3/7/2013 1:43:17 AM
Jess and Nick's Travel Diary
3/7/2013 1:43:17 AM
20.08.2010 - 22.08.2010 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.
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.
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.
18.08.2010 - 21.08.2010 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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
11.08.2010 - 15.08.2010 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...