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Travelling with Children: Turkey

Travelling with the rosebuds
Taste Anatolia

Bargaining starts early in our family. Usually over the breakfast table. Having brought up my two daughters on travels across Turkey, I do not wish to complain, nor sound proud that we do a lot of habitual in-house trading. It just happened.

I am a travel-writer and so is my wife Rose. We took Molly, the elder of the two rosebuds, on her first press-trip travels when she was a three-month-old breast-fed baby. She did the classic carry-cot and backpack tour of the ancient cities of Caria, repeated the next year for those on the Lycian shore, then again when we spent a couple of months of guide-book writing based in an old wooden house in Istanbul, not to mention the fortnight in a very swanky Bodrum hotel - before they so much as set foot in nursery school. So without any thought for the face of future travels with your daughters, you start naturally factoring in some play-time with the paying-task of site-seeing. The problem is that my cover is blown. Both my daughters, spotted that I was obsessive. Any attempt at a down-at-the-mouth look, “Oh Dear I have got to go off and work, poor dada, he has to track down a late-Byzantine Church and a ruined oracle of Apollo before lunch” just doesn’t work. They know I love every second of it, even the scribbling things down in a black notebook during lunch.

I feel so vulnerably known by my daughters which makes family bargaining sessions an uphill struggle - like having to lay your cards face-up on the table in Poker.

A much-longed for visit to an Istanbul bookshop beneath the shadow of the Galata tower or a fascinatingly crumbly monument now has to be paid for. But in what? When I question them, trying to catch any give-away hand gestures, they look at each other and say “Oh you know, just fun stuff”, then giggle and won’t be drawn any further.

So I have to do the first round of bargaining. Act one is my attempt to portray my chosen cultural objective, say an Ottoman fortress that I need to see, in the most ‘fun-stuff’ way possible. “Darlings I thought we would have a lovely walk after breakfast and play hide-and-seek by some fascinating old crumbly walls. On the way back, there is this really enchanting courtyard tiled with old…”

But Molly quickly breaks in, “It’s a castle isn’t it? Hannah! Dad is trying to get us into a castle again! We’ve seen enough of those. I thought this trip was going to be fun for us as well? You promised!”

This is of course no more than the first round of negotiations. We all know that. Act two is that I come clean, with a detailed itinerary, estimated walking distance, length of time spent in my objective. Then I am expected to make my counter offer. I try to speak in generalities, an ice-cream and, “ I am sure we will find a playground somewhere”.

No one looks satisfied. We hit stalemate. Hannah flicks up her Nintendo screen to walk one of her electronic dogs while Molly cracks open the spine of a new Grace Cavendish Mystery. We are at a stand-off. I order a Turkish coffee with no sugar, which will give me the time to surreptiously look-up my objective in a much thumbed guidebook. But reading what John Freely or George Bean says just inflames the quest. I try another tactic.

“Remember the time when I played with you for a whole day and bought you all those rides in return for coming to a museum the next day…and when we got there it turned out to be closed, apart from the aquarium – which you loved? Or another favourite tale was the time when we found a litter of kittens on the doorstep of Istanbul’s calligraphy museum (another day when I got the opening times wrong) and the old guardian let you feed them and meet the mother? Or the year when you met Carlos the puppy in the Cavalry Bazaar below the Blue Mosque and you played all morning with him while I went to see the mosaics? These are classic tales of triumph in the girls versus travel-writer negotiations.

Molly and Hannah also like to be told the stories set in Turkey when they were very little. So I tell them of the time when we drove up, all rather exhausted towards a small pension in the dark in the hills, but they didn’t like the look of this badly dressed unshaven foreigner – until they spotted the mumma with a pair of sleeping blonde girls in the back of the car. Then the doors were thrown open, beds were made, bags were carried-in and a late supper prepared in the twinkling of an eye. Then I might add a tale from another trip, when Mumma and Dadda had got themselves very tired and crotchety after a series of long journeys and bad nights, and came staggering down to breakfast with a grumpy baby, which was promptly plucked out of their hands by a Turkish grannie who took her off to be introduced to all her friends, while her parents enjoyed the most marvellous long and peaceful breakfast. Or the time when all the smartly dressed businessmen who had paid to be in first class were told to stand to one side, so that the small girls could get on board the aeroplane first. If this had been England, there would have been frowns, but it was Turkey, a land where smartly dressed businessmen all wanted to pat and kiss the babies just as much as all the stewards and stewardesses did.

They they might chip-in with their own stories, about the time they took their cousins to their first hammam, or taught them how to make a pomegranate squirt juice down the back of your throat or all the sweeties that you get given during the nights of Ramadan. So warmed up with happy memories we shake on a deal, two tin trays of corn each for the pigeons outside The Yeni Valide Sultan Mosque and half an hour in the pet bazaar in exchange for checking out my museum-monument objective. We add a sub clause that I can stop off at my favourite bookshop and café if they are allowed to say hello to any cats or fortune-telling rabbits that they might meet on the way.

This way we all get to love Turkey in our own way.

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