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Gulet cruise in Turkey! Part 1 – the disaster

Looking for an interesting holiday, something a little different to the norm, my husband came up with the idea of a gulet cruise. A gulet is a traditional wooden sailing boat with two or three masts. This was the first I’d heard of one, but my husband was really keen and we both enjoy being on the water so I went with the idea. We booked one week on a gulet cruise from Marmaris in Turkey, and then one week in a hotel in Marmaris afterwards.

Traditional Gulet in Marmaris

Brace yourselves for this one. So, we flew out to Dalaman, the closest airport to the Marmaris area, but it is still 90km away and more than an hour’s drive. Anyway, we arrive in Dalaman, go outside and look for our transfer. My husband goes off in search and I man the suitcases. He comes back about 10 minutes later shaking his head. He can’t find it. I wander off and also come back empty-handed. We finally find the paperwork with the company on it, and find the stand  for them. By this time, the 300 people all milling around for their transfers are long gone and there’s just a few waifs and strays left, ourselves included. My husband speaks to the transfer company who have no record of our booking. Chris calls the travel company we booked through (a small independent) and amazingly, someone answers the phone despite it being late at night. He checks the records and they accidentally forgot to confirm our booking with the transfer company! He apologises profusely but this still doesn’t actually give us any way to get the 90km to Marmaris at around 11:30pm local time. We spoke to the transfer company who agree to take us, but we have to pay upfront 40 Euros. Stuck with no other options, we managed to get on the last mini bus, but as it was full we had to sit in the front with the driver!

This was no ordinary mini bus. Have you ever heard of the urban legend of disco taxi? I first heard about this when I moved to Glasgow aged 18 and used to get black cabs into town and back to the halls of residence on a regular basis. A friend of mine had mentioned that if we were lucky we’d inadvertently jump into ‘disco taxi’ where the inside of the cab has flashing lights and music – hence, Disco Taxi. (P.s. I never did find disco taxi, sob)

Well this mini van made up for it. We got in the front and had music blaring out and strings of lights throughout the whole van that flashed and made for an interesting and entertaining drive. Bear in mind that the journey from Dalaman to Marmaris is a good two hours so this entertained us on our way.

Fast forward two hours and the driver drops us off. At a port. A shipping port. Approximately four miles outside of Marmaris. In the middle of the night. With our luggage. And no way of getting back to the town, let alone locating and boarding our gulet.

We managed to find a security guard for the shipping port who we gesticulated to, and who gesticulated back and she called us a taxi to take us into the town. Remember that – as is often the case with pre-booked transfers – you have no idea where it is that you’re actually meant to go, and that’s when its a static hotel with an address, not a small wooden boat that could be docked anywhere along miles of coastline!

Whilst in the taxi, after asking a confused driver if he knew ‘where the gulet boats were’, my husband called the travel agents in the UK – which thankfully had its number diverted to the owner’s mobile (remember, its around midnight in Turkey at this point, so 9pm in the UK). The (very apologetic) owner was trying to track down where our boat might be, to no avail, and was giving us ideas of locations to pass onto our taxi driver to take us on the off-chance.

Basically, it didn’t work. We were lost, it was nearly 1am at this point, there was no-one around and we had nowhere to go. My husband (as we take it in turns to meltdown in these kind of situations) had his meltdown at this point. I realised that while we were on the gulet for one week of our holiday, our second week was in a hotel in Marmaris. I gave the taxi driver its name and he dropped us off there, with my husband on the phone to the travel agent who agreed to reimburse us for the cost of the night in the hotel while we found our where our boat would be. Luckily, we knew that our first night on the boat was to be docked, and it wouldn’t actually set sail for its coastal week-long trip until the following morning.

We checked into the hotel and they allowed us to have some cold meats and bread to eat (we hadn’t eaten for hours and had missed dinner). We sat in the lobby (where there was free wifi and tried to locate someone who could advise us of where this boat would be and how we could get to it). We found a couple of numbers but it was too late to call so we finally gave up at 2am and went to bed.

We awoke around 5am to torrential rain and lightning. Now it was my turn. I kid you not, I sat on the edge of the bed, looking out the window, and cried my heart out. I will say, in my defense, that my brother had died six months earlier and I was still struggling to control my emotions at times. I had also been in a car accident four days before our holiday where my car had been written off and I had injured my neck. I NEEDED this holiday and it was slipping away. I sat and cried and felt really sorry for myself while my husband went back down to the lobby to make some calls. I wandered down after having a word with myself to find that he had called a woman in the UK, who had given him the number of a woman in Turkey to call, who said she would find the exact location of the boat, contact them to tell them to wait for us and would call us back with directions of where to go! Success! And this poor woman had done all this at 6:30am Turkish-time, bless her heart!

She called back with a location and we raced upstairs, repacked our bags, ran downstairs to pay our bill and jumped in a passing taxi. It dropped us off at a sad looking pub, obviously mobbed every night, but there is nothing worse that seeing a night club or bar first thing in the morning. We sat on a wet bench and started worrying if we’d got the wrong place when I man walked up to us and asked our names. YAY! It was the captain! He led us round the corner to the boat (which was one of at least 15 identical boats – we’d never have found it) and we went below deck and found our room and dumped our bags. We got changed (we were still in the same clothes we travelled in) and went above deck to find our fellow gulet companions who we’d be spending the next week with.

Aphrodite’s Bay, near Marmaris

An hour or so later we set off from Marmaris harbour and the clouds burned away and we were left with the most brilliant sunny day. Before leaving we’d been visited by a rep who had mentioned various tours and trips we could go on when we got to different locations. Day one’s trip was to a natural mud bath which we didn’t bother with. We were so tired and worn out that we just wanted to stay on the boat and relax. Funnily enough, later that afternoon while lying on the sunbeds at the back of the boat we saw a small boat approaching. Two women climbed up the steps to our boat and it turned out that the same thing happened to them! They had got lost and had missed the boat (literally) and had managed to get someone to track down the boat in a bay and sailed out to drop them off!

The boat was a good size for what it was, the rooms below deck were rather small, basically a tiny amount of floor space and a bed, but they did all have en suites. We were so lucky – particularly as we had last choice almost – to get a room at the back of the boat with a window that was at bed height. When you opened it up it was on the curve of the hull and we had the crystal water about a foot beneath us. This gave us a constant breeze to keep us cool all through the night.

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Road trip to the South of France – Part 3: aftermath

The hotel

It was a gorgeous hotel with a little balcony over-looking the sea and across to Saint Tropez, and a cosy little French feel, although all the service expected of a Best Western. After the stress of getting ourselves packed and moved, we wandered into the gorgeous town and felt ourselves relaxing. On our wanders, we found L’Amiral,  a beautiful restaurant in the marina which was pretty pricey but we decided to treat ourselves and booked it for that evening. We wandered back to our hotel and went down to the pool and read our books.  Feeling suitably relaxed we got ready for dinner and walked back up to the marina. The meal was amazing! We had such a gorgeous meal, the service was brilliant and we truly relaxed and forgot all about our car nightmare.

The next morning we opened the curtains to torrential rain. The view across the water was nothing but grey and Saint Tropez had disappeared! We read in our room for a while and by lunchtime it had totally cleared up and was blazing sunshine again. We walked back into the town and found a nice restaurant for dinner that evening. Looking for somewhere to have lunch in the meantime, we went to Cafe Maxime for lunch and it was brilliant. My husband had a burger and I had a chicken burger – the best I’ve ever eaten!! That evening we wandered back and walked through the beautiful cobbled streets in Sainte-Maxime and stopped off for a lovely Italian meal.

Where is our car?!

Monday morning we woke up and we got straight on the phone to our insurance company and asked them to call the garage and make sure they looked at our car first thing. We had worked out that if we left by Monday lunchtime at the latest and drove all through the day and night, we might just make it home in time for work on the Tuesday. Nothing. We kept checking and by lunchtime it was clear they hadn’t looked at the car let alone fixed it. We spoke to our insurance company who then decided that they would buy us both flights from Nice back to Birmingham International that evening, and they would pay for one of us to return another time to collect the car and drive it home. It wasn’t ideal but they were so good and covered the flights as well as the hotel and taxis. The taxi to Nice airport on its own was 200 Euros!

So once again we packed up (which was slightly trickier now that we had all our luggage from the car to pack into two bags for the plane!) and we were waiting for our taxi at 4:30pm when we received a call from the insurance company. The garage had finally looked at our car and the quote to fix it was 3,900 Euros!! More than the car is worth! They said the diesel particulate filter needed replacing which is incredibly expensive. Not knowing what else we could do, we went ahead with the flight and considered our options once more.

  1. We pay the money, get the car fixed and then fly back and drive it 1,000 miles home
  2. We just leave the car and have it scrapped in France as the repairs are more than the car is worth
  3. We try and get the car home some way and get it looked at / fixed in the UK instead.

Home at last

In the end we made it home safe and on time, and called garages near our home in the UK. We were quoted £950 to get the repairs done and we paid £250 to have the car repatriated – which was cheaper than driving it home in terms of fuel and toll roads anyway. When we did get the car back, we took it to our local garage who managed to unblock the diesel particulate filter and it only cost us £95! We were so relieved, but also so happy that we had bought the European breakdown assistance. For £35 we accessed a weekend in a beautiful hotel, flights and baggage home and taxis totalling more than £1,000! Moral of the story – get European breakdown cover!

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Road trip to the South of France – Part 2: the disaster

Road trip to the South of France – Part 2: the disaster

Continued from the first part of the story!

We decided to explore a little more and travel to Cannes and Antibes…and this is where our trouble began. On the windy day at Saint Tropez, our car engine lights had come on, including the diesel particulate filter.

St Tropez

St Tropez

We read that you should drive the car in a low gear at high revs to clear the issue. We had been doing that but the light had stayed on. Anyway, we set off for Cannes and drove along the coast – breath-taking. We continued on to Antibes at on a roundabout with a VW garage on it (of all places) the car suddenly shut down. We could drive it but it wouldn’t go over 30mph and more engine lights came on. We pulled up to the garage but found it was shut for lunch.

My husband and I, we have realised, take it in turns to flap when something goes wrong, and this time it was his turn. He wanted to turn around and try to head back but I assured him that if we just waited, went for some lunch, we could come back and go into the garage for help. He agreed and we went into the centre of Antibes and had a look around. We parked up and went into a beautiful hotel and looked out to the sea – and saw Abramovich’s yacht! We wandered along the front and found a beachside restaurant, Le Bord de Mer Chez Vincent in Juan Les Pins where we sat down to consider our options and get some food. I have the most amazing St Jacques scallops while my husband moped over a pizza and took the occassional picture of Abramovich’s yacht.

St Jacques Scallops in Antibes

St Jacques Scallops in Antibes

We finished up and came up with a plan. We had taken European breakdown cover with AXA for just £35 (best £35 we’ve ever spent!) We called and they advised us to try the VW garage first. We went in and they said they were booked up for the next week and couldn’t help but did advise us to drive with low gear and high revs. We left a little crestfallen and called back our insurance company. They decided they’d call round other VW garages but in the meantime we should try and head back to Port Grimaud if we could, or sit and wait to be towed but they were advising it would be a few hours at least. We bit the bullet and tried to head back to our campsite.

This involved going on the toll motorways with a car that at times (momentum and downward hills helped this) wouldn’t go over 30 miles an hour!! We were nearly back when the insurance company called and said that the only garage they could get us in to would be near Marseilles and could we drive there? On the basis of the last terrifying hour, we asked if they could instead recover the car and tow it there which they were happy to arrange for the next morning at 8am.

Now at this point it is probably important that I tell you that this was Thursday. We were leaving the south of France on the Saturday morning to drive half way up and stay, then continue our journey on the Sunday to get to Le Touquet on the Sunday. Our crossing was Bank Holiday Monday in the morning, to be home and back to work on the Tuesday. So basically, we needed to get the car back on Friday evening at the latest in order to pack it up and get on the road…

So the mechanic turned up on Friday at 8am and looked at the car. He drove it and decided that he couldn’t fix it and it would need to be taken to the garage. He left with the car and we settled down for our last day on holiday and waited patiently for news of the car. We had heard nothing by lunchtime and spoke to AXA who chased the garage. Nothing. We chased again at 4pm and were advised that the garage hadn’t even looked at our car and that they were shut until Monday now!

This time panic set in with me. We had to check out the next morning by 10am and had nowhere to go and no way to get home! My husband got on the phone and the insurance company really came through for us. They said that they would pay for us to stay in a hotel for the weekend, with a budget for two nights of £300!

My husband selected a lovely hotel in nearby Sainte-Maxime, The Montfleuri Best Western, with breakfast included and AXA went off and booked it for us. They then booked a car to come and get us and take us to the hotel the next morning. So we packed up and checked out on the Saturday morning and were met by a private car which took us to our new hotel.


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