Friday, September 28, 2007(0) comments (0) comments (0) comments
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
So far, an incredible journey though it is about over (very sad). More tales will come later. I fly out of Brussels in a couple of days and arrive in Seattle in time to go to a buddy's wedding about 5 hours after landing. Yeah, I should be looking my best. Until then, lots of beer to sample and.....that's about all I think. And enjoy my last days of freedom before the chaos starts (which has me oddly very very excited...)
Sunday, September 16, 2007
The coolest part of the drive was the scenery. Gorgeous plains, incredible valleys and canyons and mountains. The most beautiful scenery I had seen yet in the country. To me anyway. I am a sucker for mountains and canyons, you know. Not only did we see mountains, but we drove right past Mount Ararat! It was beautiful! Not to mention the history and the stories behind the mountain. As hard as I looked I could not spot Noah's Ark. An amazing sight. I am constantly shocked at all the things and places I am seeing here.
Getting into Van and finding a hotel was easy enough. Then it was a matter of waiting a couple more hours for the Ramadan fast to end so that we could eat. Found a nice place in a park next to a lake and feasted. A bit too much, as when the bill came we were a bit shocked. But the food was great and one expensive meal in a month is not bad. Into bed we settled with happy tummies.
Friday, September 14, 2007
If her account of the trip does not coincide with mine, it's because she is lying.
Back up. Driving into town we passed an incredible number of polis on every corner, midblock, in the street and maybe even up in the trees. It was a bit nutty. The corner at which we were deposited was very crowded not only with the polis, but with a very large crowd as well, craning their necks to see through a fence to the building beyond. We found out later that Turkey's new president was making an appearance. We didn't stick around to see him. Food was calling.
Back to the lake. From the castle we plotted our route to the edge of the lake for tea or beer or whatever we could find. We found a pier with a restaurant out near the end that was serving nice cold Efes beer. The walk was a bit long, in the sun, through almost empty streets and many unoccupied houses. Very quiet and friendly people, of course. At the restaurant we sat next to the water and watched the sun play on the waves, diving birds skipped along the top of the water, a nice breeze permeated our shaded table and all was right with the world.
Back in town at our hotel Steph went to sleep and Justin and I sat in a nearby çay evi (tea garden) and sat on little chairs at a little table and sipped tea and talked while surrounded by Turkish men talking, yelling, and playing backgammon. Nice.
Dinner. Now that was an experience. At our table with us was a Turkish man and his Iranian friend. The guy from Iran was about my age and spoke a little English. We abashedly admitted to our roots and expected something less than positive. Boy did he surprise us. He loves the US (repeated many times) and said he loves Bush? His tone was not nearly as positive when we also chatted about Clinton, and he doesn't seem to think Bush's approach to Iran in regards to nuclear issues is good. But. An interesting talk. He's here getting away. As we understood it, because of politics his parents were shot and I know he had all the toes on his foot cut off because he showed me. And there is no going back to Iran because that would be the end of him. And he can't work here. And the UN refused to give him a visa to western Europe because he doesn't need it (I guess his toe-less foot means little?). He expressed a lot of bitterness over that, a feeling that seems to be worsened because (according to him) if he were gay he would get a visa right away. But he's not so... The first solid reality check on this trip. A terrible situation for him. And no way for us to help.
After he left, we ended up talking to a guy at the table behind us, another Iranian refugee who spoke very good English. He also loves the US and Bush.
Now here is the topper. At the Internet place we stopped at after dinner, the guy collecting money asked where we were from, of course. We told him. He got very excited and let us know how much he loves Bush, the US, AND the US army! As you may suspect, we were a bit taken aback and weren't sure how to react. I thought he was going to stand and salute us. When he told us that he is Kurdish....we were floored.
Sidenote: no one we have talked to here thinks the US being in Iraq in good, and that while Saddam was bad, things are worse now. Lots of bad stories trickling up, and we keep hearing this from people.
Van was nice. We left and headed to Kars. That is another great story. One that almost involved me going for a ride in a Turkish military armored tank/car.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Phone contact was made with our soon-to-be friends and we made our way back to the otogar to meet them. On the way we stopped in a little convenience store type place for drinks. As I paid for my juice, the guy working the cash register asked me where I was from. I told him. He got up laughing, grabbed my neck, and made a show of strangling me! We all laughed and more banter was traded. But I wonder how deep his amusement actually went. I thought about this again later that night on our next bus ride when a very niec guy on it told us that we should not tell people that we are American. He didn't (need to) elaborate. Singular incidents thus far. I have no qualms telling people where I am from. And besides, it is far easier to tell it straight than to be caught in a lie later, yeah?
Anyway. Long story shortened, three friends took us on a tour around the city. And it was awesome! We went into a museum (free, somehow) with artifacts that were hundreds maybe thousands of years old, and these guys were touching and picking them up, man handling and generally acting as you never could in a museum in the US. It was hysterical! It was like hanging out with the three stooges. One guy spoke some english and french, the others spoke nothing we could understand. One of the latter was the type of person that is hysterical, even when you have no idea what he is saying. It was great! We saw an old castle and inn (where a movie is being shot) and then headed out of town to a really old church. In it was a Bible, written in Aramaic? Wild. Churches of various faiths are in the town, all side by side without problem. Tolerance good.....
A cannon just went off. It is now allowable to eat and drink (ramadan started today)!
Back to the boys. They took us out to dinner and then drove us back to the otogar where we immediately got on a dolmus headed to the town of...wait for it....Batman!!
Who am I? You're coach. Who are you? I'm...batman!!
We went through the gorgeous town of Hasankeyf, along the edge of the Tigris River. The sun was setting and it was absolutely stunning. The town, the old bridge and homes, the canyons.....too bad a dam is planned that will flood the entire area and displace tons of towns. Guess I have to come back to see the place before they drown it!
Instead of stopping in this beautiful hamlet, we continued on to Batman, an oil refinery city. They even have a piece of art work in the middle of town of an oil drill. So not as scenic. However, it was a great stay.
In the otogar, as we stood buying tickets for yet another trip (the next day of course), a round sweaty loud and bellowingly happy man bounded into the office speaking very broken english. He grabbed Justin and began popping Justin's knuckles and was about to move on to his elbows when Justin ran out screaming leaving the guy holding his backpack. My back was hurting and it amuses me how many pieces of me pop, so I dropped my bags and let the guy go to work. Hooboy. The hands were fine. Elbows...ok. Then he did something to my collar bones. He rolled skin on my chest and with a flicking motion did...something. This he repeated again on my chest and on my back. He cracked my neck in a couple of different ways as well. Through all this the guys behind the ticket counter were rolling at this guy and the faces I was making (I lost most of the hair on my chest because of this. No small feat) and Stephanie was leaning up against a wall crying with laughter. Justin occasionally poked his head in the door but would let out a stifled EEK and run out again. It wasn't until this guy started yanking my pants up from behind that I called a stop to it. Temporarily. I was curious, ok? I let him continue. So a minor wedgie and he did that weird skin thing to my lower back. And then he was done, just about dancing out the door in glee.
On to the hotel bit. Didn't stay at one. The 17-year old kid that sold us our tickets walked us to a hotel that we deemed to pricey. So he offered up his place. He works at the bus place in exchange for some money and a place to live. Two very spartan rooms down a broke looking street. But not bad at all. Taking him up on the offer he walked us to his place and we passed hordes of screaming/fighting kids, some not-yet complete buildings and lots of trash fires. After dropping our bags we went for a walk that terminated in a park across town. A band was playing (at least until power was temporarily lost), we drank tea and enjoyed the cool night and swapped english and turkish lessons (Our new friend spoke very little english). It was one of those nights that makes you stop and say: ah! Life is amazing!
By 10:30pm we'd had mats rolled out for us and we went eventually dropped off to sleep. Little did we know that the wake up call was coming at 5:45 so that no one would be late for work. No worries. We drank tea and ate bread until our bus at 8:30am to the city of Van.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
And then it began. Roosters began crowing. Annoying, but not threatening. They did, however, roust the local canine population which from the sound of it was quite sizeable. I chose to remember at this time what the guide book had said about dogs in the east part of the country-not friendly. In fact, a bit attacky. Huh. This caused us to pause even longer in our departure. Eventually we did, Steph clutching a small twig and me with a handful of rocks, Justin looking dazed and overwhelmed and confused. Our walk took us past the town's electricity plant and all the guards watching over it who looked quite amused at our crouching stulting progress down the street. I laughed back until they stopped smiling. Touchy. Cats began coming out to check on us, friendly as most cats seem to be in this country. An idea sprang to mind and I began scooping up as many cats as I could hold. Since Justin was so docile (in shock) I loaded up his shoulders and arms and placed one for good measure (my amusement) atop his head. On we progressed.
Then they came. We began climbing the hill into town and sensing our weakness 2 large dogs bounded in from the left. I rubbed 2 cats together to get their dander up and then overhanded them one after the other at the dogs. One missed, but Steph acted quickly and grabbed the kitty from Justin's head and lofted it with a wild woman's yell at the dog I had missed. Our relief was palpable as both dogs took off with screaming cats clawing at their eyes. The next attack came from the right before we could react. A large black dog knocked Justin tothe ground with a head to his stomach and was about to strike when the cats that had been in Justin's arms fell onto the dog and began an attack of their own. Frantically looking around for more feral cats we could hear snarling all around. Just then Ali showed up and ushered us quickly into his car! As we drove off one last dog attacked the car and ran alongside for a brief bit before giving up. What a relief it was to get a ride!
And what an angel Ali is! He drove us around trying to find us a hotel, banging on doors and asking posted cops in an effort to help us out. Finally we ended up at a fancy castle place that we knew was going to be pricey but at this point we could not say no. Fortunately it wasn't as expensive as we thought and we checked in. By now it was a little after 6am and we didn't have to pay for the night that was just ending! After dropping our bags we met Ali on the second floor terrace for some tea and attempted communication. Steph is doing awesome with her Turkish and that helped tremendoulsly, as did the flash cards she had made and the various language books we have. So for a couple of hours we drank tea and had a great time. Ali left promising to return later to show us around (leaving us not anxious to have the awkward "how much will this cost" conversation) and we crashed for a few hours.
Upon waking our bellies urged us to find food. Which we eventually did in the bakery of a garrulous and amazing man! He spoke decent english and we sat and chatted and drank tea with him amid the flurry of manic baking and selling taking place all around us. Eventually we were served penirs (sp?), butter soaked break with cheese and egg. Very tasty! A couple of pictures were taken and we headed back to the hotel to meet Ali. Who ended up calling to cancel. Which worked out perfectly because we instead spent the next couple hours drinking tea (so much tea! I love it! Gotta cut back on the sugar tho) and chatting with one of the workers there who had lived 4 years in London and spoke great English. It was awesome to hear about life in Turkey, being a woman in Turkey and in that small town, about peoples' thoughts on all going on in Iraq (interesting stuff) and life in general. It was awesome! After a couple hours we agreed to meet for dinner and we went off for a walk.
And what a walk it was (and what a long post this is!)! As we climbed higher into town we passed more and more kids very excited to see and talk with us. Some spoke a little english and we swapped language lessons as they guided us to the military base on top of the hill overlooking town (within which we were told the US military has a presence to watch for Iraq Iran et al?) and another amazing view. Passing kids with rock bruised heads, wrestling kids, entertained adults offering us water and tea we began making our way back down. But then we ran across an entire family sitting at the bottom of their stairs and we had to stop for tea and bread and a riotous time. The little son is a hellion and was a riot to watch. Lots of pics were taken, lots of laughs shared and yet another amazing experience.
Dinner with our new friend was good and it was nice to have our one large meal of the day. It calmed down the jitters for a few hours.
One recurring theme of this trip is the people we've been meeting. Everyone has been incredible and the locals have been getting nicer and more wonderful the further east we go. Even the guy who tried to strangle me was really nice about it.
More stories to be told, but not now. This town has been in it so we are going to go find some dinner and have a cold beer.
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Soon after the real drive began (several stops were made to pick up more people) the bus began climbing up into the mountains. This is also when the driver ceased paying attention to his job. More interested in the happenings behind him, he kept the rıght wheels on the edge of the precipice, made dramatic course corrections over and over and seemed unconcerned at oncoming traffic or slower traffic in his own lane. Only once or twice the wheels drifted off the pavement, after which İ focused more on my book than on looking down the aisle and out the front window. And as always, seeing locals looking nervous is never confidence inspiring.
Eventually the driver woke or sobered up (huge assumptıons on my part, though İ did consider walking up to see ıf the drıver area smelled suspicious) and all was well. Until late in the night when he decided that the left lane was the best place to drive, wıth wheels edging rıght along the very edge of the pavement alongsıde a nice ditch, swerving at the last minute to avoid oncoming traffic and then darting right back over. İ only spotted one overturned truck in the ditch whıch was on an uphill right at the point at which our driver decided to slowly pass another truck right in the face of more oncoming traffic.
But we made it, early, and were dropped in the streets of new Mardin at a little before 4am.
That was its own adventure and will be detailed at a later time. I need to go get dressed and pack. We are going to hit up the bazaar before grabbing another dolmuş to the town of Mıdyat (a hop skıp and jump from.....)
Saturday, September 08, 2007
As I ran between bus offices for about 30 minutes negotiating first with one company then another and another with occasional jaunts back to the original company to complain, our "cancelled" bus showed up, loaded on a bunch of people and took off. Huh? The guy who told us the bus was cancelled made some lame excuse that only "worked" because our turkish is worse than his english, and then wandered away midsentence. During all this Steph had to stand on the sidelines watching and shouting encouragement because no one would discuss with her due to her femality. Another dimension to the frustration.
Finally, we made arrangements to head out the next morning with a different company, through a guy who had been calling around for us for almost 30 minutes and who had also served as the original interpreter between us and the first company and claimed to be the brother of the girl in the office that screwed us. When I went back in to the original place to ask about our free hostel, they had the gall to laugh at me and mock me for asking for a free hostel after getting tix with a different company. With diminishing patience (read: none left) I explained that we were only in town because of them and that we didn't trust them to get us out of town, and that they had lied to us. Oddly, that didn't work. Curses were laid down on both sides, neither side knowing what was being said butting understanding the gist. Finally I left and we got a hostel through the guy that sold us our new bus tix. Amazing. But I guess our luck had to run out at some point, eh?
The next morning we showed up for our bus, which arrived on time. Unfortunately, we were told that it was full and that we'd have to wait for the next bus. A warm glow did not fill our bellies. 20 minutes later they put us on a shuttle bus that took us the next town over to a bus waiting there. Ok, fine, no problem so far. We had seats and off we went. A transfer was needed part way there, at which we got on a new bus run by a different company. Representatives from the origianl and new companies discussed and I think we were given seats that did not exist because for the first time, the bus had more people on it than seats. But it worked. The final cut we took was at the otogar (bus stop) in Antakya. Instead of going to the one in town, the bus stopped at the one outside of town on the highway. If we'd had tickets with the bus company that took us that final leg, we would have had a free shuttle into town. Since we didn't, a dolmuş (van, essentially) was needed. Ah well. We found a hotel, checked in and got to relaxing.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
That is good stuff. I'll continue pretending that drinking hot coffee when it is 32 degrees C and cloudless outside is a good idea. And yes, it is hot as balls out here and will only be getting hotter as we head east. Some of our new friends left last night to head southwest towards the coast and beaches. I suspect I will be very jealous of them very soon.
When finally we had time to trade the inside of conference rooms for the sights of Istanbul, we made the most of it. The Aya Sofya was beautiful (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hagia_Sophia), the Blue Mosque was amazing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sultan_Ahmed_Mosque) and had the most peaceful atmosphere inside (as long as you blocked out the screaming kids), but the thing that floored me the most was the Obelisk of Theodosius (http://www.quovadimus.org/turkey99/istanbulmonuments/5-400.html). This pillar, whose carvings look fairly new, is the oldest monument in Istanbul. It was carved in Egypt around 3,500 years ago! Amazing. Simply amazing. As I stood there gaping, the sun made its way below the horizon, singing birds flew past over head and the ezan began calling (the ezan is the call for prayer-Islam) and within my sight were these incredible and ancient sights. It is a bit mind-boggling to be somewhere and be seeing things that were subjects of history classes, things you never thought you would see and places you had never dreamed of visiting. A magical moment.
The following day we checked out a couple of the bazaars (Spice and Grand) which were interesting. The Grand Bazaar was a bit overwhelming not only because of the scale and number of goods, but because some cruise ships had dumped their passengers and the crowds were tremendous and suffocating. Which provided the perfect excuse to grab some lunch, meet up with a friend from the conference and hit up a hamam (Turkish bath).
Let me tell you about the hamam. Steps led us down into a cool and semi-lit reception area. Towels were handed to us and we changed into them and headed off to the baths (men and women are separate). Etiquette called for always being covered (men) with the rough towel, an uncomfortable state of being until the towel became wet and pliant. The inside of the bath itself had a floor of all marble and marble covered walls up to about head height. And it was hot and steamy. Marcus and I sat and shoveled water over ourselves while waiting our turn for a wash and massage (a necessary experience we were told). Finally the raised marble platform that filled most of the middle of the large room emptied and I sat to indicate my readiness. A big pot-bellied and hairy Turk came over and we got down to business. First he used a very rough loofa sorta thing to go over my back, stomach, arms and legs. He was intrigued by my tatoos and I think he tried to rub them off. Didn't work. Next he had me lay down on my back on the platform. Standing off to the side, he filled a pillow case with hella-foamy soap and....washed me (privtate bits were left unwashed by him). Both sides, and then a brief massage that involved a lot of heavy kneading, crushing twisting mushing and torquing. It was nice! Then we went off to one of the side areas and he used a bucket to rinse me off. Sitting me down he then washed my hair and again bucketed me off. Envision all of this done in a very gruff manner. It was pretty nice and I was cleaner than I'd been in....a long time. After all that Marcus and I sat in the sauna for a bit and then floated around in a big pool of cool water. Not a bad experience at all!
That night we jumped on a bus headed to the town of Goreme in Cappadocia (http://www.turizm.net/cities/cappadocia/goreme.htm). A shuttle bus picked us up at the hostel (we stayed at one the night before in order to hang out with other conference people that were still in town) and 20 minutes later it dropped us and the others at a spot 5-minutes away from the hostel by foot. Amusing, though a bit silly. It prompted conversations between us, two Bengali/Brits and a couple of Aussies. It was a long ride, with a good 10 hours or so of it without a/c which made for a sweaty ride. But we were given tea and coffee after our potty stops and I even managed to sleep a bit! That was the most amazing part. I did get to watch the sun come up over the fairy chimney/hoodoo type formations and forced myself to stay awake to soak in the countryside until we pulled into town. As we plodded around with the others, it was decided that Steph and I, the 2 Bengali/Brits, the 2 Aussies and 2 other Americans would all stay at the same hostel. Our rooms? They are caves! A rad little hostel.
After eating breakfast and taking a nap, 5 of us walked to an outdoor museum which allowed us a glimpse into the ancient ways. In this area, homes are build into the formations and cliffs. It's awesome! The museum was a lot of old churches built around the turning of BC to AD and are built into caves. Next up was a taxi ride out to some fairy chimneys and on the way back the driver threw in a stop by an overlook above a small valley that very much reminded me of Bryce Canyon in Utah. Awesome. I am glad that this area is somewhat akin to Utah, as I feel like I am getting a bit of my desert fix.
Day 2 in Goreme: an underground city in Derinkuyu (http://www.hitit.co.uk/tosee/cappy/ucities.html). Levels and levels of tunnels and structure all underground. it was like a playground, if you could forget that their original purpose was to hide from marauders.
I'm running out of steam so I'll continue later.
Monday, September 03, 2007
Not long after I had a past event recalled to mind by the actions of the train folk. Several years back during a train ride from Prague to Austria, the train kept stopping during the night and we had to run from train to train to bus to train without ever knowing what was going on. Fortunately, this time we had warning. Right after I finally dropped off to sleep, the train stopped and we boarded a bus which ended up driving us 2 more hours to Beograd (Belgrade). It was a pretty ride, watching the sun come up over the corn and sunflower fields. Once to the Beograd train station, we plunked down for a couple cups of Turkish coffee and chatter until our next train, which whisked us to Sofia, Bulgaria.
Now this train ride. Not the most pleasant of rides. It started out ok with pretty fields, cities and a couchette for us and a smallish older lady. Eventually I fell asleep, until a crowd of Bulgarians joined us. This is also when the temperature moved into the uncomfortable zone. No fans, no a/c, and no air flow within the car added to the stifling heat. By early afternoon all my water was hot enough to steep tea (and almost burn your mouth) and hanging out one of the train windows was the only way to feign comfort. At one stop I ran off to try and fill a bottle at a nearby fountain and was almost left behind. Running in my flops I leapt up onto the stairs and swung into the car while everyone laughed and cheered. At the next stop, one of the Bulgarians in our couchette grabbed 3 bottles (one of mine) and ran off to fill them. O blessed cold water! How you quenched my thirst....until it turned hot 20 minutes later.
Suffice it to say, we arrived in Sofia just after dark completely dehydrated and exhausted. And hungry I suppose. I didn't notice that.
Connection building began in the Sofia train station. We saw a crowd of other non-local travelers, one of whom was wearing a shirt from last year's carfree conference. Through them and their Sofian friend, we got bus tickets to Istanbul the next morning (with our new friends) and directions to the city center where we had heard rumors of a hostel. Bidding our fellow carfree comrades goodbye, we set off. A very kind local girl guided us to the tram, on which we met two girls, one from Germany and one from France/UK. Very nice, and also on their way to their hostel. We followed, got a couple beds in the dorm and then went to dinner with them. Great people, a great conversation, two themes which continue to recur in this trip. After dinner we joined other international travelers in the hostel lounge for some drinks before crashing for the night.
I think I have the time and energy for one more leg of the trip which will leave us on the eve of the conference.
The next AM we walked to the bus station and boarded up for a 9-hour trip to Istanbul. A pretty and semi-mountainous ride coffee and tea supplied to us by the bus stewardess type. The best part had to be the a/c, especially as we watched the bus's thermometer slowly rise up to and over 40 degrees C. Oy.
At the border we had our passports checked by the Bulgarians. Then we had to get off the bus for them to be stamped. Back on the bus and over to Turkish customs where foreigners again got off to buy the Turkish visa and then back on to await our stamped passports. When those arrived, our bus joined a long queue and after maybe 30 minutes we got off, grabbed our bags and laid them on a table for inspection. Ours were not checked but the process took a while. Finally after maybe 2 hours from start to finish, we were across the border and on to the final leg!
Pulling into Istanbul, Sunday night, we noticed hordes of people picnicking alongside the highway. It turns out green space is very hard to find, so anything close will do. The sun was going down which made for a pretty entrance into the city. Off the bus, we grabbed the Metro to the tram which we took to where we thought we had to get off. In hindsight, Kadiköy is not the same as Karaköy, though they are pronounced very similarly. Being tired we didn't look closely at our directions or the map and ende up in Europe rather than Asia (Istanbul has a European and an Asian side). To further complicate matters, the street we needed to look for, in order to find our host Rick's house, exists on both sides right next to the ferry docks. After wandering around and not finding anything else fitting our directions, we called Rick. After much confusion, he figured out where we were, laughed and told us to get on the river ferry to the right place. Which we did. He was kind enough to come down at 10pm to pick us up and guide us through the 10 minute walk to his place. Exhausted, we collapsed on his couches alongside Elly who had arrived hours earlier (she also made the same mistake as us, which made us feel a little better).
After some small chatter and clean up, horizontal sleep was a blissful end to the day.
I think this captured a little of the chaos of the trip. It was fun and exhausting and so much more interesting than flying right to our destination!