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July 18, 2012, Wednesday

Down by the riverside

“Shall we take the dog for a walk in Avanos?” a friend asked as the heat of the day started to pass. Until recently this was not a particularly likely suggestion.

Avanos was a nice enough place with more pottery shops than a tourist could shake a stick at. On the other hand, development had tended to conceal its old troglodytic charms behind a facade of modernity that was all very well if you wanted to go shopping, but not for much else. The Kızılırmak River that flowed through the center of town ought to have been a major feature but somehow wasn’t. Now all that has changed.

I think it was in February that I first discovered the lovely new fish restaurant and the big branch of Mado that had opened upstream from the town center, remembering, as I tucked happily into a wonderful meal, the posters advertising plots of land for sale that I had seen advertised on Nevşehir bus shelters in 2011. At the time I’d regarded them mainly as tests of my reading skills. Now, however, the promise in the words had come to fruition, although it wasn’t until the belated arrival of summer that the full glory of the change that had occurred became apparent.

“Coming here feels like going on a short holiday,” my friend said as we pulled into the car park, and I knew exactly what she meant. Alongside the new restaurants the river now boasts a large island covered with ducks, geese and a scattering of pottery. More unexpectedly, just in front of the Mado ice-cream shop a row of gondolas sits waiting for customers. As we ambled along the newly landscaped promenade scattering nervy Avanoslus who didn’t much care for the dog while attracting like magnets a second bunch who absolutely adored him, in the background a gondola drifted lazily by.

I had been very scathing about those gondolas, an idea dreamt up in Eskişehir, a city low on natural charms that had had to struggle to make itself attractive. But what seemed like fun in a city context sounded silly to me in the Cappadocian one. If we must have pointy boats, I moaned, why can’t we have copies of the caiques that used to ply the Bosphorus? They would look quite gondola-like while still having a degree of authenticity about them.

Now, however, I had to admit that locals seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves messing about on the river. “They’ve got engines,” people had told me, which had made me even more irritable. Now, though, listen as I might, the passing boats gave off only the mildest of purrs. And, you know, the amazing thing was that all their passengers, not to mention the gondolier, were clad in life jackets, something I don’t remember from the Venice of my youth.

Afterwards we sat down at Mado with our ice-cream sundaes and a bowl of water that the staff readily supplied for the dog. Of the jetboats that are also supposed to be using the river there was, thankfully, no sight or sound. As we piled back into the car I had to agree with my friend -- our little jaunt to riverside Avanos had felt like the perfect mini-break.

Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.

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