This post on Turkey started out as a travel piece, but as I got into it, I realized it’s a business post, dedicated to all of us who feel like we’re in jail when we’re working from offices. My co-CEO and wife Cheryl and I have worked seven straight years without a real break – all day, every day – building Dispatches Europe, our expat communications company, and its component business lines, all headquartered in the tech hub of Eindhoven, Netherlands.
Needless to say, we were getting fatigued and more than a little burned out. (I won’t go into the whole “burnout” thing, which is an actual diagnosis here in the Netherlands.)
After years of long Dutch winters and brief Dutch summers, we longed for sea and sky, cocktails on the beach, exciting cities and fabulous remote ruins. And for us, there’s only one place that provides all those elements.
The odds we were going to get a multi-week vacation are zero. We’re in the scale-up phase of a client-facing business, similar to the old Hollywood talent agencies … they have to feel our love every day.
So, we asked ourselves, “Selves, can we take this show on the road?”
We decided on a workation, and we’d be taking a risk. Would we be able to come through for clients of our marcom business? Would I, with editors Sarah Nagaty and Nina Danilova in Lisbon, be able to keep up with editorial workflow on Dispatches? Would the wifi be sufficiently robust and available everywhere? And to be candid, how much would we actually get done every day knowing sun, sea and adventure were just outside the door?
Then, several events collided. Our landlord told us in January we needed to evacuate our house while he put on a new roof. In May, it looked like Tayyip Erdogan was going to lose the presidential election in Turkey. And the Turkish lira collapsed (again), making earning euros and spending lira a magical experience. (We got ~24 lira per euro.)
Boom! We decided to play digital nomads for a few weeks and head for Turkey. Sadly, Erdogan actually won … but it was too late. We were committed. We decided to go for it.
We hadn’t been to Turkey for 18 years. Would the Turkey we love still exist? Would we be detained at the airport over the mean things Dispatches posted about Erdogan?
We had no idea what to expect, but we missed Turkey. A lot. So, we decided to jump in the deep end.
First stop would be Izmir, where we’d lived from 1999 to 2002. Then we’d head down the coast to Bodrum, the ultimate party town, then to see our friend Melehat in Fethiye with a week-long stop in Marmaris on the way back to Izmir. We were smart to schedule the last few days in Izmir before flying back to Düsseldorf.
Question was, would we have the discipline and luck to pull this off?
This giant port city on the Aegean – 20-percent bigger than Athens – has inexplicably never registered with the West. We worried that funky Izmir would have changed beyond recognition and to some extent, it has. Changed for the better.
The infrastructure has been modernized. There are metro trams and trains to tourist destinations such as Ephesus. Our old neighborhood of Alsancak has been transformed from a perfectly nice, if broken down in places, neighborhood to this very groovy upscale district with wildly expensive stores and restaurants.
Though this is a concrete high-rise city just like the rest of the Middle East, there are still very authentic places in Imzir, including the Kameralti covered market, technically the Kızlarağası Caravanserai. This is a caravanserai (a type of old hotel that hosted people and camels from the Silk Road caravans) built in 1598, and restored in 1993.
When you’re not working, there is so much to do, including taking a ferry across the bay to shop in Karşıyaka and Bostanlı. And there are countless coffeeshops and restaurants, not to mention bars on the side streets under canopies of bougainvillea.
For the first few days, it didn’t feel real finally being back. We were euphoric.
Our splurge dinner was with our friend Özlem at Pier’s Brasserie in our old neighborhood of Alsancak. The food was superb and the outdoor seating area has its own bar. The meal for three with drinks and Turkish wine came to about 100 euros.
• Özlem and her husband Haldün took us to his cousin’s fish restaurant, Fokai Balık Restoran, just up the coast from Izmir in the old Greek port of Foça. The best meal we had the whole trip for a couple of reasons. It was our first full day in Izmir, and we reconnected with friends we met in Louisville nine years ago. We hadn’t been to Foça in about 20 years, and the drive from Izmir was stunning. The weather was perfect and the food sublime with seafood caught that day. That was a meal for the memory books.
Where we stayed
We stayed in a spacious two-bedroom Airbnb on the Third Kordon (Kibris Sehitleri Caddisi) near the port. It’s listed on Airbnb as “Heart Of The City & Spacey & Comfortable & Cosy.” We paid $470 for the week. We could walk to the bay front in a couple of minutes, and the area is chockablock with stores, cafés, markets, restaurants and upscale coffeeshops, including a Starbucks and a Caribou Coffee. But trust us … the local coffeeshops, such as Poka Coffee Roasters, are the best.
After a week reconnecting with Izmir, we moved on to the fabled resort town of Bodrum. This is not a quiet place to work, though our apartment was in a gated community away from the tourist madness. We got a lot of work done despite the distractions of Turkey’s premier party town. (How cool is Bordrum? Swedish pharma billionaire Roger Samuelsson’s $300 million yacht Octopus was parked out in the bay. We’re guessing Rog was on his workation, too.)
This is a 24-hour spot, and we ran into a lot of Americans.
Our favorite thing to do was go down to the main shopping area – yes, it’s very tourist-y – where there are restaurants and bars on Bodrum’s huge bay. There, we drank Aperol spritzes while gazing at the huge crusader castle, which is lit at night.
Where we stayed:
Our one-bedroom Airbnb was in the Amiral area, about a 20-minute walk to the main retail area and bars along the bay. It was not as spacious as the Airbnb in Izmir, but it was bright and well furnished and the complex was really neat and quiet and the owners nice. It’s a mature community, so the landscaping was one of our favorite amenities. Oh, and the pool.
This was my favorite apartment even though it only had one bedroom. But it was one in a cluster of apartments built around a swimming pool. It was quiet and we could take breaks and go down and swim. Just looking out the window and seeing the palm trees and purple bougainvillea against the white walls was soothing.
What wasn’t soothing was my reverting back to my War Junkie persona, who always hid his passport in freezers. Which I did here. And forgot it. So, we had to double back later to get it, adding three hours to our drive. But we were so grateful the next guests in the apartment found it, and the owners kept it safe for a couple of weeks before we could retrieve it. This flat is listed on Airbnb as “Close to Bodrum center, 1+1 with pool.” We paid $150 for three nights.
We stopped in posh, quaint Göcek on our way from Bodrum to Fethiye. We loved it so much, we returned on our way back to Izmir. But we’re hooked on this really appealing non-touristy town that’s mostly a yachting/sailing center for the Aegean. What sets Göcek apart is how green, well-tended and tidy it is. Lots of boutiques, antique shops and stuff clearly aimed at upscale travelers, not tourists.
Both visits were part of traveling days, so we didn’t work here. We tried a couple of restaurants and wandered along the harbor. We vow to return!
Where we should have stayed:
Club Prive, a five-star tucked back into a pine forest that will set you back about $12,000 per week for a family villa. In our dreams ….
Where we ate:
Amidst an unusual June downpour, we ducked into the Kebab Hospital Antep Sofrasi. We weren’t sorry we did. Great food and affordable, rare in this resort town. Our lunch came to 700 lira, or about 20 euros.
Fethiye was our next stop … a visit with our friend Melahat – Mel – whom we hadn’t seen in 16 years. This was the town that had changed the most. In our collective memories, it was a port for Blue Cruises, with a big fish market and some good fish restaurants. Now, it’s just another big, nondescript city. Really big.
But, staying with Mel at her apartment high above the city and looking out to the bay, this was the best view. There just isn’t a lot to do here unless you want to book a Blue Cruise. And since Mel was busy with her work, including cooking classes, we probably got more done here than during our other stops.
THEN, we ate like kings at night as Mel dazzled us with fish, fresh vegetables and Turkish delicacies. If you happen to live in Fethiye, take one of Mel’s Turkish cooking classes. If you can’t take one of her classes, get her new cookbook, Mel’s Turkish Kitchen. She’s an absolute delight and her food is *chef’s kiss*.
Where we stayed:
We had our own suite of rooms at Mel’s, including a bedroom and bath, and we used the balcony as our office. Priceless.
We picked Marmaris not because it’s an affordable vacay destination (it is) but because it gave us easy access to Datça peninsula, which has some of the most stunning scenery in the world. Marmaris used to be a sleepy resort town for middle-class Turks. Now, it’s one long bar street catering mostly to less-than-affluent Brits. There are like a million places to stay, ranging from tacky mass-tourism hotels to true luxury hideouts for the Eurotrash. Exhibit No. 1 – Roman Abramovich’s 700 million euro yacht Eclipse was in the harbor, though no sign of the elusive Russian billionaire in town.
The bay front is fabulous, with lots of sand and plenty of municipal beaches (halk plaj).
The only full day off was dedicated to a drive down the Datça peninsula to Eski Datça (Old Datça), a restored village, then down the mountain road to Hayitbükü Beach for a swim and Cheryl’s birthday dinner. We were pleasantly surprised the road to Datça had improved greatly in the 20 years since we last visited. There were even guard rails! The mountain road twists and turns and has its fair number of switchbacks, so we took it slowly. With the Aegean on one side and the Mediterranean on the other, we were just fine with that.
Another highlight of our stay in Marmaris was driving out in the afternoons from Marmaris to nearby towns and trying out the restaurants. Içmeler was really nice, with tons of restaurants. Turunç was also fun. But the strangest afternoon was a drive out to Hisaronu, this stretch of beach with crashing waves and not much else, though we did meet a Belgian/Turkish guy and his wife who were … well, we’re not sure who they were but they told some great stories. At the end of the beach, we ate at a campground with quirky little round tents, reminiscent of mini-yurts. The views were stunning, the food was good and the beer was cold.
Where we stayed
Our Airbnb apartment here was really great, just a street back from the sea in a very quiet neighborhood. Two bedrooms and a super-nice kitchen and A/C in both bedrooms and the living room. Best of all, it had a first-floor porch/patio where we could dine at night and watch the world go by. It’s listed on Airbnb as “Arya Garden House Center,” and Yenal was in touch to make sure everything was okay during our stay. We paid $170 for three nights. Parking was a bit tricky, but we always found street parking a block or two away from the apartment.
THIS is what we came for!
Back to Izmir
All good things must come to end, and so we had to return to Izmir. More shopping, cocktails and wandering, reacquainting ourselves with this city, burning the images into our memories until next time.
Where we stayed
On our return, we had a chi-chi apartment in a working class part of this industrial port town. It’s listed as “Sweet Home Konak” on Airbnb, and our hostess, Julia, was awesome. We paid $370 for three nights. This place was crazy nice … top-end appliances, including the biggest refrigerator I’d ever seen, the biggest television I’d ever seen and a shower/bathroom that was right out of a five-star hotel. This was our favorite apartment in terms of amenities and pure comfort. Parking was right on the street outside the door of the apartment. It was a short taxi from the First Kordon, so we took taxis. The ride was less than 3 euros each way.
We also had a private patio where we invited Özlem and Haldun for one last hurrah.
I have always been an admirer of Nicholas Berggruen, “the homeless billionaire” who stayed in hotels for years until he bought a $63 million house in Beverly Hills. That kind of peripatetic lifestyle not only suits us but keeps us motivated and fresh.
On some level, a change of scenery can make a never-ending work load seem manageable.
How can we do that?
• As we expand our businesses, we need a more robust layer of management between us and the daily grind. That would enable us to take more workations and avoid burn-out.
• Make time your friend. The time difference between Turkey and Europe was a major advantage, with Turkey one-to-two hours ahead. We could get up at our normal time and get editorial work done ahead of schedule. Time is also your enemy. Working from the United States on business trips was a nightmare, waking up at 3 a.m. to catch up and make calls.
• Make the most of your time. I generally get up and start working at 6:30 a.m. On this trip, I made a conscious effort to take a morning break and be finished with work by 1 p.m. It didn’t always work out that way. Cheryl tended to work till 3 p.m. but we were usually out and enjoying life by 5 p.m., far earlier than in our real lives.
Cheryl’s tips on finding top Airbnb accommodations
Because this was a workation, wifi was tantamount … or we couldn’t actually work. But everything else also had to check the box.
We were looking for affordable, spacious, clean apartments with air conditioning, washing machines, free parking and in the city center.
When I did the research, I looked first at availability and cost. If the apartment fit our budget, I checked to be sure the wifi was solid. I looked VERY closely at all the images, enlarging them to the max to see the details of the rooms.
I pored over reviews to confirm my choices. When I was ready to book, I emailed the host and told him/her we were coming for a workation and needed good wifi. When that was confirmed, I booked.
For us, Airbnb was the way to go in Turkey. Hotels were far more expensive and much smaller. Plus, you have to share wifi with other guests, and we didn’t want to do that.
Just take your time in doing your research. Look closely at maps to be sure you’re in the area you want to be. Keep on searching if you aren’t satisified with any
• If you want to do a workation in Turkey, get Cheryl to find your apartments on Airbnb. She went 4 and 0, with great apartments in Izmir, Bodrum, Marmaris and then back to Izmir. We had a huge advantage in that we know Turkey, speak some Turkish and knew where we wanted to be and wanted to avoid. So, if you’re going to try this, go somewhere you know.
DO NOT leave your car at Park & Fly/Park & Ride Uncovered outside the Düsseldorf Airport like we did. These guys were terrible, and really, the only negative in an 18-day trip.
Read more about Turkey here in Dispatches’ archives.