Monday, April 07, 2008

Of Tulips and Turks

I just got back from Turkey the other day. I went with my friend Michelle, and it was a fantastic trip. Let's start from the beginning, shall we?
I picked up a sick Michelle from the airport on Sofia. I was amazed that she was willing to come in her condition and traipse around with me, but she was a definite trooper. She doped up on drugs and forced herself to be mobile. That first night, we stayed in Sofia and went out for some excellent Indian food. We walked around the town a bit and then went to bed. The following morning, we walked around some more, went to the "Communist" bazaar (we only call it that 'cause you can still find some great, old memorabilia.... like, need an accordion or a pin with Lenin on it?), and then caught a couple buses to Rakitovo.
I took Michelle up to my boss' house to meet Ani, Maria, and Reneta. Afterwards, we went on a walk and ended up by Enyo and Milka's house (my former landlords). Enyo was outside and insisted that we come in to have a drink. Before long, we were sitting down to salad, and homemade rakia and wine. Michelle and I had an animated, although slightly tipsy conversation with them. Michelle was great 'cause she wanted to know about people here, and she didn't let language get in her way. After that, we went home to eat a late dinner and drink the bottle of wine that Enyo gave us on our way out the door.
The next day, we caught a ride down to Pazardjik from a friendly couple (they were trying to get me to marry their 17-year-old son), and then we caught a bus to Plovdiv. I took Michelle up to the old part of town, and we walked around to see the sites. We met up with my "sister," Vili, for dinner. Again, we had a very animated conversation and lots of fun before she dropped us off at the train station to catch our night train to Istanbul, Turkey.
The ride to Istanbul was rather sleepless and annoying, but fun. We got stuck at the border for hours 'cause no one would come to give us our visas, but we had a great time joking with the other travelers and laughing at the situation to try and keep ourselves warm. Finally, back on the train a few hours later, we were able to catch a little bit of sleep before arriving in Istanbul.
We checked into a cozy pension, grabbed some showers, and then hit the streets to see some sites. It was my third time visiting Istanbul, so I could navigate around fairly easily. The only thing was, I had been there before and I wanted to see something new. We walked around the various bazaars, got lost in the streets, ate ethnic foods, and had a good time talking to people.
Michelle placated me by pulling me into a travel agency for a trip somewhere. Before we knew it, we had arranged a trip to Ephesus and Pamukkale. The next morning, before the crack of dawn, we hopped into a very expensive cab and headed to the airport. Being the clever (and very expensive) driver that he was, he dropped us off at the international terminal. We had to walk all the way down to the domestic terminal to catch our hour flight to Izmir. We were greeted at the airport by a very tall and friendly Turkish man who drove us, along with another French-American woman and her son, to the town outside of Ephesus.
We caught a tour with a very knowledgable and informative tour guide, and we had a great time walking around the ruins of Ephesus. Hopefully, I will be posting pictures sometime in the near future. Afterwards, we saw the ruins of the temple of Artemis. Then, we had a delicious lunch. The visit to Mary's house was optional 'cause the guy said that there wasn't really much to see and that it was for "hardcore" Christians. Michelle and I decided to visit the archaeological museum instead. I wish I could call myself a "hardcore Christian" regardless, but a Mary shrine sounds more in-tune with Catholicism anyway.
After that, the tour of "you have money, and it should be ours" began. I love Turkey. I think Turkish people are great and friendly. They are also honest and sincere about saying that they want you to buy something from them. They press that you can look and won't be haggled, but their definition of "haggling" must be different from mine. If you only look and do not buy, I feel like they start looking at you in a different way - like they're frustrated with you. I did not like this part of the tour. From here on out, it got lame.
We were taken to a cooperative where women apparently sew Turkish rugs and make a living. It was interesting to see the women, the silk balls, and the weaving looms. Afterwards, we were given tea and taken into a hall where our host presented us with different regional rugs and explained each one. They wanted us to buy a rug, and they were all expensive. It soon became apparent that none of us in the tour group were high-rollers, and we weren't interested in buying a rug. We got onto the bus and went to the next place. Our tour guide said that he was "on our side" as far as making purchases, but I find that hard to believe as he apparently receives a commission for whatever they sell.
Afterwards, we were taken to an ancient mosque. The mosque was nice, but here was where "cynical Apryl" stepped in. Now, I realize that I'm in a Muslim country, and I respect that. I love seeing mosques, and I was happy to see that one. I was just a little irked, (probably unnecessarily, but I'm just being honest about my feelings) that the visit to Mary's supposed house was optional, but we all went as a group to the mosque and listened to detailed explanation about how amazing it is. Again, I'm in a Muslim country, and I need to respect that. I think I was just getting frustrated 'cause I saw the the tour was turning into an "organized shopping trip."
After that, we went to a leather coat factory, where we saw a fashion show and were then pressed to buy uber-expensive leather coats. The best part of the whole thing was the fashion show - we got to drink tea, listen to Spanish music, and oogle and good-looking models. Again, we didn't stay long. We weren't big-spenders.
Our next stop was at a ceramic factory. We saw how they spun the clay into artifacts, fired them, and painted them. Once again, we were pressed to buy ceramic souvenirs. I think someone bought something for 10 lira, and then we left. We just weren't into it, and I felt like our tour guide's mood was changing. That could be for a lot of reasons, and maybe it was just our imagination.
We were spending the night nearby, so we were finally dropped off at our hotel and freed into the world. Michelle and I took a walk up to a local castle, and some guys stopped by to tell us that the castle was closed. We ended up going with them for tea and having a good time laughing and sharing conversation. They wanted to take us somewhere for dinner, but we refused to get into their car, so we parted ways.
We were walking back through town, when we ran into a boy who had a guest from Los Angeles staying with them. Of course, we had to meet her, and we had a great conversation over some tea.
While looking for a place to eat, we ran into the guys that we had met earlier in the evening. One of them was about to open a shop, and he was overseeing the flooring operation. We talked to them for a bit, got some dinner, walked around some more shops, bought some souvenirs, and then ran into them again. We decided to go to a local place to get some drinks, and we had a great time laughing and joking around with them. They were so sweet, polite, fun, and not the least bit creepy. This is exactly what you want when you meet a foreign guy. In fact, I had my fingers accidentally smashed in the bathroom door by another customer. More out of frustration than pain, I screamed out an explitive, and everyone around me asked if I was okay. We finally said good night and they walked us back to our hotel. One said he might see us again in Istanbul, but it didn't happen. No worries. Part of the joy in traveling lies in meeting new people, trying to learn something new from them about their culture and perspectives, and flirting a bit. And Turkish guys are cute! Maybe it's because there are so many of them, and statistically, you can't help but see a few, but they were all over the place! And many of them dressed well and smelled good. That helps, I suppose.
The next day, we went on a tour to Pamukkale with a girl who seemed to struggle a bit with her English and wasn't communicative in the least. She would tell us to drop off our bags without informing us why we were doing that or when we would be seeing them again. We were taken to a place where others started piling in our van without anyone explaining why or what was going on. Our driver took us somewhere and dropped us off. Only as we were getting out of the van were we told that we would be eating lunch there. It was early, and we weren't the least bit hungry.
During lunch, were were looked at by waiters who refused to let us drink our own water at their table. I agreed with them in the sense that they were selling drinks and it was their restaurant, but it made the whole atmosphere tense. I was already tense in the fact that we had no idea what was going on, and our tour guide was not being communicative.
After lunch, we went to a site and were told to get out of the van. We did not know where we were or what was going on. Our tour guide started walking toward the site, and Michelle asked her what was going on. We had brought our swim suits to take them to the hot springs that we would see later, but we did not know whether we needed to carry them now or if we would be seeing the van beforehand. Michelle told our guide that she wasn't being very informative, and we didn't know what was going on. We didn't even know where we were. A few others got to complaining, and the atmosphere was tense. We found out that we were at Hierapolis, and she did not give much information after that. There was another confrontation, and the atmosphere got even more tense. I went and talked to our guide, and I hope she saw things from our point of view, but the day was already shot as far as the attitude of the tour. We saw the old town, and we went to Pamukkale to walk through the springs. Michelle and I walked quite a ways and saw some amazing springs. We waded, but we certainly didn't need the bathing suits and towels that we had carried around with us the whole day.
Afterwards, we were taken back to get some dinner and catch a plane to Istanbul. We stumbled in late at night, found our pension, and slept. The next day, we explored Istanbul again - having a great time visiting the Blue Mosque, walking the streets, eating good food, and talking to people. We also got a Turkish bath. After my first experience there, I wasn't too excited to go back, but I agreed to go with Michelle. This time was much nicer. The women did not rearrange my bones like the last lady did, and I enjoyed myself much more.
We caught a night bus back to Sofia, and I sweat through the whole evening. I swear it was 80 degrees in that bus, and I did not get much sleep! The border crossing was a huge ordeal all over again, but at least we did not have to spend much time outside. Although it was a nice reprieve from the bus!
We finally ended up back in Sofia and went to our hostel. We walked around the town - trying to see new things. We ended up at a few bazaars and went to a mall to see a super-lame movie. By the time we got out, it was raining, but the taxis didn't want to drive us back to our hostel. We walked back in the rain, and hung out a bit talking to the hostel owner, his friend, and another guest. It was an amusing conversation to say the least, but I don't feel like going into it now. We mostly disagreed about how great Sofia is and how cheap it is. Fun times.
Michelle and I walked around in the rain to find a place to eat, and then we went back to the hostel. We slept in and then went to the airport so she could catch her flight back to the states. We had a great time, but it was nice to get home, take a much-needed shower, and then meet up with Tsanko - the guy I mentioned in the post before last.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

What a fun time! Makes me wish I was still there. "What did you do over spring break? Yesterday, I was in Bulgaria..." Yeah, class was rough today. Can't wait to see your pictures!