Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Ankara - first capital on the road

That’s it! Instead of going to Antalya and see more beaches and sunsets I decided to be a reasonable Bulgarian and deal with important stuff first. So Ankara it is! I didn’t expect to find anything amazing here but the city surprised me nicely.

From Babakkale i didn’t take a direct dolmus to Cannakale but pass by Ayvacik so I see Nigal and Omar again. They were really happy to see me, so was I. This time their daughter Marve was there and I spent the whole afternoon with her in their pastry shop (Viva google translator!!!). Such a nice and beautiful girl!

Next morning at 7 am (01.08) my bus arrived to Ankara. I went straight to Anıl’s house (my new host) and I had just enough time to have a shower, some coffee and get ready for the embassy before he goes to work (he works in the Ministry of health). His flat was amazing –right in the centre of the city, it had the rooftop terrace (actually 2 of them) with views over the whole city. He used to throw big parties there and I also experienced a few smaller gatherings. Lucky again!
The roof top terrace

Time for some nargile and chai of course
Mrs Moldova is trying the shisha for a first time
Anil posing and looking miserable

The mosque from the terrace
Ankara is actually a really nice city. It is not as crowded and chaotic as Istanbul but at the same time you can find everything you need – bars, cute restaurants, parks, bazaars...And in my opinion it is organised very well in terms of transport , probably because it´s mach smaller, only 5 million people.

Play station mania (on the street)

Vine leaves (for sarma)

Forgot the name but it was definitely delicious (always with yogurt)
Anıl and his friends are definitely party animals – they would stay up till very late every night and work the next day. Really easy going and friendly, I felt like I knew them for ages. We had lots of chai, and Rakı on the terrace, combined with vanilla flavoured nargile (shisha). Anıl convinced me to stay one more day so after cooking for them we went out to their favourite place Prestige.

Anil, Andreas and Nicolas
The alcohol is very expensive in Turkey because of the taxes but it doesnt stop them drinking. The national drink is Rakı which is similar to the Greek Uzo or Bulgarian mastika. Of course the people who were doing the Ramadan wouldnt have any alcohol during this month.

Now a bit of useful information for those who want to get their visas in Ankara.
TURKMEN EMBASSY – the nightmare for all the backpackers
You take bus No 112/114 from Kızılay and in 15-20 min you are there, the area is full of embassies but the driver will tell you where to get off (you see a new built skyscraper). Then you have to walk 6-7 min uphill. The embassy is open 9 to 12 am everyday for visa applications. I popped in at 11am, I explained my case to the guy there ,the consular was on holiday, so I was lucky that I applied for the visa in Istanbul. Then I paid 55 $ in the bank (10 min walk) and I was told to come back at 5 pm to collect my passport with the visa. No need for LOI if you apply for transit visa (5 days only), but you have to specify dates. It takes about 2 weeks after you apply for the visa to get the approval (you call the embassy and they tell you whether or not you got it). Lots of people get it rejected though.
The guy working there was very friendly but didn’t speak a word of English, so if you don’t speak Russian it might be a problem. Except me, there were only truck drivers there, so he was really interested in my trip, shocked that im traveling alone, that im not married and that im paying for everything myself. Leaving the embassy I got a ride to the center from one of the truck drivers – he helped me dealing with the bank in the morning so we “knew” each other already.

Bus 185 from Kızılay takes you there in 20 min, ask the driver where to get off. Then 10 min walk, people know where it is so it shouldnt be hard to find it. Very helpful embassy, they spoke perfect English, no LOI, got the visa the same day at 4 pm. It cost me 70 $ for 2 weeks. The bank is quite far away, probably 30 min walk downhil, so maybe it make sense to get a bus. It took more than an hour and a half in the bank (Sekerbank) as there was only one guy working behind the counter with clients and probably 6 women doing nothing (ooo im sorry, not nothing, they had at least 3 chai breaks while I was there).

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The caves and the underground cities of Cappadocia

My Cappadocia

It is one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in the world. More words are useless in describing the charm and the beauty of this region and its people. You must experience this for yourself!
The area is a combination of history and natural land formations (eruption of volcanoes). Signs of human life have been discovered, dating from the bronze age, then the Persians took over, then the Roman empire, the Byzantine, Ottoman empire…Cave churches and underground cities can be seen everywhere.

On the 5th of August I arrived to Nevsehir. From the Otogar there was a free shuttle bus to the town so I got to Toki Mosque and waited for my host to pick me up. It turn out that he left to Antalya but his flatmates were here so they “took care” of me J. Apart from me, there were 2 other couchsurfers, 2 German girls, hitchhiking their way back to Germany.  We all slept in the living room, each having a pretty big beds and amazing pillows (those orthopaedic ones)! 
Antje and I, fighting with the inflatable bed

As it is Ramadan here now, the Muslims who really do it, don’t eat or drink until the Ezan before sunset starts (around 8 pm). So the guys made a really big dinner and when the Ezan started they just fell upon the water and food, imagine not drinking anything since 4,30 am till 8 pm, in August and in Turkey!!! Later on, they would wake up at 3 am and have something like breakfast to be able to resist with no food until the evening. They were all really nice and considerate and made sure we are fed and comfortable. We played a lot Rummicub or what the Turkish version of it is. 
Im not doing very well here
"8 o'clock" time
And we all watched Titanic in Turkish. By the way, on Turkish TV you can´t see people smoking cigarettes, the cigarettes are blurred out.

Mulmo and his amazing house-museum

So I would say that Cappadocia (Kapadokya in Turkish) is really impressive! The nature, the ruins, and the people...Especially the people! We hitchhiked together with the German girls, Cristina and Antje, going from a village to village, or sometimes even within the village, and never waited for longer than 20 seconds. Any car with enough space for three of us would stop immediately. 
We went to pretty amazing places like Avanos, Cavosin,  Red Rose valley to watch the sunset (it was quite a hike but a nice one), passed through Göreme on the way back...In Avanos we were invited by this very friendly and atheist Turkish  guy to his house-museum where we spent at least 2 hours and ended up having chai and watermelon on his terrace and talking mostly about politics. The house was amazing, it had 8 levels, lots of tunnels and he took us on a tour. They (lots of people in the same association) apart from all the pottery work, make their own wine.
Arif and Antje dealing with börek
Arif, Ceristina, Mustafa and Antje

Antje leaving the pottery

Everyone was so nice and talkative, convincing us to take these chai-, beer-, watermelon or borek breaks so we couldn’t see all the places we initially planned to visit but we met some nice and very interesting people. It was worth it. Cristina and Antje were at exactly in the same state of mind as me (except for being vegetarians and im such a big meat fan J )) and I think we got along very well. Very easy and fun.

Red Rose valley

After sunset we got a ride from a Japanese couple and it was so funny when Cristina asked the guy “Aren’t u going to South Korea tomorrow” and he answered, “No, Im Japanese”, obviously confusing him with a guy we met earlier in Çavuşin, also Asian looking one. I was so happy that im not the only one who messes this up. We even went to another village further away (again hitch hiking), just to buy some baklava and ice cream for our hosts. We wanted to cook them a dinner but then got tempted to see the sunset. One thing we didn’t do was the hot air balloon flight but that was for two reasons: 1. Not for our pocket (150€) and 2. Too early – you have to be there at 5 am. Actually one of the guys who picked us offered one free flight because he was working there, but just one L. We wanted to set the alarm for 6 am so we at least take photos of the balloons from the window but at the end no one wanted to sacrifice her sleep J. So they were supposed to look like that:
That's how it's supposed to look
Next day Cristina and Antje decided to hit the road to Istanbul so I was left alone for a few hours which I used to see properly Göreme – a small town and many people still live in the rock houses. Also many pensions and small hotels have rooms cut into the rocks. This is a very inexpensive type of air-conditioning for the summer months because the temperature stays cool inside the rocks.  Later on the guys joined me and took me to some places. 

At 8 o´clock I headed to the bus station, direction Trabzon (hitchhiking instead of waiting for the city bus, good decision cos i got there in no time) where one more visa is waiting for me, I hope. Apparently in the Turkish buses, the girls cannot sit next to guys, I discovered it when I booked the ticket online J.

Evil eye

Monday, 8 August 2011

One week volunteering in Garp

Garp means “west” in Turkish. It sits on a cape that is the most western part of Asia, on the Aegean coast of Turkey, 2km away from Babakale - a small fishing village and 500klm from Istanbul, with a 300 m private beach, access only by boat or ATV. And Greece is in front of you – Lesbos Island.There are also two windmills providing electricity and organic veggie garden. Water comes from a natural spring in the mountain.
The boathouse 

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


I arrived at the main bus station at 5,30 am on Wednesday, July 20th. It was a long night, with plenty of “gets off & on” at the borders and duty free zone for the regular checks. Once arrived, I had to run and catch my host Hun before he goes to work. I made it on time following his instructions, dropped my backpack and went straight to the Uzbek consulate. It wasn’t easy to find it but as I was the only passenger left in the shuttle bus (Dolmus) the driver decided to take me there. When I told him I was Bulgarian we started discussing the relationship between our two countries, me, using all the Bulgarian words I thought could have had Turkish origin...and him...mmm, just speaking Turkish. It was something like this: The driver “Galata Saray”...Me “Barca” sharing our football team preferences.. Well, after quite a lot of asking and going up and down the hills, we found it and of course he gave me his phone number in case I wanna meet him again and go on with our deep conversation. It took less than 2 hours to get my visa, including the 20 min journey to the bank to pay the visa fee (80$) and the same time to get back. Usually it takes up to a week to get the visa but if you have a LOI (letter of invitation) which I got from Stantours in advance (30 €). In the whole area where the consulate was, nobody spoke English, but surprisingly they spoke Russian. Even the guy in the consulate spoke Russian to me.

Couldnt resist:)

Having "Tantuni" and airan in a very local place just off of Taksim square
So the next 3 days I was running around consulates in the morning and sightseeing in the afternoon, eating and going out with Hun in the evening. 
I applied for the Turkmen visa but I still don’t know if I´ll get it. I have to call in 2 weeks. Couldnt get the Kyrgyz one because they were out of visa stickers!!!! But they were waiting for them, in 20 days!!! Well, hopefully I´ll get it in Ankara.
There were lots of bars and restaurants in Taksim area, similar to those in Barcelona, but all open till very late, including the outside area...I guess there was no problem with the neighbours. It was full of people everywhere, even at 4, 5 am..and then everyone was getting hungry and it was "kebap"time :)

The Bulgarian Iron Church
On Friday I met up with Egemen, a guy from CS, who took me to the Bulgarian church “Sveti Stefan” and we spent the afternoon roaming the beautiful narrowed streets of Besiktas (reminded me a bit of San Francisco).



Egemen, myself and a Swedish/Polish guy we randomly met
We even played table tennis as he had a table in his back yard...of course I destroyed him, even though the table was in a deplorable state J
All bumpy and jagged because of the rain and wind i guess
The amount of messages I got from Turkish guys in Istanbul on CS, was impressive. In 5 days I probably got more than 40 messages from guys welcoming me and offering their “services”. Hun told me that that was normal, other girls got even more…But it was still shocking, never happened to me before in other countries.
The city itself was so vivid – a big mix of cultures, chaos, lots of traffic (it seems nobody keep the traffic regulation…but if you plan to break them, just beep twice and then its all good J). People were very friendly and helpful. They would even pay for your bus ticket and wouldn’t accept the cash for that (happened to me 3 times – 3 different girls did it!!) as in most of the buses in Istanbul you cannot buy the ticket from the bus driver, it works only with a card which I obviously didn’t have. Just some of the guys were a bit too “direct” but I guess I will have to get used to that as I will be travelling in Muslim countries for a while.
One of my biggest entertainments while in Istanbul was finding words in Turkish that are the same in Bulgarian. There are so many of them but we (Bulgarians) are not aware of that or at least I have never thought about it. So I spent hours and hours asking how things around me are called in Turkish and celebrating it when the word was the same or almost the same. I think we use at least 300-400 Turkish words in our daily routine but the funny thing is that I couldn’t make even one sentence out of them cos they are all things and not a single verb. And of course I needed these verbs later on, when I found myself stuck in a little village with people who didn’t know what Yes and No in English mean.

Randomly a friend of mine from Barcelona (Vitali, a Finish guy) had a one night stopover in Istanbul on his way to Tanzania. So we met at this CS party near Taxim square and then we went to another bar with a roof top terrace so he can tell me about his new life in Tanzania.

 Next day we all went on a ferry trip on Bosphorus
From the ferry

It took 2 hours and not 45 minutes as we thought so Vitali missed his flight…That night he also slept on the couch in Hun’s house. Poor Vitali, got into so much trouble missing that flight but im sure he made it home safe and sound, having to catch a flight to Ethiopia and God knows what kind of transport through Kenya in order to get to Mwanza

My last day in Istanbul was actually the most entertaining and relaxing one. My initial intention was to go directly to the bus station and catch my bus to the eco farm. So I packed my things, said goodbye to Hun and Vitali and left. But then I changed my mind and decided to stay one more day. So I headed to Egemen’s house in Besiktas. He was there with two friends of his – an American/Israeli living in Shanghai and a Turkish/American guy. A bit late,  his beautiful sister came and brought us Börec for breakfast. Then after lots of pottering about, we finally left the house and went to this “Sky Free Urban festival” that was happening in Bilgi University area. It was a beautiful day, nice music, full of people, juggling, playing Frisbee, Jenga (Giant wood block tower game) or any other games you can possibly play on the grass. Of course there was a concert too and lots of beers involved. Egemen and his friends were fun and their idiotic jokes and moves just made my day perfect. We stayed until the last concert finished and then went for the regular “tantuni” (from Adana -somehow I only hung out with people from Adana in Istanbul).


With Nigal in their pastry shop

 On the way to Babakale where the eco farm is, I was supposed to get a minibus from Ayvacik but surprise, surprise...by the time I got there, all the buses were gone. The only hotel in the village was full, no people on CS and I had no place to sleep. As I was the attraction at that small bus station, I started to get different proposals from the guys working or hanging out there...They were all unclear and suspicious like “I´ll give you my house key and you can sleep there, don’t worry I have only one key” and blab la bla..It was all annoying and disturbing so I went to the “nicest” looking cafe at the bus station (there
Although their house was nice, they still had this Turkish style toilet
were only 3 of them) to get some food and to escape from all  that. I guess I looked a bit upset and miserable there cos the owner of the cafe and his wife were really concerned about me and were trying to help me. The communication was difficult cos my Turkish with no verbs, and their English with no words didn’t help much...But they were so nice that I ended up spending the night at their place. Back in the house, Nigal (the wife) showed me photos of their wedding, their kids as babies and grownups, etc. I showed her photos of my niece and somehow we managed to communicate. I slept in her daughter´s room. Next morning we went to a pastry shop they own as well, i got on internet and finally thanks to Google translator we had a “normal” conversation and were able to say all the things we couldn’t say or ask the night before. Back at the bus station Nigal and Omar made me breakfast, gave me a bag full of pastries for the journey and treated me as I was their own child. Turkish hospitality i would say, such nice people! I gave them my email address and they gave me their address, phone numbers, the email and tel number of their daughter who doesn’t speak English either...I hope I see them again on the way to Cappadocia...