the fast approaching thunder cloud made a day at the hotel a miserable affair. It was time to explore.

For some reason I plumped on Ephesus as the place we were going to visit. Ephesus was the oldest ancient site east of the Mediterranean. That meant old ruins. That meant sight-seeing. That meant a road trip.

The journey to the ancient ruins would take us no more than an hour – an hour and a half at a push. This calculation based on me measuring the distance on the map from our hotel to Ephesus as being no more than half a forefinger.

What I hadn’t bothered to check was the scale on the map. If I had then I later wouldn’t have been so inconsolably angry that our journey had taken two and a half hours. At that point there was at least another twenty-five kilometres to go.

We finally arrived at the ancient site at around 3.20pm, having set off to avoid the impending rain storm only to drive through one at the beginning of the journey and arrive 188 kilometres just in time to get drenched in another one. The site closed to the public at 5.30pm. We’d have a couple of hours there before we had to drive back. This little road trip was feeling like a bit of a disaster.

Ephesus wasn’t quite what I was expecting it to be either. I’d seen the pictures in the guide book. It made it look like a scene from Ecce Romani. I imagined a very British kind of tourist attraction with gift shops, printed tour guides, turnstiles and a cafe run by a couple of old women.

Not so here. It may be an extremely important site, but such English details were lacking.

We paid 4 YTL to get into the car-park only to be offered a free trip to the top of the site (the ancient city is effectively a walk down a hill – best to start from the top, not the bottom) by a man who spoke very good English and seemed to have a fantastic line in leather goods he reckoned we absolutely couldn’t do without. “First I take you to my leather shop and then I take you to the top of ancient city for free!” he said excitedly as he pulled the sliding door of his mini-bus wide open and ushered us inside.

We declined, taking the shiny yellow taxi to the top for 15 YTL. We paid a further 10 YTL each to get in, at which point we understood why it was the guide books advised visiting the site when the sun was obscured by the clouds. There was no shelter which in turn meant there was nowhere to hide from the rain.

Other visitors had taken the sensible precaution of bringing brollies and waterproof jackets. One foreign-looking couple who had found the only archway on the site to listen to their tape-recorded guide and wait for the rain to pass. Beside them was a brolly hanging from a hook in the wall. They appeared visibly unimpressed with British society as a whole when I ventured, “Is that brolly yours?” “Yes,” was the couple’s stern reply.

For all my apparent moaning about the day (the rain did eventually stop), there was something eerily moving about the entire place. The Greeks obviously knew how to lay out a city in a suitably grand style. There was detail in the carvings, solidity in the stone walkways and an undeniable sense of grandeur in the buildings implicit in the remains which marked out foundations and boundaries.

Looking down on the site felt a bit like looking at a partially completed cartoon. We saw the sketches of the buildings in front of us, leaving us the fill in the rest in our imagination. The more I looked, the more I wanted the site finished off. The more I wanted to wander around these amazing structures and live the glamorous life of togas and scrolls and sandals I reckoned it was back then.

At the same time it felt odd to be wandering aimlessly over what at times felt like a forgotten town. People lived and worked and studied in these buildings how ever many hundreds of years ago. The idea the place had ceased to be vibrant and successful when the nearby port finally silted up, made what was left almost like a tomb.

Stunning to look at, it did kind of feel as though we should have been marvelling from afar rather than clambering all over it.

Holidaymaker from hell

I am exactly the kind of stereotypical British holidaymaker you could expect to find far from home staying in a luxury hotel. In fact, I’m exactly the kind of holidaymaker who’d drive you wild with irritation.

I can’t abide being ripped off. I’m suspicious of it. I’ll sniff it out and kick up a fuss when I’m certain it’s going on.

Take yesterday. Simon and I return from the pool for our now regular late afternoon cup of tea on the balcony. I’ve already asked for a “Tea and Coffee Maker” from housekeeping knowing the kettle, teabags, milk, coffee and sugar don’t need to be signed for. It’s free refreshments. Perfect.

Only there’s a problem when we get back to our room. We’ve run out of teabags. Calamity. It’s OK, I think. I’ll just ring reception for a handful of replacement teabags and some more milk.

“That’s fine sir. I’ll get that sent up to the room for you,” said the friendly lady with a slight American twang to her voice.

When the chappy arrived with a sparkling jug, two tea bags on a glass dish, a couple of biscuits and a receipt to sign I immediately got suspicious.

Eight Turkish Lira Fifty. That’s £4.25. For TWO TEA BAGS AND A SMALL JUG OF MILK?

Pity the poor room service chappy who couldn’t understand quite what I was getting worked up about. I was charming, as ever, but I was a little riled. I immediately leapt for the phone and dialled room service.

“If you didn’t want to be charged you should have asked for a tea and coffee maker, sir, ” came the effecient and (in her defence) accurate response.

“But I’ve got the kettle already, all I needed was a few tea bags and some milk. I didn’t expect to be charged 8 Lira 50 for a couple of tea bags.”

“You need to order a tea and coffee maker. But I make sure the order you’ve received is removed from your bill.”

Very helpful. Bless them all here. They do have the holidaymaker from hell to deal with.

Guests receive an apology

Post-hotel fire apology party invite, originally uploaded by Thoroughly Good.

The promise of seeing the Chief Executive of the hotel personally apologise for the inconvenience caused by an outbreak of fire in the a la carte restaurant by the nearby marina was an offer too good to refuse.

In truth, it was the offer of a cocktail or two and the thought we probably wouldn’t be required to sign for them which persuaded Simon and I should make a point of going to the poolside Chill Out area for 1900.

However, I had spectacularly failed in reading between the lines of the letter delivered to our bedroom door earlier in the morning.

This wasn’t just a cocktail. This was in fact a cocktail party, with a dress code, something which failed to register in my mind when I slipped into my now favourite pair of jeans and oh-so-cliched cowboy check shirt.

My error was pointed out by some new holiday acquaintances. Angela and Jackie – here for a further eleven days after quite a considerable stay already – hit the nail on the head. “Typical man. Doesn’t read the detail.”

The four of us chatted about the fire, us expressing regret at not being able to witness it because we’d taken off to Bodrum when the drama kicked off. (It’s not that we’re rubberneckers, but really, the damage was quite spectacular and – we understand – it was dealt with really quite swiftly).

Inevitably the question of what happened to the live lobsters swimming around in the tank inside the restaurant came up. Did they manage to save them? Who knows, we’re not sure. They could have boiled alive. Such a terrible waste, if you like your food slaughtered shortly before you consume it.

Perhaps we were laughing just a little too loud. I’m sure it was about then that Chief Executive Axel stepped forward and introduced himself. Our host for the evening cut a dashingly handsome figure in his salmon pink open collar shirt, simple navy blue blazer and full head of hair. Consequently it seemed only right to compliment him on the fantastic hotel, the marvellous service and the effecient way the fire was dealt with . All this and the al-fresco lunchtime buffet continued as normal the day after.

His was an effortless charm. No wonder. No, there was no personal apology I had been expecting – although one might argue the three glasses of red wine I guzzled constituted an indirect apology – but Axel did tell us about the gala meal scheduled for the following night. “Our chef has prepared a special menu and there’ll be dancing with a special Latin band too.” Axel accompanied this with a quite impressive and obviously natural wiggle.

This wasn’t really enough to convince us. We subsequently checked with reception about booking a table for the gala night. Unlike the cocktails, this wasn’t going to be on the house. We’re opting to eat a main course in one of the other restaurants instead.