One last day in Istanbul

Trip Start Feb 20, 2002
Trip End Nov 18, 2002

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Tuesday, September 3, 2002

-- Reunion

I arrived back in Istanbul from my 2 day trip to Bulgaria and headed straight for Sultanhamet. As I strolled onto the main road where backpackers, locals, and merchants sat listening to music, I greeted all of the my friends which I had met, 2 days before. I settled in, and waited for Linda to arrive the next day.

Linda, who I'd met in Vietnam 4 months before, was flying in to meet me the next day. I'd been waiting for
her to arrive for months and now, the time had finally come. I was excited to see her again.

To pass the night away, I ran up to a roof top bar and drank with some Iranians who'd come to work in Istanbul. We talked for hours about my recent refusals to get my Iranian visa as I griped about the situation.

As we sat and drank, a familiar face walked by. It was Brendan, the Aussie who I'd met in Petra and travelled to Isreal with. He was in Istanbul on the last leg of his trip and by complete coincidence was staying at the hotel where I was sipping an Efes. We caught up, drinking the night away into the early hours of the morning with his new group of friends.

When the morning came around I packed up and headed over to the guest house Linda had reserved a room and settled in before she arrived.

As the afternoon rolled along, I met Linda at the airport and we caught up, back in Sultanhamet.

I'd been in Istanbul a few times before and knew the city. That night we strolled along to places I was familiar with, passed the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia and watched dervishes spin in blue light at a neighboring restaurant.

-- One last day in Istanbul

We'd planned on seeing as much of Turkey as we could in Linda's short one week stay. To make sure we caught all of Istanbul's sights we made a whirlwind tour around the city soaking in the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia, in daylight this time, and then heading off to the Royal Palace to finish the afternoon being pampered at the Hammam, an ancient Roman Bath. My bath was a short massage-cum-bone-bashing and a quick scrub down which lasted only 10 minutes but, luckily, Linda managed to get a good 45 minutes of bathed ecstasy.

After a hard day's touring, I called the Iranian Embassy and they confirmed that my Visa application had infact been refused. I wouldn't be going to Iran. Plan B, Georgia and Azerbaijan would have to do. Linda had kindly brought with her a guide book for the south Caucasus for me and now, I would be needing it.

-- Let the games begin!

That night we began our high speed marathon through some of Turkey's finest gems.

We had arranged with a local tour operator a series of busses, hotel rooms throughout the country, and tours to make sure we could get to Cappadocia with enough time to relax.

We started off with a night bus to Ephesus, Turkey's ancient Roman Ruins. We arrived in the morning where we quickly shuffled between Selcuk, a tour office and then, off we were to visit the ancient city. Our tour guide brought us through the crumbled city, old mosques and finally we visited the house where the Virgin Maria lived after Jesus' death. It was a long day and we were happy to have a bus to Fethiye arranged for the same day. This would mean that we would be able to sleep in a hotel this time rather than another gruelling night-bus. Thank god...

-- Fethiye, Boats and Parachutes

When we awoke the next morning, we ventured off to the Turkish boat, waiting out on the port where our day trip down the mediterranean was scheduled to leave from.

The boat load of tourist sailed off, floating on blue waters. We passed an enjoyable day splashing in the waters at the numerous stops along the 12 islands on the tour and I managed to, finally, get a respectable tan. Ok, so some might have called it a sun burn but I was convinced that it would later fade into a tan.

When the day ended, we relaxed in the Roman theater next to our hotel bathed in the pale orange glow lighting up the ancient ruins, sipping a cold Efes beer and munching some fresh Turkish pistachio nuts, to which I had been horribly addicted to since I arrived in Turkey.

The next day, it was off for some Paragliding. Along with a truck load of tourists, we puttered up to the top of a high mountain top over Fethiye where our tandem flyers quickly strapped us in and launched us off over the edge to slowly float down strapped to parachutes. The flight took about 30 minutes and gave us a breathtaking view over the mediterranean coast of Turkey. As we slowly fell downwards, cool and warm gusts of air engulfed us, taking us higher in the sky at times.

Arriving slowly down to a targeted beach, the heat of the lower altitude defrosted my frozen toes and we spiraled downwards in stomach flushing swirls so intense that I had to close my eyes half way through to avoid painting the beach below with my stomach contents.

Continuing on our fast passed journey we headed straight for Olimpos, a small place tucked into a rocky valley where backpackers flocked to, to stay in tree houses in a hidden hedonistic paradise.

I'd heard mixed reviews about the place, it's dubious quality of food and dodgy tree houses, and didn't complain too much when we opted for a "luxury" bungalow under a tree. The tree houses were full but it was easy to see how people could come here, as many did, and stay for weeks, and months at times.

Olimpos was a brief stop over as we packed up and left the next day, desperate to get to Capadocia and it's moon like landscape.


Yet another over night bus, but this time, Linda's last one, and we arrived in Goreme, a town in the center of Cappadocia amidst odd fairy chimneys and bizarre rock formations in which Christians sought refuge from persecution thousands of years ago.

I was dying to stay in a cave or a fairy chimney as the ancient dwellers did but was more than happy to see the room which we had reserved the night before. Paradise. Even though only one fifth of the room was actually part of a cave, the rest being a stone built luxury room, I was happy enough.

"Hey, it's a cave!" I jokingly affirmed as Linda doubted the authenticity of our so called "Cave Room".

Cave or not, the hot water, beautiful living room, equipped with a working fireplace, separate bed room with a giant bed and fluffy thick sheets, was enough to easily sell us on the room.

We recovered from our exhausting night busses for the day and finally made it out to rent a scooter and venture off into the phallic formations. We stopped at a giant rock in which a church had been carved out. A kind Turkish man showed us through the dark tunnels and passages. After nearly breaking our necks in the tightly built church, we sat, had tea with the man in a small rock carved nook and headed out to the "sunset point".

Unfortunately, we weren't the only one's with the idea of a beautiful sunset overlooking the valley in mind. Tour busses rolled in and countless tourists sat up on the well known cliff waiting for the sun to set. Seeing a small outcrop which no one had been brave enough to walk out to, we made the tight rope tip toe walk out onto the ledge and managed to get a good view. As the sun set, the sweeping stones and rocks faded to light yellow shades and we headed back to our luxury pad where we made good use of the fireplace and sampled some local wines.

For our last day in Capadocia, and Linda's last day before heading back to London, perhaps not trusting my shaky driving, she rented herself a scooter.

We both ventured off into the hills, losing ourselves in the endless mountain landscape and popping into caves and churches.

We then followed our map to the Fairy Chimneys, strange spikes of stone each with their own phallic pointed rock atop.

The sites were swarming with tourists so we headed off, 45km, to the underground cities, stopping to take a few pictures along the way. The underground city hid away several civilizations over time and sprawled out, underground, a mind boggling 10km. We only went down a few levels and walked around a few rooms before heading back in time for the sunset.

We finally made it back home and had dinner on the roof top overlooking the city.

The next day, I walked Linda out to the bus station, where her early morning bus was set to leave from. Linda was off, back to London.

I bought my ticket for Trabzon, the border town where I was set to head for Georgia from and returned to checkout and get ready for my afternoon bus.

-- "Merhaba Babane!"

The 3 Turkish sisters rushed into my Trabzon bound bus waving and shouting goodbye's out of the window to friends. Two of the them, a 46 year old women from Istanbul and her sister, a 21 year old girl from Izmir sat in the seat in front of me, a third, a 32 year old Istanbulite, next to me.

"Merhaba", Hello I greeted.

The girls were on their way to see their grandmother in Sivas, a small town 5 hours away from Cappadocia.

Despite the fact that only Raha, sitting next to me, spoke english we all attempted a conversation which helped pass the long bus ride. I was set for a 17 hour ride to Trabzon and was more than happy to have some company for part of the way.

After about 10 minutes of chatting, a surprising offer was thrown at me by the Turkish girls.

"Luc, would you like to come to our grandmother's for a few days?"

An invitation for local hospitality in a Turkish household... but everything was planned out to Trabzon, bus tickets were bought and timelines set. I had to think about this.

I was frozen, half smiling with eyes darting around my guide book trying to figure out how I could change my ticket and still make it in time without losing my 35 million liras I'd dished out on the ride east.

"Would you like to come or not?" Raha asked sounding slightly offended that I was taking so long to decide.

"Errr... well it's just this ticket, I spent 35 million for it and..."

"Ahh.. ticket, ok" Raha quickly called over the conductor and blasted a flurry of Turkish at him.

Raha dismissed the driver and turned back to me. "Ok, no problem. In Sivas we change ticket."

That was it, there was no reason not to go. I remembered the discussion I'd had with my Aussie friend in the Sahara taunting me to spice up my travels and jumped on the offer.

"Ok, I'll come, for one night."

The girls laughed and clapped their hands in approval.

It was set.

-- One Night at Grandma's Place

When I arrived in Sivas, the girls sorted out my new ticket and we hurried to Babane's home. I'd been told to call her "Babane", which was the equivalent to "Granny" and was primed to greet her in a manner sure to inspire laughter and acceptance.

Babane lived in the center of Sivas. Herself being a direct descendant of the Sultans, money didn't seem like much of a problem but despite this, she had a simple apartment.

When we opened the door to greet everyone she quickly kissed me on both cheeks and gave me a solid bone crushing hug. She was a large woman with gray hair and a perma-smile which gave her a disarming resemblance to Mother Claus.

"Merhaba Babane" I said, having rehearsed the line 30 times mentally.

They all burst into laughter and welcomed me in for some Turkish tea.

After the family caught up with each other, myself being quickly updated by the only english speaker, Raha, we moved to the kitchen for a traditional Turkish dinner of Soups (Corba), vegetables and meat, all served slowly, one dish after the next.

During dinner, Babane was asking various questions to the girls and casually shifting her eyes my way as if to imply that they were talking about me.

"... computer engineer...", "... Internet security..."

I could only make out a few words but quickly figured out that they were talking about my career and schooling. Ebru, the youngest of the 3 girls was sheepishly giggling as the conversation went on and I slowly figured out that they had been trying to set me up with her. After the queries were done, Babane shook her head as if to say "Fine choice" then laughed, almost causing her to choke on her tea.

"What?" I asked.
Babane pointed to me and blurted "Attaturk" between bouts of chuckles.

Raha jumped in to clear things up "She says you look like Attaturk, our national Hero"

"Ohh, heh.. heh... thanks, I guess"

As dinner finished Ebru began to wrap things up and clean the dishes which was a welcomed end to a slightly uncomfortable situation.

"Would you like some help?" I asked, eyeing Raha to Translate.

"She says you are a guest and shouldn't help but if you would like to, you may." Raha explained.

"Ahh ok, well, yeah I'd like to help."

I got up and grabbed some dishes and began to rinse away. The girls were a little set back by this. Oddly enough my offer inspired more bad feelings than had intended.

After 5 minutes had passed, Ebru whispered something to Raha.

"Ebru says that she would be much happier if you would sit, have a drink and let her finish the dishes"

"Your kidding? Ok... it's the first time someone tells me that though!"

We all laughed, they still couldn't understand why someone would allow a guest to help with the cleaning though.

After the cleaning we all went out to sit for tea in the remains of an old Selcuk castle. A huge pot of tea was brought out on an even larger boiler. The band was playing traditional Turkish music to which Raha and Ifet went wild to and danced for hours.

"You know Luc, this is the first time we ever invite a stranger into our home" Raha confessed.

"Ahh, well thank you very much, it's appreciated."

Raha translated to the others and they all turned to me, cocked their heads to the side and with squinting eyes relayed what was later translated as "It's our deepest pleasure"

When 1am finally rolled around and the band packed it in, we headed back to Babane's where the couch had been prepped for me to crash on. I was exhausted but the 10 cups of Turkish tea kept me buzzing for hours before I finally passed out.

-- Day tour in Sivas

I strolled into the kitchen in the morning where Raha and Ifet, the oldest of the 3 sisters, where busy making breakfast.

"Good morning Luc" Raha greeted.

"Morning..." I said rubbing my eyes and sitting down at the table after offering to help, an offer which I had known would be instantly refused, as it was.

"Luc, what did you dream last night?"

"Huh? Um... not sure ... let me think. No, can't remember why?"

"Because it is a new house you are in now and it is our custom that if you remember your dream on the first night in a new house, it will come true."

"Really? " I thought harder but the only snippets that I could remember were disjoint and made no sense what so ever. From what I remembered, I dreamed of being in high school, unfortunately, I couldn't have been dreaming of having super powers or millions of dollars.

"Sorry, can't remember"

Babane joined us for breakfast and we all feasted on locals breads, of which I was given the choicest bits and feta cheese, a traditional breakfast in Turkey. Being slightly clueless as how to eat it, Babane showed me by rolling chunks of Feta Cheese into a long Pita-like bread to make a kind of Feta burrito, which of course was much yummier than eating it raw.

Once we all finished, we went out on the town to see Sivas. Mosques, bazaar and mostly just sitting around smoking Nargila and sipping tea was the preferred way to spend the day in Sivas. When it was finally almost time for me to leave, we headed back for a last cup of Turkish coffee at Babane's.

"Luc, when you finish cup, Ifet will read your future in the coffee grinds if you would like"

I'd heard of people doing this in Turkey but hadn't found anyone to do it. I jumped on the offer and glugged my cup back. Turkish coffee was a thick sludge like drink which only took 3 gulps to finish. The tiny cups contained only a small amount of coffee and an equal part of coffee grinds, the trick was to know when to stop drinking as you'de surely end up munching the thick grinds at the bottom.

When I finished, I flipped my saucer over the cup and shook the two as to shake up the grinds, then when ready, I turned over the cup and placed it, on the saucer, down on the table.

Ifet slowly pulled the cup over close to her and pulled the upside-down tea glass of the saucer. She stared, as did the rest of the girls into the cup at the swirling mushy grinds. The residue was more like mud than what you would expect. The thick Turkish coffee was ground so thin than the slimy leftovers left funky brown glops and streams in the cup.

I couldn't understand what she was saying but she stared deeply at the grinds pointing at this glob and that vein.

Raha explained "Luc, when you return home, a short man will present you with 2 choices, regarding business, you will have to make a choice but it will be good."

She rejoined the group and stared back at the cup.

"Ahh.. ok, also, a fat man will bring you good news, in the morning, 1 month after you return to Canada."

"Ok, anything else?"

This went on for 15 minutes as my secret future was read from lines and drips that formed. All in all the future looked bright, but it was time to go!

"Ulah Allah! You must leave!" Raha ran to get my bags and a flurry of goodbyes, "gulle gulle", cheek kisses and hugs ensued before we ran out to the bus.

I caught my bus just before it left and said some final goodbye's to Raha and Ebru.

It felt as if I was saying goodbye to old friends.

Raha was choking up but managed to gush out "Luc, I hope that your future is very bright." before giving me a last hug and jumping out of the bus as it began to roll away.

I rode off waving from the window to the generous women who'd given me a unique Turkish experience.

-- Turkish Hospitality

Raha, Ebru and Ifet, it turned out, were only my first taste of Turkish hospitality. In the east of Turkey, to were I was headed, people were different.

On the bus, I offered a Tic Tac to a soldier sitting behind me and was instantly treated as an old friend. When we stopped at stations, he ran out to buy me water or ushered me to the toilette paying the 25 cent entry fee.

Having arrived in Trabzon, another fellow passenger walked me to a Dolmus (Share Taxi) to get me to town. Unfortunately, it was the wrong one but at the stop, another kind man put me in another Dolmus and this time paid for the fare and walked me to the Georgian embassy! I could get used to this :)

I quickly went off to find a place to leave my bags and settled for a hostel which was a 500 year old church. The ancient, clean, hostel was loaded with old statues and paintings and charged only what you deemed appropriate as a donation.

Once settled I ran out to get my Georgian Visa. All the logistics went faster than expected and I booked myself on another overnight bus to Tblisi, the capital of Georgia, for 4pm that same day. I wasn't sure how well my body would react to a second sleepless night on a bus but I could always sleep in Tblisi. I was off to Georgia! Horah!

-- Cambodian Nostalgia

As I waited for the bus, I cracked open my book on Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia which Linda had brought for me and read as much as I could. Reading through the guide book, I was reminded of when I had visited Cambodia years back. The guide book for Cambodia, back then, was sketchy, listed only a few places to stay and was plastered with warnings and scams, the book for the South Caucasus area was very similar and gave me goose bumps just thinking about how unbeaten the path might be!

Here I went... off onto the pot-holed, unpaved, crumbling, unbeaten path.
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