Friday, 6 September 2013

Relaxing back at the Med

Attempting to travel from one Turkish coastline to the complete opposite one was a pretty dumb idea. I think if we'd taken another couple moments to consider the journey, we would've broken it up with a night somewhere along the way. We calculated it should only be a 16 hour trip, but didn't factor in lay-overs...and there was a lot. It began with a one hour down by Amasra's bay. We dipped our feet in the black sea and then wandered up and down the sandy shore. We then jumped on a dolmus to Bartin, as it had inter-city bus connections. We sat by the river in Bartin for 3 hours watching the swans attempt to attack any river boats that encroached on their territory, and ate some baklava from a nearby bakery. Another 30 minute shuttle bus took us to the main otogar where we hopped onto the coach to Ankara. The four hour trip there went relatively quick, but then we hit a dead end with an eight hour wait for a bus to Antalya. We were going to just attempt to entertain ourselves at the massive station, but we figured we could see a couple of things Turkeys capital had to offer.

Lake in the central Park of Ankara

There was a train line running directly under the station, so we took it into the city. We wanted to see the old city ruins, but as it was after 6pm the entrance was now closed. We settled instead just to explore around. We took the metro to Ankara's equivalent of central park and walked around the lake. Crossing over the ridiculously dangerous convex bridge that goes over the lake, we were met on the other side by a very familiar amusement park sign: Luna Park! It didn't have the token coked-up smiling face that the Aussie ones do, but it did have some pretty kickass rides. Unlike the Sydney one which charges an exorbitant amount just to enter, the Turkish one is a bargain 25 kurus! (Something like 15c) We walked around the massive fair ground for hours, laughing at all the bizarrely themes rides and watching 6 year-old Turkish kids smash their parents around on the dodge'em cars. One dad got his revenge a little too aggressively, ramming his kid so hard against one of the poles the kid flew out of his car and smashed his head, blood starting to gush from his mouth. (His wife started hitting him so hard, he too began bleeding from the head).

At the entrance to Luna Park

Around 8pm the sun began setting so we took a ride on the ferris wheel to look out over the city. The view was really gorgeous, but a kid riding in the carriage before us had vomited everywhere, so it smelled horrific. We tried getting off after one rotation but the rides official made us complete the mandatory five rotations, locking us in with the sickly rainbow pool of half-digested fairy floss and candy. By the end, we too had added to the vomit contents of the carriage.

On the Ferris wheel overlooking Ankara at dusk

We walked further into the city to get some dinner and check out the city vibe. It was a really similar city to Kuala Lumpur, just with a few more brightly lit-up fountains. We ate at a great fish restaurant then walked a little more. We realised our clothes still smelled like 5 days of bush camping so we bought some quality smelling fake perfume from this Turkish chain called Eyfel Perfumumum. Covering ourselves in our new fresh scents, we headed back to the Otogar.

Fountains in the centre of Ankara

We still had a 2 hour wait til our bus left, but when we got back to the station and saw what was unfolding, we knew it was going to be longer. That evening just happened to be the night all the Turkish boys from the Ankara region were being sent off for their military service. This event in a young boys life is a massive deal in Turkey and they get an incredible sending off. I initially thought there was either a massive riot taking place or the Turkish version of One Direction was arriving at the station. In the 5 hours we were gone, at least 15,000 people had flocked to the otogar. There were drummers, dancers and Turkish flags everywhere!

The boys are carried on the shoulders of their friends through the 3 levels of the bus station, whilst their mothers and other female relatives follow behind, weeping hysterically. Outside the bus a massive ring is formed around the boy and everyone dances as he is thrown up into the air 5 times by his friends. He is then put back onto someones shoulders and carried onto the bus. I reckon this procession takes about 15 minutes, per boy. Now when you're attempting to get 60 people on a bus, in a bus station that has 90 massive coach buses arriving every half hour, and predominantly each bus only waits 20 minutes to get passengers on, there was naturally the most ridiculous hold-ups. The loved-ones don't even let the buses leave once everyone is aboard, swarming it and banging on the sides for the first 200m down the road. I don't know how people weren't run over, it was one of the craziest things we've ever seen!

After waiting a couple more hours watching the spectacle, we realised our actual bus wasn't going to even get into the station until the sun was up, so instead we just opted to get on any bus that was heading to antalya. The bus companies were so pleased to have any passenger board who wasn't being given a ceremonial farewell, that we easily got onto a random bus. We both zonked out on the bus and awoke 8 hours later in antalya. A bus for Olimpos left moments later so 2.5 hours after that we were back at Saban Treehouses, our haven home-away-from-home for 2 weeks of relaxing.

View of Olimpos beach

Our days spent back in Olimpos were dragged out by spending 3 hours at breakfast (being made the best homemade omletes by our omlete-man), sleeping in a hammock, going for a swim, eating Turkish ice-cream inside of a melon, sleeping in the hammock again, eating the most incredible dinner, playing backgamon, drinking tea, then going to sleep. It was remarkable how quickly the days rolled away when you do absolutely nothing! We were a terrible influence on the other guests. People who had intentions of walking through the ruins or going on a sea kayak tour ended up joining us everyday just lounging around and eating.

We met some great people in Olimpos, who we really loved hanging out with. Strangely enough they were predominantly Aussies and Americans (the people we were initially trying to refrain from interaction with) but we ended up forming some great friendships with them. An audacious girl called Sandra from San Diego, forced herself into our relaxation bubble on our 2nd day there and got the ball rolling on more and more Americans hanging out with us. On day 6 a Philippino guy from Texas, who we met in Istanbul, randomly rocked up to our little haven. We showed him the basic daily routine of life in Olimpos. After a day he fell into relaxation mode and decided to extend his stay for another week to kick it with us. Four college friends from Oregon came the next day and did a similar thing.

Hanging out at Saban tree houses 

We all started a discussion about what ice-cream flavours should be put into the melon, that both complimented each other and the natural fruitiness of the melon....this conversation lasted four days. Every new person that came to hang out was asked this stupid question. We soon realised a third of ones day should not be dedicated to the menial task of walking 100m to an ice-cream stall. 
Thankfully on day 9 a group of four aussies and a Spaniard arrived in from a boat cruise from Fethiye. Jorge (the Spanish guy) was working on developing projects with the Spanish government that would improve the employment rate in Spain. He was a super interesting guy, so we had some great chats with him about the political and economical future of the euro. He was also re-teaching himself guitar and had bought one at the last small Turkish port his cruise had stopped at, so would entertain us with songs throughout the day.

Castle at the top of the Ruins 

We all couldn't believe how easy it was to waste away one day after another. We made sure to dedicate one day to taking Chris to see the ruins and the old castle, but apart from that we just continued with our hammock/ice-cream/beach/hammock routine. By the end of the 2 weeks, our melon man was giving us free ice-cream. We'd obviously funded his business enough for him to remain for next year's season. The aussies, jorge and the Oregon boys all left the day before us. Our last night was just us with Chris. We discussed during the day which soup, entree and main dishes we thought would be served that night. It turned out to be all of our favourites! When Meral (the owner) came to sit with us we beamed how coincidently all our favourite dishes had been served that night. She replied it wasn't coincidence, she knew they were our favourites so had them especially made for our last night. That really topped off our stay, so the next day we were pretty sad to once again leave Olimpos. We told Meral to come visit us when she arrived in Sydney, so we could return the hospitality and cook some Aussie dishes for her.

Saying farewell to Meral

As there was still a lot of the city's sites we'd missed on our first visit, and had left a load of our luggage at the hostel we stayed at in Beşiktaş so we flew back up to Istanbul to spend another couple days there. 

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