Dom Joly: Turkish Delights

Dom Joly and family

Dom Joly and family - Credit: Archant

I nearly made the mistake of a ‘staycation’ in the Cotswolds…

I spent most of the summer running away from the Cotswolds. I nearly made the mistake of gambling on an Indian summer and doing the ‘staycation’ thing but I woke up with a hangover and realised that you should never make these kinds of important life decisions when you are drunk. So we headed off for a month-long family road trip around Turkey.

This looked very dodgy to some and there were several nervous inquiries as to whether we were actually headed for Syria to join ISIS? I assured everyone that this was not the case but I was nervous when we got near the Syrian border, as you really can’t trust a sat-nav. Mine gets freaked out when it has to go into Gloucester and starts screaming “Get out, make a U-Turn, DANGER, DANGER!” Admittedly, it’s a very neurotic machine but I assumed that this was good news, as it would keep us very much away from any trouble. It turned out to be quite the opposite and I now suspect it of harbouring extremist sympathies. Twice it plotted a route for us that would have taken us into a ‘hot zone’. In the end I was forced to take it aside and have a long chat. It never fully admitted where it stood politically and I briefly considered the waterboarding option, but in the end I simply left it to fend for itself in a small village near Iskanderun. As we drove off I swear I heard it say “Minaret One to base – the package is being delivered…” but I was getting pretty paranoid by then so I might have been mistaken.

From then on I used a good old-fashioned map. When I say old-fashioned I’m not exaggerating. I bought it in a little bookstore in Iskanderun and it appeared to have been published when Turkey was still the centre of the Ottoman Empire. On said map, modern nation states were non-existent and most of the roads indicated seemed to be trading routes. In the end I used a compass on my iPhone. I set our bearing for north-west and hoped for the best.

I have a particular affinity with Turkey as I have fabulous memories of it as a child. My family used to drive from Beirut to London and back at least once every other year. I remember these times as incredible adventures – swimming out to island castles, trampling over ruins, bathing in the hot springs of Pammukale…

My kids are less excited about road trips and loathe being stuck in a car for more than two hours. Maybe I also hated the whole thing and time has erased some of the worst memories and only kept a highlight reel? I know that when I went Inter-railing the experience was horrible – lots of hanging around on empty train stations, dodgy hostels and sleeping in corridors. My memory, however, only wants to hang onto the occasional snog and a lovely beach somewhere in the South of France.

My iPhone came up trumps and we eventually ended up back where we started – in Istanbul – the de facto capital of Turkey. I have a particular fondness for places that should be the capital but are snubbed due to competing political factions. Other great examples are Sydney, Rio de Janeiro and Cheltenham. Everybody knows these conurbations are the most vibrant, interesting and popular in their respective zones but they have had to cede their political primacy to lesser cities that perhaps needed the kudos more? What I particularly love about them is that they are not chippy about their lack of official status. These are places comfortable in their own skin and relaxed in their place in the world.

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Istanbul is a city very much on the up with the occasional car bomb or terrorist attack doing little to curb the visible signs of a city on its uppers. Even Soho House – the private members club that likes to be the barometer of all that is cool has just opened there. As it so happens they have also opened a branch in the Cotswolds, on the Great Tew Estate.

Rio, Istanbul, the Cotswolds… it’s where it’s at.

This article by Dom Joly is from the October 2015 issue of Cotswold Life.

For more from Dom, follow him on Twitter: @domjoly