Monday, August 9, 2010

Istanbul and the flight home

It was still dark when I got in to Istanbul at 5:30 am, so I hung around the bus station for an hour before hiring a taxi to take me to the appartment of some friends I would stay with for a day. After looking at the address, they said the address was in a different neighbourhood than I had thought. They said they'd take me there for 45 lyra, and then they knocked it down to 40 lyra when I hesitated. I accepted, and the driver I bartered with passed me over to another driver (who spoke very little english). So we set off, and as we drive further and further, I start feeling really horrible, thinking this can't be right. The instructions I had been given indicated that the bus station was really close to my friends' appartment. I kept praying that we were headed in the right direction. After 20 minutes of driving, he started stopping and asking locals about the address. No one seemed to recognize it. That wasn't a good sign. Eventually, the driver indicated that I call my friends and since it was only 7 am I was really hoping they were up already. My friend immediately told me that we were indeed in the wrong neighbourhood, and that the neighbourhood we had started in was the correct one. I then passed the phone to the driver, who was very frustrated to be told that he had driven 30 minutes away from the address, and would need to drive 30 minutes back just to get into the right neighbourhood. After ending the call, he complained to me in Turkish, and although I just kept nodding my head, I did understand when he told me (in Turkish) it would have taken only 5 minutes to get to the address from the bus station. As frustrated as he was, he didn't seem to be angry with me, and I think it helps sometimes to look younger than I am, since he may have taken pity on me for that reason. When we finally arrived at the right address, I gave him the 40 lyra, the last of my cash, and felt a little bad that I couldn't give him more since the trip was worth a lot more than what we had agreed upon at the beginning. But then, it wasn't my fault, nor was it my friend's fault; it was the fault of the taxi driver's friend who sent him to the wrong neighbourhood.

I was very thankful to arrive safely at my friends, and I spent an absolutely fantastic 28 hours with them. Unfortunately, shortly after arriving at their house, I had to sleep for a couple of hours thanks to my sleepless night, but the rest of my non-sleeping hours was spent in lovely conversations with them.

On Wednesday morning, my friends gave me directions on how to get to the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, where my hotel for that night was. I had a very early flight (5:55 am, needed to be there for 3:55, so left at 3:30 and up at 3:00) the next morning, so I had decided to stay in a hotel my last night in Turkey and catch a taxi to the airport.

After taking a bus, a ferry, and a tram, and a good 20 minutes of searching on foot, I arrived at my hotel. I had a quick rest before heading out to do last minute shopping. I had left some of my shopping for the end so as not to have to carry it throughout my travels. I left the hotel around 3, and hoped I'd get it done quickly. One shop did very well with me buying some pillow covers and table runners, among other things. Definitely my most exciting purchase was my baglama, an Anatolian/Turkish folk instrument, which I bought at a music store. I also briefly explored the busy Spice Market, avoiding the main bazaar which would have been even busier. I had made some heavy purchases at the first shop so I left the stuff there before I hit the Spice Market and on the way back I returned to the shop to pick up my bag. If I had taken the tram back to my hotel, I likely would have escaped Turkey without buying a rug, carpet or killam. I didn't take the tram, and as a consequence got hooked into entering a carpet shop and purchasing two smaller sized killams. It is a difficult feat to leave Turkey without buying a carpet, partly because the carpet salesmen are so insistent and seem confused if a tourist hasn't bought one.

After my shopping was done, I had a quick supper and wandered around taking pictures of the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome and other buildings around the Sultanahmet. By 11 o'clock, I was all packed up and in bed.

5 hours later I was up. I enjoyed the business class lounge at the airport (though the many juice boxes I took for later in the trip weren't allowed to pass through the gate security) and the short flight to Frankfurt. What was supposed to be 6 hours at Frankfurt unfortunately turned into 8 and a half hours (and would have been plenty of time to leave the airport to go into the city). Flying into Reykjavik, I nearly shed tears seeing Iceland for the first time. The airport felt like I was stepping into someone's home complete with wooden floors and a creaky wood staircase. Needless to say, I already have a desire to return to Iceland; the airport giving enough of a taste to get me hooked it would seem. After 2 hours there, I climbed aboard my third flight of the day to fly into Halifax. 28 hours after I had woken up, I was finally able to go to sleep, back in my own bed.

I'll have at least one more post after this, describing some of my reflections on the trip, so do come back to continue reading! And thanks so much to those who are reading, and have kept me in their thoughts and prayers while I was in Turkey!


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Bodrum and Izmir

"I left a piece of my heart in the pingos, deep in the permafrost of the earth and I, I will go retrieve it someday, and maybe I'll see you, and we'll know that we're home."

I was hoping to be able to give an update on my last days in Turkey while I was in transit flying home, but I had no free wifi to pick up in either the 8 and a half hours in Frankfurt of the 2 hours in Reykjavik so that update never happened. I've now been home for a few days and will finally give you guys an update on my last 7 days in Turkey, which I will split up into a few posts.

So two updates ago, I was on my way to Bodrum. That was Friday, July 30. I took a ferry to Bodrum, and it was a very pretty trip there. Upon arriving in Bodrum, I called an archaeologist friend, Rebecca, who was working in the city to ask if she could recommend a place for me to stay. She mentionned one place, but then offered a bed at her dormitory, which just so happened to be at the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, which is connected with Texas A&M. The price to stay was minimal, so I gladly accepted. I met a few Canadians at the Institute who were from Brock University and the tour of the place Rebecca gave me was fantastic, especially seeing the shipwrecks they were processing from Yenikapi. After settling in, I headed back into the city centre to check out Bodrum's famous Underwater Archaeology Museum. People seemed to get really excited when I told them about my visit to the museum. Now,the museum is not actually underwater and I was disappointed that most of their excitment disappeared when I clarified that. The museum was very interesting since it was located in a Crusades era castle (I believe) and the exhibits were a mix of castle and shipwreck related artifacts within the castle buildings. My favourite definitely was the Uluburun shipwreck exhibit, a shipwreck that's right off the coast of SW Turkey. Some very cool artifacts. I then met up with Rebecca and Jessica (another Texas A&M grad student) and we explored the local market before grabbing some supper and returning to the Institute for an early night.

The next day I was up bright and early to catch a bus to Izmir. I was told that once I arrived at the bus station in Izmir, there would be a free service bus that could take me to the neighbourhood of the friends I would be staying with. After some confusion, I eventually got on a dolmus (not a free service bus) that ended up dropping me a few kilometres from where my friends were expecting me. After waiting at this spot for their son to pick me up for about 30 minutes, I caught a taxi and spent a 5 lyra taxi trip getting to their house. I spent the Saturday, Sunday and part of Monday with these friends, and joined them in going to church on Sunday morning. I had a fantastic time with them, and felt very refreshed after I had been starting to feel a little tired of travelling.

On Monday morning, I left my friends and took a dolmus to the centre of the neighbourhood I was in. I had talked to my friend Ilkay a few days before, and we were going to meet in Izmir so I could see Ulucak Hoyuk, the second site I was supposed to be joining and I would also have the opportunity to meet his supervisor who is also the director of the Ulucak Hoyuk dig. The site was absolutely amazing! Getting to see mud brick and wattle and daub walls dating back to the Neolithic was pretty awesome! Ozlem (the director) gave me a very detailed tour of the excavations which I very much appreciated. I ended up spending a few hours hanging out with the crew at the dighouse and at the site, chatting and inhaling the second-hand smoke from countless cigarettes smoked by all the crew. Despite there being only a few english speakers, I had a great afternoon with the crew and chatted quite a bit with a phD student from Boston University. He seemed excited to have an english speaker to talk with. In the evening I was dropped off at the bus offices where earlier in the day we had purchased my ticket to Istanbul, and I bid farewell to my friend Ilkay.

I must remember for future reference never to take an overnight bus again. I can't sleep on them, and it turns out I get super irritable. When you add to that me getting hungry, you've got a horrible case of hangry (being hungry=being angry, but only in severe cases) and I want to viciously wake up the young woman sleeping beside me simply because she's sleeping so well (I didn't though; I restrained myself). Anyways, I left Izmir at 9 pm and arrived in Istanbul at 5:30 am.

Monday, August 2, 2010

"All the way down the line, let's go. All the way down the line together"

In Turkey, I have travelled by long distance buses, dolumuses and city buses, tram, train and plane, car, taxi, ferry and shuttle, all of which prove to be interesting experiences in their own right, but usually having something to do with the way Turks drive. There's a certain order to their chaos, and surprisingly I've only seen one accident, and that involved a parking and a parked car. Except for a subway, I believe I have taken every form of public transportation in Turkey. I should take the time to describe the experience of all of them, but the long distance buses hold a particularly special place in my heart.

First off, you must understand that these buses are nothing what you think of when you picture bus travel in North America, especially since in recent years our minds are drawn to the horrible Greyhound incident which won't be forgotten for a long time. It's more along the lines of travelling by plane, except with an always friendly attendant and better snacks

I have travelled with Pammukale, Nilüfer and one called something like Lüks Amasya. The later bus company wasn't too fancy, but I wasn't going to a very popular place (Amasya). The former two have had personal tvs in each seat, a lovely feature. Mind you, it's all in Turkish, but that didn't stop me from watching Night at the Museum 2 and Henry Poole is Here on separate occasions. As I said, the snacks are pretty great, and have included a cake bread, pretzels, a bun, mango, and orange and pomegranate juices, tea and coffee, water, cookies and ice cream. Yeah, the ice cream has been a highlight twice. That should definitely happen more often. When you consider how relatively cheap a bus ticket is, they certainly treat you well.

The buses makes stops every two hours for bathroom breaks (and smoking breaks for all the Turks that smoke) and even the rest stops are catered to large crowds. You'll usually find several buses (each holding around 40 to 50 people) stopped and all can easily be accommodated. Often they have a restaurant, and snacky things to buy as well. Some places even wash the stopped buses. Very slick.

You've got a fair bit of room on the buses, more than when flying anyways. Even with the chair in front of you pushed back, the comfort is still there. This overnight bus I'm currently on seems to have a form of black lights serving as low lights for the bus while people try to sleep.

This is a very popular way to travel for Turks. Gas is so expensive that it's hard to go on a roadtrip. The first night bus I took, I was surprised at how many people were on the road through the middle of the night and how many huge busloads of people would be at the rest spots.

I'm happy to be travelling this way. The only downside is I tend to get a pain in my bad left knee, the condition of the highways can be really poor, and I don't sleep very well on them, especially when I get stuck with an aisle seat.

Well, my eyelids are getting heavy so I think I'll try to sleep for a bit. We may reach a rest stop within the hour, in which case it may be a very short sleep; they flash the lights on to get everyone prepared for the stop.