When I lived in Abu Dhabi a few years ago, I could see a mosque from my bedroom window. This meant I was often woken by the call to prayer, but that was OK because I’m a morning person. I loved the foreignness of it at first. Then I just loved it. Plus, when I arrived in the Gulf, being woken by the call to prayer seemed infinitely more exotic than being woken by the poor chap who would sit on the wall outside my Brixton flat, inject short bursts of lighter fluid up his nostril and then sing to himself, before shuffling back to the corner store for another can of lighter fluid. I knew when he was especially high because he’d propose to me.
Anyway, I was in Turkey this weekend, staying in a village called Sirince. Sirin-chay. It’s about 450 miles south of Istanbul, and high up, 400 metres above sea level. It was completely marvellous and you must immediately go (you can fly direct from London to a city called Izmir and it’s about a 45 minute drive from there) for many reasons:
1. I was woken up again by the call to prayer in the morning. ‘Is it a woman singing it?’ asked one member of my family who will remain nameless.
2. The views. Imagine this. You are high up in the hills, in a tiny Turkish village (pop: 600) which was designated a national heritage site in the 1990s. The houses are white with brown wooden shutters and all on different levels, which gives off a Gstaad sort of vibe except this is Turkey, not the Swiss Alps, and they are more into donkeys than diamonds. Between the houses grow orange trees, fig trees, olive trees, wild poppies and honeysuckle. There are quite a lot of feral cats, on the downside, but even the cats have sharpened up to the national heritage thing and are reasonably pretty and mange free.
3. The food. When I wasn’t lolling in bed listening to that
woman man issue the call to prayer or taking my 5839th photograph of the village, I was eating. Vegetables that actually taste of vegetables, lamb kofta, lamb kebabs, cheese for breakfast, cheese for lunch, cheese for supper, olives, walnuts and things that look like sesame bagels but are actually bread rolls called simit. Plus quite a lot of red wine although I think it’s probably fair to say no one goes to Turkey for its wine. A good tip is to drink the wine with several hundred pieces of baklava.
4. A bit of history. A few miles from the village are the ruins of Ephesus (Ef-uh-sus), a place of major excitement for archaeologists. At one point (2nd century BC, I just googled it), Ephesus was the fourth biggest city in the Roman empire. And even though it was largely abandoned after an earthquake in 614AD, it remains astonishingly intact. So if you can bear to trundle round dodging hordes of tourists gurning down the barrel of a selfie stick then I recommend it. There is a particularly good amphitheatre where gladiators used to fight, which meant my siblings and I loudly recited ‘My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North… husband to a murdered wife, fathered to a murdered son’ and so on in the manner of Russell Crowe (sort of) all the way round. There are also several racy Roman frescos and some excellent shopping just outside the exit gates.
5. Mary, Mother of Jesus. If you’re into that sort of thing, she used to live near these Roman ruins and you can visit her house. The last pope did in 2006. ‘Is she the same as Mary Magdalene?’ asked another member of my family. ‘No,’ said someone else. ‘Mary Magdalene was the prozzie.’
6. The walking/running. There are endless trails in the hills around Sirince, looping up, looping down, looping through pine forests, through olive groves and past tortoises dawdling along the road. Yesterday morning, I was out in the hills on my own when a large, apparently stray dog rushed towards me. I instantly worried that it was going to nip my bare calves and I would crawl home with rabies, so I did a sort of embarrassing contortion act for several strides, jumping and leaping along the dirt track like I was Michael Flatley in Riverdance in an attempt to free myself from the fangs of this terrifying dog. And then I realised that the dog was actually a puppy and he just wanted to trot along behind me. So that was a bit embarrassing. Although not as embarrassing as not knowing who Jesus’s mum was.
Here is a family selfie at Ephesus – the magician, Indiana Jones, my sister and me – which I KNOW is hypocritical given what I say about them above, but it was taken with my brother’s freakishly long arm instead of a selfie stick which makes it statistically 50 per cent less annoying.