Monday, February 11, 2008

of course, another train

Belgrade, Serbia

I must be crazy. After getting back to the Asian Istanbul train station Sunday morning, I went to the European train station Monday night, bought my sleeping car reservation, some Turkish Delight for my hosts, and boarded the one car on the train that was going to Belgrade. It was a pretty empty car - and no one really spoke English or Turkish - just serbian. Before even leaving Turkey, I was once again back to speaking with my hands. Now that I am able to communicate most things that I want in Turkish, I had gotten used to not needing to speak with my hands to get things done.

The conductor made up my bed, and at 10 the train left and I went straight to sleep. I was woken up about 2 in the morning, and put my coat on over my pajamas, and walked out into the fog, down the stairs and under the other tracks to the station where I waited in line to get stamped out of Turkey. But before they would give me back my passport, I had to fill out a survey about my time in Turkey. Where I had stayed, how much money I had spent, etc. The whole thing was entirely surreal. And then they got on the train to make sure everyone had been stamped out. Why they can't just stamp you out on the train like most other countries is beyond me. One stop later the Bulgarian officials came on the train, stamped us into Bulgaria, and then I was allowed to return to sleep.

The next day I woke up when we stopped in Sofia. I ate lunch, then went out to explore. It was when I got out of the station to see the very distinctive front of the train station, I realized I had been here before, running to catch a train in the summer of 2005, and making it literally a minute before the train left. No such stress this time, and the train continued on. At the border between Bulgaria and Serbia one of the guys actually searched my entire bag, and we continued. We got into Belgrade late, at about 9:20 local time, and I couldn't find Petra. So I got money, and after several tries bought a card to work in the pay phone (stupid turkcell doesn't work outside the country).
Unfortunately I couldn't get the phone to work, and only found petra at around 10, when I realized there was another section of the train station. She had been frantically looking for me for 40 minutes. I felt horrible. We took a tram and then a bus to her house. It was really great to see her again! Her mom (who speaks no English and is originally from Croatia) fed us both the most amazing pizza ever (eaten with Ketchup - and for the record Petra did eat it with Ketchup, something I am told she never does) I tried hard to stay awake and be social, but around midnight gave up and went to sleep on the bed that pulls out from under Petra's bed - a trundle bed I suppose.

In Petra I have found a fellow sleepyhead, and so we were not good at getting up early. Around noon we made our way downstairs and her mom had made breakfast. First was a sort of french toast, eaten with sour cream and ham. That's right - real ham!! and then crepes with nutella and jam. mmmmm. After breakfast we headed out so that Petra could give me a tour of the city. We decided to walk to the center instead of taking the bus, and half way there stopped at the newish tea house that sells all sorts of different kinds of tea. I had really nice green tea, a welcome change after so many glasses of Turkish tea. Then on to see Petra's high school (depressing looking) and primary school (full of happy looking kids with flowers on the window).

Next on the tour was the Temple of the Holy Sava. It's huge and still under construction. Sava is the name of one of the rivers that flows through Belgrade (the other is the Danube), and is also the name of their patron saint. At first I wasn't impressed by the temple, but the inside is amazing. The entire space is open - no pillars or anything and at the moment very simple. I hope they keep it simple and don't over decorate it, because at the moment its beauty is in its simplicity. We also visited the small older church next door, with walls and ceilings covered in paintings. Petra pointed one image out to me - The ottomans burning the remains of Saint Sava so that people would not know where to pray.

Next we bought sushi, and walked down the main pedestrian street to Kalemegdan fortress. As Petra put it "American girl coming from Turkey enjoying in Japanese food with a view on the Serbian river and city from Kalemegdan...classical example of a multicultural experience.:)" From the outside, I thought the fortress looked pretty small, but it's huge. We walked the grounds, went into Saint Ruzica's Church, and did a little bit of exploring as it got dark. Petra knows an enormous amount about the fortress, who the statues are of, who the paintings are of, and about her city in general. She made a fantastic tour guide, and put up with lots of my questions.

Our last stop was Skadarlija, the cutest cobblestone street, lined with lots of nice and cute restaurants. On the way home we stopped at Petra's favorite coffee shop - Coffeedream for fancy coffee. I had a cinnamon latte (No starbucks in Belgrade!) and it was super and we sat there and talked for forever. I feel like I have found a friend to whom I could tell anything. And who I can walk arm and arm with down the streets.

Back at Petra's house we ate the lentil soup her mom had made and then, concluding we were too tired to go out, watched The Notebook which had me crying the entire second half.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

In which: there is a difference of opinion about temperature

Konya, Turkey

Saturday morning we visited a cave church in Göreme. It was locked, and we were going to give up, when the people in the house next door emerged, and said, oh yes, we have the key. We we went back up the snow to look at the church.

We caught the 11:30 bus to Konya, arriving a bit before 3. We took the tram back to the center, this time with no injured parties, and found Ipek Yolu, or Silk Road, a carpet shop, near Mevlana's tomb, owned by a guy named Mehmet, that friended our family when were were in Konya in 2001. When we walked in he looked surprised, but when I told him I was Sarah and William's kizi (daughter) he remembered me. You were so young the last time you were here, he told me. We sat and talked for a while. His family is doing well, there were some american university students that visited his village for 3 days, I should come back any time, but in June and July there will be a cherry harvest in the village. When his driver took his father home, we also got a ride to the train station.

We got on the train, and everything was good. A guy came in, turned on our heater, and showed us how to use the control. Then, a couple of Turkish guys got on with no luggage, except for food. Oh good, we thought, they aren't going to be on all night. But no, they were going to Istanbul. Ingo and I went to the dining car for dinner (I love dining cars on trains!!), and returned to find our room very very hot. Not having anything to do, we concluded maybe we could just go to sleep. The idea seemed to work better for Ingo than me. Because I am used to sleeping in a room with no heating, a room that is a very dry 35 or 40 C is not a good place for me to sleep. At around midnight, after I had opened the window half an inch, one of the guys tried to close it because he said he was cold. I offered him my blanket, which he turned down. In the Turkish world, a cold draft means you will get sick, just as putting ice in a drink will give you a cold, and god forbid you eat ice cream in the winter.

Not being able to stand the heat, I walked down the train in search of someplace cooler. I ended up sitting at the end of a car, in the doorway people use to exit the train. There were a couple of Turkish guys there smoking, who decided they needed to ask the weird foreigner who wanted to sit in the cold questions. Where are you from, what are you doing in Turkey, do you like Turkey, which is better, America or Turkey, does everyone in America have blue eyes? what color are your eyes? how old are you? And more than a few times - aren't you cold? you can go inside and sit in my seat. do you want my jacket? The idea that I could like a place that wasn't overheated was a bit beyond their imagination, even after I had explained it several times.

It was at this point that I realized how male dominated my trip had been. There is the obvious, I was traveling with a guy, but that's not what I mean. Except for one or two very short conversations, all the conversations I had had on the trip were with guys. The guys on the train to Konya, guys in the Konya bus station, guys in the hotel in Eğirdir, guys in the restaurant in Eğirdir, the three guys that ran the hostel in Kapadokya, guys in the carpet shop in Konya, guys on the train back to Konya. I talked to a woman in a pension we didn't stay in in Eğirdir, a very strange woman waiting for the night bus to Kapadokya, and a bit to an american and a korean woman staying in the hostel. I had gotten a lot of practice with my Turkish, but it had all been with guys!

Anyways, when people needed to get out the door I was sitting in, I moved into a free seat in the car. When a guy got on, and claimed the seat, I went back to my car and sat in the hall. And then the conductors came by, asked me if I had a ticket, and told me I had to go back inside. When I told them it was too hot, they told me to turn off the heat and so I did. A few hours later, the Turkish guys got cold and turned back on the heat. I think I finally fell asleep around five and woke up at nine. Our train was supposed to have arrived at six, but we didn't get in until 10, four hours late, making it a 16 hour trip.

In conclusion (this sounds like an essay now), I really like Turks, but have no desire to ever again be in a train compartment again with Turks where the heater has only two settings - very hot and off. Also, it is now time to go hang out with my female friend!


Göreme, Turkey

The guy on the bus told us that because of snow, the bus was not going to Göreme as usual. We could get off in Nevşehir, and then try to get from Göreme from there. The bus ride was long - with two half hour stops, that were mostly useless. We got to Nevşehir at about 7 in the morning, and had our first real experience with the extremely over friendly stranger. Oh, there are no buses to Göreme. About 20 minutes later though, a dolmuş went. I can see why the bus didn't go down that road. There was too much downhill, with turns and snow for a big bus. We got there safely, and after investigating the three places with dorms, settled on one called Rock Valley. As we wandered, snow was falling and we were befriended by a street dog. Kapadokya covered in snow looks magical!

After eating some breakfast and sleeping for an hour, Ingo and I put on lots of layers, and then headed out into the snow. As we walked down the road out of town we collected dogs. There was the dog from earlier in the morning, then another english setter looking dog, and later, two more. After a bit, we turned off the main road to follow some tire tracks, in hopes of finding one of the two love valleys - complete with fairy chimneys (very phallic looking rock formations). The track was beautiful, but we found no fairy chimneys, and so, we decided to go off roading. In the shallow places, the snow covered my feet, in the deepest places, it went up to my knees. There were also about four times that I ended up sitting down in the snow after loosing my balance. I have to say, snow shoes would have been useful, and walking in the snow is hard work. By the end, my jeans (which are cuffed because they are too long) were full of snow and frozen. We did find the fairy chimneys.

Thinking to go to the Göreme open air museum, we went back to the main road, stopping near the entrance for some gozleme and sahlep. Most of the cafe was unheated, but the guy took pity on us, and brought us into the office, where we took off our shoes and socks and put them in front of the wood stove, in hopes that they would dry. I think it was a completely different experience than you would have in the summer. Guys came in for tea, chatted, and mostly ignored us, except for making concerned comments about how we were wet and going to get sick. In the summer, everyone would be in tourist mode, and we would never have been allowed back stage, so to say.

We decided not to go inside the museaum due to the enterance fee, but on the way down the hill spotted a sign. Reading it, we discovered it was for a church. But upon trying to enter we were asked for our tickets. We have no tickets I told the guy in Turkish. I guess we must have looked pittiful, covered in snow, trying to peer in through the doorway, and so the guy motioned us in. It was amazing! The church is carved out of the rock, with walls completely covered in paintings, and is from the 12th century

We returned to the hostel, and went to the restaurant/common room, where they have moved the couches and chairs to form a circle around the wood stove. And it was there that I sat until I went to sleep. The guys in the hostel had cooked, so we stayed there for dinner. It's very cozy, and at the same time has windows show an amazing view of kapadokya. There is also a cat named Kaplan (tiger), although I think he looks more like a lion than a tiger.

The next day was similar to the first. And I had french toast for breakfast! Best french toast in Turkey, the guy had told me when we looked at the hostel. And it was indeed delicious. It was ingo's first time eating french toast, and he is already planning to make it, as well as the variations he could make. "What if you added cheese?" he asked Something I had never thought of.

We retraced our way along the road to the open air museum, picking up another street dog there that I named Barney (after the flintstones character), and then continued up the hill to Ortahisar, or middle castle. The castle thing is a huge stone, that has been carved out with many caves.
Unfortunately, signs in 3 languages proclaimed that it was dangerous and we were not allowed to enter. So we walked around it, and then went in search of a way to get down into the valley behind. We didn't find one, but really liked Ortahisar. It's a much more real place than Göreme.

Cold and hungry, we caught a bus to Ügrüp, a city whose name I still can't pronounce. There we had pide, more sahlep (it's like liquid sütlaç, says Ingo), and found a bank. Much as I love my bank card, it only seems to have parnerships with a few of the banks in Turkey, and machines of other banks will not give me money. We had thought to go to mustafapaşa, but instead went back to the hostel, to sit in the nice warm chairs around the wood stove.