Oh Turkey. I’ve been back for two weeks and I long for you.
I miss the hours of swimming each day in the Mediterranean and the Aegean. Water so clear and deep and so brilliantly colored, it was magnificent.
Sailing each day and resting each afternoon on the deck of our beautiful Kaya Mehmet.
Eating and sharing time with friends, and being silly with my family.
But let me back up.
In January, college friends sent an email saying something like “We have a sailboat reserved off the coast of Turkey for a week of sailing in June. Interested?”
Once we stopped jumping up and down in glee and had calmed down enough to email back our “HELL TO THE YES!!!” we set about preparing.
We had long talked over making our way there, but now it was real. We were going!
Suddenly, it was June and time to drive to New York to fly to Amsterdam and then Istanbul. And as with all long trips, after hours and what felt like days later, we were there.
It’s difficult to describe what it’s like to arrive in a city with such a long sense of history, but for me, it made me itchy to explore. Jet lag be damned, I wanted to be out on those streets.
We checked in to the fantastic Neorion Hotel, and set about exploring the city.
No, strangely, we did not stay here.
From our first moments, the city felt exciting and beautiful, and was a bit of a visual overload.
But knowing we had just a few days to enjoy it, we took full advantage.
I ran each morning in Gulhane Park, and we walked miles every day, incredulous at the reality that we were truly there, and this was happening, and we were in Turkey and it was everything we had hoped for and more.
We toured the rooms of the Harem at Topkapi Palace.
Of course, we had to visit the Basilica Cisterns, even more incredible in real life than in James Bond.
And we spent hours just walking the streets, looking, and watching, and hearing the Call to Prayer as it rang through the city.
We navigated heat, and crowds, although never looked quite as stylish as the folks we saw sporting these. (And yes, there were MANY people wearing them.)
I was NOT, however, one of these guys.
Okay, you can barely see them but if you look carefully, there are PEOPLE in that water which means that every day, I saw people SWIMMING in the BOSPHORUS. It was inspiring and, I will admit, a little gross at the same time given the endless array of oil tankers seen in the water. (Still, perhaps I might consider the Bosphorus Cross-Continental Swimming Race one of these years.)
I could write endlessly about our time in Istanbul, and share photo after photo from the magnificent city, but this site is about swimming. And the swimming in Turkey was truly exceptional.
After three days in Istanbul, we flew South to the city of Dalaman, not far from Fethiye where we were to catch our boat. (Thank you to the amazing folks on Turkish Airlines. A 55-minute flight and we had two drink services and a full meal! Take a lesson, airlines of the United States.)
And by “boat” what I mean is a beautiful 8 stateroom Turkish Gulet, arranged through Blue Cruise UK,
It’s hard to know what to say about a week on the water like this. What moments does one choose? Sleeping on deck under the stars each night?
Escaping an oncoming storm when a skilled Captain chooses just the right bay to hide in for the day?
Perhaps it’s about the freedom to walk amidst Lycian and Byzantine and Ottoman ruins, exploring them from the water in a way only swimmers can do.
It’s tempting to let the images of Turkey speak for themselves.
And because so many of the places we visited were private bays, accessible only via the water, it’s hard to even share details of where we visited.
What I can say is that every day, I swam. And swam. And swam.
Jumping off of the boat ladder, trusty SaferSwimmer securely attached, I explored.
The first real swim happened at Gemilier Adasi, otherwise known as St. Nicholas Island.
It was our first day on the boat, having left Fethiye early that morning. We started at Oludeniz National Park, known as the Blue Lagoon.
When it was safe to jump off of the boat, we had our first moments in the warm, and incredibly salinated waters of the Mediterranean. It was magnificent, but I longed to swim.To REALLY swim.
Yes, this trip was about recreation, reconnecting with old and cherished friends, and enjoying time as a family, but as any open water swimmer knows, when the water is there, you long for it.
The water calls to you. It asks why you haven’t ventured in yet, and wants to know what you are waiting for. It sees the antsiness you feel and glints perfectly in the sun, saying “Come on! Let’s play!”
From the first moment on the boat, I ached for the time I would be able to truly “swim.”
That afternoon, we traveled to Gemilier Adasi.
“How big is the island?” I asked one of our crew, “Could I swim around it?”
“No! Too big. Too big. Is not possible!” he answered.
Clearly, they hadn’t met me.
I jumped off of the boat and started swimming.
Less than two hours later, I got back onto the boat.
“I swam around it,” I announced, “Twice.” (I had to prove it by showing the crew my watch.)
Then, with our friends, the family and I climbed to the top of the island.
After that day, the crew understood me much better, and knew what kind of crazy they were dealing with. Each day, we motored a bit, then moored at a place where they knew I’d be able to swim.
Often, with only the occasional boat for company, I navigated the Turkish coastline, swimming for as long as felt reasonable given that, sigh, other people on the trip had things they wanted to do too.
I swam before we explored the ruins of Kaunos, and the mud baths of Dalyon.
And I swam on the lazy days, when we barely moved the boat and the rest of the day was about reading and lounging, and eating incredible meals cooked by Mehmet, our chef, in a kitchen so small, we were incredulous at what he could do in there.
I swam before we pulled up the anchor each day, and after we dropped it in the afternoon.
And I swam thinking ahead to the Kingdom Swim, 15-miles coming at the end of this month.
I swam in the richly salinated and warm waters of the Mediterranean, and then in the less salty, crisp tides of the Aegean.
I swam early in the day, before the others were up, and in the evening, as the wind picked up and the air started to cool.
I swam. And I swam. And I swam. And it still could never have been enough.
I will confess that this trip has left me inarticulate. I feel unable to express the joy I felt each day on that boat, the freedom to swim as long as I wanted to, in waters that felt as if they belonged only to me.
Loving the open water means that I’ve had a great deal of freedom in my swimming, but this was different.
This was about exploring and not worrying about a time or a distance covered or meeting a certain goal. Instead, it was about the feeling of being in the water, swimming for the sake of swimming.
And unlike beach vacations, where swims usually mean traveling the same waters, leaving from the beach in front of your hotel, this was new and different every day.
And that was Turkey. Breathtaking swims and history and something new every time I turned my head and wanting to go back as soon as possible.
Thank you, Turkey. It was perfection. We hope to see you again soon.