Sep 9, 2015

Turkish Diaries: Part 6

To read earlier parts click on the links: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, Part 5

Had I written this post on a piece of paper with a fountain pen, there would be big splotches of ink all over the place. Mostly because, I would have been crying from disappointment. And that would still be an understatement to what unfurled over the first half of the day.

We awoke to our ears getting molested by the cacophony of two alarms and the room service landline blaring away. I directed my bleary eyes to the window at the top of the cave. It was dark and there were water trails down the windowpanes indicating a gentle drizzle. Nothing majorly disastrous.

So far.

We quickly brushed, wore some woolen clothes (it was rather chilly already) and walked out in fifteen minutes flat. There was still 10 minutes left to 4:30 AM, the time at which the car van bus four-wheeler, from the balloon trip organizers was supposed to pick us up from this hotel. The hotel where we stayed at, also offered their own balloon rides, and the inmates were already downstairs wolfing down an early breakfast. We quickly gulped and ate what we could; my wife had the forethought to pack some fruits into paper napkins which we stuffed in the camera bag.

The 4-wheeler lorry-van-boat came in ten minutes and we clambered in murmuring sleepy hi’s. It was still drizzling. The driver made several additional stops to pick up other folks and we finally reached a place where the rest of the tourists were waiting. It was a pottery-making joint that we had noticed on the walk back from the Göreme Open Air Museum. Dawn was yet to break. The night’s hangover still remained, punctuated with dark clouds.

We sat inside the pottery cave, which we found to be actually doubling up as a bar and a restaurant. We were given cups of hot whisky and garlic bread. Just kidding. There was just tea and stale Turkish bread. I took a walk outside, constantly looking up at the sky. The drizzle had eased up but the clouds were still there. Vans and cars plied up the hill, carrying deflated balloons and other gear to be in position as soon as the green signal was given by the meteorological bureau, that it was safe to fly.

Around an hour of drinking further tea, standing around commenting on people’s attires, a mini-treasure hunt for the toilet, a mini-mini-treasure hunt for the bum gun and more tea, the organizers finally made a move towards the parked cars and balloons. The whole crowd, there were by now around 40 of us, shuffled towards the cars. Just as we were about to get in, it started raining again. And this time it was real, proper rain. Like the rain that usually populates scenes from Mani Ratnam movies in times of great depressing sequences.

We bolted back inside. Dawn quickly broke and the dark black sky lightened to a purple hue. Within seconds, everything was called off. We were assured our refunds and were bundled into the immigrant-escape-vessels for the trip back.

That is me, looking despondently at the unflinching skies ahead. 
Gutted. Absolutely gutted.

It was the second lowest point in my life; right next to the one where I was mistaken for a black guy and an Indian had shuffled over to me, trying to sell me weed. At Mahabalipuram. I had no words. We went back to the room and evaluated our options. We cannot stay over as we had a flight today; there was no way we can come back, since we were going to the other end of the country; an evening balloon ride was again out of the question since we were leaving in the afternoon. To pour out her woes, my wife called up my mother-in-law.

TIP 1: Keep your schedule flexible in Cappadocia. Mother Nature is a female dog and no amount of planning will help unless you have a backup.

That was the time I realized the awesomeness of mothers-in-law. She simply said, don’t worry. Even Hampi has balloon rides. And if you think you are missing the view, you are anyway leaving by a plane. You will have a better view of the landscape than a shady balloon, cocooned with twenty other strangers smelling of toothpaste, sweat and other early morning fragrances.

Woah!

We were still disappointed and I was more so because my wife was feeling bad. For her sake, I decided to make the best of it. Ironically, the skies had cleared by this time.

At around 10 AM, we went to the travel agent with whom we had booked the balloon and got our refund. He was the sweetest agent I have ever met. His details are below. He booked us a car to take us to the Nevşehir Kapadokya Airport. He was absolutely sorry that this had to happen. He even logged into his personal computer and let us copy pictures to my phone, so that we had more space on our memory cards which were running out of space.

In other words, we were drowned in Turkish hospitality.

We had a couple of hours to kill. So we decided to take a walk around the city a bit more. We even had more Turkish coffee to calm our tattered brains and in the process, killed them altogether. We reached the airport in no time and boarded the flight.

The flight journey was the worst in my entire life. Barring the spectacular view that we got once we were airborne. After that it was all downhill, if you know what I mean. It does not matter if you don’t. It was just pathetic piloting. All you guys cribbing about domestic airlines in India, may you get stuck on traffic jams on Old Airport Road all your lives.

The pilot had no clue how to navigate a small turbulence. Our bellies heaved and hurled, I could taste the köfte I had eaten three days ago. The worst part of it was that Istanbul too was clouded heavily. The pilot was struggling to fly, let alone land. I had prayed to all the gods in all mythologies. Finally, he landed somewhat testily and we disembarked with great haste like there were limited edition free vada pavs waiting outside the terminal.

ISTANBUL

The airport was Sabiha Gocken International Airport and it is located on the Anatolian side of Istanbul. So our route options were as follows,

Usually, in such situations I lose the bet. But this time, my wife had some fresh resolve. Also, my plan had more stars and looked colorful. 
Crossing the Bosphorus. Have you noticed that there is Boss in Bosphorus?
We dumped our luggage, and ventured out. By the way, it was still lunchtime. Did I tell you about the umpteen chestnut vendors all over the place?

The Qutb Minar of Istanbul.

Lunch was had at Sultanahmet itself, at one of the many restaurants around the tram station. This was where I had excellent vegetarian food, some kind of rice that was spicy, flavoured and seemed a distant cousin of the puliyodharai. It was well accompanied by balkan guveci (a lamb casserole) and vegetarian mussaka (same as mousakka). Well fed and watered, we strode around the place taking a few pictures of the Blue Mosque and then we did the best investment of the entire trip so far – got an RFID travel card/pass.

Lenj is being consumed. From L to R, I don't know. They were just delicious.

TIP 2: Get the IstanbulKart. The amount of money we saved literally halved our travel expenses when in Istanbul. It is easy to use, easy to refill and easy to travel. So easy, that it pales in comparison to making upma. Oh, wait. Maybe, I am rushing into things.

Ha! Fooled you didn't I? You thought this was Kolkata right? IT IS NOT!

The Blue Mosque
Once we were done eating, we stepped inside the Blue Mosque, since that was the only one that was open at that time; it was already 5:30 PM thereabouts. Wife had a fun time, getting into a robe. These robes are available, free of cost, outside every mosque in Istanbul. Do note the clothing restrictions; it makes things easier, particularly if you plan to see a lot of Camiis. After a minor photo-shoot that would have shamed Gaptun’s infamous shoot, we were treated to the first jaw-dropping view of the inside of the Blue Mosque. It was terrifying and glorious, all at once. We walked around, drinking in the awesome mosaic and the calligraphies painted with great care and intricacy. Little did we know that this is nothing compared to what we would be seeing the next day.

The Entrance to the Blue Mosque.

The Inside of the Blue Mosque.

The Rear Side of the Blue Mosque. 
Tired from running around the entire day, we needed a quick nap and went back to the hotel.

Dinner or the lack of it:
We woke up around 9 PM and decided to take a walk to the sea. The sea was visible from our hotel (it had a great view). As we walked towards it, we realized that it was a port and was blocked from all sides. Moreover it was pitch-dark and even Neil Nitin Mukesh would have been invisible. 

We stumbled by this on our night walk. Interesting actually.
Nevertheless, after navigating a few shady roads, we ended up at a backpackers’ joint. The place was at the apex of a park filled with kids running around in bicycles and a butt load of cats lazing about. We ordered a sheesha, baklava and some tea. We contemplated some highly philosophical thoughts, some of which were so philosophical in nature that I don’t even remember them now. They may have involved a bungling idiot who did not plan anything properly in his life and was better off sitting at home washing clothes or dusting furniture or doing anything that did not require any amount of planning, I am not sure.

TIP 3: Explore Sultanahmet in the night. The lights and the colors come alive. In fact, a night walk just would calm your frayed nerves. Especially, when you have missed a hot-air balloon ri… ok, just take a night walk, man and leave us alone for some time.

Anyway, we relaxed quite a bit since time was the one thing that stood still when you were wired up to a hookah. There was a long day waiting for us.

An excellent end.
Or rather, two long days ahead.

Phew. 

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