Feathered Aspen


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Istanbul to Cappadocia

No spell check!

September 8, 2010

Although my throat hurt so badly that my ears hurt too, there was nothing to be done. Today, we planned on wandering through Istanbul with our packs on and then catching the bus to Goreme; we didn’t have anywhere to relax, and doctor’s appointments are both extremely expensive and hard to come by. Besides, what is the doctor going to tell me? Rest. Drink lots of water. Etc. Drink lots of water I can do. Rest? Not today, anyways.

Before we left SoHo Hostel, I went upstairs to shower. It smelled a little like piss and there didn’t appear to be any locks on the door, but I wasn’t about to quibble. It had been two long days of travel since my last shower, and I did not smell good. Undressing quickly to beat any other early risers, I hopped in and started fussing with the knobs. No luck. I looked dubiously at the exposed plastic piping that had been duct-taped in several places. Down the line, there were more knobs. No luck. Up above me, there was a tank with a button. No luck. I tried to flush the toilet. Nope. I tried to turn the faucet in the sink on. No way. Getting dressed again, I retrieved Joshua who confirmed my suspicions: no water.

Now, not only did my tonsils feel like two ungainly toddlers, but I was also stinky. Excellent. We quickly packed our bags and left, I don’t think we’ll have many fond memories of SoHo Hostel. (Apparently, Joshua’s night had been even more traumatic: he couldn’t fall asleep until the disco music stopped, but almost as soon as it had, the Spanish girls came in talking loudly and turned on the lights. They poked him in the back to see if he was ready for fun, and seeing that he was not, immediately packed their bags and left (why?). Then, about a half hour later, Joshua heard keys in the door, and then he saw a very large man come in the door. Stumbling into the bottom bunk, this hulk of a human immediately fell asleep and began to snore like the train engine that could.)

Outside, Taksim Square was sleeping off a hangover, and we had the cool, sunny morning to ourselves. Stopping at a pharmacy, I purchase throat lozenges that are laced with Ibuprofen (what a wonderful idea), and then I proceeded to suck four of them down. Feeling much better, I began to tune into Joshua’s narration of our city tour. Heading South through Beyoglu, we stopped to take photos of the Galata Tower and Neve Shalom Synagogue.

Down on the Bosphorus, we headed East to Karakoy Gulluoglu, the very first cafe to sell Baklava in Turkey. I should tell you now that Joshua has a rule: if you see baklava, eat it. It’s a pretty simple edict, but given any extended period of time in a Middle Eastern country, it could have serious reprecussions. Namely, not being able to fit through doorways. Nevertheless, Joshua hopped in line while I sat an guarded our packs. Although the line was massive, most of the people waiting for their honey goodness were Turks, and they all looked at us bemusedly, especially when Joshua came back and we took a picture of our plate.

Sipping tea and eating really good baklava is kind of like a religious experience. It’s such an intense pleasure that you’re afraid that your spirit might actually up and leave your body, but you fight like hell to stay corporial so that you can extend the experience. If we carry out the metaphor, then I guess Karakoy Gulluoglu is kind of like the Vatican or – more appropriately – Mecca. It is worthy of pilgrimage and hajj.

It only took one cup of tea and two pieces of baklava each, but by the time we were finished, we were so in love with Istanbul. Walking across the bridge over the Bosphorus, we admired the fishermen with their impossibly long poles and Istanbul’s skyline, dotted with the domes and minarets of lovely, large mosques. On the other side, we made our way to Topkapi Palace.

In 1453, Constantinople was attacked and then subsumed by the Ottoman Empire. Topkapi Palace was built to house Sultans of the Ottoman Empire, and with each reign, the Sultan would extend or embellish the complex. Although many of us may think of the Ottoman Emprie as something of the distant past (ok, so that was my assumption, and now I’m foisting it upon you), the Empire was more or less alive until 1920. Within the Topkapi Palace walls, the Ottoman elite met with their military leaders, ambassadors, and foreign leaders, and today, you can see where they ate, walked, read, and… Well, you can see the harem, too. With three courts, the Palace becomes increasingly oppulent the farther in you go, and the two of us spent nearly 4 hours wandering the various rooms and courtyards. Like the Alhambra, Topkapi Palace had incredible tile work, and there was hardly a square inch of space that was not decorated in beautiful designs and colors. Unlike the Alhambra, there was very little three-dimensional decoration, and many of the walls were painted with frescoes and tromp o’lile. In some of the rooms, we could see the Sultan’s clothes that have been preserved, as well as many gifts and spoils they had collected from their foreign neighbors (and enemies). The room with the longest line had the spoonmaker’s diamond, the world’s fifth largest, and the Sultans’ sabers. In the Sacred Safekeeping Rooms, we saw Moses’ golden staff, Mohammed’s footprint, robe, and beard, and John the Baptist’s skull (or so they said).

In all, it was a massive and beautiful complex, and our favorite rooms were the library, the circumcision room, and the Baghdad room (when the Empire sacked Baghdad, they built a room to celebrate). After we exited the palace, we walked to through the gardens to a cafe overlooking the Bosphorus. Ordering tea, we sat for a while, appreciating the breeze and the beautiful view of Istanbul. We wrote a few postcards, and when the tea came, we practiced pouring from the infusion pot, the water pot, and then stirring the little spoons in our little glasses. After hours of hefting our packs through crowds, it was just what we needed.

Making our way back to Sultanhamet Square, we passed the Hagia Sofia and found the Blue Mosque. Sitting in the park between the two, we passed an hour reading and people watching. At one point, some sort of outdoor speakers began blasting a man chanting. In the distance, another man responded. Realizing that this was the Call to Prayer sounding from the minarets of the Mosques nearby, I closed my book. I looked around, hoping to see someone praying, but apparently, this isn’t the stop-drop-and-pray signal I had thought it was. Turks and tourists alike – veiled and unveiled – just kept walking. I suppose people must be used it; at five times a day, the Call to Prayer probably starts to sound as commonplace as church tower bells tolling the hour. Chills ran up and down my spine. This is my favorite thing about Turkey: listening to the Imam call the Muslim faithful to pray. It has to be one of the most beautiful and enchanting sounds in the world.

At 6, Joshua went in search of Jeton (tokens) to get on the Tram. Riding to Aksaray, we watched as the touristy part of Istanbul made way to neighborhoods and shops selling the oddest combinations: toe clippers, socks, orthotics, and hand-held sewing machines made out of old staplers. From Aksaray, we passed people selling polos, sunglasses, and levis spread out on blankets along the sidewalk. At the Underground station, we bought more Jeton and boarded the subway headed for Otogar, the Bus Station.

Beyond men shaving lamb and chicken for kebaps with long knives and tall hats, we entered an enormous square. On each side, more than 50 bus companies had little offices with bright colored signs emblazoning their names: Metro, Oncu, Suhir Turizm, Goreme, Nevsehir, Kapadokya, etc. Consulting our guide, we played ‘where’s Waldo?’ and tried to find the name of the four of five bus companies that run lines from Istanbul to Goreme, the town in Cappadocia where we have reservations. (Amazing Race, take note: this would be a fabulous road block.)

First, we found Goreme and went inside to investigate. No tickets to Goreme. All full. Next, we went to Kapadokya. Same story. Next, Oncu. Next, Metro. Next Nevsehir. Sadly, none of the bus companies had any open seats. It’s the last night of Ramazan (and no, I’m not spelling that incorrectly), and tomorrow begins a three day holiday called Seker Bayrami (Ede, elsewhere) where little children go asking for candy (kind of like Halloween, but religious) and people may finally break their fast and eat and drink in broad daylight for the first time in 30 days. (And Catholics thought no meat on Fridays was a big deal!) So, long story short: no bus to Goreme for tonight.

Seeing us with our noses deep in our guide book and looking up, squinty-eyed at all the signs, a couple of Turks tried to convice us that they could help us. One man took Joshua on a little scavanger hunt, trying to presuade him to catch a bus to Nevsehir or maybe Kayseri instead. For some reason, Joshua followed him, but don’t worry, grasshopper. I wasn’t about to fall prey to some bus scam that gets me landed in the middle of Turkish freaking no-where. I’ve read ‘Dangers and Annoyances,’ and I’m no rube. I deftly snatched Joshua and thanked-but-no-thanked the man. He may have been well intentioned, but I wasn’t about to find out. Back at Goreme, we bought the very last tickets for tomorrow night, and then we headed back to Sultanhamet Square.

On the way back, I was feeling pretty anxious. Not only would we have to forsake our reservations for a hostel in Goreme, but we didn’t have reservations for a hostel tonight. Our plans had been thrown off, and I didn’t want to feel like tomorrow was a waste, especially when we only have 7 days in Turkey. Joshua was feeling pretty anxious too, and that’s when we realized that the only things we had consumed all day were a pot of tea, four liters of water, and four pieces of baklava. All day long, I had been watching street artists create their culinary tricks, and in particular, I was intrigued by the red and white stripped stands with piles of corn in their husks. On one side, there was a small grill, and in the middle, dozens were boiling. For one Turkish lire (more on that later), you could buy a piece of corn doused in salt and handed to you on a piece of printer paper. Excellent.

Stopping at the first corn stand we saw, we ordered two grilled pieces of corn. The somewhat sullen teenager managing the stand bypassed the pieces of corn he had already grilled, carefully selected the best specimens, and slapped them on the grill, rotating them regularily. He asked us where we were from, and we told him the US. He told us he was trying to learn English, and that he was tired and hot and bored. Another man came over to buy a piece of grilled corn, and the boy handed him an already grilled piece. When the man asked him to warm it up, he said it already was, and the man, a little miffed, walked away with his piece of corn in hand. The boy looked at us, rolled his eyes and shook his head, mouthing ‘it wasn’t.’ He was pleased when we started laughing really hard.

It took about 10 minutes for the corn to grill until it was way too hot to eat. In that time, our sullen culinary street artist called over his English teacher. About the same age, this boy had a totally different demeanor. When he discovered that we were from the US, he smiled so big, I thought his ears might pop off. He then began speaking in rapid-fire, broken English, explaining that his adopted mom is from New Jersey (well, not really, but almost), that he was in his last year of school, that he wanted to go to college in the US, that he had been studying English for, like, 6 hours a day, that he had been teaching his friend here, but his friend was stupid, and the only word he knew for sure was, ‘shut up, that’s wrong.’ When our corn was finally done, they wished us a good night, and waved to us as we walked away. After a few yards, I glanced back at them, and they were both talking quickly and excitedly in Turkish. I think I know the feeling. After I’ve successfully spoken to someone in Spanish – AND THEY’VE UNDERSTOOD ME – I feel like a million bucks.

Trusting the old LP to lead us in the right direction, we wandered across busy Sultanhamet Square and into the tourist quarter. Here, it was quieter, a little bit more polished, and the only Turks were the ones managing the establishments; otherwise, the streets were lined with polite tourists, dining, chatting, and tinkling their glasses of wine. It was Istanbul, watered down and tamed for Western palates. These places aren’t bad for sleeping accomodations, but I wouldn’t want to spend any more time here than that. It seems a shame that some people would go half-way across the world to spend time with people who look and act and speak just like they do in places that all pretty much look the same.

First, we checked with Hotel Peninsula, recommended by LP. No room. Next, we check in with the Orient. Nope. Feeling vary anxious indeed (despite our pieces of crunchy corn), we checked in at the Mavi Guesthouse. No room there, either. Finally, at a hostel not listed in LP – Big Island Hostel – we secured beds. Although Joshua had sworn to never rent a bed in a dorm room again, desperate times call for desperate measures. We rented beds in a dorm room for 16 (yowzah).

Climbing the stairs to our sleeping pavillion, the music got louder and louder. Perfect. Inside the room, 8 bunks were crammed in side-by-side with barely any room to walk. Seizing the last two beds, we chucked our packs on top, and I immediately went in search of a shower. Although it was a relatively large hostel, there were only two shower stalls. Thankfully, I only had to wait for one person to finish showering. He must have been European, because he walked out and climbed the stairs to the 16 bed dorm in nothing but his whitey-tighty undies and his head wrapped in towel. (Be real. Would an American boy ever do that?)

After I showered, I dressed myself (I’m not about to go trapsing through the hostel naked) and went upstairs to find Joshua on the computer. Apparently, Yvonne had heard about a crazy-Christian-fundamentalist-Muslim-hater who planned on burning the Quran in Florida (where else?) on Saturday, in an oh-so-thoughtful commemoration of 9/11. In retaliation, fundamentalist Muslims around the world had promised to make life unpleasant for traveling Americans. Obviously, Yvonne was worried, so Joshua called to try to explain that we were ok. Turkey’s fine. We’ll be smart and safe. Just as a precaution, we promised to tell everyone that we’re Canadian. They all think we are anyway.

During Joshua’s call to Yvonne, the Call to Prayer sounded, and although I’m sure that it didn’t assuage any fears, I made Joshua hold the speaker up so she could hear too. I LOVE IT.

After talking to Yvonne, Joshua went off to take a shower, and while he was gone, I met a couple of our dorm-mates, Carolina and Raful. A married Polish couple, these two had just gotten back from three weeks of touring Turkey. They were really lovely (literally and figuratively), and we spent a long while talking. When Joshua got back, they told us a story about how they had tried to get a bus ride from Armasya to Istanbul last night, but that the bus had left them in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. The only other tourist was a woman from Thailand, and the three of them had been stranded at a strange bus stop. Thankfully, Raful took control and went to the police. He showed them their tickets and then explained their situation. No one spoke English, so they had to wait for a man who lived a few miles away (who had spent a year in the states) to come and translate. Finally, the police went to the bus company and demanded that the three tourists get a free shuttle into Istanbul. As a result, they hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before. (Ok. Family. Don’t freak out. We are prepared! We have already read about bus scams such as these in ‘Dangers and Annoyances’ in the LP. They have a listed of trusted bus companies, and we will not be taking any buses from unknown companies.)

Although we had planned to go back out and grab a little bit of food, our conversation with the Polish couple had gone on so long, I was too tired to eat (I know!). Instead, we rolled into bed, and I discovered that my ear plugs were missing (TRAGEDY). Closing my eyes, I prayed for sleep to take me swiftly.

September 9, 2010

You know what? It wasn’t that bad. Although there were 18 people sleeping in one room (two couples were brave enough to sleep on one twin… We did that in college and swore to ourselves we would never do it again.) and 12 of them were boys, no one snored! The music stopped at a reasonable hour, and people were respectful at whatever times they turned in for the night. It was actually kind of cool to listen to all of them breathing deeply and mumbling in their sleep. Even the big-bad Euro guys looked like little babies with lines of drool coming out of the corners of their mouths. They were almost cute.

I slept better than the night before, but I woke up frequently to swallow and dope up on tricked-out throat lozenges (seriously. this is a BRILLIANT idea.). I was not about to go through the same agony as yesterday morning. Just before sunrise, drummers and chants in the streets sounded faintly, signaling the start of Seker Bayrami.

At 9, Joshua and I packed up and stowed our belongings in the luggage room. With our valuables on our backs, we headed towards the Grand Bazaar for a day of window-shopping. Following a walking tour laid out by the LP, we passed a number of Mosques and graveyards, and we stopped at each to take photos. When we reached the walls of the Grand Bazaar, we discovered that the place was closed for the holiday. Trying to squelch our disappointment, we promised ourselves a visit when we get back from Cappadocia and went to see if the Spice Market was also closed. Wandering through the empty streets of Istanbul was kind of eerie. No one was walking, no one was driving, and all of the shops were closed. At night, the place has been so crowded, but now it was empty.

Stopping at a Mosque, we entered the courtyard and watched as Muslim family members visited their dead. Apparently, that’s why all of the graveyards were open today: the first day of Seker Bayrami is used to visit the tombs of passed family members. Back on the trail, we found that the Spice Market was closed (surprise, surprise), and we went to peer inside the courtyard of the Yen Cami Mosque. In front, women in their veils and children were milling about and pigeons were flying all around them. Women would call to each other from across the crowd and then run to hug one another. It looked like a holiday anywhere.

On the other side of the closed Spice Market, stalls with pets, pet food, plants, and seeds were open and selling their wares. We walked through, cringing at the big jugs of leeches, and cooing over the new-born kittens (cats were Mohammed’s favorite, and they hold a special place here. In Spain, you could tell if the private courtyard was Muslim if there were little trays of catfood welcoming dozens of strays. On the other hand, dogs are considered unclean, and to call someone a dog is a horrible insult.). It was fun to browse through the enormous sacks filled with bulbs and seeds. One of the last Sultans loved tulips, and one of his legacies is the piles and piles of tulip bulbs available everywhere.

Feeling a little disheartened, we wandered back towards Sultanhamet. Spying another baklava shop, I knew what would cheer us up. Inside, we ordered one of every kind we could see: green baklava, chocolate baklava, backlava with spindly stuff instead of philo, triangle shaped baklava… We also ordered tea. Because it’s amazing.

Outside, we sipped our dainty glasses and divided each piece of baklava exactly down the middle. The baklava was so good, we ate them with our hands cupping our chins, just in case a rogue crumb or drop of honey tried to make a break for it. At the end of every half slice, we licked our palms. Don’t worry; this is good etiquette (actually, it’s probably not, but anyone who really loves baklava must understand).

Happy once more, we set off for the Hagia Sofia (or Aya Sofya). On our way, we stopped to peruse some of the more touristy souvenir stalls that had opened. In one of the stalls, I found a beautiful orange scarf shot through with pale yellow threads. It was light and airy, and when I asked the shopkeeper how much it was, he said, ‘5 lira.’ Done.

At another stand, we found a magnet with whirling dervishes, and wanting to expand our magnet collection (which doubles as bragging: ‘yeah. I’ve been there.’), we purchased that too (for 1 lira).

At the Hagia Sofia, we stood in a really long line for tickets. In front of us, a group of middle aged and older Americans were shuffling, bewildered. All of them had blue laniards around their necks that said, ‘Sea Side Cruises,’ and they were all wearing golfing bills (you know, the kind of hat without a top?). Their feet were all sensibly clad, and I whispered to Joshua, “there’s not a stylish flip-flop in the bunch!” It’s silly, because we’re just as American as every one of them, but somehow, their accents seemed louder, harsher, and we noticed all their stereotypically American mannerisms like bright neon signs. On the other hand, good for them. There aren’t many Americans who decide, ‘hey! Let’s take a cruise through the Middle East!’

Inside the Cathedral-turned-Mosque, we wandered through the hoards of people. The walls were covered in mosaics, and the ceiling had an odd motif of birds with faces. Large brass chandeliers had been hung from the ceiling, and they hovered low over the crowds, illuminating us all with a soft light. All around us, people were staring up at the dome and flashing their cameras in every direction. When we finished wandering around downstairs, we took an illuminated passageway to the second floor where we could see even better views of the famous Byzantine mosaics of Jesus and the Virgin and Child. Many of the mosaics have been painted over (In Islam, it’s disrespectful to have images of faces or animals in art), but some of the paint has been removed to reveal these historic mosaics. I heard some frustrated tourists, angry that the Ottomans had taken such a beautiful Cathedral and made it into the mosque. I guess I know how they felt; I felt the same way at La Mezquita in Cordoba. At least here, there was no polemic pamphlet literature to incite my wrath, and it’s not used as a place of worship anymore. It’s treated as a museum.

Back outside, we found stamps for our postcards and posted them, and hungry, we went in search of the real deal: kebaps. Outside Sultanhamet, one of the streets is lined with restuarants and cafes, and in the windows, the chefs are preparing their traditional meals. Women are rolling thin pitas; men are sharpening their massive knives and shaving meat of the spit for kebaps; boys are plunging enormous rods into steel barrels, lifting them, twirling the taffee, and then plunging them back into the barrels. As they work, they use their various implements to ring bells above their heads, and they shout, ‘kebaps! kebaps! kebaps!’ When tourists stop to take their picture, they look sternly over and say, ‘photo for 10 lire.’ The tourists look nervous, and then they toss a big smiles that seems to say, ‘just kidding!’

We bought two lamb kebaps (chicken or meat? they ask) and ate them as we walked back up to Sultanhamet Square. Passing the Hippodrome (the old arena), we saw an Eqyptian Obelisk (the Ottomans loved the spoils of war), and a very, very old bronze tower dating from the time of the Romans, when Istanbul was Constantinople.

Finishing our kebaps (and I’m not spelling that one wrong either), we entered the courtyard of the Blue Mosque. Although the Mosque is fully operational, the worshippers are kind enough to allow tourists to enter for free through a side entrance. We stood in line, watching as the tourists far in front of us took off their shoes, wrapped themselves in proffered blankets, and walked through a metal detector. To our side, worshippers were sitting at little individual spigots, washing their hands and feet for prayer. I have to admit; everything about Islam fascinates me. Just watching people wash their feet was more exciting than the Hagia Sofia (yeah, I know that’s hearsay for someone who has Art History degree).

Just as we were nearing the entry, the guards stopped and announced that the Mosque was closing for prayer. It would reopen again in an hour. The line dispersed, but Joshua and I decided to sit on the steps and read. After about 30 minutes, the call to prayer sounded from right above us, and we stopped just to listen.

After about an hour, people started to gather, and we were let in. Wrapping my new scarf about my hair and shoulders, I took off my shoes and entered. I love that Mosques are carpeted. How welcoming is that? The interior of the Mosque was lined in beautiful blue mosaic tiles, and in front, an altar faced Mecca. I watched as the stragglers finished their prayers, bowing from the waist, kneeling, touching their forheads to the ground. I felt so honored to watch. Women held their children and prayed. It was so much more alive than the Hagia Sofia.

Outside, we put our shoes back on, and I left the shawl around my shoulders so that we could go into the courtyard. Most Mosques are designed in the shape of a square: half of it is a courtyard, and half of it is where people pray. Surrounding the courtyard, there are often hamams (for bathing), libraries, and even schools. Mosques aren’t just for one day of the week; they are every day establishments meant to be used. In fact, one family was having a picnic on the steps (not that I would recommend that; the pigeons seemed to be uninvited dinner guests).

When we were done, we walked back through the square and into the tourist district to retrieve our bags from the hostel. Bumping into Carolina and Raful, we wished them a happy rest of their travels, and then we headed for the tram. Retracing the journey we had made the night before, we made our way to Otogar, and we got there about 45 minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave. In the mean time, I went in search of a little grub. I bought a kebap and a couple of pieces of baklava to share, and a banana each. By the time I got back, we were ready to get on the bus. We quickly stopped to use the restroom, and then we boarded.

Sitting in the very last seats, we congratulated ourselves on our extra elbow room and all around good fortune. Settling in, our seatmate arrived and introduced herself as Lucky. Lucky is from Chicago, she lives in a commune, and she was wearing (you guessed it) a tye-dye mumu and peace sign earrings. While we chatted, she told us that she intended to meet up with someone she had met at a rainbow gathering and that last night she had couch surfed for the very first time. In case you don’t know (and we certainly didn’t) couch surfing has got its act together in the past 5 years, and now they’re an official community (of sorts). They have a website, and if you have a couch, you can post it. If surfing is all you have to offer, that’s ok too. She and her couch host had been ‘very simpatico.’ We thanked her politely for her travel tidbit and stored it away in the we-will-never-use category. I don’t think we would find couch surfing very simpatico.

For the next 10 hours, I dozed. To call it sleeping is really a stretch. Every half hour or so, I woke up to a loudly complaining back muscle and had to reposition. Oh well. It was better than wasting 10 hours of daylight.

September 10, 2010

It just dawned on me where I got my tonsils/ hockey puck simile. You know when kids are making out and people our parents’ age call it ‘tonsil hockey?’ Yeah. That’s where I got it. Cute.

At this point, I’m having visions of taking a dull pair of scissors and just taking out the goddamn things myself. How messy could it really be? Aren’t they just unnecessary organs like your appendix and pinky toe? So I guess the answer to your next questions is, yes. They still hurt. And then, no. I won’t be undertaking any amateur surgery. Breathe easy.

When we arrived in Goreme, it was only 7:30. Hot air balloons were hovering just above the arrid landscape, and the sky was a hazy blue. Goreme is a very touristy place, and at first, I felt a little disappointed. There didn’t appear to be a non-tourist oriented home or business in sight. We got out the trusty LP and found our way to Ufuk Pension. The whole city was closed up, and we had the streets to ourselves. At Ufuk, Orhan, the innkeeper, greeted us and gave us a place to store our packs until our room opened up. Handing us a map of the area, he wished us happy hiking, and we set off. On our first stop, we loaded up on nuts, apples, a bag of chips, and 3 liters of water. Pausing to lube up with sunscreen, we tightened our shoelaces and set off.

Following the road out of Goreme, we passed the Open Air Museum (where you can see old cave churches and frescos) and the last of Goreme’s many hostels, hotels, and even camping villages. At the top of the road, we turned left onto a dirt track. It was here that my disappointment left me: I can draw parallels between Cappadocia and the Grand Canyon, Zion, and the Badlands, but the truth is, there’s no place like it. For the next 6 hours, we wandered throught the valleys and hills of this strange landscape, admiring the view around every turn. Like the Badlands, this is a landscape that is every shade of pink, yellow, and white sand imaginable. It too has folds and sculptural details with stretches of wavy sand that looks like wrinkly skin. Unlike the Badlands, the sand here has eroded into great conical spires that reach upwards into the clear, blue sky. Lining the path, tall, skinny trees reach their branches heavenwards as well. To make things even more surreal, people built their villages here. Even now, the valleys grow grapes, and huge, long sheets of plastic have bunches of drying purple sultanas. The rock has been carved to form caves for dwellings and monasteries, and higher up, dovecotes have been built to collect the guano for fertilizer (used to be, if you were a farmer in Cappadocia, you couldn’t find a proper wife if you didn’t have a decent dovecote).

As we wandered through the Rose Valley, we wondered how people ever would have climbed up into their homes, and when we stopped for an apple below one, Joshua decided to try and climb up. Apparently, the rock has well worn hand and footholds perfect for climbing, and in no time at all, Joshua was peering at me out of his rocky cave. I’m not nearly as brave, but I had to try, and I made it to the top too. Luckily, there was an easier way down out through the back, and I didn’t have to try to climb back the way I came.

We continued walking, passing some groups of guided tourists as we went, but mostly, we were alone. In one spot, we wandered off the path to explore more of the caves, and we found a beautiful chapel hidden behind a small vineyard. Inside, the 500 year old paintings were still in pretty good shape, except for all of the faces of the saints and Jesus had been very deliberately scraped off. That was kind of sad, but it didn’t ruin the fact that we had found our very own lost 15th century chapel. There had been no signs, and there was no one out there. Anywhere else, this would be a major tourist attraction, but here, it was just the two of us sitting beneath the ancient stone arches, looking out at the vineyard.

After a little rest, we puttered on, and eventually, we hit the village of Cavusir. Like Goreme, Cavusir has a thriving tourist sector, but at least here, we could see homes and businesses that had nothing to do with tourists. In one of the little shops, I spied hand made onyx dice, and I pointed them out to Joshua, telling him he needed to buy them or he would regret it. He bought 4 for 7 lire.

Above Cavusir, there is a ghost village in the caves and rocks that stretch high up and overlook the valley. We climbed up and wandered through the old homes, amazed all the while that we had the place to ourselves. At the top, we had an excellent view, and we listened to the Call to Prayer. It had gotten hot, so we decided to call it a day and head back along the dirt road to Goreme.

By the time we got back, we were absolutely weary. We had walked about 8 miles in the sun and heat, and neither one of us had slept very well the night before on the bus. Before we got to the hostel, we stopped to get more cash, and just to be on the safe side, we decided to buy our bus tickets back to Istanbul for Sunday night.

Well, that was the plan. There are five different bus companies at the Goreme Otogar, and all of them have at least two buses that go to Istanbul every night. All five of them were booked solid for Sunday night. Resigning ourselves to staying another night (and cutting it close: we’ll arrive in Istanbul at 7 AM on the day we’re leaving for India at 6 PM), we went down the line again. Finally, at the last company, we found the last two seats available. Thank GOD (or Allah or whomever) we decided to ‘play it safe.’ We would have been screwed, otherwise.

Back at Ufuk Pension, Orhan insisted on carrying both of our bags into our room (this man BELIEVES in hospitality), and we greatfully sank onto our bed. The room is simple, but it has a nice queen-sized bed and what Joshua likes to call a ‘shit ‘n shower’ ensuite (as you may have guessed, a shit ‘n shower is the space – and time – saving design that allows you to take a shower while you, er, use it at the very same time. Brilliant.)

While Joshua showered and… I laid on the bed and made an effort to catch up on my writing. We only just bought an adaptor yesterday, and I was afraid to waste battery power before that. As I said to Joshua, writing about Turkey takes more time too, because I can’t explain away vast swaths of time with ‘we biked. It was pretty.’

Showered, Joshua sat next to me on the bed, and within 30 minutes, were were both sound asleep. I woke up with my throat feeling like a gravel road, and I decided to take a shower. This might sound familiar, but rather than giving me relief, the shower made me feel like I was really going to pass out, and I stumbled out just in time to make it, dripping, on the bed.

I forgot to mention earlier that, although I had been doing ok, the tiny muscle in my eyelid had begun to stage a mini revolt. It twitched for three days straight and drove me absolutely nuts. It subsided this morning, but in its stead, my whole body has just informed me that it’s time to rest, m’dear (I tried to tell you nicely, but now I’m going to have to use the stick, etc.). We rested for the rest of the day in the hostel, napping, reading, and writing, and for a little dinner, Joshua went out to buy chicken kebaps and peachy jelly treats (which are actually pretty good). We’ll see what tomorrow brings.


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First Night in Istanbul

September 7, 2010 Cont’d

Once I had finished writing on the airplane, Joshua gave me a task: he handed me the Turkey Lonely Planet, and then he said, “look up all the Dangers and Annoyances.” I complied.

It’s no news that Lonely Planet is The Most Fabulous Travel Guide Book On Earth, but just in case the jury is still out (it isn’t), our friends over at the LP Office consolidate all your pre-travel worries into a nice little heading entitled, ‘Dangers and Annoyances.’ You can find this heading for Turkey as a whole (in the Index), as well as each individual region.

Research says, Turkey’s safe. Basically. There are your occasional tour scams, bar scams, and bus scams (more on that later), and the Turks are notoriously horrific drivers and not big on safety precautions like fences, railings, or ‘Wet Floor’ signs, but otherwise, it’s pretty much like traveling in any other European country. With a little bit of common sense and a healthy amount of skepticism, we’ll be fine. The only thing I do have to keep a lid on is my government bad-mouthing. Apparently, that’s a crime here, and to speak badly of Turkey or its government can get you thrown in the slammer (no place you want to visit, says LP).

After I had debriefed Joshua (don’t go to bars with strange boys or girls, don’t cross the street without looking twice, and don’t get snarky about politics), he shared some of his initial thoughts and observations. Namely, how amazed he was by the airline passengers’ total and complete disregard of rules. No one had waited after take off to get up out their seats, unbuckle their belts, or go potty. They hadn’t even waited for the airflight attendants to start walking! As we spoke, men were facing backwards, draped over their seats and having conversations with people three or four (or ten) rows back. People were laughing loudly, and in general, it felt a lot more like a family picnic than a flight. The man in front of us kept peering over the seats at us, clearly desperate to begin a conversation, but his limited English prevented any such exchange; we just shared big, goofy smiles instead. ‘I’m just waiting for someone to light up,’ Joshua summarized in the end, referring to both the rule-bending nature of our co-passengers and the Turk’s notoriety when it comes to smoking (LP says that a traditional Turkish joke is, ‘who smokes more than a Turk? Two Turks!).

The flight from London to Istanbul was pretty short. We arrived within four hours, and at the Sabiha Goken Airport, we followed the signs to first Visa Control (were we paid the equivalent of 20 dollars each for visas), and then Immigration. The line was ridiculously long, and as we waited, we listened the Turkish conversations going on around us. Is it just me, or does the language make the speaker sound just a little bit angry all the time?

Through immigration, we picked up our packs on the carousel (thank you, airline angels), and wandered in the direction of the airport shuttle to Taksim Square. Stuffing our packs into the luggage compartment underneath, we boarded the bus and took our seats. As we drove into the city (about an hour long journey), we stared out the window, wide-eyed and looked at each other every other minute saying, ‘can you believe we’re in Turkey?!’

The couple in front of us were pretty obviously tourists as well, and chatty Joshua struck up a conversation with the woman (the man appeared somewhat… Reticent.). The two of them were from New Zealand, and they had bought their tickets from London to Istanbul that morning. They hadn’t much time to plan at all, but so far, they were hoping to take three weeks to make their way from Istanbul back to London. Along the way, they wanted to see Greece and Croatia, but otherwise, they were ready to go wherever fate took them. She asked us about our upcoming travels, and when she found out that we were going to India next, she told us that she had been backpacking in India for three months (out of a 10 month-long trip), and she had loved it, which was good news because we’re taking pretty much the same route she had done.

In Taksim, we all got off the bus and loaded on our packs. Using the map in LP as a guide, we navigated our way across the square and then found the main street through the modern district. Our hostel was the fifth right down, and on our way, we stared at everything new, foreign, and all lit up. Although it was already nearly 9 PM on a Tuesday night, the place was in the midst of a party. People were eating, drinking, shopping, dancing, and walking all over. There were so many neon signs advertising tours, sales, tattoos, etc., that we felt dizzy with sensory overload by the time we reached SoHo Hostel.

Naturally, SoHo Hostel sits directly between two very large, very HAPPENING discotecas. Sweet. We checked in, chatted with the owner (who had spent 10 years in the U.S. and LOVED Texas), and walked up very windy, narrow, and steep flights of stairs to stow our bags and change. Unfortunately, the hostel was over-booked, so Joshua and I had to split up: he was in a 4 person mixed dorm with 3 Spanish girls, and I had a 6 person all girls dorm with 5 messy girls (of unknown origins).

In new clothes (and with our valuables on our backs) we set off in search of a good meal. This shouldn’t be very hard in Turkey – and it isn’t – but LP recommended a specific Meyhane (Turkish Tavern), Sofyali, and by god, we were going to find it. (We’ll walk anywhere for some good grub.)

Fortunately, less than a mile later, we had found our Meyhane of choice. Sitting outside on a slightly rickety table surrounded by other slightly rickety tables from our tavern and others, we watched as tourists and Turks – dressed to the nines and otherwise – strutted by. Turkey may be mostly Muslim, but don’t let this fool you: many women dress like they’re already on the beach, and there appears to be no shortage of alcohol.

Also, there was meat on the menu. And I’m just going to be up-front here: I’m a fairweather vegetarian, and I consider Turkey the perfect storm of roasted lamb, chicken, and what-else-have-you served up to tempt even the most stalwart of veggies – which, we have already established, I am not. I ordered the roasted lamb and veggies. Joshua ordered the sea bass wrapped in chard.

To begin, the waiter brought an enormous tray of starters, and selecting purely on the basis of color and texture, we chose two. One was some sort of spiced cheese which we then smeared on fresh baguette, and the other was stuffed bell pepper. When the meal came, we were not disappointed: although the rough translations on the menu had seemed a bit spartan, the actual dishes in front of us were colorful and lovely: sea bass wrapped in chard looks like stuffed grape leaves, and on the side, there was a cheesy-potato dish that had been baked until golden brown. For me, the roasted lamb came in its own little casserole dish, and on top, tomatoes and peppers were coated with a toasted layer of cheese. It was delicious, and we ate every last bite, switching plates half-way through so that we could have half of each entree. We closed our eyes and grunted inappropriately the whole time; we couldn’t help ourselves. It was that good.

Just as we were about to leave, a man walked by with a brightly painted box and two white rabbits on top. He asked us if we would like to see some ‘bunny trickery,’ but we politely declined. Another man wheeled a deep cart by with an open flame on one side, and popcorn spilling over the edges. Over the flame, he was shaking a closed metal container, and the corn inside was popping loudly. He asked us if we would like some dessert, and when we refused, he moved on to the next table.

As we were walking away, the ‘bunny trickery’ man had found his mark: two blonde tourists who were now holding white bunnies in their hands, looking at the man with a distinct expression of alarm. What comes next?

Before we made it back to SoHo Hostel, we stopped for some Turkish Delights. The candy store had a wide selection of every brightly colored confection available, and we ordered 10 pieces of 10 different kinds. Don’t ask me what they were called; I have no idea. As we walked, we ate them one by one. They won over Joshua, but I am not a fan. It tasted like marshmellow taffy with a coating of pistachios or jelly on the outside.

Back at SoHo, we said goodnight and parted ways. In my room, two of the messy girls were already sleeping, but through the window, the sounds of the discoteca were pouring in. I’m pretty sure the walls and the beds were shaking from the beat. Through the night, I recall being awake much more than not, and I was bitten by a hundred mosquitoes. The loud, loud music did not stop until it was almost getting light, and by the time my alarm went off, my tonsils felt like hockey pucks in the back of my throat. Hockey pucks that are very, very sore.


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Thurso to London to Istanbul

No spell-check, so you’re at my mercy!

September 3, 2010

When you’re done; you’re done. No one wants to cross the finish line and then hop back on the saddle, but Ducansby Head happens to be 22 miles from the nearest Train Station. When I woke up the next morning, I stared at the ceiling of the tent, mustering the conviction necessary to break down our campsite for the last time.

But Joshua isn’t one to dally; if there’s an unpleasant task in the offing, he’s the first in line. As soon as he saw me stir and open my eyes, he was ready to ‘get ‘er done.’ Fortunately, I can cram the sleeping things into their respective sacks in no time flat, and I could probably set up or take down our little tent with my eyes closed. Speaking of which, that’s a pretty tempting challenge, given the grotesque midge carnage that lines the damp underside of the fly.

Saying goodbye to our little piece of beach on the very edge of Scotland, we pedaled up and away. We stopped briefly in John O’Gross to see if they had postcards we could send to our families, but as expected, the Tourist Office was good for nothing. Before we left, a man spotted us and ran over to – I assumed – compare the number of days it had taken us to make the journey. I tried to pretend I didn’t see him, but Joshua politely paused and gave him the numbers he wanted (even though I had expressly told him to toss back the question to the next sorry sod who asked with, “actually, we didn’t really do end to end. We decided to go sea to sea too,” effectively evading the question but maintaining a degree of impressive dignity). Fortunately for him, the man did not smirk and instead applauded us for taking our time and seeing Britain ‘the right way.’ It’s a good thing too; I would have gotten just a titch rude if one more cycling-snot-face got uppity with us. Sheesh.

It was another beautiful day, and it was made even more glorious by the knowledge that I would be able to shower very, very soon. My hair does not look sexy and toussled the day after 24 hours of not showering; it looks like a grease helmet. I will leave 168 hours of not showering to your imagination. Run wild.

Outside of Castletown, we stopped briefly to admire the coast. With a wide swath of white sand and grassy sand dunes just beyond, it was a very pretty picture. We ate our strawberry rice pudding breakfast happily, and when we finished, we slowly began riding again. Even though we were ready to be done, we weren’t about to race back to Thurso. We were tired.

We pulled in front of Sandra’s Backpacker Hostel just after noon. Thankfully, we were able to check in right away, and as soon as we locked up our bikes and carried our panniers to our private room, I leapt into the shower. It was heaven. When I got out, I dressed in my brand new outfit from Inverness, and Joshua took his turn in the shower too.

20 minutes later, we were new people. In comparison, all of our things smelled really, really bad, and instead of tyring to clean them right away, we ran to the grocery store to stock up on food for the next few days. Loaded down with our culinary treasures, we stopped to eat our lunch near the river. As we were munching on our cheese and cucumber sandwiches, we watched a lone seal paddle up to some rocks in the middle of the river. Hefting himself onto his perch, he basked in the sun, stretching his little flippers and arching his back like a ballerina at the bar. Joshua suggested that he might be preening for a circus talent search.

Once we’d finished eating, we wandered into the Thurso Tourist Office. Fortunately, they had postcards for John O’Groats, and we bought 11 of them to send to the family. After all, it took more than just two people to get from one end to the other. Back at the hostel, we tidied up, wrote the postcards, and then went online.

While I would probably be able to survive without the internet, I’m as vulnerable as anyone else to the neferious tentacles of cyberspace. I checked my e-mail, facebook, and my blog. Once I had read everyone’s comments and various correspondence, I wrote e-mails to everyone I could think of. I’m trying to be better about staying in contact, and instead of loathing my various virtual accounts (as I used to), I love them now. Everyone’s information is in one place, and I can be reasonably certain that they’ll get my missives within the next couple of days. You’re going to be so connected to me, you’re going to miss the old Ellie. The one who could have been in her room in Tacoma, WA or maybe Pluto; you weren’t sure.

Moving downstairs to the kitchen, Joshua introduced me to goodreads, and there went another couple of hours. It’s like crack for people who love to read. After a while, we skyped with different members of the fam (it was Eamon’s birthday), and while I continued to get sucked into cyberspace, Joshua cooked a fabulous meal of eggplant with home-made tomato sauce and mozarella on top.

While we ate, we met a couple other people in the hostel. Diana, an older woman from Suffolk, was very impressed by My Husband the Chef, and we chatted about our upcoming travels. She had taken the train to Thurso the day before, and for the next few days, she planned to hike the coast and visit the Orkney Islands. We bonded over a mutual love of dogs, and she exposed us to our very first English Soap Opera. Tom, a University student from Bristol, had just completed his very own cycle journey from end to end, and even though he did compare our numbers (it had taken him 11 days), I forgave him. He was way too awkward and lonely not to, and instead, I yacked on and on, asking him questions and detailing our favorite parts of the ride. Funnily, he was absolutely flabbergasted that the Northeat Coast made it into our top 3 days. As far as he knew, it was Britain’s most top-secret national treasure: he’d never heard of its beauties before.

Once Joshua and I were finished pigging out on our eggplant bake (yum, yum, delicious), we crashed and burned. Joshua thought to complain about the poky springs in his mattress (our bed was two twins unceremoniously pushed together), but I was already asleep. I’ll take a poky mattress over a tree root in my rib any day.

September 4, 2010

/I’d like to tell you that we took full advantage of our time in Thurso to discover its hidden treasures and little-known underbelly, but we did not. Instead, I can’t even really tell you what we did. I know that hours passed, but other than reading, eating, and writing, we didn’t really do anything else. Joshua took our racks and things off the bikes so that we could sell them, and he also spearheaded the laundry project. He posted our bikes on gumtree and craigslist for 120 pounds each, and he did a bit more research into Turkey. Comparitively, I was utterly unproductive. Later in the day, disgusted by my own sloth, I went for a run, and in an effort to contribute, I posted our mail and went to the pharmacy to buy Vitamin C and Foot Powder for Joshua. I ran for about 6 miles along the river and then I ended up on the beach. The sky was still clear, and although it was a bit windy, I was able to run in a tank top. I stopped on the sand to lunge, kick, and squat like Denise Austin, and when I was satisfied that I had accomplished something, I went back to the hostel.

For dinner, I used a dull knife to hack up root vegetables. Tossing them in oil, salt, and pepper, I shoved them in the oven (guessing at the temperature), and then whipped up a little tomato sauce with our left over pepper and onion. It wasn’t bad, if I do say so myself, and when the various internationals came into the kitchen with their palsy dinners of canned baked beans and spaghetti, they looked over enviously at us. When they discovered we were Americans, they almost keeled over. (American’s who are slim, know how to cook, and love being outside? Are you sure? Then they looked at our vapor-wicking clothing and sensible footwear and thought, ‘I guess it must be true.’)

September 5, 2010

Joshua and I decided that we wouldn’t forgive ourselves if we didn’t do SOMETHING today, so after we slept in, we packed our new little day bag with picnic food and set off for the beach. Walking along the shore, we found a path that led us by an old, falling apart castle, and eventually, dunes that lined a rocky coast. We walked for a few hours, enjoying the breeze and the sea-salt spray. While we walked, we talked about our fabulous country dream home. Here are the integral components:

1) Plenty of rooms for guests.
2) A big, beautiful kitchen suitable for cooking for guests.
3) A big, beautiful dining room suitable for feeding guests.
4) A warm, cozy living room suitable for entertaining guests.
5) A fabulous garden.
6) A bon-fire pit.
7) A walk-in closet (really a separate room) for my massive wardrobe (all 300 gallons).

In addition, we talked about the sort of things that we planned to do with our guests. Here are some examples:

1) Scavanger hunts. No one is too old for scavanger hunts.
2) Mini low-ropes course. Some leadership games should be stolen and made into really great party games.
3) Feed them.
4) Have great big themed parties, like Halloween and Summer Solstice. We’ll dance and dunk for apples. It will be grand.
5) Tuck them away in their rooms and give them rest.
6) Cooking. Crafting.
7) Bon-fires.

We also planned the things that we would like to learn how to make:

1) Fabulous home-made bread.
2) Cheese. Lotsa cheese.
3) Preserves, canned sauces and chutneys, you know: country stuff.
4) Liquor (Lesley’s inspired me to make things like sloe gin and cherry brandy… This is what we’ll drink at our bon-fires.)

So, basically, the dream is that ya’ll come on out and have fun with us on our farm. Lesley said that if I want something, I should put it out there into the world, so here it is: I want a community. I want friends and family in my house all the time. I want big, fabulous meals, and I want bon-fires. I want to grow veggies, and I want a stove like Lesley’s that keeps the house warm all the time. If you find that you love it all as much as we do, maybe we’ll build you a little house so you can live there, too. Is that weird? Or is that the best idea ever?

Back at the hostel, I went down to the kitchen to make some soup while Joshua organized our things. In the next 36 hours, we’ll be taking the train from Thurso to London, stopping overnight at David’s, and then taking the bus to Stansted, where we’ll catch a plane to Istanbul. It’s gonna be crazy, so we took the extra time in Thurso to clean all our things and organize them. When we get to David’s, hopefully, it will be quick enough to pack our backpacks and head on our way.

When the soup was ready, Diana walked in to the kitchen, and realizing that I had made enough to feed all of Thurso, we invited her to join us. She really was a lovely lady, and we spent a couple of hours drinking tea and talking about travels done and planned. She’s going on a trip to Norway this winter. When she’s there, she’ll get to go dogsledding, see the fjords, and view the Northern Lights. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Once we had cleaned up and I had given Diana an arty calling card, we headed up to bed. Tomorrow to London!

September 6, 2010

I woke up in the middle of the night with my tonsils the size of golf balls. I fell back asleep, but not before I realized the full import of my new ailment: traveling by plane, train, bus, etc. is absolutely miserable when you don’t feel well. When the alarm went off at 7, I could barely talk. I hopped in the shower, hoping the steam would loosen something up, but instead, the heat made me feel like I was going to pass out.

By the time I had gotten dressed, I realized that all the bones in my body and especially my lower-back had the special I-have-a-fever ache. Feeling like I was about to die, I rolled back into bed while Joshua sorted out our last minute packing business and ate his breakfast. Stacy (my roommate from college and fellow teacher in NOLA) had told me once that fasting while your sick can sometimes clear up things, and since I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry anyway, I thought, why not?

Once we were ready to go, we slung our panniers onto our bikes and pedaled the half-mile to Thurso Station. I sat on a bench in my sick haze until the train came and then we loaded our bikes onto their racks, stored our packs, and took a seat.

I understand that trains are nice. They’re romantic, and they are a wonderful, eco-friendlish mode of public transport. They’re a great way to see the country. Hurrah for trains. That said, their freaking seats don’t recline, and they’re some of the most uncomfortable seats on Earth. Some sadistic bastard decided it would be a great idea to arch the seats inwards so you’re not only sitting absolutely upright, but you’re head is also shoved forward. I could find no relief. The train ride from Thurso to Inverness was something like 3 hours long. Once we got there, we boarded another train to Edinborough. In our 30 minute transition, Joshua bolted into town to buy a Turkey guide book (we hadn’t been able to find one at all).

The ride to Edinborough was another 4 hours or so, and then we boarded another train for London. Ultimately, the train got in at 10 PM. The first train had left at 8 AM. My tonsils were swollen and sore. My back ached. I couldn’t find a single position comfortable enough to sleep in, and I was terribly, horribly motion sick. It was miserable. I cried a couple of times, and I was so sick I didn’t even care that I was making all the very reserved, elderly English people uncomfortable with my emotional display. I couldn’t read because that made me feel like I was going to spew all over the seat in front of me, and I couldn’t write on my laptop for the same reason. I couldn’t look outside because the jerky motion of everything sliding by made me want to die, and I couldn’t lie down on Joshua because he’s too skinny now. He’s not comfortable anymore. Damned bicycle ride. (We figure he burned somewhere between 3000 – 4000 calories a day. Whoa.)

When we finally arrived in King’s Cross Station, we disembarked (alighted, said the train stewardess) and gathered our bikes and panniers. Thinking we could take the Northern Line to London Bridge, we entered the gates with our Oyster cards, but then a very mean man yelled at me a lot and made us turn around. NO BIKES!!! Upstairs, we found an alternate route through the First Capital Connect, but my Oyster card wouldn’t let me through because I had already tried to go through on the Northern Line. While Joshua waited with our bikes, I went back to the very mean man to explain my problem, and he told me (tersely) to go wait in line at the Info desk to have my card recharged. The people in front of me spoke approximately no English, and although I should be sympathetic to these sorts of travelers (I’m about to be one myself), it was very annoying to have to wait such a long time when I was feeling so sick. Finally, very mean man saw that I was still waiting patiently and decided to take matters into his own hands. He walked up to me, wordlessly took my Oyster card, and went and did the recharge himself. I guess he wasn’t so mean after all.

Back upstairs, Joshua and I both swipped our Oyster cards just in time to catch the last train to London Bridge. Or so we thought. When we got down to the platform, it was empty except for a couple of janitors with their trolleys. They told us that the strike had started. Errr… What?

Upstairs, the people at the information desk explained that the Underground was going on strike for 24 hours, starting tonight. We could take an alternate bus route to London Bridge; we should be able to take our bikes on board. We had our Oyster cards recharged once more, and then we waited outside in the rain for the bus. When it came at 10:30, the bus driver told us that he wouldn’t take our bikes. Joshua pleaded with him, and fortunately, the man reluctantly agreed to take us, bikes and all.

At London Bridge, we caught another connecting train to Dartford via Greenwich. It was 11:15 by the time we got to Charlton Station, and by then, I was completely dead on my feet. We hopped on our bikes and pedaled to the Naylor-Roll’s through the rain.

Finally, finally, we arrived, and David let us in. We quickly stored the bikes, and seeing that we were absolutely weary, David shooed us off to bed. I wasn’t about to argue.

September 7, 2010

Joshua woke up at 6 AM, but since he’s a really, really wonderful husband, he let me sleep for almost another hour. As I drifted in and out of sleep, I tried to swallow around my enormous tonsils, which proved to be a very unpleasant and nearly impossible task. Fortunately, the deep bone-ache I had been feeling yesterday was gone. Joshua was packing our backpacks in the room next door, and every once in a while, he came over with items for me to veto or select. Arty calling cards? Yes. Nail polish? No. Skirt? No. Waterless shampoo? Yes.

After a little while, I decided I was awake enough and I had swallowed enough times that my tonsils didn’t feel like they were about to crack anymore. I got up and sorted through the toiletry kit: antibiotics? Check. Fluconazole? Check. Immodium? Paracetemol? Check, check. I’m not about to get Delhi-Belly.

We said goodbye to David, who was looking particulary smart in a light-reflective cycling jacket, cycling cleats, and a shnazzy little pack. He’s riding his bike to work again now that his clavicle has healed, and he looked almost gleeful getting on his bike. Cycling doesn’t seem to be a acquired taste for this man, I think it may have been love at first sight. But you know what? Even though I used to absolutely HATE bicycling, I actually kind of like it now. Even last night when we were riding the short distance from Charlton Station to the Naylor-Roll’s, I was thinking, ‘well, isn’t this nice?’ I think I just might actually understand the affection David has for his bicycle: I (gasp) feel it too.

All packed, we said quick hello/goodbyes to Jessica and Sophie as they left for school, and then we hopped in the car with Rosemary and Owen. The night before, David had found us an alternate route to reach Stansted Airport online, and to begin, Rosemary kindly dropped us off at the Blackheathe Bus Stop. Thanks a million to the Naylor-Rolls for all your help! We appreciate you!

From Blackheathe, we boarded a bus headed for Stratford Station. There were a lot of really crochety Londoners grumbling about the Underground strike and their alternate bus routes, and it wasn’t until we reached Greenwich Station that we realized that our bus, the one that said ‘108 Stratford,’ wasn’t actually going to Stratford. Luckily, we were still able to take a connecting bus to Stansted, and when the bus had finished the route, we disembarked in the middle of no-where. Seriously. It appeared to the middle of a highway. We waited for fifteen minutes or so, and then the bus going to Stansted arrived. We loaded our packs into the undercarriage, and then we tried to board. Nope, said the bus driver, you need to pre-purchase tickets. Wha? You need to pre-purchase tickets on-line. We begged. Thankfully, he conceded.

In all, it really wasn’t that bad. Despite a couple of close calls, we arrived at Stansted around 10 AM, two hours after we had left the Naylor-Rolls. The tickets for all of our buses cost about 10 pounds each, and after dreading this particular leg of the journey ever since we realized my goof, we were pleased.

Stansted is a really nice and relatively new airport. We killed time by browsing through the shops and buying some lunch. We ate our pesto pasta salad and sarnie overlooking the tarmac, and then we went to check in our packs. Going through security, a sketch-ball behind us whispered in thickly accented English, “I’ve got two carry-ons. Will you take one?” Joshua looked at him, askance. “No!” he pratically shouted, not wanting to be associated with any ellicit acts of terrorism. I, of course, wanted to soften the blow and reassured him that his bags were small – he shouldn’t have a problem.

On the other side, we watched to see if he was stopped going through security, and when he wasn’t, we walked away assured that he wasn’t carrying some sort of explosive or sharp device. Taking a shuttle to our gate, we sat and waited for the boarding call. I wrote for a while, and Joshua paced, worrying about Turkey. He’s nervous about the whole language barrier thing. As for me, yesterday I wasn’t looking even remotely forward to our little rendezvous in Turkey. I was sick, and I have no interest in traveling whilst battling a bug. But today, after a healthy dose of Ibuprofen (my new miracle drug) and a pack of menthol Halls, I’m a new woman. My tonsils still hurt, but I’m feeling a little better. Turkey, here I come!

Besides writing, I was doing some serious people watching, and although I feel a little bit bad about staring at women with veils, I couldn’t help myself. It’s not that I’m judging them; it’s actually completely opposite. I actually think they’re really beautiful. The scarves are so lovely, and most of the women have heavy eye make up. They’re gorgeous. One woman, in particular, looked like a goddess: she was wearing this long, shapeless shift and a loose head scarf that framed her black, cherubic face. I pointed her out to Joshua as, “one of the most beautiful women alive.” It’s not just the Muslim women either; Londoners are good looking. They’re a smorgasboard of races and colors, and all of them are wearing the most beautiful clothing side by side.

Finally, we boarded the plane, and right now, we’re snacking on the most delicious in-flight food ever: stuffed peppers?! Take-off was a little shaky (with some of the scariest turbulence I’ve ever experienced), but we’re smooth sailing now. Everyone is speaking Turkish, and I’ve given up before I’ve even started. How do they smash all those consonants into one word?