Turks anxious as Syrian crisis comes too close

Arrowtown book buyer Miranda Spary continues her regular column about her recommendations for a good read and life as she sees it ...

It's all cooling down and heating up in Turkey.

I needed a sweater for the first time as I ate a farewell breakfast of yoghurt with pomegranates, walnuts and honey and worried about how Turkey will fare with the Syrian crisis spilling across its border.

It's the same distance as Queenstown to Dunedin from where we are and everyone is anxious.

Our skipper is 27 with a 4-year-old son and a baby due in two months, so he dreads a call-up if a peaceful solution can't be found.

I've just read Louis de Berniere's Birds Without Wings, which is all about the wars various countries chose to have with Turkey in the early 1900s.

It's never been a good idea, as the Turks are very quick and strong when it comes to defending their patch.

It's a fantastic book, which weaves the stories of a number of different characters, including Ataturk, into a very satisfyingly whole, although many of the stories, especially the one about the beautiful girl whose parents wouldn't let her marry her sweetheart, are tragic.

Like his best-known book, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, it's a bit tricky to start with but, once you're in, you're hooked.

In our last few days, I tried to tick off lots of things I'd never done here before.

First was a lovely bike ride to get my cycle bottom ready for when I get home and attack our brilliant new cycle trails.

We asked the bike hire people to show us how to get to Perge, an ancient city whose recently unearthed treasures we'd been admiring at the Antalya Museum (not admiring the museum, which had the least informative information I've ever seen).

We said we wanted quiet roads and as much shade as possible.

Mmmm ... even though there were horses and carts, tractors and trailers hauling freshly picked cotton and wonky old men on wonky old bikes on the road with us, it was still a three-lane highway, with huge trucks and buses hurtling past.

It was hideous.

And boiling hot.

The bike hire people got the message about my displeasure when I brought the bike back from Perge in a taxi - no way I could do that again.

And I'd never driven here before either, so we rented a car in the old city just as rush hour and dusk set in.

The GPS threw a wobbly and as Turkish drivers use their horns way more than their indicators to communicate with other drivers, we got a lot of loud and cross messages.

I'm having another first today at the airport surrounded by mostly elderly chaps wearing just two unhemmed sheets held up with only a belt and not all looking as if the belt is doing a very good job.

They're all off to do the hajj, which every devout Muslim must do once in their lives.

They go on a pilgrimage to Mecca, where they have to perform various rites, including throwing stones at the devil.

Millions of Muslims do it each year and they look so happy.

It's not at all luxurious - everyone, whether prince or pauper, wears and eats the same, and there are loads of rules such as no sex or shaving, swearing or fighting, and I nearly pointed the last one out to a husband and wife who were not whispering sweet nothings to one another.

Queenstown Airport is going to be so comfortingly familiar. I am getting a lump in my throat just thinking about it.

- miranda@queenstown.co.nz

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