Saucy Waiters Spice up Supper Service


Jack’s weekly guest blog reaches us from the Old Country

One of the highlights of my year is the annual small group tour of Scotland I organize. This being an even-numbered year, we do the Highlands and Islands.

The tour started Sunday, and so far it’s been a delight: decent weather, good hotels and food and a delightful group of fellow travelers.

Not without its moments, of course. Our first evening in our Crianlarich hotel, we sat down to dinner and were approached by the ‘Maitre D’, whose lapel badge identified him as ‘Andy’. Launching in a plumby accent that would not have been out of place on Downton Abbey–or perhaps Fawlty Towers–he attempted to entice us away from our special group price dinner with pricey items on the regular menu. When that failed, he offered special deals on personal recommendations from the wine list (none of them particularly cheap).

Everyone’s got to make a living, but if the man had had an ‘Americans are rich–and cheap and easy’ sign above his forehead, he could not have been more obvious. As our meal continued he could be guaranteed to regularly interrupt our conversation as he got into the full flow of his ‘act’.

temp wendyFortunately, I’m traveling with a group of people whose senses of humor are as strong as their accents. And he’s made good fodder for follow-up impersonations as the week progresses. All someone has to do is say ‘May I recommend’ and the rest of the van passengers fall about laughing.temp wendy 2

I was reminded of an overnight Wendy and I spent at a Bed and Breakfast in a historic area which shall be nameless. At breakfast we were having an interesting conversation with our fellow guests when the lady in charge, having served the food, launched into an hour long presentation (clearly learned by heart) on the history of the town – in a way that would brook no interruptions from any of us. Glances were exchanged and diversionary gambits attempted, to no avail. Bless her heart! But it was interesting. And she wasn’t trying to sell us anything.

And then there was the first Scottish tour I put together. At breakfast in the Birnam Hotel, we were attended to by the indefatigable Margaret, who had served under a variety of owners over the years and thus was effectively in charge of meal-time discipline. When one of our party wwondered aloud if she could order a variation on one of the menu dishes,  our driver Colin opined “I’m sure that would be fine”. The hovering Margaret quickly put him right, saying, “I think that would be my decision!”

These are the unexpected things that, with hindsight, add a bit of spice and are remembered with a smile. I’m sure there are plenty more such moments ahead– bring them on!

To the Saints which are Puking at Ephesus

When Jack and I discovered that day trips from Istanbul could be had for a semi-reasonable fee, we decided to take a tour to Ephesus. Yes, that Ephesus. If you’re not a Bible person, that’s where the Ephesians lived.

Semi-reasonable turned into not entirely reasonable but by then we were pretty far in to the process, so we said to Grand Wonder Tours, yeah, fine, take us for a ride.

They did.

Still and all, the 5:15 a.m. departure, the 8 a.m. arrival at the tour company where they ignored requests for coffee or drinking water and removed two Canadians from seats on the bus for “false tickets” were all dwarfed by seeing the ruins of the old, old city.

IMG_4062The tour started with the ruins of the temple for Artemis, then went to the house where Mary, Jesus’ mom, died. Very cool, that wee house, and kind of a spiritual moment. I mean, this was Jesus’ human mom we’re talking about. It makes everything so real, not just a story.

IMG_4077Then we pulled into this place called “alamede” or something like that, and got herded into a building where we were treated to a fashion show of leather and fur, complete with strobe lights and a hard sell. Not a good juxtaposition.

Since we started that morning, I had been steadfastly ignoring the headache and energy drain warning signs of a sinus infection, but the strobes were too much. I went outside and sat resting my head on a table–and the owner appeared, immediately solicitous. “You want tea, water? You are all right?”

Yes, I was all right. I had to be all right. This was EPHESUS we were going to see, one of the great Biblical sites. Jack and I were so excited to see it.

IMG_4110So were the 8,000 other people visiting that day.

While Ephesus is crowded at any time, April 25 is National Children’s Day in Turkey; we saw children in every conceivable kind of school uniform, being pulled through the ruins by harassed-looking teachers. It doesn’t matter if she’s wearing full-on hijab or a track suit; you can tell a teacher on a field trip from every other person in humanity by that look of cynical dedication on her face. Here’s to you, ladies and gentlemen of the educating world.

IMG_4098Besides the plethora of dear little children, one of my overwhelming memories of Ephesus will be the men’s public toilet- the really old one from the city, I mean–where I rested in the shade by sitting in one of the troughs that took the stuff away. Nice and cool. Just don’t think about the rest of it. Did you know they used to have ducks swim in the men’s toilet because their quacking and eating kept harmful bacteria-making wildlife away?

When I began shivering in the 85-degree baking sunlight, Jack gave up any hope that this would pass and led me to a table outside the museum shop. It’s amazing what comfort food a diet coke can be. I think it was the first of my whole trip.

IMG_4138We went to watch how carpets were made and I rallied long enough to sit and tie two knots in one–rather a highlight for a yarn nerd like me.

Back on the bus, the nausea took over. Jack hauled out the plastic bag from the fridge magnet we bought my Dad from Ephesus (hey, he had to have SOMETHING and the guide books were silly) and I began losing my “traditional Turkish lunch, included in price” with as much unobtrusive grace and dignity as can be mustered by an American woman who has lost the will to live on a moving tour bus.

We were supposed to wander the charming little town of Selgul and have dinner in a quiet restaurant before flying back to Istanbul, but back at the tourism office, Jack pulled two chairs and a table together and I climbed into this makeshift cradle, pulled the hijab scarf I’d been carrying for mosque visits over my face, and passed out.

I awoke at 7. Jack said for two hours the people in the office had been tiptoeing around my body, casting surreptitious sympathetic looks while pretending not to notice I was there.

The office owner asked my husband, as I sat, head in hands, “Is she okay?”

I gave him a brave smile. He recoiled.

“I tell you what,” he said. “It is sun, and people. Your stomach is dodgy?”

I admitted as much, but noticed the computer screen next to him sported a Facebook site with a lot of photos of a very cute chocolate Lab puppy. He followed my gaze.

“Is my dog. She is wonderful.” It was like pushing a button as this man who had seemed so surly that morning came alive with conversation. He was a dual citizen of Canada and Turkey, his wife Canadian; they’d planned to live in Canada but houses in Toronto were so expensive they’d come to Turkey and Sylvie, his wife, was learning Turkish before she started working.

“Is a man’s world here, this is not right. Womens should do as they want, I am not one of those guys. But first she must learn Turkish and be comfortable in the country. And she has this puppy to play with.” He smiled again at the dog, whose name meant “cutey-pie” in Turkish.

“I tell you what,” he said suddenly. “You need tea. And you–” he indicated my husband– “you need whisky for looking after her. One moment.” He picked up the phone. A few minutes later a tea boy appeared, bearing something that had whisky and eucalyptus in it for me. I took one sniff and my sinuses opened wider than the Bosphorus.

The man grinned. “Yep. It will take care of you. Salu.” He and Jack raised their glasses. I raised mine. Life looked a little better.

We exchanged horror stories about why we hated all Canadian airlines in general and Toronto Airport in particular, discussed favorite airlines–Lot for him, out of Poland; Thai Air for me; Al-Italia for Jack–and chatted like old chums until the taxi driver came to take us back to the bus terminal.

IMG_4116So now I’ve seen Ephesus–or been done by it, as the case may be. And I will remember the strong Mediterranean sun, and the stronger hospitality of strangers to the puking American tourist.