A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about istanbul

Tripping to the Past and Future

sunny

On June 11th I left on a trip to Turkey and Portugal. It was more cost efficient to fly three return trips rather than multi destination, which meant I landed in Lisbon and had hours to wait. The flight to Lisbon had the feeling of a high school reunion from the 1950s - like I was flying to a different era and not a different country. The food on the flight was so awful that the woman beside me force fed me her homemade cookies. I was torn because I half wanted to sleep, which sugar doesn't help but I was also hungry (perpetual problem). I should have voted no.
By the time I landed for my stop over in Lisbon, I was ravenous as the cookie was not quite the satiating and delicious little something I had hoped for. I sat at the Spoon Cafe for hours eating toast and chatting with a Canadian Portugeuse family who were very kind and also fed me chocolate. I think the mother wanted to take me as her daughter in law because by the end she was hugging me and trying to pick up my phone number. I need more yenta in my life, so I soaked it up. Finally it was time to go so I headed off for my flight to Istanbul. In general, the best way to get from the airport to the city is by the Havatas but I arrived very late in Istanbul and took a shuttle to my hostel, Galata West, where I met my friend Kate. We went out to Istiklal Caddesi (close to Taksim) where people are partying on the streets until sunrise. In those few hours out having fun I noticed a few stark differences from my last time in Istanbul three years prior (when I still lived in Turkey): the increased presence of Arab tourists and refugees, and an increase in selfies (and selfie sticks). No correlation as far as I know.
The next day Kate and I decided to visit Büyükada, an island just an 1.20 ferry from Kabataş ferry terminal in the European side of Istanbul. One thing to be aware of when taking this ferry is that it will be overcrowded, so go early to board early and actually get a seat. You'll be kept entertained by the vendors selling things like lemon squeezers and potato peelers. One was so convincing he had the whole ferry clapping and laughing. By the time he was done his schpiel I was first in line to purchase the merchandise. Three weeks later and I have yet to use it but his memory remains.
The first thing that stood out when we arrived were the crowds - it was a gorgeous day and everyone clearly had the same idea to take a break on the islands. The houses were stunning, and there were some interesting sites to visit like an abandoned orphanage and the views from on top of the hills.
IMG_2646.jpgIMG_2652.jpg
After returning to the mainland we walked by some winding streets leading to Galata and enjoyed some of the random activities like shooting pellets at balloons. We also walked by a brothel, which Kate explained is regulated by the state meaning the sex workers get tested regularly and receive pensions. They had more than enough business! We went out that night past Galata Tower to a Circassian restaurant called Ficcin where we were approached by an older lady who thought I was Turkish and proceeded to advise on where to go and what to do while in Istanbul. Serendipity dictated that we run into her again the following day! That night we went to a blues jazz bar called Kumsaati, followed by a bar on a fun corner called Narrdo. You can't beat a party on a street corner. You also can't compete with a rooftop terrace highlighting the mystery of the Bospherous and the beauty of Turkish men... Or vice versa.
IMG_2696.jpg
On Sunday, we went to visit the Ottoman Banking Museum in Galata Salt on Bankalar Caddesi. They had a number of interesting facts about women and foreigners working at the banks, and also how the banking system worked in general. A benefit was that entrance was free. We then went to visit the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Beyoğlu. I had tried to attend a service there years ago and it hadn't worked out but I was welcomed into the Rabbi's house for a Seder meal. I love finding community in transit.
IMG_2725.jpg
I went wandering Istiklal after and saw the massive influx of police, I then decided to retreat indoors in a restaurant called Ravouna - beautiful rooftop views of the city.
IMG_2751.jpgIMG_2760.jpg
At about 1 am I went to play tavla (backgammon), before dancing at a fun old school bar on Istiklal called Eskici Pera.
I had yet another late night, in keeping with the theme of enjoying Turkey. One of the highlights had to be beating a Turkish man at tavla to which he commented: adamsın. Only took a simple game of backgammon to find out that apparently I'm a man... Or I'm the man. I'll take the latter.
Monday morning was another late morning, but I finally got ready to head off to Bebek and Ortaköy as per the instructions of my new guardian angel from the Circassian restaurant. I walked to Taksim to catch a bus there, but it's not as straightforward as you'd think catching a bus in Istanbul to go where you want to go. I chose to take a cab, and let the driver convince me to go to Rumeli Hisari instead of Bebek. He also promised he'd fight anyone on my behalf, if necessary. I'm not sure what about me screams damsel in distress, but I told him I'd take him up on the offer should the need arise (in the 20 minutes we had together). I'd never heard of Rumeli Hisarı before, but it was well worth a visit - it's a fortress from hundreds of years ago with a view of the European and Asian sides as well as the Bospherous. I was even able to see dolphins.
IMG_2794.jpg
Afterwards, sweaty and famished, I took a taxi to Ortaköy where I ate kumpir (Turkish baked potato with all the fixings you could ever want), and ice cream and watched Spain's Top Chef being filmed. I thought about interrupting for my fifteen minutes of fame and then retreated back into my delicious food. I then walked back to Kabataş where I took the tram to Karaköy and strolled back to the hostel. I got ready and went out to the Hazzo Pulo Şarap Evi. It's amazing how many different sides of a city you can experience depending on who you're out with. I had already been in dive bars, hipster clubs and now a classy wine house...more in store!
On Tuesday, my conversations with strangers and friends continued to center around the Syrian crisis. It hit a head in a sense when I was having a meal with some Turkish men (the restaurant owner and his friends) and one of their friends walked by screaming in Arabic. He's Syrian and had been rejected from renting a room for that reason. The massive influx of Syrian refugees has been influencing local politics too. This is a nation that still has Gezi Park looming. There are serious implications in terms of how these refugees will be integrated into the society, and whether and how they'll leave. There are humanitarian considerations in addition to the economic ones that are often discussed. No one knows where this will go.
I sat with a friend and his girlfriend discussing these matters before strolling the streets and taking in what I could before returning to the world of politics through a newspaper.
IMG_2845.jpg
Wednesday morning was departure time for Ankara - back to visit my old life. I decided to stay in Tunalı at the Ankara Gordion Hotel. The first place I wanted to go was Ulus for Iskender Kebap. As if life has any meaning without the decadence of meat, yoghurt and bread.
IMG_2879.jpgIMG_2880.jpg
Mehmet and I went strolling around and I noticed that there have been some changes like a huge new mosque being built, but for the most part things remain the same like Luna Park. Change is a funny concept because throughout my whole trip I couldn't help but compare its present with my past there and wonder when things are identical why that is but question the changes at the same time. You can't step in the same river twice.
IMG_2892.jpg
We went on the ferris wheel, bumper cars and haunted house. The highlight to me came at the end of the haunted house when finally something scary happened - the mechanical car broke down and we sat stuck when all of a sudden one of the employees came and put his hand on Mehmet's shoulder and said "boo". After that shock, we headed off walking through Sihhiye to Kizilay and finally Tunalı. Along the way we ran into Esat Kıratlıoğlu, a former Turkish politician. We then visited Kuğulu Park, which has become far more political in the wake of Gezi Park. Politics everywhere yet few swans to be found.
IMG_2909.jpg
Thursday was a day of wandering around Tunalı. Everywhere I went I overheard people discussing the recent election (of early June) and the possible coalitions that may be formed in its wake. If only there were a crystal ball for us to see into the future. But then what fun would the challenges be?
I had the most delicious lunch at my favourite restaurant, Cafe des Cafes - pomegranate and fig sauce on a steak. Food could be my life. I continued wandering and shopping before stopping in at Elizinn where the wonderful management wished me well and provided me with some delicious food. Ramadan had just started so everyone everywhere was preparing fabulous meals to break the fast, Iftar. It's beautiful being able to celebrate it and watch the love and kindness people bring to the table.
Friday was a day of nostalgia. I spent the day visiting my former coworkers, neighbours and friends at the University I taught at in Turkey. I first spent the morning at Bilkent otel and spa, which is fabulous and has a special half price massage deal between 10am and 2pm Monday to Friday. After that was done I visited people and had long discussions about where we are, where we were and where we see the country going. A lot can happen in a few years and there are now babies and newly weds. I was encouraged by everyone to consider coming back to Turkey, maybe it's a sign? Most telling was the fact that almost everyone thought to ask: are you happy where you are? The area around Bilkent has changed considerably as they've developed a new entertainment complex called Bilkent Station. I was impressed with its development, but concerned for the businesses in Ankuva (the mall to its side) which seem to have been neglected. The waves of change, I suppose. Turkey is all about development, after all. Kate met Rob and I, and the three of us ventured into the city for a night out at Corvus, City and Puhu (three classic bars in the same building just off of Tunali). Along the way I tried to memorize the sights and reconfigure my memories so that when I leave, I can carry all this fun and life and absurdity with me... Dinosaurs included.
IMG_2953.jpg
Saturday was spent in Ulus once more. It was my last day in Ankara and I wanted to visit the best hamam and also my friend, a carpet seller, before a night out in Tunali and Kizilay with a group of my old friends. It was great visiting my friend, he's still working hard and doing well - kind as always. While there a group of British tourists came in so once again I put my translator cap on and helped him make some business. In the hostel in Istanbul my help had been enlisted for some Spanish to Turkish to English translation, at least this was just a two way street: English to Turkish. After some tasty Elma Çay (apple tea) Kate and I set off for the Şengül Hamamı.
IMG_2965.jpg
For 39 TL they sold us a package of kese (rubbing dead skin off your body), massage, and the flip flops/towels. Compare this to the same package being sold at a luxury hamam in Istanbul for 150 TL. You have to know where to go, I suppose. I liked this hamam because they're honest. They walk around smacking your bum and winking at every opportunity so that they can claim you as their own. I think they must make commission. At one point my woman was massaging me and getting her very own massage at the same time. She then told me we had to move to another part of the marble slab, so instead of me getting up she slid me across on my stomach. I was impressed with her strength but concerned for the spectators. After the hamam, I left Kate and the others (at a restaurant) so that I could head up to the castle for a view of the new Ankara (with Erdoğan's Presidential Palace).
IMG_2968.jpgIMG_2979.jpg
That night we went to Retrox for dinner and also to celebrate Rob's birthday. I had a delicious güveç and had bits and pieces of others' meals too. We sang songs and joked around like old times before setting off for Bestekar and then IF. It was one of the best nights out I've had in ages - everyone was happy, and the places were fabulous fun. After everyone had left, it was just Yalin and I so we set off for Eski Yeni - my favourite old bar. The name of the bar is actually Old New, which was highly fitting. We somehow managed to engage a couple on the street in a debate about what it takes to have a double jointed finger. I have many. Ten to be precise.
IMG_20150617_223435.jpg
Sunday I had to hop on yet another plane, this time to return to Istanbul. I was exactly halfway through my vacation and running on roughly four hours of sleep per night. This time in Istanbul I stayed at an upscale hotel in Sultanahmet, not a hostel in Galata. The trek to the hotel was arduous, and that's with my speaking Turkish. After getting a havatas to Taksim, I decided to hop in a cab. The first taxi driver told me he wouldn't drive to the area because of Ramadan - (hiç alakası yok) there's no connection, but I decided not to argue it. The second driver wanted to force me into paying 50 TL, which is exorbitant (şaka mı yapıyorsunuz?). The third said yes, but then the other two started fighting with him so a fourth appeared and I hopped in his cab (hadi gidelim). The third driver then started screaming at the fourth and made him help me exit the cab and get into the other (yeter ya!). When we finally arrived in Sultanahmet the cab driver made me get out, because he was unsure of where we were so I had to walk the rest of the way with all my bags. The hotel workers were very kind and helped me to print some documents like my boarding pass (I was leaving early the next morning). After some chatting and unpacking I set off for the Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia. There were huge crowds because of Ramadan, and they'd even erected a makeshift shopping centre nearby.
IMG_20150621_210514.jpgIMG_20150621_210912.jpg
The inside of the Blue Mosque never fails to amaze.
large_PANO_20150621_180017.jpg
I bought some food and sat in a single solo chair on a sidewalk watching passersby. I couldn't have looked more out of place if I were wearing a t-shirt that said "yabanci". After that I bargained for some 2TL watermelon and left that area to set off for Istiklal. The walk was beautiful as the night fell. I can't get over the mystique of Istanbul - everywhere you go, you're surrounded by life, history and adventure! It was a difficult trip because I still felt like I fit in, but I knew that I had to return home. It did really raise the question of where I consider home to be, and whether home could ever have a permanence to it. I think this is the nature of growing up as an immigrant compounded with my personal forays into living in different lands. The cultures create you. I know that it was confusing for the Turks I encountered, because I spoke their language, knew the city but didn't live there. I love so much about the culture, but it's difficult to imagine myself in a city where I'll always be an outsider. I'll never be able to just go about my business without being asked where I'm from, why I speak their language and why I'm there...
IMG_20150621_220106.jpg
The beauty of the city is overwhelming, the water is enticing. My walk was calming and allowed me time to think before meeting a friend and setting off on my final night out in Istanbul. I met him on Istiklal and we went to Nevizade - a party street. I don't know anywhere that could compare to the side streets of Istiklal at night and all there is to offer: from dancing circles to lentil delights!
IMG_20150621_232243.jpg
Monday morning came and it was time for me to fly off to Portugal and my sister. I met her in Lisbon, dropped off my luggage and we headed off in search of bacalau. It was delicious! I had developed a taste for if when I lived in Spain in high school and missed its flavor and probably my memories too. Every bite is a journey. I then ate pastel de nata for the first time. I can declare that I am now addicted.
IMG_3077.jpgIMG_20150623_114448.jpg
Tuesday was a day of learning about Lisbon. I signed up for two Grayline bus tours as it was an efficient way to see more of Libson in a shorter period of time. I learned about the Tagus River being the longest in the Iberian Peninsula; Chiado being the former entrance to the city; the company that built the 25 April Bridge being the same that built the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge; Lisbon becoming the national capital in 1256 and a huge earthquake destroying much of the city in 1755 with the Marques de Pompal later helping to rebuild.
IMG_3192.jpgIMG_3173.jpgIMG_3101.jpgIMG_3089.jpg
I also wandered around Belem, and learned about the explorers like Vasco de Gama - I even saw where he was buried in the Iglesia de Santa Maria de Belem. In fact, there were a number of sites around the city devoted to Vasco de Gama, including a shopping mall, tower and bridge (on the 500th anniversary of his Maritime route to India in 1998). I can only hope that one day I'll have a mall named after me.
IMG_3109.jpgIMG_3136.jpgIMG_3140.jpg
One of my favourite parts of solo travel is the people you meet along the way. That night my sister and I went out with one of the people I'd chatted with that day. The three of us went to Bairro Alto, which is where the greatest nightlife is in Lisbon. Bars line the streets, but the real party is outside on the cobblestone. We tried ginginja, a type of cherry wine. We also met a really great group of French tourists with whom we chatted and drank until the time came to be responsible and go home and sleep so my sister could wake up in time for class the next day. One disturbing aspect of the night was the fact that a man walked into the same bar as us with a tattoo of a swastika on his arm, and noone seemed bothered. I'd never seen something like that in real life, and it was definitely not something I want to see again.
IMG_20150623_224857.jpg
Wednesday was my day trip to Sintra, which made me realize the value of planning ahead. Since I speak Spanish I thought I'd be fine just asking for answers wherever I went around Portugal, similar to my laissez-faire style in Turkey. I find whenever I speak a language that's local or close enough to local to get by that I tend to rely on just getting by rather than planning ahead. I try to embody go with the flow. In this case, I got lost with the flow and ended up hiking up a mountain for an hour and a half instead of taking a simple 20 minute path or a bus. By the time I reached el Palacio de Pena I was exhausted, but still motivated to learn more. It's one of the most breathtaking palaces I've seen because it's straight out of a fairy tale imagination. If a king ever proposes to me, I'd appreciate it being there. Who wouldn't want to be queen of that castle?
IMG_20150624_132528.jpgIMG_20150624_133204.jpg
After descending back to the village in a tuk tuk, I sat in a cafe to eat some bacalau balls and a travesseira (the local pastry of Sintra). I took a train to Lisbon, and Sara and I headed to Castelo de São Jorge where we saw the Miradoura St. Luzia and some of the most beautiful views of the city. We then returned back to the centre of the city to eat at Da Vinci restaurant again, where they have the most delicious risotto I've ever had.
IMG_20150624_204228.jpgIMG_20150624_202729.jpgIMG_20150624_200705.jpg
I feel like a huge element of any trip for me is the food - I couldn't have chosen two better destinations in that regard. The fresh vegetables, fruit and fish in Portugal were delicious and in Turkey I couldn't get enough of the meat, yoghurt and breads aka İskender kebabı.
Thursday I left Lisbon for Lagos in the Algarve (southern Portugal). I took a bus there, which was about 15 euro and 4 hours. I sat beside a chatty elderly Portuguese lady who wasn't bothered by my only understanding maybe a quarter of what she said (her accent was very different to the people in Lisbon). I found the hostel easily as it's a very small town. There were a huge number of tourists and some very kitschy artifacts, but the natural scenery was stunning.
IMG_3306.jpg
I dropped my bags, met my bunkmates (three of them) and then began my long walk alone. Somewhere along the way I had been given a map, and for whatever reason I decided my destination was going to be Ponta de Piedade - the tip of the peninsula. I walked for hours past beautiful beaches and cute couples...
IMG_20150625_183450.jpgIMG_20150625_183151.jpgIMG_20150625_175842.jpgIMG_20150625_175357.jpgIMG_20150625_174626.jpg
Thanks to the beauty, I was inspired to take endless selfies. It's like a disease. Part of the motivation was probably the deep feeling of being alone when you're surrounded by love at every turn - or at least couples who like to look like they're in love for a prime photo shoot opportunity.
I finally made it to Ponta de Piedade before the sunset, with beautiful glows on the water and rocks.
IMG_20150625_191445.jpgIMG_20150625_192045.jpg
IMG_3333.jpgIMG_3341.jpg
It was well worth the walk out there, but it was definitely quite a stroll back considering that I hadn't the foresight to realize that you can't just call a cab to the middle of nowhere... especially when you have no cell phone to make that call with. I ended up having dinner at Harley's, which came recommended by a bunkmate who happened to be sitting there when I arrived. We had a lovely dinner, but I realized that I needed to be with my sister. It's not worth being in a beautiful place, if you're not there with the people who you want to be with.
The next morning I went and bought a different ticket to Lisbon and told the hostel I wouldn't be staying the night (they wouldn't give me back the money, but that's not a huge surprise). I then settled in for a few hours of beach time at Batata Beach. It's very calming there. Not so calming was the fact that when I had left and was halfway to my hostel I got pooed on by a seagull. Let's hope the legends are true and good luck springs my way. When I did return to the hostel I chatted with a really cool Canadian couple who are travelling the world for a year. Hostels are prime locations for meeting great people, there's no doubt about that. I also managed to find time to check out the Science Alive Museum in Lagos and go to an art gallery. I was the only one cool enough to hang out in a science centre on a Friday in a beach town as I literally had the whole place (and guides) to myself. At one point a strange man appeared and asked if I was Spanish. I said no, but I speak it. He then proceeded to rave about Ibiza being paradise on earth before promptly walking away. This is who comes to a science centre on a Friday in a beach town: me and a 60 year old retired party animal.
IMG_20150626_162003.jpgIMG_20150626_165117.jpg
My trip back to Lisbon was accompanied by a Master's student from Belgium who chatted with me in French about his fascinating thesis topic, while I tried frantically to contact my sister and alert her to my far earlier return to the apartment. I did manage to catch her and we were able to have a great debrief before going to sleep and readying ourselves for my last day in Portugal. We slept awfully as usual, which isn't surprising given that we were sharing a cot. I don't think a single overweight ten year old could have fit comfortably yet there we were head to toe clutching onto each other so as not to fall to the creaky floor.
We decided that for my last day we should do a trip to a beach near to Lisbon called Cascais. You can't go from Rossio Station, you have to walk a bit further, but it's still in the centre of town and it was only about 5 Euro return. The beach was pretty, but very small and crowded. It was a good opportunity for Sara and I to just relax and enjoy the scenery - to savour the fact that we were hanging out on a beach in Portugal on a sunny Saturday. She engaged in some pick up soccer while I managed gracefully to fall while climbing on some rocks. All I can say is that it was probably less embarrassing than the walk of shame back to my hostel after I was pooed on...
IMG_20150627_160903.jpg
That night (my final night) we went out to Bairro Alto again, this time with Sara's friend Rachel too. We danced and drank and had a fabulous time. I knew I was tired when a man walked out to the street with a tray full of shots and I mistook it for free samples. The bachelor party of men were definitely amused... I suppose it's the proximity, but there was an abundance of Frenchmen. I got into conversation with one while my sister and her friend watched on, when all of a sudden another Frenchman interrupted just to say to me: t'as l'air trop sérieux. Why would it ever be a good idea to tell someone that? Furthermore, why jump into a conversation to share that useless bit of obvious? I've lived with my face 28 years. He thinks I wouldn't know by now? I'm in fact highly aware of the syndrome they call bitchy resting face. In fact that very same day I had done a "beachy resting face" photoshoot in Cascais on the playa. To add insult to injury, not a minute later another Frenchman wanders over and yells out (directed at my sister): t'es la plus belle fille qui j'ai vu ce soir. What did I learn? My sister is a beauty and I'm a strict headmistress.
IMG_20150628_001620.jpg
Sunday meant time for me to leave this fabulous country, my beautiful sister and vacation life. On my journey back to my present reality, I watched an inspiring Turkish film, Kış Uykusu. I'll leave you with this: "A well-planned life doesn't feel like a real one".

Posted by madrugada 17:24 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey istanbul lisbon lagos portugal sintra ankara cascais Comments (0)

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)

(Entries 1 - 2 of 2) Page [1]