Istanbul is a very busy city, and it did not take me long to get lost. After crossing a bridge that had 200 fisherman crammed on the edges (and seemingly 200 empty buckets next to them), I hustled and bustled my way through the crowded streets. I tried to make sense of the map at the tram stop, which sparked an alert around the streets that I was not just a tourist, but a lost one at that. A tap on the shoulder, and a Turkish man was asking where I needed to go. ‘Here we go’, I thought, thinking I'd be scammed (again), but I gave him the address of the hostel. He immediately gave me the clearest directions possible. I was now expecting the hand to come out for payment, Bulgarian style, but to my surprise all he said was ‘good luck, I must be off, enjoy your stay’. This was the first of many examples on the trip of how friendly and hospitable the Turkish people really are, despite the hordes of tourists that swamp their city. I really liked that.
Little white lies DO pay off!
After a great week in Istanbul, it was time to move to the next place. I booked my bus, as was due to get picked up from the hostel by a shuttle at 7pm. As it reaches 7:30pm, the guy at the desk assures me not to worry, it is always late. At 7:45pm he says “Ill just ring up and see”. At 8pm, he gives me a beer and confesses he forgot to book the shuttle for me, but there is one coming. With my coach leaving at 8:30pm, this leaves me with the high probability of not getting my bus. A mini bus screeches to a halt and toots the horn. I pile in and before I am seated we are up to 60km/h and on two wheels around the corner. Some of the craziest driving I have witnessed follows, weaving in and out of traffic, banging on the horn every 5 seconds, hurling abuse out the window. 8:30pm has ticked past and we are not even close. He turns onto the motorway and gets up to 150km/h, overtakes a coach, honking the horn furiously at it and waving. He then moves up to 160km/h (which is when I decide a seatbelt is a good option) and then pulls over and flags the coach down. He casually says “here is your bus”. I get on to a sea of dirty looks, and get the last remaining seat next to a large Turkish man, who’s elbows fit snugly into my rib cage…the next 10 hours are hell!
I didn’t know a whole lot about Cappadocia before I came, but the contrast with Istanbul could not be greater. As we arrive, I see a vista of houses carved into rocks with fairy chimneys…it is like a set from the Flintstones. After getting a small nap in and icing my ribs from the fat Turkish bloke on the bus, I ventured out and had a look around. I grabbed a bite to eat at a small Turkish restaurant run by a family. When I ordered, the mother gave the son my money and my order. I see him go over the road into another restaurant and come back holding some dishes. They quickly transport the food to their plates, to cover their tracks, and serve it to me…compliments of the chef!
My next stop was Olympos, a quiet little village on the south coast. Here all the hostels are tree houses, and they are decked out with hammocks. The hostels feed you massive breakfasts and dinners free of charge. This is where I fine tuned my backgammon game to a near fearsome level, whilst arguing with a naïve young Australian chap, who claimed Fosters was the best beer in the world. I suggested it’s a good beer for people who don’t like beer, and he went to bed mumbling something about me being a dickhead. I went to the main nightclub in Olympos with another Aussie called Aaron. When we got their, a Santa Clause lookalike (both in age and girth) had the run of the floor, with a lady on each arm. A true veteran! The dance floor had an unguarded open bonfire in the middle…there were a few close calls, but only leg hair singes were reported. Turkish health and safety is alive and well.
SELCUK & EPHESUS
The final stop in Turkey was Selcuk, and the nearby ancient city of Ephesus. This meant another overnight bus. Whilst waiting for the bus at the station in Antalya, two Turkish men seated next to me erupted into a big fist-fight over a seat. The bus station seemed relatively empty, but as soon as these two started going at it, masses of people came running from all directions to view the contest! The older guy defeated the younger one, and boarded his bus. The younger guy, bloody and beaten, sat down on the very seat he had fought for, whilst the by-standers pointed at him and mimicked some of the punches they had seen!
This time I had two seats to myself on the bus, and they served ice cream, tea and cake free of charge! We arrived into Selcuk at 5am. An Italian and Chilean girl I met on the bus also got off here, so we decided to wait at a coffee shop across the road for the local buses to start. The coffee shop was dimly lit and had about 12 Turkish men seated inside smoking shisher pipes, drinking coffee, and playing backgammon and cards. When we were seated, one by one, each man got up and came up to me with a sly grin and shook my hand. They were mighty proud of me for having brought my ‘two wives’ in at this hour of the morning. I was the town hero for 15 minutes there…if I had a pen, I probably would have signed some backgammon chips.
Turkey was a blast and one of the best trips I have done. The Balkans are coming soon!