A Travellerspoint blog

Gallipoli

semi-overcast 22 °C

Any Aussie's trip to Turkey has to include the pilgramage to Gallipoli - we were no exception. Our first stop after Istanbul was Eceabat, a little village on the Gelibilou peninsular and the closest we could stay to the battlefield of 1915.

Getting there wasn't so straight forward, and we were about to get our first lesson in just how big Turkey is. Istanbul is on the Bosphorus; Gallipoli is on the Dardenelles. Combined, these two narrow straits make up the tiny, weeny little connection between the Med and the Black Sea. The bus trip took 5 hours.

After our experience coming from Bulgaria we were dreading the bus trip, but in truth it wasn't too bad. We were on a fancy new bus complete with in-trip food and drink service - the Turks take bus travel seriously. The reason for the long trip was the pesky Sea of Marmaris - yep, a whole sea had to be skirted on our way west. But this made for a pretty drive along the coast, and once we made it to the Dardenelles things took a slightly surreal twist. The sight of enormous container ships cruising past, no more than a hundred metres off the beach, was strangely unsettling. It was reminiscent of the Pasha Bulka at Newcastle, and any second I expected them to come to a grinding halt. But they sailed on serenely, and we eventually pulled up in Eceabat.

To say there wasn't much going on would be to get caught up in the bustle of the place. Usually a one horse town, on our arrival it seemed that the horse's owner had gone for a quick trot up the coast. Eceabat existed as the place where the ferry to Cannakale, sitting just across the straight, arrived and left.

We checked into TJs Hostel (TJ was to be our guide for a tour of the battlefields tomorrow) and set off in search of a late lunch/early dinner. After a short search we established that we had three options; we chose the least dodgy looking takeaway place and ate a surprisingly good pide and kebab.

That evening was spent over a couple of beers on the hostel terrace watching the sunset, followed by a veiwing of the movie Gallipoli to get us in the spirit for the tour.
Very wındy Eceabat

Very wındy Eceabat

The terrace at our hostel

The terrace at our hostel

The tour kicked off at noon and, oddly, the first stop was lunch, at our takeaway place from the night before. Then we boarded the minibus and headed off to the Gallipoli war museum.

This was basically a collection of debris picked up off the battle fields: exploded shells, bully beef tins, pocketknives and so on. There were also three seperate pairs of bullets that had struck in mid-air and fused together - which made you wonder just how many bullets were whizzing around. There were also examples of uniforms from the nations involved, some still stained with blood. From the museum on the ridge we could see the sweep of Brighton Beach, where the ANZACs were supposed to land. Then we jumped back on the bus and headed to Anzac Cove.
Our guıde and map of the area

Our guıde and map of the area

Vıews of the cove

Vıews of the cove


It was much smaller than we expected, and the beach much narrower. This was partly due to the new road that's been built above the cove and moved the hill down a bit, but it really is a tiny little beach. We moved on to the cemeteies down by the cove, and spent a while looking at the graves and inscriptions. These ranged from the simple and moving - "Well done, Ted" - to the astonishingly self-centred "Grandson of Joe Blogs, professor at Trinity College, Dublin". No prizes for guessing who paid for that one.
ANZAC Cove- much smaller than we expected

ANZAC Cove- much smaller than we expected

ANZAC Cove

ANZAC Cove

Plaque at Anzac Cove

Plaque at Anzac Cove

The Sphınx

The Sphınx

Beach Cemetary at ANZAC Cove

Beach Cemetary at ANZAC Cove

Another headstone

Another headstone


The cemeteries were definitely moving, and were made even more so by the readings that TJ would pull out from time to time - letters home and poems written there. We also found the grave of John Simpson. He was alone - apparently the donkey got out alive.

We spent some time sitting completely alone on the beach of Anzac Cove. It was unexpectedly beautiful. Somehow in all the history and legend that's drummed into us from primary school onwards, it's never mentioned that this is actually a beach on the Aegean Sea, with correspondingly blue water. It was easy to forget where we were, until we turned around and saw the steep slope above us. That fit better with the history we knew, and it was then much easier to picture the dawn landing and all that followed. After a few minutes of quiet reflection, we each picked a pebble off the beach as a keepsake, and moved on.
ANZAC cove

ANZAC cove

ANZAC Cove beach

ANZAC Cove beach

Our solıders clımbed up to the 'Sphınx'

Our solıders clımbed up to the 'Sphınx'


Our next stop was Lone Pine and the Australian memorial. It was good to see the place, and understand just how difficult the terrain was - we were a long way above the coast - but it didn't have the same impact as the beach. Then one of our group read a letter, full of cheerful news and optimism, written by a twenty-two year old soldier. We were standing by his grave. Suddenly it was so real, so sad, and all so pointless.
Lone Pıne Cemetry and Memorıal

Lone Pıne Cemetry and Memorıal

Lone Pıne Memorıal

Lone Pıne Memorıal

Very movıng headstone

Very movıng headstone

Lone Pine memorial

Lone Pine memorial


After a brief stop to see the remnants of trenches near lone pine - the sides were only eight metres apart here - we moved on to the Nek. This was the scene of the final charge in the movie we'd watched the night before. Talk about pointless. The attack was intended as a diversion, but it was along a narrow ridge only about 50 metres wide. It would have been like shooting fish in a barrel. It was the sort of thing you can't understand unless you stand there looking at the lie of the land.
Remnants of the trenches

Remnants of the trenches

Lone Pıne

Lone Pıne

Vıew of the coast

Vıew of the coast

Gallıpolı terraın

Gallıpolı terraın


From there we visited the NZ memorial at Canuk Bair. This was the furthest the Kiwis, or any of the Allies, made it across the peninsular. From here they could see the straits, there ultimate goal, but after a couple of days they were pushed back in an attack led by Attaturk himself.
New Zealand Memorıal

New Zealand Memorıal


Our next stop was the Turkish memorial. One of the best parts of the tour was the balance. TJ is Turkish but married to an Aussie girl - he was really good at presenting both sides. The Turkish attitude to the whole campaign is incredibly compassionate, especially considering that they were the ones being invaded. Some of the speeches of Attaturk - he was the lieutenant who led the initial defence, who later became President of the Turkish republic and is now revered as a founding father - are incredible, welcoming all those who died as sons and brothers. The Turkish memorial was good to see, especially how many Turks were visiting. It was a major event in their history too, and equally as important in forging a national identity for Turkey as it was for Australia.
Turkısh Soldıer Memorıal

Turkısh Soldıer Memorıal


All in all it was quite a sad day, but very worthwhile. We had an early night after yet more kebab and pide. Our ferry left at 7am and, let's face it, what else was there to do in Eceabat?

Posted by Lawto 24.09.2010 12:06 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Istanbul

sunny 33 °C

When we pulled into Istanbul in the early hours after the horrific all night bus ride, I have to say I was feeling pretty ambivilant about a new city. After six months backpacking the excitement sometimes gets a little diluted.

As we walked towards the hotel, the sun was rising and we were welcomed to a new day by the call to prayer. The hauntingly beautiful call echoed through the empty streets and lifted my spirits. We were in Turkey ... TURKEY! What's not to be happy about??

We found our hotel, but because it was still early, we couldn't check in. Bleary eyed we grabbed the camera and set off to the Blue Mosque. It was such a wonderful time to be exploring the streets - it was quiet and lovely and cool. A perfect introduction to Istanbul.
More Blue Mosque

More Blue Mosque

Early mornıng pıc of the Blue Mosque

Early mornıng pıc of the Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

The Aya Sofia at dawn

The Aya Sofia at dawn


Back at the hotel we were treated to our first of many wonderful Turkish breakfasts. Fresh salads and fruit (very welcome after our Eastern Europe meat adventure), cheeses, jams, cold meats, fresh bread, yoghurt, juice and of course - Çày or Turkish tea. Our first day involved a power nap, a visit to the brightly coloured spice markets, some serious people watching on the Galata bridge and a sish kebab. It was a pretty chilled day but we really soaked up the Istanbul atmosphere.
Jess at the Spıce Markets

Jess at the Spıce Markets

Tea at the Spıce markets

Tea at the Spıce markets

Saffron at the spıce markets

Saffron at the spıce markets

Spıces

Spıces

Pots and other Turkısh goods

Pots and other Turkısh goods

Turkısh Delıght

Turkısh Delıght

Sweets

Sweets

Hangıng mushrooms

Hangıng mushrooms

More henna

More henna

Lanterns at the Spıce Markets

Lanterns at the Spıce Markets

Henna shop

Henna shop

Lanterns

Lanterns

Sausages at the spıce markets

Sausages at the spıce markets

Tea

Tea

Ceramıcs at the spıce markets

Ceramıcs at the spıce markets

Spıce markets

Spıce markets

Lıttle boy chasıng pıgeons

Lıttle boy chasıng pıgeons

More pıgeons

More pıgeons

Feedıng the pıgeons

Feedıng the pıgeons

Man sellıng flags- we wondered how many he sells?

Man sellıng flags- we wondered how many he sells?

Woman buyıng food for the pıgeons

Woman buyıng food for the pıgeons

Fıshıng on the Galata Brıdge

Fıshıng on the Galata Brıdge

Vıew from the Galata Brıdge

Vıew from the Galata Brıdge

Jess at the Galata Brıdge

Jess at the Galata Brıdge

Boat Restaurant

Boat Restaurant

Street vendors sellıng fake ID's

Street vendors sellıng fake ID's

More of the Corn man

More of the Corn man

Fashıon - Old V's New

Fashıon - Old V's New

Corn man at the Galata Brıdge

Corn man at the Galata Brıdge

Lıttle gırl munchıng on corn

Lıttle gırl munchıng on corn

Nıck at the Golden Horn

Nıck at the Golden Horn

Nıcko watchıng the world go by

Nıcko watchıng the world go by

Turkısh Casseroles cookıng on the steps

Turkısh Casseroles cookıng on the steps


One point to note-I had my first experience of been groped at the Spice Markets. Groped is probably too strong a word, it was kind of innocent really and I didn't feel nearly as peturbed as you would expect. Nick was distracted taking photos and I was just cruising along behind him taking it all in, when a hand subtley grabbed one butt cheek and squeezed. Shocked, I spun around half expecting to see some long lost friend from Australia playing a joke.... Instead I saw a cheeky, turkish guy grinning from ear to ear! He was so pleased with himself that I just shook my head, smiled and found Nick quick smart. His only saving grace was that he was young and very good looking - who knows what I might have done if he was an old geeza!

Day 2 we were up and about early. We decided it was a good day for the Aya Sofya. Originally built by the Byzantines as a cathedral in 537. It was transformed into a Mosque in 1453 by Ottoman Turks. It is a huge, beautifully maintained building. The combination of Christian and Muslim architecture and decoration makes it very unique. On the outside it has huge mosque spires and on the inside, Mosaics of the Virgin Mary. When admiring it, it is hard to believe it has been around for so long. It looks like it could have been built 100 years ago.
Great Mosque

Great Mosque

Bıg door

Bıg door

Roof at entrance to Aya Sofya

Roof at entrance to Aya Sofya

Aya Sofya

Aya Sofya

Restoratıons at the Aya Sofya

Restoratıons at the Aya Sofya

Aya Sofya

Aya Sofya

Arches, Aya Sofya

Arches, Aya Sofya

Under the chandelıer

Under the chandelıer

Beam me up

Beam me up

Chandelıer

Chandelıer

Balcony at Aya Sofya

Balcony at Aya Sofya

Chandelıer

Chandelıer

Carvıngs

Carvıngs

Jesus at Aya Sofya

Jesus at Aya Sofya

Restoratıons

Restoratıons

Great mosque from the Aya Sofya wındow

Great mosque from the Aya Sofya wındow

Mary ın the Aya Sofya mosque

Mary ın the Aya Sofya mosque


Nick was in need of a haircut so we chased down a barber. I have never seen anything more hilarious! Nick is what you would call a minimalist when it comes to grooming- Nick doesn't have a metrosexual bone in his body so when he started to get the full works, I couldn't help but giggle! First the haircut, then, just when Nick thought it was over, the barber suggested a shave. Why not?, Nick agreed. All lathered up, the cut throat razor came out and Nicks face was carefully shaved to a pre adolescent state. Next, his head was dunked into the sink for a full head shampoo- including eyes, then a lavendar oil was smoothered all over his head, including his eyes. Next was the moment I thought I would never see. In fact so surprised was I, that I had to take pictures to prove it really happened. Yep, the barber plugged in the hair dryer and proceed to blow dry Nicks now-less-than-an-inch-long hair. Not only did he blow dry, he also used a round
bristled brush to make sure his hair was sitting just perfectly! I don't think Nicks hair has ever seen a brush, let alone a hair dryer!

But the pampering was not over yet- out came the small scissors and before long Nick was ear hair and nose hair free. After a large amount of talcum powder he paid his 15 lira and escaped. He looked very handsome - almost shiny! And I discovered he actually enjoyed it - he became addicted to the close shave and during our time in Turkey. He proceeded to pop into the barber (Turkey was full of barbers) for a cut throat shave at every opportunity. No more blow dries though.

Once the first stage of grooming was complete, we had a kebab for lunch and went to do some "research" at the Grand Baazar. It is a pretty cool place, huge but much more modern than I had been expecting. I thought it would be a bit more similar to Morocco but it was quite westernised. We spent some time at the silver stalls and scarf stalls just getting a feel for prices and checking out what was on offer. The prices were good but certainly no Thailand.

That afternoon we had booked in to a Turkish bath. It was a recommendation from the hotel and it was aimed at tourists. We figured this was ok because it was one of the few in which male and females could go together. It was a five minute walk from the Grand Baazar. When we arrived I noticed the staff was very male heavy. Suddenly I remembered the words of wisdom Jodes had given me "make sure you have a turkish bath but be sure to get a female massuese". Hmm, this might get interesting.

We were ushered into a tiny changing cabin. Nick was provided with a sarong to wear around his bits and I was given a pair of shorts and a bikini top made from the same sarong fabric. We were also provided with traditional wooden clogs to wear on our feet- they were almost impossible to walk in! Laughing we donned our outfits- the bikini top was designed for those much less endowed than me and I had about enough fabric to cover one nipple. Fortunatley I had a sarong too- so I just wrapped myself up and headed for the hot rock. At first we had the whole bath to ourselves- it was a very relaxing experience. The baths were attached to the Mosque so it was a traditional bath completly decked out with white marble and star vent holes on the ceiling of the dome. The hot rock was a large marble slab in the middle of the room. It was heated by a woodfire which was very efficent. It was steamy and very hot and humid. We laughed that we were probably
crazy going to a hot bath when it was already so hot outside- after all we had been spending the days trying to avoid the sweaty effect. After about 5 minutes we were both rosey pink and sweating up a storm. We started to wonder if we would be able to stick it out in the sweltering room for the allocated 35 minutes.

Eventually the masseuses arrived and ushered us into a small side room where there were two large basins of water and two marble platforms. As suspected, we each had a man. Mine was young but missing a couple of teeth, Nick's massues was older and stocky. Both were wearing just sarongs and spoke very little English so we were kind of pushed and prodded into position. First we were treated to buckets of freezing cold water over our heads, refreshing and a little surprising, then we were stretched out on the marble platforms for our full body exfoliations, a thorough soaping and massages. Despite my best efforts to stay covered up, I had my protective sarong whipped away. I took some deep breaths and decided my massues had probably seen hundreds of barely covered bodies. Thankfully he was very professional and, while the experience ended with my skin less intact, my dignity was well preserved.

We spent another 20 minutes or so in the steam room, keeping cool by splashing around in the fountains then were wrapped up like cocoons in towels and given cool drinks. We both really enjoyed the Turkish bath experience, though after his morning at the barber and his afternoon at the baths, I don't think Nick has ever felt more pampered in his life.

We wandered back to the hotel and decided we would have a quiet night and use our "complimentary" dinner in the hotel that night (our later than planned arrival cost us a night's accomodation, but the gave us a dinner).
Istanbul sunset

Istanbul sunset

Roof Terrace

Roof Terrace

Day 3
Off to the Grand Baazar - and now I had done my research I decided to do some spending! My haul included some silver bangles, an old silver Turkish coin turned into a pendant, a long snake chain, a new black pashmina and a pashmina for each of our Mums for their birthdays. Nick got himself a new black leather belt. Starving after all that haggling, we went to a delicious pide house called Karaderiz Aile and had huge bubbled up Pides and salads! Yum!
Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar


We wandered the streets for a while and stumbled on a pastry shop. Naturally we had to have çay, Turkish delight and backlava.

On the way home we decided that rather then just admiring from the outside, we should call in to the Blue Mosque. It was a last minute decsion that we were glad we made. It was spectacular. We covered up in the scarfs provided for tourists and admired the amazing blue interior. The highlight was watching a father teaching his young son to pray. We watched them for ages. Mosques are very special places- like churches they have a certain sanctity, but they also feel very familiar. Worshippers seem to feel very relaxed and at home in the Mosque, and groups of people spend time and socialize here. It really is the centre of the community.
The Great Mosque

The Great Mosque

Fountaın at the mosque

Fountaın at the mosque

Mınaret

Mınaret

The Great Mosque

The Great Mosque

The Great Mosque

The Great Mosque

All covered up

All covered up

The Great Mosque

The Great Mosque

Prayers

Prayers

Insıde the Mosque

Insıde the Mosque

Learnıng to pray

Learnıng to pray

Learnıng to pray

Learnıng to pray

Learnıng to pray

Learnıng to pray

Roof ın the Great Mosque

Roof ın the Great Mosque


On our last night in Istanbul, there was only one thing left on the must do list. A Sheesha, or as the Turkish call it a Nargile - a waterpipe. We had spotted the Nargile restaurant earlier in the week - it had excellent atmosphere with turkish dancing and live music. After we shared a plate of mixed kebab for dinner, we asked the waiter about the waterpipe - he rattled off a list of flavours available. We decided on mint without tabacco. The Nargile arrived - it was essentially a big bong without the fun side effects. Having both had such sheltered youths, we had to ask a local to help us get started. He yelled at the coal man who promptly arrived with fresh, glowing coals and set them upon our foil covered mint leaves- then he madly smoked it to get it going for us (don't worry mum, they provide disposable mouth pieces so we didn't catch hep B) and we were off. It took us a while to get into the swing but it was a fun, novel way to end our time
in Istanbul! Oh, and while they say it was just mint leaves in there, I had some weird and wild dreams that night - I swear they were bought on by whatever was in that Nargile!!
Nargıle pıpes (Sheesha)

Nargıle pıpes (Sheesha)

Mınty!

Mınty!

I'm so dızzy!!

I'm so dızzy!!

Whırlıng Dervısh

Whırlıng Dervısh

Leavıng Istanbul

Leavıng Istanbul

Bags on ın front of the Great Mosque

Bags on ın front of the Great Mosque

Posted by Jess L 20.09.2010 23:46 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Sozopol to Istanbul, via Hell

Bulgaria was one of the more difficult countries we have visited, largely due to the language barrier. Not only was English spoken less here than in other parts of Europe, but there is also the Cyrillic alphabet to contend with. Bulgarians are proud of there invention, with it's backwards h's and upside down N's, and it was splashed everywhere that the Russian's copied it from them, not vice-versa.
The upshot of this was that there were many basics that we didn't manage to master, and one of these was the bus system. We planned to head to Istanbul by bus, along the Black Sea coast. We'd read on the net that it could be done and that the buses were really good. What we couldn't figure out was where the hell in Sozopol we could buy a bus ticket.
So we asked a travel agent we found on the main street. He spoke good English, and was very helpful, even though he gave us bad news. Unfortunately for us, the only bus left at 9.30 pm and arrived at 5.30 am. A night on a bus didn't sound ideal, but hey, it would save us a night's acommodation. What option did we have? We decided to trust our friendly travel agent. That was our first mistake.
Our second mistake was actually entirely my own, made against the better judgement of my wife and, indeed, myself. When we first walked along the beach in Sozopol, we had a good laugh at some of the dodgy street stalls. I may even have uttered the words "who in their right mind would eat something from those guys?". But over the next few days something changed in me. I'd like to put it down to a combination of sunstroke and a diet dominated by grilled meat and Kamenitza. I'm not sure. But somehow, over four days, "who in their right mind" slowly morphed into "mmm, that kebab smells alright". I succumbed, and the day before we were booked on the bus, enjoyed a delicious kebab on the beach. Second mistake.
The next day our two mistakes began to return to bite us, kicking off easily the worst 48 hours of the trip (for me anyway. For Jess there's a number of reluctant visits to various ruins that seemed to last 48 hours and might rank up there). Our late bus left us with little option but to hang around the hotel pool all day. After ample beach time, we were happy enough to switch salt water for chlorine.
About 2 o'clock, mistake number 2 returned to take it's vengeance. I wasn't feeling great, but I steadfastly maintained all afternoon that when the time came to leave I'd be fine. By 7 o'clock I was green and obviously not fit to hop on an eight hour bus ride. Jess took charge and organised a room for the night, and called the travel agent to change our bus booking. Meanwhile I went gratefully to bed.
The next day we again had to hang around the hotel - this time I spent most of it on a lounge in the hotel lobby. Jess had managed to squeeze us onto the next bus, leaving at 10.30pm.
Arriving for the bus was when we started to reap the rewards of mistake number one. We literally were squeezed onto the bus, sharing the back seat with three other people. Bulgarian people. It was tight.
The bus was an old coach, but not too bad at first glance. Then the engine started. Directly underneath us. As our seats started to rattle we realized that they weren't actually connected to the rest of the bus. They were just sort of placed there, and gravity was doing the rest.
That was bad. Then the road got rough, and windy. This time it was Jess who turned green, as we bounced and swayed around. Jess was contemplating heading to the jump seat next to the driver so she could see the road, when the universe chimed in, screaming "good idea". The condensation from the air conditioning had started to drip, right onto Jess' seat back, and splashing onto me for good measure. As Jess headed for the front seat, I and three other hunched up passengers spread out a little with a sigh of relief. Now we could try to sleep with our heads to the sides a little, rather than with chins on our chests, the only previously available option.
All that was pretty bad, and we weren't all that happy with Bulgarian buses. That was until we reached the Turkish border crossing. Passport control was a highlight of the trip, as it meant getting off the bus.
There we saw the other buses crossing from Bulgaria. Big, comfortable buses. Buses with individual TV screens, not to mention non-dripping air conditioning, seats bolted to the floor and some slight concessions to the concept of personal space. Suddenly we weren't so unhappy with Bulgarian buses in general. But in the same moment we became incredibly pissed off at the travel agent.
This was about 1o'clock in the morning. Jess remained perched up next to the driver, pretending she was still feeling sick, and slowly pieced together what was going on from those around her. We were on a tour to Istanbul, organised by the agent. Everyone else on the bus had signed up, inexplicably, for a day trip to Istanbul (eight hours travel each way!?!). At least that explained why noone else had bags. Our best guess is the agent had just stuck us in the last two seats on his bus and pocketed the cash.
After one more stop at 4am Jess rejoined the fun of wet seats at the back, and somehow we managed to snatch some sleep, chins on chests.
We arrived in Istanbul at 6am and watched the tour group vanish around a corner as we grabbed our bags and tried to figure out where we were. In the end we jumped in a cab, were taken by a circuitous route to our hotel and were able to dump our bags and wait for a much-anticipated bed.
All in all it had been a pretty rough couple of days, and we were exhausted. On the plus side, we learnt some valuable lessons from our misfortune:
1. You have instincts for a reason. Don't talk youself into eating a kebab against them.
2. Never, ever trust a travel agent. If you have to use a travel agent, fine. But don't trust them.
3. In Bulgaria's major cities, packs of dogs roam the streets and will attack people for food (this last gem came from Ivelina, the wonderful receptionist at our Sozopol hotel who we got to know quite well during two days hanging around. This was one of her reasons for prefering Sozopol to her home town, Sofia. It's not really relevant to the blog, but it did make us feel better about skipping Bulgaria's major cities, and was too good to leave out).
So there you go. Silver lining.

Posted by Lawto 02:16 Comments (0)

Haircuts of Bulgaria

sunny 38 °C

Bulgaria was definite "quiet time", our little holiday from our holiday. But there's only so much time you can spend on a beach before you get a little restless. To keep ourselves entertained we invented a little game we called...

HAIRCUTS OF BULGARIA

I hate to indulge in national stereotypes. But Bulgarian men are stocky little nuggets with shaved heads, tattoos and chunky gold jewellery. Angry Anderson is a Bulgarian, even if he doesn't know it. We began to suspect this within minutes of getting off the plane. After watching the ticket lady on the bus squeezing past a succession of shiny bellies, shiny heads and shiny necklaces, we were in no doubt.

There are, however, subtle and not-so-subtle variations on the theme. The first we termed the "Classic" Bulgarian. This man has left himself some hair - very short, but it's there. This was the "short back and sides", garden variety, conservative Bulgarian. Tattoos tend to be more low key, the jewellery less prominent.
large_DSC09750.jpg

The most common variation from this norm was what we termed the "full" Bulgarian. This individual is more dedicated to perpetuating his nation's traditions and beliefs. Hair is an affront to this man, and his dedication to the razor knows no bounds. His skin is his canvas; a decorative backdrop to the industrial sized gold chain around his neck and the Spanish dubloon in his ear. Obviously clothing was kept to a bare minimum - anything more than a bikini brief would dilute the intended statement, rendering it worthless. He would be viewed as a charactature of a Bulgarian man, if not for the fact that he was real, walking, talking, and everywhere. We were astonished how frequently this guy popped up.
large_DSC09752.jpg

The next couple of sub-categories inspired some interesting analysis of societal behaviours and cultural adaptation. Our theory goes: in 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, and the collapse of Communist governments throughout the Eastern bloc followed rapidly. Bulgaria's embrace of sweet, wholesome capitalism occured relatively quickly.

Whole generations had grown up in the bland world of state-sponsored heroes and the cult of leader and party. In 1991 the pop-culture floodgates opened. Bulgaria was virgin territory, millions of young and not-so-young minds were exposed for the first time to the full richness of western culture, after decades in an ideologically imposed pop-culture wasteland.

Young minds, nay, whole nations, were to be shaped by their early, formative experiences. The first encounter would leave an imprint that would linger for years, passed from father to son. The first through the gates, the first to be embraced, would create a legacy that would endure long after fleeting fame in the west had passed them by. Timing was all important. Apparently 1990 threw up MC Hammer and, shortly thereafter, Billy Ray Cyrus.
mc_hammer(undated-headshot-med).jpg4936a84e2ffb7.jpg

This is the only conceivable explanation for our next two haircuts (not to mention atrocious music videos, acidwash jeans, crop tops, hoop earings and a whole bunch of other throwbacks to the early nineties that are thriving here.)

The "MC Hammer and Sickle" is possibly a distant cousin of the "classic" - not disciplined enough to maintain the "full" Bulgarian but, nonetheless, wanting to make a statement beyond mere body art. This was a posture that clearly appealed to the young, among whom the MC Hammer and Sickle was thriving. However there was a committed cadre of older adherents who had heard the word of the original prophet, and had carefully fostered the faith in the next generation.
large_DSC09760.jpg

The second haircut was the mullet. The mullet must, historically, be anathema to the Bulgarian man, whether he follow the classic, full or even the MC Hammer and Sickle tradition. Such a departure from national values can be placed at the feet of one man, arriving at a time of acute national vulnerability. Billy Ray Cyrus. Just as a colony will occaisionally grow and eclipse it's coloniser (Carthage outgrew the Phoenicians; most of the world regularly beats up on the British in pretty much any sport; Queanbeyan has long been overwhelmed by the malignant growth of Canberra) the mullet has continued as an attractive hair style here, long after the tsunami of Achey Breaky Heart passed the rest of the world by. We dubbed this now-dominant colony the "Iron Curtain".

Unfortunately the Iron Curtain proved immensely difficult to capture on film. We had many near misses, but the Iron Curtain proved to be a wily adversary, only appearing in half light and darting unpredictably from place to place This is presumably a genetic adaptation to the hostility of the classic and full varieties of Bulgarian male. We had more success with other members of the mullet family, the Iron Maiden and the Baby Ray. Judging by the numbers we observed, the future of the Iron Curtain remains bright.
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There were other families we were unable to examine properly in the time we had, and admittedly these were less common - the Kostya Tzu, the Ivan Drago, and the Teenage John Connor. We hope to mount an Attenborough-style expedition in the near future to immortalise these fascinating mammals in film. With some hidden cameras and the right baits we are sure we can discover much about their lives and behaviors.
Kosya Tzu

Kosya Tzu

PS. Apologies for posting such unadulterated drivel. There is no basis for such an unwarranted smear on Bulgarian people, who we found to be very friendly and welcoming. The men do tend to be stocky and bald; the women were generally gorgeous. We should also point out this was holiday central. Judging Bulgaria on what we saw here is akin to judging Australians on what you see in Kuta. But we did have a lot of time on our hands ...
What the?

What the?

Posted by Lawto 16.09.2010 23:36 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (0)

Sozopol

sunny 38 °C

Bulgaria happened a little bit by accident. A classic example of a little bit of research being more dangerous than no research at all. As soon as we decided we'd get as far east as Budapest, an overland journey through Romania and Bulgaria to Istanbul became very feasible. On a quick look at the map it all made perfect sense. We blame the easy-to-read maps of the Eastern Europe Lonely Planet.

It wasn't until we arrived in Budapest that reality kicked in. With some real research, it became clear that we were actually still quite a long way from Istanbul. And that trains in the east were really slow. Budapest to Bucharest was a fifteen hour sleeper train. Bucharest to Varna in Bulgaria was another eleven. It would take something pretty special to make that worthwhile - and what we knew of Bucharest didn't really stack up.

But we did have our hearts set on the Black Sea and some beach time. We'd picked the little town of Sozopol, a mix of history and good beaches. Our revised travel plan was a little less demanding - a Wizzair flight to Burgas leaving Budapest at 5am. Yes it was early, but it was also cheap and, honestly, the only alternative to a full day on the train.

So we embraced the early flight. Contemplating leaving our hotel at 1am, we decided not to bother. We could snatch a few hours sleep at the airport and save on a bed for the night. Trouble is we're not really set up for camping. No sleeping bag. No mattress. Nothing to take the edge off a polished marble floor. But we made the best of it, got a little bit of sleep, and were glad to get on our flight and into the comfort of an airplane seat.
Base Camp

Base Camp

Homeless

Homeless

Sozopol was a half hour bus trip from Burgas. Despite a significant language barrier and the additional challenge of a weird alphabet we made it with minimal fuss. To Sozopol, not our room. No 5 Horizont St didn't seem to exist. When the people at no 7 didn't know we got a bit worried. When an expensive phone call resulted in a nine year old girl who spoke some French being sent to find us we got a bit more worried. And when we finally arrived at our apartment the concerns were completely justified. We were met by a nice old lady who spoke not a word of english and, through our 9 year old interpreter received a welcome to what was, frankly, a dump. The house was dirty, the lawn two feet long and covered in broken toys. The "pool" was an inflatible pool for the kids that they'd blow up if we wanted it. Our "apartment" was a room around the back - dirty, no hot water, and a bed hard enough to make Mr T's eyes water. Definitely not the anticipated base for a few days in the sun. The trouble was that we were both wrecked and desperate for a bed. So we checked in and grabbed some sleep. In the end we spent the night, then went looking for alternatives.

With good results. We found a hotel 100m down the road that cost the same, had an actual pool, and was very nice. We broke the news that we were leaving via our nine year old intermediary - the sweet old grandma turned nasty. But we got out and settled into a very relaxed Sozopol existence.

Enjoyıng the new dıgs

Enjoyıng the new dıgs

Vıew from our balcony

Vıew from our balcony

An actual pool

An actual pool

The beach was 50m down the hill and, once we adjusted to the European insistance on covering all vacant sand with a sunbed for hire, it was one of the nicest we'd come across on our travels. We spent some QUALITY time down there, split between the beach, swimming in the only-half-salty water of the Black Sea, and walking down the strip of shops and restaurants. The whole place had a temporary and slightly dodgy feel - we were reminded of the Gili islands in Indo.
Sozopol beach

Sozopol beach

Beach beers

Beach beers

Kıds on the beach

Kıds on the beach

Beach street

Beach street

Wıg for the beach, anyone?

Wıg for the beach, anyone?

Trampolıne

Trampolıne

Beach street

Beach street

Street stalls at the beach

Street stalls at the beach

Street stalls at the beach

Street stalls at the beach

Sozopol Beach

Sozopol Beach

Beach beers

Beach beers

Our experience of Bulgarian food was interesting. There was a huge variety -you could have any sort of meat you wanted, cooked any way you wanted, as long as it was grilled and had cheese melted on it. And as long as the meat was pork or chicken. This may have been a result of the places we were eating, mostly on the beach, but it seemed pretty popular with the punters. The crowd was mostly Bulgarians enjoying their summer break - an interesting phenomena to be examined more in our next blog.
Food mountaın

Food mountaın

Bulgarıan grıll

Bulgarıan grıll

While we couldn't claim to have really seen much of the country or culture, we enjoyed four days of relaxation in the sun, and really liked Bulgaria. The fifth and sixth days didn't really follow the script though...
Hangıng fısh

Hangıng fısh

Fresh (maybe) fısh

Fresh (maybe) fısh

Vıew from the penınsular

Vıew from the penınsular

Vıew from the penınsular

Vıew from the penınsular

Vıew from the penınsular

Vıew from the penınsular

Vıew from the penınsular

Vıew from the penınsular

Sozopol Harbour

Sozopol Harbour

Fıshıng boat

Fıshıng boat

Sozopol sunset

Sozopol sunset

Sozopol Harbour

Sozopol Harbour

Sozopol Harbour

Sozopol Harbour

Posted by Lawto 16.09.2010 06:21 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (0)

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