Published: April 27th 2011April 27th 2011
Welcome to Istanbul... it's freezing here!
When I left off we had taken a 19 hour overland bus from Macedonia to Istanbul. We arrived early in the morning exhausted and slightly out of it. When we checked in to the Orient Hostel, we didn’t know it… but we were getting screwed over. Through a combination of getting overcharged by hostel bookers and a scummy guy working at reception (who acted all nice) we were royally overcharged.
The best part is that he tried to say he was giving us a free upgrade. We were clearly tired, didn’t know the currency conversion, and it took me 3 days to figure it out. By then there was no way we could prove it, but the dirt bag knew it. One of his coworkers who was actually nice tried to say we could get a discounted rate when we came back to Istanbul, but the damage was done and I left Istanbul in a grumpy mood. So… combined with cold wet weather… my intro to Turkey was not so fabulous.
The first morning we couldn’t check in yet, so we tried to walk around and found out just how expensive things
would be (street food, drinks, etc.)
We walked off towards the famous Grand Bizarre. I had images of women selling scarves from stalls while men would try to show off their Turkish rugs. Instead we entered what felt like a mall with loads of creepy men trying every line imaginable to try to lure us into their store. Creepy was an understatement. You could not make direct eye contact with anyone, and with over 4000 vendors, you would think it would be exciting. Nope. Basically every 4th store is selling the same crap.
We finally stumbled upon a man having tea outside his shop while a couple looked at carpets inside. After I told the man that I had no money and no home to put a carpet (that wouldn’t fit in my backpack), he wasn’t interested in selling us anything. Instead he answered our questions on how long some of the rugs take to make. He asked for help on some correct English phrases, and we were allowed to look at his goods without feeling pressured.
Apart from him, most of the other sellers were beyond creepy. Sometimes when they figured out we weren’t interested in
buying anything they would say, “You have boyfriend?” Some were so gross that I was sure they would exchange their rugs for sex. We were called hey Barbie, hey spice girls, but my personal fave was when a guy looked at Eng and said… Look at those fingers. Ahhhhhhhh ( in a gross groaning noise).
Next up was the spice market which involved more men shouting things, more tourists, and more expensive things. I was almost in tears looking at all the shops with baklava filled with gluten that I couldn’t eat. We stumbled into one shop with enough sweets to give a dentist a heart attack, and showed them my piece of paper saying all the things I couldn’t eat. He gave me a free sample of some Turkish delight. Sadly, since I don’t like marshmallow, the treat was extremely disappointing. As I walked down the street sampling it, some Turkish man said, “Careful... that will make you fat.” Got to love a blunt culture. Ticking off the tourist checklist[/2]
The next day we started the touristy crap, including a quick free visit to the Blue Mosque. Eng can describe her experience as “It took me longer to take my shoes off than to go through it.” Most women going in didn’t even wear a head scarf, and we felt like cattle walking through.
Across the park is the beautiful Ayasofya. From 360 until 1453, it served as the cathedral of Constantinople. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931, when it was turned into a museum.
The place is crawling with tour groups, but we managed to walk around. Sad to think the beautiful frescos were plastered over during the transition. Thankfully we did not get shit on by one of the many pigeons now calling the Ayasofya home.
A highlight of this area are the Turkish police on segways. I was nervous to get a shot of them, but by the end of the day we had gotten our photo not only standing next to one, but on one as well!
In the afternoon we went to the Basilica Cistern, built in the 6th century, it is a very cool underground cistern with an eerie feel, fish swimming around, and random medusa sculptures in the corner. I enjoyed the Japanese tour group who went nuts over the carp in the water yelling Coy! Coy!! Coy! Eng tells me they are very lucky, I thought it was hilarious.
That night we went to a Bosnian film that was showing in the Istanbul Film Festival in Taksim – the restaurant/bar scene in Istanbul. Sad but amazing movie. When we got out of the theatre it was pouring freezing rain.
Our visit to a Turkish Bath
The following morning we booked in for a Hamam – our visit to the Turkish bath. It was raining and gross and I thought it would be perfect weather to spend some time to hang out half naked in a bath with Eng.
Our experience was hilarious. We were going to a local Hamam instead of a touristy one. The reception area was sort of old, and run down, and the fat Turkish woman in charge didn’t speak much English. We decided to not go naked (as per the norm) and just go topless. She led us into a large white/marble room with benches around the side. We each got our own marble basin against a wall and were to use a bucket to wash ourselves.
10 minutes later she comes out in bright pink granny panties (with a lace panel in the front), and a white see-through bra. I was up first and got assaulted with a scrub brush while lying on a marble slab in the middle of the room. She basically ripped my bottoms off to pumice my ass, all the while Eng had to watch, waiting for her turn. The best part was when she wanted you to turn over; she would smack your wet ass.
For round two, I had to lie on the slab for 10 minutes (now some American girls had joined to watch me be assaulted). With sunshine beaming down on me, I looked like a sacrificial virgin. She came out with a scrubber and soap and cleaned the hell out of me. I had to sit up so she could lather my face, then was told to wait (eyes closed and fill of soap), and then got slammed with a bucket of water. After we had taken a trip to the sauna, the large, wet half-naked Turkish woman washed our hair. I felt like a 3 year old.
With more cold and rainy weather we didn’t leave the hostel except to get food. Our last day we took a ferry to one of the princes Islands. We had heard that renting bikes and toodling around was nice, but Eng was worried because she just learned to ride a bike a couple of years ago. (I know what you’re thinking... she’s Asian... how can she not know how to ride a bike). She calls me racist but I can’t stop laughing about it.
We decided on a bicycle built for two, which looked great, especially since she was in heals and a skirt. The gears were brutal and anytime we got to a slight incline I would have to stand up and peddle my heart out. Meanwhile Eng would be behind me either getting her feet slapped by the peddles or laughing at me. We almost bailed a few times until I would yell “SHUT UP! Stop laughing, you are making me laugh!”
We stumbled upon a fire station. I asked the older man outside if we could take photos and we were invited in to try on the jacket, the hats, and climb the trucks. Then they made us tea and even offered to make us lunch. Great afternoon out of Istanbul.
Cappadocia... aka where star wars and the flintstones combine
That night we took a 12 hour overnight bus to Cappadocia, a region in central turkey that looks like it’s like the scene from the beginning of the first Star Wars movie, filled with cave hostels and home to the famous fairy chimneys. We stayed at the Flintstones Cave hotel – and after another non-sleep night, we did a 3.5 hour hike through the love valley, which consisted of stone pillars that looked very phallic. The sun was out, but it was windy and pretty cool. (Still not the hot Turkish weather we were expecting)
The following morning we were up at 5 am for what everyone comes for – a hot air balloon ride over the region. It looked like there were 100 balloons in the air, it was very cool to see (and very expensive). We had an hour in the air, but since it was cloudy we didn’t get a real sunrise. Eng was freezing, but thankfully I had secured a spot next to the pilot and the blasts of fire heating the balloon kept me somewhat warm.
We were back at 8 am for breakfast, and at 9:30 we were off on a 200km tour of the southern valley which included an underground city, a walk through a valley, a visit to an amazing cave monastery, and some panoramic views of the region (in the freezing afternoon rain).
At 8 we set off to a fancy hotel with a massive cave show called Turkish Nights. The evening included all you could drink (very stiff vodka/cherry drinks), appetizers, and an amazing lamb dinner while listening to local music, traditional dances, and one amazing belly dancer performance. She pulled 5 men from the crowd for what had to be the most entertaining display I’ve seen on the trip.
By 11:30 we were drunk, tired, and ready for bed. After it all I had blown $250 in one day (not including a night in the dorm).
The next morning we met a random French guy who came hiking with us through the red and rose valleys. We got to explore abandoned caves, walk through farmers fields, and finished at the very touristy site of fairy chimneys. Basically, a series of stone rocks that look like penises.
That night we had our fill on a traditional Turkish buffet dinner at the hostel including more stuffed peppers and dolmades. Our evening entertainment was learning that two of the four American girls in our room teaching English in Georgia (the former Soviet Country), had made “friends” with some locals who took them quad biking through the valley for 3 hours…. For free. They were supposed to be on an overnight bus that evening but they had been offered a free balloon ride in the morning. I helped suggest a different bus journey that would get them to Antalya the next day, and the girls went off and primped for dinner with the boys who were going to give them a “free” balloon ride. I felt like a pimp.
In search of warmer weather
By 10 pm we were off on yet another overnight bus journey in search of warmer weather. The bus was brutal – we got the back seats which didn’t recline, the bus driver was mad shaking the bus side to side, and someone kept farting all night. In case you are wondering... backpacking isn’t always fun and glamorous.
After 2 more shuttle bus changes (one where the guy went 5 km an hour for 20 minutes, then stopped for a bagel on the side of the highway - I thought Eng was going to lose it on him) we finally arrived in Olympus.
There is a valley on the way to the beach that is filled with places to stay in tree houses that are super laid back, and include breakfast and dinner buffet. We decided to go to Kadir's because we knew some Kiwi girls staying there. It can sleep over 400 people in high season and it reminded me of a dirty-party summer camp.
Uh - ya. They put us in an empty dorm next to a chicken coup. I don't know what happened, but one of the top bunks looked like either a chicken or a pigeon exploded/imploded on the bed. There were feathers, dirt, and other things all over the place, but the carcass was nowhere to be found. We got someone to clean it up, but the bathrooms were rank and dark and the showers were brutal. We took advantage of the amazing food and the next day moved down the valley and closer to the beach
to a place called Bayrams.
Hiking in Cappadocia
Again on no sleep we decided to walk around. Eng named this cat Janet and I enjoyed making it dance and rubbing its belly.
3 nights later and we have no intention of moving anywhere fast. It is the first affordable thing in Turkey we have found. Well, accommodation, breakfast and dinner is about 17 dollars, but a vodka drink is 7 dollars... so go figure. This valley must be mental in the summer, the owner here says everyplace is full.
Finally starting to get some better daytime weather, but it is cold at night and I layer leggings under my jeans and stay near the fire pit until bedtime. We've met an assortment of people here, including a group of British boys who I taught yoga headstands to on the beach. Today is overcast so I plan to sit in a hammock and read a book...have to kill 8 more hours until they ring the dinner bell at 8pm and we all come running like animals to get in line for the buffet.
Thankfully the chef has taken a liking to me and has dealt with celiacs before. He is taking special care of me so that my Buddha belly is nice and big at the beach. Since the large Turkish woman from the Hamam scraped away what little I had left of my Africa tan I am back at square one and must spend some quality time on the beach.
There are more photos below