A Couple of Weeks in Turkey, The End: Istambul (again)

This article finishes the “A Couple of Weeks in Turkey” series and follows A Couple of Weeks in Turkey, Part 4: Cappadocia.

As I said in this series’ previous post, the Ankara visit didn’t go as planned. Our plan was to visit the city during the day and take the night train to Istanbul. I had read that the night train was really something to try so as soon as we arrived at Ankara we headed for the train station to buy the night train’s tickets and guess what… the wonderful night train was full!
Those were bad news, so after talking with Helena, we came to the conclusion that the best plan was to go to Istanbul on the next train. Of course, we didn’t have a place to stay at Istanbul and we would arrive there late that same night.

217 km/s
(217 Km per second!? Actually the s stands for saat: hour)

Fortunately I had written down the phone number of the hotel I had booked for the day after that one. I bought a public phone card, called them and, to our relief, they had a free room for that night. Now all we had to do was to wait a few hours for our train to Istanbul and we stayed at the station during that time because we couldn’t risk missing the train (and Ankara doesn’t really seem to have much to see, I was pretty much only interested in visiting the Atatürk Mausoleum).
Finally the train came, it would be another long trip and we would arrive late (at 11pm supposedly) but Helena and I had our first dinner ever at a train (at the train’s restaurant, that is), so it wasn’t all bad.

Late night adventures

What’s the worst you can do when you already know you’ll arrive late at the wrong side of the city (wrong continent, actually) and you’re pretty much confident of your travelling Turkish language skills? Hop off on the wrong station, of course!
The problem was that I was worried that we arrived too late to get the last ferry boat from the Asian shore to the European one (where our hotel was, in Sultanahmet) and I thought I heard the train announcement saying we had just arrived at Haydarpaşa (our destination)…
So we hopped off and it took us some long 5 minutes to realize I was wrong. Now I was getting nervous, I didn’t know how far from Istanbul we were, nobody seemed to speak English enough to understand me and the pride I had in having learned some Turkish was gone, leaving a trail of shame. After being told there was still a train to Istanbul that night, we bought new tickets and went to the platform.
When the train came, it resembled a subway one, with open space but dark, we also realized it was more than 10 stops until Haydarpaşa…

Haydarpaşa Train station
(Haydarpaşa train station)

Finally we arrived safely at the train station and now there was another challenge for us to face: how to get the other shore.
It was almost midnight and we didn’t know when the last ferry to the other shore departed so we asked one of the passengers that was leaving the train station like us and he told us we needed to rush because we had perhaps 10 minutes or so to catch the ferry. We were so tired that we gave up on that idea and instead decided to take a cab. The designated cab driver didn’t speak much English so another driver helped us with the negotiation. The price was 40 TRL (~20 €) to take us to our hotel in Sultanahmet, I still had energy to bargain but the driver was inflexible, “40 lira it is!” I said.
The drive took about 40 minutes to get to Sultanahmet (the area) but as soon as we got there, he stopped and said “Okay, here. Sultanahmet!”. I told him that our hotel was still too far for us to walk with two big backpacks and reminded him that I had explicitly negotiated the price to get to the hotel, not the area. He said “okay” and drove around a little more, stopping every once in a while asking other taxi drivers for the hotel’s street (I kept telling him where it was and I had a map but he wouldn’t look at it). This lasted for 20 minutes or so until he found our hotel. When I reached my wallet to pay him, I said “40 lira, thank you!” and he said “thank you, but 40 lira Sultanahmet, please 10 lira more”, I said no-way, it wasn’t my fault he decided to take us to a destination he didn’t know and I tried to explain this to him. He said he had driven around so much that the 40 lira would not make it; “5 lira more!” he said with a lost puppy face and I gave in, took out a 5 lira bill thinking “it is just 2.5 € anyway…” and gave it to him; he said “okay, now 10 lira more”, “WHAT!?”, “10 lira more” he said. I wouldn’t take it, I felt bad that I was fighting over a couple of euros but the fact is that it was indeed his fault, he didn’t know where the hotel was, he didn’t use the taximeter and this sort of extortion was even advertised in our guide book so I took back the 5 lira from his hand, repeated my point a couple of times and headed to the hotel leaving him entering the cab while giving me a look not so much of a lost puppy but rather of an angered pitbull…

Grand shopping at the Grand Bazaar

The next morning we had breakfast at the terrace of our hotel, Hotel Deniz. The breakfast was nothing special but the view over the sea was great. That day, June 24th, we went to the Grand Bazaar to do some real shopping this time. We got there early and it was really funny because every time we discussed or asked about the price of something, we were told “because you’re my first customer today, I have a special price for you”. Of course this was bullshit and we still had to bargain everything 🙂
Bargaining is funny, there were a couple of unsuccessful deals (as in, the salesmen would not give in) but we always got a good enough price. Helena was astonished by all the materials, both in quantity and in variety, she could find for making her crafts.
Among other things, we bought:
– A Turkish coffee can;
– Several “evil eye” key-chains;
– Handkerchiefs;
– Leather “Hugo Boss” shoes (the ones I’m wearing right now 🙂 );
– A purse for my mother;
– A lamp made of tiny glass tiles;
– A traditional, hand-made flute for my brother;
– Turkish delight boxes (lokum);
– A traditional dagger replica;
– Purple “Converse All Star” shoes for Helena;

Helena bought these All Star shoes for 30 TRL (~15 €) and in purple, the color she loves and couldn’t find before. However, when we arrived at the hotel, we realized that one of the shoes didn’t have the Converse logo… Helena really loved the shoes so we headed back to the bazaar and found the salesman (just a boy, actually) who looked very embarrassed and swore he hadn’t sold those one purpose (I believed him). He made a phone call and soon after somebody came with a new, perfect pair.

Sightseeing and relaxing again

The Grand Bazaar is an amazing and hypnotizing place but we also did more than shopping for these last days. We went on trip up the Bosphorus where I took some nice photos despite the rainy day and when it finished, we ate a balık ekmek (fish sandwich) at a place under the Galata bridge. After that, we crossed the bridge by foot to visit Galata. This district seemed more urban (as in “European urban”) than the other two shores we had been at. We also passed by a jazz café that our Brazilian friends had told us about back in Cappadocia but we didn’t enter which was a pity because later that night, while at the Marmara Café, we found the Americans we also met at Capadocia and they told us they were there, at the jazz place, together with the Brazilians…

Istanbul

These last days we also found a really good restaurant in Sultanhamet. It is called Doy-Doy and we loved it so much we went there twice. The restaurant is in fact a building with several stories and we had dinner at the terrace. What is also incredible is that the kitchen is at the ground floor and there’s no elevator (not even a food elevator) so one of the waiters goes up and down all night. The price is good, the food is marvelous and the views of the Blue Mosque make it only more awesome. Go there if you have a chance.

We also passed by a famous calligraphist close to the Çemberlitaş Hamamı where I bought a plate with “Família Rocha” written on it for my mom. I know the calligraphist had a webpage that I once visited but I cannot remember what the shop’s name was, my attempts to find it on Google were unsuccessful as well but you can see his picture below. Still, it is easy to find if you pass by the Hamamı and is worth to go there instead of a street calligraphist as this guy is much better.

The best caligraphist in town

Hoşça kal

On the June 27th 2011 we boarded on a plane back to Spain. We loved Turkey, its people, its food and its beautiful landscapes and culture. I hope we go back at some point and I totally recommend it if you want a mixture of European and Middle-east cultures.

Lua de Mel na Turquia

This finishes the series of articles about our Two Weeks in Turkey in the summer of 2011. Just like the Interrail series, it took me almost a year to wrap it up but hopefully I covered most of our little adventures in this amazing country.

Until the next trip!

A Couple of Weeks in Turkey, Part 4: Cappadocia

This article is part of the “A Couple of Weeks in Turkey” series and follows A Couple of Weeks in Turkey, Part 3: Pamukkale.

Eleven hours on a bus is not an easy feat so when we finally arrived at Göreme we were tired as hell. After asking for our pension at the tourism information desk, a van came from the pension to take us there and fortunately they serve breakfast even if you arrive at 7 AM like we did. The place was Anatolia Cave Pension and was the best place we stayed during the whole trip. When we arrived we were told that we had booked a regular room but some guests had cancelled their cave room so we could stay there for the same price.
It could not get any better! The owners of the Anatolia Cave Pension are a Norwegian lady and her Turkish husband and they have been able to create a pleasant place with a family atmosphere where everybody is always smiling and eager to help. Seriously, even the breakfasts were some of the best we had in the whole country.

Our cave room in Cappadocia

Of course we didn’t know this before and when the owner told me that he wanted to talk to us about the tours in Cappadocia (interestingly it means “land of beautiful horses”), etc. after we had breakfast I remembered the previous night’s saleslady from hell and got suspicious but I was wrong. He started by telling us “I am going to present this to you once and if you are not interested I will not bother you anymore”. The tour and balloon ride prices were good and he even gave us a discount that later would, when talking to some other people who rode with us, we realized we payed less than anybody else. If you’re interested, the balloon ride was 110 € per person and the tour must have been 35 € or so. After we settled about the tours we took the rest of the day for resting and walking the town.

The balloon ride

The next morning, the alarm painfully woke us at 5 AM because balloon rides are during the dusk when the air is colder which makes it easier to maneuver. Over 50 balloons from different companies illustrate the skies of Cappadocia every morning.
We were flying with the Ürgup company and the pension’s owner took us to the rendez-vous where tea and cookies were awaiting the sleepy tourists. Soon after the company’s vans took us to where the balloons were being set up.

Cappadocia

The ride was magnificent. It felt so smooth and quiet apart from when the pilot opened the engine’s gas and the flames screamed into the balloon, taking us further. The landing time is often schedule with a bit of a margin because the pilots only control the height of the balloon, the direction is decided by the wind. We ended up riding 20 minutes more than the planned hour which made it only better.

Cappadocia
(you can see how wonderful the landscape is, with the fairy chimneys and everything)

The landing process is tricky, when the balloon is close to the floor, a team of several people try to control it with ropes and direct the balloon’s basket to land on top of a pickup truck that will transport it back to its place.
Once we get off the basket we get to drink champagne on the spot, and take photos with the pilots and the flight certificates they sign and give us. It felt even better when our pilot, Derya, told us she was the first balloon pilot woman in Turkey! We will never forget it.

Lost in the valley

After the balloon ride, we went back to the hotel to have breakfast and get our strength up again because a couple of hours later we would have the tour. The trips are identified with four colors and we picked the green tour which had a visit to the Göreme panorama, the Derinkuyu Underground City, the Ihlara Valley, etc.
While in the balloon we had met a Brazilian couple that helped us take some pictures and although they were in a different hotel, of all the vans in the tour we got together in the same one making it a funny coincidence and they were also the reason the tour ended up being funny and not a complete failure. Back in Spain I would find out that besides being such nice people, Sérgio Leo and his lovely wife Marta Salomon are two famous journalists in Brazil.

Lua de Mel na Turquia

So why could the tour have been a complete failure? Because of the guide. Picture the worst guide in the world; there you go. Inside the Derinkuyu Underground City, after passing through some tunnel passages while ducking, he would “explain” what a room used to be in a *very* summarized way. His English skills didn’t help but it wasn’t just that. For example, when Sérgio asked him how old was a church we saw outside the Underground City, he proudly told us: “Many, many years!”. Very helpful indeed.
In the Ihlara Valley there were churches carved into the rocks and he kept telling us that “the colors come from history [!?]” and that the churches were untouched since the very own Christians partially destroyed them: “the damage you see was not made by Turkish people, it was by the Christians themselves”; I guess those Christians back then were funny folks because there were pieces of text carved in the walls clearly saying something like “Mahmet + Ayşıl = ♥”…

Cave church in Ihlara Valley

The highlight of our tour guide’s incompetence came when (due to the habit of starting the explanations before everybody caught up with the group) he lost us in the valley. It was really strange, a couple from Texas (Chris and Marisa), the Brazilians and us were trying to see a frog that was croaking nearby when a couple of minutes later we didn’t know where the group was…
After wondering around for 2 hours trying to find them (including speaking to some Turkish people) we decided we should had back which implied going up a large number of steps again.
Back uphill we waited a bit, then asked the guys in a restaurant about the guide and he knew where he (and us) was supposed to be having lunch. Only after about an hour and two calls a van finally came to pick us up.
When we arrived at the place where everybody was finishing their meals, the guide came by and said he was looking for us. For the fun of it I asked and yes, he first had his lunch calmly before going back to search for us; I guess he needed some energy. At least he apologized.

In the end of the day, back at the hotel I told the owner about our tour adventures and he promptly called someone and started complaining in Turkish. After the call was finished, he told us that the guide wasn’t supposed to be that guy but the regular one was on his honeymoon and they asked him to fill in. This means you don’t have to be afraid to do a tour and perhaps you are not gonna meet great people like we did.

The Turkish Night Show

We still had another thing to do that same day. We had booked the Turkish Night Show, a dinner with traditional Turkish music and dancers. Our pension’s owner kindly took us there and the show was nice apart from the cold we felt at the place (so don’t go with only a t-shirt like we did).

Cappadocia

The next day we said good bye to the awesome people at the Anatolia Cave Pension and took the bus we booked a day before to Ankara. The plans for Ankara didn’t go well but I’ll leave that for the next post.

to be continued…

A Couple of Weeks in Turkey, Part 3: Pamukkale

This article is part of the “A Couple of Weeks in Turkey” series and follows A Couple of Weeks in Turkey, Part 2: Selçuk/Ephesus.

The next stop after a well spent time in Selçuk was Pamukkale. The owner of the Tuncay Pension had helped us with our trip planning. He told us Pamukkale was not worth spending the night and instead we should rather get on a night bus to Cappadocia, saving time and money. It was a wise advice but before we were on our way we had another little Trukish adventure.
The hotel owner told us he would talk to his friend at the bus station to get us tickets and we should make sure that we headed to the right agency, Kamil Koç.
When we got to the bus station an old guy came by and we said we were looking for a particular agency, he asked us why and after our answer turns out he also sold tickets to Pamukkale…
We insisted on going for the original agency and he told us “you know, you can go for that agency but my agency is the one with the bus so they will sell you a ticket for my bus, earning a fee, and tomorrow I will be here to happily welcome you”. Hmm, how could we argue with that? We said okay but he told us a price that was higher than what we had been told before so we bargained and finally we could get two tickets to Cappadocia with a stop at Pamukkale for the price of 70 TRL each (~35 €).

At the cotton castle

After arriving at Pamukkale some guy entered the bus and told us that he was our host, that we could leave our bags in his office and have a shower and a tea at his hotel for free. We followed him to his office and when we were already inside, a guy came by the door and told us that this wasn’t our travel agency, that it was some guy trying to sell us stuff and we shouldn’t leave the bags there… What the hell! After seeing that this guy’s office was the agency originally advised by the pension’s guy and that the other one was where we had bought our tickets, we grabbed our bags and told our “host” that we were moving them to the other guy’s office and he said: “Okay, you do whatever you want but I’m telling you, they will try to sell you all kinds of shit. Don’t buy anything! They will try to sell you trips in Cappadocia, whatever, don’t buy them! I just want people to come to my hotel and have a tea for free so they can talk good things about my agency”. When we arrived with the bags to the other office the guy told us that their agencies are always fighting each other and that the other guy wanted us in the hotel to try to sell us stuff…

We wanted nothing to do with those travel agencies’ wars so we went to have lunch at a restaurant from which we could see why Pamukkale means “cotton castle”. Behind some houses we could see a big white mountain that could be easily confused for snow which looked and felt odd with such a hot weather. The reason the mountain is white is a rock called travertine made by calcium carbonate deposits.
The lunch was tasty, as always, but at the end of the day we would have an unpleasant situation with the owner of that place (which apart from a restaurant is also a hostel and a travel agency).

Pamukkale

After lunch we headed to the “cotton castle”. The entrance fee was 20 TRL (~10 €) and it is forbidden to wear shoes in there so people don’t deteriorate the soil. There are guards around and they will blow a whistle at people who sneaked in with their shoes on or people who seat inside the water stream (blocking it) that goes along the main course of the mountain.
Some times it was hard to walk at some places which had small loose rocks but it was a nice experience.
Another main attraction of that mountain is the number of pools where people can bath. The water is of course full of calcium carbonate deposits which give it its pale look and you can feel it in your feet as some kind of weird paste.

Pamukkale: The cotton castle

Dr. Fish and swimming with the ruins

After we got to the top, we rested a bit laying on the grass under some trees’ shade and then went to the ancient pool.
There is an extra fee for entering the ancient pool but what other opportunity would we have to swim on top of ancient roman ruins? So there we went, the pool’s water is warm and sweet and ruins divide different areas of the pool. We could seat on some ruins, swim and relax for a while.

The Antique Pool

When we got out, we saw they had “doctor fish” tanks in there. We had first known about “doctor fish” in the TV, tiny fish that eat dead skin of one’s body and leave the healthy skin really smooth. After a failed attempt to bargain the price of 35 TRL, we decided to do it anyway. For 20 minutes we were seating with our feet in the fish tank, feeding the fish and paying for it, that is! The feeling is like some fast and small tickles, Helena could not stop laughing for a while until she controlled herself.
A guy that was working there told us that each fish costs 30 US $ and that although they are originally from Turkey and other middle-east countries, they are now usually imported from Singapore. Nowadays it is getting common to see these fish in Spanish health clinics but we can say we had the fish treatment at a beautiful place after swimming in an ancient pool in Turkey 😉

Skin eating fish
(Helena feeding the fish)

There is adventure everywhere!

After we were done with the pool and the fish we went down the mountain again to be there for the bus at 19. When we got to the office where we had left our bags, the guy told us: “What are you doing here so early? We had more people that needed to take the bus so we delayed it to 20:30!”. Yup, they delayed it without any warning or consideration for us.
We were hungry and pissed at the guy so we went back to the place where we had had lunch, ate something and met a Canadian guy from Quebec who was also going to Cappadocia on our bus and didn’t know anything about the hour changes …
When the time came, we seated in front of the office next to the restaurant where we were supposed to get our night bus ticket and this is where the situation I mentioned before started.
The Canadian guy went inside the office and came out with a piece of paper for the three of us (note that we didn’t know each other) that was supposed to be exchanged for a ticket at the bus’s station.
So there we were seating in front of the office, waiting for the bus and the restaurant’s owner, a woman in her 50s, started talking to us. “So you’re going to Cappadocia… Do you have any planned trips in there? You should probably book in advance because they get full and then it’s a shame you don’t get to visit the stuff in there”. “Hmm, we don’t like tours that much so I guess we’ll decide about that when we arrive in there…” I said but she just went on and on about how such good prices they have, about how much cheaper it would be to book with her, etc. Finally the Canadian went inside and after a while the woman told us: “Your friend has bought every tour and even a balloon trip! You should also buy some tours… Do you speak Spanish?” and she went on talking to us in Spanish. It wasn’t about the money anymore, it was about not giving in to that sick woman so I told her in English: “Look, we speak Spanish but we also speak English as you might have noticed, we are not even Spanish, so you don’t have to speak in another language! We are not buying anything so please stop trying to sell us stuff!”.
We were really pissed off and on top of that the bus was late so that was a really unpleasant couple of hours.

Fun with the funky night bus

Finally the mini-bus arrived, it was a dolmuş (read the part 2 of this trip to know more about these buses) and was gonna take us to Denizli’s bus station. After an uncomfortable trip in a dolmuş full of people where I seated at a small stool in the aisle we finally arrived. We went inside the bus station, showed the piece of paper to the first assistant that we saw and he pointed us to the right place where we finally got our individual ticket and then we went outside to wait for our bus. Next to us were some Korean guys talking to each other about a piece of paper they had. I decided to ask them if they were going to Cappadocia on a night bus; they were but they thought that the piece of paper was a real ticket and didn’t know anything about exchanging it for a real ticket and were waiting for the wrong bus number so I think I saved some Korean folks from spending the night at Dinizli bus station.

When the bus arrived we hopped on and had our seats next to the Canadian. I was seating next to Helena and our new friend was seating on the other side of the aisle next to a woman. The ticket inspector came buy, took a look at our tickets and started yelling something in Turkish and giving directions to us. Finally we understood, the tickets have the passenger’s genders printed on it and he was trying to switch Helena’s seat with the Canadian so the other woman wasn’t seating with a man but she said she didn’t mind and Helena claimed she was married to me so the guy gave up in the end.

Night bus with private TVs

The bus was equipped with a small TV for every passenger (one of the channels was from a camera in front of the bus) and they served snacks and drinks. Still, this 11 hour trip was more uncomfortable than I thought. Every time the bus stopped the lights went on, then there were people coughing, children crying, the sound of the water hitting the windows when they washed it (they washed it at every stop). We didn’t have much sleep but we saved a night and had this experience.

On June 21st we arrived at Göreme, Cappadocia, the best place where we stood during the whole trip, but that’s a story for the next article…

to be continued…

A Couple of Weeks in Turkey, Part 2: Selçuk/Ephesus

This article is part of the “A Couple of Weeks in Turkey” series and follows A Couple of Weeks in Turkey, Part 1: Istanbul.

Having decided that our destination after Istanbul would be Selçuk, we bought a flight 2 nights before leaving. The closest airport was Izmir and we used the Turkish low-cost airline Pegasus to buy cheap flights.
It cost around 120 € already with the expensive eDreams taxes…
Pegasus is a very well chosen name for a flight company but it is funny that their website is flypgs, which I always read as “fly pigs” 🙂
But I’m saying this because it’s funny, I don’t mean to disrespect, in fact, everything was great! The seats are reserved and the departure was at a reasonable time in the morning (unlike other low-cost companies) and I totally recommend it.

After we arrived at Izmir, we had to take a train to Selçuk. We had read in the guide book that although you buy a ticket, it doesn’t mean there will be a seat reserved for you… Indeed, the train had only two cars and when we entered it we saw there was already people sitting on their luggage or standing because all seats were taken. The trip took a bit more than one hour and we stood in the aisle the whole time. Even though it was not a comfortable way of traveling, at least we got to see landscapes very different from Istanbul’s that kind of resembled Portugal many years ago; I’m talking about large plantations, tiny villages and kids riding old motorcycles without using helmets.

Lua de Mel na Turquia
(in the end of the trip we were not so smiley)

Finally we arrived to Selçuk, all tired of standing in the train and as soon we left it a guy came asking if we had a place to stay. Yes we had, we were physically tired and also sick of having people approaching us all the time (to sell stuff). Turns out that when we got to the hostel, the owner wasn’t around so we waited a bit for him and when he arrived, he was the guy that had just approached us in the train station. He just wanted to guide us to the hostel. We obviously felt really bad.
The hostel was Tuncay pension and although it was not in the center it was not too far, had a pleasant courtyard, the breakfast was tasty and there was a nice family feeling to it: the owner, his brother and their families had dinner at the courtyard every night and were happy to help us with planning the next step of the trip.
The only negative thing was that the tub was obstructed (though they fixed it within a few hours) and the owner, although nice, was being a bit too insistent with trying to sell us stuff (guided tours to Ephesus, bus tickets and tours in Cappadocia).

Courtyard in our pension in Selçuk
(the courtyard of Tuncay pension)

As soon as we left our stuff in the pension, we went to explore the center of the town. We had lunch at a place where the main waiter (he was probably the owner) could say “thank you” in probably every language of the world. He said “obrigado” to us and, apart from other mainstream languages, we heard him even saying it in Norwegian!
This waiter was one of the people that confused us for Turkish people. We weren’t aware of it but apparently both Helena and I have Turkish looks because more than 5 times people thought we were Turkish.
In this restaurant I tasted a Turkish drink called rakı, it was really strong, both in alcohol and in the anise flavor (I didn’t like it).
After lunch we walked around a bit and found a street market with many kinds of vegetables like it’s hard to find in most European cities these days. On the way back to the hostel we found a couple and their son cooking some sweet fried dough. We were so amazed at the way and the speed the guy shaped the dough that we recorded a video (that’s why I don’t have photos) and while we hadn’t decided yet if we were gonna buy a bag, the couple gave us a bag of it for free and it tasted like heaven! What can I say, people are nice in Turkey. Doing a later research, it seems that what we ate there was called “lokma”, although the shape was different from the Wikipedia article.

Lua de Mel na Turquia
(the Selçuk market)

After this walking trip, we went to the Pammucak beach. This was the first time we took the dolmuş. What a ride! A dolmuş is a minibus or better, a van, used as a shared taxi. People hop on and ask for the driver to drop them where they want. So there we were on our way to the beach, all seats taken when we saw some people on the side of the rode waving at the dolmuş. Too bad I thought, it is full. Nope, the driver stopped, they came in and the driver signed them where a folding stool was lying. Further on our way, more people came in and stood, so we were like 15 people on a van driving at around 100 Km/h.
Still, we arrived in one piece to the beach and the beach was awesome. The water wasn’t crystal clear or anything like that but it was warm, the weather was hot but not burning hot, really nice!
A picture might describe it better:

Pammucak's beach

After the beach, we explored a bit of the town again, had a pleasant dinner where I tasted an Efes beer for the first time and went back to the pension and finish our day learning online how to play backgammon. Backgammon is very popular in Turkey and we wanted to learn how to play it as learning new things is part of travelling.

Lua de Mel na Turquia
(men playing backgammon)

The next day, we had planned to spend the morning visiting the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus. The park is huge and is totally worth visiting — a ticket was 20 TL (~10 €) if I’m not mistaken. It is a good idea to arrive early in order to avoid the burning sun and the crowds and although there are walking tours, we just went on our own again. A friend had advised me to check the house where Mary, the mother of Jesus, had lived but we skipped it as it was not in Ephesus itself and we were both tired and not really interested anyway.
When passing by Ephesus’s Theater we were surprised by a group of Korean tourists who started singing in choir to us who were seating in the stairs. Who else can say they went to Ephesus and there was a little show waiting for them 🙂

Ephesus
(seating in front of the ancient library)

After walking a lot among the ruins we took the dolmuş and went again to the beach where we had a nice kebab and, since it was so hot, 4 ayrans. Ayran is a cold drink made by mixing yogurt, water and salt and though it is popular in many countries, it was supposedly created by Turkish people. I had tried ayran for the first time in Belgium and I love it so after drinking it every day during our stay in Turkey I sometimes make it at home because it is pretty much impossible to find here in Galicia (I’ll leave the recipe for another post).

Back to Selçuk, we tried to visit its fortress but it was already closed. I had read on our guide that sometimes ancient coins are still found in that fortress and that there are people who try to sell those to tourists which is illegal. Turns out that a guy started talking to us, asking us where we were from, asking if we had seen the main attractions, etc. while we were walking a bit with him until we were in a more hidden place and he pulled a cigarette pack but instead of cigarettes it was holding, guess what, ancient coins.
I kindly declined his offer and he insisted and lowered the price until I told him that although it was very tempting, I would eventually have problems at customs and we got the hell outta there as fast as we could…

The next day we were leaving for Pamukkale and it would become yet another funny story but that’s for another post…

to be continued…

A Couple of Weeks in Turkey, Part 1: Istanbul

As it says in a previous post, back in June I got married.
The original plan for the destination of the honeymoon was to go to Japan. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been attracted to Asian culture in general and to Japan in particular. Helena also loved the idea of going to a country with such a different culture so we thought the honeymoon was the perfect opportunity to go there.
We were thinking of buying the plane tickets in the middle of May when a very big tragedy occurred and we changed our plans. I am obviously talking about the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and the following events related to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Our thoughts go to the victims of this sad event and their families.

After that, we wanted a place that was exotic (as in, not very European/Western) but affordable (because we still wanna go to Japan, probably next year). After a little brainstorm with Helena I came up with a good one: Turkey!
Yes, it might probably one of these days enter the E.U. but it is still “differently” attractive.

Off to Istanbul!

The two return trip plane tickets cost as much as one ticket to Japan, around 700 € (with insurance and taxes included). Also, we decided not to go with a travel agency (the Lonely Planet guide is our travel agency :)). We don’t really like those classic guided tours. Going with everything planned isn’t much of an adventure is it? We even only booked the hotel one week before we departed and for two days only, for the rest, we followed the true Portuguese spirit of: let’s see about it then… 😀

As for the bags, given that we would be also visiting outside of Istanbul, we decided to take our InterRail backpacks and just like this last year’s trip, I didn’t take my laptop! Instead I used my faithful N900 smartphone for everything: calls, booking hotels, research about places, twitting…

On June 15, we arrived at the Atatürk International Airport, went straight to the currency exchange and that was the first time we got ripped off… 11% of commission if I remember well. WTF! Here is a little advice, don’t run to the first currency exchange, instead wait and go to one that doesn’t take commission (what these ones do is that they exchange it at a fixed rate that benefits them but it’s not much and certainly not 11%).

The hotel, Naz Wooden House Inn, was cozy and the staff was even nicer (we found Turkish people nice in general). The room was tiny but from what I had read, that’s pretty normal in Istanbul. The hotel was right behind the Blue Mosque (or Sultan Ahmed Mosque) and so we visited the area in the first two days. We hate waiting in queues and there was a big line to enter the Blue Mosque so we were still deciding if we should wait when it started raining like hell. The people in the line dispersed, hurrying to escape the rain and it was a nice opportunity for us to get in a much smaller line. Anyway, it would have been totally worth the wait. The mosque is really big and beautiful:

Inside the Blue Mosque

Being a coffee lover I could finally taste a Turkish coffee after having seen what it was in the TV. If you don’t know what’s it like, the coffee is strong-ish (how strong a coffee is really depends on what you’re used to) and you choose the quantity of sugar in advanced. Despite the fact that I drink my espressos without sugar, I chose “orta şeker” (medium sugar) for the Turkish coffees because they tasted better this way. Another particularity of this coffee, probably the most known one, is that you’ll find that coffee grounds fill about a quarter of the cup. Tradition says that when you finish your coffee, you place the cup upside down on the saucer, let it cool down and when you lift the cup, your future can be read in the coffee grounds left in the cup.

Turkish kahve

Another curious thing that can be found in the streets of Istanbul is the way people treat animals. We saw people giving food and water to stray dogs, cats and even ducks (as the photo below shows) and I assume these weren’t simply leftovers as we saw a restaurant employee cutting meat from the kebab stick and giving it to some cats. I later read somewhere that this is a common thing in there. Really nice!

Looks tasty!

Let the bargaining begin!

We had decided to stay one more night in Istanbul so I asked for an extra night at the hotel but they were fully booked and said they had a room in their “sister hotel” nearby but it would cost me 65 € instead of the 49 € I was paying. I said no, I could only afford the same price and I would look for another hotel, thank you very much. The guy said: “Wait wait, let me explain it to my colleague and see what we can do…”. He called the other guy and then told me: “Okay, you can go to our sister hotel for the same price, 49 €.”! And this was the first time I bargained in Turkey; even without knowing I was bargaining!

The other hotel, Sultan’s Inn, was more luxurious and we got a very nice large room (with a double bed and 2 single ones).
In this hotel we also used the functioning internet to book the flight to our next destination, Izmir (more on that in the next article).

Trip in the Bosphorus

The third day in Istanbul we traveled for the first time the Bosphorus‘s ferries and visited the Asian shore. It’s impressive if you think about it, one river cross for ~30 cents and you’re in a different continent. This part (we arrived at the Kadıköy station) was clearly not made for tourists, with less appealing buildings and lower prices. We just wondered around a bit, took some photos, drank yet another Turkish coffee and had the cheapest lunch in ages: 1 kebap + 1 ayran for 2 TRL, that’s right, 1 €. There was no way it could taste bad after such a good price.

After the cheapest lunch on earth we hurried again for the ferry and visited the island of Burgazada (about 1 hour from Kadıköy). I had heard about this island in an episode of the TV show “Españoles en el Mundo” (it is about Spanish people living abroad). It is a nice small island that has no cars (apart from firemen and police ones) and for this reason one can find roads that are occupied by trees like in the photo below. The island turned out to have less things to see and probably there were other more exciting islands to visit but it was okay.

A tree in the middle of a road

On our way back we had some interesting show in the ferry. People buy some kind of bread at the ferry and feed the seagulls with it by throwing it out while the seagulls flying by catch it in the air! It’s really something worth seeing.

Feeding the Seagulls "On The Fly"

That night, back in Istanbul, we went again to the Marmara Cafe to relax with some coffee and waterpipe for the next day we would fly to Izmir!

to be continued…