Sunday, 28 July 2013

The kebab tour continues

Here is a rough guide to bring you up to speed of where we have been in Turkey so far. I'm a bit behind again on the recounts, so I feel a map might make it a bit clearer in explaining where in this massive country we are. This is a photo of our map with my markings of where we have been.

We began our kebab tour in Antalya on the south west coast of Turkey (the yellow area near the bottom of the map with my terrible blue pen star). From there we took the dolmus (local bus) west along the coast to the tip where my first circle is, this is the hippy town of Olympos. Another dolmus west brought us to Kas, the second circle (stories of here find below). Finding it difficult to leave Kas, we finally did for another coastal city, west again, named Fethiye. We then decided to go through the pain of an overnight 12 hour bus trip (yes this country is much much much bigger then we assumed) to Göreme, located in about the center of Turkey where the pen is pointing. This is where we sit right now...(tales of this current leg of the trip will be posted later. Alex will now catch you up on Kas).

It didn't take long to get back into the water.
We didn't really want to leave the lazy village of Olimpos. Aside from the odd day of cliff jumping and rock climbing, our time was definitely forseeable as sleeping in hammocks for nine hours a day, breaking only to go for a swim or eat, should we stay in Olimpos. However, we were too early in to the trip to appreciate the solidarity. We knew there were a lot of stressful days of arguing with hotel owners, being dropped in the middle of nowhere by confused bus drivers and vomitting-up incorrectly cooked tavuk dürüm ahead of us, before we deserved to lounge around by the Mediterranean coast. So off we reluctantly headed to our next port of call, Kas.

The drive to Kaş is on a road similar to a stereotypical winding Swiss road they feature in any Mercedes car add. The only difference is if you skid off the road you either smash into a cliff or plummet into the sea. This apparently doesn't deter Turkish bus drivers from driving like wannabe Formula One drivers. Apart from being scared shitless, I was also perplexed as to why they would feel they need to drive so fast. The people who take this service are either backpackers or old women carrying 11kg bags of tomatoes to drop at arbitrary roadside shacks. No one onboard is in any hurry to commute (especially the driver, as he spends 20 minutes at each coastal town bus station talking about godknowswhat with all the other dolmus drivers parked there). I discerned the unwritten rules of this road are: 

1) As the inside lane has a 30m broken cliff wall just centimeters from the roads edge, vehicles are allowed to veer over into the middle of the two lanes when taking a blind corner 
2) As the outside lane has a 14m drop into the Mediterranean, should it mis-judge a blind corner, vehicles in that lane are also allowed to veer into the middle of the two lanes 
3) if on a blind corner, two cars are heading for a head-on collision, due to their respective claims of being allowed to occupy the middle of the two lanes, the person who must slow down and veer back into the correct lane position shall be determined by a game of chicken 
4) because tourist coach buses and cement mixing trucks are four times as large as the rest of the vehicles on the road, they are allowed to occupy the middle of the two lanes at all times 
5) every driver must carry a minimum of three mobile phones on his possession at all times. He must be using at least one of these phones to call his mum and other relatives at all times, ensuring they argue about every unresolved family matter, as well as texting his mates continuous updates on how many times he has evaded death on the road today.... at all times 
6) if an English speaking person advises he return back into the correct position within the lane and reduce his speed to at least within 50km of the recommended speed limit, he must pretend to speak only Turkish 
7) if a Turkish speaking person advises he return back into the correct position within the lane and reduce his speed to at least within 50km of the advised speed limit, he must pretend to only speak Hindi. 

If you don't focus on the best-death encounters every few minutes, the route is by far one of the most scenic drives in the world. The waters are crystal clear and due to the change in depths, the variation of blue and green hues are like looking into a massive Midori and Blue curacao cocktail.

A strange plant growing in Kas
Tomtom and Robyn (the Aussie couple who had been taking everyone rock climbing) had recommended we stay with a Turkish guy called Onur, as he had been super helpful on advice for things to do around kas. He was completely booked up for when we arrived, but he offered for us to sleep on the terrace of his hotel. We accepted his generous offer as the terrace was on the 6th floor and had a view of the whole city...and what travelling backpackers would turn down free accommodation???

Onur had a friend who was a tour guide so could get us a discount on any of the tours we wanted to do. We wanted to see Kekova (the sunken Greek city) so he arranged for us to go the next day. He had to head off for four days on business, so told us to call him if any problems arose, as his business partner at the hotel didn't speak English. As we left he recommended a small fish restaurant for us to eat at, so we checked it out on the way back. It was incredible. Really cheap but super tasty. The waiter was really friendly, and they offered a tropical çay that tasted like a mixture of mint and pineapple. We woke early the next morning, hiked our 30kg bags the 2km from the campsite into Kaş and dropped them at Onur's hotel. We jumped into a safari-style jeep with the rest of our tour and headed off. Onur had another friend visiting from Istanbul who was also on the tour that day. After talking to Burak for only 25 minutes, it became apparent to us that some people are just far more interesting than us: After finishing his Bachelor in chemical engineering, he moved to Russia for 3 years to complete his masters and begin his phd. He had to teach himself Russian as the University didn't allow presentations or a thesis submitted in English or any other language. When Putin banned gambling in Russia, his cousin flew in from Cyprus to try and export all the laters gaming machines from venues that no longer could legally operate them. Burat had to put his studies on hiatus for 2 weeks so he could facilitate business transactions between the Russian underworld and his cousin.... I don't think I will ever be that badass.

Burak was actually a really nice guy, so we had a great day cruising around the various Turkish islands the tour visited. Mehmet (the tour guide) was hilarious. He was German-born so would deliver the tours in Turkish to the locals, English to the tourists and then straight German whenever he had a large group of middle-aged Germans off trekking around turkey. His description of the landscape appeared to be heavily researched, but we found out later it was all just well-delivered BS he'd conjured up one day when he had a really boring group of people. The islands were absolutely gorgeous and the water crystal clear. You could see the fish swimming around the reef below you. We even saw two sea turtles! The only let down was probably the sunken city itself. It's UNESCO protected so you can't swim in the waters surrounding it. We had to view it through the "glass bottom" boat. This was a very misleading description of the boat. It was just two glass panels about A3 size that had been cut out if the hull and replaced with thick glass. Mehmet informed us that there wasn't really anything to see there, as it had all been pillaged by divers. We didn't mind though, they fed us like kings and the sun was out all day, so we had an awesome 7 hour boat cruise. When we arrived back in Kaş we went for a beer with Burak to watch the sunset over the city.

Ellen's Fact Box
The name "Kekova" is Turkish for "plain of thyme" and describes the region encompassing the island of Kekova, the villages of Kaleköy and Üçağiz. On the northern side of the island there are the partly sunken ruins (about 4m under water) of Dolchiste/Dolikisthe, an ancient town which was destroyed by an earthquake during the 2nd century. One of the bays named Tersane (which actually means "dockyard") was the site of an ancient dockyard that can partly be seen next to ruins of a Byzantine church. The Kekova region was declared a Specially Protected Area in 1990, however by this time already most of the sunken city's ruins have been taken by divers.

Although the terrace was gorgeous, we hadn't taken into consideration the fact that all the clubs and bars were surrounding the hotel, and it was Friday night. We were utterly exhausted that night, but the loud music, drunk people smashing bottles outside and the fact we couldn't find the light switch to the 200 watt terrace lights, meant we were kept up until 5am. As soon as a little peace had fallen over the city, the sun began to rise and the roosters, pigeons, cats, dogs and other stray animals began to rise and state their claim to the neighbourhood. Compounded to the noisy animal activity, at around 7am the old cleaning/cook lady came to prepare breakfast for the hotel guests. We naturally couldn't be annoyed with her, as she was super sweet, offering us some tea as she bustled about, but we were brain-dead. The regular 9-hours-well-slept Ellen gets pretty shitty with me about most unfortunate circumstances we face whilst traveling, however, sleep-deprived Ellen is just a whole another league. If the look on her face that morning could have been surmised as a hallmark card, it would definitely have read: "Words can't describe how much I hate you. All of the problems in the world are your fault." I could see her eyeing off a large salted cucumber on the terraces railing, and knew she was planning to hit me with it at any moment. We needed to find somewhere else to stay as I didn't even want to fathom what would happen if Ellen didn't get some sleep tonight. 

We left out bags and headed out to find a guest house. As it was the last weekend before Ramadan, the city was packed. Every place we tried was booked up. It looked like we were either going to have to dig a hole in the ground or attempt to sleep on the terrace again, and risk Ellen throwing me over the edge in frustration. We did a last-ditch effort along a weird back street. We found an awesome place that had a 5-bed dorm apartment. The guy we spoke to wasn't 100% sure as to whether there were available beds, but he offered us a key regardless so we took it, grabbed our bags and dumped them in the room. Three people had left, but we noticed another person had arrived and tried to stake a claim to the most comfy looking bed. The perpetrator walked in just moments after us, it was one of the Aussie girls we had become friends with in Olimpos.

We had only planned to stay in Kaş two more days, but ended up staying another ten! There was an American guy working at the guest house who gave us some awesome advice on what to do. Burat was around for one more day so we walked out to the Kaş peninsula to go swimming in the secluded bays. No tourists know about these bays, so there was only four other Turkish people out there swimming with us. An elderly lady runs a tiny cafè next to one of the bays, and makes the most delicious gözleme. Ellen also made me hike a 5kg watermelon out there in my bag, so we spent the day eating that as well.

Sean (the American guy) took us and jess on a trek through a massive gorge that surrounds Kaş. It was about 9km long and descended over 1000m, so it took us the entire day. He carried an entire grocery shop and a grill on his back, so we cooked up a bush bbq halfway down the gorge.

Stopping to make a small lunch in a canyon
Apart from being exhausting, the trek was painful as there were an abundance of those spikey thorn bushes and weeds that stick burs into your clothing and body hair, all the way down the gorge. The silver lining was the trek ended at a tiny beach just on the outskirts of Kaş. We were able to wash our cuts and go for an evening swim as the sun set behind the surrounding mountains. 

With more of Sean's insider tips we took a day trip to the tombs of Myra, where instead of paying the outrageously expensive entrance fee, we walked around to the back of the mountain, cut through some lime orchards, and wound up with an entire cliff face of meticulously carved tombs, which you can actually climb in to (unlike the roped-off tombs the tours make you pay to see). We also trekked to the top of the mountain, where a well preserved Turkish castle still stands. The views from the castle were amazing, as you could see all the surrounding fruit plantations and then the Mediterranean sea in the distance. Getting back to Kaş was slightly problematic as all the buses were full passing through, so we had to wait 2.5 hours at the otogar waiting for one that had available seats. As it was 40 degrees outside we ate our body-weight in ice-cream and ayran as we waited.

The entrance to one of the larger tombs we found
Lycian tombs of Myra
Saklikent Gorge
We spent a day canyoning at Saklikent gorge, two more days at the secluded peninsula bays, a day at Kaputaş beach (the most gorgeous beach in all of turkey), a day checking out the ancient  tombs and theatre in Kaş and two rest days, which mainly comprised of us walking around the markets eating ice-cream whilst I attempted to prevent Ellen from buying any jewellery. As Mehmet was running tours to Saklikent gorge and kaputaş beach, we ran into him on numerous occasions. Whenever he saw us he would tell us to just join his tour so we could either get help from the guides or feast on the abundance of food he had. At night we would always find him at Wall bar (a long cement sitting wall, which locals have turned into a bar, as one can simply by take-away beers from the markets and drink them on the wall, enjoying the free music blaring from all the surrounding bars), so we would have a drink together and talk to him about Turkey.

The 11 days in Kaş were truly incredible. But alas, we had to continue with our travels, so we hopped on a dolmus and headed to the next place Ellen's pen fell on the map, Fethiye.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

We made our way to Turkey

I've (Ellen) lost all concept of what day, time or season it is. In the Mediterranean every beautiful hot sweaty day rolls into the next. We have been in Turkey for almost three weeks - every day in the crystal blue sea. We started off on the south coast in Antalya with intentions to go straight to inland Cappadocia, but the calling of the cool blue sea meant we cancelled our plans and instead made our way around the Turkish south coast.
Within our first few days in Antalya we had already gone quite brown. View looking over the port.
Antalya was a nice town to commence our Turkish tour from. Antalya is a totally tourist built city with sparkly fountains, shiny lights and a coastal tram service that takes you from one end to the other for less than $1.

We lived in a hostel that was right under the main tourist attraction, Hadrian's Gate, in the old city area. The gate was built in the name of the triumphant Roman emperor Hadrian who visited Antalya in the year 130, we used it as our front door. Formerly the city walls enclosed the gate and it was not used for many years. It is believed this is why it is in such good condition, as it was only revealed after the city walls collapsed. 
Little restaurant street in the main area of Antalya.
Hadrians Gate. Part of the original old city of Antalya.

Detail in the amphitheatre.
From Antalya we made a fantastic day trip to Aspendos.

This ancient Greco-Roman city was situated on the Eurymedon River, 16 km inland from the Mediterranean Sea. In the 5th century BC, Aspendos became the most important city in Pamphylia because the river was only navigable as far as it. Consequently the city derived great wealth from trade in salt, oil and wool.

To see in Aspendos is an ancient amphitheatre that is the most well preserved ruin in Asia-minor, well preserved buildings, a basilica and a huge aqueduct. These ruins were incredible and the photos don't give justice to their enormous size and detail.

Today the theatre is still used for concerts by the Turkish State Opera and Ballet for audiences of 10,000 people.
The amphitheatre in all its glory. Still used today for special concerts.

The ruins of buildings in Aspendos
The absolutely awesome and massive Roman aqueduct.

Making our way two hours west of Antalya, we found our next destination in the tiny "town" (only 80 people actually live there, the rest are tourists) of Olympos. What more could we want but ancient ruins conveniently located next to the beach, not more than 10 minutes down the road from our bungalow style guesthouses. Olympos is a bit of a dream, totally surrounded by nature, off the beaten track so very small, a crystal blue sea and the only 

accommodation available is bungalow/treehouse style guesthouses with hammocks everywhere, which include HOME COOKED UNLIMITED BREAKFAST AND DINNER in your boarding price. A two night stay quickly turned into a four night stay and ever since we left we dream of our swims, the animals we saw, the food we ate and the great people we met.

The view of Olympos from the top of the ruins.

Since we arrived in Olympos I have taken on the role of official tour wildlife photographer. Here are some of the incredible animals we saw living among the ruins in Olympos.

Thursday, 18 July 2013


Arriving in London 45minutes ahead of schedule was an unexpected surprise, considering the city was usually traffic-jammed around Earls Court at 4.30pm. Ellen's friend Kishan had arranged for one of his uni mates Sheena, to let us stay for the 2 nights we were there. We were meeting her at Liverpool street at 6pm, so we had time now to sort out our Oyster cards and attempt to remember the tangle of coloured lines that is the London underground. We made it to Liverpool street, but couldn't find the tube entrance Sheena was supposed to be meeting us. We noticed one of those LOVE sculptures nearby so decided to stand by it, as it was a large enough landmark. Sheena called us soon after and told us she'd be there soon.

Ellen informed me that kishan had mentioned she was half Indian as well, so we should look out for someone that looked like Ellen. Every brown-ish looking girl that passed our direction we smiled at, staring at them waiting for a response. The predominant response was them becoming extremely freaked out and swiftly side-stepping us. I saw some of the frightened girls start warning others approaching our direction on the footpath to steer clear of us and avoid eye contact (maybe they thought we were a weird Dutch couple looking for an extra partner to join us that evening?). After we'd scared off around 40 incorrect females, Sheena finally arrived. Apart from having dark hair she didn't actually look much like Ellen as her mother was Irish, so she had very fair skin. Ellen mouthed to me "sorry, I thought she was brown" was probably good Ellen had made that assumption, otherwise we would've been enthusiastically smiling at every white girl who had passed us.

We caught the bus to Sheena's apartment in Hackney and dropped our bags. She had generously offered us her room whilst she took the sofa bed. Her sister had just returned from a trip away so was quite exhausted. We said a quick hello, then change into some clean clothes and headed back to the city to meet some of Sheena's friends for dinner. We went to a great Japanese place near piccadilly circus. Sheena's friends were really interesting. One was half-German-Chilean but was born and raised in Japan. They had studied business/finance at King's with Kishan also, so were asking us how he was/what he was doing, as they hadn't seen him in 2 years. Over dinner, we chatted with them about Kishan, their work and our travels through Nepal & Europe. By the end of the meal they were all eager to see Kishan again so were locking-in a trip to Oz for NYE 2014. We said goodbyes then headed back to Sheena's.

Ellen's old friend from Primary school, who she hadn't seen in 10 years, was conveniently in London the next day. She'd arranged for us to meet her at 10am near Notting Hill gate. That night we slept like a dream boat. Forgetting to set an alarm, we woke up at 9.50am. Ellen quickly messaged Lizzie our error and told her we'd find her somewhere on Portobello rd in an hour or so. We quickly showered, got dressed, then attempted to have some breakfast. There was a slight problem in that Sheena and her housemates appeared to not own any cutlery other than a butchers knife and 2 label spoons. We searched frantically throughout the kitchen, but found nothing else. I'd obviously lived in student-shared flats before, but this was bordering on the kitchen set up of psychopathic killers. Perplexed, we resigned to making a couple slices of toast, spreading the butter with a salted cucumber that was sitting on the kitchen window sill, drinking a coffee each, then heading out the door.

We met Lizzie and her mum in Notting Hill about an hour later. Lizzie was in a jewellery store buying a ring (well, her mum was buying it for her). I could see Ellen's eyes light up as we walked in and knew this was dangerous territory. Thankfully I didn't have my wallet on me, just some cash, so neither mine (nor Wolfgang's) credit cards would be affected by this visit. The girls exchanged an excited hello, before both turning their attention back to the jewellery. After a ring was selected, we headed to a café on Portobello rd.

We exchanged travel stories and discussed general life for a couple of hours. Lizzie and her mum then wanted to head-on to get some more shopping done before heading to the airport, so we said farewell. Ellen and I meandered up to Notting Hill gate, then through Hyde Park towards Prince Albert and Princess Diana memorials. Along the way we ran into some squirrels, so Ellen played with them for a while. Then we headed to Bucking Palace, St James park, where we stopped for a monster-sized ice-cream (it wasn't as delicious as Hocking's though) and played with some more squirrels. We sat in the little park outside Westminster Abbey before crossing to Southwark. Walking along the Thames in the afternoon was really lovely. We watched the skaters busting out some sweet tricks on the underground skate park and ate a delicious woodfired pizza from a pop-up street food van.

After eating we continued along the river towards Shakespeare globe, hoping to grab some last minute tix. Macbeth was on that night, so it was naturally sold out and the queue for re-sales already had about 90 people waiting. We sat outside the Tate for a bit enjoying the unnaturally nice evening weather London was offering. As the sun began to set we got going again, walking to London bridge. We wanted to keep going to Tower bridge, but a bus pulled up that moment that could take us all the way back to Hackney, so we jumped on. Due to a crash just past Liverpool street, the bus was re-directed so it was super quick getting back as it didn't make any stops until Mare st, which was exactly where we needed to get off.

We hung out with Sheena and her housemate watching Dynamo (this British magician/Illusionist) for most of the night. We inquired about their lack of cutlery, and whether they were planning on murdering us during the night. They laughed, explaining there was one of those secret drawers in the pantry that held the cutlery (pretty sure there was also a secret trap door for dumping maimed corpses, just near the fridge. But I gave them the benefit of the doubt). Just before we went to bed Kishan randomly called so we all had a chat to him, which was a nice surprise. As the girls would be leaving before us in the morning, we said goodbye, thanked them for letting us stay and then headed to our room to attempt a re-pack.

After 2 hours of trying to organise our 30kg packs as efficiently as possible we gave up and retired for some sleep. Just before I turned off the light Ellen enquired "hey, do you need a visa to get into turkey on an Australian passport?".....I had totally forgotten to properly research this. I knew Turkey gave Australian citizens a 90 day tourist visa, but hadn't clarified as to whether I was supposed to get it approved before I landed. I quickly searched the Turkish Government site. Yep, it said I needed to apply for it before I arrived. I tried avoiding telling Ellen this fact for as long as possible, not that it would change my predicament, but just in a hope that she'd fall asleep before she had the chance to go absolutely ballistic at me for once again not researching our travel plans properly. That didn't pan out. She went crazy-eyed and slapped me with a salted cucumber Sheena had on her window sill, until my face was purple. I followed the link on the Government website to submit my visa application. Even more annoyingly was that the visa price for Australian citizens had recently risen from $20 to $60 USD (and that didn't include the flying carpet tax I'd have to pay on arrival). In an attempt to calm Ellen slightly, I quickly submitted the application and told her it would probably be approved by the morning. Not believing me she grabbed the tablet and read the submission page. "It says right HERE the application takes around 24hrs to process Alex!" She angrily barked, reaching for the cucumber once more. "How long til our flight?" I inqired.
"13 hours" she retorted through gritted teeth.
"Maybe there's someone working late tonight?" I hopelessly proposed.
She glared at me, not blinking.
45 seconds passed and then the tablet vibrated, indicating a new email. It was my approved visa application. "Seems there is someone working late tonight" I chirped. She glared at me a little longer then rolled over muttering something that sounded like: "I AM going to kill you one day"....

I was sleeping so well that night, the morning alarm was like knives in my ears (or that was Ellen stabbing me awake?). Ellen was up straight away, showering and making breakfast. She told me to attempt to print my visa off from Sheena's printer, as we probably wouldn't have a chance to do it at the airport. I spent about 30 minutes hopelessly attempting to download various apps so I could connect the printer (man tablets are pretty flawed in a lot of respects), but to no avail. I went to the kitchen and ate some breaky, informing Ellen I'd have to print the visa at Victoria station somewhere.

Neither of us were really paying attention to the time. We were supposed to be out the door at 10am. It was already 10.15am. Needing to leave immediately, I quickly packed, brushed my teeth and we ran to the bus stop. We probably should've checked the bus timetable the day before. We just assumed they ran every 5 minutes to the city...they did not.  A 20 minute wait later, our bus finally arrived. Traffic was pretty bad so by the time we got to Liverpool street we were well behind schedule. Thankfully Ellen's debit card was actually recognized at the self-serve automatic machines, so we were able to retrieve the tickets to the airport we'd pre-booked. Running down to the tube station, we got a little lost, forgetting which line we were supposed to take to Victoria. When we finally reached the right platform, the train we needed had just left. It was a 6 minute wait til the next one. According to the timetable, from here it was a 33 minute trip to Victoria. Our train to Gatwick was leaving in 36 minutes. Taking in factors such as climbing the 462 stairs up from the underground, then running to the southern-line platform, plus the 6 minute wait here, and the tube trip, we were averaging about 45 minutes at best. We weren't going to make it.

The tube ride was a pretty sombre one. Ellen just glared at me the whole way, occasionally sighing and straightening her backpack. I kept looking at the tube map, trying to find a quicker alternate route, or attempting to guess which station our Gatwick train might leave from. If it was Blackfriars, we might be able to jump out early and get it from there? But then if its one that leaves from Kings Cross or one that departs directly from Victoria, then we'd be screwed. We decided not to gamble anything, just stay on the train. One station away from Victoria, we looked at the time. Miraculously the train was going to arrive at Victoria 14 minutes ahead of schedule. There would be a potential full 5 minute window for us to get out the underground and down to the southern lines. A beacon of hope glimmered. We began preparations: I put on my large backpack, strapping myself in tight. Ellen then gave me both of our small hand luggage bags, ("small" -they did still weigh 10kg each!) before explaining to me I had to run ahead of her and find the right platform, but not run too far ahead that she couldn't see me, otherwise she wouldn't know where to go. When the doors opened we sprang out and pelted towards the stairs. Attempting to get up them, however, was like running in glue. Both of us were striving our arms as fast as possible, but we were barely moving upwards. People walking normally were passing us with absolute ease, and were giving us bizarre looks. I looked across at Ellen and started laughing. She laughed as well, so we stopped, clinging to the hand rail. We composed ourselves and then walked up the stairs normally, just with large strides.

When we got to the train departures board we had 2 minutes until our train was due to depart. We scoured the lists, but couldn't see our train anywhere. Completely puffed-out I strode up to a train attendant and inquired which platform our Gatwick train was leaving from. "Ah, that train's been cancelled. Just wait near platform 17. Another one will leave from there in around 10 minutes".
I marched back over to Ellen.
"Guess what? Our train's been cancelled" I beamed with utter glee. The people standing next to her gave me bizarre looks as to why I was ecstatic about our train being cancelled. We headed over to our platform and waited for our next train.

I will just note at this juncture, that this wasn't a trip-ruining event. Had the train been running and we happened to have missed it, we still could've made it to our flight. We just really wanted to get on that train as I'd actually been organised for once and pre-bought the tickets online so we knew we'd have a good 1.5 hours at the airport, as Ellen needed to find the tax refund customs office and we weren't sure how long the process was going to take. We also didn't have any cash on us so we would've had to withdraw some more, then line up to re-buy new tickets, etc. So being poor backpackers we preferred the thrill of cutting it as fine as possible to make our connection.

As there was still the slight issue of me needing to print off my visa I quickly went into every newsagent at Victoria station, asking if they could print it for me. It actually astounded me that none of them had a computer/printer system. Do they complete all their transactions by making markings on papyrus sheets or something??? Ellen wouldn't let me risk actually missing the train by venturing outside the station to find an internet café, so I resigned to the fact I'd have to attempt to print it at Gatwick. The train ride was reminiscent of my days living in East Grinstead, as it was the same line I used to catch. The trains were pretty much exactly the same, except for the fact that no one was being robbed at knife-point today, and a lady passed through the carriages selling food and beverage refreshments (unless this had always happened and I just never experienced it?). I felt a bit nostalgic and wished I'd planned a longer visit so I could've seen more of my old friends from Sussex. I guess I'll just have to plan a return visit.

We arrived at Gatwick with about an hour to doss-about. We decided to split-up, do what we each needed to do, then rendezvous at checkpoint Charlie 10 minutes before check-in closed. As I had the visa in pdf on my usb, I began with the information counter, as I assumed they had to have some form of a computer/printer setup. They did, but their server wouldn't allow access of external hard drives. They pointed me to an internet hotspot that had some computers and a printer. I tried my usb and again, the computers wouldn't allow access. I then walked around to every airlines ticket sales counter asking if any of them could print one measely piece of paper. No one could. I was about to give up and just show the customs official my confirmation email from Ellen's tablet, when it occurred to me that I could just re-download it from my e-mail and try print it that way. This worked (hooray!). I'd dumped all my loose change into the machine so there was still a fair bit of airtime left. I saw a girl leaning on her backpack on the floor, looking very bored.
I waved to get her attention and said "There's 20 minutes left if you wana skype some friends or something?" She smiled and jumped at the offer.
Walking over to check-in with 15 minutes to spare, visa in hand and seeing Ellen already standing in line, I felt excited for the next leg of our trip. It had been a rollercoaster of a morning, but we were finally able to breathe easy. We'd forgotten to do online check-in so were given seats 20 aisles away from each other. We didn't mind though.

Upon boarding the aircraft, we noticed a young couple behind us with a screaming child who was obviously not happy about flying. I joked to Ellen that she would definitely be stuck next to them and have to deal with the annoying kid..... it turned out that I was actually the unlucky one. You'd think it would eventually  take a break from hysterically crying and throwing tantrums about having to wear a seat belt, and not being able to eat endless packets of lollies. But no. Incessant for 5 hours straight. No breaks. I tried ordering a salted cucumber from the flight attendant but they were all sold out. Fml..... I see why Ellen hates kids.

As we touched down in Antalya and began disembarking, the young couple apologized for the nine hundreth time about their incessantly screaming child. They wished me an enjoyable travel in Turkey and exited also, leaving behind a mountain of dirty diapers and half-drunk juice boxes in the seats for the air hostesses to clean up. Ellen caught up to me inside the airport terminal. "I had SUCH a great sleep on that flight!" She exalted.
"How about you?"
"Let's not talk about it." I replied. We collected our bags and exited into the 30 degree heat of the Turkish evening and headed to our guesthouse.

Monday, 15 July 2013


Whilst in Devon, we had been advised to spend a day in both Bristol and Bath en route to London. We were pretty sick of packing and re-packing our bags so decided to spend the 2 days just in Bath. It was a wise decision as we absolutely LOVED it there!

Bath was hosting moderate rain upon our arrival, so we quickly ran from the station and checked-in to our Hostel. We hung out there for about an hour, chatting to people about their travels. In the afternoon the rain cleared so we went for a walk to the Abbey, Pulteney's bridge and along the river. There was a foot maze near the old dam, so Ellen spent about an hour attempting to successfully reach the center (she made it in the end. We're all very proud). We were pretty hungry after the walk so got suckered into buying some Cornish pasties from a café that had a sign advertising the "best Cornish pastries". They were pretty good, (about four thumbs up) but I'm sure there are a number of bakeries in Cornwall that would challenge the legitimacy of their proclamation. We took some more take-away and ate them back at the hostel common room.

Some Spanish backpackers had chosen Slipknot's live tour of southern Uzbekistan as the ambient background dinner music (thanks guys), so it was pretty easy discerning who we wanted to sit near: the Spaniards on the couch with the remote? The dreadlocked Scandinavians holding blood-covered baseball bats, rocking out behind them? Or the quiet American chick cringing at the table?... we naturally chose the Scandinavians. After about an hour they all wanted to go sit inside the freezer and turn the lights off for 5 months straight, so we decided to chat to the American girl.

She was really cool. She'd been doing an exchange semester in London studying finance, but wanted to go back to the states to run a café as she'd acquired a taste for good espresso, so couldn't see herself ever going back to the crap filter stuff she grew up on. Ellen off-handedly mentioned I was a barista so we then spent the next hour talking about coffee and the general lay-out of how she wanted her café. Ellen contributed a lot to the conversation, proclaiming she likes coffee with lots of sugar and milk (we're all very proud). As it was just after 9pm and the music channel was now playing Marilyn Manson's unreleased album of songs he'd recorded whilst nailed upside-down to a burning church, we decided we should probably head out for a drink.

We asked the hostel receptioner (is that the male equivalent of a receptionist?) where was a good place to go. He recommended this tiny little bar not too far from the city centre, that brewed its own unique ales and cider. He wasn't lying on either front. It was probably about 2m x 4m and everything on tap was either craft ale or cider. We tried a bit of everything. They were immensely delicious. We all chatted for another couple hours then headed back to the hostel once we heard a break in the rain. Thankfully Marilyn had been burnt to a charcoal crisp by the time we got back, so the Spaniards must've set off to hang chorizo in their room. We relished the silence and ended up starting a mini game of jenga with the half-filled box we found on the floor. We were all getting waay too invested into the monotonous game, so after an hour we called it a night and headed to bed.

The beds were pretty comfortable so we were actually sleeping quite soundly, until around 5am when one of the other Aussies in our room, returned with a random Bath townie, both ludicrously drunk. The British guy had a bottle of vodka and was going round to every persons bed shining his phone in their eyes and asking them to come join his "pumping party" in the common room. I thought it was actually quite generous of him and I was tempted to take him up on his offer, but as everyone else was already screaming "f#ck off!" and as I was incredibly cosy, I decided to let him enjoy it all to himself. Moments later I heard him pass out on the stairs outside...(thankfully for him they were carpeted).

Our hostel was full the next day so we had to change to another one just up the road. We dumped our bags there in the morning then headed to the Roman baths. The history of the baths was really interesting and because they hadn't been re-discovered til the C18th the excavations were top notch. We spent hours there learning all the history and customs of the Baths. The general audio-guide wasn't the best, but thankfully they had a children's selection, as well as special commentaries by Stephen Fry for certain parts, so between those two we got through everything. Apart from the slightly high admission ((£18) ...although, Ellen did flutter her eyes at the ticket man so we got in for £10 each) they are a definite must-see. No one is allowed to bathe in the museum baths, except for the local duck resident, but you can sample the water at the end of the tour. I would advise though, it does taste like its come from a tepid pool that a bunch of naked 80 year-old men have been washing cabbage in, so maybe give it a miss.

After the Baths, we headed to the sunken gardens (the park next to the river that remains at the original street level during Roman times, 6m below the current street level) as there was a "Love Bath" festival on. There was free music, bbq, traditional Indian desserts, ice-cream stall, face painting, jumping castle and puppet show. It was pretty awesome! Ellen immediately reverted back to an 8 year-old, getting a butterfly painted on her face and scoffing 4 serves of ice-cream. One of the performers was sensational, she reminded us of a young tracey Chapman, so we spoke to her after her set and praised how good she was. She was extremely modest, but gave us a link to her site so we could stream some more of her music.

In the afternoon we went for a walk around the western side of the city, through some of the parks near the Jane Austen museum (my molotov cocktail missed and accidently set fire to the building next door) and then down to the VAG (Victorian Art Gallery...I don't think Bath residents abbreviate it to that, but they definitely should). It had a really cool ceramic and print collection, but after all the ice-cream Ellen had consumed she was having a major sugar come-down and needed to lay down, so we cut the viewing short and headed to the hostel for a nap (jeez Ellen really did revert back to a child-like form that day).

For dinner that night we went to an Irish pub, where, (for letting her nap that afternoon) I was allowed to feast on a double bacon and cheese burger, whilst Ellen was stuck with vegetable quiche. We passed on the Guinness that evening as they had a locally brewed cloudy cider which was delish-i-o! It was also 12% alcohol so they knocked us out pretty quick. We wanted to chillout with a film that evening, but the selection wasn't great. We ended up surfing through the channels trying to find something, but had to settle with Midsummer Murders. The narratives of those films are hyperbolised to the point of combustion. I wasn't sure whether it was actually a witty comedy satirising the game of cluedo in a real world context or a D-grade porno that they had just edited out all of the sex scenes? I also don't get how that old biddy hasn't been killed yet, or been given the Medal of Bravery by every small county police force in the Suffolk/Kent area, for single-handedly solving every murder case since 1903. The amount of times she's found herself in an abandoned mansion with a psychopathic murderer is just ludicrous.

Our room was completely full so Ellen and I were sleeping in separate bunks. About 15 minutes after turning off the lights a heavy snore began to echo around the room. I knew Ellen's body responds pretty badly to exhaustion during unconsciousness (extreme snoring and uncontrollable drooling) so I looked over to her bed. The snoring got louder and louder. It would crescendo every 4-5 breaths with a choking of saliva at the back of the throat. The others in the room began fidgeting in their beds and coughing in a "my god shut up" kind-of way. I was too tired to climb down and walk over to her bed, so I tried leaning over and hitting her awake. However, the distance between beds was too far and I didn't want to risk falling the 5 feet down in case I messed up my pretty little face. The snoring was out of control though. It was like an earth quake, all the beds in the room were now shaking. I had to end this. I climbed down, strolled over to Ellen's bunk and was about to slap her across the face with a salted cucumber I had sitting on the window sill, when I realised her mouth was shut. She was sleeping quietly. Confused, I looked around in the darkened room. Two beds over, next to the far wall was the true perpetrator: a petite Korean girl. I caught the glance of the guy in the bed underneath Ellen. He gave me a kind of "well seeing as you're up, do you mind shaking her awake?" look. I strolled over and bumped her bed. She rolled over, the snoring stopping. I climbed back onto my bunk and pulled the blanket up. Just before I closed my eyes the Korean girl at the end of the room rolled back to her initial position, the snoring beginning once more...uh, this was going to be a long night.

The next morning Ellen woke early, apparently unaffected by the loud snoring throughout the night. She poked me awake and gestured for us to head down to breakfast. It was by no means as appetising as our complimentary breakfasts in Bad Lauterberg, but they had drinking chocolate for hot drinks, so we treated ourselves to some mochas with our cereal and toast. Afterwards we headed to our room, grabbed our bags and dumped them at reception. As our coach to London didn't leave til 1.30pm we wanted to squeeze in the free city walking tour we'd kept forgetting to do. It was a lovely clear day, so we met the group outside the Roman baths at 10am. Our tour guide was a lovely old lady who had obviously spent her entire life in Bath. She was extremely passionate about every location she took us to, and spared no detail or anecdote that she knew. It was a really fun and informative tour. We definitely should've taken it on our first day so we understood the significance of the city's lay-out and architecture. It would've helped us orientate ourselves much easier when strolling around. Nevertheless, we saw the remaining landmarks we hadn't yet found and learned a great deal of the city's history that will probably never be of use to us in any other conversational circumstance. But oh well, I'm sure it will be replaced by some other useless knowledge in the near future.

The tour finished just after 1pm so we quickly grabbed some take-away lunch, collected our bags and headed to the bus station. I was hoping we'd pass via Devises so Ellen could glimpse Stone Henge, but alas we were on a direct route to London. I reclined back in my seat and closed my eyes, looking forward to a much-needed rest. Just before I drifted off into dreamland, an horrendous noise shook me awake. The Korean girl from the dorm room was 2 seats behind me, mouth open, wheezing like a drowning ferret.... Not again. Where the hell did I put that salted cucumber?