Monday, June 19, 2006

June 17
After a week in Istanbul, and with all the visas we could get (or had time to wait for), we took a train to Eastern Turkey. Early Friday morning, with our backpacks overloaded with books and equipment, we walked toward the bus that could take us across the river bridge and to the ferry that would take us to the train station. Reaching the bus stop, we realized that it was too early to buy a bus ticket and started walking down the hill towards the bridge. Maybe it was because we were a little sleep deprived and without caffeine, but about a mile later we found ourselves walking across the bridge, legs and backs aching from the massive cargo we were hauling. I guess we were just too stubborn to take a taxi. At least we provided some entertainment for the local commuters; one guy attempted a garbled “good morning” in English and then just started laughing at us as he passed by. He even turned around a couple of times to look again, still laughing. I guess normal people don’t walk around with huge backpacks on.

By the time we reached Haydarapasha, the train station on the Asian shore of Istanbul, Sonja was in a particularly foul mood—one hour without even tea (never mind water or food) and a mile long hike with perhaps 75 extra pounds will make anyone crabby, but especially one who likes the morning caffeine boost (although, Andy seemed to do just fine without any caffeine) So, we grabbed a quick cup of tea before jumping onto the train.

When we originally reached Istanbul, everyone was telling us, “Take the bus, the trains are no good; they’re too slow.” But about three quarters of the way through our stay, we heard the opposite story from those who had a bit more experience traveling in Turkey. Well, after our experience with train station information clerks and our mutual love for train transportation, we decided that the train was the way to go. Dogu Expressi to Erzurum, only 56 YTL (the new Turkish Lira, which we have given our own nickname, Yentil) per person (that’s about $35 US) for a private sleeper compartment with two beds and a sink! It took longer than the bus, a total of 36 hours, but the scenery was spectacular . . . farms and mountains and rolling hills and fields.
Tons of wildflowers and beehives, too. And we got breakfast and could stretch and walk around and . . . well, were so glad we took the train. The mattresses on our train beds were far superior to the crappy mattress we’d been sleeping on in Istanbul, which was at the same time soft and springy, resulting in hard patches of wires (i.e. springs) sticking into your body at random points. There were families in all of the compartments around us and the older couple next door was particularly friendly. The woman kept talking to us, even though we managed to tell her (with the help of our travel guide) that we did not understand Turkish.
There are a good number of words shared in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish so Sonja has been continuously trying to communicate simply by speaking in a weird Persian/Arabic mix-and-match. Surprisingly, it sometimes works; at least she’s finding out which words, usually Arabic-derived, are common in all languages.

As we write this we are in Erzurum, a large city for Eastern Turkey, but not too big at all. We are both very much looking forward to getting to a small place, though, and escaping the crowded sidewalks and anarchic traffic (Andy especially wants to escape the crazy traffic). We walked the streets and weren’t surprised (after Istanbul) to see small jewelry stores lining one street and pots and pans the next. (All merchants of the same ware tend to stick to the same area, so if you need a pair of shoes, you know the street to go to.) We entered a restaurant and astounded the wait staff with our lack of knowledge of the Turkish language, which marked us as foreigners. That’s one thing about Erzurum, at least—we didn’t see any other travelers out and about, a delightful and welcome change after the tourist capital of Sultanahmet in Istanbul. Tomorrow we will head to Trabzon, on the Black Sea coast.

June 19

From Erzurum, we took a lovely bus ride through seemingly endless mountains. Stunning views were accompanied by hair raising (or palm sweating, in Andy’s case) drop-offs alongside the road. We knew we had broken through to the Black Sea coast side when, coming over the top of a pass, everything was suddenly lush green. Small villages dotted the landscape and we reached Trabzon by sunset.

With little information about Trabzon and with few Turkish Lira left (it was Sunday and all the banks were closed), we hopped aboard the first dolmush (shared taxi-bus) that would pick up two strange travelers with huge backpacks. The folks in the city center of Trabzon were entertained as we aimlessly wandered toward the closest street with hotels. Con Otel (pronounced Jon Hotel) looked within our price range and when the old man behind the window excitedly waved us in, we couldn’t resist. The owners here are very, very nice and eager to talk to western travelers. They serve a wonderful cup of chay (tea) and a standard Turkish breakfast . . . although, we do have the feeling that the notes we took from the Mavi Guesthouse’s tour book about the pervasiveness of Russian prostitutes (a.k.a. “natashas”) might be right on the mark, and the gambling parlor directly across the narrow street from our hotel room is a bit invasive. Nonetheless, Trabzon is a wonderful city, perhaps our favorite yet.


Blogger Melanie Guild said...

Hi guys!

Beautiful pictures! Great narration! I feel like I'm there with you. Andy, you're looking more like an Afghani as the days go by... That haircut looks like all the "rage"!! I can tell by that framed photograph in the barber shop. It is identical to your haircut. You trendsetter, you!!
We all miss you soo much. Keep us posted. I love Sonja's before caffeine fix face.


12:36 AM  
Blogger h_rastovac said...

I love how you jump between first and third person in your narration! HAHAHA

7:27 AM  
Blogger jim and annette said...

Oh thank you so much for taking us with you on your wonderful journey with such a novella! The pictures are wonderful. Andy, if you look on there is a section under Tajikistan offering a scholorship you might qualify for! We love you, Jim and Annette

3:03 AM  
Blogger jim and annette said...

Hello! we are so happy to hear from you and you are doing so well. Thank you for including us in your adventure. Andy there is a posting for a scholorship at under Tajikistan that you might qualify for. Check it out! Take care, we love you.

3:05 AM  

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