A Travellerspoint blog

June 2011

East, West and Center!

The last 2 months...

all seasons in one day

So, I haven't been able to bring myself to update in a while; however, the frequency of my posts is in no way representative of my travel patterns. Since April, I've been to: Istanbul, Eskişehir, Trabzon, Fethiye and Beypazarı.
I've also taken to discovering more of my own city - Ankara.

Istanbul - I was once again reminded of its chaotic, yet intoxicating nature. The purpose of my trip was to visit my friend Derin, who was coming from Canada. The journey involved an overnight train, which was actually a fairly pleasant trip once the infants stopped wailing. I woke up around 5:30 am to a gorgeous view of hills that we were sliding our way through (it was quite misty out). From the time I left my house to the time I finally met Derin, it took a total travel time of 13 hours. I was exhausted yet there was no time to rest, and so I left my backpack and we travelled. We started off at the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, which is worth a visit for the spectacular view alone! It looks like nothing special from the outside, much like a factory, but the permanent exhibition had some gems and we both really enjoyed strolling around the temporary exhibition which was about the loss of nature due to pollution and industrialization. The pieces all had gorgeous landscapes, but there was always garbage scarring it in some way. We continued on to wander through Ortaköy, with its wonderful mosques and beautiful cafes. I tried one of the typical waffles, while Derin chose a Turkish coffee. The highlight was when we wandered through a tiny plaza that was filled with campaigning posters for the AKP (political party), and a woman walked up and proceeded to bash the AKP as best she could. After that, she pointed to one of the volunteers and said that she hated those people. She explained to us that the only people who supported the AKP were religious and traditional - not the kinds of people she wanted anything to do with. We smiled and tried to edge away as we weren't interested in getting into a heated discussion with either of the women. At this point the volunteer had wandered over and explained that she too hated "the other", in this case the more modern segment of the population perhaps? It was a strange experience, but very illustrative of Turkish politics and society. The result of the June elections? AKP won. In any case, Istanbul was mostly about seeing my friend. Sunday, I attended a church service, which was a very spontaneous decision. It was a Catholic church, I think, and mostly attended by Filipino immigrants. I didn't speak to anyone, but the service was interesting from what I gathered. It was a rushed trip, and made me realize that unless I'm in top form it's not one I'd like to repeat too often.

Eskişehir - a student's paradise. I had already been here before, but this time Cynthia, Kate and I decided to go so that we could also travel on to Kütahya, a place known for its hot springs. We didn't succeed, as the trains were packed and so we had to leave later than anticipated. As it happens, we went during the city's street festival. We decided to stay the night - a wise choice! We had a lovely time wandering the streets and listening to the live music everywhere. There also happened to be a salsa show that night, so we saw a star performer live. While watching we also played truth or dare jenga, which involved some of the funniest incidents in Turkey thus far. Suffice it to say that this city is a wonderful weekend getaway from Ankara; not because it has historical sites or wonderful museums, but because it's calm, relaxing and really pretty. You can even take a gondola ride on the canal (which we did)!

Trabzon - This city was once important, but now it's the least appealing I've been to. It was beautiful at times, because of the green. Even throughout the dirtiest parts of the city there were always trees everywhere, which was wonderful. It is raining constantly there, so it's not surprising that it should be so fecund. Two friends and I travelled together. It's a 12 hour bus ride from Ankara, which we took together. These bus trips are tough, because they're exhausting. You arrive at your destination completely drained, but it's morning and you have such a short time that you need to get going immediately. We went off in search of the Russian market, which involved a lot of walking and a very minor reward. It was filled with tacky goods that could've been purchased in Kızılay markets in Ankara. Within the city proper the most beautiful sight we saw was the Ayasofya, which was built in the 13th century. The city itself has been of great importance at different points in time, like during Ottoman times, or beforehand even after ancient times as a trade port, but now it looks decayed. The main trade that's done there now is prostitution, from what I gather. Unfortunately my friends and I were exposed to the darker side of this, as it must have been assumed by many of the men there that that was our reason for being there. We were harassed orally, and my friend was also sexually assaulted, which was perverse. I have never felt so uncomfortable in Turkey as I did there. It was also surprising just how few women we saw wandering the streets compared to the number of men (in certain areas of the city). At night we went to a bar, and once again I was surprised to see that there were two sections: one for men and one for groups of people (mixed, men and women or just women). This was the first time I'd ever seen something like it, but I wasn't bothered. I did notice that although this bar was packed, the streets were fairly empty by around 10 pm, and that there was definitely a shortage of bars and night clubs in the city. This has now been confirmed by a friend of mine who lived there for 8 years. Anyway, the highlight of this trip was seeing Sümela Monastery, which made everything worth it - the horrible men and the depressing weather. This monastery was built into the side of a steep cliff above a valley, and it really is spectacular to see from far away and up close. It looks to not have much depth, but then once you climb to it you see that there are courtyards and it's quite something. It was built in the 4th century and has been through quite a few rough times, always to be restored again. The mosaics in the rock church were amazing, but I was unable to get the information I would have wanted. I was told that apparently the mosaics were moved, but why? And from where? They were still in amazing condition really. If I were to go to north eastern Turkey again, I would probably skip spending any time in Trabzon proper and instead go just to the monastery and some of the natural conservation sites a few hours outside of the city. Apparently Rize isn't a bad choice for a weekend either, particularly if you're a tea aficionado!

Fethiye - a place for beach, sand and wind! I don't think I'll ever forget Fethiye, because I went paragliding there. It was one of the strangest experiences I've ever had. I went to Fethiye with Cynthia, Eilidh and Brian (Cynthia's boyfriend). The four of us had discussed paragliding briefly before going, but none of us did any research into it. When we arrived (after an overnight bus) on the Saturday morning, we were exhausted so we relaxed at the hostel, which was incredibly luxurious, and decided we would try paragliding if at all possible as well as a boat trip to Kelebek Vadisi. We set off for Ölüdeniz, and by the time we got there I already wasn't feeling very well. When they decided to go on a boat trip for the day, I chose to stay put at the beach alone rather than be motion sick as well as full of stomach cramps. This was probably a wise decision as the waters were rough to start with they told me. I spent the day lounging on the beach, surrounded by bright red, topless and mostly overweight British tourists. I was genuinely surprised to see so many British tourists there, and also that they weren't wearing their bathing suits. I later spoke to a local about this, because I wondered how the Turks felt - this doesn't seem to really fit with their cultural habits after all... He told me that generally speaking the locals go to other beaches, but that they don't judge these people by the same standards because after all, they're from a different culture. It was a very diplomatic response. In any case, I had no problem with my neighbours for the day as no one even spoke to me really. I got to read "Dune" on the beach and occasionally brave the walk to the water (over a lot of very uncomfortable pebbles, stones and rocks). I should have worn sandals, but instead I wore sneakers. The temperature was hot - about 36 degrees. I tried to avoid the sun, but even so I was extremely burned by the end of the day. One of the times when I was trying to avoid the sun, I hid out in a bus shelter and ended up chatting with the Dolmuş coordinator for quite a while. By the end of it I had secured a sweet deal for my friends and I for paragliding, which we did Sunday morning. Since we went with the coordinator's friend's company, they reduced the price by about 30% for us. This is yet another reason why I love this country. If you speak any Turkish, they're so genuinely happy and appreciative. I'm not sure whether it's because so few people try, or whether it's because they recognize that it's a tough language to learn; but, I've found people really kind (usually!) when I try to speak with them in Turkish. That being said, one thing that I find difficult is when they comment on their perception of my level and I'm left unsure of how to respond. This can be both negative and positive at times. When comparing us yabancı to each other it usually results in frustration, as people are very vocal about how they think we should speak and who speaks how. At this point, having now lived in Turkey for 10 months I can say that typically I can carry conversations, but I've given up hope of fluency because I think I've lost my idea of what it means. Back to the beach! On Saturday night we wandered into town and had a nice dinner at the marina, watching the boats floating and the stars shining. Sunday morning we set off for our paragliding expedition. The scariest part was the drive up the mountain because the driver didn't seem to mind the curves or the lack of road guards. I spent the ride conversing with the instructor beside me. We talked about politics and tradition. We decided to do the jump together. He put me in my suit and gave me my clear instructions: you'll run off the cliff, and make sure you don't stop running until I tell you and then you can sit comfortably and relax. I did as I was told and we glided. I was in front, sitting there, with a complete stranger, 2000 metres above the Aegean Sea talking about Australia. We glided and it was gorgeous. It was an incredibly peaceful experience, not like the adrenaline I had anticipated. We sat and talked, and smiled and took photos. It was incredibly strange because it felt like I was suspended in time. The minutes passed but I couldn't feel them nor could I feel the movement until I took off my helmet, at which point the wind rushed by and I felt better. By the time we came to land, motion sickness had hit me (as always!). During the landing he had to pass me a bag for fear that I'd vomit all over. The pathetic part was that we landed on the beach strip where people were standing to watch the paragliders come down, and instead of landing gracefully and jumping up and down with joy or even waiting for my friends, I landed and then ran off to the office to lie down and settle my stomach. I was fine within a short period of time. We then went for a hearty breakfast - I had toast. Due to the number of British tourists everywhere, the restaurants all offer British food, which was kind of a bit of a treat. My friends were able to eat meat that they wouldn't normally have. In Ankara bacon costs 78 TL at the supermarket for a small package that would probably be 10$ at the most at home; so, that was a treat for them in Fethiye. We spent the afternoon at Kayaköy. It's a village that was basically abandoned during the population exchange of 1923 between Greece and Turkey. It was then quite severely damaged by an earthquake in the 1950s; however, the buildings are still fairly intact, particularly the two churches. There also seems to be a sort of small artist commune there. I can't really express why it was unique, but it really did feel like we were walking through a ghost town. There were hardly any other people wandering, and the houses were all half ruined, but still standing. Once we hit the top of the hill and looked down it was an especially eerie feeling. There were many experiences that struck me in Fethiye and its surrounding areas. I'll return at some point, I'm sure.

Beypazarı - this small town is about 1.5 hours outside of Ankara, or less if there's no traffic. For such a proximity to Ankara, it's surprising the number of local dishes they have including stews, salty cookies (consistency much like South African rusks) and its own special baklava. Basically the reason for coming to this town is the shopping. They're well known for their inexpensive but beautifully designed silver jewellery. It lived up to its reputation. It's also quite pretty because of its nicely preserved Ottoman style houses, which line the valley and its surrounding hills. It's worth a visit if you're in Ankara. I'll probably try to go back a few more times next year, but I'll make sure to take less money next time :)

Next post: more photos, and more descriptions of Ankara itself! This will have to wait though as I'll be heading to Canada, America, Poland, Germany and Croatia for the summer!

Posted by madrugada 12:07 Archived in Turkey Tagged beaches art cities istanbul trabzon Comments (0)

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