Turkish baths and buses

Trip Start Feb 04, 2011
Trip End Nov 04, 2011

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Where I stayed
Ramada Plaza Hotel

Flag of Turkey  , Turkish Mediterranean Coast,
Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Arriving at the port of Bodrum in Turkey was much easier than I imagined. No long queues at immigration and just like back in Kos, my hotel was a few minutes walk from the port. The ferry trip was only one hour and in actual fact, I hadn't travelled far. Only a few hours ago I was in a tavern in Kos, watching Turkey in the distance. Now I was in Turkey and I could probably see Kos not far away. Back in Greece it was red carpet treatment for me as soon as I told people I was from Melbourne. Now I was in Turkey where there is a different connection with Australia. Although both Melbourne and Sydney have rather sizable Turkish communities and over 50% of Turkish Australians reside in Melbourne, most of them actually come from Cyprus.

No red carpet treatment here just for being Australian. However, if you happen to be German - that's when you're likely to hear, "oh, I have an uncle who lives in Germany." It's also easier to get by speaking German here than it is speaking English, which is no surprise, given the connection between the two countries. Still, we Australians are familiar with pide, gozleme and of course kebab. Who can resist a kebab at 3am after a night out? And what is it with every market in Sydney that has a gozleme stall?

Now, as I'd travelled a whopping one hour by ferry from Kos, I didn't exactly arrive in some completely different weather pattern. Still the same. Seventeen degrees. Not quite beach weather - and Bodrum is a beach destination. What to do? After checking into a really nice hotel (and by the way, I'm not splurging on hotels - I'm just getting really good deals) I went off in search of the famous Turkish bath house, or hammam. I had a few brief experiences with hammams in Morocco, but like everything in that country, I found it a bit disappointing and not really genuine. I heard that the one here in Bodrum was quite good. So after trying to find the damned bath house for over an hour (I miss Greece and its street maps) I stumbled across it and went inside.

Like nearly every place I arrive at, whether it's a hotel or a shop, it seems like there's no one else around. The staff at the bath house were not exactly thrilled to see me and as they didn't speak any language other than Turkish, I had to fumble with the few words I'd memorised on my long one hour journey from Kos. We managed to communicate and eventually I was inside the bath house, alone, and wondering what would happen next. The interior of the bath house kept me occupied - all those mosaics and intricate design from who knows how long ago. It was like a museum. Then came, who I will refer to as .... Kebab Man.

I have a rather warped sense of humour and everyone receives a nickname from me. Kebab Man was short, stout, large belly and of course - a moustache. Then he yelled at me. "Clothes! Off! Go! There!" I've got to give it to him. Even though he was screaming at me in one word expletives, his English was better than my Turkish. So he marched me into a steamy room with a towel and rubber sandals. The steam room was downstairs and he had already disappeared so I made my way down the stairs and then ....one of the rubber slippers had a mind of its own and I slipped, fell and landed several stairs away. Luckily I landed on my elbow otherwise I would have been in serious trouble. Those stairs are dangerously slippery! And rubber sandals? Why not just make me wear bars of soap on my feet? With my elbow throbbing I limped away in agony. My only thought as I landed was "please don't let there be anything seriously wrong with me. I don't know how to say 'ambulance' in Turkish."

A short while later, Kebab Man found me huddled over a stone slab in the centre of the room, in absolute pain and he yelled, "Down!" I thought, "Either he wants me to lie down or there's a sniper in the room". Now, I've never been to prison but this dingy, steamy room with this angry little Kebab Man made me wonder if perhaps I've just become his bitch for an hour. And sure enough, if I wasn't already in enough pain from nearly killing myself on slippery steps, I endured a whole half hour of pummeling, stretching, slapping and punching. I lay there wondering if this is how bread is made. It was the most vigorous massage I'd ever had, and not being a fan of massages, I was praying for it to end. I dragged myself out of there and thought, "OK - I'm done with hammams". I felt like I'd been beaten up. I may have exaggerated about the punching though.

Strangely, that next morning my injuries had almost gone away. Maybe Kebab Man had a special technique. Whatever it was, it worked. I know I make it sound like I entered the gorilla enclosure at the zoo and challenged one of the gorillas to a fight to the death, but it was an interesting experience and the staff may seem blunt ("Clothes! Off!") but it's only because their English is limited. It was worth visiting. Now - time to catch a bus.

I'd heard a bit about Turkish buses and before you start imagining me sitting next to an old lady holding a chicken and a goat, think again. No - these buses are incredible. They would have to be amongst the best buses in the world, complete with TV screens for each seat, on board service including drinks and snacks - and they're punctual! It was a seven hour journey from Bodrum to Antalya but the journey was bearable and there were adequate stops along the way, so unlike the trains in the Balkans, I didn't go hungry. Buses are, it seems, the best way to get around Turkey. And of course the scenery is sensational. Eventually the bus arrived at the ultra modern bus terminal of Antalya and that's when it started raining - heavily.

Apart from a few days in Morocco, this was the first time during the trip that I was confronted with the problem of travelling in the rain. It meant that I had no choice but to get a taxi into town and within minutes I was at the hotel. This hotel would have to be the best on the trip so far - a five star hotel that I found for only sixty euros a night. A bargain! Come to think of it, nearly all the hotels on this trip have been excellent. I'd made a few decisions on the way here as well.

Decision number one - cut back on restaurants. I don't mind travelling alone, sleeping alone or sightseeing alone but I really don't like eating alone. It's the only time I feel lonely on this trip and I really enjoy the company of friends around a table. Having to see other tables with more than two people at each table makes me feel uncomfortable. Also, it's time consuming. Wait for the menu. Wait for the meal. Wait for the bill. All this time I'm alone at a table, staring at a tablecloth. Not to mention the fact that I don't need to eat so much. Something small - a snack on the street is sufficient - and quick. Hopefully I'll lose a few kilos.

Decision number two - go to Syria. I've done some research and if all goes to plan, I could be there by next week. The only problem is I don't have a visa but I'm hoping I can get one at the border. There's a school I want to visit in Damascus and I really need to be somewhere Arabic speaking - very soon. I've covered four languages so far and this will be the fifth. I need to spend a bit of time in the Middle East and although I know there are current political issues in Syria, it's a fact of life for countries like that. Besides, I'm going there to study - not to stir up trouble.

Here in Antalya the rain has been relentless. It rained all day and I as I decided to stay an extra night only to find the five star hotel was booked out the following night, I had to move to another hotel - in the rain. It was only a few blocks away but the roads were like rivers. As I was walking I thought, "Oh well. These shoes could do with a wash". The socks and jeans didn't need a wash though. I was drenched. As there was little to do in the rain, I walked through the old town and came across a bath house. Like a glutton for punishment, I went in to escape the rain and once again, was confronted by Kebab Man. By the way, this bath house was even better than the one in Bodrum.

You know, being beaten up is not so bad when you know it's coming. I'm getting used to these prison scenarios and although I now can't look at a pair of rubber sandals, I can accept the fact that when I'm happily relaxed in a steamy room, all of a sudden Kebab Man is going to come in and slap me senseless. But after that rather violent session of absolute torture, I know I'm going to walk out of there feeling - invigorated. I'm ready for another Turkish bus tomorrow.

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