Recap of My Turkey Experience

Looking back at the past month, it had definitely been a wonderful time for me to experience life in different countries and be exposed to other cultures. As a novice traveler, I have along the way picked up important tips on how to do things efficiently on the road. The small little details all add up and save you the trouble in future occasions – it’s always better to be prepared for the unexpected than face the worst. Soaking in the sights and sounds of a totally foreign country gives me a sense of accomplishment as well; to explore new places and venture into unknown territories provides satisfaction for the adventurer at heart.

I missed the cheap prices in Turkey initially when I stepped into Israel and saw how expensive the food is over here. But gradually the 3 of us have slowly learnt the ropes of cooking and discovering the cheapest places to do our groceries. Things are going well so far other than our course registration which still leaves Damien and I in doubt over whether we can do 5 courses this semester. I really like the fact that the swimming pool is pretty awesome and its free for students, plus the fact that the gym membership is a pretty good deal. So yea, I am going to work on my fitness goals and prove to myself that I can do it.

As stated in my previous post, I would like to state some observations that I’ve made about Turkey in general:

1) The drivers are pretty skilled (in Israel too, so I suspect the Middle East in general) on the roads of Turkey. Like back in Singapore, most drivers would take probably a minute to park the car nicely, but here, it takes like 10 seconds for the average guy. I’ve only seen manual cars in Turkey, and add to the fact that there are so many crazy steep, inclined and uneven roads, it’s bound to be a challenge for the average Joe unfamiliar with the terrain.

2) There was one time a driver saw us walking along the road and offered a ride to town. It was such a relief because I had blisters on my feet and he really saved me from the agony. So I kind of have a good impression of the people there, despite the language barrier, many of them are nice and friendly people (except for those who want your money :P)

3) There is trash everywhere along the roads and it made me appreciate Singapore’s cleanliness and how true it is about our reputation as a clean and green city.

4) There are ass washers in almost every toilet bowl and its pretty awesome actually. But I find it weird and amusing, not really sure why it is so common here though. Not that I’m complaining of course.

5) Buses just pick up and drop passengers when and where they want along the route sometimes it seems. There is no obvious sign as to what is a bus stop and what isn’t along some of the bus routes. I guess this reflects the flexible system they have in Turkey as compared to back in Singapore. Things are always negotiable and there is obviously less bureaucracy; you always get a feeling that bargains can always be made here.

6) Because it is winter, there is a pungent smell of coal burning for the central heating system within most buildings. Not only does the smoke irritate the nose, I believe it contributes to the air pollution tremendously. Well, not that there’s much of a choice I guess, it’s either you choose the cheap and effective way of heating or you freeze to death.

7) Almost everyone smokes. No kidding. Or maybe cause it’s cold??

8) The patches of farmland are tremendously huge; the amount of land they have here is incredible. Hmmm, but China probably dwarfs Turkey haha…

9) There’s so many ruins it’s really not much of a novelty anymore. There’s so much rich culture and heritage here that you can literally walk along the road and find a piece of history from the Ottoman empire or something.

I actually have a lot more pictures of Turkey to upload but I am just so, so lazy to go through them all. Slow and steady I guess… 🙂

selcuk (27)The Professional Daydreamer

Going back to the corner, where I first saw you

Day 17. Here we’re back in Istanbul, back to the place where it all started. After tracing out a nice little clockwise circle around the western part of Turkey with our footprints. Our journey here is winding down nicely with an additional member to the troupe (Damien), who joined us in our Izmir stopover where we watch the Wolf of Wall Street. 3 hours of unbridled rawness, full of sex, booze, nudity and morally objectionable behavior. Nonetheless, one of the most entertaining movies I’ve watched in recent years. Thankfully it was in English with Turkish subtitles and not the other way round. Izmir was all about lepaking and chilling out with booze, boats, bridge and bitches. A big fat nope to the last one – definitely not the ones in the shady bar next to our hotel. The breakfast here was great, hands down the best we’ve come across so far. Cheese, eggs, milk, cereal, olives, dates, tomatoes, juice, coffee, tea, jam and of course, bread. We also kept feeding the seagulls and Joshua was an unfortunate victim of one’s defecation.

We took a night bus to Canakkale and arrived at the utterly deserted Otogar (that’s what they call the bus terminals here) at 4am in the morning, tired, cold and stranded, or so we thought initially. Thankfully, we discovered fellow human beings nearby who directed us to the other end of the terminal, where a pimped up neon blue minivan pulled up (a bangbus, as Damien calls it) which shuttled us to the ferry terminal safe and sound. We totally KO-ed on the ferry and later at the hotel, but had a good rest before our tour of Gallipoli later on. It was during lunch when I realized I’m missing the variety food back in Singapore. Here in Turkey, most of the food basically revolves around the same old ingredients but calling them different names. We then had a history lesson into the Gallipoli campaign of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, which was nice and all but boring after a while.

Anyways, so here I am in the Taksim side of Istanbul, where we shall be staying for a couple of days before crossing the river back to the previous hostel for a couple of nights, before flying to Tel Aviv and Haifa in Israel where a couple of couch-surfers have agreed to host us. Awesome! I’m really, really used to this travelling and hostel hopping thing now, it’s become the norm for us already. Packing and unpacking is no longer a chore but a routine for us. I can just leave the navigation and planning to sharp Yi Feng and reliable Joshua, while I simply handle the common fund and calculate finances. Before I forget, let me briefly recap the time I had in Fethiye, Pamukkale and Selcuk.

Fethiye/Oludeniz is supposed to be a really nice place, but unfortunately the gods did not favor us and gave us rain and more rain. To be fair, we had been very fortunate with how the weather panned out during the previous days and it was inevitable that we encountered rain since it is winter. But to rain on the day when we wanted to paraglide was cruel. Coincidentally, it was also valentine’s day and we spent the day waiting for the sky to clear. It was clear that the rain wasn’t going to stop so we decided to go back to the hostel and call it a day. But the company suddenly called and brought us back to commence paragliding. It was here where we met 2 other Korean dudes whom we had the fate to meet again in 2 other cities later on. However, after going all the way up the mountain on a van with all the equipment ready, the instructors decided to call it off because of unfavorable wind conditions. At this point I was disappointed and exasperated by the weather. Just as we were about to head downhill, an old man appeared (weather guru?) and changed the mind of the driver and crew and we did a u-turn back up! The paragliding experience was amazing, it’s like one moment you are running into the sunset and the next you’re in the air flying without wings (cue R. Kelly and Westlife). I almost crashed into a tree during takeoff (no kidding) and ended up puking from the crazy spins but it was absolutely awesome.

Our next city, Pamukkale, was awesome. We visited calcite formations with hot springs and the ancient ruins of Hierapolis. Quite an awesome experience to walk barefooted across the white pools which harbored the running spring water from the top of the mountain. Best 20 lira spent ever. It was here in this town where we made friends with a number of nice people too! Chatting with fellow travelers can be fascinating when you learn more about their background, experiences and future plans etc. We fed more birds with bread – geese and ducks this time. They were so, so fat from all the food fed to them by the locals and tourists. Next city was Selcuk where we visited more ruins (at this point the novelty factor was wearing thin) and found a really nice cafe for our meals. We then took a train ride to Izmir, which was a really pleasant and smooth ride. SO much better than the trains back in Singapore. I love the buses and coaches here too… they seem to glide across the roads to ensure that you have a comfortable sleep. Not the smaller ones of course, you get what you pay for.

It’s 2.15 am here and this is probably the latest I’ve stayed up so far. I’ll post another entry really soon since I’m gonna turn in for the night now. The night life in this part of Istanbul is really happening, I can still hear it outside. Goodnight to me and good morning to all you folks in Singapore!

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Gonna camp in my sleeping bag, I’m not gonna move…

türkiye’de bir hafta

Howdy my friends and passing readers! It’s been slightly more than a week since I’ve left Singapore for Turkey, and I am currently in Antalya having passed through Istanbul and Cappadocia (Göreme). The weather is much warmer here, but the air is a little short on moisture as I can feel it from my flaky skin and dry lips. The 3 amigos are all feeling exhausted from the adventures of the past week and today we’re all taking a break and chilling in our nice and cozy little homestay crib. Kadya, the German owner runs a laundry business, which was really great for us to wash and dry our dirty clothes before our bus ride to Fethiye next morning. She’s really lively and animated when she talks, and isn’t afraid say the ‘f’ word while speaking her mind, so yea, she’s pretty cool. In other news, Joshua is still the undisputed king of selfies, Yi Feng farts so much that he can power a turbine and the sky is blue (and I mean really blue).

Let me summarize the 3 places I have visited in Turkey so far based on my some observations and experiences. Istanbul feels like a friendly and welcoming city, where the locals are more approachable and helpful, than say back in Singapore. An intimidating man whom I was standing next to on the train offered me an available seat seeing that I was lugging a couple of heavy bags, which took me by surprise. I joined in a football kick-about along the streets with a couple of kids and I was really impressed by their technique even at a young age. Seems like football really is an international language and can sort of bridge the language barrier. The Turkish seem to love their football very much and it is probably the only sport I’ve seen played both in person and on television here.

The young people in Istanbul generally are more liberal as compared to the eastern/other parts of Turkey. Although Turkey is a secular state, most of the population here are Muslim. In theory, the females are supposed to wear a headdress, but a lot of the females I saw in Istanbul were fashionable and chic and were rather westernized in that sense. Really fascinating that cultures within a country can differ between cities. We met this English guy named David who is also half Malaysian and he a really great photographer. Having met him from our Istiklal hostel, we had breakfast with him and explored parts of Istanbul with him as a travel buddy. At the Otogar bus station we met this Chinese dude our age who’s staying almost half a year in Turkey just to learn Turkish. Woah.

Göreme really felt like Korean town, because we saw Koreans just about everywhere. Not that I’m complaining of course, because they seemed like familiar faces in a foreign place (met a couple of pretty Korean girls during our green tour too). I was really awestruck by the beautiful rock formations and how ingenious the forefathers were to carve homes and structures out of the soft volcanic ash. We did a lot of trekking across the unfamiliar terrain and exploring the old caves and paths. We bumped into a fellow traveler named Francis at our hostel, who was a Malaysian and extremely fit for his age, and we journeyed together across the vast expanse of the Turkey wilderness that is Cappadocia. Over the hills and along the valleys we went, going through crevices and trying unexplored paths.

We even tried to find a way to sneak into the Göreme Open-Air Museum without paying by scouting the perimeter of the huge area. We broke in through a hole in the fence and eventually found a way into the compound but sadly got caught by the security guard. It was a good try nonetheless. We spent the rest of the day risking our lives (a little, yea) to get wonderful pictures on our cameras. I walked until my feet hurt and later discovered I had a blister the size of a 10-cent coin on my toe. We did not try the hot air balloon that Cappadocia is famous for because we are budget constraints, but I’ll definitely come back to try it with my wife/girlfriend in the future because it is an experience not to be missed. One of the highlights of Göreme was this ice path we discovered in the desert which was probably a waterway during the summer. Oh, and I really want to see how Cappadocia looks like with greenery. Another reason to come back!

Antalya hasn’t been as interesting as the previous 2 cities had been. Maybe it’s because the main attractions here involved ruins, which we weren’t particular fond of, and we were tired from all the walking from previous days. We pondered over whether to sneak into another museum, an ancient site called Perge but then decided against it. From what we heard from Kadya, she thinks that the locals here are not as educated and most of the time only care and talk about money. I sensed some truth in that because the shopkeepers treated us like walking moneybags and kept touting us. I also noticed that the locals were more judging towards us, because from some of their stares it is evident that they were less accustomed to foreigners. I really like this hostel though, really love the artsy ambiance and homely feeling it gives.

Food-wise, I haven’t really been blown away by the Turkish cuisine yet. Maybe it is cause we have been surviving on a shoestring budget and haven’t gotten chance to taste the true flavor of culinary excellence. We were told that the eastern part of Turkey had the best kebab, and I was like “damn, too bad we can taste it”. The bread here is dirt cheap and is pretty much the staple food of everything. The price of meals isn’t exactly very cheap either, and the most affordable are the döner kebab which we got sick of. There were a couple of times when we just ate snacks and biscuits to save a bit of money, but it wasn’t very satisfying or nutritious. So it always felt really good when we ate a proper meal in a comfortable, warm diner, or found a cheap meal exploring the town.

Love the fact that even though there are many Muslims around, dogs are still tolerated here in Antalya. I even see many dog owners bringing their leashed dogs for a walk. So far in Turkey, I’ve been seen and been close to quite a number of animals. Chickens, dogs, cats, seagulls, peacocks, horses, camels etc. I think I’ve come across evidence of bigfoot too!

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I’m feeling pretty tired right now as I’m typing this. Got to wake up early tomorrow morning to catch a bus and the other 2 buggers are sleeping already. I better turn in too. I shall upload all the photos taken in Turkey at the end of this month all in one go, so please me patient with me my friends while I do some quality control to weed out the lousy pictures leaving only the best for your viewing pleasure 🙂

antalya (40)

Turkish Delight

Greetings from Istanbul, the largest city straddling two continents! (According to Google, there are a few other cities which lie on both Europe and Asia). It’s been a hectic and busy week, so now I’m taking a breather to give an update on how things are going so far.

First off, a brief introduction wouldn’t be too out of place here. The time difference between Singapore and Istanbul is 6 hours, so the jet lag that we experienced wasn’t too bad on the first day. Istanbul is the cultural, historical and economical hub of the country and is home to more than 14 million people. That sounds like a lot to me, considering that I come from a country with its 5.5 million citizens overflowing at its seams. It is also the capital, as well as the largest city in Turkey. Nahhh I’m kidding… the capital is actually Ankara. Got you there didn’t I? 😉

Before the trip, I had a some pre-flight jitters, but after the plane took off, I felt a sense of growing excitement. This was not just because of the fact that I was venturing into the unknown (new culture and experiences) but also because it was the furthest from Singapore that I have ever traveled to. The arrival into the city was slightly underwhelming and tempered because we had to make an unexpected detour, walk pretty far to take the metro, squeeze on the train for 15 stops (give or take), and haul our luggage up a narrow flight spiraling stairs and down again to our actual hostel. But it was all good because our room turned out to be pretty decent and cozy, with a great hostel location for exploring.

During the 2 days so far, we have visited Hagia Sophia (for some reason Yifeng loves the place and wants to keep entering Sophia), Topkapi Palace, Grand Bazaar and other parts of the city by foot. The cold is really awesome to me because I love blowing smoke breaths but quite awful sometimes because of the wind chill that brings the shivers. Although the forecast might say that it’s 7 degrees Celsius, it certainly feels much worse, more like 0. It’s no joke man… but Istanbul really is a beautiful place with amazing cultural diversity and architectural brilliance. The people are beautiful too, the ladies here have good figures and beautiful faces. Sometimes I find their eyes to be most attractive and mesmerizing but I have to remain dignified and not be a perv. So, I have to pry my eyes away from those amazing eyes by exercising self-control and look at something else, like the ass of another beautiful girl instead.

“You from Korea?”

I notice that 3 Chinese guys walking on the streets generate quite a lot of attention, but I wouldn’t say that it’s unwelcome. For some reason, we get mistaken as Koreans more often than not on the streets of Istanbul. Perhaps due to the legacy of the Psy craze? Or maybe there really are a lot of Koreans who go to Turkey. But hey, there’s a fair share of “Konichiwa” and “你好!” thrown in too… quite amusing really. The people here are mostly friendly and helpful; those we’ve met have been pleasant to talk to. It is extremely easy to strike up a conversation with most people, provided that they can understand English since we only know how to say “Thank You” in Turkish. Which is, by the way, translated as “teşekkür ederim”. You can get away with saying “to sugar a drink” really fast to the locals and they would probably think that its an exotic accent. We learnt this by talking to a roadside owner of a seemingly quaint hotel. He even offered me a cup of tea upon my request, which I did out of jest.

Yea, there were some other nice people… one joker even called himself “Tan” and warned us from falling prey to scams. He said he didn’t like Turkey, because he preferred chicken… -_-” Anyway, I kind of get the feeling that the merchants nearer to the city center/popular attractions tend to put on a facade more to tout business compared to the less touristy places, which seem to provide a more genuine and sincere customer service. After Istanbul, we shall be going to Goreme to tour Cappadocia before heading to Antalya, then Fethiye, then Pamukkale then Ephesus, then Izmir (where Damien will join us), then Cannakale, with Istanbul rounding off the clockwise journey around western Turkey.

P.S. Joshua is going out of control with his selfies. I had no idea he was this narcissistic. Maybe I’ll write a 10,000 word essay on his narcissism next week. Till then, ciao.