Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Merhaba Turkey!

Turkey was not originally on my countries that I would have considered for my grad trip. However I am very happy that it was suggested as it is probably one of my favourite countries that I visited. As expected, Turkey was very different to all the other countries that I had visited. The smog/ pollution was something that I didn't quite expect from Istanbul, although it makes sense naturally. First night was at an airport hotel in Istanbul since the plan was to catch a high speed train to Ankara before heading by bus to Göreme.

The highspeed railway line between Ankara and Istanbul is incomplete and the closest station is currently at Pendik, on the Asian side and closer to Sabiha Gökçen International Airport. Once complete it will be a 3.5hr train journey, covering 553km. Until then a cab ride is the only way to get to Pendik, especially at 6am. The one thing that was interesting / annoying were the constant bag scanners at train stations, bus stations, shopping centres and even simply entering the airport (I don't mean to get through security for the gates. This made me cringe since I also shoot in film and each pass through x-ray damages the film. The train journey was quite pleasant, and there was free wifi (although BBC was blocked, odd). I also witnessed one of my most memorable and beautiful sunrises. The journey went through quite a few different landscapes. Initially through residential and populated areas, to in between the mountains and also landscapes which were very desolate. Around halfway through the journey, there was a crazy amount of dust/ cloud/ mist which made visibility very very low. It was quite scary sitting in a carriage that was going at 150kmph and not being able to see anything in the distance.

Ankara took me by surprise. I really didn't expect it to look like what it did (it didn't look like the images on Google). What did it look like? Very dusty, beige and smoggy. This was when I also realised that people didn't follow road rules and cars are king on the road. In fact, it was even scarier than Rome since the roads I crossed in Ankara were usually 4 lanes wide in total! I originally had plans to leave our bags in the lockers at the station (which I did) and to wander and explore around Ankara briefly before heading to the bus station to travel to Göreme. Sadly what happened was a brief stop in a cafe for lunch before attempting to find the bus station.

Simit. It is a "Turkish bagel", although I feel that it is better than a bagel (I'm not a fan of bagels). It has a texture more akin to bread than a bagel. These are actually sold on the streets for 1 Lira (roughly, $0.50 AUD). Plain of course..

The trip to the bus station was a lot more difficult than what I had envisaged. The metro to the bus station was on the other side of the tracks of the main train station. Google maps didn't quite show how to cross the tracks. Twenty minutes later, and after much frustration from my travelling partner, finally made it to the metro station. I feel that I am less frustrated when travelling (in terms of unexpected problems) than when I am back home. Perhaps it is because I expect that there will be difficulties. The ticket machine wasn't very helpful, especially since I had been spoilt with choice in all my other countries with the option of selecting the "English" button. After some hand signing with the man behind the ticket window and butchering the name of the bus station (AŞTİ), I finally boarded the train.

The bus station was also completely different to what I had expected. I expected something similar to the ones where I've caught Megabus and other companies like that. It reminded me of the Amazing Race when the constestants are running to the whole row of airline counters. In short, there were a lot of people at the station and this is because buses are the main form of transportation between cities and towns since the trains leave a lot to be desired (from personal experience)/ are non existent. Sadly, the next bus due out to Göreme was in 4 hours. Four hours spent at the bus station where I caught up on my travel journal.

One thing I also didn't expect in Turkey were squat toilets. If you are unsure what they are, here it is. I originally included my own image that I took from the delightfully clean (sarcasm) squat toilet at the bus station. But I decided against it. I'm not a fan of paying to use toilets generally, but especially when I paid 1 Lira to use a horribly dirty toilet too. I hate squat toilets with a passion. When I was a kid, they used to be everywhere in Hong Kong and I always had a fear that I would topple backwards and into the ... mess.

The bus journey between Ankara and Göreme is 5 hours. The great thing about bus rides in Turkey is that they offer refreshments: water, tea, instant coffee, and a small snack. In addition to the man driving the bus, there is also a bus attendant who acts very similar to a flight attendant. The bus is also quite comfortable and there are tv screens at the back of the chair which played Turkish shows.

The thing I noticed is that English doesn't really get you by (which isn't a problem) unless you are in a super touristy area. The coach stopped at Nevşehir which was the nearest big city. It seemed that everyone was leaving so I also got off the bus and asked, "Göreme?" to the driver of the mini buses. The driver said yes, so I boarded. Luckily, the bus attendant ran out after us and took us back to the coach (btw, with 0 English spoken between the two of us aside from ""Göreme?") and the coach continued with the 5 passengers inside. I am very thankful and grateful that the bus attendant was so observant that we had left (at the beginning of the ride he asked us our final destination). Very happy. Moral of the story and advice to anyone going on bus journeys in Turkey: check with the bus attendant and not the drivers as they seem to just say "yes" even if it isn't true.

This is a very text heavy post since I don't feel inclined to take out my camera when I am carrying all my luggage. But it is a necessary introduction to my Turkey portion of the trip. In some ways, Turkey was the hardest country for me since quite a few problems popped up, but it was still an incredible experience.


  1. I'm looking forward to hearing more about Turkey! It seems interesting and Cappadocia especially looks beautiful but Turkey hasn't made my must-see list yet. Maybe you will change my mind!

  2. I've only been to Istanbul airport inside for transfer so I can't
    fully say I've been to Turkey :P I can't wait for the post and
    pictures! Xx

    1. Transfer to Hong Kong? Who did you fly with? Thank you!


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