We've just come back from possibly our last family holiday. No 1 turns 18 next year, and I'm not sure quite how long we're going to keep her onside (though she did say, free holidays still appeal...). Family holidays can be tricky affairs. There is always the problem of, as no 1 succinctly put it, Undiluted Family, an issue that last year had me wanting to run away from home. (That being somewhat impractical, I am instead turning my desire into a story about a woman who runs away from domesticity into a fantasy circus in her head.) When the children were young, holidays were often more exhausting then staying at home, and then as they got a bit bigger we had the worry of mil at home while we were away, which wasn't exactly conducive to relaxation. Added to which the fact that we spend most of the year not in each other's pockets (me and Spouse included) means it takes time to adjust to the rhythm of living together 24/7. In years gone by that has caused some tension to say the least, and on one or two holidays we've returned lucky not to be divorced (the most memorable being our disastrous camping trip round Europe, where it rained constantly, no 2 broke her arm in Switzerland, we got burgled in France, Spouse had tonsilitis, and the weather eventually defeated us so we came home three days early.) And then of course there was the excitement caused four years ago when a panic attack the day before sent me to A&E for several hours, which is something that still lingers in my mind as I prepare to go away again. Being ill on holiday is no fun at all.So... a family holiday is always a bit of an unknown, and I'm never quite sure if I'm going to enjoy it or not.And they all seem a far far cry from the relaxed affairs Spouse and I enjoyed before we had children.
This year we chose to go to Side in Turkey, a place Spouse on our visited 18 years ago on a backpacking holiday prior to having children. We'd already made the momentous decision to have a baby, but as far as I was concerned, nothing much was happening. I was overdue when we went away, but I'd taken a test and it was negative, so I assumed I wasn't pregnant. My cycle being incredibly erratic at the time, being 2 weeks late wasn't really a big deal, and I remember feeling very disappointed that I was so late, because I had the romantic notion of conceiving on holiday. Of course, it turned out by the time I got home that I was already 9 weeks pregnant and the pregnancy test had lied. In the meantime, I'd climbed up mountains, nearly scuba dived, just missed climbing up a cliff and jumping into the sea on a boat trip (Spouse had had the wit to see what was happening as the rest of the mugs from the boat were led off on an adventure), felt so sick I was sure I had Turkey tummy but luckily hadn't taken any medicine for it, all completely unaware that my desired outcome had already happened. I'm glad I didn't know, as I would have been worried sick on my last childfree holiday, and having spent the last 17 years being worried sick on most of our family holidays, I'm relieved I have those happy memories of relaxation.
The good news though, is that those days look set to return. While I had my usual holiday anxieties - I hate flying and it really doesn't get any better, even with a little help from diazepam, I'm always slightly spooked by the thought of child snatching (though not quite as scared of that as I was), and now having teenage daughters in Turkey I got an extra layer of worry about one of them being persuaded to run off with a Turkish waiter, and I don't sleep well away from home, but...this year I really did manage to relax. The kids are now old enough that we can leave them and go off for a wander, as most of the time they just want to laze around by the pool, and there was so much to see and do in Side it felt much more like the holidays we used to take.
We had a very tight window for the holiday this year, as no 1 is currently doing an engineering work placement, and no 4 didn't finish school till 23 July. So we did something we've never done before and went away the day term finished (not to be recommended) - I managed not to blub my way through her leaving assembly and we dashed home, she got changed and we were in a taxi to Gatwick ten minutes later. The disadvantage of this was that our flight didn't land till 9.30 Turkish time. We'd booked a car the other end, but due to (my) cock up, the people we were renting the villa off also sent us a taxi to take us there. We saw a man with a sign saying Williams and naturally followed him, thinking he was taking us to an out of town hire car company. It was only when we'd been in the cab for about ten minutes, that we realised our mistake. Cue lots of very expensive phone calls to sort it out, and luckily the car hire people sent someone over the next day. It turned out to be just as well we'd cocked up, as I doubt we'd have found the place on our own, as it appears in the part of Side we were staying in there are no road names, only numbers.
We didn't get to the apartment till about 11pm, by which time everyone was starving and Spouse and I were concerned about whether we could actually find anywhere to eat (on our last Turkish trip we stayed in a one eyed resort which had one restaurant). Fortunately, Mete, the guy who looked after the apartment pointed us in the direction of a local place called Hawaii, which turned out to be good value and a really fun place to go. So that was easy.
Side itself didn't disappoint. The old town is literally built on the ruins of the Roman town, and when Spouse and I were last there, we stayed in an apartment in the old town, which to our delight was still there. It is more built up either side of the old town (particularly on the west side - if you ever go there, stay on the east side), but it does look as if they are trying hard to preserve what they have. The only disappointment with that is, last time we were there, we had dinner in a restaurant which was in the ruins of the ancient basilica, but now they're (quite rightly!) excavating the area properly, and the restaurant has gone. Though we did find a neat place which had it's back wall on the other side of the basilica facing out to sea, and was a lovely relaxed place, with unpushy staff, cheap (if limited) food, and a great view.
When we were there last, the amphitheatre was surrounded by rubble, and you couldn't get into it, though Spouse and I did have a go, risking life and limb scrabbling up the outside of it (which I certainly wouldn't have done had I known I was pregnant!), but now it's open to the public, and was well worth a visit. In the evening as you walk into town,down the ruins of what I presume was the ancient market, or certainly where there were colonnaded shops, you can get a fabulous view of the sun setting over the amphitheatre and it is absolutely magical. To add to the magic, there was a family of camels living opposite our apartment, who spent the day taking people for rides round the ruins. The kids had a go, while we followed them, with the baby camel which accompanied the adults everywhere. The baby took it upon itself to go a different way, and Spouse ended up camel man for the day as he took it home. Actually... I suspect if he'd played his cards right, Spouse might have ended up as camel man for life, as Mr Camel Man gave us drinks afterwards, and seemed very keen to pair his three sons up with our daughters, and I suspect would have taken me into the job lot if Spouse had shown an interest:-)
Other highlights of the holiday included a trip to the Duden Falls, where you can walk behind the waterfall. Again an absolutely magical experience, and something that really fired my imagination - I now have a picture of where my dragon can live in the teen fantasy that I have been writing for a thousand years - ; a boat trip to the Manavgat Falls which included seeing turtles; a trip to Alanya (a place we also stayed in) where we walked among the ruins of an old castle, and found a seal in the shipyard; and a scary trip to the mountains looking for a placed called Selge which ended up with us being chased by Turkish women who wanted to take us on a tour of the ruins. It was a bit like Deliverance, Turkey style, particularly as Spouse kept driving up a road that was not only overrun with cows on the way home, but had a road which got progressively stonier and higher, until we decided to cut our losses and turn round and go home, braving the scary Turkish ladies on the way back.
However, the best bit for me was having a Turkish bath. Something I've always wanted to do but never had the nerve to try on my own. Another blessing of the children being older was they could come with me, result! Our day started with quite the funniest thing I have ever done, which was to have a mud bath. We went into an outside pool which was knee deep in clayey water, with about twenty strangers, none of whomspoke English. Tentatively, people started applying the clay to their skin. Then a mud shower started, and soon everyone was standing underneath it getting liberally hosed down with clay. Which is one way to break the ice. We were soon resembling mud statues, and as we dried, we all started to look like something out of Dr Who. The funniest sight was a very large elderly German gentleman, who kept slapping mud on his tummy and saying "Sehr Komisch!", which he was, particularly.
After ten minutes it was time to shower off, again, hilarious as the mud got everywhere, in our ears, eyes, hair, bikinis...and of course the water was freezing cold, which led to more guffaws of laughter from our German friend. I don't think I've ever seen anyone enjoy themselves so much, and I think I shall laugh about it forever.
Mud finally dispensed with, we trooped off to the sauna, which the children loved, though ironically in England none of them would be old enough to have one, followed by the salt and steam rooms. No 4 found the steam room so exciting, she kept standing up and down to see if she could see us through the steam. "She's such a child," her big sisters said wearily.
The best bit was undoubtedly the Turkish bath. You lie on big slabs of marble, and get liberally washed over, before having a body scrub, followed by a bubble wash. I have never seen so much foam, and I was amused to see our German friend getting a big smack on the arse with the loofah. It didn't dent his enthusiasm, "Super!" he said to us as he left, giving us the thumbs up. And he was right. I've never felt so clean and fresh in my life.
We then spent twenty minutes in the relaxation room, where I was persuaded to let the girls have their feet nibbled by fish (at extra cost, natch), and then it was time for our 20 minute massage. Or in my case, a hard sell attempt to get me to have a full body, medical massage, because apparently my back is in such a terrible state my circulation is poor, and I am probably going to die if I don't do something about it. This is not a good thing to tell a hypochondriac who has a slight phobia about being ill on holiday... I had also run out of money, but the man kept saying, "no problem, we go to your hotel." Much as I hate being bullied, it is quite difficult to resist such a hard sell when you are half naked, so I agreed in the end, trying not to fret about the fact that my massage alone cost nearly as much as the rest of the day. However, I suddenly remembered that Spouse had promised me a spa day for my birthday, and it was still cheaper then in England so...
The massage itself was fabulous and we all felt happy and glowing as we left - me running out of money turned out not to be a problem as they simply took me to the apartment and I ran in and got some more dosh, which seemed very trusting...
All in all it was a fabulous experience, and if we ever go to Turkey again, one I will definitely repeat. The kids loved it too, so I've ended up promising them a spa day for their 21st birthdays. Better get saving now...
The rest of the holiday was spent doing the usual swimming, relaxing and reading, which was just what the doctor ordered as we'd all been running around like mad things before we went. I got through about 13 books this year, including the JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith book, which I'd thoroughly recommend, a Jo Nesbo, a Peter James - both of which authors I'll, now go back to -, Ben Hatch's very funny Road to Rouen, Caroline Smailes' and Nik Perring's brilliant Freaks, to name but a few. But my overall favourite had to be Neil Gaiman's fabulous The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which was beautiful, mysterious, terrifying, magical, witty and wise, and I will be blogging about it later.
I didn't get any writing done, but I did manage a lot of thinking. I am having to get up early for the rest of the holiday to drop no 1 at the station, so while the others sleep, the plan is, I get cracking on the next Hope Christmas book, and finish my dragons, and work on my runaway mum story...
It's nice to go away, but you know, the sign of a really good holiday is that it's even nicer to be back...