Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Long Road Home - 11/8/2009

After dropping off Levent E, Osman’s uncle, and Halit, we were off again to the bus station in Ankara. It was about 10 pm by that time, so I had some serious doubts that we would be able to make it in time to unload, by the tickets and board the bus. I was cold at first on the bus, and Levent K let me borrow his jacket again to stay warm. I slept quite a bit on the way back. Omer seemed to be driving pretty fast and several times we passed police, but we didn’t have any problems (I think God was definitely protecting us!). We passed through Kulu again, and I think we made a bathroom stop there. We boarded the van again, and were off to finish the first leg of my 30 hour journey home.

We arrived at the bus terminal in Ankara right at about 12:30. Given that we had left around 10:00, I think Omer made some amazing time, only 2.5 hours compared to more than 3 hours on the way down. We pulled up to the curb and unloaded all the baggage. The guys then began to bestow gifts for us and the other folks at home that they knew in Raleigh. Unfortunately, it created a bit of a logistical problem as none of us had sufficient space in our luggage for all the gifts. We ended up having to hand carry some of them. We passed into the terminal and zipped over to the ticket counter while Omer found a place to park the van. We paid for the bus tickets and then headed outside to find the bus. It was just outside the door so we went and gave our luggage to be stowed under the bus. We had a few minutes left, so Jeff, Levent & I headed to the bathroom. Levent, hadn’t had time to buy us a gift, so he went in a little gift shop (despite my protests) and purchased some more gifts. I bought some chocolate crackers to share with Jeff & Randy on the bus, then headed back to the bus. It was time to board the bus, so we said our goodbyes and thanked the guys for the wonderful time that we had with them. It was hard to say goodbye to them after such a short few days but our hearts were full.

After boarding the bus, we found our seats. This bus was even nicer than the one that we rode to get to the high speed train. The seats were pretty comfortable and they all had video screens with multiple channels of decent movies (though they were all in Turkish). We munched the chocolate crackers while we waited for the service. They gave us water, tea or coffee, and a cake. I skipped the tea, as I had had enough earlier in the evening, and wanted to fall asleep. Once service was complete, they turned off the lights. I watched the ending of Crash, then blew up my inflatable neck pillow and tried to go to sleep. I don’t remember how long it took, but I think fell asleep pretty quickly. By this time it was around 2 am, and after the bad previous night’s sleep, it is no surprise that I didn’t have a problem sleeping. I woke up around 3:30 as the bus was making a rest stop. I was absolutely freezing, I think from the fever chills I was still having. I shook my way into the rest stop, which looked very much like a typical American-style truck stop. I was too out of it to do any shopping, so I headed back to the bus, where I took some Advil and continued my shivering while the bus waited. By 4am we were back on the road again. I feel asleep and woke up again around 5 am. At that time, I thought we were going to be arriving at 6am, so I thought that we only had 1 hour left. I figured we would be in the outskirts of Istanbul by that time, so I tried to stay awake and watch for signs of our impending arrival. On the left side of the bus, I could see the faint outline of tall mountains and little clumps of lights at various elevations. It then dawned on me that the bus ride was 6 hours and we had left at 1 am, so we had 2 hours left. I feel back asleep and woke up again sweating. I took off my jacket and shoes, but I was still very hot and uncomfortable. I took TheraFlu, but it didn’t seem to make much difference. The remaining time on the bus was spent trying to find a comfortable position, drifting off to sleep, and then waking up again hot. When we got to Istanbul, we had three stops. The first was at a hotel, and the second was at what looked like the main office for the bus company we were using. We finally crossed the bridge over the Bosphorous and were back in Europe again. About 20 minutes later we had finally arrived at the main bus terminal in Ankara. It was large and seemingly disorganized, with a big section of it underground. It seemed like we passed through the entire complex before stopping to unload. There was no sign of the entrance to the Metro, but Randy asked one of the drivers how to get to the airport, and we were led to a free shuttle bus. We waited 15 minutes or so on the shuttle bus before the driver finally came over and we were off. It was Sunday morning, so there was very little traffic on the roads. The driver flew to the airport, easily going faster than 80 mph. We finally arrived safely at the international terminal at Ataturk airport.

We arrived at the airport at about 7 am. I wanted to put on some fresh clothes in the restroom before checking in, so we went in and washed up and repacked our luggage. We had a lot of gifts from our Turkish friends that we needed to figure out how to transport. After finishing up in there, I went to the check in counter for Turkish Airlines, while Jeff & Randy waited on me. There was sort of a long line as they were doing a security screening at the check-in counter. I had received some wrapped gifts as we were leaving, but I was careful to not mention that when I was questioned, to not make any further delays. I checked in without any issues, though my bag was a lot closer to the weight limit this time around. I then headed out to meet Jeff & Randy. We went over to a little airport cafe where I bought a fruit cup and coffee for 15 TL. We sat and chatted for a while why Jeff & I ate. Randy made some phone calls using my phone so he could arrange some meetings with friends before his departure tomorrow. At about 9 am it is time for me to go to my plane. I say my goodbye and head off through passport control. There was a security checkpoint at the main doors to the airport, so I didn’t need to go through another checkpoint after the passport check. I wandered around a little bit, trying to find some kind of store that sold snacks and drinks, but had no success. It was good that I didn’t find bottled water as they were screening carry on luggage for liquids at the boarding area, and I would have had to throw it away anyway. I then went to exchange my Turkish Lyras for dollars and finally headed for the boarding area. There was another security checkpoint where they asked about where my bags had been and then they x-rayed them again. I passed through into the waiting area and sat down to try and reorganize my backpack. A few minutes later they started boarding the plane, so I headed over to the jetway to board the flight. I was a bit concerned about flying with this head cold, but I am also really looking forward to arriving at home.

I read a little bit on my IPod while we waited for the plane to pull away from the gate. Once we started pulling away, I shut it off and closed my eyes, falling asleep until we were up in the air. Once we got up in the air, I could the pressure decreasing in my head which felt great. The first thing that the airline did was pass out headphones and these little zippered comfort pouches containing visors, fresh socks, ear plugs, and lip balm. As I was having to breath a lot through my mouth, the lip balm was a blessing. The remainder of the flight home was without incident. The meals were as good as the previous flight over. Despite my attempts to stay awake, I dozed for most of the 10 hour trip to New York.

After arriving at JFK and disembarking I made my way through the passport control area and then down into the baggage claim area. I waited for what seemed like an interminably long time. My fever was spiking again and I was starting to sweat. Finally my bag made its appearance and I made ready to go through customs. I had a bunch of gifts from our Turkish friends that I was carrying. I wasn’t sure what all I had since it was wrapped, and I was concerned that there was fruit that wouldn’t pass. I had declared the Turkish Delight candy that I knew I had, but when the agent asked me if I had any food I just blurted out no, which wasn’t true nor was it what I had written. He just let me pass anyway. I then rearranged my bag and headed over to the Air Train to the American terminal. By this time I was really sweating, I must have looked awful. I got my boarding pass from the automatic machine, and then got in a very long bag check-in line. After checking my bag, I passed through security and then went to get some dinner. I had a stromboli and a large coffee (I wanted a warm drink). I then wandered a bit looking for a gift shop to get something else for Jonah & Elisabeth (without success).

I finally made my way to my departure gate, where I sat and watched 16 Blocks. As the boarding time approached, they began asking for volunteers to take a flight the following day, because the flight was overbooked. I didn’t think much of it, as I certainly didn’t want to spend another day traveling. Then, as I was heading to the bathroom, I heard my name called. I went over to the counter and the lady said that the plane was overweight, and that because my ticket was one of the last one’s booked, I might get booted and have to take the flight the following day. I was so sick and tired I just said ok and sat back down. Then I started thinking about how awful that would be to have to go to a hotel and then come back, all while being sick. So then I started praying that I wouldn’t get booted and at the very last minute they let me board the plane to Raleigh.

The last leg of the flight home was only about an hour; we arrived 30 minutes early. Merl was there to pick me up and Jeff’s flight also got in at the same time. It was so nice to get home!

Konya - 11/7/2009

When we got back from Omer’s house, I was really feeling flushed. I took all the medicine I could think of to cut the fever and laid down, with loud hacking coughs erupting every few minutes. That night I had my worst night of sleep of the entire trip. It took me a long time to fall alseep. I kept seeing strange waking “dreams” and felt as though my body was asleep, but my mind was awake. When I finally did fall asleep, I woke with a stomach ache and stuffy nose and had to spend several minutes in the bathroom. I then drank some more water, and laid back down. I took me a while, but I finally did get a fitful sleep for the rest of the evening. I had set my alarm for 6:30 am, as I thought that was when we were going to be getting up to go to Suleyman and Serap’s for breakfast. I took my shower and then started packing as the rest of the guys remained sleeping. Jeff started stirring at around 7 am, and we spent the next hour and a half preparing to depart Levent’s home. After a short time, Erdem began stirring at which point Levent brough him out to greet us. He had grown a lot and was really shy at first. We finally finished our packing and cleaning up and said our goodbyes to Erdem & Vildan.

We arrived at Suleyman’s apartment a bit late, what we have taken to calling “Turkish Time”. We greeted Suleyman and his brother, and Serap with their beautiful new baby, as well as Serap’s mom. She had prepared a breakfast feast for us, and after we settled down, we sat down to eat together, probably the most common activity of our short trip. The food was great as always and we (the Americans) were all stuffed by the end of it. We had some tea, then moved to the couches where we chatted some more. Then we got out the presents that we had given them, and photographed Serap opening the baby clothes. We then all took some photos together and prepared to leave for Konya.

It was almost 11 am when we finally left Suleyman & Serap’s apartment. We piled into the black 15 passenger Volkswagen Carravelle and departed for Konya. We drove a while through the outer parts of Ankara, as Suleyman’s apartment was about 20 km from the city proper. Omer met us along the way, dropping off his car at a location that was more convenient for him. We then got gas and headed for Konya. I had been feeling better during breakfast, but now I was starting to feel really tired again. I closed my eyes, and don’t remember a whole lot from the first half of the trip. We stopped along the way in Kulu, to go to the bathroom. Some of the guys did the salat together, and then headed back on the road.

The landscape for most of the trip was dry and dusty hills everywhere. Some of them had eroded and had small rocky pinnacles. A lot of the hill sides had plowed fields on them, but did not have anything growing as the season had already passed. As we approached Konya we began to see larger mountains which rose up around the valley that we were driving in, almost seeming to form a kind of wall around the northern approach to the city. We drove on and began to see signs of the city. A few minutes later we were approaching the city center, with the only hill in the entire city. Apparently, the valley was so flat that they created a man-made hill in order to spot enemies from afar. Most of what we could see from the hill complex was now a lush green park with many people, young and old, city and enjoying the beautiful weather. There were even cotton candy vendors on the hawking their goods on the encircling sidewalk.

At one point on the city center, there was the remains of a very old mosque, mostly just a single huge corner, several stories high, with a permanent canopy constructed over it. It was too bad we didn’t have more time or we could have explored it a bit more. We continued driving through town, and along the way picked up Levent E who had spent the previous night in town. We then headed over to the neighborhood where Mevlana’s mausoleum was located.

We parked in a funny little underground garage whose entrance tightly spiraled down into the dark underground of Konya from a little traffic circle. Levent deftly maneuvered the van down the ramp and around the tight parking area to a small spot (probably not intended for a 15 passenger van). Omer guided Levent into the space and we started to climb out. I was very cold at this point, apparently some chills were setting in. Levent (not for the last time) let me where his jacket and I bundled up in it (with my jacket). I shivered as we walked, only feeling better when the scarce rays of the afternoon sun would slip between the dense buildings. We were going to have lunch in one of the most popular restaurants in town. When we arrived, I pointed out that we call such restaurants “hole in the walls”, as it was a tiny two floor place. We carefully climbed down the steep wooden stairs past multiple propane tanks which stored on the landing, and then were seated at our table. They took our order and everyone accept me got a specialty meat dish, with lamb, some greens, and bread. My appetite was very much gone by this point, so I requested some soup, like what we had in Bursa for lunch. The waiter said that they didn’t sell it, but then said that he could get it from another restaurant for us. The food arrived shortly thereafter and started eating my Ezzo. It was warming and good, but I couldn’t eat it very fast. After hot tea, we clambered back up the stairs and headed to a shop that sold Turkish tea pots and Turkish coffee cups, as Jeff wanted to get both to bring back home. Jeff and the guys browsed and negotiated with the seller for a long time. I looked around the shop and the street and waited for them to finish. The Turkish guys generously offered to buy the items as a gift for Jeff. We finished up there and then met up with Osman’s uncle and their friend Halit in front of the Mevlana mausoleum. Halit was going to be our tour guide through the mausoleum.

We toured the museum and mausoleum of Mevlana and his family for about an hour. Halit stopped a lot and narrated the story of each item in Turkish, while the Turkish guys would take turns translating for us. We spent a lot of time in the museum, and it was very interesting. Unfortunately, my cold was really taking its toll on me, and I had found myself closing my eyes and swaying in the warm museum interior. I won’t go into too much detail about Mevlana and his mausoleum, but it is considered one of the major Islamic holy paces in the world.

After leaving the museum, we walked the streets and went to a nearby gift shop. We stayed there for 30 minutes or so, picking up some items to bring back home with us. Then some of the group went to pick up the dishes that Jeff had purchased. The air was getting smoky, as people turned on their coal burning stoves for heat. It irritated my throat a little bit and I was somewhat anxious to get out of it. We waited and chatted, sometimes in very difficult Turkish/English non-translation, and sometimes with the help of our Turkish friends. We then walked to where Jeff and the others were to meet up with them and wait for Omer to get the van. We stood together on the street corner as the night set in and the shops all began closing up their doors.

Our next stop was the home of one of Halit’s family members. They had heard that we were in town doing some touring and wanted to host us a traditional dinner. We arrived at their apartment building and we all removed our shoes outside and entered. We entered the living room, where there was a sheet on the floor with a large serving tray. On it was the remains of the dinner that they had eaten, a kind of fried bread with cheese and other ingredients inside of it, cooked to the size of an extra large pizza, but very thin.  We made our greetings, then we all sat down on the couches which encircled the room. Off to one side of the room there was a coal stove with a vent going out the roof. To our surprise, one of the family members was an experienced teacher of the whirling dervishes. He was older now, and did not make a performance, but did sing and recite the Qur’an. We sat and chatted through our able Turkish translators, asking about the dervishes and his experiences. At one point, he asked what our names were and the renamed Jeff to Recep (pronounced: Re-Jepp). Everybody laughed heartily at that and it was an ongoing joke for the rest of the evening. After some more chatting, a fresh platter of food was brought out and we all gathered on the floor to eat dinner. It was sliced into strips which we rolled up and dipped in sweet sauce. We at a lot of it and they kept bringing it. At one point, Jeff quietly asked if this was the main meal, because he was chowing down and wouldn’t have room more for another course. Everybody laughed heartily at his genuineness. The meal was followed by some traditional Turkish tea and then, as it was quickly approaching the time to go to the Dervish show, we said our goodbyes and headed out to our next destination. We had a great time there, and Jeff really connected with them, despite vast cultural differences.

We arrived at the Mevlana Cultural Center a few minutes after 8 am. The air was thick and foggy and had the odor of the coal that was used to heat so many homes in Konya. The building was large and architecturally impressive. There were glass doors leading into a large main hall. We passed through some metal detectors and then headed up the stairs to reach the large circular auditorium where the Whirling Dervishes would be performing. Before taking a seat, some of us went downstairs to use the bathroom. We took our seats on the far side of the circular bowl shaped stage. When we sat down, there was a man speaking in Turkish about Mevlana and the Dervishes. Then the musicians took their seats on the far side of the stage. One of the musicians played for a while, which made me start to fall asleep. During the show, Levent gave me his coat again, as it was a bit cold in the auditorium, which made me even sleepier. A few minutes later, the first Dervish came out, the leader, or conductor person who doesn’t actually dance. Next there was some kind of elder person with a turban on his Dervish hat. He never danced either, just sat to one side kind of watching. Then about half of the group of dancers came out. They walked pass the man in the turban and stopped in front of the man with the turban and he seemed to kiss them. Then the dancers walked in circles for a long time. Each time they would come in front of the turban man, the one on the right would turn to face the one on the left in a kind of greeting. They repeated this several times until I started drifting off again. Finally, the rest of the dancers came out on the stage, doubling the total number. At this point the performance began with the dancers standing at the posts and removing their black outer garments. They then crossed their arms and began walking counter-clockwise along the edge of the circular stage. As they passed by the conductor, they would begin their twirl, opening their arms to mimic the blooming of a flower and extending one hand upwards and another slightly downwards. The conductor would either guide the Dervishes into the center of the stage or along the outer edge. He would do this by either extending or withdrawing his left foot, which the dancers used as a cue. The dancers performed several times, each time returning without a wobble to the edge of the stage, and then beginning again. Then there was a reciting of the Qur’an from the stage by one of the musicians. At that point, Halit indicated the show was complete and motioned for us to follow him. We passed back by the bathroom one more time and then quickly headed back out to the car. Halit and Osman’s uncle lived in Konya, and Levent E was spending the weekend there, so we dropped them off at various points throughout the town, saying our goodbyes and thank you’s each time.

Touring Ankara - 11/6/2009

(Sorry for the delay in postings. The travel schedule got very busy at the end and then I got sick. I am feeling a little better at the moment, so I thought I would seize the moment.)

I got up around 8 am and we all had a nice breakfast together that Vildan’s mother had prepared for us. After eating and getting ready to go, we went across the street from Levent’s apartment to catch the bus. We rode the bus to the subway and took the subway downtown to Levent’s office. There we met Omer, who was lending us his car for the day. By that time, it was almost noon and Levent had wanted to take us to the big Kocotepe mosque in the downtown area. We parked in a garage underneath the Mosque complex and passed through an underground mall and then up to the surface area where the Mosque entrance was. The building was very impressive. It was patterned after the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, though it wasn’t as old.

We went inside for the prayers and I was able to take some pictures during the prayers. The interior of the Mosque was as amazing as the exterior, very awe-inspiring.

After prayers, we walked to downtown Ankara. We did a little bit of shopping, though, Jeff only ended up buying some pictures of Ataturk. Then went stopped in a little restaurant and ate some Simit. This was basically bread with cheese baked into the inside. We also had plates of cheese, cucumbers, and tomatoes to go with the bread. After lunch we began to head back to the parking garage where the car was parked. Along the way, we ran into a large number of police in riot gear standing near a small demonstration. Levent said it was some kind of student rights thing. He said that apparently the police we expecting bigger crowds, as there were several large columns of police as well as armored vehicles. It was pretty cool and I got a number of pictures while I was there. We finally arrived back at the car in the parking garage.

After that, we went to the famous Ankara fort in the middle of the old town. It is a very old Ottoman fort that is built on a hill. There are several old sets of wall built down the side of the hill. We drove up to the gate of the fort and found that inside of the gates there were a large number of old houses, which had been occupied for a long time. This was a very poor area Ankara and most of the homes were in significant disrepair. The streets and the houses reminded me very much of places that Shanna & I had visited in Peru. This included the many poor children that we roaming around, reciting (poorly) a memorized english script talking about the fort and then asking for a lyra. I gave one boy some spare change, maybe 35 cents. We climbed up to the fort and walked along the upper wall. It was the highest point and we could see all around us for a great distance. There were many of the old houses piled on each other and built into the fort wall. We walked around a bit, and then returned the way that we came. We had passed a very only Mosque on the way up to the fort, but couldn’t get inside to see it. On our walk back, we found another small Mosque that was very small and simple. The shopkeeper across the street opened the lock and let us go inside. After we left the fort, we traveled back down the road and stopped in front of a museum of ancient civilization. It was closed, but we were able to peek through the gates and see many ancient statues on the grounds of the museum.

We left the Ankara fort and drove to another local sight with a large artifical waterfall, and reproduction of an Ottoman fort. There were also tram cars that you could ride to see the city below. We parked the car and climbed the many steps up to the fort. Inside there was a nice museum of some traditional scenes from Turkish life and various artifacts from Turkish history. We finished the museum, and then went to a traditional Uzbek tea house that just across the way from the fort. The tea house is round and everyone basically just sits on cushions, instead of chairs. In the next room there were some young Turkish people dancing a sort of traditional dance that looked sort of like a bird soaring around. We drank our tea, and by that time we needed to be leaving to Omer’s office and pick him up.

We drove across town back to the same office we had visited the previous evening and met Omer. We needed to go to a friends house and pick up a 15 passenger van that he was lending us to make the trip to Konya. We got there and then waited around in a little community park for the friend to arrive. We then traveled to another part of town to find the van as it wasn’t parked at the owner’s home. Finally, we had the van and we headed off to Omer’s house.

After a long time of navigating downtown Ankara’s evening rush hour traffic, we finally came to the apartment of Omer. This was the first time that we had seen Nese or Ali on the trip, so it was really nice. We also met Omer’s sister-in-law and his brother, as well as Omer’s nephew Ali who had spent some time in North Carolina earlier in the year. Omer’s mother (-in-law I think) was there as well. It was quite a reunion for us all. The men all sat down together in the dining room and we had the typical (for this trip) feast of food. We followed that up with some tea and Turkish sweets. We spent a while talking and catching up and then skyped with Shanna, Amy & Merl back in the states. At the same time, Jeff was using an application called Fring on Omer’s phone to call Sheila. During the skype call, we gave some of the gifts that we had brought with us. It was getting late, almost midnight by that time, so we got ready to go back to Levent’s home to go to sleep.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fast Train To Ankara - 11/5/2009

Today after two days in Bursa we are leaving to go to Ankara. I got up around 7 am and ate breakfast. Jeff & Randy were staying in another house, so after breakfast I went to join them. From there we went to the bus station and had lunch. My stomach was upset from the previous night, so I  just had something called Tost, which was toasted bread with some cheese in it. We then boarded the bus and were soon on our way to Eskisehir where we would get our train.
The bus ride was pleasant. As we were leaving Bursa, we traveled alongside Uludag, which means Holy Mountain. There was snow on top of the mountain and the sun was reflecting off it.

As we moved east the terrain went from mostly green with trees, to dry and brown with very few trees. It reminded me of the western United States in many places. We arrived at Eskisehir in about 2 hours time where we departed from the bus to enter the train station. We made a quick bathroom break and then went to board the train. The train had a nice comfortable interior with spacious seating arrangements.

There were a few empty seats so we rearranged our seating and I had two seats free for myself. The train accelerated smoothly to 160 MPH. It didn’t feel like we were moving so fast. It was quite an amazing way to travel. We left at about 3:15 and arrived at the train station in Ankara at 4:40, so it was a very quick trip. We saw a lot of the rugged and beautiful landscape of Turkey.

We got off the train and were greeted by our good friend Levent. We all greeted him and then headed over to his car. We then traveled to his office where we would await some of our other Turkish friends.

He took us up to the top floor where there was a cafe and we had tea and Turkish coffee. We went outside on the balcony and looked out at the city.

Shortly after, Omer arrived and then the other Levent. We had another round of drinks and then headed over to a nice restaurant, which supposedly has the best baklava in town.

There we would also meet Suleyman and Osman, our other Turkish friends and former NC State students. We had an amazing dinner with a lot of different Turkish foods (Lavash, kebabs, hummus, Iskender), and then baklava for dessert. We talked for a long time and got caught up on what had happened in the lives of our friends.

We then headed home with Levent who was graciously hosting us in his apartment.
We chatted for a while after arriving and then I skyped with Shanna so she could say hi to Levent & Vildan. Finally it was time to sleep. Randy got the bedroom, and Jeff and I got the living room. Jeff snores...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Another day in Bursa - 11/4/2009

    This is a short entry as I didn’t really have a lot of activities today. I had a good nights sleep last night--I don’t think that I woke up at all during the night. I did wake up at 7 am feeling like I had to go to the bathroom, but fell back asleep again until 8 am. I took a shower and got dressed and then checked some emails before breakfast. Then I joined one of Randy’s friends at his office while we waited for Jeff and Randy to arrive.
    When they arrived we walked through town to go to the Kamil Koc office to buy our tickets for the bus and high speed train to Ankara. We walked to one office which was nearby and they said that we needed to buy the tickets at another office. We walked there and finally found the right office. We bought the tickets and then headed out for some lunch. We had some soup and bread for lunch, I think they called it Ezzo. It was good and very filling. After lunch we returned to our friends office where had (lots of) tea and good conversations with some of the locals who are friends with Randy’s friends. We then went out again to go eat dinner and some of them joined us. We all something very delicious for dinner, called Iskender. It is a dish that I think was invented here in Bursa and consists of bread with slices of lamb (gyro) meat topped with something like pizza sauce, with a side of their garlic / yogurt mix. It kind of tasted like pizza to me, though it didn’t really look like it.

On to the bullet train tomorrow :)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

On to Bursa - 11/3/2009

I woke this morning around 6:30 am and Shanna was still online but about to fall asleep. I messaged her for a minute and then caught up on my emails before going to take a shower. We ate our breakfast together and then packed up for our next stop, in Bursa. We piled in to a taxi and were barely able to fit with much of our luggage sitting in our laps. We drove through Istanbul to the train station, and quickly made our way down to the departure area. We were a few minutes late and weren’t sure if we had missed our train. Fortunately a few minutes later the train appeared and we boarded. We had an uneventful ride to where we met the ferry and took it to Yalova where another friend of Randy’s was waiting for us.
First we went to get some lunch at a place that was a mix of department store and restaurant. I had kafta (Turkish meatballs) and Randy and Jeff had shish kebabs. We then drove on to Bursa, a city at the base of a large mountain with snow covered peaks. Along the way we passed Lake Iznik. On the other side of the lake is Iznik or Nicea, famous for being where the Nicean Creed was written. Also along the way, in the village of Ovaakca we passed a fossil fuel power plant with some big cooling towers. Bursa itself was big but also quaint in a way. Some of the streets were windy and narrow and paved with cobble stones. The temperature was cool and it was sunny and pleasant. We spent some time hanging out and then went out to dinner together and had a nice traditional Turkish meal.

Here is the restaurant/dept store we stopped at.

The power plant in Ovaakca

Snow-capped mountains near Bursa

One other thing, the government has told Jeff that he can longer drink any more Turkish coffee because they are running out. :)

Monday, November 2, 2009

On the Move In Istanbul - 11/2/2009

I fell asleep at around 9 pm Istanbul time, shortly after finishing my last entry for the blog. About an 1.5 hours later, I awoke to a funny ringing sound. I thought it was the alarm I had set for 6 am but it wasn’t going off. I stumbled around in the dark and finally realized it was the phone that I had brought with me. I had sent out the number to one of our friends in Ankara earlier in the day and he was calling to greet me. I went back to sleep and awoke again at around 3 am, mostly I think because I had to go to the bathroom. By that hour I felt very much awake and didn’t think I would be able to go back to sleep. I checked to see if Shanna was online and chatted for a few minutes, but at her encouragement I tried to back to sleep. She said she was going to be up late and offered to Skype when I woke up at 6am. It took about an hour or so, but I finally did go to sleep. Then my alarm went off and I was so tired that I turned the alarm off and slept until 7:20. By then Shanna was fast asleep and it was late for me to start out.

I was planning to meet Jeff when his flight arrived at 10:30 am, which meant I would have to leave around 9:00 from the hotel. I had wanted to go to walk around a little bit by the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia beforehand, but with a shower and breakfast and checking out, it didn’t leave me much time. I showered and packed up some of my stuff and then headed down to the basement where there was a very complete Turkish breakfast buffet with just about anything I could want. I had scambled eggs and a kind of chicken sausage, a variety of cheeses and cold-cuts, several different types of olives and some yogurt and cucumbers, as well as coffee and water to drink. It was a quite enjoyable, even though I had to eat in a hurry. By the time I had finished it was a few minutes after 8 am, so I headed out to the streets with my camera. I walked over to the Blue Mosque (below) and took several photographs of the exterior as well as the Hagia Sophia (beneath Blue Mosque).

I walked over to the Hagia Sophia, and around a side street to one of the entrances to Topkapi palace. By that time it was a little past 8:30, so I went to by 2 jeton (token) for the light rail back to the airport, so I wouldn’t have to stop on the way to the train. I then headed back to the hotel to get my luggage and check out. It was a bit of a challenge hauling my bag back up the cobble stone streets past the Blue Mosque. It was also sprinkling a bit and the ground was slick. The neat thing was that there was a beautiful full rainbow because of the rain and the early morning sun.

 I decided that I could spare a few minutes, and stopped at one of the souvenir shops to get some things for the kids. I found two nice shirts for Jonah & Elisabeth and a few other items. I then headed up to the tram station where an Italian couple asked me where the Grand Bazaar was. I had walked to it the day before so I was able to confidently point them in the right direction, despite having been there less than 24 hours. After passing the entrance to the tram station, I sat down with the sun in my face. The tram arrived quickly but it was packed with passengers. I got up to board and had second thoughts, remembering what I had been told about pick pockets on the tram line. I sat back down and waited for the next train, which arrived within a couple of minutes. This one was as packed as the first one, so I again decided to wait. After about 5 more minutes, another train arrived, just as full as the others. I was running short on time, and decided I was just to have to be careful and risk it. I squeezed in by the door and for a few stops the train remained very full. After a few more stop enough people got off that I was able to take a seat.

When I finally arrived at the airport, I had to haul my baggage through the long underground tunnel to the domestic terminal. To my surprise, when I reached the entrance to the terminal, there was a security checkpoint where they were scanning bags and making people walk through metal detectors. Fortunately, they didn’t seem to be bothered by the razor in my bag, and after removing my belt and watch, I was able to get through the metal detector. Around the corner from the checkpoint was the 2 small elevators up to the arrivals area. I pressed the button and waited a long time for the elevator to come down. While I was waiting, several other guys came by and sort of got in front of me. Like South America, it seems like there isn’t much inclination here to form queues. Fortunately, they were standing in front of the wrong elevator, and when the other door opened I was able to get in. They piled in after me and by the time the door closed it was like a can of sardines. At my floor I un-wedged myself and my bag and headed to the arrival area. I could see through the glass that people from Jeff’s flight were still waiting on their luggage, so I was confident that I had not missed him. I stood by the exit and waited, and finally spotted his peach polo shirt. I greeted him and we headed over to the international terminal where we had a nice lunch, though over-priced even by American airport standards. We needed to wait for another friend who was coming on a later flight at 2:00 with his family.

When Randy and his family arrived, we all went back down to the metro and went back through Sultanahmet where I had stayed and got off a couple of stops later, where the ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul was. We missed the ferry that was waiting when we got there but another one arrived a few minutes later. We had a nice ride across the Bosphorus to the other side. We arrived at a bus station where we were going to take a bus to stay with some friends of Randy. The line was really long at the bus station and we were all tired of carrying our luggage everywhere so we decided to take a taxi. I was a little concerned about getting a taxi because I had had some bad experiences in other countries and had also heard many bad things about taxis in Istanbul. The taxi driver turned out to be really nice and very helpful. He helped us carry our luggage into the restaurant where we waited for Randy’s friends and asked the restaurant manager if we could wait there after dinner. The friends’ apartment was just around the corner from the restaurant, so when they arrived we headed right up and had a nice time getting to know them better before heading off to bed.