Jun 30, 2015

Turkish Diaries: Part 2

To read Part 1, click here,

Along with a bunch of Malayalee job-aspirants, we boarded the flight bound for Istanbul via Doha. Qatar Airways, one of the few 5-star airlines in the world, has an impeccable airport at Doha. Our stopover, even though it ran to slightly a bit over 4 hours, was bearable, primarily due to the vast airport that had a gazillion things to do. We walked around, mentally taking note of the booze brands to buy on the return leg, checking out the throng of Chinese at the internet kiosks updating whatever god-forsaken social media they have, peeping in to bug the jeweler and check gold prices and eventually wound up near our terminal, with half an hour to kill.

Do you remember that Panchatantra story about a robot that is sent back in time to assassinate its maker so an AI network can win the war and ensure Judgment Day happens? I assume you don’t. We didn’t either. But we spoke about a lot of other meaningful topics such as the marriage woes of our friends, whether we had switched off the stove back home, a minor unnecessary flashback sequence involving our honeymoon trip, office gossip and relatives.

Oh, I think I had failed to mention this. Please find below a snapshot of our itinerary. No need to revert to us at the earliest. Thanks and regards.

As you can see from our thoroughly detailed itinerary, we had booked a flight to Selçuk on the very day we land. This is because, we wanted to travel to the Asian side of Turkey first, finish all the locations possible on that side, before we slide over to the more civilized, and more populated European side of the country; in other words, Istanbul. Now that we knew we were going to spend the majority of the vacation in the Asian side, we had to cherry pick places. There are three items on this list which you should tick off;
  • The Ephesus Ruins
  • Pammukkale
  • Hot air balloon at Cappadocia
TIP 1: Whatever the prices, whatever the amenities, whatever travel agency deals there are; stay in Selçuk. Other places nearby, namely İzmir and Kusadasi are good as well. But it would make sightseeing a lot easier, given that Ephesus is actually just a boulder’s throw, away.

We landed at İzmir airport and took the train to Selçuk. The station is very helpfully located directly opposite the airport, but the ticket attendant was very unhelpfully not versed in any language other than Turkish. Somehow, with the help of fellow colonial passengers who were equally lost with us, we found the right platform and bundled into the train.

The train rumbled away; meadows and olive trees greeting us in the fading sunlight. It was a pleasant evening we thought until I happened to glance at my watch and my mind jumped a few metres into the atmosphere and came to settle inside a plate of fresh curd rice. I remembered having corrected my watch at the airport and it was showing 7:30 PM while there was bright sunlight outside. It was like a Shakuntala Devi puzzle. It took us a few millennia to realize that the sun sets very late in this part of the world.

We promptly dozed off.

We awoke as the train chugged into one of the quaintest railway stations I have seen in my life. And right behind the station, loomed the famed Roman aqueducts replete with stork nests. By the time you could say ‘Kumabhishekam’ three times, I took out my DSLR and went off on a photo snapping spree, completely oblivious to the wife belting out choice words in Hindi.

I had forgotten the luggage.
TIP 2: Beware of stepping on cats. They are like red ants, OLA cabs and Thalappakatty biriyani outlets back home in India. They are everywhere.
After a few minutes, when we were out of camera angles and newer words respectively, we trudged around. I was a bit wary of passersby constantly asking us if we would like to eat and alluring it was. The smells that pervaded the place were delectable and the boulevards were so very inviting – tables and chairs everywhere, people consuming chunks of juicy meat, lazy cats dilly-dallying all over the place and a general sense of casualness that I had last seen in the power-point presentation that my subordinate had sent me to review, the day before.

With all thanks to Google’s offline map feature, we finally ended up near a castle/mosque-ish building, thoroughly lost and weary. Our limbs screamed for moov tubes. Throwing anxiety to the winds, we entered a small corner restaurant and out of sheer desperation asked him if he knew our hotel. He scratched his imaginary beard, smiled, just pointed and said, ‘Eet ees right there.’

And so it was.

Our hotel was more like a small cottage with a lovely garden, surrounded by rooms with windows skirted by curtains that were intricately embroidered. And that is where we encountered our first brush with Turkish hospitality. The hotelier chap was so filled with happiness at seeing us that we felt like we had returned from the US and our parents were meeting us at the airport with garlands and a trumpet band. He ushered us to a lovely room with beautiful wall-hangings and a well-stocked bathroom. (I am getting into the weird area usually occupied by MasterChef judges with their superlatives, but what the heck.)

We dumped our luggage, rested our feet a bit and then stepped out to converse with our host in broken English. His inability to speak English was evenly balanced by the effort he put into stressing each word slowly and steadily, almost like a tortoise. We decided to take a walk outside and stopped at the selfsame restaurant we had encountered, deciding to reward the Good Samaritan by having our first meal there. It was already close to 10 PM.
TIP 3: Gold gym members, kindly do not go to Turkey. As for the others, eat, eat, and eat everything you see. Taste everything you see. Tie up your habits, rituals and food-orientation into a small sock, attach a large brick and throw it into the Arabian Sea before you come. It is worth it.
It was fantastic.

To start with, the restaurateur was even more hospitable than the hotelier. He asked where we were from, how long we were staying, what places to visit, what to eat etc. Within half an hour pat, we had planned the next day completely. And then we tucked into the first of our several amazing meals in Turkey – Adana Kebab, an assorted meat platter that included Köfte, Şiş Kebap, İskender Kebab, a side of pilaf rice and a glass of cold Efes Pilsen beer.

It was a fitting end to a tiring day.

Little did we know, how exhausted we were going to get.

Picture courtesy: Wikipedia.org (forgot to take the camera and had to glamorize the post. Will be original, going forward.)

No comments: