After returning to the hotel, M.K. and I drugged up (on aspirin, relax) and rolled out. The bus ride from Mersin to Kizkalesi was gorgeous. To our left was the Mediterranean; to our right, rolling hills, small towns, and Roman ruins.
It was immediately apparent that Kizkalesi is a huge tourist destination; we saw a density of hotels that would be completely unsustainable without hordes of tourists for them to feed on. It was equally apparent that we had arrived before the start of the season as everything was closed. The unfulfilled promises of jet ski rental and in-room jacuzzis lent the air of a failing theme park to the town. Because everything was closed, it took us a while to find a suitable restaurant for a snack (all I had eaten to that point in the day was a bag of slightly stale almonds from a bus stop near Adana). I couldn’t help but think that in a month or two it would be equally difficult to find a place, but for the opposite reason; everything would be too crowded. As it was, we were able to board a boat to the castle without delay after our snack.
On board with us was a tour group from the Ukraine and an American couple from the base in Adana. We were met on the island by a group of teyzeler, which literally means aunt, but also refers to older Turkish women who wear traditional clothing and headscarves. They were delighted by one Ukrainian woman’s grasp of fundamental Turkish; she could answer the key questions, naslilsiniz (how are you) and nerelsiniz (where are you from). I was proud to understand both sides of the exchange, which I will take as a small sign that my Turkish is improving, though yavas, yavas (slowly).
In the legend of Kizkalesi, a king is told that his daughter will die from a snake bite, so he builds her this castle on a snake-less island. Fate, however, is not to be cheated of its snake-induced princess death, and when provisions are brought to the island, a snake lurks in a basket of grapes. It bites and kills the princess.
Just as the inevitably of fate is a common theme in ancient tales, the story of the snake and the princess is also associated with many ruins in Turkey. The castle was actually constructed by the Byzantine Empire following the First Crusade, around 1099. It appears that many of the stones in the castle were reused from a previous structure that had been on the same sight. Significant repairs were made to the castle around 1199 by the Armenian King Leo I, and again more recently by someone who thought that a castle just isn’t a castle without flood lights.
We climbed the castle walls, examined the fading mosaics, listened to the crashing waves, and admired the views of the beach and the neighboring castle.
Back at the beach, we found a Turkish bride having her wedding photos taken in front of Kizkalesi. She was carrying on what M.K. refers to as Turkey’s grand tradition of choosing a wedding dress so stiff and elaborate that it can stay standing without a bride inside.
After exploring the beach and considering the possibility of raiding Korkos castle by sea, we set off along the shoreline in search of a fish restaurant.
Much to our surprise, none of the places we passed listed balik (fish) on their menu. I had begun to hope that their proximity to the sea meant that fish was implied and did not need to be explicitly stated when we came across the fantastic Arif Balik Restaurant. M.K. and I sat in the open air part of the restaurant and looked out over the sea and castle as we dined on delicious shrimp and fish. There was even a man nearby playing guitar and singing. Sure, as the sun set mosquitoes emerged, and when our meals arrived we were surrounded by mewling cats, but these minor annoyances did little to detract from the excellent meal.