A Travellerspoint blog

Hitching thru Central Anatolia

Thumbing for 2646 kilometers

sunny 38 °C

First Part

Konya

The first stop of my 2646-km hitching trip was Konya. It is a large city in Central Anatolia region of Turkey and is famous for its whirling dervishes and for its spectacular Seljuk architecture. Since my father was going to Ankara, he gave me a ride from Bodrum to Konya. So the first 637 km of my trip was quite easy. I arrived in Konya in the evening at around 7 pm. The first thing to do was to satisfy my hunger so I directly went to Meram district to try one of the famous kebabs of the city. Since it was one of the last days of Ramadan, the city was pretty quiet and calm. Everyone was preparing to break their fast in a corner.

After dining I went to meet my host from couchsurfing. He gave me a couch in his small art studio. Because I was pretty tired, I directly went to bed right after he left.

Praying Women

Praying Women

I started my second day in Konya pretty early in the morning. Grabbing my breakfast (an apple) I headed towards the city center. Of course the first stop was Rumi’s mausoleum/museum. You don’t need a map to get there because there are numerous signs that show how to get there. After walking a while I saw the cloture of the museum. Because it was the holiday (bairam) eve there were a lot of people walking, shopping around. Some of them were visiting the museum and some others were praying outside it. I felt quite differently when I saw the electric toll gates of this mystic wise’s monastery. This is a place which is visited by millions who really don’t even know anything about his teachings. Despite the fact that this commercialism made me lose my interest a bit, I kept walking thru that mystical atmosphere. When I was looking around I caught sight of ‘no photography’ signs. It was a very good example of how things have changed through years at a Sufi’s final resting place who once said ‘Come, come, whoever you are.’

Come, come, whoever you are
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving — it doesn't matter,
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times,
Come, come again, come.

Rumi's Tomb

Rumi's Tomb

Rum's tomb and mosque

Rum's tomb and mosque

After getting out of the museum, I went to a tourist information office to grab a city map. As I was taking the map, I was thinking to myself ‘I wish I could watch a sema show’. Just as I was thinking one of the guys over there, as if he’d heard me, asked if I would like to watch a sema show that night? I excitedly said yes. He said the show would start at 9 pm and it’s free! I thanked him and left for the tomb of Shams Tabrizi. He’s considered to be the man who had changed Rumi’s life. ‘Though many people visit this place every year, they don’t visit Shams’ tomb’ this was what I was told by the warden at his tomb. His tomb was pretty unadorned compared to Rumi’s. In fact, since Rumi’s tomb was built after his death, his followers and some Ottoman sultans who admired him built a sumptuous tomb for him. It’s known that Rumi once said ‘the most beautiful tomb is the vault of heaven’.

Konya locals

Konya locals

Having visited Sham’s tomb, I went to Alaaddin hill to see the remnants of Seljuk palace. There’s only one pillar standing left and it’s now protected from the elements with a concrete umbrella. However, Alaaddin mosque behind it, built by the Seljuk Sultan Alaaddin Keykubat, has been preserved very well. Even though the palace and the mosque were built in the same period, it’s obvious that houses of prayer still stay intact.

Alaaddin Mosque

Alaaddin Mosque

My next stop was Ince Minare which used to be a 13th century madrasah. Now it’s used as a museum which displays artifacts from the Seljuk and Ottoman eras. It’s possible to see Konya symbol double-headed eagle there.

After visiting this old school I decided that I had walked enough so in order to get some rest and wait for the Sema show, I climbed up to the park at the top of Alaaddin hill. After chilling about 1.5 hours at the park, I headed towards Mevlana Cultural Center. This is a convention center located 20 minutes away from the center.

Whirling Dervishes

Whirling Dervishes

By following the signs in the huge cultural center, I ended up in front up Sema hall. This is a very big sema show stage. It started with a lecture about Mevlana and whirling dervishes. Flash photography was not allowed during the show so as not to disturb the dervishes but soon after it started flashes started to illuminate the hall. I know it’s almost impossible to watch a real sema show in 2012 but people say that this is the closest to a real one. Nevertheless, the most attractive part of it was 2 10-year old dervishes whirling with older ones.
It was time to set off on my third day in Konya. I got to Ankara road by getting a free bus (busses are free during the bairam). After waiting a little while a newspaper delivery guy gave me a ride. However, saying that he’s dozing of he pulled over to a gas station. So I had to hitch again. Within 10 minutes, I caught another ride to Ankara.

Second Part

Tuz Golu (Salt Lake)

I stayed in Ankara for two days to spend bairam with my family and then I started hitching again. I caught my first ride after waiting around 15 minutes. It was a Turkish-Austrian family. Father was driving all the way from Wien. I got off this lovely family’s car by Tuz Gölü (Salt Lake). He insisted on giving me some pastries saying that I’d be hungry even if I was not at that moment. I didn’t want to break his heart and accepted a bag of bagels and pastries and a bottle of soda. I waved them and walk down to the lake which I had seen only in my geography classes. This amazingly vast whiteness is the second biggest lake of Turkey. And since it was the driest season it was transformed into a salt flat which is possible to walk on.

Salt Lake

Salt Lake

Cappadocia

Cappadocia

Cappadocia

After the lake I caught three rides to Urgup. In Urgup I met couchsurfer Bruno at whose house I was going to stay. He’s a Frenchman who spends 4 months of the year in Turkey. Though I don’t plan my trips, his invaluable tips were so much useful. He knows the area very well. I went to Zelve open air museum though I was a bit tired. This is a place where you can see unusual rock formation created as a result of the eroding rains and winds of thousands of years. I hiked there for 2 hours and picked up fresh apples. There are lots of apple trees around in Cappadocia which I personally benefited from. After Zelve I made my way to Devrent Valley; it’s also known as imagination valley. It does not have cave churches like the other valleys of Cappadocia. There are no Roman castles or Roman tombs in Devrent Valley, either. Actually it was never inhabited. Many formations have animal shape looks. Having spent amazing 45 minutes in this valley, I went to Bruno’s place since it was getting dark.

Flock of Sheep

Flock of Sheep

Frescos in Ihlara Valley

Frescos in Ihlara Valley

We were totally 9 people at his place. He says his places has always been this crowded. He hosts almost 50 people each summer. After eating his mille-feuille pizzas and apple pies, it was time to hit the hay.

Little girl selling dolls

Little girl selling dolls

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I started hitching very early in the morning on my second day in Cappadocia. My first stop was the famous underground city Derinkuyu. It’s a multilevel underground city which was built to shelter Phrygians. But this info is not certain. Since I am a bit claustrophobic, I cut my underground village tour as short as possible. Tunnels and stairs made me feel suffocated at some moments. I started hitching towards Ihlara valley after Derinkuyu. At first, I could catch a few rides that took me only the first 10 kilometers of the 55-km long road so I had to wait in a middle of nowhere for a while. However, I saw a minivan rising clouds of dust. So I caught my ride! He was a German guy named Ulrich. When we arrived in Ihlara, we decided to hike in Belisirma canyon, because as I was told by Bruno that part of the canyon has the best preserved churches and caves. After walking up in the mountains and chilling by the river for about 4 hours. We decided to go back to the city. On the way back to the city Ulrich offered me a ride to south/Antalya where he had to return the car. At that moment I made my mind to head south. We said goodbye to each other and agreed on meeting in Aksaray in the following morning.

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In the third morning, I set off to meet my driver in Aksaray. I grabbed a couple of apples and a sandwich and started hitching across Bruno’s place. Approximately one hour later we met in Aksaray and headed towards Lake Eğirdir. We arrived in Eğirdir in the evening by passing through Konya and some small villages. We had a dinner by the lake watching its amazing view. Then we hit the road again. We passed through a very bad road to Antalya. When we got to Antalya, I thanked him for all his help and started looking for a place to pitch my tent. Finally, I decided to pitch my tent at a park and spent the night there.

Mediterranean Coast

In the following morning I went to Kemer and had a bowl of soup at a restaurant. This kind of restaurants are called craftsman restaurant in Turkish because they are the cheapest ones but in my opinion are the ones where you could get the most delicious homemade food. After Kemer my next destination was Phaselis ancient city. It’s an ancient city located on the Lycian road. This magnificent cove once harbored Alexander the Great’s ships. I spent approximately 1 hour swimming there. Three small bays around it that served as harbors in the past now form excellent swimming spots.

Olympos

Olympos

After Phaselis I decided to go to Olympos Ancient city to spend the night. Before pitching my tent, I hiked in the ancient city and then had dinner by the sea. Having had my dinner, I pitched my tent at an orange grove. Then I went to a little pub where I listened to very good reggae music and had the chance to try the only local beer of Turkey, Perge Pilsner. After a couple of beers, I grabbed one more and walked to the beach to watch the spectacular view of the sky. Even though there were almost 100 people at the beach at that moment, I felt as if no one was there except me. It felt like an eternal tranquility. But of course, at around 12 we were ‘asked’ to leave the beach by the military police since the area is considered to be a vulnerable cultural heritage site and a spot for carettas’ egg laying place.

My tent in Olympos

My tent in Olympos

On the other day I caught a ride till Kas. But on the way to Kas in Demre, the driver was nice enough to wait for me for 30 minutes because I wanted to have a short break to see the Church of St. Nicholas. In fact, the driver wanted to see what there was inside but when he heard the price of entrance, he decided to wait for me outside while sipping his tea at a local coffee house. After Demre, I gave a short break to get a cup of coffee at a gas station. Having rested enough, I started thumbing again and soon I got my ride to Kalkan which is a touristy, little town. It’s a picturesque town by the Mediterranean coast and mainly inhabited by British people. I spent the night there at a park.
In the morning I started hitching again and caught three different rides till my place in Bodrum. Though it had been a long and tiring trip with all those rides and sleeping at parks, I was feeling extremely happy because I had emptied my mind.

Posted by into the world 16:18 Archived in Turkey Tagged central anatolia hitching thru Comments (0)

My Trip to the heart of Central Asia (Kazakhstan)

snow -30 °C

Frankly speaking I hadn’t been much informed about Kazakhstan until I went there. The only thing I knew was their Central Asian relation to Turkish people. However, I got to know many things about this country when I went there. Kazakhstan is by far the largest Central Asian former Soviet country and it shares borders with Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Since there’re no certain residential point and its vast steppe lead Kazakhs to gather at some parts of the country. 30% of the country’s 16.5 million-population is has Russian roots. Its official language is Kazakh; however, though I’ve been there many times, I haven’t seen many people speaking Kazakh. They broadly prefer Russian language.

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I paid my first visit in January, 2009. After a 5-hour flight, we landed in Astana Airport and the captain said that outside temperature was 25 degrees. However, when I looked through the window, I saw snowflakes blowing in the air. Then I understood that he didn’t even bother himself to say ‘minus’. Winter temperature in Kazakhstan is mostly below zero. After registering at the customs, I took a taxi to the city center. Any private car in Kazakhstan can be used as a taxi and mine was a private Mercedes as well. You might stop a BMW or a 1985-Lada. If you don’t try to get on president’s car, you can take any car. Then starts the bargaining part. If you can get by in Russian, it won’t be a big deal for you. Otherwise, taxi drivers will try to charge you more than the usual price. After about 30 minutes we arrived at the city. There are no traffic lights on the highways but drivers definitely stop if there are people waiting by the pedestrian crossings. Most of the buildings in the city are brand new, in fact there has been a reconstruction going on in the city since it was made capital. After arriving at the city I went to the apartment that I had rented before.

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It’s very common to rent houses for short periods of time in Astana. Since I am big fan of trying local foods, I generally had my lunches and dinners out. They offer various kinds of meals such as; sashlyk (basically meat on shish), beshparmak (five fingers) and boursaky. Russians influenced their cuisine as well. You can find a bowl of borsh or solyanka anywhere. When it comes to their drinks, vodka rocks there. You can find vodka ranging from $2 to $150 for a bottle. However, I loved their ‘non-alcoholic’ kvas and kumis. In fact, kvas might contain .05% alcohol since it’s the fermentation of bread and it’s widely known as ‘Soviet Cola’. I remember the first time I saw some women selling it in yellow tanks.

When you stop by a market, you realize that alcohol and cigarette prices are pretty low compared to the western world. You can get a pack of cigarettes for 75 cents or 50 qurush. Therefore, you see a lot of people smoking in the streets, at restaurants or even in some closed areas such as huge malls. Since I was a heavy smoker at that time, I didn’t miss the chance to buy a box of Marlboro for 11 dollars.

Train Journey to Petropavlovsk

During my second visit, I decided to make my way to rural Kazakhstan. First, I went to the central train station of Astana and with the help of my friend, who’s a Russian, we could get our tickets after waiting for almost 2 hours in the long line. The other day we took the old Soviet train to Petropavlovsk. It was a very old Soviet train which had cabins for 4 people. Even though it was pretty old and the crew was so grumpy, the cabins were relatively clean. We were given clean linen and pillows. However, I cannot say the same thing for the restrooms. It basically consists of a metal toilet seat which has lots of stains on it. And when you're done with what you're doing, make sure to pull the lever to drop your artwork on the tracks and try not to touch anywhere unless you want to be infected with hepatitis. Anyway, it took nearly 8 hours to get to Petropavlovsk. On the way it stopped frequently and at each stop some street sellers rushed into the train. After getting off the train, I hitched to my friend’s place. However, I forgot to take the present (a set of Turkish tea glasses) that I brought for her mom. When I realized that, I found an old Lada to get back to the train station but it was too late for the glasses. Upon its arrival some housekeeping ladies got on the train and ‘cleaned’ every single thing on the train. Of course, it was a tragic moment but I was surprised even more by my friend’s mom’s sentences ‘Don’t worry son! If you happen to forget your stuff anywhere here in Kazakhstan, consider it to have been 'taken' by someone else’.

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I spent a week in Petropavlovsk. It’s an old Russian city now shared with Kazakh locals. It’s very close to Russian border city Omsk and is established on Ishim River. During my stay there, I was offered free beers and cognac from my friend’s father Vladimir. I tried Bely Med’ved (white bear) and Karagandinskoe (a local from Karaganda province). He also insisted on going fishing on the Ishim. However, after each attempt we came back home drunk and with no fish at all!

On my way back to Astana I was asked by some random guys where I was coming from. They were pretty happy to hear that I was from Turkey. They kept calling me ‘brother’ and offered their vodka. It’s the most widely offered stuff in nomadic Kazakhstan.

A Word of Warning

A traveler who wishes to visit Kazakhstan must be aware of certain facts about this country as well. Because of unjust income level, most merchants are very much into overcharging you. If they realize that you are not a local person, they will definitely double the price. For example, if you try to bargain with a taxi driver speaking broken Russian, it's inevitable that you'll be asked to pay a very high fare or you'll simply prefer buses, which are way cheaper than illegal taxis.

You must always be prepared to have some cash on you because your visa card will most probably be refused. There's no need to insist because most places accept only cash. Apart from this, you'd better know the exact rate for your currency. You can get different rates at different exchange offices and of course be prepared to pay extra commission.

Most importantly you must beware of Kazakh police. They will be waiting to cheat you from the very first moment you arrive till you leave. Your documents might be perfectly arranged but don't worry 'serious' Kazakh police will definitely find an imperfection with your papers. I was personally forced to bribe a policeman to pass through the customs.

Posted by into the world 12:53 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (0)

A Summer in the States

5 years after my trip to Italy, I went to the United States of America in summer 2008. I arrived at Glacier Park International Airport on 9th of June after a series of long flights. Even though the weather was very hot in Turkey, it was pretty cold in Kalispell, Montana. Firstly, we waited to be escorted by some guys who were working for the park. After a while they appeared at the gate of the airport and took us to a 24 hr open market to get some urgent stuff and then we went to a motel to spend the night. It was a motel which you could see in Hollywood movies. When I woke up on the following day the first thing I saw through the window was the white stuff layered the parking lot. First I could not understand what it was; however, I soon understood that it was the snow that had started the other night. After the breakfast we headed for the park we were going to work since most roads were block due to the snow, we had to enter East Glacier Hotel which was located at the entrance of the park. Glacier National Park is located in Montana State of America and consists of many hotels and motels. Having spent the night over there we went to Rising Sun Motor Inn where I was going to work. On the way to motel we saw a bunch of black bears one kind of the animals that you can encounter while in the park. It’s possible to see deer, moose, gazelles, mountain goat, big horn sheep, squirrels as well as black and brown bears. When I went to my cabin, I started to count the following days with the gloom of the rainy weather and some psychological problems. However, I could not know that I was going to spend one of the best summers of my life …

Rising Sun Motor Inn

Rising Sun Motor Inn, where I worked as a front desk associate, is located just off Going – to – the – Sun Road and consists of a restaurant, motel, cottages and a camp store. It is 11-12 km (7 miles) from St. Mary and located opposite to St. Mary Lake. Televisions, in-room telephones, air conditioning, elevator, in-room coffee makers and mini-refrigerators are not available but you could drink enjoy frosty pint of Montana brew beers. This place, where I made lots of friends, did lots of hiking and trekking, ran in and out of the freezing lake while I was tipsy and gained a great deal of experience, still remains in my memories.
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Red Bus in G.N.P

Red Bus in G.N.P


East Glacier Park – Illinois Chicago Train Ride and a week in Chicago

Approximately three months later I resigned from my position and went to Chicago after my girlfriend who had left 3 days before me. I started my journey on Empire Builder line after spending my last night in East Glacier Hotel just like the first one. I did a 30 – hour train ride which was coming from Seattle, Washington and it took 2,482 km (1,542 mil) till Chicago. During the journey the train stopped at 28 stations some of which were Wisconsin, Detroit lakes, Milwaukee. When I got off the train after 30 hours at Penn Station in Chicago, there’s a dense urine odor all around the station. I thought to myself as if it was the fact for all the train stations. After finding my friend among many people, we went to a motel in the suburbs of Chicago. The petty motel belonged to an Indian called Yogesh Patel. Chicago is a city located by Michigan Lake and most of us associate it with Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls. Today, Chicago is known as The Windy City. Walking around town, you might suspect that Chicago got this nickname from the winds off Lake Michigan, which shove through the downtown corridors with intense force. During my one – week visit I saw Sears Tower – which is currently the tallest building of the States after September 11 attacks – and Lincoln Parka and Old Town. On the fifth day we went to Indiana with a rental car to break my friend’s paychecks at our contracted bank. Our plan was to break the checks and walk around in Indianapolis and come back to Chicago to get on our train to New York. However, things did not go as they were planned. Although having a trip to Indiana free of problems, after having to veer to a different road because of the road construct we lost our way to our motel. Since it was pretty late already, I called the station to postpone our tickets. But we still could not find our motel that’s why I decided to dial 911. We were able to arrive at our motel after following the directions of the police officer. Even though I was the main responsible person for this delay as a driver, I was pretty much happy to be told I was a “hero” at the end of the day :)

New York, New Jersey

Early on the following day we went downtown. After leaving our luggage at the lockers, we started to discover the city a bit more. Because of the pouring rain we took a shelter in a coffee house. At night we got on our train to New York and started our 20 – hour journey. In New York I called an agent to make a hotel reservation but because I misunderstood her saying New Ark instead of New York or her desire to rent that room for us, we had to go to the other side of the city. After bargaining with the taxi driver we went to our hotel. On the following day we came back to New York and started to enjoy seeing the places which we had only seen TVs before. After two days in New York we went to John F. Kennedy Airport. Firstly I wished goodbye to my friend since her flight was 14 hours before mine. After a long wait and 2 – hour delay we took off for Schipol Airport of The Netherlands. However, that 2 – hour delay caused an 8 – hour delay in The Netherlands. I was not totally sure whether I was happy to be home after 40 hour sleepless flights and 4 months but all I knew it was a good summer.

Posted by into the world 05:01 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Italy, Ravenna

Starting Point

We, Turks, always have excuses for not being able to travel. You can have money but you don’t have enough time or vice versa, or your job keeps you from travelling. In fact our state does its best to do so as well. Compulsory stamps for going abroad, problems we encounter while applying for visas, communication problems originating from foreign languages and exorbitant flight prices etc. can be given as examples for this situation. I went abroad 8 years ago for the first time. I went to Ravenna port of Italy on a dry cargo vessel. Naturally that journey can be considered as the starting point of my future journeys.

Approximately 10 days after I received my first passport, I sailed through the Aegean Sea to Ravenna port of Italy on a dry cargo vessel called “Şöhret (Fame)” on which a friend of my father worked as a captain. We arrived at Ravenna after 3 days and 16 hrs of journey with a speed of 40 km/h (20-22 m/hr). I had the chance to explore many parts of the ship during the journey but since it seemed to me that the journey would never end after some time I killed my time on reading and studying the big world map in the navigating bridge. As we entered the Italian waters at night there were lots of fishermen around us. Since some of them were sailing very close to the vessel, we warned them with huge flashlights. Before dawn, we anchored at port of Ravenna with the help of guide captain provided by the port. 10 minutes after we had anchored, I grabbed my passport and got off the vessel. In this way I stepped in a foreign land for the first time. I had my camera, a notebook and a pen with me. I got on one of the busses coming from the city and went to Ravenna. I didn’t have much information about this little town and I stopped by many historical buildings and churches without even knowing their names. Later I was going to find out that tomb of Dante Alighieri, famous Italian poet and politician, was there. First of all I went to a square called Piazza del Popolo. As soon as I went there, I entered a pizzeria and ordered a pizza because I was in Italy! The waitress working there asked who I was, what I was doing in Ravenna on my own and where I was coming from. After I answered her questions and ate up my pizza, I told her that I wanted to buy a bottle of whiskey for a friend who worked on the vessel. She told me that it’d be more expensive if I bought the whiskey from her but I could find whiskey of half price if I went to the place she told me. I got the address and started to look for the place. By the way, I was photographing some interesting things with my camera. And I kindly asked some of the people to take my pictures a couple of times. However, I was going to find out in Turkey that all the poses had been spoiled and I had only one picture taken in front of the vessel on which I was barely seen. I asked the address some people but I could not understand since they only answered me in Italian. At the end a woman who was at her forties could describe me the way to that little bottle shop. I bought the whiskey for a very plausible price just like the waitress had said and then entered the shopping mall across the street. There I bought some souvenirs for my family and friends in Turkey and then went back to the port.

On the following day I woke up early in the morning and went downtown again. This time I entered a rather large church on the way. I saw some people praying before they went to their work. Then, I went to the same restaurant on my second day in the city. However, this time I ordered pasta and started to wait for it. The same waitress came to my table and asked if I could find the bottle shop easily. I said I could find and bought a bottle of whiskey just like she said and thanked her for the advice. Even though I did not order a drink, she sent me a bottle of coke as a matter of courtesy. This is why I thanked her again and went to explore the city. Because it was rather small town it was easy to discover it on foot. At the end of the third day we weighed anchor and sailed back to Turkey in 3 days. As I said before even though the photos were a big disappointment, that interesting trip was the starting point of everything.

Posted by into the world 13:14 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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